Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 1

Eno's first two solo albums are my preferred dosage, but lemon flavor you say? Hook me up?
Eno’s first two solo albums are my preferred dosage, but lemon flavor you say? Hook me up!
Facebook has been an unlikely source of musical inspiration that I’ve confused and stonewalled for a long time.

There is a wanting to “be involved” on social media that transcends a thumbs-up or a re-tweet. By posting status updates are we not inviting others into a conversation?

The danger lies in trying to change the conversation by one-upping the guy who posted the original video.

“Oh yeah? What about this one?”

Or worse, “Boo! Dave Matthews blows!” And that’s bad for business anyway you look at it. Fortunately, almost everybody behaves like an adult and just keeps scrolling.

Something I’ve learned the hard way – which also applies to my own status updates – unless I have something very personal or relevant to contribute to the conversation, I try to keep my mouth shut. The end. Now hit me with your Candy Crush invitations!

This had been going on for a few years before I could articulate the paradox – if it is a true paradox. It feels like one to me. Since a lot of my friends have the Facebook-YouTube routine covered, and do a good job of keeping me entertained, rather than compete or dispute – as in, tit-for-tat, wouldn’t my time be better spent thinking about something else?

The answer was yes – and no. Yes, I have better things to do, and no, because thinking about stuff is what drives everybody insane in the first place. At least if I’m thinking about music, I’m not thinking about all the bad shit in the world, like planes getting blasted out of the sky. For sure, I’m a relatively frequently flyer and that stuff scares me. I don’t want to think about it.

The last couple of months produced a collection of YouTube links that I would have ordinarily shared on Facebook, but more importantly, took some time and put some effort into explaining why – this is an extended status update.

Why is this important?

Despite unlimited access to the world’s record collection, I listen to less music now than at any point in my life.

juke-1-Bitches_brewThough I’m mostly interested in rock music, variety is crucial to a colorful existence. Should I be ashamed to admit this or not, the other night I sat down and listened to all four sides of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, start-to-finish, for the first time in my life.

Bitches Brew isn’t just a seminal jazz record by one of the all-time greats, and the progenitor of what became jazz rock. At the time it was released (1970), it was a revolution; a pivotal moment in modern jazz; someone called Davis “the Picasso of Jazz”. I respect that and listen to his music more out of obligation than pleasure. You can’t really know anything about music without an intermediate background in Miles Davis.

Over several decades, I’d become familiar half of the record; “Spanish Key” and “John McLaughlin”; got groovy to the crazy-funky “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” at least a dozen times. Miles Davis is not easy listening, you do know. Generally speaking, this isn’t zippity-zop-zop jazz. It’s serious as a heart attack.

As a non-visual experience – the album runs 94 minutes, about the same as the average Hollywood film – it’s nice enough if you put it on and do a bunch of housework; you’re not going to miss anything during the first 20 minutes of Side A (“Pharoah’s Dance”) – but I’m just not interested. To be sure, it’s an astounding work of art. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is hot lava – transcendent music. But my overwhelming impression of the double-album experience was, “Damn, that was almost a total waste of time.”

At times, I don’t want to hear any music – ambient and/or otherwise – at all. To be frank, the one thing I want to hear more than anything else is the one thing that’s the hardest to come by: complete silence.

The majority of my musical life is hunting down music that I missed (or didn’t get enough of) along the way. Forty-six years is a lot of ground to cover. More importantly, with a two and a half year-old son, I’ve got Thomas and Friends on a recursive loop in the background of my thoughts, spinning like a ceiling fan. You try humming “Anarchy in the U.K.” over that nonsense.

Believe it or not, for years I’ve made a concerted effort to seek out new music, albeit on the internet – it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a “real” rock show. But name a currently trending indie or otherwise rock band. Go ahead, don’t be shy.

____________________. I’ve heard at least three minutes of their music – and I was not impressed.

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's
Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s

There have been a few exceptions. My brother Ronnie Kwasman plays in Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – they’re good, I like them a whole bunch, and not just because Ronnie is in the band. There’s a crazy metal band I’ve written about before, Red Fang, who give me a few toe-tapping moments. Likewise, I’m sure there are millions of people are still making killer music, the current crop of chart-topping, “alternative” rock bands notwithstanding. For whatever reason, either I don’t need it or I don’t care one way or the other. I’m happy for everybody who is doing their own thing. No beef. End of.

This applies to the music I’ve made, too. My best years are at least eight to ten years behind me. I’m not listening to my own records at home, that’s for sure.

Regardless, a huge part of this weird “aversion” to music comes from the fact that I hardly have to make an effort to hear music in general. Something pops into my head, “Bam! Google, YouTube.” Just in case you’ve wondered how it’s possible (or legal) for people to upload copyrighted material to YouTube, watch this two-minute video – it’s very enlightening.

Furthermore, I’m spending exceedingly less on music with each passing day. And forget about downloading free MP3 shit. What’s the point anymore? I’ve bought no more than 20 records on iTunes in my life, and thus, the majority of my library is from a CD collection that nearly gave up on itself in 2010.

It’s something you wouldn’t wish on your enemy, but I recently gave away the remains of my vinyl collection – the sweet stuff – that survived an even earlier purge. The records went to a very good home but they are no longer mine. Twenty years of music, gone forever. Nearly every single one of those records told a story. Maybe it told a tale in relation to the music, like, “I was listening to this when I heard about John Lennon getting shot.” Maybe it was something about how I acquired the record. Each one had its own descriptive pedigree.

And this is why I believe the internet has killed music. In nearly every case, I had to go out and get those records. In some cases, I spent a long time looking for them, and paid a dear price, too. In fact, just going to the record store was a big part of the experience. Nowadays I have to look hard for a record store, but every band has a groovy website, and it’s a thousand times easier to buy the record on iTunes. Ninety-nine cents is the current value of a song. It simply makes me shrug.

juke-1Rush-All-The-Worlds-A-422461The recent revival of vinyl is trendy but unsustainable, and this opinion has nothing to do with the wistful nostalgia of the days when we’d roll a joint using the gatefold of All the World’s a Stage as a de-stemming tray. The future is virtual or viral or in the clouds; and the future travels light – no matter what anybody says. Eventually, every vinyl collection will be sacrificed to the gods, but will live theoretically, forever. The music will carry on.

***

My goal is turn you on to some stuff you might not be aware of, or remind you of something that maybe you had forgotten about. This is the only way I know to use the internet as a positive force for rock music. Maybe you’ll dust off some of your old records and get them into the computer. Maybe you’ll go out and buy a few records. Maybe.

This got me thinking about what I actually listen to on a regular basis, aside from what’s playing on the sound system at my supermarket of choice. For instance, it’s a slow day in the office – a radio station day, so to speak – which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to. There are a few ways this can play out, but generally speaking, let’s say I’m in the mood for Rod Stewart – the early stuff, relax.

There are three maybe four Rod Stewart records from 1969-72, not including his work with the Faces, that I can sit through – and by sit through I mean not be compelled to skip a track or three or all of the B-side. If I never hear his version of “Twistin’ the Night Away” for the rest of my life, I think I’ll be OK.

juke-1-rodstewart-neveradullmoment-lpHowever, I’ve heard Every Picture Tells a Story far too many times. Likewise, I know every record in Stewart’s catalog, so I know where not to look for simpatico jams. And I don’t see this trend reversing itself in the foreseeable future. It occurred to me – again – thanks to the internet, I don’t have to get up and move the needle or change the disc. I don’t have to put the record back in its sleeve and slide it back into the rack. Click. What do I want to hear next?

The fact is I seldom listen to albums anymore. Does anyone? Simply put, I listen to isolated songs from the artist’s catalogue. This is the way of the world, cherry-picking from here on out. Stick with the Rod Stewart example. Out of all his early material, there were a couple of jams that never got their due – those are the cuts I want to hear, not “Maggie May” or “You Wear It Well”. For example, here’s “Los Paraguayos” from Never a Dull Moment (1972) – but I could have just as easily chosen “True Blue” or “Italian Girls”.

Rod Stewart – Los Paraguayos

Not even halfway through this jam, I’m already thinking about what I want to hear next. How about Queen? That’s a fairly logical transition.

Meanwhile, if you pay attention to the lyrics, you might be in for a little bit of a surprise. Here’s my favorite bit:

Honey don't even ask me if you can come along
 Down at the border you need to be older
 and you sure don't look like my daughter
 Your ridiculous age, start a state outrage
 and I'll end up in a Mexican jail
Queen – Long Away

Again, veering away from the mundane, here we have a beautiful little power pop number written and sung by Brian May, from A Day at the Races (1976), which in itself is a sneaky record. Critical reception remains mixed; the Allmusic Guide gives it 3-and-a-half stars, while Rolling Stone gives it two out of five. The big hits from the LP were “Somebody to Love” and “Tie Your Mother Down”, both fantastic numbers, but neither of which I need to hear again in this lifetime

With few exceptions, most of the following tracks may be familiar in the sense that you probably own the record it’s on, but most of these jams have not received a significant amount of radio airplay to be considered a “big hit.” In some instances, the artist is obscure enough to have escaped the Billboard Hot 100 on several occasions. These are some of my personal Deep Cuts – these are or would be on my iPod as opposed to some of the artists’ more popular works.

PJ Harvey – 50ft Queenie

From her second album Rid of Me (1992). Produced by Steve Albini. Not much else to say. Wow. Very attitude. Such rock. Though I wasn’t a big fan when Harvey was the Next Big Thing, she snuck up on me simply by coincidence. It’s tempting to compare every female rock singer with Chrissie Hynde – this is the Pretenders with jagged edges.

There was a year in the early Oughts that I used to hang out at a bar in West Portal called the Philosopher’s Club, which was next door to a super-cool, old school chophouse called Bullshead Restaurant. The bar attracted a very uneasy mix of college kids from SFSU and grizzled old winos who staggered out from their elderly mother’s basements around noon, and killed the afternoon at Portal’s Tavern before rolling down to the Club.

juke-1-Rid_of_MeAnyway, Rid of Me was on the bar’s jukebox; somebody played this jam, and I thought, “That’s pretty good.” It became one of my go-to jams whenever I felt like stuffing a few bucks in the jukebox, which turned out to be something of a contentious endeavor.

There was this one cat named Richie who tried to dominate the soundtrack. He’d beef with people if they jammed up “his” playlist, so most folks didn’t bother with the jukebox. And for whatever reason, the bartenders put up with this guy – I guess he was a long-time regular.

Of course, I didn’t know all this in the beginning, so I’d post up, get a beer and make a beeline for the jukebox. One night, I happened to be seated next to Richie and his old lady; Richie had his back to me but his lady was eyeballing. She said something about the music – I had played Ray Charles or something – and Richie said something to the bartender about “bumping the box”, which as far as I knew, some jukeboxes had remote controls.

The selection on this particular jukebox was about as eclectic as I’d ever seen; it had everything from Bobby Darin to the Melvins. And it was the first jukebox that I ever saw where you could download additional songs from the internet. So if what you were looking for wasn’t on the box, it could grab the track from Napster or whatever.

juke-1-backstabbersFor the next hour or so, not one of the songs I had selected were played. It was all Richie’s nonsense. I mean, some of it was tolerable, but seriously, he played the same stuff every time. One of his signature jams was “Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays – and he’d play it three times a night. Now I liked the jam – the first 50 times I heard it – but at some point, enough is enough.

So I said something to the bartender and he feigned ignorance about the jukebox. This led to me and Richie having a discussion, which turned into an argument, and he basically invited me out on the sidewalk for a beating, which I politely declined – mainly because Richie couldn’t walk; he had been in an accident and his legs were almost useless; he got around on crutches. So I started coming in a little earlier than usual to avoid the guy.

Alice Cooper – Halo of Flies

Sounds like it could be the Pixies – if the Pixies wrote eight-minute progressive rock suites about a quasi-fictional counter-intelligence agency. Unfortunately, whenever I think of the Pixies, I think of Nirvana. [Does this really need to be explained?] From there I was thinking, “What’s the best Nirvana song I’ve ever heard?” Here’s a clue: it’s NOT by Nirvana.

***

That’s all for today’s episode of Jukebox Antagonist.
NEXT EPISODE: Failure, Wesley Willis Fiasco, Arthur Fiedler, Deerhoof, Roy Thomas Baker and much more!
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