“Nothing matters to anyone anymore but share potential”

Luke O’Neil, who seems to write pretty much every article on every site these days, calls bullshit on that stupid “How much does it cost to book your favorite band?” link that around this past week. Some acts seem way lower than they should be, some acts seem way higher than they should be, and there a lot of bands making more for one show than you made last year. O’Neil mentions a lot of sites who should know better shared the list anyway. Basically, this isn’t what your favorite band earns every night, it’s what your favorite band would charge to play at your Bar Mitzvah. Lastly, and smartly, O’Neil ties the sharing of this list to that Facebook dude cluelessly railing against viral media content.

This is exactly the sort of thing the Internet Thinking Apparatus was talking about yesterday in the wake of Facebook exec Mike Hudack’s anti viral media rant. Nothing matters to anyone anymore but share potential. Being able to affix a few famous musicians’ names and some big dollar figures to a headline under the guise of Data is a perfect recipe for viral success. It’s certainly worked here. The post is one of Priceonomics biggest traffic hits, with 1.2 million views as of this moment. Someone should put together a list of what traffic-worshipping sites charge for their integrity. A few ten thousand views seems to be about the going rate. That would be a huge viral hit.

“Nothing matters to anyone anymore but share potential”

Chuck Klosterman on KISS

I’m not sure I would have started reading “The Definitive, One-Size-Fits- All, Accept-No Substitutes, Massively Comprehensive Guide to the Life and Times of KISS” if I’d know it was over 10K words. Who am I kidding, I would have started it and then left the tab open for half a year. In any case, I read the whole thing in 2 sittings, and it’s quite enjoyable. Klosterman is at his best writing about metal he loves more than most people. This wouldn’t be nearly as long if it didn’t include a review of each of the albums, but how are you going to skip them when they’re right there? (Also, this marks the second KISS article I read this year, which I can’t really explain. I never liked the band at all, but they’ve got a different ethos to most bands (basically $$$), making them more interesting to read about.)

Some highlights:

Kiss do not make it easy for Kiss fans. There’s never been a rock group so easy to appreciate in the abstract and so hard to love in the specific. They inoculate themselves from every avenue of revisionism, forever undercutting anything that could be reimagined as charming. They economically punish the people who care about them most: In the course of my lifetime, I’ve purchased commercial recordings of the song “Rock and Roll All Nite” at least 15 times2 (18 if you count the 13-second excerpt used in the introduction to “Detroit Rock City” on Destroyer). Considered alone, this is not unusual; there are lots of bands who capitalize on the myopic allegiance of their craziest disciples. In 2009, Pavement announced a reunion tour and asked their most dogged fans (myself included) to purchase tickets a whopping 53 weeks in advance. Every decision was premeditated for maximum fiscal impact. “Instead of one announcement mapping out the entire tour itinerary,” noted the Washington Post, “concerts have been announced one by one, in a fine-tuned sequence seemingly designed to maximize profits in every possible way.” It was savvy business (and almost no one complained). Yet Pavement would never brag about this level of calculation. They would rationalize their actions, or they’d remind the media that they never explicitly said they wouldn’t add extra shows, or they’d chuckle about the swindle only when no one else was around. Pavement would always take the money, but they’d simply (a) say nothing, (b) feel bad about it, or (c) pretend to feel bad about it.

One thing I’ve learned in my life is that — creatively — it’s better to have one person love you than to have 10 people like you. It’s very easy to like someone’s work, and it doesn’t mean that much; you can like something for a year and just as easily forget it even existed. But people remember the things they love. They psychologically invest in those things, and they use them to define their lives (and even if the love fades, its memory imprints on the mind). It creates an immersive kind of relationship that bleeds into the outside world, regardless of the motivating detail. In pop music, the most self-evident example is the Grateful Dead, although Rush and the Smiths fall into the same class. Another example is Fugazi. Two others are Bikini Kill and the Insane Clown Posse. These are artists who diametrically impact how substantial factions of people choose to think about the universe. The social footprint they leave is far deeper than their catalogue.

Chuck Klosterman on KISS

40 years of Kiss

Big profile of Kiss in the latest Rolling Stone. It’s great. I especially liked it in the context to the Wu-Tang profile I posted yesterday. After 20 years, the members of Wu-Tang are still loosely together, if not always on the same page. After 40 years, 2 members of Kiss are still together, and 2 who left/were kicked out pretty early in the band’s career, are just looking on from the sidelines. Worth a read just for the soap opera.

Kiss still tour. But the only original members left are Simmons and the band’s frontman, Paul Stanley, two New York Jewish kids who shared a cleareyed ambition and zero self-destructive tendencies – smart guys who managed to write some of the most gloriously brain-dead lyrics ever (“Get the firehouse/’Cause she sets my soul afire!”). Drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley, the ones who took the whole party-every-day thing to heart, who crashed sports cars and threw furniture out of hotel windows, are long gone. You can sometimes catch Simmons and Stanley talking about their old bandmates with distant fondness, as if they were parked in their very own Kiss Kaskets, rather than living quiet lives in New Jersey and San Diego.

40 years of Kiss

2 new Wu-Tang Clan stories

Later this year, Wu-Tang Clan will release a single copy of a new album. The album will tour museums and festivals, and then it will be sold for the owner to give away or keep or donate or whatever they want. It’s a neat idea, almost shockingly obvious in retrospect, and I’m curious to see how it works out.

According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, a Morocco-based part of Wu-Tang’s extended family, the plan is to first take Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on a “tour” through museums, galleries, festivals and the like. Just like a high-profile exhibit at a major institution, there will be a cost to attend, likely in the $30-$50 range.

Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution, they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”

And then there’s the 10,500 words Amos Barshad wrote about Wu-Tang Clan for Grantland. Barshad spent months tracking down and talking to each individual member resulting in a #longread worthy profile of the group. I wouldn’t have called Cappadonna the 10th member of Wu-Tang Clan like Barshad did, but what are you gonna do?

For several months, I chased down and spent time with all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan,2 winding my way from Brooklyn to New Jersey to Tennessee to Arizona to — of course — Shaolin in the process. It was, for the most part, maddening. As a fan, I was happy to find that a certain anarchic spirit is still rooted deep within the Wu. As a reporter, I wondered how many more unanswered calls would bring me within the legal definition of stalking. It was surreal, in the best way possible.

2 new Wu-Tang Clan stories

Light in the Attic – An album made out of 35 Shel Silverstein poems

My pal, Doug Anderson, took 35 poems from Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and turned them into songs for his lucky daughter. The collection is great, just fantastic, and you should download it immediately. (If the art looks familiar, it’s Josh LaFayette, who you have no doubt seen around here.) Anderson’s latest album, Nearly There, was released, also for free on Bandcamp.


Light in the Attic – An album made out of 35 Shel Silverstein poems

Punk rock is bullshit

John Roderick thinks “punk rock is bullshit.” The feeling could be more aptly described as “”punk rock” is bullshit,” but it’s something that punkers of note often come around to as they age.

I’m not talking about punk-rock music, because I don’t believe there is such a thing. Punk music is just rock music, and the best punk is halfway decent rock. Punk rock was nothing new in 1976, and it’s nothing new today. The Beatles’ cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” is more punk than 90 percent of all punk rock; the Ramones were way more conservative—musically and socially—than Sha Na Na; the Sex Pistols were just dumb David Bowie; The Clash was a world-music band and the direct antecedent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If anything, the mantle of “punk rock” was an umbrella to describe a reactionary retro-ness, a feeling that music was best played with old-fashioned dumb energy, simple to the point of being simplistic—which not coincidentally corresponded to the period of the widest proliferation of recreational drug use in world history. It was music to validate being too wasted to think.

What I’m talking about is “punk rock” as a political stance, punk rock as a social movement, punk rock as a fashion trend, punk rock as a personal lifestyle brand, and punk rock as a lens of critical appraisal. The shadow of punk rock has eclipsed countless new dawns under its fundamental negativity and its lazy equation of rejection with action.

Both City Sounds and The Stranger say John Roderick is bullshit.

Punk rock is bullshit

Full Rage Against the Machine show footage from 1992

This Rage Against the Machine video from 1992 is a musical artifact along the same lines, though not quite as anarchronistic, as the 1985 video of 17 year old LL Cool J live in Maine. This show is at Zed’s Record’s in Long Beach and is almost exactly before their first album came out. Fast forward to about 25:30 when the PA goes out and Zach de la Rocha just keeps singing anyway, the vocals caught super quietly through the camera’s microphones. CowProd, the Youtube uploader (and cameraman) has another couple older RATM videos, including this one from a few weeks earlier.

Thanks, Alex.

Full Rage Against the Machine show footage from 1992

Michael Jackson’s Thriller changed the world

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is 30 years old yesterday and Billboard’s got a great write up of the album and the conditions into which it was released. I’ve got a very distinct early memory of going to a department store with my parents where they bought the LP. The tiger on the inside of the record packaging enthralled me. The Billboard article starts off with one of the music industries ‘woe is me’ stories. Things haven’t changed too much.

Stories circulated in the press about how the slump in the business stemmed from kids feeding their money into the coin slots of video game arcades instead of spending it on music. But that trendy theory was, to say the least, inadequate in explaining the industry’s malaise. What really had happened over the previous three years was a seismic technological shift that had torn apart the very idea of the mass audience upon which pop hits depended: By the end of the 70s, 50.1% of radio listeners were tuned to FM, ending AM’s historical prevalence and hastening the demise of the mass-audience Top 40 stations that had dominated the radio ratings since the 1950s. By 1982, FM commanded 70% of the audience-and among the 12-24 year old demographic, it was 84%. Consequently, a mass pop music audience that crossed demographic lines could not be sustained. Instead of listening to stations which offered “the best of everything” as they had on the old AM Top 40’s, the abundance of choice on FM afforded listeners the luxury of hearing only the musical sub-genre they liked on more narrowly formatted stations, without having to wade through everything else. The result of this shift was that each audience segment had only limited exposure to the music played on the formats targeted to other audience groups.

Billboard columnist Mike Harrison noted in 1981 that “No longer is there an exclusive Top 40 anything, but rather an ever-changing multitude of Top 40’s, depending upon the genre one wants to research or focus on. He added “Those who enjoy a-little-bit-of-this-and-a-little-bit-of-that….constitute a minority.” In fact, by 1982 many markets, including major ones like New York City, didn’t even have a mass appeal Top 40 station anymore. Precision targeting of audiences meant that radio stations needed to avoid playing anything that fell outside their target listeners’ most narrowly-defined tastes. Failure to do this would lead to listener “tune-out,” the fatal turning of the dial.

Thriller was the first multi-media album.

The first true multimedia album was “the ultimate crossover dream, a song both timely and out of its time,” wrote The New York Times. And then there was that John Landis mini-movie takeoff on “An American Werewolf in London” that changed the way all pop songs would be crafted for the next decade. After “Thriller,” every song would be conceived with its video in mind. And even though vids have long since made way for slime-ball reality TV on MTV stations, the cultural impact of “Thriller” is still being felt worldwide.

<a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2010/07/michael-jackson-thriller-201007?currentPage=all“>The Thriller Diaries is a 2010 excerpt+ of ‘Michael Jackson: The Making of Thriller.’

Unlike forgotten favorites from MTV’s heyday (Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf,” anyone?), “Thriller” is thriving on YouTube, where one can view, along with the original, scores of “Thriller” dance tutorials and re-enactments by Bollywood actors and Bar Mitzvah celebrants. The dance has become an annual tribal ritual in major cities around the world, with initiates in ghoul makeup aping Michael’s moves en masse; the current record for largest dance of the undead is 12,937, held by Mexico City. A YouTube 41-million-hit sensation features more than 1,500 inmates in a Philippines prison yard executing the funky footwork as part of a rehab program designed to “turn dregs into human beings”; the prison, in the city of Cebu, has become a T-shirt-selling tourist attraction.

None of this was imaginable back at the Palace Theatre 27 years ago. Jackson then was a naïve, preternaturally gifted 25-year-old “who wanted to be turned into a monster, just for fun,” as Landis recently told me—and had the money to make it happen. “Thriller” marked the most incandescent moment in Jackson’s life, his apex creatively as well as commercially. He would spend the rest of his career trying to surpass it. “In the Off the Wall/Thriller era, Michael was in a constant state of becoming,” says Glen Brunman, then Jackson’s publicist at his record company Epic. “It was all about the music, until it also became about the sales and the awards, and something changed forever.”


Ola Ray and I strongly agree on one thing: we both like to remember Michael Jackson the way he was on the night of October 13, 1983. I can’t forget the way he looked as I peered at him through the glass of the ticket booth at the Palace Theatre: elfin, radiant, ascendant. To me, Thriller seems like the last time that everyone on the planet got excited at the same time by the same thing: no matter where you went in the world, they were playing those songs, and you could dance to them. Since then, the fragmentation of pop culture has destroyed our sense of collective exhilaration, and I miss that.

For Ray, the scene with Jackson later that evening, as he scampered adoringly around her, was a defining experience. “That walk with Michael, when he was dancing around me and singing, I felt like I was the most, I don’t know, blessed girl in the world. Being able to do that and being able to play with Michael, and having him play around me. I felt so in love that night. You can see it in my eyes. You can see it for sure.”

Actually, the entire Vanity Fair MJ archvive is worth a look.

7 spoofs of the Thriller video.

Interview with Siedah Garrett, a songwriter who worked on “Bad”.

And then he says, Michael loves the song but – and I go, oh my god. So he said, Michael really wants you to – he says the chorus is too short. He needs a few more lines in the chorus. And he says hold – hold on a minute. And I hear (unintelligible). And Quincy says – and Michael really wants you to drive home the – hold on, Sid. And then I hear (unintelligible). And Quincy, hold on a minute, Sid. And then Quincy Jones puts Michael Jackson on the phone. But I didn’t want to come off like a fan, a fanatic. Oh my god, Michael. I didn’t want to be crying, oh my god, Michael Jackson. I love you so much. I didn’t want to be that. So I went strictly telephone operator. I was like, hello, how can I help you.

‘Thriller’ is, undoubtedly, the greatest pop album in modern history…”

Thriller changed the video game.

“Thriller” was so influential it sparked the mini-movie music videos phenomenon we stills see today. From Beastie Boys‘ “Make Some Noise” to Paula Abdul‘s “Rush Rush” to Lady Gaga‘s “Telephone,” making music videos that were an event, an experience, was not popularized until MJ. One of the most notable examples of “Thrillers” influence on an artist is Kanye West‘s 30 minute “Runaway” video. Creating a music video that people would want to watch for 30 minutes is only possible because of MJ.

10 facts about Thriller. [Slideshow]

Mitchell said the video for “Beat It” helped break the color barrier on a nascent MTV. “At the time, Rick James and other black artists were trying to get on there and that’s when the racist tag got affixed to MTV because R&B videos just weren’t being played,” Mitchell said. ‘Beat It’ was something that MTV just couldn’t deny and certainly opened the door for Prince and others to be on MTV.”

30 facts about Thriller/Michael Jackson. [Slideshow]

Michael Jackson’s Thriller changed the world