Monday, March 17, 2008

Harp is gone. Read all about it.

Playing right now: a Classical mix to help Baby D sleep

I got an email on Friday that Harp - the magazine that straddled the line between independent, geek-centric music and all other forms of rock and pop that were smart enough to be covered - has gone the way of Creem. In other words, it has ceased publication. This hurts me especially because I was a freelancer for the magazine.
The reasoning was the one you'd expect, it wasn't solvent enough to keep it running any longer. (This is no industry secret, lest you wonder. The word is being made official as I type.) Besides, if I'm writing for a publication, it's destined to go under before too long. InPittsburgh? It died less than two years after I became a staff writer. Pulp? Took about two years and four months for that critter to get the rug pulled out from under it. If there's any lesson to be learned it, it's that good things never last.
Sorry I don't mean to be so bitter. And I don't mean to make it all about me.
Well, wait......this is my blog, so it IS all about me, at least for the moment, right? And I'm not about to bite any hands out there that have fed me, anyway. Harp was very good to me. You know what it's like reading people like Fred Mills for years and then have him become your editor? It makes you feel like you've climbed up another rung in the music journalism ladder. Gillian A. Gaar's name was usually just a few pages away from mine. And I got to sound off on a Barbara Manning box set in a major publication. You know how many years I've had to practice that? And it didn't look like a gush fest either. It teaches you something when you only have 200 words in which to do that too.
So thanks, Scott Crawford for founding the magazine. Thanks, Fred for everything. Thanks, Randy Harward for letting me move beyond just CD reviews.
I've never met any of them. Yet. Only communicated through email. It's ironic: I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I got more ambitious this year and took on more freelancing that more opportunities might open up and I'd be able to get myself to South by Southwest next year. (This year's installment just wrapped up over the weekend.) Then I might get to meet all those guys, since Harp has been involved in the festival the past couple years. Or at least they've had a lot of parties and written about it.
Not only is that not going to happen, but all those guys probably got word of what was going on right as SXSW was kicking into high gear. That must have been really demoralizing. Or the best reason to stay snockered all weekend. Or both.
There is something that I feel is at the root of Harp's demise that I do need to sound off about, and that's the fact that nobody reads magazines anymore. Nobody cares enough to shell out a few bucks to buy a magazine to keep music journalism alive. That's a bit of a stretch between two points, but it's true. Everything these days is electronic. And that's fine to a degree because there's so much information out there. But where are the tactile experiences of everyday life going? You don't read the paper because you get the information online. You don't need CDs because you've got the songs in the little chewing-gum wrapper sized thing or on your goddamed cellphone.
Sure, I know, we're older and we're too damn busy to take the time for a lot of these things. (I, for one, should be listening to a couple CDs of 50- and 70-minute jazz pieces that I should be reviewing) And it's easier to read this way, or listen this way. But we're missing out on a lot. I know vinyl will never come back the way it should, but there were so many tactile discoveries that went along with the playing of the album that added to it: "Oooh, that song's pretty long. That one's short. Wait, there are six tracks here and only five are listed." You can make those time discoveries with CDs - if they list them - but it's not the same. And a lot just washes over you when you just put on a disc and let it go. Now with iPods, you have your music everywhere, but you don't CD booklets to go through as your listening to add to the experience. Your visuals for Cat Power are the same as the ones for the Black Sabbath cut you have on it.
The same is happening with print media. Maybe the Sunday New York Times is the only thing that will survive the fallout. If it's lucky. Sunday is the one day that people find time to sit and read something. (On a tangent, I wonder how Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce's performances would have gone had they had all the headlines at their fingertips for easy access, rather than needing to spread newspapers out across the hotel bed and read the basic info of each relevant article.)
It all has me wondering what things will be like when my son is in high school. What kind of magazines will be around by then? Will I be waxing nostalgic about buying Double Nickels on the Dime my senior year and ranting about the decline of magazines and sounding like some out of touch old man? Will I be right - to anyone besides myself?
On the other hand, it was really hard to find a copy of Harp in Pittsburgh up until about two or three years ago. It's a real tragedy that it didn't make a bigger name for itself. I think it had everything it needed to do it: irreverance; love for music without being either smug or fawning; good layout; good sections that went beyond the typical rock mag standards.
Anyhow, I urge you all to go out and by a copy of the final issue of Harp. The cover has Dave Grohl on the front announcing his run for presidency. Yeah, you read right. What a great way to go out.
Cue the closing credits. If there was a song that would set the scene here, it would be Angst's "Some Things I Can't Get Used To" (from 1986's Mending Wall on SST).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

You never know who you'll meet....

Playing right now: a musicbox that plays "Swan Lake" in the nursery

In the previous entry here, there was a posting from Joy, the keyboardist of Stony Brook People, who I wrote about on January 3. Then I scrolled down to that entry and saw that another member of the band posted a comment.

I hardly ever get comments and to hear from two people in the band....well don't that just beat all.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We are Time....and the time I'm thinking of is 1984

I've always sneered at the idea of listening to nothing but music from a certain bygone period of your life. I mean, that mindframe seems reserved for the people who don't really like music; they're not listening because of the music, they're listening because of the images from the past that get conjured by the music. (If I'm being vague, let me give an example: somebody who would buy one of those 20th Century Masters compilations of Fleetwood Mac at Best Buy. And before you get on me about the band - everything in that scenario has to be in place: the particular disc, the [type of] artist/band and the location. There is at least one of those discs in our house, but they came from Paul's CDs.)

Anyhow.........I set that scenario up to knock it down, and take me with it.

A couple weeks ago, I won a copy of the Pop Group's album Y in an auction. They were a particularly polemic and abrasive British punk band, who added elements of funk and free jazz into their music, over which singer Mark Stewart often ranted and raved about politics and social issues. The album came out in 1979, long before the days of "in your face" approaches in music or art or commercials. Y came with a huge poster/lyric sheet that featured a collage of pretty disturbing images, including but not limited to a crowd looking on at a corpse while a young kid pisses on it; two nuns getting ready to bury a casket that clearly shows a young child or baby in it; a crowd of soldiers that seems to be firing on a crowd. Anyway, brutal stuff.

I had this album in high school; bought in 1984. At that time I was really into the punk-jazz group Rip, Rig and Panic which included two ex-Pop Group members, so I went back to the original source. Selling that album (sometime between high school graduation and college) has always been a big regret. Reissues of it are hard to find and usually overpriced, as are the original copies, which don't always have the poster anyway.

So I won the album (in one of those "I shouldn't've bid that high; I hope I'm outbid" moments) and when I got it and threw it on the turntable...............suddenly it was 1984 again. I remember the type of day when I bought it. It was early 1984, a Friday when we only had half a day of school, so I was planning on picking up that album at the Record Recycler (it was on hold), and then taking a girl back to my house to show her how to play the bass. (True story: she had casually said she'd be up for playing bass and I took her seriously, borrowed my brother's Rickenbacker and pretty much threw it at her.) Except she blew me off and I went home alone with the record. Since no one else was home I played it on the living room stereo while I made lunch.

All the songs came back to me right away last week. In fact, a lot of them were burned into my brain and have stayed there for 20+ years. The last time I saw Mike Watt, about four years ago, he encored with "We Are Time," the song I always thought closed the album. (Apparently I was flipped the a- and b-sides since neither were marked as such.) "Blood Money" is a free piece where slow bass and drums keep shifting in and out, with some sort of horn occasionally bubbling to the surface, while Stewart wails under a sea of echo. I remembered most of it. The opening of side two (or one) - a heartbeat, following by Stewart yelling, "Scream of my heart....BEAT" as the band comes in, sort of sloppy. Then there's "Don't Sell Your Dreams" a spare, quiet piece that explodes a couple times when Stewart bellows the title. Yeah, abrasive, but for all the right reasons.

The time period all came back to me: Thinking I might start a band with this girl, who might have been a crush or not depending on how I felt, and might've ended up being a real girlfriend if I would've had the confidence to pursue her and if I would've stopped talking about another girl that had dumped me a few months prior. I was listening to Rip Rig and Panic, playing sax in the marching band at school, and trying to figure out how I could do something as bold as RR+P. It wouldn't happen for two more years. I soon discovered the Minutemen, who I can really tell now, took a lot of cues from the Pop Group.

So anyway, now I know why people will latch on to some album from their past and not let go of it. Not that 1984 was a golden period of my life. It was actually filled with a lot of longing and wishing for things that either wouldn't happen or didn't happen for a couple years. But when you have all that free time to sit in your room and just listen to records and pine and read Henry Miller when no one's looking, and you're only job obligation is delivering the Post-Gazette and collecting payment for it once a week - things might not be too bad.

Post-script: During the '90s, I'd occasionally see the aforementioned girl (now a woman) out with a boyfriend and I always wanted to thank her because if it hadn't been for her flip "sure I'll play the bass" comment, I never would've borrowed my brother's bass, learned how to play it and started a band. I was always too shy and worried that she wouldn't remember me. I wonder where she is now.