Did The Grateful Dead Steal From The Beatles?

Help

I know I wrote about the Beatles yesterday, but I’m on a Beatles kick now so I’m rolling with it.

Here’s something you might not hear often: Help! is my favorite Beatles albumIt’s not their most critically acclaimed (Sgt. Pepper’s) or even their best (Revolver and about 3/4 of The White Album), but for some reason I find myself listening to this album more than anything else. This wasn’t even my first Beatles record – I just naturally gravitate towards this awkward middle child that began the Beatles’ transformation from most popular boy band in the world to most innovative pop band in the world. I have yet to see the movie (I guess that doesn’t make me the biggest Help! fan), so all my thoughts are only related to the music.

It was the album before Rubber Soul, so it’s easy to think that this was their last “bad” album before they made “good” or “real” music. I’d argue that this album, on its own terms, is just as good as anything else they made. This album has everything: rock & roll jams with “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, cynical pleads for help (pun intended) juxtaposed with sunny guitar pop with the title track, and “Ticket To Ride”, quite possibly their most perfect song. This is also the album with “Yesterday”. George has two songs on here and even Ringo gets to sing, though he doesn’t have any of his own songs on the album (if he did then this would really be the perfect pre-psychedelic Beatles album). With all these different flavors, Help! works considering that all their later album would follow singular modes. For one brief moment, the Beatles were making pop music interesting instead of destroying it, and it pleases the inner popist in me.

To me Help! is also the sound of a band saying goodbye. While recording, they knew that this would be their final boy band album. This was 1965, the year of “Satisfaction”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, and other groundbreaking songs that were changing pop music. All of a sudden the Beatles, with their perfect haircuts and matching suits, didn’t seem like the future of pop music, and they knew it. They were also sick of being a pop band, specifically touring as a unit and getting screamed at while they couldn’t even hear their own songs. Their last tour would only be a year away, and they would soon boldly forgo their given path, but thank God they made my favorite Beatles album before they made better albums.

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Anyways, all of that was a set up for this: below is “Tell Me What You See”, one of the lesser known tracks off Help!.

It sounds nice enough, except it reminded me of another song that is more well known…

DID THE GRATEFUL DEAD STEAL FROM THE BEATLES???

No. Probably not.

I don’t think that the Dead really stole this song, but you can’t deny that Uncle John’s Band (1970) has a strong similarity to this Beatles song. Both share that loose acoustic strumming and washboard rhythm, and both songs wouldn’t be out of place around a campfire.

I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but it’s always fun to see how similar music can unintentionally be. Also, this was an excuse to write about Help!.

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A Guide To The 61 Other People On The ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ Album Cover

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There are tons of famous people on what might be the most famous album cover of pop music. Some of them you already know (Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, etc), but for the longest time I had no idea who most of these people were.

There are plenty of lists throughout the internet that tell you who these people are, but I didn’t really find a list that explained why these people are famous or why the Beatles might have chosen them to put on their album cover. That’s where I come in.

Of course I don’t know any of the Beatles personally, so I can’t ask them why they chose all these people, but I can at least explain what these people did.

Thank you 94.5 Kool FM for providing this chart and the names.

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1. Sri Yukteswar Giri

A famous Hindu guru. There are many Hindi gurus on this album cover, since this was during the Beatles’ India phase.

2. Aleister Crowley

An English occultist who founded the religion and/or philosophy of Thelema. Crowley believed that he was a prophet who would guide mankind into the Aeon of Horus, his form of Nirvana.

3. Mae West

An American actress and sex symbol. She was essentially the original Marilyn Monroe, even though she was born 33 years before Monroe and died 18 years after.

4. Lenny Bruce

The famous American comedian and social satirist whose posthumous pardon from a notorious obscenity trial was a landmark achievement for American freedom of speech.

5. Karlheinz Stockhausen

Groundbreaking German composer who helped popularize electronic music and aleatory in serial composition. He also composed music with helicopters.

6. W.C. Fields

American comedian who helped popularize the “lovable egotist” persona.

7. Carl Gustav Jung

Swiss psychiatrist who defined many well known psychological concepts, including the idea of extraverts and introverts.

8. Edgar Allen Poe

THE RAVEN

9. Fred Astaire

Arguably the greatest and most important American film dancer.

10. Richard Merkin

American painter and illustrator who had an eccentric personality and fashion sense, almost like an American Salvador Dali.

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11. The Vargas girl

A famous pin-up illustration designed by the most famous pin-up artist, Peruvian painter Alberto Vargas.

12. Huntz Hall

American actor who was famous for his roles in the “Dead End Kids” and “Bowery Boys” movies from the late 30s till the early 50s.

13. Simon Rodia

The designer and builder of the Watts Towers.

14. Bob Dylan

Duh.

15. Aubrey Beardsley

English illustrator who was influenced by Japanese woodcuts and was a major player of the Aesthetic movement along with Oscar Wilde. He’s one of my favorite illustrators – very dark but gorgeous illustrations with lots of attention to detail. Check out some of his work here.

16. Sir Robert Peel

British Prime Minister who served two terms in 1834-1835 and 1841-1846. He’s credited with creating the modern English police force and the “bobbies”.

17. Aldous Huxley

Author of Brave New World, a book that you should read.

18. Dylan Thomas

Welsh poet from whom Bob Dylan got his last name.

19. Terry Southern

American Beat writer who co-wrote the script for Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider.

20. Dion

American singer-songwriter who was a popular rock & roll performer before the British Invasion.

21. Tony Curtis

American actor who in many popular films including Some Like It Hot. Father to Jamie Lee Curtis.

22. Wallace Berman

American visual artist who pioneered the Assemblage form.

23. Tommy Handley

British comedian famous for his role in the BBC radio program ITMA (“It’s That Man Again”).

24. Marilyn Monroe

Duh.

25. William S. Burroughs

Beat writer and author of Naked Lunch, a book you should (try to) read.

26. Sri Mahavatar Babaji

Indian saint who was also on the cover of George Harrison’s 1974 album Dark Horse.

27. Stan Laurel

English comic actor and one half of famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.

28. Richard Lindner

German-American painter known for his abstract urban paintings.

29. Oliver Hardy

The American half of Laurel and Hardy.

30. Karl Marx

Author of The Communist Manifesto and the father of Marxism.

31. H.G. Wells

English science fiction author who wrote The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.

32. Sri Paramhansa Yogananda

Indian guru who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi, which introduced the idea of meditation to mass Western culture.

33. Stuart Sutcliffe

The original Beatles’ bassist who helped come up with the band’s name (Sutcliffe and Lennon came up with the “Beetles”, but Lennon later changed the spelling to “Beatles” to match the word “Beat”).

34. “Petty Girl”

A design of a pin-up girl by George Petty. These are the images that you think of when you see women on fighter planes.

35. Max Miller

Famous British comedian known as “The Cheeky Chappie”.

36. Another “Petty Girl” by George Petty

37. Marlon Brando

American actor who starred in On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Apocalypse Now. He was also Vito Corleone. Do you need more?

38. Tom Mix

American actor who helped define western films and was one of the first major cowboy actors.

39. Oscar Wilde

Irish author and playwright most famous for The Picture of Dorian Gray.

40. Tyrone Power

American film and stage actor who played many popular swashbuckler and romantic leads.

41. Larry Bell

American abstract artist and sculptor.

42. David Livingstone

Scottish missionary and explorer who traveled extensively throughout Africa.

43. Johnny Weissmuller

American swimmer who won several Olympic gold medals and who played Tarzan in the 30s and 40s film versions.

44. Stephen Crane

American author who wrote The Red Badge of Courage.

45. Issy Bonn

British actor and comedian most famous for “My Yiddishe Momme”

46. George Bernard Shaw

Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics.

47. Albert Stubbins

English footballer who won the League Championship for Liverpool in 1947.

48. H.C. Westermann

American abstract printmaker and sculptor.

49. Sri Lahiri Mahasaya

Indian yogi who was one of the few Indian holy men who was also married and worked as an accountant for the British Indian government.

50. Lewis Caroll

English writer most famous for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

51. Sonny Liston

American professional boxer who became the World Heavyweight Champion in 1962 but then was beaten by Muhammad Ali in that one photo you know.

52 – 55. Wax figure of The Beatles

George, John, Ringo, and Paul.

56. Shirley Temple (1st)

American actress known for her early roles as a child. She would later become the United States Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

57. Marlene Dietrich

Famous German-American actress who was a high-profile WWII frontline entertainer. Supposedly Madeline Kahn from Blazing Saddles was based on Dietrich.

58. Diana Dors

English actress who was pinned as the English Marilyn Monroe.

59. Shirley Temple (2nd)

60. Bobby Breen

Canadian singer and child star from the 30s.

61. T.E. Lawrence

The Lawrence of Arabia.

Other interesting things in the album cover:

-The other famous people on this album cover include James Joyce (right under Bob Dylan) and Bette Davis (right above George Harrison’s shoulder)

-Shirley Temple is actually on this album for a third time a cloth doll wearing a sweater that reads “Welcome The Rolling Stones Good Guys”

-Other random things found on the album cover include a stone figure of Snow White, a garden gnome, a doll of the Hindu goddess Lakeshmi, a Fukusuke figure, and more.

-Apparently some people who were originally planned to be on the cover but were excluded include Leo Gorcey, Gandhi, Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler, and Timothy Carey.

-I triple checked to make sure this list is accurate, but if I messed up anything let me know via Twitter @BradyWGerber

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The Zelda Rap Album You Didn’t Realize You Needed (Until Now)

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I’m sure there’s a whole subgenre of rappers sampling video game music, but, other than this great Open Mike Eagle track, I was never aware of any great video-game-rap albums.

That is, I didn’t know of any good albums until now.

The Ocarina of Rhyme was made back in 2009 by rap producer Team Teamwork (Tim Jacques) in which he mixed classic raps with the music of the classic video game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You’ve never heard Jay Z, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg like this, and you’ll never think of Zelda the same way ever again.

Team Teamwork has also done rap remixes of Final Fantasy 7 and Super Nintendo Super Genesis soundtracks. Check it all out via Soundcloud.

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Robert Frank: The Photographer Behind ‘Exile On Main St.’

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(Frank in 1996)

In 1955 Robert Frank, a Swiss immigrant who came to the United States to become a photographer, was given a Guggenheim scholarship to find, according to his application: “what one naturalized American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere.”

It would be a year long road trip, with just his Super 8 camera and a used Ford Coupe to keep him company as he traveled solo across the United States to photograph Eisenhower’s America, from the deserted towns of the midwest to the rich hills of Hollywood. Frank photographed everyday objects of American life – signs, cars, clothes, diners, people themselves – in both small towns and big cities to give a sense of the country’s mood at the time. From the uneasy glare of a couple, to the wishful gaze of a woman in an elevator, to the lonely dive bars, Frank transformed these every day incidents into stark black and white commentary on a nation at the verge of falling apart over nuclear destruction and racial divide.

Frank was a part of the Beat generation and, like his peers, he was in search of that “other” America, to photograph the same America and its cast of freaks and outsiders that Kerouac was seeing on the road and what Ginsberg was howling about.

Frank took about twenty-seven thousand photos, which amounted to more than seven hundred and sixty rolls of film to develop. A few of my favorites are below:

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Parade — Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955


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Funeral — St. Helena, South Carolina, 1955


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Elevator — Miami Beach, 1955


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Political Rally — Chicago, 1956


Robert Frank, TrolleyÑNew Orleans, 1955; gelatin silver print; 8 5/8 x 13 1/16 in.; Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005; © Robert Frank

Trolley — New Orleans, 1955


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San Francisco, 1956


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U.S. 285, New Mexico, 1955


Frank chose eighty-three of those photos to appear in The Americans, his groundbreaking photo album which was first published in Paris in 1958 and then a year later in America.

Jack Kerouac, whose On The Road was published a year earlier, wrote the book’s forward and praised Frank’s bold work, which was meant to be taken as both a portrait and a criticism of a country in a personality crisis: “Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world…you end up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin.”

One of those twenty-seven thousand unused photos, a single shot of a collage of photos from supposedly a New York tattoo parlor, would be used in 1972 by another band of outcasts and outsiders.

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(Frank’s orignal photo)

In 1972, Mick Jagger reached out to Frank and ask him to come to the Bel Air villa, the Los Angeles home where Mick and his band was staying while they finished their new album. Their new album was something unlike anything they’ve done yet, something raw and uniquely American. Jagger wanted its album cover to reflect the band as runaway outlaws using the blues as its weapon against the world. The album’s cover had to reflect this feeling of joyful isolation, grinning in the face of a scary and unknown future. It had to be perfect.

Frank was originally meant to shoot the band as they walked along the seedy Main St. of LA that they were supposedly exiled from, and those photos are all on the album’s back side where the band looks just as strange as the freaks from Frank’s photo. You can see more footage of those sessions here. However, his tattoo parlor photo caught the attention of John Van Hamersveld, who was hired by the Stones to put together the album package. Hamersveld had already worked with the Beatles and Hendrix and had already designed the classic poster for the 1966 surf documentary The Endless Summer, but Hamersveld knew right away that Frank’s photo, which he found among his many American outtakes, was destined to be used for this new album. Impressed with the photo, Hamersveld took Frank’s work and turned it into the famous album cover that we all know and love.

The final product is below:

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It’s fitting that Frank, an exile himself, would create the image of one of the greatest works about exile and American life. Frank was also a filmmaker, and he filmed the band on their 1972 tour supporting the album he photographed. His filmed was called Cocksucker Blues and it was never officially released due to it being too obscene. Imagine that.

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Remember When The Replacements Made A Claymation Music Video?

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The Replacements were great at many things, but music videos were not one of them. But can you blame them? For an 80s punk rock band with no money and only a modest cult following that also had no money, making music videos was not a priority. They couldn’t even perform their own songs live half of the time, let alone stand in one place to film a video.

Their only notable music video might be “Bastards Of Young”, but it’s not as profound as some might suggest and it had a lukewarm reception on TV. How different do you think history would be if MTV picked up a good Replacements video and broadcasted it to the masses? It’s strange to think that this band, with plenty of incredible music already under its belt, existed in the golden age of MTV and still couldn’t make it big. Some will say that The Replacements actively avoided fame by making bad videos, but this theory doesn’t work because they would eventually sign with a major label with an intent of gaining more money and resources to somehow “make it big”. It’s fun to talk about the ‘Mats in how sloppy they were back when being a sloppy indie back was endearing, but a sloppy mainstream band trying to act professional is just sad.

I bring up Replacements music videos because I recently came across one that I didn’t know existed, and what is hilarious to watch in 2015 must have been horrifying to watch in 1990.

Yes, the same band that gave us “Unsatisfied” is now hanging out in a claymation world playing banjos and trying to play it off as cool. Oy.

Some context: “When It Began” is off The ‘Mat’s final album, 1990’s All Shook Down, though this was not the same band that made Let It Be or Tim. Bob Stinson was already long gone for his alcohol abuse, so the giant void he left inspired (or forced) Westerberg to write different songs that would make his new shiny major label happy. Defenders will say that he was growing up, but haters will say that he was over the hill.

I belong to the former; I really enjoy All Shook Down for what it is (it’s the best Paul Westerberg solo album he never made), and I think he was sick of playing the same loud fast music that he was known for. Bob was gone, and this was a different band.

This video has charm now because time has allowed us to look back at old memories and laugh, but imagine if you were coming of age in 1990 and this was your first taste of The Replacements. You’d probably think they sucked.

Funny how some things work out.

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Leonard Bernstein On The Meaning Of Music (Hint: There Is None)

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In 1958 Leonard Bernstein took over the long-running Young People’s Concerts series, and for the first time in the program’s history it was televised nationwide. With this kind of reach, which was unprecedented for any American composer at the time, the man behind West Side Story used his influence and his New York Philharmonic to educate and inspire young children with different musical lessons, all based around classical music.

The most famous of these concerts might be the very first one, when Bernstein, a man who loved to talk about music as much as he loved to preform, was bold enough to tackle one of the great questions of music: what does it mean?

Bernstein attempts to answer this question by using music itself to demonstrate how any sort of meaning only comes from the stories and titles that composers give to the audience. Take away any context and music has no meaning.

Bernstein on what music does not mean:

“When [my little daughter] heard me play [Rossini – “Overture to William Tell”], she said – ‘That’s the Lone Ranger song, Hi-ho Silver!’ Well, I hate to disappoint her, and you too, but it really isn’t about the Lone Ranger at all. It’s about notes – E Flats and F sharps. You see, no matter how many times people tell you stories about what music means, forget them. Stories are not what the music means at all. Music is never about anything. Music just is. Music is notes, beautiful notes and sounds put together in such a way that we get pleasure out of listening to them. That’s all it is to it.”

On the power of words and imagery, which music does not have:

“When you say ‘What does it mean?’, what you’re really saying is ‘What is it trying to tell me?’, or ‘What ideas does it make me have?’. Just like words; when you hear words, you get ideas from them. If I say to you ‘Ow, I burned my finger!’, then immediately you get an idea from what I said or some ideas. You get the idea that I burned my finger, that it hurts, that I might not be able to play the piano any more, or that I have a loud ugly voice when I scream, lots of different ideas like that.

“You see, notes aren’t like words at all. Because if I say one single word all by itself to you, like ‘rocket’, immediately you have an idea; you see a picture in your mind. Rocket! Bang! Picture! But if I play a note, one note all alone – it means nothing. It’s just a plain old F sharp of a B flat. A sound, that’s all, higher or lower, louder or softer – a sound that can seem very different if I play it, or if I sing it, or if an oboe plays it, or if a xylophone plays it, or if a trombone plays it. Very different. It’s all the same note – only with a different sound. Now all music is a combination of sounds like that one.”

Why composers give titles to their music:

“Well, if all that’s true, then why does a composer put names on his music at all? Why doesn’t he just write something called Symphony or Trio or composition Number 900 and 50 and 12 or anything? Why does he give his music a name, like ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, or whatever it happens to be, if it’s not important to the music? Well every once in a while an artist is stimulated to express himself by something outside himself – something he reads, or something he sees, or something that happens to him. Haven’t you ever felt that you wanted to dance or sing because something happened to you that made you want to dance or sing or express your feelings in some way? I’m sure you all had that feeling. Well, it’s the same with a composer…The name doesn’t matter, except to help you tell one [song] apart from the other, and maybe give the music a little more color, like a fancy dress costume.”

Bernstein then plays Richard Strauss’s “Don Quixote”, which was made about the famed novel, but he tells the audience a different story of the music, that it’s actually about a prisoner who is waiting for his friend Superman to bust him out of jail. The audience accepts this story and pictures the music, which was created for something else, to match this prison story. This is proof of how much power a piece’s context has over the listener – we will associate the music with whatever story we’re given.

After playing Tckaikovsky’s “Symphony no. 5”, Bernstein concludes that music’s meaning comes from its movement:

“Didn’t you feel triumphant? Didn’t that make you feel like the winner at least of a football game, maybe of a presidential election. Now we can really understand what the meaning of music is; it’s the way it makes you feel when you hear it. Finally we’ve taken the last giant step, and we’re there, we know what music means now. We don’t have to know a lot of stuff about sharps and flats and chords and all that business in order to understand music; if it tell us something – not a story or a picture – but a feeling – if it makes us change inside, and have all those different good feelings music can make us have, then we are understanding it. And that’s all there is to it. Because those feelings aren’t like the stories and pictures we talked about before; they’re not extra; they’re not outside the music; they belong to the music; they’re what music is about.

“And the most wonderful thing of all is that there’s no limit to the different kinds of feelings music can make you have. And some of those feelings are so special and so deep they can’t even be described in words. You see, we can’t always name the things we feel. Sometimes we can; we can say we feel joy, or pleasure, peacefulness, whatever, love, hate. But every once in a while we have feelings so deep and so special that we have no words for them and that’s where music is so marvelous; because music names them for us, only in notes instead of in words. It’s all in the way music moves – we must never forget that music is movement, always going somewhere, shifting and changing, and flowing, from one note to another; and that movement can tell us more about the way we feel than a million words can.

“let’s say I play the note and them move to another one — right away there’s a meaning – a meaning we can’t name, a sort of stretch, or a pulling, or a pushing, something like that, but it’s there. The meaning is in the way those two notes move, and it makes something happen inside of you. If I move from that first note to another one — the meaning changes – something else happens inside of you – the stretch is bigger, somehow, and stronger. Now this note means one thing with this chord under [this other chord] and it makes you fell a certain way, and it means something completely different with this chord under it — And it makes you feel another way. And with this chord under it, Or with this chord And each way, each different chord makes you fell a different way.”

So, according to Bernstein, music has no meaning because there is no meaning that you can (or should be able to) define. The meaning is instantly recognizable:

“So you see, the meaning of music is in the music, in its melodies, and in the rhythms, and the harmonies, and the way it’s orchestrated, and most important of all in the way it develops itself. But that’s a whole other program. We’ll talk about that some other time. Right now, all you have to know is that music has its own meanings, right there for you to find inside the music itself; and you don’t need any stories or any pictures to tell you what it means. If you like music at all, you’ll find out the meanings for yourselves, just by listening to it.”

This is pretty heavy stuff, and I’m not sure if these kids were ready to hear Bernstein give this long lecture (the networks agreed; future series would be drastically simplified). But this is still some great insight from one of America’s greatest composers.

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Some Thoughts On Twitter (It Doesn’t Have To Be So Bad)

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(via The New Yorker)

Every Thursday is a free writing day, which means I write about anything I want. I try and keep it related to music, but sometimes I include non-music events or topics that I think are worth talking about. All thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone – take it for what it’s worth.

Aldous Huxley once said that technological progress has merely provided us with a more efficient means for going backwards, and I think he was talking about Twitter.

The idea of Twitter seems promising: a free platform in which people can instantly share and exchange ideas, thoughts, and content with no barrier between those who will share and those who will listen. Anybody with a brain and an internet connection can share whatever they want, and this communication can happen on a global scale and spark interesting conversations with people from all around the world, including top scientists, writers, and artists who have a lot to share with us.

Unfortunately, it seems like most of us don’t have much to talk about.

In reality Twitter often becomes a distraction, a nervous habit like biting your nails when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Instead of enhancing our lives, it actually cripples us to pay attention to what is popular instead of what is important or even real. Instead of following scientists, I follow parody accounts.

As I write this, there is a feud between Taylor Swift and Niki Minaj about some award show, and most major publications I follow feels the need to give more “insight” into the feud, as if they actually know what’s going on. And then I have the majority of the people I follow who are giving their own commentary (their own “insight”) on the feud, as if they actually know what’s going on. Online everyone knows what’s going on, and right now it’s Tswift and not Sandra Bland.

The media has always been interested in easy headlines, but it has evolved (or more like devolved) into clickbait, a word that is so common that it is now in the dictionary. Tweets themselves can be clickbait. If we see a clever phrase written under 140 characters (because that’s an important skill) we’ll gladly retweet it and let it speak for us instead of taking to time to process an actual opinion. Instead of generating original thoughts, we do this.

But this isn’t important, because most of us are more concerned with our own profiles instead the information we’re receiving. So let’s focus on that.

Author Adelle Waldman compares social media to alcohol in that we use (and often abuse) Twitter to get over shyness and transform into someone else, someone who is funny or engaging. In person, I usually keep it to myself, but on Twitter I can be the loudest and smartest guy in the room since I have all the time in the world to think of a good tweet. Sometimes getting new followers, favorites, and retweets, if it’s from someone I know or respect, can actually make my mood better. Someone I admire follows me? Aw yeah I’m so great. How strange is that?

While I’ve met the majority of my Facebook friends in person, I’ve never met most of the people I interact with on Twitter (keep in mind that I follow mostly musicians, writers, labels, and music publications). Since most people don’t know who I actually am, I can be whoever I want to be. Because of this, I’m willing to say something stupid or funny if it means more followers. Being a writer on Twitter is especially strange, since there are plenty of great writers who aren’t “good” on Twitter and plenty of people who are only good on Twitter, and you notice the difference.

As I continue to write on this blog and for other publications, I realize that, until that great virus wipes out the entire internet and we revert back to the prehistoric age (the 1950!), my dependence on Twitter will only increase. Yes, I could just delete my Twitter and go frolic in the woods, and some days I’m tempted to do that. But for music writers, unplugging from Twitter is easier said than done. Whether I like it or not, the online world has become the source of music and news that keeps me informed and allows me to share great new music.

With this realization in mind, over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to readjust my Twitter habits to make it work for me, because I would like to think that Twitter can actually be a productive tool if used correctly.

Below I have a few suggestions and thoughts on how to make Twitter a more pleasant experience. Maybe this is me being frustrated by social media and wanting to ramble, but hopefully some of this makes sense. This is also geared more toward music writers who use Twitter to keep up with the world, though I think anyone can apply these ideas for themselves. I’m no expert, but this works for me.

TweetDeck

I was late to discover TweetDeck, but now I can’t imagine using Twitter any other way. TweetDeck is a personal dashboard browser that you can customize to show different feeds in real time. It’s an impression application that you can do a lot with.

With TweetDeck I’ve begun to utilize lists, which is a hand-picked collection of specific users. With lists, I don’t waste time going through a single feed to find what I’m looking for. I log on, quickly scroll through my list, and log off.

I have two major lists, Music Discovery and Music Writers / Editors.

Music Discovery includes music publications (or other good sources of music news and pieces) and my favorite labels, which are usually the first ones to premiere new songs that publications will later pick up on. There are 100+ accounts in this list and I’m always adding more when I come across a new song I like and I find out which label represents the artist.

Music Writers / Editors is where I keep all my favorite music journalists, editors, and other music-minded people whom often tweet about informative music news or share great reads. Some people I have in this list include David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald), Mark Richardson (@_markrichardson), Jessica Hopper (@jesshopp), Jason Heller (@jason_m_heller), Stephen T Erlewine (@sterlewine), Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden), Jillian Mapes (@Jumonsmapes) and more.

I have a few other lists that aren’t music related, including one called “Brain Pickers” which includes Brain Pickings (@brainpicker), The Verge (@verge), Open Culture (@openculture), and more. You can create lists for anything you want.

Don’t Be Afraid To Have More “Following” Than “Followers”

For some reason I used to get worked up about making sure I had a good “ratio” with my twitter profile. Following more people than your followers seemed desperate, like you followed all those people with the hopes of them following you back.

This sounds really pathetic, and I’m sorry that I used to think that way.

There are so many interesting accounts, follow as many (or as few) people as you want. Now when you’re famous you’ll probably get so many followers that you’ll never catch up, but don’t let a number determine who you follow. There are too many interesting people not to follow.

Follow People You Disagree With

Pitchfork Editor-In-Chief Mark Richardson once wrote on his Tumblr page how Twitter is not so much a way to expand your worldview as it is just a reflection of your own views of the world. This actually makes a lot of sense; most people I follow tend to be the people whom I agree with or share similar tastes. If someone says something I don’t agree with, I don’t have to think twice about unfollowing them.

I think it would be interesting to follow people you usually wouldn’t follow and what you might discover. If you’re deeply religious, follow more scientists and philosophers, and vice versa. If you’re hardcore liberal, check out what Donald Trump is tweeting about. I’m serious.

This is an idea I’m still getting used to, and it might be too much after a while, but I hope it makes me a more well rounded person. Or maybe I’ll get overwhelmed with all these opinions and become paralyzed and indifferent. Hopefully not.

People On Twitter Are Not Your Friends

Except for my real life friends, I have not met most of the people I follow (or who follow me), which gives me a warped perception of who I interact with on a daily basis. It’ll be a strange day when I meet one of these people in real life, like, “Hey, we follow each other on Twitter and I said that one thing about X and you favorited it, how’s it going!”

Of course, as a 22-year-old who one day wants to write for major music publications, I’ll find certain people who I want to follow me (validation!) and either “favorite” one of their tweets or try and respond in a clever and insightful way.

Again, this is kind of pathetic. Just because you interact with someone on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s a two way street. Let that person be. People on Twitter are not your friends.

Show Appreciation (Because People On Twitter Can Be Your Friends)

If you read a great article or hear a great song, then you should consider tweeting at them and complementing them. It doesn’t have to be sarcastic or ironic. Show your real appreciation. Your followers who don’t also follow that person doesn’t have to see the tweet. Giving real complements goes a long way, even if it’s online. You never know. Also, don’t expect to get a new follower from someone just because you complemented them. If they do that’s great, but the complement should be enough.

Turn off your phone during a show

There’s a lot I can say about using Twitter when you’re in social situations, but for now I’ll just stick to the circumstance I encounter the most, which is people checking Twitter during a show.

There are many reasons to turn off your phone during a show, including the simple reason that you’re seeing someone taking a huge chance by performing their music for you and a bunch of other strangers. Even if the band sucks, try to pay attention. It’s amazing how much you begin to notice when you know that your phone is off, and you actually might talk to someone around you.

If you want to take photos on your phone, turn it on silent and fight the urge to get online. You can do it.

Like I said this is all suggested, but all of this has actually helped me turn Twitter into a useful tool instead of a drug. Or maybe we’re all better off deleting our accounts. Who knows.

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Books That Rock: Our Band Could Be Your Life – Michael Azerrad

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While Reaganomics and MTV dominated the popular consumer culture of the 80s, a musical revolution was happening in basements all across America that was led by ambitious (or bored) young men and women who wanted to create meaning for their lives in a country that felt more like Springsteen’s Nebraska than Jackson’s Thriller.

And just like how the Velvet Underground transformed the lives of the small group that initially bought their records, the 80s American underground would be heard by few but would influence musicians and journalists all across the country by challenging the notion of musical success, and it would prove to a generation that you could actually do it yourself.

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In Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 (Little Brown, 2002), Michael Azerrad chronicles thirteen different American bands during the 80s and how each band, in their own way, helped shape the underground music that would later be classified as alternative and indie.

Some of these bands you already know (Sonic Youth, The Replacements), while others might be new to you (Big Black, Mission of Burma), but Azerrad takes equal care of retelling each band’s history of humble beginnings, slow success (if they had any), and often-ugly endings. These are not glamorous stories of sex, drugs, and rock & roll but instead are tales of bootstrapped tours, internal fighting, and often heartbreaking tragedy. And lots of drugs.

According to Azerrad, the underground began in California in 1978 with Black Flag’s SST Records and ended in 1991 when Nevermind blew up MTV. In between those thirteen years saw the rise and fall of most of these bands that we now call alternative, though back then there was no official title for this scattered network of devoted bands, labels, and fanzines (the original music blogs) that provided role models for younger bands to go their own way.

Each band brought something new to the scene. Hardcore bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat gave kids, who were jaded by the failure of the counterculture, a sound and a energy that was pure and (for a while) free of bullshit. The Replacements gave countless sloppy drunks the hope that they could write music as good as the Beatles. Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth proved that noise could be beautiful. Minutemen made it ok to write punk songs inspired by Ulysses. And so on.

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What’s fascinating about these bands is that, while they all had similar upbringings, they all believed in very different ideologies of DIY. Some bands, like Black Flag, were out to rise above and destroy the mainstream machines that were hurting young bands from achieving success (not that you wanted to be in the mainstream with those bloodsuckers). Other bands, like Hüsker Dü, wanted mainstream success, but they also wanted to create their own system and network to play by their own rules. Sometimes it wasn’t even about the system or achieving great success. Often these bands, almost all of them in the beginning, just wanted to write music that made sense to them and their audience (one of my favorite lines comes from Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye: “I don’t know enough about the world to really sing about it. But I knew enough about my world to sing about it.”). Regardless of the music’s intent, all these bands shared the same network and often helped each other in a true sense of community.

You’ll enjoy re-reading the mishaps of your favorite bands, but if you don’t know any of these bands then consider this your official textbook in American Indie 101.

But this book isn’t so much about these bands as it is a story of being young and in love with music in the 80s, when a band from your small home town could make it big and that you finally had something to root for and claim for yourself. You’ll also realize that these now legendary groups were started by normal people just like you or I, people who were just trying to do their own thing with what they had. As Mike Watt famously wrote in his history lesson, our band could be your life. If they could do it, so could you.

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Take these stories with a grain of salt though; Azerrad tends to let his bias get in the way (there’s a decent amount of backhanded praise towards the Replacements, and apparently everything Sonic Youth and Steve Albini did was brilliant and ahead of its time). It also seems that Azerrad picked these thirteen bands because they all somehow knew and worked with each other, so every story has the same people showing up which becomes repetitive.

But bias aside, you won’t find a better book about this era and is as compelling and heartbreaking as the finest forms of fiction. If you want to learn about the American underground back when “indie” actually meant “independent”, then this is your book.

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That One Time Neil Young Played In A Band With Rick James

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When you think of Rick James, you probably think of “Super Freak”, MC Hammer, and Dave Chappelle. However, for all the self-parody excess that would define him later in life, James had an incredible music career that produced many hits and collaborations, including the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and…Neil Young?

That’s right, the funk man (back when he was known as Ricky James Matthews) and the Canadian troubadour once played in a Toronto R&B group called The Mynah Birds. The band started in the early 60s when James, in hiding in Canada after going AWOL from the Navy, formed a band with some local musicians to earn some money and to get his music career up and running. In 1966 the band ran into a young and struggling folk singer named Neil Young who was roaming around Toronto looking for a band to play in, and James invited Young to play with the Mynah Birds. The rest is forgotten history.

As you can hear from this song, this band sounded good. This was classic 60s soul-influenced garage rock that was perfected by the Rolling Stones, whom James was a big fan. According to historian Nick Warburton, the Mynah Birds was also noticeable for being the first mostly white band to sign a deal with Motown Records. And what’s even more (super) freaky is that other band members included Bruce Palmer, who would later join Buffalo Springfield, and Nick St. Nicholas, who would help start Steppenwolf.

The band ended as quickly as it began when James was caught and served a year in prison, after which he moved to California to work on his music. Who knows what could have happened if James was never arrested, but the current bootlegs scattered across YouTube are worth checking out, even just to hear a strange collaboration that somehow sounded great.

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My Favorite Albums And Songs Of 2015 (So Far)

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This isn’t so much a list of the few albums and songs that I loved more than anything else in 2015 as it is a list of the music that I’ve listened to the most and have the strongest associations to this year. When I think of 2015, I think of these albums and songs.

Also, to say that the following albums and songs are “the best” is dumb, so I’m going to say that these are my favorites of 2015 so far aka some music from 2015 that you should check out if you haven’t already.

Here are my 10 favorite albums, in alphabetical order:

Alabama Shakes – ‘Sound & Color’

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Belle & Sebastian – “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’

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Courtney Barnett – ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit’

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Jamie xx – ‘In Colour’

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Jeff Rosenstock – ‘We Cool?’

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Juan Wauters – “Who Me?”

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Kendrick Lamar – ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’

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Natalie Prass – ‘Natalie Prass’

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Tobias Jesso Jr. – ‘Goon’

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Will Butler – ‘Policy’

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Honorable Mentions: Algiers (‘Algiers’), Blur (‘The Magic Whip’), Father John Misty (‘I Love You, Honeybear’), Hop Along (‘Painted Shut’), Josh Rouse (‘The Embers Of Time’), and State Champion (‘Fantasy Error’).

And here are my 20 favorite songs, in alphabetical order. To make things more interesting, I didn’t include any songs that came from any of my favorite albums (because most of those songs would be on this list).

Beach Slang – “Too Late to Die Young”


 

Best Coast – “Feeling Ok”


 

Carly Rae Jepsen – “I Really Like You”


 

Chromatics – “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around”


 

Colleen Green – “TV”


 

Craig Finn – “Newmyer’s Roof”


 

Dawes – “Don’t Send Me Away”


 

Desaparecidos – “MariKKKopa”


 

Diet Cig – “Scene Sick”


 

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – “Sunday Candy”


 

Downtown Boys – “Dancing In The Dark”


 

Hop Along – tie between “The Knock” and “Happy to See Me”


 

Hot Chip – “Huarache Lights”


 

Kacey Musgraves – “Dime Store Cowgirl”


 

Leon Bridges – “Smooth Sailin'”


 

Panda Bear – “Mr. Noah”

(The single came out last October, but I heard it for the first time when I listened to this year’s ‘Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper’, so I’m including it on this list.)


 

Sam Outlaw – “Jesus Take the Wheel (And Drive Me to a Bar)”


 

Sufjan Stevens – “Death with Dignity”


 

Titus Andronicus – “Dimed Out”


 

Tobias Jesso Jr. – “True Love”

(note: this song technically wasn’t on ‘Goon’, so I don’t feel bad about including TJJ on here)


 

And in case you missed it, here’s a Spotify playlist that I update throughout the year of all the songs that I like this year.

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