Saturday, April 24, 2010

Record Store Day

So, as I sit here giving my Sonic Youth "EVOL" limited edition pink vinyl its inaugural spin, I figure this would be a good moment to talk about Record Store Day this year.

I'm sure some of you have already written off Record Store Day as some sort of bullshit geek phenomenon, and if you're the kind of person who thinks in terms of "bullshit geek phenomenon" and other similar phrases, I'm willing to bet that attitude is right for you. For me, however, I can't help but get giddy when I think about Record Store Day. There are so many things about it that I find exciting, and as I tell you about my Record Store Day experience this year, I'll try and illustrate those elements.

Before I continue, I should probably explain a bit more what Record Store Day is. It's a day to celebrate independent record stores, but HOW this is done is key. Many artists and labels, to commemorate this occasion each year, have started releasing exclusive, limited edition records and CDs that will ONLY be available through participating independent record stores on Record Store Day. It's basically a guarantee that the indie record shops will have a banner day that day, sales-wise, and it's quite the alluring occasion for geeky record collectors like myself to get out there and grab some things that have been released in a sort of "one time only" fashion. I mean, giddy. GIDDY I TELL YOU!

Some time towards the end of March it dawned on me that I was not going to be home on Record Store Day this other words, I was going to be on tour with K.C. I suddenly felt disheartened; I desperately wanted to be a part of the occasion, because independent record stores are a special breed these days...they specifically exist to keep the tradition of collecting and enjoying music in a physical format (whether LP or CD) alive. Many would regard this as pointless at this juncture in history, but I don't think it's ever been more important. Anyway, I digress. What I was leading to was that I wasn't going to be home (meaning I would not be able to make my purchases at my beloved local shop, Guestroom Records)...and that, to participate in Record Store Day, I would have to figure out where I would be on that day and try and find a store in the area.

I wound up at Redscroll Records in Wallingford, CT. It was about a 15-20 minute drive from where we were staying (with some lovely, lovely folks named Mike & Kelly Stuper), and since we had plenty of time that morning to do what we wished before we drove to Boston, I was able to arrive at Redscroll in time to get in line for the day's exclusives.

The line was way longer than I expected. I was probably about 10 or 12 people back, and this was at about 9:50 am (the store was opening at 10, 2 hours before its normal opening time). It should be noted that, at this point, everyone in line except one person was male. Several cars drove by while we were waiting for the store to open, the drivers of which slowed down, rolled down their windows and asked us what was going on. They seemed disappointed to find out it was just "Record Store Day". Again, like I said earlier, it's not for everyone.

I had sincere hopes that there would not be enough people in front of me that wanted the main thing I came for: a blue vinyl limited edition reissue of R.E.M.'s debut EP. Turns out my hope was in vain, as when I finally was able to enter the store and approach the spot on the front counter where all the Record Store Day exclusives were merchandised, there were no R.E.M. records to be found. Copies of both the limited edition Sonic Youth vinyl reissues remained, however ("EVOL" and "Confusion Is Sex"), so I grabbed those, poked around the store for a few more minutes and then checked out. I was lucky I got in when I the time I entered the store, the line had gotten much, MUCH longer behind me. I got a bitchin' Record Store Day tote bag for my purchases that had all sorts of swag in it, too.

I started scheming on the drive back about people in other time zones that might be able to pick up an R.E.M. disc for me, and by the time I arrived back in Southington, CT, I was trying to work out an arrangement with a couple of them. Turns out I didn't have to, because my awesome friend Bruce Chandler from Austin sent me a text telling me that he had seen my forlorn tweet on the subject, so he had picked me up a copy. Radness. I have to wait to pick it up from him when we go to the Kerrville Folk Festival in May, but that's okay. Delayed gratification is still gratification.

After I arrived back in Southington, Kelly made us the most delightful breakfast, and I basked in the glow of the whole experience. Maybe you're a car fanatic and you look forward to the classic and custom car show every year...maybe you are a basketball fanatic and March Madness is your favorite annual event. Record Store Day is quickly becoming a favorite day of the year for me, because the independent record stores, the stores that really make an effort to keep the excitement of physical music (and independent music) alive, have a day to celebrate and be celebrated. We geeks could not be any more proud to go out and be a part of this special occasion.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Duff McKagan Joins Jane's Addiction

2 things to start out:

1. I am not writing this post to bring you the news of Duff McKagan joining Jane's Addiction. If you are geeky enough to read this blog, you probably already know about it. If you don't, just google it.

2. In the interest of full disclosure, I am way more of a Jane's Addiction fan than I am a Guns N' Roses fan. I enjoy some Guns N' Roses, and I definitely enjoyed them very much in my junior high years. But Jane's will always win out for me.

So, were you shocked by this news? Are you the kind of Jane's Addiction devotee and old school alterna-groupie that finds the idea of a member of GN'R playing with Jane's Addiction distasteful and indicative of some sort of (ugh) "sell-out"? Do you question Duff McKagan's abilities as a musician and bass player, at least to the extent that he might possibly be able to fill the (extremely) able shoes of Eric Avery?

You may have an argument on the last point. Before I get to my argument about the former point, I have to say that, despite the fact that Duff McKagan is obviously a skilled bass player and can hold his own in most rock contexts, the music of Jane's Addiction (especially that of "Ritual De Lo Habitual") can be twisty stuff, and Eric Avery's bass playing on that record in particular is formidable. I will be interested to see if Duff can hang with some "Three Days" or the razor sharp turns and angles of "Ain't No Right". Now, I'm sure some of you GN'R enthusiasts will no doubt bring up latter day Guns N' Roses epics such as "Estranged", "Coma" and (of course who could forget) "November Rain" in terms of whether Duff can hang with learning songs of a more long-form nature. Those songs did have their own complex elements (to a degree), but "Three Days" they are NOT. "Three Days" is a TRUE musical masterpiece of the original alternative era, and shows all four members of Jane's Addiction at their absolute peak. Duff should consider himself lucky to even play the tune once. We'll see how he does.

And now to the former point.

It didn't take me long, after I received the news of Duff's new gig, to settle into a gentle resignation somewhere along the lines of "well yeah, okay." First of all, it's 2010, and we're talking about two bands who, for better or worse, started their careers the better part of 25 years ago. Time itself should allow us to move to a place of acceptance with this, but just in case it doesn't for you, let's go a bit deeper.

GN'R and Jane's are both from Los Angeles, and both formed around the same time. Both bands made aggressive, subversive music, at least for the time. Both had iconic lead vocalists that sang in high pitched squeals. There is probably an argument that they were the two most significant hard rock bands of the late 80's (hold on, hold on, HOLD ON!! YES, Jane's Addiction are a HARD ROCK BAND. Their music rocks. It's heavy and aggressive. Do not play like this is a misnomer). Not only that, these two bands, I would argue, were essentially two sides of the same coin. The drug-fueled Los Angeles underbelly was an essential part of both bands' mythology...neither one of them would have been what they were without it. I think these bands took essentially the same ideas and style and respectively delivered it to two different segments of the population. If you were a disillusioned, angry teenager in the late 80's who was desperate for some aggressive music that spoke to you and wasn't like everything else, Jane's Addiction was the band for you. If you were a disillusioned, angry teenager in the late 80's who was desperate for some aggressive music that spoke to you and you didn't necessarily live in the most metropolitan of places, Guns N' Roses probably ended up being your band. Maybe you were a GN'R fan and ended up discovering Jane's a few years later when you got to high school (like me). Maybe you really liked the fact that Dave Navarro was willing to essentially shred (after a fashion, at least), but that Jane's could still be cool.

Which brings me to another point. There were punk rockers who couldn't stand Jane's because of Navarro's guitar playing. I remember driving around with a friend and friend-of-said-friend in high school, with the friend-of-friend's Husker Du cassette in the stereo, and he said that Jane's would be so much better if Dave Navarro didn't take a "cheesy-ass, Poison-Motley Crue solo" every chance he got. I see his issue, but I also think it's extremely short-sighted to compare Dave Navarro's guitar playing to that of C.C. DeVille (maybe the biggest example of all-style-no-substance guitar playing of the entire butt rock era). Navarro possesses a style which is almost as (if not at least as) iconic as Slash's. The guy was a monster, at least at that point in his career, and his tone and style were as instantly recognizable as that of Slash. Neither one of them has done much playing of note in the last fifteen years or so, but from about 1987-1993 or 4, you could not fade either one of them.

But that punk rocker would have taken this moment, the moment where Duff from GN'R joins Jane's Addiction, as the moment where we should swear them off forever, and call them what they really are: butt rockers trying to masquerade as something cooler. For me, the proof will always be in the pudding: "Ritual De Lo Habitual" is probably one of the 10 best albums of the 90's, and it is certainly a way more compelling listen than either of the "Use Your Illusion" records. "Appetite For Destruction" vs. "Nothing's Shocking"? I will leave that one up to you. I'm sure many of you will say that they shouldn't even be considered on the same plane, but I think at this point in history we can see that's a shortsighted judgment, especially now that both bands have put out records in the new millennium that absolutely failed to live up to the legacies of their early work.

But maybe it's not for any of us to decide. If I can, I'm gonna take in a Jane's show and see what my ears think.