Does This Question Make Me Look Dumb?

During one of my trips to Canada to visit my Toronto-resident daughter, I was introduced to a Vancouver-based indie rock outfit called Said The Whale and began following them on social media. The band has a new album coming out soon (As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide, due March 31) and posted an intriguing message on Facebook earlier this month. The band offered to share an advance stream of the album with any group of 10 or more fans willing to host a listening party, or – this is where it gets more interesting – would be willing to Skype into classrooms to talk with arts students about music.

As it turns out, my best local pal and go-to plus-one music-loving buddy, Sally, is a high school English teacher and her journalism class is now studying interviewing techniques. I told her about STW’s offer and, the road to hell being paved with good intentions, not only will Sally and her teenage charges be talking with the band this Wednesday, but I will be visiting the class to talk about my so-called music journalism career, a.k.a. dancing about architecture. (TM: Steve Martin)

There was a time, Back In The Day, when most of my interviews were done live-and-in-person. Music magazines – in print! – had a valued place, just below TV and radio broadcasts, as an exposure tool for new music. But now that anyone with access to Spotify can pretty much hear whatever whenever they want and formulate an opinion, is printed advice on what to seek out even needed? If anything, my role now, if I still have one, is to act as a filter to the firehose of material that gushes forth in the age of information overload, traffic-directing people to sounds they may like.

It’s hard for me to even remember the last time I did a face-to-face interview, phoners being the modern way-to-go, or maybe a Skype call (see above) which at least allows for some facial recognition, and the need to wear pants. The last two interviews I did were email interviews. (Kirstin Hersh, once of Throwing Muses, and A/J Jackson, lead singer of Saint Motel) for the AXS.com site.

Email interviews are, to be honest, a great way to avoid the bane of an interviewer’s existence – transcribing! – since you need only cut-and- paste, with minimal corrections and proof-reading, text from your correspondence. If I were being paid real money for these stories, I would prefer to have a real conversation and really dive into the Getting To Know You business. But when you’re paid by the click for articles that are little more than intro to a list of tour dates (buy tickets here!), and the major effort is not finding the perfect phrase but negotiating a CMS (content management system), the email process is the cost-efficient way to go for all concerned.

My favorite pieces to do these days are concert reviews. I get to move close to the music in the photo pit, play/learn with my camera, enjoy the show, and share the memories. I did that recently, covering a concert by AJR, a trio of NYC-based brothers who opened for Ingrid Michaelson’s tour last year (I shot that, too), and are now on their own headlining club jaunt.

Still, it’s a long ways away from those heady days back in New York, when I lived in Brooklyn (before it was BKLYN) and rode the subway into Manhattan to meet Dire Straits in the studio, putting the finishing touches on their Making Movies album. I heard the amazing “Romeo and Juliet” in an early mix, booming from awesome professional studio speakers and chatted with frontman Mark Knopfler. I’ll always remember him as one of the nicest gents I ever encountered during a period when I actually made my living as a freelancer.

My recorder malfunctioned during the interview and, when I discovered that much of the tape was destroyed, he graciously repeated much of our conversation with a smile and genuine sympathy. His producer, on the other hand, dripped disdain, seemingly irked to have a writer (and a girl one at that!) in his sacred space.

I’m reminded of this interview in particular because the magazine I was writing for at the time, Trouser Press, recently posted a link on its Facebook feed, to the Dire Straits article I wrote for the November 1980 (ye gods!) issue. I read it now and remember a time when I felt I was really Writing a Story.

knopfler.jpg

In contrast, when I sent off my email questions to the frontman for Saint Motel, I had no chance for follow-up when he dodged a question about touring with Panic! At the Disco.

I wrote: How has the tour with Panic! been going? Can you tell us a funny – or strange – story from the road?

He answered: It’s been amazing!  These rooms are huge.  Funny story so far…    

and left it at that.  I checked with the publicist to see if something had been dropped from his message, but was told it was complete as is. It made little sense to me and drove home the sterility of such electronic conversations, so  I left the exchange out altogether. And yet, that article has been one of the most liked/shared I’ve written for the site in ages.

Since this little confessional has included a bunch of links to Recent Stuff I Wrote, I might as well end with my latest, hot-off-the-pixels article, a few words – and clickable links, of course! – on the subject of a new favorite of mine, Father John Misty, and the lust-worthy deluxe vinyl edition of his upcoming album, Pure Comedy.

It ain’t Pulitzer material, but it was fun to research and easy to write. I do what I do as best I can.

P.S. Speaking of research, if any of Sally’s students bothered to visit this site to find out more about me before Wednesday’s meeting, I have two things to say to you:

  1. Good luck with the journalism thing. You’ll need it. And we need you now more than ever.
  2. Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Say the secret word (“penultimate”) and I’ll tell Ms. Toner to give you extra credit.

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Dumbledore’s Army Needs Music

Despite best intentions for the new year (note I didn’t say resolutions; I know better), I haven’t posted much in January, but it’s for a different reason than my usual procrastination and sloth. I generally don’t use this blog as for a platform for political conversation, although I’m sure if you’ve read for a while, you’ve got an idea where my allegiances are. And my twitter feed, which pops up at the left side of this page, makes things pretty obvious.

I still think of this site as a place for music-oriented discussion and don’t want to get into the same kind of debates that roil my Facebook page. Trouble is, with the arrival of President Babyhands and his racist, misogynist, and/or frequently unqualified administration (There. No doubts left!) writing about music seems a rather trivial pursuit.

There’s so much to be done. As much as I love the Harry Potter novels, I never expected to be living in one. There is a cause at hand that commands a Dumbledore’s Army-style of commitment. I marched in the 60s and, as an Internet meme of an older woman declares, “I can’t believe I still have to fight for this shit.”

dumbledore_army

Thankfully, social media has given me an outlet that allows for participation – and I don’t mean signing endless online petitions. There are notifications of calls and donations to make, information to share, encouragement to offer those who are in a better position at the front lines.

But rebellion requires fuel, too. Some say an army marches on its stomach. But let’s not forget the fife-and-drum corps, the marching bands and infantry cadences. Music is the food of life, and of the soul, and the music I love – old favorites and new discoveries – have kept me going since that dark night in November when I began to wonder if I was a stranger in my own country.

So, I will write about music here. And mostly music, though I may share a few of the best political cartoons and satire now and then. Again, feel free to remove this blog from your reading list if you think you’ll be annoyed or (especially) if you’re tempted to argue on the side of our modern Voldemort. I won’t post and I won’t reply. It’s MY blog, after all. There will be plenty of alternative music, but no alternative facts allowed.

And so, having said my piece (peace!), I’ll be back soon with a love letter to vinyl.

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Happy New Year? Deep Breath. Here We Go.

And thus we come to the end of the infamous 2016. While it was fine for me personally and professionally, it was the Year of the Great Losses culturally and politically. I am still reeling from the many disappointments that hit us this past year and am genuinely worried about what lies ahead.

I found this poem online today and it speaks to me:

2016-poem

I love that it mentions music specifically as a coping mechanism and inspiration. Along with family and friends, of course, music has always been my comfort, and I’ve relied on it more than ever in the past months.

And with that in mind, here are my Top Ten Albums and Singles for 2016, in no particular order, as submitted to the annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop (not sure they’re using that title anymore) Critics Poll:

ALBUMS:

Wilco – Schmilco

Avett Brothers – True Sadness

Andy Shauf – The Party

David Bowie – Blackstar

Beyonce – Lemonade

The Monkees – Good Times!

The Hamilton Mixtape

Justin Bieber – Purpose

Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

SINGLES:

Hell No – Ingrid Michaelson

S.O.B. – Nathaniel Rateliffe & The Night Sweats

Heathens – Twenty-One Pilots

Cake by the Ocean – DNCE

2 A.M. – Bear Hands

When the Tequila Runs Out – Dawes

When We Were Young – Adele

Trip Switch – Nothing But Thieves

Waste A Moment – Kings of Leon

All We Ever Knew – The Head and the Heart

Feel free to argue for your favorites. As much music as I buy and as many downloads/promos as are sent to me (keep ’em coming!), I don’t hear all the great stuff that’s out there, so tell me what I missed.

Happy New Year? We can do it. Keep your eyes and ears and heart open. Stay strong. Do what you can. Be kind.

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Please Stand By. We Are Experiencing Electoral Difficulties.

shocked-liberty

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November 10, 2016 · 11:18 pm

The Case of the Disappearing (L)ink(s)

So, how have you been? Did you have a good summer? Did you miss me?

Sorry to have been out of touch. I did a lot of traveling on family business, and stayed busy seeing shows and filing stories online. But my WWW presence has been scuttled on a few ends and you might have thought I had been dragged to the UpsideDown. To recap:

Over at www.whatchagonnaplay.com, there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news: The site’s original web host stopped servicing personal sites earlier this year, so anyone who clicked over to see new set lists and concert photos got the dreaded 404 error message. I had to find a new site host and reload all my files (over 5,000 items!) to the new service.

The good news: I have a new host and am now tackling that reloading process, so the site is back up and running. There are, however, still issues, including many dead-end links. The photo galleries are gone, and where there were once links to my examiner.com reviews, those archives have been scrubbed and all those links now lead to a single URL, the home page of AXS.com.

How did that happen? More electronic mayhem. Examiner.com ceased publication, also this summer, and gave contributors only about a week’s notice before dumping all its stories. I had written about 200 articles for the site over the last five years and, though I grabbed as many links as I could, thinking they would remain accessible, the company changed them all over to the home page of its sister site, AXS.com. I also scrambled to grab PDFs and screen shots of some of my favorite articles but didn’t get them all. Alas, even those I was able to get do not include the original slideshows which usually had between 10-20 concert photos.

But you can still find proof that I love music and write about it.

In late 2014, I started writing for AXS.com (although I preferred doing examiner stories) and have about 20 stories on that site that are still visible.

Happily, The Washington Post archives still offer links to much of the work I did for them in the years when I was writing biweekly columns on arts events (mostly concerts) for two different local sections. Unhappily, I am having trouble connecting to my master list of clickable links that was featured on an older version of CPF.

AAARGH. I could use an IT department. But I’m learning as I go and will be working to bring all the goodies up to date.

So, that’s why I’ve been out of sight/site for awhile. Glad to back and more to come!

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Love is Louder

rainbow bridge

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June 13, 2016 · 10:25 pm

I Went, I Took Pictures, I Wrote About It

This little into bit here is always the hardest part of having a blog, trying to come up with some pithy way to say hello and fill in the gap from last we met. So I’m going to cut to the chase – I’ve been to some fine shows lately and wrote them up for my examiner.com column, with photo slideshows for all but one (the venue didn’t allow me to shoot). Here’s some links to bring you up to date, with photo samples to, hopefully, tease you into clicking through:

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, with members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, with members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Wolf Trap summer season opener, with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The two Daves - Cousins and Lambert - of Strawbe

The two Daves – Cousins and Lambert – of Strawbs

The Strawbs revisit “Hero and Heroine” (an album that looms large in my personal legend) at AMP by Strathmore

The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers with Brett Dennen (8th row seats for an amazing show!) at Eagle Band Arena (formerly the Patriot Center)

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (she went to high school with Dr. Daughter), plus Saintseneca (a new favorite) at the 9:30 Club

Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift (a veteran hero and a bright newcomer) at the Barns of Wolf Trap

Gaz Coombes (from Supergrass) and Piney Gir at Jammin Java

A trio of great local acts at Jammin Java – Sub-Radio, Swell Daze and Belmira

And there’s more coming soon, as I’m editing pics and writing text about another recent fine show – Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats (“S.O.B.”!!)

close gtr

who opened for Lord Huron. See ya soon!

pink smoke

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Doves Cry…

little prince

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April 21, 2016 · 6:28 pm

We interrupt this blog…

…for a musical announcement. Kanye West has released a new album.

0 fvcks

We will return soon with more talk about music discoveries in England.

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O/CD in the U.K. (part 2) Hail, Poundland!

My next music source, accounting for the majority of my U.K. CD purchases, was discovered by accident, when I popped into Poundland to buy toilet paper. Much like our American dollar stores, the Poundland chain offers a mish-mash of items priced at £1 or £2 pounds per, or mixtures thereof (3 for £2, etc.). To my delight, the store had a fairly large wall section devoted to CD’s and DVDs in fully guaranteed “replay” condition. (Upon opening, I found them all in superb condition.)

If I were Robbie Williams, I’d be worried. The former Take That singer hardly registers a blip with American audiences, but is a stadium-filling star in the U.K. And yet, in his homeland, you can find an extensive slice of his discography –at least a half dozen titles – in the Poundland racks. I have all the Robbie Williams, I need, so I went for others. At an exchange rate close to $1.50, I bought the following over the course of two visits, restricted not by price but by the need to conserve packing space. (As it is, I left all the jewel cases at home, preserving only digi-paks and multiple disc sets):

1. The Pigeon Detectives – Emergency (PIAS/Dance to the Radio, 2008) I’d heard the name before and loved the album graphics – cartoon rocketship, spacemen with rayguns. Listening now, it’s a bright, easy pop sound. Titles like “Love You for a Day (Hate You for a Week)” and “Keep On Your Dress” give it a cheeky monkey feel. Pigeon Detectives - Emergency

2. Guillemots – Through the Windowpane (Polydor, 20066) Before we left the U.S., younger daughter and I were talking about music she liked back in Toronto, where she’s lived for the past five years. She mentioned liking this band, which I had no knowledge of, so buying this was a no-brainer.

3. Moshi Monsters – Music Roxy (Mind Candy, 2012) Again, the graphics got me – some kind of kids show, with a trippy anime-meets-Teletubbies vibe. From Wikipedia: “Moshi Monsters is a website aimed at children aged 6–12 with over 90 million registered users in 150 territories worldwide. Users choose from one of six virtual pet monsters…” and “once their pet has been customized, players can navigate their way around Monstro City, take daily puzzle challenges to earn ‘Rox’ (a virtual currency), play games, personalize their room and communicate with other users in a safe environment (most [sic] the time).”

Not surprisingly, the little dudes’ success has led to Moshi Monsters Magazine (“the number-one selling kids’ magazine in the UK”), a video game, books, toys, and a feature film which one Englsh critic said “will leave adults bored, stupefied, revolted and appalled.”

moshi

The music here? Very synthy, with chipmunk-y vocals on some tracks, and a few actually catchy pop/rap mixes, like “Moptop Teenybop (My Hair’s Too Long).” Kids just wanna have fun, after all. BTW, In 2011, Lady Gaga’s legal team was granted an injunction by a U.K High Court High Court to stop the Monsters’ parent company from releasing music by a character named Lady Goo Goo, including the parody “Peppy-razzi” (similar to “Paparazzi”). There’s nothing of such a parody nature to be had here

4. Sander KleinenbergRenaissance: Everybody (Renaissance, 2003) Again, Wikipedia: “a Dutch disc jockey, VDJ and record producer. He founded and runs Little Mountain Recordings and THIS IS Recordings. Kleinenberg is well known for his use of digital video in concerts, his “Everybody” and “THIS IS” brands of club nights and albums…” He’s also done remixes for Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Daft Punk, and Katy Perry, among others.

I knew none of this, but the double-CD compilation – still just one pound! – seemed like a good way to hear some new (to me) electronica. It’s playing as I type this and while I enjoy the genre as energizing background music, I also wonder whether some of these compilations are the musical equivalent of a bottle of wine – cost about $10-15 and, once you’ve enjoyed it, you can put the empty into the recycling.

5. David Craig – Born To Do It (Wildstar, 2000) I recall the name as a British artist of some reknown, and heard him on the radio later on the trip as if to confirm that it was a good pound spent.

 6. One Night Only – Started a Fire (2008) Five young moptops walking through a hallway on the cover, and a sticker that reads, “The UK’s most perfectly crafted arena band – NME.” Coming from NME, that could be a slap and not a kiss, but I gave it a go and am enjoying the pleasantly accented pop/rock tunes which, it turns out, were produced by the credible Steve Lillywhite. Alas, the sticker promised extra downloads but they are of a previous software version that cannot be read anymore. (How many of those spiffy enhanced CDs we bought years ago have suffered the same fate?)

It seems that the band is still alive and kicking, having released an album just last year through fan funding. And I just read that the band once toured with the Pigeon Detectives, so I have a complete show!

imgres

At the £1 price point, I couldn’t resist a few discs by American artists – titles I didn’t have in the home collection, like:

7. Janet Jackson – Design of a Decade 1986-1996 (A&M) Do I have this CD already at home? May have been fooled by a cover design I don’t recognize, but where else can I get 18 hit tracks for less than 10 cents each?

8. The Killers – Sawdust. (Vertigo U.K. 2007) I didn’t realize they’d recorded with Lou Reed (opening track, Tranquilizer”) or did covers of “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” (meh) and “Romeo and Juliet” (fine, but nothing beats hearing it in the studio when I went to interview Mark Knopfler during the recording of the Dire Straits original.) (Sorry, I didn’t intend to be an obvious name-dropper, but it just occurred to me, and damn he was lovely to meet!). Except for the dance remix of “Mr. Brightside,” which I already have, not sure there’s much I’d keep after running through most of it.

Chances are, if I’d been in England longer, I would have gone back to Poundland yet again. And would probably have a lot more Robbie Williams in my collection.

Next up, I finally get some NEW music, thanks to Tesco.

 

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