Happy Birthday Uncle Bruce!

Bruce Springsteen is my uncle. Well, not real direct uncle like a sibling of one of my parents. Just a cousin that we all call “Uncle.” Or maybe my mom just used to joke about inviting “Uncle Bruce” to my birthday parties because she knew I had a possibly unhealthy obsession with Bruce Springsteen.

Being a Bruce fan is an odd place sometimes. A lot of my closest friends and band mates weren’t/aren’t Bruce fans. (I’m sure most of them, especially my cohorts here at Bums Logic, are rolling their eyes realizing it was only a matter of time before Todd used this space to idolize his Boss once again.) As popular and worldwide famous and critically acclaimed as Springsteen might be, there’s a certain uncoolness about being a Bruce fanatic. And I guess that fits the narrative of Young Bruce feeling alienated and alone and discovering through Elvis and the Beatles that rock’n’roll could not only save you, but it was your only hope.

I was turned on to Bruce Springsteen and his mighty E Street Band in the early 80’s by my sister’s college boyfriend. He had vinyl bootlegs of the legendary Winterland show as well as the one from the Agora in Cleveland, both from the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour in 1978. I taped them from his albums to my hand-labeled cassettes and was on my way.

Soon after, Born in the U.S.A. was released and “my guy” was suddenly the biggest rock star on the planet. I saw him at the Capitol Centre in Largo, MD, the month I turned 14. Perhaps that vulnerable age mixed with the power of those legendary live shows and I was doomed (blessed?) to be cemented for life as a Bruce Fan, I don’t know. But I still feel like that night I found out that there really was a circus to run away with. I’d be reminded again, by everyone from the Grateful Dead to The Roots and by Springsteen 11 more times over the years.

So Uncle Bruce turns 62 today. Which makes it seem like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Stones must be in their 80s. Love him, hate him, or respect him with indifference, but may everyone be lucky enough to still have his energy when they reach that age. Or at least be saved by rock’n’roll.

Process? We Talkin’ ‘Bout Process?

Over the last several years, as technology moves at hyperwarped speeds that we haven’t yet invented fancy enough new words to describe, there’s been a backlash of purists and throwbacks who prefer things how they used to be. That could be true of film, art, sports, journalism, lots of things. But it’s particularly interesting in how it pertains to music.

This is not what's inside a laptop.

I’m mostly talking about process. It’s not just the access, the fact that anyone can record their own “album” in their basement with a laptop (and seems like everyone has), but also how the technology at the high end affects the professional artists we know and love and the ones we’ll actually discover tomorrow. Somehow the process has become a bigger part of the back story for a particular album or group. “They uploaded their demos, went viral, and now they’re selling millions!” It’s the updated take on discovering the Next Dylan on a barstool at an open mic somewhere.

Nowadays, musicians are reclaiming some sort of authenticity in what seems a reaction to this technological explosion. One of the poster boys for this movement has been Jack White, using vintage gear, cherishing vinyl and launching a real full-service label, not to mention that scene where he strings together a homemade guitar in a cow field in the film It Might Get Loud (contrasted by tech wiz The Edge and all his pedals and effects). But these analog guys who take a similar approach to Jack White’s (with less memorable results) are too numerous to list. The point is, we tend to gravitate toward authenticity, and it’s also natural to yearn for “the old days” (again, no matter the genre or medium).

It’s also easy to tear down and rip on anything that could be painted as “synthetic” or simply created (faked?) through the use of computers. It stinks of money and, possibly, inauthenticity! But really, I don’t care how many laptops and how much fancy software you have, you can’t fake not having songs that suck. The songs don’t lie. Sure, they can trick you and maybe you might think they’re better looking in a certain light late at night, but the next morning always comes. The same holds true for Mr. Vintage Authentic who only records to tape and refuses modern technology. That’s fine, but he too still needs good songs.

So assuming we’re only talking about our own personal vision of “good songs” and quality artists, we’re back to process. Does it matter to you when you hear someone “recorded his new album on a 4-track in a remote cabin in the woods” vs. “layed down tracks in various professional studios in L.A. and NYC”? The end result is all that should really matter, but subconsciously I think we all assign certain imagery and associations with the process. “Oh I heard he got sober and found god and had his yoga instructor in the studio with him” or “They locked themselves in the basement and rocked out live and recorded it all in one or two takes.”

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An Open Letter To Mr. Classic Rock Radio Programmer Guy

This logo is as unimaginative as the playlist.

Since your station announces that it’s family owned and locally operated (with the tag line bragging “Programmed IN Baltimore, FOR Baltimore”), I figured you’re not some computer-generated playlist mandated from a corporate office and you’d enjoy some feedback.

It seems you have a borderline-obsessive fascination with The Eagles, Steve Miller Band, and Bob Seger. It’s not healthy, and it’s starting to hurt my ears. They’re not the absolute worst bands in the world, and I realize that as a Classic Rock Radio station you should offer them on your menu. But playing them each twice an hour is a bit much. I don’t care what your records and logs might say, I swear every time I get in my car, the next song is the goddamn Eagles. Hey, I like a bunch of Seger’s tunes, but jeez, do people really want to hear him that often? Can you please start giving some of his carries to John Mellencamp and Tom Petty instead? And most of Steve Miller Band’s stuff is just way overplayed considering it was never really that great.

Also, I wanted to let you know that both the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin have more than 5 songs each. Seriously. You should really check out their whole catalog, you’re gonna love it. Again, I realize that the Stones and Zeppelin are your bread and butter (and rightfully so) but can we go a bit deeper than Stairway and Satisfaction? I know you already murdered Led Zeppelin years ago, but it’s not too late to breathe some life back into them.

I do need to thank you for reminding me how good some of those songs by Heart in the 70s were. And I forgot how bad their mid-80s stuff was, so please stop playing “What About Love,”  “Never,” and “These Dreams,” and stick to the “Baracuda” and the one about the guy with the magic hands. Oh, and I really appreciate you letting me know that Journey and Lynyrd Skynyrd had a baby named .38 Special. Congrats. Continue reading →

The Top 10 Best Live Albums

These Top 10 Lists are impossible. I don’t know why we subject ourselves to doing them, but we do. And picking the Top 10 Best Live Albums is a particularly tough one, as easy as it might seem on the surface.

It’s hard enough just to get the performance/recording of actual live albums right, let alone properly assessing them in some form of a list. There’s always that impossible tightrope walk between the best performances and the hit songs; between the idea of releasing one complete show and mixing together the best sounding tracks from different nights. Depending on the band, and the expectations of their listeners, there are a myriad of stumbling blocks and inevitable drawbacks to the pursuit of a good live album.

How did this guy not make the list?

It’s an oxymoron within itself, the live album. Truly LIVE music isn’t really live when you listen back to it later. At its worst, it’s simply the songs you know but with canned crowd noise. But at its best, it can actually convey the energy and joy of the original performance (just as a “studio album” can capture a great take, that was technically played “live,” even if just in front of 3 engineers and not 3,000 screaming fans).

The difficult thing in identifying what I would deem the Top 10 Best Live Albums, for me, is the fact that it could be argued that the bands I most admire as live acts haven’t really made a truly great live album. Prince, The Roots, Radiohead, The Who, Black Crowes, and Led Zeppelin have all made attempts, but for some reason they haven’t quite nailed it yet on an official live release. (Maybe The Who and Zeppelin have come close, but for some reason they lack a flawless go-to set). U2, while they’ll make the honorable mentions list with Under a Blood Red Sky, I still feel like they are missing a career-spanning (but not too monstrous) live set. Continue reading →

When Did Selling Out Jump the Shark?

It used to “matter” that certain musicians/artists wouldn’t sell out. It was a line in the sand where you knew some whack-ass pop star would sell his song/image to the highest bidder, but Neil Young would always say no to Budweiser and Bruce Springsteen said no to Chevy (and we all got the Bob Seger “Like a Rock” commercials).

So... this happened.

But one day, it just didn’t matter any more. Getting your song on a Lexus or iPod commercial was just good business, and really not that different from being in heavy rotation on the radio back when that was the only way people heard new music.

So….. what happened and when? Was it when that guy yelled “Judas!” at Bob Dylan back in 1966? Was it when Bob did the Victoria’s Secret Commercial? Was it U2’s ZooTV Tour in 1992? Was it 9/11?

Do you still care if/when someone sells out? Is it even possible to sell out anymore? When did selling out jump the shark?

Mike Eddy: This is a great topic – we all could go on and on about it. I say that because being a “sell out” means something to our generation. Not selling out validates the artist to us and somehow makes them seem more true to us. But if we polled a bunch of early 20-somethings, would they even know what a sellout is? Do they care? Probably not, due to the overwhelming amount of current music and artists selling/promoting different products. Infomercials, logo’d clothing, etc… promotion and endorsement is everywhere. It’s what they’ve grown up with and it’s very different from when we were that age. We are all like-minded in looking at bands that we enjoy and hoping that their 4th or 5th album is that much better than the first. The entire industry is now based on individual songs and no real expectation that the “artist” will still be around in 2 years: “take it while you can and as much as you can” seems to be more of the flavor in the minds of musicians today.

Not saying that I’d like “my favorite band” to be on the new Ford commercial, but at the end of the day it plays no part in how good their music is. We have the notion in our heads that selling out is lessening the quality when it is only our perception of what WE want them to be. Continue reading →

The Curious Case of Thomas Earl Petty

He’s made at least one quality album in five different decades. He’s a rock star despite his turned-the-corner-and-got-smacked-with-a-frying-pan looks. He’s had his house burned down by arsonists and toured with Bob Dylan. He’s played Live Aid, Bonnaroo, and the Super Bowl. He’s fought with record companies and been the subject of a 4-hr documentary. When he was 10, he met Elvis. He’s on the shortlist of Greatest Video Hitmakers of the 80s, but he’s also a Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer who really does seem like he’d be cool to have a beer with.

He’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a guitar strap. He’s Tom Petty.

Seriously, does anyone hate this guy? Sure, some might not love all his music. Some might be a bit turned off by his Dylanesque whine, or maybe they find “Free Fallin’” a bit annoying and overplayed. But does anyone hate Tom Petty? I don’t think so.

Without recounting his entire career, the broad strokes of it are a case study in… in… I’m not sure what. Petty and his career are just so unique for someone who comes off so ordinary. The first sentence of his bio on allmusic.com mentions that he was “shoehorned into the punk/new wave movement” of the late 1970s, but would anyone confuse Petty with the Sex Pistols or Talking Heads? He often shares sentences (and fans) with Bruce Springsteen, but even this Springsteen fanatic must admit that it’s Petty who exudes the regular-guy cool that Bruce has (ironically) tried so hard to personify.

His turn as the Mad Hatter in the infamous video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is one of the indelible images of MTV’s heyday, inexplicably tying him to the likes of Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the more-usual suspects who brought some artistry to the commercial art of video making.

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Top 10 Best 3-Consecutive Album Runs

I think the title is clear enough: these are the 10 best 3-consecutive album runs. The only general guidelines were: no live albums, no ep’s, no greatest hits/collections, and of course they had to be 3 in a row by the same artist. here’s the list, in no particular order:

1. Bob Dylan
Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. If you don’t automatically nod your head in knowing concurrence with the greatness of these three releases, stop wasting time on the computer and go buy these CD’s. And to think that 40 years later he posted Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times. A solid run that late in a career, but not great enough to make this list.

2. Rolling Stones
Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street. Steven Van Zandt (Silvio Dante, E Street guitarist, and underground garage rock DJ extraordinaire) once said, “Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street make up the greatest run of albums in history—all done in three and a half years.” Sorry Little Steven, we only have room for three on this list.

3. The Beatles
Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Or: Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, and the white album. Or: Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver… or… you get the idea.

4. Jimi Hendrix
Are You Experienced?, Axis Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland. Wow. Three amazing albums that each stand on their own as bonafide “desert island classics” on their own. Not bad considering this was almost his whole studio output during his lifetime. Incredible considering this was done within about two years.

5. Neil Young
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, and Harvest. Once again, with an artist this good you could pick a different three. I picked these.

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