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

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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?

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…

Slaughter’s Big Rip Off

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Records these days are a rip off.  I get that anything made in ‘limited’ quantities is going to have some sort of sliding cost structure associated with it, but it’s really about supply and demand.  And the worst example of supply without demand is Ebay.  I’m sure that Ebay has deals on certain things, but…wow, even their cd’s are overpriced.  I’m not sure if anyone realizes this, but you can get most cd’s for pennies on the dollar.  Records are a little harder to come by, but when the average cost on Ebay versus other seller sites (like Discogs) is 30-40% more per title, on average…who are these sellers?  If overhead isn’t a cost concern, then sure, leave your record on there forever, but…where’s the logic in that?  I thought the idea of selling something was to, you know, actually sell product.  One problem I can see is that, since shortly after it’s launch, Discogs became the official ‘price guide’ for record stores and online sellers.  Now, instead of pricing something to sell, nobody wants to go below the Discogs minimum listed price.  And Ebay sellers seem to take that and immediately add 20%.  But hey, if you need something now, this minute, I suppose that’s what Ebay is there for.  Otherwise, if you’re already into the hobby, or just getting into the hobby, be very careful with your dollars.  Here’s a nice post about cost aggregating.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to bash on Ebay, but when it comes to their vinyl pricing, yeah, I guess I am.  But that’s not down to the website, it’s down to the sellers operating there.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

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It’s been raining non-stop for 3 or 4 days.  This is Seattle, I understand that we receive quite a bit of rainfall every year, but when you don’t get any breathing space between bouts of rain, you start to get a little down.  Cabin fever definitely sets in.  The dog looks at you sideways because he hasn’t been on a proper walk in a while.  The drivers, always terrible here, become even worse, if that is at all possible.  Somehow, it’s always possible.  You would think that in a city accustomed to rain, the drivers would be able to navigate the watery streets like ducks in a pond.  Nope.  Not even close.  Slowed driving, hazard lights blinking, lane straddling…pretty much every idiot maneuver you can think of, Seattleites are guilty of when it rains (of course, they’re guilty when it’s sunny out as well, and don’t even get me started on how they act when it snows).

There are a lot of songs written about the rain.  There are a fair amount of songs written about other weather phenomena, like snow, but that is usually associated with a time of year – Christmas.  Likewise, there are lots of songs written about the sun.  And here’s where we get into a nice dichotomy – ‘sun’ songs seem to be about hope and potential, whereas many ‘rain’ songs are about depression, indecision, disappointment.  Rain seems to be universally associated with negative connotations, and yet, without it, we wouldn’t have our nice green, leafy landscapes, enough water to consume, and an entire industry devoted to specialized rainwear.  Confronting the uncomfortable conditions of rain gives you the strength to deal with what’s around the corner, both physically and spiritually, which, I imagine, is why the concept of rain is used as a metaphor for overcoming difficult situations.

You know where this is leading, it’s time to talk about my favorite songs that deal with rain.  Let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, Prince wrote the BEST song about rain (which would be, of course, ‘Purple Rain’).  This 8-plus minute mostly live performance is sublime in the way it deals with a crumbling relationship and the hope for a brighter tomorrow – with or without rain.  Other good ‘rain’ songs include both ‘The Rain Song’ and ‘Fool In The Rain’ by Led Zeppelin.  The prior is wistful while the second is once again situated in the ‘oddly hopeful’ category of rain songs.  Eurythmics ‘Here Comes the Rain Again’ is a decent representation of their early, more synthetic sounds.  Creedence has a great entry with ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’, the grunge generation gets a couple shout outs with Garbage’s ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ and Blind Melon’s ‘No Rain.’  If you like disco, I suppose ‘It’s Raining Men’ by The Weather Girls uses a nice metaphor about rain to make a point about hooking up.  The Beatles had ‘Rain’, and The Beta Band had ‘Dry the Rain.’  There are more, way more, and my favorites are probably not indicative of what you like.  But no matter what, when it rains, and rains constantly, if you’re anything at all like me, your mind probably tends to drift towards songs about the rain.

A Long Time Ago, In A Decade When I Still Had All My Hair

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    Star Wars.  People love it, right?  RIGHT??  Or do they?  At what point does something that generation(s) of people have loved become something that isn’t an event to be anticipated, celebrated, and shouted about, but an exercise in futility, diminishing returns, and spoiled milk?  Is it true that too much of a good thing really is just that – too much?  I don’t have those answers, not with any certainty.  Actually, the casual person would dismiss me outright as a crazy person.  All that person would have to say is “but The Last Jedi made ALL the money!”  That person would be right.  That doesn’t make the movie any good.  

    Let’s take a trip to the past, shall we?  1977, and little 6-year-old me wanted to see this movie that looked rad, one Star Wars.  Well, my parents had to go see it first to assure it was “safe for children” (they hadn’t been dating long at that point and probably needed an excuse to make out somewhere other than my grandparents’ house.)  Deeming it “safe for children” they took me to the cineplex, where Star Wars BLEW MY MIND.  Hoo boy, did it blow my mind.  I had t-shirts, replica lightsabers and phaser pistols, plus all the toys from that first movie.  And I had them early!  I remember my Darth Vader and Obi-Wan having cloth capes, not plastic, as the subsequent reissues did.  I think the lightsabers still extended from within their arms though – memory is fuzzy.  Everyone loved Star Wars, adults and children.  But children had a special connection to the material, as it was likely the first introduction to sci-fi/fantasy for many of us.  As such, many developed a deep love for Star Wars – I’ve not met a single adult male in my age range that doesn’t hold the original trilogy in high regard.  Nor have I met any of them that don’t look at the original trilogy from a nostalgic perspective.  

    Thus begins the problem.  Nostalgia is a trap, a trap that makes you don your rose-colored glasses and view things you love, things that have given you pleasure, things that have shaped you in some formative way, things you turn to for comfort when times are tough and the world looks scary;  nostalgia turns this – or these, ‘infallible’.  Certainly this isn’t true for everyone, but for many (including friends I hold dear), things that have acquired nostalgic significance are off-limits to criticism.  Well, I stopped feeling that way about formative (nostalgic) building blocks of my past a long, long time ago.  

     So, back to the movies.  Great stuff right?  Star Wars, despite the technical mistakes, was a very good (if very derivative) movie.  The Empire Strikes Back?  Even better!  Return of the Jedi?  Pretty good…could have done with fewer (read:  zero) Ewoks though.  And that could have been the end of it.  Sure, there were tie-in novelizations, and comic books published by different publishers, and video games and tie-in merchandise like t-shirts and toys and etc. and etc. and etc.  The property was largely kept alive by those who stayed invested in the idea of Star Wars – by those who sought out new comics, new novelizations, and who bought t-shirts and action figures and got Empire or Rebellion tattoos.  In the Eighties, you would have called these people nerds.  I would have too, even though I was one.  

     Let us not forget the Prequels.  It’s hard to believe that something once SO great was now…gibberish (“much like this post” yells some slob from the gallery.  Sit down fella, I hear you).  The acting was wooden, the sets looked overly-fake (a problem with a lot of movies from the Nineties…new technology + liberal application of new technology + improvements in said technology = outdated looking special EFX), and the stories were garbage.  Midi-Cholorians were present in the bloodstreams of some, and it was these that gave certain people the Force?  Plus a guy with a dual-sided lightsaber, ridiculously racist caricatures that hadn’t been seen since the 1930’s (OK, that’s obviously a lie, Hollywood struggles with positive representation, but the Star Wars Prequels should have known better…right?), Samuel L. Jackson gets turned into a little bitch by Hayden Christiansen, and…well, that’s really all you need to know right there.  The only good thing was Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, a near-perfect copy of his character, just younger and sassier.  Fun fact, the only reason Ewan got into acting was because his uncle was the guy who played Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy.  Yes, what started out as rabid fan enthusiasm, with huge ticket sales and pre-release hype turned into…huge ticket sales and post-viewing disappointment.  Except that’s not true at all.  Despite the incoherent plot of Episode I – The Phantom Menace – people still defended the movie.  These same people still stood in line to see Episode II on opening day.  And Episode III on opening day.  I get it (no really, I do.)  You love something.  You have nothing but good memories about this (in this case, Star Wars) thing.  You want it to be good, you want it to be great.  No amount of wishing can turn something from trash to treasure though (well, unless you become a different person.  At least that’s what they say.)  So you defend the first of the Prequels and say the next one will be better.  And then you see Episode II and it’s not any better.  But the last one, the creation of Darth Vader (arguably the entire conceit of the Star Wars universe up to that point), that’s gonna rule!  

     And then it comes along, and it doesn’t rule.  However, it did present a Star Wars story to a whole new generation.  So, although adults could say the movies blew hot goat, and Jar Jar was a joke, kids didn’t necessarily feel that way.  And something happened, something that rarely happens…the younger generation didn’t immediately reject the cultural touchstones of the older generation, and decided to embrace the original trilogy, and all that was originally awesome about Star Wars, and suddenly, all was right in the universe (even in a galaxy far, far away)!  

     So Star Wars kind of went underground again.  And then along came Disney, the juggernaut.  Say what you want about Disney, they know how to market a film.  So we get The Force Awakens, a movie that made roughly all the money for the year 2015, despite it being released the day of my birth (which, depending on how you look at it means I get an awesome birthday present – thanks Disney, I didn’t know you cared! – or all my friends were in line waiting to get into the movie and not buying me alcoholic beverages) in December of said year 2015.  Everyone loved The Force Awakens – it was everything “we” wanted from Star Wars!  Evil dudes in Black Leather!  A Death Star (OK, planet, whatever)!  An evil, shadowy overlord!  Tatooine!  A youngster unsure of her place in the galaxy!  Han! Chewie!  Leia!  The Millenium Falcon!  And finally, Luke Skywalker!  HOLY SHIT YES!!!

     Did I miss anyone/thing?  Was there a Jabba in there?  I’m pretty certain Lando Calrissian didn’t show up.  But everything (well, nearly everything) you (read:  aging nerds angry at the Prequels) wanted in a Star Wars movie was there!  You want a Death Star?  This thing is even Death Star-ier!  You need someone with a lightsaber?  How about TWO separate people wielding the same lightsaber!  You want an evil guy in black leather in a mask who wields a lightsaber?  How about now, he has a lightsaber that has energy shooting out the sides as well – that’s even more lightsaber-ey (not to mention unsafe)!  Despite near-universal praise, there wasn’t a single thing original about The Force Awakens.  It was like ‘the original trilogy – the greatest hits – edited.’  I’ve watched that movie three times now, to determine if it’s me (maybe I’m the curmudgeonly old guy who can’t appreciate this thing), but no, it’s not me.  It’s not an original movie as much as it is an expensive apology to Star Wars fans.  It’s the original trilogy turned up to 11.  

     I’ve not seen The Last Jedi yet, but the backlash has begun.  I have friends that are uber-fans (read:  buyers of the comic books, and standers in line to see the movie on opening night) who are now admitting that The Last Jedi isn’t up to standards.  The Force Awakens, previously open to scorn, has now somehow become a holy cow.  This is, in a way, reinforcing my point.  Something previously open for derision becomes not so bad in comparison, because, while The Force Awakens might not have been anything special, boy howdy, did The Last Jedi really let me down!  It’s a slippery slope between “good because it’s better than this heaping pile of crap” and “good, because it was a well thought out, original, engaging story.”

     It’s because of nerds that Star Wars survived as a cultural touchstone, an almost-religion, a property that went into the wilderness and not only survived, but came out stronger than before.  So, thank you, nerds (including me – yay me!), but please, let it go.  Before every angry Star Wars nerd in the Galaxy starts to send me hate mail (hey, any mail is good mail), just remember, Star Wars isn’t for nerds.  It wasn’t, and then it was, and once again, it’s not.  For most people, Star Wars begins and ends with the movies.  And the movies, it has to be said, are turning out to be not very good (with Rogue One being the exception – except that’s a ‘side story’ so it doesn’t count as much.  Of course it doesn’t).  Star Wars now looks to continue telling stories for another generation and possibly beyond, but it suffers from Hollywood’s current fetish – prequel-and-sequelization.  Do we need “young Han Solo”, “Boba Fett, the Lost Decade”, “Luke’s first orgasm”, “Jabba Hutt – Gangster!” or any of the spin-offs that Disney has planned?  Nobody needs these things.  For the most part, people got and get on with their lives just fine.  But it’s a rollercoaster now, a franchise, an empire.  It prints money (as seen by the box office figures for The Last Jedi, which I won’t repeat here – go to www.boxofficemojo.com if you want to know them).  Sure, some people really wait an entire year for a new Star Wars film – only to trash it on the internet afterwards and claim it’s “not as good as the old ones.”  To which I would say “of course it’s not”, and do you know why?  You’re not the same person you were when you saw the old movies – whether they be the original trilogy or the Prequels.  Your tastes may have changed, your responsibilities may have changed, your hormonal stimuli may have changed.  Things aren’t as ‘new’ to you as they once were.  So why defend something you loved once, if it doesn’t hold up to your new standards?  Walk into every new experience free from the lens of nostalgia, and be brave enough to evaluate something with an unbiased view.  I’m still willing to give the Star Wars movies a chance, but if they’re not as good as they once were, I don’t get angry when people say that (and hell, I don’t get angry when they try to defend them – that’s a viewpoint.  As long as the defender is willing to accept valid criticism, open dialogue is good), I don’t want people to get angry when I say that.  I’m not in charge, I’m not going to convince Hollywood to stop flogging a dead horse (because Hollywood has never met a horse that couldn’t be placed on long-term life support), and I’m not going to NOT see the new Star Wars film (eventually.)  But I am going to continue to question the rationale, and I am most certainly going to question those who defend Star Wars blindly without question.  Blind devotion to anything – even something as silly as a movie series about a galactic rebellion in a galaxy far, far away – is dangerous.