(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music

“Some folks look for answers, others look for fights”*…

Grateful Dead plays Red Rocks for the final time, August 13, 1987 [source]

Max Abelson takes a break from his (essential) coverage of money and power at Bloomberg News and Businessweek to appreciate the community that’s grown up around the Internet Archive’s Grateful Dead Archive (where one can find– among the over 15,000 concert recordings– not one, but two full takes of the show pictured above)…

On the Archive, the writing about the Dead’s live music often transcends the personal mode and approaches something closer to the galactic. Nothing brings out that cosmic style like “Dark Star,” a song that the band stretched from a three-minute studio single into its own solar system. Ginosega left a flight log for the same forty-three-minute 1973 version that played in the friend’s basement: “About 12 minutes in, Phil fires the engines and turns the ship out of orbit, until at 17 minutes we have arrived in the deepest, darkest part of the galaxy.” The trip isn’t half over. “Only at 21 minutes into the song do they actually start playing the song.” The post, which has a kind of sci-fi internal logic, describes interstellar wind and multicolored ooze, before, “at about 36 minutes, we start the return trip, passing through more familiar systems on our way back home.”

One of the magical things about how high the Dead flew is that they managed to do it without, say, Sly Stone’s rhythm, Joni Mitchell’s poetry, or Brian Wilson’s voice. The allure of this band—whatever it is that keeps sparking so much cosmic wonder and nostalgia—is foggy and mysterious. Paumgarten, in his New Yorker piece, identified a sprawling combination of factors, including Garcia’s soulful charisma and Appalachian gloom, the band’s 26,000-watt sound system, an ethos of group improvisation, and the “particular note of decay” in each cassette swapped from hand to hand. You can think about the Archive as not just the best tape rack of all, but as a collection of thousands of swings at saying the inexplicable. A user named Scottie78 was so moved by a half-hour version of “Dark Star” at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1972 that he not only came close to leaving a bullet point for each minute, but more or less created an identification system to differentiate the micro-micro-genres he heard, from “Space Jazz” and “Acid Jazz” to “Acid Jazzgrass.” It’s embarrassing and magnetic at the same time.

Others tip over from starry-eyed to freaked out. “So cacophonous, atonal and scary that it could potentially traumatize animals when played loud,” Phleshy said in 2004 about a version from Rotterdam in 1972. “If this explanation sounds stupid in words, then listen to the last half-hour of ‘Dark Star’ in a darkened room and see if you feel remotely secure.”

The line between the personal and astronomical is thin. Boboboy’s recollection of the 1989 show at JFK Stadium is what Didion might have described if she had witnessed more people sway: “I clearly remember seeing the swirling masses of thousands on the floor from my perch all the way back.” The dancers below looked like birds up above, “a flock of starlings cruising the sky, but in slow motion.”

Some of the writing aims even higher. “When you want to know what it is like being in heaven, cue up the second set,” Seedanrun wrote about the band’s beloved 1977 show at Cornell. “When you want to feel what it is like to be face to face with God, dim the lights and really focus on the ‘Morning Dew.’”

The glory of that show, performed inside the university’s Barton Hall on a snowy night in May, is perhaps the nearest the Dead Archives come to consensus. The thought of sullying it with a rating scale offended a user named GruUbic: “If this is five stars, is heaven a 4.5?” In 2004, BillDP went further, calling the show “the single best live performance I have ever heard from any group at any time.” His authoritativeness is only outdone by the dumbstruck. “Mere words cannot do justice,” Grateful Hillbilly posted in 2015. “Words like amazing and unbelievable and incomparable don’t capture the immensity of awe.”

[Brewster] Kahle, the Internet Archive’s founder, tells me that he wishes more of the web was shaped like the Dead Archive. “What you’re looking at,” he said, “is from an era of the Internet that I think is best typified by what Tim Berners-Lee called ‘pages.’” Today, he said, instead, what dominates is the “feed.” (“Horrible word,” he added.) Facebook and Twitter scroll by endlessly, unaccountably, and unpleasantly, but “it wasn’t always that way, and it was a choice.” Each Dead show, he said, is “something you can anchor to, it’s something you can revolve around.” He went on: “By making things endure, we can have people cherish them, use them, and invest in them. So the writing is fundamentally different. I think we should go back to it—or forward to it.”…

The way the internet was… and should be? “In the Dead Archives,” from @maxabelson.

* The Grateful Dead, “Playing In The Band” (written by Bob Weir, Robert Hunter, and Mickey Hart)

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As we go hear Uncle John’s Band, we might send bluesy birthday greetings to Ronald Charles McKernan; he was born on this date in 1945. Better known by his stage name, Pigpen,” he was a founding member of The Warlocks… which became the Grateful Dead. He was the band’s original frontman, playing harmonica and electric organ; but Jerry Garcia’s and Phil Lesh’s influences on the band became increasingly stronger as they embraced psychedelic rock. Pigpen’s contributions receded to vocals, harmonica, and percussion (though he continued to be a frontman in concert for some numbers, including his interpretations of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” and the Rascals’ “Good Lovin'”).

Pigpen was unique among his bandmates in preferring alcohol to psychedelics, and sadly succumbed to alcoholism– from complications of which he died in 1973.

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“Culture is the name for what people are interested in”*…

Henry Nelson O’Neil; “The Last Hours of Mozart”

… but “culture” (that’s to say, “high culture”) has also been a form of authority, a kind of superego for society. These days, Adam Kirsh argues, not so much…

From the 1920s to the 1950s, from jazz and blues to rock and roll, tweaking the canon was part of the appeal of pop music—and a favorite device of lyricists. Ella Fitzgerald had a signature hit with Sam Coslow’s “(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini).” Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the lyrics to “It’s a Simple Little System,” from the musical Bells Are Ringing, in which a bookie uses composers’ names as code to refer to racetracks: “Beethoven is Belmont Park/ Tchaikovsky is Churchill Downs.” Chuck Berry hit the same targets in “Roll Over Beethoven”: “My heart’s beating rhythm/ And my soul keeps singing the blues/ Roll over Beethoven/ Tell Tchaikovsky the news.”

In recent decades, however, this type of indirect homage to the authority of classical music has completely disappeared from popular music. The last example may be “Rock Me, Amadeus,” a German pop hit from 1985 that was inspired less by Mozart himself than by the 1984 movie Amadeus, in which the composer is portrayed as, in the song’s words, “ein Punker” and “ein Rockidol.” Today’s pop lyricists don’t poke fun at Beethoven and Tchaikovsky because young listeners no longer recognize those names as possessing any cultural authority or prestige, if they recognize them at all. It would make as much sense to write a pop song called “Roll Over Palestrina” or “Rock Me, Hildegard von Bingen,” since all composers are equally unfamiliar to a mass audience.

Like the disappearance of a certain species of frog or insect, this is a small change that signals a profound transformation of the climate—in this case, the cultural climate…

And while that change has its costs, Kirsch explains, it also has its benefits : “Culture as counterculture.”

Walter Lippmann

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As we contemplate canons, we might recall that on this date in 2008 the #1 song in the U.S. was “Whatever You Like” by T.I. Jared W. Dillon of Sputnikmusic called the song a “more sophisticated take” on Lil Wayne‘s “Lollipop.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 6, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Words of nuance, words of skill/Words of romance are a thrill/Words are stupid, words are fun/Words can put you on the run”*…

We know them by their words…

For some stars, a big vocabulary is priceless. Singer-songwriters from Patti Smith to Nick Cave have built careers with songs whose rich language is as important as the music. We wondered if today’s chart-toppers used such a diverse word set.

We already know that some Hip Hop artists have access to a breathtaking array of expressions. But what about other contemporary stars?

WordTips counted the words used by 100 modern stars and the 100 greatest singers of all time and added up the number of unique words they used per 1,000. For example, Patti Smith used 2,669 different words across a total word count of 12,291, giving a score of 217/1000.

Key Findings

• The star with the biggest vocabulary overall is legend Patti Smith, who uses 217 unique words per 1,000.

Billie Eilish is the modern star with the biggest vocabulary: 169 per 1,000.

• Legend Luther Vandross and modern star Trey Songz are tied with 66 for the smallest vocabulary.

• The song with the most unique words is Lou Reed’s The Murder Mystery, recorded by The Velvet Underground, with 639 words

An interactive that reveals who uses the the widest array of words: “Which Singers Have the Biggest Vocabularies? Modern Stars vs Legends.”

* Tom Tom Club, “Wordy Rappinghood

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As we express ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that the Beatles released their fifth studio album, Help!, accompanying the movie of the same title. Seven of the fourteen songs, including the singles “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride”, appeared in the film and took up the first side of the vinyl album. The second side included “Yesterday”, by Paul McCartney, the most-covered song ever written. While “Yesterday’ isn’t an especially-demonstrative example, McCartney was a top-ten user of unique words (7,896 across his compositions).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 6, 2021 at 1:00 am

“What’s in a name?”*…

The Salty Peppers and Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem (or, as we know them today, Earth, Wind and Fire and The Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Sometimes our first thoughts aren’t our best thoughts…

It’s one of the biggest decisions any band will face: what to call themselves. And yet, so many get it so wrong. Fortunately, for every group that comes up with a terrible name and sticks with it, there’s a band that comes up with a terrible name, plays a few shows under it, maybe releases a demo or even an album or two but then finally comes to its senses. Many well-known and successful groups – from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Green Day – have been through the latter growing pains, starting out life cursed with a misguided moniker before landing on a name destined to adorn the T-shirts of millions of devoted fans. The name makes the band, as they say; here are 25 bands that almost didn’t get made…

25 Worst Original Names of Famous Bands

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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As we think again, we might send rhythmic birthday greetings to Sir Richard Starkey (or as his stage name would have it, Ringo Starr); he was born on this date in 1940. A musician, singer, songwriter, and actor, he is best remembered as one of the finest rock percussionists.

When he joined the band in which he made his bones, they were of course The Beatles. But previously, they had been Johnny and the Moondogs, The Beatals, and The Silver Beetles.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 7, 2021 at 1:00 am

“I think that I shall never see / A billboard lovely as a tree. / Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, / I’ll never see a tree at all.”*…

Billboards date back (at least) to Egyptian dynastic times. They’ve become a staple of modern advertising– and like the rest of that field, are being redefined by technology…

As a concept, billboards are simple. They’re just a big board conveying a message. But their use requires a purpose and before the Industrial Revolution, only governments and rulers really had a need to communicate with large groups. Then Jared Bell had a need of his own.

The explosion of commerce in the 19th century resulting from the steam engine and other innovations created much of our modern world. But it was the invention of lithography in the 1790s by Alous Senefelder allowing for the mass production of printed color flyers and posters that allowed for modern billboards. Jared Bell was an event promoter in 1830s New York seeking to drum up business for the Ringling Brothers Circus. And that’s the story of how Jared Bell became the father of billboards

In any case, the idea quickly caught on… by 1900, “a standardized billboard structure was established in America,” allowing for national advertising campaigns from newly emergent national brands like Coca-Cola and Kellogg. And with the popularity of the automobile along with the reshaping of cities to suit roads, billboards became a staple of modern life in many countries or wherever market share was up for grabs.

The future is digital, in all fields but especially with advertising. Static billboards that need to be replaced by hand are giving way to digital displays that can be updated remotely. In some instances, this also allows for some pretty nifty interactive content. 

Smartphone apps are letting consumers directly participate with digital billboards, as seen in campaigns from Audi and American Eagle. A British Airways campaign from 2013 called “Look Up” used a massive video screen in London’s Piccadilly Circus to feature an ad with a child following real flights that passed overhead…

Advertisers are now placing big bets on digital alternatives with one research group expecting a 7.5 percent compound annual growth in the market until 2028. Currently, the digital signage market is worth more than $20 billion. With digital billboards representing just 4 percent of the outdoor advertising market, it will be quite a will before they have anywhere near the ubiquity of traditional options.

Advertisers focusing on billboards are especially bullish on digital technology because of increased competition for attention and consumer awareness. One advertising firm framed the issue almost like an existential crisis, “Today’s consumers are much smarter and well informed than they were 30 years ago; therefore, merely repeating a message to the average individual is not a viable strategy for return on investment. In 2021, along with a great website design, Google SEO, and content creation, advertisers will need to incorporate technology and customer preference in their advertising models to keep the spirit of advertising alive.” 

Like any good salespeople, this increased competition isn’t a problem but an opportunity to incorporate digital billboards into advertising campaigns because “experts also believe that out-of-home advertising is making a comeback because consumers are getting tired of the constant bombardment of advertisements on their phones.”…

The evolution– and the future– of the billboard, an object that very much tends to keep pace with the times: “Billboard Empire,” From Andrew Egan in @readtedium.

* Ogden Nash

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As we obey, we might recall that on this date in 1982 the #1 song in the U.S. was “Don’t You Want Me,” by The Human League (and “the second British Invasion”was underway).

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