The name Too Much Joy might not ring any bells, or, if it does, it’s a tiny bell also sounded flatly by forgotten major-label bands like Dog’s Eye View, Cry of Love or Butt Trumpet. Being forgotten by the public is manageable—maudlin drinking can provide acceptance of failure for most ex-stars. But what about being forgotten by your record label, an entity that’s contractually obligated to keep records of your dead band’s meager sales?
Tim Quirk, the singer of Too Much Joy, shares an irresistible story over at Gizmodo, “My $62.47 Royalty Statement,” chronicling a thirteen-month battle to convince Warner Bros. to report his band’s digital sales. The three Warner Bros. albums by Too Much Joy haven’t been in print physically for ten years, but Quirk knew that nostalgia-driven downloads of his band were a very real thing, because he works for Rhapsody. Not too surprisingly, his royalty statements from Warner Bros. reflected absolutely zero downloads.
In the course of a few tangents involving a Warner Bros. employee laughing that “$10,000 is nothing!,” a primer on how unrecouped bands such as his have actually earned a profit for their label, and lots of keen insights into the world of digital reporting, Quirk gets his next statement. It shows the sum of $62.47. Quirk:
The sad thing is I don’t even think Warner is deliberately trying to screw TMJ and the hundreds of other also-rans and almost-weres they’ve signed over the years. The reality is more boring, but also more depressing. Like I said, they don’t actually owe us any money. But that’s what’s so weird about this, to me: they have the ability to tell the truth, and doing so won’t cost them anything. They just can’t be bothered. They don’t care, because they don’t have to.
Read the whole thing here.
December always puts me in a pop music state of mind. Maybe it’s the spirit of the month, a time when everyone’s united by different ways of carrying out the same ideal. Maybe it’s the incessant making of year-end lists, with knee-jerks toward the obscure and reactionary moves against said jerks. December says, hey, the year’s almost over. You made it. Pull your head up and enjoy shit. Perhaps this inane Trey Songz track will help.
I watched the AMAs last month and wanted to shoot myself. I heard the words “Lady Gaga” 257 times in a three-hour span, because Lady Gaga likes fashion and awards shows love fashion. I watched as the West Coast feed very weirdly censored out Jennifer Lopez falling on her ass. And I saw Adam Lambert’s contrived cycle of crotch worship and man-kiss, a predictable career lifeboat which everyone kept afloat in discussion the next day.
No one seemed to be talking much about the fact that Lambert’s “song” was the worst-sounding piece of shit ever broadcast on television, and that nearly every other busied performance on the endless parade of unbearable spectacle after unbearable spectacle sounded essentially just like it, with no discernible melody, no hook, and no appeal. In short, no pop music. Just a bunch of drama, beats and high heels.
Then Jay-Z and Alicia Keys came out and took over for five short, wonderful minutes. “Empire State of Mind” was not only surprisingly good—Jay-Z not residing at the top of my list—but warmed me at 1) all those phony assholes in Los Angeles getting schooled and 2) an actual song I could get behind. Plus, enough time since 9/11 means I can handle songs about New York again. Lo and behold, it shot quickly to #1 on the Billboard charts. Today, in fact, I tuned in to NYC’s Hot 97, expecting to hear it within 30 minutes. They played it in 24.
“Empire State of Mind” is not a masterpiece of a song. Jay-Z’s continued claims that he’s the new Sinatra, at least, are offset by Alicia asking people to put their lighters in the air. Take that, iPhones! But it feels good to hear it in December. And feeling good is what pop music does best.
I have laughed out loud for protracted moments over rap lyrics twice in the last month, and you probably have, too, if you’ve seen this collection of ridiculous rap lyrics that’s been going around. My friend Brian, who tutors at a high school in San Francisco, sends something even better—a proper-English translation of Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance.” The attendant story is that an Oakland high school sponsored an English contest and this is the winning entry, although that’s apocryphal at best. Just read it and laugh.
Nomo – Invisible Cities: Dean played this for me on the way home from seeing Ornette Coleman in San Francisco, and it was one of those moments when everything made sense. Nomo take the Fela Kuti thing many steps further than most of Fela’s acolytes who frustratingly seem stuck in tribute mode, and use a funk-based template for exciting arrangements. A thoroughly enjoyable Moondog cover, “Bumbo,” is everything good about this group: thumb pianos, a steady groove, and a horn section that stretches out and snaps back like elastic.
Neurosis – Times of Grace: I swore off Neurosis in 1993 with Enemy of the Sun, and even slept through one of their shows at Gilman around the same time. It takes love to retract such shunning, and upon reconsideration, Enemy of the Sun, though no Souls at Zero, is a fine album. Better yet is this 1999 Steve Albini-produced record, which does away with the tribal drumming and whatever weird effect Dave Ed used to have on his bass, and sticks to the true live sound of a band unafraid to mentally fornicate with the dark side.
Girls – Album: I allowed myself to be hoodwinked into this crap by Rob, who stated thus: “It’s like early, angry Elvis Costello backed by some cheesy ’60s LA pop band. It sounds about as unhip as possible, yet it totally rules. I love it when someone does something so well, you just can’t deny it – even if it seems like the wrong thing at the wrong time.” I trusted him until yesterday, when upon the fifth listening I just got sick of it and took it off. People are into its simple songs, with melodies and choruses, because that stuff hasn’t been popular for a while. That doesn’t make it good.
Up Tight! – Soundtrack: Jules Dassin is famous for The Naked City and Never on Sunday, but I’ve gotta say, there’s nothing like Rififi, which I saw once at the Rialto while Tom Waits sat behind me. The local angle on Dassin gets deeper when you factor in Thieves’ Highway, partially filmed in rural Sebastopol and which features the most gripping tire-changing scene in the history of cinema. This film, written, produced and directed by Dassin, has never been available on VHS or DVD. I’m dying to see it. Booker T. & the MGs play a soulful score, with an interesting re-recording of “Time is Tight.”
Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire?: I’ve heard that the title was suggested by a developmentally disabled person, so cut it some slack. I’ll write more about the amazing packaging later, for the paper, but for now just know that it’s finally out. It’s been an exciting few years watching this band get better and better, and everything good about them comes together on this album. It used to be easy to lump them in with Explosions in the Sky but that’s no longer appropriate, especially with the strings and horns on this densely produced outing.
Elvin Jones / Jimmy Garrison Sextet – Illumination!: The last time Elvin Jones played at Yoshi’s, he was accompanied by an oxygen tank. Played up until the end. When I talked to John Handy, he echoed a story going around—even told by Ted Curson (scroll to “July 21st”)—that Elvin Jones once pulled a gun on Charles Mingus. This record is essentially Coltrane’s Impulse quartet without Coltrane, plus clarinet, flute, English horn and baritone sax. On it, Elvin plays remarkably. This is a good time to let you know that McCoy Tyner is playing at Yoshi’s on New Year’s Eve and surrounding dates, with Esperanza Spalding, Francisco Mela and Ravi Coltrane. Go.
Richard Harris – Slides: So I guess there was this thing going on for a while in the 1970s where it was okay to be unemployed and wasted all day as long as you gave off the vibe that love and nature were the most important things in the world. Rod McKuen, embroidered denim shirts, EST, all that kinda Sausalito-y post-cocaine stuff. It really has been 37 years since this album came out. Harris is sometimes atrocious in the best way and sometimes great in the most atrocious way, and telling which from which depends on your mood / glasses of wine you’ve had. I appreciate the challenge.
D’Angelo – Voodoo: You ever see a vat of tar on those asphalt trucks that smell? I know you’ve smelled it, but if you look up close, it’s incredible to see. Huge, round bubbles that slowly rise to the surface and dissipate rather than pop. That’s what this record is like: steamy, yet incapable of a rolling boil. It took me years to realize that it was more than rhythm and blurts. Perhaps I gravitate to the chicken on the back cover, and the fact that it is most likely about to be killed. A sleeper-wave album.
Superchunk – No Pocky for Kitty: In 1993, I thought for sure I had to be the only person listening to this album everyday twice. As such, like a Superchunk ambassador, I told everyone about it. When I met Kid Dynamo, and they had heard of this album, I freaked. The new book about Merge Records called Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records is excellent, and is a good reminder of the days when indie rock had no internet presence. I love being blown away when someone else has heard of some wonderful discovery. It happens more infrequently these days.
Reggie Workman – The Works of Workman: When one thinks of exemplary double-bass albums, one often thinks of Dragonetti Lives!, a wonderful 1975 recording on John Fahey’s Takoma label by Bertram Turetzky. (Listen to some of it here.) Turetzky plays with a lone piano backing, but on The Works of Workman it’s just the master bassist, his bulbous tone, and some fantastic Japanese engineering. Workman throws in a little bit of his dominant bass line from Olé Coltrane here, and weaves through compositions by Paul Chambers, Duke Ellington, Stanley Cowell and Luiz Bonfa. Recommended.
Al Quint, publisher of Suburban Voice ‘zine and host of Sonic Overload Radio, posts this downloadable “Tribute” to Ronald Reagan. Originally aired in 2004 the week of Reagan’s death, the show undertakes the mammoth task of compiling definitive punk songs about how much Reagan sucks. There must have been two thousand. Quint picks 60 of them.
The show runs the gamut, from DRI’s hyperfast “Reaganomics” to the Violent Femmes’ “Old Mother Reagan,” and we even get Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” near the end. It’s amazing to revisit all the methods used in the ’80s to talk shit about the president, like the sudden tacking on of the line “President Reagan can shove it” after a song about trying to get laid (“Superficial Love,” TSOL) or the ridiculous adding of the prefix “Mc-” to select words in the Dayglo Abortions’ “Ronald McRaygun.” Most bands, like NOFX (“Reagan Sucks”), go the simple route.
Sixty punk songs about how much Reagan sucks. Now please, help me out: Why weren’t punk bands this vociferous about W., who from the onset was far worse in the eyes of the punk community? Were they scared? Numb? Trying to sign to Victory? It’s always confused me. There was Fat Wreck Chords’ Rock Against Bush series, but the tracklisting—especially on Vol. 2—reveals bands repurposing older, non-Bush related songs. “Chesterfield King” never was political song, just like “Fucked Up Ronnie,” by D.O.A., isn’t much of a love song.
On a night when a single Republican voting for the House healthcare reform bill is hailed as “bipartisan,” I realize just how much there’s a gap in our lives. You’re either one thing or the other, especially around these parts. I spent part of my day yesterday at the St. Helena Skatepark, which just opened three weeks ago, hanging out with kids who can’t afford new skateboards. They were riding used boards, handed down to them, which also served as their transportation a couple miles back home. At the same time, just down the street, a winery hosted an upscale Napa Valley™ food & wine shindig with a half-mile line of shiny new cars parked outside and a $100 entry fee.
I drove home listening to Lucinda Williams’ World Without Tears, an album with a lot in common with Q-Tip’s The Renaissance even though the two wouldn’t ever get played back-to-back on the same radio station. The divide. So it felt right to join in a coming together, and that was the Free Mind Media benefit last night at the Guyakí Mate Bar in Sebastopol.
I fully endorse Free Mind Media because in a climate where everyone asks why, they ask, why not? People go hungry on the street. We sit around and wonder why. Through Food Not Bombs, Free Mind Media says “Why not just feed them?” Police shoot unarmed citizens with mental problems. We sit around and wonder why. With Copwatch, Free Mind Media asks “Why not march together in the street in protest?” We wonder why we’re divided and they live out and promote small, simple acts that we often don’t consider because we assume the divide is too great.
Aside from the obvious coming together of people—and there were a lot of people packed into Guayakí’s back room, old and young, rich and poor, bob-cutted and afroed—more than half the lineup last night had both guys and girls in the band, another “why not?” that’s good to see being answered. During Not to Reason Why’s epic set, Goodriddler’s Nick Wolch and the New Trust’s Julia Lancer joined in for an insane three-drummer extravaganza together, erasing the multitudes of Napa Valley BMWs from my mind and sending me back to Santa Rosa with a lifted heart.
Cheers to Free Mind Media and all the bands, and especially to Guayakí, and David & Celeste, for providing a solid all-ages venue that’s been going off lately with positive vibes.
(Found today, on a pole downtown.)
Little things trickle into my life lately and then so quickly trickle away. Rushing like mad through the brain, cogitated upon, reacted to, processed, and ejected. Could someone please sell me the key to the unused percent of the human brain? I’m willing to pay for storage.
Last night, after a movie at the quaint and wonderful Cameo Cinema in St. Helena, I grabbed an enormous, beautiful leaf off the sidewalk. I put it on the dashboard in the car. For at least the 30-minute drive home, it didn’t slip out of my life.
Today, I offer a Hefty cinch-sack of little things that have trickled in.
1. The Goodman Building in St. Helena, right across from Cameo Cinema. Take a look at it. Isn’t it amazing? I flip out every time I pass by.
2. For that matter, the Empire Columbia Building in Los Angeles is on the favorites list too. I have only seen it in person once on a special pilgrimage at 2am, and never knew that beneath its amazing clock, there sits a pool.
3. My favorite local DJ Max Wordlow has put up a new vinyl mix at Ofad.com. It rebuts the theory—commonly perpetuated by those obsessed with the mainstream—that hip hop is somehow “dead” when in reality you just gotta dig. Let him dig for you.
4. Speaking of Ofad, this article by Eric Simpson about the making of Disposable: A History of Skateboard Art is essential reading for anyone who owns the book or its recently-released expanded edition, which in itself is essential reading. Just, actually, stop what you’re doing. Go here and buy a copy. Your life will be better.
5. The chorus might not deliver venomously, but I can imagine this song becoming fantastic “break-up mixtape” fodder. Why aren’t there more songs about hating bands? Are we all too nice that we can’t call a spade a spade?
6. Here is a 1986 news item from the San Francisco Chronicle about a teenager who crashed his car, was pinned immobile, and was forced to listen to Wham! on his tape deck for six hours. Of course, the reporter didn’t ask the question we’re all wondering: Was it Make it Big or Music From the Edge of Heaven? ‘Cause that makes a big difference.
7. If you’re not going to see the Dirty Projectors at Bimbo’s on Sunday night, why not? Those who didn’t bring a signed form from their parents for the field trip can console themselves with this new song from the upcoming Temecula Sunrise EP (not to be confused with the Can Make You Laugh Sometimes EP, which only exists in my mind).
8. Like many children of the 1980s, I wanted to dance like Michael Jackson. And yes, if asked, I would have gladly taken part in recording this song called “I Want to Dance Like Michael Jackson” for a classroom instructional dance album.
9. WFMU brings us anti-drug celebrity PSAs! The Linda Ronstadt one is great—”Watch out for the things that might wreck you, or your pickup truck”—but my favorite is still Curtis Mayfield, spelling out in a reverb effect exactly why Freddie’s dead.
I don’t have too much to add to this piece by Jody Rosen, for Slate, about NPR’s taste in black music, but I recommend reading it. Rosen looks at their very white “Best Music of 2009 (So Far)” list and advances a theory that NPR’s producers look for four basic factors in deciding to spotlight a black musician—they’ve gotta be either Dead, Old, Retro or Foreign. He calls it the “DORF Matrix.”
Cute, yes, and true. NPR’s best-of list, voted by listeners, includes only two black artists out of 30 on the “best albums” list (Mos Def and, uh, Danger Mouse) and none at all on the “best songs” list. NPR isn’t the only media outlet to shaft current hip-hop and R&B for crusty soul revivalists with a by-the-books story of redemption, and though every media outlet is entitled to their own opinion, and death, age, history and foreign countries all make good, easy-lazy stories, it would seem that NPR should have an interest in battling their own caricature. Right?
Tom Waits is releasing a live album, Glitter and Doom Live, on November 24, just in time for the Christmas season. It includes 17 songs from various shows on his tour last year. I saw two shows from the tour; one at the beginning when the players were still finding their footing and one at the end, which was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. The live album features a bonus disc in the CD version called “Tom Tales,” with 40 minutes of Waits’ trademark ruminations on “romantic spiders and injured vultures” (the bonus disc comes as a free mp3 download with the LP version). Here’s the track list:
Lucinda / Ain’t Goin Down (Birmingham – 07/03/08)
Singapore (Edinburgh – 07/28/08)
Get Behind The Mule (Tulsa – 06/25/08)
Fannin Street (Knoxville – 06/29/08)
Dirt In The Ground (Milan – 07/19/08)
Such A Scream (Milan – 07/18/08)
Live Circus (Jacksonville – 07/01/08)
Goin’ Out West (Tulsa – 06/25/08)
Falling Down (Paris – 07/25/08)
The Part You Throw Away (Edinburgh – 07/28/08)
Trampled Rose (Dublin – 08/01/08)
Metropolitan Glide (Knoxville – 6/29/08)
I’ll Shoot The Moon (Paris – 07/24/08)
Green Grass (Edinburgh – 07/27/08)
Make It Rain (Atlanta – 07/05/08)
Story (Columbus – 06/28/08)
Lucky Day (Atlanta – 07/05/08)
Steve Martin, comedian and banjoist extraordinaire, has been booked at the Napa Valley Opera House to play on Thursday, November 5. If you were stuck behind a tree or thousands of other people when he played in Golden Gate Park, there’s still a handful of seats left for the Napa Valley Opera House, which is comparatively the size of a shoebox. Click here for tickets, which run $110-$125 per person and are going very fast. Might I tangentially also recommend Martin’s very wry and funny memoir, Born Standing Up, if only for his fantastic story about running into Diane Arbus at Disneyland, or the passage on briefly dating Linda Ronstadt.
Healdsburg’s jazz scene was set to lose a fantastic outlet when the Palette Art Café was sold, but thankfully, the new owners of the just-opened Affronti have carried on the tradition of showcasing excellent small combos in their intimate environs every Thursday night from 7-10pm. Reports on the food are positive as well, and dinner reservations are the best way to get a good seat. Upcoming acts include Cat Austin (Oct. 15), Ken Cook and the Gravity Trio with Scott Peterson (Oct. 22) and the Adam Theis Mega-Quartet (Oct. 29). The location once played host to jazz bassist Henry Franklin, and might I tangentially recommend Henry Franklin’s The Skipper, a very good record that I wish I had discovered prior to his performance there this summer with Azar Lawrence and not, sadly, afterward.
Souls of Mischief, far from being past their ’93 prime, have a new album, Montezuma’s Revenge, out in early December. They are still one of the best live hip-hop groups in the Bay Area. Every time I see them open a show, I feel bad for the headliner, who bumbles through a set doomed to inadequacy. Next week at Slim’s, they hold to the fire the feet of Ghostface Killah, a great rapper currently on “miss” in his hit-and-miss catalog of albums. Parlay the temptation into instead seeing Rakim, a great rapper who hasn’t made an album period for a while but who never disappoints, at Slim’s on Oct. 25. Might I tangentially recommend Eric B. and Rakim’s Follow the Leader, an album packed with just as much genius as Paid In Full but not, you know, overplayed.
Here’s my favorite story of the week: Earlier this year, Scott Brown made a pilgrimage to the final resting place, in Queens, of stride master and jazz piano pioneer James P. Johnson—only to find an unmarked scattering of weeds. Shocked at the lack of respect for one of jazz piano’s inarguable giants, he called on some of New York’s stride aficionados, including Dick Hyman and the Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson, in order to raise money for a proper tombstone. You can read about the marathon nine-hour cutting session here, and rest assured that James P. Johnson will have his life and legacy properly marked.