Fetch the Bolt Cutters was released on April 17 when we were all in full-on freakout mode about the coronavirus. Here in Michigan we were three and a half weeks into our stay-at-home order, and the album came out on the same day that our orange fuhrer tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in response to Governor Whitmer’s executive orders.
To keep myself sane I was immersing myself in yardwork. Specifically, I was cutting up fallen trees and branches in the woods behind my house with a chainsaw. I would put on my 3M Worktunes bluetooth headphones, play an album from my phone, and go pretend I was a lumberjack until I was exhausted.
A surprise release from Fiona Apple seemed like it would be exactly what the doctor ordered, but for me it was a little more intense than what I needed. It’s rawness and dissonance and rhythmic weirdness was exhausting. When you’re wielding a tool that is capable of chopping off your leg if you’re not paying attention (or massacring your neighborhood if you really lose control), it’s best to have a more calming soundtrack.
In the months since then, as we’ve learned to live with the pandemic, I’ve started to hear things in Fetch the Bolt Cutters that I didn’t hear when it was competing for my attention with the muffled screaming of a chainsaw engine and the unmufflable screaming of existential doom. There are hooks and melodies in there that are as beautiful and engaging as anything Apple has released.
“Shameika” is a story song about being bullied in school and having a cool kid stick up for you. “Shameika said I had potential.” Sometimes that’s all you need to hear to help you make it through to the other side. It gets better, right?
Back then I didn’t know what potential meant and
Shameika wasn’t gentle and she wasn’t my friend
But she got through to me and I’ll never see her again.
Well, as it turns out, that prediction proved to be incorrect. It’s a great story but the short version is that Fiona and Shameika’s third grade teacher heard about the song via a New Yorker profile and reached out. Ultimately, the two former classmates collaborated on a sequel of sorts.
And in the meantime the United States denied a second term to the worst president in its history and approved at least two vaccines to immunize its population from Covid-19!
It’s a feel good story with a happy ending! Who doesn’t love that? What a country!
God bless America, and have a healthy Thanksgiving, everybody!
Hey look it’s a new animated video for “Apple Blossom” to promote the upcoming White Stripes Greatest Hits collection. And why not?
Originally released twenty years ago on De Stijl, “Apple Blossom” is a fan favorite that was performed on all the White Stripes tours following its release. When the band made its television debut on Detroit’s “Backstage Pass” in 2000, they played “Apple Blossom” and not the album’s single, “Hello Operator.” Jack has even dusted it off for some of his solo shows.
I’m not the intended audience for a White Stripes hits comp, but I’m all for them reissuing stuff to appeal to a new generation of fans. I remember being 18 and getting some silly new Velvet Underground collection that totally opened the doors for my impending fanaticism.
So I’m never going to criticize a kid for starting with a “best of” or slam a label for issuing one.
And The White Stripes Greatest Hitstrack list looks pretty cool. At least it contains a somewhat rare b-side (“Jolene”)… Although in the streaming era can something that is already available for streaming be consider rare? Probably not. So while this collection could just as easily be built as a playlist, I’m sure a bunch of folks will pick it up on vinyl and have a great listening experience with it. Plus, I’m sure Third Man will include some trappings in the physical release that will make it fun to own. And if that drives some people to dig deeper into the catalog? Better for everybody.
Although it is easy to talk about the “music industry,” just what is it, or, more accurately, what are the elements that establish the whole?
I found an answer in a report prepared by UK Music, a trade organization that represents—yes, exactly what its name unambiguously states.
In its codification there are six primary sectors and then a various number of subsectors in each:
Music Creators: musician, composer, songwriter, lyricist, vocalist, producer, engineer
Live Music: music festival organizers, music promotors, music agents, production services, ticketing agents, convert venues and arenas
Music Publishing: publishing rights holders, publishing companies
Recorded Music: recorded rights holders, record labels, physical manufacturing and distribution, digital distribution, recording studios
Music Representation: collective management organizations, music managers, music trade bodies, music accountants, music lawyers
Music Retail: retail of musical instruments, manufacturer of musical instruments, digital music retail, physical music retail
Of the sectors, Music Creators has by far the greatest number of people employed (“full-time equivalency,” meaning this is what they do), with 142,000 of the industry’s total 197,168. In second, way, way, back is Live Music at 34,000; then Music Retail, 11,300; Recorded Music, 5400, Music Representatives, 3,100; and Music Publishing, 1,368.
The importance of the music industry is really significant to the UK economy. According to UK Music, it contributed £5.8-billion to the UK economy in 2019. To put that into some context, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the UK automotive trade association, the auto industry contributed £15.3-billion during the same period. The music industry employs 197,168. The auto industry 864,300.
But whereas people who work in the auto industry work for employers, according to UK Music, 72% of the people in the music industry are self-employed. When times are good, that is not bad. But when times are bad, that is not good.
And we all know which time we’re living in now.
While the UK government has established the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (yes, Scheme is part of its official name, not some sort of linguistic dodge) as part of its response to the COVID-19, UK Music estimates that only about a third of those working in entertainment and the arts qualify for it.
You can never go home again. Yeah, it’s a cliche and painfully overused but it’s overused because it’s also painfully true. You can wander the streets of your neighborhood but they’re slightly different, like in a dream. Old haunts are under different names, old friends are…older. So, no. You can’t go home again, but one of the magics of music is you can return to familiar feelings. Neurons deep within the folds and creases of your brain can fire again. You can’t go back, but you can imagine what it would be like if you could. That’s how I feel when I hear the jangle and harmonies of Teenage Fanclub.
Teenage Fanclub - Everything Flows BBC Session
My introduction to the Fannies was like so many bands and artists in my youth: via mixtape. Jake had slipped in an alternate take of “Everything Flows” onto a yellow Maxell cassette. The loud guitars layered with pristine harmonies seeped perfectly into a brain already prepped by an obsession with The Stone Roses.
We get older every year
But you don’t change
Or I don’t notice you’re changing
Nearly thirty years on, Teenage Fanclub is still chugging. Their long Scottish locks are shorn and their skin isn’t as smooth, but whose is? The raucous youths who stormed Reading in 1992 are now more mature, more refined, more…still. And maybe that allows more space for the songs themselves. Maybe I’m just getting older too.
Teenage Fanclub - Reading Festival 1992
The new single, “Home” is classic latter-day TFC. It’s pretty and touching and nostalgic without being morose. Give a listen and feel at home again, if only for four minutes.
It’s easy to hate Steely Dan when you’re an angry young person. The music is slick and perfect and the lyrics are mean and condescending. It sounds so adult. None of that reckless teenage abandon that makes rock and roll fun and exciting.
But you know what eventually changes your perspective? The Cuervo Gold and the fine Colombian…
These days I can’t even imagine not loving the Dan. Walter Becker and Donald Fagan are hilarious, and that’s something I didn’t pick up on when I was a kid. I even respect Michael McDonald now, which is something I never would’ve believed I’d admit. And it’s not some silly ironic enjoyment of “yacht rock.” They sound great. What’s not to love?
Clearly Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy feel the same way. Here, they take on Becker and Fagan’s tale of a suburban loser who wishes he was a hip jazz cat with a cool nickname, and it’s beautiful.
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues
Callahan’s broken baritone embodies the character of the narrator perfectly. In the original version Fagan makes you smirk at the guy’s chutzpa, but Callahan makes you feel genuinely sorry for him. What more could you ask for?
These two! Come on. Tackling a difficult subject with all the empathy you’d expect from two of the most caring and sensitive songwriters in the business, Shires and Isbell put you right there in the room with a young couple figuring out how to deal with an unexpected situation.
Shires told CMT, “The video’s focus on the conversation never drifts and you can really feel the emotion. We recorded the vocals for this while we shot the video.” Wow.
So yeah, pretty raw.
Shires wrote an op-ed on abortion rights for Rolling Stone when “The Problem” was released, and it’s worth reading. Proceeds from the song will go to the Yellowhammer Fund, reproductive justice organization providing services in the Deep South.
Unless you are a participant, for viewers/listeners/attendees of live events, music and sports are both forms of entertainment, which have many similarities from the point of view of the attendee. They are (and this is in the context of pre-C-19) held in large structures and there are plenty of people also in attendance. There is a multitude of things that you can buy, from overpriced beer (as you’re prohibited from bringing in your own beverages, this is not a price predicted by market forces but by the venue owner or event organizer) to hats, T-shirts and other paraphernalia. Sporting events tend to last longer than concerts (with the average football game taking 3 hours and 12 minutes, for example), unless Bruce Springsteen is involved.
One fairly notable difference is that sporting events start on time, largely because of TV contracts. (This also explains, in part, why the NFL game is as long as it is: the game consists of four 15-minute quarters; halftime is 12 minutes for a regular game, although for the Super Bowl it can run 30 minutes or so.) How many times have you been to a concert when it started within 30 minutes or so of the time on your ticket?
And speaking of tickets, it has been reported that Ticketmaster is considering a plan for concertgoers where by attendees would have to verify that they’ve either tested negative for C-19 within a period of 24 to 72 hours before the show or, whenever this happens, have been inoculated. All of this is smartphone based (e.g., you get a test; tell the lab to send the information to a third party like CLEAR; the third party provides the OK for attendance). A benefit for Ticketmaster is that because this also means that a given ticket is digital, there is no reselling outside of its approved method.
And speaking of selling, it is worth noting that according to Statista, the average price of a concert ticket in 2019 (the last year of normalcy) was $96.17. Not surprisingly, the cost of attendance has gone up over the past few year, but curiously, in 2014 the average price of a concert ticket was $82.07 and it fell to $78.30 in 2015; it rose to $81.27 in 2016 and has gone up ever since. As for the NFL, the average price of a ticket, again according to Statista, in 2019 was $102.35. It has done nothing but go up over the past several years (e.g., in 2014 the average price was $84.43 and it was $85.83 in 2015. No drop. All increase.).
If you’ll accept the argument that there are similarities between things like professional football games and concerts, then there is the very real potential that there will be a profound change vis-à-vis live events.
That is, according to a survey conducted by Morning Consult on live sports viewing habits (as in watching things on a screen) of all adults, Millennials and Gen Zers, the latter cohort is not nearly as keen as the Millennials. That is, whereas 50% of Millennials watch sports at least weekly, the figure is just 24% for Gen Z. And while only 20% of Millennials never watch sports, 39% of those in Gen Z never do.
Neil Young’s 75th birthday was yesterday. Happy birthday, Neil. Sorry I’m late.
It’s weird to think I’ve been loving Neil for almost 30 years now. Like a lot of dudes who went to college in the early 90s I was heavily into the whole sixties counterculture scene. Jann Wenner’s influence over the rock and roll canon was still unquestioned. It felt important for serious music connoisseurs to know all that stuff.
I remember joining the Columbia House cd club one last time during my freshman year and one of my 12 picks was CSN(Y)’s So Far. I liked the Nash songs best. Clearly, I still had a lot to learn.
By my senior year I had graduated to Neil’s Decade, which became the soundtrack to many smoky evenings huddled around my pal George’s Mac putting together our underground newspaper or playing Maelstrom. George was my Neil Young spirit guide, providing guidance on the path to enlightenment.
After college my friends dispersed across the country but we kept in touch via brand new technology called an email listserv as well as sending handwritten letters through the good old U.S. mail. It was still the nineteen-hundreds after all. I was living at home with my mom, working a shitty factory job (English major), when I received a package from George in Toledo. It contained a cassette he compiled, titled The Killer, as something like a companion to Decade, the next step in my Neil education.
It blew my mind and made me realize the depth and intensity of Neil’s body of work.
Over the next several years as my obsession grew I scoured used record bins to fill in the rest of the blanks, eventually acquiring Neil’s complete discography on vinyl. It was so exciting to find an album I hadn’t heard before. New songs! The two holy grails were Time Fades Away and Journey Through the Past. At the same time, Neil was releasing new music (Harvest Moon, Sleeps with Angels, Mirrorball, Broken Arrow) and touring constantly. It was a great time to be a Neil fan.
ESPN is, of course, the sports channel, network, brand, whatever.
It is primarily owned by Disney, with the Hearst Corporation, another media conglomerate that lacks associated characters (except for fans of Welles’ Citizen Kane).
ESPN, since its establishment in 1979, has spun off a multitude of thin-slices, as in ESPN+, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNews, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, etc., etc., etc.
For purposes of full disclosure, my interest in sports is very evanescent at most. I think the only time I spent any time watching ESPN was some years ago when, for reasons that even I can’t come up with, I’d watch the World Series of Poker.
So here we are, about 100 words into this thing, and you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with music.
It’s this: “ESPN” was originally an acronym for “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.”
Presumably, the most amount of musical entertainment associated with ESPN is openings to football games or bumper music on either sides of breaks or during the X Games. Comparatively—as in comparing the amount of time dedicated to baseball and the amount of time dedicated to soccer and the amount of time dedicated to music—the “entertainment,” if “entertainment” is thought to be something different than “sports” (which leads to a question of what “sports” are if not a form of entertainment: although I am confident that the people that I watched on the World Series of Poker all saw sports as a means by which they could achieve a bit more income), is microscopic.
For years ESPN has been something of a sports juggernaut (you don’t have all of those ancillary channels unless you are able to justify it).
But then it has hit COVID-19. Or COVID-19 hit it.
ESPN recently announced it is furloughing (a.k.a., “dismissing”) 300 people and not hiring 200 people for which it has had open positions. 500 people who have lost or who won’t get a job. Which is about 10% of its staff.
Given the decline of the fortunes of other companies in other industries (e.g., Delta Airlines has lost $22.4-billion through the third quarter of 2020—billion), the decline at ESPN is clearly not of the same magnitude.
But it is telling that a brand name in the entertainment sphere is hurting, largely, one guesses, because there are fewer traditional, normal games occurring. And when there are schedules, there are sudden shifts as, say, college players and/or coaches have positive tests.
One company that is certainly now part of the fabric of the quilt that is the music industry is Live Nation, the company that promotes events and has venues, reported its Q3 2020 results: a decline of 95%–which is actually better than Q2, when it saw a 98% decline.
It’s day-whatever in the never ending 2020 election and despite the long, drawn out process, there aren’t really any surprises. Sure, expectations weren’t met as far as a blue wave sweeping across the Senate and state houses, but those expectations were more wishes and dreams than realistic results. We are, after all, in a country where a lunatic has maintained a 40+ percent approval rating. In the end, the characters are playing their parts as we would expect, as in a trite sitcom, which is maybe all we are anyways.
Sitcoms have a formula and one of the truest components of that formula is the Golden Moment (known in the biz as the “moment of shit,”) where all the loose ends are bound up and the lessons of the day are learned. Here we are as a nation at our moment of shit and I have to wonder what lessons have we learned?
First: A Beginning
There’s been a bit of chatter out there about Abraham Lincoln and his first inaugural address. The south had seceded and Lincoln wanted to cool shit down and speak directly to those people who’d left the Union. Lincoln knew that the cost of a civil war would be terrible (though ultimately a cost we’d have to carry) and tried to plead with the south to reconsider:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Lincoln was an optimist. He believed in the human spirit and that deep, deep down we are good people, bonded more by what we have in common than divided by our differences.
Couple that with Donald Trump’s first (and only) inaugural address where he painted a bloody picture of American carnage and unending grievances. Almost from the beginning, Trump drew battle lines and called on his followers to remember whose side they’re on:
The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes starting right here and right now. Because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you.
It’s true that America’s working families were not in on many of the triumphs; they had been left to flounder as billionaire’s raked in more. But that was directly due to Republican tax policy and corporate pandering. Four years later, billionaires have billions more and you got a $1200 check. Did that feel like your moment?
Now: An Ending
It’s the Friday after the election and we’re still waiting for the race to officially be called even though we all know Biden has won. And I do mean we all know. Donald Trump doesn’t want to face it, but he knows it’s over. He knows Biden got more votes and his only play now is to simply deny. Donald Trump has lived a lifetime of denial; of his responsibilities to his wives and children, to his creditors and business partners, to his patriotic duty to pay his fair share toward what Makes America Great, and to the reality that every fraud eventually gets caught.
SAD Donald Trump has spent the last several days trying to undermine faith in our most sacred system by undermining the integrity of our votes. We are nothing if we lose faith that we, the people are in charge. Rather than admit that Joe Biden had the better campaign and vision to garner more votes (by 4 million and counting), Donald Trump is trying to tear down the whole system around him. By doing so, he’s further boxing himself in. How can he admit defeat and follow the tradition at the heart of our nearly 245 years of self-rule and peaceful transition of power by conceding?
Four years ago, Hillary Clinton did it. Her first words were for her country:
Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans.
Sure, she was disappointed and probably shocked and had a couple not-so-subtle jabs in the full text of the speech, but she’s a patriot and wished for the best for America. Right up to the end, she saw the promise and the possibility for America:
Finally, I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. And I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.
Can you imagine any of that coming from Donald Trump? If this week is any indication, we’re in for two and half months of his undermining bullshit. I doubt he’ll concede at all or even show up to participate in the peaceful transfer of power at Biden’s inauguration. We’re likely to have two and a half more months of the oil barrel of lies we got last night. The vote is not rigged, you fucking lost. As we were told in the aftermath of 2016: Get over it.