Friday, March 12, 2021

Those Were Different Times

I remember in about 1992 a young woman I knew at college used a name that was very close to her own to get a ton of free music from one of those exploitive record clubs. She really turned the tables on them.

Our school had small post office boxes in the same building as the cafeteria. The people who sorted the mail just put the CDs with the fake (but close) name she used into her box. Maybe they figured the sender had gotten it slightly wrong by accident.

She got all the "free" stuff, of course, just like everyone those record clubs scammed back then. But then she just kept ordering whatever she wanted but never paid. Someone (I?) asked her what she thought would happen when she got caught. She said what could they do? It wasn't her. It was someone whose name was admittedly really close, but it wasn't her. Her plan was to claim total ignorance.

I admired her bravery but worried about her getting caught. I wish I knew what happened but I don't because we lost touch after what a therapist might call "ruptures" in that friendship group. I hope she got away completely clean. I hope she still enjoys her 2 CD set of Sand in the Vaseline by Talking Heads and dozens of others. I think about her every time I see that album on the shelf.

I didn't quite nail the ending there. Sorry. What a bore.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Merit Ranking the 15 R.E.M. Studio Albums

15. Accelerate

Can't really hear it. Might be great. Victim of the loudness war. Probably is great, as I like how some of the songs sound on the Live at the Olympia in Dublin album.

I woke up and it was only 4:08 a.m. Dreamed I was peeing like you do and just managed to stop myself.

14. Collapse Into Now

Again, brick wall mastering just crushes any life that might be there on this album. I feel like with this and Accelerate, if I somehow got a hold of the Pro Tools session and audio files, I myself could mix great versions of these. That whole loudness war thing is just sad. See also Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full and New. Ruined. And, as is sometimes the case with R.E.M., the track they cut from the album is the best one - We All Go Back To Where We Belong.

Shuffled into the bathroom and back, laid back down.

13. Monster

I love What's The Frequency, Kenneth?, Strange Currencies, Let Me In and others, but Crush With Eyeliner, King Of Comedy, and their plodding, too hip ilk make this album a bit of a slog for me.

Knew from painful experience that I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep.

12. Out Of Time

Again, their choices for the songs for the album vs. the single b-sides hurt this album the most of any in their catalog. I still love it, but I miss Fretless so much. Fretless!!!

Several paths occurred to me, including but not limited to a) a blog post about the top ten writer/artist collaborations in comics, b) internet chatting with a representative at apple about my next computer, and c) just lying in bed awake.

11. New Adventures in Hi-Fi

I hated this when it came out. I found the sound off-putting and the words overly hip and self-aggrandizing, but now that's like one of those feelings you can remember having but you can't remember why on earth you had it. I really dig this and my only quibble with the song choice is the siren version of Leave instead of the gorgeous atmospheric version they later released on In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.

Nope. This is what I did instead of any of that.

10. Around the Sun

This album is often criticized as their nadir, sometimes by the band themselves. I don't get that. I love the little details ("When I saw you at the street fair, you called out my name" - Can't you just see that scene and feel the feelings?) and even the stuff that seemed so cloyingly specific to the politics of the time (Final Straw) has slipped into a more general artistic expression at this late date.

Because I saw a merit ranking of R.E.M. albums the other day and because I thought they got it wrong, I did this.

9. Up

Daysleeper and At My Most Beautiful both rank with anything they've ever done and the sound of this initial release from what I think of as R.3.M. (the trio version, after drummer Bill Berry left) has grown warmer and more accessible over time.

Someone on the internet got something wrong and I have to correct it. The endless cesspool that our culture and our very lives have become. And I'm going to fix it? Jesus help me.

8. Reveal

Very much of a piece with Up, I give this one a slight edge because I find it more coherent. Imitation of Life is one of those great pop singles with surprising depth that they seem to generate effortlessly. Reveal also has my favorite artwork of any of the R.3.M. releases.

But really - Around the Sun does not deserve the titanic level of dismissive crap thrown at it.

7. Reckoning

The jangly second album. I might've dropped it behind Reveal and Up but I've lived with and played these songs for so many years now - Rockville, So. Central Rain, and Pretty Persuasion have all appeared in setlists for my various bands - I had to have it in the top half.

I wrote out (from memory) the first word of each album title, cut the paper up, shuffled, and set them down above and below one another as they came out of my hand.

6. Document

The hits, the cohesive sound and mood, the raw power, the depth. A lot of multi-platinum albums don't deserve the attention and represent a triumph of some marketing team catching a transitory zeitgeist then later everybody's like remember when we thought that was cool? This is one of those that stands up and earns it.

I was actually kind of proud of that. I even knew the years they came out, except I had New Adventures in '95 instead of '96.

5. Green

The Wrong Child is one of the most extraordinary songs ever created. What other song has so effectively embodied and portrayed that feeling of childhood awkwardness? The wordplay on the whole album is fun and evocative, like in the song Get Up - do dreams "complicate" or "compliment" your life? Why not both? So much love.

This would have been a reasonable, even cool thing for a twenty-two year old to do, although someone currently that age would probably do it about Arcade Fire or some shit I don't know fuck-all about and never will because who the fuck cares?

4. Lifes Rich Pageant

What must it have been like to have such confidence in one's band? This album blasts away at everything bad and dumb and venal and replaces it with strength, feeling, and compassion. Typical staying power as I can listen to this and continue to discover new things.

I can admit that at forty-four I am not that interested in actively seeking out new bands, just enjoying the experience of listening to albums whose feelings and meanings have morphed and changed as I have.

3. Murmur

The debut full-length retains a beautiful, mysterious fuzziness even after 33 years. (Can it really have been that long?) Perfect Circle, Moral Kiosk, We Walk…None of these songs sounded like anything that had gone before. The bravery that must have taken. Your heart knows what "Heaven assumes shoulders high in the wind" and "So much more attractive inside the moral kiosk" mean. The music goes straight to your inner self.

Has what I want and what I need and what I get from music fundamentally changed? Now that would be a great thought experiment/blog post.

2. Fables of the Reconstruction

Controversial even within the band itself, Fables is the love it or hate it, difficult third album. Obviously I love it. The band is taking risks, adding horns and strings, zipping from funk to rock to punk and making it all their own. Driver 8 is right up there too, but I've played Wendell Gee more times than any other R.E.M. song and even wrote a sequel.

Is it really 6:30 now? Shiiiiiiiit. Maybe I can still get a few hours of sleep in. It is Saturday after all.

1. Automatic for the People

What can you say? Everybody Hurts literally saved the lives of the kind of beautiful, wonderful, artistic people who paradoxically are the ones who seem to tend to kill themselves. (But doctor, I AM Pagliacci!) Man On The Moon, Try Not To Breathe, Find The River. The sounds are rich and varied, the singing and playing are everything a person could want from a rock band.

Nope. Gonna need coffee again today looks like.

Friday, July 03, 2015

The White Album Problem

George Martin, the Beatles' producer, believed their eponymous 1968 double album with the famous white cover should have been edited down to a single album.

"I really didn't think that a lot of the songs were worthy of release, and I told them so. I said 'I don't want a double-album. I think you ought to cut out some of these, concentrate on the really good ones and have yourself a really super album. Let's whittle them down to 14 or 16 titles and concentrate on those.'"

-quoted in The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, p. 163.

Seems insane, right? Especially if, as I have, you've listened to the album dozens of times and enjoyed it more every time. The White Album feels like something handed down to mankind by gods. I once wrote a song about a lone alien discovering it after his people had destroyed every other remnant of human civilization. The album makes him wish maybe they hadn't done that.

But let's go back to that time, September 1968, before it was finished, when they were deciding to make it two records, against the advice of their producer.

What could you possibly cut? Well, from sides one and two I guess you could cut some of the underwritten silliness - Wild Honey Pie and Why Don't We Do It In The Road. But I wouldn't. McCartney totally invests himself in those performances and he is at the peak of his powers. And Wild Honey Pie, silly as it is, beautifully sets up that weird, archival Spanish guitar flourish that kicks off Bungalow Bill. Similarly, Road is a very satisfying contrast with the next song - the lilting, gentle pop of I Will. Even if you cut these two songs, you've only cut 2:43.

From sides three and four? Obviously Revolution 9 would have fit more neatly on the experimental albums John and Yoko were doing at the time - Life With The Lions and Two Virgins. It tests a person's patience but I've heard it enough times now that I kind of enjoy it. Also, like Wild Honey Pie and Road, it perfectly sets up the song after it - the rising, gentle strings of Good Night.

Sidebar: I think I just realized that every classic album should have a song that challenges and tests you even if you've listened to it hundreds of times. Do I enjoy Sgt. Pepper less because of the lugubrious passages in "Within You Without You"? Do I enjoy Ziggy Stardust less because of "It Ain't Easy"? No, I think I enjoy them more. Revolver, for example, doesn't have a single song that tries my patience - I just unreservedly love the whole thing and guess what? I don't listen to it nearly so often as I do Pepper or The White Album.

End sidebar

I guess you could cut Revolution 1, since a superior version of that same song was released as a single. Maybe you could cut Helter Skelter, but then would we still have had Led Zeppelin's debut two months later? If you cut those three songs, you've cut 17:08.

If you make those cuts, you've still got about 70 minutes of material. We're still not at a single LP record. So then you have to make additional cuts. There's nothing from the remaining 25 songs unworthy of release, is there? Are there other songs you would cut from the White Album? Which ones and why? Tell me in the comments.

In fact, there were some really great songs from this era that were not released until years later and in different forms. McCartney's "Junk", Lennon's "Child of Nature" and Harrison's "Not Guilty" are all excellent songs. Would replacing Revolution 9 with these three songs have made the album stronger? Maybe, but it would not have made it any shorter.

So looking back from 47 years' distance, they got it right. The White Album is what it was destined to be: an hour and thirty-four minutes handed down by gods.

References consulted while writing:

The White Album 2009 remaster

The Beatles In Mono is the only way to get the White Album in mono on CD

Friday, October 10, 2014

Maths Is Fun, 2.

One day Mitchell asked John, "Did you see those birds and dragons at Arlen's house yesterday?"

John answered in a language unlike anything Mitchell had ever heard. It sounded like his tongue was no longer shaped quite like a human tongue.

"Gdrrrahhhhrrrksszz. Mrrrdbdbdzziiieeealloyusskhrd."

Mitchell looked directly at the reader and said, "Something very strange is going on. If I see eight such events, I will surely lose my mind. I have already seen two - Arlen's house and John's speech - How many more could I see and not quite lose my mind?"

Correct answer (number and label) in the comments here at the blog gets the next quesion.

Maths Is Fun, 1.

Seventeen large birds are perched on the roof of Arlen's home. If nine dragons fly out of the sky and eat one bird each and Arlen wets his pants in fear and wonder, how many large birds will be left to smell the pee pee pants after the dragons vanish, leaving no answers as to their origin, purpose, or destination?

Correct answer (number and label) in the comments here at the blog gets the next quesion.

Update: 2. is now.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Apocalypse: Has It Always Been Just Around The Corner?

Climate change, which is now irreversible, will render huge swaths of the Earth uninhabitable.

Ebola or some such virus will painfully kill some very large percentage of the human race.

Innocent children are enduring life in poverty, squalor, and cruelty, only to die young and in pain.

Fox news.

We will all be facially and retinally recognized by the computer, relegating anonimity and privacy to the realms of memory.

Gaza, Israel, Hamas.

The very wealthy will continue to get richer until the economic divide is such that the majority, who are now the new peasants, revolt.

Nukes continue to trickle down to countries and NGOs who will use them irresponsibly.

You get the idea. Is it reasonable to be more frightened for the future than ever before in human history, or has it always been thus? Have there always been people saying, "We only have about ten or twenty years left; then our whole way of life will just be swept away."?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Onion: News Before It Happens, Part 5

In April of 2002, The Onion published this article:

Mideast Peace Process Derailed, Burned To Ground, Shoveled Over With Dirt

Only 12 years and 3 secretary of states later, the lamestream media caught on:

Kerry: It’s ‘Reality-Check Time’ For Peace Process

The Onion is America's finest news source for being #1 in news. Previous four examples:

Part 4: Iraq
Part 3: The Economy
Part 2: Also Iraq
Part 1: Bush II, U2, The Brewers

Some of the links to the "real" news are dead, as it turns out. None of The Onion's links have died, which just means they are better at that too.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

"There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be"
-Krishna to Arjuna in the Baghavad-Gita, quoted in the George Harrison albums Somewhere in England and Brainwashed

"That was me!"
-Paul McCartney

Is it important to be a cohesive person from one decade to the next?
If so, why?
What makes you the same person now that you were five years after you were born?
…that you were five years ago?
…ten years ago?
…ten years from now?
…a hundred years from now?
…ten years before you were born?

What is the same?      What have you always had?
What is different?  What will you always have?
What defines you?       What have you always been?
What will you always be?

No Matter What


Who are yOu?