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Bruce Springsteen is Boring

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There are certain critically acclaimed and successful musicians that I just don’t care much about. U2 is one such band, and so is Bruce Springsteen. His politics I can usually agree with, his heart seems to be in the right place, his working man schtick is admirable, but his music does not resonate in my brain. His voice irritates me to be honest. I have musical completist tendencies, and thus keep trying to like Bruce Springsteen, as he is so often reviewed favorably by critics and friends whose musical tastes I usually agree with. Coupled with the fact that I have no problem purchasing used CDs, especially easily discovered albums by artists like Springsteen, I have a surprising large collection of Springsteen albums accumulated over the years. Here is a thumbnail review of the ones still in my iTunes library.

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Springsteen Review 1.PNG

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. – Debut album, from 1972. Blinded by the Light is ok. 

The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle – second album. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) is ok, but drags on too long. The entire album suffers from the same problem.

Born To Run – the album that made The Boss’ career. If I was stuck in a car on a road trip with a Springsteen fan who maintained total control of the stereo, this is the album I’d choose. There are four songs worth listening to: Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, She’s the One, and Jungleland. Jungleland does have a soft jazz section that grates on my nerves, but the rest of the song is ok, albeit ponderously long. The title track is ok too, I guess, but everyone1 has heard it way too many times and thus the song has lost its lustre. Tramps like us! They really like us!

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Darkness on the Edge of Town – not horrible. Badlands, Adam Raised a Cain, Streets of Fire are ok. 

The River – meh. Cadillac Ranch is ok, maybe, occasionally. The track, Hungry Heart, is silly, and tedious, and I usually skip it, or else replace the chorus with the theme from Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Nebraska – meh. Conceptually, the idea of releasing demos instead of the studio version with a full band is interesting, but many of these songs don’t hold my interest for long. In a pinch, I’d say Atlantic City, Highway Patrolman, State Trooper are ok. Atlantic City is the best of the bunch, despite having its lyrics copped from a million early-70s heist films. Maybe the so-called Electric Nebraska (The Nebraska demos were recorded in a studio with the full E Street Band, but never released) would make the songs have more punch? Btw, Johnny Cash did a more powerful version of Highway Patrolman.

Born in the U.S.A. – Not a bad album, but over-hyped and over-played. Springsteen’s lyrics are the very definition of bombast. The kind of album that Ronald Reagan and his cult latched onto (despite not being able to read the lyrics, the chorus was simple enough for Republicans to chant at their rallies) Not to mention there was that music video with Courtney Cox being pulled out the audience. So lame. Glory Days, Born in the USA, I’m On Fire are decent songs, despite it all. 

Tunnel of Love – meh. I can’t pick a single song off of this album that I want to voluntarily listen to. The ‘80s drum machines don’t help.

Human Touch – meh. So boring. So generic. I hope the studio musicians got paid big bucks.

Lucky Touch – slightly better than Human Touch, but still boring. 

The Rising – yeah, yeah, about 9/11, and yadda yadda. Still long winded arena rock, and not fun to listen to. If pressed, maybe 3 decent songs: Into the Fire, Empty Sky, The Fuse, but my life would not be empty if I never heard them again. Candidate Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards) used The Rising as a campaign theme song, but still, snooooooooooze…

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Springsteen LPs

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions  – I actually like this album, none of the songs are written by Springsteen, nor by Pete Seeger for that matter, and Springsteen and company seem like they are having a good time singing and playing these folk standards. However, I don’t disagree with Robert Christgau’s review:

We shall overkill, he means. Never have his Howard Keel tendencies, or maybe now they’re Paul Robeson tendencies, tripped him up so bad. The idea is to big up the music and play the jokes you don’t ignore like you’re working a Roman amphitheater. I’m glad to have met the anti-war lament “Mrs. McGrath” and Sis Cunningham’s “My Oklahoma Home,” and sort of hope young people deprived of music appreciation funding will now hear “Erie Canal,” “Froggie Went A-Courtin’,” “John Henry,” and “Jesse James.” Only are young people really ignorant of these songs? And how many of them buy Springsteen albums anyway? Amping up his strange bluegrass-Dixieland hybrid like E Street is just around the corner, he sings his lungs out. But in folk music, lightness is all–and only newbies and John Hammond Jr. lean so hard on the cornpone drawl.

(click here to continue reading Robert Christgau: Consumer Guide May. 30, 2006: Radicals of the Moment.)

Pete Seeger’s versions are all much better, of course, but you probably already guessed I would think that.

MagicYou’ll Be Coming Down, Gypsy Biker are ok. Nothing memorable about either, nor on the rest of the LP, but at least Fox News and Clear Channel hated it.

Working on a Dream – more boring arena rock, released in 2009. I think when I purchased this album, after reading yet another positive review about it, I decided that I will never like Springsteen enough to purchase another of his albums, at least without hearing it first. 

Summing up: there’s about 15-20 decent Springsteen songs over a long career, which to be fair is a higher number than a lot of artists, but for all the incessant hype and adulation surrounding Springsteen, there should be more genuinely awesome songs. The Clash have at least 40 great songs to their name, maybe more, and their career lasted from 1977-1982.2 If I went through my music library, I could easily find 20 songs from dozens of my favorite artists, 20 songs all better than the best Springsteen has to offer. 

You may like Springsteen, that is your right, de gustibus non est disputandum, but I think he’s just boring.

Footnotes:
  1. especially me []
  2. Obviously, Cut The Crap doesn’t count []

Written by Seth Anderson

September 23rd, 2017 at 11:35 am

Posted in Music,Reviews

Tagged with

Books You Should Read – Miles The Autobiography by Miles Davis

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Miles The Autobiography

I’m too lazy of a blogger to properly write a book review for books I read that you should read too, but at least I can point you in an interesting direction. Today’s drive-by review: Miles, The Autobiography by Miles Davis (with the assistance of Quincy Troupe)

Reading this is how I’d imagine sitting down and chatting with Miles Davis would be like, mostly because the text reads as if it is conversational. Many times a musician “plays his ass off”, or Miles Davis learns some “chords and shit”, or someone is referred to as “cleaner than a motherfucker”, etc. The version I read doesn’t say much about how the book was created, I’m guessing Mr. Davis and Mr. Troupe sat down at a kitchen table, perhaps with a calendar with dates of tours, marriages, deaths, studio sessions, album releases, and the like, and then talked about and around it.

Fascinating, compelling conversation-as-text, and I wanted to hear the “extended” version with even more details about growing up middle class in East St. Louis, about the jazz scene in Manhattan as World War 2 ended, about musicians and their drug habits, about Paris in the 1950s, about Prince, and Jimi Hendrix, and Charlie Parker, and Louis Armstrong, and so on.

Miles Davis mentions Louis Armstrong, talks about how influential a musician he was, but then has a reoccurring riff about black musicians who smile and “mug” for the audience. Even Dizzy Gillespie, one of Miles Davis’ long time friends and mentors, is criticized for being too genial with the audience. Miles Davis didn’t want liner notes on his albums, wanted the music to speak for itself. And since I’ve listening to it for years, and non-stop this last week, I agree!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

August 6th, 2017 at 9:37 am

Posted in Books,Music

Tagged with ,

Join Together – A New-To-Me App to Recreate Spinning Vinyl Sides

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The Replacements - Tim
The Replacements – Tim, on vinyl.

Yesterday I realized that iTunes 12.x doesn’t have an option to merge two or more music tracks into one. I thought iTunes used to have this functionality, but perhaps I was mistaken. I could have dug out my original CD, and merged the songs that way, but after briefly Googling, I discovered that Applescript master and long-time iTunes expert Doug Adams has built a (Mac only) app that performs this very task. Cool!

Join Together will create and export a single AAC or ALAC audio file from the audio data of tracks dragged from iTunes or files dragged from the Finder, leaving the original source tracks and files intact.

(click here to continue reading Doug’s Apps for iTunes – Join Together – v7.7.3 – Official Download Site.)

Or as Doug added on Twitter: 

Quality LP sides have their own internal logic & mood, as sequenced by the artist/producers. Each LP side can even have its own character. Breaking up albums into single songs in iTunes defeats the artist’s intent. I realized there were many albums that I owned that would benefit from being joined together like this. Mostly albums from before CDs became the default medium, I’m guessing in the early 1990s.1

An LP that has been played many, many times embeds itself in your brain as it is sequenced. Of course, thinking back, I often did skip a particular track on some albums if I wasn’t otherwise occupied, but usually I would play an entire LP side, and then maybe not even flip it over, but move on to the next LP. 

Wu-Tang Clan’s debut LP
Wu-Tang Clan’s debut LP

Albums that I loved on vinyl enough to replace on CD, aka Desert Island Discs; LPs like Highway 61 Revisited, or London Calling, or Kind of Blue, Electric Ladyland, individual songs that should be heard together in sequence like the Grateful Dead’s China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider, or even the short songs that make up the second side of Abbey Road; these are ideal candidates for Join Together.

Whenever I played the Meat Puppets 2, I always played the second side first, as I thought the first song on the first side2 was too jarring, and unlike the rest of the LP. When I use Join Together, I’m going to recreate that playing experience. I don’t need to hear Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” more than once or twice a year, so I’ll make a version of Led Zeppelin IV -Side 1 without Stairway3. Same with the Velvet Underground & Nico: how many times a year do I want to hear “European Son”? 

Big Star - first album
Big Star – first album

Footnotes:
  1. I was a late hold-out, and didn’t purchase my first CD until I couldn’t find a vinyl version of Sonic Youth’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star []
  2.  “Split Myself in Two” []
  3. I often would pick the needle up after hearing the first few notes []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 1st, 2017 at 9:44 am

Posted in Apple,Music

Tagged with , ,

Apartment Complexes Named After Smiths Songs

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Other people’s dreams are notoriously difficult to parse, but I’m noting a dream I had a couple nights ago because I remembered it a moment ago, and it made me giggle. 

Smiths
smiths.PNG

In my dream, I was writing a long blog post about the new trend of naming apartment complexes and high-rise condominiums after the titles of Smiths songs. In my dream, I had a print out of two sheets of paper worth of new dwellings named this way.

If you are at all familiar with The Smiths oeuvre, you’ll know that is utterly ridiculous.

For instance, can you imagine living in a place called:

The Headmaster Ritual

or in a condo called

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

or

Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours

etc.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what my subconscious was attempting to convey to my conscious brain. I haven’t even been listening to The Smiths recently (though I periodically do queue up Smiths LPs; if I made a list of my top 100 bands, they would probably make the cut, or just miss it.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 18th, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Posted in Music,Personal

Tagged with , ,

Jimi Hendrix Death a Tragedy

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I watched the documentary “Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child” on Netflix the other day. I enjoyed it, but it got me to thinking.

Lots of musicians died too early. Some times it mattered more than other times.

Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set
Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix only released three studio albums while he was alive, plus the live performance Band of Gypsys and some other singles. He was working on a new album when he died, but it wasn’t finished, so who knows what it would have sounded like. Hendrix never made an album while he wasn’t also touring: he never stopped touring long enough to spend exhaustive hours in the studio to make something as polished as Dark Side of the Moon, or other creations of the studio. He built a recording studio-  Electric Lady Studios – to his own specifications, and recorded a handful tracks there, but there was a lot of unexplored territory we as music fans were deprived of hearing. Hendrix could have easily made a solo acoustic blues album; an album with some blues guitar master like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or the like; a deep and dirty funk album with Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton; could have eventually recorded that frequently discussed collaboration with Miles Davis; could have recorded an album of Motown covers; a soul and R&B album; an album of Krautrock guitar landscapes inspired by Kraftwerk, Faust, Can etc.; and some albums with Brian Eno exploring the spaces between guitar feedback. I could even imagine Hendrix getting into heavy metal or grunge for a moment. Did Hendrix ever hear any Reggae? Ska, probably, but Reggae wasn’t really “a thing” in 1970. The list goes on and on, Hendrix was such a genius and a musical sponge, absorbing sounds from the aether. 

I divided modern pop musicians into 3 categories, and obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few quick examples.

1. Died too early, but recorded enough of a legacy to enjoy, had a career long enough, but it could have been longer. There could be a long, long list of people who died in their 30s or 40s or even 50s.

  • John Bonham – Led Zeppelin ceased to exist when Bonzo died, but there are hours worth of rocking out to be enjoyed. 
  • John Lennon – Beatles, solo work. Not all great, but quite enough to be able to spend an entire afternoon listening to good, interesting music. 
  • Bob Marley – With the Wailers including Peter Tosh, and then semi-solo. Something around ten albums of great reggae. There was more in him that we won’t hear. 
  • Prince – my favorite Prince LPs were from the period before Prince became religious, but there are thousands of unreleased songs, allegedly, some of which will be great, some not so great.
  • Jerry Garcia – borderline Category 2: because of the whole taping-of-shows-encouraged-ethos, there are thousands of hours of Grateful Dead music available, of varying quality, but quite a lot of it is good. Did Garcia die too soon? Not soon enough? Who knows?

2. Lived a long time, had varied career, of both good and bad quality. Some of these artists are still making music, having survived the 1960s, some of the music is even listenable.

  • Bob Dylan – Some of the best literate rock, and also some Christian rock, acoustic albums of covers, Christmas songs, throwaway albums, and so on.
  • Neil Young – Peaks and valleys, but always exploring new sounds and documenting them in the moment.
  • Paul McCartney – Beatles especially, solo work less stellar, but still moving through the fair
  • Mick Jagger/Keith Richards – Four great albums, a bunch of other good songs, but so much dreck, and yet they soldier on.
  • Leonard Cohen/David Bowie/Guy Clark/etc. – a full and varied career that had to end sometime as we haven’t yet figured out the key to immortality of the human body. 

 3. Died way too early – nobody, artist or not an artist, should die before the age of 30.

  • Jimi Hendrix 
  • Janis Joplin – a powerful, emotional singer, but with limited range. Could she have done anything else? Maybe, probably not. Would Joplin have recorded an Alt-Country LP in her 50s?
  • Jim Morrison – Six studio albums. Maybe that was all there was for Morrison to say? The Doors are a sort of Baroque-Rock band, would they have been popular for ever? Would they have made a disco album? A punk rock album?  
  • Brian Jones – started the Rolling Stones, but the best Rolling Stones LPs didn’t have him playing on them, or playing much.1 What would he have done to pull himself out of the drugged-out wastrel lifestyle?
  • Kurt Cobain – Was Nirvana a band with staying power? Would they still be as popular? Could they play other styles beside aggro-rock?
  • Amy Winehouse – a powerful, emotional singer. Did she have more to contribute? We’ll never know.
  • Syd Barrett – One studio album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a few songs on Pink Floyd’s second LP, and a lifetime of subject matter for the rest of the band. Plus 40 or so solo tracks recorded and assisted by David Gilmour, Roger Waters and others. Seems like enough. 
  • Ian Curtis – Joy Division morphed into New Order after Curtis killed himself at the age of 24, but Joy Division is my favorite of the two. There should have been at least 5 Joy Division albums, but instead there were only two plus some singles.

And there you are…

Hendrix  West Coast Seattle Boy
Hendrix – West Coast Seattle Boy

Footnotes:
  1. Beggars Banquet; Let It Bleed; Sticky Fingers; Exile on Main Street by my estimation []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 9th, 2017 at 11:35 pm

Posted in Music

Tagged with ,

Apple, in Seeming Jab at Spotify, Proposes Simpler Songwriting Royalties

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The Music Kept Playing
The Music Kept Playing

More skirmishes in the continuing battle between corporate behemoths…

Apple, in a government filing on Friday, proposed simplifying the highly complex way that songwriting royalties are paid when it comes to on-demand streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal.

According to Apple’s proposal, made with the Copyright Royalty Board, a panel of federal judges who oversee rates in the United States, streaming services should pay 9.1 cents in songwriting royalties for every 100 times a song is played. This formula would replace the long passages of federal rules for streaming rates, which often leave musicians bewildered about just how the money flows in streaming music.

Apple’s filing was made as part of a proceeding by the Copyright Royalty Board to set statutory rates for downloads and interactive streaming services from 2018 to 2022. Spotify, Google, Pandora, Amazon and the Recording Industry Association of America were all expected to file their proposals by Friday, but the panel has not yet made the filings public.

Although the bulk of Apple’s proposal with the Copyright Royalty Board is confined to three brief paragraphs, it would have wide implications if it were adopted. Songwriting rates paid by interactive streaming services like Spotify are now governed by a byzantine system that includes a division between what are known as mechanical and performance royalties for the same songs. Apple’s proposal would cover all songwriting royalties with the same rate. (Royalties for recordings are accounted separately.)

What Apple does not say in its filing, however, is that the statutory rates it proposes would not apply to its own services. When the company introduced Apple Music last year, it struck direct deals with music publishers at rates that are slightly higher than usual.

(click here to continue reading Apple, in Seeming Jab at Spotify, Proposes Simpler Songwriting Royalties – The New York Times.)

Phil Entering Around Again Records
Phil Entering Around Again Records

Streaming services like Spotify, Pandora et al, do seem to rely upon underpaying artists, or figuring out schemes to avoid payment at all. If musicians cannot make a living creating music, there won’t be any, other than vanity projects, and top 40 bullshit. But then I’m a curmudgeon who still purchases all my music in hard-copy and don’t subscribe to any of these services.

Written by Seth Anderson

July 18th, 2016 at 8:12 am

Posted in Apple,Music

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Did Led Zeppelin steal a riff for Stairway to Heaven

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Led Zeppelin poster
 Led Zeppelin’s latest trial is going before a federal court.

The common ground between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” largely comes down to a 10-second musical theme that appears 45 seconds into “Taurus,” an instrumental from the band’s 1968 debut album, which is similar to the opening acoustic guitar pattern on “Stairway.” That song was released three years before “Stairway to Heaven” surfaced on Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, commonly referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV.”

Zeppelin surviving members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones and their legal team are expected to argue that the similarity is nothing more than coincidence between musicians working in a field rooted in commonly used and re-used musical ideas. Or they may attempt to cite earlier precursors to both songs from the public domain, which could render moot the Wolfe estate’s copyright claim.

“It’s a tough one to call,” says singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, whose 1960s band Fairport Convention helped pioneer the merger of traditional British folk music with the amplified energy of rock ’n’ roll that Led Zeppelin took to its apotheosis in the 1970s.

“They were on the same bill together before [Zeppelin guitarist] Jimmy Page wrote ‘Stairway,’ there’s that,” Thompson said, referring to the Wolfe estate’s claiming that because the two bands played shows together in the late 1960s, and that Spirit often included “Taurus” in those shows, Zeppelin’s members at least had the opportunity to have heard the song.

“On the other hand,” Thompson said, “it’s not an uncommon riff, and the melody not that unusual.”

Guitarist Laurence Juber, who used to play with Paul McCartney’s band Wings, noted that the opening progression can be heard in a 16th century sonata for guitar, violin and strings by Italian composer Giovanni Battista Granata.

“The reality is that to have a descending bass line with an A minor chord on top of it is a common musical device.”

Because of the statute of limitations, the Wolfe estate is only able to seek revenue produced by “Stairway” since 2011, or the three years before the latest remastered version was released in 2014. But going forward, any percentage of monies coming out of sales or airplay of the song could add up to a significant windfall for the estate of Wolfe, who drowned in Hawaii in 1997 while rescuing his son from a strong undertow.

 

(click here to continue reading Did Led Zeppelin steal a riff for ‘Stairway to Heaven’? A court will decide – LA Times.)

I am a fan of Led Zeppelin, enough so that I’ve purchased all their albums on multiple formats, or editions. That said, for a long time, I usually skip Stairway to Heaven – I’ve just heard it way too many times.

Zeppelin and Jimmy Page have borrowed heavily from previous artists, people like Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, etc. Did they borrow a bit of Spirit’s Taurus? The decending riff does sound similar, but it is not unique. In fact, the sonata for guitar by Granata, below, does sound quite similar too, and it’s from the 16th century.

Extremely similar to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”; the arpeggio can be heard at 0:32 in this 17th Century Composition titled “Sonata di Chittarra, e Violino, con il suo Basso Continuo” by Giovanni Battista Granata.

Guitar performance by Stephen Stubbs.

Or this Davy Graham guitar from 1959’s “Cry Me A River”

Guitarist Davy Graham playing Cry Me A River, as captured in a 1959 BBC documentary directed by Ken Russell on the rise in popularity of the guitar in Britain.

And why did Randy Spirit not file a lawsuit while alive? Once he died, then his family’s estate went after Led Zeppelin. 

I guess we’ll see.

Written by Seth Anderson

June 13th, 2016 at 10:28 pm

Melancholy, Misunderstood, and Moonstruck

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https://i1.wp.com/farm8.staticflickr.com/7430/27338087270_f5a88d4320_z.jpg?resize=360%2C640&ssl=1

A perfect, balmy night on the roof deck of my building. I brought up some cognac, and a BlueTooth speaker.

https://i1.wp.com/farm8.staticflickr.com/7356/27515495962_4341125031_z.jpg?resize=640%2C640&ssl=1

Here was the soundtrack…

  1. Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, Dave MattacksCuckoos Nest
    Morris On
  2. The Albion BandGresford Disaster
    Rise Up Like The Sun
  3. Fairport ConventionDoctor Of Physick
    Full House
  4. Richard ThompsonThe Angels Took My Racehorse Away
    Henry The Human Fly
  5. Richard Thompson & Linda ThompsonThe Little Beggar Girl
    Live At The BBC
  6. FotheringayBanks Of The Nile
    No More Sad Refrains
  7. Thompson, RichardThe End Of The Rainbow
    I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
  8. Richard Thompson/Linda ThompsonI Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
    In Concert November 1975
  9. Fairport ConventionThe Hiring Fair
    The Woodworm Years
  10. Richard ThompsonI Misunderstood
    Ramble On! Uncut Cover CD – September 2014
  11. Fairport ConventionFlatback Caper
    Full House
  12. Thompson, RichardThe Great Valerio
    I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
  13. Fairport ConventionSir Patrick Spens
    Liege & Lief [Deluxe Edition]
  14. Fairport ConventionBanks Of The Sweet Primroses
    Live At The BBC
  15. David BowieLife On Mars?
    The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
  16. Fairport ConventionDirty Linen
    Full House
  17. Thompson, RichardWhen I Get To The Border
    I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
  18. La’s, TheThere She Goes
    The La’s
  19. Fairport ConventionFlowers Of The Forest
    Full House
  20. Thompson, RichardDown Where The Drunkards Roll
    I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
  21. Shirley Collins & Albion Country BandClaudy Banks
    No Roses
  22. Thompson, RichardWithered And Died
    I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
  23. Fairport ConventionSloth
    Full House
  24. Richard ThompsonNobody’s Wedding
    Henry The Human Fly

Written by Seth Anderson

June 12th, 2016 at 12:24 am

Posted in Music,Narcipost

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Brain Volume Sorta Low

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Volume
Volume

Some days the volume is low and there is no way to crank it up to ten.

((Editor’s note: even my website was low-energy yesterday, as this post failed, and my entire site also went down))

Written by Seth Anderson

June 7th, 2016 at 8:16 am

Posted in Music

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David Bowie as The Man Who Fell To Earth

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David Bowie Is: waiting in line
David Bowie Is: waiting in line

If you haven’t seen this film recently, do. Especially the Criterion Collection released a few years ago…

David Bowie, The Thin White Duke, and The Man Who Fell To Earth:

Casting David Bowie as a space alien was one of Hollywood’s best decisions since marrying sound and image. Okay, that’s more than a touch hyperbolic, but come on. Bowie, and his post-Ziggy specialization in coming off like an otherworldly being, was exactly what Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth needed. Hallucinatory, heartfelt, and wholly bizarre, Bowie’s 1976 cult film turned 40 this year, and its marvelous mystery seems to still reach not just beyond the stars, but deep within the human condition. The Man Who Fell to Earth endures not only as a truly bizarre sci-fi masterpiece, but as a time stamp for one of Bowie’s most fascinating and alluring creations: The Thin White Duke.

Newton’s the only alien on our planet; perhaps not so coincidentally, so was Bowie. While the film may flounder at points due to ‘70s excess – hefty nudity, hallucinatory cinematography, a general lack of focus that may or may not have been brought on by drugs – it endures as a wild trip into the outer limits of what defines a man. If anything, Newton is a classic story of commerce, a rise and fall experienced by an extraterrestrial with a preternatural world-weariness. Newton lacks affect for much of the film, as he casually gazes at our world through a particularly yahoo American landscape. Commerce and cowboys and loud things abound. Why wouldn’t an alien recoil in quiet contemplation of the surrealism of it all? Bowie himself summarized it best: The film is sad.

(Via Consequence of Sound)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 30th, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Theremin Master Dorit Chrysler

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Arthur Harrison
204 Theremin

For your daily theremin news…

If Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin are two of the undisputed masters of synthesis, then Dorit Chrysler is the sonic equivalent when it comes to the theremin. A composer, producer, and singer, Chrysler is the co-founder of the New York Theremin Society and founder of the first school for theremin, KidCoolThereminSchool. So as much as the theremin is a tool in Chrysler’s electronic instrument arsenal, she’s also one the most visible thereminists spreading the gospel of this mysterious sounding instrument, which is basically played by massaging thin air.

…Chrysler’s door into the world of the theremin was opened by her friend Lary 7, a New York-based musician and filmmaker. After inviting Chrysler to his house one day, Lary 7 showed her a theremin he was repairing, then demonstrated the playing technique.

Something clicked within Chrysler, who refused to rest until she mastered some notes. She saw in the theremin a lot of underappreciated sonic potential, and had to “get to the bottom of it,” as she explains. For Chrysler, this involved dedicating herself to the theremin.

“With the theremin, you surrender to a microtonal universe consisting within a one-inch movement of your hand towards the pitch antenna,” she explains. “[You] sculpt and chisel every note above the volume rod—close your eyes and perk your ears and you shall be rewarded.”

“For me a good thereminist is a player who focuses on the expressive potential of the instrument,” she adds. “No other electronic instrument can sound so devastatingly emotional, or shall we say, even hysterical at times. Run with it and find your own voice. Supposedly, Lev Termen, its inventor, said, ‘if you put your soul in it, you are worthy of playing the theremin.’”

(click here to continue reading Get Inside the Mind of a Theremin Master | The Creators Project.)

One of these days, I’ll encounter a cheap-enough theremin, or theremin-building kit, and will add it to my home orchestra. 

Bonus video: Leon Theremin playing a theremin

Written by Seth Anderson

May 30th, 2016 at 9:08 am

Posted in Music

Tagged with ,

Christy Moore: Lily

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Patri
Patri

I’ve never heard Christy Moore perform live, though I have several albums that he sings on (as part of Planxty, or as a solo act, or as a guest artist with Shane McGowan or Sinéad O’Connor, etc.). His new LP, Lily, sounds interesting:

Ireland’s finest singer-songwriter and interpreter of other people’s songs returns with his first album in three years. Christy Moore’s new set is as varied as his celebrated live performances: unexpected songs are reworked with his intimate, soulful vocals. He starts with a series of easygoing pieces by Irish writers, including the upbeat The Tuam Beat, but the mood changes with the thoughtful, partly self-composed title track, which blends nostalgia and history. Then comes the politics. A powerful treatment of Wallflower, Peter Gabriel’s 80s lament for political prisoners, is followed by Mick Blake’s Oblivious, an angry analysis of Ireland, a hundred years on from the Easter Rising. The backing includes fiddle, harmonica and mandolin, and for the final track, Christy recites a poem by Dave Lordan against a wash of sound. He celebrates 50 years as a full-time singer this summer, and he’s still taking chances.

(click here to continue reading Christy Moore: Lily review – politics, nostalgia and soul | Music | The Guardian.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 23rd, 2016 at 11:20 am

Posted in Music

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Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?

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Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph
Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph

Chuck Klosterman wrote an interesting essay, with a subject my inner rock historian appreciates: who will be the John Phillips Sousa of rock music, as viewed by students 300 years in the future? What artist will stand in for the genre itself? Will it be The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? Elvis Presley? Or Bob Dylan? Or someone else entirely?

The symbolic value of rock is conflict-based: It emerged as a byproduct of the post-World War II invention of the teenager, soundtracking a 25-year period when the gap between generations was utterly real and uncommonly vast. That dissonance gave rock music a distinctive, nonmusical importance for a long time. But that period is over. Rock — or at least the anthemic, metaphoric, Hard Rock Cafe version of big rock — has become more socially accessible but less socially essential, synchronously shackled by its own formal limitations. Its cultural recession is intertwined with its cultural absorption. As a result, what we’re left with is a youth-oriented music genre that a) isn’t symbolically important; b) lacks creative potential; and c) has no specific tie to young people. It has completed its historical trajectory. Which means, eventually, it will exist primarily as an academic pursuit. It will exist as something people have to be taught to feel and understand.

I imagine a college classroom in 300 years, in which a hip instructor is leading a tutorial filled with students. These students relate to rock music with no more fluency than they do the music of Mesopotamia: It’s a style they’ve learned to recognize, but just barely (and only because they’ve taken this specific class). Nobody in the room can name more than two rock songs, except the professor. He explains the sonic structure of rock, its origins, the way it served as cultural currency and how it shaped and defined three generations of a global superpower. He shows the class a photo, or perhaps a hologram, of an artist who has been intentionally selected to epitomize the entire concept. For these future students, that singular image defines what rock was.

So what’s the image?

(click here to continue reading Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember? – The New York Times.)

Bob Dylan - The U.S. Invasion is Underway
Bob Dylan – The U.S. Invasion is Underway

From my perspective, Bob Dylan is a better candidate than Elvis, simply because his music is more interesting to me. But who knows? It might be Prince, especially if the unreleased music contained in his vault turns out to be good, and culturally resonant for years to come. Or someone else entirely, like Chuck Berry.

All Alone In This World Without You
All Alone In This World Without You

Klosterman’s thought experiment is full of good lines, of course, including this train of inquiry:

In 2014, the jazz historian Ted Gioia published a short essay about music criticism that outraged a class of perpetually outraged music critics. Gioia’s assertion was that 21st‑century music writing has devolved into a form of lifestyle journalism that willfully ignores the technical details of the music itself. Many critics took this attack personally and accused Gioia of devaluing their vocation. Which is odd, considering the colossal degree of power Gioia ascribes to record reviewers: He believes specialists are the people who galvanize history. Critics have almost no impact on what music is popular at any given time, but they’re extraordinarily well positioned to dictate what music is reintroduced after its popularity has waned.

“Over time, critics and historians will play a larger role in deciding whose fame endures,” Gioia wrote me in an email. “Commercial factors will have less impact. I don’t see why rock and pop will follow any different trajectory from jazz and blues.” He rattled off several illustrative examples: Ben Selvin outsold Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. In 1956, Nelson Riddle and Les Baxter outsold “almost every rock ’n’ roll star not named Elvis,” but they’ve been virtually erased from the public record. A year after that, the closeted gay crooner Tab Hunter was bigger than Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, “but critics and music historians hate sentimental love songs. They’ve constructed a perspective that emphasizes the rise of rock and pushes everything else into the background. Transgressive rockers, in contrast, enjoy lasting fame.” He points to a contemporary version of that phenomenon: “Right now, electronic dance music probably outsells hip‑hop. This is identical to the punk‑versus‑disco trade‑off of the 1970s. My prediction: edgy hip‑hop music will win the fame game in the long run, while E.D.M. will be seen as another mindless dance craze.”

(click here to continue reading Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember? – The New York Times.)

I agree with Gioia in this sense: there is a lot of music in my library that I only encountered because someone wrote about it, either a music critic, or a liner-note scribe, or similar. Word of mouth only covers so much ground. Big Bill Broonzy died before I was born, as did the career of Syd Barrett, The Sonics, The Velvet Underground and many, many other bands I never encountered on the radio, nor in a local tavern. 

Written by Seth Anderson

May 23rd, 2016 at 8:29 am

Daryl Hall has a message for critics crying cultural appropriation: “Shut the f*ck up”

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I confess that when I was a teenager, I only liked songs with long, loud guitar solos, and Hall & Oats was not on the list of “cool” bands. As I’ve mellowed, and expanded my musical palette, I now can appreciate artists like Daryl Hall.

missed opportunity
missed opportunity

David Masciotra of Salon interviews Daryl Hall, but first introduces him thus:

Daryl Hall is possibly the most interesting man in music. He and John Oates form the most successful musical duo of all time, and even though, their setlists during sold out shows around the world are full of instantly recognizable hits from the 1970s and ‘80s, they are not a nostalgia act. More than other performers in their age bracket, including The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, Daryl Hall and John Oates have constructed a coalition of baby boomers who remember where they were when “Rich Girl” or “Sara Smile” first hit the radio, and thirty and twenty-something fans who enjoy the smooth, soulful, and pop-infused style of “I Can’t Go For That” and “Out of Touch” as if those songs came out yesterday.

Hall owes much of his multigenerational admiration to his songwriting – clandestinely innovative and wildly varied – his voice – one of the best in the business – but also his early adaptation of the internet as an enhancement of art and entertainment, rather as a murderer of creativity, as many often call it. In 2007, Hall launched “Live From Daryl’s House” – an internet show depicting Hall and an invited guest jamming to a variety of songs within the confines of his home. The show still broadcasts from the internet, but also plays on the MTV Live network, and it is now filmed in Hall’s live music club, aptly named “Daryl’s House.”

Guests range from legends like Smokey Robinson, Cheap Trick, and The O’Jays (Cheap Trick was the guest for the debut episode of the current season) to rising stars such as Aloe Blaac, Amos Lee, and another guest of the current season, Wyclef Jean.

The show has a natural excitement. Hall’s band is in peak form – playing grooves so tight it is a wonder there is any oxygen in the room – and Daryl Hall’s voice soars whether he is singing blues based rock alongside Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top or he is shouting with soul to the music of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings.

I recently had a conversation with Hall, and learned that he is as passionate in his perspective as he is in his performance. Like a professor in the Department of Funk, Soul, and Pop Studies, he needs little provocation to provide “adult education” on everything from the state of music commerce to conflicts over cultural appropriation.

 

(click here to continue reading Daryl Hall has a message for critics crying cultural appropriation: “Shut the f*ck up” – Salon.com.)

I’ll have to check this show out…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 16th, 2016 at 9:13 am

Posted in Music

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More Creation Myths About the “Exile On Main Street” sessions

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Exile On Main St Dlx, with Milk Thistle
Exile On Main St Dlx, with Milk Thistle

The Rolling Stones last great album, Exile on Main Street, is also mythical. There are all sorts of stories about the album’s debauched creation, and why not? Forced to flee the U.K., their native country, because their former manager Allen Klein while ripping them off, also didn’t pay any taxes, the Rolling Stones ended up in the south of France. Keith Richards rented a mansion in Villefranche called Nellcôte, a house in the grand European style, with porticos, columns, and gardens, and a basement that the Nazi’s used to torture French partisans and others during WW2. Richards had pharmaceutical grade heroin, and who knows what else, and the band, and friends, hung out, and created a sprawling album while having fun. Well, some fun anyway…

Rich Cohen has a new book out called, “The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones”, I suspect I’ll read it eventually. Here’s how he describes the setup at  Nellcôte

The Stones, then in the process of signing a distribution deal with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records, needed to make a follow-up to Sticky Fingers. They’d gone into exile with several cuts in the can, leftovers from previous sessions—some recorded at Olympic, some recorded at Stargroves, Mick’s country house. France was scouted for studios, but in the end, unable to find a place that could accommodate Keith’s junkie needs, they decided to record at Nellcôte. Sidemen, engineers, and producers began turning up in June 1971. Ian Stewart drove the Stones’ mobile unit—a recording studio built in the back of a truck—over from England. Parked in the driveway, it was connected via snaking cables to the cellar, which had been insulated, amped, and otherwise made ready, though it was an awkward space. “[The cellar] had been a torture chamber during World War II,” sound engineer Andy Johns told Goldmine magazine.“I didn’t notice until we’d been there for a while that the floor heating vents in the hallway were shaped like swastikas. Gold swastikas. And I said to Keith, ‘ What the fuck is that?’ ‘Oh, I never told you? This was [Gestapo] headquarters.’”

The cellar was a honeycomb of enclosures. As the sessions progressed, the musicians spread out in search of the best sound. In the end, each was like a monk in a cell, connected by technology. Richards and Wyman were in one room, but Watts was by himself and Taylor was under the stairs. Pianist Nicky Hopkins was at the end of one hall and the brass section was at the end of another. “It was a catacomb,” sax player Bobby Keys told me, “dark and creepy. Me and Jim Price—Jim played trumpet—set up far away from the other guys. We couldn’t see anyone. It was fucked up, man.”

Together and alone—the human condition.

The real work began in July. Historians mark it as July 6, but it was messier than that. There was no clean beginning to Exile, or end. It never stopped and never started, but simply emerged out of the everyday routine. It was punishingly hot in the cellar. The musicians played without shirts or shoes. Among the famous images of the sessions is Bobby Keys in a bathing suit, blasting away on his sax. The names of the songs—“Ventilator Blues,”“Turd on the Run”—were inspired by the conditions, as was the album’s working title: Tropical Disease. The Stones might hone a single song for several nights. Some of the best—“Let It Loose,”“Soul Survivor”—emerged from a free-for-all, a seemingly pointless jam, out of which, after hours of nothing much, a melody would appear, shining and new. On outtakes, you can hear Jagger quieting everyone at the key moment: “All right, all right, here we go.” As in life, the music came faster than the words. Now and then, Jagger stood before a microphone, grunting as the groove took shape—vowel sounds that slowly formed into phrases. On one occasion, they employed a modernist technique, the cutout method used by William S. Burroughs. Richards clipped bits of text from newspapers and dropped them into a hat. Selecting at random, Jagger and Richards assembled the lyric of “Casino Boogie”:

Dietrich movies / close up boogies

The record came into focus the same way: slowly, over weeks, along a path determined by metaphysical forces, chaos, noise, and beauty netted via a never-to-be-repeated process.

(click here to continue reading Secrets of the “Exile” sessions: Drugs, sex and madness as the Rolling Stones took over France – Salon.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 16th, 2016 at 9:00 am