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.

FRONTIER JUSTICE: Johnny’s Issue Roundup

FRONTIER JUSTICE: Johnny’s Issue Roundup

Maybe it’s the heat, I don’ t know. But I just can’t concentrate. MTV may make Beck want to smoke crack, but it only makes me angry about 300 things at once. Luckily, there’s still live music to save me from the likes of corporate radio and Summer in the Keys. But I need to get some of this stuff off of my chest so I don’t give my favorite bartender a reason to kick my cynical ass out on the street.

Somethin’ Like a Phenomenon

Girl, you know it’s true: Boybandosity has reached critical mass. Backstreet Boy AJ Maclean’s very public breakdown (announced at a “press conference” thrown by his mates on that paragon of news journalism, TRL) and his group’s tepid stadium tour/album sales have helped make clear the fact that target markets age, too. But don’t cry for Jive Records. N*SYNC, that label’s other stable of high cheekbones and freakish haircuts, has naysayed the naysayers with Celebrity, their latest, er, effort. Roundly derided — basically because it’s really atrocious – the hourlong shitstorm of pompousity nevertheless debuted with authority. It’s first week sales were second only to No Strings Attached, the combo’s previous creative suckhole. So Jive’s still in the black. But it can’t last. Stadium tours are expensive, especially when you don’t sell them out. N*SYNC has something like 2,000 semi trucks carting around its stadium tour, and last time I looked, the Teamsters only get crazy with the hair gel when they’re getting real paid.

Celebrity’s overarching theme – Fame’s a bitch, man – suggests that Justin, et al have taken a page out of Bret Michael’s well-thumbed (in jail) handbook. Remember Native Tongue? That was Poison’s 1993 album that shit-canned CC Deville in favor of guitar savant Richie Kotzen in a quest for respectability. The non-mulleted respectfully kicked it to the curb. What Bret and the cads in N*SYNC don’t realize is that no one wants to hear a pop star complain about how many millions of dollars he makes. Especially when he sings lyrics like this:

Sick and tired of hearing all these people talk about

Whats the deal with this pop life?

And when’s it gonna play out?

Well man, hope you invested well, because there’s a Behind The Music about you in pre-production right now.

Sounding to Try Like You

Ever since “Loser,” Beck has enjoyed the kind of rep that is only written about in novels (no doubt written by failed musicians wishing for exactly that kind of rep..). A respected underground performance artist and purveyor of intelligent folk-core who records for indie stalwart (and tastemaker) K Records, and who hangs out with that label’s owner ( ex-Beat Happening Indie hero) Calvin Johnson, Beck also happens to be a quirky modern rocker who wears Prada, dates Wynona, and makes mad dollaz on Geffen. Since the days of Odelay, Beck has only solidified his credentials. The warmth of Mutations and Midnite Vultures’ sideways Prince sex jokes place him in an elite crew of artists (Bjork, Timbaland) who are thoroughly mainstream while still surfing the bleeding edge.

But a continuing argument amongst the GloNo editorial staff asks the question: Is Beck still relevant as a barometer of cool? His competing label heads seem to think so. It seems like every month something’s referred to as “the new Beck,” when the old Beck is doing just fine. They trot them out on modern rock radio, 3-minute singles of whizzing samples, snide lyrical couplets, and the random DJ scratch. Citizen King, Dynamite Hack, Scapegoat Wax – jeez, even their names are similar. Even those no-talent fucks in Better Than Ezra have jumped on the Beck party train, hiring DJ Swamp to infuse them with Beck-ness. “Extra Ordinary,” BTE’s new single, sounds like Z-grade Mr Hansen, with a little Sublime thrown in for good measure. I almost want to see Better Than Ezra on their new tour, just to see if they’re still as shitty as they were in 1995, touring with Ben Folds Five.

The real Beck please release an album toot suite, and put all these bizarre Becks back in their places? Then they’ll all just go back to impersonating Dave Matthews/Eddie Vedder (see Five For Fighting’s new album) and leave the big kids alone.

Get Your Freak On – Peaches and Taylor Savvy Make it Hot

Sucking on my titties/Like you wanted me/Callin’ me/All the time like Blondie/Check out my Chrissie be-Hynde it’s fine now all the time…

Last week in Chicago, things got a little hotter when Peaches rolled through town. The NC-17 material above comes from Peaches’ bomb track, “Fuck The Pain Away.” Never one to, ahem, beat around the bush, Peaches wears her mullet proud and promptly blows your eyeballs back through your skull with her Roland MC 505 beat box and a stable of hot, sweaty lyrics that would make Li’l Kim proud. The Teaches of Peaches, her current effort on Kitty-Yo, is chock full of the kind of shit that would make every 13-year old in the world giggle and squeal, listening to its swears and sexy beats late at night under the covers with a flashlight. That said, it also made the squad of indie rockers at Chicago’s Fireside Bowl shake their skinny hips like some kind of International Pop Underground sex show.

Arriving on stage in true flashy trash – thrift store lingerie that was boom-bada-boom stripped off during the duration of the set – Peaches was literally a one-woman sex machine. With pre-programmed MP3s laying down the beats, Peaches strutted all over the tiny stage, copping the stage moves of all our sexiest rockers, while at the same time toying with that very issue. After all, what is sexy about music, whether it be female or male, danceable or not? Is it Britney tearing off her tuxedo on an MTV award show? Or is it the one-two punch of Mick’s lips and Keith’s guitar slither? Or, is it Peaches, standing on stage, leading a crowd of stogy indie kids in a chant of “Guys, shake ya dicks, Girls shake ya tits”?

Peaches’ partner for her Chicago shows was Taylor Savvy, who quickly made R Kelly look bad in Earl’s own city. Savvy who looks like Jakob Dylan crossed with Randolph Mantooth, put together a set of sexually comedic musical numbers that featured crooning, brooding, and the kind of sweet nothings you usually hear The Onion’s B. Smoov uttering to his lady. With all of this coming from the mouth of a gangly white guy in the back bar of a converted bowling alley on a 100 degree night in Chicago, it was easy to see how Savvy quickly had the crowd eating from his hand. Leaping into off the stage to kiss the ladies’ hands, Savvy was like sexual energy incarnate. He also showed a real flair for improvisation, given that his accompaniment followed Peaches’ lead – pre-fab MP3s booming out the system while he gyrates on the stage like the Caucasian Maxwell. Try to do that in a new city every night, where no one knows you and they’re used to Gibson SGs and Marshall Stacks, and I’ll buy you a new hat.

JTL

The Economist on the online music-sharing world

And, for yet another mildly interesting article, go read this piece about the online music-sharing world at The Economist. It’s pretty basic, but for those of you who have been under a rock and have no real idea what post-Napster life is shaping up to be like, it’s a good start.

SPAM!

Okay, this has nothing to do with music, rock and roll, etc. But it is important, and it’s a great read, perhaps one of the most important pieces of journalism that I have read in the past few years. And fuck it, I’ve got the power to post this here, so I’ll abuse that power. It’s the nature of power to abuse it, right? Coca Cola thinks so, anyway. And that’s what this article is about. So for something totally off topic, go to Guerrilla News and read this article.

It’s long and it’s complicated; it concerns copyright law, covert oprerations by the CIA, bribery of judges in Chicago, and about a dozen other issues, most formidably that Coke has been screwing a single artist whose pop can designs they stole in 1989. Force yourself to read through the whole thing, it’s well worth it. And finally, thanks to Pat for digging this one up and forwarding me the link.

The Top 25 Liberty Songs

So I got my dead tree copy of the LP News in the mail yesterday and, lo and behold, it has an article on the front page: The Top 25 Liberty Songs. It’s a pretty cool list, and more enlightened than you might expect. Check it out. Not only is the Libertarian Party “The Party of Principle,” but it has good music taste too. That should be more than enough reason to vote for Harry Brown in the next election. (And yeah, I know there are two Rush songs on the list, but what do you expect—we’re libertatians, we have to like them because they like Ayn Rand.)

Continue reading The Top 25 Liberty Songs

Rock and roll can change your life.