Digging For Something: Ephemera eXcavation

Drawing some inspiration by digging for buried treasure was always part of the plan for the Greater Listening Area.

Digging 6

I am referring to my boxes of ephemera picked up through the years: fliers, stickers, and postcards from rock shows or maybe the odd promotional item from the heyday of bricks and mortar music retail. These file boxes also house countless mostly defunct music magazines and alternative weeklies that may help piece together a timeline.  Unfortunately no archivist-worthy protective measures were taken— no acid-free dividers, no temperature or moisture-controlled environment maintained. These boxes of could-be-content-catalysts have been schlepped over roughly a dozen household moves and were usually relegated to closet floors or worse, dank basements.  I am mostly unaware of what exactly might be uncovered in these mini-time capsules, but it should be enough to jog some memories. Dig this. I even saved my CD longboxes.

Digging 3Digging 1

Milk It: Nirvana in ’93 (Marking Another 20th Anniversary)

A couple of weeks ago, Geffen Records released a deluxe 20th anniversary package of Nirvana’s third and final studio album In Utero. It has been 20th Anniversary-Mania for music scribes, labels, and fans this year as every week seems to bring another waft of nostalgia.  Not only was 1993 the heart of the alterna-boom, it really did produce some classic and career-defining albums. As “modern rock” exploded I was fortunate enough to have a great vantage point from both the music retail trenches and the beer-soaked floors of the shows as we watched our favorite bands go from underground heroes to MTV regulars.  In July of 1993,  I ventured to New York City for the New Music Seminar with a buddy — we’ll call him Rick. I chronicled this vacation road trip at length, and you’ll find more from that excursion and 1993 in general in future posts. For now here’s an excerpt detailing one memorable night:

Tonight was a “surprise” show from Nirvana and the Jesus Lizard at Roseland.  Announced only two days prior, this was the event of the week.  We figured it would be the only chance to see them in such a small venue, and we could hear them perform material from their long awaited forthcoming LP In Utero.  Nirvana in N.Y.C. — maybe something to tell the kids someday.

Anticipation was high for the show as epitomized by a Swedish tourist whom we met at the front of the stage. He had paid $75 to a scalper for his ticket just to see the Jesus Lizard and was equally eager to see Cop Shoot Cop on the following night. Shrugging off the price he paid, he summed up our week well.  “You know,” he said, “it’s New York. Everybody wants to take your money.”

The Jesus Lizard was phenomenal.  They thumped it out as tightly as ever as vocalist David Yow chain-guzzled cans of Bud.  We had staked out some ground near the stage and helped Yow stay afloat during his many sojourns into the crowd.

When Nirvana hit the stage, we were bounced back to the “old guy section” even though we were wearing sensible shoes.  The only escape from the rampant teen spirit of the N.Y.C. youthful would have been the special guest area above us that seated the Kurt Loders and Courtney Loves.

Anyway, the barrier-breaking trio turned in a set that was musically better than what I had experienced on ’91’s Nevermind tour.  Included were new ones like Heart Shaped Box and older faves like School,  and they also debuted their female cellist friend for some quieter moments.  The show was a classic example of what Nirvana was all about, characteristically sloppy at points and brilliant at others.  Kurt Cobain ended the show on the floor, drenching us with and basking in his guitar’s feedback.

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This magnet just showed up on the refrigerator one day a couple of years ago. (Audrey picked it up at Big Fun in Cleveland.) The realization eventually hit me that I was actually at the gig commemorated on the magnet. Note Pat Smear (pictured lower left) had become a touring member of the band which I failed to mention in the brief review.

Nirvana would swing through our Northeast Ohio Region about three months later for a Halloween show at Akron University with their upstart labelmate Beck and their heroes, the Meat Puppets. I decided to sit that one out as my tastes leaned almost exclusively to smaller underground club shows.  It turns out that that would be Nirvana’s last Northeast Ohio appearance.

A Place In The Sun: The Great Yacht Rock Countdown of ’11 – Part 3

This holiday weekend in the Greater Listening Area we have been taking a look back at some words I typed before this site existed. After spending the Summer of 2011 indulging in the soft rock sounds of the 1970’s, I made a case for this wave of nostalgia as a guilt-less pleasure.  Again this year we’re marking the unofficial end of summer by revisiting a countdown of my Top 3 all-time fave Yacht Rockers:

I know you’ve hardly been able to contain your excitement so here goes…  My #1 Yacht Rock act of all time is none other than Pablo Cruise.  While late ‘70’s hits like “Love Will Find A Way” and “Whatcha Gonna Do” electrify on land or sea, it’s tracks like “Island Woman,” “Ocean Breeze,” “Sailing To Paradise,” and “ A Place In the Sun” that propelled the band to the top of the 8-track pile and the top of this prestigious list.

Thunder Island: The Great Yacht Rock Countdown of ’11 – Part 2

From time to time in the Greater Listening Area, we will take a look back at some of my ramblings from before this site existed. After spending the Summer of 2011 indulging in the soft rock sounds of the 1970’s, I made a case for this breeze of nostalgia as a guilt-less pleasure.  Over the Labor Day Weekend that year I launched a countdown of my Top 3 all-time fave Yacht Rockers:

I am celebrating my musical guilty pleasure of the summer over this holiday weekend.  Checking in at #2 on my mammoth list of Yacht Rock favorites is Jay Ferguson!  The former lead vocalist of the arty band Spirit and then 70’s boogie rockers Jo Jo Gunne, Ferguson foreshadowed his Yacht Rock prominence runnin’ away  “To the Island” on his debut record.  It was “Thunder Island” though, the title track from his 1978 album, that floated onto the FM airwaves and into Yacht Rock immortality.  The song is a true pop classic, and the presence of Joe Walsh on guitar appealed to even the manliest of Yacht Rockers.  The following year Ferguson returned to high seas adventure with the song “Shakedown Cruise.”

Sailin’ The Wind: The Great Yacht Rock Countdown of ’11 – Part 1

From time to time in the Greater Listening Area, we will take a look back at some of my ramblings from before this site existed. After spending the Summer of 2011 indulging in the soft rock sounds of the 1970’s, I made a case for this breeze of nostalgia as a guilt-less pleasure.  Over the Labor Day Weekend that year I set adrift the following confession:

I am usually regarded as a “Rock Snob,” but I am coming clean about my musical guilty pleasure of the summer – “ Yacht Rock.”  That’s right…  the soft rock from the 70’s usually played by bearded dudes wearing white tank tops under brightly colored button-downs with band names like Firefall, Starbuck and Orleans.  Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” is often viewed as Yacht Rock’s pinnacle, but I think of it more as the nail in the coffin for the genre (sort of like the way Altamont snuffed out Flower Power).  By the time “Sailing” faded away with the summer of 1980, folks were ready for a new wave.

While Labor Day Weekend usually signals the unofficial end of summer, a true yacht-rocker knows that there’s still a good 4-6 weeks of smooth sailing even on the Great Lakes.  The waters are still warm and less crowded, and Seals and Crofts sound ridiculously awesome blaring from the 8-track player on deck.  So pass out the cans of Narragansett.  In honor of this summer’s guilty pleasure, I will be counting down my Top 3 Yacht Rock artists of all time over this holiday weekend.

Ok. The wait is over.  In honor of this summer’s guilty pleasure, my #3 Yacht Rock artist is Loggins & Messina.   Before Kenny Loggins was alright with Caddyshack,  rode right into the danger zone, or cut Footloose as the king of the soundtrack, he was part of this successful duo.   Best known  for “Danny’s Song” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” these twin sons of different mothers cemented their Yacht Rock legend with the 1973 album Full Sail.  Nautical references?  Check.  Facial hair?  Check.   The opening track, “Lahaina,” points us toward Hawaii and the closer, “Sailin’ the Wind,” anchors this one as a Yacht Rock classic.

In My Room: From Captain & Tennille to Captain Beefheart

I am essentially a self-made music nerd. The number of individuals that have influenced my love of rock and roll and specific tastes in music can easily be counted on one hand. When it comes to my musical education, I have pretty much found my own way.

It was in the mid-1970’s that my obsession took hold against an aural backdrop of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and its opposing world, the legendary FM rock radio of the Northeast Ohio Greater Listening Area. As far as cultivating a fledgling fanatacism for music goes, it was a privilege to be in that time and place.

Recording songs from a radio speaker to a tape recorder soon led to buying records. (Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” was my first 45.) I quickly became a serious student of pop and rock music. At the time I didn’t think that I had too far to go to catch up on things.  The rock era was still relatively young. Heck, I watched Happy Days. I read about Elvis and The Beatles in the pages of Dynamite Magazine.  Little did I know that the depths of rock music were murky, even boundless, and I am still filling in the story today.

Dynamite Elvis

In addition to constantly soaking up Top 40 and AOR radio, I sought out music on television as much as I could.  Variety shows and American Bandstand were in regular rotation, but Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special were the real treats if I could manage to stay up late enough.

Dynamite Donnie

By 6th grade I had a subscription to Circus Magazine, and instead of baseball cards I began to spend my lawnmowing money on copies of Creem and Hit Parader at the Quik Shop or People’s Drug. I quickly learned that the consensus was that the Rolling Stones were “The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” and this thing called Punk Rock was exploding.   I started recognizing the name “Lester Bangs” at the end of record reviews, and I knew “The Last Waltz” had nothing to do with ballroom dancing. By the time I reached high school,  I could tell you the difference between Gram Parsons and Graham Parker and that The Clash was “The Only Band That Mattered.”

Now don’t get me wrong. There was no real “cool filter” in place. I wasn’t some kind of junior rock critic wunderkind. A highly questionable middle-of-the-road Arena Rock phase figures in my background, and I don’t really remember NOT liking much music. I was just absorbing it all, taking it all in.  In fact those aforementioned swings between Top 40 and album rock radio still inform my tastes today.

I would continue to explore through the college years with SPIN magazine and MTV’s 120 Minutes program steering me to out of the way musical places. I discovered the Velvet Underground and all of the non-mainstream artists in their long shadow. One only had to see the VU’s albums listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as some of the greatest ever so many times before taking the plunge. Besides they were REM-approved. Another college favorite, The Replacements, led me to Alex Chilton and Big Star. Once in my twenties armed with more discretionary time and an employee discount,  I delved deeper into cult figures.  I invested in music-geek-must-have boxed sets from Robert Johnson and Phil Spector, and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Deities of the Rock Snob world like Captain Beefheart, Roky Erickson, Arthur Lee, Gene Clark, Skip Spence, and Jonathan Richman were not far behind.

I am really still catching up today as I educate myself on the pioneers of the early 1950’s R&B and the songwriters, producers, and arrangers of the Rock Era’s first couple of decades.  Had he known that this education would take decades, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that my ten-year-old self would have still been up for the trip.

Hold My Life

In recent years I have contemplated how my musical obsession may have started and attempted to pinpoint the stages of its evolution. I’ve been dissecting how my tastes may have formed. Why do I like what I like? How did I get this way? My story is a fanboy trip that would never unfold the same way today with the digital landscape of instant info and seemingly boundless listening access. Unlike Nick Hornby’s Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, I won’t claim to be “able to see how I got from Deep Purple to Howlin’ Wolf in twenty-five moves.” We’ll just piece things together as inspiration hits, as my collection is sifted through, and my boxes of rock ephemera are explored.

Since music has always been top of mind for me, I recall many of the moments where rock and roll and the minutiae of day-to-day life have intersected: an older cousin turning up the volume on a certain K-tel track, an elementary school classmate’s essay about AM radio songs, an LP trade with a next door neighbor to name a few. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast today, but I can recall who played second on a three-band bill at the Euclid Tavern on a Monday night in 1993.

With the Greater Listening Area the hope is to sort out some of these memories and their accompanying soundtrack and maybe shake loose some more recollections in the process. Hopefully you will see yourself in some of these posts regardless of your depth of immersion in music. (Some of you may actually be in these posts.) We can collect your stories and comments as well and laugh together at how terminally uncool I am. At best, we can celebrate (and maybe in some small way help preserve) the disappearing culture of the physical recordings, the printed matter, the record stores, and the radio stations that shaped us.

Shout It Out

I have been obsessing about rock music since about the age of nine, and it has informed every aspect of my worldview. After paying close attention since the mid-1970’s, I am still thrilled by music on a daily basis. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s moving. Intoxicating. I am talking goosebump-inducing. It’s what keeps me young, inspired, and living in the moment.

Due to opportunity and today’s digital access, I am digging up worthy musical discoveries both new and old with more frequency than ever. I plan to curate some of my favorite finds… uh…er greater listens  for this space, but my larger vision of this site includes some tracing of the evolution of my rock and roll geekitude.  Placing musical discoveries and experiences into a personal context is what I hope separates these posts from the overwhelming barrage that the online soundscape offers.  There’s no shortage of encouragement out there to “watch THIS” or “stream THAT,” and some of us slog through alot of it on a daily basis. 

Let me be your filter. I am definitely one of those “YOU GOTTA HEAR THIS“ guys, though. When I make that discovery, I want to shout it out and take others along for the ride.  Take for example this grin-inducing blast:

Shout It Out  by Mikal Cronin

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gFTCkyeTuAY

Mikal Cronin‘s album MCII will be available on Merge Records on May 7th. If Shout It Out is any indication, this release should propel us happily right into summer.

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

ImageThe world doesn’t need another website/blog with a music slant, but I need to create one. You see I have been foisting my rock and roll discoveries, opinions and stories on friends (or anyone else who might listen) for decades, so why stop now? This compulsion started as a third grader playing records for neighborhood chums and later evolved into the cliche of compiling cassette mixes for friends while in my teens and twenties. In the post-college slacker years of the 1990’s, I was known to frequent Kinko’s and slap together a fanzine (for lack of a better term) that was chock-full o’ musings on rock music and pop culture. I was pretty naive about the world of zines initially, and mailed mine to everyone I knew (and not many who cared). More recently I have been that guy who occasionally surfaces on social media to send up a flare about the band that is rocking his night. You know. The Greatest Band on Earth at that given moment.

But that’s not enough.

Welcome to The Greater Listening Area.

Hello There

Image3.31.13…Northeast Ohio

Coming Soon to the Greater Listening Area : Pleased to Meet Me, Hold My Life, How Soon Is Now, My Back Pages, Digging For Something, The Hit List and more…

One music geek’s experience sorted out. 

Stay tuned…and I do mean tuned.