“We played a show I think in Kansas City with him a long time ago, and the audiences were weirdly friendly with each other. There was a sense of nobody’s making a huge compromise to attend. So that’s something, right? Also, I think that there are musical similarities, but not too many. It’s horrible going to these rock festivals sometimes with the skateboards and the tattoos, and it’s like the same beat for hours and hours and hours. I don’t think that happens at all with a Ben Folds-Cake evening. That’s something I feel strongly about. Whether it’s electronic music or any kind of genre, I just want there to be different beats. My brain sort of shuts down a little bit if it’s duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh the whole time. That’s something a lot of rock bands are guilty of not changing up enough.”
That’s John McCrea of the band Cake in a new interview I did for sactownmag.com. The question was “For the second summer in a row, Cake is touring with singer-songwriter Ben Folds. How did the idea of co-headlining concerts with him come to be?”
“My brain sort of shuts down a little bit if it’s duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh the whole time.” I enjoyed transcribing that bit.
The version online of the Q&A is slightly expanded from the one in the print edition. (Illustration from the article by Jason Malmberg.)
The ad ran during cultural downtime, late in the evening, after the reruns and the news. Time Life was selling one of its many various-artists collections: Classic Love Songs of Rock & Roll, 152 pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s collected on eight CDs. The hosts of the half-hour segment were singers from that period: Bobby Rydell (“Volare”) and Darlene Love (“He’s a Rebel”).
What was of note was how the CDs were being sold, how they were being framed. “You could source the Internet, scour retail stores, or even rummage through your attic and you wouldn’t find all of these songs, but they’re all here,” one sales line went, tempting a testy couch potato to file a class action suit after actually doing a cursory YouTube search. “Why waste your time and money trying to find all these hits yourself? Time Life has done it all for you. Call or order online now,” a similar train of thought went later in the broadcast. The titles of songs, from so long ago, hinted presciently at their present nostalgic future, from the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to Little Caesar and the Romans’ “Those Oldies but Goodies (Remind Me of You).”
The temporal tension in the ad was between what was once fresh and what was now old. “The birth of rock and roll brought us a new sound, new artists,” it went, “and most importantly a new kind of love song.” The message was that the new of today didn’t hold a candle to what was once new: “Easier than downloading, no searching for songs, no trying to remember your favorite artists — take the CDs with you in the car, play them around the house, upload them. Just open the box and enjoy nearly seven hours of the best music.” (The “trying to remember” line seemed either unsavory or spot on, given Time Life’s aging audience.) There was no mention that the CD has as little in common culturally with Motown as does a smartphone streaming service. Perhaps the CD — itself outdated technology, however recently — can also be warmly embraced as an object of nostalgia. Unexpected allegiances are formed in the dustbin of history. Old isn’t necessarily better than new. Old new is better than new new.
This music, we were not so subtly informed, was tied to the physicality of the media on which it first played: “You’ll get all the songs we fell in love to, danced to, heard on the radio, in jukeboxes, and on our own 45s.” This remained the case even if the option to “upload” counted as part of the sales pitch.
Twenty five years ago I stood on the rooftop of the Diva hotel in San Francisco and interviewed Brian Eno while a photographer did his best to take advantage of the light.
We were there to discuss Wrong Way Up, the album Eno had just released with John Cale of the Velvet Underground. I was on assignment for Down Beat magazine, and the article appeared in the January 1991 issue. I’ve just now uploaded it to Disquiet.com, backdating it to the original publication — hence this small note of its (re)appearance.
The record is a lot of fun, but apparently the daggers depicted on the cover were appropriate, as neither Eno nor Cale came away from it with warm feelings. Said Cale, whom I interviewed by phone:
“With Brian, I think what happened is that he would listen to what you said, but he really didn’t have much patience with it. His idea of listening to what you said was eventually, you know, slam the door and come out with a solution. I haven’t figured out yet what Brian’s notion of cooperation, or collaboration, is.”
Read the full piece: “Reconcilable Differences.” If I can track down my tapes of the interviews, I’ll transcribe them and post them, too.
Back in 2002, the first issue of the short-lived magazine The Ukulele Occasional was published, and in it I had a short piece on Les Paul, widely associated with the development of multi-track recording and of the solid-body electric guitar. At the time, I was living in New Orleans, and he was playing weekly at a club in Manhattan, even though he was nearing age 90. I’d interviewed Les Paul once before, and was hankering for a reason to speak with him again when I stumbled on a bit of history I wanted to flesh out. The magazine was founded by Jason Verlinde, an old colleague from my Tower Records Pulse! magazine days, who went on to found The Fretboard Journal.
The two times I interviewed Les Paul, I was hunting for something that likely never existed. I dreamed that in his multi-track experimentation he had recorded things that were closer to noise music than the accomplished, jazz-tinged pop for which he is best known. Maybe such tapes are buried deep in his archives. But no matter. Speaking with him was always a pleasure. He passed away in 2009.
I’ve been slowly adding old material to this site. The post was uploaded to Disquiet.com on June 27, 2015, but backdated to mid-2002 to match the original publication date. Read the full piece in the archives.
A new album, Electric Verdeland, Vol. 1, is due next month from Grassy Knoll, aka Bob Green. I was asked to say a few words about his music, which I’ve been listening to since his early-1990s recordings for Nettwerk, Antilles/Verve, and Emigre. The full text of his press materials reside at his newly updated thegrassyknollmusic.com site.
Here’s what I wrote:
“There’s a difference between someone having the same records as you and liking them for the same reasons. Back when those records by The Grassy Knoll first came out, it was like someone was hitting pause in the middle of some of the greatest moments in electric-era jazz and just reveling in them for the sheer sonic joy of it. So many musicians and listeners got hooked on the ego inherent in jazz fusion, but Bob Green has always been more focused on its meditative, introspective potential. He has little interest in bravado and showiness; he is more drawn to concentrated, mantra-like electronic explorations, sometimes venturing into ambient territory. At other times, he has formulated proto-mashups, combining familiar elements ”“ he called them ”˜adverse ideas’ when I interviewed him ”“ into unexpected, ecstatic congruences.”
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.
• 0472 / Jam Time (1 of 3) / The Assignment: Record the first third of a trio that others will complete.
• 0471 / Phase Transition / The Assignment: The Assignment: Record the sound of ice in a glass and make something with it.
• 0470 / Calendar View / The Assignment: Create a sonic diary of the past year with a dozen (or more) super-brief segments.
• 0469 / [Missing in Caption] / The Assignment: Make music that pushes the constraints of descriptive television captions.
• 0468 / Mirror Rorrim / The Assignment: Create a new persona for yourself, and record a duet together.