Sunday, October 30, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 2: Willie Evans Jr. (Is Brilliant)

Beyond its late role as obligatory, super-expensive job training for the modern workforce, college also serves as a sort of a sort of cultural/pop-cultural swap-meet, a place where you’re surrounded by people who throw art, music, movies, TV, just everything at you every single day and for several years. That’s a pretty awesome side benefit, too.

But when you get old, get isolated, and that firehose of things to explore dries up? You can still find this stuff using music magazines or, later, online (not just because those magazines went online, but through blogs…which, it occurs to me for the first time are like the ‘zines of my youth (look, I’m slow)), but it’s both a lot harder and, often, more narrow; you lose the beneficial scatter-brain nature of inputs that comes with getting thrown together with a bunch of random people. Those people expose you to the names of artists, even entire genres, for you to check out and, when the stars align, fall in love with. Again, pretty damn amazing, but then one’s four or five or six (me) years of college ends and it all goes away.

So, what do you do?

When my interest in music sort of reignited in my mid-30s, I landed on the approach of picking up albums based on the cover. Even as it’s not as central to a musician’s art as his/her music, what a musical artists puts on his/her album cover makes its own artistic statement. And when you’re picking through the bins, the artist makes his/her introduction through the aesthetic choices made on that album cover. As it happened, this approach worked out a lot more often for me than picking a band* than most things I read.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 1: Wu-Tang Clan

I don’t want to say that I’m ignorant about hip-hop, but I just googled it because I wasn’t clear on whether or not it’s hyphenated. (The answer: “it depends”). “Ignorant” goes a little too far, though, because what I really mean is that, down the years, a couple other genres got in the way, and I went pretty deep on those, so, what I’m saying is, I approach this stuff with due humility.

Still, “Me, Myself & I” sent me to the record store to buy De La Soul’s Three Feet High & Rising when it came out. During my freshman year in college, a friend of a friend passed on a mixed tape – hold on; that word has a different meaning now – I mean I knew a guy who put a bunch of rap on a cassette tape, Boogie Down Productions, Poor Righteous Teachers, Big Daddy Kane and Eric B. & Rakim, so some exposure did happen, and beyond “Yo, MTV Raps.” The point is, most of the exposure came to me, not vice versa.

And yet leading with ignorance makes sense because it fits my relationship to the first artists I’m exploring for this project: The Wu-Tang Clan. It’s also why starting this entire project with a hip-hop act just feels…right. If there’s a purpose to the whole thing, it’s exploration – answering the question of why something connected, regardless of when it connected. So, to lean into that ignorance as hard as I can without falling off, I had no idea that Wu-Tang dates back to the first half of the 1990s. completely missed that. I’d heard of Method Man (part of Wu-Tang) and Red Man (not part of Wu-Tang; turns out they’re cousins) in a couple fish-out-of-water movies from the early-aughts, but didn’t know to connect him to Wu-Tang. For years, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the only guy I could confidently connect to Wu-Tang, and that only came when he died.

As with most of hip-hop, Wu-Tang came to me. By that I mean, I’d heard songs by either Wu-Tang (“Gravel Pit”), or individual members (“Baby, I Got Your Money” and “Shimmy Ya”; sensing a theme?), before I really knew where they came from; later, I heard “A Day in the Life” on Handsome Boy Modeling School’s White People. I wasn’t even sure if actual members of Wu-Tang featured in the song, but the songs hit all the same. And that’s the long and the short of how you find a Wu-Tang album in a bin, decide to pick it up, take it home, and upload it onto your hard drive.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

On (My) Music: A Project, an Inspiration

Here, my right hand massages the lobe for music appreciation…
Like a lot of people of a certain age, I have compiled my share of music collections. I’ve lost and gained them by way of break-ups (typical), cross-country moves (perhaps less typical), and just plain negligence (drunk?). There are songs, and entire bands, I can only remember when someone asks me, “hey, remember those guys?” And even then, I can’t always find them (e.g. Big Chief’s “Start at the Top,” which, across three albums (damn…they have them?) Spotify can’t find either. More on that software later.

When it became possible to save more music than I thought I’d ever own on my computer, I did that. The result is 214 + 47 folders across two entirely practically divided sets*, most of them containing folders within those folders, and all of them containing a lifetime’s worth of not just music, but interests and memories. Building and maintaining all that took about two years. And then along came Spotify.

I resisted Spotify, and for quite a while, for reasons both ideological and self-serving. Even now, as I look forward to my Discover Weekly playlist each and every week, it still feels like some experience has been lost. Or maybe it’s just the old Protestant mind-fuck needing to do work (or just to suffer) before anything registers as worthwhile. Regardless, by way of algorithms and convenience, Spotify can give me something close to what I want each and every week, whether by feeding it to me via Discover, or just by allowing me to search an actual universe of music.

Since getting Spotify just two months ago, I have compiled a secondary library of 80 songs, minimum, several of them that I just flat-out love, and with the giddiness of a new fling. The one anxiety I can’t escape is the notion that there’s some ur-song out there, some end of the rainbow iteration of what I like in music that Spotify will pinpoint and feed me over and over again, and that I’ll love it so much and so unconsciously that it’ll satisfy the “music lobe” thing in my lizard brain, and I’ll hear what old people’s brains have told them since the beginning of time – e.g., it all sounds the same and that the stuff of one’s youth is better, so why bother with that new-fangled __________? (aka, is Justin Bieber the end of music?)