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Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's on Your iPod?
Or the Saga of Mix Tapes and
Other Compilations

kevin console ears small
Kevin Kiely of Mumps

Back in punk rock days, we did not have iPods. We played cassette tapes in our car stereos, and in 1979, the few of us with spare cash could invest in the new-fangled Sony Walkman portable cassette tape player. When CDs came on the market, Sony and other companies responded with portable CD players and then in the late 90s, the Digital Audio Players (also known as MP3 players - remember the Diamond Rio?) were introduced.

However, the now-ubiquitous name brand for the digital audio playback device, the iPod, made and marketed by Apple, was introduced to the market place on this date only seven years ago - 2001.

stiv frank rats
Stiv Bators and Frank Secich in the studio

These personal playback devices ostensibly guaranteed that the listener could hear his music without disturbing others because the "personal" aspect of the player revolved around the headphones. With the first Walkmen, gone were the large stereo headphones (known as "cans" in the recording studio - like Stiv and Frank are wearing in the photo above) that were cumbersome in every way... the new headphones featured the harbinger of the ear bud... in-ear speakers that fit discreetly and connected by the most narrow of head bands. By the time the iPod rolled around, the ear bud ditched the over-the-head band and fitted into the ears up from the device, with just the speaker wire connecting the ear buds to the player. (Of course, I get a kick out of plugging in my giant ear phones into my iPod... its rather a striking image - sleek player, clunky headphones; I like the juxtaposition. Plus, I don't like sticking things in my ear... and I bet I'm not alone.)

I believe the phenomenon of personal music playback devices opened the floodgates to a whole new era of the mix tape.

Compilations are nothing new -- compilation records, samplers, have been around every since the technology to record and produce playback formats were invented. But with the cassette, the whole mix tape thing rose to new heights.

The things one could communicate with a selection of songs... making everyone who dared to created a mix tape a DJ... you could program a set of music for your car, tailoring a song cycle to get you through your drive to work during morning rush hour, your drive home.... and also for your road trips. Then there was the tape you'd make for your friends, where you'd strike a balance between showing off your record collection, turning them on to new things and showcasing your DJ skills.

Fans of Nick Hornby (whom I proudly note, if one believes in astrology - is nearly my twin, so it goes without saying that I endorse and admire his works, his style, his whole perspective... a contemporary writer who speaks to me and for me, by dint of the circumstantial coincidence of our birthdates) and his genre-and-epoch-defining novel, High Fidelity can and do relate to its protagonist, "Rob Fleming," a character who makes lists, mix tapes and uses music to compare and contrast every issue in his life. Oh, and Rob Fleming owns an indie record shop - his livelihood and hang-out within the same four walls. I know more than a few real life "Rob Flemings," to be sure.

Here are some of them, record store dudes, that is, and their musical preferences... not that they have anything in common with "Rob Fleming's" personal life or anything...

chris teenager
Chris Teenager / Pass Out Record Shop

This fellow, known as Chris Teenager is young but you wouldn't know it when talking to him about pysch music. He knows all the bands, songs and trends of the 70s that brought us psych, prog and glam... the predecessors of punk rock, which by the way, he knows very well too. I photographed Chris during his shift at Pass Out Record Shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn a couple years ago... same time I photographed the infamous, Memphis Mike aka "dtrain," drummer of the hardcore Memphis band Man With Gun Lives Here.

memphis mike

Mike is one of those who (like me) was priced out of NYC. He's living in Central PA now. Dude - I look forward to seeing you this Halloween in Harrisburg.

Jake of WLWL and Teenager hanging out at Pass Out

In Memphis, TN, the two record stores that are both hang-outs and havens for collectors and fans are Shangri La and Goner.

goner john
John Hoppe in Goner Records

Goner Records is a store and a label - but Goner is also a lifestyle built up around a love of garage rock and the local (Memphis) purveyors of the reborn genre, the Oblivians. For those not in the know, the Goner label's first release was a cassette - split between Oblivians and Impala. One of the Oblivians, Eric Friedl, organized the business that would grow into the Goner label and store, which he mans each day with business partner, Zac Ives, who occasionally performs in a punk rock band, Final Solutions as its wild frontman. The Goner label also released the Final Solutions recording.

Both Eric and Zac are the go-to guys in Memphis (and likely the USA if not the world) for all things in Memphis music, garage and punk. As a label, they have made prescient releases by artists who have gone on to the kind of notoreity and medica coverage (ie: Spin, Rolling Stone, etc) that makes locals yell "Sell out" in jealousy, but that enables musicians to maybe start (thinking they can be) paying back the credit card debt and loans from family and friends that it took to make those very recordings that got them noticed... artists such as Jay Reatard, King Khan and BBQ Show, and the magnificent Harlan T. Bobo. Other Goner artists include Cococoma, Carbonas, King Louie One Man Band, Leather Uppers, Digital Leather, and one of this year's most amazing bands with a record I think deserves a Grammy nod - Eddy Current Suppression Ring.

goner store
Eric "Oblivian" Friedl and Zac Ives behind the counter at Goner

Yes... many people who play in bands can claim "record store clerk/manager or owner" as their "day job."

Columbus, Ohio's best kept trash/garage/punk rock secret, the Cheater Slicks has in their membership one Tom Shannon. Tom is a master of the guitar, an avid record collector, expert on so many musical genres, and yes... works in a record store too.

shannon and eric in goner store
Tom Shannon visits Memphis, Goner and Eric O.

There is no doubt in my mind that any of these guys can put together mix tape that will blow your mind. Just because they're garage punk artists doesn't mean its the only genre they know...

"Rob Fleming's" Top Five Favorite Records (singles) were:
1. "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye
2. "The House That Jack Built" by Aretha Franklin
3. "Back in the USA" by Chuck Berry
4. "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" by The Clash
5. "Tired of Being Alone" by Al Green

Three soul, one rock n roll and one punk record represented... this from a guy born at exactly the same time as our punk rock anti heroes. And you know that Joe Strummer had a soft spot in his heart for American roots music (witness his championing of Joe Ely and Bo Diddley).

What do you think was on Joe Strummer's boom box?

Here's a tiny sampling of the 3 hour playlist that Bryan Malone and I put together for my Unguarded Moments exhibit at the Star Bar in Atlanta which he books:

Iggy Pop - Lust for Life
MC5 - Kick Out the Jams
Compulsive Gamblers - Rock n Roll Nurse
NY Dolls - Pills
Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
The Clash - London Calling
Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer
Ramones - Sheena is a Punk Rocker
The Jam - In the City
X Ray Spex - Oh Bondage Up Yours
Adverts - Gary Gilmore's Eyes
Avengers - We Are the One
Alley Cats - Gimme a Little Pain

Its the most fun thing to do - look through someone's record collection (or their iTunes, these days) and make all kinds of comps....

What's on your iPod?

1 comment:

Avi Frishman said...

You say you were priced out of NYC? Woman, get thee on a mitchell-lama (affordable housing) list!
Good luck.