Of Artifacts & Artists

Lillie P. Bliss was an art collector and patron of artists. Mary Quinn Sullivan was an America art teacher and textbook author. Abigail Green Aldrich Rockefeller was, yes, a Rockefeller; she married John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the only son of the oil magnate.

In the late 20s those three women got together and created the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, which opened in 1929. According to MoMA, Bliss, Sullivan and Rockefeller wanted to “challenge the conservative policies of traditional museums and to establish an institution devoted exclusively to modern art.”

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In 1983 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation (RRHOF) was established by Ahmet Ertegun. Among other things, he was the co-founder and president of Atlantic, perhaps the most influential rock label of all time; he sold his interest in the label in 1967. He made millions. Not petro wealth. But comfortable.

Joining Ertegun on the board of the foundation were Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone; Seymour Stein, who co-founded Sire Records; Bob Krasnow, whose resume includes being the chairman of Elektra Records, and three others.

The foundation decided it needed a home base. It decided on Cleveland, with a groundbreaking in 1993, with participants including Pete Townshend (did he windmill a shovel?), Chuck Berry and Sam Phillips. Architect I.M. Pei was engaged to design the building, which includes a glass pyramid (it is worth noting that in 1983 Pei designed the pyramid that is part of the Louvre).

The building was dedicated two years later, with the ribbon being cut by, among others, Yoko Ono and Little Richard.

Since 1986 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has selected inductees. The first class included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Alan Freed, John Hammond, Buddy Holly, Robert Johnson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Phillips, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, and Jimmy Yancey.

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When I looked at the women who founded MoMA, I have the sense that they were in it to promote modern art and artists. Let’s face it, in 1929 the world economy was tumbling into a morass that required years to extricate itself from. Perhaps there was some notion of raising the visibility of modern art and thereby increase the value of whatever pieces they may have individually had, but somehow I think there was more selflessness involved.

When I looked at the people who established RRHOF my first sense of things was that this was largely a play to sell more records. But when you look at the lists of the first class of inductees, that clearly wasn’t the way things worked, at least not at the start.

Now I am not so sure.

Continue reading Of Artifacts & Artists

New Sincere Engineer: Come Out For A Spell

Video: Sincere Engineer – “Come Out For A Spell”

Sincere Engineer - Come Out For A Spell (Official Music Video)

From Bless My Psyche, due September 10 on Hopeless.

Sincere Engineer and Hopeless Records have released another single along with the album announcement for Bless My Psyche, which will be coming out in September. They’ve also scheduled a release party at the Cobra Lounge in Chicago and it sold out immediately. Good for them, but who dares to plan anything that far out anymore?

The new video assembles a bunch of tour footage from back when bands could tour, including some silly offstage hijinks. I recognize two shows I attended but am thankful to see that my drunkenly bobbing head is decidedly off-camera.

In November the band is hitting the road with Hot Mulligan, which is a bummer because they’re third-billing and will be playing bigger venues. I mean, not that much bigger (St. Andrew’s in Detroit, Bottom Lounge in Chicago, etc.), but I was hoping they’d come to the Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids. I’m not willing to drive three hours to see a half-hour set. Maybe they’ll do a headlining tour in 2022 and play some tertiary markets. Fingers crossed!

Sincere Engineer: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Gary Louris: Follow

Video: Gary Louris – “Follow”

From Jump For Joy, out June 4 on Sham/Thirty Tigers.

What is it about Gary Louris’ voice that’s so comforting? From the Jayhawks days through his work with Golden Smog as well on his solo stuff, he sounds like a big hug from an old friend.

His new album was written, performed, recorded and produced entirely by Louris himself. As a reminder that some of us have been locking ourselves down since way before the start of the pandemic, some of these recordings date back to “the first decade of the new millennium.”

“Follow” is a love song with a super lovey video to match, starring Louris and his wife frolicking gaily in the woods.

“This was originally a straightforward love song for no one,” says Louris. “However when my niece was married I rewrote it and performed it for their wedding dance. Now it has become an ode and testament to my lovely wife. It is a song of commitment, of partnership and a realization of when two people have that magical bond that cannot truly be explained in words.”

New Tristen: Wrong With You

Video: Tristen – “Wrong With You”

Tristen - "Wrong With You" (Official Music Video)

Directed by Joshua Shoemaker. From Aquatic Flowers, out June 4 on Mama Bird.

Another great song from Tristen’s upcoming album. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing! The opening chords of this one call to mind Johnny Marr. Sort of a “Half a Person” vibe.

In the video our hero tromps through the woods in a slow-motion wedding dress all spooky like a jilted ghost, her smoky eye makeup smeared and running down her wet cheeks. I’m sure it’s not intentional, but her look reminds me of recent instagram posts by Britney Spears. I started following Britney after the whole #savebritney movement and, especially in that context, her little videos are disturbing. She dances around her house in sportswear with what appears to be a forced smile. Both her eye shadow and haunted demeanor are similar Tristen’s in this video. Or maybe I’m projecting.

“‘Wrong With You’ takes a look at a masochist so attuned to their own self-loathing and emotional manipulations that they can’t help but pity anyone who tries to get close,” says Tristen. “The more love they are given, the more skeptical and withdrawn they become. With the backdrop bopping like what I hoped felt like a Marshall Crenshaw tune, in a strange emotional twist, the protagonist knows they are treating their lover badly as some kind of test because, if they can love you through the pain, their love is somehow more true.”

New Madi Diaz: Nervous

Video: Madi Diaz – “Nervous”

Madi Diaz - "Nervous"

Directed by Jordan Bellamy. Single out now on Anti-.

Cool song with a beefy guitar tone and conversational vocal delivery. That’s my jam.

The line “I have so many perspectives I’m losing perspective” reminds me of the old Steve Taylor lyric: “You’re so open-minded that your brain leaked out.” Sometimes I miss being a kid who is absolutely convinced that I know everything about everything. I made a crack the the other day about losing my critical faculties but I’m not sure it was a joke. It used to be so easy to dismiss stuff out of hand, without putting any real effort into it. All the stuff I hated so thoroughly as a 16 year old (e.g., Grateful Dead, Whitney Houston, NASCAR, tofu), I can appreciate now and some of it I even like.

When you can no longer bring yourself to hate things, how are you supposed to define what you actually like?

I don’t know if any of that has anything to do with what Madi Diaz is singing about.

Diaz says, “You know when you hold a mirror up to a mirror and you get an infinite amount of reflections from every angle? That’s what ‘Nervous’ is about. It’s when you’re in a loop of looking at yourself from every vantage point until you’re caught up in your own tangled web of bullshit. It’s about catching yourself acting out your crazy and you’re finally self aware enough to see it but you’re still out of your body enough and curious enough to watch yourself do it.”

“Nervous” is her third single for Anti-. No word yet on a full-length album.

I Can’t Dance

“Did you hear that Genesis is touring?”

A friend called and asked me that. He knew that I’d have little interest in that. But it was good to hear from him, as the pandemic has meant that we’ve not seen one another for many, many months. He is a fan of what he, and presumably Martha Quinn, affectionately refers to as the “Big 80s,” which I suppose is a bit of nostalgia that we could all benefit from nowadays. (Nostalgia for something, not necessarily the 80s.)

“I thought Phil Collins was near dead,” he continued, not making some sort of ageist comment but being completely serious about it.

That led me, later, to a search that took me to British tabloids. As a lede in the Mirror has it in a story published earlier this year: “The master drummer has been plagued by agonising health issues for a decade, starting when he injured a vertebrae in his upper neck while performing in 2009.”

The poor bastard has suffered from all sorts of health-related issues, perhaps the most troubling for a drummer, master of otherwise, is nerve damage to his foot, which was caused by the surgery to fix his neck. This condition is called “foot drop,” which, according to the Mayo Clinic: “If you have foot drop, the front of your foot might drag on the ground when you walk. Foot drop isn’t a disease. Rather, foot drop is a sign of an underlying neurological, muscular or anatomical problem.” Collins was to have performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016 yet had to cancel two dates because he had gotten up at night to go to the bathroom while staying in a hotel and took a header due to the foot drop, which led to a brief hospitalization. And you might have imagined that being a rock star is glamorous. Yes, those “agonizing health issues” did lead him to do some serious drinking, which evidently he now has under control.

So while the 70 year old walks with a cane and has had one of his kids fill in for him on drums, he is apparently not “near dead,” because I suspect the tabloids would have been making that point in massive headline type.

Still, it seems as though the man going out on tour is a definition of, dare I say (prepare to groan), “against all odds.” (When is it time to quit?, I wonder.)

Continue reading I Can’t Dance

New ME REX video: Heart of Garbage

Video: ME REX – “Heart of Garbage”

ME REX - Heart of Garbage (Radio Edit)

From the Triceratops/Stegosaurus EP, out now on Big Scary Monsters.

This is what we used to call “college rock” and it’s great. The lead guitar tone reminds me of my beloved Sinatras and the clever lyrics are delivered by Myles McCabe in a delightful South London accent.

And if you feel like I do maybe I can help you through this
Don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed of what you need to keep you sane
Tell your head I said I hate the weight it gives to the mistakes we made.

How can you not love that? Come on.

Via fortherabbits.

New Kings Of Convenience: Rocky Trail

Video: Kings Of Convenience – “Rocky Trail”

Kings Of Convenience - Rocky Trail (Official Video)

From Peace Or Love, out June 18 on EMI.

Back in the Great Sellout Wars of the early 2000s, the Kings of Convenience were one of the bands I would bring up to demonstrate that a television commercial could indeed turn someone on to good music. Their song “Toxic Girl” was used in an ad for something or other where a young person was on a bus, longing for someone. That’s all I remember now. I just spent about five minutes trying to find the spot online but failed.

The way it worked back then was we would hear a cool song, search the internet for who it was, and then download a 128mbps MP3 via Napster or Audiogalaxy. Later, when we stumbled across the cd in the used bin, we’d buy it for six bucks, and if we really liked the whole thing, we’d be sure to pick up their next album on release day. If the band ever toured we’d go see them, and if they had cool merch we might even get a shirt.

It seems naïve now, but at the time we believed that filesharing would ultimately lead to more revenue for musicians. And maybe it did for a while there when people (like us) still bought physical media. Streaming obliterated this system. But that’s another story.

Back when Kings Of Convenience released their last album, 2009’s Declaration of Dependence, there was no streaming. “Album downloads” were still a big thing that was on the rise. It’s a different world now, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to their new single. It’s got that same breezy grooviness that first caught my ear when I saw the ad with the kid on the bus. It’s not really bossa nova but you can imagine a Getz/Gilberto cover of any of their songs, including this new one.

The video features a single, continuous shot of the duo and some friends hanging out in an extremely Scandinavian apartment. Totally on brand and wonderful. Made me realize how much I’ve missed these guys. Let’s say we give them one more time, one last chance to speak again…

Kings Of Convenience: web, insta, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Liz Phair: Spanish Doors

Video: Liz Phair – “Spanish Doors”

Liz Phair - Spanish Doors (Official Music Video)

From Soberish, due June 4 on Chrysalis.

It’s great that Liz Phair has reconnected with Brad Wood, who produced Exile, Whip-Smart, and a most of the best songs on whitechocolatespaceegg. In the liner notes for Girly Sound to Guyville, Phair talks about how unlike previous producers she had tried to work with, Wood “wanted to make a record the way I wanted to make a record. [Wood and engineer Casey Rice] didn’t want to tell me what to do.” Which is why the music they recorded together is so distinctive; the guys didn’t try to tell “the girl” that what she wanted to do was wrong.

I remember hearing that the reason her early songs sound so weird is that she didn’t know how to play guitar when she wrote them and was just making up chords on her own by putting her fingers wherever they sounded cool. If that’s true, it’s awesome.

The quirkiness of youthful experimentation doesn’t last forever, especially when you have major label honchos breathing down your neck, but that’s why after finally being “released” from Capitol Records, 2010’s Funstyle was such a welcome change of pace (even if half the songs were ridiculous).

But now she’s teamed back up with Brad Wood and the three songs we’ve heard so far from their collaboration are giving us a picture of what this new phase is like. It’s mature but not boring. There’s still a playfulness in the production. There are familiar “classic Liz Phair” guitar tones, but nobody’s trying to recreate Wicker Park in the 90s.

The best song on Exile, “Divorce Song” was written at least five years before Phair got married and this new song, dealing with a similar subject, is coming out twenty years after she got divorced.

Phair says, “I drew inspiration from a friend who was going through a divorce, but the actions in the lyrics are my own. I relate to hiding out in the bathroom when everyone around you is having a good time but your life just fell apart. You look at yourself in the mirror and wonder who you are now, shadows of doubt creeping into your eyes. Just a few moments ago you were a whole, confident person and now you wonder how you’ll ever get the magic back.”

I don’t know if it’s ever really possible to fully get the magic back. But if you can manage to keep on keeping on, and every once in a while grasp a little bit of the magic you once possessed, maybe that’s good enough.

We’re all grownups now. It’s probably greedy and unrealistic to expect to be able to rekindle whatever it was that seemed to come so easily when we were young. But it can be fun to try.

Audio Adventures

Although the Amboy Dukes were originally organized in Chicago—which is a bit of an exaggeration because people in Chicago don’t consider Arlington Heights to be Chicago any more than they do Schaumberg—the band is better known as being from Detroit, one of the groups that had its heyday in the late 1960s along with a raft of others, including the MC5, SRC, Frost, Up, and the Bob Seger System (although purists would put “the Last Heard” in place of “System”). The first-named continues to resonate given that it had profound effects on bands that made it to a far greater extent than it ever did; the last-named has become known in relation to the Silver Bullet Band (good for him; bad for music; arguably “East Side Story,” “Heavy Music” and “2 + 2 = ?” are cuts that people should still go to school on; the later stuff: it works well in movie soundtracks).

(A digression: although it began in earnest in the early 1960s, Motown had a more lasting effect on Detroit—and music—than the aforementioned bands. It is incredible to think that out of a studio on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit (now a museum) music from the Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, the Miracles, and others was produced. One might argue that from 1961 to 1971 there was a true musical Renaissance in Detroit, the likes of which has never been bettered.)

The Amboy Dukes had one hit, “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” which was released in 1968 and was the Midwest version of a genre that came to be known as “Psychedelic Rock,” something that should have been left to the likes of Moby Grape.

The most notable sound on “Journey” was the lead guitar playing by Ted Nugent.

It would have probably been better for everyone (with the exception of the Nugent family members) had he decided to hang it up after that searing 3:11 single.

But he is still here.

Continue reading Audio Adventures

Rock and roll can change your life.