I Hate Music

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.

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Stamp Album

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.

Red vinyl, please.

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.

Deutsche Grammophon 7″ Image borrowed from shakedownrecords.com

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.

Borrowed from eil.com

Jet Boys of NW

November 10, 2014 § 3 Comments

The underground music culture of mid-eighties DC is fondly remembered by its participants as a continuous spectacle of club shows as documented in the pages of fanzines and broadcast on WMUC. Everybody was in a band or at least had a roommate who was. Punk rock was the core of the scene, but it should be realized that punk was already becoming a legacy genre – the first wave – Minor Threat, Government Issue, etc. had already moved on. The Revolution Summer soundtrack was provided by Rites of Spring – they didn’t have a record out, but the cassette is around here someplace. Cool kids hung around Food for Thought and tried out new noise at DC Space. We read Truly Needy and WDC Period, fanzines that are now archived at the University of Maryland.  I played in a band called Donut Safari.

DCpixx

I moved to DC from Richmond VA after a few months of hanging out with a band called Holiday – to even dip a toe into the lineage of that group would amount to getting dunked in the zeitgeist of the era I’ll save it for another time. Holiday cut one record that I know of and it was one side of a 45 that they shared with another band. I might still have it around here someplace.

That summer I washed windows with (Donut Safari founder) DJ Tommy B, listened to records and wrote reams of lyrics. I played guitar about as well as the next person – I was less of a punk anyhow and liked to listen to Television, Small Faces and Big Star – old bands. My housemates Neil Haggerty and Tom Rafferty had a band called Jet Boys of NW – this was the coolest band I had ever heard. They played about four gigs (one at WMUC where I got to play along on a de-tuned autoharp with a beercan slide.) Definitely influenced by Sonic Youth – they were the gold standard then – but certainly not a lesser entity.

Tom, Neil and his music/life mate Jennifer moved to New York I guess right after I moved to San Francisco. I had a couple of letters from them, and from DJ Tommy B, who is still my LinkedIn “contact”. One time Pussy Galore played at a club near my apartment, so I went to see them and Neil came over to hang out. I gave him a pair of pants.

Sometime after that, Tom, Neil, and Jennifer moved to San Francisco where we shared a place. Royal Trux had been their side project in NY – the record was mysterious and damaged – entirely unique – and they were bringing it to the coast. We booked studio time and played two songs I had never even heard before. Some kids in Chicago had offered to put it out on their new label, Drag City. Listening to it now is still a slightly disorienting experience.

Seeing some lukewarm reviews in Forced Exposure and other fanzines (where had the fanzines gone? SF was the shittiest excuse for a music scene I had ever lived in…) validated this effort so we continued on for a while – I’m not sure how long – before I quit the band. Well, I wasn’t really ever in the band. But we were friends and there are some fine moments captured on old cassettes around here someplace.

Dr. Sax

November 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Clarinet is my thing, but it is a rare woodwinds fiend who cannot appreciate the bold and brash contributions of Adolphe Sax, especially on his bicentennial.

Antoine-Joseph Sax – image borrowed from History Today

Imagine a world without Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Steve Lacy, Ralph Carney, Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues (I’ll learn to work the saxophone. I play just what I feel. Drink Scotch whiskey all night long. And die behind the wheel… an Ohrwurm if there ever was).

Just when the saxophonist bumped the trumpeter off the top of the hip heap is up for debate – they both had to endure the reign of the electric guitarist shortly thereafter anyhow.

One thing to note is that the brass player/singer has the advantage of instrument mobility that few other wind instrumentalists share. Hence Louis Armstrong / Louis Prima / Chet Baker. The saxophone hangs around the player’s neck from a strap and relies upon a thin fragile reed to make a big boss sound. One wrong move and it’s back to soaking, please pardon the delay ladies and gentlemen. The saxophonist excels at text-less exhortations.

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