Catching Up With Old Musical Friends

Our Lady Peace’s first record hit me like a bag of bricks. Unreal. Still a go to. Came out in1994?! Damn. I had a ‘relationship’ with this band before I was married. I’ve had a ‘relationship’ with this band longer than I’ve been married. Maybe this band influenced my decision to marry a Canadian. Them and Rush. There were, of course, other reasons I chose to marry my wife, but Canadian Rock seems almost as good as any of those.

OLP are touring this year with Matthew Good. Another Canadian man/band I have a long-time ‘relationship’ with. There’s a YouTube clip of a modern-day Raine Maida and Matthew Good visiting the archives of what used to be MuchMusic and watching videos of themselves from their first appearances on the network. It’s like visiting a house you used to share with 5 friends that’s now inhabited by someone else. It’s wistful, weird, nostalgic, sad, uncomfortable and creepy all at the same time.

I saw OLP at the 9:30 Club in DC on the Clumsy tour with my best friend at the time – a buddy that would later be my Best Man. I think maybe 250 people were there – 500 tops. Nuts. That’s my hipster ‘I liked ‘em before they were ‘uge – at least in the States’ – cred.

I dug subsequent records after the first one. Clumsy, Happiness is a Fish… We started to drift apart a bit with Spiritual Machines.

Then I completely lost them over the years. Chalk it up to the usual stupidity. I was ignorant. I still wanted ‘em to sound like Naveed. I completely refused to acknowledge that as I’ve grown as a person so has the band, we are now different people (in some respects, quite literally), but in some ways the same. Perhaps I didn’t want to acknowledge my ascent into adulthood. Even in musical terms.

Their new record popped up on Apple Music this week. I haven’t listened to anything since Spiritual Machines. Listening to Somethingness is like catching up with old friends. Neither one of us is the person we were for that first record anymore, and I’ve learned we shouldn’t expect that of each other. Further down this road we’re on, it’s been nice to run into ‘em again.

It really doesn’t matter if you think this record is any good or not. Or if I tell you that it is and you agree or disagree. At this point in our relationship, everything is between me and them.

Kill Your Music Collection – The Reformation of A Music Pirate.

If you follow the music industry/world at all, you may have heard about the NPR/David Lowery back and forth, if not, here’s a quick lowdown.

An NPR DJ, Emily White posted a blog entry about her large – and relatively unpaid for – music library which sparked a lot of discussion. Dave Lowery (someone I have tremendous respect for as a songwriter and musician) heightened my respect for him by penning a very eloquent and well thought out response. It’s long, but if you’re a fan of music at all I suggest you take in the whole thing.

In response to that, another musician I’m a fan of, Matthew Good,  wrote this, which is also very thought provoking.

All of that reading – which I suggest you do, got me thinking.

There was a time period – when I was young and single and had the metabolism to eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – that I spent what most would probably consider an obscene amount of money buying music.

I’d get my weekly paycheck and troll the used CD stores (I mostly bought used, but some new too) and spend hours ‘clicking’ (such a wonderful sound) through the racks of CDs looking for treasure.

I had an anywhere from 10 to 20 CD a week habit. I’d keep some of them, sell others back that I didn’t like – to feed the monkey.

When the technology started to become available, I’d burn copies of CDs from friends if they had something I liked. Sometimes it was only until I could get a hold of the actual release, sometimes not. I was always an ‘album’ guy, digging the packaging and liner notes as much as the tunes almost.

I rationalized that – though it was piracy – it was the 90’s equivalent of making cassette copies back in the day, either from other cassettes or vinyl. To me it wasn’t a very big deal and the recording industry seemed to have survived that.

Initially, when it became pretty easy to download anything you wanted for free on the internet, I shunned it. I was a bit of a purist. I had a lot of friends who were musicians and it didn’t seem right. But gradually, economic reality seeped in and I cheated here and there for stuff I really wanted, but maybe couldn’t afford or didn’t want to wait for.

Eventually, like any junkie, I fell into the full-fledged habit. It became ridiculously easy to download entire back-catalogues or discographies of artists I was interested in. I sometimes justified it in the case of some artists I’d never heard of by telling myself I just wanted to ‘try ’em out’ and make sure I liked the stuff before I bought it. At some point, even if I liked it, I just stopped getting around to buying.

I’m somewhat ashamed to say I amassed a huge collection of music. Silly part is, some of it, I’d never even get around to listening to. I’d download volumes of stuff just ’cause it was available with an ‘I’ll check that out later’ attitude, and many times forget I’d even downloaded it. New releases too. I’d grab stuff before it was out – leaked prior to release dates (how infuriating that must be to an artist, I’d think) – and sometimes feel a pang of remorse, but the monkey didn’t.

Reading Dave’s article something struck me:

The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time. (Since the works that are are almost invariably the subject of these discussions are popular culture of one type or another, the duration of the copyright term is pretty much irrelevant for an ethical discussion.) By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists. Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. We are being asked to continue to let these companies violate the law without being punished or prosecuted. We are being asked to change our morality and principals to match what I think are immoral and unethical business models.

What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting. Say there is a neighborhood in your local big city. Let’s call it The ‘Net. In this neighborhood there are record stores. Because of some antiquated laws, The ‘Net was never assigned a police force. So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it.  And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?

I’ll in no way lay the blame on corporations or ‘Free Culture’. I accept full blame myself. Reading the article, what I realized is that it really isn’t an economic or intellectual rights issue (well, it is sorta both as well), but for me, it’s an ethics issue.

Over time, I’d changed my own definition of what was morally right with regards to this issue. I’d sorta adapted it to suit my own situation. Sure, I felt enriched and expanded because I felt worlds of new artistry was available to me that I didn’t readily have access to before, but I realized I’d compromised my own ethics. That made me feel kind of sick.

I still count amongst my friends many musicians garnering various levels of success. How could I support their work, while directly undermining the livelihood of others? Had I become that hypocritical just for the sake of saving a buck?

One of the more candid artists out there, Matthew Good, routinely discusses the realities of his life in his blog, trying to juggle the economics of touring and recording budgets while raising a family and running a household – just like I am. His music, in addition to being his art, is his livelihood, just like my job is for me. How would I feel if one day he could no longer make music commercially because it simply wouldn’t pay the bills? Would that be partly my fault? How sadly ironic would that be?

After a couple of days of introspection, I went home the other day and deleted everything I’d downloaded illegally or hadn’t paid for. I know that this won’t ‘undo’ anything and I’m not looking for any sort of ‘pat on the back’. I just wanted to start with a clean slate.

I wanted to get back to where I started in music – supporting and valuing it vs. ‘collecting’ it. I felt bad about devaluing what these artists produce by stealing it. I realized the  hypocrisy I was engendering by trying to promote right and the higher road in so many other aspects of life and not this.

The value has to be restored in what these artists give us. We have to reshift our thinking back. I’m starting now. It really is a simple matter of choice.

Like many other things in life, just because we can get away with it, doesn’t mean we should.

My Albums of 2011.

Here’s the albums I dug the most, mostly for 2011. No particular order. Enjoy.

Sam Roberts BandCollider
I had hailed Love At the End of the World as Sam’s finest record yet to most of the people I argue about music with (ok, well, ONE person). But I think this record stepped it up a notch and I don’t even know how. My standout tracks: Let it In, Streets of Heaven (Promises, Promises)

ArkellsMichigan Left
I only discovered the brillance of the Arkells first record, Jackson Square about a month before this record came out and then was very impressed with the follow up effort. Jackson Square was a tough record to top. My standout tracks: Michigan Left, On Paper

Foo FightersWasting Light
After a long wait, Dave and Co. return and do not disappoint. The media/blitz/circus that ensued was also something to behold and would have been easy to ridicule had the tunes not stood up to all the hype. Several TV/web appearances playing the record in it’s entirety as well as the timely release of their movie, Back and Forth prompted one reviewer I read to quip, “Thanks Dave Grohl, for making us care about the album again.” I couldn’t agree more. My standout tracks: Rope, Miss the Misery

ChevelleHats off to the Bull
A sleeper, I had no idea these guys were working on a record and it barely made it in this year, but since it came out, I’ve listened to pretty much nothing but. My standout tracks: Pinata, Hats off to the Bull

The Black KeysEl Camino
I didn’t want to buy into the pre-hype regarding this new record because, well , I secretly long to be a hipster. Also, I really didn’t think they could top Brothers. Seriously. But once it came out, dammit, they did. And in a record that’s only 38 minutes long. I’m still not a hipster though. My standout tracks: Gold on the Ceiling, Little Black Submarines, Mind Eraser

Rival SonsPressure and Time
Bringing the classic rock back, these guys are kicking out some jams. Production that cries of vintage Zeppelin and a singer who screams like Ian Astbury and/or Plant combined. Sprinkle with a touch of Black Crowes and, voila, you’re scissor kicking. Only thing I can possibly fault them on is their pro-vegan stance. Wha? Tré un-rock. My standout tracks: Pressure and Time, Get Mine, Save Me

The Twilight SingersDynamite Steps
Greg Dulli sulks out from wherever it is he hides in the ‘off-season’ and wrangles his compatriots to bring us this lush, moody gem of a record. It’s been said before by many people, but it never ceases to amaze me how Dulli seems to create ‘movies’ or ‘soundscapes’ with his records. They’re like concept albums, but the concept is unique to every listener. My standout tracks: Waves, On the Corner, Dynamite Steps

Matthew Good Lights of Endangered Species
If you follow Matt at all this was an interesting record as he demo’d, discussed, and chronicled the writing and production of on his website/blog. A very interesting glimpse into the process. Given that, I have to admit it was a bit anti-climatic when the record officially dropped, as I’d already heard most, if not all the tunes in some form or another. That being said, I still think it’s an excellent record. My standout tracks: Zero Orchestra, Non-Populus, Lights of Endangered Species

In 2012 I’m really looking forward to the new Rush and Big Wreck records as well as some others.

Happy New Years, yo.