I was standing in my kitchen when I heard about Tom Petty’s death. The message came from a friend who had worked at WBCN in Boston. WBCN — that’s where, at age 12, I heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ first single, “Breakdown.” Tell me this isn’t true. That was the message from my friend. I’m not sure how the constellations of thought come together, but they form quickly. Just that fast, I knew Tom Petty had died. And then the street outside my window looked different.I’d thought about what this day might be like. Petty had been in the room with me (and so many of us) for more than 40 years. I could chart my life in relation to his releases. Early on, around the time of the first albums, I had the feeling that Petty was giving me better direction than the adults who came and went, mostly went, in my life. Even the losers. That alone helped.
Over the years I’ve had a few email conversations with famous people. I once traded emails with legendary White House Reporter Helen Thomas. I got a reply from an email I sent entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in 2005. An email from futurist and biographer Walter Isaacson helped me bust the Einstein Bees story. Oh, and though it’s not email comedian Norm MacDonald briefly followed me on Twitter.
Recently I got on a kick for Howard Jones’s music. Jones was an 80s synthpop god and his music still holds up very well. As does he, since he’s still touring and appears to be happy and healthy. I found Jones’s website and saw that his email address was listed there, with a promise that all emails would be acknowledged:
I know you’re busy but wanted to reach out and thank you for all the
music. Your “Things Can Only Get Better” has been on my mind recently.
We so need its optimism right now.
Sorry I missed your latest US tour but I want to catch you the next time
you come near North Carolina.
Best to you and yours.
Raleigh, NC, USA
I got back this reply two days later:
Very best wishes
While it was a short response, it’s pretty cool that he took a minute to respond to me. Continue reading →
Jimmy Buffett awoke one morning last year in one of his many homes — he can’t remember which one, there are a lot of them — and a panic gripped him in his throat. His new Broadway musical, “Escape to Margaritaville,” was coming along nicely, but something was off.
It wasn’t the music — they’d been careful to include a finely titrated playlist of crowd pleasers. It wasn’t the book — the TV writers Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) and Mike O’Malley (“Shameless”) managed to strike a balance of goofy, accessible romantic comedy and some deep cuts for the Parrotheads, as his fans are called. It wasn’t the casting, either; Paul Alexander Nolan is a compelling early-Buffett avatar as Tully Mars, a dreamy bar singer at a rundown Caribbean hotel called Margaritaville. And he was happy with the direction of Christopher Ashley, off a best direction Tony for “Come From Away.”So what could it be? The writers were refining the characters and their motivations and he felt pretty good about that. The producers were taking great care with the show experience as well; they had decided to deluge the audience with beach balls at the end, which Mr. Buffett thought would be fun and memorable.
But it wasn’t that, either. He searched his mind and his heart and still, nothing. In the shadow of the early morning light across his bedroom in either Palm Beach or St. Barts or Sag Harbor or Los Angeles or Waikiki or New York, Mr. Buffett realized he needed to find the answer.
This isn’t a new story but it’s one that I found very enlightening on the topic of digital audio formats.
Pono Music’s roaring success on Kickstarter, raising $4.3 million so far, shows that thousands of people believe better audio quality is worth paying for.
The company — backed by star musician Neil Young and selling a $400 digital audio player along with accompanying music — promises people will hear a difference between Pono Music and ordinary music that’s “surprising and dramatic.” The company’s promise is based in part on music files that can contain more data than not only conventional MP3 files, but also compact discs.
There’s no doubt that highly compressed music files, played over tinny laptop speakers or cheap earbuds, leave a lot of room for improvement. But outdoing CD quality? That’s a harder sell.
“Get Free” was the product of three writers and three producers, not to mention a little village of people who work for the record company and the publishers. Probably around a thousand people heard “Get Free” before it was released (that’s not an exaggeration), and virtually all of ‘em knew the thing sounded exactly like “Creep” (these people are sniveling, arrogant, and cowardly, but not stupid). Yet not one of these check-cashing chimps who spend more on sushi in a single day then you make in a week raised a single wasabi-stained finger and said, “So, listen, Lana, how should I put this…well…I have heard that exact melody before.”
(Lana and her sushi-flinging shaven apes could have at least chosen to rip off a song that everyone didn’t know. I mean, people do that all the time. Heck, give a listen to “Airplane Song,” a fairly obscure ditty from 1967 by The Royal Guardsman. Really, listen to it. The Beatles did, and lifted it lock, stock, and barrel for “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” The Fabs knew the first rule of plagiarism: When you steal, steal from someone who is less famous than you.)
For Halloween this year my costume was of my alter-ego: Slash, the Guns N’ Roses guitarist who has a very distinctive look. I ordered the various pieces about a month ago, including temporary tattoos, and was ready to go on Halloween morning, confident that mine would be one of the top costumes at my office.
Only no one else wore costumes. No one! Halloween fell on a Tuesday this year, a day when many of my officemates work from home. It was kinda sad that the office missed a chance to do a proper Halloween day but in all fairness we had had a chili contest the day before, so that was something.
It wasn’t all for naught for me, though. I brought my electric guitar into the office as part of my costume (though it is a cheap Epiphone and not Slash’s preferred Les Paul). Though my guitar isn’t the best, once I got it somewhat tuned up I reminded myself how much fun it is to just pick up a guitar and noodle around with it during the workday. Several times a day yesterday I would grab my guitar and practice bar chords and other stuff, walking over to a nearby conference room to avoid disturbing my officemates.
Tl;dr I won the costume contest by default and I also reignited my love for playing guitar. Not a bad day.
More Tom Petty from his biographer, musician Warren Zanes.
In 1979, I was an undersized FM-generation high-school junior with a voice that wouldn’t change, a stressed single mom, and a bedroom in a rented gray two-family house in which I had to play my stereo low so I wouldn’t disturb all the people living close around me. And then my daily affront at this complete lack of agency found validation when some skinny blond dude calling his album “Damn the Torpedoes” uplifted my evenings with a simple phrase about being cut down to size on a regular basis: “Don’t do me like that.” He wasn’t celebrating humiliation—he understood the condition, which is, foremost, the inability to make the humiliation stop. There was nothing to do except to say to hell with annoying Mom and the neighbors and, in my alarmingly pitched treble that sounded like a radio veering between frequencies, to sing out that ambrosial phrase right along with Petty: “Don’t do me like that.”
During my three years on the USS Elliot (DD-967) I listened to a lot of music. When we were in-port San Diego I was getting introduced to alternative music through 91X. At sea, the collective CD collection of my shipmates was the soundtrack. I heard many artists I wouldn’t otherwise have heard. Nirvana, De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane. Some I hated. Others I hated but later learned to love. And then there was Tom Petty.
Of course, you couldn’t grow up as a radio listener in the South without knowing Tom Petty so I’d been a fan from way back. Full Moon Fever came out just before I went on deployment, though and it earned a special place in my preferred music rotation. I don’t even remember which one of my shipmates owned it, but we played the hell out of that CD. And I never got tired of it.
Thanks for the music, Tom. You were one hell of a rocker and a great guy.
This is not the way things were supposed to happen.
When I sat down with Petty in the outer room of the cozy but fully equipped recording studio at his home above Malibu beach, the idea was for him to reflect on the wildly successful 40th anniversary tour he and the Heartbreakers had wrapped less than 48 hours earlier at the end of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl.
It was a triumphant stand particularly rewarding to Petty, a Florida transplant who considered himself and his band mates California adoptees. He said as much from the stage each night, noting how the Heartbreakers, although composed entirely of musicians born or raised in and around Gainesville, Fla., had been born at the Village Studios in West Los Angeles.
Can I tell you how much I love MusicBrainz? I have been dabbling on online radio for a few years now and the challenge is always finding interesting content. One of the most cost-effective ways to find varied content is in compilation albums or soundtracks. One-hit wonders that were one staples of radio make good radio content but buying a one-hit wonder’s shitty album just to get their only hit isn’t cost-effective. With MusicBrainz, I can look up a one-hit wonder and find out exactly what compilation albums or soundtracks it’s a part of. I can buy that compilation and not only get the song I want but most likely other good one-hit wonders along with it. Awesome!
Another good use of MusicBrainz is finding just the right mix of a song. Often, record companies will release a remixed or edited song as a single, either designed to fit on a 45 or to be more radio-friendly. For example Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride has a great break that goes on and on in the album version but is often cut short in versions played on the radio (2:55 vs. the original 4:27). This drives me nuts! MusicBrainz knows which versions are which, though! I can find the entire catalog of Steppenwolf, find their The Second album, click on Magic Carpet Ride, and see all the versions of the song that have been released. Goodbye, hacked-up, radio-edit song versions!
MusicBrainz would’ve come in handy with a recent purchase I made at the (now defunct) Ed McKay store earlier this year. I picked up what I thought was a compilation album of early 70’s hits. I expected these to be the original master recordings of the songs but that’s not what I got! The entire album was re-recordings of the hits, none of them sounding the same as the ones I know and love. I was disappointed I hadn’t noticed the small print on the CD cover, and that I hadn’t gone to MusicBrainz first!