Friday, May 30, 2008

Prince Covers Radiohead?

From I Don't Like You In That Way:

At the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 26th, Prince performed a cover of Radiohead's "Creep." Videos popped up all over the place, that was until the Prince demanded every copy be removed claiming copyright infringement. The only flaw in Prince's plan is that he doesn't own the song or the video. Billboard says:

After word spread that Prince covered Radiohead's "Creep" at Coachella, the tens of thousands who couldn't be there ran to YouTube for a peek. Everyone was quickly denied _ even Radiohead. All videos of Prince's unique rendition of Radiohead's early hit were quickly taken down, leaving only a message that his label, NPG Records, had removed the clips, claiming a copyright violation. But the posted videos were shot by fans and, obviously, the song isn't Prince's. In a recent interview, Thom Yorke said he heard about Prince's performance from a text message and thought it was "hilarious." Yorke laughed when his bandmate, guitarist Ed O'Brien, said the blocking had prevented him from seeing Prince's version of their song. "Really? He's blocked it?" asked Yorke, who figured it was their song to block or not. "Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment." Yorke added: "Well, tell him to unblock it. It's our ... song."

What Radiohead seems to be forgetting here is that Prince is nuts. Like the time he was sued by Utah Jazz forward, Carlos Boozer, after he rented Boozer's Los Angeles mansion and proceeded to paint it purple and install a beauty salon. I swear, I wouldn't be surprised if Prince doesn't sleep in a Peter Pan costume or ride to breakfast on a purple pony with braided hair.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ten Things That Are Killing the Music Biz

With 2008 almost halfway completed, it’s clear that once again music sales are continuing to slump. Despite pipe dreams that somehow ageing pop stars like Mariah and Madonna were going to somehow perform retail miracles, the public has yawned and just continued to play Grand Theft Auto and watch DVD’s.
The music industry continues to place all of the blame on those pesky downloaders, and while it is certainly a legitimate issue it’s been way over-emphasized. Did Sheryl Crow’s latest piece of garbage really die because every office had a person who burned it for every co-worker? (I actually read that excuse on an industry message board.) No, that album failed because there was no demand for more of the same from her.
In many ways, it’s my belief the industry is getting exactly what they deserve. Ever since Britney Spears first danced in her schoolgirl outfit, the record industry has shifted to a system that has attempted to dictate to us what we’ll like. For a short time it actually worked, but after a two year spike in sales, music sales have plummeted every year since then.
The rise and fall of teen pop is not the only reason music sales are down, though. Here are what I feel are the main symptoms of an ailing industry:
10. Pro Tools. When used correctly, Pro Tools and other audio software programs are great tools for producers. Artists no longer are forced to spend months in expensive, sterile recording studios, and various tweaks and effects can be easily made on the cheap.
Unfortunately, both producers and artists are using these programs as a crutch. The term “fix it in the mix” has become an overused reality, and engineers have plenty of stories of musicians and vocalists refusing to redo inferior takes.
In too many cases, entire albums are cut and pasted together from dozens of uninspired takes, and then “sweetened” to create a phony perfect take. The results are completely soulless, and there’s simply no possibility of “happy accidents”.
9. “Brand Name” Performers. These days, as soon as somebody has a hit they’re looking at their next business venture. Pretty quickly their music is just an advertisement for their latest line of perfume or clothing. CD booklets now have more advertising leaflets than People Magazine has subscription cards. The music has become an afterthought, and it shows.
8. Test Marketing. The music industry is so desperate that they’re now copying the movie business. Instead of inviting people to critique rough cuts of full movies, though, they’re testing songs by playing extremely short snippets (ten seconds or so) over the phone. Songs that don’t test well are rewritten, remixed, re-recorded, or scrapped altogether. No wonder most pop music is now just a catch phrase!
I’m sorry, but even bubblegum pop music doesn’t work this way. Few songs have an immediate impact, especially when one only hears the hook, and even fewer of these types of songs have a chance of making a lasting impression. No wonder most pop hits are forgotten by the time they are placed on the latest Now That’s What I Call Music compilation.
7. Radio. The radio industry has had a similar decline in recent years, and they have their own scapegoat. Ipods are to blame for all of their ills. Well, they’re sort of right, but it’s also their own fault.
The solution is simple. All they have to do is expand both the number and diversity of the songs on their playlists, and eliminate the use of consultant companies who program the majority of radio stations. A hit in Shreveport, LA may not necessarily be successful in Sioux Falls, and vice versa. Returning this task to the individual stations may result in their hiring people based less on their look or sound and more on their knowledge of music.
6. Phony Collaborations. In the last few years, the great minds at the record companies have attempted to clutter almost every pop hit with as many names as possible. Few charting songs these days don’t include “with” or “featuring” as part of the artist, and it seems to be the same person every time. A few years ago, it was Fat Joe and Ja Rule; now it’s Justin Timberlake and Chris Brown. Few of these pairings sound legitimate; it’s usually clear that the second performer’s input is tacked on at the label’s insistence.
5. Superstar Producers. Even worse than the last entry, though, is the overuse of the latest hit-making producer. When they’re considered hot, it seems like they’re involved with every high profile release.
Unfortunately, most of their output sounds exactly alike from release to release. Timbaland, Scott Storch, Jermaine Dupri are just a couple of examples of producers who believe they’re visionaries but really have nothing more than a trick or two they use on every single production.
4. The Death of the Record Store. It used to be that independent record stores (or small chains) were the heart of the record business. They had not only the best stock, but the best prices, while the chain stores stocked only the biggest hits that they sold at full list price.
That practice ended in the early 90’s, and now retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Target have pretty much killed the hip, locally-owned music store. Using CD’s as loss-leaders, they routinely sell discs at prices that are lower than the indie store’s wholesale cost.
Yet that’s not enough of an advantage. Wal-Mart has recently asked the major labels for an exclusive extreme price break that will possibly kill the few remaining indie stores. While they have made this demand many times in the past, the music industry is so desperate that this time it will succeed. If you only care about the Carrie Underwood’s of the world, then this is a good deal for you. But once the small stores completely disappear you’re not going to have much luck in finding that obscure jazz reissue, or even the latest noisy guitar band that Pitchfork has been raving about for months.
3. Overexposure. Letterman, Leno, Conan, Kimmel, Regis, Tyra, Ellen, Oprah, Larry King, American Idol, Sportscenter, The View, Today, Good Morning America, Colbert, Daily Show, Entertainment Tonight, the Insider, TMZ, SNL, MTV, CMT, VH1, E!, soap operas, sitcoms, dramas, YouTube, Rolling Stone, People, Us, USA Today. This is just a partial list of where an artist can promote their latest album or single, and damned if some acts don’t attempt to hit them all.
It’s really amazing how performers want nothing to do with 99% of these media outlets until they have some product to hype. Then over the course of three or four days, you can’t escape them. I have to believe that even some of the biggest Mariah fans were sick of her after she made the media rounds a few weeks ago.
Is it any surprise that performers come and go so quickly these days? Yes, there have always been one-hit wonders, but there really is no concept of long-term development in today’s climate. It’s all about getting everything you can right now, and the public can’t help but get burned out when you can’t escape them.
2. Label Mergers. It used to be that a label merger was a good thing for the individual labels. Combining resources certainly strengthened Warners, Elektra, and Asylum back in the late 60’s.
Those days are no more, as the reasoning for these mergers are not at all related with improving efficiency. It’s all about making a splash at Wall Street, and a quick buck for the brokers who create the deal. Little, if any, of the proceeds are used for artist development. More typical is the case of Warner Music Group’s 2004 IPO, where less than one percent of the $750 million in proceeds were earmarked for company operations. It’s no wonder there is no such thing as long-term artist development.
1. American Idol. An entire article could be written about the evils of AI. Talk about pure evil; how can anybody take seriously a glorified karaoke show with an admitted lip-syncher and a former member of Journey as judges?
Idol wouldn’t be so offensive if it didn’t have so much power..or if it actually awarded potentially true artists. Instead, it’s the birthing ground for an entire generation of puppets that are forced onto a public that appears to care less and less about integrity than cute haircuts and syrup-y power ballads over-sung by caterwauling Mariah Carey wannabes.
Technically, only the winner receives a record contract, but inevitably almost the entire cast is signed up by desperate labels that will do anything to capitalize on what they see as a built-in audience. Thankfully, the vast majority of these clowns fail to make any sort of splash, and are forced to go back to their dinner theater careers. But that doesn’t excuse that we are forced to endure the horrors of Clay Aiken, Chris Daughtry, and Carrie Underwood.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ipod Choices

The majority of the time I let my Ipods make my music choices for me. Here's what they've give me the last couple of days:

First, we have the "new release" Ipod, which has everything I've bought over the last two years. I have a special "smart" playlist that forces me to give special attention to the music I've purchased the last month.

Here's the "catalog" Ipod, which has an entire bedroom of CD's crammed onto a 160g player.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Westerberg Interview on Pitchfork

"I know in my heart, in my gut, that we were the real deal."
Interview by Joshua Klein on

The immensely entertaining but sadly out of print alt/indie/college-rock reader Alt-Rock-a-Rama featured a hilarious chapter, written by Replacements drummer Chris Mars, called "Eight Really Dumb Things the Replacements Did". That list-- which included stories of stink bombs, eyebrow shaving, hot pepper eating, and the like-- could have been doubled, or even tripled, but if it weren't for Paul Westerberg's songs even such notorious behavior might have been long forgotten. It's fitting, too, as few songwriters are as adept at infusing even the most slap-dash seeming punk track with loads of pathos and personality, and at his best Westerberg remains near peerless in the pantheon of heartbreakers.

"Lonely, I guess that's where I'm from," he once sang, but if you include all the people Westerberg and the Replacements have impacted or influenced, he's got plenty of company. We caught up with Westerberg on the phone, speaking from his home in Minnesota and holding court on a career that often settled for glorious failure while the suckers and sell-outs walked off with all the fame and success.

Pitchfork: This past endless winter made me consider how much the weather in the Midwest plays a role in people forming bands. How did cold weather affect your development as a songwriter? Do you think you would have written the same songs had you formed the Replacements in Hawaii?

PW: Good question. We'll never know, but I suppose I would have. But I would have written less. The sheer volumes of songs have come from the hours of cold and darkness that one spends inside with the lights on. We make our own fun here, sort of. It's not like a constant summer day, like in L.A. I wouldn't get as much done if I was in a warm climate like that.

Pitchfork: People tend to form bands for a few set reasons. Maybe to make money or maybe because they think they have something to say, but it seems mostly because they're bored.

PW: I could add the perennial "women and girls." And instead of "boredom" there's the realization that there's no other road out. It's your only salvation, or your only skill or your only love.

Pitchfork: Which of those things applied to the Replacements?

PW: I was determined to front a band and get the hell out of the basement. Money wasn't an issue. Like, let's go make lots of money! We never thought that was going to happen. But I kicked around in so many little teenage bands-- I was 19 at the time that I met the other Replacements. By then my supposed friends were off in college and stuff, I'd been through crappy day jobs and stupid garage bands. I was determined to make it as a musician.

Pitchfork: Did you feel at all left behind by your friends who left town?

PW: No, because I didn't have that many friends at the time, and the ones that I had were all quasi-musicians. Sort of cats, layabouts, whatever. There was the occasional guy we played drums with whose dad wanted him to be an accountant. The line was sort of drawn in the sand, the guys who were going to put their picks and sticks behind them and move on to something else. I knew in my gut that this was what I had to do and what I was going to do.

Pitchfork: By the early ‘80s, especially overseas, there was this sense that punk had broken through to the mainstream, but at the same time in America, there didn't seem to be much of an idea as to how big it could be. It felt like uncharted territory.

PW: That's true. I can't say it never caught on, but it caught on about 11 years later, with Nirvana and Rancid and stuff like that. At first I thought, what a pile of shit that is. Then I realized, time-wise, that's very pure and innocent. It was a lot like someone aping early rockabilly in 1974, which people were starting to do. And it was valid.

Pitchfork: The kinds of bands you grew up with, stuff like the Stones or Kiss, how did that translate into the first Replacements record? It doesn't really sound like any of those sorts of acts at all.

PW: Having a diverse sense of taste-- or lack of taste-- I loved so many different things. I was drawn to the stupidity and excitement of glam, I had a thorough upbringing in rhythm and blues-- the Temptations and all that stuff, from my sister, the Beatles and the Stones. Each sibling had their own niche, whether it was singer/songwriter or blues or whatever, so I picked up on all that. But the first thing I embraced on my own was popular AM radio. Either utter shit or sometimes great.

Pitchfork: And occasionally both.

PW: Yeah. I mean, Brownsville Station ["Smoking in the Boys Room"]? How corny and dumb can you get? But it's one of the greatest little rock'n'roll songs ever.

Pitchfork: The death of AM radio really changed the way a lot of people were introduced to music.

PW: Yeah. The pop music they just rammed down your throat. You heard the same songs over and over.

Pitchfork: I know the Hüsker Dü guys have talked about using punk and hardcore as an entry into a certain scene, until they felt comfortable and confident enough to write more melodic and ambitious songs. Did you intentionally follow a similar path?

PW: We tried, I think. I don't think we succeeded. Stink was our nod toward that genre. We sort of made our first U.S. tour and realized we weren't the fastest or the loudest by a long shot. We could look the look and have all the black clothes and everything, but we decided we weren't invited to that party, more or less. We sort of threw our own.

Pitchfork: Grant Hart told me how once the punk scene started closing ranks, groups like Hüsker Dü went the other direction: growing their hair out, playing barefoot, doing Byrds covers, that kind of thing.

PW: Out of that came the cream of the crop, pretty much. We had our share of opening for the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, or 7 Seconds. It was good times, it was fun. Some of them were cool. The Effigies were one of the bands that realized what they were, and what we were, but were cool with the fact that we were outsiders within a sort of outsider element. There were guys who knew what they were doing, and there were guys who just wanted to be part of the scene.

Pitchfork: Have you had a chance to look at the art of the new Replacements issues?

PW: Yeah, I've been waiting to see the art. I don't see a lot of "art" there. [chuckles] I saw the rough stuff. I thought it was OK. It was not quite the sparkling package they could have done. I think they'll do a better job on the next round, with pictures and things available. I know there are a lot of photos available from people who took them way back when, but I'm not sure anyone went through the trouble to find them. It's the same old stock photos and stuff.

Pitchfork: There's a great quote from you in the Hootenanny notes, back from 1983, saying: "I think this is the first album that sounds just like us."

PW: I remember reading that, and I guess I remember saying that. It's true. It's the first record that really defines our-- everybody stands up, we're going to sit down. Everybody goes left, we're going to go right. There's an obstinacy to us. But also it was back to the influences that were more than just straight punk rock. Punk rock was the key that opened the door, but we played our little white blues and stuff. We liked all kinds of stuff.

Pitchfork: The implication is that Hootenanny is the album you were working toward all along.

PW: In retrospect it seems easy to say that. But each album we made was the one we were capable of making and wanted to make at the time. We wouldn't have made Sorry Ma after Let It Be. We couldn't have. Each one was a progression or, depending on your opinion, a sidestep or tumble forward. I don't know what.

Pitchfork: That's partly what's kept the music exciting. It doesn't sound like you played with any sort of agenda.

PW: No, no.

Pitchfork: But at the same time, you're clearly doing more than just having fun in the studio.

PW: Yeah. The wealth of "bonus" songs-- some of them are good-- show that we definitely had good stuff. I don't think it was until we got to a major label the beginning we were given sort of carte blanche to go in and do what we wanted. It was only after a few years that they wanted us to was funny. They wanted us to play sort of hard rock at first, so we could tour with the Cult. By the end, they wanted us to play punk rock, because it was coming back in style, but I was more interested in upright basses and steel guitars. We never were in stride with what was hip at the moment.

Pitchfork: In a lot of ways you guys got a real bum deal. When you were on, you disappointed the people who came to see you sloppy and falling down. When you were sloppy and falling down, you disappointed the people who came to see you on. You could never make everybody happy.

PW: I don't know when-- what year, what time-- that happened, but it definitely came to that point, where it was a lose/lose situation for us to get up there. Lots of times we would try to balance it. We'd get up there wasted, but by the end of the set we'd sober up. We'd bring it together at the end! [laughs] The theory was that people would remember the last thing they saw. We made our grave for us to lay in. We'd horse around, and then everybody wanted that. A few of us got tired of it. Some of the band was very serious, and others wanted the care-free early days. I was sort of caught in the middle.

Pitchfork: Even to this day, when somebody says a band is influenced by the Replacements, often times they're just talking about alcohol intake. Certainly, no other bands sound quite like the Replacements.

PW: Yeah. It's the label they put on you if you don't come up with one. The bands we toured with-- R.E.M., every band I ever knew-- drank and took their share of substances. They just weren't known for it. I guess we were the first-- Christ, we weren't the first band to get up there loaded.

Pitchfork: The Faces beat you to it.

PW: And even the Faces...I've seen clips of them where Kenny [Jones], the drummer, is not out of it, and [Ian] McLagan is not out of it. Maybe you'd get one or two guys out of it. But we'd get the whole band bombed. [laughs] I remember a guy in New York, when we first went there. Maybe it was Handsome Dick Manitoba [of the Dictators] or somebody. He said "I've never seen more loose screws in a band in my life." That pretty much summed it up. There's usually an anchor somewhere. We were afloat.

Pitchfork: There's an element of tragedy to it, of course, but there's got to be a tiny part of your brain that's proud of all that, and maybe also a small part that's a little embarrassed.

PW: Yeah, but I'm embarrassed about things I did yesterday. I have no regrets as far as the things we did.

Pitchfork: Every album you guys released, someone would say, "oh, look, Paul is finally showing is sensitive side." But even as far back as Sorry Ma there are songs like "If Only You Were Lonely".

PW: It's almost the other way around now. "Paul shows his rocking side." I created Grandpaboy simply to have an outlet where people wouldn't go "where are the ballads, where's the Paul stuff?" Well, this is the Paul stuff. Paul is "I'm in Trouble" and Paul is "If Only You Were Lonely". I've been that way since the beginning. I like both sides. That's probably the Beatles, the Stones and the classic rock bands. They had those great ballads. I thought it was all part of the mix.

Pitchfork: There's some unspoken rule that you're not supposed to cover Kiss and write a song like "Unsatisfied". But why not?

PW: Exactly. We wore plaid and stripes, tutus and sneakers. Everything was almost. There would always be an addition to the outrageousness that made it comical.

Pitchfork: The myth is that you were tentative about introducing those ballads to the band.

PW: That's true. That's where [manager] Peter [Jespersen] came in. He was maybe five or six years older than me, and his background was as a disc jockey in a nightclub, on radio, and working in a record store. He obviously knew all different kinds of music, so if I had something that was overly light-- not light, that's a bad word. That stuff's heavy, even though it's not loud. But some of the more confessional stuff I would play for Pete simply because I would have no one else to play it for. Not necessarily to get it on the record, but sort of to get it out of my system. We formed as a rock and roll band, and that was the path we chose to take. Whenever we deviated from it we felt, unless everybody was into it, there was tension.

Pitchfork: Was there ever a sense that you were writing songs that maybe even you yourself weren't quite old enough to understand?

PW: Maybe at one point. I think I grew a great deal from my teenage experience early on. Plus, having Tommy be 14, it was easy for me to write kids songs. Chuck Berry wrote about teenagers when he was 33. A lot of my stuff was the opposite. I used to write things that might have sounded better coming out of an older person's voice or vision. But that's the weird dichotomy. Hence, "grandpa-boy." I'm an old man, but I'm a boy. A really old boy!

Pitchfork: Do you agree with the assessment that Let It Be was the breakthrough?

PW: Technically, it was. But they each...time may tell that All Shook Down was a breakthrough. It didn't sell very well. But Let It Be was Hootenanny spruced up a little bit, with maybe a little more attention to the playing. We didn't have to record in our jackets in the winter. Hootenanny was very hurry up and get it done.

Pitchfork: Was the band affected by the bigger budgets you eventually got?

PW: No. With Matt Wallace, we'd do 48 takes but use take two. That's why I've always said he was our best producer. After a couple of weeks he realized that first take we came rolling in and did was the one that captured it rather than have us play 50 takes hoping the 50th would be great. It was not that way with us, and still isn't for me.

Pitchfork: A lot of people seem to pick the Replacements album they heard first as their favorite, since your songwriting is so consistent from record to record. If someone heard Don't Tell a Soul first, I could even imagine that being their favorite Replacements album.

PW: That has its fans. Dave Minehan [of the Neighborhoods and Westerberg's band] always told me that album was by far his favorite. It was of the time, that's for sure. We had the record done and it sounded very much like us. But they brought in someone else in the era of mixers. That's like making a film and having someone else come in and edit it. It can change everything. That's what he did in the mixing process, with that large echoey drum on everything. We struggled against that, but they hired him, it cost a lot of money, and now we're stuck with a record that sounds like 1989.

Pitchfork: Well, every other album that came out then sounds the same.

PW: You go back to records-- just classic records, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or whatever-- some records are timeless, and some absolutely sound of their day. The whole quiet/soft thing, with Butch Vig and the Pixies or whatever, that certainly reeks of an era. But the trick is to try and make it timeless. The only way that I've found, the closest way, is doing it in a hurry without thinking about it.

Pitchfork: So do you think the farther you go from those early no-frills records, the farther you go from what suited the Replacements best?

PW: Well, those early ones, those songs were very rehearsed. I was in a totally manic phase for a couple of years. We used to go into rehearsal, and I was sick of jamming. I had done that since I was 14. We'd go in, and after a few days or a week or so, we'd start honing the songs, getting them down, the introductions and the endings and stuff. That sort of went by the wayside as the years went by, simply because we didn't have the time. You'd make a record, go on tour, then you'd get done with the tour and have to hurry up and come up with songs to go into the studio. Then you start introducing new songs in the studio. You don't have that time to rehearse them.

Pitchfork: Did you feel that you couldn't afford to remain idle?

PW: It just got to be a big business cycle, make a record, promote a record, go out and tour and play those songs. Then come back, take one breath, and go in and record a record again. By the time I could even write half of it, the band had maybe heard one or two of the songs at soundcheck where we would fuck around a little. But the first's like they say, you've got your whole life to make the first one and six months for the second. By the fourth or fifth record there was not a lot of time to sit around. We stopped rehearsing. We stopped getting together and rehearsing. We'd perform, and that would take it all out of us. Then we'd be done touring and we'd be sick of each other. We'd never call each other up and hang out.

Pitchfork: Talking to Tommy a couple of years ago, I got the impression that after all that hard work, after all those miles on the road, that what he's doing right now [as a member of Guns n' Roses] is in some ways his reward. Finally play arenas, get kept on a retainer...

PW: If you talked to him more recently you might get a different vibe. But you know, that's fairly true. It was a couple of years ago that he probably felt that. But now he's thinking more artistically. I heard a batch of his songs he sent me. I added a few things and sent it back. He wants to be more of an artist now. That's just the way it goes. You're a performer for ten years straight, then you want to go home and actually write a tune or whatever. But he more than any of us is sort of built for the stage. If he goes without performing for a long time then he can't stay still.

Pitchfork: He's a little younger.

PW: But when I was his age, 40 or 41...I was ready to hang it up at about 35. And I did. But I came back five or so years later. I needed six years off from facing an audience. I remember one show specifically, some college, and the applause stopped before I could even make it to the wings. I told myself, I've got to get the hell out of here. Nobody can miss you unless you go away. That's how it starts when you're a little baby band - you have no real applause. You get past the boos and jeers and bottles, then get to the point where the applause was so'd get to the point where we had given two encores and were in the dressing room, with Chris putting his hands over his ears, shouting, "tell the fuckers to go away!" Sure enough, they did.

Pitchfork: Famously, the last show the Replacements ever played, here in Chicago, was marked by this real sense of deflation. Like a balloon losing its air.

PW: We had to do that show, too. That was a make-up for what I did on radio. I thought I was on some college station, and of course I was on [Chicago radio mainstay] XRT. I played "Little Village" by Sonny Boy Williamson, with all the "motherfuckers" in it and everything, and we got in so much shit for that that we had to come back and play the Milwaukee Fest, too! [laughs] Not all bands know it when it's happening, but that last tour was our traveling farewell. It was not very fun, and by the end we knew it. By then, it was Steve [Foley] on drums and Slim [Dunlap], who apparently cared less about the band than he pretended to back then. He and I were already going our own ways. Tommy wanted to go solo. Everyone thinks it was me, but that's not true, really. That's essentially how the band sort of broke up. There was nothing I wanted to do other than what I was doing. It's not like my first solo record didn't sound "Replacements"-y. The shock was that Chris' and Tommy's records didn't sound more different from the Replacements.

Pitchfork: It's out of your control, but people always look to the singer as the leader of the band.

PW: It was that one fucking poster in Europe...if they ever make a movie about us, that was "the moment." The German promoter comes in and shows us the poster with me, "Paul Westerberg and the Replacements." In German or whatever. Tommy ripped it in half and said "that's fucking it" and stormed out. I thought, there it is, we're done.

Pitchfork: The reunion rumors have been pretty strong as of late. A couple of years ago you were supposedly approached to play Coachella...

PW: I guess so. I mean, we've been offered...Chris, he doesn't want to play. He's moved on with his life to the point where he won't move back and do this. So that leaves essentially Tommy and I. I don't think we would go back and use any of the other Replacements guys. We'd probably find someone else. That's what's kept us wondering, the magic question: who's going to come and play the lead guitar? We could dismiss it, like we did on Pleased to Meet Me. That was our fucking Let It Bleed, where I played all the guitar. But I don't know.

Pitchfork: People hear the records, and they hear 1981, or 1985, or 1989, but here we are in 2008 and it doesn't seem all that long ago.

PW: It's true. I've listened to all the stuff, and I'm constantly recording and playing down in the basement, and my voice is starting to sound really good lately. There's cracks and scratches in my voice that have been there since I was 19. It hasn't changed that much. It hasn't changed like Robert Plant, having that voice and now singing an octave and a half lower. Mine's a little different, but that screaming voice is still there. It's just a little embarrassing to put on for 40 minutes straight.

Pitchfork: Do the Replacements make you any money?

PW: A little bit. They asked me if they could use "Can't Hardly Wait" for a Toyota commercial. I sort of hemmed and hawed, because basically they don't have to ask my permission. They own the mechanicals, and they own half of the publishing, so if I say no they can do it anyway. That kind of stuff will generate a little income for me, the writer. The records have actually picked up in the last ten years, as far as sales go, so for as much as we put into them we're certainly getting it back. We never made any money on tour. None of us came out of the school of economics. We took it for granted that a rock and roll band gets ripped off. We've tried to shake that tree a couple of times, but what can we do? We never signed a contract with Twin/Tone. That haunts us this day. We were 19, 20-- Bob and I, the oldest and the smartest, we didn't know anything about contracts and shit like that. You look back, when you're sort of idle in your middle years, and think, we should have made some money.

Pitchfork: Is what your music has meant to so many any consolation for missed opportunities?

PW: Oh, yeah. I listen back, and I hear what's there, and I know in my heart, in my gut, that we were the real deal. No one can take that away. You can call us buffoons, or clowns or whatever. But when we wanted to, we were as good as anybody.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dead Meadow Came to Town?

Did you know that a couple of weeks ago, one of the most acclaimed indie rock bands played in our town? A band whose most recent album has earned nothing but kudos for their combination of 70’s hard rock and 60’s psychedelia? A band whose quieter, acoustic side has garnered comparisons to Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”?
Said band was also featured on one of the final episodes of my favorite television show, The Wire. I’m not talking about background music that is barely heard and quickly forgotten. They even got a name check by the show’s main character in a scene where Officer McNulty asked his kids what they were listening to. (Ok, it’s not topping the charts with a weepy soundtrack ballad, but it’s a pretty big achievement for any up-and-coming band these days.)
The band I’m talking about is Dead Meadow, who released their latest album in early February. It’s an amazing record that is destined to make my year end best of list, and if I had known about the show I would have even put my computer down and ventured out to Nutty’s North.
One would think that a band that’s attracting so much attention would at least have been mentioned in our daily paper. I even went back and searched that week’s link. No, instead the cover story was a feature on a band that had already sold a lot of tickets and had plenty of publicity on local radio. Even without that, they had a built-in audience due to their many earlier appearances in our town.
The only other music item in that issue was the third (or was it fourth) article on a local band who is undeniably making a name for themselves but whose coverage is quickly becoming a bit embarrassing…particularly since there is a family connection to the rag.
So two music stories, neither on this band…and no mention of the show in the listing of events in the back pages. (There wasn’t any ads for the show, either, but that’s the fault of the promoters of the show.)
The problem is simple. The Argus does not have a music writer these days. When Robert Morast left earlier this year, they failed to hire another person for the job. Instead, the food critic (along with occasional contributions by other Argus staffers) have had this burden added to their list of duties.
I understand that a lot of people had issues with Morast’s material. I certainly did at times. But nobody can say that he missed writing on not only the major shows that came to town but the smaller shows that desperately need publicity.
He also, for the most part, would do a bit of research before writing on local shows. Do you realize how embarrassing it is to ask the BoDeans how they were able to get acclaimed producer T-Bone Burnette to work on their latest album when the only album of there’s worth owning was indeed produced by that same person?
Come on, Argus Leader, it’s time to find some money in your entertainment budget and hire a music writer. You could have gotten away with not having somebody on the scene back in the 90’s when there were alternative papers such as the Tempest to inform the hipsters. You’re now the only print outlet that can give us this info, and sometimes losers like me don’t want to miss out on those rare times we get a band that’s not at least five years past their prime.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Mayor's New Task Force: Where's My Name?

You may recall that a few weeks ago our silly Mayor announced that he was creating yet another task force to develop a plan for a new event center. Reacting to the complaints that the last group was a hand-picked collection of yes men, Munson opened the application process to anybody willing to answer five fifth-grade level questions. He claimed that he wanted this new committee to be “independent” and “broad-based”.
Well, I do think I’m smarter than a fifth-grader (see what I did there?), so I spent ninety seconds filling out the form, and mailed it to City Hall. Every day, I sat by the telephone with my computer on my lap and an eye on my mailbox to see if I received the Golden Ticket.
Obviously (and not surprisingly), I didn’t make the cut. This past weekend, the Mayor announced the eighteen-member committee and my name was nowhere to be found on the list.
Neither were too many other of what I would call the “normals”. Sure, there is a token “regular Joe” or two on the member list, and I’m sure they’ll be trotted out to say what they’ve been told to say. That’s too bad, too, as I’ve been told that out of the 100 people that applied, a good percentage of them were the blue-collar types that would have brought a lot of insight into the thought process of the average city resident.
Instead, we get the usual suspects. Almost a third of the committee placements are city employees supposedly representing their departments. I’d say they are over-represented. Should there be two members of both the City Council and School District? Plus a member of the Chamber of Commerce? Oh, I’m sure he’ll be open-minded.
The rest of the group involves mainly people who one would expect the Mayor would appoint anyway. People involved in construction, advertising, banking, and a lawyer or two. The co-chair is from the Argus, which has been begging for a new facility for years. Yep, almost everybody has a vested interest in this building being built.
Yet they are missing one crucial voice in this discussion. There’s nobody on that panel that has any knowledge of the music industry. I hear so many myths about the concert business, and they need at least one person who can give honest answers. Just yesterday I heard some confused, middle-aged cretin complain that Omaha was getting Neil Diamond, and that if we had an 18,000 seat building not only would he be here but tickets would cost less. Um, no and no.
So maybe the Mayor had reasons for not giving me that place on the panel. I can understand that. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that we’re once again getting nothing more than “yes men” that will tell the Mayor exactly what he wants to hear. When we’re talking about a hundred million bucks, we desperately need people that will ask the tough questions. Clearly, we’re not getting them here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rock and Roll Literature

Recently, I pulled from my constantly-expanding pile of unread books a five year-old biography of a songwriter who was briefly associated with Bob Dylan in the early 60’s. As the author described the sessions that led to one of the musician’s only two albums, I suddenly had an urge to search for said album.
Thinking back to that moment a few days later, I came to what should have been a rather obvious conclusion. Shouldn’t any music-related publication lead a person to wanting to hear more of the music of the subject?
Most of the time, I’d have to say that this is indeed true. More than a few times, descriptions of recording sessions or albums have been accompanied by said album blasting on my stereo. Yet that’s not always the case, as you’ll see in the following reviews.

Riot On Sunset Strip
Domenic Priore

For an extremely brief period of time (’65-’66), the center of the American rock ‘n’ roll universe was Hollywood. More precisely, a two mile stretch of the city featured more innovation than probably the rest of the country combined. Riot On Sunset Strip captures not only the music of that era, but it’s impact on art, movies, television, and even animation.
Verdict on whether the book inspired me to listen: Yes, the description of both legends and one-hit obscurities led to many searches for unfamiliar artists and albums. Unfortunately, much of the music is lost forever, with the exception of a handful of “Nuggets”-ish compilations.

Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band
Joe Bonomo

As the subtitle accurately describes, the career of the Fleshtones could be narrowed down to “30 years, 2,000 shows, 1,000 blue whales, no hits, no sleep”. It’s always been about fun, and not stardom, for Peter Zaremba, Keith Streng, and the rest of this (should be) legendary band. Bonomo accurately describes not only the positive points in the band’s history, but also the frustrations, addictions, and boredom of never being the right band in the right place.
Verdict: As they say on the web, Ohmigod! Old CD’s were immediately copied onto the Ipod, and old vinyl was dusted off after years of storage. Now if I only was confident enough to attempt to drink some blue whales, the band’s poison of choice.

Ron Wood

Life’s always a party for the Rolling Stones guitarist, and his penchant for alcohol seems to have engrained in him from birth. “Woody” paints a wonderful picture of life in 50’s Britain, along with his career as side man for Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, and, of course, Mick and Keith.
The partying does eventually take a toll, both physically and financially. As with many similar tales, there’s also rebirth as rehab does finally work just in time for the most recent Stones tour.
Verdict: While an entertaining bio, Wood actually spends precious little of this book on the actual music he helped create. Not once did I really have any urge to pull out any music he’s associated with.

Twenty Thousand Roads
David N. Meyer

Gram Parsons is obviously considered the James Dean of country-rock, and his legend is one of the main influences during the rise of alt-country in the mid-90’s. Despite tribute albums, concerts, and a bio-pic or two, little is really known of the man widely credited with combining rock and country. David Meyer attempts to tell the entire story, and in doing so undermines a number of myths about Parsons’s family and music career.
Verdict: Sure, I’ll admit to pulling out the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album and a few other Parsons titles. Did I become fixated on Parson’s entire catalog, though? Not really.

Million Dollar Bash
Sid Griffin

Former Long Ryders guitarist Sid Griffin attempts to tell the true story of the infamous Basement Tapes sessions involving Bob Dylan and the Band in the summer of 1967. Besides new interviews with the surviving members of the Band, Griffin’s musician ears are integral to pin-pointing exactly when and where each of the dozens of songs that have circulated over the past four decades were created. Griffin also sheds new light on what exactly happened when Dylan supposedly crashed his motorcycle, putting an end to the manic Blonde On Blonde era.
Verdict: Multiple bootlegs, along with the official Basement Tapes album, received quite a few airings during those days when this book rarely left my side.

Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth
Richard Barone

An autobiography from the former lead singer of a band that hardly anybody remembers? Yes, it seems like a preposterous idea, yet the Bongos’ story, and Barone’s career after their demise, is actually quite a ride. Although rarely mentioned these days, the Bongos actually made a relatively big splash in the early 80’s. During a time when it was mainly British acts ruling the New Wave airwaves, the Bongos had a handful of minor radio hits and enough MTV play to warrant multiple national tours. Since then, he’s released a number of solo albums but is better known these days as a producer and arranger. Frontman may lack the star power of most rock bios, but Barone’s self-analysis of what keeps an artist creating makes for an interesting read.
Verdict: Most of the Bongos material is long out of print, but a deluxe edition of their debut, Drums Along the Hudson, was reissued a few weeks before this book came out last summer. Truthfully, after a couple of plays the disc was filed next to the BoDeans in the CD room.

Rock On
Dan Kennedy

When Atlantic Records hired him in 2002, Dan Kennedy thought he had found his dream job. Instead of helping promote deserving bands hit the top of the charts, though, Kennedy found himself designing promotional copy for a Phil Collins “Love Songs” compilation. Even worse, he had to concoct a campaign for a Jewel single that mocked commercialism yet was sponsored by a perfume company. Wait, it gets worse. His superiors were either stuck in the past or had no music experience, and the company was in negotiations to be sold to a liquor manufacturer. You can’t make this stuff up, but sadly this same story could have been written by any employees of any of the major labels around this time…or now.
Verdict: Hell no! In fact, it’s these kinds of tales that makes me wonder why I’m still addicted to the power of the three minute single.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What the Hell is Wrong With Rolling Stone?

A bit of a disclaimer here – I realize that my complaint today is relatively minor. With a war, an emotional Presidential campaign, and an economy that’s sinking into the gutter, maybe this isn’t the time to whine about silly things. Yet today’s subject has pissed me off just as much as anything else that’s going on in our country.
Yesterday’s anger actually begins a couple of months ago as I was paging through the then-current edition of Maxim. The cover feature was on some twit who I had never heard of, and quite frankly wasn’t really worthy to make the cover of a softcore men’s magazine. She was attractive, sure, but nothing really memorable.
Of course, I looked at the pictures, and read the accompanying article. This was the moment I really decided I hated this person I had never heard of before opening the magazine. This bimbo, whose entire claim to fame was a scripted MTV reality show, was quoted as saying she was in the process of making an album. That’s not what bothered me, as we’ve recently seen every semi-famous no-talent given the keys to the vocal processors that turn non-singers into…well, barely-adequate singers.
No, what bothered me was in the section where she talked about moving into the music business, she had hopes to not only “make sure it’s a classic” (yeah, right), but that she wants to be considered in the same league as “Michael Jackson, Madonna, Stevie Wonder – all the greats”.
Say what? I’m not really a fan of any of those three, but all three of these artists were musicians first, and stars second. They made it through hard work, not by being a forgettable piece of eye candy on a reality show. Just because some sugar daddy/suitcase pimp promised to make her a star doesn’t make her the second coming of the Beatles.
Weeks later, a video appeared of this idiot, and even Paris Hilton can rest easy. She’s certainly no Michael Jackson; she’s not even LaToya. I still had no idea who she was, though.
Yesterday, I found out her identity when I pulled up to my mailbox after work. (Ok, I could have looked at the cover of Maxim, but I just didn’t care enough to bother.) The latest issue of Rolling Stone was wrapped around my usual pile of bills, and here was that bimbo, Heidi Montag, along with three other twits who looked just like her.
I couldn’t have been more upset. The cast of The Hills on the cover of the magazine that was once the home of Hunter S. Thompson, Cameron Crowe, and Lester Bangs? The magazine where I discovered the Sex Pistols in 1978, and the Clash a few months later? The magazine whose interviews with the likes of John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young are considered some of the best rock journalism ever?
Yes, in recent years Rolling Stone has certainly been in decline. What was once the home of serious music writing now wastes plenty of space on the likes of Britney, Christina, and Maroon 5. In most of those cases, though, I can sort of justify these inclusions. But there’s absolutely no argument for even a small story on The Hills. What’s next, a feature on the rigorous tapings of Next? Or the show where parents pick potential new mates for their kids? Oops, I may be giving the editors some ideas.
In an attempt to be fair, I actually sat through an episode of this show last night trying to see if there’s something I’m missing. I still don’t get it. Four slightly above-average girls, along with one silly boy who deserves an attack by a motorcycle gang, prattled on about absolutely nothing for a half hour. I’d rather even sit though the Kim Kardashian show. I can get why the show has some popularity, but the only covers these bimbos deserve are the types you see at the grocery checkout. No, I can’t even see that. Come on, Rolling Stone, that cover appearance would be much better appreciated by an up-and-coming band who needs the exposure.