Monday, October 1, 2007

Vinyl Records (Todd Snider)

Reprinted from the LefsetzLetter, albeit belatedly - then again, this essay is timeless. This is me, this is so f*cking me (the music more than the internet part) - no apologies...

September 21, 2007
Bob Lefsetz

I had to turn on my computer for this.

Fuck heroin. That's nothing compared to an Internet addiction. I can't get off this fucking machine. Right through this 23" HD screen is a whole world, updated faster than word of mouth. Everything from explosions to sex, it's right here on the Internet.

I tell myself that I'm gonna fight it. And then I walk in the door and even though all my e-mail has been forwarded to my BlackBerry I can't fight the pull, I have to wake my Mac up, I have to see what's GOING ON!

And this is hell if you ever want to fall asleep.

I don't sleep so well to begin with. And falling asleep? Almost impossible. If I waited until I was tired I'd be up twenty two hours a day, eventually working my way around the clock a la Frank Zappa. So, this week I've been experimenting with shutting down. It's one thing to hit the keys and wake my computer up. But to FIRE IT UP! That's a whole 'nother level. I've got enough willpower to resist. At least I thought I did. But I've just broken down. Because I heard the MOST AMAZING SONG ON THE RADIO!

Sure, we hate the commercials. But we lament more the loss of the deejays. Those who were music fans, picking the tunes, as opposed to liner note readers or multi-job wannabe Dick Clarks like Ryan Seacrest. Someone who was just as into music as we were. Who guided us and reminded us we were on the same team.

There's a new deejay on XM's Deep Tracks. And like all the great deejays of the past, he pulls the graveyard shift. When only the diehards, those who dearly need the hit, are paying attention. When I hear the same country songs over and over again and feel my head will explode and it's around midnight I dial in Deep Tracks to hear what Greg Gillispie is playing.

Earlier this evening he spun Genesis' "Supper's Ready". Cool, but a Gabriel era fave. But, as I'm sitting in front of my XM boom box, tapping out responses on my BlackBerry, a song comes out of the speakers that I've NEVER heard on the radio. That maybe has never been spun on the radio EVER! The very last song from the Kinks' "Preservation Act 2", "You Can't Stop The Music".

This is where my Ray Davies fascination began. Oh, I knew all the sixties hits. Had a greatest hits album. Even bought "Arthur" and "Lola". Even went to my friend Andy's dorm room to listen to "Celluloid Heroes". But what made me believe that Ray was truly one of the greats was "Preservation Act 2".

I read about it in "Creem". And maybe "Zoo World". The reviews said it was special. Better than "Act 1". Which, of course, I eventually bought, but had passed on at this point.

I drove to Westport and bought that double-pack and came home and dropped the needle on an EXTRAVAGANZA! A whole PLAY! With characters and a story and some absolutely incredible songs, like "Money Talks".

I quote it constantly...

"Show me a man who says he can live without bread
And I'll show you a man who's a liar and in debt"

Oh, it goes on from there. All about mazuma. The money culture we live in. With a great GROOVE!

And there's "Shepherds Of The Nation" and "He's Evil".

Wait a minute. I'VE MADE A MISTAKE! "You Can't Stop The Music" isn't from "Preservation Act 2" AT ALL! That ends with the equally great "Salvation Road". "You Can't Stop The Music" is from the FOLLOW-UP! "Soap Opera"!

But fuck, you probably don't know any of these tracks. None of them were hits. The Kinks were in teenage wasteland, otherwise known as RCA Records. Only when they switched to Arista did Clive Davis bring them back from the brink, turn them into an arena act. Which was almost impossible to believe. But then they moved on, and were forgotten all over again. (I could explain how Clive and Arista were different back then. But that's a different letter.)

I haven't missed a Kinks album since. Probably the best after "Preservation Act 2" is "Misfits", with "A Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy" (NO, not the Bad Company track!) The story of my life.

But tonight we're talking about the best track, the final track from a truly mediocre album. Ray Davies was deep in his Broadwayesque phase. It was the album after this that he started to regain his footing, "Schoolboys In Disgrace".

Let me go back to "A Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy":

"There's a guy in my block, he lives for rock
He plays records day and night
And when he feels down he puts some rock 'n' roll on
And it makes him feel alright
And when he feels the world is closing in
He turns his stereo way up high"

If this isn't you, you can stop reading right now. Quit your job in the industry. You might as well be deaf. I'm only interested in believers. You know how Volkswagen says DRIVERS WANTED! I only want LISTENERS!

Are you a listener? Does the right track change your mood? Can you be happy just listening to a record, needing no video game, no penetration, no other diversion? Did you ever sacrifice dinner to buy a record? Did you ever line up to buy a concert ticket? Did you ever try to convince your MOTHER of the greatness of an act? Then you're on my team.

"Let's all raise a glass
To the rock stars of the past
Those that made it
Those that faded
Those that never even made the grade
Those that we thought would never last"

Rachel Sweet. I bought her album, it was on Stiff. Did you?

How about Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas? Or Peter & Gordon?

Did you really think Elton was for the ages when you heard "Your Song"? Did you think U2 would still be playing the Garden? Even you. Admit it, YOU picked up the guitar. Or maybe you played the drums, driving your parents crazy. You just needed to be closer.

"Singers come and go
And stars fade away
They vanish in the haze
And they're never seen again
But the music just keeps playing on"

I've got thousands of vinyl records in my house. Parting with them would be like giving away a child. I need them. They're the history of my life. You may not know them, but I'm familiar with each and every one. I hand-picked them. Played them over and over until I loved them. I went to college, but I learned more listening to records.

"I've been half a million places
I've seen half a million people who stare
I've been a star and down and out
I've been put on, sat on, punched and spat on
They've called me a faggot, a spiv and a fake
They can knock me down and tread on my face
They can't stop the music playing on"

It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll. And it's almost impossible to stay at the top. How do you cope when the crowd no longer cares, has forgotten your triumphs, what do you do when the radio station says NEXT!

You don't give up. Not if you've really got it. And talent is only fifty percent. The rest is made up of pure determination, pure desire. These are our rock stars. This is Ray Davies. And we love him for it.

The music keeps playing on. Despite Lyor Cohen's shenanigans. Despite "Hits"' vendetta against him, angry that he won't cough up some dough. Despite high CD prices, RIAA lawsuits and TicketMaster fees. People need to make it, we need to hear it. They usually get it wrong, but when they get it right, IT CHANGES OUR WHOLE LIFE!

I was thinking about getting up early, about winding down, but ONE TRACK ON THE RADIO CHANGED MY LIFE!

Don't worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn't matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world's harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can't see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.


Today, llike every day,
we wake up hollow and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Reach for a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways
to kneel and kiss the ground.

QUOTE: "To hell with reality! I want to die in music, not in reason or in prose. People don't deserve the restraint we show by not going into delirium in front of them. To hell with them!" ~ Louis-Ferdinand Celine


  1. Absolutely YOU, my friend! Whew!

  2. Hey, M ~

    Frightening, eh? - just hit a vein... and the first one's free, little girl... :-)