Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Boots n' Blogs: A lengthy discussion with tangents.

Blogging's a fascinating practice that I've had quite a love-hate relationship with since its inception; on one hand, I love how easy it is to find instant information on a small band (or, with help from the Hype Machine, a specific song that would otherwise be too obscure to track on short notice). On the other hand, I spent years dreaming of growing up to be a rock journalist – I'd always imagined that I'd have to take a shitty internship at a print magazine, earning my way in as a copy editor and, after several years, working up to writing 2000-word features. I'd never imagined the creation of blogs, which allow anyone to break a band or review an album far more instantly than a print publication can. And catering to a desire for “now” takes the romantic quality out of anticipating the next month's articles or seeing a band's name in print for the first time. Not only have I given into blogging for fear that print mags will shortly be a pipe dream (much like the old idea to work for now-defunct British mag The Face), but I've also gotten suckered into this upload/download business despite a love of records because, frankly, I also hanker for instant gratification on occasion. MP3s are the new blowjobs.

But I am a bitter old man in a 22-year old woman's body, and the world doesn't need another old man bitching about progress. So, on a note related to the Veruca Salt-ian concept of “I want it now” that ironically appeals to the romance and excitement of sharing music with other human beings, I'd like to offer a few bits on bootlegs, one of the world's most magical inventions.

In college I was friends with a Token Dave Matthews Band Fan. He owned a book full of DMB bootlegs, and used to follow the band across the country when they toured. The kid owned over 100 of these bootlegs, and upon looking at his collection I asked if any of them had a certain song (which I will not name, as this was obviously only me making conversation with a Dave Matthews fan and not a demonstration of my fanship). Said friend offered a “psh!” and then asked, “Which version? I've got at least fifty versions in there,” or something to that ilk. This moment made me realize two things:

1. If there were other fans like my friend out there, building collections of bootlegs to this extent (no doubts there), then god only knows how many people typically hide recording equipment while sitting among unsuspecting audience members.

2. My friend was perfectly reasonable to track fifty or so versions of a song, because every live show is different and no two performances of a song should sound identical. Which is really quite amazing, when you consider how many variables really can affect a single song whose identity is supposedly captured as it is meant in a studio recording (see 4'33”).

I've purchased a number of bootlegs in the last few years – from stores, interestingly enough, one of which would make bootlegs appear slightly more legal by placing “Import” stickers next to the price tags, frequently bearing prices far more expensive than studio albums on the same shelves. Of course this is legit – people in Luxembourg simply don't have enough money not to use photocopied artwork. Even more hilarious to me was the “import” CD I found of a 1977 Adverts concert at (presumably England's) the Roxy. I think that import is actually a copied bootleg of a genuine import from the UK. Nonetheless, I forgive that store because it supplemented my collection of studio albums with pieces of history in which I never got to take part, and gave me a chance to hear shows dating back to the 1960s, tracing all the way to Kilburn, England. Recording quality is obviously nowhere near studio quality, ever, but these are valuable for the banter between songs and those variations that take place purely because a musician got bored and decided to mix it up. Some of my favorites are below.

*The Clash – U.S. Festival, May 29, 1983

The Clash - Rock the Casbah (live 1983)
The Clash - Safe European Home (live 1983)

Admittedly, “Rock the Casbah” is probably my least favorite Clash song next to “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” and “Clampdown.” But I love Joe Strummer's banter about America's lack of respect for the working class, declaring that things would improve if only “everybody out there ever grows up, for fuck's sake,” and I love that his angry energy carries over into the song. Even without piano, I don't care much for the live arrangement of this song, but it's a perfect answer to the question of how bands vary up their standards at shows to avoid playing the same old. Also, prior to “Safe European Home,” Strummer conveniently responds to the aforementioned angst, albeit with sarcasm and additional criticism, rather than apologies. Good ol' Joe.

*The Adverts – The Roxy 1977

The Adverts - Bored Teenagers (live 1977)
The Adverts - One Chord (live 1977)

I've been somewhat obsessed with this band as of the last few months, I think after my most recent re-read of “Peter Shelley” in Speaking with the Angel, which mentions the final scream of “Bored Teenagers” and in turn makes the song sound more exciting with each read of the story. What I love about the Adverts is how economical they were – their songs were brief and every moment felt like a thrilling climax. Unlike a lot of punk, their songs were actually discernible from one another, and there was always a build-up that gave each track a somewhat dark quality before it abruptly ended. What I really love about the Adverts is that they don't sound dated, even thirty years after this Roxy show. No talk here, other than the quick announcement of each song title.

*Bob Dylan – Newport Folk Festival, 1964 and 1965

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez - It Ain't Me, Babe (live 1964)
Bob Dylan - Phantom Engineer (live 1965)

I've never been a die-hard Bob Dylan fan, but the 1986 Billy Bragg bootleg wouldn't play on my computer, and Bob Dylan's busking style is the next best thing. He mumbled less in the '60s, anyway. Here's him doing a duet with Joan Baez at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival (though I could swear Dylan's guitar is slightly out of tune), and here's one of him plugged in at the same festival one year later.


Eric said...

Are you joking? Clampdown as one of your least favorite Clash songs? I can see "Ivan Meets GI Joe," as its rubbish, but Clampdown?

China said...

Well, to the band's credit, I've got tons of favorite Clash songs, and they're one of my very favorite bands, so calling it a least favorite doesn't mean much in the scope of things. But they've got so many songs with bite that "Clampdown" can't do it for me on lyrics alone.

(Also, I think hearing the Indigo Girls' version a few years ago really ruined it for me...)