Monday, January 26, 2015

Summertime Bruce

When I was a teenager, growing up in Cleveland, there was no greater influence on my musical taste than the mighty WMMS 101 FM.  The Home of the Buzzard. 

Back before the days of corporate-controlled radio, stations like this had DJs that picked the music they wanted to play on their shows based entirely on its artistic merit.  The Buzzard was also one of the bad boys of midwestern FM radio in that they often put music on the air in advance of its release date, gave airtime to deep cuts and B-sides, played records in their entirety, and simulcast a wide variety of concerts from local venues.  This stuff was like manna from heaven for a teenager with very little disposable income, no driver's license and no car.

I was 15 years old on August 9th, 1978, and had yet to attend my first concert.  WMMS was celebrating its 10th anniversary, that year, and one of the festivities they lined up was a show from the Cleveland Agora featuring Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band. Darkness on the Edge of Town had just been released.  I'm not sure there was ever a more magical time for the band.  Everyone I knew wanted to attend that show.  For some of us, listening to the simulcast over the airwaves was just going to have to be good enough.  And it was.  It was an absolutely magical show that pretty much exceeded everyone's expectations.  Through the stereo in my bedroom in the suburbs, I shut out the world and joined the crowd at the Agora for what would eventually go down as one of the greatest rock and roll concerts of all time.  To this day, I cite that evening as being the night that I became a Springsteen fan for life.

Since the show was being simulcast, it was also being recorded.  Not only by every kid with a tape deck, but by others with more professional experience with such things.  For many years, I made do with cassette tapes of the show, first from my own tape deck and later by trading up to more "official" bootleg tapes.  With the advent of home CD recording technology, some of those tapes made their way to CDR, although many of those weren't any better than their homemade cassette source tapes.  More recently, the show has made its way to downloadable files, digitally tweaked and re-edited.  As often bootlegged as this show has been, and as highly regarded as the performance has been, it has never seen an official release from the original source tapes. ... Until now ...

Apparently, those source tapes were found in boxes loaned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  You can read more about all that here, but the bottom line is that the Springsteen camp has just released (on triple CD and high quality download) the WMMS 10th anniversary concert from Cleveland's Agora on August 9th, 1978.  This looks to be the definitive version of a monumental - and personally crucial - Bruce Springsteen show.  You can bet that I'm all over this release.  I'm 15 again and in rock and roll heaven!

Monday, January 19, 2015

David Bowie - Fashions

Last Saturday, I spent a couple hours in Chicago's Reckless Records (Lakeview location) with a friend. Happy with the records we found, we made our way to the checkout counter. Reckless keeps all the actual vinyl discs stored on shelves behind the counter so, if you come to the counter with a stack of records, there's always a bit of a wait while they find this discs for the sleeves you have in your pile. It was during this wait when my friend spotted something behind the counter that would turn out to be the score of the day for me:  David Bowie's 'Fashions' - a bound book of 10x7" picture discs, released by RCA in the UK in 1982.

The moment I saw it, I knew I had stumbled upon a fantastic find. I had seen it shown by someone on the Vinyl Community Facebook page. I just never thought I would see one of these rare gems "in the wild". The price seemed pretty fair for such a collector's item, too.  There was only one catch; it was dirty. Not damaged at all, just grungy, like someone had stored it in a corner of a basement or attic where it had accumulated a fair amount of grime. The folks had Reckless had opted not to clean it but had priced it accordingly, making it a rather appealing deal for me. After deciding to pull the trigger on it, resigned myself to the idea that it was going to require a serious cleaning job before I could even hope to brag about it.

The following pairs of photographs are shots of various places on this book both before and after my cleaning job. I've posted them as thumbnails, but you should be able to click on any of them to enlarge. I encourage you to do so! 

The most noticeable grime was around the stamped edges of the plastic that made up the book itself, but this was also what had me most concerned. I really wasn't sure if I was going to be able to get the dirt out of all the divots and creases.

As you can see, it went pretty well. The back of the book was also pock marked with some sort of spotted grime but, thankfully, that came off as well.

So much of what made Reckless Records price this set reasonably was, to my delight, stuff that washed fairly easily off.

The sleeves for the discs were dusty, but that wiped away fairly easily. The sleeves had also yellowed, being the kind of plastic that tends to do that, but there wasn't anything I could do to reverse that condition. In case you're wondering, the discs themselves looked to be in excellent condition.

So here we have the finished product, looking really good, even if I do say so myself.

I'm not much of a fan of 7" singles or picture discs, but this particular collector's item was just way too cool to pass up. Here are the singles included in the book:

1A - Space Oddity
1B - Changes/Velvet Goldmine

2A - Life On Mars
2B - The Man Who Sold The World

3A - The Jean Genie
3B - Ziggy Stardust

4A - Rebel Rebel
4B - Queen Bitch

5A - Sound + Vision
5B - A New Career In A New Town

6A - Drive-In Saturday
6B - Around and Around

7A - Sorrow
7B - Amsterdam

8A - Golden Years
8B - Can You Hear Me?

9A - Boys Keep Swinging
9B - Fantastic Voyage

10A - Ashes To Ashes
10B - Move On 

Monday, January 5, 2015

St. Vincent & David Bowie

My friend Blake and I had two of a very limited number of tickets to see Annie Clark (aka, St. Vincent) talk about David Bowie at the closing of the 'David Bowie Is' exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  We had been through the exhibition together once before, and then I went back a second time with my daughter.  Being fans of both artists, we were excited to hear her talk about one of her influences.

We hit the road earlier in the day so that we had time for a meal and to visit one of Chicago's many great record stores.  Unfortunately, a winter storm was coming in, and there were already weather advisories out.  Before we got anywhere near the city, things looked so treacherous on the highway that we decided to bag the plan and stay alive.

Thanks to Stereogum, we can all see and hear at least a little bit of the talk.

Watch St. Vincent discuss David Bowie at MCA Chicago here

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Digital Generation

My daughter discovered another song that she wanted to learn to play on the guitar.  After finding an instructional video on YouTube, she's been going at it for hours today, and has gotten really good at much of it.  In fact, she has been practicing this one with more determination than I've seen her have for any other song so far in her short guitar-playing career.  It fills me with pride and I've told her that.

We don't own this song in any format, but she would like to have a copy of it on her phone (Flag 1) so she can listen to it.  She asked if one of us could download it (Flag 2) and appears to have very little interest in the rest of the album (Flag 3).  My wife and I, still seated firmly in the generation of physical media, would rather purchase the CD and have her get the song that way, hopefully exploring the rest of the album in the process.  After all, that's the way we've always done it.

One one hand, I'm absolutely thrilled that my daughter has sought out new music that she likes enough to learn to play.  On the other hand, it saddens me that she has very little interest in anything beyond having a digital copy of a single song on her phone.  It's not just her and it's not just this incident.  Her entire generation is so used to having digital copies of songs, books, movies, photos, etc. that anything more substantial feels cumbersome to them.  Part of me feels that this is wrong, but is that just nostalgia?

I think it's safe to say that my wife and I still feel strongly about having physical copies of things like this.  Such items are substantial; we can access them whenever we want them, even years down the road, and they don't easily get lost or buried.  It's impossible to accidentally delete a physical copy of something and, if your computer crashes, your physical copy is still sitting on a shelf somewhere.  Cover art and liner notes are also all right there as part of the package.

I'm very much aware that a physical copy takes up more time along the road from point of purchase to my daughter's phone.  It certainly also takes up more space.  I fully embrace the conveniences of digital media.  What troubles me, I suppose, is the idea that my daughter has no attachment to anything here except the sound itself.  That the enjoyment of a physical copy of something to have and hold is irrelevant to her.  But is that wrong?  Is this just another instance of the elder clinging to "old ways" while the younger rolls her eyes in frustration?  Isn't digital the way of the present and future for virtually all media?

I bet your answers to those questions will depend on your age.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Front Burner 2014

Recapping the most played music around our place during the past year.  As always, with a focus on current releases. 

This year, I was honored to have my Top 10 records of the year posted among some other great year-end lists on the blog of my friend, Bret Helm: 
Bret does a great job with this blog and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out.  The other lists at that link are just as worth a look and have certainly provided me with some great new music to explore.

My #1 album of 2014 - St. Vincent's self-titled 4th solo studio album.  I become a bigger St. Vincent fan with every record she releases.  She (Annie Clark) trips many of the same triggers with me that artists like David Bowie and Kate Bush do.  Creative and unique, and one heck of a guitar player!  Somehow, I managed to bookend 2014 with fantastic St. Vincent shows, so there was no debating her status in my list of favorites.

My daughter Emma's #1 album of 2014 - Nico Vega's Lead To Light
I asked Emma to write a blog entry for the music she listened to the most in 2014, and you can read that here.

That one ended up on my list, as well... 

My Favorite 14 Albums of 2014
1 - St. Vincent - St. Vincent (released Feb 25)
2 - Peter Murphy - Lion (Jun 2)
3 - Glass Animals - Zaba (Sep 6)
4 - Future Islands - Singles (Mar 24)
5 - The Family Crest - Beneath the Brine (Mar 15)
6 - Joe Henry - Invisible Hour (Jun 2)
7 - Rosanne Cash - The River & The Thread (Jan 14)
8 - The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers (Aug 26)
9 - Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso (May 12)
10 - Warpaint - Warpaint (Jan 17)
11 - Phox - Phox (Jun 24)
12 - Nico Vega - Lead To Light (Jul 22)
13 - Lucinda Williams - Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Sep 30)
14 - Chrissie Hynde - Stockholm (Jun 10)

One noteworthy release was the first vinyl release - albeit 16th studio album - from Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey, called Silver Ladder (released Apr 1).  We contributed to his Kickstarter campaign to help fund the release, and would gladly to that again in a heartbeat.

Some promising 2014 releases that I hope to explore soon:

  • Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds In Country Music (May 13)
  • Spoon - They Want My Soul (Aug 5)
  • Robert Plant - Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar (Sep 8)
  • Simple Minds - Big Music (Nov 3)

Emma's Favorite Music 2014

My daughter's first entry for this blog.  She's now 14.

Emma Here :D

There is a myriad of amazing music to listen to and, personally, I am just beginning to scratch the surface of it. In the process of scratching the surface, I discovered some awesome new music this year, and rediscovered some old music, the kind of music I first really listened to. Here are some of my absolute favorite bands, artists, albums, and songs from 2014.  Also, I started taking guitar lessons this year, and am enjoying learning all kinds of different fun things on guitar.  The first song I learned how to play on the guitar was Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", which my dad thought was really cool.

U2 came out with a new album (Songs of Innocence) that apparently automatically downloaded on everyone's phone except mine (of course), within a week of getting that album transferred to my phone though, I listened to it so much that I knew all the lyrics to every single song.

Somewhere in the fall, I started getting back into the first music that I really ever listened to. That doesn't mean the first music I ever heard, but it was the first music I payed full attention to, a couple of examples of that are...
  • The Beatles - Songs like "Hey Jude", "Helter Skelter", and "Revolution"
  • Led Zeppelin - I started learning "Stairway To Heaven" on the guitar and that sparked an interest in Led Zeppelin.  I'm not sure I really listened to Led Zeppelin when I was younger but it certainly was the type of music I first tuned in to hear.
  • I also rediscovered Bright Eyes, a boy on a social media learned how to play "Lua" and posted a video, bringing it to my attention. That got me into I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, which we put on my phone and when I listened to it I also got very into "Train Under Water", "Poison Oak", and "First Day Of My Life", among all the other songs on the album.
In addition to rediscovery though, I had some new discoveries this year. Not new music per say... but certainly new to me.  These were things like...
  • Guns N Roses (Probably my top favorite for the whole year) - Favorite song: "Don't Cry"
  • Green Day - Favorite songs: "She", "Good Riddance"  and "Walking Contradiction"
  • Nirvana - Nevermind (All of it!)
  • Metallica, which I haven't listened to that much of yet, but I really like it and definitely think it should be on this list. 
  • Also, my favorite music released in 2014 - Nico Vega - Lead To Light