Saturday, March 10, 2007

running away / uh-huh uh-huh

It seems the much mooted death of the album is being talked about again (I guess the discussion never really stopped). I’ve been there several times in recent months and here I seem to be again. There doesn’t seem to be much more to say, except when I talk to record companies, as I do from day to day, its seems the message is still not simply getting through….you release three singles to radio, do a MySpace site and talk nicely to retail…, no no………not any more….

What triggered this was an email from Bob Lefstez the other week, entitled simply Album Last Rites wherein he said:

We've got to kill the album.

Actually, it's already dead. It's just that the artists and labels don't know it.

And he’s right…well almost.

In pop terms the album is past creaky, it’s on its last legs. To my daughter, aged almost 13, the album is a non-event. It almost doesn’t exist, in the way that it didn’t exist before The Beatles released With The Beatles and in one swoop, invented the rock and pop album (without telling EMI what they were actually doing of course). Capitol USA didn’t quite get it for some years, as is evident from the way they treated every Beatles album up to Revolver, and The Beach Boys. Indeed the audience knew about the album there for years before moribund record company execs twigged to the change…shades of the last few years.

Before that pop albums didn’t matter at all. Nobody knows the name of any of Fabian’s albums I assume he released at least one...I'm not sure if that thing on the left is an album or a single), or for that matter, raising the credibility stakes a tad, Chuck Berry’s or even, outside the hardcore fans, Elvis’ longplayers…they were simply places to collate hit songs with the odd filler. And here we go, full circle, back to artist and the hit song. The mp3 player (can we stop saying iPod, because globally they don’t dominate, it’s a myth) or the Walkman phone is the new album. It has already replaced the long playing compact disc as the pop and rock delivery medium of choice, of convenience.

But before pop, and George Martin, and his young band, almost unknowingly (it was instinct rather than intent) invented the long player, there were still, of course, albums in other genres, just as there will still be albums, in hard formats after digital has wiped the pop, and rock album off the radar. And I don’t just mean the likes of those awful show tunes film and stage soundtracks that Americans were so fond of. I’m talking instead of then contemporary, and absolutely essential releases such as serviced the whole jazz market…and lets be real, Kind of Blue was essentially the Blood on The Tracks of it’s age, it targeted and was bought by a similar demographic.

The album, either in a small vinyl run, or, more importantly, a much larger CD or DVD pressing, is going to be here for a long, long time. Simply because there are certain demographics that will never feel satisfied with an mp3 and a sheet of printed liner notes, or even a facsimile of the sleeve. I think of the people that bought the first Arcade Fire album, with the definably groovy sleeve, which was a part of the excitement that greeted, and surrounded the artist. It was integral. The second album no longer so, as they’re not so hip anymore, the earlier adopters have moved on and Arcade Fire, selling to now to middle America are perceivably no longer cool.

That’s a physical market that will need to be serviced for decades, or at least until we have the technology to deliver exact replicas, including the card stock, and exact print quality of the groovy package to the early adopters. Who, incidentally, also want the hard to track down mp3s doing the rounds of the blogs, as well.

Then there is the so called “Long Tail”….a strange, half thought out notion to be sure, for the overwhelming bulk of those on the end of the tail, it means little…but little is better than nothing. There is value in the online catalogue...of course it vastly increases the amount of music available to the consumer, and it should allow an artist to have all their catalogue available at all times, to all curious comers . I find the notion that Edgar Bronfman has the right to play political football with an artist’s career and income, however small it may be, as discussed here, by Russell Brown vaguely obscene. But that’s the industry we are in…..

Never mind Edgar will buy EMI and it will all be ok…..

But the real value in a back catalogue does not come from mp3s, from the odd track found on Emusic or the like…that is the bonus, the cream. The value in the catalogue, especially the more obscure stuff, is sourced by keeping that catalogue exciting, just like an artist…keep em exciting…they sell. And right now the best way to exploit catalogue remains the physical disc, and the packaging of catalogue. Two examples...firstly the Flying Nun Box set from last year. The concept caused an awful lot of excitement in New Zealand and further abroad. It was exciting, and it was the concept itself that was the catalyst. It was considerably more, you could say, than the sum of its parts. You have to be brutally honest and say that, overwhelmingly most of the tracks on the box didn’t sell that well on release and would not have elicited much response if placed on an online shop…the odd fan, the odd completist but that’s it really…as is the experience of almost everyone in the long tail outside the top selling couple of percent. The Flying Nun Box set existed as a box set, in that packaging (why are everybody’s jewel cases falling to pieces, and what was with the inappropriate punk stylings of the box and Cds…beside the point I know) and sold because of what it was reinvigorated catalogue..and the FN catalogue is screaming out for more…

Example number two is the recent remastered double package of the best Style Council album….Our Favourite Shop…complete with a whole disc of demos, live bits and pieces. Now, I want this badly. I want the package, the double CD, with notes, gorgeous foldout sleeve and outer slip case. I don’t want the tracks per se, I’m a silly collector, I want the package, as I did with the All Mod Cons double from last year….

I am not alone, the sales of some of these catalogue revisits tell us that….but they don’t, regardless of how much one can download with them, work digitally.

There is life in the old plastic disc yet…….

The again, forty years ago, out of the blue, came an album that completely blew every pre-conception, every pre-established notion about what was and what would be, out of the water......and nothing was ever the same....this could all change tomorrow.....

Friday, March 09, 2007

And with my anger / accidently caused apocalypse

First up, from comes this: I don't know about you, but I despise those extended piracy warnings tagged onto the front of some dvd I 'm wanting to watch...especially when, as always seemed to the way in NZ, we ended up paying more for the bloody overdue fees than the DVD we didn't ever watch.. But far more important than that, is this track, for download, which may or may not end upon the forthcoming album from The Others / Los Othros Something Error Happens Download: Los Othros - Static I'll leave this up for a few days then post another......

Thursday, March 08, 2007

So Won't You / Be My Baby

From the truth is far far stranger than fiction files comes this story from the NY Post about the ongoing saga of Phil and Ronnie Spector. She may well, and to me has, the most emotive female voice of all time, but.....

"You're talking about two people who are totally f----d up," says Mark Ribowksy, author of the Phil Spector bio "He's a Rebel." "They're both horrible people."
"It was a sick love," she says. "He even said, 'I have a glass casket in the basement, for Ronnie. So I can look at her anytime I want.' But I was in love with the guy, so I didn't think that was too bad."
And yeah, I know its the NY Post, but read and wonder....

Sunday, March 04, 2007

But she won't stake her life on you / How can life become her point of view

I remember my good friend David Blyth, with whom I suffered my only year at Auckland Grammar School (why, oh why do parents send their children to these psychologically neutering facilities..I hated the place and still do), saying to me about a decade ago that we seemed to be a charmed bunch. Of our, at the time, tight knit group, leaving school in the mid seventies, all had survived, more or less intact. Sure, we’d had our share of divorces, and parental loss, a couple of substance problems, but as a whole, we had survived. After secondary school, through University and in the years that followed we’d been a close group…some had drifted off overseas, some had simply drifted off, but the bond, however stretched it became, was still somehow always there, and still is. Those parties, weekends, regular road trips to Coromandel and extended periods on Waiheke, plus the odd tangled intra-group relationship, provided a strong, unspoken, personal link between us.

I thought about David’s observation the other week for the first time in many years, as I flew into Bali from Kuala Lumpur. I thought about it, and it saddened me that it’s no longer true. What triggered the thought was the song Lady Grinning Soul, the Bowie track off Aladdin Sane, a song that is cleverly wrapped around that rather incredible Mike Garson piano. It’s perhaps the most elegant David Bowie has ever been, a liltingly perfect, slightly cynical, love song….a perfect song from what in retrospect, despite the fact it meant so much at the time, is probably his most less than perfect album from his crucial decade. It was a decade when he was, and this is not even arguable, the most important rock’n’roll star on the planet; the catalyst to almost everything (or at least the mirror of it) that mattered in the decades to come. It was a long way down to the self humiliation of the duet of Dancing in the Streets with Jagger, only a few years into the next decade.

But that’s beside the point of this post.

She comes / she goes /she lays belief on me

That line, which opens the lyric, seemed largely appropriate to my thoughts, and it forced my mind back to December 1973, when I bought that particular album. Thirty four years ago, give or take a month or four

That day, I forget the exact day of the month, although the 8th rings a bell, I’d taken delivery of my first car, a red Austin 850 Mini (CZ9598), which I’d bought from my mother, and she in turn had inherited from her mother; who’d bought it new from Seabrook Fowlds in Symonds Street in 1964. That morning Mum had handed me the keys.

I’d taken my new car to my girlfriend’s house. Jane Wilson lived in Entrican Avenue in Remuera, and there I went, proudly showing off, what was to a boy, a major purchase. Nobody else in my group had their own car, (and I was working three shifts a week at KFC in Panmure to pay it off…where I later met Colonel Sanders, but that’s another story too).

After manoeuvring past Jane’s mother we headed into the city, stopping in Newmarket to pickup a new friend, Marc Baron, who David had introduced me to. He was from Whangarei via a boarding school in Hamilton, and was new to the city. I’d met him once before, Jane never before.

Anyway, we found Marc at the gate and headed into the city. We were on a mission. We had decided to buy, with some of my KFC funds, a copy of Aladdin Sane. It had, for a part of our generation, become the calling card in recent weeks, with god knows how many people painting the distinctive lightning stripe across their face from time to time. Odd tribal nonsense of course, but we were kids…Tony DeFries would have been thrilled….

So, from Direction Records in Queens Arcade we bought it. Direction, with their shop in Darby Street too, were the cool kids on the record retail block. Just being in the shop made one feel like you were slightly more switched on than the masses at EMI or the like, or, god forbid, McKenzies’ Record Bar in Vulcan Lane. They sometimes had imports; they had their own label and magazine (the hugely influential Hot Licks….the story of which, and the huge influence it had on NZ’s musical history, needs to be told sometime).

And we headed back to Jane’s place. On the way, I offered the album to her as a gift, and she produced a pre-printed sticker from her bag, with her name and address on it and placed it on the back.

Exhilarated, turned down Shore Road, one of the steeper inclines in Auckland, and as we reached the bottom, probably going a little faster than we should, a car stopped on the left turned out into me. We spun a full 360 before stopping. The woman in the other car got out, making accusatory remarks about young hoodlums before a passing police car came on the scene; ascertained that my car was still driveable, but hers was not; took details and names, before we, both shaken and stirred drove the wobbling Mini up the hill to David Blyth’s place, where we made the necessary phone calls and sat, waiting for parental judgement, listening to Aladdin Sane over and over.

The upshot was that the women, a doctor, tried to press charges, but the police exonerated me and instead charged her. The Mini was repairable (and indeed became The Suburban Reptiles band car some three years later, before being retired by me in 1979 after falling over a cliff in Parnell…although that wasn’t the end…it was repaired, handed back to my mother and survived in the family for another five years before it was sold again to another young hoodlum).

Anyway over the next few years things evolved. About a year later Jane ran off with Marc (giving me the album back), for a short-lived fling, before she headed off to London to become PA to the editor of Melody Maker (and a fantastic source of verbatim punk gossip, records and trivia circa 1976/77). Marc and I became very close friends, avid followers of a new Auckland band called Split Ends, and soul & reggae fanatics. Oh, and he also introduced me to a girl, Clare, whom he was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to pursue. A year later I formed a band and asked her to be the singer.

It goes around....

Marc too, left for London in 1976. Auckland was always too small for him. I didn’t see him again until 1983, when I moved to the city as well. We saw each other a lot, but less and less as time passed. London, and surviving with nothing there, had hardened him quite a bit…what was a charming roguishness in 1976, was a rather unscrupulous hardness in 1983, and I didn’t like it an awful lot. That said, there was always a bond. We went together to the London Premiere of David’s film, and there were times when we laughed a lot and did some crazy, crazy things. Although I was less than amused when my driver’s licence was used to hire a vehicle that was not returned for many days.

I saw him once more in the early 90s, and that side of him was even more evident when he returned to Auckland, stayed on my couch, and did some fairly unpleasant things to others rather more trusting than me.

What happened after his return to the United Kingdom was a u-turn. Marc left the city and began working with horses in Kent (he'd been a champion rider in his youth), teaching and by all accounts exorcised the demons of the previous years, making amends to some he’d wronged. We spoke once on the phone after that and the change was evident...

Sadly, four years ago I had a phone call…he’d had an aneurism and died instantly. I wish I could see him one more time, as we left on not the most pleasant terms…it would be nice to laugh together again, just the once.

Jane came back to Auckland about 1978; I saw a bit of her; she eventually married and had a family, although there was tragedy in that. However, she was resilient and became quite a contributor towards children’s health in Auckland. I’d only seen her once in the past decade though, in a supermarket, when my mother emailed me in July last year to tell me she too had passed on, from cancer. I was devastated.

And I still think about them both and that morning in '73.

Why am I writing this? I don’t really know. Something to do with getting older; something to do with that song; something to do with the fact that I feel some urge to make sure my old friends are remembered somewhere. A search of the net finds no reference to either person, which, considering how much they both meant in my life, is sad…

I still have the Aladdin Sane album we bought in 1973, and it still has her name on it…so, for Marc and Jane:

She comes / she goes /she lays belief on me