Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream came out 20 years ago today – July 27, 1993. I can’t think of an album more formative for me growing up than this one. Siamese Dream is one of the first CDs I ever owned and the singular reason why I picked up a guitar and why I’m the proud owner of a Big Muff pedal (I’m not alone), so I’d be remiss to not recognize a sort of nostalgia toward this record that people older or younger than me perhaps don’t share. And that’s fine. More to the point though – critics have always had difficulty categorizing an album as expansive and dynamic as Siamese Dream, which adds a certain enigmatic flavor (in tandem with all the in-studio rumors at the time as well). It’s also annoying, as more pedestrian music criticism tends to lump this album in with the grunge movement solely because of it’s popularity and time period. But if you strip away the pretense, it’s an album that informed the tastes of many people my age. To wit, Siamese Dream was my gateway to shoegaze, psychedelia, and ’60s-’70s proto-metal.
Siamese Dream offered a formative listening experience within a crucial timeframe for both Gen X and Gen Y, informing and steering musical tastes toward envelope-pushing acts like My Bloody Valentine and Hawkwind – much like how Nirvana contributed to raising general awareness about acts like Flipper and The Vaselines. Not to mention, it’s a great fucking record. Sure, Billy Corgan is a total fucking pud who straddles the line between advanced and embarrassing (Resistance Pro lol), but Siamese Dream is still a masterwork two decades later.
Recently, the 33 1/3 book series (you can read my interview with the author of Spiderland here) announced their latest round of the beloved music analysis series – a total of 14 new books. They chose from a pool of about 500. I was one of them, and my proposal for Siamese Dream was rejected. I wasn’t surprised – the competition was fierce and the vying writers formidable. As such, I can share with you the first chapter (required for submission) to celebrate 20 years of silky guitars and denser than lead celestial rock. Maybe one day this album will get the book treatment, and it’s hard to say if that’ll be me or someone else. Certainly hope it happens regardless.
On April 8, 1994, Smashing Pumpkins found themselves on the cusp of becoming the biggest band in America, through both calculation and circumstance.
On this evening, the band’s rigorous touring repertoire found them playing both larger music venues and amphitheaters, but in less than three months time, Smashing Pumpkins would command stadium-sized crowds and watching the perennially crowd-pleasing Beastie Boys open for them. Hastily, the band became the headliner of Lollapalooza 1994.
The opportunity for the Pumpkins to carry the weight of alternative nation’s most significant beacon would originate on this very night, as Corgan and Iha’s fuzz-soaked dream anthems permeated every space in the salty, balmy air of Biloxi’s Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered by an electrician visiting his lakefront Seattle home just twelve hours earlier. The Internet has obviously memorialized this show in full. In retrospect, the footage reveals a wealth of information about the tensions and dynamics of the early ’90s rock and roll paradigm.
In the time when “alternative” was not yet a faux pas and for the first time in decades great bands felt a palpable sense that artistic credibility and personal success could co-exist. A real community raised within the church of punk rock and fringe art held the loudest voice in pop culture history yet.
But much like their storied history in their native Chicago, Smashing Pumpkins more often than not found themselves excluded from this conversation – and bandleader Billy Corgan was never shy about nailing this talking point into the ground. By most accounts, the Pumpkins were sort of Nirvana’s foil. While Cobain’s songwriting emphasized abrasive punk ethos and subversion, the Pumpkins felt delicate, sonically nuanced, and disinterested in dive bar aspirations. The Pumpkins embraced many of the stadium-ready classic rock aesthetics that alternative rock vehemently eschewed – guitar solos, soaring melodies, complex guitar licks, and of course, the elaborate, psychedelically-influenced live production flashing in full force this evening in Biloxi.
At no point during their performance did Corgan make mention of the events that day, and we can certainly speculate the reasoning behind that. Undoubtedly, the tensions between Corgan and Cobain that resemble a sort of nemesis-style relationship stemmed from their parallel lives – born within weeks of each other and came of age in a disruptive home environments, both released breakthrough albums in 1991 while sharing producer Butch Vig and one Courtney Love (jokes forthcoming), and both were ascribed the daunting “voice of a generation” tag. Musically though, they couldn’t have been different, and the Nirvana vs. Smashing Pumpkins dichotomy echoed loudly in throughout the press. Their respect for each other was probably inversely proportionate to their dislike of each other, so perhaps Corgan felt it was inappropriate to remark on Cobain’s passing.
Or maybe he couldn’t find the words. Billy would later write on his Confessions LiveJournal blog in 2005:
“I sit on the edge of the bed and just stare at the screen…I cannot believe my eyes, it is just all so sad…I don’t pray, but I do now…I pull myself down to the floor, my back pressed up against the bed, the t.v. screen just a foot away from my eyes…I say a prayer for his soul, thanking him for all the good he has done…I pray a lot for his child, who is now without a father…and I start to cry and I don’t stop until there are no more tears to cry…”
The vast majority of Corgan’s banter this evening fell inside the band’s usual live breakdown during “I Am One,” wherein the band would ride on a quiet, low-rumbling groove while Billy angstily free-associates (“for 27 years I have lived with pain in my heart / gimme gimme gimme nothin’!”). This evening, Billy talks a little about relative depravation, waxing on the budding casino developments along the Gulf Coast juxtaposed against the area’s traditional poverty. At one point, an audience member yells something at bassist D’arcy Wretzky, to which Corgan lashes out “Darcy doesn’t want you, dumb fuck!” There’s a visceral anger; that day encapsulated a range of emotions for fans and musicians alike. Was Corgan angry that Kurt took his life? Was he angry at how the Cult of Cobain and alternative nation had treated his band, undeserved or not, and Kurt’s passing sparked this wave of complex resentment? Or was this all part of Corgan’s rock god stage persona that he embraced unironically since the band’s inception in 1988?
Regardless of whatever specific emotions and turmoil suffocated the room that evening, Corgan lost an important inspiration and rival that fueled the trajectory of the Pumpkins’ during their most creative and formative period.
The band opened with “Soma,” the mid-point of their 1993 sophomore album Siamese Dream. Its dreamy, aerodynamic verse and rollocking, bombastic chorus is sweeping, emotional, cathartic. They rarely opened with this sort of song, usually opting for fist-pumping fan favorites like “Siva.” This probably served as the best tribute to Cobain the band could offer as the movement’s most prolific outsiders. In that sense, it still feels appropriate today.
Released on July 27, 1993, Siamese Dream fell onto shelves with a thunderous roar, complemented by MTV and radio’s overzealous search for the next big alternative masterpiece in the shadow of the aforementioned, the album’s notoriously tumultuous recording sessions, and the most singsongy suicide anthem since the M*A*S*H theme – “Today.” Siamese Dream would become the album that made Smashing Pumpkins competitive with the biggest names in alternative rock and secure both Rolling Stone and SPIN covers in December 1994 for Artist of the Year. It was the work that would throw the quartet into the ring for Lollapalooza, and due to the events eight months after its release, would see them headline the festival.
Siamese Dream comes replete with some of the most intense sonic dynamic song-structures ever laid to tape. Soft, galactic ballads brush against brutal, tectonic, metal-informed scorched earth guitar pyrotechnics. Ornate psychedelia, mellotrons, and orchestral strings all find a niche, often within the same song, while multi-tracked, Big Muff-saturated, wholly impenetrable guitars provide the teeth to an often gentle body of songs. Dissonant, avant garde noise is explored, as well as radio-ready catchy hooks.
Siamese Dream‘s sweeping 13 songs, 62 minutes is not only one of the most adventurous musical explorations contained within a single album, the production work concocted between Corgan and Butch Vig yielded some of the most aurally unique sounds and nuances of the past few decades. Most headphone-doning music obsessives can identify the Siamese Dream sound within a single guitar chord – that satin, sustain heavy, fully engrossing tone that, in the case of the “Soma,” took 40 overdubs. And any discussion regarding this album would be remiss to not mention that Siamese Dream launches with the most unequivocally badass album opener of all time “Cherub Rock” – drum roll, enter clean guitar, a fluid bass line that squelches the quiet before the storm, then an explosive assault of multi-dimensional fuzz blitzkriegs.
Yet despite the inventiveness and versatility of the record – a body of songs that paid homage to everything from prog rock to dream pop to proto-metal – Siamese Dream did not enjoy the same level of reverence of comparably talented and aesthetically amalgamating acts like The Pixies or Dinosaur Jr., despite the fact they were often drawing from the same well.
Of course, Corgan’s personality may have contributed to some extent. Many important artists have certainly been known to exude shades of stand-offishness, condescending attitudes, sociopathic tendencies, and an air of general orneriness, but Billy really rubbed folks the wrong way – to say the least. There’s the story of Corgan’s run in with Soundgarden’s Kim Thayill in the summer of 1993, after the type of uncomfortable conversation that would feel right at home in Seinfeld – after which Rolling Stone reported that Billy began vigorously pointing at the giant S on his grunge-worthy Superman sweatshirt and telling Thayill “you hurt me right here in my heart.” The next year in the SPIN‘s Artist of the Year feature on the Pumpkins, Corgan was quoted backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards yelling “Fuck Kim Thayil!” at the backstage video monitors. Earlier that summer, he managed to anger another Kim – Miss Deal of The Breeders – to the point in which she unrelentingly slammed Corgan in interviews around Lollapalooza. Closer to today, Chuck Klosterman neatly summed up some of Billy’s interpersonal communication shortcomings: “The band’s reputation seems to erode every year, and I suspect it’s mostly because people don’t like Billy Corgan. And the reason they don’t like him is that (ironically) he’s too honest during interviews, which wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that he honestly believes he’s a goddamn genius.”
Of course, the other component is how Smashing Pumpkins fought an uphill battle, starting with their rejection from the Touch-n-Go-centric Chicago scene – the community in which they felt camaraderie with but never gained acceptance. Their aspirations were huge of course (Corgan once said the Pumpkins had “to be a big band, or no band”), and the band quickly established a strong relationship with the city’s most beloved venue, Cabaret Metro, before they “earned their dues.” But even before they achieved any real successes or well-placed opening spots for Jane’s Addiction, they were all but shunned by the alternative rock community, despite the fact the band aligned with the mission statements of indie and alt rock royalty – uncompromising music and artistry, a sense of anti-fashion, and a gloomy attitude of push-back against the empty, saccharine, feel-good American rock music of the ’80s. Fellow Chicago luminary Steve Albini, responsible for turning knobs for The Pixies, Nirvana, and most of the Pumpkins’ fiercest competition, criticized Corgan and the Pumpkins for embracing a sort of professionalism he felt bordered on “selling out” – threatening the vitality of the city’s burgeoning indie and electronic scene, in both band logistics and their studio perfectionism. In a more heated torrent of words, Albini wrote in a letter to the editor in Chicago Reader comparing the Pumpkins to REO Speedwagon and arguing “they don’t, however, make timeless, classic music that survives trends and inspires generations of fans and other artists.”
They never quite won over Chicago, and in the height of the grunge period in 1991 and ’92, they marched into battle against another city. After Gish, the Pumpkins remained the only band with real traction outside the Seattle scene. The band’s second recorded document, the Tristessa 7″, became Sub Pop’s first non-Seattle release. The Pumpkins were also the only non-Seattle band that contributed an original song to Singles, Cameron Crowe’s legendary period piece. That song, “Drown,” became a long-time fan favorite.
The indie-alt cliques of tight-knit, Seattle-centric bands, businesses, and critics set the agenda for the conversation in the early ’90s, and reflexively passed the verdict declaring Smashing Pumpkins uncool, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Corgan tended to push back in the press. Of course, Corgan’s reactionary persona in tandem with rock history “as written by the cool kids” marred the legacy of the band. This is unfortunate because it does Siamese Dream such a disservice. In hindsight, the Pumpkins engaged in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, knowingly or otherwise, in bloated, cheesy stadium rock. But these labels were unfair regarding the band’s earliest efforts, and Siamese Dream in particular. Music nerds can chew the fat as the day is long about whether the Pumpkins are unequivocally uncool, and there’s nothing wrong with such a discourse. Siamese Dream, however, is as groundbreaking as it is cool, and its coolness is empirical as the album is informed by timeless, boundary pushing music.
If you strip away the alt rock coattail-riding pretenses that people incorrectly ascribe, Siamese Dream becomes a phenomenal psych rock and shoegazing album. My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields even recommended much of the gear that sculpted Siamese Dream‘s landmark tones. As such, Siamese Dream offered a formative listening experience within a crucial timeframe for both kids within Gen X and Gen Y, informing and steering musical tastes toward envelope-pushing acts like the aforementioned My Bloody Valentine and Hawkwind – much like how Nirvana contributed to raising general awareness about acts like Flipper and The Vaselines. Not to mention, it’s a great fucking record. The music that inspired Corgan during the songwriting process of Siamese Dream generally never ended up on the radio. But they did, and as such, Smashing Pumpkins opened a door to an entirely different world for young music fans with budding tastes. Both the record itself – a collection of anthemic, celestial, denser-than-lead rock that still sounds great two decades later – and the impression it left deserves a second look outside the streamlined, canonical annals of indie rock critic revisionist history.
As a blog based in the same city (hell, the same neighborhood) as the prolific Will Oldham a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Billy a.k.a. Palace Music a.k.a. Palace a.k.a. Slint’s Photographer a.k.a. El Guapo, we feel it’s our duty to aggregate all available information about what Will is up to at any given point obviously, regardless of its newsworthiness. This shall be in an effort to save the news media some time keeping up with who this whacky guy is collaborating with when and for what movie. A veritable one-stop shop, if you will! Luckily, this inaugural installment of YO! So What is Will Oldham Up To, Huh? features some important releases coming up.
Bonnie Prince Billy continues his hang time with the Cairo Gang, and for a good cause this time. The just announced Island Brothers/New Wonder 10”, which drops February 22 everywhere via Drag City, is a charity effort, with a huge portion of the proceeds benefiting Louisville-based non-profit EDGE Outreach. EDGE “trains, equips, and mobilizes ordinary people in sustainable solutions for clean water, health and hygiene, and sanitation, around the world,” and has spent most of their 2010 helping the devastated communities in Haiti. I’ve heard the record, and it’s expectedly weird, country-fried gypsy folk freewheelin’ rustic pop. Good jams, good cause… support this!
Sean from Buzzgrinder recently spotted Will Olham at Quill’s Coffee on Baxter Ave. in The Highlands. He got coffee. He proportedly paid for said coffee with a cash sum that included no less than two buffalo nickels. He was NOT dressed in his Crocodile Dundee best at this occasion.
Vinyl specialty label and best good friends Sophomore Lounge recently released some deets on the 10″ Mindeater – a split between Will Oldham, perennial TDT favorites The Phantom Family Halo, and Todd Breshear. Many know Todd Breshear as the gingerly bearded fellow who runs one of the freshest joints in town, Wild and Woolly Video. Learned ears, however, will recognize that name as the bassist and co-songwriter during Spiderland-era Slint. My guess is that this collaborative idea stemmed from their show together with the legendary Roky Erickson last June at Headliners (which I have some video). A serious meeting of the minds on this here Mindeater… look out for it this May.
Hey neat-o! Billy is scoring a flick with the man that has the funny voice, starring the fuckin’ rad surfer dude from Fast Times and the only likable character in Fargo. Despite the fact they just got straight up sold, Paste has the scoop you guys!
Bonnie Prince Billy was just added to the Portishead-curated All Tomorrow Parties I’ll Be Your Mirror in Asbury Park, NJ this fall. Of course, the big news is the stateside return of the aforementioned Portishead and just plain return of Neutral Milk Hotel, but that don’t mad dog Bonnie. Not one bit. He’ll hold his own.
Finally, Will was also recently spotted on The Island circa 1977 in this DHARMA new recruits file photo. Can you spot him?
Bonk! Until next time – namaste!
UPDATE 2.1.11 – Oh, of course Will Olham interviews R. KELLY. Two of the strangest motherfuckers in the world in the same room. The plot thickens! (via Interview)
KELLY: Alec Baldwin? Yeah! Don’t he have a brother and they all kind of look alike?
OLDHAM: They’re, like, four brothers.
KELLY: Steve Baldwin . . .
OLDHAM: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
Less fun is the artwork for the aforementioned Cairo Gang charity 10″. It’s pretty intense actually.
Countless online and print music publications, as well as grassroots campaigns such as Record Story Day, have extolled ad infinium the virtues of supporting your local brick and mortar music store – a seemingly altruistic notion in the presence of free and cheap music online. However, when you buy music at the record shop, you’re not just supporting them, you’re helping yourself in the end (at least if you’re a music fan). Some people, as recently demonstrated here in Louisville, don’t see the value in an influential and active physical goods music destination, so The Decibel Tolls is adding another commentary to the fray before our holiday shopping season ends. This one’s for the haters.
Just before Thanksgiving, ear X-tacy – a record store that publications like Rolling Stone, SPIN, and Paste have ranked as one of the best in the country – created a FaCeBoO!k event with this video message from owner John Timmons asking for the city’s continued support.
The event page has since been taken down, as it turned into a huge squawking argument with the type of vitriol generally reserved for The Huffington Post comment section, filled with naysaying, unfounded criticisms, and general malaise. Of course, Kenny Bloggins here decided to use his hatin’/real talk prowess for good, to defend the store and my friends that work there against these clowns, rather than just incessantly rip on WFPK as I am known to do. More importantly, there’s a larger message here that needs to be discussed.
To backtrack a bit, ear X-tacy moved to a smaller storefront last summer to help cut overhead, thinking that the business would stay afloat with its (then) current traffic in a less lavish space with cheaper rent and utility costs. As one of the employees told me, the move ended up hurting ear X-tacy again, since many people didn’t even know the store had moved from its Sherwood Ave and Bardstown Road storefront – their outpost for the last decade. Recently, shorty and I had dinner at Seviche, directly adjacent to the old location. We ran into a middle aged man peeking into the abandoned building confused, and he asked us where ear X-tacy was as we passed by. This was December 8th. They moved in July. For reference, ear X-tacy is right here, mmkay:
This week, LEO Weekly in their annual excellent tounge-in-cheek Loserville issue opined that Timmons’ (and subsequently, ear X-tacy’s) message came off as a sort of begging or panhandling. Perhaps the word “plea” might come off distasteful without proper context, but isn’t all advertising a form of begging, pleading, and/or appealing? “Please come check out the deals at Jibber Jabber Ford Mercury!” And the nature of that advertising becomes a little more urgent when a business’ existence has a far greater reach outside just the employees and neighborhood regulars. Of course, it’s impossible to convey such nuances in a minute-long video (this is how people get themselves in trouble on soundbite-driven cable news programs), so in that regard, it’s understandable why people who didn’t critically think about ear X-tacy’s unique situation were turned off. However, I think Timmons’ intent was more than clear. The store truly doesn’t want handouts, it just wants consistent patronage. More important, I think the unspoken purpose of this video was to serve as a reminder that ear X-tacy has moved to a new location, bolsters a new live stage, and offers a revamped inventory. None of these facts were true back in February when Timmons initially went public with the store’s troubles, and this move comes in the face of already battling the plights that all record stores nationwide face. I can appreciate this level of transparency. Essentially, if the viral nature of this video (and the ensuing dialogue) helps people like the aforementioned gentleman become aware of the new location and store features, that effect outweighs all the criticisms.
Some of the other arguments brought up act as a microcosm for the digital vs. physical music argument – ear X-tacy needs get with the times, no one likes physical music anymore, a local business’ merchandise tends to cost more than the big box stores, etc. Some even claimed that the staff wasn’t friendly enough to warrant their money, supporting the idea that people actually like having the shit bothered out of them when shopping for pants at J Crew. If you happen to agree with these folks, cool, whatever. Fly your flags high and storm the castle if you must. Me, I find that none of these arguments hold any water. Record stores are an institution, due to both the cliched arguments as well as points not often roused.
True story. Whenever I’m in a city I’m not familiar with, the first thing I do is find out where the big independent record store is. I’ll stop and peruse their selection – sometimes I buy something, sometimes I don’t – but a celebrated local record store in any given North American city will point you in the direction of a distinct, less corporate area of town worth exploring. This should appeal to anyone who isn’t pumped on the homogeny of, say, airports from city to city. The neighborhoods with cheap local fare, awesome nightlife, and the types of boutiques and businesses that give a community character – that remind you you’re in a totally different location – all tend to be in the same neighborhood(s) as the city’s big indie. ear X-tacy is no exception – The Highlands in Louisville is home to hundreds of excellent local businesses. Restaurants, cafes, coffeshops, microbreweries, bars, eclectic stores, some of the most beautiful historic architecture in the region, and hundreds of acres of Frank Olmsted-designed urban park are all within a stone’s throw of ear X-tacy. Travel up I-71 to Cincinnati and find Shake-It Records. It’s in Northside, a neighborhood I love, and home to awesome music venues, delicious hole-in-the-wall diners, and a community that doesn’t resemble any place else. In Chicago, choose between obscure soul/funk/blues vinyl shop Dusty Groove and psych/experimental/hard-to-find treasure trove Permanent Records. These shops bookend the Ukranian Village, on the near west side between Ashland and Damen, and you’ll find a good time at a great price. If 6th Street wasn’t already a name brand destination as the command center for South By Southwest, Austin’s Waterloo Records would help you find that killer strip. That’s just what I can think of off the top of my head. There are countless examples, and few instances where this isn’t the case – making the record store a sort of colloquial lighthouse for tourists and townies alike looking for a unique experience.
It’s no coincidence. A record store is an epicenter of culture. Timmons touches on this point, but I’ll take it a little more in-depth. With few exceptions, most of the concerts and shows you see in your community happen because of a handful of forces – a radio station, a promoter, an on-staff venue/bar talent buyer, a blog/website, or a record store. Record stores are ingrained in the fabric of a local music scene. How many shows in your city were booked or assisted in some way within the past 18 months because of (insert your local record store)? A couple hundred? Additionally, when booking agents are routing tours, they look at both the show attendance history and the Soundscan numbers in a particular market. They’re not looking at iTunes downloads or who pirated what in your city. This is specifically what Timmons means when talking about how shows and local events can be affected by the big indie going belly-up.
Yes, a record store sells music a couple of bucks higher than the big box, but that’s their bread and butter. Good deals on CDs and DVDs are a profit-loss promotion for other stores to get people in the doors who will buy countless other products that yield a greater profit, like shaving cream or whatever. At 16, I worked at the video department of Best Buy to pay off my car. They really didn’t give a shit whether I sold a TV or DVD player. Small profit. But selling accessories – cables, extended warranties, etc. – got you the back pat and a “good numbers, son.” Not so at your record store. They only make their money selling what they intend to sell – music, movies, and pop culture memorabilia. Additionally, Best Buy won’t have that NEU! box set with the vinyl, CDs, art, and T-shirt. ear X-tacy will, and that jam will be prominently displayed and easy to find.
Additionally, record shopping is an experience. You can chat with the employees for recommendations, or go exploring. The feeling isn’t the same perusing Hype Machine. When you want a beer or cocktail, do you just run to Party Mart and pick up a jug of gin and 2-liter of Canada Dry tonic water, then sit at home, slam your highball and LOL at Two and a Half Men? I mean, maybe you do. It certainly is cheaper, but that sounds like a shit time to me. I enjoy spending a couple of extra dollars to enjoy drinks with friends at any number of my favorite watering holes, and I enjoy flipping through the wax stacks at ear X-tacy. I like the experience of art in hand. I certainly have discovered new music because I found the artwork and packaging of an album intriguing. I can preview the music at home on Last.FM, and if it’s up my alley, I go back to the store next time I’m out and pick that record up. You can’t replicate that online, unless you find Arial typeface mesmerizing.
You also can’t digitally replicate the sound and feel of physical music either. Yes, this argument has been presented many times before (and one the vinyl fiends at Backseat Sandbar and We Listen For You are probably better suited to make), but it’s true. A high bit-rate digital file simply does not have the fidelity of a 180 gram vinyl record. It’s physically impossible from the signal loss of cables coming out of your computer, to a receiver, and out of the speakers. Paul McCartney’s bass knocks pictures off my walls when pumping a scratched copy Rubber Soul through the stereo off vinyl. Scratch Perry’s booty bass blasting out of my computer doesn’t do a goddamn thing. If you actually like music, physical records are irreplaceable. I understand that convenience of the MP3 (I’m a blogger for Christ’s sakes), but when actually sitting down with a record and entertaining friends, a vinyl listening party can’t be beat.
ear X-tacy’s video hitting right before Thanksgiving was no accident. It’s the holiday shopping season, and you’re going to spend money anyway. No reason to not spend it at ear X-tacy, especially considering that they, as with most record stores, sell awesome products other than music. That’s really what Timmons and company is asking, in my opinion. I will buy every item on friends and family’s wish list that I can from ear X-tacy. My dad gets The Town on Blu Ray, and I contribute to the vitality of ear X. Pretty dope for all parties involved if you ask me. Louisville, I ask you to do the same. If you’re in another city, I ask that you pledge to buy your gifts from your local record, book, or clothing store. If I find out you’re jockin’ Amazon for everything, I will come find you and pull some Ezekial 25:17 type shit.* Believe it.
In theory, capitalism resembles a form of democracy. Vote with your dollar.
* = to the best of my ability
Oh, and there’s another way you can help ear X-tacy. On Boxing Day, Sunday, December 26th, ear X-tacy is hosting a huge show at Headliners – ear X-travaganza. Tons of Louisville luminaries – Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Scott Carney of Wax Fang, Cabin, Ben Sollee, The Watson Twins, and more will all be hitting the stage for some truly memorable performances, and all proceeds go to the store to give ear X a much needed boost. All these artists give a shit, so why shouldn’t you? Tickets are $20 and are available at the store and etix.com. You know what to do. Doors at 7 p.m.
UPDATE 12.21 – Oh damn, that show’s already sold out. So, you can’t buy tickets at the store or at etix.com because you slept on in, dinguses (dingii?)! Guess you’ll just have to help out by not being a horse’s ass and remembering ear X-tacy next time you’re looking for a great gift.
You’ve no doubt seen a lot of the chatter online concerning Target’s streaming yule-time compilation The Christmas Gig, featuring the Bradgelina of indie rock – Wavves and Best Coast – performing a duet that has taken up some face time on the blahgosphere. Additionally, you may have seen a number of decriers on the social networks criticizing the move as a “sell out” sort of thing. While I, under normal circumstances, find the Best Wavves Snacks Complex the most annoying personality in music, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no such thing as selling out anymore when considering you can’t sell albums like you could a decade ago. While I defend artists perusing placements in many cases, the Interwebs are missing a more important point here – one that leads me to take serious issue with all the artists who participated in this project.
This year, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the ban on corporate campaign contributions, Minneapolis-based Target was one of the first major companies (if not the first) to take full advantage, floating a cool $150,000 to staunchly conservative Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Emmer is not just passively LGBT-unfriendly… he is actively anti-LGBT rights. His friends and financial beneficiaries even moreso. Did everyone forget about this piece of news?
Perhaps you might not care about gay rights, but I do, espeically in light of current events.
The state is still recounting the votes from this month’s election, and it looks close. Emmer vowed in his campaign that, if elected, he intends to push legislation through that “protects” the “sanctity” of marriage in his state – a nice throwback to the culture wars of 2004 – in addition to blocking same sex couples from parenting. Compared to the various financial crises our country currently endures, it seems that Emmer should have bigger fish to fry. That’s another conversation though.
Though it’s reasonable to infer that Target’s contribution was motivated by his pro-commerce platform, you still tacitly approve of both the economic and social issues of a candidate when you donate money, particularly such a large amount. What a shot in the ass too, considering Target’s demographic is probably younger and more progressive than comparable big box stores.
This, of course, led to a nationwide and highly publicized boycott of the store last summer, and one I currently participate in. The Awl sums up the call to action rather nicely:
By approving direct influence on elections in Citizens United, the Supreme Court handed power to corporations. But at the same time, when they do so, corporations abandon their old black-ops approach and make themselves unusually transparent. This actually puts the true power in the hand of the consumer.
So: “Target supports causes and candidates based strictly on issues that affect our retail and business interests.”
Target is giving every American, nearly literally, a vote with his or her dollar. So, self-respecting progressive Americans who profess to support the gay community, it’s put up or shut-up time; here is your chance to go beyond complaining about the Citizens United ruling and actually act to define what a strict “business interest” is.
Dawwww… who knew the folks with such a cute puppy could be responsible for such nefarious shit?
So this brings us back to Nathan, Bethany, and friends. Knowing that a substantial group of rational people found the connection between Target, their political activity, and the social views of Tom Emmer offensive enough to take a stand with their wallet, isn’t it also fair to find the contributions of these artists, many of whom probably have a sizable LGBT and LGBT-ally fan base, in poor taste? Particularly when considering what Target has come to represent for a segment of the population in 2010?
I would argue yes. This compilation, while free to stream, still promotes Target and their brand identity, ultimately leading to sales. And we now know where some of that money – our money – goes. Were these artists uniformed, or did they not give a shit? It’s hard to say what the motivations of Best Coast, Wavves, et al. were when they agreed to participate, yet the news about the Target boycott was almost certainly widely disseminated by the time they signed on to The Christmas Gig. Even if they weren’t sure what they were getting into, I do feel it’s unequivocally socially irresponsible for anyone to not to be aware of the corporate culture of the companies one agrees to do work for – especially when providing something as personal as art or music. It’s part of being an informed, contributing member of society, something that’s reasonable to expect from well-liked artists.
At least that’s how things should fall into place. I can’t remember who said it, but I always enjoyed the addage “morality is the way the world should work, economics is the way it actually does.”
With that said, perhaps it’s unfair to single out Wavves and Best Coast among the other artists who appear on this project, but since they seem to be the crowning jewel in this collection of songs, at least if you pay attention to the blogs and press releases… well, that’s part of the gig when you become a public figure. Life is hard.
I have argued in past conversations that you can always, when following the money, find yourself sending your hard-earned dollars toward something you don’t morally or academically agree with. I still feel this way, and there are certainly countless examples. However, in this small albeit noteworthy scenario, the controversial move on Target’s behalf was too highly publicized, too incendiary, and, most importantly, too direct to ignore. In other words, “too soon.” I wish someone within these artists’ professional circles had thought such issues through before moving forward. Maybe they figured no would would care, notice, and/or discuss it. Guess they were wrong.
So I’d like to hear what you all think. How far can you, feasibly and sensibly, follow your dollar and attention up the ladder? Since this compilation is not directly related to the political happenings within Minneapolis, is it fair to hold these artists socially accountable? Or is this simply the case that these artists needed some, as Mr. Williams so eloquently articulated, “E Z $”? I guess it’s hard to think through the implications of the message you send, inadvertently or otherwise, when you’re stoned out of your dome off the fresh ground dank you enjoy daily (via your own custom grinders replete with the visage of shorty’s cat). Rippin’ on Nathan aside, there’s certainly a lesson to take from this that deserves some good conversation.
At any rate, a finer holiday treat is Low’s Christmas EP, which Kranky recently made available on vinyl for the first time ever. It’s my favorite contemporary holiday jam, and you can rest assured that your money is well spent. Kranky doesn’t donate cash to candidates who don’t support uniform equality – partly because they don’t necessarily have a shit-ton of money anyway, but mostly because they have strong values, you dig? Something Wavves, Best Coast, and the rest of the gang would do well to take some notes on. But that’s me.
that album cover looks really familiar and is fucking with my listening experience. Where have I seen this before? Hmmm….
OH JUNK! That freaks me out, and not just because that kid is chillin’ so hard. Thieving bastards! Did Wiseblood straight lift the photo from the cover of Amen Dunes’ Dia, one of my favorite releases of 2009, like they lifted all them samples? That ain’t no count, mane. Controversy!
Nah, I’m just funnin’. That’s a classic public domain photograph. The Wiseblood record is good – The Avalanches on mescaline. Psychedelia chopped and screwed like their home of Houston. They call it “future music,” and I find that fair. Grip it on Bandcamp. Also see about that Amen Dunes record if you haven’t already. I’m in love with rock and roll and I’ll be out all night.
POSSIBLY RELEVANT :::
Amen Dunes – Dia