David Menconi (davidmenconi) Tue 16 Apr 02 07:18
>It's interesting no one has brought up influence. I'm gonna have a hard time imagining the Backstreet Boys being fodder for some R&B group a decade down the road but I can easily imagine some jughead on the Jersey shore channeling JBJ 15 years down the road. The question of relevancy will come by what they spawn.> Actually, BSB and JBJ have both been influential already -- short-term, anyway. JBJ influenced a whole wave of hair-metal rockers in the late '80s (all those dorky bands with pointy guitars bashing out power ballads); and there are BSB-modeled boy bands all over the place nowadays. Last year, there was even the TV show "Making The Band," about a prefab singing quintet put together by the same svengali who assembled BSB and N Sync. As for what will emerge down the road, who knows. As someone else pointed out, Abba has been enormously influential -- although I can't say I dig much of what their descendants are doing (even though old Abba singles are a guilty pleasure, and the Abba-scored Australian film "Muriel's Wedding" remains a personal favorite).
(fom) Tue 16 Apr 02 07:57
>isn't it funny how the monkees get dissed for being prefab while everyone on motown functioned in the same way, ie having their songs written by pros, their music played by studio cats, their image carefully manipulated, etc Everyone on Motown did not function in this way -- Stevie Wonder was on Motown, for example, and so was Smokey Robinson. Also, on the local (SF) oldies station anyway, most of the R&B/soul they play (and they play a lot) isn't Motown at all. Thirdly, the Monkees were a group created for a TV show, not created to be primarily a musical group. So the Motown = Monkees equation has a lot of problems.
Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 16 Apr 02 08:03
Stevie didn't really get control for a long time, though--he put out a lot of hits like "For Once in My Life" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" within the factory system until he did "Talking Book." I love that on the Jackson Five albums, songs like "I Want You Back" and "ABC" are credited to The Corporation(tm). I agree that the Monkees analogy isn't exactly apt.
David Julian Gray (djg) Tue 16 Apr 02 08:50
I'm going to talk about a great record to see where talent is and where Nostalgia is and what this means to kids today. "Needle in a Haystack" vocal performance by the Velvelettes, but this is a Norman Whitfield record - he wrote, scored & produced it. I put this on a cassette tape made for road trips ca. 1982. My daughter, born 1988 discovered this tape, ca. 1998 and we started listening to it in the car. I'd completely forgotten about "Needle In A Haystack" - COMPLETELY. What a killer record! What a performance! As soon as it was over the first time we played this everyone in the car said "PLAY IT AGAIN!" This is now a favorite of my now 13 1/2 year old daughter - who's taste runs to Train or Nellie Furtado & her recently turned "goth" ex-best-friend (tough years, this early adolesence). Although my transister was glued to my 11 year old head - I don't think NYC radio, 1010 WINS or WABC, played this record much. I've no nostalgia, no memory of it ca. 1964 (or, for that matter, any memory of it ca. 1982 when I made the tape...hmmm). It's is simply the power of this record that makes us cross-generationally captivated. Ask my teenage daughter who her favorite musical groups are and she will cite The Beatles first and foremost. As will many of her friends - they downright REVERANT about the Beatles. Perhaps this hegemony of the 60's on pop music exists for musical reasons? It is the WELL to which all pop music since continually returns. My daughter and her friends have no problem acknowledging this - the folks I find have the biggest problem acknowledging this are rock critics born in the 1960's and 1970's.
Berliner (captward) Tue 16 Apr 02 09:04
And rock criticism has turned into a parricidal business. I'd say it always was, but it didn't exist when I was a kid. All of this talk about Motown is pretty funny, too. Yes, it was a factory. Yes, it wasn't structurally too different from the sort of machines that put together boy groups today. So fucking what? The writers (among whom was Smokey Robinson, also a performer, as was Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, two other contract songwriters with the company) were great, the production was, too. It was pop music, for chrissakes. And that Velvelettes (are you sure of that -- not Velvettes?) record is someone looking to imitate just that factory system. I can tell you it was not a hit, although maybe it was what they call a turntable hit in Detroit. You want my guess about what's going to be influential down the road? Mostly stuff that's being ignored in America, stuff by electronic dance folks. Stuff that's already been influential like the Detroit techno guys, Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes, Kevin Saunderson, and those guys. Some of whose music is ten, fifteen years old and still sounds modern.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 16 Apr 02 09:42
E-mail from Drclueful: >If you appreciate pop music for what it is, you appreciate (abba) in its context and in its >proper setting. It's great for driving, for doing chores, and stuff like that. It's not Great >Art, nor is it supposed to be (which is why people today are *still* ambiguous about, >say, Pet Sounds). As long as you're not totally immersed in it all the time >(involuntarily), it's junk food, empty calories. aka the album version of "utter pap."
David Julian Gray (djg) Tue 16 Apr 02 10:01
Yes - I'm sure - it's the Velvelettes. and, no, it's not anyone imitating the factory system - it IS the factory system - they, and their producer Norman Whitfield WERE MOTOWN. After posting the above, I checked to see why I couldn't recall hearing that tune on "top 40 radio" in 1964 - it WAS a regional hit in Detroit, on the radio, not just records and made the top 50 Billboard charts - but in New York City, where I was a youth and listened to Cousin Bruce Morrow, Dan Ingram, Murray the K, et.al. all day long it was a hit pick for three weeks in October 1964 but didn't catch on with the NYC kids and never cracked the top 40 so it gotted dropped. Hence, I've no memory of it from my youth. I don't think too much of what is happening today, in Europe or America is bound to be all that influential. Electronic dance music has already made it's influence - in a couple of distinc waves already. I also don't think pop music is too Balkanized for there to be broad influences anymore. Of course there will be... maybe they'll come from Mongolia or Indonesia...
Berliner (captward) Tue 16 Apr 02 11:35
So, like, not to return to topic or anything, but I'm wondering what the critical reaction to the book's been so far, David. I was catching up with Greil Marcus' Salon columns and noticed that he had nice things to say about it. Along these lines, I was wondering if any editor out there had been creative enough to assign the book for review to an actual working musician. Naaaah, never happen. But... what's the nicest thing anyone's said? The nastiest? How'd it make you feel?
sonically gorgeous with no real content (watadoo) Tue 16 Apr 02 11:59
I read the book early and generally found it a page turner. And so much rang true to my own 18 years in the front lines of the music making process. I had few technical gripes which probably wouldn't bother anyone else. Kind of like a cop watching a TV drama and critiquiing police procedure. As much as I initially recognized Bob the club owner as a fine complilation of the dozens and dozens I've dealt with, I never bought into his transition into a record producer. Now, I've known plenty of his type who had a few bucks to help a band get their first demo, single or EP off the ground and I've seen them in the studio control room with their opinions. But having him with his engineering experience being limited to a PA in rock and roll joint, jump in to, what was the quote, "Brilliant studio tweaks" just didn't ring true. Most of the ramping up bands I've known and worked with had their own sound guy, usually a volunteer who did their shows, and all those early recordings. And yes those early volunteer sound guys get buried too, the second the majors start waving contracts. My critique is that Bob didn't need to have this as part of his character. Stepping in as manager to be sacrificed to the greater powers was enough. And turning him into an overnight studio pro and later on FOH mixer on a major Label tour keptr me from taking him seriously. In fact I'd accept the first long before the second. Big tours cost a lot and plopping some guy with no touring expereince (especially at that level) behind the FOH desk was just absurd.
Berliner (captward) Tue 16 Apr 02 12:36
On the other hand, David and I both know Mike Stewart, a guy from Austin who went from being a carpenter to being a record producer, with at least one major label to his name. Currently producing the Gourds, one of my favorite acts in the universe.
sonically gorgeous with no real content (watadoo) Tue 16 Apr 02 12:55
Sure , but did he do it with one band, one time only in the studio? No other experience? I'd bet money that he spent plenty of time, possibly thousands of hours producing/engineering everything under the sun. And if his success as a producer was a first time effort, coming out of the blue with no backround in the trenches, he's an aberration. On the other hand, there was an assistant engineer at my studio -- a coffee maker and cable puller -- whom I gave a first session to. A midnight to 8am mix down cheapo session with a rap band from the sticks. None of my engineers wanted the gig. Karl shows up with his 4 months of training and no experience in the engineer's chair and mixes the biggest selling independent record to that date (don't know if it's been surpassed). Timex Social Club, Rumors. Sudenly Karl, with his one record under his belt, albeit a platinum one, is getting offers to fly all over the world to produce Rap and R & B records. The rest of us at the studio ate our livers over that one. And no one ever turned down an el cheapo session again. One never knows.
Berliner (captward) Tue 16 Apr 02 13:31
I wasn't as clear about Mike as I might have been. He was a carpenter who drifted into a club, the Beach, one night, and decided he liked it. One day he got a chance to run the board and it turned out he had a knack for it. He parlayed that into producing demos for the bands who played there -- it became a scene right about the time he discovered it. One of those bands got a major deal, and Mike produced their record. So yeah, not thousands of hours, but horse sense and hands-on experience.
sonically gorgeous with no real content (watadoo) Tue 16 Apr 02 13:43
That's way it usually works. Back when I dropped into engineering, there were very few schools and few studios even noticed them. You talked your way into running cables and sweeping floors till you got a chance to push a fader. So is my reading conprehension lagging? Did the Bob character produce demos for lots of the other bands who played his club? If so I retract the first part of my gripe. If he had, like your friend Mike, he'd have the know how to produce that first single for TAB and push his own faders inthe 16 track studio they worked in. I'll still stand with my gripe that a major label wouldn't authorize the hiring of a FOH mixer with no touring, let alone stadium level experience -- especially with so much riding on the TAB tour being successful. Sorry for the nit-picking, but I'm just the beat cop watching NYPD Blue and noticing the small points.
David Menconi (davidmenconi) Tue 16 Apr 02 13:50
>I'm wondering what the critical reaction to the book's been so far, David. I was catching up with Greil Marcus' Salon columns and noticed that he had nice things to say about it.> Yes, that was a definite high point (especially since I've been reading Marcus since I was a teenage wannabe rock-critic myself). The critical response has been very positive, though not universally so; close, though. One of my favorite reviews was written by a guy up in Canada, who decided to have some fun with the verisimilitude angle and wrote his review as if "Off The Record" was a non-fiction tell-all: http://members.tripod.com/~thrust_2/hardCOVERAGE.html And maybe the most dead-on summation of all in terms of my root motivations for writing this book is the following, from a writer in Houston named David B. Collins (whose novel "A Small Town For Its Size" I would highly recommend). He also posted a version of this as an amazon reader review: Your book is less about music and musicians and the music business than it is about TRUTH and its several opposites. I've long insisted that there's no such thing as THE TRUTH, just many splendid and sometimes mutually contradictory truths (which dovetails with my Unitarian-Universalist views), and that truths are fluid and mutable. The closest anyone came was discussing the issue of myth-making, which is not the same as lying, deception, or falseness, but has strands of all of the above. I recently saw a "Behind the Music" about Michael Hutchence, and I think he was killed by his mythology. He thought he was indestructible, and when he turned out not to be, he never recovered from that disillusionment. He wanted to be pure gold, turned out he was pure plastic--I never got deeply into INXS, but I never thought there was much depth to them. The Star-Maker Machinery never gave Hutchence a chance to plumb those depths he knew he had, Max Q or no Max Q. Tommy's search is for some unified field comprising truth and music, and being musically intelligent, he can't even describe that search or its object in words. And as with most true musicians, it frustrates the hell out of him, and that, along with his fucked-up family life, is why he takes refuge in chemicals even though he knows better. I can't think offhand of any printed/published reviews written by working musicians, but I've solicited blurbs from a few (which can be found at http://www.offtherecordbook.com/book.html). As for the nastiest thing anybody said, there was one review at a paper up in Milwaukee that was just absolutely withering. It made me cringe, though not in the way you would expect -- as many years as I've been dishing it out, I should be able to take it and I figure I've earned any nasty barbs that come my way. This particular review made me cringe because it reminded me of the show-offy, self-consciously "clever" writing I used to do myself for college papers many years ago. At one point in this review, the writer quips, "Hey Dickens, watch out!" Ya can't win 'em all.
David Menconi (davidmenconi) Tue 16 Apr 02 14:02
>So is my reading conprehension lagging? Did the Bob character produce demos for lots of the other bands who played his club?> > Yep, the Bob character does a lot of demo production before he produces the protagonist band TAB. And he only produces their early recordings, not their big-budget major-label debut. Your point about him as an unlikely choice to do FOH mixing for TAB's stadium tour is well-taken, although I had my reasons for putting him there. He was hired at Tommy's insistence, because Tommy hates the slick big-budget record so much he wants to get back to the early raw sound the band had before. So Tommy makes Bob coming back to do sound a condition of him doing this tour. Partly, that's a power trip on Tommy's part, since it so obviously goes against the wishes of his management/label. But it also represents Tommy's realization at some level that Bob understands him and his music far better than the evil weasels he has thrown in with, and that Bob will be an ally. Now it's possible this could all be accomplished by making Bob just the tour manager rather than the sound guy; if I'm in a position to do any further tweaking/editing, I might decide to do that. We'll see.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 16 Apr 02 17:23
I want to know more about the riots you mentioned in the book blurb. And about how "musicians are like the infantry -- the first to die, and the last to get paid." Do musicians die in this story?
sonically gorgeous with no real content (watadoo) Tue 16 Apr 02 17:37
oh man, don't tell.
David Menconi (davidmenconi) Tue 16 Apr 02 18:14
>I want to know more about the riots you mentioned in the book lurb. And about how "musicians are like the infantry -- the first to die, and the last to get paid." Do musicians die in this story?> > For the purposes of this discussion, let's just say that the infantry comparison is exaggerated for dramatic purposes. But riots, I can talk about without spoiling anything. The book has a couple of good rock-&-roll riot scenes, since that's a big part of the genre's mythology. The protagonist band is wildly unpredictable and out-of-control, and their shows frequently turn into confrontational performance-art spectacles. Tommy, the main rock-star character, expects a lot out of his audience; if their response is not up to snuff, he's liable to see just how far he can push them. My favorite riot scene comes toward the end, when TAB plays its first big stadium show and Tommy basically goads the audience into tearing the place apart. This is the scene I generally read aloud at readings (with boombox accompaniment -- the Sex Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun," which TAB covers live). I wrote this scene years before Woodstock '99 ended in a massive bonfire/riot; more than one reader has remarked upon the creepy similarities.
Berliner (captward) Wed 17 Apr 02 13:31
Hang on, I just caught that Woodstock reference above. How long *did* it take you to write? Of course, you had to do it around your gig and your wife and kids and so on, but just to deter other first novelists who may be lurking, how long did it take, and what kind of a routine did you establish so that diversions (the aforementioned wife and kids, the gig at the paper) didn't interfere with what's a pretty intense experience?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 17 Apr 02 14:55
And I would add something I got recently re. Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, who's working on a new novel. He talked about being at the stage, in writing his next book, where everything is just a mess, and he doesn't quite know how he's going to pull it together into something coherent. Was your process like that? Or did you have the book pretty much realized in your head before you started writing?
David Menconi (davidmenconi) Wed 17 Apr 02 14:56
>Hang on, I just caught that Woodstock reference above. How long *did* it take you to write?> > A helluva long time. The first draft took almost exactly 3 years (1994-97); and revising/rewriting, agent-hunting and getting the thing out took another 3+ years. When I first started, I had stupidly naive visions of banging out a first draft in 6 months or so. But it's probably just as well that I didn't realize what I was getting into. If I'd had any idea just how long this would take and how much work was involved, I probably never would have done it. I had the initial idea for the book a very long time ago, more than a decade. A couple of false starts followed before I was able to really get going with it. My basic work schedule was 1-3 a.m. every night; that's when 95 percent of the writing took place. I'd go to work at the office every day, tend to household matters in the evening, go out to clubs to keep up with bands, and then come home and write until I passed out. The combination of being simultaneously pumped up from just having seen a live band plus physically exhausted was actually an ideal mindset to have, given the subject matter. Still, it's not something I'd recommend (especially when one has infant children waking you up at the crack of dawn). A lot of people have this romantic notion of just writing when inspiration strikes, working in furious bursts every now and then. Bukowski supposedly wrote "Post Office" in a couple of weeks, so how hard could it be? But in my experience (and that of most of us lesser mortals, I expect), with this kind of writing you have to establish a routine where it's something you do every day. Of course, there were days when I didn't accomplish much and basically just did busywork to keep it on my mind and the process moving forward. It got to where this late-night fiction burp was such a habit that if I went a night or two without it, I'd get very cranky and out-of-sorts; like a cow that needs to be milked. You can't plan for when inspiration hits, but you can set your life up so that you're in a position to make use of it when it does. For me, part of that was also to get better/more efficient at my job so I'd have enough time/energy left over for fiction-writing. One thing about writing a 400-page book, it makes everything else seem like a piece of cake. I can honestly say that my employers and readers did not suffer from this.
David Menconi (davidmenconi) Wed 17 Apr 02 15:10
>Charles Frazier...talked about being at the stage...where everything is just a mess, and he doesn't quite know how he's going to pull it together into something coherent. Was your process like that? Or did you have the book pretty much realized in your head before you started writing?> > Oh, sure, I hit The Wall more than once. I had the arc of the basic storyline down, and I knew where I wanted to end up -- the big climactic showdown scene where everything gets sorted out, I had that pretty early on. But yeah, there were times when it was sheer psychological agony and I felt like I was trying to run a marathon through a swamp. In retrospect, that was actually the fun and creative part of the process. While you're in the midst of doing it, you *think* the initial burst is the fun part. There's nothing easier than starting a book; those initial scenes and chapters just fly by, you think it's going great (and what you don't realize at the time is you will eventually throw out almost all that early stuff, but that doesn't make it any less valuable as part of the process). But then it always happens, you suddenly write yourself into a corner you didn't see coming, and see no way out of. This is the point where most people give up; but if you can stick with/work through the problems that arise, it can be unbelievably rewarding. It really is kinda like playing God, conjuring up this world where you get to make the rules.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 17 Apr 02 16:10
But it sounds like you can also get hogtied by the very rules you've created?
David Menconi (davidmenconi) Wed 17 Apr 02 18:08
>But it sounds like you can also get hogtied by the very rules you've created?> Nah, you just make up new rules. ;> I should amend that -- you don't get to make up *all* the rules, particularly if you're trying to evoke a sense of verisimiltude. But the wonderful thing about fiction is that you get to make shit up; which is very refreshing when you're accustomed to journalism and being bound by, y'know, repeating what actually happens. Where another set of rules come in to play is that, at a certain point, the characters themselves start to have a say in what happens. If you've done your job and they're believable, you become aware of things they would/wouldn't do or say, which has to be respected. If they keep wanting to do/say things that don't work in the context of the storyline, they have to be reconsidered. As an example from "OTR," the character of Michelle Rubin -- bass player in the Tommy Aguilar Band (and, for what it's worth, about the only character in the book I wouldn't mind having lunch with). The first draft, she was kind of a cardboard cutout; yet she wound up having a lot to do with driving the storyline to its resolution, which meant I had to go back and rethink some things about her. She needed to be a bigger presence early on, and the reader needed to know more about her. Ken Morrison, the rock critic, needed a lot of work at this stage, too. After the first draft, I sat down and did first-person character sketches for every major figure in the book; just imagined asking each one a very simple question -- "What time do you get up in the morning?" -- and figuring out how they'd answer, using that as a jump-off point for extended monologues. This wound up being a lot of fun, and gave me pages & pages of stuff. Some of that found its way into subsequent drafts (in Michelle's case, this exercise yielded a bit about her getting kicked out of a former band, and exacting revenge in a very funny way), and some of it I used on the http://www.offtherecordbook.com website. I also did Michelle's "tour diary," which can be found on the site.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 17 Apr 02 21:12
Did you do the tour diary while preparing, or after the book was finished?
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