Rich Wilhelm

Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

Shady Dog Record Store Day

In Music/Memory on April 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Earlier this week, I had been writing notes on my lifelong history with record stores, to celebrate yesterday’s Record Store Day. I didn’t finish that bit of musical/cultural memoir in time, but I’ll finish it up soon.

In the meantime, I did want to note that I spent a few hours at Shady Dog Records in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, yesterday and that was a great store to spend the sixth annual Record Store Day. The joint was hopping with record lovers and this is what was happening:

A father and a very young son (I’m thinking not even seven years old) were talking about the Clash, the Pogues and Pink Floyd.

Two teenage boys called their parents on a cell phone to find out if Mom and/or Dad wanted the boys to pick anything up for them.

A twentysomething guy holding a vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and saying, “It would be cool to have some Dylan on vinyl.” I recommended that he buy that copy of Nashville Skyline and I’m pretty certain he did.

Another guy in his 20s, buying his first Miles Davis LP. I’m not sure which one it was, though it was not Kind of Blue. “And next time, you can pick up Kind of Blue,” the clerk advised.

Several dads and/or moms with young kids browsing the record and CD racks.

A customer and one of the owners having a conversation in which they were poetically comparing watching a major league baseball pitcher in action to watching jazz pianist Bill Evans play.

In addition to all of this, I picked up a few CDs and some very cheap albums. I could tell you about these CDs and records, in great detail, but in a big way, the specifics of my purchase isn’t the point.

I am not here to bash the Internet, music downloading, social media or anything else. Modern life has all kinds of advantages, many of which I appreciate every day. But the reason Record Store Day is special is not the “exclusive” releases that are gobbled up by fans as soon as the stores open. And, while ostensibly, Record Store Day is helping the stores make a few bucks (and I genuinely hope that RSD was indeed good to Shady Dog’s bottom line), it’s not just about money.

A place like Shady Dog Records gives people who really love music a place to meet (in person!) and share that enthusiasm with their friends and family, as well as with people they’ve just met. That is what Record Store Day is about and, by that yardstick, Record Store Day 2013 at Shady Dog Records was a roaring success.

BerryBuckMillsStipe

In Music/Opinion on April 13, 2013 at 5:13 am

On April 12, 1983–30 years ago yesterday, as I sit typing these words–a relatively unknown band from Athens, Georgia released their full-length debut LP. The band was R.E.M.; the album was Murmur.

I didn’t know anything about it at the time. I am sure I was too busy preparing for my high school senior prom later that week to notice the quiet arrival of Murmur.

Within a few months, though, I took notice. In August of that year, I saw R.E.M., opening for the Police at JFK Stadium. Actually, opening for the opening acts for the Police: Madness and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

I don’t remember whether I bought Murmur before that concert, in anticipation of the show, or afterwards. Either way, Murmur wasn’t an album that immediately opened itself up to me. I loved the opening song, “Radio Free Europe,” immediately, but I have to admit the rest of the album seemed to be a “grower.” Gradually, Murmur revealed certain of its mysteries to me.

Thirty years later, I still can’t say with certainty that I have completely cracked Murmur‘s code. But I also can’t say with certainty that there is any album I love more than Murmur.

It would probably be an overstatement to say that Murmur changed my life. However, in terms of musical and cultural influence, Murmur is huge.

Murmur didn’t merely make me a lifelong R.E.M. fan. Murmur led me forward to bands like the Replacements, the dBs, the Three O’Clock, the Minutemen and so many more. Murmur also led me backward to bands like the Byrds and the Velvet Underground and so many more.

Murmur is simply a cornerstone of my musical life.

I am not even listening to Murmur as I write this. I don’t need to. I’m listening to a new album, New Lion Terraces by Corin Ashley. I just saw Corin perform tonight. I loved his songs, took a chance on his album, and love it as well.

I think R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck would be pleased that I was trying something new, and not listening to Murmur as I wrote about it.

Perhaps Murmur did not change my life. But my life has been enhanced and beguiled by Murmur ever since 1983. And for that, and for all that has led to, I thank BerryBuckMillsStipe.

In Defense of Brad and LL

In Music/Opinion on April 12, 2013 at 3:56 am

So, what about that Brad Paisley/LL Cool J song?

In the event that you missed it, Brad and LL are kicking up some controversy this week over a song called “Accidental Racist,” that appears on Paisley’s new album, Wheelhouse. Beginning with a scenario in which a barista at Starbucks takes offense at the Confederate flag on a customer’s Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, the song moves on to become a conversation between Paisley and LL Cool J on racial relations as they existed throughout the history of the United States, right up to the present day.

I listened to “Accidental Racist” once, on YouTube. I tried to find again just now, but the song has become harder to find. I don’t know whether this is because it has been removed as much as possible from the Internet or whether it’s just buried under all of the “Accidental Racist” reaction videos that have appeared this week. My initial take on “Accidental Racist” was that, while the subject matter is daring, the song itself is clunky, awkward and bound to annoy and/or offend many people, of all races, who hear it.

Maybe that’s the point. After all, isn’t the “Conversation on Race” that we frequently hear about often clunky, awkward and bound to annoy and/or offend many people, of all races, who hear it?

Actually, I don’t think Brad Paisley and LL Cool J intentionally set out to write and record a bad song. But maybe sometimes a bad song with good intentions is better than a good song with good intentions, if it takes that Conversation on Race in a new direction.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I do know some things. I have loved Brad Paisley’s work practically from the beginning of his recording career and I think he is an enormously talented songwriter who has proven his ability to tackle big topics in song. If you haven’t heard it, check out Paisley’s song “Welcome to the Future,” which begins with Paisley as a kid, wishing he could have a TV in his car, and culminates in a celebration of President Obama’s election (without, it should be noted, tipping Paisley’s hand as to who he actually voted for in the election). It is an ambitious and brilliantly constructed song, which at the same time doesn’t seem like the lyrical overreach that “Accidental Racist” might be.

In addition, I was listening to LL Cool J years before anyone had even heard the names “Tupac” and “Biggie.” So, bottom line for me is, I like these two guys and I appreciate them going out on a limb like this, even if they fall on their faces with “Accidental Racist.” Teaming up for this was, in some ways, a brave and crazy thing to do and I’ve got to give them credit, even if “Accidental Racist” isn’t necessarily one of my favorite songs on Wheelhouse.

As it happens, I know there was a time when I was the “Accidental Racist.” I hadn’t thought about this for years, until this week, but when I moved into my first college dorm room at Temple University 30 years ago, one of the things I brought from home was a small Confederate flag that I sat in my Chichester Class of ’83 beer stein that also held a Bert (from Sesame Street) plush toy that wore a small metal pin that proclaimed “Eat McShit and Die.”

None of these objects had any real connection to each other (other than my attempt at being surreal, maybe?), but I guess the question is what was I doing with the Confederate flag? It was a souvenir from my first trip through Tennessee the year before and it coincided with my interest in Civil War history. And that’s it, by which I mean that was my complete connection to the flag. No one ever mentioned the flag to me and I’m not sure how I would have reacted if someone did. Maybe if someone had expressed offense to me about it, a clunky, awkward and potentially offensive dialogue would have started. Maybe something good would have come from the dialogue. Who knows?

What I do know, or at least think I know, is that maybe the upper case Conversation on Race or Dialogue on Race that is supposedly happening isn’t nearly as important as all of the millions of lower case conversations that each of us can potentially engage in everyday. Maybe if each of us can strive to better those dialogues with the diverse people we meet, then the upper case Conversation might improve a little bit.

A word of advice though: spewing anonymous, snarky, ill-informed opinions that reveal nothing more than your own set of prejudices and insecurities does nothing to advance any conversation, lower or upper case.

So to Brad and LL: “Accidental Racist” may not be either of your finer moments, but I salute you both for your unabashed craziness in letting such an awkward and clumsy statement exist to reflect all of our own awkwardness and clumsiness. Because, whether we like it or not, many of us are just as clumsy and awkward as Brad Paisley and LL Cool J.

Roger Ebert, the Kegerreis Duet, Life and How to Live It

In Philosophy/Creativity on April 5, 2013 at 3:34 am

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Roger Ebert died today. I cannot claim, as many others can, that I have followed his writing for years. My nephew Mike is one of those people and you ought to go read his blog post about Ebert. Go, ahead, do it now. I’ll wait. You can find Mike’s entry at http://michaelroyfisher.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/in-memoriam-roger-ebert/ .

OK. Isn’t Mike’s entry great? While I have not been influenced in the way that Mike has by Ebert, I have admired his online presence over the last several years. Ebert was obviously a brilliant film critic and writer but what I love most about him is that he did not let cancer stop him. Ever. I admire that quality in anybody, Pulitzer Prize winner or not, who is dealing with cancer.

In his memoir, Life Itself, Roger Ebert wrote the following:

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health and our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know that and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

When it came to the meaning of life, it seems as though Ebert got it, which brings me to the Kegerreis Duet. Just after reading Ebert’s reflections on kindness, I was coincidentally listening to Jesus Took Care Of It All, a gospel record made long ago by John and Fannie Sue Kegerreis, a father/daughter duo from Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. Both father and daughter sing, with Fannie Sue playing accordion. The album is filled with gospel tunes, though an instrumental with the intriguing title, “Brighten The Corner,” is also included.

This is the kind of record that I might have listened to ironically in my younger days. Now, though, I can’t hear the raw charm of Jesus Took Care Of It All and see the obvious sincerity on the faces of John and Fannie Sue on the album cover and not appreciate what the Kegerreises were doing, regardless of whether or not my religious beliefs match up with theirs. In Ebert’s words, it’s quite apparent that John and Fannie Sue were attempting “to make others a little happier,” as well as to make themselves a little happier. My well-worn copy of Jesus Took Care Of It All seems to indicate that some previous owner was happy to have the record spinning around their turntable.

Of course, the truth is that I know nothing of the Kegerreis family, other than what I hear in the grooves of Jesus Took Care Of It All. Maybe there was some dark undercurrent to their story. But, at least for tonight, I’m going with the theory that John and Fannie Sue Kegerreis made the album as a sincere attempt “to contribute joy to the world.” They certainly brought some joy to me today, as did the life and work of Roger Ebert. So tonight, I thank Ebert, as well as John and Fannie Sue Kegerreis, for the inspiration to do what I can to contribute a little bit of joy to the world.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

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