Live! Music

I was searching YouTube today. YouTube was new to me about a year ago, and I only started using it this summer to get my Ron Paul fix. Go Ron Paul (To divert the political overtones into subliminality, I feel this way about the Pats, Sox, and Elephant Men as well)!

In the States, I used Pandora for my internet music fix. I highly recommend it - for those who lack the ctrl-Enter reflex, the website is http://www.pandora.com.

Excellent stuff. It spits songs at you that it thinks you'll like from information you've supplied, and you rate them thumbs up or thumbs down. And believe it or not, it "learns" what you like. Not exactly learning - I can see something into their algorithm, and I'm sure my AI programmer friends would have a good laugh at its expense, but it carries a database about musical style, and I think everyone has an idea of the power of databases these days.

Can it be improved on? Yes! If anyone from Pandora reads this, please implement a neural net, this whole "ranking songs on 11,233 characteristics" is not only time consuming, but it's insulting. All I care about a song is that it is the song I want to hear when I go to your website. Google gives me the link I want when I type in a word, and you better believe they'll give me the song I want eventually if you don't shape up!

I would love to get into my (amateur) thoughts on computational geometry at this point, but lets get to the point first. Live music. There is one band that has served as a bit of a thorn in my side since about the turn of The Bug or so because it completely dumbfounds every search engine (even Google!).

Which brings me back to another great early-oughts fad, just before the internet went corporate (much to my socialist friends' chagrin)(except for the added publicity they got from it because they were marginally more internet savvy than the common man): remember Googleplexing? It was something of a couch potato sport for about 3 days in 1998. You'd try search terms in Google until you found one that came up with exactly one result. Then you'd post on some newsgroup about what you had done, because your only friends were textual. Of course, if you knew anything about Google's ingenious algorithm, this post would quickly become the #2 listing and would thus constitute a form social suicide. It's like Bart Simpson reaching for that cupcake and getting it, only to be shocked anyway by Lisa. Mmmm cupcake. (Note to sportswriters who would put that in its own paragraph: you suck.)

I searched on YouTube for "Live". For those of you not born between 1979 and 1981, Live was a formative band of our triennial for the simple blind luck of putting almost all their lifetime talent into one album, Throwing Copper, which happened to be released in 1994 when I was particularly impressionable. To sum up the album, here's a quote from an "Australian interview" via Wikipedia:

Singer/songwriter Ed Kowalczyk was asked in an Australian radio interview in 1997 if R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe had sung the backing vocals at the end of the song "Pillar of Davidson." Kowalczyk laughed and replied, "No, that's just me trying to sound like Michael Stipe as hard as I can!"

Hero worship and general lameness aside, Live actually did produce what is in my opinion one of the top 5 albums of the '90s (this will be expanded upon in a future, I promise). I was a fan. I wanted to hear some live. Pandora, I found out, was blocked out due to lack of resolution of copyright laws. Not abridgement of copyright laws, since there hasn't actually been a conflict yet. But the music industry is set up in a pre-internet, and apparently pre-telephone paradigm whereby artists are usually signed by different companies in different countries/continents. So Pandora, which obviously survived from college start-up by quickly morphing out of necessity from a bunch of enthusiastic music supporters into a bunch of jaded lawyers-of-necessity, can not even play its music outside of America for fear of More Lawsuits.

Live is a great band, not just because they bring tears to the eyes of new mothers with "Lightning Crashes", or because they believe god is some combination of Buddha and Jesus and they have insisted on shoving that belief down their fans' throats, along with uninspired instrumentation, since apparently the day after they cut "White, Discussion" They actually cut some bad ass shit in their day, or at least they made me trip a little, and without shrooms. To prove this, I offer a line from the "quintessential Live song" (according to Manchester Memorial HS friend Jason Andrikovitz c. cut day 1998) "Freaks":

If the mother goes to bed with you
Will you run and tell the papers
How she picked you from a lineup in downtown Philadelphia
With a cigarette hangin' out of your mouth
And Henry Miller in your back pocket
You little fucker

I mean, that's gritty. A little? I'll write a post praising Tool to make up for this I promise. Before I got sidetracked into the territory of praising a B- '90s faux-grunge band, I was talking about computational geometry. Which these days will get you way more chicks than grunge bands, but I wouldn't have believed that, except in desperation, in 1994 either. If you search for Live on Google, you'll get a lot of results. Way too many. Millions.

Because when Google was invented, live music was not really around. I mean, my parents might have dropped way too much to see Huey Lewis and the News walk through a choreographed stage act fueled by diesel generators and copious amounts of cocaine, but live music and Live was not really a conflict to be taken into account in the early '90s. I think we've witnessed in our lifetimes a revival in live music. My parents saw bands that had sold out to record companies and, later, MTV. After about '80, when Zep broke up on what I can only hope was conscience, there was nothing. There was the occasional Talking Heads type infra-band now and then, and maybe Aerosmith would get out of rehab long enough to organize a tour every 5 years, but nobody mastered the act quite. Where were the minstrels?

I guess it all changed in 1983 when Phish came together. Apparently they played the Burlington college circuit, then the Northeast bar circuit, then the washed-up hippie circuit. It is something of a credit to them that they took about a decade to come of age. I say "about" because I wasn't there. I was never a Phish head. I went to one concert, Worcester 2/28/2003 (that's how Phish heads demarcate their lives). I heard a great "Maze" and a decent "Ghost" and I was happy, even though I had never heard "Maze" or "Ghost" before.

By then the tide was well in, and the wave had probably crashed a la Hunter Thompson on a hill outside Las Vegas. I had missed the copycat Woodstocks, the first Bonnaroo, the first ten or so Burning Mans, and umpteen "epic" Phish shows. I've never been cool until cool was uncool, and this is no exception. I watched my share of String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, and Sound Tribe shows. I've seen bands that no one who listens to radio has heard of, and I'm proud of it: New Monsoon, Bela Fleck, Toots Thielman, Disco Biscuits.

The point I'm trying to make is a compound one, so try your best to follow it. Live was a reasonable band name for a band that had no reason to reasonably expect success in 1994. Live stumps Google, which is the most ingenious thing we've come up with since I'd be drivin' trucks my dear
I'd be skinnin' hunted deer>, which means, anyway, that it stumps YouTube too. Google was born in 1996. MTV doesn't show videos anymore, and nobody but insecure teenage girls and angry teenage guys give two shits about what's on the radio (except for me, who will listen whenever the Gas Hed's on the radio). Contrary to what marketers believe, teenagers don't have shit for money and change so much by the time they do that whatever dancing bear you shoved in their face in 9th grade won't mean shit but a few basis points on the margin of your company, the dying merger-cluster-fuck.

In other words, music is back to some sort of purity. I love it. Festivals are all over the place. Bands can define their success by either records or tickets sold. Great musicians can spread by word of mouth again, while on the other hand music corps can make money off the Long Tail effect.

Has the internet enabled the rebirth in live music? In a word, no. It was happening long before Larry and Sergey. But the synergies have been one of the nice little gifts the internet has bestowed. Great bands are judged by the experience they provide, rather than the director they work with.

But then there's the bad side. Sports, for instance were revolutionized by television. In fact, since everyone could afford to watch for free now, ticket prices for sporting event have gone to the point where Average J. can now afford to bring his family to the game about once in an Eric Gagne save. Zing!

The saving grace here is that you can't watch a football game live in any one of 5 bars in any one of 300 cities in America every weekend night. And maybe, just maybe, that band will be half good. Maybe they'll be even be great, and you'll be 17, and you'll follow them on the road until your trust fund runs out. Maybe you'll even try learn the "Mike's Song" intro on guitar, or maybe even bass to be different. And if Americans start deserting bars for their internet music-casts, you can probably see the price of bar beer going down. Maybe they'll even have to charge less for beer licenses! Maybe we'll even get local government out of the alcohol racket! Of course, the last time we tried that they threw prohibition on us, in the hopes that government troops would get enough innocent people killed that they'd have to repeal the amendment... which they did. And now I enjoy a nice 14-cent Eurobier. From the Netherlands.

But I digress. I do miss the good old U S of A. I talked French with some Quebecois today, and we talked about maple syrup, and I got homesick. In the Netherlands, they claim to be "truly" free. Which means they take 50% of what you earn up front, and then if you can still afford it you're "tolerated" for smoking weed, as long as you buy it from a registered (read: highly-taxed) establishment. I don't want to bang on the Netherlands, because I think their history and their country is quite amazing in its resiliency, but the freedom rap is a tourism gimmick for the city of Amsterdam. I was told it would be much more free before I came, but the majority of culture shock I've felt here is due to being watched and hounded by bureaucracy and rules. When it comes down to it, America does offer a lot of freedom, only it's selective and that begs the "when they come for you" type of questions. Which are perfectly valid what if? questions. But on the other hand, I felt just as free walking down the street with a burning J in San Fran as I do in Delft. Right.

Back to Live music, and live music, the two are currently indistinguishable by the internet but clearly distinguishable, by everyone. People who scream "Britney is more popular, so that means her music must be good!" are clearly deluded, but it has taken us some time to realize why. Live music is just better, period, unless you're a bad band.

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