Love and Deception

It’s Valentine’s Day, so naturally, I was going to write something about the emotion of love from the standpoint of my musical tastes.  Most of the music I listen to doesn’t contain the standard ‘boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love’ type of lyrics.  I’m more Joy Division than Olivia Newton John, or something to that effect.  I’m cynical, curmudgeonly, and not prone to public displays of affection, and my musical tastes follow suit.  I was trying to think of some honestly romantic songs in my collection – not sarcastically romantic, or caustically, or casualty romantic – but actual proclamations of love and devotion.  Sadly, the best one to come to mind was “Love Song” by The Cure, from their Disintegration album, one of my favorite records of all time.  Except for…that song.  Which is horrible, trite, and shmaltzy.  OK, so maybe I’m just not the type of person for whom a romantic song is going to resonate.  That’s fine, I’m not expecting my tastes to change just to fit a made-up holiday.

What’s truly strange is what was going on with KEXP today.  On my way home from the gym, I flipped on KEXP, and they were right in the middle of playing Rick Astley’s ultra-cheesy late-80’s goob-fest “Never Gonna Give You Up.”  When’s the last time you heard this song?  I guarantee you, it hasn’t been long enough.  Now, KEXP is a public radio station and as such, can play anything they damn well like.  But, they tend to play ‘alternative’ and ‘even more alternative than that’.  They’re not trying to be top 40 or even Alternative Nation – they really try to mix it up; however, if I had to make an argument for what you might hear on KEXP during drive-time hours, it would be ‘popular alternative/hipster tunes of today and yesterday’.  This isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it’s a large part of why I love them, and I love that they’re in my hometown as well.  So, when they played a Rick Astley song on Valentine’s Day, it was…a little unusual for them, BUT, they’re allowed to go off-script, so, I didn’t think too much about it.  They followed Rick up with a very serviceable Beck tune “Think I’m In Love”, and then “Gimme All Your Love” by Alabama Shakes.  Then I got home, so I was out of the car and not listening to the radio anymore.  The nice thing about KEXP is they keep their real-time playlists alive for a period of time.  Once inside, I decided to check the list (because I’d forgotten the name of the Beck tune and wanted to listen to it again).  Well, well, well…no mention of Rick Astley on their website playlist for today.  It goes right from REM’s “The One I Love” at 9:54 AM to a mandated air break at 9:57 AM, and then into the Beck tune at 10:02 AM .  Where’s Rick?  Why was he scrubbed from the playlist?  Were they too embarrassed to post that they’d played a Rick Astley tune?  That’s what’s great about KEXP, they can say “screw you, we’re playing Rick Astley, suck it hard”.  But no, Rick’s not there.  Maybe KEXP is Rickrolling everyone who happened to catch that moment of the broadcast.  We can’t prove to anyone that they played his (admittedly terrible) song, because it’s not on the playlist.  Now I see what’s going on.  KEXP, messing with me!  Well played, KEXP…well played.  However, isn’t that more an April Fool’s move than a Valentine’s Day move?

Momma’s Little Jewel

Mott

Glam rock certainly rolls on here at The Fault, doesn’t it?  Good Mott the Hoople albums are hard to come by – by ‘good’, I mean, of course, “All the Young Dudes” (pictured above), as well as the follow-up album, “Mott”.  And…that’s about it.  There are a couple good songs on the “Mott” follow up -appropriately titled “The Hoople”, but that’s it.  Diminishing returns after, and presumptive failures prior.  If you want your money’s worth, pick up Greatest Hits.  While not imaginatively named, it does feature most of the great tracks from Dudes, Mott, and Hoople.  I’ve seen copies of both Mott and The Hoople at local shops and passed on them, waiting for the crown jewel – that being Young Dudes.  I did recently stumble upon the Greatest Hits, and it was a bargain at 5 bucks…although, let’s look at the economics of scale here.  Music is time-sensitive, much more so than cost-sensitive.  Sure, the first LP ever pressed is going to cost an exorbitant amount of money to acquire, that should be a given.  But a CBS Records packaged greatest hits compilation from 1976 (with the majority of the music contained having been released in 1972 and 1973)? And on vinyl – used vinyl at that – shouldn’t be that hard to come by today.  And yet, this is the first time I’d seen a copy of Mott’s Greatest Hits on vinyl in years.  Mott only set the world on fire briefly, for a scant second – and that on the back of a David Bowie penned song (you know it, it’s “All The Young Dudes” – you did know Bowie wrote that, right?), so maybe it’s wrong of me to think there should be tons of used Mott records floating around.  I mean, it’s hard enough to find original Bowie pressings, and they pressed those things in the millions.

It’s really more the economics of time than anything related to price.  When you’ve spent as much time shopping for records as I have, you come to realize most pieces of original-pressed wax settle into one of two price points – under 20 dollars, 20-60, and anything over 60.  Much like the X.99 price tag, where marketers eventually realized people though, hey bargain, cause it was under XX dollars, 60 bucks seems to be the cutoff point for most ‘harder to find’ vinyl in decent shape.  And 60 is still too much.  But right now, it’s still partly a sellers market where vinyl is concerned, as any readers (there have to be a few) of this blog will realize from my many, many, probably too many, posts on the subject.  So, this is where the economics of time intersect with the economics of price.  I’m not young, by anyone’s standards – I’m your average middle aged guy, maybe a bit grumpier than most, certainly more bald than most!  So, we have our equation of TIME + PRICE.  Anything else?  Oh yeah, demand.  How many people are looking for Mott the Hoople’s hits on vinyl in the year of our something, 2018?  I suppose regardless of the demand, you still have to factor supply into this somewhere.  Sure, CBS (or whoever owns the rights to Mott’s catalog today) aren’t rolling copies of their Greatest Hits off the assembly line to the tune of thousands a day.  Why would they?  How many people are actually looking – or would actually be willing to pick up a copy, if they stumbled upon one?  This one might be a little tougher.  Sales = (Demand/Supply)*(Time+Price)?

I like data, I love analytics, but I’ve never been the guy who can figure out an equation like this off the top of my head.  These variables are very much of the ‘sliding scale’ variety – in terms of supply (how many copies were pressed, how many still exist, and how many are within a few miles of me – namely, in one of my local record shops), in terms of demand (Led Zeppelin pressings?  Demand.  Mott the Hoople pressings?  Demand, but of a lesser scale).  Time (how long since the record came out?  was it genre specific?  how many people still give enough of a crap to shell out money for it today?  who is it appealing to – middle aged guys, younger people, some odd intersection, or nobody?)  Intersecting with Time is Demand – for the further away from a production point you get, the harder the product is to acquire.  So, if the demand remains high (like with Zeppelin pressings), the time away from pressing (40+ years and counting for some Zeppelin releases) makes acquiring a copy harder, despite the high pressing count.  Add into this the fact that more people ‘want’ Zeppelin than ‘want’ Mott, and that has to, in some exponential way, factor into the equation.  Finally, but not really finally, we have price.  Price is dictated by supply, demand, and also, at least for something like records, time.  Again, Zeppelin is going to cost more than Mott.  But by how much and for how long?  So, I said price was the final element, but not really, because…cultural cache.  Who’s cool?  Is Zeppelin cool?  Still seem to be.  Is Mott cool?  Maybe to a few.

This really could make someone’s head hurt. It makes mine hurt.  I’m going to figure out a way to put all of this into Tableau Software, if I can ever make sense of the equation.  I might be able to get ahold of initial sales figures (minus returns, so again, not a full picture).  Look, here’s the deal…if you want some glam that isn’t Bowie, Eno, Roxy Music, Lou Reed…find some Mott the Hoople, or at least the two albums I mentioned (or their Greatest Hits).  If you want to expand your glam library, you won’t be disappoint.  However, can someone tell me what a Hoople is?

Grandma Ester

Overheard in a restaurant:  “I hear Spain is lovely this time of year”.  Me:  “When I was a child, we used to summer on the Amalfi coast.  Myself, my folks, and my grandmother Ester.  She was totally insane by this point in her life.  She would sit on the stoop every day waiting for the mailman.  As he began his daily approach, she would start to curse at him, quite loudly and with much vigor.  If he noticed (and he must have noticed), he never said anything.”

“My grandmother, she was quite the character.  During Prohibition she used to brew some of the finest bathtub gin that Sandusky, Ohio, had ever tasted.  It was called ‘Ester’s Essence’ and was guaranteed to get you blind drunk – sometimes literally.  Grampa Terry (bless his soul) once told me that after a particularly nasty batch, he spent nearly 8 hours hunched over the toilet, and he was certain that he had seen at least one kidney enter the bowl before he was done.  Ester was able to elude arrest by turning into a small mouse and hiding in the baseboards whenever the police came to the house to ‘investigate’.  Usually they just left with a gallon of the bathtub gin and a small stipend for their ‘protection.”

“Yeah, my gramma was a character.  Apparently, she’s the woman who first introduced The Chronic to the hipsters of Greenwich Village during the jazz boom of the 1950’s.  She counted Alan Ginsberg amongst her closest friends, but would claim that he was nearly 8 feet tall and covered in quills, like a porcupine.  I never believed this story, as I’ve seen pictures of Ginsberg, and he was quite short.  I’m not sure about the quills, however.”

“To get back to your statement, yes, Spain is lovely this time of year.  If you get a chance, go to the cemetery in Amalfi and leave a potted plant on the grave of my Grandmother Ester.  She preferred Begonias in life, so I imagine in death she would enjoy them as well.  Not like she really has a choice.  Unless she’s come back as a zombie.  In which case, tell her I said hi, but I don’t think I’ll take her up on her offer to go parasailing in Johannesburg.”

*Note – I never had a grandmother named Ester, and even if I did, you can’t disprove her ability to turn into a mouse when threatened.  This story is not true in any way, shape, or form.  It evolved out of short text conversation between myself and my friend Jason.  Sometimes my mind goes off on tangents.

New Sound All Around, You Can Hear It Too

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So today, I found this flexidisc at one of my local shops.  It was originally issued with a magazine called “Flexipop” which used to give away exclusive tracks by emerging artists (this was emerging artists of the early 80’s).  This release is probably one of only two from the series that are really collectible (the other being the early version of “Lament” by the Cure – a more finished version would feature on their “The Walk” EP, but the version on the flexidisc is actually Smith + Steve Severin of The Banshees, making it the first release by their side project The Glove).

This was a Vince Clarke composition from Depeche Mode’s “Speak & Spell” era, making this one of the few releases where Clarke was a member of DM.  It was all Clarke in the studio, with singer Dave Gahan providing the vocals.  In a book on DM, it was apparently Clarke’s ability to write and record all the instruments (save vocals) on this track by himself that gave him the idea that he didn’t need DM, and could instead branch out and perform with whichever vocalists he wanted, and not be constrained by a ‘group’ hierarchy.  But, solid group lineups tend to sell better than some boffo studio genius plus random vocalists, and so Clarke’s other best-known works are when he performed as part of a group – first as half of Yazoo (Yaz in the US) and then as half of Erasure, his longest-running project.  It’s a good song, but it sounds very 8-bit, as a lot of early synthesizers tended to sound – you either got deep and rich, or thin and tinny.  Being a ‘flexible’ record means the sound is fairly crap, even if the record is in great shape.  It’s since been reissued as part of DM’s “Speak & Spell” on solid 180-gram vinyl, but it’s still cool to have this early, original version in my collection.

Switch On the TV, We May Pick Him Up On Channel Two

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Today is the anniversary of Bowie’s first live performance ‘as’ the character Ziggy Stardust.  Bowie had spent months preparing to ‘inhabit’ the character of a hedonistic alien bent on saving the human race, developing his persona, designing costumes for himself and his band, and getting ready to ‘live’ as Ziggy.  It was his hope that this ‘inhabited’ character would propel his career in ways that hadn’t happened yet.  Premiering at the Tolworth Toby Jug in London on this day in 1972, the performance wasn’t an overnight smash.  Truthfully, the Hunky Dory album was still in the shops, and the songs that comprised the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album, though mostly written, produced, and recorded in November of 1971, (a last few tracks would be put to tape in February of 1972) wouldn’t appear in the shops until June of 1972.  But it was common for acts of the time to be premiering new material live on stage prior to the release of an album.  But the early leg of the tour was a dud.  When Bowie finally performed “Starman” on Top of the Pops in July of 1972, he’d already been performing this new material for 5 months to little fanfare.  His ToTP performance changed that – TV helped catapult Bowie, as much built on image as on sound, into the hearts and minds of more performers than he could have hoped to reach with only album sales and tour receipts.  The performance was slightly scandalous, with Bowie having made remarks to the press that he was gay, and the appearance on ToTP showed him draped across his guitarist Mick Ronson, insinuating something naughty.  The orange mullet, odd jumpsuit, and silver circle on his forehead were revolutionary in rock costuming.

This brought Bowie the newfound notoriety he’d been looking for.  As the Ziggy Stardust tour progressed, Bowie crossed over to the US, then back to England, the US again, then over to Japan (in April of 1973), and finishing the world tour in England.  Nothing lasts forever though, and on July 3, 1973, Bowie ‘retired’ Ziggy Stardust live on-stage.  During this nonstop tour, Bowie was able to produce a follow up album, Aladdin Sane, featuring perhaps his most famous look, the lightning-bolt face.  It had been a wild 20-month ride that changed rock music forever.  It brought glam to the forefront as a viable musical genre.  It taught aspiring rockers how to invent characters for them to inhabit.  It presented a credible take on the ‘concept’ album.  It made David Bowie a bonafide rock star.  Not to mention it produced one of the best albums in the history of rock music, one whose blueprint can be heard in songs still being released today.  Here’s to Ziggy.

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Something Else…By The Kinks

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There seems to be one store where I find all my Kinks records.  After finishing up at the gym today, I went to said shop, just randomly to kill some time.  I’d been thinking I’d love to find a copy of Something Else by the Kinks, and lo and behold, it was right there behind the counter.  So of course, I didn’t buy it.  But I did call later in the day to have them put it on hold for me.  Yeah, sometimes I don’t do the obvious thing.  This is one of their best albums, with well-known tracks like “David Watts” (which was covered beautifully by The Jam) as well as “Waterloo Sunset” an absolutely brilliant track.  It also features one of my favorite Kinks tracks “Lazy Old Sun”, along with a bunch of other early-period Kinks gems.  You really can see the blueprint for Britpop within the grooves of early Kinks records, a very English-centric, wistful, nostalgic, feel to the songs.  Good stuff if that’s your bag.

The Ideal Copy

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Speaking of groups that don’t get enough credit or respect, let’s talk about Wire.  Going strong (on and off) since 1977, this band is the band that’s inspired all the bands you love.  Their first album, 1977’s Pink Flag, features a lot of short, sharp ‘punk’ tunes.  They took the pre-formatted punk angst and boiled it down to unique, 90-second snippets of aggression.  By the time of 1978’s Chairs Missing, they’d already tired of the short-song format, and the speed.  They slowed things down some, and brought in some artistic twists to the lyrics.  If you like The Cure’s first two albums, this is the blueprint for that sound.  By the time of 1979’s unheralded classic 154, they slowed things down even more, and brought in elements of dub and a burgeoning electronica influence.  It’s a fantastic album that rewards deep, extended listening.  It also features perhaps their only ‘classic’ song, in Map. Ref. 41N 93W.  They couldn’t even title their most overtly ‘pop’ song in any way people would be able to remember easily.

And then they broke up.  Or so everyone thought.  Wire has always been a band of extremes, and it became the ‘rock’ duo versus the ‘art’ duo.  So they split, and made a bunch of solo-and-collaboration albums that are fine on their own, but for the most part are missing that certain spark that some groups have only when they’re all operating together.  There was a posthumous live release called Document and Eyewitness that was released in 1981, which showed them playing songs that hadn’t been on any of their albums previously – this restless, relentless writing was a quality they would keep for ages.  I’ve seen Wire live 3 times now, and they rarely play ‘recognizable’ songs.  They keep plugging away with newness, forwardness – and that can make for an exasperating concert experience – certainly one different from every other group you’ve ever seen live.

And then they got back together.  The 80’s would see a new Wire as much aware of the decade’s new ideals as they were in the 70’s, with a new sound to match.  Wire returned in 1987 with The Ideal Copy, with a complete shift in the way they composed their songs.  This would continue with 1988’s A Bell Is A Cup…, and 1989’s ‘live’ album It’s Beginning To And Back Again, which, much like Document and Eyewitness, was not so much live songs as reworkings of old material in a live setting.  Then came 1990’s Manscape, a mostly electronic affair – even the ‘played’ instruments were fed through primitive MIDI equipment.  After that came The Drill, live versions of a single track (The Drill), their first song recorded as a group in the 80’s.  Each version is manipulated in such a way that you can’t put them together – you’d certainly have trouble recognizing each of the 8 versions as the same song.  Then their first, and only, drummer, Robert Gotobed, left the band.  They dropped a letter from their name and put out one album as Wir, now a trio.  The album was called The First Letter, because the graphics showed the W in the Wir as the number 3 turned on it’s side.  It’s even more electronic that Manscape, once again reflecting the dominant alternative sounds of the times.

Maybe that was too much, because then they broke up again.  They’d be back, different again, in 2003.  But that’s a discussion for another time…