ACME Field Trip: rural California (Part II)
Alan Connor's second despatch from the Sunshine State.
6 March 2003
Fear not! This week's despatch will not be so Stateside-centric! I took the time to appoint a legate to keep an eye on the British pop scene in my absence, and damn him if he hasn't come up with a scoop.
So thankyou, reader Dan Butt [heretofore NTK's Belle & Sebastian Correspondent, henceforth ACME's Shoegazing Plumesman] for noticing that one of Oasis was reunited with his old band this week. We're talking about Ride, of course, and Oasis bassist Andy Bell, and despite an acrimonious split, Ride's two talents Mark Gardener and Bell getting back together for a hometown gig, which somehow seems to have escaped the attention of the rest of the music press.
Even if, like me, you defend to the death the right of people to listen to Early '90s Shimmering Wall Of Indie Sound, but also would kill not to have to hear it yourself, this was a splendid evening in a basement under a shoe shop. Gardener, who is probably a perfectly-happy man, is without doubt less of a big cheese now than his estranged buddy Bell, and I would have loved to see him excitedly revealing the imminent reunion to the crowd, asking "Is Andy Bell in the house?" and then looking crestfallen when no-one emerged from the crowd. The fact that Andy "not the Erasure one" Bell had been behind him the whole time can only have detracted from its touchingness in a good way.
Hopefully the NME will forget their fixation on 1977 for a moment, acknowledge that there are plenty of shoegazers left among their readers and flag this. (Incidentally, does anyone else find it depressing that Marquee Moon has moved back up the NME 100 Best Albums Of All time? Isn't this game of shoving the tiles around becoming boring? Do we only judge the past in reference to what's a Seminal Influence on what's currently selling well? Will Labi Siffre ever receive his dues, or is it always going to be case of sliding Revolver up and down past Pet Sounds?) Maybe. But if the mealy-mouthed response to the Creation cessation of hostilities for the Sonic Youth Pioneers programme is anything to go by, shoegazers will have to fend for themselves for a while longer.
If there's one thing San Francisco does well, it's food. That is, if you like your patatas bravas bland and spiceless and your milk devoid of any creamy yumminess unless it's bought from a black-market fat-hawker. No, the food is not so good here. The anarchist bookshops, though, are all you could ask for.
City Lights is good if you get a kick out of seeing Lawrence Ferlenghetti checking his email, but my money - preferably, my deregulated exchange agreement - is on Bound Together in the Haight. There you can pick up Stay Free! magazine, published by the indomitable AK Press (mentioned in TFTs passim), your one-stop shop for the distribution of seditionist situationist counterblasts. (Actually, my English moles tell me you can buy Stay Free! at Borders on Oxford Street, but it's cheaper in the Haight, and worth the trip.)
The current edition is devoted to copyright, and their anti-intellectual property stance suggests to me that they wouldn't mind us reprinting some of their content verbatim. One great tidbit is itself a quote from the San Diego Union-Tribune, reporting on Britney's 'Dream Within A Dream' tour:
her drummer, Slam, told stadium audiences to buy Samsung cellphones 'because that's the phone Britney uses.' He also read them a poem he said he had written about his love for Pepsi, and got them to shout 'Pepsi!; every time he pointed to a Pepsi bottle.
Scared of TiVO owners skipping ads, it seems the companies are having to become less and less cunning in their approach to product-placement. The film stuff is pretty well covered (Bond's Finlandia booze and Norelco shaves, et cetera), but the music stuff is just as fascinating, especially since singles don't have props. Trade mag Ad Age tells us of an especially-fiendishly-uncunning trick:
Island Def Jam Music Group is negotiating a deal with Hewlett-Packard to mention HP products in hip-hop lyrics.
Has any reader noticed this working yet? Has the OpenVMS system management system figured in any of LL Cool J's skits? Has Ludacris abandoned the gat in favour of the iPAQ? If only Def Jam were still an indie black label, this would be gettable as a scam, but Def Jam isn't. It's part of Universal. So many questions, but only time for two. Have any printer drivers come up in any tracks you've heard? And, more importantly, can you imagine up any more ridiculous sponsorship deals?
After last week's eulogy to Amoeba Records, there's been time to go through the booty. Given TFT readers' enthusiasm for an ongoing investigation into Arista Records, the most pressing is the Arista AOR Sampler from 1978, packaged to look like a despatch of hot new recordings.
So what do we get? For starters, I've finally heard some Loudon Wainwright III (get that whacky numeral), after years of people telling me that since I like Dylan, I'm going to love LW3 (as he is never called), since he has the verbosity and pomposity of a Dylan, but with witty asides and humourous squibs. For so long, I held out, under the impression that music is best for sound and beauty and that comedy is best left to sitcoms and the printed page. Boy, was I ever right. Watch Me Rock I'm Over 30 does everything it says on the tin, but takes minutes to labour the 'point'. And the band sucks, too. How plainly can I put this? If I buy a recording, I want to be able to listen to it over and over again. No joke, however dark and wry, is going to stay uninfuriating for that long. (On a related note, when Warren Zevon dies, can we just give him his tributes, and stop him being underrated and unrecognised and give his followers less of a freaking cause celebre?)
We also get a couple of tracks from the Strawbs, 'Britain's finest exponents of classically-edged hard rock.' Now, only a buffoon has something against folk-prog per se -- former Strawb Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Time Goes? was on a Q chill-out CD recently and made me very happy, as well as the recipient of every mix I've burned since. But this shit? No. You may know the Strawbs best from the Norwich Union ad featuring their organised-labour-baiting You Don't Get Me I'm Part Of The Union (best dismissed in Mark Steel's comedy history of the workers' movement Reasons To Be Cheerful), but they get far far more leaden and tiresome than that. At the point the Arista sampler catches them ('the sharpest Strawbs set in years'), they are a year from the mock-punk Nice Legs Shame About The Face. More humour. Aye aye, chicken pie. Save it for the Great British Beer Festival, lads.
What else? Some boring old Nick Lowe, a couple of half-decent Lou Reed cuts, various guitar-botherers, and my personal favourite, Kevin Lamb, a busker Arista obviously thought was going to be the next Elton John ('well deserves to run in the fast company we're presenting him with - a contender for sure.') If anyone knows about the subsequent career of the exec who made the case for the moribund Lamb, we'd like to hear.
And so, Arista 1978. Lifeless, second-guessing codswallop. But every one still greater than great white Arista hope Lavigne.
He played with one of the Police.
And, following on from last week's ramblings (for those who've forgotten or didn't have the time, the playlists American DJs swap among themselves are being corporately censored to include major label releases), thanks for the feedback. We may be able to provide a server but still need more help on how to structure the playlist management. Someone telling me which bits of SQL to learn would be a start.
Since then, the future of American radio is looking worse still. To help avoid the alarming possibility of stations playing a song that turns out to be unprofitable, the major labels have developed an pseudoscientific application called (HSS), Hit Song Science, the latest attempt to find visible clues to invisible guarantees of revenue. HSS promises to analyse
the underlying mathematical patterns in unreleased music and compares them to the patterns in recent hit songs. The new technology can isolate individual patterns in key aspects of the music that humans detect and that help determine whether or not they like a given song. For example, the dictionary describes melody as a series of notes strung together in a meaningful pattern. But determining what is "meaningful" is a very human and very subjective experience. This technology is able to detect what those melody patterns are as well as decipher patterns in other aspects of the music.
Yeah, that should do it.
A reminder that all this krap is about to start in the UK as well: Clear Channel have their eyes on our stations, just as soon as the government passes a law that lets them in.