In Defense of Liner Notes

 

It was a part of the deal for me, sometimes consumed before the music was even played. Vinyl had them. CDs had them. Even fricking cassettes had them. And in the pre-internet age when all of the information I sought was not gathered in one convenient location, it was a cornerstone on which I built my reputation as someone who knew too much shit about music.

Liner notes – sometimes stately and elegant, sometimes silly, sometimes anemic, I would pore over every word of them. From musician histories to who played what instrument on which track to “The band would like to thank…”, I digested it.

Taken as a whole, stories and portraits began to emerge from seemingly unrelated albums. Hey, that bass player from that other band I used to like is now playing with these guys, and the guitarist from this band is thanked in the liner notes from that album, and those two bands use the same graphic designer, while this album and that other album were produced by the same person. Previously errant bits of information began to fit together in a great jigsaw puzzle of musical minutiae enlightenment. It was a continuing … Continue reading

Ponderous Wank: Tears on My Pillow


As I write this, I am self-medicating to counteract a funk. I had the blues pretty badly, but the antidote is cleaning that mess up very well. The cause of the melancholy? Music. The cure? Music.

Having gotten one of her songs stuck in my head, I decided to listen to Jessica Lea Mayfield’s Blasphemy So Heartfelt on the drive to my day job this morning. It was not the best movie I’ve ever made. While it’s a beautiful album – good from start to finish – it can break my heart in seconds. As I began to sink low, I thought, “No problem. I’ll just pop in the Black Keys’ Brothers when I get to the office and be revived.” (No, I do not actually talk like that in my head.)

My surefire cure was delayed until lunchtime thanks to my Monday morning forgetfulness that caused my headphones to be left on the kitchen table, but that gave me time to ponder, not for the first time, the powerful connection between music and emotion. I have always been what I … Continue reading

Ponderous Wank: Going Out the Way You Came In


I finally watched Cadillac Records this weekend, and while I did like it (I’m a sucker sell for a movie like this), the part that effected me most was one frame of text at the end of the film in the run-down of what happened to the major players in the film. It was about Little Walter, who was Muddy Waters’ harmonica man (who also had some solo success), and it said simply that he was buried in a grave with no headstone, and that a headstone was purchased by fans years later.

This hit me so hard that I just sat there with the credits paused and tears welling up in my eyes. I know by now that reciprocity, people getting “what they deserve”, is not, and has never been, an operational law in this world, but it makes me so angry that someone who was as talented and influential didn’t even have the money for a proper funereal and burial while people who didn’t have a fraction of Little Walter’s talent have had hugely elaborate, hell, downright gaudy … Continue reading

Ponderous Wank: Music as Identity


For better or for worse, music has become inextricably linked to identity and image. Bands in certain genres are automatically tagged with certain traits by listeners. A “sound” may be attributed to a band based on their geographical location – the Seattle sound, the Philly sound, etc. And skimming through a few band pages at MySpace, one will find it easy to determine the sound of many bands solely from the art and images displayed (tip: if you display individual, name-tagged images of each of your band members accompanied by a photo of the band in a “fun” pose together, you will probably not be mistaken for a particularly experimental or progressive act).

This image tagging trickles down to the listeners and is sometimes forcibly taken up by listeners. Kids seeking their identities will lock themselves in their rooms with music for hours and will often emerge outfitted in the trappings of the music they have found the most relatable to their life or to the life they want to have. Cliques are formed. The punk kids won’t hang … Continue reading

Ponderous Wank: “Remember the days when Grandpa would take us upstate to play in the country.”

Adding to the lists of reasons why I love the Felice Brothers: It seems there upbringing was not terribly different from mine, and I can feel that familiarity in their words and actions. Just now, I was listening to “The Country is Gone” from their album Tonight at the Arizona, and I heard sounds that made tears catch in my throat. It was the distant call of a Blue Jay and the almost-subliminal rise and fall of the sound of Cicadas. Just in the background, just like the way I heard it as I went about my daily life in the country.

It’s an interesting thing… I spent so much of my youth just waiting for the time when I could get away from the countryside, but now that I am in the city (or near enough to it), I realize how the country left its mark on me, in a not-unpleasant way. I have always loved the lights and sounds and motion and tall buildings of the city, and I often feel filled with an electric energy when I’m surrounded by it, … Continue reading

Ponderous Wank: Connection

There is an alchemy that occurs when music is made. There is no formula, though. You cannot, for instance, take man + guitar + harmonica and get Bob Dylan every time. You cannot take sweeping samples + beats that feel like they grew up from the ground and into your soul + rhymes about Shaolin Kung Fu and get the Wu-Tang Clan every time. Even if you could come close to recreating that kind of magic in music, there is still the unpredictable variable of the listener. I love A.A. Bondy, but I don’t love every “folk” singer-songwriter with a guitar. I can barely come up with a handful of artists who could fit that category that I much care for. (And I have a hard time thinking of Bondy as a folk singer at all due to the loaded concept that term has come to engender over the years.)

The thing about music is that it is not a science. It’s human, living, changing thing. The musician brings her background, her emotions, her voice, skill, style, attitude, etc. The listener brings his experience, preferences, mood that day, memories, etc. Sometimes it all manages to fall into place and the … Continue reading