Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Please don't make me face my generation alone!"

Is that a great line or does it just sound like its supposed to sound like one?  It works just fine in this song:

 Is this band (fun.) huge?  They seem like they should be.  Watching this video, I'm struck by the way that,for me (and I imagine other members of generation video ground zero), the pleasures of watching a music video include a nostalgia for the unsatisfying.  This video is filled with images--like the band performing (for who?)* in the warehouse or the chase through the streets--similar to ones which I remember thinking ranged from cheesy to almost working when I watched them in the afternoons after school in 1983, but which now, at least when well executed and combined with a song I like, elicit a thrill of recognition: "yes, that's how you do that."

*They're playing just for themselves, that's how you know they really mean it.  It's just what they'd be doing anyway, acting out exactly what you need to feel right now.  No, they don't even need a sound system.

Anyway, my rock and roll friends can laugh, but I think this band is kind of amazing.  Here's a few more cuts: first a live version of that song, "All the Pretty Girls."

One thing that's interesting, watching this performance after the studio video: Part of the reason that the band is playing in the warehouse, for themselves and for the viewer's pleasure, which become one and the same, is that its actually very hard to film and record a live musical performance of a pop or rock band in such a way that reminds people effectively of the live experience.  For a variety of reasons. The in-studio style performance, as in the radio station video, has its own aesthetic, and I can't comment on it effectively because I am so fond of it.  In such a situation, a well recorded sound will also sound a lot like what you would hear in the room; bands will be relaxed but still honestly in performance and doing so in a room that is supposed to contain recording equipment; you can hear what's going on in the songs, etc.

And then there's this song, "Be Calm."  The epic.  The studio version is here.  More than worth a listen.  Below is a live performance in front of an audience, filmed by an audience member.

The last one is interesting.  I think that its power depends on both the poor production values, and its attention to the performance itself, which puts the viewer in the position of enacting the filmmakers engagement with the performance, an engagement whose verisimilitude is underscored by the shaky camera, the tiny sound, and the clear focus on that singer.  There's a few videos I've found like this, and down the road I want to look at a few of them together.

Tonight we'll finish up with one more from fun., their Christmas song:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Genre is the wisdom of crowds.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thank you for watching.

I have to write this because I don't know where it goes but I don't want to lose it.

I've commented on this before, but for anyone interested in the history of pop music, material culture, and technological sociability, videos like this are a gold mine.  I think that they might constitute some heretofore unknown genre of video.  I'm going to start collecting them, and the collection starts here:

Most of them don't have the introduction.  But they share some obvious similarities.  The equipment, the styles of music, the assumption that the act of playing a record is something worth documenting, the confusion about documenting an act of mechanical reproduction: what are you hearing?  The sound of the record, the sound of the turntable, the sound of the turntable's speakers and the amplifier that pushes them, the room those speakers are sitting in, through microphones placed...somewhere, the electronically processed signal fed from the turntable and delivered to the digital converters, the digital converters, your computer's speakers and the room they're in, or the headphones plugged into your ears like mine? There are as many answers as there are turntables on the internet.  Here's a few:

I'm especially looking at records of blues videos, tho there are other styles: jazz, early R&B, early rock and roll and classical.  I'll talk about the range of genres in another post.  Right now I'm interested in the paradox this form poses for blues, a genre whose ethos is built around the value of the (supposedly) unmediated performance of authentic emotions, but whose actual history is driven in part by an ongoing fascination with solid artifacts of duplicable media.

I'll stop with these three for now.  More to come. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Union Man

Well, Labor Day, or as Barrett calls it, "fake May Day" is almost over, but I still want to say something about a certain song.  "Union Man" by the Cate Brothers, from their 1975 album, Cate Bros. (pronounced "Cate Brothers"), produced by Steve Cropper, who also plays guitar on several tracks, including this one.  Here's the the songs, before we get much farther in:

 Its easy, in the first couple of verse, to hear just the narrator's skepticism about what the Union Man has to offer, his doubts about paying dues and going on strike. Since at least the 1980s that's the kind of sentiment that we expect from a narrator who declares "It's six A. M. and I'm out on the job/working like a fool for my pay" when he introduces himself.  Certainly that's all that blogger/DJ JB hears, as he encounters the song on an archaeological dig through the May 22, 1976 broadcast of Casey Kasem's American Top 40. But there's more to it than that, and the third verse and chorus are critical to what I'm convinced is a conversion narrative. first, lets pick up the last verse before the break, where, at the end, Ernie declares: "All the money, that I'm getting paid/Looks like I'm bound to lose!" which is as concise a summary of the the wage worker's place in capitalism as you'll find on record.  That's followed by a middle section that's all about point and counterpoint, including a guitar duel between Earl and Steve Cropper.  Then, his doubts resolved, at least temporarily, the narrator declares "hey hey Mr. union man, thank you for the helping hand/hey hey Mr. union man, so glad you understand."

The doubts in those first two verses always made me hear that last line as sarcasm, but I'm sure that's not the case now.  There's very little sarcasm or cynicism in any of the songs that make up the 4 Cate Brothers albums from 1975-1979.  In fact, until 1979's Tom Dowd produced Fire on the Tracks, every song is sung as a first person, narrative, and usually a heartfelt one.  That doesn't mean that that the narrator of every song is Ernie or Earl, but it makes it easier to get to know the narrators they speak through. And the narrator of this song is, by the end of the song, sincerely happy to take a "helping hand" from someone who "understands" even if getting to that point is a challenge to what he believes he's supposed to be doing to feed his "hungry family."  Not simply a pro-union song, its a dramatization of the conflict between unionism and the ideological disposition of much the southern working class.  Its instructive.

In many ways, "Union Man" much less ambivalent about the unionism than the song "King Harvest" by the Cates' friends, The Band.  If you're not familiar with the relationship between these two groups, here's some background.  Interestingly, Robbie Robertson, a voracious reader, has said that he wrote "King Harvest" after hearing about and reading about The Southern Tenant Farmer's Union.  In an interview last year, Earl said that they wrote the song after reading a book about the STFU, and I've been wondering since if it was, this one?  Earl and Ernie both also said that the song was originally slower, that Cropper wrote the opening like and sped it up, which explains his co-writing credit on the tune.

Since I've started this, its past labor day, but hardly time to put aside the value of work.  The Cates kept working long after those 4 albums, and even after "retiring" in 2006, they still work a lot.  Here's a more recent performance of "Union Man" from the slightly surreal locale of the Cherokee Casino in Siloam Springs.  Thanks for listening.