Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Geeking Out

Artist: Black Sabbath
Album: Paranoid
Source: Bought used

There are two distinct types of conversations that Music Geeks have with each other: 1) The one-upping listing of stuff each has heard or bought, concerts seen, etc. 2) The heartfelt examination of an artist/album/concert, undertaken with a seriousness that would make peace-treaty negotiators blush.

As I've gotten on, I've done my best to avoid the former as much as humanly possible. For one, it's not really a conversation, per se; it's more like two or more people on parallel tracks that only seem to intersect. I'd argue that these people would be saying the same words even if no one was there. The fact that there's an audience/target for the list just makes the talker feel better about himself somehow. Having spent quite a bit of time with one particular guy who could pretty much only talk this way, I've tried to be conscientious about not subjecting others to my empty list-making.

The latter kind of conversation, however, is eminently worthwhile...even if a Non-Geek would be hard pressed to distinguish it from the other type. I've had hours upon hours of in-depth discussion on one band or another, mining the minutiae of a particular album or show until it was boiled down to some sort of essence that...well, that didn't really accomplish anything, I suppose. But that 30+ minutes that JP and I spent figuring out what color to assign to each layered guitar on Yo La Tengo's "Barnaby, Hardly Working" sure seemed, at the time, to be getting at something.

Since moving to NY several years ago, my diet of these conversations has been steadily decreasing. It's a combination of having fewer true Music Nerd friends, having more "other stuff" to do, having JP gone, and the fact that Eileen would rather sit in steely silence than discuss anything on the stereo in too much (or any, really) detail. So a little while back, when Mike (a Certified Music Geek) asked me to join his new Album of the Month Club (AOTMC), I jumped like a dolphin in a water park.

The idea of the AOTMC was deliciously simple: Mike and the participants would come up with a list of 12 albums that were discussion-worthy but not often discussed (at least not in the circles of indie-centric rockcritters). Each month, one member would write up an "introduction" to the album, and then the legion of nerds would engage in an e-mail discussion for a week or two. The next month, it would begin again.

I was stoked. I'd be getting my fix of geeking out, sort of like a book club for CD people that wouldn't require me to leave the comfort of my desk. And as a bonus, the list that was generated was introducing me to some artists and albums I'd never really dealt with before. For every Psychocandy or XTC disc that was already part of my world, there was and obscure Marvin Gaye album or this one, Paranoid, a classic in a genre (heavy metal) that I normally didn't give a rat's ass about.

So I started shopping for the first couple of discs on the list, hitting the used bins at Kim's and trolling for what I could find. The disc I was in charge of introducing, Captain Beefheart's Safe As Milk, wasn't in the rotation until November, so I was able to dive in head-first as a participant.

AOTMC started off strong, with interesting points of view on Drums & Wires and the Latin Playboys' self-titled debut. But it seemed to devolve quickly. There were some problems getting people to do their introductions on time. Then responses were sparse. The Silver Apples discussion got kind of nasty, and no one seemed to feel that Psychocandy merited all that much talk. I was still very much into it all, but I could feel it slipping away - what is the sound of one geek clapping? It sounds more like that list-maker, and less like the heady (if pointless) debate I'd gotten excited about.

Somewhere around month 5, Mike pulled the plug. I never got to dazzle my fellow dorks with my take on the good Captain's collaboration with Ry Cooder, and I had this copy of a Black Sabbath album that I never would have bought otherwise. I gave it a listen and, yeah, I liked it...but I never got the chance to talk to anyone about why I liked it, what it made me think and feel, never got to really get into it. And that strikes me as a damn shame.

Since then, I've often come up with ideas for similar schemes, but never carved out the time or energy to make any of them happen. I know there are other Music Geeks out there who are hungry for more of Conversation #2, but it gets harder and harder to make contact.

SISOSIG? I don't listen to Paranoid too often, and metal never really did it for me (maybe it was that summer at camp when the kid with the biggest radio played Master of Puppets non-stop for 2 months). But I do like it, and I understand it for the historical touchstone that it is. Ozzy, for better or worse, is an important reference point - even the Flaming Lips have taken to playing "War Pigs" recently - and I kind of feel like I need to have it around, just in case I need to go to it to clarify some sort of pointless point in my head/ears. Plus you never know when some fellow geeks will want to sit down and geek out about it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Less Traveled

Artists: Aaron Binder; The Jimmy Bruno Trio; Joey DeFrancesco; Eddie Green; Gary J. Hassay; The Landham Brothers; Nate Wiley and the Crowd Pleasers
Albums: This Side of Jazz (AB); Live at Birdland II (JB); Goodfellas (JD); This One's for You (EG); A Survivor's Smile (GJH); At Last (TLB); Friday, Saturday, Sunday (NW)
Source: Promos

There's that saying about the road less traveled. It's the kind of saying everyone will say to someone else, but rarely actually think about for themselves. When it's decision time, how often does the average person turn to a paraphrased (and usually misunderstood) line from Robert Frost?

But there's really something to it. When it was time to start making my way in the world, a lot of what I had in mind (writing, editing, publishing...that sort of thing) suggested that I take the very-traveled path. Go to New York, get one of those entry-level gigs, steel yourself for the rejection notices from editors (or the non-responsive silence, which is even worse) and get ready to have some roommates. I knew some people who were already on the road, and boy did they not sound too thrilled about it.

And then there was the less-traveled option. Go to Philly, which one doesn't necessarily associate with the vast empires of publishing, but which actually had a very healthy industry in medical publishing. Go to the smaller local newspapers, pitch my knowledge of jazz (I listened to much more rock and such, but there were lots of writers already staking out those beats) and get some bylines right off the bat. Oh, and no roommates - this less-traveled road was paved with higher salaries and lower rents.

I remember my first day of work in New York City, years later, when I found myself in Grand Central Station during the morning rush. All of the sudden, I was doing the obvious thing, the one everyone thought of. By then, I'd built up a few good things for myself, but it was still a bit of a shock to the system to find myself doing things the more-obvious way. The struggles for the bylines were steeper, new jobs were exponentially harder to come by, and in general anything that I had in mind already had a waiting list. Though I still stuck to the no roommates thing, until I married one.

All of the artists on these CDs are stops along my less-traveled road. When you're one of the jazz guys in a city that's a couple hours south of the jazz capital of the world, the local talent isn't even really the minor leagues. Some of the top jazz musicians, past and present, come from Philadelphia, but very few stay there. The ones who do are generally like these guys - rarely hurting for a local gig, and rarely moving beyond that. They are eager to do the interviews, happy to send the promo discs, thrilled when you ask to come to the gig. But the story doesn't often evolve - the next time they're playing in support of the next locally released album, my editor usually wouldn't want to assign the story, since there wasn't much new to report from the last time.

Only two names here jump out: Jimmy Bruno and Joey DeFranceso, two local cats who got to roar with the lions further up the Turnpike. The others...well, with the exception of Nate Wiley (who recently passed away) I couldn't even tell you if they were still playing, nevermind what they were playing. I'll occasionally see the name Landham in the session credits of a new jazz CD, but I don't even remember who Gary J. Hassay is - his CD looks self-released on an Allentown label, and there's actually a bent business card inside the disc's case, listing him as "Saxophonist and President, improvisationalmusicco, inc." And I remember being blown away by Eddie Green at the time, but I don't think anything really happened for him, either. Like the rest of them, Green was trying to take the oft-traveled path, and there were rows and rows of other piano players swinging along in front of him.

SISOSIG? These are the last of my Philly-scene jazz promo CDs (many, many others went in earlier purges), and I don't think there's much reason to hold onto them, with the exception of Bruno & DeFrancesco. The music on those two discs is as good - or better - than a lot of the other stuff I've got in a similar vein, and it makes the starting team reasonably often. And Nate Wiley is a sentimental favorite: the disc sounds like late nights at Bob & Barbara's, which is something that is still a kick to hear.

The rest...well, if I want to hear a piano trio, the truth is I'm just not ever going to reach for Eddie Green. Eric Dolphy once suggested that jazz was too much of a moment in time, and shouldn't be recorded - the moment is supposed to pass, and there's something unnatural about revisiting it again and again. The moment's passed for me with Binder, Green, Hassay and the Landhams, and I don't anticipate needing to travel along with them again.

Monday, July 02, 2007

That's Much Better

After more than the anticipated number of months, The Beast is back. Unpacked, alphabetized, shelved (oh the shelves!), loved (oh, the love!). Once again, I can listen to anything that's running through my head, from A3 to Zappa and anything in between.

I've never been away from my record collection for quite this long (unless you count the year spent living abroad - and even then I had a few dozen discs on hand at all times) and it doesn't suit me. Let's never speak of this again.

On with the show...