I've come to expect the Spanish Inquisition
My parents were in town recently, and, as usual, I found myself facing a barrage of questions about what exactly I do as the managing editor of a music review website like HowWasTheShow. Some of the questions were good, though at times I found it difficult having to "speak for" the entire music scene. And since my audience wasn't as well-versed or sympathetic as say, Mary Lucia, I occasionally found myself a little defensive, especially about money-related issues. But attempting to answer helped clarify for me some of the things that motivate people to go into the pop music business in this day and age. Here are three of the questions and the answers I came up with. (Note: I had to research the first one a bit.)
- Regarding Alva Star headlining the HowWastheShow 4th Anniversary Party, I mentioned that the band Alva Star took its name from a Tennessee Williams Play. Which play, my dad queried? Well, Alva Starr (John Hermanson dropped the second "r" when he named his band) is a character in William's 1946 one act play, This Property is Condemned. In 1969, the play was made into a film starring Natalie Wood in the title role. Directed by Sydney Pollack, and also featuring Robert Redford and Charles Bronson, the film version received scripting help from Francis Coppola. Hermanson chose the name for his band after seeing the movie and being "captivated by the parallels between the lives of Alva Star and Natalie Wood and the early death of the character and the early death of the actress."
- Is there a Minneapolis sound? What does it sound like? At the HowWasTheShow writers' meeting this past week, some of the staff had talked about "sounds like" references in reviews and whether or not they were valuable. Clearly they are, as they give people some sort of reference point when they haven't heard the band in question. But how do you use "sounds like" comparisons with people who lack working reference points in contemporary music? You might be able to use "free jazz with horn usage similar to George Gershwin's 'An American in Paris'" to describe some contemporary music, but how do you describe Tapes 'n Tapes to someone who is nearly 70? In one of my own reviews from 2004, I said (regarding TnT) that "I find this local 3-piece [to be] playing some of the most interesting (if not the strangest) music in town, something like what might happen if the Strokes suddenly started listening exclusively to Captain Beefheart and eschewed the reaction of fans and critics." Don't know the Strokes? Don't know Beefheart? Where does that leave you? As far as the Minneapolis (or more rightfully, Minnesota) sound goes I ended up saying that if you took Soul Asylum, The Replacements and Husker Du and shook them up in a cocktail circa 1983 it would be close to the Minneapolis sound that lives in my head. Whether I can explain it or not, I know when I hear it, and we had to leave it at that.
- Are the bands I write about interested in making money? Of course they are! But my attempt at answering this question became emotionally heated for some reason. The question was prompted by discussion about Tapes 'n Tapes, the success they are having right now and their impending appearance on David Letterman (Tuesday, July 25th). Now, I wish the guys in this band all the success in the world and gazillions of dollars, but the fact is that most of even the successful musicians in this town still have day jobs (read Friday's Star Trib for an article about Tapes 'n Tapes that notes front man Josh Grier had to ask his boss for the day off to go to New York to do the Letterman gig), and I really, really don't think most musicians got into music because they craved either fame and fortune. (Okay, maybe some of them did in the back of their minds.) But I don't think money is a good reason to go into rock and roll. You want to make a buck? There are better paths. Most of the peopleI know would like nothing more than to grow rich doing what they love, but I sense the local bands I know are first and foremost in it for the music and that for that frequently underrated and underappreciated concept called fun, which I insist are the only reasons to get into this anyway. I started HowWasTheShow with the same objectives, and four years later, though we haven't made a dime to speak of, we've still grown and gotten some awesome recognition along the way. Personally, I've learned an incredible amount and feel that I've had a positive impact on a lot of people's lives. Sure, I could ask for more (and you're welcome to send money) but I'm happy, and really, that's all I care about in the end.