Saturday, June 30, 2018

Top 40

"When you made the charts in 1965, you became part of a small but dynamic world. It changed every week, just like the world of work and family life, politics and war. As in the world of work, family, politics, and war, certain of the elements of the pop world—disc jockey patter and commercials, the rituals of contests and pranks—barely changed at all, and other elements changed so radically they hijacked memory, to the point that whatever happened the week before could seem to have happened years ago. This was Top 40 radio: city by city, from one end of the country to the other, a true forum, in 1965 more open to anyone, known or unknown, black or white, northerner or southerner, American or foreigner, male or female, than any other cultural medium—never mind business, religion, or college."
     —Greil Marcus, from "Top 40 Nation," in Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads

A random week from the summer of '65, ever mind business, religion, or college:



Photo of teenager via National Museum of American History.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The People who listen to "People Who Died"

The Jim Carroll Band
A little over seven years ago, I posted Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" to my YouTube channel, 3 Chord Philosophy. It's the fourth most viewed video there, after the White Stripes' "The Hardest Button to Button," the Cars' "You're All I've Got Tonight," and Dwight Yoakam's "Fast As You," yet by far it's received the most comments, 640 and counting, as of today. Many are of the "what brought me here" variety, but the more thoughtful and urgent comments tell a story: "People Who Died" has clearly struck a power chord in the young and the old, the experienced and the innocent, the sadly wise and the wide-eyed romantics alike who respond to the song's melancholic desperation, rock and roll fury, and biting honesty.

"It's accessible to kids," Carrol said about the song in 1980, adding "It's like an elegy but it's not sentimental." Four years later, he remarked that "People Who Died" is a "about, you know, stolen possibilities, about people who died young before they could fulfill their promises, you know?" The song will last, and continue to move listeners and challenge them to face their own grieving, callousness, or befuddlement in the face of loss.

Here's a small sample:




















~~

On a related note, check out my interview with Mark Slutsky, who for three years curated the emotional and psychological terrain of YouTube comments at his late and lamented Sad YouTube.


Image of Jim Carroll Band via YouTube.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

To make the lights flash off and on

Chris Stamey

So many rock memoirs are burdened by the need to dig dish and get juicy. Chris Stamey shrugs off those expectations in his fascinating, thoroughly readable A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories, which could've simply been titled Stories about Songs. Stamey admits that the book began as an attempt to write an annotated songbook, a kind of guide to listening and understanding his music, but as those considered songs gave way to anecdotes, and those anecdotes to sturdy metaphors and large-picture insights, the book grew.

A native North Carolinian, Stamey followed his muse (and childhood friend Mitch Easter) to New York City in 1977. Moving inside of a Winston-Salem/Manhattan/Hoboken axis, he recounts his many stints playing in bands, including the dBs with Gene Holder, Peter Holsapple, and Will Rigby, and producing, meeting, hanging, and/or working with a veritable who's who of late-1970s/early-1980s NYC musicians, from famous Bowery regulars and downtown No Wavers to Jack Bruce (of Cream) and Van Dyke Parks, from R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe to obscure avant-garde performers, spanning stylistically the angular pop of Sneakers and the dBs to experimental piano pieces and Great American Songbook suites, with a lot stuffed in between. Absent from his account is Mudshark-type sexual gossiping, or many tales of drug use for that matter; introverted and temperamentally reserved, Stamey was far more interested in his private (read, quiet) romantic relationships, and the formal and mysterious dynamic of making music, all of those combustive personalities and their damaged lives on the periphery, lining up for their Please Kill Me mugshots. As a musician, producer, and fan, Stamey was around for all of it and hung out at all the legendary bars and venues, but, gifted with perspective and an inner-rudder that seemed to steer him straight, he takes the high road. In that, A Spy in the House of Loud is that rare 70s/80s NYC rock memoir, a gently erudite, funny, curious, thoughtful, and self-effacing book about music-making first, and scene-making second.

Happily, Stamey is a terrific writer: his sentences are concise and syntactically clear without sacrificing depth, his details are well-chosen throughout, and he has a knack for landing on metaphors that feel organic, not forced, and that do what a metaphor should: return us to the world refreshed, having been offered a slightly different angle on an everyday or an oft-told subject. ("A ordinary object slightly turned is a metaphor of that object," Wallace Stevens said. Stamey gets it.) Here he is on the conceptual possibilities of the 45 single, recalling Television's landmark "Little Johnny Jewel." Stamey starts down a well traveled road—"In the fall of 1975, everything changed"—but then deviates down a side path. "With albums, you often feel like someone is trying to sell you something: a concept, an attitude, a haircut, a concert ticket, a marketing plan," he observes.
With singles, someone is trying to tell you something: They are urgent, brief, to the point, a horseback ride across enemy territory with a crumpled-up of paper in a back pocket. And in the days if vinyl 45s, the brave little discs underwent a kind of torture to get their message across: A needle scratched the music into spiraling lacquer furrows on an aluminum disk, which was then given electroshock treatment until the grooves had been rendered onto metal plates that could squeeze our multiple copies of encoded plastic pucks with big holes punched in their centers.
Stamey employs this kind of figurative language throughout the book, but it rarely becomes precious or overdone. I'm not a musician, and my eyes glazed over occasionally when Stamey tutored on chord changes, jazz phrasing, amplifiers, and the like—this is a seriously gear-y book, and there's a snippet of sheet music at each chapter heading—but I imagine that most guitarists will find his annotations and discourses to be catnip. He has a knack for exploring minutiae—particularities of the recording process, for example—in such a way that's both close-up and wide-screen. Here he is on the wonders of stereo recording:
Songs like the Drifters’ “Spanish Harlem” were filled with the sound of rooms, but hearing is a more mysterious sense than vision. When listening to a recording, you have to “hear around corners,” to imagine the room that the notes are bouncing off of. All sorts of factors are involved in reproducing this: the types of microphones, their positions, the way the signals are processed, left-right assignments in the stereo image—all these let producers paint not only with combinations of pitch, timbre, and rhythm but also with careful amounts of both real and artificial reverberation effects. This results in a sensory dislocation:Your eyes are seeing the wallpaper in your living room, but your ears are hearing a space in London or Los Angeles, or perhaps a room that exists only in dreams. If you listen hard enough, your real room falls away, and you find yourself in the other....  [T]hat alchemy—of finding a sound, a room, a combination of tones, a space that can fill and fascinate and transport the imagination—remains an essential attraction for me.

.... Phil Spector had done marvelous things with mono room sounds in the early sixties, sonically implying vast spaces, but mono was a constricted palette.... I myself liked stereo, which really presents the ear (and brain) with three sources of information from sum and difference: the left channel, the right channel, and the ghost center image of sounds mutual to both.
And here's a beautiful and evocative passage about songwriting:
Oh, that delicious feeling of having a song brewing. It was like nothing else. I would leave my apartment in the blinding, treeless sunshine of a Hoboken morning, get the bus into Port Authority on the west side of Manhattan, grab a cup of coffee at Le Bon Pain, and stride across midtown to wherever that day called me, all the while standing stock still in that parallel dimension of songwriting as the melody and lyrics percolated up and around my consciousness. This dualism would continue throughout the day and into the next as I peered sideways into creativity’s realm, picking through the thousand musical and lyrical options until reducing the song down to its most sparse and necessary components. Each time, there was that certainty that this song was going to be the best one ever. And it was secret knowledge: I might be surrounded by dozens in a subway car, or talking to a sales clerk in a bookstore, or doing an interview at the record label, but I was the only one who knew that, simultaneously, this music was being born. Drunk on this strange, subtle elixir, I would imagine I knew how it must feel to be a secret agent assigned to a mission in a foreign land, as I maintained my facade of normal activity, all the while impatiently counting the minutes until I could return to a private space and transcribe or record this encrypted “message in a bottle” that had been fermenting, then formulate a way to float it out into the world. There was also the excitement of anticipation, the delusion of inevitable triumph, as my ego would balloon and I would imagine the hero’s ticker-tape parade one day—hearing back from my peers, accepting congratulations from all sides at having finally written the song, the single tune that would crystallize all I had tried for in the hundreds that came before it. Each such creative adventure was backlit by such new hope.
A central metaphor that Stamey returns to several times in his book originated in the most storied of places, CBGB, where there was a pinball machine "in the corner...that was farthest from the stage,"
and when the band playing was bad, uninteresting, or both—which, to be honest, was not so rare an occurrence—many of us would end up there. Of course, no other realizations ever seem quite as profound (at the time) as those that come at the end of a long night at a bar. But when a skilled player like Dee Dee Ramone nudged it just the right Way, making all the lights go off at once, I would see that old pinball machine as a metaphor for what great rock records should do: trigger some kind of instant deep-brain response, bypassing the critical facilities, beyond analysis. Just neurons flashing all over the place. And these were the kind of records we all wanted to make; we wanted the skilled hands to create more of the rare enablers of sonic euphoria. We wanted to shove the machinery. To make the lights flash off and on.
This is as terrific a description of rock and roll as I've read in a long time.

~~

Stamey's great on individual bands and artists, too, writing always as a fan, often a wide-eyed one. His description of R.E.M. captures their initial rush of appeal perfectly. Referring to the rise of college radio, he writes, "It was as if universities had been harboring an audience who had been waiting for years to hear a band that was neither their parents’ boring jammers nor the window-smashing, gobbing UK punk crew. R.E.M., who were not ashamed of their literacy and romanticism and whose cover graphics connected with university art-department tropes, became this band, an answer to these music fans' prayers."

Like all good music writing, Stamey's description sent me back to my records. I pulled out the early R.E.M. albums, which I hadn't listened to in a while, and, sent again by the majestic arrangement of "Pilgrimage" and the weary epiphanies of "Perfect Circle," I was happy that Stamey had reminded me of why I'm grateful that R.E.M. was the band that scored my heady, mystifying late teens. Prayers, indeed.



Images from A Spy in the House of Loud. Photo of Stamey at desk by Gail Goers.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

"I'm [Still] Alive"

ScottishTeeVee has posted a half-hour video of the Fleshtones performing at Le Botanique, in Brussels, Belgium, sometime in 1995, promoting the Steve Albini-engineered Laboratory of Sound, many tracks from which weren't played all that often. In addition to "Accelerated Emotion," "Hold You," "A Motor Needs Gas," "Fading Away," "Let's Go," and "Nostradamus, Jr." and a couple of songs from Beautiful Light (the title track and "Pocketful of Change") and Powerstance ("Candy Ass," "Let it Rip"), the set features Nick Lowe's "Truth Drug" and Johnny Thunder's "I'm Alive," as well as an encore of Cher's "Train of Thought," a fair run through Super Rock. I'd caught the band in '95 at the Elbo Room in Chicago, shortly after moving to Illinois from Ohio, and this set brings back more than a few memories.

This was the Fleshtones' first year playing without a horn section, down to the lean and mean—and far less costly—four piece that they've rocked since. They were a year away from recording with Paul Johnson in his basement in Brooklyn, a process that re-energized and refocused the band, and got them back to basics. Here, they bid adieu (for a while, anyway) to their Celebrity Producer Era.







Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Writing from Jubilation: Duncan Hannah's New York Stories

What's the literary value of a diary? Beyond being a time machine into the past, it can describe a real tension between grown-up and youthful selves. Most adults are no longer tuned to the mania and energy of the their youth, but they are to the larger universal underpinnings of that youth, what all that sweaty, blind striving was about; a grown-up may have slowed a bit, but the big picture's clearer. Speeding along as we do in our twenties, we can't see it. A diary is a snapshot of a blur; later, wide screen wisdom takes a while to emerge, though it's less sexy.

Painter Duncan Hannah's remarkable new book 20th Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies, chronicles what Gillian McCain drolly describes as "the adolescence that most of us wish we had." Born in 1952 and raised in Minnesota, Hannah attended art school, then transferred to Bard and then to Parson's, in downtown Manhattan, in the early 70s, just as the city was both declining into a social morass and ascending in shabby glamour. Hannah seems to have been blessed with amazing luck: he shows up at a concert, and ends up backstage partying with his rock gods; he drinks and drugs excessively, winding up in predictably dangerous and dire situations, once in an abandoned apartment hundred blocks north of where the party started with no recollection of how he got there, yet survives again and again; he creates defiantly unfashionable art (representative illustrations and painting in a heavily Abstract era) but meets the right people, and ends up making a living. His twenties was an extraordinary crash course in alcoholic depths and plucky providence, presided over by what Hannah calls his guardian angel. If you want a mad dash into Downtown NYC as Glam ruled and Punk was stirring, artists were thriving in low-rent lofts, and larger-than-life personalities seemed to pop up on every corner, party, and dark dive bar, you will inhale 20th Century Boy.

DH
How many grains of salt you'll need for the ride is a personal call, I guess. I did some low-key fact-checking of Hannah's exploits, and most of the amazing events he witnessed and involved himself in, either as a drunken fly-on-the-wall or as the center of attention, did occur. Yes, Jagger was in London when Bowie played the Rainbow Theatre and so likely was there, dancing in the front row; the infamous issue of Rolling Stone with a half-naked David Cassidy on the cover did come out around the time a couple of English giggling school girls mistook Hannah for the Partridge. I can't account for the numerous run ins with scenesters and rock stars that Hannah, a relatively unknown artist in the city, describes, and neither can he. One of the problems with diaries, as with all autobiographical accounts, is legitimacy and authenticity. Hannah implies in his introduction that he didn't rewrite his diaries, but there's nonetheless an occasional feeling as I read of retroactive shuffling, of today's insights pushing against the immediacy of the diary's present tense—did Hannah really feel that stepping into CBGB for the first time felt like the dawning of a new era? "It's like watching the birth of a wildly frantic and perverse new subculture," he gushes in the entry. Perhaps. We often sense something, even an epoch, before our language catches up with us. Or did Hannah touch up that entry with a bit of hindsight? "I had never read these journals before transcribing them," he confesses in the introduction.
In preparing them for publication, I removed a lot of extraneous detritus. I didn't do a lot of navel gazing, as many diarists do, so I didn't have that to contend with. I noticed, at the time, that mostly it was girls who kept journals, and they generally wrote only when they were upset. I was determined not to do this. I tended to write from jubilation. I wrote these at night, in bed (if I was in any kind of shape to write), or in the morning, over coffee. I didn't write every day, and as life accelerated I would miss notating chunks of experience. Indeed, 1979 hardly gets a look in at all. I don’t know why. I’ve changed some of the names to protect the innocent, and also the not-so-innocent. The grammar and spelling have also been corrected, as my slipshod grasp of English composition leaves something to be desired.
The book's early diaries are marked by long, narrative passages, as if Hannah was conscious of the story he was living, and making; the later entries are far shorter, often impressionistic, less episodic. His addictions were growing by this point, and no doubt the blackouts were more frequent. How Hannah recalls as much as he did in a state of near-continual inebriation and forgetfulness is also somewhat dubious, but, again, the art is in the shaping.

DH with Craig Gholson (left) at CBGB
Stars and starlight abounds. Hannahh meets Bowie and Janis Joplin, Iggy Pop and David Hockney, Warhol and Lou Reed and Richard Hell and David Johansen; Flo and Eddie ask him if he's got weed; he starts an early Television fan 'zine, and Danny Fields becomes his tour guide into and out of the Downtown jungle of artists and scene makers. He hits Max's, CBGBs, and later Hurrah and Mudd Club. He somehow gets invited to most of the best parties, where he's usually chased around by older gay men. Hannah recognizes his appeal to queers—it's been a lifelong dynamic. But he's straight, and he gets laid, a lot, even judging by the bed-hopping standards established in other memoirs of the era. Hannah was young and beautiful with a beatific, boyish innocence that was catnip to women, most of whom in the book are curious, independent, and generous, yet mask some serious psychological unease. It's a drag to admit that the sex gets a bit dull to read about after a while. By a third of the way in, each time a woman enters a scene it's virtually guaranteed that somehow, somewhere—in a borrowed bedroom, in a car, in an attic, in a shabby room in the Village or an estate on Long Island—Hannah will be alone with her, clothes will fall to the floor, hard nipples will be admired, and welcoming vaginas will be poetically praised. The readiness of so many eager women borders on the pornographic. It was the era. Yet it's always a shame when good fucking becomes predictable or dull in the retelling.

Hannah and Jim Carrol shared an editor, and Carrol's Beat Punk jittery ghost floats in and out of the book, in the staccato prose and epiphanic wooziness, such as in this entry from February 1976:
It’s already springtime, tweet tweet. Nick [Hannah's cat] got his balls cut off at the vet on Tenth Street. I waited for him at the Lion's Head. (He’ll take a fishtail, turn it into a fish scale.) Meaney’s got a friend of a friend who got castrated by some S&M guys last week. Eric got mugged when he was high on downers. Guillemette Barbet got her cameras stolen. E. S. Wilentz’s Eighth Street Bookshop burned down. There’s a full moon all this week that’s got all the ghosts and skeletons jittery. It gets crazy around here, and none of us have stuntmen to fill in for us.
Carrol and Hannah also shared a love of music, and pulsing throughout 20th Century Boy is the sound and spectacle of rock and roll, Hannah's second great passion after art. His description of Iggy Pop's drunken collapse at the Academy of Music on New Years Eve 1973 and of Bowie's New York City debut at Carnegie Hall are epic; throughout, his memories of shows and gigs are shot through with the sheer joy of fandom. Hawkwind bores him, but the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, and Mott the Hoople thrill him. Describing listening to the Velvet Underground's Loaded and the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle in a September 1970 entry, he marvels, "...fantastic. Such a rich wealth of music coming out. It’s where we get our messages, our subversive directions. It’s the soundtrack to our lives. The centerpiece to all this action. Ties us all together."

The Rolling Stones pop up often in the book, and it's quite interesting to see just how pervasive an influence the band was into into the mid-70s, even as they approached their alleged Dinosaur Era. Hannah continually seeks a Keef Richards haircut, and pre-sex with a girl once, he takes Joni Mitchell off of the turntable and slips on the Stones, "to get the right groove going." "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was as intense to him as a teenager as the Stooges' Fun House was when he was a bit older, and nothing was lost in the trade-off. In yet another instance of Hannah being in the right place at the right time, he inadvertently witnessed one of the Stones' great PR moves in May of 1975. I'd always wanted to read an on-the-ground description of the time the Stones roared into Manhattan on a flatbed truck singing "Brown Sugar." They'd actually simply turned a corner onto Fifth Avenue, but the spectacle was eye-popping. "Yesterday Mary Jane and I were walking north on Fifth Avenue to school," he writes. "I heard what sounded like a garage band playing 'Brown Sugar.' Loud! Outside! At ten-thirty in the morning? On a weekday? What is this?"
There was a small crowd in front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel on Tenth Street. We were on the east side of the street, looking at the back of a large flatbed truck. That’s where the live music was coming from. From under the partition I could see rolled-up Levi’s and Frye boots. I ran around to the front, maybe four people deep from the lip of the stage. It was the Stones themselves! They threw a press breakfast party for all the NYC journos inside Feathers restaurant, whose windows face Fifth. The scribes were reportedly pissed off that the Stones hadn't shown up at their own press party to promote their extensive summer tour, only to have them roll right up in front of them and begin to play. I caught the end of their first number, then they raced into the next. They looked appropriately scruffy in denim and worn leather, good shag haircuts, Mick's lips, etc, Their backdrop was a giant eagle with jet engines (drawn by one of my favorite illustrators, the German Christian Piper). Then the skies broke, and the rain came down in earnest. Police cars began to arrive. The truck began to drive slowly off, a gaggle of kids racing behind it. I finally saw the Stones!

~~

20th Century Boy is a wild, mostly thrilling and engrossing chronicle of a thoughtful, talented, and fortunate boy's journey through one of modern Manhattan's most storied eras. If you dig the 1970s and its art and music, you'll love Hannah's in-the-moment accounts. The New York Times found Hannah recently and wrote about him here and here. Please Kill Me featured him in an article here.

For what it's worth, my favorite detail in the book is David Bowie drinking Schaefer Beer at an after hours party in Larry Rivers's loft on East Fourteenth Street following a Roxy Music show in 1974. He probably had more than one.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Nowhere to run

Michael Kopech
It's tougher than ever to struggle these days if you're a professional baseball player, especially a highly-touted one. Chicago White Sox pitching prospect Michael Kopech, selected by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft, number 33 overall, is having a rocky time of it down in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he's pitching for the Knights, the White Sox AAA minor league team. In his last start, the twenty-two year old walked eight and allowed five earned runs in only three innings, his second poor outing in a row; he gave up five free passes in six innings on June 8. “Obviously he had a struggle commanding the fastball,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said.
I think he was 23 of 60-plus pitches in terms of strikes, which is not a good ratio. Just continue to get back to the drawing board, work through his side work, get back and hopefully try to get in a position where he’s commanding the fastball and able to use his secondary pitches. … He has had a few tough ones.
All of this is normal for a player in the minor leagues, where he's expected to struggle as he faces increasingly elite competition on his way, hopefully, to the bigs. What's different now is the nearly obscene amount of scrutiny such a player faces. When I was a kid and I heard on the radio or during a broadcast or read in the paper that a player was being "sent down" to the Minors, down may as well have been Antarctica. He'd vanish off the radar: I'd rarely hear about him again, let alone follow his daily progress, until the day he was promoted back to the Major League team. If he never made it back...well, see ya. He'd be banished from my daily knowledge of the team, maybe make an appearance in a dream or an unbidden memory a decade on. When a player I really liked, Ruppert Jones of the far-away Seattle Mariners, was injured during the 1978 season, I called Ken Beatrice, a radio sports talk show host on Washington D.C.'s WMAL, for an update on his status. Beatrice didn't have an iPad in front of him, a tab open to MiLB.com. He probably made up something, and went on to a more interesting caller. I hung up the phone, and continued imagining where Jones was, and what he was doing.

Things are vastly different now. I read about Kopech's struggles in the Chicago Tribune, can track his AAA efforts pitch-by-pitch online, can an even watch the Knights play on television, a development unheard-of when I was a kid. There is a massive amount of attention paid to all levels of professional sports now, and a demotion to the Minors—which might as well have been an actual farm for all I understood when I was twelve—is no longer an escape into obscurity. There are bright lights everywhere, now. Little about my comments here is new, yet I'm still occasionally startled by how unprecedented media coverage is in this century, and of how we're unable to gauge its impact on the future.

Monday, June 11, 2018

To Find Things in Common

"To be treated well in places where you don't expect to be treated well, to find things in common with people you thought previously you had very, very little in common with, that can't be a bad thing."

I often felt that Anthony Bourdain's best television shows, especially in his most recent series Parts Unknown, were essayistic. He led with a curious, questing persona, embodied by both his gregarious, ambling body and his thoughtful voice-overs, and he often allowed in the deeply personal, and at times confessional. Witness his deep despondency in Sicily, and his honest recounting of his addictions, among other bracing autobiographical moments. He was skeptical, hungry for knowledge, and always seemed open to surprise (of the blissful and the despairing varieties), to some measure of self-interrogation, and to the infinite, often surprising, usually joyous connections among disparate people and cultures. (He was, of course, a heck of a writer, too.) Food, as it was with M.F.K. Fisher, was the door opening onto the human condition.

He'll be missed.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Michael Nesmith on Riffs & Truth

In his thoughtful, aloof, definitely odd memoir Infinite Tuesday, Michael Nesmith riffs on the riff. "Anecdotes and riffs are true things, even though they seem loose and unscientific," he observes. "In music the definition of a riff is essentially broad. A riff is not necessarily a repeating phrase, like the guitar intro to “Paperback Writer,” even though it may have started there."
A riff by definition is not written or defined before it is played or sung or said. It is of the moment. It can be an added string of notes between a refrain and a verse, or a made-up phrase across the top of a series of chords, as in a jazz performance, but the critical distinction is that riffs are real-time, happening pre-thought in the moment, and many times a surprise. It might even be a wisecrack, if it’s insightful enough.

A good riff can embody and express the essence of a song or a melody in just a few notes, the same way a quick anecdote can frame an actual event, making its spirit clear even to those not resent at the event. Truth works in this way—it is illuminated through the metaphor, the parable, the anecdote, and the riff. It is terse, clear, concise. The truth reveals the spiritual facts of life. A notable aspect of riffs and anecdotes is that they only happen once and never repeat. They are sui generis.

The ephemeral nature of a riff points, for some, to insubstantiality, but for others this is timelessness, an essential nature of the riff, the spontaneous and sudden appearing, then disappearing, of the genuine article, a quick wink that lets everyone know that the universe is watching out for us.

Riffs take readiness and practice, as does truth-telling. Silence is the gold standard because spaces in a riff count for just as much as what is spoken. When W\what is said is true, there is a ring to it that is like no other sound. It is a real sound, an actual sound, a sound that makes one turn their head, but its substance is spiritual, beyond the sense fences, the walls and clatter that hide so much.
Read Infinite Tuesday if you want similar essaying of Celebrity Psychoses, the Hollywood Mind, the nature of reality, the limits of epistemology, and video technology. You'll likely be disappointed if you're looking for a breakdown of the various mixes and takes of "Valleri" or much gossip about The Monkees and the band running around goofily in it. Nesmith decidedly keeps his gaze above the horizon, where his philosophical thoughts and ruminations gather.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Wildest...The Kookiest...The Grooviest...The Slurpiest Essay Yet

My latest essay is live at The Normal School. In it I tell the full story of the promotional 45 "Dance the Slurp" issued by the 7-Eleven Corporation in 1966. Along the way I cover the fascinating history of jingle writer Tom Merriman, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's remarkable Brainfreeze mix CD, what happens when a song gets stuck in your head, and a lot more. I've had the single since I was a kid and I always wanted to learn more about it.

Here's the opening graph:
“Maybe I’ve lost too many brain cells from too many Slurpee-induced brain freezes.”

That’s my brother Phil. I’ve asked him and my other siblings if they can recall how “Dance the Slurp,” a 1966 promotional single released by the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, ended up in our house in Wheaton, Maryland. “If I’m the one who first acquired it, I don’t remember how or when,” he admits. None of my other brothers or my sister can remember, either, but the journey wouldn’t have been very far. There was a 7-Eleven less than half a mile from our house on Amherst Avenue, and, over many years, we ducked in to escape the sticky summer heat, and to load up on cherry or lemon-lime and cola Slurpees, wads of gum, fistfuls of comics and magazines. The 7-Eleven was a regular stop on my solitary Saturday afternoon allowance walks, yet I too don’t know how it ended up in the house. For many years it was on high rotation on the Bonomo family turntable.
You can read the full essay here. You can subscribe to The Normal School here.

Slurp! Slurp!


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