Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pandora's Box Of Crappy Music

I've tried to like Pandora. I like the idea behind it. I get to plug in music that I like and it comes back with music I haven't heard yet that I also like. I discover new music, I buy more music, we all win. Except that what generally happens is that I discover that I like the music I already knew I liked and when I find something that's so god-awful that I rush to open my browser and skip to the next song I find something that I already knew I didn't like. Belle and Sebastian, don't like 'em when I know it's them, don't like 'em when I have no idea what's assaulting my ears. The same goes for The Decemberists and Devandra Banhart (but Pandora keeps trying. Maybe if we play it for the 6th time today she'll like this one. No. I don't. Stop it.). But that song I really like, yeah, it's Animal Collective, thanks for suggesting that one Pandora, I believe it was me who told you that I like that band. I knew what I was talking about when I typed it in.

Anyway, a few days ago I started running across news articles and blog posts, like this one, where music lovers are a little panicked about the possible demise of Pandora. Well let me be the first one to say good riddance. A million users a day could very well be wrong. Need proof? Turn on the radio. That's not good stuff there.

Everything Pandora suggests to me, good or not, I most likely already knew about, not from music being handed to me (I know that's probably the perception being that I'm over here at the alt.weekly and all, but like ain't that easy my friends) but from my own diligent hanging out at the Candyman listening to stuff, talking to my friends about it, scouring myspace, etc. In other words, research. I don't need anyone to tell me I might like Massive Attack, I should already know that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Indian Market Infidelities

Dear Santa Fe,

I know we have an open relationship. I'm allowed to visit other cities and you're allowed to invite people over, but I feel like you're holding out on me.

I saw them this weekend. Your visitors. They parked on my street, disregarding the "Residential Permit Required" signs. They won't pay those tickets, they had California plates, and really, who is going to go after them? A few of them even asked me for directions. And that's okay, but there were so many. Old Santa Fe Trail was backed up as far as the eye could see, there was no parking in South Capitol and do I have to tell you about the traffic on Guadalupe? I almost got run over on my bike. They were everywhere Santa Fe, swarming your streets, taking you away from me. They wanted your jewelry, your coffee and your meals.

They came from France, New York City, Texas, Oklahoma and from God knows where else. I know we said it's okay, but must you throw this orgy in my face? Can't you leave one or two places untouched, places that are just ours? They made it all the way down Cerrillos and over to St. Michael's.

But what really bothers me, Santa Fe, is the way you cast them all aside. This morning, as I pedaled through your Plaza there was hardly any sign of the bacchanalian you hosted. All the vendor booths and the food carts were gone. A few "special event" signs and a sandbag or two was all that remained. Subtle, but as telling as the lipstick left on a husband's collar.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

round and round

Recently my roommate discovered the TV show The Long Way Round, which follows Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they ride two BMW motorcycles from London to New York. So far I've only watched three episodes, and since the show was filmed in 2004 I know they survived, but I'm totally hooked. Episode three follows them off of the cushy European roads and into Kazakhstan. Not only is the landscape gorgeous and the people really welcoming the adventure of what the two are doing really starts to sink in for them, and for viewers. On a map going from London to New York is daunting, but when it comes down to it each and every country is enormous, and anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle a short distance knows that doing so day in and day out for months on end is going to be a totally different experience.

I can't wait for the rest of the season to arrive in the mail!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Brushes with musical idols (and stray body hair)

A couple blasts from my music critic past came to mind last week: Taj Mahal and Jerry Wexler. Taj played a phenomenal show at the Santa Fe Brewing Company on Aug. 13, showcasing 40 years of talent that is unlikely to be replicated, at least any time soon. Taj plays country. He also plays the blues. He's also recorded reggae albums (see Happy to Be Just Like I Am) Indian (Mumtaz Mahal) and west African records (Kulanjan, whereon he collaborated with Toumani Diabate), though his style is so varied that you just about have to name a genre after him. "Taj music." That's about the only way to describe what the man does. And nobody else does it quite as well.

The Brewing Company's outdoor arena was packed with folks who came to hear Taj music. He didn't disappoint, ripping through classics ("Queen Bee," "Fishin' Blues") that got hundreds of asses shaking.

Taj was one of the first musicians I ever interviewed in my journalism career. It was some time in late 2003. I had listened to him since I was barely in my teens, though at the time I hid that fact from my friends like other kids hid dirty magazines from their parents. At the arguable height of grunge music -- circa '94 -- Taj wasn't cool. (What was cool? Alice in Chains, another dear, dear favorite. But anyway.)

The interview went well. Abnormally well. Taj talked for over an hour -- I'm not sure if I even asked a question -- and I eventually had to get off the phone with him. Jesus that man goes on and on. He talked a lot about how he wants his music to be a catalyst for people to make positive changes in their lives. Which, idealistic as that may sound, is easy to believe in, coming from Taj.

We met in person a few weeks later at a concert. Taj was a big guy, gregarious and smiling constantly. I think I also liked him because he looked a little like my dad. Except he's black.

Trivia: according to YouTube, Jenna Bush danced to Taj Mahal's "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes" at her wedding.

According to me, the videos below are awesome.

The first one features Taj in 1968, performing at the Rock and Roll Circus, a concert documentary that showcased the Rolling Stones and some other legendary rock groups. Taj was kind of eclipsed by the other performers on the bill (the Stones, The Who, John Lennon), but he was hardly outperformed. One thing I maybe should have asked Taj: why was he dressed like an extra from a John Wayne movie in this video?

... and what's with the Huck Finn getup in this vid?

Taj obviously raided Fela Kuti's closet for this performance.

My other brush with fame was far less triumphant. I met Jerry Wexler in a video store in Florida, where we both lived in 2005. Wexler died last week of heart failure, thus ending a very fat chapter of pop music history. He signed Led Zeppelin to Atlantic Records. He produced Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan. Forgive the hyperbole, but the man's influence is immeasurable.

Unfortunately, and perhaps embarrassingly, none of that came up in our very brief meeting. Terry Porter, a mutual acquaintance of ours who runs Video Renaissance, introduced us. I could not stop staring at Wexler's nose hair. It was prolific and white and all I could think was: it must have been an impediment to breathing.

In last week's Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Wexler's son said he was having inscribed on Jerry's tombstone, "He changed the world." I prefer what Wexler himself said, when asked in 2000 what he would like his epitaph to read. "Two words: more bass."