June 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
About 20 years ago, in the days of “post rock”, I had the idea of starting a music production company. The (still) cool aesthetic of analog electronic music and digital sampling that spawned Beck, Sea and Cake, Tortoise, etc. was also notable for pilfering “pop luxe” imagery and jargon, much like New Wave had done in the early 1980s. Rather new back then was the internet, which some of us had and some of us didn’t. Living in San Francisco where surfing the web was more of a thing, I actually knew somebody who could make a website. We sat in his apartment above the Orbit Room and, after listening to the Abba singalong midi files he had been posting for a while, we stuck some pictures up and a little bit of text about my recording career in straightforward HTML 4. At the spur of the moment, trying to dream up a name for the production entity, produtron – a cross between ‘production’ and ‘orgasmatron’ – burst forth from a beer bubble.
I don’t think we used it in the URL – one of those geocities or aol.hometown monstrosities lost to time (or somewhere in the oocities cache) – but ‘produtron’ was before the @ in my first-ever email address. It has stayed with me in various forms, as a site username, as an online identity, and most recently as a domain name.
Produtron is my ‘zine. A site dedicated to the preservation of ephemeral objects, music, and whatever else seems right. I hope to review a few things here and there, and to keep things fresh I expect some outside contributors would liven things up now and then. Volume One features an essay about book collecting, streaming audio ripped from mixtapes, scans of xeroxed band flyers and more. Digital preservation aspects aside, I hope we get to share a lot of cool old stuff.
January 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
Leonard Bernstein and the Replacements can both attest to a fatalistic notion that many music people share. Music in your mind can feel like a tight spring or a loose nut, like a warm blanket or an iron slab. It has every language in it, but sometimes it leaves you mute. I hate music because it isn’t everywhere all the time. If it could only just make the leap and become the medium of life itself, the universal process of understanding that it so closely resembles, instead of just a tantalizing possibility of mind/body/soul unification that hangs out there in our treacherous presence, hinting through a cheap speaker that there might be a better way to live than this, that there might be a human history that we ignore in favor of the prosaic and prescribed.
I “retired” from gigs two years ago, in the midst of a deep depression, thinking that I just needed to listen and gather and stop making noises. I played a set of songs that nobody had ever heard at the Make Out Room in San Francisco, packed up and went home. Since then I have scarcely thought about writing songs or even playing guitar. I practice my clarinet for fun and play ukulele and banjo for my daughter to dance and sing along to at home. She has the music gene without a doubt – already able to sing most of the Sound of Music. Her neighbor friend has turned her on to the Beatles (they are both 2 1/2 years old) so she sings Yellow Submarine too. We still don’t have a piano in the parlor, but when that happens I look forward to long nights of singing, dancing, doing. Doing music. That is what matters most.
Today I plugged in the Strat for the first time in at least two years – into the Magnatone Troubadour amp that a friend gave me – and jangled out “September Gurls” to see what would happen. Mom and JR were out of the house, so I could turn up and warble it out in a decent way, and it felt true and good. The neighbor came by to drop off some things and I stopped playing to answer the door. “That sounded great!” she said. “Nice little amp,” all I could say.
Today, if I had the great rhythm section that played with me in California all those years ago I could easily entertain the notion of playing a couple of sets in some divey pub, open with Parchman Farm, roll into a couple of originals, kick out some good R+B like we used to do. But that isn’t going to happen tonight. Instead I get to sit and think about it and wish for that liberating feeling that I know is possible, but not attainable, not without some serious wrangling anyhow. When JR wakes up from her nap, we can rock out then.
November 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
I don’t usually shill, but I am excited to pick this one up. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (full disclosure: I worked in their archives for a few years – a dream job if there ever was) have taken the old idea of short form classics and released a new album full of them. The longest piece is the Mahler – go figure – at 8:28, but most clock in around six and a half minutes, exactly the length of your next student film.
The suits in the suites may not get it, but this would make a splendid box set of 7″ vinyl. The Mahler Cycle LP Box sold out – why not? It would also be a nod to the historical relevance of the format. The 7 inch “Extended Play” disk was a crossing-over point from cumbersome 10 and 12 inch 78s to convenient 12 inch albums.
The popularization of orchestral works we now take for granted happened in mid-century living rooms where people sat in front of furniture with built-in phonographs. No home was without at least one classical music album, and often that one album was a selection of short works or excerpts. The “sampler” was a standard marketing tool, usually available at a low price. Other compilations were programs, high brow mood music. Masterpieces in Miniature seems related to these types of releases, especially in light of the SF Symphony’s previous offering – a new version of the other album found on every 20th century hi-fi.
September 27, 2012 § 7 Comments
Sometime around 1990 my neighbor Eric Lefcowitz– author of The Monkees Tale and Tomorrow Never Knows: The Beatles’ Last Concert– lent me a cassette mix-tape of various 60’s Freakbeat and Psych odds and ends cryptically entitled “daddy rollin’ on 45”- at least I thought that was the title, and a random one at that since there was no song called that on the tape. Plenty of Koobas, Action, Creation, but nothing called “Daddy Rollin’”. Students of one Dion Dimucci will have already gleaned that the pencilled label referred to the b-side of his 1968 smash Abraham Martin and John, but I wouldn’t put that together for a few years when I finally found a cheap-o Laurie Records “oldies” LP featuring a few gems and a lot of dross and an absolute killer track called “Daddy Rollin’ (In My Arms)” by Dion. I pulled my copy of the eponymous LP that contained “A,M andJ” (and a brilliant version of “Purple Haze”) feeling like I must have missed this somehow, only to be alerted to its absence thereon. “Ah! Daddy Rollin’ ON 45”! – as in not on 33 1/3! Handwritten label decoded.
Other writers have since exposed this track for its greatness and I can only say ‘thank you’ to them- the internet has allowed us to widen the margins of popular interests, highlight the marginalia, and put it into the center of the page. Not to sound all “way-back-when”-ey, but it used to require a bit more bin-diving and dumb luck to find these things out. When a slow-cooked morsel like my “Daddy Rollin’” finally came off the back burner of the mind, it felt personalized and valuable. Serendipity might have let me wait another five years or longer, or I might have stopped wondering altogether without the clues that have since become predictive text in the Google query. I’m happy for all the access, of course, as any music fan (or any fan of anything except ignorance) should be. I just miss the feeling of discovery that happened on its own.
I named this blog after a handwritten cassette label that kept me wondering for a few years, just long enough to prime me for a heart-leap when its mystery was solved. I hope that by staying alert to the clues life leaves us I will make more “discoveries” to share here. I hope that readers will be intrigued and pleased with the odd entry. And I hope there will always be some unsolved mysteries, of course.