You can always tell the hour
By the Williamsburg clock tower—
And say, have you seen
The delayed green
At Fifth Ave and Dean…!
…But for the moment, I just wanted to point out that the following excerpt from the middle section of Steve Albini’s classic treatise, “The Problem with Music”—not always included in online reposts, possibly due to the lower swearing content and/or lack of immediately apparent/transferable relevance to being, you know, cool about band stuff—is, at this current moment, awkwardly and profoundly relevant to America in general and the Internet in particular. (This is in or around “blogging” vs. “writing.”)
But, as I say, we’ll come back to this. It’s late. For now, please complete the assigned reading below, at your leisure, and be prepared for discussion in class when we reconvene.
Excerpt from Steve Albini, “The Problem With Music,” The Baffler, Nov. 1993, pp. 31-38 (why, yes—I do have an original copy):
II. What I Hate About Recording
1. Producers and engineers who use meaningless words to make their clients think they know what’s going on. Words like “punchy,” “warm,” “groove,” “vibe,” “feel.”
Especially “punchy” and “warm.” Every time I hear those words, I want to throttle somebody.
2. Producers who aren’t also engineers, and as such, don’t have the slightest fucking idea what they’re doing in a studio, besides talking all the time.
Historically, the progression of effort required to become a producer went like this: Go to college, get an EE degree. Get a job as an assistant at a studio. Eventually become a second engineer. Learn the job and become an engineer. Do that for a few years, then you can try your hand at producing. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one.
Calling people like Don Fleming, Al Jourgensen, Lee Ranaldo or Jerry Harrison “producers” in the traditional sense is akin to calling Bernie a “shortstop” because he watched the whole playoffs this year.
The term has taken on pejorative qualities in some circles. Engineers tell jokes about producers the way people back in Montana tell jokes about North Dakotans. (How many producers does it take to change a light bulb? “Hmmm. I don’t know. What do you think?” Why did the producer cross the road? “Because that’s the way the Beatles did it, man.”) That’s why few self-respecting engineers will allow themselves to be called “producers.”
…Tape machines ought to be big and cumbersome and difficult to use, if only to keep the riff-raff out. DAT machines make it possible for morons to make a living, and do damage to the music we all have to listen to.
Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one.
Discuss amongst yourself, Internet.
“So—I hear you’re in a band these days, Kyle?”
“Yeah, Aunt Beth. We’re called American Car.”
“I am 63 years old and even I am aware that your band will be impossible to find on the internet. Did my sister fall down the stairs while she was carrying you?”
“Sigh. I knew you wouldn’t ‘get it,’ Aunt Beth. Whatever. We’re playing a show next week with Banana Phonetic and Tree Frog Avengers. We’ll be doing a new song I wrote about how a girl made me feel.”
“I want to talk to Kyle. I know Kyle is in there. Kyle, can you hear me? It’s your Aunt Beth. Follow my voice.”
Based on a true story. Well, probably, anyway. You can’t make this stuff up.
An Israeli landlord who “invented” lavash flatbread? Met him. A M*A*S*H star’s granddaughter’s peer counselor, packing up the crap she left behind in their shared apartment? High five.
A new boss, brimming with (literally) hours of tales from the mid-life online dating scene? I have shared his journey. Feisty, testy, cranky recent divorcees? They are our people, here. Fat camp + yoga pants? Oh, we got that. Awesomely “empowered”-slash-dreadlocked twentysomething white girls, belting out “Get Up, Stand Up,” as though it had been written for (I daresay even by) them? Ah, this scar is particularly fresh.
A huge room—formerly a chapel—filled with housewives and future housewives of all ages (and the odd* guy), dancing and shaking what their mamas gave them, to the tunes of hott dance traxx and radio-friendly gangsta rap, as though they were “in da club,” rather than at a retreat center, for which they have paid (literally) exponentially more money than the cost of a drink at any given night spot where this music is regularly played for free?
Mermaids who walk among us, on the legs of humans?
Employed, professional adults who can’t come in to work when Mercury is in retrograde?
Avowed, committed vegans who staunchly refuse to eat animal products of any kind, unless they’re placed directly in front of them (or, you know, on a plate in the room)?
The scrawl of a child’s desperate plea, “Helo hamburger,” in Crayola marker on mural paper?
I have seen these sights, my friends. I have seen them and so, so much more.
Find your center. Awareness without judgment. Feel the universe in its infinite benevolence and love for your perfect self at this moment. You are the ultimate expression of your potential.
“I like that painting, but the only place we could really put it is the yurt.”
It’s all here. It’s all here. It’s all happening.
* yeah, fairly odd, all things considered
I’m on record as being fully supportive of Frank Ocean, above and beyond the pop-cultural flareup in the wake of his semi-coming-out announcement. In fact, I’d like to ask that you read the concluding line of my review without the 11th-hour editorial addition stricken below—
Ocean isn’t reinventing the R&B wheel — and his recent coming out and acknowledgement of same-sex romances has certainly made him headline news — but he’s taking the shiny rims off and letting it spin a little more freely.
—because I purposefully wrote the review without any mention of Ocean’s personal revelation. I felt that the album itself was a really impressive work, which deserved attention on its own merits, rather than simply as the starting point for a discussion about his sexual preference(s).
(Plus, the part my editor inserted into my conclusion monkeyed up what I thought was a nice little turn of phrase.)
In any case, I read the (sort of) recent GQ interview with Frank Ocean and was, once again, struck by the man’s thoughtful approach to what he does. His music expresses that in a variety of ways, but the quote below articulates it literally, and pretty impeccably.
Note: I let the John Mayer mention (and the album guest spot) slide. He’s still a young guy; I imagine he’ll dig deeper next time around. But I still don’t understand how John Mayer gets this kind of nod from people I otherwise respect, like Ocean, Questlove and Dave Chappelle; seriously—what is the appeal?
You’re something of a perfectionist, I gather.
John Mayer and I were talking in rehearsal before SNL, and he was like, “You love to take the hardest way. You don’t always have to.” But I don’t know about that. It’s like Billy Joel says in that song “Vienna.” When the truth is told / That you can get what you want or you can just get old. We all know we have a finite period of time. I just feel if I’m going to be alive, I want to be challenged—to be as immortal as possible. The path to that isn’t an easy way, but it’s a rewarding way.
I never think about myself as an artist working in this time. I think about it in macro. I feel like Elton John just made “Tiny Dancer.” He just made that shit like last night. Jimi Hendrix just burned his fucking guitar onstage. Right? Freddie Mercury just had the half mike stand in his hand in the fucking stadium. Prince was just on the mountain in “Under the Cherry Moon.” And I was there. That’s how I look at it. Like this shit just went down. You see the mastery that I’m surrounded by? How on earth am I going to take the easiest way? A friend of mine jokes that I have a painstaking royalty complex. Like maybe I was a duke in a past life. But all you have is 100 percent. Period.
It’s been Hot-Pockets-hot these past couple of weeks; like, the kind of heat where you forget about it when you go into somewhere with air conditioning and then when you open the door to leave, it’s like walking into a mouth.*
So, what I do is, I fill up a few 16 oz. bottles with water and splash some lemon juice into them, along with a few dashes each of regular Angostura bitters and orange Angostura bitters (all three of which are available for balls-cheap at Deals & Steals in Northampton, MA—seriously, $2 bucks a bottle; come on). Shake it up a bit, refrigerate and enjoy in a little while. Takes the sting out of being occupied.
And that’s my shit right now.
* a dog’s mouth
I like to say “neighbor.”
In all seriousness, I genuinely like the way this takes a word that—in its original, racist/pejorative sense—intentionally divides/isolates (via its connotations of inferiority), and, through a convenient phonetic overlap, transforms both the word and its meaning into a concept overtly based in community/inclusivity (via its connotations of equality). Whether referring to a ghetto ‘hood, a rural town just down the road or a suburban development in between, neighbor is a word that’s implicitly inclusive, as opposed to being explicitly exclusive. What’s not to like?
(Note: This applies to the o.g. n-word [assigned] and its modern-era affiliate that ends in “a” [appropriated]. Why not make a distinction between these two? Well, primarily because it’s not my role or my right. If other white folks feel cool saying “nigga,” that’s on them; just don’t do it around me, please.)
Now, to be clear: I don’t throw “neighbor” around all the time. It’s only when I’m, say, in the car, rapping along with Ghostface or Trina or Slim Thug or Eightball or whoever, or when I’m quoting someone who’s used the n-word in a more “authentic” sense (by which, sure, I do mean, “urban”).
So, Ice Cube is the wrong neighbor to fuck with. But he’s also the neighbor you love to hate. (Get your head around that.) And of course, there’s NWA—Neighbors With Attitude. Don’t want to live next door to those guys, am I right?
Of course, as my friend Ritch observed, this does give Mr. Rogers a whole new dimension.
Not that you asked, but yes, I have other examples.
Shame on a neighbor who try to run game on a neighbor.
What I did was wack, but you ain’t get a neighbor back like that.
One: Never let a neighbor know your business.
I grew up around some neighbors that’s not my homies.
And if you don’t know, now you know, neighbor.
And I hate my dead neighbors can’t be here.
Got my neighbors in Paris, and they goin’ gorillas.
Jigga! My neighbor!
Fuck the dress codes, it’s street clothes, we all street neighbors.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon (University of Oklahoma chapter)
There will never be a neighbor SAE.
Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?
“Say, fellows, you enjoy sport, do you not?”
“But of course, Littlefield. Why do you ask?”
“A whimsical little notion just occurred to me: What say we have a regular series regarding sport on the NPR?”
“Oh, yes, let’s! We can cover Brazilian mountaineering and ladies’ hacky-sack!”
“And we can air it when nobody is listening!”
“Splendid! But what shall we name our little programme?”
“Aha; what about something delightfully puckish, such as ‘Come Along, Gents; No Need to Take It So Seriously—After All, It Is Only a Game!’ ”
“Oh, jolly good, Littlefield, jolly good. Let’s don some pantaloons and write poetry!”
“Last one to the locker room is a linebacker!”
“Why, you impish rascal, you!”
[Sound of snapping towels and high-pitched squeals of gym-teacher-infuriating glee. Fade to a lovely shade of mauve that blends nicely with the leather seats of a 1972 Saab.]
So, there’s the Walkman, then the Discman, then the iPod; as long as we’re listening to music, “on the go,” in public, we wear headphones.
But at some point, amid the proliferation of the iPhone, the iPad and all these other pocket-sized gadgets that go one step further and play TV and movies, people seem to have ditched the headphones concept. In public places, where the standard-issue music listener would have had headphones on, people are now just watching TV with the sound up in the cafeteria or at the airport like it’s their living room.
Humans: This is not your living room. We’re not your studio audience. This is the world. We’re all here with you.
From: Martin Faction <email@example.com>
To: [undisclosed recipients]
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2008 9:32 AM
Subject: Abuse of police authority (audio excerpt)
This is a pretty amazing mp3: seriously, pull over. Apparently, some cops down in Miami determined that a female driver’s backside was “too fat,” and attempted to pull her over. Naturally, the young lady in question had a few things to say about it.
Seriously, check this out—it’s one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time.
From: Adam <[email]@gmail.com>
To: Martin Faction <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2008 11:31 AM
Subject: Re: Abuse of police authority (audio excerpt)
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, you fuckin’ asshole… *wipes some tears from eyes* So, here I am, expecting to get my dander up and have another reason to start hating the police state our fine republic is rapidly devolving into.
And then, springing from my computer’s Monday Morning speakers at a Friday Afternoon volume, “THAT ASS TOO FAT! THAT ASS TOO FAT!” while, simultaneously, passing by my door for no reason at all involving me, comes our 200-pound office manager, who jumps into my space and proceeds to start dancing and “mixing it up.”
Faaaaaaaaaaaaantastic. How’s by you?
… for an indie mag illustration, March 2008.
• A heart that doesn’t pump blood, but instead punches it through the veins. This also toughens up the blood.
• Lungs that cause cancer in cigarettes.
• When he speaks to women, they hear themselves coming. When women speak to him, he doesn’t hear anything at all.
• A pocket full of your girlfriend’s panties. And her sister’s. And your sister’s. And yours, Jerry.
• Carries an FBI badge, indicating that he is a government-authorized Female Body Inspector. Has never had to display it.
• Tried wearing glasses to look less macho, but they kept focusing his vision into laser beams.
• Can walk on water. Can’t be bothered to.
• Stands seven feet tall, except when he’s angry. When he’s angry, he’s running.
• Has a callus on his trigger finger, and on the part of his brain that doesn’t give a fuck.
• Has never run away from a fight; unless it was to a better fight.
• Kidneys turn beer to wine, wine to whiskey and whiskey to black tar heroin. Water passes through unaffected. White wine is turned away at the door. Urine is 100% proof that Darwin was right.
• A waiter in Decatur, IL, still has a cocktail umbrella fully embedded in his thigh. When it rains, he feels McQueen’s fist clench his heart.
• His leather jacket isn’t a leather jacket. It’s an outer epidermal layer naturally produced by his body. Every month he sheds it and a fresh new one takes its place. Once, a teenager tried to put on an old one; the skin jacket pulled him bodily to the nearest jail.
• Can fly, but uses a motorcycle because flying is for the fucking birds.
• When Evel Kneivel explodes, Three Mile Island goes limp.
• Remembers everything he has ever experienced, from the number of grains of salt on his pretzel at lunch to shooting the other sperm who were trying to get to the egg.
• Can read the minds of anyone in the room with him. Has yet to find it worth his time.
Note: I am aware of the whole Chuck Norris “Chuck Norris” thing; none of these items are from that shit. This is all strictly off the dome, yo (and, I might add, on the clock).
Let me know if any of these work. Looking forward to your visuals.