All it takes is one computer salesman to change things

And it’s not who you’re thinking about.

In early 1987, my parents had said that as a 16th birthday gift they’d get me a personal computer. I had always shown a general interest in computers here or there, not anything pressing in terms of programming or the like, but in the random appreciative sense I had when futzing around with one at school or via a friend or relative’s. I’d ended up subscribing to Enter magazine somehow and had a general sorta sense of things, and, well, I’d seen WarGames a few times. Then there’s Tron of course but we all know about Tron by now.

That school year, my junior year at Coronado High, I’d taken a typing class in the first half and was working on a computer class in the second half — honestly don’t remember what was being taught now, but probably some basic word processing stuff and the like. Can’t remember if I’d really done any work on Apple products by then, though I’m sure I did, and I’m also sure I didn’t understand the distinction between PCs and DOS and Apple and System or anything like that. A computer was a computer, surely, which shows you how ultimately shallow my understanding was even with those magazines I read and so forth. But I sure knew about the Apple ads, of course. I’d seen that Super Bowl, that commercial, the whole nine yards.

But that underscored something, namely a certain disinclination for the technical. Not completely so, but at a certain point when growing up my explicit interest in studying and school had switched from math classes to literature and history courses, where learning science got, well, too scientific. AP English was always going to be a breeze, AP Physics, not so much (great class, though, was taking it that same year). So the idea of a computer at home was exciting but in many ways I was just coming into the subject much the same as my parents were, not totally sure how or where to start. And I was the one that was supposed to be the expert in the house.

With the help of friends, my parents pulled together some magazine articles and the like listing recent recommendations, what to get and what it would be suited for. I remember feeling a bit numbed reading about all these ‘PC clones’ and the like, but there were things about Apple as well. Eventually the day came when we decided to go over to the local Navy Exchange, my father and I, and check out their computer section off the main floor, a separate room. It made sense to shop there — lower prices and all — and my dad must have figured it would make for a smoother experience.

I don’t remember how it happened but eventually we got into a big discussion with one of the salespeople. Still remember him vividly in terms of appearance — tall, slim, African-American, glasses, perhaps a mustache but I’m not totally sure, very enthusiastic without being overbearing. At least to my memory, maybe in the moment it was different, but I remember feeling a certain sense of trust overall. There was a lot of discussion and back and forth over many things, and I recall him telling us that, yes, in terms of price, a PC was certainly a better option.

But at the same time, he either figured out or I volunteered that non-technical part of me, the part that didn’t need to tinker so long as the tools to hand worked well enough for the purpose at hand. And he did like Apple, quite a lot. A fanboy, or a salesman knowing that the greater cost couldn’t hurt his standing? A bit of both perhaps but I’d still volunteer the former, and I don’t remember him denigrating the PC approach at all. But above all I remember him smiling, his gentle enthusiasm, his clear sense that though it would cost more, there was something to an Apple, and especially to a Macintosh, that would probably work for me wonderfully well.

It was enough and I decided on a Mac, going for a little ol’ 512K enhanced, not first generation of course but not that far along, just three years after the debut. We got a few Kensington accessories to go with it, purchased it and a printer to go with it and set everything up on my desk in my bedroom at home. Once it was all turned on, all I had to do was play the cassette tape included with it as a tutorial and start playing with the system disks to see what would work best.

And I was off.

Twenty four years is a long time, no question. Some things don’t change, though, the desk in question being one of them. Had that since I was a pre-teen. What’s on the desk has changed some over the years, though, starting in 1987 in particular. One thing really hasn’t, though, and that’s been an Apple icon in the corner of the monitor on it, whatever the monitor, whatever the computer, whatever the dwelling, whatever my personal situation.

It didn’t have to be. But having made my choice, as time went on I just thought, “Well, yeah. Of course it’ll be Apple. Why wouldn’t it be?” It was just what I needed, every time, every step of the way. It didn’t do things other computers might do better, sure, but if the choice was gameplaying versus, say, writing — well, I really wanted to write, I liked to write. I enjoyed the occasional game well enough but no chance for it up against me wanting to write a paper or work on a story idea or, a few years after 1987, finally hook up a bit to the Internet and figure out what was out there a bit more than the vague things I remembered from Matthew Broderick talking to Joshua or the like.

And so here I am. And it’s obvious why this is all coming back in a rush today, this sense of a defined and gamechanging moment from those years ago and the retrospection now. There’s going to be so much written and talked about over the next few days — hell, a lot more than that — that I’m not interested in adding much on that front. I didn’t know Steve Jobs, I try not to hero worship, he was no plaster saint and I trust he was aware enough not to regard himself as one or his company as some blameless and always benign force. But the sense of how vast and also how specific the changes he oversaw bore fruit is such that I can’t but take it all in.

The impact of someone, then, isn’t necessarily in the person’s own decisions but how others communicate them. When he could and did, Jobs would happily speak to the world; when it was 1987 he wasn’t even part of the company. But John Sculley sure didn’t inspire me either. A friendly salesman at the Navy Exchange on North Island Naval Air Base next to Coronado did, though, and the chain goes back from him a long but clear way to that guy who tinkered around with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne and then tried to figure out what next after that.

Multiply that by countless amounts and that’s what’s being felt right about now. The Twitter feed’s choked, the Facebook updates are thick and fast, and so forth. I learned about it on an iPhone, I typed all this via my MacMini looking at my Apple LCD display. As clear a presence in my day to day as anyone could be that I’d never met and now will never meet.

One hell of a legacy. Thanks again, whoever you were at the Navy Exchange in 1987. May Steve Jobs rest well.

Steve Jobs, 2011

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RIP Martin Skidmore

And eight years ago seems too long now.

This is a passing that many of us knew was coming, not something sudden and unexpected. Martin knew most of all. With a directness, clarity and forthrightness that is astonishing, he discussed his situation, through emails and in various posts via Facebook, acknowledging the cancer he had been diagnosed with, the steps that were going to be taken. And he continued on nonetheless, for that was his way.

And what was his way? Well, from nearly a decade and six thousand miles away, let me give just one portrait of many, far too brief compared to what others will share.

Imagine a house, one lived in for many years, dedicated to the pleasure of creativity. Of rooms of comic books most of all, for that was what he loved most dearly, but certainly never solely. Of music of all kinds, of sorts. A stack of the Trojan CD box sets over the years alone was enough to cause me to shake my head in wonder and not a little envy. Much more than that too, sometimes well organized, others maybe not so organized, but the former much more so than the latter, a treasure. A computer at a table to keep in touch with things out there, a cozy kitchen, the world of East Ham outside the door.

This was the heart of the world that Martin lived in for many years, though he moved soon after I saw his place to a new one in North London, one which I never had the chance to visit. I got to see it and know it due to a simple act of kindness that he offered, allowing me to stay with him in 2003 when I visited London in October of that year to celebrate the wedding of Tom Ewing, our point of commonality.

The larger point was ILX, that website I’ve mentioned over the years, still chugging and still strong, bless its heart. I can’t remember when exactly Martin joined but it was early enough on, certainly by the time one of its two key discussion boards was founded, I Love Everything. And that was Martin’s way, he did love everything, or rather, he loved what humanity had the power to create, to share, to talk about — and that was, of course, everything.

To speak to Martin’s background and earlier life is to claim a space I have no right to; others can and will say more as they choose. When he joined the boards, he was in his early forties, affable, knowledgeable, clearly a good soul from what I could tell. His frankness was always there too, not a huge rush of words that never stopped, but a directness in response to questions asked and a willingness to contribute where possible on subjects where he had a good grounded knowledge. And it was always very good; you never sensed that he was grasping at straws or looking to fill in space with words.

I remember he had established his bona fides as a man who knew his comics enough that some short while after he started posting regularly a comics question of some sort came up, or a thread was started, and I almost immediately responded “Martin Skidmore to thread!,” since I knew it would be his bread and butter. He did and very kindly and I guess surprisedly added as well that he was tickled pink he’d gained enough of a profile on the board to warrant it. If our acquaintance had a starting point it was there, and it was always easy, always a pleasure, to derive joy from his thoughtful take on things.

One of my favorite moments came on an Archie comics thread, an anecdote which I always will treasure and which sounds very him:

I just remembered an odd moment. On the tube with one of my oldest and best friends, G, maybe 15 years ago. He’s reading an Archie comic, a digest I think, and I’m reading it with him. At one point I say (in a jokey way) “Come on, turn the page!” He closes the comic and says “You can’t have read that by now.” I insist I have, but he won’t have it, so I start describing each panel and reciting, not quite word for word but close to it, the dialogue and captions. He has claimed that this moment had a profound effect on his view of the world!

The thing you need to remember as well, if you never had the pleasure of meeting him, was that he wouldn’t have said this in any sort of arrogant way, but a sweet, amazed way, with a smile and a chuckle. If you see things, read things, react to things in a way that is natural to you that might not be to others, it may indeed be profound to them, but to you it is simply how one is. He would have treated it like that rather than any sort of sign of something special.

When it came to staying with him in London, it was an outgrowth of something I’ve long done — staying with friends when possible rather than going the hotel route. I’ve done that many times now with people who I only know through the Net, and whether it’s luck or judgement or something else, I’ve always had a wonderful time — it’s let me do more in the places I’ve visited and I always, always hope I am never too much of an imposition, and I would do the same for each of my hosts in turn, it’s only fair, it’s more than even that, it’s right and proper. They took the chance on putting up with me, after all! Somehow the subject came up, probably on ILX by default, and one thing led to another. This was my first visit to London after my breakup in 2001 and so it was a way to start over a bit fresh, as it were.

Martin’s sheer kindness as a host was wonderful. You did feel like you stepped into a bit of a treasure trove as I mentioned, something that was a repository as much as a library, with an affable guardian. Meeting him for the first time and getting the measure of him as a person was wonderful, it was in many ways confirmation that what he posted and how he posted was who he is. It was only for a few days — a couple of days there, then a couple of days more with an intervening visit to friends in Dublin — but it was a great few days, and we went to the big party in Tom and Isabel’s honor at a pub and otherwise caught up, chatted and talked. A blast, a sheer blast of a time.

Martin eventually left ILX of his own volition and refocused his interests elsewhere. There was FA, his comics zine. There was Freaky Trigger, where he often contributed over the years. Then there was The Singles Jukebox, a site dedicated to talking about that — recent singles, from all over the pop map. Martin’s passion for the new was as strong as it was for the old, and the man who could talk about the joy of having seen T. Rex live in concert, to my undisguised jealousy, could rhapsodize over the newest release that month, that week, that day, if it was worth rhapsodizing over. Spend some time there and search his work through the archives, I beg of you — his last review ran just yesterday, and it was one that was as sharp, to the point, in the moment and well observed as everything else did. (A slight edit to note that site founder WBS’s tribute to Martin must be read.)

You wouldn’t have known he was fighting cancer the whole time.

The word went out a while back and the many messages of support and love that came in couldn’t be counted, I’m sure. I sent mine along, always worried that I was imposing a bit, hoping I wasn’t, and kept him in my thoughts. Every time a post of his appeared on Twitter or the Singles Jukebox had his thoughts, it felt like a bit of a gift. But he was blunt about his prospects, honest both about the respites and, over time, the clear signs that time was short. His last Facebook update from a couple of weeks back just sounds like…him. Not a despairing him, just him:

Bad health news update: exciting new cancers are proliferating all over me, and I am unlikely to have much time left – could still be some months, could be a couple of weeks, depending on when one of the tumours hits vital organs, and there is no predicting that. I am now on morphine painkillers – I suspect addiction is not a concern…

I have to smile at that. And how rare is that, when that is the subject matter?

Today the word has gone around that this upstanding guy, this wonderful fellow, is no more. He had his ups and downs in life, his frustrations and successes, and he would gently rebuke me if I didn’t note them. But I can’t really speak to Martin’s faults, if faults he had, for I never saw them. He would frown at that perhaps, accusing me of maybe varnishing the truth, but I would say, no, only that Martin himself would have had a clearer eye of them, a more honest appreciation of them and acknowledgement of them. I am not him. Only Martin was.

We are mourning him on ILX. We will mourn him elsewhere. His friend Tim posted a link to one of his favorite pieces Martin wrote for Freaky Trigger, commenting “it’s a really good way of remembering how Martin wore his great intelligence and his great insight lightly.” Please read it, and note Tim’s wisdom in summing up Martin’s abilities:

This isn’t an outpouring, it’s a very restrained and subtle performance, especially the very gentle start – it’s a sad and thoughtful mood, dominated by Al’s lovely and light falsetto tones, though he builds to the lower, hoarser tones in places. He almost speaks the first line, quickly and in a near whisper, setting a thoughtful tone from the start. He stays mostly behind the music and even the backing vocals for some while, his voice drifting alongside and behind the tune, carefully synchronising here and there and then going its own way again, a man thinking his way through an impossible problem. The way he breaks up the last word in “How can you mend this broken maa-aa-an?” is perfectly judged, a gentle little example of form and meaning meshing, then the first strain in his voice appears in the next line, “How can a loser ever win?” The hesitancy before the last word in “misty memories of days gone by” is another masterfully modulated touch. By the end he’s bringing it all to bear, the changes of tone, the hesitancies and ad libs, the sweet high voice, the gruffer tones, nearly crying in places, even a strangled scream at 5.26. It’s finally a determined song that looks to a positive future, and he injects real strength and straightforward force into his final “I want to live” as it fades.

To the end, Martin lived.

Rest well.

EMP Pop Conference 2011 — summary and full notes from Twitter

Okay, so my plan for covering everything at EMP Pop Conference 2011 changed pretty rapidly from what I was expecting! After an early glitch with WordPress wiped out my notes from Ann Powers and Carl Wilson’s excellent talks, I was rather peeved and wondered if I shouldn’t just relax this weekend and just take everything in. However — following the lead on Twitter from such good folks as Ann and Ken Wissoker — I figured after a bit that I could just switch over and do what I’d been doing there. It’s not so different from my Twitter-based concert reviews, after all.

But it turned out this was not only a good idea but a great idea, in that it allowed for something I’d never considered — instant reactions and questions from those following my posts there to respond to the presentations, at least in the redacted/summarized form I was providing. I admit I was as surprised as anyone could be when my friend Mike Daddino — 3000 miles away in NYC — posed a question in response to Bob Christgau’s talk, and I was almost taken aback by everyone’s surprise and amusement when I passed on that question to him in the Q&A following his presentation. Other examples cropped up on Twitter throughout the weekend, as well as moments of clarification, side discussion and more.

The end result, combined with the relentless ‘make sure I hashtag/link all presenters’ nature of my posting, meant that the overall notes were less detailed than in past years, but I still ended up with a lot of words at the end of it all. Further, most of the other posters like Wissoker and many others were spread out in almost all the other panels at any given time, so we might (I emphasize might) have had as complete an overview as possible of the conference in real time for the first time ever. I’ve always been concerned that my notes are, ultimately, merely a small sampling of the whole conference at any one point, so this kind of result is the best.

When I first mentioned to Ann that I had switched from blogging to Twitter for coverage she laughed and noted, “I guess blogging IS dead!” I was thinking that a bit myself, I admit! But this form of compilation after the fact allows both aspects to thrive — if the Twitter posts are ‘forever,’ this kind of centralization of the flow has its place too. As with my past notes, my goal is just to give a taste of what happened, and to encourage anyone interested to attend next year as well.

If you’d like to go back through everyone’s reactions, settle in to review the results via the #PopCon2011 tag — it’ll take a while! Various reports and blog posts are surfacing already and there’s more to come — and after this paragraph, here’ll be mine! Before that, much and many thanks to the organizers — Eric Weisbard, Ann, Robert Fink and everyone helping from UCLA and KCRW and beyond — and as ever great to see everyone again, hanging with old friends and making many new ones! See you all next year at NYU, I hope!

All notes are taken directly from my Twitter posts and, I must heavily emphasize, are not meant to be anything but that, quickly typed notes — names may be spelled wrong, concepts oversimplified and so forth. Corrections or clarifications from the presenters are always welcome! At some later point this week I will try and add all links (to presenters’ webpages, video links, etc.) where appropriate. The presentations were recorded for iTunesU and will at some point be available from there as free downloads.

Finally I do have to record my favorite comment I got as I was madly typing away — of course, via Twitter, from Eric Harvey aka Marathon Packs:

@NedRaggett is #PopCon2011’s foremost purveyor of unpaid documentary labor. On his live Cliff’s Notes grind.

For completeness’s sake, here’s the one full set of notes I did take at the start, before the lost Ann Powers and Carl Wilson notes:

Juan Carlos Kase, “Go-Go Dancer and One Hit Wonder: Toni Basil as Embodiment of Cultural Mobility in 60s Los Angeles” — Toni Basil mostly associated with “Mickey” and the accompanying video that she choreographed, banished to VH1 nostalgia specials and the like. Short-sighted! She had a different impact in the 1960s/early 70s as a dancer/choreographer in film and TV, an active visualization of the time. An exchange of sexuality, cinema and sound. TAMI Show, Shindig, Hullabaloo, various B films, dancing in the go-go style of the Sunset Strip. There’s a semantic excess in her style, goes beyond the terms. Clip from _Village of the Giants_ shown — no Tom and Crow though! — Jack Nitzche music and she shakes groove thing to Beau Bridges’ giant leers. Great blue bell bottoms. Classical training, modern dance moves, improv all at once. The film is goofy and formulaic, but still altogether stranger. Representing the social energy of the era — theorist cited on go-go dancing, an icon like the 20s flappers. “The girl is free to let themselves go, as wild as they feel.” Little scholarship here on popular dance of the time, but a change in gender roles, quick turnovers, solo dancing. “Dance, Gender and Culture” cited, males not defining the dancing, a new variety where female physicality is shown. Hoskyns cited on Fred C Dobbs, gathering place of shapers of youth cultures, bohemians into hippies, Basil as a bridge. 1968 Basil works on the Monkees _Head_, heterodoxy in impact — Basil appears in _Easy Rider_, a blunt cultural object, registering sinister connections. Dennis Hopper’s crossing of roles/interchange noted, artistic crossovers noted throughout LA, visual art, etc. Hopper’s photographs, Basil’s films. Samples and stills shown. Didnt start with James Franco! Clip from the opening of her film _Breakaway_ shown. Pleasure and provocation in her motion and gestures in sync with the song, various costumes, set against her Motownish song, her one off for many years before “Mickey.” Stockwell photo of Conner filming Basil shown, studied, lots of back and forths. Sontag invoked, “Against Interpretation,” a neurotic art, textured. Concludes a bit broadly…but hey.

Everything that follows, as noted, comes via a compilation of my Twitter posts:

Jonathan Daniel Gomez, “3 Bucks a Head: The Backyard Gig, Class Struggle, and the East Los Angeles Community” — “Starting with a very moving, detailed story of a memorial backyard gig in East LA and its being busted by the police…expands his 2008 into a story of methodology, analysis and study in the East LA backyard gig punk scene…talking about community fundraisers among such bands — even sometimes just to get the power turned on…needs to be a sharper speaker, frankly, but we all start somewhere. The sample song played is agreeably mean sounding.”

Robert Christgau, “Blue Monday: The Class Origins of ’50s Rock and Roll” — “He’s presenting a study of 50s rock and roll as working class music, first noting the apparent self-evidence of this…Xgau’s non-impersonation of Little Richard is amazing. “A great story…and some of it may well be true.”…Christgau looked into the family background of 31 50s rockers, reading off the full list, acknowledging gaps…List of parents’ jobs read out — truck driver, construction worker, cotton pickers, much more. A hardscrabble set of lives…The presentation is a series of lists, but with anecdotal power and a sense of scope…Pat Boone thought he was linked to Daniel. Buddy Holly to Sir Francis Drake. (Who had no kids.)…Details about parental ambitions, the performers’ own work history, a fascinating range. Bo Diddley did everything it seems…”Frankie Lymon was a grocer’s helper and a pimp…both of which he liked more than being a gardener.”…”Music was their way out of the working class…but there were personal costs.” Politically? No radical politics evident…Anecdotal stories about his own father — and a brief emotional pause. From here into a study of 50s class and economics…”Permit me to cram this into one unwieldy sentence!” *swigs water* Don’t blame him.”

Eric Harvey, “We Are All Workers, This is Our Song: What Counts as Labor (and Song) in 21st Century Music Promotion” — “…notes that the paper might be a buzzkill in terms of connections of old and new rhetorics of labor…looks into the history of the People’s Songs Collective in the post WWII era, aiming to make songs that “worked”…notes the problem of aestheticized populism, then discusses the Levi’s Fader Fort at SXSW…visits the bloggers lounge in the Fort and wonders — “What doesn’t count as work?” Work/party in the brand, marketer happy…notes that free music and beer in exchange for an RSVP, “a good time that was sanctioned by the corporation.”…”Levi’s disguises the mundane and invisible work in late capitalism.” Even in something simple as seeing a show…The example of the town of Braddock as a place branded by a new sculpted ad-driven resilience, down to the piano part in the ad…notes this is work in rebuilding a gutted city and building good will for Levi’s — notes Fader Fort comparison…they are there to sell jeans too of course, but the shop is itself heavily branded by signifiers…Interesting connection made to the Wanamaker’s early 20th century branding via pipe organ etc where Levis wants you to ‘believe’…”Communal cool brought to what would otherwise be a temporary open air shopping mall.”…draws other comparisons, notes the Fader branding in the Fort, how their musical choices are linked to fashion…”A populist avant garde,” where is open and at the same time limited, “seeing stuff that others can’t.”…”A populist avant garde,” where is open and at the same time limited, “seeing stuff that others can’t.”

Christine Bacareza Balance, “Viral” — CNN clip on Wong Fu Productions and their impact shown…discusses viral video meaning, its potential vs what it is, the ease of access — “people on the DL — download tip”…discusses how Asian Americans “locked out” of telling/sharing stories now have a much more dynamic platform…notes the huge subscriber numbers on YouTube for such artists, translating into live performance numbers as well…notes the huge subscriber numbers on YouTube for such artists, translating into live performance numbers as well…discusses 60s activism as well as the long process of Asian/American cultural response and interaction, ref. Lisa Lowe…ends with thinking about the viral and music as continuing cultural critique. Great talk!”

Daphne A. Brooks, “Glitter” — “Brooks namechecks Aaron Fowler and Natalie Dean and off we go with a bit of Kanye piano and the story of Harriet Jacobs…(If you haven’t read Jacobs’ _Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl_ you all really should.)…talks about glitter and its meaning as various icons flash on screen (Bowie, Elton, Cee-Lo, Prince) and references…discusses glitter as razzle-dazzle showmanship, in African American terms how it represents a reaching up and beyond…talks about the women in detail, Beyonce as a massive example of wealth and look. Clip of “Upgrade You” shown…talks about the “spectacular combination” of artist and luxury item. Other video examples noted, suit of armor etc…looks back to forgotten figures in glitter — Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, their sartorial fantasies and more…notes Eartha Kitt’s cabaret irony, incorporating her background and desires in her “embodied” performances on stage…talks about Aretha and her contemporaries and influences, her own dresses and look, the connection to the Supremes…Motown charm school impact as “corporeally transformative,” Etta James and her “disruptive glam,” Tina, Grace, Janelle!…Clip of “Many Moons” shown as Brooks discusses its overview, incorporation and reinterpretation of these many past examples.”

Karen Tongson, “Plastic” — “What is plastic? Examples, humorous, serious, a throaty riff on Wham!’s “Credit Card Baby!” Also “You Are the Plastic Ono Band.”…Tongson on a roll, will likely be only catching bits of this properly. Think of identity, rearranging the presentation of self…”Plastic enslaves us, degrades us…but it can set us free.” Talks about the eighties, Reagan, Duran Duran, Tongson’s 80s…And into a clip from Depeche! “Everything Counts,” still utterly brilliant. “The grabbing hands grab all they can…”…Tongson talks about her immigrant background, that 80s songs aren’t about the singer but are always very karaoke ready…Tongson talks about her “latchkey aesthetics” and the plastic arts, the way everything can be recombined/reworked…Tongson closes with a favored example, New Sound Karaoke, shows clip of their “Hold On Baby Mama” — okay this is incredible!…Wilson Phillips never seemed so astounding. Repurposing as dramatic art playing out their “story” wherever it goes…”Mashup reheat and remold” not merely the music but social expectations and roles, “how deeply we can love something so shallow””

Gayle Wald, “Svengali” — “”The Jody Rosen memorial lecture, he doesn’t know it! It features sheet music and Jews!”…goes over the Svengali/Trilby story and goes into sheet music and wider “Trilbymania.” Fans, scarves, bunion removers!…Victorian sentimentalism combined with anti-Semitism given Svengali’s background, Wagner grousing about Jews and music…1915 film still shows Svengali as stereotypical figure; book says he looks “so offensive to the normal Englishman!”…Svengali “exudes an embarrassing Jewishness” in Wald’s words. The idea of starmaker is Svengali’s legacy…Svengali eventually stripped of his ethnic accents, various examples and citations given, Wald very much on a roll…Barrymore’s Svengali played as a Jew at least implicitly. O’Toole’s Svengali rather different in that and other ways…Svengalis now “deflect agency away from the artists” — and an amazing quote about Trilby’s mouth from the novel given…Svengali “combining attractiveness and repulsiveness” in one figure, like pop music an entrapping figure we’re complicit with.”

Oliver Wang, “Fetti” — “…speaks of “the diversity of metaphors for moolah in hip-hop — where did they all come from?” Mostly conjecture!…notes the example of “chedda” — cheese, government cheese? Yet what about “the big cheese?” “Guap” also talked about…What is definitive in both cases? Funny examples and ideas talked about — Wang great as always — and into “fetti”…Mid-nineties origins in Vallejo noted very specifically, but what is it? Confetti, fettucine…federal? Federal notes?…considered asking E-40…but language is “meant to be malleable…what matters is enough people can agree.”…And money itself is only “ink on paper” — symbolic! Hua Hsu quoted with a wink and a smile and we’re done!”

Roberta Cruger, “Do Girls Want More Than Just Fun?: Style vs. Substance during MTV’s Formative Years” — “…refs Timberlake asking MTV to play more videos, her own career there from 1981 to 1988 and people referencing the era…notes that the original target audience was TV babies who grew up with rock, much smaller than the current one…presents a basic channel timeline, noting the original radio/cultural contexts, “breaking bands by default.”…talks about screening videos, explaining the channel to others, the sense of format, the slow gain of ratings/revenue…notes the “I want my MTV” campaign, the expansion into LA, Cyndi Lauper as a major breakthrough point, style/substance…But what is the “fun” she sings of? Cruger argues Cyndi’s version helped usher in more female voices, a further expansion…Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonight” as a “bad move — literally, he moved badly!” But ZZ Top showed you didn’t have to look good…Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonight” as a “bad move — literally, he moved badly!” But ZZ Top showed you didn’t have to look good…Madonna vs Cyndi in terms of persona, Madonna’s branding over Cyndi’s kookiness. Women as hood ornaments/hot teachers…1985 is the Viacom takeover, identity now shifting, “Money for Nothing,” 1987 as a year of throwback, “Thank god for Prince!””

Michaelangelo Matos, “We’ve Got to Move These Color TVs: Advertising in the Wake of MTV” — “…begins with talking about “MTV-style editing” referencing “Hungry Like the Wolf” — quick AND slow!…talks about Mark Pellington’s influential editing for the channel as key, four cuts per second…shifts into talking about MTV’s working with advertisers, “I want my MTV” and the campaign, the Stones and Jovan!…”‘You are what you hug!’ — nobody speaks Lionel Richie like Lionel Richie!” Various ad/musician stories told…talking about music and jeans makes me think of Eric Harvey’s talk yesterday — and now into talk of ad backlash…notes the shift to older songs post-Big Chill, Levi’s “501 Blues” ad campaign, lots of posing and “bedrock” music…quoting Robert Goldman on advertising, Levi’s and metamessage, marketing to suspicious audiences and much more…talking about MTV bringing a knowing audience into being, aware and heavily suspicious.”

Scott Seward, “Ebay, Light Of My Life, Fire Of My Loins, My Sin, My Soul – The Confessions of a Record Dealer, The New Vinyl Renaissance, the Impossibility of Supplying the Demand for Old Led Zeppelin Records, and the Essential Human Need for Objects” — “Seward: “Hi everybody! I’d like to thank the bartenders at the reception…”…starts with a hilarious riff on the AOL/HuffPo merger and I think I won’t be able to properly capture this much…”People like to buy stuff…and hold it an squeeze it and touch it before they buy it…”…talking about the “scary old man” he bought singles from in 1973 — “the hardcore gangsta rap song ‘Bad Bad Leroy Brown.'”…”I just want to grab them and shout “It’s not a sale if the sale is all year long! Those are just your PRICES!””…(quoting a customer) “Oh god, records! Do people still buy these? You wouldn’t happen to have the new Ray LaMontagne?”…”The New York Times runs a ‘vinyl is coming back’ story EVERY MONTH!”…”I’ve spent so many hours on my knees in strange basements that the jokes just write themselves!” It’s flying here folks…The books rant and collector scum moment of realization and the dumpster full of records and broken glass…Heavy puncturing of the vinyl-coming-back myth, eBay as generating interest in everything/anything…”People don’t like to dig too hard…they leave that to me. And I need to have something that appeals to them or I’m cooked!”…”I can’t think of anything lamer than cleaning your weed on top of your hard drive.” And fin. Amazing as ever, Scott.”

From the Lunch Roundtable: Burn on Cuyahoga: “Cheetah Chrome in response to a question for recommendations from the audience: “I think hardcore is a big waste of time.”…Audience member: “But why does everyone leave Cleveland?” Cheetah Chrome: “Because it sucks.””

John P. Strohm, “Label Deals: How They Suck, and How to Make Them Better” — “…presentation taped already, but he’s on Skype for followups…reviews the Blake Babies’ history in contracts and the basics of major label deals as evolved over time. A good précis…Work for hire arrangements/contracts discussed, royalty rates, recouping, development costs, renegotiations…How did this culture emerge pre-iTunes? More risk fell to labels, had better access to distribution and promotion…Indie split profit models discussed, artist-owned/licensed approaches, potential freedom in staying at that level…Digital distribution upends this all, major labels have “taken their crappy deals and made them exponentionally crappier.”…talks about his experience representing the Civil Wars, sticking with the indie model with great success…figures that labels will in future develop their brand first and foremost in future over physical product…How to make deals better in the majors? Leverage being key should mean deal improvement. Majors should ditch 360 or else.”

Tim Quirk, “Budweiser Bought My Baby: When and Why Did Licensing Music to Brands Stop Seeming So Evil?” — “”Budweiser: the second shittiest beer in America!” Mentioning a split in the band in 1991 over recording a jingle for it…Discusses the producer Lloyd and fooling him during the recording…plays the jingle. It’s definitely Too Much Joy in a weird alternate universe. “Anheiser-Busch!”…laments the song, donating residuals to charity…and acknowledges that his hate of the jingle is “wildly wrong.”…notes that the money that came in enabled he and his wife to afford health insurance and have their daughter Abby…notes that Bud provided a better deal than most record labels…but ad stuff was something that “just wasn’t done.”…remembers hearing the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” in an ad in 1998 and…not getting mad. With experience, a new logic…remembers hearing the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” in an ad in 1998 and…not getting mad. With experience, a new logic…talks advertising and sophistication, analyzes the ad, reflects back on his own experience, the fans at the agency…plays a Luscious Jackson Gap ad noting it’s less embarrassing and yet still somewhat uneasy, explores implications…The “what they really would wear!” comment is genius. Can’t easily explain it…notes Luscious Jackson’s prescience, plays the Feist iTunes ad and the instant sales spike, the shared aesthetics…plays a Sara Barielles Rhapsody ad, shows charts outlining the spike in sales, notes that ads do benefit the musicians…notes that advertising hijacks the subconscious, and far too many ads “still make me want to kill myself!”…Re: new HP Lou Reed cover ad: “I assume they spent so much money on the song that’s why they let an intern sing!””

Charles Hughes, “Selling Soul: Capitol Records, Black Power and the Economics of Black Music” — “talks of a 1969 speech [from Capitol boss] to NATRA broadcasters about saying more to black audiences, part of a broader effort by Capitol…notes Capitol’s slowness to handle black product, only really starting in 1966 and being locked out of r’n’b sales…in 1969 they had come around and wanted to develop across the board, identifying music with culture…says they wanted to “constructively engage with the black community” — motivated by cash, by desire, soul as politics…discusses activism inside the recording industry, the NATRA group and their dedication to community affairs…In 1968 NATRA goes even more militant over white control of the industry at their Miami convention, black empowerment key…So Capitol wanted NATRA to recognize in 1969 that they were responding to this; they worked together through 1974…Capitol’s black division starts up in 1969, links up with Invictus and Fame Studios, Sidney Miller running many things…In retrospect, much label hiring was tokenism; black divisions became audio ghettos, a dilution of culture (CBS being worst)…noted Harvard Report authors told CBS to aim for infrastructure and connections — neocolonialism? Reaction, even more…Hughes reflects on all this — Capitol establishes template, others follows, showing “complicated contours” at work…What’s great is that Logan Westbrooks is here and delivers some thoughts in response. Good details on the Harvard Report.”

Scot Brown, “Dick Griffey’s Legacy: The Sound of Los Angeles Records — From Soul Train to Deep Cover” — “…mentions interviews with Griffey before his death, trying to avoid hagiography in favor of larger factors…Solar as eighties Motown — big claim, “so I have to give you some evidence!” Great clips from Shalamar, Lakeside, etc…notes that a number of talented black executives were established in the late 70s, Griffey had decades of experience…Griffey’s bio reviewed — hell of an active life, many careers, musical background, booking LA clubs and concerts and much more…Griffey noted the exclusion of black concert promoters in the early 70s, said black artists could do more to help…discusses larger black social/academic associations, notes Griffey’s alliance with Don Cornelius after the Soul Train move…Founding of Soul Train Records in 1975 then Cornelius leaves in 1977 — Solar is born, an immediate smash, disco/funk sweet spot…studies acts like Shalamar, the Whispers, producer Leon Silvers as the key, photo shown of him and Griffey and the roster…Disco and “big band funk” dies in the eighties, how did Solar survive? Self-contained bands! The Deele, Midnight Star, Lakeside…They embrace electronics, Babyface gets his first breaks, Klymaxx work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Silvers proteges…Solar relocates to its own Hollywood building, all sorts of self-contained facilities, built by black workers. Big steps…Solar not big on message songs lyrically unlike Phil Int’l/70s Motown, but Griffey heavily involved in political activism…Griffey and others protest Tom Bradley for not inviting African nations to LA 200th anniversary celebrations, for instance…Heavy involvement with Jesse Jackson campaigns, anti-apartheid efforts…Griffey also a founder of Death Row Records!…Griffey not happy with Interscope breaking Dre/Eazy away. Griffey moved to Ghana, sold building to Babyface, story continues.”

David Sanjek, “First I Look At The Purse: The Contamination of Popular Music Studies by Agoraphobia” — “Corporate ads as ephemeral communication, rather like music industry products. Few recoupals on investments…Talks about the Columbia “man can’t bust our music” campaign from 1969 and its stumbling. Ad and text described in detail…Material virtually “self-equipped with scare quotes.” Participators in its creation oblivious though, but we scoff…Making fun of ad assumes our superiority, makes us think the absolute worst of the creators. Are we hard wired for hyperbole?…refers to LeBow’s work on official histories as oversimplifications, valorizing abstract over concrete, agoraphobia!…refers to LeBow’s work on official histories as oversimplifications, valorizing abstract over concrete, agoraphobia!…makes a request/call to arms for a clearer study of the business, naming many possible areas for investigation…asks us to greater understand the marketplace, to avoid agoraphobia or even erase it, noting film studies has done more…If Stax is different from Motown, we must get down to the details, the actual results of human behavior.”

Joshua Alston, “Pressed Down, Shaken Together, Running Over: Contemporary Black Music and the Prosperity Gospel” — “Begins by talking about a successful storefront church in Atlanta, soon to move — namely the one that Mase founded…speaks of sermons, invitations to parties, how Mase works with the prosperity gospel, which Alston explains in detail…Fears and concerns over the prosperity gospel among many Christian congregations and preachers in the black community…plays the full song of Mary Mary’s “God and Me” — big modern gospel hit, v much in the vein of 21st cent r’n’b…details the lyrics talking about the material success of the characters as deriving from their faith and giving…touches on the split of sacred and secular in black culture, noting its musical history, and church hostility to hiphop…quotes a pastor of a non-prosperity gospel hip hop church struggling with bad reactions from many constituencies…Mase discussed again — message hasn’t changed much, only the signifiers have. Pursuing a different kind of hustle.”

Elizabeth Keenan, “Trying to Buy Back a Little Piece of Me: Consumer Culture, Nostalgia, and Political Activism” — “…notes initial wave of 1990s nostalgia in 2009, Meltzer’s four page Nylon article on Riot Grrl fashion…wonders how nostalgia influences cultural politics; what does the article tell us about revision/reframing?…notes general Riot Grrl review and studies/codification — books, collections, conferences. Discusses 3rd wave feminism…3rd wave as engaging with consumer culture, considering implications, how this tied in with punk rock and style based image…Consumerism studied, its sexism noted, Ellen Willis quoted, but who does say nothing inherently wrong with consumption…As 3rd wave historicized, Riot Grrl seen as the highest/best example of it, narrative summed up in amazingly quick fashion!…continuing to explore the questions noted, quoting writers on consumerism and Riot Grrl…notes books on Riot Grrl put out via major publishing houses by Marcus and Meltzer and their joint Slate interview…Revolves around nostalgia questions, Marcus suspicious of Meltzer’s conclusions, Meltzer notes socialization of consumption…Phew…okay I’m a bit lost now. Becoming the Presentation Ouroboros.”

Simon Reynolds, “The Selling of No Sell Out” — “…talking about meanings of underground, evocative in music but also nebulous and weak, a spatial term, ‘authentic.’…Prime movers in underground are in the business of building a niche market and supplying it with products. Will look at 3 phases…Looking first at UK folk/psych music in the early seventies — Hawkwind, Roy Harper etc. Range of economic activity everywhere…talks about Island’s success, boutique labels, Pink Floyd, Richard Branson — “hippie capitalism” mocked by squatters…Countercultural activity couldn’t flourish without marketing activity — notes Ladbroke Grove businesses, shops, newspapers…”Underground was about revolution — it was also about good business.” Notes gov’t connections (Peel via BBC, student unions)…Evolution of things like Time Out makes sense, an informed consumerism. Second phase: UK postpunk, renewing underground…DIY seen as new and revolutionary but it was historical amnesia as Reynolds notes, psychologically and politically needed?…DIY labels founded by amateur entrepreneurs, not Bransons; band signings as partnerships; Rough Trade as prime example…Rough Trade privately owned but operated as collective, but when they got successful and built up a network things changed…As a clearinghouse, again, Rough Trade as revolutionary but again sound business. Collectivist facade much harder to maintain…1980-81 debate about what is the way forward for the underground — Rough Trade goes for the gold, restructure, radio pluggers etc…Indie as farm system for majors discussed, Geoff Travis partnering with Warners to do Blanco y Negro…in bed with the business…And the current underground? Many many genres, looking at drone/psych/noise/etc continuum. Connections to past undergrounds…Cassette culture studied, Bruce Russell 1999 interview mentioned, smallness of market, frequency of releases, now gone haywire!…”Artists issues installments from an endless work in progress” — cheap recording/reproduction, like print-on-demand releases…Customized artwork/physicality of recordings/tactile and fetishizable products/etc! Lot of details offered, “almost artisan.”…Little sense of corporate criticism, instead the new underground embraces intimacies, mentions Etsy and art — “tons of owls!”…”A class bound impulse for the creation of antiques,” from music as art to music as artisanal. DIY like furniture DIY…The underground has no meaning if no frictional relationship with pop. Opt out, fall below the threshold of consequentiality.”

Keynote Discussion – Career Possibilities: How Musicians Make Do and Keep their Souls Alive in a Changing Pop World — Moderated by: Jason Bentley, w/ Moby, Raphael Saadiq, David Sitek — no Twitter posts here due to the bad reception but the event will be archived via KCRW.com soon so just search for it there! All three of them were great, lots of stories, thoughts, anecdotes.

Matt Sullivan, “‘There’s A Highway Telling Me To Go’: The Mystery of Jim Sullivan” — “…starts by talking about his Light in the Attic work, “stumbling across interesting artists with interesting stories”…Jim Sullivan disappeared in 1975 in New Mexico; his album “UFO” appeared in 1970. Plays clip of “Jerome”…John Rankin’s post on the Waxidermy blog talks a bit about his disappearance; Wrecking Crew members played on album…Further blog comments inspire Matt Sullivan to investigate and search for masters, more info, etc. Hears from Jim’s son Chris…Family recommended talking with old manager Robert Buster Ginter — much searching done, two daughters of his found…talks about Jim’s weathered voice/strange and sad lyrics more, plays clip of the song “So Natural,” stately but sorrowful…Executive producer Al Dobbs found, met in Calistoga, “a dapper gentleman in his late sixties,” showed old paperwork, photos…Producer/musician Jimmy Bond searched for next — hard to find a “James Bond!” Apartment finally found but no response…Bond had moved out some time before, letter left with neighbor, Bond’s son located and contacted, Bond finally met…Bond very enthusiastic and chatty but remembers little of the album until songs are played, prompting a rush of memory…And Jim Sullivan’s disappearance in Santa Rosa, NM? Matt and friends go visit, check into the La Mesa Motel, look around…Jim had left LA for Nashville, pulled over for swerving, tested for sobriety, judged that he was fatigued, never slept in motel…Questions over what he left, why his guitar would have been left. Ranch site of disappearance found and visited…Stories of encounters with ranchowners; car found abandoned with guitars and tapes and wallet, etc. Jim simply gone…Local paper contacted, suggest talking to long time reporter Davey Delgado, who passes on stories, contacts, archival leads…Body found a month after disappearance, judged after investigation not to be him. Delgado suggests sheriff, nobody in office!…Jim had said once that if he wanted to disappear he would walk into the desert and never return…”

Pat Thomas, “Militant Motown: the lost Black Forum recordings” — “After MLK’s death, Motown employees approached Berry Gordy, said it was time to “ramp things up,” Black Forum label was born…No records of label at current Motown, Amiri Baraka got handed back his master tapes, few distributors. MLK album 1st release…Langston Hughes collection next, then Stokely Carmichael’s “Free Huey” the third album release. Clip played, Stokely v forceful…Black Spirits back cover art shown, feat Stanley Crouch “when he was a totally different guy!”…_Guess Who’s Coming Home_, recordings of black soldiers in Vietnam, art shown, recordings played. Angry, engaging, raw…Why quickly release this but hold up _What’s Going On_? Gordy didn’t want to fuck up Gaye’s image. Further covers shown…Amiri Baraka’s _It’s Nation Time_ done with free jazz musicians, clip of an amazing cover of “Come See About Me” played…Another song from album played, “Who Will Survive America?” Bass-led, Baraka, gospel backing, apocalyptic celebration…Elaine Brown’s “Until We’re Free” single from 1973 from s/t album played. Black Forum unanthologized even by UK soul obsessives.”

Andy Zax, “The Highly Improbable (But Utterly True) Saga Of Tupper Saussy: ‘LearnTo Pronounce It; You May Need To'” — “Okay, it’s another great Andy Zax presentation — no way I’ll be able to capture this all, like Scott yesterday. Snippets follow…Saussy from a Georgia family, moved to Nashville, pursued many interests, party guest par excellence, made sharp jazz records…Records didn’t sell but led to commissions, played for Atkins and Hirt, befriending Newbury/Kristofferson, art pop fandom…The Wayward Bus’s “The Prophet” single his first pop single — Stravinsky meets the Addams Family theme! Great Jack Davis cover…Gets Acuff-Rose deal in 1968, writes “Southbound Jericho Parkway” for Roy Orbison! 7 minute operetta about a suicide by car!…Next, the Neon Philharmonic! Anything, everything, all at once. Not flower power, about adult emotions. Astounding clip played…More clips and songs mentioned. Pirate epics! “The Mordor National Anthem!” “Are You Old Enough to Remember Dresden?”…Orchestrations for Anita Bryant orange juice ads! Divorce! Playwright! French cuisine brought to Nashville! IRS audit!…Saussy investigates the IRS and money, writes _The Miracle on Main Street_, all about Article 1, Section 10 and tax protest…Of course, it’s a one-sided rant and the IRS was annoyed. Arrested, sentenced, but becomes a fugitive! Plus, James Earl Ray…Roams the country, sheltered by fellow tax protestors, hides quietly, finally busted in LA in 1997, writes Jesuit scare book…Returns to music with “The Chocolate Orchid Piano Bar,” died suddenly in 2007 at 70. Last work: a web video defending Wesley Snipes!”

Douglas Mcgowan, “Flogging A Dead Genre: Resuscitating New Age” — “Dan Morehouse playing in the background — average listeners’ understanding of New Age begins when the good period of it ended…notes beginning of revival of interest in 2002, identifies steps along the way among hardcore record collectors…Waxidermy site mentioned as helping to codify a new age canon via their interest and efforts. McGowan moves to general points…Discusses Gurdjieff as foundational figure in establishing American new age ideas; made music via keyboard improv…Semantics of new age discussed, the problem and possibilities of labeling — reclaim the term, like queer!…Idea of new age music as retranslating older ideas for a newer audience, with an emphasis on the silent, calm and nonmodern…Steven Halprin discussed, a good sonic salesman on the home recording front, an inspiration there if not spiritually!…Cassettes and new age discussed, the many advantages of the medium for the creators at the time elaborated…Digital synths ruined new age in the mid-80s; major labels get involved, the Wave gets founded, thoroughly co-opted…New age as ultimate utilitarian music, it aims to do exactly what it does at its best. Says he’s happy to share more info.”

Douglas Wolk, “Singles Going Nowhere: The Rise and Fall of the Indie 7-inch” — “Lackadaisy single shown, talking about a classic one-off indie single from 1992 — reads promo notes etc…So why did the sight of a 1999 indie release inspire his fear and loathing? Thus the paper — why the loss of value?…details a good potted history of American indie rock singles, two songs, 7 inches, packaging etc…notes above all they were cheap — to make, to sell, to buy. Knowledge on releasing increased with time…The 1991 pamphlet by Jenny Toomey et al on self-releasing opened the floodgates “even for arrivistes like me!”…explains the pamphlet and its info, he gets inspired to start Dark Beloved Cloud in 1992, things chug a bit…The story about his not realizing there was a record pressing plant on his NYC block the whole time — so sad!…details more mid nineties history, notes that no 7″ singles on CMJ sample chart but all bands there started with one…By 2002, he notes that the ratio starts to slide heavily, this year nobody on those charts started with a 7″ single. Why?…Glut of product, overt careerism, was hard to return product from stores, distribution channels tighten, majors get involved…Support mechanisms going too — magazine coverage dries up, college radio plays more from CDs. Above all, process cost more!…Heavier marketing from CD manufacturers, CD manufacturing process grew cheaper than making vinyl! The econo way: make a full CD!…notes that new singles to come out but they are art objects, mastering/sound tends to be crap; won’t come back.”

Chris Molanphy, “Singles Going Steady: The Record Industry’s Vacillating Relationship with the Single, as Reflected in a Half-Century of the Billboard Hot 100” — while I took notes on this, Chris has already made everything about it available online for your perusal! Download the full text and accompanying slides at your convenience. Should the link go away in future, though, here is my summary: “…talks about “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever”, Buzzcocks comp, album format now a 40 year failed marriage…wants to talk why the industry can’t quit the single via the medium of the Billboard charts, a lifelong obsession…notes “the changing fortunes of the single” via the Hot 100, from domination to war against to new revival…starts a decade by decade review in the 1950s during the primacy of the vinyl 45 single; album charts fragmented…Gold singles had to sell 1 million, albums 500K, not changed until 1988; ratio of non album singles changes heavily but why?…Sgt Pepper as killer app — the most successful iteration of the album-as-such, therefore the labels change focus…Singles did not disappear but did recede, ghettoized in the 1970s — for hit acts, best to be perceived as album sellers/acts…notes racial/sexual splits — white rock acts selling albums, unpromoted black acts have hit singles, not albums…tackles the “AOR didn’t need singles” myth — Led Zeppelin singles noted. Business hated singles but needed them…notes disco era frustrations over taking singles off the market to promote the album. Into the 80s/90s!…Rumours/Saturday Night Fever redefined promotional scope of albums, how many singles to release, lifecycles…Michael Jackson as most obvious beneficiary of this strategy with the Thriller impact, albums milked dry for hits…notes the MC Hammer experiment, doing a vinyl “U Can’t Touch This” but the album crushed it in sales…Vanilla Ice single pulled at peak, forcing album sales — the Great War Against the Single is on. New Zeppelins have no singles…Rockers got annoyed at this practice so the shift was on to Big Pop, no singles, just albums — and it worked!…One hit per album became a new standard — consider “Hey Jealousy” — and airplay vs sales singles, finally changing late 90s…Napster as “epoch-ending rebellion” — iTunes now the pre-eminent model for song by song purchase…Hot 100 now much much more dynamic and fun — industry dyspeptic but the people and chart geeks love it!…”You don’t share albums with your fellow citizens but your favorite songs.””

Tom Kipp, “The ‘Disco Single’ as Commercial Elixir for Aging ’70s Classic Rockers at the Verge of Chart Irrelevance: Decadence, Desperation, & (Occasionally) Unexpected Monetary and Artistic Resurgence!” — “”It was early 1978 — and the gods of rock were going disco!” But the predictions had been going around, had the time come?…Bee Gees as selling out…but they were always about that! Nice meditation on their career and commercial instincts…Disco fears and homophobia etc noted, but everything sure as heck sold. Tom Smucker’s excellent work cited and celebrated…The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” as smash hit and breakthrough, Kipp recalling his high school listening experiences in Montana…then finds the full disco 12″ of the song — extra verses, longer runtime, more guitar interplay, even more amazing…(my post on the horrifying Rod Stewart photo Tom found got eaten but as Eric Harvey said, “I cannot unsee Tom’s huge photo of Rod Stewart’s terrifying banana hammock. BRB bleaching retinas”)…Disco Demolition clip showed, the Kinks “Superman” celebrated, Kiss does “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” hated but a hit…Beach Boys, Wings “Goodnight Tonight” — “heinous video clip…a complete snorefest.” Yoko, Lou Reed, Bruce remixes by Alge…Stepping back to view through disco-goes-rock — Sylvester and especially Boney M…Looks at “aging soul gods” — Johnnie Taylor, Marvin Gaye, Al Green. Back to Mick and his mocked falsetto (“Emotional Rescue”)…Then again are the oo-oo vocals in Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” and “Painted Soldiers” too far different vocally? Kipp wonders!”

Chris Randle, “Misty Mountain Pop” — “…paper subtitle “Gross National Happiness and Music in Bhutan”…talks about Bhutan’s recent interest in shifting talk from gross domestic product to gross national happiness…notes how this has driven new interests and fads, but skepticism should be shown — what are the definitions?…moves into a quick potted history of Bhutan and its traditional music, part local, part Tibetan…notes instruments like the dranyen, skewed colonial judgments of the country and its music…quotes an early English judgment of Bhutan court music: “as disagreeable as it is continuous”…notes 1960s modernization in Bhutan as helping prompt a new Bhutan pop music, rigsar, frowned on by elites…Video clip of (modern rigsar song) “Tok Tok Heel” by Kuenga Dorji played — great stuff! Unlike zhungdra, with its overlapping vocals…Zhungdra as traditional/religious music, rigsar as splashy rhythmic pop — therefore how to measure gross happiness?…Rigsar song “Hi Bumo Hi” video played, riffing on Chamillionaire, lusty but still very chaste…notes that there’s much religious sexual imagery but sexuality is still more private. Populace is very young…notes the randomness of many young Bhutanese’s encounter with Western pop culture due to recent media openness…notes Bhutan’s active film culture, speaks about a film on a hip-hop loving stepmom still banned by the govt…notes the monarchy’s continuing disdain for rigsar, as well their oppression of Nepalis in Bhutan’s south (Champas)…speaks of diffusion of power in Champa refugee camps — gross n. happiness fails, objectively ranks the subjective…has a great side note on “North Korean state music — where poptimism meets Stalinism!”…concludes with fine thoughts, invokes the “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” dictum.”

Alex Rawls, “Treme Second Line” — “…he says the title should be “Touched by Treme” — found a better title more recently!…notes how ill-served New Orleans has been on TV and in movies, citing examples of geography, language, fake cuisine…Treme’s creators background seemed to promise much. Rawls talks about Davis Rogan, lauded by David Simon, part of the Treme team…Treme has helped Rogan find a new audience, exposure to “a whole other audience.” Rogan has asked to keep his name in the show…Upcoming Rogan song: “Nobody Can Call Me Lame Anymore.” Rawls notes how the money helps Rogan record better, experiment more…John Boutté talked about, similar stories about extra money, more exposure via theme song, ego boost and freedom…Boutté: “Treme gave me a big ol stack of ‘Mmm…I don’t think so’ cards!” Further examples of being “Touched by Treme” given…Observations from others there about how, whatever the imperfections, Treme has had an impact. Manager: “Treme isn’t NPR”…Referring to how much of a commercial leg-up it can give you. Manager of musician noting NPR has a much wider reach than Treme…Stepping back a bit to note how easily and deftly Rawls brings in so many voices. Less his thoughts, more that of a multitude…Rawls notes that much evidence either way is anecdotal rather clearly spelled out — stories of tourists, bookings, and more…notes how some musicians feel the key is not even just money but respect, of the musicians as well as the communities…notes the sad history of New Orleans musicians being burned and shabbily treated by labels et al, Treme is something new.”

Evie Nagy, “The Demon’s Manifesto: Gene Simmons and the Foundations of a Musical Superpower” — “Tim Quirk asks Evie what her KISS character would be — she chooses a Rorschach KISS…notes that a Kiss panel on music and money seems obvious, but if Kiss are in it for the money, well, so is America…shrewd business doesn’t begin to explain their success, advances manifesto — Article I “Art should be the name of a guy.”…notes that Simmons saw questions of art and money in his youth — his father’s dreams, his mother’s practicality…Article II: “With great responsibility comes great power.” Simmons as mocked and teased as immigrant, bootstrapping…Article III: “Go clean for Gene” — Ace and Peter as users always irritated the teetotalling Simmons…Article IV: “A chicken in every pot, a Porsche in every garage.” Simmons emphasizes branding, working, control…Article V: “This is why they hate us.” Ego satiation in Simmons words, no hangups about music, says critics are jealous…Article VI: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” Simmons thinks facing/overcoming fear is essential to success…Article VII: “E Pluribus Unum” Simmons wanted to be Beatles but being bigger, better and American…Article VIII: “75 cents on the dollar is generous” Simmons’ own loyalties are fierce — to mom and America for saving her from the Holocaust…But as for every other woman? At least 9000 women know what it involves given the photos. Wanted power and pussy…wraps up with further Kiss examples of omnipresence; Kim Fowley on Kiss quote to wrap up. Great stuff!”

Andrew Beaujon, “Kiss of Life: Why KISS Fans—Still—Empty Their Wallets” — “…says to Tim Quirk he would be an Angry Heron Kiss!…presentation is a film he has made interviewing a Kiss hyperfan he’s known for years…the hyperfan Mike in question talking about how he discovered the band, “vacuum the allowance” phase…Mike’s album reviews of Kiss are amazing. Dude is as passionate and sometimes lost for words as any writer…Lots of notes on memorabilia with albums, Mike has a great guileless nature to talking about it all, but not an unknowing one…”Unmasked” poster: “a giant fucking reminder of how stupid you were to buy it!” “The Elder” — “medieval version of Jethro Tull”…Mike talking about the need to save allowances to get _Alive_ and other albums, how much it meant that it was something yours…Lots of great photos and details about dressing up in the makeup and wigs for concerts/Halloween, videos with daughter…Mike asked if he feels Kiss treats fans as ATMs, Mike says that he does not have to buy everything and doesn’t…Mike: “I’m a field marshal in the Kiss Army! Others may have more things…but did they bleed for Kiss?”…Mike: “The average Joe doesn’t go to a record store, they go to a Barnes and Noble, go to the Kiss section.”…Above all, Mike is clear about his young memories of just exploding with energy when hearing new Kiss songs. Great to see…”When the music started sucking, I still had those memories.””

Ann Donahue, “Rock the Cash Box: How KISS Made Selling Out Cool” — “in response to Tim Quirk she’d be Adam Lambert Kiss…sets up a raffle for Kiss memorabilia! Notes success of Kiss merchandising brand, huge profits over time…notes that Kiss’s ubiquity makes selling out cool, kitsch into cash. 5000 Kiss products on the market!…Kiss looked to Disney as the model for how to merchandise, its from-birth branding to draw in everyone…notes some failures like a Kiss retail store, then just went ahead to team up with Wal-Mart for Kiss ministores…mentions the Kiss coffee house in Mrytle Beach in 2006 and its own branding success, merch, etc…notes the Beatles example again, Kiss ratcheting up the scale of merchandising but not inventing it itself…The raffle rules! And Andy Zax wins the Kiss soap!”

Chuck Klosterman, “The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away” — “…tells Tim Quirk he’d be Bearded Caucasian Kiss!…so Kiss were on Casablanca and Neil Bogart had plenty of his own money ideas that they borrowed/adapted…”Few bands have been so impacted by press and by media like Kiss!” Talk about critics and media all the time…therefore notes that it comes back to money as stated driving force, that they were good for being massive…talking about the first/second order of desires and how Kiss invented second order desires perfectly…telling great anecdotes, Ezrin asking high school kids about fandom, kids saying they sucked but loved them still…Klosterman running on a high speed flow I can’t easily capture! Caffeine come to life…notes that most of what we lionize Kiss for ended up as financial disasters, cleverly masked by image…noting all crazy ideas, Frehley talking about being ordained ministers via the Universal Life Church — no taxes!…notes his Kiss interest is ultimately musical — so where does money fit in on Kiss songs/lyrics?…notes early discs don’t mention money much but songs about prostitution, power, poverty in the present (“Cold Gin”)…notes next records are about confusion over wealth (“Do You Love Me?”), magazines and media presence…Kiss stories of the time replicate themselves constantly — always about money and business and more…says that Kiss perceives the world as fundamentally unreal. That’s a pretty great call!…says “Everything is something else with Kiss!” Paul to Gene in early 80s: “The truth is never good enough for you!”…on solo albums: Paul: “I am Kiss!” Gene: “I am more than Kiss!” Peter: “I am not Kiss!” Ace: “I’m George Harrison!”…on _Music from the Elder_: “most blatant attempt by a band ever to appease the critics!”…notes that 80s Kiss songs shift into aphorisms — not very inspirational! Trying to be Bon Jovi, fails…”I like buying Kiss stuff!” We talk about artist and artist fans, but what about the connecting fluid between?…”By us surrendering our money, they surrender their position in the culture to me, to us, the fans.”…concludes with “If Kiss has sold, they’ve sold out to fans like me. I own Kiss!” Into Q&A but essentially #PopCon2011 is done!”

EMP Pop Conference 2011 — Friday presentations

Okay! It’s that time of year and for the first time ever it’s in LA — very handy, I must say. Feel free to review the official site of the conference to see what’s happening, while #PopCon2011 is what to search for on Twitter. As per usual I’ll be updating this entry throughout the day, so keep checking back; I’ll be doing similarly with entries for Saturday and Sunday.

It’s going to be a heck of a crunched time this year — everything’s packed into three days and in some cases there will be five panels and discussions going on at the same time, so what you’re going to read here will only be a small slice of everything going on. Happily there should (I think!) be even more coverage on this than ever from attendees.

Looking forward as well to seeing everyone there! Say hi if you see me around!

Juan Carlos Kase, “Go-Go Dancer and One Hit Wonder: Toni Basil as Embodiment of Cultural Mobility in 60s Los Angeles” — Toni Basil mostly associated with “Mickey” and the accompanying video that she choreographed, banished to VH1 nostalgia specials and the like. Short-sighted! She had a different impact in the 1960s/early 70s as a dancer/choreographer in film and TV, an active visualization of the time. An exchange of sexuality, cinema and sound. TAMI Show, Shindig, Hullabaloo, various B films, dancing in the go-go style of the Sunset Strip. There’s a semantic excess in her style, goes beyond the terms. Clip from _Village of the Giants_ shown — no Tom and Crow though! — Jack Nitzche music and she shakes groove thing to Beau Bridges’ giant leers. Great blue bell bottoms. Classical training, modern dance moves, improv all at once. The film is goofy and formulaic, but still altogether stranger. Representing the social energy of the era — theorist cited on go-go dancing, an icon like the 20s flappers. “The girl is free to let themselves go, as wild as they feel.” Little scholarship here on popular dance of the time, but a change in gender roles, quick turnovers, solo dancing. “Dance, Gender and Culture” cited, males not defining the dancing, a new variety where female physicality is shown. Hoskyns cited on Fred C Dobbs, gathering place of shapers of youth cultures, bohemians into hippies, Basil as a bridge. 1968 Basil works on the Monkees _Head_, heterodoxy in impact — Basil appears in _Easy Rider_, a blunt cultural object, registering sinister connections. Dennis Hopper’s crossing of roles/interchange noted, artistic crossovers noted throughout LA, visual art, etc. Hopper’s photographs, Basil’s films. Samples and stills shown. Didnt start with James Franco! Clip from the opening of her film _Breakaway_ shown. Pleasure and provocation in her motion and gestures in sync with the song, various costumes, set against her Motownish song, her one off for many years before “Mickey.” Stockwell photo of Conner filming Basil shown, studied, lots of back and forths. Sontag invoked, “Against Interpretation,” a neurotic art, textured. Concludes a bit broadly…but hey.

How to win the Internet without really trying

Strange, the things that can happen in your day.

So yesterday I wondered why an ILX thread asking if I was classic or dud had been revived, read the new posts and saw the comment ‘apparently ned raggett has won the internet?’ related to a post that had appeared on the Thought Catalog site. Said post, entitled “The Different Types of People There Are on the Internet” had a section written by Molly Young called “People Who Have Won the Internet,” which concluded in this fashion:

There aren’t a lot of them but there are too many to name–so maybe it is time we started a list. I will offer my top five: Molly Lambert, Julian Assange, Tavi, Andrey Ternovskiy, and Ned Raggett.

And that was a list of names I thought I would never read together — much less be part of.

I was terribly flattered, wondering if I had missed a joke somewhere and utterly baffled all at the same time — I don’t know Molly Young personally and in comparison to what everyone else listed had done, ranging from high profile style blogging to massively popular new software to, well, being Julian Assange, I was just this random guy who mostly writes about music. Nothing too different or special from a lot of other people, and I think a lot of other people do it better. On Facebook and elsewhere the reactions from friends were pretty great — Max R. said “i couldve told you this, ned,” while Conrad posted, “‎*imagines a ceremony where Ned is standing next to Assange and an LOLcat, receiving medallions ala the end of Star Wars.*” And this is a vision, it’s kinda true.

After I expressed my thanks (and befuddlement) on Twitter, Molly mentioned that she’d been reading ILX for a while — given my ups, downs and all arounds there over all ten plus years of its existence, that’s quite the impression I must have left! But it made me think a bit of the first part of her entry on winning the Internet, so to quote that:

People who deftly dramatize and inhabit the internet; people who have read the whole thing; people who determine the rules of internet engagement.

Which is when I grew a bit more reflective. (Okay, so I’m overthinking this all a bit, perhaps, but that’s what I can do.)

I’m coming up on forty years here in six weeks, and for half that time I’ve been on the Net in one form or another — my first tentative e-mailing was in 1991 and the real plunge wasn’t until two years later, but even so. For about a decade before that time I was generally aware of computer culture, however haphazardly — I still remember the first home PC I ever saw, owned by a former executive officer serving under my dad in the Navy, back in 1981 (and by this time I’d had my Atari game system for a couple of years so some form of roots go back even further). But pretty much from twenty two years of age onward I’ve been on the Net, in one way or another, though always — in my mind, at least — just as someone who was there almost randomly.

A couple of friends have joked that it’s due to having read the whole thing which caused me to win the Internet and, well, I’ve read a LOT but I think far more people have read a lot more. (Given some of the foolish folderol out there now anyway, who’d want to read the whole thing unless one has endless patience for, say, illiterate YouTube comments.) But the other criteria proffered — deftly dramatizing and inhabiting the Internet, determining the rules — made me think less of the Net than something more than that. If one has that kind of impact, on any scale large or small, it’s less about actively trying to stake a place than simply being yourself. To dramatize, inhabit, determine anything — in real life, on the Internet, whatever — comes from that base.

Which sounds patently obvious, I realize. But looking at my fellow winners-as-such brings that a bit more home — all five of us, from what I can tell via their own public profiles, are distinctly different personalities rather than of a type. Certainly we’re all a bit showy at the least — Assange perhaps most notoriously in the public eye, given his paranoia and predelictions — but we’re all coming from it in much different ways and at different points in life. I definitely couldn’t expect Tavi and I to see the world in anything quite the same way, for instance. We’re all inhabiting the Net in our own fashion — Lambert has her sites and photos and writings, Ternovskiy his programming and resultant possibilities.

Determining the rules? Well, perhaps we’re all just setting examples. All of us — and as Young noted in her piece, it’s not JUST the five of us and never could be — might seek to gain different kinds of reactions from audiences but if we’re doing so it’s because we’re operating in a social sphere; the Internet is if nothing else not designed for isolation. Whatever aspects of our personality are projected and then finely honed or cartoonishly overblown (or any range of points between). They can become something to be observed and — I suppose, if one likes — reacted to, engaged with, perhaps even be something to serve as a model.

Which is kinda grotesque to type, at least in my case. I really don’t know what example I set at all in anything, really, and I try not to act that way. Keep in mind I am eternally my own worst critic, and most often frustrated with myself over and above anything else. Learning to take compliments of any sort is still a little hard, no matter how nice it is to receive them and what an honest boost it provides. The counterexamples in my head of me at my worst never quite go away, and that’s not false modesty talking, believe me.

But with that in mind, I still try to do my best, as I can, when I can. Hopefully that’s more often than not. I said some years ago that my existence at base is “the product of a combination of fortuitous circumstances” when it comes to my life and upbringing, and as time goes on I see that all the more. I try not to take it for granted.

I can also say that in many ways these last few months have been some of the best ever in my life — I don’t go into private aspects too much here on the blog or elsewhere simply because, well, it’s a blog, and that’s a pretty public thing. If that’s part of the example set — that it’s more than all right NOT to talk about everything — then I’m content with that. But I have reached a point where I feel like I’ve found an overall calm and balance in many things, in health and home and heart, and without wanting to specifically teach or instruct people on how to find that — and while, again, acknowledging the role of fortune, whether it relies on making one’s own luck or understanding the goodness that luck provides — I can say that there is no reason not to try for that as one can. Call it a midlife crisis if you like — or the aftereffects of one — but there it is, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

The day to day continues in life, and it’s never guaranteed. I have no idea what the future will bring and for all I know five minutes after I post this, the long suspected Big One hits SoCal with levels well off the Richter scale and that could be it for me. But — to also take an excuse to post a photo of me from this past weekend’s trip up to Oroville — if I’ve won the Internet at all at any point in anyone’s eyes, well, maybe I’ve just won at life in general to some degree. If so, I only wish we all could.

Heya

As an addendum — in a private discussion with friends about all this, one suggested that the five of us who won the Internet would make for the best Real World season ever, while another suggested we should form a band. I asked for a name, and a third friend suggested the highly appropriate ‘Screen Tan’ — which led to the creation of this by Photoshop expert Sean C.:

Screen Tan

About right, really.

Announcing the start of a four part interview series about music and my writing life, thanks to Scott Woods

A lengthy title for the entry, but hey, it’s my blog so whatever works…

Scott’s put the first part up for listening and the rest will follow this week, so get ready for links as they get posted! But to talk a little about the project:

Scott’s an excellent writer on and about music; he’s based out of Toronto, first caught my eye as one of many writers and posters over at ILM, and then further came to notice given his work via rockcritics.com — which as described is “rock critics talking to, about, and with each other.” Check the archives for a variety of detailed pieces and interviews he’s done in the past!

Earlier this year Scott kicked off what’s been a striking series of audio projects that are all well worth investigating. His huge, multipart interview with Alfred Soto on Roxy Music is essential listening, while “In Search of Digital Love,” an hour long presentation on the roots, sonic connections and general impact of Daft Punk’s brilliant song of that name, really is one of the most enjoyable, inspiring music discussions I’ve ever encountered. Combining thoughts from three wonderful writers and thinkers — Michaelangelo Matos, Nate Patrin and Mackro — plus much more besides, I would go so far as to call it one of my tracks of the year.

I said as much to Scott in an email shortly after it came out, and in response he asked if I would be interested in participating in a new project. Needless to say I was all about that, and from that point forward we started figuring out what would happen. I should VERY clearly say that at no point did I go “Hey can we have a huge hours long discussion about my wonderful self?” Scott was the prime mover of the project from the start and it was up to him to shape or direct it as he chose, and what initially was going to be something focused on my MBV Loveless essay became the more wide ranging project linked here.

While it was initially going to be a phone interview straight up, I had already booked a visit to Toronto as part of my East Coast vacation back in June, so I suggested we try and do something face to face there instead. Given the amount of time I had available only the first of the main three parts was done this way, so the audio quality will definitely be at its best here! Scott’s a very good interviewer and I was totally at ease — then again, of course, it’s not like it needs much in the way of prompting to get me to go on a bit! Part of the joy was also wondering how he would produce the final pieces — the various musical dropins scattered throughout are very nice touches!

This first part linked today covers my basic writer’s biography from the start to the present time — not quite everything but a lot of things, in terms of how I came to be a writer about music, who helped inspire me, advice given and received and much more besides. Hope people enjoy it, and I’ll provide further links and notes to the rest as they are posted!

RIP Tony Dale

Tony Dale

(With thanks to Rustic Goodwig for taking and hosting this photo.)

A hard post to write, especially since others knew him more and for longer, and far more profoundly, but the passing of such a good person needs the acknowledgement, however much he would protest.

On his Facebook page, he said in his little box-under-the-photo, “I’m relatively unimportant in the scheme of things,” which about sums him up both perfectly and not at all. Perfectly, because humor was always key with him, as well as self-effacement and a sense of cosmic truth, shall we say — that one person in not only the world but an entire universe is indeed relatively unimportant. Not at all, because he was important to so many others, not least of which was his loving wife Carol, with him until the end and whose loss is truly the deepest. His passing was due to a recurrence of cancer, and the bitterness of that knowledge is acknowledged and now set aside — the rage and frustration belongs elsewhere, not in this particular moment.

What to say about Tony, then, that made him someone I was pleased to call an acquaintance, though I would never be so bold as to claim a deep friendship? Simply a question of enthusiasm, but also an enthusiasm tempered by his desire to do something more with it — a love of what we as a species could do and create. I would have first heard about him at some point in the mid-nineties, as my sense of what was out there in what could be called ‘modern psychedelia,’ an approach that sought to expand and explore what had begun some decades previously, became something I found had a greater resonance with me. Friends like Chris, Chels and Matt among others had to be the key there, not to mention fellow DJs and increasingly fellow music writers, leading me to the zine Ptolemaic Terrascope, based in England but featuring Tony, thousands of miles away in Australia, as one of the regular writers.

Around that time he decided to do that kind of step that some enthusiasts do but many others don’t, myself included — he wanted to form a label, to showcase that music that he loved so much. So Camera Obscura Records came into being, and in short order I found myself owning a steady stream of releases featuring that wonderful, glorious logo of some unknown figure — a scientist, an artist, an alchemist (and how appropriate that would be) using the tool in question. As time went on the emergence of a totally unrelated band by the same name over in the UK would cause — and still causes — bouts of confusion, but to my mind there’s only one Camera Obscura, and it’s the label.

And what releases! Looking back over them all, as one can do via the catalogue link on the label page, is to be gently amazed, memory after memory crowds in. Some releases were simply pleasant, others truly awe-inspiring, none, to my knowledge, a dud, though I won’t claim to have heard them all yet. As time went on I had the chance to talk about a number of them at the All Music Guide and elsewhere — perhaps I’ll created a small bibliography at some point — but I grew to look forward to seeing what else might be released, knowing that the logo was very much a mark of quality not to be denied. Sonically they could range from engaging post-sixties guitar pop to mystic, haunted folk that could seem centuries old to blasting afterburns of noise that felt like the exhaust of whatever rockets had launched off earth over the years. There wasn’t a Camera Obscura sound but a bunch of sounds — GREAT sounds.

And, for that matter, great people, many great people. Over the years, as I attended a steady stream of Terrastock festivals, shows that grew out of Ptolemaic Terrascope’s worldwide community of bands, fans and more, I had a chance to meet, either in passing or as the beginning of longer friendships, so many of the bands and musicians that had released things on Camera Obscura. Without putting any of them on pedestals, I can’t say I recall a bad experience in the bunch — it’s a rare thing in music, in life, where so many people whose work you admire turn out to be good eggs in general. Just this year I’ve been hanging out with many of them on my journey to the East Coast — Jesse, Kris, Dan, Joe, Brendan — and been in contact with many others online.

I don’t recall meeting Tony directly at the first Terrastock festival I attended, the second, held in San Francisco — others very clearly remember him, though, his energy, his friendliness and his sheer joy to be seeing so many acts he loved. It wasn’t until the fourth festival in Seattle in 2000 that I definitely met him and Carol and hung out with him and others at many points, and while my impressions are scattershot after a decade’s passing I recall wry and witty discussions as well as being up for experimenting with the area’s cuisine. We definitely ended up at a Tibetan restaurant at the U-District where my friend Rob Morgan of the Squirrels joined us, and where he provided a tape copy of his band’s fractured take on Christmas carols. I will forever treasure the reaction of Tony to hearing what sounded like Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” turn out to be a combination of a performance of that while Rob sang “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to it. I don’t think he stopped laughing — in shocked delight — for a while.

That was the one and only time I got to spend time with him — my visit to Australia in 2002 was for only a couple of days in Melbourne and I’ve not returned since — so every very irregular conversation that followed was at a distance and most often as part of a larger online group. He struggled, and freely admitted struggling, with the impact of what the Net meant to recording and releasing music, appreciative of the opportunities but saddened and frustrated with what it did with his business; even so he kept on, working with newer acts or established ones who knew that his label really was a sign of quality and distinction, not something to be taken lightly. Again, I speak not meaning to make him into a plaster saint, but it was hard, from my position, to see him as anything less than, truly, one of the good guys, straight up.

The shadow of death had already touched the Camera Obscura world before now — Jason DiEmilio, the powerful player behind the epic Azusa Plane, one of the most creative acts in this modern take on whatever psychedelia could come to mean, and who had put out the second ever release on the label, Tycho Magnetic Anomaly, sadly passed some years back after his battles with hearing loss had crushed his spirit, a true tragedy. But now that Tony has passed, something truly final has occurred, something that seems so strange and wrong, but something that Tony approached with his humor, his good grace.

Earlier this year, he made the decision to wrap up Camera Obscura, formally unwinding it and closing it in order for it not to be a burden on his family, to settle tax issues as well (the Australian tax year concludes on June 30) and to underscore the fact that all things must indeed pass. It must have seemed so strange to him, but he made clear in the announcement to his many friends worldwide that it was all for the best from his perspective as well as for Carol’s — not all of us get the chance to both see something in and conclude it on one’s own terms, however dictated by larger circumstance. He had fought in previous years with cancer and it had gone into remission, but when it came back, the sense that this was going to be it seemed clear. To have been able to deal with it as he did is truly a remarkable feat, and sets an example, noting how he planned on continuing to take it all in as he could — I remember he mentioned not a couple of months ago that he was looking forward to catching up with an episode of Glee. That is the voice of someone who hadn’t stopped and wasn’t going to — not until it was no longer possible.

One other thing, though, to be said, which says so much about Tony and those he inspired — something private but at the same time something that I think needs to be said, and I hope I am not breaking a trust in discussing this; I was but a silent witness to its creation. Some months ago, as things began to be clear that there simply wouldn’t be much time left, there was discussion of a possible gift for him among many of the musicians who had worked with and loved, a way to let him know, so far away from most of them as he was, just how much he was appreciated, valued, loved. That turned into one of the most selfless things I think I’ve ever been a witness to, a creation of a festival show that wasn’t a festival show as we might all know it, but a festival show by remote recording, for one audience member. Bands gathered together in preferred spots, rehearsal spaces or whatever was most handy, set up video cameras and each performed a set of whatever struck their fancy, for someone they knew would want to see them doing whatever made them happiest, performing the music that drove and inspired him and them. The recordings were collated and shipped in batches to Australia for Tony to enjoy at his leisure and as time allowed — a salute from around the world to a remarkable man.

Few would have deserved such an honor more than Tony Dale. No question that he deserved it to the full.

RIP sir. Rest well.

Carol and Tony

(Photo of Carol and Tony taken from the Perfect Sound Forever interview with Tony from 2003.)

[UPDATE: at the kind request of Windy Weber, I wrote a formal obituary for Tony for Brainwashed.com.

Also, it seems right to showcase just a small part of his legacy by example:
Some of Camera Obscura's best work

All of it grand.]