Friday, September 26, 2014

Stevie Nicks: Goddess Edition

Long before the popularity of selfies, Stevie Nicks was making Polaroid self-portraits. Her talents are beyond comprehension. When my admiration for Stevie Nicks seems to have no room to grow, she does this.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rocky's Kindred Spirit

Contrary to my past inclinations, I've been listening to a lot of contemporary music, like Vampire Weekend, Sharon Van Etten, and Kurt Vile, and liking it. When I listen to MGMT I think if I were their age, I could really connect with their music. As it is, I enjoy and appreciate their music but without the immediacy of music that has really mattered to me.

My favorite album of the year so far (I've yet to listen to J Mascis' new solo album) is Strand of Oaks' Heal. Strand of Oaks is essentially Timothy Showalter, a small-town Midwestern boy just like me. In this hirsute stoner of a man, I've found a kindred spirit. He's got a gig in San Francisco this weekend. Rocky will be there supporting the triumph of Midwestern slackerdom.

Here's a brief introduction to Mr. Showalter:

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Can you spot the differences between the two covers of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma?

The one on the left is a US pressing and the other is a UK pressing. The US pressing has the annoying text in the upper left corner and the photo is slightly under-exposed. But what really bothers me is the blank white square above the "PINK FLOYD" text at the bottom of the cover. The UK cover shows the blank square as the soundtrack album of Gigi. For me this omission ruins the great cover designed by Hipnosis. Only very early US pressings of Ummagumma show the Gigi album. It was quickly removed from later pressings because of copyright reasons. Pressings in other countries retained the Gigi album on the cover. I had never seen the complete cover until I came across a UK pressing in a record store in Soho a few years ago. The copy wasn't in good shape. So I passed it up. I've been on the look-out ever since. 

When you've been collecting records as long as I have, it's no longer surprising that you'd be luckless finding a specific album for years and then within a short span you'd come across multiple copies. So it was last Sunday at a record swap that I came across a near mint copy of an original German pressing of Ummagumma with the Gigi album on the cover. I didn't hesitate to buy it. At the same record swap, I found a late 70s UK copy of Ummagumma, shown above. I bought that one, too. Why? Because I found it to be doubly satisfying after all these years of having gone without.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Listening to Television Live at the Old Waldorf, a Record Store Day exclusive bought a couple of years ago, sent me into a reverie of sorts. First, there was the metronomic music. Then the play of direct and reflected light on my fire place. And the memories associated with Television....

Listening to the Violent Femmes in my college dorm room on my roommate's stereo, a guy from down the hall sticks his curly-topped head in the door, followed by his unnaturally long neck, and then the rest of his lanky frame. He's completely inside the room now. After listening for a minute, he says, "If you like this, you should check out Television. I think you'd really them." That was the first time I had heard of the group, which surprised my self-invited guest. Then again I hadn't grown up in NYC and acquired a certain knowingness like he had.

Much later, like years later, I did check out Television and discovered they were nothing like the Violent Femmes, except perhaps a similar yelping vocal delivery of the lead singers. Television were cool and sophisticated with two superbly gifted guitarists. The Violent Femmes basically played bastardized hillbilly music with amateurish gusto. There's something to be said for both. But if I had to choose Marquee Moon or the Violent Femmes' eponymous album to keep in my record collection, it would be Marquee Moon, hands down.

Several years later while living in Ann Arbor, I had a chance to see Television live at the Michigan Theater, a large old-fashioned movie house. They were supposed to play at the Michigan Theater, but a few days before the concert, the venue was changed to the Blind Pig, a small hole-in-the-wall club. Apparently there just weren't that many Television fans in Ann Arbor. I felt bad for the group. They deserved better. Then again, they never did gain the fame of their fellow CBGB cohorts like the Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Blondie.

I felt bad for the band, but I felt great for my friend and myself. We got to see and hear a great band in a small club. We were so close that I could have reached out and touched Tom Verlaine. The guitar solos were out of this world, like jazz in their inventiveness but kick-you-in-the-guts powerful like rock. It was one of the best concerts I'd seen.

Listening to Television Live at the Old Waldorf, I realized how music is a continuum for one's life--it ties moments together and also serves as a marker for how those moments differ and how one's self is the same and changed through time.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fever Pitch

This week I was faced with the choice of buying new underwear or more records. Guess which I picked? The holes in my underwear aren't that bad yet. And if I didn't pick up the limited edition black-on-black pressing of Queens of the Stone Age's Like Clockwork or the first pressing of Deafheaven's Sunbather, I'd likely be paying a lot more for them later. That's how my mind was working, or not working. Of course, it was really a false choice. I could've bought new underwear and more records. It was just a matter of going beyond my self-imposed spending budget. It was also revealing that I chose records before underwear. If it ever turned out to be a real choice, say, when I'm living off a measly Social Security check, I'd be darning the holes in my underwear. That's what I've learned about myself this week.

The idea that I had to choose between underwear and records was, I think, my subconscious mind pointing out to me the absurd point my record collecting has reached. I blew a lot money on records this month. There could be several explanations or rationalizations, one of which might have to do with the cataloging I've been doing. I've realized that many of the records I've bought have appreciated in value, some considerably. This seemed to justify buying more records. One's underwear never appreciates in value, unless you happen to convince President Obama or Derek Jeter to wear and then return your underwear and you could somehow authenticate that. No, this is the wrong way of thinking. It's better not to think of records as a commodity. That's a fool's game. I need to take out my numbered, pink vinyl copy of Madonna's Confession's on the Dance Floor and place it in a prominent spot in my listening room. It's been a great source of shame, because I bought it, not because I had any interest in the music, but purely as a speculative play. It hasn't appreciated in value at all. I need Madonna's pink leotarded ass to mock the schmuck that I was to buy the album. That should break this fever.

Tomorrow is a work holiday. I plan on making a trip to Kohl's.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swedish Pop Music Break: Jens Lekman

Jens, the wedding singer:

and singing in someone's living room:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bloody Expensive Black Sabbath

Who would've thought there were so many well-heeled Black Sabbath fans. As I've tried to procure an original UK pressing of Paranoid, I'm learning one needs to have a lot of cash on hand to get a clean copy. Recently I bid on one on eBay and lost out by $7. The winning bid was $198, not including postage from Britain. Why would I be willing to pay nearly $200 for a UK original pressing when I have a clean US original pressing? Because the UK pressings sound so much better than the US pressings. It's the country-of-origin rule. The UK records were made from the original master tapes. The US records were made from inferior copy tapes. The difference is huge for Black Sabbath records. I want to hear that chunka-chunka, heavy metal sludge in high fidelity.

I picked up an original UK pressing of Volume IV in a record shop in Soho on my last visit to London a couple of years ago. That's when I discovered the truth. In addition to the sound quality, the Vertigo record label is as cool as it gets. Even more so when it's spinning on the platter. One of my collecting goals is to get the first four Black Sabbath albums on the original UK Vertigo label.

Shortly after I returned from London, I came across an original UK pressing of Black Sabbath's first album at Amoeba. I didn't blink at paying $100 for it, which is the most I've paid for a single record. It turned out to be an even better decision than I thought, because this copy turned out to be a rare early pressing with "A Philips Record Product" on the label. This signifies the very earliest pressing, as the label was switched shortly after the record was released. I had no idea at the time. It doesn't really matter to me, but it matters to well-heeled Black Sabbath record collectors. And I mean really well-heeled. I've been tracking UK Vertigo Paranoid sales on eBay for the past few weeks. A near mint copy sold for over $1,000. That's crazy money for a rock record. As far as Paranoid, the most desirable copies have inside the gatefold a credit to "Jim Simpson, Big Bear Management", which signifies the very earliest pressing, just like the "A Philips Record Product" on the label does for the first album.

I've resorted to eBay, because in all the time I've spent at record stores and swaps, the only original UK Vertigo pressing of a Black Sabbath album I've come across is the one I bought at Amoeba. Well, I think I've procured a UK Vertigo pressing of Paranoid on eBay. It was newly listed as a "Buy It Now" item. The counter on the page indicated I was the 8th person to view the page. The posted photo of the album cover showed quite a bit of ring wear. The photo of the label showed it was clearly an original pressing. The item description was sparse, describing the vinyl as in very good condition with slight surface marks. That could mean anything. There was no mention of the "Jim Simpson" credit. The seller didn't seem too knowledgeable, as he was mainly a bookseller. For $69 shipped from the UK, I took a gamble and bought it. We'll see how it turns out in a couple weeks when the UK Vertigo Paranoid arrives on these shores.