Monday, May 3, 2010

new old music

Barry is usually a little behind me as far as internet stuff goes, since I got online way, way early in the game, being I was a university employee. I was on the internet before there was such a thing as a graphical browser. Like, no pictures. The web was e-mail, newsgroups, and texts with links to other texts, all on a monochrome screen. Big excitement when we got color displays with what we called "Mozilla." Apple computers had graphical interfaces earlier, albeit crude ones, but we PC people had to wait a bit.

Anyway, the one thing Barry somehow was able to figure out and hook up for us, which had baffled me for years, is downloading t*rrents. I still don't understand it all, but I know we have software that can open .rar files, and there are m*sic bl*gs all over the place (though Bl*gger recently evicted a ton of them), and I thereby can acquire and reacquire some awesome music. A lot of it does involve albums that I already purchased in one or more other formats. I no longer have any of my vinyl but now I do have some of the albums that I bought on vinyl, and on cassette, and on CD. I have finally started using the new mp3 player I bought myself a few months ago, which is something I enjoy when I'm walking outdoors, which I'm now doing again. (It's a pretty little Sansa that holds four gigs and has a decent display -- bought it new on eBay for about fifty bucks. I am very loyal to Sansa (my first little 512mb mp3 player was a Sansa, and it was a real little trooper), as well as very loyal to not-Apple. I have never visited the iTunes store, because my understanding is that you have to download their special software in order to download anything there, and I'm not clear if an iPod will accept anything from your hard drive that was not acquired through the iTunes cabal. I know that Apple is the computer of choice for art and film and graphics people, but I also know that it's always been more expensive than a PC, and there is less software available for it, because it is closed architecture. (I swear, I've seen Triumph of the Nerds about 20 times. It's an amazing and funny documentary from PBS, about the development/invention of the personal computer, and the people who did it.)

So...I've had some real flashbacks, both with what I had loaded on the mp3 player and what I've acquired on line the past couple of days. It was my first time loading the new mp3 player, and the capacity was so huge compared to the 512mb that I just kind of threw everything on. And didn't even fill it all the way. I still haven't listened to it all the way through, and haven't set it to Shuffle, so I'm getting everything in the order I threw it on. (Plus, there's a good amount of stuff on my hard drive that I've never listened to yet, since my old drive crashed last July and I've had to reload CDs and recollect various songs all over again since that time.) For instance, a few months ago, maybe more, we had seen a really good TV show about Latin music, and I had downloaded all kinds of Fania All-Stars and Celia Cruz and Ruben Blades, so this was part of what was thrown on the mp3 player. And then that old reliable stuff that's my favorite poppy or catchy or maybe even (horrors!) commercial and well-known. Every hard drive I've ever owned has hosted Bob Seger, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Robert Palmer, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, The Roches, Michael Hurley, the Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, Steely that. Some of the things that joined my hard drive in the past couple of days are some old Donovan albums, some of which I haven't heard in many, many years; two live shows, Rolling Stones in 1989 and Elvis Costello in 1983 that I can't wait to hear, since between storage tragedies and hard drive crashes, I lost all of my Elvis Costello b**tlegs, which will make me cry if I think about it too hard. I got a Georgie Fame album and a John Prine album and two albums from the Wild Magnolias, a New Orleans mardi gras band, funky as all get-out. I have very broad tastes in music -- maybe you've gotten that idea -- and I've always heard things from New Orleans and influenced by New Orleans. But since I've started watching Treme on HBO, I am ALL about New Orleans music.

Lily and I have been e-mailing about music a lot lately, and I made the comment that even though I'm not too crazy about 80s music myself, I appreciate that she's into it, because I appreciate anyone who digs into music outside their age zone. It's a sign of taste and intelligence and thoughtfulness. Then she was silly enough (JOKING!) to ask me what *my* favorite decade of music was. I don't exactly know how many words or pages my reply was, but it was LOONG. Maybe I'll copy some of it into here, but it was an essay, I tell ya. But being so refocused on music over the past few days, I think I can say that overall my favorite decade is 1976-1985, or thereabouts. If we have to extend it to 1986 to get Paul Simon's Graceland in, so be it; I can't always remember exact years of albums.

Strangely enough, I can't seem to find my Extreme Music E-mail to Lily anywhere in my sent items. Weird. A long part of it was kind of a history of my relationship to and taste in music.

Ah. Found. I'm not usually one to share private e-mails, whether it's one written by me or someone else, but I'm just going to snip out the section which is just me going on about music, because I'm too lazy to write it up from scratch a second time, and if I did, it would be less thorough and much less good. Nothing private here:

When I was a kid, it was pretty much only the Beatles for me, with a little Rolling Stones and a little Cream, and Creedence, and Crosby Stills Nash and sometimes Young. My family listened to a lot of show music and "American songbook," so I was also into that. (Mostly of the "American songbook" albums we had were Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. I wasn't too big on Frank back then but adored Ella, still do.) When I was around 9, I saw Donovan on The Smothers Brothers Show, and was immediately smitten in all ways. This both makes me very old (Smothers Brothers were cancelled in 1967, I think) and explains why I was so jazzed to meet him at the David Lynch thing. That may have been the highlight of my Tarcher career, along with the great sales of 2012: I finally met Donovan, and we were introduced by David Lynch! (Donovan was cuter 40 years earlier, duh. He was supposed to be kind of the UK Bob Dylan, except I think he sings better.) (No, Jennifer Juniper is not about me, though I used to wish it was, and I believe that cool electric guitar on Sunshine Superman is Jeff Beck). Donovan was the first big concert I ever saw, in 1971 at the Garden -- that was also the first time I ever smoked p*t.

Then this weird folk music thing happened to me in the early 70s. My dad's parents, for some odd reason, had an old banjo, which they gave me, and which I took to summer camp, where I knew I could get lessons. I knew nothing about banjo or banjo styles, but it happened that the banjo instructor there played old-timey rather than bluegrass. Old-timey music, also called old-time or stringband music, is pre-bluesgrass country music, based on things like Appalachian fiddle tunes (which in turn were based on English/Scots/Irish tunes). The banjo is played differently than in bluegrass; it's hard to describe w/o showing but I'll try. In bluegrass, the banjo is picked very fast, and the tune is somewhat syncopated. In old-timey, you need a long nail on the second or third finger of your right hand, and the string is struck downward with that nail. Old-timey artists sometimes played solo, but more often in stringbands, which might include fiddle, banjo, bass, guitar, mandolin, etc. I've attached a recording of one of my favorite long-gone old-timey artists, Charlie Poole (Ragtime Annie), who was popular in the 20s. Yes, I spent a lot of my teens listening to that old, scratchy, weird shit. Plus a little bit of old jazz, like Jelly Roll Morton, and a few acoustic artists like David Bromberg. Not to mention some local NYC stringbands like The Delaware Watergap and the Wretched Refuse String Band.

The weird thing is that, at least around here, the people who were rediscovering and playing this music were mostly Jewish. My banjo teacher, who was in the Delaware Watergap, was "Hank" Sapoznik, a cantor's son. (He later started playing klezmer and using the name Henry rather than Hank.) The Wretched Refuse was populated by people like Richie Shulberg, Alan Kaufman, Michelle Weiss, etc. (Alan Kaufman was my boyfriend for a while; turns out he and Barry grew up in the same neighborhood and knew each other slightly.) The two bands were very different: Hank and his band were very serious historical recreators, and the Wretched Refuse were goofballs who often made up their own funny words to songs. The former friend I refer to as V. was also involved in this kind of music, which is how we originally met.

When I went to college, and started doing college radio, some of my radio friends dragged me kicking and screaming back into a lot of rock and roll. I went to see the Dead several times, and became fond of people like Van Morrison and Randy Newman and Warren Zevon and Steve Goodman and Jonathan Richman. But I had still missed out on a lot of rock during my crazy folkie-purist years. Also, at the beginning of my sophmore year at Binghamton, I somehow talked my way into a job doing a weekend jazz show at the local NPR station, even though I knew nothing about jazz -- though I was at the point where I very much wanted to get into jazz, so I kind of trained on the job. My show was the only regularly scheduled jazz show in the area (the Binghamton college station played some, but you never knew what was on the air when), so I became a bit of a local celebrity, or at least known to some extent, at age 18. I was asked to sit on a local arts council, that kind of thing. And I was in a bar once and overheard a guy near me say to his friend, "Did you hear what J. played last night?" After a year, the station hired me as a classical announcer full-time (and yes, I knew nothing about classical music, but as long as you can read the liner notes and pronounce the names correctly, no probs).

So you can see that "what decade?" is sort of impossible for me to answer. I have always been drawn to music that is less known and less popular and off the beaten path. I am very, very picky about what popular artists I like, though I always try to be more openminded.

I don't listen to classical or jazz much any more, but I do have a good jazz story. When I moved back to New York, I went to the upper west side to see a jazz group called Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Blakey was a drummer with a great ear for talent, and many of the Jazz Messengers who passed through his band over the years had gone on to be famous in their own right. So I figured it would be a good show. And I was right: he had this 22-year-old trumpet player who was one of the most amazing jazz artists I'd ever heard. But I heard his name wrong -- thought it was "Quentin" rather than "Wynton" Marsalis. Blakey's gone now, but he knew his young talent!

I am lately somewhat interested in hearing more New Orleans music (I blame Treme). Barry and I saw Elvis Costello play with Allen Toussaint a few years back, and Toussaint is a national treasure. Elvis, BTW, came into my musical picture around the college radio station -- a British label called Stiff Records was putting out a lot of what the British called "pub rock" and we called "punk" or "new wave" (but not like the 80s new wave, more like a slightly gentler punk). Elvis was on Stiff originally, as was our pal Ian Dury. In fact, Stiff released an album of a tour they did called Live Stiffs, and Elvis and Ian Dury were both on it. This was the late 70s. Interestingly enough, one of the songs Elvis did on it was a Burt Bachrach song, though he was still in his angry-young-man phase and wouldn't actually work with Bachrach for another 20 years.

That's the end of the (edited) essay-from-within-the-e-mail. More of the story is probably in other e-mails, but I think the main thing is that Elvis Costello has pretty much been by far my favorite performer, period, since the early 80s. Maybe since Imperial Bedroom, which came out in 1982. I'd been hearing him some from the very start, because my college radio station was very into the Stiff Records artists, and saw him a couple of times between 1977 and 1980, but Imperial Bedroom was the album that took my breath away. It's still one of my favorites. I've seen him live far more times than any other performer; I used to get tickets to every show every time he played in town. I've seen him with the Attractions, with the Imposters, duo with Steve Nieve, solo, with Allen Toussaint, and perhaps most gloriously, at Radio City Music Hall with Burt Bachrach.

Must go to sleep now, I think.

No comments:

Post a Comment