Musical Maturity?

Bill Flanagan really must have some juice. Encomia on his novel A&R are provided by Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Peter Buck, and Tom Petty. Someone more cynical than I might say that this constitutes a large portion of the literate throng among the rock community. I’m not saying that.

Flanagan, according to the dust jacket, is senior vp and editorial director of VH1. Evidently, he knows intimately about the business he is telling a tale about. And make no mistake: It is a business.

A&R could be turned into a movie (of the week) in short order, a roman a’ clef always makes for the who-is-it? fascination.. There is the requisite number of interlocking and tangential narrative threads as it follows Jim Cantone, A&R man who, in order to get some bigger coin, leaves behind a smaller label to move to the modestly named WorldWide Music, where his belief in himself—and his music—is sorely tested. There is the head of WorldWide, “Wild Bill” DeGaul, who has done everything with everybody as he has created his musical empire. Musicians Lily Rope and Jerusalem. . . .Sex. Drugs. Travel. Rock and roll. And, oh yes, financial machinations.

OK. So it’s a potboiler.

But Flanagan raises an interesting point. A financial guy takes control of the company and does a reorg of the WorldWide staff. And he says, “I think we have to address the reality that pop music now is R&B. That’s not good or bad, it’s just the truth. . . .I listen to what’s getting played on Top Forty radio, it’s pretty clear that rock and roll is no longer the center of the universe. Rock and pop are moving away from each other. . . Why should pop be a subdivision of rock?”

He goes on to say, “Rock and roll doesn’t have to carry the bottom line anymore.” (Remember: we’re talking business here.) “It doesn’t have to pay for everything else. Let hip-hop take that financial burden and you let rock flourish as an art form. It’s a mature style now, like jazz.”

So I ask all of you: Is this correct? Is pop R&B? Is rock mature? Does it matter?

Six Major Concert Announcements

Ugh! So I get this e-mail today, from the Palace. You know, the “entertainment” company that owns the Palace of Auburn Hills (home of the not-so-entertaining Detroit Pistons) and Pine Knob Music Theater (the one big outdoor music venue in “Detroit” that’s actually a lot closer to Flint) in my former town of Clarkston. Now I signed up on its Web site so that I might get notified of new shows and not miss getting tickets to see Neil Young next time he’s in the area. Ditto The Boss and any other big name acts that I still foolishly spend more than $30 to go see. (Okay, more like “more than $50.”) So today’s e-mail says “Six Major Concert Announcements.” Here, look at it for yourself.

So you looked, didn’t you? All I have to say is $78.25 to see Ozzy, and that’s the only damn show that would be tolerable to sit through. That is, if you were drunk enough. (I will be out of town for Oasis/Black Crowes, so that doesn’t count.)

Oh, and by the way, the DTE Energy Music Theatre isn’t some new venue, it’s just what they’re calling Pine Knob these days. I wonder when Three Dog Night (no word on when their annual performance at the Knob will be) is going to rename itself “Seven Up Three Iams Pet Food Dog La Quinta Inns Night.”

More Weezer mp3s

Karl has posted some more Weezer mp3s on the Weezer Fanclub Online. There are six lo-fi songs from a 1998 show Weezer played as “Goat Punishment,” a Bleach-era Nirvana cover band. If you have a fast internet connection, they’re worth downloading. “Aneurysm” rocks particularly hard if you’re too lazy to get to them all. Warning to audiophiles: the sound quality sucks.

Continuing Education Dept:

Have you ever found yourself at the head of the line for the dancing cage on Soul Train and remembered you never learned how to dance? Well, in addition to providing a forum for crabby music critics, the internet can also be used as an instructional tool. How to Dance Properly uses the advanced technology of the world wide web to give you detailed instructions and animated examples so that you can be doing the “Who’s you’re daddy?” in no time, and never again feel the shame of not being able to groove.

Link from K10K

King Gimp – It’s okay to laugh, he’s funny

I finally got to see HBO’s Academy Award winning documentary, King Gimp, last night. I had been wanting to see this since I nearly fell out of bed laughing when I was watching the Oscars and it won for best short documentary. If you saw it, you know what I’m talking about. When they announced the winner, Dan Keplinger, the subject of the film about his lifelong struggle with cerebral palsy, was so happy and excited he convulsed right out of his seat.

You might think I’m an asshole for laughing at this, but I’m not.

I was genuinely filled with joy. I could feel this guy’s happiness. And he’s funny. This same sense of empathy carries over in his art. He has very little control over his hands and arms but he’s got a pretty good handle on his head and neck, so he uses a “head stick” to paint (and to type as well). He says the word “gimp” also means “fighting spirit” and he’s got plenty of it.

He is so cool. He’s funny and he’s smart and he’s tough. And he rules. You’ve got to watch this documentary if you get a chance. And check out his own page.

SIGNAL PATH – Plugging in to the history of headphones

About 20 years ago, there was a late-night show on WLUP (“The Loop”) in Chicago called ‘Headphones Only.’ Predictably, each episode promised to take you, the listener, on sound-filled journey featuring the sites, sounds, and vibes of albums that were “meant for headphones.” Curiously, 90% of the music programming on ‘Headphones Only’ featured songs already in the Loop’s daily dosage of AOR rawk n roll. You know: plenty of the ‘Floyd, Grand Illusion-era Styx, and ELO…or was it ELP? Doesn’t matter. The point is that ‘Headphones Only’ never really lived up to its self-professed hype. Sure, plenty of 70s rock opuses featured studio hijinks meant to ensure headphone heaven for the listener. But even if you had the really bitchin’ Jensens, the squelch and pop of the FM band was going to limit your aural pleasure. So rather than revealing the sub-channel, multi-tracked intricacies of, say, BB Steel’s On The Edge, ‘Headphones Only’ played out like an aging rock jock’s sonic reefer fantasy. “Dude, I think I can see the inside of my mouth, man…”

‘Headphones Only’ has long since left the radio dial. And headphone use itself has left the home completely, in favor of mobile use. While your pale-skinned audiophile friend probably swears by his $850 Sennheisers, the majority of us are happy with the unobtrusive in-ear units that accompany most portable music sources. Because they don’t envelope your ear in a collapsing-star sort of way, these headphones tend to let in the external sounds and general undercurrent of train announcements, traffic, and idle chatter that is the soundtrack of life in the city. Inevitably, this background noise affects the sound of the music from your headphones. There are different ways of solving this public headphone dilemna. One option is to purchase a Discman that features volume levels in the deafening range. To drown out nuisances like horns, trucks in reverse, or yapping friends, one needs only to turn it up and tear off the knob. For some reason this option is the first choice of club kids, Samhain fans, the unwashed, and lovers of Salsa music.

I stumbled across another solution while listening to Kid Loco on my headphones.

A French producer/studio tinkerer who specializes in downtempo beats and esoteric post-party chill music, Kid Loco’s music is seemingly stuck between multiple worlds. While his DJ skills create a subtle groove, his contribution to the DJ-Kicks Series from Studio K7 takes things to a new level, incorporating a melange of international flavors on top of traditionally chill beats. After a brief introduction with the obligatory Cypress Hill sample, the deep drones of a tabla drum drop in behind a scratchy female vocal loop. Walking down a busy street in Chicago’s Loop, I added to this backbeat the grinding, banging sounds from the construction site across the way, as well as a grumbling diesel bus engine and the high-pitched moan of the newspaper vendor. At first, it was a bit odd to have all of this going on. Especially because, when listening to Kid Loco in a subdued, indoor environment, the album seems almost ambient at times. But there’s just enough urban groove in the beats he chooses that the pounding and yelling of city life seems like a real-time remix.

It’s true that not every record, when listened to on a mobile CD system, will be effected so positively by the noise of the city. I can’t see Nick Drake adding the rumble of a tractor trailer truck to his quiet folk music, “just to get that city vibe.” But in a way, albums like Kid Loco’s DJ-Kicks set are just as suited to headphone use as the high-concept AOR studio albums whose sonic operas ruled the airwaves each Wednesday night during ‘Headphones Only.’


Are you plugged in?

I found the best record reviews on the web. The site is called Plugged In and its mission statement is: “Helping parents and youth leaders guide teens through the world of popular youth culture.” And boy, does it ever. There are reviews of movies and television too, but the record reviews are the best. Critic Bob Waliszewski appears to be the author of most of these critiques and this guy can really turn a phrase. Check out how he skewers Beck’s Midnite Vultures:

Beck’s bizarre, nonsensical stream of consciousness flows into some stagnant pools. On “Debra” he propositions a store clerk, saying he wants to have sex with her and her sister, concluding, “Ain’t no use in wastin’ time getting to know each other . . . ’cause you got the thing I just got to get with.” “Milk & Honey” prattles about wet dreams, Buddha and roofies. Erotic fragments also refer to a ménage à trois (“Peaches & Cream”), sadomasochistic sex (“Sexx Laws”), hookers (“Pressure Zone”), incest (“Get Real Paid”), lesbianism (“Mixed Bizness”) and twisted fantasies involving public gratification (“Hollywood Freaks”). Beck’s sexual assault begins and ends with suggestive CD cover art.

Each review is divided into three sections: Pro-Social Content, Objectionable Content and Summary/Advisory. The Pro-Social Content is often “None,” as in the case of Dr. Dre’s 2001, Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe and Korn’s Follow the Leader. Every single critic in the world has an opinion about Radiohead’s Kid A, and here is Waliszewski’s take on its Pro-Social Content:

“Optimistic” tells fans that doing their best is good enough. Beyond that, the messages are generally neutral and obscure with lines like “I slipped on a little white lie/ We’ve got heads on sticks/ You’ve got ventriloquists” and “This one went to market/ This one just came out of the swamp/ This one dropped a payload.” Nebulous.

Nebulous! In his summary, he advises parents that “teens shouldn’t waste their time on what feels like a 50-minute soundtrack from a despairing hallucination.” Do yourself a favor and go get Plugged In.

Bangs’ Life vs. His Art

Back in the 1930s, a group that mainly consisted of poets created a practice known as “New Criticism” The method, based on close reading, basically said that a given work of art is the thing that must be analyzed as it is. That is, instead of bringing anything to the work, the work, literally, stood on its own. The background of the writing—personal, social, political—was largely determined to be irrelevant. It was, the New Critics maintained, a matter of simply assessing what was produced. Period.

I have generally thought that the New Critics were often missing too much by not taking the context of the creation into account. After all, the point of view of the artist—be s/he a writer, painter, filmmaker, musician—has a lot to do with what is created. By leaving biographical knowledge out, there is the potential of missing important aspects of the work.

But having just read Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic by Jim DeRogatis (Broadway Books; $15.95), I’m sort of feeling more sympathetic to the New Critics. There is Bangs’s work. There is Bangs’s life. And to the degree that the former is often exhilarating, the latter is disturbing.

Bangs’s father, who apparently didn’t spend a consistent amount of time with his family (being drawn away, apparently, by the lure of booze), died in a house fire when Lester was nine. Lester’s mother was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which had a strong influence on her world view (and beyond) [and I am confident that Jeff can provide a Paul Schrader reset in this regard]. Lester didn’t take well to that weltanschauung. He rebelled. As a teenager in El Cajon, California (recently the site of a high school shooting incident), Lester worked to become a rock writer, which he did in 1969, in Rolling Stone. His day job, incidentally, was selling women’s shoes. Out of the box, Bangs was, in the context of his surname, onomatopoeic: writing about “It’s a Beautiful Day” (which is also the name of the group), Bangs didn’t pull back any of his smack: “I hate this album, not only because I wasted my money on it, but for what it represents: an utterly phony, arty approach to music that we will not soon escape.” Imagine his living in the Age of Celine Dion.

Lester managed to get bounced from Rolling Stone. He moved from southern California to what he described as “Deeetroit.” He, as he put it, “did time” there starting in 1971. He wrote for Creem. Five years later, after creating his own form of writerly and personal havoc (the portrait that DeRogatis, whose credits include the Chicago Sun Times, Penthouse, Guitar World, and World of Wrestling, draws of Bangs is a man who had a taste for Romilar and disinterest in personal hygiene), he moved to New York. There he was to write for a variety of venues. And he was to die there on April 30, 1982, probably of a drug overdose (the medical examiner wrote “Acute propoxphene poisoning” and “Circumstances undetermined.”)

Between ’69 and ’82 Bangs wrote many blazing pieces, sometimes changing his mind 180 degrees (e.g., from excoriating the MC5 to extolling the band), but always speaking in his strident, idiosyncratic voice. And speaking of voice, Bangs started bands that he performed with; apparently, he sounded like a walrus. Writing about music wasn’t enough. He had to make it.

A blurb that appears on the cover of Let It Blurt from Cameron Crowe says, in part, of the book, “it reads like rock and roll.” Which may, indeed, be the case. Breakups and screwups. Highpoints and low. Maybe it is less a celebration, and more of a cautionary tale.

The Board

Well, well, well. The Board is finally seeing some action. First of all, RmpIV makes a case for contemporary soul music. What do you think of modern soul? Next, Scott C buys a used jacket and is overwhelmed by the memories that came along with it. If you haven’t checked out the Board yet, do it now!

Update: The old board has been replaced by the new board.

Rock and roll can change your life.