Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Archive for the ‘Roxy Music’ Category

Record achievement

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

RoxyMusicManifesto

Last weekend, a friend brought over a bunch of sealed box sets of music from Warner Records as a donation to an event our theatre company was having. He also presented me with a gift that his wife had gotten for me a while ago but hadn’t had a chance to give me yet:  a sealed box set of all eight of Roxy Music’s studio albums, on LP. This was a reissue from a few years back; when the set originally came out, circa 1985, on Deutsche Grammophone, I had ordered one (from Europe, I believe) for a then-unconscionable amount of money.

I took the new set inside and showed it to my 18-year-old daughter. She wanted to see inside, so I opened it up and slid out the albums. I immediately noticed that the vinyl was far thicker than it was the last time I’d bought vinyl; that would’ve been about 1979, when records were so thin you could’ve used them to wrap leftovers in. My daughter found it even more remarkable, though, because it turned out she’d never seen a record before.

“You’ve never seen a record before?” I asked. I felt like I’d uncovered a new dinosaur in an archaeological dig. She just shook her head no.

I took one of the albums, Manifesto, over to our turntable. To some of us, Manifesto is notorious for having two versions:  the one with the good (original) version of “Angel Eyes,” and the one with the bad discofied version that annoys us mightily. Decades ago, I’d had a cassette tape version of the album that had the “real” version of “Angel Eyes”; when I’d bought the album on CD some time later, I was horrified to find that this splendid, dirty, nasty-sounding song had now been rereleased with a galloping disco beat and cloying harp sounds behind it. Poor Phil Manzanera was still slashing away at his guitar, but now he was trapped in a Bee Gees nightmare. I wanted to see which version of the song might be on this album from the new boxed set.

First, I had to clear stuff off our turntable. It isn’t really a turntable, or not much of one; it’s one of those cheap all-in-one units designed to look retro, but with every component vacuum molded from recycled foam cups or something. Here, it’s one of these:

CrosleyCrummySoundF

I call this the Crosley Crummy Sound F, because that’s what you get out of it. Yes, theoretically it will play a CD, or a cassette tape, or an album, or the radio, and sound of a sort will come out of it. It’s an all-in-one that my beloved wife, who musically speaking has a cowbell for an ear, proudly brought home one day from a department store. The music it generates sounds like it should come with a monkey on a chain. Most exasperatingly, all of those little press buttons arrayed across the middle don’t light up and have tiny raised lettering that blends perfectly with the background, meaning that those labels cannot be read even with our overhead lamp on, and so every button pushed is a mystery. Whenever I’m instructed to do something with this sound box, I have to get a flashlight to see what those buttons say.

The stuff now cleared off the machine’s top, I lifted the lid. Emma watched in fascination. She hadn’t seen a turntable either.

“Never?” I said.

“Audrey had one in her house,” she said, invoking a childhood friend, “but nobody ever turned it on.”

That was understandable. When’s the last time I played an 8-Track tape?

I put the record on and it started spinning and playing and she oohed over it for a moment, and then I went on to do whatever it was I was going to do. I came back about 20 minutes later and heard nothing happening. I went over and looked and the record had finished playing but was still on side one.

“You know you have to flip it over, right?”

“Oh.” She hadn’t known.

So I showed her how to flip it over. Then I showed her the lever to lift and drop the needle. I started side two. Some time later, she asked if she could switch the record — “Sure!” I called back — and heard the album Siren start mid-song.

I took a look. “Um, you see those grooves?” I asked. “Those are the spaces between the songs. You missed the beginning.”

“Oh!” she said.

So I showed her more carefully how to place the needle, while an image came to my mind of the guys from “American Pickers” showing somebody in a barn in the woods exactly how a Harley from a hundred years ago would have to be hand-cranked.

I couldn’t think of anything else to explain about the record or the record player — I’d explained that records needed to be flipped in order to hear both sides; that the needle needed to be raised and lowered via that lever; that the spaces in the tracks denoted the separation between songs; and I’d cautioned her not to jump up and down or she’d put a scratch in the record. I strained to think what could possibly be left to explain, but couldn’t come up with anything. But as I moved away, I saw her looking closely at the inscrutable indicators on the front of the unit.

Finally, she asked, “How do you know when the song is done?”

“Huh?”

“How do you know when the song is done?”

I couldn’t figure out what that meant — until finally I realized that she was thinking there’d be an LED readout, like for a CD:  “Track 1.” “Track 2.” And so forth.

“You don’t hear it any more,” I said. And went to get the newspaper.

Two last things:

  1. I was delighted to learn that, yes, thank you Lord, the LP has the original version of “Angel Eyes”; and
  2. It’s been a week now and nobody has played any more records

 

Musical insights

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

I just found out about a great new music podcast, Sound Opinions, in which two very knowledgeable taste-makers bring a lot of insight to an hour-long discussion about music. Their range is wide and their taste is informed. On the most recent show, they discuss music with economist Paul Krugman, who notes that given the dire state of the world economy he needs music more than ever. Other discussions cover the music of Bob Dylan, R.E.M., Neil Young, and others.

Here’s a link to the page about their recent show with Brian Eno. Eno, it should be noted, is not in the studio with them — they’re in the U.S., and he’s speaking with them from England — but these guys are so natural, so comfortable, that it sounds like they’re all sitting together talking over tea. In this particular interview, Eno is given just credit as an early pioneer of important musical trends (new wave; sampling; spoken word over music; ambient music; using the synthesizer as an instrument; and many more), and is asked smart questions about how he chooses collaborators (David Bowie; David Byrne with or without Talking Heads; Robert Fripp; Devo; Bryan Ferry with or without Roxy Music; as well as a couple of bands I don’t care about, such as U2 and Coldplay). The interview is played against the backdrop of music they discuss, from Eno’s vast repertoire, in such a way that every bit creates a new and better understanding of connections and influences across his 40-year career. (In the process, teaching me something new about “America is Waiting,” a song of his with David Byrne that I’ve been listening to with great appreciation for 30 years.) If you’re at all interested in music — and musical trends — of the past 40 years, I highly recommend this interview.

Music blues

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I got an email today from Bryan Ferry that his new CD “Olympia” had just been released and that I should go buy it. Which I wanted to do, right away. I’m happy downloading most CDs that I want, but I wanted an actual physical copy of this one, to go with the actual physical record-label copies I have of all his other CDs both as a solo artist and with Roxy Music. I figured I’d stop on my way home and pick it up. And that’s when I realized that Burbank, with a population of 108,000 people, probably no longer has a record store where I could buy this.

Yes, we have several stores selling used CDs (and LPs). And yes, we have a small music store that sells hip-hop and urban music. But Music Plus and the Virgin Megastore  went out of business, and The Wherehouse has devolved into a store that carries mostly used CDs and only a smattering of new releases. Best Buy carries some CDs, as do Target and KMart, but I’m not betting they’ll have this. Which means I would have to go to Amoeba Records in Hollywood to get this.

It seems odd in an era of more choices and more convenience to suddenly be faced with fewer and less. I guess I’ll wait a week before going to Amoeba, because then I can get Brian Eno’s new disk, which comes out November 1st, as well.

Today’s music video

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Bryan Ferry + Phil Manzanera + Flea + Nile Rodgers = “Avalon”-era Roxy Music meets the dance floor.

Music to my ears

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

eno.jpgI don’t have a lot of interest in pleasant music. Yes, I can hear that it’s soothing, but I can’t figure out why you’d want music to soothe you. I want music to snap me out of it, to communicate something new in an interesting, dynamic way that’s impossible to refute.

So, it’s easy to see why I like a lot of what I like:  Roxy Music, Talking Heads, David Bowie, the ubiquitously written-about (here, anyway) Pere Ubu, TV on the Radio, Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, Van Dyke Parks-era Beach Boys, King Crimson, and the like. What are the common elements? Intellectualism, contrapuntalism, dissonance, and surprise. What else do many of them have in common? Brian Eno.

It’s impossible to track the music I like without repeatedly stumbling across the name Brian Eno. The best Bowie albums? (Lodger, Low, “Heroes,” Outside.) They all featured Eno writing,  producing, providing “atmospherics,” or a combination of all three. Same with the three Talking Heads albums truly worth owning, including the astonishing Remain in Light. Eno has had the immense good taste or good fortune to work repeatedly with the likes of Robert Fripp, Harold Budd, John Cale, Philip Glass, David Byrne, and many others, and I’ve gotten this far without mentioning another act he’s produced by the name of U2 because their music does nothing for me. Along the way, he invented ambient music and made a lot of money doing so.

Eno can’t “really” play music, although his ability to twiddle knobs on early synthesizer systems and tapeloop machines he stapled together in the early 1970s enabled him to play live with Roxy Music. As someone with lots of ideas and very little skill, Eno is the prototypical modern artist. The abstract expressionists couldn’t paint, Martha Graham’s dances don’t look like dance, there is some doubt that most of the current academically hailed playwrights can write a play, and Brian Eno can’t play an instrument or read music. When asked by one interviewer if he would have been a music had he been born at an earlier time, the 61-year-old Eno said no, because his instrument would’t have been invented yet. What instrument is that? “The recording studio.” There is obvious enormous benefit to the presence of a naif. Why does Eno’s 1974 album Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy still sound so fresh, and so wrong? Because it wasn’t  hampered by someone who knew how to do it “right.”

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The past few years, Eno, who is also a painter, and is a painter in a similar way that he is a musician albeit with more training, has been doing installations of changeable art created by a random shifting interplay of abstract images, shown against a backdrop of ambient music. He’s now brought that show, “77 Million Paintings,”  to Long Beach, where I’ll be seeing it on Sunday with a friend similarly well-versed in all things Eno before, miracle of miracles, we’ll also catch a lecture by Eno at the Carpenter Center that evening. Yes, I got those tickets almost as soon as the event was announced; good thing, too, because the lecture sold out almost immediately. I’ve been following Eno and his work with great interest for 30 years, and this is the first time he’s made an appearance anywhere near me, so I wasn’t going to miss out. Expect more here after the event.

Strange overtones

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

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Brian Eno and David Byrne on their multi-decade collaboration, and why, for Eno, Frank Zappa provides an example of precisely what not to do in music.