The InsiderOne Daily Report Archive

  Friday, December 22, 2000

Friday, December 22, 2000

Merry Xmas (War Is Over)

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: "So this is Christmas/ And what have you done/ Another year over/ A new one just begun." So begins John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," one of the great rock 'n' roll Christmas songs. Recorded and released in 1971, it was co-produced by John and Yoko and the legendary producer Phil Spector. (The other rock Christmas song that really means something to me is "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," produced by Spector in 1963 for his Christmas album, A Christmas Gift for You.) When I was a kid, John Lennon was one of my idols; I always thought he was the coolest Beatle. When he paired up with the avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, I was one Beatle fan who thought it was a great move, and not just because he had found a soul mate. Yoko opened John's eyes to experimental art, and she also seemed to help him become conscious of social and political issues. And while his most political album, Some Time in New York City, is also mostly a failure, Ono's positive influence was evident on both Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, as well as such singles as "Instant Karma." I thought John and Yoko's bed-in for peace was awesome, an over-the-top, outrageous stunt — the perfect way for rock royalty to make a statement. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is a wonderful, heartfelt song set to a great sing-along melody, and more. That first line challenges the listener. John and Yoko are saying, in essence, "OK, year's over, what did you do? Contribute anything worthwhile to the world?" Then they follow with "...And so this is Christmas/ I hope you have fun/ The near and the dear ones/ The old and the young." So you take stock of the year that has passed, but then you celebrate. The song, which weds classic Spector wall-of-sound production to a great Lennon lead vocal, offers hope for a new beginning in the chorus: "A very merry Xmas/ And a happy New Year/ Let's hope it's a good one/ Without any fear." According to Yoko, the song was written over breakfast one morning in a New York hotel room; it was recorded during the evening and morning of Oct. 28–29, 1971 at the Record Plant in New York. In his book, "Out of His Head," Richard Williams described the session: "Spector is already into the groove. He is thinking not just of sound, but of arrangement and drama — production. His weird little head is taking the simple guitar chords and modeling, blending, and transforming them — his old pattern. Well ahead of everyone, even Lennon, he imagines the sound coming out of a million, two-inch transistor speakers." The second verse of "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" finds John reaching out to all the peoples of the world: "And so this is Christmas/ For weak and for strong/ The rich and the poor ones/ The road is so long/ And so happy Xmas/ For black and for white/ For yellow and red ones/ Let's stop all the fight." I don't think it's just because I grew up listening to the Beatles that John's voice moves me so intensely. The current success of an album of old Beatles hits seems to prove that those records are timeless, and that they can touch a kid now in the same way that they touched me, back in the '60s and early '70s. John and Yoko's Christmas song ends with a wish for peace: "War is over/ If you want it," they sing. "War is over, now/ Happy Xmas." Happy Xmas indeed!

Datastream: Jimmy & Doug's — that Internet play attempted earlier this year by record executives Jimmy Iovine and Doug Morris — has fired 17 people, according to an report. Here's a statement direct from the Farmclub, explaining why no one should think the firing of 15% of their staff indicates any problems down on the farm: "In one year,, which includes a Web presence, a TV show and a record label, was built from the ground up. A large amount of manpower, particularly on the technology/systems side, was necessary to achieve this and build the infrastructure in such a short period of time. Having now developed one of the most successful new entertainment destinations, we are moving into a different phase of our evolution, which no longer requires the same level of staffing." Anyone actually in the Internet business knows that you never have enough quality tech/systems people, and that the rapid, continuous evolution of the Net makes ongoing upgrades a necessity. ... Luna will release a live album February 6, according to a Sonicnet report. Live! will include songs recorded at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. and the Knitting Factory in New York, as well as songs from the group's five studio albums. Luna will begin a U.S. tour at Boston's Middle East on December 30.

Thursday, December 21, 2000

Thursday, December 21, 2000

Giving Community Radio The Corporate Finger

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: As most of us have learned, in this democracy money doesn't talk, it swears. So it's no surprise that, less than a week after W. became the president-elect, a plan by the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) to open the airwaves up for more low-power radio stations is being sabotaged by Congress, according to a report in Tuesday's (December 19, 2000) New York Times. The F.C.C. had planned to issue licenses for over 1000 low-power FM radio stations to community organizations, including schools and churches. But slipped into budget legislation that President Clinton is expected to sign is a new law, the Radio Broadcasting Act of 2000, which essentially lets Congress put the big kibosh on any new licenses. F.C.C. chairman William E. Kennard himself wanted to see more new low-power stations because he believes that the consolidation we've seen in the broadcast industry has led to what the Times characterized as "a sharp decline in the diversity of voices on the airwaves." "This is a resource that everyone has to share," said Kennard, interviewed by the Times. "We can't allow people who have the spectrum to use their political clout to shut out voices that don't have the same clout. This [the new law] highlights the power of incumbency. Companies that have spectrum guard it jealously, and they can use Congress to prevent new voices from having access to the airwaves." This is, of course, business as usual. The airwaves are effectively controlled by huge conglomerates — Chancellor Media Corp., for example, owns nearly 470 commercial radio stations, while Viacom owns something like 150 stations. No matter where you go in this big U. S. of A., you hear many of the same crappy songs on what are essentially clone stations — stations that copy the play lists of similar stations in other regions. Meanwhile, people are desperate for a more diverse offering, which is why Internet radio, delivering myriad genre stations, has quickly become a killer app, attracting millions of listeners. Community stations, which include college stations like San Francisco's KUSF and Berkeley's KALX, provide everything from unconventional philosophical and political perspectives to eclectic, non-mainstream music programming. Find me a commercial station that includes Johnny Cash, Death Cab for Cutie, Gilberto Gil, Deltron 3030 and Radiohead in its play list. If you were listening to KALX, you heard all of those artists during November, as well as Sun Ra, Ryan Adams, PJ Harvey and Tom Ze. The F.C.C. plan would have added many more voices to the mix. You could write your Congressman or -woman and let them know what you'd like them to do. I'd like to think that if the public made some noise, it might make a difference. Perhaps that's just wishful thinking. They're probably too busy bending over before their corporate benefactors to pay us any mind.

Datastream: Another side project from Guided By Voices' Bob Pollard is out of the hangar. The Howling Wolf Orchestra's Speedtraps for the Bee Kingdom is available off the GBV Web site. In addition to Bob Pollard and his brother Jim, this limited-edition album (500 copies) features drummer Jim MacPherson and guitarist Nate Farley. Songs include: "You Learn Something Everyday," "I'm Dirty," "Where Is Out There?" and "Is It Mostly? (it is mostly)."... R.E.M.'s fan club single this year includes a cover of the Beatles' "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)," reports SonicNet. … In case you haven't checked out the excellent film "Billy Elliot," the soundtrack (which totally suits what you see onscreen) includes a number of T. Rex songs — "Bang A Gong (Get It On)," "Cosmic Dancer," "Ride A White Swan" and "Children of the Revolution" — as well as the Clash's "London Calling" and the Jam's "A Town Called Malice."… Note that for the week ending December 6, 2000 the French top 20 included albums by both Johnny Hallyday and Eminem. Go figure.

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Out In The Black-Face, Pre-CBS Fender Deluxe Reverb Zone

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: "Tom Waits was in here the other day," I heard the proprietor of the musical instrument store in Petaluma tell one of his employees. "He was looking for some turntables for his son." Standing over by a wall of shiny new Gretsch guitars, I couldn't help but smile, imagining the gruff-voiced Waits searching for a DJ setup to give his son for Christmas. Over the years, I've spent a fair amount of time in guitar stores, a lot of time in used guitar stores and, to tell you the truth, a lot more time obsessing about guitars. And amplifiers — old pre-CBS black-face Fender amps, and the even older tweed amps. And strange effects pedals, with names like "Big Muff" and "Rotovibe." One time, when I was in Nashville, I was checking the want ads and found a little used Fender amp at a good price. The next thing you know I found myself in some kinda hippie-punk crash pad, buying the damn thing from some guys who had a band, but seemed to be more focused on their weed consumption. In San Francisco, there was this one-room used-guitar store of sorts that this guy named Steve maintained (for all I know, he's still dealin' used instruments out of that dump). It wasn't really a guitar store — just a room in an apartment building. Anyway, Steve always had about 100 guitars hanging from the walls, but they were, for the most part, really fucked up. You'd try these things and the neck would be warped on one, or the wiring didn't work on another. You'd be like, "Steve, got anything good?" And if he thought you were serious about maybe parting with some cash, he might bring out something good. He was into barter. If you actually found something you liked, you could give him some cash and maybe an old guitar that didn't really work very well and, oh, an old stereo amp for it. I snared a '64 Gibson acoustic for a couple of hundred dollars one time — that was a score. And I managed to separate Steve from not one but two black-face Fender amps (did a barter/cash deal for one of them) that I still cherish for each one's distinctive sound. Which is at least half of what this whole guitar/amp thing is all about — cool, weird-ass sounds. Sure, you can go buy a new version of a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp. They've duplicated every last detail. But it doesn't sound like the funky old one I bought off Steve. You plug a Fender Strat into my old Deluxe and crank up the reverb dial to about five and get the tremolo going at a cool slow speed and start picking some earthy blues, and you get something that might have crawled out of that foggy swamp in "The Hound of the Baskervilles." The notes have this slightly metallic, spring-reverb-y sound, like they have to go down into the basement and up through a trap door, then up a few flights of stairs and into a Victorian parlor before they come out of the speaker for you to hear. It's like the old amps add a little grit to the notes. And then there's the style thing — the other half of the whole guitar/amp deal is about. Guitars with pearly white pick guards and gold fleck paint, with outrageous red sunburst finishes and inlaid necks and bizarre whammy contraptions and oddly angled head stocks. A cool lookin' guitar can inspire you to write a cool song. It used to be (I'm talking early '90s now) that you couldn't get a decent new electric guitar for less than about $800. But that changed a couple of years ago, when Danelectro began producing new versions of their classic guitars with the lipstick-tube pickups, the ones rockers from Jimmy Page to Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker have used for years, and selling them for as little as $250 (now they've even got a $199 Hodad model). These guitars look and sound real fine. They bring flash back to cheap rock guitars. They make it possible for a kid to buy a cool-looking guitar and make some real rock 'n' roll noise. Hell, forget about them turntables, Tom. Get your kid one of those Danelectro deals. I think I saw a pretty nice used tube amp, too, off to the side of the store, kinda near that wall of shiny Gretsch guitars…

Datastream: Damage Manual vocalist and Ministry member Chris Connelly will see a new album — his first in three years — released on February 6, 2001 by Invisible Records. The album, Blonde Exodus, by Chris Connelly and the Bells, was recorded in Chicago and features guest vocalists and musicians. The album moves from "bitter torch songs through paranoid rock and pastoral travelogues" according to the Invisible Records Web site. .... I got a kick out of Ann Powers' clever review of the Offspring's recent Roseland performance, which was headlined "The Teen-Age Angst of the 35-Year-Old Man." Wrote Powers: "There is a point where the average man's midlife crisis parallels the existential angst of a typical teenage boy. Anger at being misunderstood, a wish to flee home and family, an irresistible attraction to supposedly unsuitable women — these impulses inform the work of both John Updike and Eminem." And, according to Powers, they inform the work of the Offspring too. ... It was a shock, to say the least, to learn that Staple Singers founder Roebuck "Pops" Staples had died Tuesday (December 19, 2000) at the age of 84. Staples developed a distinctive, tremolo-heavy electric guitar style that influenced such guitarists as Robbie Robertson, Ry Cooder, J. J. Cale and Eric Clapton. Staples led a group that got its start singing gospel, but in the '60s helped pioneer socially conscious soul music, scoring hits with such masterpieces as "I'll Take You There" and "Respect Yourself." The Associated Press quoted Staples as once saying about the move from gospel to soul: "We just kept on singing and praying, and we let our music carry the message. When people realized that our music still had the message of love, our audience grew — old people came back, and new people kept coming."

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't. Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Walking That Thin Line

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: A wise man once remarked that there's a thin line between clever and stupid. There's a thicker line between being influenced by the past and slavishly imitating it, and the Sprague Brothers don't exactly straddle that line. It's more like they're driving down a two-lane country road, way past midnight with the lights off, veering crazily between lanes, criss-crossing that line again and again. Their most recent album, Forever and a Day, has moments where you almost think you're listening to an Everly Brothers outtake. There are chords, vocal bits and guitar solos borrowed from the Beatles, the Everlys, Chuck Berry — even the Beach Boys copping Chuck Berry. The cover art — also a stylistic cop from some '50s or '60s album — doesn't help. All of which would make it easy to dismiss the duo — until you hit, say, track nine, "I Hope She Cries," and you fall hard. This early-Beatles-meet-Everly Brothers ballad, featuring acoustic guitar and booming timpani, finds the brothers cursing (in pre-'60s fashion) a girlfriend who walked away: "I hope she cries when she realizes what she's done," they sing angelically. "I hope the tears will fall from her eyes and run." The brothers claim to be distantly (very distantly) related to Buddy Holly in their bio, but that could just be one of those tall tales. Their manager is that connoisseur of all things old and hip, Art Fein, who I'm sure loves this album, but may also be playing some kind of conceptual joke on us. Never mind. Don't be surprised to find yourself grinning, perhaps even getting out of your easy chair and bopping around the room to stand-outs such as "There's Always Some Price to Pay" and "Waiting for You." Its 18 songs range from good to out-of-this-world. My copy of the album was a bargain — I picked up a promo at Amoeba Records in San Francisco the other day for $5.95 and tax, about $.33 a song. Pre-'60s prices. After thinking about this old-vs.-new thing for a while, I located an interview with the duo on the Hightone Records Web site. Maybe they didn't completely settle things for me, but I liked what they had to say. "It's honest rock 'n' roll," Frank Sprague said. "The first rock and roll was so original and so ahead of its time that even today people haven't caught up to it." Added brother Chris: "We're bringing it back to the future, where it belongs."

Datastream: Bruce Springsteen debuted a new song, "My City of Ruins," during a benefit concert held Sunday (December 17, 2000) at Asbury Park, New Jersey's Convention Hall, reports. Springsteen began "My City of Ruins" on piano, according to the online fanzine; the song features the refrain, "Come on, rise up." We can only hope that a new Springsteen album with the E Street Band is in the works.… Flosso-Hornmann Magic, which billed itself the "Oldest Magic Supply House in America," shut its doors this past September, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The shop, located on 34th Street in Manhattan, was once owned by the great escape artist Harry Houdini, and was certainly the model for Louis Tannen's Magic Shop in Michael Chabon's excellent novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay." Apparently, the store will be transformed into a Web site, but somehow I don't think that will be the same. There are no longer many magic shops in America. Like comic book stores and musical instrument stores with the front window crowded with futuristic-looking electric guitars, magic shops were once awe-inspiring places where a kid could spend hours gazing at the merchandise, where you could buy everything from trick decks of cards, magic wands and collapsible top hats to myriad exotic contraptions of deception. Now one of the great ones is gone. C'est la vie....

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't. Monday, December 18, 2000

When It Comes To Rage, Mum's The Word

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: The corporate behemoth known as Sony Music Entertainment Inc. did a funny thing the other day — nothing. They didn't file a lawsuit. They didn't threaten legal action. They didn't, at least publicly, inform one of their bands that it had violated its contract. They didn't make any public statement. Regarding the Rage/Napster problem, all was quiet on both the eastern and western fronts (Sony maintains offices in both New York and L.A.). All of which makes me wonder how long it will take for other artists who, like Rage Against the Machine, are under contract to Sony, to put a bunch of song files and video files onto their Web sites. Bob Dylan, for example, has plenty of material he could put online as MP3s. And Michael Penn, a younger artist who hasn't yet had a hit, might generate some buzz if he gave away a selection of his power-pop songs. And what of Wyclef Jean, or Modest Mouse, or Hooverphonic? Pearl Jam, are you listening? And what about The Offspring, who Sony stopped from posting MP3 files a month or so ago? Rage Against the Machine, one of the most popular rock bands in America and still under contract to Sony, just gave away a whole bunch of their music. If Sony let Rage do it, why not The Offspring? See, normally, when a band or solo artist signs with a big company like Sony (or even when they sign with a smaller label), the contract stipulates that they can only release music on that one label, unless they get explicit permission from the label, for example, to contribute to a film soundtrack being released by a different label. So either Rage are in violation of their contract or they got permission from Sony. If they are in violation of their contract, how come Sony hasn't done anything to force them to remove the tracks, the way Capitol Records made the Beastie Boys remove songs from the Web a few years back? And if Sony were looking the other way, it would be the utmost hypocrisy for the company to take action against any other artist signed to their label for posting MP3 files after letting Rage slide. On the other hand, if Sony gave Rage formal permission, it would seem they'd have to do the same for their other artists or risk some serious dissension in the ranks. Rage, of course, have been extremely vocal about what guitarist Tom Morello called "this horrible mistake": the request by Rage's management, Q Prime, and label, Sony's Epic Records, that Napster ban music fans who were "sharing" Rage songs online using the controversial company's service. "I have been embroiled in discussions on a daily basis with both Sony and Napster to get Rage fans unbanned," Morello posted on the band's message board on Thursday, Dec. 14. Go, Rage, Go!

Datastream: Details, details. Here’s what Rage posted: 15 songs — some live versions of older songs, some instrumental versions of material off Renegades — in the MP3 format, along with five videos on their site. Videos include versions of "Bulls on Parade" filmed at the Petra Theater in Athens, Greece (last June), and "Know Your Enemy" from the Provinssi Rock Festival in Seinajuki, Finland (also last June). Writes Morello in that December 14 message: "…we want to make clear whose side we are on in this matter. We make music for our fans, and we want to share our creativity and our politics with you. To that end, we have released over 90 minutes of free music and video. Included are 11 instrumental tracks from Renegades which you can feel free to remix, sing over, or send in audition tapes (just kidding). ... Our apologies once again for this Napster business, and while we will continue to joust with the corporate dragons and try to get everyone unbanned, please take all of this free music as a thank you for your patience. The latest way to hack your way onto Napster if you have been kicked off, is to visit this page, , and follow the instructions given."… Former Pavement frontman/writer Stephen Malkmus will have his first solo album, Stephen Malkmus, out Feb. 13. Don’t be surprised if the album has some of that familiar Pavement sound. Malkmus told me last year that he had recorded much of crooked rain, crooked rain on his own. The solo album will include such songs as "Black Book," "The Hook," "Trojan Curfew" and "Jenny and the Ess-Dog."… Helium’s Mary Timony has been collaborating with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein on new Spells songs…. Congrats due to the folks at Fugazi’s Dischord Records, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary. A box set that will provide an overview of the label — with selections by all the bands that have recorded for Dischord, is due out next spring.