Sunday, February 23, 2014

We're all DEVO

1. The Sunset Strip
"Here's to Bob Casale." Michael and I clink our glasses of infused bourbon, a few doors down from The Roxy and what used to be Tower Records. Bob Casale died today. As I read about this at my work computer, I am moved nearly to tears.

I never met Bob. But I did meet Mark. And Gerry. Back when I sold audio gear for a living. Somehow I managed to get a meeting with them at their house studio up in the hills, before they moved to Mutato Muzika. I remember they had a Fairlight in the hall and bits of it in the bathroom. They were super nice. They gave me a copy of Hardcore Devo Vol. 2 and signed it.

Michael and I catch up. We talk about music. We talk about our music-related jobs. When we first met, we were both aspiring musicians, flush with youth and our own mutual darkness. That was...20 years ago. At least. Now our blackness has faded to gray. We've got some divorces between us. But we're still playing and perhaps more confident as musicians than ever.

After dinner I drive east down Sunset, past the giant tennis-ball green building that used to be Mutato Muzika (and was a bank before that!). I want to stop and take a photo to memorialize Bob. But it's a nightclub now, and there's no parking to be had, and no photos to be snapped. That's OK. Dr. Tahuti Bonzai took a much better one than I could anyhow. Funny, I met him around the same time I met Michael. Life moves in circles sometimes.

Bob, Bob, Mark, Gerry at Mutato Muzika. Photo by Tahuti Bonzai.

I got up at 3:45 this morning. I'm in town for about 40 hours. Got a lot to do. Last time I was here, I ended up leaving without my singing voice. Oddly appropriate, I suppose. Things are mostly better now.

2. DKO
I think of my brother's band, Don Knotts Overdrive. Favorably compared in the late 90's to DEVO, one of their many high points was contributing a cover of "Snowball" to the "We are not Devo" compilation.

I think Alexandra Patsavas helped get that project off the ground. She's the hottest music supervisor in the business now.

I bought it, I listened to it. DKO kicked everyone's ass on the disc, just like they did on the Exene-helmed one where they did "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

For a good 5 minutes or so, DKO was the hottest band in Los Angeles. Old story. They got signed, made a record, got sued by the record company, broke up. The end. But before that, they played almost every stage in LA.

I walk and drive past some of them. The Roxy. The Whiskey. The Teaszer (now a dead restaurant). Doug Weston's Troubadour. Lucinda Williams is playing there tonight. I'm sure nobody remembers DKO in this town. Today, though, most bands are at least paying some lip service to DEVO.

3. The 80s
It's the pre-internet age. The time when blurry dubs of VHS tapes and cassettes were how most culture disseminated. Slowly. You'd hear about celebrity deaths first as rumor, before confirmation by Entertainment Weekly or Tonight or Rolling Stone or Spin.

DEVO is mythic. You don't hear them on the radio. Their records are hard to find. A few kids might have one on vinyl. At a party, someone is showing their video. It's riveting, even more so than the girl in the sweater I'm trying to put the moves on. The imagery is primitive, but somehow they manage to convey so much about sex and life that other artists barely get to.

I'm still learning to listen to music, to understand how artists can mean more than one thing at a time, and how they can mean 2 contradictory things at the same time. Devo helps me understand how music can be silly and serious, mean and funny, pop and weird, commercial and a failure. Maybe I learn these lessons too well. Or not well enough.

But whether they sang about sex or politics or whatever specific things they did in Reagan's America, they are hooky and catchy and different and weird. And I love it.

4. "The Future"
DEVO was often lumped in with Kraftwerk as part of some "synth pop future". Both bands had strong visual aesthetics, wore costumes, and made "concept" albums with strong themes.

In the decades that have come along, Kraftwerk's star has only risen, despite them not making new music for years (and that a pale shadow of their classic albums). Kraftwerk plays "serious" art galleries like the Tate, with only 1-2 original members, playing their old repertoire and showing self-consciously primitive videos.

DEVO was considered the joke band. Wacky hats! Look at those funny moves! Comedy!

Yet as I look at the 2 bands now, Kraftwerk increasingly seems like the joke band, as their "vee ahr robotz!" shtick ossifies into self-parody. They haven't made any great music in 30 years, and at this point, we are chronologically as far from Kraftwerk and their innovations as Kraftwerk was from Glenn Miller when they started.

Devo, on the other hand, look more like prophets every day. Their bitter espousal of "devolution" seems all too accurate in a world where a majority of Americans literally reject evolution.

As we rush headlong into the hot, gassy future we've prepared for ourselves, the surviving members of DEVO take no pleasure in being right.

6. Are We Not Men?
When I met Mark and Gerry, I said something to the effect of "nobody really got you guys. The mainstream never understood what you were really saying."

Gerry quickly corrected me. "They got it," he said. "They just didn't like it."

Their loss.

Thank you for the music, Bob.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Music Business Thought of the Day: Look to the Book

Been reading this New Yorker article about Amazon and the discussion around book pricing.

Reminds me a lot of the endless music debates.

Always-wonderful MetaFilter offered me this comment (via user mittens):
"...The insistence on seeing books as a high-margin item is damaging, both to the book business itself, as well as to readers, and literacy generally. Libraries, used bookstores, and thrift shops are full of people who are proving the point that new books are priced too high...and those are just the people who are committed to finding the book at that low price point already, it doesn't include all the readers who could be enticed to buy at a cheap enough point if wide selection and ease of ordering were also guaranteed."
Substitute "music" for books. What's different?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Departures, Returns, Treadmills

End

A year of loops, analemmae, routines. Departures and returns. Treadmills metaphorical and literal.

At times, even the most remarkable things seemed mundane, and the most mundane seemed remarkable.

I was fortunate to spend time with family and friends on my trips around the world. Happy to even take said trips, even as the pace and schedule grew punishing. I have particularly treasured crossing the finish line in mid-December and spending some time at home, doing not much more than cleaning, sitting, reading, playing video games, and updating computer software.

I lost my voice for nearly 5 months. It came back.
I went to the gym. I came back. I went from being the heaviest I'd ever been in my life to being as fit as I was at my mid-20s rock star peak.
I lost 20 pounds. I hope they don't come back.
I went away - SFO, LHR, NRT -  and came back more times than I can count. 
I lost my temper more than I would have liked. It came back, too.

I regret not spending more time on music this year, but something had to give, and once my voice was gone, it was easy to make that call.

I am particularly happy to have spent time with my friends at home - this was a year of building friendships old and new, and spending time with people I enjoy. More of that in 2014, I hope.

Middle

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” 
- John Cage

Every repetition brings with it the possibility of new discovery, and with each repetition, subtleties become more and more important.

I learned a lot about myself this year. I am growing older, for better or worse. More gray hair. Slowing down. Some things become more difficult. Some become impossible. And that's OK. A very few things get easier.

Just because you've seen the clouds at 30,000 feet a few times doesn't make them any less beautiful. Sometimes they are transcendental, even when everything hurts and you're tired.

Every run, every mile feels different, even when it's a route you know well. You return to where you started, changed by the journey. The Anu who walked off all those planes was always different from the Anu who walked onto them.


Beginning

The computer on my wrist gently pulses, waking me up. It is dark. Wherever I am, it is probably between 5 and 6 AM. I was sort of awake anyway, and still tired.

I get up and fumble into my workout gear. Within a few minutes, I am on a treadmill. Wristband, headband, Jawbone Up, Polar heart rate monitor. A scrap of paper with scribbled numbers.

Beep beep beep. Whamp whamp whamp. Sweating and breathing.

I am at the airport, in the short line. I look up at the vast ceilings, the glass walls. I have time to marvel at all of it.

I am in the lounge, typing on a computer. Listening to music.

I am in a business class seat, feeling the rumble of the engines. 10 hours remaining. I am so tired, but I have so much to do.

I am in a hotel room, somewhere. There is a tray of demolished room service food. Sweaty gym clothing hangs in the bathroom. Showered, I sit in a chair and type on the computer. I look over at the bed, and count the hours until I can sleep again.



Numbers

195,000 air miles flown
89 days on the road away from home (11 weekend days!)
17 business trips

950 miles run, about 20 per week
20 pounds lost from February to November
10 minute mile averages
5 pounds maximum differential before and after 10 mile run