cartwheels into your heart

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I'm not really the public-advocacy type, but I've often thought that if I were to advocate anything, it would be the enhancement of library music collections. Yeah, I know, not quite on the same level as voter disenfranchisement or genetically modified food -- but anyone who's combed through the racks of CDs at their local library knows that it's more often than not a sorry sight. Whereas librarians seem to purchase books with certain criteria in mind -- bestseller status, critical reputation, patron interest -- you get the impression that a large portion of the music on the shelves is donated, making it no better than the $1.99 overstock boxes at the used record store, or even the Salvation Army, for that matter. (Why else was I, as a suburban 15-year-old just getting interested in indie rock, able to find the debut album by a minor band like The Dambuilders, who would disappear within a few years, and yet nothing at all by Liz Phair or Pavement or PJ Harvey, all of whom showed up twice in the Pazz & Jop top 10 from 1992–94?)

Part of the reason my concern may sound silly is because things have been bad for so long, library patrons have hardly any expectations when it comes to music. "It's a library, after all: from the Latin librarius, meaning 'of books.'" But since I'm of the opinion that a free musical education is just as valuable as a free literary education, the disparity in attention troubles me. I mean, why even go through the motions of keeping up a record collection if you're not going to make it worthwhile?

Now, I don't expect that my local library is going to stock all the latest Pitchfork-approved indie releases (although if anyone's trying, it's probably people like this). What I do expect is an attempt to offer a wide range of significant, well-respected albums in music history – in other words, an adherence to a canon (while understanding, of course, that canons are always flexible).

In order to see how my library (the vast Chicago Public Library system) fared at meeting this not-very-rigorous standard, I used what I figured was as good a list as any: the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums Ever Made survey that came out late last year. As an accurate summation of the best in recorded music, this list has its fair share of problems, most having to do with its annoyingly rockist tendencies ("it's all about the 60s, maaan"). But for our purposes, the poll's emphasis on the overly enshrined, as well as its attempt at populism (musicians and industry figures voted alongside critics, those pesky elevators of the obscure), mean that it should contain exactly the kind of records you'd expect to find at a library.

As for the results? Well, I have to admit, I was surprised to find that the Chicago Public Library owns 76 of the top 100 albums of all time on compact disc. It owns another 15 on vinyl or cassette -- although I thought this figure was worth separating out, inasmuch as this collection isn't much use to the majority of music listeners in 2004, especially young people, for whom a collection of free music would seem to be the most beneficial. And there are nine albums in the top 100 that the library does not own at all.

I was surprised because I assumed, before I looked at the Rolling Stone list, that the figure would be more like 50% rather than 75%. So the situation was not as bleak as I thought. But let's look at those 24 albums the library doesn't own in the standard compact-disc format:

*available on vinyl
**available on vinyl and cassette

30. Joni Mitchell, Blue*
33. Ramones, Ramones
38. Muddy Waters, Anthology 1947-1972
40. Love, Forever Changes**
44. Patti Smith, Horses
45. The Band, The Band*
50. Little Richard, Here's Little Richard*
53. Ray Charles, The Birth of Soul
55. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley
58. Captain Beefheart, Trout Mask Replica*
59. The Beatles, Meet the Beatles!**
60. Sly and the Family Stone, Greatest Hits*
61. Guns N Roses, Appetite for Destruction*
71. Neil Young, After the Gold Rush*
74. Otis Redding, Otis Blue
77. The Clash, The Clash**
80. The Zombies, Odessey & Oracle
82. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold as Love*
83. Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You*
84. Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul*
92. Buddy Holly, 20 Golden Greats*
93. Prince, Sign 'O' the Times
97. Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan*
99. Sly and the Family Stone, There's a Riot Going On

I don't begrudge the CPL for not owning the Muddy Waters and Ray Charles albums, both of which are anthologies that I doubt contain many songs not already on the dozens of Waters and Charles records the library does own.

But what about the Ramones debut album, which the SPIN Alternative Record Guide lists as the #1 alternative album of all time? What about Patti Smith's Horses, one of the most influential albums for female rock musicians ever? What about Sign 'O' the Times, anointed by critics as the best record of 1987, or the consensus-best albums by major stars like Otis Redding and Sly and the Family Stone? And what's the deal with keeping platinum sellers like Blue, Appetite for Destruction, and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in a format inaccessible to most library patrons?

When you actually look at what's missing, it's a crime that a city of three million people doesn't in fact possess all of these albums.

As a means of comparison, I checked to see how many of the Modern Library's 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century showed up on CPL shelves. It's not a perfect analogue, of course. One could argue that the Rolling Stone list, by virtue of its editorial interests and readership, ends up being a list of the greatest rock albums ever made and therefore describes a niche market. And while that's not strictly true (Miles Davis and John Coltrane both appear in the top 50), the reason so many rock albums appear on the list is because rock music is, in fact, the dominant musical paradigm of the recorded-music era. Just as Richardson and Fielding perfected the novel as the preeminent long-form literary work, the Beatles are said to have been the first to treat the long-playing record as its own unique artistic form, and not just a way to group a handful of singles.

Anyway, the number of books on the Modern Library top 100 list that the CPL owns? 100.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


Friday, July 16, 2004

According to Sitemeter, someone from (a website I use every day for work, btw) has been spending a lot of time on my blog almost since its inception. I don't know anyone at, and I have to admit, my curiosity has gotten the best of me. Drop me a line, mystery reader.

UPDATE: The mystery has been solved.


Isn't there something similar about the friendship dynamic between Andy and Louie in Eightball #23, and that between Scotty and Alex in Optic Nerve #8? It's an interesting dynamic: Louie and Alex are both take-charge, peer-pressuring kids (the former with cigarettes, the latter with porn) who are nonetheless just as uncool as their quieter buddies (actually, probably more so, since they're less invisible about it). You can imagine them befriending these smaller, scrawnier boys because, after being bullied at school and ignored at home, it's the only means for them to assert control over someone. And once you come to this realization, the whole thing becomes unbearably sad. Optic Nerve probably handles this character work better (with an amazing feel for 1991 fashion!), but I've admired Clowes's formal experimentation lately: telling the story from different angles, piecing together what's left. (Another beneficiary of this kind of shards-of-glass approach, in the traditional literary world: Bram Stoker's Dracula.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

You realize this is all to tide you (and me) over until I figure out how to write intelligently again, right?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

So Eppy had the idea of posting 100 songs off the top of his head, a random playlist from the iPod ... in his mind, and it was admittedly self-indulgent but also easy and funny and so here goes:

1. "Ring of Fire," Johnny Cash (Quick, something historical!)
2. "I Will Always Love You," Whitney Houston
3. "588-2300," The Empire Carpet Commercial Choir
4. "Kamera," Wilco
5. That Shania Twain song that's only just shimmering in my subconscious, not quite reeled in. "Don't Impress Me Much." That's it. I think I've only heard it once, but apparently it was a huge hit. Did you know whatever album that's on is the biggest-selling album for a solo female artist?
6. "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough," Patty Smythe (the one who's not cool, right?)
7. "The Boys of Summer," Don Henley (which you can't really think of anymore without thinking of the
8. Ataris cover version (which changed the Deadhead sticker to a Black Flag sticker), and I've never been able to think of without thinking of the
9. Steve Dahl parody "The Boys of Zimmer," about the 1989 Chicago Cubs, which contained the classic line, "Jerome Walton, with your jewelry shinin' in the sun."
10. "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne Warwick & Friends (to be sung at Junior Miss competitions and the last Brownie meeting of the year)
11. "Linus & Lucy," Vince Guaraldi
12. "Mannheim Steamcleaner," C0lin Sheaff (Does it count if it's a solo piano piece that exists solely as a shitty mp3 recorded at band practice once?)
13. "Born in the USA," Bruce Springsteen
14. "Jump," Van Halen (I'm interested in the moment where both Van Halen and The Boss decided, "Guys, it's the eighties, we really need some flute-like synths or else we'll totally be left behind.")
15. "Bad," Michael Jackson
16. "I Love You," Barney (Man, his time really came and went, huh?)
17. "Girls Girls Girls," Motley Crue (Sunday night was all about playing cards and drinking Corona and listening to various heavy-metal best-ofs. The Poison collection was pretty sweet, too.)
18. "Strawberry Letter 23," Tevin Campbell (I'm not gonna pretend I'm hip and say the Shuggie Otis version, which I've never heard; I liked to listen to the Tevin Campbell version in my room while the Barcelona Olympics coverage was on some sport I didn't care about. Fun fact: Tevin Campbell once guest-starred on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.)
19. "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Theme Song)," DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. (Really, one of the all-time greats.)
20. "Brand New Life ('Who's the Boss Theme' Song)." (What the hell? This, I just discovered, was co-written by Larry Carlton, the cheeseball jazz guitarist who nevertheless contributed some nice licks to
21. Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" and
22. Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne"? Why?)
23. "The Monster Mash" (Hey, man, it was a graveyard smash.)
24. "Fire Water Burn," Bloodhound Gang. (As featured in Fahrenheit 9/11)
25. "Puttin' on the Ritz," that old-time song. (Isn't there a song by this name by the 80s band Taco? Is it the same song?)
26. "Hello," Lionel Richie
27. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (Who is this? Aretha?)
28. "G.I. Joe (Theme Song)"
29. "Nomads," High Llamas
30. "Take On Me," A-ha
31. "I'm Every Woman," Whitney Houston (I have some vague recollection of myself in 13-year-old critic mode, hyping this song for its Patti Labelle-like qualities, and especially in contrast to the immensely popular #2.)
32. "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," The Postal Service (I figured this one on keyboard a few days ago; it's all about the fat synth-bass.)
33. "U Can't Touch This," M.C. Hammer (It's strange how most of these songs so far have been back-in-the-day HITS, rather than new tunes I've been grooving to.)
34. (and yet) "Life on the Fly," Azita
35. "Bootylicious," Destiny's Child
36. "Take a Chance on Me," ABBA (but maybe the Erasure version, which is what I heard first; all the seniors in my high-school production of Midsummer Night's Dream seemed to like that one)
37. "Change Clothes," Jay-Z
38. "Birdhouse in Your Soul," They Might Be Giants
39. "Til I Hear It From You," Gin Blossoms (Jesus. Another shimmering-in-the-back-of-my mind sort of song. I just had a lyrical snippet: "I don't wanna take advice..." Except I thought the advice was "from friends," rather than "from fools." Thank you, Google.)
40. "Puff the Magic Dragon"
41. "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down," Interpol
42. "Emerge," Fischerspooner
43. "Ready 2 Wear," Felix Da Housecat
44. a song on the new Animal Collective album I can't remember the title of, one of the more overtly Beach Boys-ish cuts
45. "The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes," Elvis Costello
46. "Gotta Get a Record Out," Green (I've been wondering lately whether I can say I've been in this band, when all I did was play three or four live shows with them in 2001; I probably wouldn't care if they weren't so legendary.)
47. "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," The Smiths
48. "More Than Words Can Say," Extreme
49. "Notre Dame Fight Song" (the music of which also doubled as my high-school fight song)
50. "Take Me Home, Country Roads," John Denver (one of the many songs I learned through the Reader's Digest collections of sheet music)
51. "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" was another one, learned in 6th grade on a cheap Yamaha keyboard
52. "Tender," Blur
53. "Every Day is Like Sunday," Morrissey
54. "Summer in the City," The Lovin' Spoonful
55. "Clementine," traditional ("oh my darlin'")
56. "Phone Call," Jon Brion (from the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack: spot the mental segue!)
57. "Gin and Juice," Snoop Doggy Dogg
58. "Mairzy Doats" (I mean, a kid'll eat ivy, too; wouldn't you?)
59. "Baby Britain," Elliott Smith (man, I love those a-chord-every-beat songs like
60. "Everything Hits at Once," Spoon, or
61. "God Only Knows," Beach Boys.
62. "Frere Jacques," traditional
63. "The Cat Came Back," traditional, I guess (and why this song? because a cat's sitting right next to me right now)
64. "Stray Cat Strut," The Stray Cats
65. "Sing! Sing! Sing!," Benny Goodman (which often calls to mind a scene in Woody Allen's Manhattan Murder Mystery)
66. "Carnival," Natalie Merchant (one of many songs I associate with driving to work for my first-ever job, at an insurance office, in 1995; I'd take these back roads with the A/C cranked, and I'd listen to WXRT and hear, like,
67. "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me," U2, or
68. "You Oughta Know," Alanis Morrissette (oh man, I'd also tape episodes of Sound Opinions with Jim DeRogatis and Bill Wyman, and listen to them in the car, on a portable cassette recorder, since my car never had a tape player, and the theme song to Sound Opinions incorporated an excerpt of
69. "Little Fluffy Clouds," The Orb [which I downloaded the other day, along with probably my two favorite late 90s drum and bass cuts {not that I've ever had a whole lot to choose from, you know, considering I'm not an expert}:
70. "Brown Paper Bag," Roni Size, and
71. "Circles," Adam F])
72. "Ghost Ship in a Storm," Jim O'Rourke
73. "Showrooms," Sam Prekop
74. TJ Maxx commercial jingle ("You get the max for the minimum, the minimum price.")
75. "When I'm 64," Beatles (because Ringo turned 64 last week)
76. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling"
77. "Stayin' Alive," The Bee Gees
78. That Komeda song that begins, "There's a place where we can go if we want to have fun."
79. "Just a Star," Canasta
80. "Jenny (867-5309)," Tommy Tutone
81. "Turning Japanese," The Vapors
82. That little piece of faux-Orientalism at the beginning of "Turning Japanese," but also whenever anyone wants to signify "the Orient": you know, it's like G-G-G-G-F-F-D-D-F, and then a gong hits?
83. (I love these kinds of musical cues: sit down at a piano and play C-D-E-F#-G#-A# and then back down again and up again as fast as you can, and tell me you don't feel like you're in a flashback or dream sequence.)
84. "Conduit for Sale!," Pavement
85. "Zurich is Stained," Pavement
86. "I Know What Boys Like," The Waitresses (I should learn to stop buying cassettes, even when they're 99 cents at the thrift store; I own this album, but I never listen to it, because it's on cassette)
87. "Video Killed the Radio Star," The Buggles
88. "Sugar Mountain," Neil Young
89. "My Sharona," The Knack (what the fuck, my brain is cycling through a Rhino Records new-wave comp)
90. "California," Joni Mitchell
91. "California," Rufus Wainwright (not a cover)
92. "Crazy Mary," Pearl Jam
93. "99 Bottle of Beer on the Wall"
94. "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain (When She Comes)"
95. "Push It," Salt N Pepa
96. "Oh Yeah," Yello (I've always sort of associated these last two songs. I bet someone could do a wicked mash-up of them.)
97. "Night and Day," written by Cole Porter (no specific performer in mind)
98. "Paradise City," Guns N Roses
99. "The Reason," Hoobastank
100. "Low Rider," War

REAL-TIME RECORD REVIEWS, #1: Phoenix, Alphabetical (Source/Astralwerks, 2004)

0. I talked to my dad last night, and even he was bemoaning my diminished posting in the last few months (esp. in contrast to my brother's brilliant new art blog), so I thought I'd try something I've done a few times before, pre-Seaworthy. The idea is to write about an album in the time it takes to actually listen to it. Each number represents the track that's playing, though I probably won't write about every single track. Anyway, I'm choosing this new Phoenix record because a) I haven't mentioned it here yet, b) it's easily in my top 5 of 2004 so far, and c) the U.S. release is exactly two weeks away. You should buy it. I'm going to do my part.

1. Is it just me, or does "Everything is Everything" sort of sound like Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You": those dark, syncopated acoustic guitar strums, a hip-hop/dance beat, a high, not-quite-thin, sexy male vocal? Man, it's just so explosive from the start. It's my favorite non-radio single of the year.

2. I read the official press release on Alphabetical, and it talked about "Run Run Run" as a blend of folksy guitar (was there a Beck reference, maybe?) and Dr. Dre production*. I don't think I realized until that moment the debt that a band like Phoenix owes to hip-hop, specifically, instead of just electronic music. Here's a good place to also make the comparison to Air. Both are French duos** who often sing in English, are interested in pastiche, slick production, and retro styles ...

3. ... and their new albums both have songs with choruses that go "Run, run, run." (The Air tune is just called "Run.") But although Talkie Walkie is pleasant and downright pretty in parts, Alphabetical packs more of an overall punch. Which means I don't even listen to the Air record anymore.

4. About half the time I hear the top of "Love for Granted," the finger-picking and plaintive vocals remind me of Archer Prewitt, of all people! There's something about Mr. Phoenix's voice that has that kind of blankness I tend to like in music. A voice that takes the unwavering tone of an instrument. Except later on in this cut, he gives a pleasing little "huh!" And the production -- the cooing background vocals, that slowly rocking piano -- really elevate this from its mellowness.

5. It just occurred to me that the voice is not dissimilar to Markus Acher's, and I don't know if the fact that neither is a native English speaker is any kind of coincidence. What I love about Phoenix, though, is that unlike bands like Air and The Notwist, who seem like contemporaries ...

6. ... there's just so much more of an overt pop sheen. Pop as in something you could hear on the radio, in the club. Maybe it's in the rhythm: more insistent beats, a fluid bassline, and maybe just more complexity: shakers, a back-and-forth marimba.

7. Hmmm. I don't know if I realized this ("Congratulations") was a separate track, rather than an outro to the previous track. It's nice.

8. The first Phoenix song I ever heard was "Too Young," because it was on the Lost in Translation soundtrack and it sounded like some forgotten 80s gem. Like, when I drove around with some college kids back in February, and it was snowing and we blared "Take on Me" out the car stereo, it could just as easily have been "Too Young." Alphabetical is a more consistent album than United (where "Too Young" first appeared), but "Too Young" is still their best song.

9. So do I address this retro fetishism? Dominique Leone's Pitchfork review of the album makes reference to 1980s adult contemporary, even, stuff like Hall & Oates and Fleetwood Mac, and almost as a caveat: "If you have a serious problem with that kind of cheesy stuff..." (and a tasty little windchime just swept across my headphones just now) "...then you'd be best off avoiding this record." Leone doesn't have a problem, but he still only gives it a 6.7. As for me, I've been stuck lately between deliberately embracing the side of myself that totally digs on ...

10. ... ridiculous lounge sounds and maybe still being a little embarrassed about it. Like, I bought Donald Fagen's The Nightfly a few weeks ago, and though I'll totally rep for individual cuts like "The Goodbye Look" and "New Frontier," there's no mistaking that the whole thing is a fucking smooth jazz record. (If "New Frontier" sounded familiar to me, it's because I likely heard it on WNUA ["ninety-five point FI-ive"] growing up.) And so am I okay with that? I mean, I don't want to outright dismiss any genre (and actually, I also heard Sade on WNUA, and I'll be damned if "Kiss of Life" isn't a fantastic single), but I also don't want to start buying, like, David Sanborn records, because that, my friend, is a lonely, lonely road.

*Almost. The press release on the Phoenix site refers to the song as "an unlikely collision between folk guitar and a pounding hip-hop beat," but it's a Norwegian publication that makes the specific comparisons to Beck and Dr. Dre.

**Nope. Phoenix is a four-piece. Can't say why I thought otherwise.