Saturday, April 30, 2005

Great Minds Think Alike!

DOing my usual morning outrage cruise through Left Blogistan, I happened upon this topical posting from Susan at Suburban Guerilla about Philly power-popper Jim Boggia.

So Jim finally has a new album on a "real" label. And guess who co-produced it? Julian Coryell (with Joe Zook, who's also done the studio thing with Liz Phair, Rufus Wainwright and Courtney Love). Small world, huh?

If you like Beatlesque power pop, I strongly urge you to give this album a listen. (Oh yeah, for you music geeks: Boggia co-wrote songs for this CD with Emmitt Rhodes, Jill Sobule and Aimee Mann, who all appear on the album. )

I met Susan at the NYC Blogger's Dinner in March, a nice, nice woman. (But aren't you supposed to be resting your hand? ;)) The album's not out for a couple more days, but you can hear the excellent track, "Live the Proof," and order the CD, at Bluhammock.

Okay, it is the absolute truth that I had no idea I was linked to here until sfter I drafted the post. Guess I should click through all the links first! But I'm going to check out this Boggia, and you should, too.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

PPPDA: Preliminary Analysis

OK, so Greg Shaw, who was watching the power pop scene as close as anyone else in those days, was seriously freaked out by the end of 1978, convinced that the American music-listening public was seriously stupid or craven or simply had shitty taste in music. Why did he think so?


For those of us looking at the rock/pop universe of that time from the present moment, it's obvious that disco was in its last gasp, and that new forms of music were shaping and combining. The marriage of punk and pop, the parents of power pop, was still in its honeymoon, and would bear fruit in the fullness of time.

But that's not how it looked on the ground.

Here's a triumphalist version (warning: disco history site!):

1978 is arguably the peak year for Disco in terms of influence on popular culture as a whole and in terms of financial success. A number of firsts for Disco took place in 1978. A movie featuring the underground world of Disco itself would be one of the top moneymaking films of 1978 and one of the top 10 of the entire decade. The soundtrack to that film, a double album filled with Disco, would become the biggest selling album of all time. A Disco song featured in another 1978 movie would win the Academy Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture. A Disco group that debuted in 1978 would be the first Disco artists to win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Mainstream recording artists as varied as the Rolling Stones and Barry Manilow scored big with Disco records. Disco had become dominant.

So, I see Heaven Tonight, they see Thank God It's Friday. And both those visions are true.

1978 was just a weird year generally, though. It was the year of three popes (which, in retrospect, should have been a red flag about the rising power of conservativism that would deliver to us, in short order, Thatcher and Reagan). It was the year of the Guyana mass suicide andf the rise of gasahol. It was the year of Grease and Superman. It was the year the Bad News Bears went to Japan. It was the year WKRP premiered. And so a mixed bag. Anyone looking back ot the year from its end (as Shaw did for his January editorial) could be excused for being a bit..... confused. And not seeing that the clouds were going to part soon.

By 1979, things were changing fast. And Shaw's abrupt about face in the cited editorials shows that. By the end of that year, power pop was everywhere. The Knack dominated, of course, but every major label had at least one power pop act, many more than that. Much as it galls me to admit it, it wasn't all good (I'll probably never really *like* Off Broadway, I confess), but it was a movement, which is what Shaw had predicted all along.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Friday Babybloging: Mobile Edition

Rosie's on her own two feet! (Well, she's doing better than our staggering prez!) Posted by Hello

PPPDA: The Shifting Field

Bomp! editorial, March 1978:

The reason 10,000 records by rock groups were issued during the years of Beatlemania is because the recording industry saw profits there. For a record to come out, somebody has to put it out, and although independent recording today is a viable alternative, the floodgates won't open for New Wave music until some of the groups start having hits. Big hits. Every record company in the world is poised to throw everything they've got into the New Wave at the first sign of this. And let's face it, the really big hits are not going to be the two-chord records about tearing down the British social system. Really hard rock has never had the mass-commerciality of pop, and it will be acts like the Ramones, the Jam, the Boys, Dwight Twilley, 20/20, Cheap Trick, etc. who will crack the charts and have the first hits. Radio wants to play New Wave records but they don't want to offend their mass audience with crude, obnoxious music. They're waiting for Powerpop. And so are the kids of America--all 40 million of them.

Let's give it to 'em.....

And January of 1979:

The problem has been putting my finger on exactly what it is that I and everyone else involved heavily in the New Wave scene these days, is feeling about the cultural climate coming out of the summer of ‘78 and heading into a winter that may be as symbolic as it is literal. A spirit of disenchantment is certainly in the air, and for a lot of valid reasons. I was going to go into some of this, but better yet, those who care should pick up the latest issue of New York Rocker with its extensive analysis of the New Wave recession, including some of my thoughts on the economic factors.

The fact is, it has happened. What started as a year of unbridled optimism is ending in confusion and doubt for a lot of people. Even as recently as the last issue of BOMP, as I was speaking of a permanent, expanding New Wave scene as an accomplished fact. The change must seem abrupt to readers who have not kept their gaze riveted on the front battle lines the last few months, but it did happen rather suddenly (though the signs were there to see, if we wanted to see them—which of course we didn’t!). What actually happened, I guess, was that the momentum pushing everyone along just sort of collapsed as more and more people realized they weren’t getting anywhere. It got harder and harder to believe that this scene would explode when people finally got exposed to it, after the mass audience had every opportunity for exposure and still remained apathetic.

But by March 1979:

Looking over the musical landscape as the new year begins, it feels more like a clean slate than the shattered ruins I saw towards the end of ’78. Among the people I know there is less moaning over the fading of punk and and more excitement about the new possibilities opening up. The general feeling, which I share, is that ‘79 could become a very important year for music.

There are a number of ways to look at what’s taking place now. We started three years ago with a totally decadent music scene, against which punk was a violent reaction in the direction of simplicity and raw immediacy. Now that too has worn thin and some people are looking for a sort of synthesis to emerge. Another viewpoint holds that punk's more creative musicians, fed up with reaching only the limited clique of punk patrons and starving all the while, see now the possibility to broaden their perspective, reach a larger audience, and still hold most of their cult following. In other words, that the survivors of punk will be those who can “go commercial”. Someone recently pointed out that none of the punk bands of ’64-66 survived their era, but that the generation of groups who immediately followed, the more experimental bands of ’67-68, are (those who survived) among today’s biggest and most entrenched stars—Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, et al. And that from this we might deduce that the next year or two will bring new bands, influenced by punk but without the constricting self-limitations, who will stay around to develop the musical vocabulary of the '80s.

Analysis to follow, but feel free to discuss in the meantime....

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

NTodd made me do it.....

So apparently, we're playing another one of *these* games. Okay. I send mine to watertiger and Eli and V., just because I know watertiger's are fab, Eli needs to prove to us one more time that he has them at all, and I'm curious about V.'s exhausted inking eyes. Thers would just ignore it, anyway.

And in the interest of thematic relations: I present The Payola$:

Can I touch you to see if you're real?
Is it nothing this something I feel?
Can my heart take the strain?
Or will it break down again?

In your lips I sense a danger
You've got the eyes of a stranger

Have I been sleeping for all these years?
Is it magic that makes you appear?
When you walked in the room I felt my heart race
???? and I looked in your face

In your lips I sense a danger
You've got the eyes of a stranger
In your lips I see a danger
You've got the eyes of a stranger

In your lips I sense a danger
You've got the eyes of a stranger
In your lips I see a danger
You've got the eyes of a stranger...
 Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 17, 2005

For My Man Jeffers

A link to someone who is both a vinyl head and an ipod head: proof to the good minister that these are not, in fact, mutually exclusive positions.
Many people assume that I'm sort of Luddite because I prefer vinyl and vintage tube amplification. They have this image of me as someone who fears change, who cringes at the prospect of new technologies, and, from the looks of the some of the emails I received after commenting on the demise of SACD, someone who probably makes his own shoes and churns his own butter. In the real world, however, I'm as much of a gadget-freak as any modern American. I have a cell phone with GPS, a laptop with wireless Internet access, and until recently I even drove an SUV. I embrace any new technology – as long as it makes sense.


The first time I heard MP3, I was utterly disgusted with the sound quality, and disgusted with the direction that music reproduction was taking. Then I was told that the sound quality of MP3 would be better if you bought this particular piece of software, and coupled it with that particular piece of computer hardware, and then transferred the files using another particular interface, and I was already shouting "Stop, stop, stop!" This is getting way too confusing. This is what's sinking the new digital fomats such as DVD-A and SACD and multi-channel surround and home theatre as we speak. They made it too complicated, and it turned everyone off.

The iPod, however, is simple. It's small. It does everything. You can listen to it in your car, in your home, anywhere. If you like staying home and playing on the computer, you can download new music from there. If you like going shopping at the mall, you can buy your music there. You can download entire albums. You can create your own playlists. It's fucking fabulous. And I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know about the thing.

So the real question is, how can we, the vinyl anachronists of the world, care about such a product? I think the answer is that for the first time ever, no one is trying to replace your record collection with something better. For the first time, a new technology exists that actually complements listening to vinyl.

First of all, the iPod was designed with active people in mind. The last time I checked, listening to vinyl is a fairly passive activity. Sure, there's the beloved ritual of cleaning records, placing them lovingly on the platter, and gently (very very gently, if you own a Koetsu cartridge) lowering the stylus onto that smooth black surface. But you're not exactly burning a lot of calories listening to LPs (digiphiles: insert nasty, sarcastic comment about having to get up every few minutes to flip sides here).


We're really talking about two types of music listeners here, or, if you're me, two sides of the same listener. I think that once you put aside the DJs and turntablists who are, as much as I hate to admit it, helping to keep the vinyl industry vibrant, your typical analog freak is someone who listens to a wide variety of music that may not lend itself well to the iPod format. I'm talking about classical music, and maybe jazz and some other types of music as well. Sure, listening to classical music on your iPod on a plane flight might be the most perfect way to beat jet lag. It doesn't really matter that Apple is marketing the iPod to rock and pop lovers, but let's face it, classical music is dying a slow, protracted death in this country, perhaps the world.

Modern recordings are few and far between, especially if you have to hire an orchestra, pay them union wages, and rent a hall big enough to record them, only to sell a few hundred CDs, which is exactly what's happening these days. In other words, the majority of classical music is available only on, you guessed it, LPs. It's entirely conceivable that classical music may disappear with the Baby Boomers. I really hope that doesn't happen.

The iPod is definitely the wave of the future, but LPs will keep us connected to the past better than any other format. I've heard some of the iPod backlash, however. One thing that keeps popping up is that music downloading is killing the album as a general concept. It's all about the singles, the songs, the quick buck.

PPPDA, or, An Answer for Eli

My fellow Atriots know that in that forum, we are lucky enough to share the company of a poster from (oops! not New Mexico, but) Arizona known as GWPDA, a smart and funny woman who shares her domicile with a big dog named Arthur and has a thing for comfy chairs. And really, really dislikes Pergo. (As it turns out, engineered wood is comparably priced, so I'm there.) GWPDA is not, in fact her name. In fact, it is an acronym of her place of employment: she's an historian who works in the Great War Primary Documents Archive.

When I was in high school, I took AP classes in English and History, and the history exam included something called a "Document-Based Question." It was absolutely my favorite part of the exam. (Many years later, as I teacher, I saw that DBQ's had been integrated into the regular curriculum and was immeasurably cheered.) They basically collected a series of documents which they presented to we infant researchers without comment, then asked us to draw a conclusion, write an analysis based on them. Ours was on whether WWI had helped or hurt the nascent German aircraft industry. How many of you can remember a single question on a single exam taken 21 years ago after which you got well and truly plastered? Thought not. Obviously, this had a profound effect on me.

I've always loved primary documents. There's something about in-the-moment commentary, taken without reflection, that tells the story differently, lets one see the implications and possibilities inherent in a historical moment or a cultural movement.

Which leads me to the PPPDA.

The Power Pop Primary Documents Archive is under construction. Currently, I'm collecting old 'zines, and if anyone has any to share, I'd love to see them. Send me pdf's, send me jpegs, anything. I start from Bomp!, because I have to start somewhere, and the late Greg Shaw did as much as anyone else to create the moment I want to focus on in my book.

BOMP! was a magazine published out of California. Genuine pop fanatic Shaw started in the mid-60's with Mojo-Navigator Rock and Roll News, one of the first magazines to take rock and roll seriously--and very influential on Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy. (Its relationship to Creem is a bit more complicated, but it is always, always mentioned in company with such publications.) By 1970, Shaw had moved on to found Who Put The Bomp--later just Bomp!--well, enterprise. The mag, irregularly published, was always cool. (Shaw published Lester Bangs' long screed "James Taylor Marked for Death" in 1971.) It became a label, a movement. Bomp! was a true labor of love from someone who loved rock and roll enough to take it seriously. And Shaw saw power pop as one of the most important movements in rock in the 1970's. Good history, with pdf's, etc, here, at the Bomp! Records website.

And so the PPPDA starts with Bomp! I'll be putting up selections of Shaw's writing on the movement, looking mostly at those crucial years from 1977-79 (that's late Bomp!, for you guys playing along at home....), when he was convinced power pop was going to be the next big thing, then it wasn't, then it was. It's a fascinating on-the-ground report from the one who knew it best.

More to follow.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


My Favorite Episcopalian Benedictine (okay, my *only* Episcopalian Benedictine) has hipped me to the following, from The Guardian:
He likes old-fashioned Nashville country and western. He likes power-pop, the 70s genre that melded Beatles melodies, Byrds harmonies and punky sonic punch. He likes a certain kind of literate singer-songwriter whose critical acclaim frequently outweighs their commercial standing. He has a sneaking regard for Americana, the catch-all genre that encompasses anything faintly leftfield that bears the influence of US roots music. He doesn't seem to have much time for hip hop, or r'n'b, or manufactured pop, or techstep drum'n'bass. Judging by his taste in music alone, George W Bush seems like the kind of bloke who spends his evenings writing angry letters to Uncut magazine, decrying their decision to review Girls Aloud's new album and demanding more features on Townes Van Zandt and Iron And Wine. "He's certainly the first president who could be an Uncut reader," says the magazine's deputy editor Paul Lester, who doesn't sound thrilled by the idea. "I'm a bit disturbed by it myself, but nevertheless he is the most powerful man in the world."

But (and like this isn't a surprise):

he opts for reviled commercial power-poppers the Knack over the hipper, more acclaimed Big Star or the Shoes

'Nuff said. Sneer over substance, that's our prez.

Thanks for the tip, Prior Aelred!

Have more fun with Bush's iPod here and here and here and... oh, hell, click around. Lots to see on this topic..

New Pornographers

June 23, at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ.

June 25 at the bandshell in Prospect Park.

Be there. 'Nuff said.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Spousal Abuse

I will get you for this, Thers.

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Excuse me, I only have room for a limited amount of geekiness in my life. Science fiction geek simply does not fit. After all, I have power pop.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

*Sigh.* Edward Rochester, Mister Darcy, and Heathcliff, in no particular order. (Can Colin Firth play them all? Pretty please?) Plus the protagonists of books like Cheyenne Captive and Half-Breed's Bride, et al., who are really the literary sons of the three aforementioned guys.

The last book you bought is:

Katha Pollitt's Reasonable Creatures. I needed a copy of "The Smurfette Principle" for something I'm writing, but I also just really like her and think she belongs in the NYTimes.

The last book you read:

Well, I'm rereading The Hitchhiker's Guide in preparation for the movie, but as always, I have work reading. Most recently, Lolita.

What are you currently reading?

Ugh. Work again. But since that's George Lamming's In the Castle of my Skin, not so ugh as one might think. Dion Boucicault's The Colleen Bawn. Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet. The Trouser Press History of New Wave. Some assinine Harlequin romance to decompress.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

The ones I get lost in. Middlemarch. Ulysses. Bleak House. The Satanic Verses. And, uh, Cheyenne Captive?

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons)? And Why?

Watertiger for sure, because why should she escape this? NTodd, because he's so darn cute. And jenni, who's bound to have something cool to say.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Finn Interview Part 3

Gardner posts the third part of his Neil Finn interview as a podcast here. The entry also functions as a memorial to longtime Split Enz/Crowded House bassist Paul Hester, who apparently hung himself. Sad.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Magnapop: A Confessional History

A true personal story. Once upon a time, Thersites and I were platonic friends whose relationship was based on sparring over the conference table in our graduate program, getting drunk and reading Finnegans Wake, trying mightily (and badly) to learn the Irish language, and watching 120 Minutes. He lived in a graduate dorm and then in a studio apartment (which, that close to the school, was merely a more expensive version of the grad dorm). I was married with a kid, and so our apartment, with a real kitchen and cable TV, became something of a refuge for our less connected brothers and sisters in the program: we passed for grownups, and threw a lot of parties. People came to our place just to watch TV and shoot the shit.

The marriage was not doing well, to indulge in gross understatement: as I noted in a conversation with a terrific young woman this past weekend, I think most people change partners in graduate school, partly because graduate school changes who you are. She offered a friendly amendment that most *women* change partners in graduate school, and I tend to think she's right. (Hi, Janine!)

I was, at that time, going through a massive recalibration of my life generally: Kurt Cobain had died that spring, one of the major scholars with whom I had come to school to study died unexpectedly over the summer. It was starting to look as though everything were fading at the same time, and myself with it. I was reading for my comprehensive exams, an isolating process at best, and stopped eating and sleeping for close to three months. (Ironically, I looked great, if a bit wan.)

Cobain's death hit me hard: I had willfully hidden from music for a long time, the eighties being a pretty good decade in which to do that, then I was married to a Lynryd Skynyrd fan. I spent the time catching up on older music primarily. But Nirvana changed that for me. It brought me back into the mainstream of pop music, and I started listening around and understanding what my dependence on radio and MTV had hidden from me, that there was a whole scene hidden from me with the kind of music I actually liked. And when my younger brother sent me a tape: Material Issue on one side, Nevermind on the other, things began to change.

In September of that year (1994), my growing malaise hit a head. One Sunday evening, having come over to desultorily study Irish, Thers and I packed it in and joined my then-spouse on the couch to watch 120 Minutes. Bob Mould was the host, Lou Barlow his guest. Mould was at that time pushing the new (and last) Sugar album, File Under Easy Listening, and Barlow Sebadoh's Bakesale (both great records). They played Live's "I Alone," Guided By Voices' "I Am A Scientist," The Offspring's "Self-Esteem," a bunch of other great stuff. I was especially struck, though, by Magnapop's "Slowly, Slowly."

Magnapop were a Georgia band, two girls and two boys, discovered by Michael Stipe and produced by Bob Mould (thus their presence on 120 Minutes that fateful night). The video interspersed scenes of the band standing around in fields with dogs jumping and young people in various intimate positions. Let me be clear about this (because this was more important to me than I can tell you): the video was about intimacy. People sat on couches with their partner's heads on their laps, touching the gap of skin between the top of the jeans and the bottom of the shirt. They shared headphones, they looked in the mirror together. It wasn't dirty, but it made me ache for that kind of casual contact notably missing from my current relationship. It brought into sharp relief for me the fact that people touch each other regularly, something of which I'd lost sight. Plus, it was a great, catchy song.

After the show was over, I drove Thers back to his studio apartment so he wouldn't have to take the train that humid Miami night. It was one of those nights where you just know things are changing under your feet with every word you say, with every inch of pavement. By the time we got to his parking lot, the whole story was just gushing out in waves. I was less surprised than I should have been when he kissed me for the first time, and my response (banging my head against the steering wheel and saying "fuck, fuck, fuck") would be comprehensible to anyone who's ever been in such a situation. Within two weeks, I was out of my house and in the studio apartment, and aside from hospitalization and academic travel, we've not been apart since.

And so Magnapop belongs, for me, to that alarming, exciting, transitional phase of my life. I blame them for waking the sleeping demons of desire for intimacy that my marriage had anaesthetized. And the fact that it all happened on that one night: sometimes life just works like that.

The promise of Hot Boxing didn't really translate into commercial success for the band, but that's true of so much of the music I like that it's hardly worth noting. There were two follow-up records, then nothing.

Until this year's Mouthfeel. Linda Cooper's vocals are as acerbic as ever, Ruthie Morris's guitar as gritty and sweet. It's a great, interesting record, and is garnering great reviews. (I particularly like "Smile 4 U" and "Stick It To Me.") Last month, they played a show in DC at which barely 100 people showed up: what a crime.
As Magnapop took the stage and began to charge through their set, squeezing as much as they could into the brief time they were allotted, it was easy to see why musicians like Stipe and Mould were so enamored by them (and why you should be too). The songs are smart and possess a distinct edge. Ruthie Morris's guitar has more than enough crunch to provide a counterbalance to Linda Hopper's catchy pop hooks. Seeing the band on stage was a little nostalgic, but the show was too engaging and the sound too fresh to wander too far into the past.

About three fourths of the way through the show Magnapop paused to praise the newly retired Guided by Voices and play their version of "Game of Pricks". Although Magnapop didn't perform the song with quite the drunken swagger of Robert Pollard, they did do it more than justice.

They've just finished a little tour, and I'm going to keep my eyes wide open to see if they're playing around again. They've been too important in my life for me to miss them.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Lyric Blogging

We come on the sloop john b
My grandfather and me
Around nassau town we did roam
Drinking all night
Got into a fight
Well I feel so broke up
I want to go home

So hoist up the john b’s sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up
I wanna go home

The first mate he got drunk
And broke in the cap’n’s trunk
The constable had to come and take him away
Sheriff john stone
Why don’t you leave me alone, yeah yeah
Well I feel so broke up I wanna go home

So hoist up the john b’s sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don’t you let me go home
(hoist up the john b’s sail)
Hoist up the john b
I feel so broke up I wanna go home
Let me go home

The poor cook he caught the fits
And threw away all my grits
And then he took and he ate up all of my corn
Let me go home
Why don’t they let me go home
This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on

So hoist up the john b’s sail
See how the mainsail sets
Call for the captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home, let me go home
Why don’t you let me go home

(Except for meeting kent. That was cool. But otherwise? Bah.)