Thursday, September 13, 2012
One time I saw you at Best Buy checking out a plastic minisystem. I was on my way to the high-end Magnolia department – not to buy anything, of course, but merely to laugh at it. All in all, I considered the trip to be a rather amusing safari into the world of big-box retail and mass consumerism. I learned much about your kind. I learned that you do not have a turntable, and I do.
Really? Get outta here.
"They were worth only what you would pay for them; what small piece of everything you had ever lost that, you might come to believe, they would restore to you. Their value was indexed only to the sense of personal completeness, perfection of the soul, that would flood you when, at last, you filled the last gap on your checklist." -- Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Part of the problem is that with digital content, one doesn’t have the same rights as with print books and CDs. Customers own a license to use the digital files – but they don’t actually own them.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
rocky can't get enough that ol' classic country.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Thursday, June 21, 2012
"One organization is very much into DMM* and that would be The Church of Scientology. It has bought up every DMM lathe it can find and uses them to transfer founder L. Ron Hubbard's speeches to DMM metal discs, which are then plated and sealed with a pop top kind of mechanism that they developed. The plating is done at a major American pressing plant in a room devoted exclusively to the Church's work.
The plated and sealed discs are then transported and stored in a bunker said to be in the Mojave Desert, along with specially developed solar powered turntables fitted with phono cartridges that don't use rubber dampers for their suspensions. That way they won't deteriorate over time.
Way into the future when all of digital data has disappeared of is no longer playable, some future civilization will find the bunker and figure out how to play these discs. They will conclude that L. Ron Hubbard must have been the most important person in our civilization since only he was accorded such special treatment (kind of like the Pharaohs)."
* Direct Metal Mastering is a method of producing vinyl recordsrocky is hatching a plan to sneak into the bunker to replace all the L. Ron Hubbard records with Hasil Adkins records.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I thought about this particular bit of news more after reading this blog post by an NPR intern, which seems representative of the new normal. The part that really stands out (my italics):
"As I've grown up, I've come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can't support them with concert tickets and t-shirts alone. But I honestly don't think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience."
And this long, well-considered response to the NPR post, with the following rhetorical questions:
"Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?
Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?
Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?
This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:
Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!"
The article could've also included "Stores: Independent record stores. Screw you, if I pay for music I'm going to give my money to Apple iTunes and Amazon, because it's too inconvenient to drag my lazy ass to your store."
I have more thoughts on the subject, which I may or may not post.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Sunday, June 10, 2012
It's getting damn near impossible to find good deals on used records at record stores. How times change. The vinyl section is now chock full of normal people. Just the other day, I saw a young couple who looked like they got lost on the way to Abercrombie and Fitch. No, they were checking out ELO albums. Cute! Not so cute if they start buying classic jazz and rare krautrock LPs. I'd have to hate them then.
Fortunately, normal people haven't discovered record swaps. I was among the hardcore misfits this morning at the local record swap, squinting at stampers in the deadwax, checking to see if the dog on the back cover of Diamond Dogs has genitals (more on that below). There are still good records and good deals to be found at record swaps.
Bob Cooper, Coop! (Contemporary, original mono pressing, $2.50). Just like in baseball and other great American traditions, there's an East Coast bias against West Coast jazz. You can still buy Contemporary albums for cheap, unlike Blue Note and Prestige albums of the same era. The music is usually excellent and the sound quality is as it gets. Most of the albums were recorded by Roy DuNann, who was the West Coast equivalent to Rudy Van Gelder. I pick up Contemporary original pressings whenever I get the chance. I really dig the cover of this one.
Teddy Edwards, Nothin' But the Truth! (Prestige, original mono pressing, $5). Edwards is another underrated West Coast jazz musician. This album, though, was recorded on the East Coast with a topnotch rhythm section consisting of Walter Davis, Jr., Paul Chambers, and Billy Higgins. But I really bought the album for the conga player, Montego Joe. Seriously, I've never heard of him, but feel like I should.
Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool (Capitol, early 60s pressing, $15). A while ago I bought a 70s reissue of this album. It has a cheesy sketch of Miles instead of the iconic photo of him blowing on the original cover. That's always bugged me. Now, I have one less thing to be bugged about.
Jonathon Richman and the Modern Lovers, self-titled album (Beserkeley, original pressing, $2.50). Yeah, I still listen to Jonathon Richman. So What? It's not like I still get excited by the sight of an ice cream truck and walk around town in Converse All-Stars. Oh, wait. Nevermind.
Ozzy Osbourne, Diary of a Madman (Jet Records, original pressing, $2.50). If you think about it, Ozzy's really the Jonathon Richman of the Satan worshipping crowd.
X, Los Angeles (Slash, original pressing, $2.50). I've already got an 80s reissue of this album, but I figure it was worth a couple of bucks to get the original pressing.
Cream, Wheels of Fire (Atco, 2-LP original pressing, $2.50). Just doubled my Cream collection. I only had Disreali Gears.
David Gilmour, self-titled album (CBS, $2.50). In college, I had room-mates who were really into Floyd. We sat around listening to this album as well as Roger Waters' solo album. We didn't get high, but instead discussed the philosophical aspects of Floyd. God, we were stupid morons!
Wanda Jackson, Sings Country Songs (Capitol, original stereo pressing, $5). Kind of a stupid title for its obviousness, unless you're just learning how to read. "Jane writes a book. Jesse runs fast. Wanda sings country songs." Oh, I forgot this album is for country music fans. Maybe the title is just about right. Just kidding!
Wanda Jackson, Blues in My Heart (Capitol, original stereo pressing, $2.50). I wonder whether country music fans understand metaphor? Maybe Wanda should've titled this one, I Feel Sad. Kidding, again! Good thing Jethro can't slug me across the internet.
David Bowie, Diamond Dogs (RCA, original pressing, $2.50). Another original pressing to replace a later reissue in my collection. If you remember the album cover, it's a gatefold cover with an illustration of Bowie with a human torso and a canine rear half. The dog half is on the back cover. A few original covers include the dog's genitals before they got the airbrush treatment. These are extremely rare. I check for the dog's balls every time I come across this album. It sounds kind of sick, doesn't it? Yes, we better keep the normal people separated from the record swap crowd.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Beck, A Harvest Field by Moonlight (10-inch EP, Fingerpaint Records). This album is for those who wished Beck would out-Beck himself.
Friday, May 25, 2012
In that mad season I made my way through the forest
of screaming trees to the soundgarden by the green river
in search of mudhoney and sweetwater oysters
whose fruit I used to make pearl jam for her last meal--
Alice in chains, imprisoned forever when she discovered
nirvana was in her but couldn't be found, buried deep
like the mother love bone in the temple of the dog.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I do have a problem with the silence I hear from the generation that’s truly getting shafted. When I think about the hardships young adults face today, (1) I feel so fortunate not to be a part of this generation and (2) I think if I were part of this generation I’d be blowing shit up. Think about how expensive a college education is these days, about the amount of student loans the average college graduate is saddled with, about the jobs that aren’t there to pay off the student loans, about the social security that won't be there for retirement, and about the politicians and corporations that really don’t give a shit. And if you don’t go to college or don’t finish college, you’re even worse off. You’re job, if you can find one, will suck even more than the sucky job the college grad gets. “There’s no future, no future, no future for you!” It actually sounds true this time around.
Yet, yet, I hear no songs of protest (except perhaps from oldsters like Springsteen and Neil Young). Where is the voice of this generation howling at the injustice? Where have you gone, Johnny Rotten? This nation turns its weary eyes to you.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
No other modern musical genre had generated that kind of active hatred. Then again no other musical genre was at its core urban, black and gay and that widely accepted by the public. If disco had remained in the clubs of urban areas, no one would have said a peep. Thinking back on it, the violent reaction to disco, like most violent reactions, was a product of fear and panic. The main participants of the anti-disco movement were white, suburban males. Before disco made it into the musical mainstream, popular music was dominated by what we know as "classic rock". While there was some musical variation that fell under this moniker, it had its roots in blues-based, guitar-centered rock and more importantly it was dominated by straight, white males. The fans of "classic rock" probably sensed consciously or subconsciously that its domination was coming to an end.
They were right of course despite their desperate attempt to thwart the perceived "enemy". After disco no single musical genre dominated the musical mainstream. "Classic rock" morphed into grunge or various forms of metal or "alternative rock" (a horrible moniker), but never was as popular as it once was. It shared the airwaves with rap, R&B, electronica, and other musical genres.
I can't but help hear echoes of this musical history in recent events playing out on a wider stage involving the election of a black President, the over-the-top reaction of the Tea Party, and the heated battles over immigration and gay marriage.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Friday, May 4, 2012
Thursday, May 3, 2012
When you spend enough time digging through dusty crates and bins of used records, you're bound to make some surprising discoveries. On the left is a Vanguard recording of G. F. Handel music from the 60s found at a thrift store for 50 cents. At the dawn of the stereo age, some record companies gave their stereo recording techniques florid names. Epic called its stereo technology Stereorama. Vanguard called it Stereolab for a brief period. Most people who didn't grow up in the 60s think of Stereolab as the pop-electronica band. It could have been a coincidence in nomenclature. But once I saw this Vanguard album, it was clear that the band took it's name from Vanguard Records. They even mimicked the cover of the Vanguard album for their own album Space Age Bachelor Pad Music.
Will a band in the future name itself mp3 or AAC? (How lame does that sound?) Will there even be album covers to inspire future bands? What will today's digital recordings inspire in future generations? I suspect with the abandonment of analog recordings and physical media, we're losing historical continuity and historical riches that can be mined to fuel music and musicians in the future. Digital music will exist in an ahistorical cloud, without the lovely little details of words and images that music used to come wrapped in.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
This word was brought to mind when thinking about all the white musical artists who ripped off black artists. I’m sure you’ve thought or heard people state how unfair it is for white musicians to make their fame and fortune by exploiting black music. No one thinks about the reverse. Think about all the black musicians who popularized and made money off white musicians. One good example was posted recently on this blog: Joe Simon had his biggest R&B hit with the “Chokin’ Kind”, which was originally recorded by Waylon Jennings.
If you can't think of any other examples, you can refer to this rather lengthy list of examples. Some of the examples are silly and trite, but the main point is made.
Often we think that white musicians are always ripping off black musicians. It fits neatly into a liberal worldview of whites exploiting blacks. Hardly do we see it as a two-way street of musical exchange, which is probably closer to the truth. An even better way of looking at it is to realize that musicians are constantly borrowing songs and musical ideas from each other regardless of race.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Record Store Day started off pleasant enough as I arrived 40 minutes before the opening of the Amoeba Berkeley store. The line was already half-a-block long by the time I arrived. It was the kind of quiet, sunny, beautiful Saturday morning that made standing in line a pleasant experience. I was in a good mood, struck up a conversation with a fellow record collector in line next to me. I was Mr. Congeniality, Mr. Sunshine, and Mr. Conviviality all wrapped into one. Impossible, you say. But true.
Then the doors opened. And the scene turned ugly. You read about scenes like this: Black Friday as desperate shoppers trample over each other to grab the hottest Christmas gifts, grocery stores in Third-World countries in the middle of a food shortage, and sold-out concerts with general seating. My good mood turned black as I was pushed through the single aisle that had all the limited edition RSD releases. My view of the merchandise was blocked by walls of people. I grabbed what I could see. At one point I said out loud to no one in particular, Where are the Luna albums? Incredibly I got an answer from a sweet woman, who told me exactly where they were. Bless her heart. I was able to get the last copy of Romantica and the second-to-last copy of Rendezvous. I really wasn't expecting to get these. Neither album had ever been released on vinyl and only 1,000 copies were pressed for RSD.
I also picked up a copy of the 45 rpm audiophile pressing of the Black Keys' El Camino, A Lee Hazlewood compilation LP, and a White Stripes 7-inch single. I was in such a haste to get the hell out of there that I forgot to look for the first ever vinyl release of Sigur Ros' Hvarf-Heim. When I got home I found an online source for the album. We'll see if that works out.
When I checked out, my records were placed in a RSD canvas tote that was a full of schwag--an Amoeba Music t-shirt (XXL!), a Yo La Tengo sampler CD, a bunch of CD singles (Dandy Warhols, Madonna), a Coachella booklet with a sampler CD, promo stickers and posters, a fan, a mask, a 7-inch single of a rapper covering Dylan, and a bunch of other junk. As I was leaving the store, I witnessed something I had never seen before: A customer being kicked out of a record store. He had been yelling at an employee, because he was told the store didn't have a certain RSD release in stock. Another employee stepped in and told him rather forcefully to get out of the store. Then ensued a tug of war as the employee tried to take away the records the customer had in his hands. I didn't stick around to see how it ended. I had had enough of celebrating records and independent record stores.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Another example of the contrast between the material and immaterial worlds we live in are childhood war games. As a boy, I often played war games with other boys in the neighborhood. We would use construction sites or the woods as battlefields. We used baseball bats as rifles, empty beer cans discarded by construction workers as grenades. We had to make up a narrative and adopt roles to set the action. It was fun crawling through the dirt, pretending a Louisville Slugger was an M-16, on a sneak attack on an imaginary fort. It was an extremely physical game and at the same time it was extremely imaginative. There were a lot of details we had to fill in ourselves to make the war seem real to us.
You probably know where I’m going with this. Video war games provide you with none of the physical engagement of the war game described above, and perhaps more importantly all the details are filled in for the player, leaving little room for the imagination. Video games are little more than elaborate and virtual mazes. The games are about directional choices the player makes and his dexterity in overcoming obstacles.
So in my current view, materialism doesn’t stand opposite of the intellectual and the imaginative or even the spiritual. The physical world co-exists necessarily with the spiritual and intellectual world. It is the immaterial world of video games and digital music that is a step removed from the intellectual, imaginative, and spiritual aspects of life that we value. In this modern context, materialism isn’t such a bad thing.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
First US pressing of Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request has a lenticular plastic 3-D image of the band (which is hard to capture in a photo)--artsy fartsy in the mind of a 13-year old boy.
First UK pressing of Bob Marley's Catch a Fire has a cover designed like a Zippo lighter. It flips open like a Zippo, too! Fuck art. Let's light up, man.
Friday, March 2, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Monday, February 20, 2012
Only if CD Players were made in the 60s and 70s. My California Audio Labs cd player looks plain-janey on top of the Marantz receiver. Grado SR-80 head-phones (shown on top) always had a retro look.
KLH 17s designed by legendary speaker designer Henry Kloss before he sold the company to some foreign conglomerate that succeeded in equating the KLH brand to cheap plastic crapola.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Friday, February 3, 2012
Is there such a thing as perfect taste? No. Taste just comes down to preferences. It makes no sense to claim one has perfect preferences. That’s my definition of a snob—a person who believes his taste is superior to others and by inference he is better than others. Snobs are insufferable. Contrast that to someone who can discern and appreciate quality based on knowledge. I call this person a connoisseur.
Let’s consider audio speakers to illustrate the distinction. There are people who think Bose speakers are high quality, high fidelity speakers. Bose speakers obviously are not. Even the most expensive Bose speakers have bloated, undefined bass, can’t convincingly reproduce a coherent soundstage, and can’t convey dynamic subtleties in the recording. I’m not being a snob, because I’ve heard speakers that reproduce music much better than Bose speakers. The people who think Bose speakers are great, I believe, fall for the superior marketing of the company and haven’t been exposed to true high fidelity speakers.
Sonus Faber is an Italian speaker manufacturer that makes speakers that range in price from a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousand dollars. Their speakers do everything right that Bose speakers don’t. However, I don’t like Sonus Faber speakers. They have a sonic character that I find is a little too lush and dark for my taste. SF speakers don’t distort the music, but they definitely have a certain sound (just as some musicians say an Amati violin sound different from a Stradivarius. Both violins produce correct notes, but have slightly different sonic character.) I ended up buying German-made Audio Physic speakers after auditioning them next to Sonus Faber speakers. At this level, it would be ridiculous to claim AP speakers are superior to SF speakers. It’s only a personal preference. People who are willing to make the claim of the superiority of one brand over the other cross the line from being a connoisseur to being a snob.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
For the most part, I empathize with Franzen’s view of e-books. They’re the literary equivalent of iPods. Of course, iPods have their use for portable music. But if they’re the only medium through which you listen to music, then you’re impoverishing yourself of the full pleasure of listening to music. I won’t repeat my diatribe on the quality of music reproduction again. Instead, allow me to expound on Franzen’s observation on the “permanence” of the printed book. I’m not sure exactly what Franzen meant by the comment, but here’s my take on how it relates to vinyl records.
Each record is rich in history. As long as the record exists, so does its history. I’m not referring only to the music contained in the record, but more the physical entity of a record as a historical artifact. For example, the cover design usually portrays the aesthetic of the time, as well as the technology. Older records have a paste-over back cover. Newer records have covers that are folded over that doesn’t require pasting over a separate sheet on the back. Even the inner sleeve contains historical information, whether it’s a polyvinyl bag that Columbia used in the 50s or a paper sleeve advertising “loss leader” records one could order by mail from Warner Brothers in the 70s. One can date records by the design and content of the label or information contained in the dead wax. Each record you hold relates to a specific point in time. Then there is the personal history of the record, the fingerprints on the vinyl, the yellowing of the cover, the newspaper article clipped and saved inside the cover, the name of the previous owner written on the cover, the check marks next to favorite songs, etc. Compare all this information to a digital music file. The latter exists in a historic vacuum, with no reference to a point of time or any record of its history since its creation. I suppose you could track when a song was downloaded, how many times a song has been played, or assign it a rating in iTunes. In other words, a digital music file has history in terms of cold, hard data.
You could take Nicholson Baker’s lament of the demise of the library card catalog and multiply it by many factors for the demise of vinyl records. When music is converted to a digital format and the actual vinyl record is disposed of, a little bit of history is wiped out. Vinyl records are “permanent” artifacts in a historical continuum. As such they allow us to connect to the past and make sense of it, just as archaeologists learn about a past culture through objects they uncover.
The qualities that define digital music is detachment (from history and the physical world), disconnection (the ease of isolating songs from the rest of an album), and its defiance of being personal. To this last point, I have a few albums signed by the artists themselves. It’s a personal touch that adds personal value to the record. How does an artist autograph an mp3?
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Monday, January 9, 2012
Now consider the list of the top 10 albums from 2011 and each preceding decade for the past five decades, as shown on the website Best Ever Albums, which ranks the albums by calculating their rank in other greatest albums charts:
2011: (1) Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes; (2) King of Limbs, Radiohead; (3) Bon Iver, Bon Iver; (4) Let England Shake, PJ Harvey; (5) James Blake, James Blake; (6) Yuck, Yuck; (7) Angles, The Strokes; (8) Kaputt, Destroyer; (9) Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls; (10) Wasting Light, Foo Fighters (*Note: I removed the Beach Boys' Smile Sessions from the list for obvious reasons.)
2001: (1) Is This It?, The Strokes; (2) Amnesiac, Radiohead; (3) Origin of Symmetry, Muse; (4) White Blood Cells, The White Stripes; (5) Lateralus, Tool; (6) Discovery, Daft Punk; (7) Toxicity, System of a Down; (8) The Blueprint, Jay-Z; (9) Vespertine, Bjork; (10) Oh, Inverted World, Shins
1991: (1) Nevermind, Nirvana; (2) Ten, Pearl Jam; (3) Loveless, My Bloody Valentine; (4) Achtung Baby, U2; (5) Blood, Sex, Sugar, Majik, Red Hot Chili Peppers; (6) Metallica, Metallica; (7) Primal Scream, Screamadelic; (8) Slint, Spiderland; (9) Blue Lines, Massive Attack; (10) The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest
1981: (1) Moving Pictures, Rush; (2) Dare!, Human League; (3) Faith, The Cure; (4) Damaged, Black Flag; (5) Discipline, King Crimson; (6) My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, David Byrne and Brian Eno; (7) Heaven Up Here, Echo and the Bunnymen; (8) Time, Electric Light Orchestra; (9) Killers, Iron Maiden; (10) Juju, Siouxsie and the Banshees
1971: (1) Led Zeppelin IV; (2) Who’s Next, The Who; (3) What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye; (4) Hunky Dory, David Bowie; (5) Sticky Fingers, Rolling Stones; (6) Blue, Joni Mitchell; (7) Imagine, John Lennon; (8) L.A. Woman, The Doors; (9) At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers; (10) Meddle, Pink Floyd
1961: (1) King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson; (2) My Favorite Things, John Coltrane; (3) Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Ray Charles; (4) At Last!, Etta James; (5) Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans; (6) Ole, John Coltrane; (7) Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Bill Evans; (8) Two Steps from the Blues, Bobby Bland; (9) Showcase, Patsy Cline; (10) The Great Summit, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington
Here's a mental exercise: Choose one top 10 list from the above years to take to a desert island. Did you choose the year that comes closest to defining your generation? I would choose the 1961 list or maybe the 1971 list. None of the other years comes close to the quality of the 1961 and 1971 lists. (I suppose some could make the argument that the 1991 list comes close in quality. I wouldn't begrudge them.) I didn't exist in 1961. In 1971, I was more concerned with tetherball than with pop music. The year that comes closest to defining my generation is 1981. I was in my late teens, the prime time when adult musical taste is form. I would consider the 1981 list one of the weakest of the past five decades, along with 2011. Maybe the boomers are right about their music being better and generational bias has nothing to do with it.
If there's a generational bias, it's on the part of kids today thinking current pop music is better or as good as the music that preceded it. Let's not kid ourselves. Led Zeppelin would've kicked the Fleet Foxes asses down the stairway to mediocrity, where they belong. That's not generational bias. That's the ability to recognize quality.
Friday, January 6, 2012
A general rule of thumb in buying records is to buy an original pressing. They usually sound the best and also hold their value. That certainly isn’t true for LZI. After researching the topic on the internet, it seemed the best sounding version of the album was one mastered by George Piros and pressed at Monarch Records in Los Angeles in the mid-70s. There are multiple masterings of LZI manufactured at various pressing plants throughout the world. How can you tell you’ve got a Piros-mastered copy pressed at Monarch? Everything you need to know is in the deadwax. A Piros-mastered record will have his initials (GP) scratched in the deadwax. A Monarch pressing will have a machine-stamped symbol MR with a circle around it followed by a hand-scripted triangle followed by a five-digit number (the delta number). I found such a copy last week.
What’s the point of this madness? I’m finally happy with the way this album sounds. The Piros/Monarch copy is a revelation. It’s like someone took a heavy blanket off my speakers so that I can listen to this album in its full glory. The music is dynamic and alive. Hallelujah! Hosanna! Hosanna!