Thinking Makes It So

Imagine a famous painting. For the sake of simplicity, think the “Mona Lisa.” Now consider an artist. Exceedingly talented. Adept with brush and paint. A mastery at manipulating the latter with the former. A steady hand. A keen eye. And she paints, stroke for stroke, brush for brush, what is, visibly, the “Mona Lisa.”

The point of her doing so is not forgery. At least not in the sense of trying to dupe anyone. Rather, she simply has created a version of a masterpiece, a version that even a practiced eye would have a difficult time debunking.

So say you go to a gallery or an art museum in a city you’re visiting. Say San Francisco. And you see what you think is the “Mona Lisa.” As you don’t keep up much with the comings and goings in the art world, you think to yourself, “Hey, the ‘Mona Lisa’ is here at SFMOMA. And there aren’t any crowds.” This scenario, of course, would have to be abetted by a curator. But just take all of this as a given.

Now the question becomes this: Is the reaction that you have to that painting any different than the reaction if you saw the real thing? Assuming that you had no extraneous knowledge of the masterful painting abilities of Jane Doe and her rendering of the DaVinci, presumably whatever reaction that you have would necessarily be the same (perhaps heightened a bit, knowing that you didn’t have to cross the Atlantic and then stand in a long line to see the object under glass).

Let’s switch the mimicry to music. Let’s say there is a band that has thoroughly dedicated itself to performing the music of the Jimi Hendrix Experience such that every lick that Hendrix played is accurate; every throb of the bass is rendered as Noel Redding would; every snap of the snare resonates of Mitch Mitchell.

Let’s further suppose that you didn’t see the performers playing, but actually, in some sort of audio rendering of a Turing Test, the music was piped in to a room where you were sitting. What would your reaction to this imitation be?

Admittedly, the Hendrix example isn’t good inasmuch as everyone pretty much knows that he’s dead. But I use it for a reason. Last month, there was a charity auction held of some of Hendrix’s memorabilia. And as part of promoting the event, a band was performed that played Experience music. And one of the members of that band was Noel Redding. Which led me to start wondering about precisely what it is that makes something authentic. After all, wasn’t Redding part of the Experience? Wouldn’t the audio experience in that case be Experiential?

There are always situations in music wherein performers come and go from any given grouping. Think only of an orchestra: What are the odds that the same people are playing in, say, the Berlin Philharmonic today as did 10 years ago? Long after band leader Glenn Miller died, an orchestra with his name continued to swing. Rock bands tend to be significantly smaller than either of these types of ensembles and so the individuals would seem to have more of an effect on the outcome of the music. What’s more, there seems to be a legal jealousy that exists in rock, where a few band members of a seemingly defunct group go out on a reunion tour with the original name intact. . .until they have to morph it into something similar but different (e.g., “Creedence Clearwater Revisited.”). While this may be seemingly like the calculation of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, what I am trying to figure out is the number of people necessary in a band to make the band continue to be the band. Near as I can tell, no one said The Who was something other after Keith Moon died. Or the Stones after Brian Jones. Would the Grateful Dead have been unalterably changed after Garcia was dead? Is R.E.M. today something less than it was a few years ago. (OK. That’s a bad example.)

But what I am wondering about is the effect of the near-perfect clone, be it visual or aural: What is it that makes the artistic experience? Is it something that we know independent of the painting or song itself that makes it valuable? Without the validation of a name performer is what we see or hear less striking? Does this mean that our reactions are not immediate but actually mediated by information?

Does rock and roll change our lives, or does what we know about it really do the trick?

The Majors Must Die

According to an article on ZD Net News, some major labels have begun to add “digital distortion” onto newly released CDs in order to prevent piracy. They claim that it’s “all but inaudible when a CD is played through an ordinary CD player, but when a song is copied into digital format on a PC’s hard drive, the distortion shows up as annoying ‘clicks and pops’ in the music.”

ALL BUT inaudible? That means it’s somewhat audible, right? Well, fuck that. That just won’t do. I’m not that much of an audiophile — I found my receiver in someone’s trash — but you can’t just go making CDs sound worse. I don’t want to get started on the old digital vs. analog debate in which analog ALWAYS wins in the category of sound quality (digital usually wins the convenience category), but CDs are already a “lossy” medium. They do not reproduce a true, full sound wave. Maybe the record companies think that the majority of consumers who are satisfied with the sub-par fidelity of 128kbs MP3 files just won’t notice and won’t care.

They’re probably right.

But I wonder if the artists know that their work is being distorted for the sake of piracy protection. It sounds like the labels are being pretty secretive about this whole thing. Are they required by law to inform the artists that they’re messing with the sound of their music? Have any of you had any trouble with “pops and clicks” when you’re ripping your CDs? Let us know.

White Stripes on Kilbourn: Is There Stroh’s In This Green Room?

It’s hard to rock when you’re surrounded by faux wood paneling and a studio audience that’s been paid with pizza. But that’s exactly where The White Stripes found themselves on Tuesday night, as the current keepers of Detroit’s rock lamplight got set to perform on CBS’ “Late Late Show With Craig Kilbourn.” Wedged into five minutes at the tail end of the show, Meg and Jack White did their best to tear the cover off of the ball with the same energy displayed on their recent tour. And if it’s possible to convey all of that grit and soul while performing on the decidedly soul-less “Late Late Show,” then the White Stripes hit a home run.

The worst thing about the band’s “Late Late Show” appearance was having to endure the hijinks of Kilbourn, a puffy-skinned worm of a man who is smarmy in ways we have not seen people be smarmy before. Watching him ooze all over Playmate of the Year Brande Roderick on a recent episode was just embarrassing. Yes, she is Playmate of the Year. But at least wait til the afterparty to jump her bones. Watching Kilbourn’s train wreck of a show makes me long for the Wilton-North Report. Nevertheless, whoever’s booking bands on the “Late Late Show” is doing a bang-up job. The performance space/hallway occupied by the White Stripes’ dualistic rock show has held the likes of Supergrass, Duran Duran, and intriguing up-and-comers The Josh Joplin Group. It may be a comedic backwater hosted by a blond-haired horny sloth, but it’s still exposure on national TV.

And into this bad trip of an LA talk-show nightmare came the White Stripes, bringing Detroit rock west under the protecting gaze of their hometown flag.

JTL

Britney Spears: Nothin’ From Nothin’ Leaves Nothin’

I want to do things that people have never seen before. I don’t want to be considered a role model.”

In order to promote her upcoming performance special on HBO, Britney Spears took time out of her virginal schedule last week to speak to a group of television critics. While the above quote was in relation to the stage show (to take place at the MGM Grand in Vegas), it might be a metaphor for where Britney’s going, and how she’ll look and sound getting there.

With a new album due November 6, and her acting debut already in the can and set for release, it’s clear that the next year is crucial for Britney. In a few short years, Spears has morphed from teeny-bopper to sex machine, while still, amazingly, retaining her PG image with parents of small children. But with recent reports of late-night boozing and some very adult activity with (or without) her beau Justin, Britney’s grip on the Zoog-TV crowd is tenuous at best. Details are sketchy about the sound and vibe of her as-yet-untitled new record. If her stable of producers latch onto the latest trend, the new music will likely come out of the blocks employing elements of 2-Step Garage, the same hyperactive proto-R &B style that N*SYNC fleeced from the UK clubs. But it doesn’t really matter. From day one, Spears’ people have carpet-bombed culture with Their Girl. Sure, she sings a little bit here and there, but it’s not like anyone dug on “Oops…I Did It Again” for the heavy lyrics. On November 6, nothing will change. Except maybe Britney’s status as a role model.

”When I’m on television, that’s not really reality. It’s a fantasy world that I’m doing. I don’t go to the store in a red cat suit, and I think it’s up to the parents to explain that to their children.”

According to reports, Britney conducted her interview wearing what was more or less a suggestion of purple cheesecloth. She’s also reportedly hooked up with Cher, that aging mistress of fishnets and lingerie who is slated to duet with Ms Spears during the HBO event. Cher’s also been nice enough to lend her protégé the services of Bob Mackie, the designer responsible for her boatload of flashy trash. With the two of them onstage, yodeling a re-version of “It Takes Two” as their respective record companies light up cigars made of C-notes, parents will have to explain a lot to their children. Like just who the hell Cher is. And all we’ll need are the gypsies to crash the party.

It’s obvious Britney is ready to move on from her, ahem, role model status. As well she should: enormous Summer tours mounted by both N*SYNC and the Backstreet Boys have suffered, and new material by Jessica Simpson hasn’t exactly caused a revolution in the pages of Teen People. And when not one but TWO siblings of Nick Carter, not to mention Joey Fatone’s father, are touring on the strength of their respective Boys’ fading stars, it’s time to re-tool your image. Why Britney decided on Cher to help her do that is puzzling, especially when Madonna lobbied for the job. But there’s no question that the latest resurgence of Popstar is dead, and Britney, her retinue, and Jive Records are not going to be caught on that sinking ship. So 2002 is a big year. Our Girl is already too sexy for her shirt. What’s left in her bag of tricks?

Somebody get Hef on the horn…

JTL

The Drapes: Whose Rock Is Right?

I realized something during The Drapes’ ear-splitting set at Cal’s Liquor in Chicago Friday night. At that same moment, 30 miles to the south, Bon Jovi was on stage doing their thing. As the group of rockers crowded into Cal’s to down Pabst and revel in The Drapes’ sonic re-assessment of the term “power trio,” a sold-out crowd was gathered on the lawn of the Tweeter Center, lighters aloft and swaying like it was 1986. The realization begged the question: 30,000 nostalgic power-ballad lovers vs. 45 rockers in the know. Who’s Rock is right?

Cal’s Liquor does not feature flash pots on stage. Cal’s liquor does not feature a stage. So obviously, the dynamics of The Drapes’ show were a bit different than those Bon Jovi’s fans experienced at their shed show in Chicago’s south suburbs. And Drapes guitarist/vocalist Kevin Mcdonough didn’t use a talk box even once during his band’s 45 minutes of frenetic punk and stockyard blues. But you can bet that, as Mcdonough chopped at his aging Fender, Richie Sambora stood in Tweeter’s cavernous pavillion, lighting it up with the opening notes of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” So pump your fist; raise your glass. It’s all Rock and Roll, whether it’s played for beer money or a down payment on a new mansion in Jersey.

Don’t get me wrong. The conch goes to The Drapes. They’re sweating it out, playing holes-in-the-wall like Cal’s, writing music that references the bootstraps history of Chicago’s South Side while nodding to Detroit City’s chainsaw’d sludge-rock (The Stooges, Laughing Hyenas). Conversely, Bon Jovi was pre-packaged pop-metal from the beginning. Since their mid-80s heyday, the band has cranked out a collection of weak rockers and sleep-inducing ballads that somehow manage to sound amateurish and sad all at once (i.e. their latest LP of tripe, Crush). They know it; their setlist Friday leaned heavily on their anthemic back catalog. But those people out there on the lawn, the ones who (unfortunately) will probably never have their eardrums split open by the electric mud of The Drapes – what about their needs? If nostalgia and power chords combine with Jon Bon Jovi’s looks and showmanship to provide them with a little bit of Rock and Roll heaven, then is that such a bad thing?

Different strokes for different folks, I guess. While some of us will always have bands like The Drapes, White Stripes, The Immortal Lee County Killers, or The Strokes to keep the Rock alive, some people out there still cry to “Never Say Goodbye,” and believe in their heart of hearts that Jon Bon Jovi is their six-gun lover, their cowboy on a steel horse (he rides). What can you do? We can’t all get in on the bottom floor of the video revolution, hire some professionals to write our songs, and end up marrying Heather Locklear. But if Heather or anyone else not familiar with them had shouldered their way into Cal’s on Friday and listened to The Drapes, chances are Slippery When Wet would become a coaster toot suite.

JTL

Caressing the Corporations

As the number of artists and tours that are sponsored by such asinine things as car companies multiplies, it’s good to remember those great shows you saw back in the day, before going to see a band identified you as a potential customer. For me, it all goes back to two defining shows, my first and my foremost.

My first was Bruce Springsteen at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the “Tunnel of Love Tour.” Yes, that’s right, it wasn’t the “Chevy Silverado presents the Snap Into A Slim Jim Tunnel of Love Corona Summer Beach Party on MTV Tour in conjunction with Deloitte and Touche.” It was just a tour, not part of some stupid “festival” (marketing-speak for just another way to cram more salesman into every nook and cranny of available space at your local outdoor amphitheater). Just a single great artist with about the only sponsor being the local Bud distributor. Best of all, the total Ticketmaster service fee was a hell of a lot less than the 50% it seems to run to these days. (In fact, somewhere I still have the ticket stub so I’m going to have to check on that—it could provide some interesting historical proof of the world’s biggest scam.)

Oh yeah, you people will holler about the fact that even back in 1987 there was a commensurate amount of corporate greed that no doubt tainted the Boss’ tour compared to the Glory Days back in Jersey. But it was far less insidious—who can fault the Anheuser-Busch rep for going after a market that’s primed for its product. There are clearly beer sales to be made at the Bruce show; that’s marketing where it makes sense. But pissing away money on image advertising, where there is no potential sales connection, is outright stupid. And it’s an insult to the fans—of both artist and product. To the point of the previous post: Nasty Janet and Wolfie ought to be embarrassed.

The fave show of my youth was Metallica’s first headliner. The “Justice Tour” of 1989 was an absolutely amazing display of all that is great about rock. It was held at an outdoor venue, Val Du Lakes in Mears, Mich. Still to this day I have never seen a more antisocial crowd than the collection of bikers, stoners, mullet-heads, rebellious kids, and general reprobates that attended this concert. The fans would have sooner burned the place to the ground than been identified as consumers. I saw a guy eat a sheet of acid and then smack his face on one of the hard wood benches in the reserved area. He just licked the blood as it trickled onto his lips and continued cackling, laughing and dancing. Throughout the show, people came running down the hill, throwing themselves at the wooden fence that separated the reserved area from general admission. They fought with security guards with bottles, belts and chains. And then there were the booted thugs who smashed cars after the show, screaming the lyrics to Metallica’s cover of the Misfits’ “Last Caress.” Yeah, “I got something to say. I killed your baby today. Doesn’t matter much to me, as long as it’s dead. I got something to say. I raped your mother today. Doesn’t matter much to me, as long as she’s spread.”

Gee, I wonder where the corporate sponsors were?

Now I’m not saying I necessarily advocate the pointless violence and brutality, the sado-masochism and anarchy of the Metallica crowd. But fuck it, those people are the only hope we’ve got: Rock’s essence is senseless rebellion against corporate AmeriKKKa. More power to them; hopefully they smash a few Jaguars wherever they are now. Wherever it is, it ain’t at Metallica shows. I’ve attended a couple since then and the crowd has become completely different, as has the band. They still play the old favorites, but not to any of the old fans. Good. At least those marginalized people, unlike the rest of us mainstreamers, have the sense not to give the music-industry power structure any more of their hard-earned (or stolen) cash.

Bottom line to all this is I’m glad I went to see a few big shows. I’m glad I pissed away a few bucks to make local radio stations, beer companies, cigarette companies, and the ubiquitous T-shirt companies some jack. But Ford Motor Company can go to hell. So can Barry Diller. So can DTE Energy and everyone else who incorrectly thinks that their wack corporation has any place or should play any role in the music business. I listen to music and I like to see it performed live. I like to think about music and write about it. But I don’t drive music, I don’t wear music, I don’t eat music, and I certainly don’t shop because of music.

“I got something to say. I didn’t buy into your marketing today. Doesn’t matter much to me. . . ”

All For Who?

In our on-going efforts to track the nexus between Big Business and Bigger Business, we’ve discovered still another development. As you may recall, Jaguar had been using rock superslug Sting to promote its cars, demonstrating how the Jag can lull Sting to sweet dreams of rainforests or more song-writing gigs for cartoon movies.

But now we’ve learned that Jag is sponsoring Janet Jackson’s “All For You World Tour 2001.” Well, that may not be exactly right: there is a “partnership,” such that those considering the tour will see Jag in the tour title, advertising, promotion, publicity, and even the ducats. Undoubtedly looking something like a NASCAR race with a single sponsor, there will be X-Type display logos all around the venues.

Says Michelle Cervantez, vp of Marketing for Jaguar North America: “Jaguar’s relationship with Janet Jackson is a powerful statement of our intentions to become more accessible to a new generation of Jaguar owners.” Yep. All those people who buy tour T-shirts are undoubtedly going to make their way to dealers, post-haste.

In addition to all of the aforementioned signage and even a car at the venues, concert goers will be subjected to a “video” featuring Janet and a black X-Type. (I am not making this up.) Presumably said video is more commonly known as a “commercial.”

But this isn’t just any run-of-the-mill spot. It was produced by Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. According to renown Knicks fan Mr. Lee, “Our partnership has assisted Jaguar in communicating to a more diverse audience. This project is a direct result of that strengthening relationship.” The “relationship” he is referring to is a “marketing partnership” between Jaguar North America and 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, which was established in April. Which presumably means that since Nike spots aren’t what they once were, Lee will be creating ads for Jag. (Ah, what about, oh, making movies?)

So let’s review. Sting. Everclear. Aerosmith. Janet. I’m throwing my vote in for GloNo partnering with some automaker. Any suggestions, Sab?

WHITE STRIPES PAINT THE TOWN RED

Chicago’s Empty Bottle doesn’t spend a lot of time feng shui’ing itself. The décor – mostly old handbills and spray paint – gathers on the walls like ancient gardening equipment in your parents’ garage. Scattered, tired versions of those adhesive stars that glow in the dark put up a good fight, but they can’t compete with the fog from 300 Lucky Strikes. A dilapidated bar leans in one room; another features a pool table sharing space with uprooted thrift store couches. In the far corner of the venue lies a triangular stage, adorned with colorful drapery seemingly pilfered from an Italian matron’s special “company” living room. Though tinged with grime after years of sweat, heat, and Rock and Roll, the drapes can still glimmer when the drummer’s fan blows their gold fringe around.

On a recent evening, the raiment was further accented by the flag of Detroit City. In its four corners lie the colors of France, Great Britain, and America, the three nations that have ruled the city. The city’s seal takes up the middle, with the slogan in Latin: RESURGET CINERISUS. ‘It Shall Rise From the Ashes’ – A statement that refers to Detroit’s vaunted musical history as much as to the crumbling city itself. On Friday night, D-Town’s own White Stripes brought their slash-and-burn blues rock to The Empty Bottle, and represented the vibrant, beating, resilient heart of their hometown.

Jack White plays guitar and sings. Meg White plays the drums, facing her counterpart as he leaps between two microphones. Dressed in matching red and white outfits, with their instruments continuing the motif, the duo’s look is almost Scandinavian in its plainness. Indeed; their sophomore effort, 2000’s De Stijl, shares its name with a 20th century Dutch art movement advocating pure abstraction and simplicity. This focused approach carries to the music. Clean lines of guitar flow out in an arc; Meg’s drumming is like Neal Peart with half his limbs. Their music is blues-based, but its suprising sonic punch is all Rock and Roll. Elements of and references to country & western, Brill Building pop, and even Cole Porter show up in Jack White’s guitar and lyrics, as well as his passionate vocal delivery. With his drummer follwing faithfully along, he pries torrid streams of notes from his fleet of guitars, singing along with himself in a voice that sounds almost childlike when he hits the high notes. Too many influences? Maybe. But think of the source. Detroit, a midwestern city linking two great lakes, has always been a crossroads. 3 nations have ruled it; 3 corporations now control it. The soul and groove of Motown Records shares space with the aggression of The MC5 and The Stooges, and Ted Nugent’s cock-rock soloing ties it all together. White Stripes hear all of this. Jack White spews it out of himself while Meg lays down a beat as straightforward as a Midwestern highway. And the sign reads MEMPHIS – 700 MILES.

Chicago’s music-watching community is notorious for standing still. The fellow in the big glasses and skinny pants in the front row could be seeing his favorite band of all time, and you’d only detect a barely perceptible nodding of the head. White Stripes destroyed this apathy in a wash of red, white, and reverb guitar. After propelling themselves along for almost an hour, Jack and Meg returned for an encore that reached for a third gear. With a quick “Thank You” and an embarrassed, flattered bow, Jack was gone to the green room. Meg sat down on the drum riser, lit a smoke and took in the cheers and whistles. It certainly was a sight – 200 jaded Chicago music scenesters screaming and clamoring for more of White Stripes’ stripped-down, re-built Rock and Roll. After a pep talk, Jack White returned to the triangular stage, crushed out his cigarette (had to be Marlboro – red and white), placed his feet beneath his city’s colorful flag, and with a nod to his bandmate began a final encore of aggressive, plaintive blues rock that made those drapes shimmer.

And Detroit Rock rose from the ashes.

JTL

Monday Morning Coming Down

If you’re like me and the rest of the Glorious Noise editorial staff, Monday morning is when you realize that Saturday’s hangover has not departed with the beginning of the work week, but in fact has removed the For Rent sign from your frontal lobe and has filled the front yard with rusty muscle car parts and broken toys. It’s my own fault, of course, for trying to play the Sex in the City drinking game with wine coolers instead of shots. Coffee will only make you (more) irritable, so in this case, it’s best to open a pack of scratch attack at elimin8.net. Reach for the 33 1/3 project along with your asprin, and don’t call me in the morning. It’s a big download, but that means you can just stare at your screen for awhile, an additional positive side effect. Oh, and use headphones so as to not tip off your boss.

QUEENS OF NOISE: THE RUNAWAYS SHOW BRITNEY WHO’S BOSS

QUEENS OF NOISE: THE RUNAWAYS SHOW BRITNEY WHO’S BOSS

Johnny Loftus

It’s all VH-1’s fault.

The next addition of the network’s ailing “Divas” series – which will likely feature Leslie Carter, Mandy Moore, and the Olsen Twins – will prove exactly what “Divas” does not promote: Women who play guitar will always kick more ass than those who simply sing and look pretty. They should have quit while they were ahead. After the extravaganza’s first incarnation featured actual, professional divas like Aretha, Diana, and Janet, VH-1 had to somewhat broaden the definition of “diva.” Left with C-list young’uns who weren’t around to see Madonna marry Sean Penn, their production probably didn’t inspire any female watching to do anything but switch to an old re-run of Moeesha. The absurd staying power of the Britney brand aside, it’s obvious that the divas are dying. Examples? The recent Josie and the Pussycats redux did not feature a D*Child-style girl group. Instead, a leather-clad Rachel Leigh Cook strummed chords on a black Les Paul. Pacific Northwest stalwarts Sleater-Kinney have finally begun to tear into the national media, achieving for the Riot Grrl movement what it could never muster in its mid-90s heyday: true respect of women who rock. So now that chicks with guitars are back, it’s only fair that The Runaways have their say. Their girl-on-girl rock groove pre-dated the post New-Wave spate of girl bands like the Go-Gos and The Bangles by half a decade. And Vicki Blue is out to prove it.

Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways is an upcoming documentary that has been put together by Blue, the band’s former bassist. It mixes interviews, performances, and tour film together to tell the story of the girls who rocked back when, most notably young, nails-for-breakfast versions of Lita Ford and Joan Jett.

The Runaways weren’t the greatest band of all time. Their tunes suffered from crappy production, and sometimes just weren’t that good. But the attitude was always present, even when their public image was being molded and tortured by Kim Fowley, the svengali who was the Maurice Starr of the 1970s. It was his idea to have the girls perform in lingerie; but it was still Joan Jett who wrote “I Love Rock and Roll,” even if she did have to play it in her underpants. Conversely, when Britney tears her clothes off on M-TV, all she has is her tits and some backup dancers. She can’t smash her guitar, or strike a mean pose behind a big Fender bass. The Runaways may have been a packaged thrill just like Britney and her peeps, but Ms Spears’ll never stick a Marlboro in the neck of her Gibson.

The timing of Edgeplay is perfect. Lita Ford’s been on TV warning of Metal’s return for years, and it turns out she was right. Boy bands and divas can’t rule the stage forever. The triumphant return of the Go-Gos (with new material and not simply another greatest hits package) is in line with the current spate of 80s nostalgia, but their popularity also proves that distortion is finally back. Even Her Diva-Ness Madonna is playing her guitar on the current Drowned World tour. And into this mix comes Edgeplay to show little girls everywhere how fun it is being an 18 year-old girl with long bangs, leather pants, and a scowl that cuts glass.

And the best thing about the documentary? Angelina Jolie is nowhere near it.

JTL

Rock and roll can change your life.