It’s June 16th, known to some as Bloomsday, the day in which James Joyce’s epic Ulysses takes place. Because the Minutemen used that date to name an instrumental track on their masterpiece double-album Double Nickels on the Dime in 1984 (listen to the whole thing here), the date has earned an additional meaning to many of their fans, including yours truly.
If I could write a book about why the Minutemen encapsulated everything that was essential about punk rock and great and rock n’ roll, I would. Maybe I still will some day. A spate of literature does exist about the band, including a 33 1/3 Book about Double Nickels by my friend Mike Fournier as well as a particularly landmark section of Michael Azerrad’s volume Our Band Could Be Your Life (aptly enough, named after a line in the Minutemen song “History Lesson (Part II)”).
The trio were at once irreverent and smarter than any of their contemporaries, at once shambolic musicians yet still a tighter unit than any of their counterparts that played by the rules. The Minutemen made it very clear that no song, no story, no band could be as important as the one that you create, and while D. Boon died almost three decades ago, Mike Watt still tours relentlessly and lives his message every day. Their politics were no joke and neither were their working-class backgrounds (the term “double-nickels on the dime” came from trucker lingo).
The trio’s working-class legend are what brings me to their sonic geography. There are few places on Earth, if any, where the Minutemen could have come from other than San Pedro, CA. For anyone who hasn’t been there, it is a beautiful slice of land suspended over the Pacific Ocean, a hinterland of Los Angeles without feeling at all like the city proper. Like the city to it’s north, it elicits passionate reactions one way or the other: a heavenly village draped over a hill, or a boring burnt-out former-Navy town. My perspective on Pedro (pronounced Pee-Droh) is overwhelmingly the latter. When I lived in Long Beach, I would regularly escape across the Bay to relax and do some writing, and I told anyone visiting the West Coast that it was my favorite place in California and impressed upon them how important it was to visit at some point. The Korean Friendship Bell, the Sunken City, William’s Book Store (R.I.P.), and so many more wonderful landmarks tie the beautiful town together. That the greatest band to ever record and tour came from Pedro is not a big surprise, considering how unique and staunchly working-class the city was, and in many ways, remains.
Here’s to the three corndogs who blazed a trail out of Pedro and spread the good word of jamming econo.
“There should be a rock band on every block, because it can happen.”
This is so cool. I’ve gone on record so many times about DC’s inextricable role (greater, I’d argue, than any other city) in underground music history. The 9:30 Club was always a key part of that. Even before I moved there, I’d heard stories about this club, and getting to see my first few shows there (Pennywise with Sick of It All and M.I.A. with Spank Rock, for the record) was an adolescent dream come true. My roommate at the time even got me backstage as his guitar tech that December (which is another story entirely). My own memories of the 9:30 Club are pretty deep and varied, and I’m not even a blip on this place’s radar. Here’s an oral history that CoS put together with most of the major icons and game-changers who helped make the club what it was.
Pall Jenkins of The Black Heart Procession (a bandmate of Pinback’s Zach Smith in Three Mile Pilot) once told me that 3MP wound up on a Geffen Records (however briefly) due to a major label bidding-tornado that set in on San Diego in the mid-90’s. Their scene nor the greater public saw any major fruit from that, but the bands did have a laugh at the whole thing.
I’m not sure whether or how that strange series of events fed into the union of Smith with oft-bearded musical genius/sci-fi geek Rob Crow to birth Pinback, but we can all be glad it happened. I’m also not sure what it is about San Diego per se that influenced the duo’s unique sound, either. The other 3MP spin-off, The Black Heart Procession, don’t sound anything like San Diego looks, but I guess that isn’t the point. Night falls, hearts get broken, and people get wronged everywhere.
Anyway, I’ve been busy with some end-of-semester responsibilities, lit review and writing work, but here’s “Loro,” a highlight from Pinback’s debut album (which they just reissued in a limited run for Record Store Day this year) that will form the best three and a half minutes of your Monday.
I’ve just started a new Vimeo account for this page, and I’ll be sharing a few anticipated choice items in the next few days, so stay tuned.
No thanks to virtually any American mainstream news source, it occurred to me earlier today that the Cercanias Train bombings occurred ten years ago today. I’d be remiss if I didn’t write at least a brief bit about it since I was living in Madrid at the time.
I remember waking up that morning to my senora, Alicia, clearly distressed about bombs exploding over at the train station. From what I recall, I went to class per usual, despite my department concerned about professors who often rode those commuter trains into Madrid every morning (thankfully, none of our professors were on the trains that exploded). After class, I remember being tempted to walk over to Atocha Station, about 10 blocks from where I lived, but didn’t cave. Unlike the chaos that New York has supposedly been in the weeks following 9/11, walking down la Calle de Fuencarral had an eerie calm to it the afternoon that it had happened. I did however, grab a copy of el Pais that read, “MATANZA DE ETA EN MADRID.” I wasn’t even Spanish and I could tell something seemed off about that headline.
The following day, I walked down la Calle de Sagasta and saw numerous front-pages torn and taped to doors and walls of buildings that read “FUE AL QAEDA.” I stood and read one as an old Madrileno man walked by, stopped, said “pobre gente” and continued down the street.
That night, I went to Valencia, where the biggest demonstration I’d ever witnessed in my lifetime happened, seemingly at the spur of the moment.
In the following weeks, special forces saw all the perpetrators of the attacks decimated, Spain retracted her involvement with the Iraq War, and Mariano Rajoy, who was almost certain to win the impending election that Sunday, lost in an upset to Jose Zapatero for a few simple reasons. Lying through your teeth to a nation in shock will do that to you. He is President of Spain now, but this is something he still has to live with.
This is not an explicitly political blog (and I’m not a Spanish citizen), so I’ll spare my thought on la Partida Popular here. But I won’t spare you some thoughts from a certain Basque punk band to whom I spent much of that month listening.
Happy Monday, everyone. I will have the Knoxville Country megapost up here sometime within the next few days, but I just wanted to share this item that I received in a note from a colleague this morning. Everybody has heard of predatory lending, but did you know about predatory publishing? Take a look.
While I do not want to suggest that anybody could draw solid conclusions based upon this one (albeit massive) collecting case study, I would like to weigh in on the topic of Paul Mawhinney’s record collection.
My favorite record store in the DC area is actually fairly far from DC – it’s a beautifully-curated shop in Annapolis that sits in the shadow of the Maryland State House called KA-CHUNK!! Records (capitalization and punctuation are formalized). Everytime my friend Jessica and I would venture out from DC, we would each find something eye-popping in stock and always wound up having a great conversation with the owner, Matt Mona.
Mona recently posted this commentary to Facebook about this “article”* he found on Gizmodo regarding the “world’s greatest music collection” belonging to Pittsburgh-area veteran Paul Mawhinney.
“If you’re looking for a sign that we live in a digital world that cares not for the physical manifestations of our analog past, you need only look at Paul Mawhinney’s record collection.” UGH! NO! It’s a couple million records collected absolutely indiscriminately! He just kept one of everything he sold in his store at a time when LP’s were the dominant format and weren’t limited in nature. They’re not expensive records because they made a bazillion of them and most are probably terrible. That and we’re talking about a multi mullion dollar collection where the buyer is going to an insane collector or a large chain store like Amoeba who would struggle to flip all these records when there’s only a small percentage of records that are truly valuable. It’s not a barometer of people’s lack of caring about physical music, it’s a barometer of insane millionaire collectors. Write this article again when someone can’t sell an affordable record collection sized at a couple hundred to a couple thousand and then you might be on to something.
Mona brings up a key point regarding something widely misunderstood about record collecting and modern archivism in general. As Russell Belk has written extensively, (paraphrasing) discrimination is what separates the collector or archivist from the hoarder. While Mawhinney does know a great deal about vinyl and is clearly as passionate as any music fan, the volume of his collection creates myriad problems. Even more than a decade ago, before mainstream publications were coveting vinyl as the next great hope of tangible music, thousands of ostensibly valueless records were just as available as they are today at dusty shelves in Goodwills and other thrift stores.
David Lowenthal, who (for some painfully bizarre reason) did not figure too heavily into my thesis research, wrote in “Possessed by the Past:”
Beleaguered by loss and change, we keep our bearings only by clinging to remnants of stability. Hence preservers’ aversion to letting anything go, postmodern manias for period styles, cults of prehistory at megalithic sites. Mourning past neglect, we cherish islands of security in seas of change.
This is probably the most sympathetic paragraph in the entire book. His acerbic tone doesn’t suggest that he belittles our collective mourning of a socially constructed past, but he does fear that by allowing the lure of heritage of outpace other modes of retrieval, we cheapen everything that our forebears stood for. The short film that the “article” decorates is a well-made vignette that gives the owner a mouthpiece, but really lays on the appeal to nostalgia and ignores the pragmatic reality behind Mawhinney’s situation. A lot of press and the narrative on vinyl’s “revival” does this, as Jason Heller illustrated by his rant on Record Store Day earlier this year.
So, the long and short of it is: if the average record nerd had $3,000,000 to spend, what could they possibly do with this collection? Just to transport it would require extensive human-power and would cost a fortune, and finding a place to store it before even making motions to sell it would cost money unless this mystery buyer had his/her own warehouse space. It reminds of an episode of Pawn Stars where Rick speculates buying a fighter jet, but balks at it, because it would ultimately cost up to $10,000 a month to hangar that thing if nobody buys it off of him. The commitment-laden overhead would just prove too big. I know that fighter jets aren’t exactly a popular collectors’ item, but such are the risks that come with the new collectibles economy.
Mawhinney’s collection is the fighter jet of pawn-shop items. It’s disappointing that he’s having such trouble selling it (at least, for the big handful of gems buried among his shelves), but it’s definitely no indicator of vinyl’s role in today’s world. Almost in spite of the digital world, analog will always have a place, and its redefinition within that place is what is so interesting right now. At least, I hope it’s interesting enough for people to read my thesis (which, if anyone’s interested, should be filed with the CSULB Library within a few weeks [/plug]).
* I don’t like referring to embedded videos with a couple paragraphs of commentary around them as “articles” because it disrespects the work that good journalists and social scientists do on writing actual heavily researched pieces for reputable websites and journals.
** The “article” on Gizmodo, coincidentally, was written by someone with whom I attended undergrad, and who does know his music. He introduced me to (smog)/Bill Callahan, so I do owe him a modicum of gratitude. Additionally, he may (partially, if my memory serves) have introduced me to The Dismemberment Plan, so for that alone, my hat is permanently tipped in his direction.