Dave vs. Mmm-Bop

NPR recently released its Songs of the Summer, which invokes memories of summers past by conjuring up (or dredging up, in some cases) songs you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing. Songs like “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (2006), or “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira (also 2006). Or the bane of 1991, the unforgettable “Summertime” by the equally unforgettable DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.

In 1997, one of the songs of the summer was “MMMBop” by boy-band Hanson. And mercifully, I avoided hearing it. I remember the summer of 1997. While everyone else was listening to that, I was listening to aging bands like The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen, and that habit saved me. I managed to make it until 2004 without hearing that boy-band staple. It’s an achievement I’m proud of. Read more

The Cars got back together?

On the radio this afternoon I heard something completely out of the blue: the DJ said The Cars have a new record coming out on May 10 and are doing a small tour. So I came home and checked it out, and, indeed, The Cars, minus the late Ben Orr, are releasing a new record called Move Like This next week. You can listen to it online here.

Read more

Ye Olde Nintendo 64

I fixed up a Nintendo 64 this past weekend. People of a certain age affectionately refer to it just as “the 64,” though to me, “the 64” refers to a computer with 64K of memory introduced in 1982. I have an inherent bias against almost anything that reminds me of 1997, but in spite of my biases, I found a number of things to like about the system after spending a few hours with it.

Read more

Top posts of 2010: A retrospective

I don’t normally do this, but then again, I’ve never had these kinds of statistics at my disposal either. So I’m going to take a minute to look back at the most popular posts of 2010, and pontificate a little about what I think each one might mean.

I really only have good statistics since October, so it’s a little unfair, but incomplete stats are better than none. I see some interesting patterns in what people ended up reading, some of it surprising, some less so.

We’ll take it from the top, rather than like a DJ.

Read more

Where I am

I’ve been trying to keep a lower profile online the last couple of weeks. But telling everyone where you are seems to be the rage these days.

I’m in my living room. I’m here a lot.Earlier tonight, I was making toy cars with my oldest son ("Daddy, make more school buses!"). We have a routine. I make them, he plays with them until he gets bored. Sometimes he lets me play too. Once he gets bored with that, he takes them apart. Sometimes he brings me the pieces, which I reassemble into something a little different. As the night goes on, the cars get weirder and weirder.

The game will probably change when he gets a little older and discovers, like my cousin and I did, that you can crash the cars into each other.

After both sons went to bed, I wound down by watching old Guadalcanal Diary videos on Youtube. Guadalcanal Diary was an indie rock band that came up around the same time and place as R.E.M. They were a little weirder, immensely talented, and a lot less successful. The DJ who used to play alternative music on Sunday nights on one of the Top 40 stations in St. Louis in the late 1980s and early 1990s would mix them in very occasionally. I’m pretty sure by the time I’d heard of them, they’d already broken up.

I think their singer, Murray Attaway, could croon with almost anybody. The single off their final album, "Always Saturday," shows off those abilities. But their songs tended to be a little too cerebral, and maybe a little too dark, for mass audiences.

I won’t be posting another update like this one. The routine will be about the same tomorrow. And probably in a couple of weeks, though by then, I might be listening to some other forgotten band.

Getting old

So 105.7 morning DJ Donnie Fandango was distressed this morning over finding a gray hair. At 31, he’s convinced (so he says) this means he’s dying.

I say get used to it. I’m 32. I started going gray in the sixth grade. Since I have gray hairs that are old enough to vote, I have a hard time feeling sorry for him.

I have other worries. Like whether those gray hairs vote for Ron Paul or not.

Song lyrics on the web will be the death of the music industry?

How many times did you hear a song on the radio, like it, then eagerly wait for the DJ to come on and announce what the song was, only to hear the next song? (Which inevitably is something worse, of course.)

It happens to me a lot. So I don’t even wait for the disappointment. I grab a scrap of paper, listen for a few words that sound distinctive (or that get repeated a lot), then when I get home or somewhere that I can mooch a little Internet access, I hit the search engines.

I’ll bet I ended up buying half my CD collection that way.I guess I should apply for a patent on this method of investigation though, because obviously I must be the only one who does this, because posting this stuff online is killing the industry.

Now that I think about it, posting song lyrics might be difficult to justify under the fair use doctrine, especially if your web site is just one big database of song lyrics that somebody else wrote. It’s one thing to quote a few lines of a song–which has always been permitted, even if what you’re writing isn’t a music review–but song after song, in its entirety does cross a line.

The question is whether it does more good than harm. I’m not convinced that online postings of song lyrics and guitar tablatures necessarily harms the sheet music industry all that much. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with musicians, and most of the musicians I knew sat down with a tape or a CD with a pencil and paper and wore out the fast-forward and reverse buttons playing snippets of songs over and over again, taking notes, until they’d figured out what was being played.

Today it’s faster to search the Internet for that kind of information. But if you couldn’t, you’d probably go do it the old-fashioned way.

And the sheet-music industry doesn’t make any money either way.

Why not just go down to the record store and buy the music? Oh. Well, because you probably can’t. And even when you can, the selection is limited. If you want something other than current hits and staples of a particular popular genre, you probably won’t find it, because sheet music takes up a lot more space than CDs do. So you can order it online, but in the time it takes for the thing to arrive in the mail, you could have transcribed the artist’s entire catalog yourself.

And besides, most musicians don’t have any money. And the musicians I know who do have money didn’t make their money making music.

So I suppose the Music Publisher’s Association is probably justified–from a legal standpoint–in going after web sites that are just a cache of lyrics. But when they do, expect CD sales to take another hit–especially sales of back-catalog discs and acts who haven’t quite hit the big time yet. Of course the RIAA will just blame downloading and CD burners.

There’s a way around this, of course. The songwriter can do whatever he or she wants with the words.

And if the songwriter wants to make more money than the average substitute teacher, I suggest posting those lyrics online, so that when the song manages to get played on some station on the far left side of the dial and 12 people hear it, the four people who like it can do a search and buy it. They might sell less sheet music. But they’ll sell a whole lot more records.

New Order is back?

A week or so ago I was in the car with my fiancee and a song I’d never heard before but that seemed strangely familiar came on the radio. "Sounds like New Order," I said. She said she was thinking the same thing but mentioned someone else it sounded like.

"That’s a Peter Hook bassline if I’ve ever heard one," I said. "Gotta be New Order."

I heard the song again this morning, and this time, the DJ said who it was. "Yes, the ’80s band," he added.It just shows how out of touch I’ve become. Ten years ago I followed that band’s every move, being (at the time) an incurable Joy Division fanatic. Since Joy Division was gone forever, New Order was the closest thing I was going to get. And sometimes I settled for the side projects, although they were almost always disappointing.

It’s a good song, I guess (though I still don’t know the title). It didn’t instantly resonate with me like their 1993 comeback "Regret" did, but it’s a whole lot better than anything else that took up space on the same album with "Regret."

But I guess it shows how priorities change when we get older. A search revealed the album was released about a month ago. There was a time when I’d run out on my lunch break and buy it on the basis of the band’s name on the cover. I just don’t do that anymore. I bought half my collection of CDs on the basis of one song, or on the basis of who recorded it, and I’ve been bitten way too many times.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the record store and I listened to a whole pile of discs and had a blast. But I walked out empty-handed. It was a great way to spend that evening, but I didn’t hear anything that made me want to spend 17 bucks. And it could very well be a year before I go do that again.

Am I getting old, or is there that much less interesting stuff out there now than there was in 1987?

This is another lame Johnny Ramone tribute

Johnny Ramone died today. That name might not mean anything to the majority of you. That’s OK.

Johnny Ramone was the guitarist for the Ramones, a punk rock band that got started in the ’70s. His bandmates Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone have already passed, all way before their time.My only public Ramones experience was in 1996 or so. I was at Royals Stadium, and the Royals were playing another miserable game under the watch of manager Bob Boone. I don’t remember what the score was and I don’t remember who they were playing. All I remember was the other team brought in a left-hander and Bob Boone pinch-hit for Johnny Damon, and at that point, I was done.

And then the sound of the Ramones came on the PA system: the famous opening to Blitzkreig Bop. "’Ey! Oh! Let’s go! Ey! Oh! Let’s go!"

I responded by singing out another Ramones song, much to the dismay of those sitting around me:

"Bah bah bah bah, bah bah bha bah bah, I wanna be sedated!"

The Ramones recorded simple music. Their songs were really short, really fast, and for their time, really loud. And they never took themselves seriously.

They printed a story in the sleeve of their first retrospective compilation. I guess most would call it a greatest hits collection, except the Ramones didn’t really have any hits. The story was about their first gig. Joey, Tommy, Dee Dee, and Johnny Ramone walked into a bar, tall, lanky, long hair, wearing t-shirts and leather jackets. The bar owner didn’t know if they were a band or four thugs looking to steal sound equipment. They got up and played a few numbers, all of them really fast, really loud, none over two minutes. And at the end, the bar owner didn’t know if they were a band or four thugs looking to steal sound equipment.

I’m sure the pair of alternative stations in St. Louis in the late ’80s and early ’90s, far on the left side of the dial, played plenty of Ramones. The problem was you couldn’t hear either 89.7 or 89.5 FM if you were more than about two blocks from their dinky little towers. The first station with any kind of power that would play the Ramones was 105.7, which started playing alternative music in 1993. Back in the days before it turned into all Bush, all the time (which was just before it turned into all Korn, all the time), they mixed in some Ramones along with Nirvana and Matthew Sweet and Sugar and The Pretenders and the Gin Blossoms and the dozens of other bands the Ramones had influenced. But it was too little, too late. In 1996 they released an album titled "Adios, Amigos!" And they meant it. No more tours, no more new records, no nothing. And they vanished. I think I heard about Joey Ramone doing a few cameos on sitcoms or something. But the only time I heard the Ramones on radio again was on a retro station right after the DJ announced one of them had died. Which was fairly often, now that I think about it.

But now there’s no retro station in St. Louis to play the Ramones as a tribute to Johnny. And the record industry doesn’t have the patience these days for bands like the Ramones. The Ramones were like the Velvet Underground, in that they were the kind of band that would sell a few thousand records, but everyone who bought one of those records would go start a band.

I read today that Slash learned to play guitar by listening to Johnny Ramone. Slash! Of Guns ‘n’ Roses!

Ten years ago, they’d have let the Ramones record the first album. Some executive would have liked it. It wouldn’t have sold any better, and they’d have let them record a second album, but only because that first album showed some promise. When the sales figures for the second one came in, they’d tell them to hit the road.

Today, if that first Ramones record didn’t sell a million copies, there wouldn’t be a second Ramones record.

I don’t know that we’ll see another Johnny Ramone again. The world’s changed too much since his day. For the worse.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux