22 January 2015

The Selfie Apocalypse

free wheelin bob dylan photo: Bob Dylan main.jpg"Last night I spent four hours straight on Facebook." Twelve years ago if I would have spoken those words, not a soul I know would have known what I was talking about. Today, no one I know wouldn't know exactly what I was talking about. Many years ago, before I was born, a folk singer named Bob Dylan sang, "The times are a-changing."  Looking back, his observation seems obvious (didn't Dylan also say, "Don't Look Back"?) yet at the time it needed to be said for there were people who didn't understand this - or who at least didn't want to accept this. But the times did change. Clothing, music, values, traditions, technologies all changed and a new generation adapted and then adopted those changes as their own.  And then those times changed again, and again. And today the times are still a-changing. Can you imagine if you took Bob Dylan circa 1963 and teleported him to a New York City street corner via 2015?  First of all, he might think that the Zombie Revolution had come. He would be surrounded by folks standing around looking down at these little handheld boxes, occasionally touching their finger to them, but rarely looking up from them. Would Bob think that these were some sort of corporate devises that the government - or perhaps the communists - had developed to control the minds of the masses? Would he be wrong in thinking that?

While I was on the facebook for those four hours last night, I mostly looked at and read updates from a number of facebook pages dedicated to vintage vinyl and antique audio equipment. According to the internet experts (lol) vintage vinyl and antique audio are more popular than ever right now. In fact new record sales have not been higher since the dawning of the compact disk in the early 1980s. As the internet experts (again lol) describe it, old people who yearn for the simpler times (the times that Dylan described as "changing") are gobbling up old records and old stereos so they can lounge about comfortably in their 'happy place' at home and listen to music the way it was intended to be listened to (when the musical artists of the 50s through 80s had created it). And the younger folks, the hipsters if you will, think this is cool too and are jumping on the bandwagon as well.  Maybe people yearn for when the world was more like it was in the 60s and 70s.  Life was different then and it sounded different. People listened in a different way than they do today. Folks had a different relationship to time and space.  They experienced the feels and sounds of life without the constant distraction of cell phones, internet, satelite/cable tv, video games.  They didnt have homogonized digital bites bombarding them like people today do.  You can hear that in the songwriting of those past times, songs that reflects a human and comfortingly familiar world where music was created by musical instruments instead of computers and sound machines, and recorded on beautifully evolved analog equipment that was designed to capture the lush, full sounds of that time - and which alllowed folks to listen to it as the songwriters intended it to be heard.

Those times are gone now - at least in America.  But when I wasn't looking at vintage vinyl and antique audio on Facebook (and when I wasn't trying to avoid the bombardment of memes that are meant to be poignant but that are actually just annoying) I was looking at a number of "off the grid" pages. These are pages that tout alternative energy, growing your own food making your own clothing and generally being at one with nature. The irony of surfing 'off the grid' living pages while spending four hours on the internet did not escape me.  The mere thought of actually living off the grid is both alluring but scary. Scary, because I imagine I would be a lot like the 1963 Bob Dylan, teleported to a New York street corner some 50 years later, surrounded by zombies. I would have no one to interact with, no one to communicate with. Everyone communicates via the little corporate-issued boxes nowadays. How could I relate to the rest of humanity if I didn't have one of those boxes myself?    
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05 January 2015

One Album Wonders (of the 20th Century)

In the last half of the 20th Century, when a kid went off to college, it was customary for him (or her) to drag some kind of stereo system with them.  In the dorms there were music wars going on and the guy with the best sound system ruled the ether.  Along with a stereo, it was necessary to drag along a couple shoe boxes full of cassette tapes and a milk crate or two full of vinyl.  I entered Western Illinois University as a freshman in the autumn of 1986 with a collection of music that was larger than most kids on my dorm floor, but I had brought my "back-up" stereo with me.  It was a cheap, plastic combination dual cassette/radio/record player that cost less than $100.  My real system, which I had pilfered from my step-dad, would stay at my parents house until I got my first apartment my sophomore year.  In the mean time, mingling with a mix of college kids from the inner city and the suburbs of Chicago and St Louis was expanding my own small town taste in music and half way through my sophomore year I decided to take on a shift as a DJ at the campus radio station - it was the 3am show on Thursday mornings.  The good thing about that shift was that no one was listening and I could play absolutely anything I wanted.  Three weeks into my DJ career, I just started playing entire albums.  Around this time I began to develop an interest in what I called "One Album Wonders" - great albums that were created by bands that (sometimes inexplicably) never came close to reaching that level of artistry ever again.  I began compiling a list of these albums and collecting them over time, until many years later, after graduating college, heading off to the real world, finding work, meeting a girl, getting married, having kids, etc I felt I was an expert on One Album Wonders.  The following is a random smattering of reviews for some of the One Album Wonders I have collected: