Salongate

I just read a plea from John Dean for me to pay for “Salon Premium.” I and the rest of the GloNo crew are guilty of spending hours reading their stuff, me without so much as clicking on a single ad there. Ever.

Yeah, I admit it: I use the Internet and I don’t pay. From reading articles to downloading music and software to getting directions to whatever godforsaken village in Indiana I need to drive to for a work assignment. (I even used to use free dialup access until I got a cable modem; I never looked at their ads either.) Bottom line is that I use this media and I don’t pay. I do, however, subscribe to a bunch of awful car magazines and pay to buy other glossy rags on the newsstands, even an occasional daily fishwrap (ugh!), and of course I still buy CDs if only for the convenience of not having to collate and burn my own.

So I ask myself, “Why?” Why am I not willing to pay for Internet content? I don’t know.

What is the future of the Internet media?

I don’t know that either. But for some reason, I’m just not going to give Salon thirty bucks.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts…

Digging up Kurt Cobain

Kurt CobainIn an article in the recent Music Issue of the New Yorker, Robert Christgau reviews Heavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross, a new biography of Kurt Cobain. It sounds like it’s a pretty well-researched book and apparently the author had access to Cobain’s “drawings, journals, and numerous unsent letters.”

Christgau mainly praises the book, but he voices two complaints. First, Cross “inadvertently shortchanges” the music of Nirvana by concentrating too much on the life and history parts of the story. And second, it sounds like Cross might have worked a little too hard “augmenting the already plentiful evidence of Cobain’s attraction to stardom,” and didn’t spend enough time trying to figure out the alienated punk philosophy that states that mainstream = shit:

Unlike the indie-rock ideologues Cobain so admired, Cross doesn’t believe that rock’s aesthetic value stands in inverse proportion to its mass appeal. Neither do I, but his argument might have been sharpened if he’d spent more time with the opposition: people like Calvin Johnson, the doyen of indie rock in Olympia, Washington, where Cobain moved to live with his first serious girlfriend; Tobi Vail, the riot-grrrl theorist who became Cobain’s second girlfriend; Steve Albini, who produced “Nevermind” ‘s followup, the raw, cold, edgy “In Utero”; and Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, the owners of Nirvana’s first label, the Seattle-based Sub Pop.

Of course, everybody knows it’s not cool to want to be a rock star. You’ve got to create art because it’s just bursting out of you, and you can’t hold it inside anymore, right? Well, apparently that’s not how it was for Kurt Cobain. He actually practiced his guitar. A lot.

So I’m not sure what that really means to anybody. But it’s fairly obvious that he ended up hating being famous. He blew his own head off. It’s better to burn out than to fade away, right? Well, maybe the heroin had something to do with it too. “The official version of Cobain’s heroin addiction described it as off and on, spurred by chronic stomach pain,” writes Christgau. “Cross establishes that this story was a coverup. Cobain was a big-time junkie for all but a few stray weeks of his season in the public eye…”

I remember when I found out that Kurt Cobain was dead that I knew that everybody was going to end up blaming it on the drugs. But I was convinced it was the pressures of fame that did him in. That seemed a lot cooler to me when I was 22. More punk rock for sure. Taking a stand against the Man right up to the end. But now I’m not so sure. Both explanations (fame and/or drugs) seem pretty lame to me now. As the character Nate said in the season finale of “Six Feet Under,” people have to die to make life seem more important. Well, so what do we do with that?

Cheap Trick at the Double Door: We’re All Alright

Cheap Trick at the Double Door, Chicago

By Phil Wise

In the past year I’ve seen the two groups most associated with power pop. One developed the archetype in the 60s with songs like “Can’t Explain” and “Glow Girl” and the other perfected it in the 70s with “Surrender” and “The Dream Police.” Now, I saw both of these groups well after what would be considered their prime, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were still viable performing an art form so tied to youth in their 50s and 60s. Is power pop only the domain of the young?

Cheap Trick played an unannounced, invitation-only show last night at the Double Door in Chicago to a crowd of around 300. I, along with GLONO founder Jake Brown, was on that guest list and we made our way to Wicker Park expecting rehashed old tunes from the 70s from face-lifted has-beens in their 50s. Perhaps a spotting of the nefarious Real World cast would inject a bit of youth into this most perplexing of oldies tours.

But what we found was a group at its best; rocking and sweating, not to the oldies, but to an entire set of new material, fresh with power chords and youthful lyrics that would make Dave Grohl cry.

Cheap Trick took the stage at 8:30 sharp and rocked for over two hours, showcasing new material that would officially debut in their upcoming tour. Despite the fact that drummer Bun E. Carlos was enjoying his first show back with the band after back surgery, the group pushed comfortably through a set of original material that spanned a range of sounds from their proto-punk beginnings to their sappy “Flame” sound of the mid-80s. To see a 50-something Rick Nielsen hopping around and slashing out riffs like a 19-year old Rivers Cuomo was truly inspiring. The energy and enthusiasm was apparent in ¾ of the band, if not in lead singer Robin Zander himself, who seemed a bit nervous at times struggling with lyrics he hasn’t yet memorized and looking eerily like Kurt Cobain.

Cheap Trick perfected the sound that has stood as the blue print to current pretenders like Blink 182, Green Day, Jimmy Eat World and Foo Fighters. And tonight they reclaimed their rights to Raise Hell in a sweaty club on a Monday night like thousands of bands mimicking their sound across the country.

Marshall Crenshaw: Before the Whole Thing Crumbles to the Ground

Marshall Crenshaw at The Ark, 15 August:

Before the Whole Thing Crumbles to the Ground

“Thank God there are some people here.”

With those words, Marshall Crenshaw sat down on a stool with an acoustic guitar on the stage of The Ark. There were, oh, maybe 200 people there, many of whom paid $17.50 to hear a man whose career should have been made solely on the basis of “Cynical Girl.” But consider the number of people on-site. Consider the fact that Crenshaw was essentially playing to a home-town crowd (his mom and dad were in the audience: “My mom and dad are here tonight,” he announced during his encore [“A standing-O at The Ark. . . I’ll have to add that to my list of. . .accomplishments.”], adding, “I guess I wouldn’t be here tonight if it wasn’t for them”). Consider “Someday, Someway.” Consider “Little Wild One (No.5)” (“I recorded the demo for that in a basement in Ann Arbor.”). Consider that he stated that his forthcoming live disc, “I’ve Suffered for My Art. . .Now It’s Your Turn,” is being handled by Borders, which is headquartered a couple blocks away from The Ark, and based on the applause that the Borders reference generated, it was clear that a not-insignificant portion of the crowd probably didn’t pony up the full price of a ticket.

“Thank God there are some people here”?!?!?

If there is any indication that musical success is a matter of marketing, then the fact that a man who has been working it on vinyl since 1981 and who has crafted some of the best pop, period, is playing to that size crowd nails it. (I saw Crenshaw perform once before, in a bar in Royal Oak, in the early ’70s—and the crowd was about the same, but we were there for the drinks; the entertainment was secondary for our reason for being there, but it became a hell of a lot more memorable than the Stroh’s.)

Like probably many of you, I’ve had this sense that if a musician “makes it,” as in becoming exceedingly popular, that musician has somehow become less—sold out, or something. Which is probably asinine and is certainly elitist. Even cynical. But the only way that I can justify the lack of appreciation for Crenshaw is to cop to the notion that the taste of the masses is a mess.

The man was produced by people including Steve Lillywhite and T-Bone Burnett. He had the wit to put out a single, “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time,” accompanied by The Handsome, Ruthless & Stupid Band—he played all of the instruments. He included in his set at The Ark rockabilly curios “The Girl on Death Row” and “Endless Sleep,” both from ’59. Talking about writing “He’s a Dime a Dozen Guy,” he cracked that he had heard “Livin’ La Vita Loca” while driving and then “followed a rule of songwriters,” “When in doubt, steal from Desmond Child.” A rule of songwriters with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

The guy is far too clever for his own good.

II

Fame Is A Whore; She’s Nobody’s Mistress

In retrospect, the foregoing is wrong. Crenshaw is not too clever for his own good. He is simply clever.

Do I—or anyone else—want to go see a performer who is standing on a stage in a big auditorium such that he or she appears to be about the size of a Coke bottle, or do I want to be in a place where I grab a seat and actually see the guy?

Does Crenshaw, or any other musician, want to play in a mammoth hall with the acoustical properties of a cave?

It is unfortunate that I have fallen into the trap of believing that success for performers equates to mass popularity—if the person isn’t on the radio ad nauseum, if his or her mug isn’t on the cover of Rolling Stone or People or whatever, if the recording isn’t touted in the Best Buy supplement, then that person hasn’t arrived. Which is nonsense.

After writing the first half of this piece, I did some checking on Crenshaw’s career. He has bookings running over the next several months. Not stadia, but various clubs in the U.S. and even in Japan.

Presumably, Crenshaw is working as much as he needs to be working. He is clearly concentrating on his music (over the years, his recordings have gotten better without losing the freshness that is quintessential to his sound). He is not, evidently, worried about the trappings that are now associated with “Rock Stardom.” (Oddly enough, the start of the whole rock stardom phenomenon can be associated with the Beatles, and Crenshaw actually played as Lennon in “Beatlemania” for a couple of years before actually forming a band. Crenshaw quit what was probably a pretty lucrative, certain gig to take a flyer at his own music.)

As I think about what he is up to, I think about what goes on at this site. So at the risk of coming off as self-serving (and trust me, I am not talking about me but about the others who make this all possible and who keep me honest with their work), let me use GloNo as an example. Although it is proclaimed in the box on the upper left-hand corner of this page “If we were professionals we wouldn’t be here,” it seems to me that the level of thought and writing on this page tends to be of a quality that far surpasses what would be acceptable for so-called “professional” musical/cultural analysis. The mainstream wouldn’t accept it.

Don’t be misled. There is no correlation between popularity and what’s necessarily good. Sometimes it happens (arguably the Beatles are an example). More often than not that’s not the case. Focus on the performance, the words, the quality of the work. At the end, that’s all that matters.

A very funny article about Mariah Carey…

A very funny article about Mariah Carey…

The fine folks over at Whatever-Dude have posted an insightful critique of Mariah Carey’s career, boobs and personality titled, Mariah’s Theme: An Unholy Shriek of Death. Check it out.

[Via MetaFilter]

Jay Bennett Quits Wilco

Jay BennettYet more breaking news…

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Jay Bennett has left Wilco. What is going on with this band? Is Tweedy going to be able to keep it together, or is this the beginning of the end? Can you even call it Wilco anymore without Jay Bennett? Wow. I’m baffled. What’s going to happen to my favorite band?

I guess Jeff Tweedy is no stranger to the ever-changing band line-up scenario. The original drummer for Uncle Tupelo, Mike Heidorn, left before they recorded their fourth album, and was replaced by Ken Coomer, who played drums for Wilco until he was recently replaced by Glenn Kotche. Max Johnston played on the first two Wilco albums and then left to do his own thing. So now the only remaining member of the original Wilco line-up besides Tweedy is faithful, old John Stirratt. I’m sure Leroy Bach is an able enough musician to fill in the gaps on tour, but it was my understanding that Tweedy and Bennett had a real creative collaboration going on between them.

I guess we’ll have to just wait to see what happens…

In the meantime, check out this article and inteview with Jay Bennett from back in June…

Fish in a Barrel, Redux

“A rallying cry for Dodge customers—street smart people with active life-styles who are not afraid to express themselves by driving break-the-mold cars and trucks.” That’s Jim Schroer, executive vp, Global Sales & Marketing, DaimlerChrysler, who is talking about a tagline that will be part of the ads the company will be rolling, ads that are described by Schroer as “bold and uncompromising, a little edgy, and occasionally confrontational, but always fun.” (Sounds like he’s describing GloNo.)

Ready for the tagline? Have you steeled yourself for the banality that you know is forthcoming?

Here goes:

“Grab life by the horns.”

To which I can only proclaim with the highest level of underwhelmed faux enthusiasm:

“Isn’t that what active, street smart, expressive people who drive Dodge products are all about?” (Exit, disgusted.)

Of course, as this is a music, not marketing, site (although my whole schtick nowadays seems to be that popular music is marketing and marketing is popular music, and that’s all you need to know), I must provide the hook to grab onto, which is, as attentive readers know, Aerosmith.

If you’ve ever watched TV, you’ve seen actor Edward Herrmann either doing national Dodge ads, or playing Rory’s grandfather on “The Gilmore Girls.” Poor Edward and his “Dodge Different” spots are being punked by Steven Tyler and the boys of Aerosmith. Presumably, the “The Gilmore Girls” grandpa gig continues, but carbon dating of Tyler may put him in the running for guest appearances as the paternal pater familias.

Anyway, Schroer says, “Aerosmith will play a large role in conveying the edginess of the Dodge brand. This great brand, this great band and this great tag line will work together to yield powerful opportunities and benefits for Dodge vehicles.” [Check this out: dodgeaerosmith.com – ed.]

While all of that bombast resembles a great pile of shit, I wonder: Does anyone really care about yielding “powerful opportunities and benefits” for cars and trucks?

Just play on.

Freedom for Wilco?

Breaking News from Glorious Noise…

The Chicago Tribune reports that Wilco has signed a deal to leave Reprise Records after the label rejected their recently finished new album, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. Part of the deal is that Wilco gets to buy back the album and release it somewhere else. Hopefully this won’t take too long.

I have to admit that I downloaded most of the new album via Audiogalaxy, and from my initial listenings, it sounds pretty great. From what I heard, it’s not nearly as weird and “experimental” as I had been led to believe. It sounds good, like it’s continuing along the lines that Summerteeth hinted at. There are strange sounds and strange lyrics, but it doesn’t seem like a crazy enough departure to make Reprise reject it. I mean, it’s not like it’s Neil Young’s Trans. Oh well, one more major label shooting itself in the foot… Fuck ’em.

If you can listen to it, you can copy it

We all know how badly the record industry wants to clamp down on CD copying. But what they think of as piracy, we think of as doing what we want with something that we legally purchased. An article in the Register reaffirms just how futile the record industry’s fight really is. The article refers to a German program called CloneCD that, according to their website, “writes in RAW mode, allowing full control on the written data. Therefore, CloneCD 3 will produce real 1:1 copies of your CDs.” Sounds pretty great. I’ve always feared that my digital audio extractions were somewhat lossy, so after I try this out I’ll let you know how it works.

There’s also High Criteria’s Total Recorder, which is totally worth the $11.95 registration fee. It allows you to convert any sound file on your computer to a WAV file (which you can then burn to CDs or convert to MP3s or whatever you want to do). Yes, any sound file, even streaming media and those fucking annoying Liquid Audio files. It doesn’t make perfect, digital copies since it has to use your sound card driver, but the fidelity loss is negligible.

If you download these programs now and make backups of the installation files, as long as you have a working computer with a CD drive, the Man will never be able to keep you from listening to your music whenever, wherever and however you want to. Sock it ’em.

Rock and roll can change your life.