From The Desk Of Rings

I don’t know why I am coming back to Ringo Starr; it’s not like I’m a huge fan or anything. In fact I haven’t even heard anything he’s written in the past, um, fifteen years? Perhaps I simply love it when we get real, unadulterated quotes from rock’n’roll personalities.

Ringo Starr has said that The Beatles’ musical ability wasn’t helped by screaming fans during their mid-sixties heyday. He says: “By 1965 we were turning into really bad musicians because we literally couldn’t hear ourselves over the screaming from the audience. I was going downhill as a musician, and so was everyone else in the band”.

He adds: “Then, we only did 25 minutes on stage. Now thanks to Led Zeppelin and The Who, everybody has to do two hours”. – from CMU Daily

So anyhow, I can understand this. Back then they didn’t really have monitors, or PAs (a rock concert was actually just a concert), but I mean, they still rehearsed, didn’t they? But maybe not if they were on tour all the time. But waitasecond: 25 minutes on stage? Playing short sets is super frustrating. Sometimes The Dears would get to a show, and the promoters would tell us: “you have 30 minutes.” Generally the band would grumble: by about 20 minutes into a set we’ve just gotten comfortable on stage and after that point all of us just start to let loose up there. It’s that point of no return, that “runaway train with no brakes” feeling.

On the other end of the spectrum, the two-hour set doesn’t always work either: it’s all a matter of calling it as it’s happening, of doing what’s appropriate for the situation. And being comfortable: I feel Ringo’s 1965 Beatlemania-induced pain. It sucks when you can’t hear anything – especially the drums – but the show must go on, and I don’t think any one of those thousands of screaming teenagers noticed for a second that the musicians couldn’t hear each other. People don’t go to shows to find out about the technical problems, even though it can ruin the show for a musician.

I remember back when we toured with this Yamaha A4000 sampler connected to three controller keyboards via a flimsy MIDI network. That system would crash half the time and we would have to scramble to keep the show going while I troubleshot the cabling and, in the extreme situation, re-loaded the sampler. Now that sucked. We’ve since switched over to these super reliable Roland FantomX keyboards, so no more mid-show meltdowns. Now I can focus on other things, like playing a good show, which is much more fun for everyone involved.

Long, Long, Long

I was inspired to get my iPod up and running because I had this song suddenly stuck in my head, and the only way I know to remove a song is to listen to the original. The song was “Long, Long, Long” off the Beatles’ White Album.

This is my second iPod. My first one Murray bought for me years ago, and it eventually got stolen out of our car. So I’ve been iPod-less for about a year, which is OK because I don’t really listen to music anyhow. Since, however, I’ve been driving more, especially out to the South Shore to visit family, I’ve felt the urge in those commuter-like moments to listen to music. Except for certain shows on the CBC, the radio is entirely frustrating. I try CKUT, CISM, but usually can’t be held for more than one song.

I’ve had a new iPod sitting in its box for something like five months: each person in the band got one as a consolation prize for being a Polairs nominee. So why did I wait so long? This new, fancy iPod comes with new, fancy firmware that didn’t work with my ancient OS X. I had to breathe new life into my iBook G4 anyhow so I wiped it, upgraded the RAM and installed Tiger. Now it works like a charm but I don’t have iPhoto anymore which is annoying. How do I get that back without having to dish out for that useless suite of iLife programs?

At least the iPod works now. I have 160GB which I’m filling up with music I had backed up music from my previous iPod, and also with my photos. For variation, I’ve decided to turn to the Podcast, and now subscribe to episodes of CBC Radio 3 and DrownedInSound. Mainly I want to hear new music, get a sense of the musical climate out there.

Now I want to go on a road trip or something, just to have an excuse to explore the new things captured on my iPod…

…and I still haven’t listened to that Beatles’ song yet.

I Endorse Ringo Starr

This is kind of old news, but a few weeks back, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr was in the US doing some promo. When suddenly, his unexpected walk-out on a daytime talk show stirred the media. He was labelled a rockstar diva and people (who cared) started taking sides. The headline piqued my interest and I read further. The story is that the producers of the show asked him to cut two minutes out of the four-and-a-half minute song he was about the perform.

Who authorised the conceit of television? Why, suddenly, are the impulsive guidelines set by television shows made more important that artistry and craft? What’s the point of publicly performing a version of the song that was never meant to be? It’s maddening for a songwriter to have their creation belittled so thoughtlessly.

But it’s the undeniable role TV plays in defining our culture, the importance we put on it: publicists and managers will urge their artists to do anything to appease the powers that be. When we were asked to go on one US late night TV talk show, the producer told our publicist that we could only appear of we performed their favourite song. The show has a huge viewership and being invited to perform on it without selling a hundred thousand records was a real honour and opportunity for The Dears. But at what cost? They asked us to play a certain song in under two minutes. Now we have songs, including the singles, that would have fit easily into this slot. But they requested a five minute song that we had to re-rehearse, edit and basically butcher completely to get it under two minutes. I mean, I think we pulled it off but commodifying the parts of a song like that was an exhausting and soul-draining exercise.

So kudos to old Rings. If they had told us we had to cut our song right before we went on, there would have been some major, major freaking out. Performing on national TV is nerve-wracking enough. We don’t need the occasionally selfish and artless TV producer randomly adding to that. So a message to any band that writes a real, un-formulaic song over three minutes long: be warned. And Ringo Starr, you are my hero.

I Like Paul McCartney. Reluctantly.

I grew up mainly listening to my parent’s collection of gas station promotion tapes, a series called Solid Gold where each tape showcased about a dozen songs from each decade. I’m pretty sure this is a Canadian thing, maybe even just an Ontario thing, but it seems anyone who blogs about these Solid Gold cassettes acquired them from their parents in the 80’s. Anyway, I listened to those and also to the Beatles’ red (1962-1966) and blue (1967-1970) double cassette compilations. Generally I liked the blue one better and they were all I listened to — until I hijacked my sister’s copy of Viva Hate in grade 6.

Over the years I got into other stuff by the Beatles, including a heavy obsession with the White Album, and then a fling in the late 90’s with Band on The Run by Wings. Now listening to the Beatles is a little exhausting: I still appreciate them but I really listened to their stuff A LOT in high school. So anyway, blah blah blah, more years pass, I get into John Lennon, George Harrison, and think I’m a smartypants for recognising Ringo’s voice on Thomas the Tank Engine.

These days, equalled perhaps only by Yoko Ono’s media presence, McCartney hits the headlines pretty often. He puts out an album every couple of years, and is otherwise either being knighted or getting divorced. It seems there’s always a reason to keep talking about him. Recently, Murray and I endured a made-for-TV movie ‘The Linda McCartney Story’ because our friend Moya was in the opening credits so we had to watch it. The movie was pretty brutal, especially the neanderthal-like portrayal of John Lennon, but it was fun seeing Moya as Heather McCartney. So Sir McCartney is always on our minds, most recently quoted: McCartney Brands Label ‘Boring’.

This article is awesome, and so telling of the dinosaur operating strategy of most major labels. They sit back, resting on their laurels, banking on the guaranteed success of established artists, and not evolving with the rest of the world, then wondering why CD sales are going down. And quite fittingly these established artists (Madonna, Radiohead, Morrissey, McCartney, to name a few) are sick of — quite literally — working for the man, and are leaving the majors for new and adventurous music distribution and marketing models. I guess it’s easier for a bigger artist to break out this way, since they don’t need big advances to get started. Now the more evolved labels are getting into the 360 deal, as it’s called. Dipping in to the artist’s touring and merch income, online strategies and not just focusing on retail sales for income. The industry seems divided on whether or not the 360 deal can work: many artists and some labels are skeptical. But its just business doing business, and really don’t we do business with the goal of hopefully seeing a return from an investment?

Anyhow, this is just another reason why I reluctantly like Sir Paul, even though he can be a real cheeseball sometimes.