Laura Marling: All-out review

A few weeks ago I accidentally hit the wrong button on my car radio and switched to an AM station called Radio K, a low-powered station run by students at the local university.

I really, really liked the song that was playing. This is why we all have apps on our phones that can identify songs for you. This is how I found out about Laura Marling. Now since this was a low-powered crap quality AM transmission I wasn’t sure if the song actually sounded the way I thought it did, so when I got home I looked it up online.

It was this song:

So I got all her albums, which at this point in time number three. Which is not bad for someone who’s 21.

And as luck would have it, she was playing a concert right here in Minneapolis within a few weeks, so I got tickets for that.

Now for some reason, since I got to do the Nellie McKay interview, I figured hey, lets try that again. Now with Nellie McKay, I basically asked her if I could do it, and she had me talk to her mom to set things up.

With Laura Marling, I talked to someone at the theatre she was playing at (The Cedar Cultural Center), who had me talk to someone else at The Cedar, who referred me to someone at the friggin William Morris agency which is only the biggest talent agency in the world. Or rather referred me to someone’s assistant. Who referred me to someone else’s assistant, who eventually referred me to Laura Marling’s publicist who never replied to my email.

So THAT didn’t happen. Which is too bad for them, really. Laura apparently forgot to bring a guitar strap with her, and apparently The Cedar doesn’t have any spares so she was using a strap from a handbag. I could’ve totally brought her one. But anyway.

Laura Marling’s music has been described as… yeah, indie. Indie-folk, in fact. Or “Nu-Folk”, whatever the hell that means. She’s gone on record saying that she doesn’t think she’s a folk musician. I have to agree. Just because it’s mostly acoustic and occasionally includes mandolins doesn’t make it Folk. It’s rock. Mostly acoustic rock, but seriously people.

Now clearly I hadn’t been listening to her music for that long, but it seemed to me that her latest album was a lot darker than the first one. I did do some research in case I do get to do an interview and apparently I’m not the only person who thinks that. Or rather thought that. I listened to all three of her albums several times and really, none of them are light and fluffy. The latest one is just a bit louder and has one song that’s very explicitly dark (and sadly seems to have much less of her real accent). Ironically it includes the track from that video up there which is one of the more folky tunes she has.

If you look at her album names and covers, though, there does seem to be a progression. Here are the covers for her first three albums (copyrights by whoever own them etc):

First album: Alas, I Cannot Swim

Second album: I Speak Because I Can

Third album: A Creature I Don’t Know.

That last one is one of those things where if your kid draws it in kindergarten they call you in to have a long talk with you about what the hell is going on at home.
Based on that, I took the liberty and designed the cover for Laura Marling’s 4th album:

(Yeah I know I can’t draw. And yeah I used a really expensive wacom tablet to do that. You do not want to know what that would’ve looked like if I had to use the trackpad, or even worse, real paper and crayons.)
Now I have to point out that, scary as this progression is, her music is still fantastic. Otherwise I don’t think I could’ve really listened to the albums long enough to pick up on all this.

So, on to the concert.

Quick note: the opening act was a group called The Bello Duo. As you have no doubt figured out from the name, they’re a couple of guys playing a banjo and a cello. They are definitely worth checking out.

Another quick note: The Cedar is a small, mostly volunteer-run organisation. This is cool but it’s absolutely no excuse for the fact that when you buy tickets and select will-call, they tell you to show up an hour in advance, even though it’s well below freezing outside, and they don’t actually open the doors until 5 minutes before the show starts. Also it doesn’t say a lot for them that the show times they gave out were wrong, whereas the show time published for this very show by a different venue were accurate. I know that makes no sense. Apparently the other venue co-sponsored this show or something and they had the times right.

I will say this, though. Last time we went to The Cedar we actually left during the opening act because the sound was just too loud and it was either leave or prey for a swift and painless death. This time it was perfect. Helps that the opening act was also acoustic. And wasn’t Liam “Ruptured Eardrums” Finn.

I knew Laura Marling was young. I mean I looked it up and I’ve clearly seen videos. But when she walked out on stage, she looked really young. I have got in trouble lately for referring to younger females as “girl” instead of “woman”, but I feel that I’m justified in doing that when someone is about half my age. So basically eventually this really nervous young girl comes up on stage and says, in a very nervous voice, that being up in front of a crowd like that is not her strong point.

Here’s the thing: I’m not sure how famous or well known Laura Marling is in her native England, but she’s definitely an up-and-comer/someone-to-watch kinda thing. Since 2008 she’s been nominated for a good number of awards, and has recently won some fairly big ones. She’s lately done a tour in the UK where she played at really big cathedrals (I’m not absolutely sure why she was slumming it at The Cedar, but I’m not complaining).

She also (as you can see in that video) usually plays with a fairly big band.

The Cedar is a very small venue. It’s one of those places where all the seats are folding chairs. The stage is really, REALLY close to the audience. I can see how that would be unnerving.

So she’s up there, nervously trying to chat with the audience while tuning up (there was a lot of tuning up at this show. I really should email the banjo guy from Bello Duo about putting locking tuners on his banjo), but then she started singing.

I have to say this about the show as a whole, and I know this seems like criticism but it’s really not. The show was not very professional. And I mean that in a good way. I got the feeling that this is how Laura Marling would perform if she was alone. There was none of the nervousness while she was performing. It’s just talking to people that’s apparently scary.

She definitely has a lot of talent. I’m not an expert so I don’t know the technical terms for all the vocal things she did, but I can tell you that she’s good at it. Really good at the whole guitar thing, too, even when it’s held up by a handbag strap.

Toward the end she said that she wasn’t “cool” or “rock’n’roll” enough to do encores, so she did let us know that would be the last song. Seeing as it was getting late and the seats at The Cedar are immensely uncomfortable, we decided to take her word for it.

Now I know I’ve been a bit rough on The Cedar, but it is really nice to be able to see really good live shows for like $14. I actually gave them more money because they WERE very nice and did help me try and get that interview.

Laura Marling is on tour right now, and if she’s playing anywhere near you, do go see her.

So I got to hang out with Nellie McKay

Nellie McKay

The awesomely talented Nellie McKay1 was gracious enough to sit down with me for a while after her set at a concert the other night. We talked about animals, food, activism and Columbus Day.

I got to interact with Nellie McKay, briefly, on several occasions. She had let me take a photo of her for POTD so I decided that the next logical step was to ask her to do an interview for my blog. And for some reason she agreed, so when she was back in time for this show we got together and chatted.

I did record the interview so that I could transcribe it in a Q&A format. However, due to extreme doofusness I only recorded the first three minutes. Let this be a lesson to always read the full release notes on apps, especially if there’s a “lite” in the name!

Basically I have a recording of Nellie offering me something to drink and apologizing for being boring for only having water, and me saying that that’s what we say when we have people over but that we have a reverse osmosis thing. Yes, I have a recording of me bragging about how cool our water is. AWESOME.

What follows is basically my recollection from that evening. Sadly there aren’t many direct quotes, but I did sit around for a while and make sure I’m remembering things accurately. So this isn’t really an interview, but rather more of a, well. A blog post about my experience. I still hope to post a real interview some day, but for now, here goes.

The first time K and I saw Nellie McKay in concert was at The Dakota, a restaurant/jazz club. Nellie, who is a vegan, poked some fun at them for not having any vegan food options.

They have since added very prominent “We now accommodate vegetarians!” I asked Nellie if that was her doing.

She said she didn’t even know they did that, and when she plays there (which she’s done on several occasions since) she has a big basket of fries. Which is cool since I always get that, too! In fact, it was a bit weird for me to watch her in concert without a big basket of fries.

I told her we’re still giving her credit for this. She seemed OK with that.

I asked about her show, I Want To Live!, which was playing at a theatre in New York. I asked whether she’ll take it on the road for those of us who think New York is scary.

They have definite plans to take it to Michigan in November (I remember East Lansing and Detroit). She said she’d love to bring it to Minneapolis, too, which I hope they will!

There are also plans for a live CD of the show. I suggested a DVD too, for those of us who think leaving the house is scary.

I asked Nellie if she’s considered releasing a live album of her regular concerts. I’ve always felt that Nellie has a much wider vocal range when she plays live than what what shows up on albums – she seems more playful on stage. She says she’s aware of that, and she does want to release a live album some day.

One of Nellie’s live show staples is the song Mother of Pearl2. On the album, this song ends with a jab at Dennis Kucinich, but that’s since been updated to Sarah Palin. Mrs. Palin has now been replaced by Michelle Bachmann, which got huge applause3. Nellie said that she’s sad she didn’t poke some fun at Columbus Day, which just happened to be the night the show was on. Nellie is apparently not a fan of Columbus Day, or rather the implications of Columbus’ journey on the native peoples of the Americas.

Nellie mentioned that she hasn’t played solo in a while and was really enjoying it. I was too. It’s great to hear her take some of her more songs and do simplified piano-only versions of them. She did a piano-only version of Beneath the Underdog4 tonight, and I asked her if that was an indication of her song-writing process, if she start out simple and then flesh them out into more complex forms.

She said that sometimes she does that. She said that Beneath the Underdog just kind of happened, which was cool. I told her I was jealous, since I actually managed to write one song once and it was a painful experience. She did congratulate me on having actually done it though.

Since Nellie’s albums are usually quite different from each other, I asked if she knows which artistic direction she’s going to take and whether she’s ever surprised by where she ends up. She said that she usually doesn’t really know. Sometimes she thinks she does – Home Sweet Mobile Home was supposed to be all Caribbean-sounding, but half-way through that ended up going a different way5.

I asked if she feels like she’s free to just roll with whatever direction she ends up going in, or if she feels that she’s a bit trapped in that whole Nellie McKay thing so she has to write more Nellie McKay songs.

I was a bit surprised that she replied that yes, she does feel that she has to give the people what they want to hear, what they expect of her. She’s learning a lot about what people want to hear in the current tour. And I really, really should’ve delved a bit deeper into that6.

I asked Nellie about her relationship, or lack of, with technology. I somehow managed to guess that she’s not really into it. All the vintage clothing might have been a bit of a clue. She doesn’t have a computer, or a TV, or even an MP3 player! I asked how she listens to music, and she said she listens to records, CDs, tapes and even 8-tracks. She has an old car lying around for that. She said she’d love to get an 8-track player for the house7.

Nellie definitely doesn’t want to buy anything on the internet, where everything gets tracked and recorded. She misses the anonymity of mega-music stores, and thinks they closed down well before their time. She likes small independent music stores, of course, but feels that you can’t really shop for your guilty pleasures there because the people at the counter always have to make comments.

Yes, did I ask her what her guilty pleasures are. She did mention one. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is8. I actually thought I misheard her but I just googled it and it’d just be WAY too much of a coincidence. But anyway.

Don’t expect a Nellie McKay facebook page or twitter feed anytime soon. Nellie feels that all that stuff just sucks you in and doesn’t really enrich your quality of life (especially TV).

I asked Nellie if she doesn’t feel that, as a performing artist, having a facebook or twitter feed is more or less expected. We agreed that there’s a lot9 of mundane information out there, but I asked if she wouldn’t like to use it to, say, inform fans that she’ll be doing local shows.

She pointed out that there’s already someone doing those things for her. Indeed, her official website has both tour dates and a news feed. Nellie, however, doesn’t care at all about her web presence.

I wish we could have debated the merits or lack thereof of technology for hours. I could debate it with myself fairly well. Part of me wants Nellie to have the exposure that jumping on the twitter/facebook bandwagon can get. On the other hand, I kind of like the idea of Nellie McKay being totally separated from that world. Lets face it – she’s a unique musician (and a unique person and artist) and this is just one of the things that contributes to that aspect of her10.

We moved on to talk about animals. Nellie is an avid animal rights advocate. I asked if she was always an animal lover, and if she had many pets growing up.

Nellie said that animals were always a part of her life. They had an ally growing up, and there were always strays around to feed. She said she thinks it’s important for kids to grow up with animals (and I could not agree more – I may not know a lot about kids, but I think my life is enriched by having grown up with animals).

I’ll admit to being a big nerd and showing Nellie all my pet pictures. That was before the interview (as if that makes it better). She said my dog is adorable11.

I asked Nellie if finding vegan food on the road is a challenge.

“Denny’s used to have a really good vegan veggieburger,” she said, “but they changed it.”

I don’t know why that surprised me so much, but I suspect me being a snob had something to do with it. I mentioned that I know a vegan store owner (he’s a vegan, and his store sells vegan products) who consistently eats at Taco Bell. Nellie made the good point that cheap and accessible vegetarian food is essential if there’s any hope to get more people to even try it.

Vegan/vegetarian food is a lot more ubiquitous than I really thought, and I am a vegetarian. Nellie mentioned that Burger King has veggieburgers, too. I guess I am a picky eater12. Ethnic foods are usually good, since large portions of the world subsist on beans and rice. Nellie said she’s found it fairly easy to find good vegan food just about anywhere, except Norway where it was a challenge.

Which lead right in to my last question. “It’s been a quiet day, no concerts, no stuff to do, nothing busy. What’s for dinner?”

I really, really wish I had this part recorded, because she went into much more detail than I can remember. I do remember that Nellie currently enjoys making herself a nice veggieburger on a muffin, with chips (possibly home-made, something was home-made) and ketchup, and some almond/soymilk with coconut flavoured rum. “Sounds like an evening to me,” she said.

At this point I felt that I really should let Nellie get back to her hotel. And that I should get back to my girlfriend, who was enjoying the rest of the concert.

“Go to her!” Nellie said. “And take these flowers.”


  1. Nellie McKay Official Website
  2. Nellie performing Mother of Pearl at TED. Oh my god I didn’t ask her about TED.
  3. I’ve been trying to think up a way to suggest Bachmann for that role for over a year. Turns out I didn’t have to!
  4. Somewhat odd Beneath the Underdog video.
  5. Which is just fine with me – I’ve mentioned before how much I like the non-Caribbean portions of that album.
  6. Around now I badmouthed Led Zeppelin for their complete lack of musical growth. I’m very glad that Nellie’s music does continue to evolve.
  7. I had a look and found a bunch of 8-track decks on eBay that could easily be wired into a current stereo. In case anyone is interested.
  8. Don’t worry, it’s not Bieber. I made sure.
  9. A lot.
  10. It does sadden me a bit that this all means that the chances of Nellie actually reading this are minuscule… but on the other hand I have to admit that it makes it a bit less scary to write.
  12. Dammit, K was right!

Oh geez, really?

Dear Sir Paul McCartney,

I hope you got a prenup this time.

Lame Radio Hour

I’ve decided that “Hotel California” is not a morning kind of song. Except maybe in the metaphorical “It was the dawn of my young life and I still thought songs like that were cool” kind of way.

Chips for Free

This is another entry in my series where I expand on the artists I mentioned in my Fifteen Albums post.

Dire Straits were, at one point, The Biggest Band in the World. Now yes, that’s an extremely subjective thing to say and is a bit meaningless since there’s really no absolutely 100% accurate metric to measure this by. But they are one of the bands that are acknowledged to have been that.

They only released six albums, but one of these albums was 1985’s Brothers in Arms, which holds the distinction of being the first album where CD sales surpassed vinyl. It’s also the first rock album to be recorded with the CD format in mind – it was recorded completely digitally and the track lengths were not hindered by vinyl’s limited capabilities (in fact, some of the songs were edited down for the vinyl release).

One of the most super-awesome-famous songs in the universe, Money for Nothing, is from this album. Pointless trivia about that song: the, at the time, ground-breaking computer-animation-heavy video for it was the first video played on MTV Europe.

The band, which was enjoying fairly decent success before this album, became a huge success after it.

I can’t really talk about Dire Straits without talking about Mark Knopfler. Which makes sense since he really was the band.

I know I’ve said I don’t really do “fandom”, but if there’s anyone I’m close to being a fan of, it’s Mark Knopfler. The man is a genius, in the same way that Mozart was a genius. If he were born 200 years earlier, I firmly believe that people would still be listening to Wolfgang Amadeus Knopfler.

The problem with being a band as successful as Dire Straits is that you have to play gigantic arenas ans similar venues, and Mark Knopfler didn’t enjoy that very much. HE disbanded the group and continued to record and tour under his own, slightly less recognisable name, and now he plays semi-large theatres rather than arenas.

I have been to several of his concerts locally. Sadly he always plays at this one theatre where if you don’t have the PERFECTLY IN THE MIDDLE seats, the sound just turns into white noise. It’s fairly irritating. Especially since the theatre right across the street seems to be a lot better. But I digress and confuse. But that’s ok because I’m out of material anyway.

Next up on MyDef: Jethro Tull. Ooooooh boy.


Tom Petty is one of those people who has some stuff I like, but I don’t feel the need to get every album of. Actually one of the very very few “Best Of” albums I have is one of his.

But he does on occasion come out with some fantastic stuff. And I know I said this wouldn’t be a blog where I make people watch a buncha videos, but we’ll do this one since it’s a great example of exactly what Non-Adjective Rock Music should sound like.

The video is… extremely creepy. But it does ‘star’ Kim Basinger. It’s also grandfathered because when I first heard it, Mary Jane meant nothing more than hey, that’s the same name as Spider-Man’s girlfriend. I mean the song is called Mary Jane’s Last Dance and in the video he does dance with someone who might be named Mary Jane for all I know.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy!


Dear people I overheard at the community center last night:

No, Foo Fighters do not count as “Oldies”.

Thank you.

Another Brick in MyDef

There were so many titles I could’ve used for this post… and I went with that one.

When I was about 14 I went to the local record store (which was, by the way, tiny) and bought my first copy of The Wall. When I brought it home, my mom saw it and said “Pink Floyd? Are you crazy??”

I can appreciate why she’d say that, at least form the perspective of over 20 years in the future. It’s really the same reason that The Wall is my second least favourite album of a band that I think is phenomenal.

Pink Floyd had recorded and released many, many albums prior to The Wall, ranging in quality from pretty darn good to friggin legendary. Rather than write half a dozen essays about each and every one of them, I’ll just do a Brief Summary.

This is complicated by the fact that their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was recorded when the main guy in the group was still Syd Barrett. Poor, poor Syd Barrett, who’s dreams of stardom actually drove him insane. Well, that and the drugs. The first album has a lot of child-like innocence mixed in with the psychedelic, but Syd would not last much more than one album. Luckily they brought in Dave Gilmour to cover for him… and eventually just stopped picking him up on the way to performances. He was quite far gone by then. This was in 1967, and haunt them for the rest of their lives.

They released several albums after that which, while pretty darn good, I don’t have a lot to say about.

One I will mention, though, is 1969’s Ummagumma. This was a double album, half of which was a collection of live performances, and the other of which was recordings made by the individual members of the group.

This is important mostly because there have been practically religious wars over who’s responsible for the Sound of Pink Floyd (mostly between two members of the band, really), but if you listen to the individual efforts of the band members it’s quite clear that it was all of them working together which really make it work. I’ll get back to that in the future.

They also released two albums (Atom Heart Mother in 1970 and Meddle in 1971) which are notable for having an entire side devoted to a single track. This is back when albums had sides. Nowadays people probably wonder what’s with the random 22-minute track. They also recorded a couple of movie soundtracks.

Then, in 1973, they released Dark Side of the Moon.

There are a lot of interesting facts (and a LOT of interesting “facts”) about this one. It spent an insane amount of time on the Billboard Top 200 chart (before they changed how they count that). There was a factory in Germany that did nothing but produce Dark Side of the Moon CDs. It was estimated that one in five people in the entire world has a copy of this album in one format or another. And it syncs up with The Wizard of Oz. Distinguishing between facts and “facts” is left as an exercise for the readers. This one’s real (thought it might not make sense if you’ve never heard the album) – Clare Torry was paid a mere £500 for her vocal performance. Her unbelievable and completely improvised vocal performance (although they did give her a bonus when they heard it).

Wish You Were Here was released in 1975, and was basically a big tribute to Syd Barrett. Rather than a single track taking up an entire side, Shine On you Crazy Diamond was split into two parts which open and close the album. There’s a now famous story where, despite none of them hearing anything from him in years, Syd showed up at the studio while they were recording this track. Just to say hi. They barely recognised him. He wandered around for a while and then left. The band members all pretty much said they were in tears after that.

I’m going to diverge for a minute to mention some (well, all) the members of the band.

Nick Mason was the drummer, Rick Wright was the keyboard player. They both contributed to the compositions, and I suppose vocals (though Nick Mason’s amount to one garbled line).

Dave Gilmour was the lead guitarist and vocalist. He contributed to lyrics and did a lot of compositions. Being a guitar-lead band, he’s responsible for a lot of the most recognised sounds.

Roger Waters was the bass player (kinda), and would occasionally sing. He wrote a large amount of the lyrics. He also decided he’s the band leader after Syd left, and tried to take over and enforce his view more and more.

The first time this was really obvious was with 1977’s Animals, where Dave Gilmour refused to sing some of the lyrics Roger Waters had written because they were unnecessarily harsh. The vocals actually switch from Gilmour to Waters mid-song.

Which leads us to The Wall, which is basically Roger Waters’ fictionalised autobiography performed by Pink Floyd. Waters was apparently being so crazy that Rick Wright quit the band.

And it also contains what is sadly the most iconic Pink Floyd line ever. The line where, if you yell “PINK FLOYD!” at people, this is what will inevitably and immediately pop into their mind. The line that made our parents thing Pink Floyd are Bad People. And (as if I really have to tell anyone) this line is, of course:

We Don’t Need No Education

Also one of the stupidest lines that anyone ever tried to work into what he considered a serious work.

Not only is that line just plain dumb because dammit, if there’s anything the entire world does need, it’s education, it’s also completely contrary to the rest of that track. The song is basically about how schools shouldn’t be stifling, brain-washing robot factories, and how teachers shouldn’t be plain mean and abusive. I’m fairly sure everyone, including our parents, would agree with that. But what line do people remember? Yeah, that one.

Anyway, after The Wall, Waters wanted to make an album with all the songs that were rejected from that album. Nobody really wanted to do that, so he went and wrote an album about how the Falkland War sucked. At least this album was honest and was labelled as a work by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd.

After that they pretty much broke up and sued each other over who gets to use the name “Pink Floyd” and, believe it or not, who gets to use the giant inflatable pig.

Gilmour, Mason and Wright recorded a few more albums and toured under the name Pink Floyd, and Waters went around doing giant The Wall concerts on the Berlin wall. Oh and he recorded some albums I guess. Oh and he’s doing another huge The Wall thing right now.

The other three also released some solo albums. I will say that Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports and Rick Wright’s Broken China are both, at the least, pretty interesting. Wright’s album also features one of the best performances I’ve heard by Sinaed O’Connor, by which I mean I don’t want to hurt myself when I hear it.

Oh, Syd Barrett also recorded some solo albums. Dave Gilmour helped on some of them. They’re… I don’t know if I can find the words, really. If you know his history, you can listen to them and pick out the glimmerings of genius and the glimmerings of madness. I don’t know that I’d recommend them, but I love them. Syd Barrett died in 2006; the best thing I can say is that he was always well cared for and didn’t really lack for anything.

Rick Wright also passed away, in 2008. The remaining band members have said that that’s pretty much it for ever reviving the band.

Well that’s a bit of a down note to end on, so I’ll tell a Personal Anecdote.

When I was 18, I got to go to Germany. This was an unexpected work trip, and in the two weeks I was there I had about half a day to actually walk around Hanover and look around. Naturally at some point I went into a record store and found what at the time seemed like a rare Pink Floyd CD (it was Obscured by Clouds, one of the aforementioned movie sound tracks).

Nothing much happened after that till the flight back home. Security at the airport was insane, and I mean INSANE. All the taking off shoes stuff we have now is nothing. This was like a big warehouse-like area where everyone’s luggage got opened and searched, and I mean the checked luggage, not just the carry-on.

This worried me a little since my method of packing at the time involved tossing everything in the suitcase and jumping on it till it closed, and I figured if they mess around in there too much there’d be a dirty clothes explosion.

Anyway, my turn comes around, the guy opens my suitcase and that CD is sitting right on top of everything.

Guy looks at me and goes “Oh, Pink Floyd, very good, very good,” closes my suitcase right back up, and passes me through.

In My Frequency

A while ago I wrote that I plan to write some posts about music that was defining for me, and I started with this post, listing fifteen such bands and artists. I mentioned that it would be a starting point or index of sorts, and that I plan on writing a full post about each of them.

And the first band on there is The Beatles.

Which presents a bit of a problem.

I mean, there’s really not a lot I can say about them that hasn’t been said before.

I could go the whole Personal route. I could say I started listening to The Beatles because my mom had one of their albums. I could mention that the first album I bought was going to be Magical Mystery Tour, but instead I got an album named Beatles Rarities. And then went back 30 minutes later and got Magical Mystery Tour, too.

I could write that when I was about 15, and had about 12 Beatles records to my name (yeah, on vinyl, must do post on vinyl being crap) and both our record players died and we got a CD player, I sold all my Beatles records and got juuust enough money to buy one CD, and that the one I got was Rubber Soul (and I could mention that by the powers of coincidental synchronisity, Drive My Car just came on the media center).

I could go on about how George Harrison was extremely undervalued in the band, and that John Lennon was really kind of a whiner (which would be a lot cooler to do if anyone actually read this thing and we could get a nice flame war going, especially if I went on to say that the original lyrics for Imagine were “Imagine no possessions, it’s easy when you’re rich”).

Instead, I’m going to write about my favourite Beatles song, which happens to be Strawberry Fields Forever.

Come on, coincidental synchronisity! No? Ok, fine, I’ll put it on myself.

Strawberry Fields Forever is one of those songs you don’t really appreciate till you get a nice sound system. This is because it is just so well engineered. It kind of had to be, since it’s really an amalgamation two different versions which were recorded at different tempos and in different keys.

It is also one of the first (if not the actual first) recordings to feature a Mellotron, which is a very very strange instrument – it’s basically an old-school sampler but without the electronics and synthesis (obviously). It’s a keyboard instrument, and playing the keys activates actual loop tapes.

And the cellos! Nevermind George Harrison, it’s George Martin who never gets any credit. Most of the orchestral/instrumental stuff in any Beatles songs was actually scored by him.

The song is also a fine tribute to obfuscation, which is another thing John Lennon was really good at. Consider the following verse from the song:

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low

At first glance that seems semi-nonsensical. But when you consider that the original line was “No one I think is in my frequency“, it suddenly seems to make a lot more sense.

And of course right at the end it’s got some further obfuscation, where John Lennon decided to say “Cranberry Sauce”. Not to anyone in particular, it apparently got picked up by the drum microphones, so it’s faint and hard to hear… and a lot of people think he’s saying “I buried Paul” which is another piece of that whole bit of nonsense.

Ok, that’s enough about that. Hopefully the next band on my list is a bit more obscure and… what? Pink Floyd? Oh, great! Well I’ve got some time to come up with an original take on that one.

I’m Not A Fan

I figured I should write this up since it’s been bouncing around in my brain for ages.

I like music a lot, and there are plenty of artists I like, appreciate, admire and love. But I really don’t consider myself a “fan”.

A whole while ago I had a ticket to go see Cat Power play a concert at a small theatre at the local university. There were two shows, and I think they were two hours apart – my ticket was for the 5:00pm show (I might be paraphrasing the actual time).

It was general admission, so I showed up semi-early to get a good seat.

Then I decided that standing in line with a bunch of smoking collage kids was silly so I went and waited at a coffee shop and came back about half an hour before the show. I assumed the doors would be open by then. They weren’t.

At 5:00pm, the doors were still not open. I asked other people in line if they knew what was going on, but nobody knew. Eventually I walked up to the doors and knocked until someone bothered coming out and telling us that the show was delayed and they wouldn’t be letting people in till 6:30pm.

At this point I asked if anyone wanted a free ticket, gave mine to the first person who didn’t think I was joking, and went home.

When I got home I thought it might be a good idea to post something to a local online forum to let people who might have tickets for the 8:00pm show know that there is no way that thing is starting on time. I did post that there was a huge huge delay, that the people running the theatre didn’t bother coming out and explaining anything and were content to let us all wait out in the rain.

Some people asked how come I hadn’t waited. I explained that I actually had stuff to do that day, and that standing outside in the rain with a bunch of people who were already pretty drunk and smoking all over the place was just not something I’m willing to do just to see a Cat Power concert.

People just couldn’t understand the reasoning and basically a flame-war erupted where people were giving me crap for leaving. One person commented (again, paraphrasing) that “…isn’t it funny how a little rain separates the TRUE fans from the wannabes?”

That’s really when it struck me – no, I’m not a fan.

The word “fan” is derived, for good reason, from the word “fanatic”. “Fans” are the people who buy every single album – including reissues, different versions of the same album, Japanese imports, whatever. They’re the ones who go to every single show. The ones who WILL wait out in the rain, the snow, the heat, whatever. The ones who scream when the show starts.

That’s just not me.

Here’s an example – there are not a lot of musicians I admire as much as Mark Knopfler. Guy’s a genius. I keep saying that if he was born 300 years ago, people would still be listening to Wolfgang Amadeus Knopfler. That’s the extent of his genius in my book. I was really disappointed when I missed his concerts twice before I finally managed to hear about them more than 24 hours before they took place and got tickets to see him.

I was obviously very excited to see Mark Knopfler play live. Sadly, the concert itself was a let-down.

Did I ever write about how one of my pet peeves at concerts is that they’re just too loud? Well, this one was too loud. And the venue Mark Knopfler plays at when he’s in town has some serious sound problems. Unless you’re sitting at a very narrow sweet spot, the sound will be horrible. The seats I had at that concert, some of the time all you could here was – and I’m serious about this – white noise.

Not music, not even painfully loud music, just the SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHFFFFFFFF of white noise. No recognisable musical note whatsoever.

I assumed that was accidental – nobody could want the sound to be that bad, right? So I went to see Mark Knopfler the next time he was in town and the same thing happened. That time I actually complained, which is how I found out about the sweet spot.

The last time I saw Mark Knopfler I got seats that I thought were near enough to the sweet spot… but they weren’t. Plus it was just… painfully loud.

(The whole loudness is a totally different topic, I suppose, but I will say that yes, people have suggested I take ear plugs to concerts. Which just boggles my mind. Why on EARTH would I go to a MUSIC CONCERT if I can’t HEAR THE MUSIC? I already know what Mark Knopfler looks like, I’m not there to LOOK at him. I’m there to hear him play the damn guitar. But anyway).

Last year when Mark Knofpler was once again touring and playing a local show, I didn’t bother trying to get tickets. I figure it’s just too much of a gamble.

The other night, K called me a “fanboy” just because I went to a craft store, got some iron-on letters and made a slogan-shirt which I wore to a Nellie McKay concert. I don’t really think that makes me a fanboy. I mean if I had no reason whatsoever to think that she’d see it, maybe. But there was a pretty good chance she would (she tends to stay around after the show to chat/sign autographs/pose for photos for my other blog). And really me doing something weird on the off-chance that it’ll entertain one single person isn’t really new. Heck, this isn’t even the first time I made a t-shirt for that purpose. The fact that it DID entertain Nellie McKay is definitely a plus. But that’s another point – she actually takes the time and makes the effort to interact with people, even weird people with silly action figures, so she deserves the extra effort (plus I learned how to iron-on patches. Ok, I learned that I’m bad at it).

Alright, I think that’s enough tangents for one night. Honestly I think I’m still a bit wired from the three cups of tea I had at Nellie’s concert (yes, that’s what heavy drinking at a concert is around here – tea.) To summarise: I love music and I’m ever so grateful and appreciative to the wonderful artists who make it. But seriously, I’m not going to stand outside in the rain or suffer through enough noise that it makes me want to pass out just so I can say I’ve been there.

Oh, also, if you guys could stop trying to sell $50 t-shirts at your concerts, that’d be cool. I happen to know for a fact that iron-on letters cost like $3.