AFTER THE GOLDRUSH

The Strokes gear up for phase two

The smoke has cleared.

After the turbulent months of smothering hype and gushing publicity, The Strokes have emerged largely unscathed. In New York and elsewhere, hipsters in hexagonal eyewear have moved on to discussing Rival Schools as the next rock and roll heroes, and the UK press is now swooning and fixing their hair about Starsailor. Sure, there’s still hype. How could there not be? But it is not of the viscous, butter cream variety that surrounded the band during their meteoric rise to darling, or hated, status, depending on who you hang with or which message boards you visit. The paradox is that, after all of the windbag platitudes, The Strokes are still – as they always have been – just a band.

What do they do now?

Past and future hype aside, The Strokes’ career as rock stars is unfolding in a manner befitting a talented young group with the attention and financial backing of a large record label. They are touring diligently behind their record, and getting solid spins at modern rock stations in many large radio markets. They even filmed a video for “Last Nite,” albeit on their own terms. Refusing to fake playing their instruments, The Strokes opted for a live performance on a well-lit soundstage. The resulting clip has garnered a solid following on MTV’s “Total Request Live,” and just may bestow Cliff Richard status upon Julian Casablancas, outside the dueling realms of indie chicks and silicon golddiggers already waiting with empty dance cards by the door of his tourbus. Which is fine. Before it spun wildly out of control, the band’s publicity onslaught was the same as any other group that had the ear of its backer. In an alternate world, The Strokes would have emerged as a promising buzz band, a la the current hubbub surrounding Arizona emo-poppers Jimmy Eat World. After 6 years of success in the Indie world, Jimmy Eat World signed to Dreamworks, and are currently winning over a nation of Blink-182 fans with their infectious brand of New Wave-y power chordage. But for reasons that have been documented too many times to be named here (You don’t know? You better ask somebody), The Strokes followed a different path to their current state. Their buzz exploded before note one, and only after this Hungry Man-sized portion of bullshit did they begin the systematic rocking of hearts and minds that most baby bands use to actually establish said buzz. They may have had us at hello, but now it’s “What have you done for me lately?”

The challenge here is to remove the machine from the band, and view them as any other gang of rockers with something to prove. For even without the hype (there’s that word again), the band’s music is worth hearing, and if it hadn’t been put under such a glaring light, would likely move mad units anyway. Viewing The Strokes as Just Another Band then, their next move would be another single, performances at a few of those radio station holiday bashes, and appearances on major media outlets to solidify their name in the brains of the Sugar Ray’d. In fact, they have already taken that step. The Strokes will appear on “Saturday Night Live” January 19th, with host Jack Black. Playing out this business plan of sorts, The Strokes would parlay their SNL appearance into a series of early Spring shows, perhaps piggybacking a tour with an appropriately cool, already popular tastemaker like Weezer or even Incubus. The Strokes would then appear on whatever mildly sexual college entertainment MTV has planned for Spring Break, with Casablancas acting as a judge for, say, a beachfront edition of the network’s popular “Say What Karaoke.” By Summer, Casablancas and his mates would be ready for a large-form arena tour. The second year of Moby’s successfully eclectic Area:One tour of last Summer would seem to be a good fit. And after all of this, The Strokes, critical darlings who were once both hated and loved by music types everywhere, would officially be Rock Stars. And their sophomore album would feature too many keyboards and be destroyed by the very same critics who wrote XOXO in their diaries a year before.

This is all speculation. If The Strokes’ ascendance occurs as such, a legion of music intellectuals will undoubtedly dismiss them more than they already have, accusing the band with the same vitriol meted out to Green Day in 1993. You will recall that Billie Joe Armstrong and the boys were lambasted for “selling out their punk roots” after signing with a major and releasing Dookie to instant success. The difference here is that The Strokes have never been very punk rock, and don’t have much of an Indie pedigree to sell out upon. Nevertheless, because so much of their aura has focused upon their NYC rock pedigree (Television, Velvet Underground, etc.), if The Strokes become rockin’ 9-to-5’ers and not just a fashionable flash in the underground pan, people who gnash their teeth over this sort of thing will disown them. Because implicit in the shitstorm surrounding the group was the joy at being part of it. And when it’s over, it’s time to move on to the next band that has something to offer beyond pent up rage, a dreamboat singer, or a hot series of hooks.

The Strokes have, for all practical purposes, outlasted their own hype. In countless interviews, the band has repeated their wish that everyone talkin’ at them would just listen to the music. Well, now everyone is. And as just another band in showbiz, The Strokes need to decide if they want to burn out, fade away, or continue to do their part in making pop music rock again.

JTL

SHUFFLIN’ ON DOWN LIKE YOU KNEW WE WOULD

America loves its football game pep music

It’s Sunday. Week 11.

Fat men in Braveheart facepaint shout oaths and threaten bodily harm at other groups of fat men clad in Braveheart facepaint of a different color and stripe. The roller rink stench of nachos and frankfurters, tacos and churros swirls in the air, drugging the nostrils into convincing the brain that the artery-busting foodstuffs are a good idea. A homemade placard is continually thrust into the air, representing the sickening hope of its maker that his particular message of positive thinking will not only inspire the home team and its fans, but also give the desperate signmaker a hilariously brief moment of fame, an instance in which his charmingly stupid sign and its questionable graphic design will be critiqued and ridiculed, and he and his pear-shaped friends will be viciously laughed at by a nationwide viewing audience of over 2 million households. And then, during the TV time out, Jay-Z’s “H.O.V.A.” busts through the PA, and the rival schools of fat men are suddenly united in overweight booty-shaking glory. Beer foam sloshes, facepaint smears, and long unused muscles shout obscenities at his brain as the Grabowski in section 106, seat 16 does a modified twist to the shuffling beat of “H.O.V.A.,” a song by a rap artist which he might never have heard in his life – let alone danced to it on the Diamondvision of his local stadium for everyone to point and chuckle – if he hadn’t dropped $40 to see his Chicago Bears meet the Detroit Lions on Sunday, week 11.

Are you ready for some football?

In the old days, before professional leagues, college football was king. During delays in play, Gatsby hatted spectators joined with the men’s chorus in singing their alma mater’s fight song, and children in short pants ate hot peanuts and mimicked the vicious flying wedges of the archaic on-field action. Then came Yalie Walter Camp, and official rules that, over time, transformed the game from an organized ass-kicking into the wealth-driven, uber-athletic enterprise of the 21st century NFL. Today, in Autumn, pro football engulfs America for 20 weeks or so and has made the average dope into Trapper John, MD. On any given Monday, on lunchbreaks from Maine to Malibu, terms like medial collateral and anterior cruciated ligament are tossed around like so much common knowledge. One thing that hasn’t changed since the era of the leather helmet? A simple fact: people get bored when the game isn’t happening. And whether they paid a dime or 2 bills, you need to keep the audience happy. Odds are the candyasses in that 1900’s men’s chorus would be given astro-wedgies in the nearest urinal if they showed their faces in today’s stadiums. So a more sophisticated method of gang entertainment is required.

Enter the pause-in-game DJ.

70,000 bleacher-seated refs may want the play reviewed, but no one wants to wait for the actual, onfield official to look into his special camera and figure it out. Fear not! The pause-in-game DJ has the answer. He starts out with that laugher of a “Jeopardy!” theme song, easing the emotions of the yetis screaming obscenities at the opposing team. But “Jeopardy!” is only 40 seconds long, and the official is really taking his time. Hey, it ain’t no thing. P-I-G DJ simply drops J. Geils Band’s “Freeze Frame,” momentarily entertaining the crowd with its delightful double entendre of good timin’ organ and lyrics appropriate to a funny shirted man watching a replay on a screen to discern whether or not Plaxico Burress caught the pass in bounds. Never thought the right song would exist for such a unique situation, eh? Well, that’s why you’re not the pause-in-game DJ.

A recent Visa ad has fun with sporting event pep music. “Are you ready to cheer on your Pittsburgh Steelers?” screams the PA announcer, and the faithful throng roars its approval, only to be rendered silent by the high-pitched strains of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You.” Flash to a snarky record store clerk, who scolds a team employee for trying to by a copy of “Who Let The Dogs Out?” with a check. No I.D., no Baja Men, and so Minnie Riperton is played in its place. The spot (by BBDO/New York) gets it right, suggesting that the Steeler faithful can make the distinction between two similarly unfortunate moments in pop music history. The pudgy man holding an enormous ‘D’ in one paw and a representation of a picket fence in the other has no problem kicking it to the Baja Men’s amped up calypso jive. But Minnie Riperton? Hell no, man. That shit’s fruity. In an interesting twist that suggests the mind control inherent in advertising, many P-I-G DJs have turned the tables on the Visa ad’s bit. At a recent meeting of the Bears and the Lions, “Lovin’ You” was played over the PA to roars of laughter and general arm-punching, “ha ha ha I get this joke” joshing. Another victory for the pause-in-game DJ, forever searching for the perfect 15 seconds of song, keeping the crowd sated and willing to buy more bobble-head dolls to commemorate all the fun they had that day at Soldier Field.

Since entertainment is one of the main goals, the P-I-G DJ will turn often to the latest volume of “Now That’s What I Call Music!” for tunes, usually before the kickoff, after the punt, or during the boredom of halftime bathroom breaks and stadium announcements. After all, who doesn’t want to wait in an impossibly long line to the beat of “I’m Real” by Jennifer Lopez and Ja Rule? Does it matter that many of the game-going throng sucking down bratwursts and Old Style would never consider anything about J.Lo other than her prodigious posterior, and wouldn’t know quite what to think of Ja Rule’s gruff delivery if confronted with it in their teenager’s bedroom? Do 99% of the spectators at an average football game care that the honking riff and “Woo Hoo” they hear at each achievement of a first down is performed not by Aerosmith, Van Halen or P.O.D., but by a bunch of British pantywaists called Blur who normally sing off-kilter dirges about love and loss? No, they don’t care. And the pause-in-game man knows it. What matters is that what he plays will keep everyone happy for the prescribed amount of time, until the game is occurring again and their attention is turned to it. Soon, it will be time again for him to step up and perform. Perhaps a fight will break out on the field, prompting a Mills Lane “Let’s get it on!” soundbite. Maybe the home team is losing by a touchdown and it’s 1st and goal with 20 seconds left. No problem. Europe was happy enough to write “Final Countdown,” an anthemic rocker that compliments perfectly the stress felt by 80,000 fans who are too emotionally involved with the situation on the field.

And on Monday morning, week 12, a pudgy man’ll climb into his car and head to his mattress sales job out on the turnpike. A bit of blue facepaint he missed in the shower clings to his left earlobe. Muscles he didn’t know he had are sore from something he doesn’t remember doing. And he’s wondering what Ron thinks about Burress’ knee injury, and whether it’s only an MCL, or the dreaded ACL tear. He turns the ignition, and his headache is assaulted by the hysterical voice of a Morning Zoo DJ, hyping that night’s concert bash blowout fest-orama. And out of the speakers blasts Jay-Z’s “H.O.V.A.,” prompting the man to stab at the presets and find the sports talk station. He makes a mental note to remind his teenage daughter not to leave the radio on her station when she uses the car at night.

He really can’t stand all of that loud rap music.

JTL

Wilco Label News

According to Wilco’s official website, they “have agreed to terms with Nonesuch Records (www.nonesuch.com). More information about all of this next week.” I’m not exactly sure what this means, but the people at Pitchfork interpret it to mean “Wilco have now signed to Nonesuch Records, the experimental subsidiary of Atlantic. So one would presume that, sometime early in 2002, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will be released…” Nonesuch releases all sorts of crazy stuff, from the Buena Vista Social Club and Emmylou Harris to the Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson. Hopefully, they will treat Wilco with the respect they deserve.

By the way, when will the hacks at Pitchfork do their fucking homework and stop saying that Jim O’Rourke produced the new album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? He mixed it. He did not produce it.

This, Bud, Is For You

One of the issues regarding music is the degree to which it is calculated. Calculated in dollars and… more dollars. Let’s not be naïve. The music industry is an industry like any other. It is about selling goods and services with the purpose of making money. At the expense of all else.

Generally, we probably suspect that it’s the recording company executives and promoters who are the most bottom-line oriented, that they are the ones who hire the marketing people—the pollsters, analysts and publicists—and others who make up what has been aptly described at the “star-making machinery.” These are the ones who orchestrate everything, from the signage in record stores to the made-for-TV extravaganzas. They pick the “hits.” They orchestrate the appearances on whatever—from “Regis and Kelly” to “TRL” and everything at either extreme.

What we probably don’t do is perceive the musicians as being incredibly mercenary. Sure, we all know about the Brill Building and the hit-making methodology: Turn the crank and get a pop hit. We all know that musicians have car payments and utility bills. And we’re all aware of the ironic honesty of the Mother’s of Invention’s album title “We’re Only In It For the Money.”

Still, I’m sure that with exceptions—e.g., the evidently manufactured models whose musical talents make the late Milli Vanilli look like the Beatles—we figure that there is a degree of actual belief in artistry of what they are doing that bands have.

A clear differentiator is the music that is written for release as musical products in and of themselves and music that is written for commercials. The latter is often described with the diminutive “jingles,” as though we don’t want to accord them the full status of musical compositions. The commercial music is meant to sell another product; the released recording is fundamentally meant to sell itself. We assume that the motive of the commercial jingle composer to be thoroughly commercial. We give the released musical work our willing suspension of disbelief; we try to avoid thinking about the commercial motive, even as we pull out our wallets to hear the performers, physically or digitally.

And so listen to this from an interview in The New York Times Magazine (12/2/01, free registration required), conducted by John Glassie, with Gene Simmons, co-founder, with Paul Stanley, of Kiss:

“Music was never the point. I believe that music and inspiration and creativity are all way overvalued. Everybody who is in the arts likes to emphasize the romantic because it makes good copy. Well, I have a little bit of advice for all the new rock stars: if you’re queasy about all the money you’ve’ made, sit down and write a check to Gene Simmons for your entire net worth.”

Is that what it is all about? Does knowing that the music of Kiss was as calculated as a McDonald’s commercial make it something less? Are those people who may feel “queasy” knowing that the Kiss anthems that they once rocked to are nothing more than advertisements for selling more and more copies of themselves merely babes in the woods who deserve to be taken?

Simmons goes on to note:

“We have 2,500 licenses—everything from the Kiss coffin, which doubles as a Kiss cooler, to Kiss condoms. I’m starting some stuff outside of Kiss, too. There’s going to be Gene Simmons Tongue magazine. We’ve already got a preorder of a million without a single word written or photo taken.”

There has been some concern among the GloNo team members with regard to the limited reach that this site has vis-à-vis the world at large. Perhaps the real issue is that we’re insufficiently whorish. Henceforth, I think I’ll be looking for a sponsor for my items. I’ll take cash, checks, or money orders. No stamps, please.

Adieu

So now another is gone. George Harrison, the “Quiet Beatle.” Cancer. Horrible.

In some regards, Harrison was the Rodney Dangerfield of the group. Sure, Ringo seemed to be the one who could get little, if any respect. But the difference is that Harrison actually earned it. While I have previously argued that the Beatles are the premier example of a group that is better than the sum of its parts, that group without Harrison would have been a far paltrier outfit.

Rock and roll was once figured to be about youth and vitality. It was something with chronological limits: “I hope I die before I get old.”

Perhaps this is an argument based on my own increasing chronology, but I’d like to suggest that rock and roll is now about relevance. Otherwise we wouldn’t be so concerned about the failure of Jagger, the fatuousness of Sting, and pomposity of Aerosmith.

And we wouldn’t take a moment to reflect on the passing of a signal musician in the genre’s history.

George Harrison, Dead at 58

George Harrison portrait by Astrid KirchherrWhen I was in high school I had a very serious argument with my best friend over who was the coolest Beatle. My friend said John. I said Paul. Several years ago, we admitted to each other that we had been wrong. The coolest Beatle is and always has been George Harrison. May he rest in peace.

Rock and roll can change your life.