This is a Modern World

On the eve of Quadrophenia’s release, the Who’s most articulate message finds a new audience

Quadrophenia

Rhino Records is releasing the Who’s Quadrophenia on DVD in September and the film is enjoying a limited theater release to celebrate. After countless viewings of the film on an old VHS bootleg, I recently saw the film for the first time on the big screen last week and was again taken back to my own days of teenage angst and Anglophilia.

Originally released in 1979, Quadrophenia was slated to be the last word on England’s Mod scene of the mid-60s from the pretenders to the throne of Modfatherhood, the Who. Loosely based on the album of the same name, the film stands on its own and succeeds where other rock movies failed. It’s not an extended music video like the Who’s earlier venture Tommy. It’s not a vanity plate like Prince’s Purple Rain. It’s not a vehicle to promote the career of a singer-turned-bad-actress like any one of Madonna’s embarrassing films. And it’s not an art film like those produced by many of the Who’s brethren of the 60s, including the Rolling Stones (the simultaneously exhilarating and disappointingly tedious Sympathy for the Devil). In fact, the movie may have suffered for its affiliation with the Who. Its producers’ audience couldn’t possibly take it seriously as a movie because of the above-mentioned attempts.

Quadrophenia follows Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) through the trials of teendom where young adolescent males discover some of the hardest truths of life: working sucks, you don’t always get the girl (even when you DO!), and your heroes have day jobs.

Excellent performances by Daniels and exquisite Mod Girl Steph (Leslie Ash) bring to the screen the complex rules and disappointments of young love. The story unfolds as Jimmy struggles to find his own identity in a peer group rigid with conformity. His affiliation with the Mods is strengthened in a weekend trip to the resort town of Brighton where he falls in love; fights for his gang; and meets his hero, played with utmost restraint by Glono’s own favorite corporate hack Sting in his pre-Jaguar days (the scenes of him on a Vespa GS could just as easily act as a commercial for the ultimate Modmobile, but that’s for another day). Everything he believes about being a Mod is confirmed in that quick, violent weekend.

Those beliefs are just as quickly challenged upon Jimmy’s return home to London’s working class Flatbush district. Jimmy attempts to recapture his ideals in a desperate, pill-headed return to Brighton. The trip is introduced by a genius nod to the Beatles’ Hard Days Night train scene with Jimmy riding first class among the very suits and “third class tickets” he hates. Jimmy arrives only to have his dreams further dashed on the rocks of the Brighton shoreline.

Quadrophenia acts as the ultimate guy movie from the ultimate guy band, but not because of the violence, sex and ass kicking rock and roll. It speaks to most guys, American or British, through its portrayal of the confusion and uncertainty of teenage soul searching. In a time when most guys are struggling hard to project an image furthest from their true self, Quadrophenia asks “Can you see the real me?”

DANCE MUSIC STOPS THE TRAFFIC

Moby Brings His Record Collection on Tour with Area:One

Johnny Loftus

CHICAGO – Delays, traffic jams, and a general lull in performance was felt throughout Chicagoland Wednesday, as thousands of coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and service industry positions were severely understaffed. The ramifications of the epidemic were widespread, as the working public found its daily routine severely hampered by longer lines at Starbucks, hastily constructed Subway sandwiches, and shoddy, overworked customer service at Target. It was later discovered that in each case, harried supervisors had found themselves pressed into service as baristas, sandwich artists and stockboys, after over half their adolescent workforce failed to appear for work Wednesday. Reports of Road Rage were up, and general performance was sluggish.

Meanwhile, at the Tweeter Center in south suburban Chicago, Moby’s Area:One Festival plugged in for the day, and 20,000 kids made the cops nervous.

Moby makes clear his reasoning behind Area:One’s eclectic lineup at www.areafestival.com: “There is a lot of music in the world that I love that does not always get the appropriate exposure.” Moby’s influence is obvious. In essence, the festival attempts to bring to the masses the club culture in which Moby began, while embracing influences of Hip Hop and alternative rock that have contributed to the larger cultural acceptance of his recent music. As such, the lineup was like hearing Moby’s latest mix tape, while driving around in his Grand Turismo. In the Ford Focus tent (a bizarre mix of corporate and counter-culture last observed at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival), top tier DJs like Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox, Timo Maas and The Orb shared the decks with Detroit Techno pioneers Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and Kevin Saunderson (performing as the Innovators). Meanwhile, on the main stage, organic diva Nelly Furtado opened a day of music that would feature The Roots, soulternative rockers Incubus, the stanky funk of Outkast, and finally Moby himself, who would prove to be an unassuming host, still grappling with his newfound role as a rock star.

While it remains a cultural force in the UK and Europe, club culture has never enjoyed more than an underground following in the US. Barring the occasional news story about a busted rave or token warnings against Ecstacy use by the mainstream US media, true dance music has kept a pretty low profile domestically. That said, it’s one of the last places where a kid can be a kid – you know, rebel. Punk rock has been co-opted. Hippy culture is a joke, awash in tired cliches of patchouli and tie-dye. But in the subterranean, smoky world of dance culture, a kid can find something unknown by the middle managers, guidance counselors, and oblivious parents. It is a world ruled by the DJ, a solitary figure behind the wheels of steel, who bends and shapes his audience with the help of other peoples’ music and a million watts of power. Glitter, tent-like pants, glow sticks: these are the mohawks, safety pins, and spiked wristbands of club culture.

On Wednesday, electronica ruled, and the sponsors knew it. Despite the confluence of sounds and demographics available to them at Area:One, the corporate presence was preoccupied with elements of dance culture. Intel found a nice tie-in. “The Area:One Music Festival will be a unique showcase for the evolution of music and technology,” explained John Travis, director of Worldwide Consumer Promotions for Intel. “These artists live out the same innovation and excitement that the Intel Pentium 4 processor brings to home computer users and music enthusiasts.” Information kiosks (read: ads) were designed in a proto-technical manner that emulated the sharp angles and shiny florescence of electronic music. Intel’s Digital Music Zone looked like a 5th century Hun dwelling re-imagined by Industrial Light & Music. Ford Motor Co. is no stranger to electronica. It tapped Juan Atkins’ “No UFOs” as the soundtrack for its Ford Focus ad campaign, and was a major contributor to this year’s Detroit Electronic Music Festival. The convergence of corporate brand strategy and dancefloor culture in the Ford Focus tent was an amazing (and odd) sight, but one that Ford somehow seems to have succeeded with. At the same time, the presence of KMX energy drink at Area:One was pure, un-cut culture terrorism. While energy drinks have for years been associated with rave culture in Europe (late nights, you know), they have only recently broken through in the US, with their more potent mixtures being quite popular in the taverns. In an ingeniously tacky move, KMX employed a gang of nubile young women to serve the iridescent orange product to festival goers in the same skinny vials that are used in bars to serve fruity alcoholic shots. Throw in the obligatory presence of MTV, and the area between the Ford Focus tent and main stage was a carnival midway of corporate brands desperately trying to make a lasting impression with their target market. Area:One’s sponsors could never hope to fully understand club culture; but they know its tenets suggest the trends and styles that will be cool next summer.

Incubus’ style (think Jane’s Addiction meets RHCP meets Deftones) is more ranging than moaning OzzFest counterparts like Papa Roach, Stain’d, or Drowning Pool, but the fact that they have risen to fame on the coattails of the Nu Metal movement makes their Area:One appearance a bit suspect. It’s not Moby’s fault; even he can’t persuade venue owners that Timo Maas is a household name. And though he and Outkast are both major draws in the current pop climate, it’s understandable that the least annoying of the Aggro-Metal crooners was asked to appear at Area:One. For their part, a shirtless Brandon Boyd and friends put together a serviceable set of “Mountain Song” covers, featuring strong percussion by drummer Jose Pasillas. Boyd even got to play a little bongo drum, to make those groupies swoon. Following Incubus on the main stage was the southern-style antics of Outkast. Launching immediately into “Gasoline Dreams,” Stankonia‘s fiery leadoff track, Dre and Big Boi then led their 5-piece backing band into 1996’s “ATLiens,” and had the crowd on its feet. Not content to rely on the hackneyed precepts of live Hip Hop (“throw your hands in the air!”;”Let me hear you say ‘AAAAHHH!!!'”), Atlanta’s finest rap crew displayed the range of influence in their sound with ease. 70’s soul, P-Funk, and an almost Vaudevillian stage presence helped to illustrate why some Hip Hop is stuck in a rut of its own making (shout-out to Sean Combs!), while some continue to innovate and educate.

A DJ is only as good as his last breakbeat. Unlike a band with a traditional frontman, or even the obvious stage presence of MCs like Big Boi and Dre, a DJ can be a somewhat clandestine existence. While his actions are the center of attention, the music and beats are the star of the show. He is at once visible and invisible, using his skills as a turntablist to constantly win over the audience. While the main stage performers suffered through horrible sound (courtesy of the Tweeter Center’s moronic shed design), the long, snaking line to enter the Focus tent alluded to its thoughtful setup. Inside, the DJ booth was at the extreme opposite end from the entrance, surrounded by filament-thin video screens and towering speaker banks that sounded incredible. Once inside the tent, it was impossible not to be overtaken by the experience of hearing a premier DJ at the top of his game. Upon entering the tent for Paul Oakenfold’s set, he dropped a killer breakbeat that brought up a series of swirling orange lights. On cue, 2,000 kids’ glow sticks went into full spinning action, suggesting a euphoric time lapse photo in real time. Both Oakenfold and Carl Cox proved their marquee status with athletic sets showcasing their love of House, Techno, and everything in between. At one point during Oakenfold’s set, the monstrous video monitor behind his solitary form found a line of fans in the audience, bending at their wastes in unison with the music – dancing to while worshipping at the altar of the man behind the wheels of steel. If Oakenfold had leapt into the crowd like a singer in a Rock and Roll band, the pulsating hands and bouncing feet would have supported his weight above them. And in a nod to the Innovators (Derrick May, Jaun Atkins, Kevin Sauderson), Oakenfold wore a T-shirt bearing the logo of the Motor Lounge, a club residing in the ancestral home of Techno, Detroit, Michigan.

Moby is an unlikely hero. A small, balding, vegan instrumentalist, Moby was the private product of the underground dance community for most of the late 80s and 90s. While his soundtrack work brought him a bit of notoriety, no one – least of all the artist himself – could have imagined the success that a few corporate licensing agreements would bring him. After 1999’s Play became the most licensed record of all time, Moby’s take on downtempo etherea blew him up TRL style. A collaboration with Gwen Stefani here or there, and suddenly a quiet DJ from the East Village has enough money and clout to put together one of the most ambitous package tours of the past few years. So at the end of the day, when Moby finally took the stage in a lightshow worthy of the Alan Parsons Project, it was interesting to see him – a small, balding, vegan instrumentalist playing songs for 20,000 kids who thought he fell to earth a few months ago. And he said as much. Stopping often between numbers to conversed amiably with the audience, Moby turned a wondrous eye on his fame, expounding about the sense of power one feels, standing with a guitar on a huge stage. To illustrate his point, he cranked his Marshall stack and peeled off a weedly-weedling guitar solo worthy of everyone’s hair rock hero, Eddie Van Halen. In between chats, Moby was a poster child for Speed, leaping between samplers, keyboards, and guitars as his band laid down a frenetic, lightshow infused groove. With English vocalist Diane Charlemagne (remember Goldie’s “Inner City Life”?) performing live many of the Americana samples from Play, that record’s signature sound was expanded to help it play out in the expanse of the venue. Hits like “Bodyrock,” “Natural Blues” and “Honey” were obvious crowd pleasers, but the kids were also receptive to his older, more straightforwardly techno offerings. It would have been nice to hear his rendering of Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” but it was not to be. Instead, Moby turned up the distortion for “Southside,” bringing out Canadian pixie chanteuse Nelly Furtado as a stunt Gwen. After thanking his band, his fellow peformers, and the audience, Moby finished off Area:One with a Kraftwerk-ian display of distopian weirdness. Standing shirtless on his keyboard as the lightshow turned and twisted with his song’s monolithic beats, Moby yelped one last nervous “Thank you, Goodnight!” and ran off the stage. He probably dreamed of saying that from a big stage, too.

JTL

American Bandstand

During the past few weeks, in the aftermath of the announcement of the Dodge-Aerosmith partnership, I’ve been talking to a number of people, particularly those in advertising and PR, about the arrangement. The ages of the people ranged across an entire generation, from 23 to 50. The question I was interested in getting an answer to was not so much about whether the setup is actually beneficial to the two firms (let’s not kid ourselves about Chrysler being a “firm” and Aerosmith a “band”), but this:

What is the quintessential American band?

This is not the same as asking:

What is the best American band?

This has to be a widely known group. It has to be a group that is still performing in some essential lineup.

What is to the U.S. what the Who and the Stones are to the U.K.?

I threw out the Beach Boys as a possibility, although when I think of it, it is in the context of “Pet Sounds,” not in the context of what the group has become, as in a small-town church carnival-playing band doing abominations like “Kokomo.” That got negative reactions across the board. (Don’t tell Cameron Crowe.)

Another possibility was Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band. Which got somewhat better reception. . .although the 23-year-old, who actually said that she was an Aerosmith fan and thought the Dodge tie-up was a good idea (and she works at the ad agency for a DCX cross-town rival), commented that while people know Springsteen, the E-Streeters are not as well known: but then I asked who, beyond Tyler and Perry, are members of Aerosmith—a question she could not answer, yet she rolled out with 3 members of the E-Street Band, including that guy who is on “The Sopranos.” (I wonder if that’s how Little Steven will be remembered—which leads to a digressive question as to why all the young rappers are now known as “Lil'” this and that? Lil’ Kim makes a Barbie doll look like a Gumby with a wig: nothing lil’ about Kim.)

Anyway, that idea didn’t go over with much acceptance.

Quite frankly, people threw out names (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, for example) that didn’t quite cut it. And it seemed to come back to Aerosmith.

So I throw it out to all of you: What is the quintessential American rock band? (And no, Grand Funk Railroad is not it, as they sang “We’re an American band.” We’re looking for the.)

BEASTIE BOYS, OTHER MUSICIANS AND ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS OPPOSE BUSH’S ENERGY PLAN

MUSIC COMMUNITY MOBILIZES, THOUSANDS OF FANS TAKE ACTION

George W. Bush is a fucking dumbass

Numerous well-known artists have joined Mike Diamond (aka Mike D. of Beastie Boys) in an action with the Save Our Environment Coalition to oppose President George W. Bush’s energy plan. Some of the artists include: Alanis Morissette, Mike Diamond of the Beastie Boys, Jackson Browne, Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews Band, Moby, Trey Anastasio of Phish, James Taylor and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Dubbed the New Power Project, the innovative effort uses the artists’ popular web sites, fan email lists, and concert tours to rally hundreds of thousands of fans and other supporters to sign petitions and to fax their members of Congress and the Bush administration, expressing outrage over the plan’s disregard for environmental protection and failure to support conservation and renewable energy programs.

“President Bush’s energy plan recommends drilling for oil in the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, increasing reliance on nuclear power, cutting research spending on alternative energy, and basically causing irreversible damage to the planet, heading us back to a time when humanoids dragged their knuckles on the ground,” says Diamond.

The music community has allied with the Save Our Environment Coalition—a collaborative effort of over a dozen of the nation’s most influential environmental advocacy organizations. Mike D, Dave Matthews Band, Alanis Morissette and others are writing letters to their fans asking them to oppose the Bush plan, and have posted the letters on their web sites and in emails to their fans.

As a result, thousands of fans are visiting the saveourenvironment.org/ live action center where they can make their voices heard by sending a fax to their Members of Congress and Administration officials; over 40,000 faxes have been sent opposing the Energy plan so far. Congress has recently dealt several blows to the plan, with the House voting to oppose the plan’s provision in National Monuments, but Republicans rammed the drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve through committee, and a final showdown is expected on the floor. The Save Our Environment Coalition is also coordinating volunteers to gather opposition to the plan at the artists’ concerts.

Gene Karpinkski, Director of the U.S. PIRGs and a Coalition member says, “These artists are helping people understand that President Bush’s energy plan is dirty, dangerous, and doesn’t deliver for consumers. It’s a recipe for more drilling, spilling, asthma attacks, nuclear waste, and global warming.”

According to the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope, “Mike D and the artists and fans can make a real difference stopping the flawed Bush energy plan and building support for a solution to our energy needs that is cleaner, faster, cheaper and safer.”

The New Power Project artists will further its efforts by engaging environmental activists at their concerts nationwide. Recent shows by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Atlanta, James Taylor on Long Island and Trey Anastasio in San Francisco have featured a petition-signing and information component. Alanis Morissette will play an important show for this campaign on July 31st in Anchorage, Alaska, just a short plane ride away from the endangered Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In talking to her fans about her involvement in this effort, Ms. Morissette points to a lack of openness on Bush’s part to explore alternative sources of energy: “The sunlight the earth receives in 30 minutes is equivalent to all the power used by humankind in one year. George Bush has chosen to ignore this by cutting renewable energy research by 37% and energy efficient research by 30%.” According to a recent Department of Energy report, 60% of future electricity demand could be met by increasing efficiency and production of clean renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Diamond suggests harnessing power of a political kind. “This is our world. If each person goes to the saveourenvironment.org/ live web site right now and sends a message, we can stop this.”

Members of the Save Our Environment Coalition are:

American Oceans Campaign, American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Environmental Defense, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, National Environmental Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, The State PIRGs, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund.

HEAVEN KNOWS I’M MISERABLE

Cover Band Lovin’ in the Land of the Dollar Bill

Johnny Loftus

The Midwest is famous for street festivals. Three months of block parties, pig roasts, and town fairs are inextricably linked by traveling bands of rogue Carneys, setting up and tearing down their rickety mush of rusting amusement rides, kewpie dolls, and Iron Maiden bar mirrors. And while one city or other may feature a better loose meat sandwich than the next, each Ribfest or Taste of Downtown is pretty much indistinguishable from the next when the lights go down and the Jell-O shots seem like a better idea. Whodini said it best: The freaks come out at night. And when they do, they drink Bud Light and listen to cover bands.

I stood inside the portajohn, breathing through my mouth as the bassline to Fine Young Cannibals’ “Good Thing” reverberated through the plastic. No, it wasn’t a house party in 1989, though the amount of Members Onlys in the crowd might make you think otherwise. And it wasn’t even David Steele playing the bass. It was the Calcutta Rugs, and they made it through two verses before the drummer fucked up. After a quick, embarrassed “How you doin’?” from the frontman, The Rugs launched right back into FYC as if nothing had happened. And it still sucked. The singer with the Bobby Flay style issues just didn’t have the presence or the range to fire up his band’s waterlogged takes on Gin Blossoms, Foo Fighters, or Roland Gift, et al. But at least one woman in the beer tent was taking their name to heart, whirling and spinning in Sufi-istic splendor to the backbeat of a bland “Black Magic Woman.” That’s the thing about cover bands and street fairs. The target market is looking for cheap drinks, greasy food, and maybe some tail. In the Summertime, in the Midwest, spending a Saturday night watching a local group murder familiar pop songs while eating ribs without a fork and washing them down with lukewarm domestic swag in a plastic cup is high art.

The cover band experience does not end when you go inside. Street fairs are tolerated by proprietors because they know everyone has to cool off eventually. And when they do, The Office’ll have the AC cranked while Skinny Mulligan revs their engines in the back room. Because their constituency has come into The Office by choice, and is not passing by on the way to the petting zoo, Skinny Mulligan knows it can play it’s “harder set.” This will undoubtedly feature AC/DC and Three Doors Down, and as long as their versions are close (and the beer tub girls keep that Busch Light flowin’), Skinny Mulligan will be better than the jukebox. For the cover band only has to offer the illusion of its muse. It’s not necessary to learn every note. Playing a flawless version of SRV’s solo in “Crossfire” only proves that the guitar man has a lot of time on his hands. Everyone in The Office is keeping their eyes and ears on each others’ midriff shirts and sunburns. Unless you are Skinny Mulligan’s manager, or the drummer’s girlfriend, your relationship with Skinny Mulligan extends only as far as your second beer. After that and a few cigarettes, it’s time to head back out to the street fest, talk to an old friend from high school, and maybe buy an elephant ear.

Of course, cover bands exist year-round, in every city all over the world. Years ago I walked into a bar in Paris, looking for a little local flavor. I was greeted by a 5-piece group of Moroccans lurching through a surprisingly soulful version of “Hard to Handle.” But Summertime street fairs are ground zero for the genre. The volume of banality that exists within one street fair is matched only by another lineup of cut-rate musicians in another town, on another stage, milking the same AOR favorites and trying (badly) to harmonize like Mark and Tom from Blink-182. And if they decide to “slow it down a bit,” or trot out some of their originals, it’s time to check out the comedy tent. Because any band that spends its time crapping out old Petty riffs probably has a chip on its shoulder concerning its own music. When a cover band makes the mistake of playing its own number (ranging in influence from Pantera to Dream Theater), it is deaf to the incongruity their decision creates for the crowd. Suddenly, your relationship with The Barflyz has gone from mildly irritating line-waiting music to head scratching and anger. Sure, their attempt at “All the Small Things” was a real laugher; but at least you can hum along. Suddenly, your street fair experience is the aural equivalent of eating bad cole slaw. And when the lead singer ends the torture by announcing The Barflyz’ upcoming opening gig for Slaughter, you can only shake your head in amazement.

At a recent outdoor affair, The No Brand Band launched into a strong set, anchored by Boston, Clapton, and the strong pipes of their burly lead singer. They were older fellows who reminded me of the blues-loving family men in Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing,” saving it up for a Friday night. While their set featured the same tired old radio hits, The No Brand Band was able to bring something to their set that carried “Wonderful Tonight” beyond the annoying sappiness of the original. It’s a difficult trait to pin down, and one that only the fewest of cover bands possess. But occasionally, out there at a street fair somewhere in the Midwest, a band will hit it, and suddenly that pulled pork sandwich from Rosty’s House of Meat tastes a whole lot better than it probably should.

JTL

A real good time

MTV sucks. We all know that. Shows like the Real World keep music videos from being played, and even though MTV rarely ever played good music videos, hey, at least they were showing music videos.

So for that, I hate the Real World. But I have to admit that there’s a side of me that loves it. The darker side. It’s probably actually the same side of me that likes Britney Spears and Hot ‘n Now. Nevertheless, I have spent more than one weekend watching Real World marathons for at least six hours straight. That’s the best way to watch them — all at once. No time to think about how ridiculous and manipulative and evil the show’s producers are. I don’t use words like “evil” lightly either. Evil.

And while the current season of the Real World (back to New York!) is airing on MTV, next year’s season is being taped in Chicago right now. This is the first time the Real World has been taped in Chicago. And it looks like it might just be the last.

The seven strangers are living in a building at 1931 W. North Avenue (aerial photo). That’s in the Wicker Park neighborhood which has a history of artists, noisy bars, serial rapists, and drug-related crime. As with any area that’s rapidly being gentrified, last year’s scenesters don’t want any new scenesters moving in a raising their rents and shutting down their loud clubs. That’s fair. Unfortunately, it’s also unavoidable.

People are protesting. Getting arrested. Going to jail. MTV is threatening journalists. It’s all pretty fucking great, really.

I was in the neighborhood Friday night to see the Blue Ribbon Brothers at Phyllis’ Musical Inn, and afterwards I convinced my friends to try to find the house. I couldn’t remember the address at that point in the evening, so we wandered around for a few blocks until we got bored with the idea and thirsty. Probably a good thing. I don’t need any trouble with the Law.

For more detail into the madness, read Greg Gillam’s article about his brush with the real world. And for all the latest silliness, check out ReadWorldBlows.com. Start getting real.

Dollar Gets the Ax

Remember Lounge Ax in Chicago? It was closed down in January of last year so that the new yuppie owner could put in a more upscale bar. “At night the bars and restaurants around us,” said Lounge Ax co-owner Julia Adams, “are overrun by baseball-cap guys and yahoos and they’re not particularly fond of the kids with piercings and tattoos that come to Lounge Ax.”

Well, the pierced and tattooed in Detroit hang at the Gold Dollar. And now it’s closing too. Damn.

Sad, but true, and at least it’s not happening for the same reason that Lounge Ax did, but it’s still a damn shame. For those of us that support local clubs and local music, it hurts when we see that our scene is shrinking. For those of you that don’t get it, or think you wouldn’t care, I highly recommend you check out this wonderful Detroit club. Yeah, it’s in a bad area. Yeah, it’ll be smelly and hot. But that’s the point: It ain’t another McVenue full of corporate-purchased tickets and people who are concerned with getting home to go to work the next day.

So go catch a show there before the end on 8/18—any gig is bound to be at least worth the few bucks they charge. You won’t regret it, especially if you go see one of the bands that’s more representative of the Detroit punk rock and roll scene, like the Gore Gore Girls on 8/11.

I’ll be there; I’m the guy with a tear in his eye.

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

Rock and roll can change your life.