Monday, August 17, 2020

Ode To The Cool Uncle!

You can get along without a lot of things, just ask my car and my girlfriend, ba dum bum, but the fact of the matter is that the one thing no young boy can go without is a cool uncle.

As a kid, I didn't have a whole lot going for me except for the fact that I had two cool uncles; my dad's younger brother who was every bit as funny as Robin Williams, and my mom's younger brother, who was a bit of a gadget geek throughout the 60s and 70s. By the time I was reaching my teen years, all that sixties schtick was coming back into vogue and he was looking like the coolest dude on the planet to this young kid.

Then one fateful day in 1976. he played me a VHS copy of the original network airing of The Beatles' second movie, "Help!", and my ten-year-old brain...exploded.

Suddenly, I was seeing all the hip gear that my uncle owned, and kept in pristine condition, in episodes of The Monkees' TV series, Gilligan's Island, and other well-known TV portrayals of the psych rock scene that had become "in" again.

Vox organ? Check.

Transparent bass guitar? Check.

Multi-track reel to reel recorder? Check

Fancy Swedish speakers hand made by fine Swedes and once mentioned by Mike Nesmith in a Stereo Review interview that you not only had to order from freakin' Sweden BY MAIL, but then assemble yourself 6-8 weeks later? Check.

Who had the first big screen projection TV (just like the one pictured with Hef above)? My uncle.

Who had every variant of VCR because if one manufacturer added a new feature ("Whoa, DIGITAL CLOCK!", they just had to have it? My uncle.

Who was such a pop culture geek that they had a satellite dish back in the late '70s/early '80s in order to watch local news coverage in other markets, as well as live feeds from on-site news broadcasts, and the hours-long "affiliate feeds" allowing him to watch movies and TV shows days before they aired? My uncle.

He was the uncle who kept my brother and I up-to-date in the latest Commodore computer equipment every Christmas, leading me to develop an early distaste for coding long before HTML and CSS.

He was also the uncle who lent me his video camera equipment on numerous occasions in order to film an ill-fated music video for my band. Ugh, what a disaster I was, but he humored me none the less and it meant a lot as a kid to have someone who would do that.

I mean, my uncle might not have set the next Spike Jonze or Daniel Lanois loose upon the world, but he sure as hell did his part. 

To those who never had an uncle like that, I never knew how you felt until a few days ago, when he passed away at the age of 70.

Through a comical set of circumstances, I now live in the house that he grew up in, full of belongings he once held dear, but left behind.

My cool uncle left his coolness behind ages ago, spending his last days at "the lake house", squirreling away plastic grocery bags and packing materials. If anyone ever needed the box a replacement hard drive for a computer purchased in 1998 came in, he had it, just good luck ever finding it.

 In my once-cool uncle, I saw how life changes us all and how, after awhile, dreams don't just go untouched, but unsought. 

I saw a man who had always been on the cutting edge eventually surpassed and overcome by a present that moved faster than he did and no longer resembled anything he could remotely give a shit about.

That which had always been so much a part of his world had gone obsolete, just like all the other crap it replaced.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, I suppose, but it isn't the gadgets I will remember about my uncle as much as the fact that he made a concerted effort to share his world and, in doing so, not only taught this kid\how to interact with adults beyond parents and teachers, but expanded my horizons exponentially in the process.

On the day of my high school graduation ceremony, he and I drove right past my schoolmates in their caps and gowns sweltering in the mid-day heat on the varsity football field on our way to one high-end stereo equipment stores that was commonplace then but has long-since gone out-of-business to purchase a state-of-the-art recording device for a format that has long since been discontinued as my present for graduating high school.

It all seemed so "cool" at the time, staring at wall upon wall of the absolute latest in stereo sound regurgitation, knowing that I could have the most up-to-date device available and, or a solid four months or so, being top dog on the block until the new machines with even more bells & whistles came along.

It was nice while it lasted, but we had some good times together. For that, I thank you, Uncle Bruce.  May you rest in peace. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Ten Super-Cool '80s Bands That Time Has Forgotten!

The Buck Pets

Why did this writer overlook the The Buck Pets on first sight, you ask? Well, for starters, just the mention of the name "Buck" back then inspired thoughts of yet another ambitious southern band trying to emulate R.E.M.'s sound. By 1989, when this Dallas band's Island Records debut hit the streets, we were - to put it mildly - just starting to suffer the first hints of "R.E.M. fatigue".

In hindsight, the band's sound is so "Sub Pop grunge" in nature that one almost can't believe the band isn't from Seattle.

One factoid that should make Chicago alt. rock fans go "Hmmm" is the fact that the band wrote a song about Veruca Salt's Louise Post (called "Song For Louise Post") in 1987, a good five years before Veruca Salt even existed. According to promo materials for the first album, Post was someone singer Chris Savage "knew for a day".

What a day it must have been!

Love Tractor

Speaking of R.E.M., this Athens, GA foursome seems to have gotten shunned just by their geographic proximity to America's favorite indie rock band. Of course, R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry was also one of their first drummers, but that's where the similarities end.

Beginning as an arty instrumental band, the group added vocals for their third album (and major label debut) This Ain't No Outer Space Ship, creating a sound that bands like Tortoise and The Sea & Cake seem to have co-opted to varying degrees over the years.

1989's Themes From Venus (produced by Mitch Easter) upped the ante considerably with a handful of stellar ear-worms ready for MTV airplay, but their RCA-distributed label (Big Time Records, also briefly home to Love & Rockets and Hoodoo Gurus, among others) went belly up the year prior, leaving them with no other option than to return to the same indie label (DB Records) that had released their earlier albums, dooming its commercial fate and that of the band, which broke up in 1992.

Cactus World News

While it was cool of bands like R.E.M. and U2 to champion younger bands by either mentioning them in interviews or producing their records, Ireland's Cactus World News getting the "U2 stamp of approval" should have been enough to launch them into the stratosphere, but acted like a cement block tied to their feet instead.

Of course, it probably didn't help that the band chose to sign to MCA (a.k.a. Music Cemetery of America), but, even so, when one cranks up a tune like "World's Apart" or "Years Later"and hears those ringing guitars and arena-ready hooks, you'll be left scratching your head as to why this band made nary a ripple in the States.

The Bears

Take an immensely popular Ohio-based rock band with impeccably stellar tunes who, quite frankly, should have gotten signed on their own (The Raisins), add guitar-god Adrian Belew to the line-up, sign them as the flagship act for new I.R.S. Records subsidiary (Primitive Man Recording Company) and what could possibly go wrong?

In hindsight, everything!

Not only did the band's superb debut album not sell, it didn't even get the usual smattering of mid-level press attention that Adrian Belew's involvement would normally bring, thereby failing to build any sort of buzz for what was truly one of the most buzz-worthy bands to ever walk the earth.

Coming off of the failure of the band's second album, Belew would score a worldwide hit in 1989 ("Oh Daddy") with young daughter Audie while the rest of the Bears went back to Ohio and resumed life as The Raisins (and later Psychodots).


It might be hard for those of us in Chicago to consider the Insiders as some "lost '80s band" due to WXRT's continuing love affair with the band's first single and title cut to their lone CBS Records album Ghost On The Beach, but the fact that said album remains completely unavailable in any digital format (or on today's popular streaming services) proves that the powers-that-be (whoever they may be) buried this album deeper than Jimmy Hoffa's lifeless corpse.

Of course, those evil jackals also saw fit to make sure the band's second album never ever saw the light of day, either, which is a damn shame because, when it came to introspective heartland rock, few did it better. Meanwhile, Henry Lee Summer (on the same label) scored not one, but two Top 20 singles during the same period.

John Moore and The Expressway

With a singer whose claim to fame was his brief tenure as the drummer in The Jesus & Mary Chain, this short-lived band fit neatly between JAMC and Flesh For Lulu in this writer's record collection, but, if you blinked, you might have missed them entirely, save for the appearance of this song in the film "Class of 1999" in 1990.

A second album, Distortion, was released a year later (but not in the U.S.), sounding more like the proper follow-up to Billy Idol's Rebel Yell than Billy's own Whiplash Smile.

Chiefs of Relief

With a line-up boasting a former member of Bow Wow Wow and the drummer from the Sex Pistols, one would think that a song as catchy as "Freedom To Rock" would have done at least as much business as, say, EMF's "Unbelievable", but what was ultimately unbelievable was just how little interest there was for the futuristic rock this band was peddling circa 1987-88.

Had they shown up three years later, one thinks the world would have beaten a path to their door, but that's the thing about timing and/or the lack thereof in the crazy world of rock & roll.

Think Sigue Sigue Sputnik with better songs and much less campy nonsense.

Darling Buds

After the success of the Primitives' "Crash" in 1988, it seemed every label had to have their own blonde-female-fronted rock band and the best out of them all was this foursome from New South Wales.

Debut album Pop Said was the most immediate of their three albums for Epic, showcasing the band's rapid-fire pop sensibilities as well as singer Andrea Lewis' playfully matter-of-fact vocals.

Whether it was the public's inability (or unwillingness) to see them as anything but a Primitives knock-off or the fact that their entire major label run seemed to take place during that weird transitional period between grunge and techno house music becoming all the rage, there is something almost criminal in how unceremoniously this band was relegated to the dollar bins.

The Railway Children

This writer will always fondly remember this jangly UK guitar band as the first act to be signed to the newly-established US office of Virgin Records and how, sometimes, it just doesn't pay to be first.

While "120 Minutes" aired the band's videos, they were completely ignored by radio programmers, thereby sealing the fate of their two albums (1988's Recurrence and 1990's Native Place).

Prior to that, they'd been part of the esteemed Factory Records roster, which no doubt helped their debut album Reunion Wilderness go to #1 on the UK Indie chart.

Once leaving Factory, it seems, the band's good fortune seemed to run out despite no discernible drop in quality of material or presentation. Perhaps it is that nuanced consistency that many took for granted despite the noteworthy vocals of Gary Newby, who should have been marketed as a solo star after the band called it a day in 1992, but chose to quietly continue releasing records under the Railway Children name.

The Sugarcubes

Mention the name "Bjork" and at least ten hipsters will faint on-sight, but nary a mention seems to be made these days of the groundbreaking band that put her on the map in the first place.

After all, prior to the band's completely unexpected arrival on these shores, the number of Icelandic rock bands to break into the U.S. Billboard charts was precisely ZERO and remains so to this day, yet it was the band themselves (not just Bjork) who crafted the amazing and still waaaaaay ahead of its time Life's Too Good in 1987 with absolutely no plans or expectations for global chart success.

In fact, there formation was driven by a desire to skewer rock conventions, which they did, and to avoid the trappings of the mainstream, which they did not. Despite their best efforts, from the moment their first single "Birthday" was released, it seemed every major label on the planet wanted a piece of them. 

Sure, much of that interest had to do with Bjork's unassuming charisma and powerful vocals, but no group of collaborators have challenged Bjork to reach such musical heights since. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Absolute Best/Worst Feeling In The World As An Indie Musician!

By befriending, or, GASP, "becoming involved with" any longtime musician, you will invariably and without exception have the good fortune of moving the same lame-ass box(es) of unsold records and CD's that have come to be in their possession; many from bands long since dead and forgotten.

If that sounds like a good way to spend the occasional weekend every few years or so - "Did someone say 'free beer'?" - then, by all means, jump in with both feet, but, be warned: There will always be more. New bands require new albums, t-shirts, & beer coozies. Old bands, too. Before you know it, you and the lifelong musician will have settled into a comfortable life together competely uninterrupted by any level of sudden success, yet more albums will be recorded and some will even be released.

Heck, some will even sell a few dozen, but the unsold EIGHT BOXES will follow you around like Sgt. Columbo, slowly wearing you down with every move.

Before you know it, a bigger truck will be required just to move the "crap that will never sell" and a frustrated spouse begins gazing lustily at the nearest construction dumpster. With one late-night visit, all of your future back problems could be avoided and just think of all the space you'd have for your Beanie babies!!

It'd be months before your musical half even realizes they're gone.

Before long, it isn't just the devil on your shoulder, but the angel as well, both screaming "DO IT!!"

Nah, you say, too much sentimental value.

And then the unthinkable happens: After decades of TRYING to give the people what they want and failing miserably, you're finally a part of something that people actually want to buy.

How did that happen, you ask?

It takes a little while to get used to the sensation of reaching into your pocket and there actually being a few crumpled up dollar bills in there, but you eventually adjust and then the unthinkable happens again: You sell through all of your shit.

In the same split second, you feel complete joy and then, BOOM, total heartbreak.

The joy hits the moment you see the words "SOLD OUT" on your website and realize that you finally sold every - last - single - fucking - copy of something that you made. Your dad says "Quit while you're on top" - haha, thanks Pop.

The heartbreak comes when you realize that you have to...RE-ORDER.

Oh shit, is THIS what it feels like to call the pressing plant and actually talk to the person who sold you the first batch and tell 'em that you need more? I thought that only happened in the movies.

It isn't always just a matter of ordering the same quantity, either. I mean, if you blew through 300 copies of your new 7" single and the west coast tour doesn't start for another month, you might wanna double the quantity...or did we blow through all the money thinking such a day would never come and haven't got the liquidity at present to re-order?

Man, have you ever had to borrow money to re-order t-shirts or vinyl because you honestly didn't think such a day would ever come and the person you're borrowing from (Hi Dad!) just scratches their head at how you couldn't at least have imagined such a scenario...and, if not, then why are we doing it?

Ouch, Daddy-O. Make check payable to my LLC, thanks.

Little Ol' Me vs. Van Halen 3: The Trade That Cost Me Dearly!

Being an old school Van Halen fan who had begrudgingly weathered the "Van Hagar" years, I was absolutely livid when the band chose former Extreme singer Gary Cherone to replace Sammy Hagar and knew that nothing remotely listenable could result from this line-up.

Of course, the fact that I was living just a few miles from Eddie's residence meant that, not only did I see the legendary guitarist in public from time to time, but also heard many a rumor about his condition, which, at the time, was reported to be "the complete opposite of sober".

Now, many a great rock album has been recorded under the influence of booze and, in fact, I've met many for whom a little nip was like jet fuel when it came to getting revved up in the studio, but something about EVH's condition led this writer to believe that the once-formidable guitar innovator was no longer musically productive under the influence.

Upon getting my hands on an advance copy of Van Halen III, the first Van Halen album to feature Cherone, a quick glance at the credits revealed that the album had been produced by "Eddie Van Halen and Mike Post".

Wait, THE Mike Post? The "Hill Street Blues" theme Mike Post?

Now, I wouldn't have batted an eye had Post been involved in the songwriting, but, instead, he was credited a co-producer, which, to me, sounded about as suspect as hiring Diane Warren to sweep your studio.

Putting all apprehensions aside, I hastily inserted the CD into the best stereo system I could find (in my car) and hit "play". My neighbor was raking the yard at the time and, after I had given the album one listen from start to finish, he wandered over and asked what was wrong. Apparently, he had seen my face drop numerous times as I sat in my $500 jalopy with the thousand-dollar sound system and was worried that I'd just been informed of a death in the family.

"No," I replied. "I was just listening to the new Van Halen album."

Over the next couple days, I would re-listen to Van Halen III on numerous occasions in hopes that what I had heard previously had somehow been the result of collected ear wax or speaker malfunction, but it only took a few seconds to realize that the crap emanating from my stereo was, in fact, an actual album that the members of Van Halen had seen fit it to release under their name.

That was the part that I couldn't get. Was there nobody in the Van Halen camp that had the balls to pull Eddie and/or Alex aside and tell them that their new album completely sucked?

Granted, the band's last couple of melodically-thrifty albums with Hagar (specifically Balance) had lowered the bar considerably, but Van Halen III was an abomination by any level of measurement.

Yet, according to numerous articles I was reading. album sales had been strong out of the gate, leading me to feel a sense of empathy for those who had actually plopped down money for this turd.

It was then that I knew what I had to do.

Having recently released my first album under the name Time Bomb Symphony called If You See Kay (an admittedly sophomoric title that was a veiled middle finger to the labels for whom the material had initially been recorded and who "may or may not have still owned the rights"), I came up with an idea to a) drum up a little publicity for my album, and b) give back to those who'd bought VHIII and been as disappointed as I had been:

My offer: Those disappointed by their purchase of VHIII could send their copy of the album to me and, in return, I'd send them a copy of If You See Kay.

Now, being no stranger to "creative self-promotion", I knew that even if my campaign got some traction after being picked up by reputable media sources, the percentage of those who heard or red about the offer and actually physically went to the trouble of mailing in their unwanted copies of VHIII would be minimal.

After crafting a press release that was humorous, yet professional, I fired it off via email to a few notable online rock news sites and hoped for the best. Within days, Wall of Sound - then part of the ABC news network - ran my story.

It wasn't until my offer was featured on Mancow's Morning Madhouse, a heavily syndicated radio show, that all hell broke loose. As a result, I now had dozens of radio station contacting me to do on-air interviews.

Then the copies of VHIII started to show up in my mail box.

Day One: 12 copies of VHIII arrived.
The next day: 25 copies.
Day 3: A USPS delivery truck showed up at my door and dropped off five mail bags full of nothing but VHIII.

That day, I also received a strongly-worded letter from VH management instructing me to halt my campaign immediately OR ELSE. Pfft.

With many radio and press interviews already scheduled, I chose to continue with the campaign and, by Day 5, had received over 800 copies of VHIII.

Hilariously, I had simply taken the first 40 or so copies I had received down to the local Second Spin used record store and sold them for something close to a buck each, but when I informed them of how many I was now in possession of, they informed me that not only were no more new copies of VHIII being purchased, but exactly ZERO used copies had been sold either.

Ruh-roh raggy!

I quickly got on the phone with every other used CD chain in the L.A. area that I could think of and was only able to move 50 or so copies before the entire world became aware that VHIII was a total turd.

By the time all was said and done, the campaign had done what it was supposed to do: increase demand for my CD, but I also had to do a larger second-pressing than initially planned due to the fact that over 1,500 rock fans had sent in their VHIII and were now owed a copy of If You See Kay.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The 10 Greatest Minds In Rock Music, Part One!

Brian Eno

For anyone who has ever thought they couldn't be in a band because they didn't "play anything" or couldn't produce some of the century's most notable releases because they didn't go to engineering school or spend countless hours slaving in front of a mixing board, Brian Eno is living proof that good things come to those who create their own path and, in doing so, completely obliterate the cookie-cutter mindset that is so prevalent in rock.

Beginning with his tenure in groundbreaking glam band Roxy Music as onstage sound mixer and synth player, Eno was already carving out a singular musical path that, upon his departure from the band in 1973, would lead to his involvement in the recording of numerous landmark rock albums of the 20th century, including Devo's Q: Are We Not Men, A: We Are Devo, U2's The Unforgettable Fire & The Joshua Tree, and David Bowie's legendary "Berlin Trilogy" (Low, "Heroes", and Lodger).

Beginning with 1975's Discreet Music and continuing through 1983's Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks, Eno almost single-handedly invented the genre now known as ambient music. The latter album remains his best-known work in that arena due to the its association with the landmark film "For All Mankind", which set Eno's lush, glacial mood pieces to mostly-unseen footage of NASA's Apollo 11 moon voyage.

Mark Mothersbaugh

While living in L.A., this longtime Devo fan would beam with joy anytime we had reason to pass by the magnificent neon green building on Sunset Blvd. that has long been the headquarters of Mutato Muzika, a.k.a. "The House that Devo Built" or, perhaps more accurately, Mark Mothersbaugh's "day gig".

The fact that the leader of a new wave "one-hit wonder" that was unceremoniously dropped by Warner Brothers in 1985 would be able to afford one of Hollywood's most eye-catching architectural marvels on arguably the most-popular street in the city is a testament to both profit and perseverance while continually marching to the beat of your own drum, or drum machine, as the case may be.

Steve Albini

While this Windy City punk pioneer refuses to be credited as producer on any of the albums he has recorded for other artists over the past five decades, just seeing his name on the cover is enough for many of us to buy said platters sight-unseen.

For as much of a studio workhorse as Albini may be, his willingness to go on-record time and time again regarding the near-criminal business practices of the major label industry are required listening/viewing for anyone interested in becoming a career musician.

Thanks to Youtube, there is no shortage of Albini interviews that not only lay out his thoughtful ruminations on the industry, but also explain in more detail than you could ever fully grasp as to how Albini goes about getting the legendary drum sound that has been sought out by the likes of Robert Plant/Jimmy Page, Cheap Trick, and thousands of others.

David Byrne

Byrne may best be remembered as the singer for Talking Heads, the groundbreaking '80s band that he broke up in '88 (although neither he nor the band would announce the split until three years later), but his true genius lies in making "borderline Asperger's syndrome" (a milder form of autism) work for him in ways that nobody in the music business could have foreseen.

Whereas someone like David Bowie may have moved easily in social and performance circles with the ease of a chameleon, Byrne's nervously awkward and detached demeanor was initially seen as off-putting to some, but has come to define both his musical and visual style, leading to his entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of Talking Heads.

Since the band's dissolution, however, Byrne's laser-focused intelligence and dedication to his singular artistic vision have resulted in the formation of a critically-acclaimed record label (Luaka Bop), eight well-received solo albums, numerous forays into film and theatre, and, last but not least, a book called "Bicycle Diaries" that details his longtime love affair with cycling.

Susan Rogers

Trained as a maintenance technician for analog multi-track tape machines, Rogers was first introduced to recording engineering while working at Graham Nash and David Crosby's Rudy Records recording studio.

Upon hearing that Prince was looking for his own studio technician, Rogers interviewed for the gig and was informed that, if she was willing to relocate to Minneapolis, the job was hers. Prince quickly made her his main studio engineer for what would be his creative and commercial peak, beginning with Purple Rain and continuing through sessions for The Black Album.

During that time, Rogers had a literal front row seat for witnessing Prince's musical genius, while, at the same time, having to respond quickly to the artist's demands; a dream job with the potential of becoming a nightmare for those unable to rise to the occasion, but Rogers proved herself capable time and time again.

Upon parting ways with Prince, she quickly became an in-demand producer for the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Rusted Root, Michael Penn, and others before leaving the business to become, of all things, a professor at Berklee School of Music.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Devaluation of Music & Why We Need 'Gatekeepers'!

A few short years ago, I joked about being able to record your next album at Starbucks on your smart phone and, thanks to cheap burner phones and free digital recording apps, it is now a complete possibility.

Additionally, those with the proper foresight and ability to go a week without their daily grande caramel macchiato can then blow that chump change on a couple plug-in's and, voila, the shittiest coffee joint in the world can be transformed into Abbey Road without disturbing any of the staff or customers.

Seconds later, the results of that recording session can then be uploaded to every streaming platform in the known universe and, by nightfall, your little sister and her friends are a global sensation.

There are those who celebrate the "D.I.Y." world we currently live in, where everybody has access to the same tools as established recording artists and, while it might be nice to think that the next Lennon & McCartney will not be stymied by economic or geographic limitations, neither will those who have absolutely no business making or releasing music - even free music.

Welcome to a world without gatekeepers.

Back in the mid-'80s, when yours truly was just starting out in this crazy business, there were those who said that you had to be rich to get anywhere in music and, to a degree, they were absolutely right.

But, with a little fortitude and the ability to sacrifice well beyond a weeks' worth of mocha frappes, one could gradually save up enough cash for a decent guitar or a couple days at the local multi-track recording studio.

Those who couldn't...tough shit.

When I think about all the proverbial gates we had to crash just to get to the level of playing the best clubs in the shittiest towns, or, for that matter, the shittiest clubs in the best towns, part of me remains amazed we ever made it out of the starting gate.

After all, in addition to continually having to come up with more money to get to the next level of screaming obscurity we budding rockers had to contend with one shark-infested above-ground swimming pool of rejection and resistance after another from those who viewed your dreams and dedication with complete disdain.

By the time we finally made it to our first serious, big-time opening slot, we looked like soldiers who'd seen heavy combat and lived to tell.

Agent orange? Pfft. We musicians drink that shit for breakfast and ask for seconds.

Thing was, even as I was bitching up a storm about those who were lucky to have born in the right place, with rich and/or supportive parents and easy access to the studios and venues that may as well have been on Mars, the truth of the matter is that money was always the greatest musical gatekeeper of them all.

Truth be told, if Lennon & McCartney hadn't been lucky enough to meet Brian Epstein AND his checkbook, I shudder to think of what our record collections might look like.

Sure, some who could have been great artists were no doubt turned away from a life of groundbreaking music-making, but so were those who would have just taken up valuable space on the musical landscape.

In other words, the fact that "everybody's in a band" these days is not a good thing - AT ALL - because the collective humanity blocks out the fucking sun and makes wading through a single week's new releases nigh impossible, whereas, back in the day, being in a band actually meant something.

Hell, recording a demo meant something.

Putting out your own album or CD meant something, although pressing up cassettes was akin to going to all the trouble of qualifying for the regional bowling tournament and then using one of those community bowling balls with a huge chunk missing out of it from years of careless neglect.

Spending a little more to work with a Mitch Easter or Steve Albini, or put together a nicer package, was like having a Fast Pass at Six Flags long before there ever was one. By doing so, you were able to breeze past a number of gatekeepers, not to mention the great unwashed (lesser bands all waiting in line in the hot sun for their Tuesday night slot at Hoghead McSlugger's).

As literally one of the first indie artists to release a CD in 1988, I can tell you from first-hand experience how many doors that fact alone opened for me, but, instead, I will simply pass along this fact:

One week after sending my CD to Joe Shanahan at "Cabaret Metro", he CALLED ME.

Why, you ask?

Because, while he and his staff were wading through stacks and stacks of demo tapes, he did not yet have a stack of CD's taking up valuable real estate on his desk. Oh sure, there were other factors, but none as glaring as that.

With physical product having long ago been replaced by "an email address and a wi-fi connection", those stacks of tapes may have gone the way of the dinosaur, but the onslaught of artists looking for a quick reply to their email inquiries has no doubt driven many a once-sane booking agent to the mortuary, either as a casualty of the 21st Century Booking Wars or as a mortician, where nobody pesters you to open for the Smoking Popes.

Yes, gatekeepers are a total arbitrary pain in the ass, but, as you can see by the current state of music, they are needed...and sadly missed.

Until we bring back the gatekeepers in some form, music will continue to be devalued by all except those who make it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Great Major Label Flame-Outs: L7's 'The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum'!

Perhaps no other all-female band in the history of rock & roll has gotten a rawer deal than Los Angeles proto-grunge outfit L7, who, by 1997, were essentially pushed out of a moving car by their label, Slash Reprise Records, after the band had rammed their heads against the proverbial wall for nearly a decade.

Despite scoring a sizable alternative radio hit with "Pretend We're Dead", from the band's 1992 Butch Vig-produced major label debut Bricks Are Heavy, none of the band's three albums for Slash/Reprise cracked the Top 100.

For a little perspective, I always like to note that hair metal act Vixen's doomed second album, Rev It Up, peaked at #52 on the same chart only two years prior and placed two singles in the Top 100. Can you name one? Didn't think so.

As for L7's final major label effort, considering the quality of the material assembled for the effort and their dedication to constant touring and promotion, one could hardly blame the band for not so much losing the will to rock, put tiring of the piss-poor return on their investment of time and energy.

Hence, by the time the band convened to begin sessions for The Beauty Process, not all members were on-board for another go at the windmill.

Most notably, bassist Jennifer Finch left the band under the guise of "returning to college", but, within a year, resurfaced on A&M Records as a member of alt. pop outfit OtherStarPeople.

With her position in the band filled by newcomer Greta Brinkman, L7 began cutting tracks at Sound City in Van Nuys with Green Day producer Rob Cavallo, but even Brinkman's availability during the sessions was spotty at best forcing guitarist Donita Sparks to play bass on several tracks.

Despite the somewhat tumultuous circumstances of their existence at the time, The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum boasts the band's best and most consistent batch of songs as well as a production that practically reaches out of the speakers and grabs your wallet.

As if that weren't enough to ensure commercial success, the powers that be at Warner/Reprise helped secure the coveted opening slot on Marilyn Manson's North American tour, putting them in front of tens of thousands of new faces every night.

On the downside, though, one of the album weaker cuts, "Off The Wagon", was chosen as the lone single, inexplicably bypassing the two most obvious choices ("Drama" and "The Masses Are Asses").

Adding further insult to injury, the band chose to spend their video budget on a full-length promotional film "directed" by former Nirvana bassist Krist Novaselic that, quite frankly, nobody saw.

This writer managed to catch the band's performance at The Metro mere days after the album's release and, though the band put on a stellar show captured by the JBTV crew, in speaking with the band after the show, it seemed they were already resigned to the album's lack of commercial prospects.

How has the album aged in the 20+ years since its release, you ask?

While it only reached #160 on the charts in is first month of release, to my ears, it sounds like an album that should have at least cracked the Top 50 and gone gold.

After all, if you're a label with the distribution and promotional pipeline of a Warner/Reprise and you still can't sell an album like this by the truckload in the age of Soundgarden and STP, then you should probably stick to Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner cartoons.

While the band would continue releasing music for a few more years after parting ways with Slash/Reprise, they eventually pt the band on indefinite hold until the classic line-up reformed in 2014.

As with many bands who did not get their much-deserved payday on first go-round, the band has been a solid, dependably inspired presence on the rock festival circuit ever since and even managed to release a new full-length in 2019 on Blackheart Records called Scatter The Rats.