All Too Much, Part 3: Bob’s Gift Of Absentia.

Mister Stick… On the keyboard… Mister Stick…

Quadrophenia is just one of the albums offered in jumbo-with-sides format for you to suck on this fall.

A few weeks ago here at Pop Survivor, we started yapping about the overwhelming amount of new releases in the typical record industry calendar. Specifically, we threw a little light on the high tide of massive box sets floating in this autumn, mostly those shelf-crushers that celebrate particular albums, as opposed to a full career. The point was that the overloaded schedule shows that record companies can not only afford to push barrels of new stuff, but also hours of also-rans with enclosed ‘collectible’ trinkets. Big-box reissues might be worthwhile (sometimes… maybe), but there are too many of them, selling for too much. All the while the labels still claim to be bleeding heavily, decrying ‘piracy’ (ask victims of Somalian attackers if that is the right word to use) and YouTube uploaders as loudly as those kids squatting on Wall Street right now are screaming about more tangible injustices.

Fans of reissues are wise to add two blogs to their bookmarks: The Second Disc and the aptly named arbiter-of-overkill, Super Deluxe Edition. Both of these sites, TSD in particular, seem to be tapped into the reissue scene on an almost moment-by-moment basis. A quick spin through either will give you all the dope (and nothing but the dope) on box sets arriving any minute now from U2, The Who, The Smiths, and so on, as well as nerd-level dossiers on simpler reissues and deluxes, like the upcoming compilation from Gorillaz, and something or another from Mumford and Sons. Second Disc dedicates far more time to revived soundtracks from long-forgotten Hollywood movies than anybody with any sort of romantic life should care about, but hey, what did you pay to get in, right?

As these sites and others compile lists and reviews of the box set bumper crop due this fall, along with the time-wasting bonerisms of “unboxing” things like the battleship version of Dark Side Of The Moon, one name is remarkably absent from the list of upcoming must-have-or-die releases: Columbia Recording Artist Bob Dylan, as the nightly concert intro puts it.

In the mid-90s, many Dylan fans (Stick included) saw Bob slipping away from the marketplace entirely, particularly when he rather quietly released, back-to-back, two cover records of obscure folk and blues songs. Coincidentally, this was about the same time that people started using that ‘Americana’ term, which some of us still find little reason for. Many found it distressing that Dylan didn’t seem to be writing anymore. Others found it a relief, because if he wasn’t writing anymore, then he couldn’t deliver room-temperature-cheese throwaways like “Ugliest Girl In The World” anymore, neither.

Of course, in ’97, without much warning, Time Out Of Mind would arrive. With that, the sun rose on a whole new era for Dylan. The nearly 15 years since have established the word ‘Dylan’ as a juggernaut brand, with entries into the publishing, film, Christmas, and satellite radio markets, validated by a run of darn-good (Modern Times) to nearly-perfect (Love And Theft) albums of new material that put a satisfied look on the faces of Dylan freaks the world over, while assuring everyone else that Dylan was someone who cannot be counted out as a great record-maker until at least a few months after he dies… Something that seemed impossible to say 20 years ago (the record-making part, not the dying).

Dylan: 'Nothing was delivered' this year... And we owe him our thanks for it.

Keeping this period thick with releases has been a series of reissue projects unparalleled by any artist of the rock era (whatever that means). Dylan’s ‘Bootleg Series’ was launched in 1991 with a great box set of previously unofficially released winners labeled volumes 1 through 3. But without a follow up some 5 or 6 years later, most of us just figured that Bob couldn’t be bothered with scrounging up another batch. 1998 fixed our wagons, though, when Vol. 4: “Royal Albert Hall” appeared, and five volumes later, we’re still salivating for more. Sony managed to squeeze out a few other archival live releases in the last 10 years, too, and plenty of compilations, if that’s your thing. Yeah, they pushed their luck with the sucker-bait three-disc version of Vol. 8 – Tell Tale Signs, alright, but the ridiculous expense of that title aside, the bootleg series has been almost universally applauded, and in some cases (like volume 7, the soundtrack to No Direction Home) genuinely thrilling. Last year, Brand Bob really zeroed in on our wallets releasing both the giant Original Mono Recordings and the less-than-essential ninth ‘bootleg’,  The Whitmark Demos, at the same time.

Looking back, it seems like there’s been at least one Dylan release every year for over a decade. But right now, when the Amazon robots are getting ready for overtime, Bob’s name isn’t on the shopping list. As far as the radar screen shows, no Dylan release is on the horizon right now from any of the aforementioned categories. That’s right: This Christmas will come and go without any new Dylan record for you to request from, or supply to, others afflicted with the costly disease of gift-giving. And, as much as I relish new Dylan releases, let me be the first to say “Thank you, Zimmy!” It’s clear to anybody with warm blood that there’s too much music to digest right now. Reissues are worthwhile if you can find new appreciation for the original record within them, or relieve yourself that you have finally heard a favorite with better sound. And, for the committed music junkie, there’s no sin in that indulgence as long as you can keep your lights on, and still manage to sift your way toward a great new release (I mentioned Wild Flag before, right? So why ain’t you got it, you hillbilly?).

But as Steven Wright said, you can’t have everything… Where would you put it? The markets are packed to the ceiling with stuff you don’t have room for. And if Dylan’s team demonstrated brilliant marketing acumen in the last decade, then they’re showing off their advanced degrees now by keeping Bob on the shelf this year. Oh sure, there’s his contribution to that new Hank Williams archaeology project or whatever it is, and the should-be-too-weird-but-ain’t-anymore inclusion of a leftover Dylan song on the new Hawaii Five-O soundtrack. But that stuff doesn’t even make it to placeholder status, let alone fanboy obsession. Certainly there’s not enough investment in those releases for the Dylan stratagem to worry about them getting crowded out this season.

The word is that, sometime, The Bootleg Series will continue, maybe with a box that collects everything related to Blonde On Blonde. Other hints say that we should look forward to a collection of his Supper Club performances from ’93, or an emphasis on DVDs. Most fans still seem to want the alternates of Blood On The Tracks to be officially released, and we’ve all been expecting the full truckload of The Basement Tapes for as long as I can remember. No doubt one of these fat mothers is coming up before too much more time goes by. But right now, while Bob’s team might have more valid back pages (pardon me for that one, really) to offer than most any other ‘market participant’, they’ve chosen to let the other guys duke it out for the holiday money, which, according to the news, nobody has anyway.

Not having to worry about saving up for a new Dylan release in a time when other stuff, good or bad, is falling like acid rain is the best early Christmas present that Bob could give us.

Over and out (of metaphors). For now.

Mr. S.

Last Album: Captain Beefheart – Clear Spot

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It’s All Too Much… Again.

Last week, I wrote about how, despite the myriad options for listening to music online, it’s a greater burden than ever for the hardcore music dork to stay on top of new sounds because there are just more records than ever before. Album releases per year have multiplied by a factor of about 10 in the last forty years, and the last decade’s daily complaints by the record industry haven’t slowed this avalanche one bit.

For the financially dedicated and wholly demented among us, this has led to a struggle as we try desperately to decide on what CDs, LPs, and downloads are worth whatever money we have managed to rook from our employers and save from our bartender’s tips. First, you have to draw aim on the new releases, then come up with more scratch than you ever imagined.

And now, on top of that, messages from the Wayback Machine have become the new clarion call for much of the music fan market. Staggeringly packaged reissues now clearly occupy more of the release calendar than ever before. At a certain point, it appears, rather than try to deal with countless new bands and a tidal wave of mediocre fresh releases, searching for a winning ticket on the floor of a racetrack betting room becomes folly, and music fans perk up at the idea of buying old favorites again (and if you are too young and hip to be part of this, just wait, pal… Gabba Gabba Hey). You can argue that collectors are after cleaner sound, or rare “bonus” tracks, or maybe they just feel obliged to add to the totem pole they’ve built in honor of their favorite records. If you just spent twenty years telling people how Nevermind changed your life, how can you not welcome a monument to that album into your house? It would be hypocritical not to, right? Or is hypocritical for the ultimate alternative act to SELL you a boxed reissue? Hmmm…

But I think many may jump on the reissue wagon only because it’s easier to buy old music than is to buy new stuff. For many of us, even those not quite as inflicted as those who inhabit The Bunker, want to make a regular addition to the CD shelf, regardless of anything screaming at us specifically. Sort of like, “haven’t rented a movie in a while…” Well, back when people rented movies, that is. Believe me, the labels haven’t overlooked this gnawing ritual. And if recycling old needles is the way to a quick fix, then hey, let’s do it, man.

This habit was set back in ’87 or so, when millions of us decided we had to have a CD to replace the LPs that we dug just fine until those perfect little discs became the status quo, and we feared we would look like jerks with a turntable in the apartment. (And apartments it was – Another attraction of CDs was that they’re easier to crate up when it’s time to move… Again.) The concept of getting a new version of something we already owned was therefore endorsed, and a precedent set. Which opened the door real wide for ‘anniversary editions’ and re-mastered re-releases. And that brings us to the brunt of this screed, which is how our love for a carefully assembled reissue now is now being abused by the labels.

The Stick loves to see a fantastic record from the past treated with respect and foisted upon the present day. There’s a good-hearted intention somewhere in the equation: Masterpieces like Exile On Main Street, hyped beyond belief last year, damn well ought to kept in circulation and more so, brought to mind, every decade or so. And if you can make a favored milestone sound a lot better, then fans of the record should have a chance to enjoy it more thoroughly, especially if they still bother putting together a decent stereo. Original issues of CDs often sounded lousy, but you didn’t know it until you got the thing home. Traffic’s best album, John Barleycorn Must Die, was a sonic bus crash when it hit first got digitized back in ’88 or so. Carelessly mastered from a late-generation tape as part of the headlong rush to put everything on CD, Barleycorn wound up distorted, harsh, flat… I can’t recall which hurt more, the way it sounded, or the ache in my already-thin wallet. But a second issue on CD fixed all of that, and if you couldn’t find another 15 bucks in the 20 years between the two, then you had more important things to worry about anyway.

Reissues are nothing new, of course. You can’t track the history of recorded music without seeing how titles drop from catalogs and then re-appear, sometimes just because the label didn’t have room in their pressing budget to keep the original release on the shelf for another quarter. They, and the dealers, simply had to make room for new releases, and something had to give.

For the last few years, the majors, and those labels built originally on low-key reissues (Rhino, Hip-O), have been wetting the appetites for special editions of beloved records with Deluxe CD Editions of things like My Generation and The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Hi-resolution CD/DVD double-packs, like the one for Rush’s Moving Pictures help you get a little more bang out of your DVD player and offer a little more rationale for getting the latest version. But these were still reasonable in size and cost, if you shopped around a bit.

But then, maybe two Christmases back, we started to see the emergence of albums-as-box-sets: HUGE things, often spoken of with the term ‘massive’ included, that seem to be taking the place of the end-of-year standard, the career-spanning boxed collection.

And they keep getting more and more lavish with eyebrow-liftingly creative ways of adding to the song count. 2009’s boxed version of the Stones’ Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out featured more music than the original LP by including the opening acts from the ’69 Stones tour, B.B. King and Ike and Tina. Live At Leeds, already the subject of a deluxe double-CD job several years back, got the big box treatment about a year ago, and padded the bags by inserting The Who’s complete show from the following night in Hull (even if that meant copping Entwistle’s bass parts from the Leeds concert to patch up the incomplete tapes of that next night). In both cases, these heavyweight box sets had worthwhile books in them, but also got filled with vinyl AND CD copies of the music, a trend that really skews these things to the audiophile and obsessive collector tribes.

From there, though, we’ve sadly moved to piles of memorabilia being included. The recent Super Deluxe Edition (a common term that actually has meaning, since a cheaper, slimmer ‘Deluxe Edition’ is also often issued) of David Bowie’s Station To Station included a stash of promo photos and tour miscellania. It’s starting to feel like 1977 all over again, when a kid could just about cover his bedroom walls with boring posters pulled from LPs like ELO’s Out Of The Blue. Are we, as adults, really expected to enjoy these trinkets? Does somebody really expect us to put up a cheap poster in a room that we mortgaged? And as much as it’s a great idea to have a big version of Layla that ties up the loose ends of Derek And The Dominos’ all-too-short career, who had the bright idea to include a Stratocaster pick guard decal in the thing? Did that decision actually translate to more sales, as I am sure it translated to a higher price?

Imagine what they have in store for a celebratory edition of Never Mind The Bullocks – expect a small tin of safety pins and a tiny bottle of alcohol so you can pierce your cheek in a sanitary manner.

But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This fall, besides a healthy number of ‘staight’ reissues, the number of Hindenburg-sized deluxos is beyond any reasonable measure. I won’t drag you through the complete press kits, but The Who, The Doors, Jethro Tull, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, U2, and the previously worshipped Nirvana all plan extravagant shelf-breaking boxes, each celebrating a rather predictable selection from their respective catalogs. Pink Floyd is going well beyond that step by remastering and reissuing their entire catalog in a car battery-sized chunk (something they did just four years back), and then issuing monstro-boxes for their three best sellers. Each of those will be complete with the tchotchkes that tip the scales toward ridiculous. The Dark Side of The Moon box has coasters for your acid-spiked drink, and a scarf in case the music is too chilly for you.

The Beach Boys’ entry into the race is multi-disc release of The Smile Sessions, the full 5-course of Brian Wilson’s purported lost masterpiece, the planned LP home of “Good Vibrations”. But what once would have seemed like a miracle coming true for Boys’ fans, now smacks of exploitation. Smile has been closeted away for well over 40 years, true, but just a few years back, its auteur, Brian Wilson, saw fit to re-record and release the whole thing under his own brand, and got nice rewards for it. So how is this not a $140 anticlimax? And, by the way, if you have never heard the Wilson version… Skip it. Smile, advertised as some kind of skitter through American folklore (or something), was, if you ask me, left in the basement for a darn good reason. It just isn’t that great, folks. Songs about vegetables and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow? When the man-in-charge can create something as emotionally pristine as “God Only Knows”, why in the world did he want to make novelty songs?

Peter Gabriel has a boat anchor for you, too, but it isn’t the one he promised. Earlier this year, PG discussed a 25th anniversary version of So, the record that took him out of the fringe and into John Cusack movies. But he swerved on that, as he often does, and is about to sell you New Blood, which might better be called Old Songs, because that’s what it is – orchestral versions of Gabriel’s catalog, extrapolated into 4 discs and an artsy display case.

But at least that’s something sort of kind of new, and he’s only asking about 50 bucks for the thing. The Who’s upcoming retread of Quadrophenia offers a new master and a long menu of Townshend’s original demos, along with another of Pete’s hard-bound ruminations on his own history. 4 CDs, a DVD that contains a hi-resolution surround mix of only part of the album (say what?!), a 7” single, the history book and, of course, some “collectables” (isn’t the album itself collectable?), and it will only set you back about $150.

Yeah, you’re right, that’s too expensive. I mean, sure, let’s take this on face value and say that you, the big Quad fan, will get more out of listening to all this than you might from dusting off your old copy. But can you really attach a decent value statement to that price tag? Even if you have the dough, get ready to accept a little guilt, too.

But what one band will do, U2 will always do bigger. The soon-to-be-released “uber deluxe” version of Achtung Baby, a product that should have its own zip code and includes some 6 CDs, 4 DVDs, LPs, singles, a coffee table book, and a replica of Bono’s shades, for cripes’ sake, can be pre-ordered at Amazon right now, friends, for the rock-bottom price of 480 Yankees. Pikers with less love or money for U2 can choose from less ridiculous versions, but you might still need about $150. Still, just the availability of a top-rank version at almost 5 large makes the head swim, especially when The Smiths are offering the whole magilla – their entire catalog on CD and LP, and including every single on 7-inchers – for about $360. Limited Edition, no less (if that means anything to you.

Jane, stop this crazy thing.

Between the struggle to give new music its due (and by the way, get the Wild Flag album right now) and the home refinancing needed to collect the bruising objects d’arte that fall under the category of “timeless classics remembered”, the fun of collecting music is getting sucked down like Samuel Jackson attacking that soda in Pulp Fiction.

Again, I welcome all of this stuff, just not in such a typhoon attack. New releases by Wilco and Ryan Adams are around the corner, and I feel as close to Quadrophenia as the next Who fan, believe me. I might like it even more than Glenn, who seems to lean hard toward pre-’69 Who more and more. But keeping it all in focus and on budget is zapping the enjoyment.

There’s a way out, though, and you can thank your turntable. If you can still play records, you can still get them cheap. Do this: Put $20 in your jeans; That’s one Andy, no credit cards, and hit a used record shop on Saturday afternoon. You will have a nice time for an hour or so, maybe make a friend and almost certainly walk out with a few great records, enough to make Saturday night worth living through.

But then, off to bed. You need your sleep for the second job you just took to pay the freight on 600 bucks worth of Floyd reissues.

Next time: What name is missing from this reissue frenzy and why?

– Mr. Stick

Last Album: Various Artists – This Are Two Tone

 

It’s All Too Much.

As you must have deciphered by now, The Bunker is chocked to the ceiling with records. I make it a point to badger Glenn into adding new vinyl, CDs, 45s and downloaded tracks to our wampum on an almost daily basis, even if I know it will be six months before said music gets audibilized for the benefit of the neighbors. He obliges, spineless stooge that he is. All items considered, I think we’re holding about 4,000 titles in the arsenal at present. Not the biggest pile in the area code, but it does the trick.

And that’s a wunnerful thing, alright, because it gives me and the assorted cast of local hangers-on the ability to pluck almost anything at whim. For example, today, while playing a Koko Taylor record, I was reading a review of the upcoming new Miles Davis Live In Europe 1967 release. The article made mention of 1995’s stellar Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel. How nice it would be to hear Miles’ Plugged Nickel set again, I thought, and five minutes later, it was spinning in the Oppo. Still is, actually.

Of course, there are probably a dozen ways to hear that box set online, legally or illegally, even though it is out of print (actually, it’s not completely – popmarket.com seems to be the only place on earth that still sells it). Having a great big record collection is clearly not the only way to locate and hear music anymore. But it’s far more rewarding to remember that you once had the good sense to have purchased exactly what you would like to hear right now, and managed to actually hang on to it in anticipation of this very moment.

Acquiring and, frankly, curating a worthwhile record collection is a life’s work and one that pays terrific dividends, both in terms of enjoyment and in cash, if you are inclined that way. And the logarithmic scale of lust for more music is a disease you just learn to manage, right? Anyway, they’ll all be gone soon, we’re told. After all, the record industry is in decline, right? They just don’t make so many records anymore, am I right?

The Stick can read, and you should, too... "Books, Jerry..."

Dead wrong. Currently on The Bunker’s bedside reading table is a terrific book by Travis Elborough called The Vinyl Countdown (Soft Skull Press, 2008). Elsborough does a fantastic job of detailing the history of the LP, from its birth in 1948 through the CD and MP3 revolutions, and on to the coveted place it seems to hold today as a cultural defense against the fast-food disposability of downloaded music.

Early in the book, which, to a lummox like me, only suffers from the perspective of being written in England by an Englishman whose references are sometimes provincial, Elsborough points out that in 1973, about 5,000 albums were released. Fast forward to 2005, and the peak of the record industry’s tantrum about illegal downloading putting them all on the street. At the time we all read articles about the coming apocalypse: The end of not just record stores, but record labels. But in ’05, some 44,000 albums found their way to daylight. Yeah, that’s three zeroes. Seems to me that if the music biz was bleeing cash through every orifice, it might be wise to be very careful about how many contracts you hand out and how many albums you manufacture, even if “manufacturing” just means giving a master file to iTunes. Hey, you still have to record it, promote it and do the accounting for it, right? All releases cost money, and all that money is supposed to be an investment.

But no. The record industry, mentioned in conjunction with the word ‘wise’ for the first time in history in the paragraph above, and which I still think we need, seems to think like some parents I have met: To get one of their children a full-ride scholarship and great job (in other words, to make them a hit), you don’t need to manage their education carefully as they grow. You just need to have more and more children. Because the odds say that if you just give enough birth, one of those kids will hit the jackpot, right?

Trouble is, those odds are still long even if you have a spouse willing to help you shore up the numbers, because the folks next door are at it too, and who’s got to time to read to kids at night, when you need to get back to making more of them. Yeah, unless the kid gets more than a little focus from his or her breeders, it’s quite possible (even likely) that he or she is going to turn out as a half-wit. Correspondingly, its certainly possible to drop 50,000 albums on the public and have 95% of them be forgotten a week a later, or, if they are noticed, identified as complete turkeys.

And that is clearly what we are looking at right now. 2011 has delivered few really outstanding albums so far… and this year’s race is almost over. TV On The Radio, Joseph Arthur, The Strokes, My Morning Jacket, The Rebirth Brass Band and Adele came, and did not disappoint. But off hand, I can’t think of too much else. As usual, many things touted by the hipmeisters at Pitchfork and Spin are just weak retreads of REM, Pavement, or even the Velvets. The wildly overrated Arcade Fire is already being Xeroxed at an alarming rate (Note: I didn’t say AF were bad, but they get better press than the Pope on Christmas Eve). And you can’t count the number of bands that look like The Decemberists or Ray Lamontagne.

I have to be fair: I haven’t heard everything. Nobody really does, but I am still ready to admit that I don’t listen to half of the releases that I would like to, or maybe that I feel I SHOULD hear. But, don’t you see? NOBODY can. The record industry, ailing from a supposedly incurable disease, can still somehow find the time and scratch to release an average of about 130 albums for every day of the year. And while I understand that we’re talking about hundreds of genres here and countless reissues, we’re still, even with the instatouch access of the Internet, letting enormous amounts of possibly worthwhile rock and jazz slip right by without any chance to check it out. Or worse: The stuff we do sample is really as dull as you think, and it is not the exception after all… There isn’t a coal seam of real winners just below the crust.

My point here is that it SEEMS like most records these days suck. But I know that I am not hearing ‘most records’, and the effort to keep up with new sounds is tiring and confusing. I believe that bewilderment, a symptom the fact that music is a flood of mostly unknown artists washing by us in a fast stream, is one of the things that reduces people’s interest in buying new tunes. We don’t get the time to lock onto something and grow that interest into a satisfying purchase before we’re being asked to buy something else and again and again, until it’s easier just to watch Adult Swim and forget about it all.

The first mantra of the truly sick is “I don’t have enough records yet.” But how do you feed the beast if the music scene is a swirl and not a feast? By using a time machine, apparently.

To be continued, natch.

Stick

Last album: Miles Davis – Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel 1965

Just What You Need: More Internet Music

Stick here, Bunker deep.

Today, I got wind of Spotify’s arrival Stateside. In case you are not acquainted, Spotify is the latest Internet music site to end all Internet music sites. It’s been thriving in Europa for a while, and apparently became Yankee-friendly on July 14. Basic idea seems to be that you can search for and play selections from millions of tunes, all for free, provided you don’t mind a narrow sound quality and some ads in your face. A few bucks a month relieves you of that burden. Seems like it’s been done before, but there’s supposedly something better under the hood this time.

I can hardly offer a review of the thing – Myself and the rest of the Pop Survivor swabbos have only just signed up and crossed the threshold, but the initial results were promising: As Litmus, I searched for, and found, Australia’s Greatest Band of All, The Motor City Sound From Down Under, some would say the Pappy Boyingtons of Aussie Punk, that’s right… Radio Birdman. A decent selection of The Birdman was located in milliseconds, offering first evidence that this might be a useful toy, at least until we’re distracted for the three seconds it takes to forget about something on the Internet (and don’t say “Like your blog”, Jocko).

See, I find all this ease-of-content related to Internet music sites to be a little disconcerting. And by ‘a little’, I mean ‘it’s starting to depress me beyond the point where reasonably-priced drugs can help’.

Exploring music, thus nurturing our addictions, used to involve a hunt that was in itself a satisfying thing. You’d catch the last half of some great new release on the radio and the mystery of it would take hold before anything else. Then the bugs would start to crawl up your spine – Who was that? What was the name of that tune? What stratagem shall I use to sooth this itch? These days, though, you breathe six notes of what you recall into an iPhone and the song you heard in the car is in your digital stash 5 seconds later. Is that really rewarding? Isn’t the anticipation and slow discovery part of the rush? And how long do you treasure the downloaded song? Until dinner? Maybe.

The Stick is no Luddite, and has the iTunes bill to prove it. But the insta-touch approach to music searching seems to yank stones from a damn, and much faster than is healthy for the valley below. You came to the Net to find a song you just heard or one you remember from way back, and before you know it, you are so flooded with options of songs to either play or download that you can’t recall why you opened the laptop in the first place. Playing the first 10 seconds of one tune from the thoroughly busy interfaces of iTunes, Pandora, or whatever-the-hell-it-is entices us to play something else. And RIGHT NOW. As if that little button was gonna disappear forever.

Music, like baseball, has the ability to teach us patience, and to show the value of the elusive. But how can it when everything is at our fingertips, and we’re hopping from tune to tune like a frog on Bennies? The ultra-quick fix can reduce music to White Castle. The more there is in front of you, the cheaper it is, the easier it is to root through, the more disposable it becomes. Somebody, supposedly, poured their guts into that tune, and we can move it in and out of our lives with three mouse-clicks. Don’t seem entirely right, does it?

But summer-sweat-soaked sofa philosophy aside, sites (okay, apps) like Spotify might be beneficial to blogolas like Pop Survivor. Maybe it’s just the thing for hipping you all to something worth your attention – and vice versa.

You hip to this thing? If so, advise The Stick. How can those of us in this small crusade wrench this tool into our own fists for the better good? That is, without reducing my bully pulpit to the pitfalls of social media.

Anti-social media, that’s what we need. Thin the herd a little.

– Mr. Stick, like I told you already, boy.

Current album – Miles, Live Evil

*Ever notice how we don’t mind referring to ourselves as Yankees in matters of international diplomacy, yet most of us – right-thinking people anyway – hate the pin-striped Yankees more than we hate syphilis?

You Say You ‘Love Jazz’? Then Get Away From Me.

Another fine road trip is behind us, and Monsieur Stick once again settles in to the bunker. Glenn asked me to say thanks to Follower Brad for the hospitality in Seattle. But Brad done nothin’ for The Stick, as usual.

Despite all the irresistible good vibes of the Pac NW, Pop Survivor returns to the airwaves with a gripe, a beef, and an itch dying to be shredded with a dental instrument.

Have you ever been in a conversation with somebody at a party, or maybe on a first date, and heard him or her say “I love jazz”? Sure you have. Next time you hear that, spin on your heel and hit the highway pronto. And Mister Stick offers this advice sitting in a room with hundreds of great jazz albums just inches away.

Why? Because that statement, “I love jazz”, can mean bad news in two ways. Either the person making this declaration has a definition of America’s greatest art form that is hollow and simplistic and incomprehensibly incomplete, or, perhaps worse, they have their ‘jazz cap’ on. The ‘cap’ is really a helmet, and the owner uses it to head-butt any even-minded person who may have ever championed any form of more popular music. In either case, “I love jazz” is what they say to show off, and is often part of the FaceBook profile of shallow dullards, and creepy, spiteful snobs.

How they say it tells you a lot about which category they fit: If they say it with a wry smile, drag out the word ‘jazz’ or dreamily underscore ‘love’, and if they are catalog-dressed and have a nice haircut (or hair at all) they probably like what has come to be known as ‘smooth jazz’ (sorry, I meant to say ‘Smoooooth jazz… Music for Sperm Whales that sip Chardonnay’). These folks think that this pallid plate of common fruit is the width and breadth of it all; That Dave Koz and Lee Ritenour and other Sunday Brunch Soundtrack-makers are really improving the purity of the planet’s oxygen.

However, if the person is cheaply bespectacled and wearing ill-fitting corduroy, and if they sneer or look past you when they say they love jazz, and sort of spit the word ‘jazz’ at you, then they probably are an anti-populist malinger who socializes mostly with a keyboard, and had a strong emotional connection to Quantum Leap.

What’s really fascinating is that these two tribes, who speak the same phrase, have next-to-nothing in common musically. Both groups use what they define as jazz to define themselves, yet neither has an open mind. One explores only vertically, while the other doesn’t explore at all.

‘Smoothies’, whose favorite radio station is likely known as ‘The Wave’, feel sophisticated for their choice of elevator music over anything with any kind of soul. ‘Jazzbos’, of course, are bigger fans, and dig deeper into the music, but they build a moat around themselves. The more time they spend memorizing Art Tatum’s discography, the more they alienate people who don’t know who Art Tatum was – and they seem to enjoy it.

Both groups feel superior to others, but in different ways. The first group like themselves way too much, and hope you will feel the same. Smoothies are far too easily satisfied. They take pride in having settled down with the most comfortable, easily digested kind of music around. It goes well with their wardrobe, which came first. Smooth jazz is like flavorless post-surgery Jell-O: No one would choose to eat it, yet it won’t make you barf, and it’s forgotten seconds after ingestion. Music is not fuel to smooth jazz fans; it’s not even aspirin. It’s a Mojito in a really nice glass. It’s just a rationalization for being 100% white bread.

Jazzbos, of course, take the opposite side of the bi-polar divide – They hate themselves, and they’re not real wild about you, either. They don’t wish to be liked, just admired for their intellectual stoicism. Life is a cold bitch to them, and they blame their woes on rock and roll and country and western and anything else that makes others happy. Then they despise others for being happy in the first place. We owe them something, and they want us to understand that.

Granted, the tastes of serious jazz freaks are way, way more rewarding than those who groove to the vapid lightweight drizzle of Kenny G. Lite Jazz from Miller is, obviously, the worst music on the planet, if for no other reason than it is made by the laziest of blow-dried, freeze-dried, just plain DRIED musicians. To be fair, this kind of jazz, if you accept it as such, is sometimes the only way instrumental writers and musicians can actually eat. No doubt that Larry Carlton drives a nicer car than Roy Hargrove. But just because many succumb to this cultural injustice is not reason enough for the crime family to exist. The only possible rationale for God allowing smooth jazz to thrive is that Chuck Mangione can be a gateway drug. For some of us, the most accessible, easily palatable jazz, the kind that seeped onto AM radio in the 1970s, had something that set a hook in our mouths. Of course, it was a tiny hook and we weren’t satisfied for long. So, rather than settling for just ‘feeling so good’, or pulling out the hook, we went looking for the hard stuff, on the theory that our parents might hate Pharoah Sanders as much as they hated Deep Purple or The Ramones (turns out, they hated it even more).

And once you are into heroin, you never crave pot again.

Those junkies who use hard jazz as a badge of honor surely have great tunes at home, and they certainly won’t deny that jazz is the center of the musical universe of the last 100 years. But they will resist the idea that there is any kind of universe beyond the center. To jazz jerks, the farther you get from Louis Armstrong, the stupider and more painful the world becomes. And, let’s face it, the land of serious jazz has its con men, too. There are musicians who can’t offer anything more than atonal squonks, but will call it ‘free jazz’, knowing that many serious jazz-heads will pay homage rather than admit confusion.

Do yourself a favor. Deny both the Jazzbos and the Smoothies access to your personal space. Jazz, while smelling funny, as Zappa put it, is such a rich world that it needn’t be hyped or pigeonholed at all. And if you don’t allow it to connect to every other worthy moment of music, your plate isn’t full. Jazz was made to mingle, to set alight every other kind of peoples’ music we have. You can get from Sidney Bechet to Rob Zombie in less than 10 moves, because Chuck Berry dug Charlie Christian. Therefore, we ALL love jazz, because it gave birth to everything after it.

If jazz is the coolest music, as those at both ends of its tether claim, then how about just being cool about it? Surely, it must be better to let your musical taste define you, than to use a brand of music to forcibly define yourself to others.

So, never say you love jazz. Instead, just listen to it, play it, buy it, read about it, and more than anything, be sure to mix it with everything else. You’ll be more interesting without even trying, and one hell of a lot easier to put up with.

 

Last album: Mozart, Sym. 32, 35 and 38, Berlin Philharmonic, Karl Bohm