Tryin’ to get to you. Pleading with the postman about news of your boyfriend, so far away. Lonely days are gone, I’m going home. And all because of a venerable social practice and convention of yesteryear; the art of letter-writing (and receiving). But, in this advanced technological age of Skype and IM, how has pop music assimilated these technological anachronisms?
Pop culture critic, writer, and music fan Geoff Moore gets out figurative pen and paper (figurative because otherwise the postage would cost a fortune …) to muse on the state of that key ingredient of pop – the letter – now a less common experience when checking your mailbox, so much so that the idea of ‘mailbox’ in casual conversations is much more aligned to Google than it is your friendly neighbourhood letter-carrier (or is that department-store-circular carrier?).
In one of his greatest songs, a letter prompts Elvis to travel by night over mountains and through valleys to reach a distant love. The cost to get home was no object to Alex Chilton of the Box Tops when his baby wrote him a letter saying she couldn’t live without him any longer.
What if, in 1971, a mere pizza flyer dropped through the mail slot onto the floor of Burton Cummings’s vestibule instead of a letter sent from Indianapolis, IN zip code 46201?
A series of rotating strikes by Canada Post employees in June countered by management locking out workers and the subsequent announcement that mail delivery in this country will be reduced to just three days a week was met with… Well, the average citizen didn’t notice. The Crown corporation’s 2009 annual report states that Canada Post processed eleven billion pieces of mail and delivered them to fifteen million addresses that year.
These are staggering numbers but they also reflect a decline in volume of some eight percent. Mail is now the realm of marketers and businesses and no longer a crucial link in intimate personal communication.
Since Time Magazine trumpeted the computer as Machine of the Year in 1982, the digital transformation of society has proceeded at a dizzying rate, seemingly too swift to measure. The new and improved normal becomes standard for one generation while the ones behind it may perhaps feel a little wistful about what’s being being lost.
A letter (and the inspiration written correspondence has provided to songwriters and other artists) will soon be as archaic as a record shop or a telephone number that cites the exchange: ‘Beechwood4-5789.’ This is neither to mourn nor moan about the passing of old ways, but to stand by awed by the sheer and shifting wonder of the brave new world.
Two of Rod Stewart’s most charming songs, ‘You Wear It Well’ recorded during his prime and ‘Lost In You,’ a bouncy little gem found along the long slope of his decline, are literally sentimental letters to loved ones from transient workers. While the narrators of Tom Waits’s ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis’ and John Hiatt’s ‘Tennessee Plates’ have fallen a lot farther and harder than Rod’s characters, the storytelling device is the same although Hiatt’s incorporates an O.Henry-like twist at the song’s end: “Well, this ain’t no hotel I’m writin’ you from…”
Whatever happened to these letters? Were they stored in a trunk in the corner along with bills and demands? Did they make their way back stamped ‘Return to Sender’? Was the recipient waiting at the door begging, ‘Please Mr. Postman’?
Digitization has conferred a type of immortality upon numerous aspects of pop culture (not all progress is necessarily good); recorded music has especially proliferated in cyberspace. It’s a curious thing to consider that some day a new listener who stumbles across one of these tracks may very well be mystified by its context.
Geoff Moore waxes poetic in the city of Calgary, where he is currently reviewing the manuscript of his soon-to-go-to-market second novel, Duke Street Kings. Meanwhile, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.
Rock ‘n’ roll stories, are just like other tales of questing heroes. They follow a pattern. It’s just like Joseph Campbell said.
This starts from young enthusiasm, to paying one’s dues in squalor, to rising fame, to the pinnacle of that fame, and moves ever onward around the cycle. And by onward around the cycle, we mean going down through the underworld of rock excess – the women, the drugs, the concept albums – and upward again, after the blaze of glory has long been extinguished for many a grizzled rock ‘n’ roll hero.
Then, comes the classic comeback. Some cynics out there might say the classic re-sell. Writer, music fan, and rock ‘n’ roll sceptic Geoff Moore is such a cynic … Read more
Amid St. Paddy’s Day revelers, and incognito, inbred-moron, chronically shorn, marching white supremacists, our roving cultural reporter, writer Geoff Moore, took in a special event which is a part of the 2011 High Performance Rodeo Arts Festival at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum; Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings, a multimedia art installation of moving images and ambient music from a guy who made that sort of thing cool before most of us even thought to consider the idea …
The day ended long after sunset in a pub on the north side of the Bow River, muttering about amateurs, yellow school busloads of young people staggering about beneath the green plastic leprechaun puke buckets pulled down over their foreheads. Difficult to text somebody whilst heaving in the alley and the alphabet has suddenly expanded to 52 letters. Erin go bragh!
And it began downtown around lunchtime, avoiding marching, chanting bags of puke as Calgary’s tiny cadre of neo-Nazis took to the streets to promote white supremacy although, ironically, the twenty or so disaffected skinheads took pains to conceal their faces with kerchiefs, actions which bespoke the exact opposite of any sort of pride in a particularly odious credo. It would be embarrassing, indeed, if your family and co-workers learned you were such a vile little cretin.
Between the pea soup tinges of unseasoned drinkers and the black garb of our local Nazis there was the tranquil spectrum of “visual music*,” Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings installation mounted at the Glenbow Museum as part of the High Performance Rodeo 2011 arts festival. Eno, whose surname is a gift to crossword constructors everywhere, is a postmodern renaissance man: composer, producer, musician, artist, avant-garde pioneer. He is the Nicholas Negroponte (Being Digital) of rock, someone who intuitively grasped technology and all its implications and potential while the rest of us were still trying to figure out how to hook up the cables. Read more
It seems that a storm may well be threatening our very (quality music-consuming) lives today, good people.In this month’s guest post here at the Delete Bin, pop culture vulture and writer Geoff Moore gazes out on the plain once again, this time with a belief in democracy and in pop greatness held under pressure. Does the age of social media, social sharing, and the democratization of content mean the death of pop artistry too? Is it the end of the world as we know it where pop music chart action that’s unfettered by crossover marketing is concerned?
According to the whack-jobs and nut cases whose URLs constitute the last few dusty pages of the Internet, the Mayan Long Count calendar dictates December 21, 2012 as the end of the world as we know it. Fortunately we’ve some months yet to get our affairs in order and due diligence is the order of the day as the lunatic fringe may be right this time. If you’re not as jittery as the ruler of an Arab police state, you should be. Signs of a pop culture apocalypse are all around us.
Following Mick Jagger’s Solomon Burke tribute on the 53rd edition of the Grammy Awards the Washington Post was compelled to report that the voice of the Stones is not dead, contrary to tweets trending globally. The paper described the social media phenomenon as a hoax.
It wasn’t; because a hoax involves some forethought and planning. It’s simply that twits are unable to express themselves clearly in 140 characters and their twitterpated followers lack the attention spans to read, interpret and comprehend said 140 characters which alluded to Jagger being past his prime, hence a sardonic R.I.P. from a media personality trailed by illiterate electronic acolytes.
Another reason we are no longer able to communicate is because we are deaf. The cast of the television show Glee has racked up 113 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in less than two execrable years. Elvis Presley slides down to number two with 108. Pour yourself a stiff one and contemplate this state of affairs. Make it a double. Neat. How did it all come to this? The sales of digital music actually declined for the first time ever last year and that’s despite iTunes launching the Beatles catalogue online. Yet people are still purchasing ersatz show tunes by teenage actors. And, dear God, they must be listening to them too.
Who are these people?
We must assume they are subversive agents of the counterculture because after all, the cast of Glee has been featured on the cover Rolling Stone magazine, the Little Red Book of the left. And the people will not be denied.
Rolling Stone, partnering with a shampoo, whose PR flak maintains that music is one of the brand’s core equities(!?), recently announced a contest in which readers will get to vote on whom the publication features on an upcoming cover. Sixteen unsigned bands (including one called the Sheepdogs from Saskatoon, SK) are vying for the honour. RS publisher Matt Mastrangelo told the New York Times that the rag’s staged battle of the bands is “the antithesis of what American Idol is.”
Sure smells like a cheesy talent contest from here.
Perhaps the magazine should return to its area of expertise, like asking Democratic presidents what their favourite Dylan songs are.
When the end comes you just want it to be sudden, over and done with in an incomprehensible, blinding, incinerating flash. But the Four Wild Horsemen seem to be content just cantering along and dragging us behind them through the popular muck of these times.
Geoff Moore lives and works in Calgary, Alberta. His basement is loaded with canned goods, and 45’s.
Symbols have been a part of civilized society for thousands of years, from tribal insignias, shield emblems, family crests, and flags, to logos for cereal and sportswear. But what of our precious rock ‘n’ roll? The youth of today and of yesteryear have proudly huddled under one symbol or another, whether they be mod, rocker, or mocker.
The impulse to form tribes is very much a part of humanity’s basic make-up, no-less evident in the advent of mass-produced-and-distributed pop music. But, is this really just an exercise in marketing, and in some cases incredibly crass marketing? Well, to answer that question, why not ask an ad man? Luckily, we here at the ‘Bin have at least one of those on hand; Mr. Geoff Moore.
Here’s Geoff’s take on the state of the union when it comes to rock, and to the celebrated and reviled b(r)and logo …
On the date of John Lennon’s assassination this year, here’s the follow-up post from writer, music fan, and world-traveler Geoff Moore, who’s treated us most kindly to the fruits of a bona fide musical pilgrimage. Here is part 2 of his tales of adventures in the magical city of Liverpool, home of favourite sons the Beatles, and the cradle of a whole industry; Beatle worship.
It’s of no surprise that the city has become a shining beacon to musical pilgrims, seeking to visit the location where their heroes sprung from obscurity, and delivering the whole city along with them. Heck, I’ve made the trip myself! But, is there a line between devotion and exploitation? At what point does a celebration of history become a means of kitchify-ing that history?
Let’s find out, in this second part in a series set in the great northern city where heroes have emerged …
The Delete Bin has a roving reporter in writer, cultural critic, and world-traveler Geoff Moore. More to the point, he’s conducted a musical pilgrimage in visiting one of the Holy Places of Rock ‘n’ Roll: the City of Liverpool, birthplace of Echo & the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Shack, The Pale Fountains, The Lightning Seeds, The Zutons, Gerry & the Pacemakers, The Searchers, the LA’s, and most importantly a little band called the Beatles, who put the city on the musical map.
And what did Geoff find there? A whole industry, and we’re not talking about the Albert Docks; at least not primarily.
So, let us take you down, ’cause we’re going to … Liverpool, mythical (for those who’ve never been, and even still to those who have) home of the Beatles, and the first part of two …
The ‘Classic Album’ tag is something of a double-edged sword, in that careers are often weighted down by them as much as made by them. In recent years, bands have united to perform [insert respective classic album title according to act here] “in it’s entirety” as a way to jump start a comeback, or just plain sell tickets to keep the show on the road.
But, is there a limit to how many times an act can do this before losing credibility? How much will the concert ticket booking, CD extras-seeking, DVD-buying public stand? Well, in this month’s piece by writer, pop music critic, and music fan Geoff Moore, that very question takes center stage, with a giant inflatable pig hanging over it …
Roger Waters was the cover subject of a very recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Stop-in-your-tracks stuff because he is neither a television actor nor a starlet, but an actual working musician, albeit one with nothing new to sing to us. But such is the state of what is now referred to as ‘classic’ rock.
Roger Waters has revived (rebuilt?) The Wall, which relates the story of Pink F. Sorrow, a rock star who suffers a breakdown in the Colony of Slippermen where he has been exiled and forced to play pinball.
And he blames his mother. Or something.
Time has not been kind to rock opera plots generally (the drugs wore off), but the vast majority of their songs still hold up either in or outside of their original contexts. Read more
This month’s entry from pop music commentator and writer Geoff Moore has to do with a very important subject as dealt with in detail here at the ‘Bin: the cover version. There are good ones and bad. But, has the perception of the cover version changed over the decades that we call the rock/pop era? You betcher sweet bippy it has, kids! But, how? And for better, or worse?
A discordant trend in mainstream music these days is the proliferation of the needle-drop cover version. A recent example is Colin James’s take on Van Morrison’s ‘Into the Mystic.’ First, full marks to James for having the audacity to attempt one of Morrison’s greatest love songs, that is some serious nerve. The result however is rather pedestrian, Colin pointlessly sings Van. The arrangement seems to be virtually the same, so his cover neither expands or twists the original and therefore never feels like a natural fit with James’s own bluesy oeuvre.
A cynic may posit that James’s ‘Into the Mystic’ is aimed squarely at casual listeners who are unaware of the 40-year-old song’s provenance and pedigree; people who buy CDs released by American Idols or Susan Boyle. Perhaps televised karaoke contests are the genesis of the aping muck we find currently ourselves mired in.
In the early days of rock ‘n’ roll very few teen idols wrote their own material. There were massive exceptions to this generalization of course: Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Roy Orbison to cite just three examples. Yet for the most part songwriting and song publishing was and still is an equally profitable industry synchronous to the record business. It could be argued that most hits from those times were cover versions as most artists only invested their performances in songs. There was a limited or little sense of ownership; you think of each edition of the Drifters as mouthpieces for the compositions of Leiber-Stoller or Goffin-King.
What’s interesting to note at this juncture is how the more things change, the more they stay the same. At one time the principal consumer commodity of the music industry was sheet music. Tin Pan Alley, the nickname for the area in New York City where the writers and publishers once clustered, survived and adapted to the threats of player piano rolls, Edison’s talking machine and Marconi’s wireless telegraphy. What it ultimately could not abide was the D.I.Y. ethos of rock ‘n’ roll, artists writing their own material. Denizens of the fabled Brill Building, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Carole King and Paul Simon, saw the writing on the wall and became hit-makers in their own right. The decline and fall of a seemingly integral element of the music industry is not a new phenomenon.
The dozen years or so between the British Invasion and the rise of punk were an incredibly fertile time for rock ‘n’ roll and were maybe the heyday of meaningful cover versions. Artists with little or no formal musical training of any sort with heads full of ideas that soared far beyond simplistic, boy-meets-girl pop narratives were fans and rivals of one another, any approach to making music seemed fresh.
If you’re under 50, it’s difficult to imagine a time when Rod Stewart mattered. This is a guy who, so the story goes, cut ‘Street Fighting Man’ because he was afraid that people couldn’t understand the words as sung by Mick Jagger. Rod’s interpretation may not be better than the Stones track, but in his hands it becomes a Rod Stewart song. That is the alchemy involved in a worthy cover, an unmistakable, singular performance.
Memorable cover versions bring something new to the party. Something that was familiar, known – etched in vinyl – is uniquely re-imagined. Roxy Music’s chilly rendition of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In the Midnight Hour‘ with its weird, underwater counting intro (“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…”) is about as far away from Memphis as you can get without a rocket ship. The Talking Heads’ version of Al Green’s baptismal ‘Take Me to the River?’ Your first thought before actually hearing it is, this won’t end well at all.
A cover that absolutely trumps and transcends the original version is a rare, rare bird, but there are a few that spring to mind immediately (and certainly others worthy of animated discussion). Bob Dylan wrote and released ‘All Along the Watchtower’ before Jimi Hendrix got his hands on it, but when you think of the song, chances are it’s the Hendrix version that comes to mind. Even Dylan performs it using Hendrix’s arrangement. Aretha Franklin’s cover of ‘Respect’ over Otis Redding’s own version: “Sock it to me!” Nazareth’s manic, growly ‘This Flight Tonight’ is the definitive take of Joni Mitchell’s wistful ballad. ‘Suspicious Minds,’ Elvis Presley’s last number one single, was an utter stiff for writer and singer Mark James previously. With apologies to writer Richard Berry (no relation to Chuck) and the other 90 or so acts who have waxed it, ‘Louie Louie’ is a Kingsmen tune. The Isley’s ‘Twist and Shout’ might be one of the best rockers in the Beatles’ repertoire.
While Colin James’s cover of ‘Into the Mystic’ is neither bad nor good, just there, unneeded and uncalled for, miles beneath it lays a cesspool rife with wretched, butchered travesties of what were originally great songs. Best not to uncover those here.
Geoff Moore is a writer who lives in Calgary, Alberta. It would be difficult to guess which song he’d choose to cover given the chance, but we can very safely rule out ‘Dancing Queen’.
In this month’s piece by former Montrealer and current Calgarian music and sports aficionado, not to mention author, Geoff Moore, we take a look at a dying ember of the 20th century; the local record store. Even the word “record” is something of an oddity in today’s paradigm dominated by digital downloading, where seeking out new sounds is only as far away as the click of a mouse.
But, in days of yore, a visit to the record store, especially on Tuesdays when records have been traditionally released to an eager public, was more than just one step in the process of music distribution. It was a religious act, an act of sheer devotion, and never to be replaced in exactly the same way …
Yes, there used to be a record store right here (with apologies to Ol’ Blue Eyes.)
HMV Canada, the last chain standing because it has so far negotiated the transition from music retailer to entertainment retailer, last week launched HMVdigital.ca, a frostback alternative to iTunes. The site is unique in that MP3 fans can pay for their song selections via debit card, great news for the earbud set. You have to suspect that the shrinking square footage devoted to CDs in HMV’s steel and glass stores will get additional Preparation H treatments.
Last week CBC Calgary reported that Megatunes, a landmark independent music store on the once infamous 17th Avenue SW Red Mile, will close its doors when summer’s lease expires. Its sister location on Edmonton’s happening Whyte Avenue near the legendary Commercial Hotel (Blues on Whyte) will shut too. A colleague allowed that a little part of him died when he heard the news even though he eventually got fed up with paying too much for albums “with just one good song.”
Three weeks ago I pulled the trigger on a banked Amazon.ca gift certificate. For $103 and change and free shipping I got: Bruce Springsteen: London Calling (2 DVDs), Stones in Exile (DVD), Cadillac Records (DVD), Hot Chocolate’s Every 1’s a Winner and remasters of Beggars Banquet, John Wesley Harding and Roxy Music’s Flesh + Blood. If I’d taken a century note into HMV I could probably have scooped the more recent releases at prices that may or may not have been competitive with Amazon, but I could not have spent all of my allotted money. On the other hand, Megatunes might possibly have had everything I wanted in stock but I would have needed much more than a picture of Sir Robert Borden to purchase all seven items.
The only goal for fans like us is the acquisition of music at a fair price. These days it’s more efficient to shop without leaving your house as retail inventory is hideously limited. (In June I swooped on three HMVs before I found the discounted Exile remaster. One store manager told me: “Complain, e-mail Toronto, the accountants. They sent us 12 copies.”)
As a cost-conscious consumer of soon to be obsolete media I made out like a bandit trawling Amazon, but clicking a mouse, especially a cleft PC one for a lefty, is no fun. There’s no tactile experience. You can’t pick a disc up, turn it over and examine it, linger over the track listings while you mull over your purchasing decision. Browse is the wrong freaking verb to describe looking at a web site.
The intelligent software that helpfully suggests complementary artists and products makes me feel like a character in a Philip K. Dick story. And when you proceed to checkout, there’s nothing under your arm or in your hand, no instant gratification (although you can offset this crushing disappointment somewhat by selecting the cheapest shipping option, thereby inaugurating a game of mailbox lottery in the days to come).
There was a time, long before Tuesdays were designated new release day, when record buying just wasn’t mere shopping; it was a ritual that was part and parcel of being a rock devotee. Haunting record stores was like staying out all night to buy concert tickets, the music was always the end but the means, the preliminary legwork, somehow enhanced and became part of the overall listening experience. Record shopping was my primary social activity and while it’s much more of a challenge now (or an unsatisfying cinch sitting in front of a computer), it’s never gotten old.
So forgive me while I remember. If you think I’m a sad sack crank now, meet me at age 20:
Montreal, July 1980: I am drinking a quart of Molson ale and smoking a cigarette in Toe Blake’s (legendary Montreal Canadiens player and coach) Tavern on rue Ste-Catherine priming for a serious record jaunt. My part-time job in the produce department of the nearby A&P store nets me $135 a week. The rent on my one and a half room apartment near the Montreal Forum is $135 a month plus telephone. Tuition for the upcoming year at Concordia University will run me some $750 plus books. I’ve have never been so flush with cash in my life and never will be again.
Across the street is a massive A&A Records, aisles of bins and warped, creaky wooden floors. I’m a regular, in there about three or four times a week. One of the cashiers will give me a $2 discount from time to time because she once admired the Clash London Calling button on my jean jacket so I removed it and gave it to her; I had two of them anyway. I suppose the next logical step would’ve been to ask her out but my fear of public rejection is more powerful than my hormones. Beside A&A is a tiny Discus Warehouse outlet; most of the albums for sale have the corners of their sleeves clipped off making the store one giant, er, delete bin. Who is Clifford T. Ward?
Eastbound along Ste-Catherine to Bishop, Cheap Thrills is located on the second floor of what would have been a lovely greystone residence 100 years ago. Cheap Thrills is where I dump my mistakes and where I keep hoping some fool will unload the “Brown Sugar” maxi single with both “Bitch” and “Let It Rock” on the B-side. The next stop is Rock en Stock on Crescent Street, a store that has embraced punk and also specializes in European imports. Here is where I scooped a French pressing of the eight minute version of “Miss You” on pink vinyl. Around the corner, back on Ste-Catherine is Dutchy’s Record Cave: bootlegs and another fruitless search for the Stones’ Garden State ’78.
2000 Plus is one of those unique Montreal commercial names that works well in either French or English. The store’s address is 2000 Mansfield but despite its proximity to the McGill campus it’s a little pricey. The shop made local news a year or two previously when its graphic and gory window display promoting the Battered Wives’ first album was vandalized by protesters.
Continuing along Ste-Catherine I pass Eaton’s and The Bay. There is a morass of malls connecting the two department stores to the Metro system and there are a couple of Discus stores within but they’re geared to the weekday lunch crowd and not worth checking out. East of The Bay at the corner of Bleury is Discomanie, a retailer specializing in homegrown artists and English art rock – it remains an unfathomable mystery to me as to why Quebecers so whole-heartedly embraced prog. And Shawn Phillips. Discomanie is where I stock up on clear plastic sleeves to protect my album covers.
There is another A&A Records further east. Although it’s not quite as large as the one near Guy where I started my trip, it’s always worth a look because of its proximity to Sam the Record Man; competition is good. Sam’s is the biggest store in town. Smaller than its Yonge Street parent, but still three glorious floors of music. I’ll be here a while. Hang tough, you can find me in the blues or the reggae sections.
For the final store on the route I head north from Ste-Catherine to Park Avenue, Phantasmagoria beckons. There are no bins in Phantasmagoria. All of the albums for sale are displayed in angled wire racks or in wire baskets hooked into the pegboard walls. All trim and finishing in the store is polished blonde wood. It is simply a really nice store, my favourite in town. I bought two copies of the first Clash album here, the olive drab U.K. version and the blue American release.
What really makes Phantasmagoria special is actually across the street. Brasserie Henri Richard with its giant exterior wall mural of the Pocket Rocket and his older brother in action is a heavenly place to regroup before the long walk home. Five years retired from the Montreal Canadiens he sits in a rocking chair by the beer taps puffing on a giant stogie holding court with his customers. He wears one of his 11 Stanley Cup rings. I peel the cellophane from my purchases and examine the artwork and the inner sleeves. The beer’s delicious. Although I’m too shy to speak to him, me and Henri, we’re like this! And I’ve got an armload of new albums to listen to tonight. The world is a perfect place.
Home for a visit last May. I retraced my steps of 30 years ago. Amazingly, Cheap Thrills (cheapthrills.ca) is still in business although the store is now located few blocks east of Bishop on Metcalfe. Everything else, the hockey beer parlours and all of the other record stores are long gone. There’s a massive HMV at the corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine now.