Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Beans Rooftop Concert

Since it's that time of year, consider this a stocking-stuffer personally for you, probably the best thing to happen in 2012:

Monday, November 19, 2012

OneRepublic's TwoContradictoryAttitudes About the Internet

In an interesting recent profile of the band OneRepublic in 5280 magazine, lead singer Ryan Tedder explained how the internet just barely saved the band after getting cut from their first label:
Losing the record deal was a devastating blow. Tedder told his wife, Genevieve, whom he had married just months before, that OneRepublic was done; that at 27 years old he was going to have to give up the dream. Instead he would continue producing music for other people, something he’d been doing on the side anyway. That night, Tedder typed into a Web browser to change the band’s status from “signed” to “unsigned.” Then, because he was no longer beholden to the label’s rules not to post songs online, he uploaded “Apologize” and “Stop and Stare.” For Tedder and Co., social media was a godsend. Within two months, OneRepublic was the number one unsigned act on Myspace, and the band quickly became one of the hottest independent acts in L.A. The guys scored a residency at the Key Club in West Hollywood, and, after three initial shows, the band sold out each subsequent concert. They were running out of T-shirts and CDs. They were signing autographs. They were being courted by promoters to play in Canada and Washington and Florida. But they still didn’t have a record deal. That’s when Tedder received a call from an old friend. Timbaland, the prominent hip-hop and R&B producer, wanted to sign OneRepublic to Interscope Records, the home of artists like U2, Sting, the Black Eyed Peas, and No Doubt.
A little later in the article, however, Tedder complains about how the internet makes life more difficult for his band:
The age of digital music has, according to Tedder, had a dramatic impact on the music industry for one primary reason: “When you buy one song,” Tedder says, “you don’t invest in the artist.” Before MP3s, he says, if you liked a song you heard on the radio, you had to buy the album. And because you bought the album, you were compelled to listen to it as a whole and found other nonsingle songs you loved. You found you liked the artist. When that artist came to town, you bought tickets for the concert. Because you went to the concert and loved it, you were a fan for life. You bought the next album and the next album—maybe without even hearing a single on the radio to prompt you. The ability to just buy one song from iTunes has, in Tedder’s mind, done two things. One, it has erased the days when teenagers and college kids obsessed over music, lying on their beds listening to an album from beginning to end, in favor of making music background noise they sort of listen to through earbuds while walking to class. And two, downloadability has shortened the lifespan of artists. “One successful single could sell three million copies and make a band culturally significant for nine months,” he says. “But because hardly anyone bought the album, that artist has zero long-term fans.”
So I guess the internet is a godsend to aspiring rock super-stars, except when it isn't...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Return of the Road-Eyes

Since the announcement a couple of weeks ago that Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and will be making new Star Wars movies soon, speculation has been running rampant about who might write and direct. Shouldn't it be obvious? Judging by these clips from Rust Never Sleeps:

Neil Young and The Road Eyes 1
Neil Young and The Road Eyes 2

 (not to mention the movie poster) it should almost certainly be one Bernard Shakey…

Friday, November 2, 2012

Is Romney politics’ "Jesse"?

People may argue with me on this, but I think that one of the main reasons that Mitt Romney is our country's Republican nominee for president is that he had the deep pockets to promote himself for the years running up to his nomination. So I couldn't help but think of Romney when I recently re-read Fredric Dannen's classic book on the music industry, Hit Men, and came across the following passage about "The Network" (i.e. a group of so-called 'indie promoters' who bribed radio station managers to play their clients' songs):
For all its power, the Network could not make a hit record. No one could do that except the marketplace. You could saturate the airwaves with an uncommercial song and have some moderate success, but in the end you could not force people to buy a record they did not like. It is easy to find examples of “turntable” hits: records that got load of airplay but did not sell. Consider Carly Simon’s hit single “Jesse”, on Warner Bros. Records. Said an executive at a competing label, “’Jesse’ is legendary as one of the most expensive singles of all time in the amount of indie promotion money spent on it. I don’t know the actual number, but if you told me $300,000, I wouldn’t blink. The amusing thing is, it was top ten, it got a lot of airplay, but they didn’t sell any albums. It was perceived as a hit record. But the album was a stiff. So was it a successful project? Not for anybody except for the independent promoters. You can’t blame them for taking the money.”
So on November 6 it seems we will learn if Romney is the political world's equivalent of Carly Simon's "Jesse", or the real deal, more like Michael Jackson's Thriller, say, which became a hit not only because it received a ton of promo money (about $100,000 per single, according to an Epic exec quoted in Dannen's book), but also because it really was one of the best records of all time…

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Horrible Toll of Hurricane Sandy: the Skynyrd Cruise

Just when we thought we'd arrived at the final tally of Sandy's destruction, more dreadful developments come to light. Oh, the horror.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Phish vs the Dead: Halloween

For this installment, we compare the venerable jammies on their approach to All Hallows’ Eve.

Criteria: Halloween

The Dead: The Dead never made too much fuss over Halloween. They played about 12 Halloween shows (the early years are fuzzy).  Occasionally they broke out "Werewolves in London". Perhaps unconsciously they paid tribute to the ghoulish spirits in the air by using the night to kill off some favorite tunes: the last performance of "Viola Lee Blues" was on Halloween 1970, the last "St. Stephen" was Halloween 1983, and the last "Lazy Lightning" was Halloween 1984.  Probably the highlights were the 1991 performance of "Dark Star" in honor of the late Bill Graham, replete with a reading from Ken Kesey, and the Halloween show during the 1980 run at Radio City Music Hall. Although the overall 1980 run was beset by problems -- a rowdy crowd that drew the ire of the authorities, a Nar-Anon-ready road crew that beat up Jerry's East Coast dope dealer, a lawsuit from the Radio City management because of an imagined insult -- the Halloween show itself was blazingly well-played, simulcast on television, and featured comedy skits by Al Franken and Tom Davis:

 (more Franken and Davis at Radio City here:;;;

Phish: From the get go, Phish took to Halloween like a drunken Zombie Cowboy to a friendly Sexy Nurse.  Their very first Halloween show contained the debut of a song that would become an all-time fan favorite: "David Bowie". Their second featured Fishman shaving off all his body hair. Their third Halloween included Trey wearing devil horns, latex pants, and strap-on breasts. Their fourth and fifth featured costume contests, the latter year's resulting in a generous first prize (free admission to all Phish shows for an entire year) being awarded to one "Captain Bong Hit". And then in 1994, they blew the doors off. They came up with the idea of a 'musical costume', i.e. pretending to be another band for the night (or at least a set), and playing a complete album of their tunes. In 1994 they played the Beatle's White Album. In 1995, it was The Who's Quadrophenia (going as far as destroying their instruments at the end of the night). In 1996, it was the Talking Head's Remain in Light (no word if they tried to host PBS shows or write op-eds about transportation policy at the end of the evening). In 1998 it was Velvet Underground's Loaded (which according to many reports younger members of the audience didn't even recognize: shame on you, Millennials!!!!). Then they took a ten year break from Halloween -- returning in 2009 with the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street and in 2010 with Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus -- but the idea had already taken hold in popular culture, becoming a tradition in its own right.

Analysis: Learning a new album every time? Phish kicks the Dead's ass when it comes to Halloween. 

This round: Phish Tally so far: Dead 3, Phish 2

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Red Rocks, 30 Years Later: Dead ’82 vs Furthur ‘12

Last night Furthur played the last show of a three night run at Red Rocks. 30 years ago, the Grateful Dead also played a three show run at Red Rocks. Here’s a comparison of the setlists: Random notes:
  • Both bands encored their first night with U.S. Blues.
  • Unlike Furthur, the Dead did not play Dear Mr. Fantasy at Red Rocks in 1982, but they did choose Red Rocks as the venue to debut it two years later (during another three night run in 1984).
  • Surprisingly, the Dead did not play Scarlet – Fire on their three day run in ‘82 (but they did play it on their ‘78, ‘83, ‘84 and ‘85 runs).
  • Furthur delivered something many heads wished they saw back in the day: Dark Star at Red Rocks (The Dead never played it at what many thought would be the perfect venue for it)
  • Both bands played Shakedown Street, which seems appropriate: Shakedown Street was debuted at Red Rocks on 8/31/78 (the first Dead Red Rocks show).
  • On the last night of Furthur's run, the first letter of the first 13 songs spelled out "Steal Your Face" (Samson & Delilah, Tennessee Jed, Easy Wind, Alabama Getaway, Loose Lucy, You Win Again, Operator, Uncle John's Band, Reuben & Cherise > Feel Like A Stranger, Alligator > Cumberland Blues, Eyes of the World)
  • On the lat night of the Dead's run, the first letter of the first 13 songs spelled out "Nfclftlmcscid"

Monday, August 6, 2012

Last Night’s Neil Young Show at Red Rocks

Neil Young looks like he slipped the Crypt-keeper some gold to be let out of the underworld for a few hours. I mean that as the highest compliment. He and his band, Crazy Horse, have gotten to the age, after decades of rock and roll abuse, where they resemble not so much the pretty “vampires” we have grown used to from the likes of Twilight and True Blood, but rather the real deal: charnel-hungry, bloodthirsty, undead monsters.

I’ve come to think of America’s best inventions, including rock and roll, as the history of human endeavor jacked up on fossil fuels, the result of America’s genius for figuring out how to use the power trapped inside oil to enhance every known activity. A car is just a horse carriage on oil. Likewise with electric lights and candles, washing machines and washboards, computers and abaci, etc. Similarly, rock and roll, at its core, is folk music electrified and amplified to previously unachievable volumes. Neil Young seems to get this.

Young plays using not just the amps on stage, but the entire 500,000-watt PA system at his disposable. He and Crazy Horse create a beautiful, loud, thick wall of electric sound, which he periodically cuts through with piercing solos like a man wielding a jackhammer. Young was never a precision player, and that penchant suits him well now. Whereas other aging rockers struggle to replicate the intricate, proggy licks of their youth, Young takes his beautifully simple riffs and plays the hell out of them. He is not afraid to jam -- really jam, going out there farther and weirder than I’ve seen any other rocker do in years -- and in that pursuit he stomps on pedals, does his signature lurch, and strangles the neck of “Old Black”, his trademark black Les Paul with the rare, but crucial for Young, Bigsby vibrato arm.

It’s clear from last night’s show at Red Rocks that this tour is no lazy cash-in. It felt more like a demonstration of everything Young has learned from his decades of experimentation, his many tours with Crazy Horse, and his frequent left turns. He approached the tunes like a wise, old, rock wizard, showing you how he takes common ingredients and creates stunning magic. It would be tempting to call what he produced garage rock due to its simplicity, but no garage would be able to survive this high-decibel assault.

My only complaint is I would’ve liked to have heard more of the all-time classics. A majority of the show was new (or new-ish) and lesser-known tunes. I would’ve killed, for instance, to hear “Cortez the Killer”. But that complaint feels trivial when afforded the privilege of witnessing a display of such pure rock awesomeness. If playing new tunes is how Young keeps it fresh for himself and maintains his mastery, then who am I to quibble? Besides, the new tunes are pleasingly familiar. As Neil himself quipped before playing one of them, “Now, be nice to this next song. It’s a new one. But it sounds exactly like an old one.”

In between the beauty, Young engaged in a higher than average amount of stage banter – which is to say, he made a few gnomic utterances here and there. He bemoaned the inaccuracy of twitter posts about his shows (“Don’t believe everything you read. They get the titles of the songs wrong.”), made a few jokes (introducing Cinnamon Girl with “I wrote this next one this morning”), and asked the band if they had ever played Red Rocks before (the band couldn’t come up with a definitive answer). He acknowledged his gabbiness later in the evening. by saying “I’m talking a lot tonight. You know what that means?... I’m nervous… I’m stressed out… Let me know how we’re doing.”

Just fine, Neil. You’re doing just fine.

Caveat: all the stage quotes are from memory. And in full journalistic disclosure: I was high off a particularly potent strain of Colorado’s medicinal wonder. Normally I wouldn’t feel this need to divulge this, but after John Lehrer got pilloried for misquoting Dylan, all of us bloggers are starting to get nervous… -Ed

If You Need Help Naming Your Band, Part 6

Band Names Rejected by the Smashing Pumpkins:

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"A Sheep Trying to Seduce a Telephone Pole"

Classic review of Zeppelin's movie The Song Remains the Same from the New York Times 10/21/76:
SCREEN: SONG ‘REMAINS THE SAME’ Zeppelin’s Rock Pulverizes Eardrums at Cinema I By Richard Eder New York Times October 21, 1976 The Song Remains the Same is a movie to listen to Led Zeppelin by. If you want to listen to Led Zeppelin. If you don’t, there’s not point going. If you do, it’s still a dubious proposition. Certainly the sound system at the Cinema I Theater, where it opened yesterday, does full justice to the decibels. Even using the squashed-up balls of paper napkin recommended by a knowledgeable member of the newspaper’s music staff, it was loud. Powered ear-drum floated about. Presumably, though, putting this British rock group in a movie was intended to be the equivalent not of listening to their records but of attending one of their concerts. This is very hard to do on film: We miss the immediacy, the sense of physical presence, and even, to an extend, physical peril. The power of a mass audience to communicate excitement is absent. To make up for this, the film intercuts a variety of scenes while each of the 13 numbers in being performed. A few are more or less realistic – a sequence outside Madison Square Garden, an argument between the group’s manager and a Garden official – and others are fantasy. Members of the group put on cloaks, ride around on horses, stand in the moonlight. They are pseudodreams, like the unconvinced artwork on rock record jackets. The scenes showing the group performing are more informative though not much more powerful. They are dominated by the singer, Robert Plant. A great mass of yellow curls tumbling around his shoulders, Mr. Plant sashays around the stage, posturing, pouting, and conducting a meaningful relationship with a microphone. It looks like a sheep trying to seduce a telephone pole. Possibly this is what led to a PG (Parental Guidance suggested) rating. For the first two-thirds – which was all this reviewer stayed – there seemed to be no other particular threat to the future adults in a stone-deaf civilization.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Boys Take Manhattan: The Beacon Theater 2012 vs. Madison Square Garden 1991

Now that Furthur is in the midst their summer tour, it's time to compare their recent eight-night run in New York City to the Grateful Dead’s historic nine-night NYC run in 1991 to see what can be learned...

Background In 1991, the Grateful Dead took over Madison Square Garden in New York City for almost two full weeks: nine consecutive shows spread out over 11 nights. It was the peak of the Mega-Dead period, and the run was one of the longest in Grateful Dead history (the only longer run was the marathon at the Warfield Theater in 1980: 15 consecutive shows as part of the taping of the Reckoning and Dead Set albums). The string of concerts was the most in a row for any band ever to play at Madison Square Garden, a record which would stand for nearly a decade (until Bruce Springsteen toppled it with 10 consecutive shows in 2000).

At this point in the band's career, to quote Dennis McNally, the band's former publicist, "it seemed at tour time that it was the Dead’s world and everyone else just lived in it." And that was certainly how it felt in the few square blocks surrounding MSG. The population of the usually straight-laced midtown area swelled by what seemed like millions of freaks. Suddenly tour bums, paper-tab mystics, and psychedelic hucksters occupied every square inch of urban space.

The event offered a slice of New York with a topping of magic mushrooms. Bus fumes mixed with patchouli. Angry horn-honking mixed with tranquilizer-slow bongo-playing. The multi-level parking garage across the street from the Garden turned into the largest open-air drug bazaar in the history of the world. Even King Kong seemed to have gotten in on the act. Someone (the City? the Garden? the Dead?) paid for an enormous inflatable Kong balloon to float above the entrance to MSG, proudly donning a monster-sized tie-dye shirt. One couldn’t help but think of him as an aging head, secretly skipping out from his day job as a float in the Macy Day’s parade, going to relive his prodigal youth for one night at a show.

And it was all thanks in no small part to the peculiar moment in New York history. The event occurred in the giddy instant when the city realized it had successfully slipped through the fingers of the Civic Grim Reaper, after it stopped being a play-land for street criminals and before it became a play-land exclusively for the super-rich, that beautiful and brief twilight period when the city was still a vast, affordable repository of all that was too weird and wonderful for the rest of America (any serious New Yorker is loath to attribute this grace period to the famously inept David Dinkins, but the years do more or less match up…) Nowadays of course, everything's different in the City. Manhattan is leading the charge to break the record for a $100,000,000 apartment. The Park 'n' Lock across from MSG costs $20 an hour. The cops will write you a summons for just about anything in the name of maintaining "quality of life". And never mind nitrous: recently even a large soda has become contraband.

The Hot Seat

In the early 90's, Bob Weir remarked that the keyboard slot in the Grateful Dead was the “hot seat”. By that point, they had already been through four keyboardists, and their latest situation had ended in tragedy when Brent Mydland died of a drug overdose. The band's overhead had reached about $500,000 a month, and according to Phil Lesh's memoir, "unbelievably, we had still not put any money aside in the event of an emergency that would keep us off the road for a long stretch." For that reason alone, the band was in a hurry to find a new keyboardist, and they abandoned auditions as soon as they found a guy able to hit the high harmonies and play keys at the same time, Vince Welnick. To add to the chaos, Garcia threw in a curveball by leaving a message on Bruce Hornsby's answering machine asking him to join the band, and the Dead, being the Grateful Dead, wound up doing the most illogical thing possible: they hired TWO keyboardists as a replacement.

So when the Grateful Dead hit Madison Square Garden in '91, they had both Welnick and Hornsby in tow. By this point the two had playing together in the Dead for about a year, and had carved out their own territories: The Great Vincenzo concentrated on the midi synthesizer, while Mr. Hornsby concentrated on a grand piano. Sometimes the two-headed monster worked at MSG, as in this version of "Jack Straw":

And sometimes the duo's playing was more of a collision, like in this version of "Feel Like A Stranger", where everything gets so cluttered that by the time Bobby starts singing, the band is totally out of sync:

In 2012, of course, it’s the, ur, "Jerry" slot that’s the hot seat. This time, however, the audition process has lasted for years. First, there was the 1998 Other Ones tour, which featured two guitarists (Mark Karan and Steve Kimock) and a sax player (Dave Ellis) trying to fill Garcia's shoes. Next up came the Other Ones' 2000 tour, which dropped the sax player but kept Karan and Kimock. Then came the Other Ones' 2002 tour, which substituted one guitarist (Jimmy Herring) for the double-K's (and oddly threw in a second keyboardist, possibly in a strange effort to recreate that early 90's sound?). In 2003, the band rechristened itself The Dead and toured with not only Jimmy Herring but also Warren Haynes on guitar. In 2009, the Dead went out again, dropped Herring and continued with just Haynes. Finally, in late 2009, Furthur came into existence, and settled on one person to fill the Jerry slot, who has done so with much controversy over the last 3 years: John Kadlecik.

Before we even start a discussion of John K, let me show you a picture:

This is an ancient relief depicting a "dancing maened". Many art historians consider it a work of beauty. To the ancient Greeks it had a sacred quality, as the maeneds were worshippers of the god Dionysus, who celebrated the god's rites through song and dance. It is currently housed just across Central Park from the Beacon Theatre in one of the world’s most renowned museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most people would concede that it achieves at least something in the aesthetic realm. What do you think?

Now let me tell you this: it's a Roman copy of the Greek original. Does that make you think it's ugly? Clearly the experts at the Met didn't think so. And there's a reason that such a preeminent institution would decide to proudly display a Roman copy of Greek art. The original has been lost. In this case it's the only way for us to experience this particular piece.

In the same way, no one can truly experience the original Grateful Dead live in concert anymore, so perhaps we should sit back and enjoy the "Roman" equivalent. Obviously I would prefer to attend a concert in which Jerry Garcia is at the helm rather than John K, but as far as I understand the laws of the universe, that's not an option at this current point in time.

I will even go a step further. I agree with the art historian Denis Dutton when he writes, “Our belief in the creative power of the great artist has about it an aura of primitive magic. His work of art is a kind of talisman, a fetish…Once a work is known to be a forgery, the magic is gone.” When we rid ourselves of this magical thinking, when we shake off the binds of primitivism, we can allow, philosophically, that there can be individual moments in time, specific pieces, on which an imitator can surpass the master he is trying to mimic. To quote the philosopher Edward W.H. Vick, from his essay on the aesthetic understanding of forgeries in painting: “the forger can rival the original artist in invention as well as execution, can produce as good a work rather than an identical copy.” In other words, there is a chance that one of those Roman copies sitting in the Met was executed with more skill, is somehow more beautiful, than the Greek original.

I am therefore willing to pose the question: is it possible for John Kadlecik to ever out-perform Jerry? Many heads would reject the possibility prima facie (they would probably steal your facie), and there is a contingent of hardcore John-K haters that would burn me at the stake for even asking it (by the way, I think a lot of the hatred for John K stems from the possibility that people, subconsciously, want to blame whoever currently occupies the Jerry slot for Jerry's death; if Jerrry was a lot of people's favorite uncle, than the replacement-Jerry is like the new guy that your aunt is now dating; whoever he is, he would be hated, and when he kind of reminds you of your uncle, when he cracks similar jokes and tells similar stories, that makes things even worse). Obviously Garcia blows John K away in terms of inventiveness, influence, importance, etc, over the course of his entire career. Jerry Garcia was a true maestro, a man who invented an entire 'school' of rock (the oft-maligned jam-band school) -- not to mention an American icon and quasi-mythical figure -- and John K is just somebody imitating him. But for the purposes of this discussion, I think it's interesting to ask: are there any songs played by both Furthur and the Dead at their respective NYC runs during which John K is able to 'out-Jerry' Jerry? Specifically, is John K in 2012 ever able to get the better of the Jerry Garcia that showed up at Madison Square Garden in 1991?

Let's not forget that in 1991 Jerry was not necessarily at the peak of his powers. According to Blair Jackson's book Grateful Dead Gear, Jerry was battling numerous health problems that year, including, but not limited to: "a recurrence of the diabetes that had nearly killed him in 1986, causing him to periodically lose sensation is his fingers… carpal tunnel syndrome, a repetitive stress injury brought on by years and years of playing heavy guitars in poor ergonomic positions… pain in his back, shoulders, forearms and wrists… an enlarged heart, (and) early symptoms of emphysema…” Jerry was also battling mental burn-out, a nagging feeling that he would rather be doing something else than playing with the Grateful Dead. When asked by Rolling Stone magazine in an interview conducted during the MSG run in '91 if he ever had more fun playing with musicians outside of the Grateful Dead, Jerry replied, "Oh sure, absolutely. And that’s always dangling in front of me, the thing of, well, shit, if I was on my own, God I could…”

And then there was the giant, bejeweled-tusk, tapestry-strewn, purple lord-Vishnu-incarnate elephant in the room: Jerry’s drug use. Whether he was using heroin again during the MSG run depends on who you believe. By some accounts Jerry was still sober following an intervention the band had with him over the summer of '91, but others say he quickly picked up the habit again as soon as the Fall tour started. The answer Jerry himself gave when quizzed about drugs during the Rolling Stone interview was equivocal. He said, “as far as the drugs that are dead-enders, like cocaine and heroin and so forth, if you could figure how to do them without being strung out on them, or without having them completely dominate your personality…” (the pregnant ellipsis was Garcia’s, not mine…)

Whatever his level of toxicity, Garcia performed at MSG in such a way that Bruce Hornsby felt compelled to confront him right after the string of shows. According to Dennis McNally, Hornsby told Garcia that his playing had been "languorous". Hornsby told Garcia, “I resent you coming to the gig and being there but not being there. You’re not bringing what you could to the show every night.” (As to whether Garcia was using drugs at this time, here's McNally's stoic response: “His drug habits were like the weather; everyone talked about them, but no one felt the slightest ability to do anything about it.”) By contrast, John K is obviously THRILLED to be playing with members of the Dead. He approaches the music with love and respect: no one spends over ten years of his life in a Grateful Dead cover band without loving the Dead's repertoire. He has a fantastic guitar technique, a knowledge of even the deepest Dead cut ("Day Job", anyone? his former band, DSO, played it repeatedly), and a joyful spirit. Besides, it's fun to participate in the Hollywood fantasy, too; here’s this kid who was plucked from the minors and is now in the big time.

I was ready, then, to find that there were at least a couple tunes on which John K '12 out-shined the '91 Jerry. To this end I listened to countless hours of tape (well, bytes). What I found out surprised me. Even when I compared the sloppy, forgotten-word, missed cue performances of '91, it's still tough to put anyone toe-to-toe with Jerry. I thought for a moment I had a clear winner for John K with "Crazy Fingers". Jerry forgot the lyrics and flubbed his solo. But there's still Jerry's Voice -- I don't mean just his inflection or intonation, but his artistic "Voice", some would say his soul -- that comes through. It was a fascinating, and somewhat frustrating, exercise for anyone who wants to believe that success in life doesn't all come down to a certain indefinable X factor, that those of us who love a certain craft, who study it and work hard and devote our lives to learning from the masters can sometimes surpass them regardless of whether the universe has randomly bestowed upon us the gift of innate talent. (To avoid misinterpretation: I know that Jerry worked hard also; he spent countless hours practicing and playing, especially when he was young, honing his gift, but still, he started with a gift). But in comparing John K. '12 vs '91 Jerry, however unfortunate it may be for those of us born without the X factor, I was not able to find one single performance, song by song, in which John K clearly outshined Garcia. (I remain convinced that you could find some examples from '94 or '95, where John K out-jerries, Jerry, but I am leaving that search for a man of tougher constitution than myself…).

I did find, however, that some of John K's performances had a certain "stickiness" that '91 Jerry's did not. By that I mean, the morning after I listened to a John K version of a song vs. the '91 Jerry version, sometimes it was the John K version that was stuck in my head. The performance that did this the most for me was John K's version of "Comes a Time". When you listen to the two songs side by side, obviously Jerry's voice is Jerry's voice, it has the aforementioned soul that John K's just doesn't, and note for note it's not like John K rips out an amazingly solo that Jerry did not; it's just that, like I said, John K's performance stuck with me more than Jerry's. Perhaps it has something to do with another indefinable element: referring back to what Hornsby said, perhaps John K was more "there" -- more in-the-moment, more present -- than Jerry was. That's the only theory I have. For your listening pleasure, here they are:

Jerry '91:

John K '12:


In 1991, the Grateful Dead were still creating their set lists by whatever mysterious set of rules that heads had spent years trying to divine, and that, according to rock lore, Pete Townshend had once been given a full, detailed explanation of (only to be so wasted that neither he nor anyone else in the room could remember). In 2012, Furthur set lists are predetermined by Phil Lesh's wife, Jill. (In a recent Guitar World magazine interview, Bob Weir shed some light on the Grateful Dead's old process, and said that it's not actually all that different from Furthur's: "The Dead weren't operating completely on the fly as people imagine. Basically, Jerry and I would plot out the first few songs and then let the set unravel from there. We usually had in mind what we were going to close with, and it was a matter of making it all flow. For the second set, we would decide what we were going to close with, and anyone could come chat about it during the drum segment, and we would sometimes craft concepts."-- By which I guess he means that the drummers didn't have much input into the process).

Whatever their method of deciding which songs to play, the two groups took a similar structural approach to their shows: playing a different set list every night, attempting to avoid repeated songs, and mining a large repertoire over the course of the run. Over the course of nine nights, the Grateful Dead played a total of 113 unique songs. Furthur, in only eight nights, played 124 songs. That's right: even though the Dead played more shows, Furthur actually played more songs. The two groups shared 80 of the same songs. Furthur played 44 songs that the Dead did not play, and the Dead played 33 songs that the Furthur did not play. If that confused you, perhaps a visual will help:

Out of the three groupings above, I was most interested in seeing the songs that the Dead played at MSG which Furthur had declined to play at the Beacon. I've long considered set lists an opportunity for some serious tea-leaf reading, and I thought that at the very least this list of songs might provide some insight into tunes that Phil and Bob have grown tired of, or perhaps, even better, offer a glimpse of the Deadhead's Holy Grail: the inner-workings of Garcia's mind. Theoretically, these could be tunes that only Jerry loved and forced down the others' throats back in the day, and that as soon as Phil and Bob got a chance not to play them, they dropped them like a hot potato (caboose). But when I took that list and searched Further setlists outside of just the MSG run, I found that at one point or another Furthur has played almost all of the tunes above (just not necessarily at the Beacon).

There were two exceptions, two songs which the Grateful Dead played at MSG in 1991 which Furthur has never played. One of the tunes was "Let The Good Times Roll", which the Dead themselves only played 4 times, all in 1991, so it's more of a blip on the screen than anything significant. The other tune, however, was a mainstay of the Dead repertoire, a song that was played 96 times between 1988 and 1995. Given the author of the tune, however, I was surprised it made in on this list: "Victim or the Crime".

Now, granted, this is a tune that one former member of the Dead, Mickey Hart, thinks is so obscure that he used it to test the knowledge of the Rhino executive who was recently trying to charm the Dead into granting his corporation sole rights to their merchandising. But still, it's a Bobby tune, and I'm surprised that out of all the songs that the Dead played at MSG that Furthur have never played, this would be the one. I guess, in a way, it does provide a window into Garcia's mind, if only to prove that his perception of Bob Weir was sometimes right. In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine in 1989, Garcia said, "Getting Bob Weir to do new tunes is like pulling teeth sometimes. He doesn’t even like to do his own tunes a lot of times. We slowly stop doing a lot of his tunes, and he doesn’t say anything. It’s like, 'Hey, what ever happened to those tunes of yours?’" So, in the spirit of things, I would like to tell you: it's been 4,296 days since the last "Victim or the Crime".

Another interesting phenomenon with Furthur's set lists is that they tend to play songs in unusual spots. Back in 1991, any given song, if it was played by the Dead on a particular evening, usually appeared in a similar position in the set list. To provide an example, let's take the song "Althea". If this is 1991, and I'm hearing "Althea", then we must be the middle of the first set, and wow that Humboldt Indica is strong because it feels like it's already been a few LIFETIMES that have past since the start of the show, man. And sure enough, when the Dead played MSG in '91, "Althea" appeared in the first set on two separate evenings (on 9/13/91 the Dead played "Althea" as the 6th song in the first set, and on 9/17/91 the Dead played "Althea" as the 3rd song in the first set). This tendency to play the songs in the same slots became so rigid that it led Bruce Hornsby to complain to music journalist Steve Silberman in an interview:

Bruce Hornsby: I got frustrated with this. I was like, "Hey, why don't we try something different -- why don't we start the show with 'Space'?"
Steve Silberman: Were they not open to that? That's something I say myself...
Bruce Hornsby: Vince says it too. But they get stuck in their ways.
Steve Silberman: Would you literally say, "Hey, guys, why don't we start the show with 'Space'?"
Bruce Hornsby: Yeah.
Steve Silberman: What would they do? Bruce Hornsby: They would just, "Ah, well, I don't know." [laughing]

While Furthur never opened with "Space" at the Beacon, they did liberate "Althea" from her first set confinement. Furthur played it twice during their 2012 NYC run, once on 4/12/12 and once on 4/15/12, both times in the second set. This was not the only song they moved around. "Jack Straw", also a first-set lifer with the Dead (played in the first set on 9/14/91 and 9/18/91), appeared twice in the second set in a Furthur show (4/12/12 and 4/15/12). "China Cat -> Rider", by 1991 a quintessential second set opener (indeed, the Dead opened their second set with it on 9/14/91), was played by Furthur much deeper in the second set (after "Althea"!) on 4/12/12.

Some of the songs, however, despite all the intervening years, cannot escape their old Grateful Dead slot. "Friend of the Devil" was played as the 3rd song in the first set on 9/14/91, and as the 3rd song in the first set on 4/14/12. The Dead played "Brown Eyed Women" as the 7th song in their first set on 9/17/91, while Furthur played it as the 7th song in their first set on 4/13/12. "Feel Like A Stranger" was played as a show opener on both 9/16/91 and 4/15/12 (for the record, I think this is its rightful place, and should never be moved to any other slot). "The Music Never Stopped" was a first set closer at both the Garden and the Beacon (on 9/9/91, and 4/17/12, respectively). "Dire Wolf": 5th song in the first set on both runs. "Loser": early in the first set in both. "West L.A. Fadeaway": late in the first set. "Loose Lucy": late first. "Row Jimmy": late first. "Scarlet Begonias": second set opener. "Estimated Prophet": early in the second. "New Speedway Boogie": early second. "Saint of Circumstance": early second. "China Doll": late second. "Standing on the Moon": late second. "Uncle John’s Band": late second. And that hoary crowd-pleaser, "Sugar Magnolia", retained its perennial position as a second set closer on both 9/18/91 and 4/17/12. (The en-slotted-ness was especially true for the encores: "The Weight", "Johnny B. Goode", "Brokedown Palace", "Quinn the Eskimo", and "Attics of My Life" were all encores in both runs).

Whatever one might conclude from all this, it must be said that while Furthur's set list process might be less spontaneous -- the players might not be choosing songs out of the air as they are about to play them (nor crafting concepts during Drums) -- it has made one significant contribution to the over-all vibe: it serves to prevent awkward band member battles, like the one that seemed to happen here back in '91 between Jerry and Bob, creating a classically awkward shoehorn from "Sugar Mag" into "Foolish Heart":

(For more statistical analysis, see the section below Unuseless Dead Stats.)

The Music Never Stopped, But It May Have Slowed Down a Little

The first time I saw Furthur, I noticed that a few of the tunes seemed sluggish. The show was at Red Rocks, and I just attributed it to the altitude -- musicians have a tendency to drag up there. But then the phenomenon seemed to continue, and other people noticed, and I began to wonder. Is Furthur playing songs at a slower tempo than the Grateful Dead?

Online commentators vary from outright denial (“these guys crank!!!!”), to rationalization (“I felt the energy as slow and relaxing. Not bad music quality but actually quite the opposite. Slower tempo's allow for more dynamic and technical playing”), to an appeal to subjectivism (“I can’t tell if there is really a slower tempo phenomenon happening, or not. When we are living in the here and now, everything is relative.”)

While I am reluctant to intrude upon anyone's here and now, there is one way to tell if there really is a slower tempo phenomenon happening - compare two versions of the same song with an objective measure of tempo, beats per minute (bpm). By doing just that, I can say objectively (sorry, 36Gemini) that Furthur have been, whether intentional or not, dropping the tempo on at least a few of the tunes.

Many of the songs I compared had retained their original speeds: "Shakedown Street", "Mississipi Half-Step", "Help on the Way", and "New Speedway Boogie", for instance, all had almost exactly the same beats per minute in 2012 as in 1991.

But then some songs noticeably dragged in the Furthur versions. The Dead played "Scarlet Begonias" to open the second set on 9/13/91 at 75 beats per minute. Furthur opened their second set on 4/10/12 with a version that clocked in around 65 bpm. On 9/10/91, the Dead closed the second set of the famous Branford Marsalis show with a version of "Lovelight" played at 90 bpm. The further on 4/10/12 played it around 80. "Loose Lucy" clocked in at 110 bpm for the Dead on 9/9, while Furthur played it at around 100 bpm on 4/17. The starkest contrast was probably "The Music Never Stopped". On 9/16/91 the Dead played it at a robust 100 bpm, while on 4/9/12, to open their run, Furthur played it at what for the song felt like a snail-like 75 beats per minute. Compare:



The Future According to Jerry

What struck me most when I went back and read a lot of the articles that appeared in 1991 about the Dead's MSG run was that people thought they were in the midst of a mighty recession back then. The New York Times started its article with, "“In a recessionary pop music environment in which tours keel over and die and radio and MTV stars hit the road only to cancel their tours, the Grateful Dead, 26 years old and counting, are doing better than ever." Rolling Stone opened their 1991 interview with Jerry on a similar note: "If there's such a thing as a recession-proof band," the article opens, "the Grateful Dead must be it. While the rest of the music industry has suffered through one of its worst years ever — record sales have plummeted, and the bottom has virtually fallen out of the concert business — the Dead have trouped along, oblivious as ever to any trends, either economic or musical." And just to conjure the recessionary mindset of the time, let's not forget that many people credit Clinton's victory over George Bush Sr. in 1992 with the phrase that would become his de facto campaign slogan, "it's the economy, stupid."

Of course, they didn't know how good they had it back then (especially the record exec folks - record sales have plummeted?! You don't know that half of it, 1991!). From the vantage point of The Great Recession, the recession of 1991 could more properly be called The Great Time. But then, they thought they were in a big recession because they didn't know what the future held.

The same can be said of us, of course. We don't know what the future holds. Or do we? If we revisit the Deadhead’s Holy Grail -- the inner-workings of Garcia’s mind -- we might actually discover a clue. In Jerry's last interview with Rolling Stone, he got to waxing philosophic about the future, and the upcoming turn of the century. The interviewer asked him, “Historically turns of the century have been really intriguing times. Does that date hold any real significance for you?

Garcia responded, “No, the date that holds significance for me is 2012. That’s Terrence McKenna’s alpha moment, which is where the universe undergoes its most extraordinary transformations.” Garcia then went on to explain his take on McKenna’s theory: that the universe has been through several transformations before. The first one was the appearance of life on Earth, the next transformation was consciousness, then standing upright, then language, and so on. According to Garcia these transformations occur on a cyclical schedule, and currently the universe happens to be in the last forty year cycle. “It's running down,” Garcia said. “We're definitely tightening up -- and during this period, more will happen than has happened in all previous time. This is going to peak in 2012. [McKenna’s] got a specific date for it, too -- maybe December some time, I don't remember. But that moment, at the last 135th of a second or something like that, something like forty of these transformations will happen."

Not surprisingly, Jerry's prediction has sparked a lot of dialogue on Furthur’s online discussion forum. Commentators speculate about the actual date (most agree it’s 12/21/12 – the end of the Mayan calendar, which McKenna himself had referenced in his books), and try to guess what might happen on Jerry’s prophesied day (consciousness transformation? the end of times? a Furthur concert?). Garcia’s omniscience notwithstanding, I think the only thing we can be certain of is that someone, somewhere, will try to profit off of it. Or as “deadegad” so wisely puts it, “Not to be cynical, but, this is an event for humankind so let's be hope TicketBastard doesn't get a hold of it!”

Un-useless Dead Stats

Many heads are familiar with the concept of Useless Dead Stats. After being exposed to the Japanese concept of Chindogu, however, I prefer to think of them as "unuseless". Anyway, to close out, here you go:

Average Number of Songs Per Night Furthur: 18.25 Dead: 18.55 (including "Drums" and "Space")

Longest Set
1991: 11 songs (9/14/91, Set 2 - if you are willing to count "China Cat" and "Rider" as two different songs, and "Drums" and "Space" as two different songs)
2012: 10 songs (4/10/12, Set 2 - if you are willing to count "Scarlet" and "Fire" as two different songs)

Total Number of Unique Songs
1991: 113
2012: 124

Number of Songs Repeated Across the Entire Run
1991: 36
2012: 21

Length of Dark Stars
1991: 37 minutes 40 seconds (including a "Drums/Space" interlude)
2012: 18 minutes 46 seconds (including a "The Other One" interlude)

Number of Dylan Tunes Played
1991: 11
2012: 6
Note: Garcia, in 1991, talked to WNEW radio legend Scott Muni about Bob Dylan: "His songs, they stand up. You can sing them a lot of times and they have a lot of facets to them. And there's the thing about them that when you sing them, you don't feel like an idiot. A lot of them have big bites. They're extraordinary pieces of poetry, and they have that thing of sometimes they're like a ray gun that hits you right in a part of your life. Sometimes you can't even say exactly what it is, but for me, they're emotional. They're real. They work for some reason. Something about them works for me. So I love to do them."

Show Openers


Number of Drummers in the Band
1991: 2
2012: 1
Note: Apparently Mickey Hart's relationship with Phil and Bob has deteriorated to the point of a declaration of war. In 2010, Bob Weir told Rolling Stone that he thought that Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman weren't that with it. “Phil and I are way more current,” Weir said. In 2011, when confronted with this information by a Rolling Stone reporter, Mickey Hart "took out his cellphone and began scrolling through his contacts until he landed on the name Bob Weir. 'Hey, Mr. Current,' Hart said into the phone as he walked away. 'I'm looking for a Mr. Current! [Hysterical laughter]. I challenge you to a zucchini war!'"

Band Member Who Has The Jerry-est Beard:
1991: Jerry
2012: Weir

Age of Lead Guitarist:
1991: late 40's
2012: early 40's
Note: I was amazed when I discovered that the age difference between the guitarists at the time of their respective gigs wasn’t too great. Jerry always seemed like such an old soul. I assumed that Jerry in 1991 would've been way older than John K in 2012. Of course, maybe that's because the toll Jerry's lifestyle took on his body made him look much older, a phenomenon which, in a profile in the New Yorker, Jerry spun positively:
“I’ve got to where things are beginning to fall apart, but what’s comforting about age is everyone’s falling apart with you. I don’t see anyone getting any younger.” “Yeah, but some are falling apart slower,” Hornsby said. Garcia did not seem disconcerted. “It’s a matter of good use, man – good use,” he said. “I enjoyed it when I had it, whatever it was. It all went to a good cause.”
Luthier Who Made Lead Guitarist's Guitar
1991: Doug Irwin
2012: Paul Reed Smith
Note: Although John K's guitar was made by PRS, John seems to be an inveterate tinkerer who couldn't help but modify it to be more like Jerry's. According to a recent Guitar World magazine article: "The guitar is currently equipped with the DiMarzio Super II humbuckers that were a Garcia standby. The PRS also has a coil tap and an effect loop based on the circuit from Garcia's Doug Irwin guitar. Kadlecik built the loop himself, recreating Garcia's electronics precisely. The guitar is also equipped with the same Unity Gain buffer preamp that John Cutler designed for Garcia."

Running the Boards
1991: Dan Healy
2012: Derek Featherstone, Pro Media Ultrasound Inc.
Note: Dan Healy is often credited as being one of the architects of the Dead's Wall of Sound. In their previous trip to NYC in 2011, at Radio City Music Hall, Furthur paid homage to his legacy:

Running the Lights
1991: Candace Brightman
2012: Preston Hoffman
Note: In a recent interview with Furthur's lighting director, Preston Hoffman, he said it was actually the legendary Candace Brightman who gave him his start in the concert lighting industry:

Whereabouts of Bobby's Short Shorts
1991: On Bobby
2012: Almost in a museum
Note: Also from the interview with Furthur's lighting director, Preston Hoffman, it came out that Bobby's shorts almost made it into a museum:
Preston Hoffman: They even had a museum of sorts at Calaveras (Furthur Fest in 2010); they had a whole exhibit; they had the skeleton dudes there and gnarly vintage posters, some guitars, a whole bunch of memorabilia. They were even going to put in Bobby’s short shorts, they were going to put them in the museum. Bobby ended up bringing them to the stage, I saw one our dudes take them from the stage to the production office when he walked right by me I was like “Hey, are those THE shorts!?" [Laughter] Interviewer: What a crazy world; Bobby shorts are a piece of history
Press Coverage
1991: The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Radio Interview with Scott Muni, and various correspondents for local TV News
2012: One single blog post in the Village Voice (a blog post!)
Note: I have a friend who to this day swears – SWEARS -- he saw Gabe Pressman file an on-the-scene report for WNBC from the infamous Park 'N' Lock back in '91, and once the cameras turned off, according to my friend, Gabe kicked back with a major doob and some nitrous (I remain incredulous).

Price of Tickets for a Good Seat:
1991: Section 102, Row E, Seat 1 - $24
2012: Orchestra - $69.50 Note: Furthur tickets rose by more than twice the rate of inflation. $24 in 1991, adjusted for inflation, equals $40.50 in today's dollars.

1991: John Scher, Metropolitan Entertainment
2012: the only "promoter" that still exists: Live Nation (for more on this, read the highly entertaining Ticket Masters, by Dean Budnick and Josh Baron)
Note: Back in 1991, the Grateful Dead largely used two promoters to handle all their shows: John Scher handled everything from New York to the Rockies, and Bill Graham handled everything west of there (with a thin slice of demilitarized zone, Denver itself, sometimes going to Barry Fey). In his memoir, Phil Lesh mentions the dynamic between Scher and Graham in particular when he talks about the MSG '91 run: “Naturally the two principals detested each other. That’s why it was such a surprise to see Bill Graham backstage at our nine-show Madison Square Garden run – as a general rule he made it a point never to appear at a gig promoted by the competition. Bill was warm and open, giving both Jill and me big hugs, saying that he had just been ‘passing through’ and couldn’t pass up the chance to see part of our record-breaking run, etc, none of which mitigated the strangeness of his visit one iota.” To add to the strangeness of the event, it was the last time Phil Lesh and most of the band would see Bill Graham before he died (he died in a helicopter crash less than a month later)

Best Comment on a Show in
991: Regarding 9-13-91, posted by WRat, title "Friday the 13th JINX!":
This is potentially the worst Grateful Dead show ever played. Never mind how the set list looks. The band was off key, lackluster, and uninspired all night long. Every time we thought they'd pull out of their funk, they had a couple good minutes, and boom, they'd sink lower into the hole from which they were attempting to climb out. Toward the end of Fire, out of nowhere, Jerry set his guitar down abruptly and walked off stage, leaving the others to jam without him. The devil was in POSSESSION OF THEIR SOULS this evening. TS>NFA was so ultra boring, poorly played, and worn out after all the times they did it. They ended this DUD of a show appropriately enough with the worst possible encore selection, played at its most plodding and monotonous pace. I actually would have been dissapointed if they played a killer encore. But, of course, on this night, that was not possible!
2012: Regarding 4-9-12, posted by allgoodthings23, title "Good is Good":
Its all good. Its like pizza , even bad pizza is good.
Ed Watts is the author of U.S. Blues, a mystery novel set in the 1985 Grateful Dead parking lot scene.

Monday, July 9, 2012

HORDE, 20 Years Later

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first HORDE concert (at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine on July 9, 1992) . Relix online has done a massive retrospective here, including audio, video and interviews from then and now.  But clearly at least one person would like to forget:

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Club Discussion Guide

With the return of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club, a friend suggested it might behoove me to develop questions about my book in case it gets selected, so here we go:
  • If someone offered you one million dollars to read this book again, would you do it?
  • What’s your favorite kind of weed?
  • In 1967, Ravi Shankar played at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was the first time many Americans were exposed to the music of the Indian subcontinent which, uh, I forgot where I was going with this… Did you know that Norah Jones was Ravi Shankar’s daughter? Apparently he kind of disowned her. It’s weird to think of Ravi Shankar as being such a dick, right? I always thought he would be so zen and cool…
  • What is language?
  • Why didn’t I go to law school?
  • I did a little bit of acid before the book group, and I don’t mean to be weird, but your eyebrows are really freaking me out.
  • If someone offered you two million dollars to read this book again, would you do it?
  • It’s too bad (insert name of cute guy/girl) stopped coming to book club, right? Meeting somebody is kind of the reason I joined this book group.
  • Look, I’m sorry. My cousin said it was a good book. Can we just go back to choosing stuff off the bestsellers list?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Peace in L.A.

I've seen/read a lot of retrospectives on the L.A. Riots in the last couple of months (first sparked by the twentieth anniversary, and now following Rodney King’s untimely demise). What they all seem to be missing is a mention of Tom Petty’s truly awful single, “Peace in L.A.”, rush-released as the events unfolded: 

The song was reportedly written in one day, released the next, and is evidence that residents of South Central were not the only victims of looting during that time period. Mr. Petty appears to have purloined the melody line from John Lennon’s Cold Turkey, a guitar part from his own Running Down a Dream, and the drums and bass from a Roland drum machine. As to whether the song was an opportunistic attempt by Petty to capitalize on the riots, or a genuine attempt to quell the violence, here’s my take: If Tom Petty really thought he had just written a tune so powerful that upon mere listening it was going to calm the inflamed sense of injustice of the rioters, then he's batshit crazy. On the other hand, if he thought the song was good enough to become some sort of money-making hit, then he's also batshit crazy. So either way, Tom Petty is totally batshit crazy.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Most Insane Comment on a Dead Show Ever

Courtesy of, on the page for the Englishtown, NJ '77 gig, nestled among various comments about the greatness of this particular show/year/band/etc., the most insane user comment ever:
I like to beat off during shows, usually at set-break. I busted 3 nuts during this show - the last as Donna let out here scream during NFA. For anyone that thinks this is the best half-step, give 05/07 a listen. I beat off to that one -Art Glass
Mr. Art Glass, you are a true lunatic: everyone knows that the Englishtown Half-Step is better.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In Honor of May Day

In honor of International Worker's Day, find out about how the Beatles invaded the U.S.A. in 1964 and brought with them insidious secret Soviet techniques of Pavlovian mind-control:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Record Store Day

In honor of Record Store Day, a passage from the best book ever written about a record store (High Fidelity, of course):

My shop is called Championship Vinyl. I sell punk, blues, soul, and R&B, a bit of ska, some indie stuff, some sixties pop - everything for the serious record collector, as the ironically old-fashioned writing in the window says. We're in a quiet street in Holloway, carefully placed to attract the bare minimum of window-shoppers; there's no reason to come here at all, unless you live here, and the people that live here don't seem terribly interested in my Stiff Little Fingers white label (twenty-five quid to you-I paid seventeen for it in 1986) or my mono copy of Blonde on Blonde.

I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here Saturdays-young men, always young men, with John Lennon specs and leather jackets and armfuls of square carrier bags-and because of the mail order: I advertise in the back of the glossy rock magazines, and get letters from young men, always young men, in Manchester and Glasgow and Ottowa, young men who seem to spend a disproportionate amount of their time looking for deleted Smiths singles and "ORIGINAL NOT RERELEASED" underlined Frank Zappa albums. They're as close to being mad as makes no difference…

The shop smells of stale smoke, damp, and plastic dustcovers, and it's narrow and dingy and dirty and overcrowded, partly because that's what I wanted - this is what record shops should look like, and only Phil Collins's fans bother with those that look as clean and wholesome as a suburban Habitat - and partly because I can't get it together to clean or redecorate it. There are browser racks on each side, and a couple more in the window, and CDs and cassettes on the walls in glass cases, and that's more or less the size of it; it's just about big enough, provided we don't get any customers, so most days it's just about big enough. The stockroom at the back is bigger than the shop part in the front, but we have no stock, really, just a few piles of secondhand records that nobody can be bothered to price up, so the stockroom is mostly for messing about in. I'm sick of the sight of the place, to be honest. Some days I'm afraid I'll go berserk, rip the Elvis Costello mobile clown from the ceiling, throw the "Country Artists (Male) A- K" rack out into the street, go off to work in a Virgin Megastore, and never come back.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The True Meaning of 420

Like most other holidays, this one has fallen victim to commercial exploitation by avaricious hucksters and nefarious capitalists. Thankfully, here’s an old huffington post article explaining the true meaning behind 420:

Remember, 420 is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mind-blowingly awesome weed, is to have the real spirit of 420

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Every now and then, he'd take that spaceman statue they give you when you win an award on MTV and smash up the mirrors with it."

Confused about Axl Rose's reaons for not showing up at the Hall of Fame on Saturday night? Perhaps this extended profile of Axl from 2006 will help. It was published in GQ, written by John Jeremiah Sullivan (who the nytimes recently called "a demonically talented" writer), and attempts to delve deep into Axl's psyche:

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hall of Bitterness

This weekend will mark the 27th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Reportedly there’s been some acrimony between Axl Rose and his former bandmates about their induction. But once again, as with everything Guns N' Roses does, the mighty Zep has been there before and done it better. Nothing can beat John Paul Jones’s sly “thank-you-for-remembering-my-phone-number” speech during Zeppelin's induction for turning the Hall of Fame into the Hall of Fuming Hatred (Jonesy was mad that he wasn't invited along to the lucrative Page/Plant tours of the 90's, about which he had previously said "at least they could've called me and told me about it."):

Monday, April 9, 2012

Best Day Jobs

To avoid any confusion up front: this post has nothing to do with how to maximize job satisfaction, change careers, or improve your life. In fact, this post will probably make your life worse. It’s about the best live versions of the Grateful Dead song “Day Job”. With it’s absence from the setlists of the Furthur shows that occurred over the weekend, it’s officially been 9,502 days since the boys last played Day Job...

Day Job was one of the most despised songs in the Grateful Dead cannon. It was vociferously condemned, never released on an official album, and according to the man who wrote the lyrics for the song (Robert Hunter), “was dropped from the Grateful Dead repertoire at the request of fans. Seriously.” Rumor has it that deadheads circulated a petition asking the band to stop. (Another rumor has it that Bob Weir loved the song). It's chorus advised deadheads to:

“Keep your day job/
Don’t give it away
Keep your day job/
Whatever they say…”

Here are my top 5 picks:

Number 5: August 28, 1982, Oregon County Fair Site, Veneta, Oregon - This is the first time the song was played. Imagine it: you are an old-time deadhead who crawled out of some deep Oregonian woodland for the show, enjoying a first set that ends with China Cat -> Rider, one of your favorite tunes of all time, wondering with baited breath during intermission what they are going to open the next set with… maybe Terrapin, maybe Shakedown, hell, for the occasion maybe they’d even unleash a surprise Dark Star… and then Ken Babs, longtime head, one of the original Merry Pranksters (a featured character in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test fer chrissakes), comes out and addresses the crowd in stentorian tones, stoking anticipation, announcing that “as the tides mount, and the people grow, and the voices are heard, and the sun goes does, the music will go on…”,  and then the band launches into this tune. Rumor has it the band was dropping acid for this show. Perhaps it was written backstage during the setbreak in a lysergic frenzy, planned as some sort of cosmic joke.

Number 4: September 24, 1983, Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Watsonville, California - It’s been 267 days since the last Day Job… they last played it on 12/31/82 (on New Year’s Eve?! For crying out loud…), and you’ve been hoping that it was quietly dropped by the band. But at the end of the first set, right after Looks Like Rain (Christ, can’t a head catch a break?), they bring it back, they bring it back

Number 3: March 28, 1985, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York - The song has shifted to the encore slot. It bums you out the rest of the night. Here’s a video of the depressing incident:

Number 2: June 14, 1985, Greek Theater, University Of California, Berkeley, California -  You’re at the legendary run of shows at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley celebrating the 20th anniversary celebration of the Dead. You and the band have gone through a lot together. They encore with it. You quietly wonder what you’ve done with your life over the last 20 years.

Number 1 - April 4, 1986, Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT – Hallelujah, the last one! You wouldn’t know it at the time, of course, but it would be the last time they played it. It closed the first set and bummed everyone out for the entire intermission. If only you had already taken the 10,000 mics of acid which would later allow you to know the future. You could've spread the good news to the others…

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Phish vs the Dead: Red Beards

The first Furthur show of 2012 is tonight, and to celebrate, we bring you the latest edition of Phish vs. the Dead...

Criteria: Red(ish) Beards

The Dead: In 1974, after years of smooth-facedness (accompanied by questionable choices in coiffure), Phil Lesh  decided to go for full red(ish) beardosity:

He kept it for a few months, long enough to remain facially furry for the Grateful Dead movie, then shaved it off.


Phish: Trey Anastasio has had his crimson whiskers pretty much ever since anyone could remember (this page contains one of the few photos I could find of him without one -- about halfway down -- a pretty awesome pic of phish from 1985). Here's a fairly representative photo of his red beard-ness:


Analysis: For sheer longevity, Trey's beard should win, but there's a certain vigor to Phil's that lends it world-class woolliness. By the beard of Zeus, I declare Phil the winner!

This round: The Dead

Tally so far: Dead 3, Phish 1

Monday, April 2, 2012

"It was weird. But it was awesome."

Great article in the new york times yesterday exploring the recent trend of rock cruises. The author drops this bon mot, among others: "something about the transition of this music from darkened clubs and concert halls to bright Caribbean waters seemed surprising, like waking up one day to find the math club out on the football field and winning."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Top-Selling Games For The Ennuii

  • The Legend Of Sartre

  • OK, Great. Let's Drive Around In Circles For Hours In Mario's Kart

  • Guitar Hero: The Heroin Years

  • LEGO Requiem For A Dream

  • Ennuii Sports: Sure, Must've Been Fun To Have Been A Jock In High School And Gotten All The Attention Simply Because You Were Blessed With An Athletic Body

  • Mario Party 9: Time To Break Out The Social Anxiety Meds

  • Spongebob Kafkapants

  • Call Of Duty: Strangely, The Bathroom Is The Only Place I Don't Feel Depressed Anymore

  • Donkey Kong Country (Yet Another Country In Which My Vote Is Completely Meaningless)

  • Some Days I Just Don't See The Point In Winning At All

Thursday, March 22, 2012

If You Need Help Naming Your Band, Part 5

Possible Good Rock Band Names Inspired By The Korean Central News Agency's Press Release Entitled "DPRK, Dignified Powerful Nation":

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pure music nerd-dom

Recent research found a rythmic pattern in music that resembled something us nerds can't resist: fractals.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Best Website Ever

In another display of his complete awesomeness, Cameron Crowe has posted basically every article he has ever written on his website for free:

This includes, of course, the legendary 1975 article about Zeppelin he wrote for Rolling Stone which was the inspiration for the movie Almost Famous:

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Grand Collusion

According to recent news reports, the U.S. Department of Justice may sue Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. book publishers for colluding to artificially raise the price of electronic books.

No one called me to collude. You can buy my book for $2.99 on Amazon here:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Truck Driver's Gear Change

An entire site devoted to cataloging the abuse of the musical device known as the Truck Driver's Gear Change. (You've heard this device before in songs ranging from Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl to Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer...):

Monday, March 5, 2012

Max Amounts of Lomax

A treasure trove of Alan Lomax recordings has recently been made available for free listening on the web at the Association for Cultural Equity's website. There's over 17,000 audio files to while away your workdays sifting through.

In case you're not familiar with Lomax, the Rock Snob dictionary describes him thus:

Lomax, Alan: Archivist, foklorist, and musicologist whose field recordings of indigenous performers in the American backwoods triggered the first wide-scale American appreciation of folk, blues, and traditional music - and by extension, gave National Public Radio a reason to exist. Working in the 30's and 40's under the aegises of CBS Radio and the Library of Congress, for which he was helping compile a folk-song archive, Lomax gave Leadbelly and Muddy Waters their first nationwide exposure. Hanging on 'til 2002, Lomax lived long enough to see his field recordings reconstituted by Moby as a dance hits-cum-advertising jingles.

For more info on the online archive, here's a recent NYTimes article about it:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Best Interview Question Ever Asked of Robert Plant

From Chuck Klosterman's IV, the best interview question ever asked of Robert Plant, followed by Plant's somewhat lame response (Really, Percy? You need to remind us that you can still get a girlfriend in her 20's? You're Robert freaking Plant!):
CK: On "Whole Lotta Love" you say you're going to give some girl "every inch" of your love. But you're British. Why don't you use the metric system?

Robert Plant: That would change the whole tone of the thing! I suppose today it would have to be, "I'll give you several centimeters of bliss." But people of my generation know nothing about the metric system. I'm fortunate to say I still use inches - or at least that's what my girlfriend says, and she's twenty-nine.

Monday, February 20, 2012

If You Need Help Naming Your Band, Part 4

From So You Want To Be A Rock Star, published in 1983, gathering dust at my local library:
Here are some pointers that may aid you in choosing a name that feels right and says what you want it to say:

  1. Your band's name can be derived from an "in joke" among the group as long as it's not so in that no one else is interested or attracted to it.

  2. Most often, a positive, imaginative context works best, as opposed to a "down" quality.

  3. Your name can be derived from an emotion or from a thought in one of your original songs.

  4. Perhaps one member of your group is already fairly well-known or stands out in performance in a way that his name should be part of the group's name, such as Elvis Costello and The Attractions, or Rockpile with Nick Lowe.

  5. It can be a regional name a la the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

  6. Effective group names sometimes are made up of the last names of their members, but these usually work only when the public has already been acquainted with those members; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was a good choice because fans were already familiar with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. If they had been total unknowns, the name might have seemed to say nothing important to the rock world.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rock Love Letters

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and if you’re anything like me you shouldn’t be wasting your time reading this blog; you should be scouring the internet trying to find a gift for your loved-one with rush-overnight shipping. Anyway, here’s three love letters written by famous musicians to their beloved (courtesy of Letters of Note, one of the best websites of all time):

“And you are very pretty”
18-year-old Roger Waters to his girlfriend:

“This leaf was perfect until I put the fucking lines in it”
14-year-old Slash to his ex-girlfriend:

“Hotter than a pepper sprout”
And finally, the royal couple, Johnny and June Cash:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day

In honor of the fact that today is groundhog day, here’s Bill Murray singing Stairway to Heaven (as Nick the Lounge Singer):

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The World's First Recording Engineer

Today the science section of the New York Times described the process of "bringing back to life" a group of wax cylinders recorded between 1889 and 1890. The cylinders were originally from Edison's lab (apparently he kept them stowed away in a box underneath a cot he took naps on), and until recently no one had any idea what was on them. The origins of the recordings include one Adelbert Theodor Edward Wangemann, who based on the Times description, is basically the forefather to George Martin, Eddie Kramer, and Rick Rubin:
The lid of the box held an important clue. It had been scratched with the words “Wangemann. Edison.”

The first name refers to Adelbert Theodor Edward Wangemann, who joined the laboratory in 1888, assigned to transform Edison’s newly perfected wax cylinder phonograph into a marketable device for listening to music. Wangemann became expert in such strategies as positioning musicians around the recording horn in a way to maximize sound quality.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Ray Manzarek a Closet Spin Doctors Fan?

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Ray Manzarek said about his collaboration with Skrillex (an up-and-coming electronic musician):
"We’ve talked to him about doing more stuff," he said. "I was amazed. He’s a little pocket full of dynamite."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blow your mind to "bits"

Apparently there's a whole community of people who like to use the 8-bit Nintendo music chip to create music. A subset of these people like to cover classic rock songs using the technology. These people are my heroes.

The link below is what might have played on your Nintendo if Mario found a pipeline that descended to a secret room full of LPs:

For more of these gems, check out this article:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Inside Scoop on the Brown Acid

Legendary Denver rock-promoter Barry Fey recently published a memoir in which he mentions a conversation he had with Chip Monck, the man who became famous for repeatedly warning the audience at Woodstock to stay away from the brown acid. Why was Monck warning people to avoid it?
"Because I was making the blue acid."

Monday, January 16, 2012

"She Smells So Nice"

Next week Rhino Records is set to release a 2-disc 40th anniversary reissue of the Doors' L.A. Woman album (apparently there aren't enough Doors fans still alive to support a 5-disc version, and plans for that had to be scrapped). The buzz is that the reissue features a recently unearthed, previously unreleased Doors track - "She Smells So Nice" (like pretty much anything else these days, you can find it on youtube). The track is a pretty standard 12 bar blues, nothing exciting, the sort of chord progression which you've heard a million times before. It has the advantage of having  Morrison's baritone growl and nicely weird lyrics on top of it, and the distinctive sound of Ray's keyboards, but what I can't get over is the name. What the hell is this? My junior high school journal?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tell That To Fat Pat

Last week the Science Section of the New York Times debunked the contention that musicians are more likely than the general population to die at age 27: