COLLECTIN' IN THE FREE WORLD: It's a confusing time to
be a collector of music. Not because of the vast, unnavigable
array of bands greeting you every time you contemplate a purchase;
product choice actually keeps things interesting. No, it's the
process of tracking down tunes that's become daunting.
On the one hand, try weighing all the retail options: specialty stores offering both new and second-hand goods; mega-chains who'll sell you a fridge to go with your Foo Fighters; those ubiquitous 10-CDs-for-a-penny record clubs; and an explosion in Internet mail-order operations that suck your credit card number into cyberspace and spit out a FedEx parcel at your doorstep.
Likewise, end-of-the-Millennium high-techery is upping the ante for record collectors who, in general, tend to be ahead of the technological curve. Whether on 8-track cartridge, Quadraphonic LP, Mini-disc or DVD, record geeks want their music and are instinctively resourceful when it comes to obtaining it. Consider this recent scenario: Many collectors who in the past swapped tapes of concert bootlegs or out-of-print albums now trade music via email.
Armed with the latest computer software, it's become relatively easy to upload, or post on a website, a file containing, say, the recent Santana/Los Lobos concert (initially recorded from the audience on DAT) and make it available for downloading and subsequent transferring to disc by other fans.
Bill Glahn, publisher of maverick music journal Live! Music Review, has a keen interest in all this. In addition to regular coverage of the bootleg LP and CD industry, his magazine also delves into new issues specific to record collectors. Clearly, the wild-frontier nature of the Internet has added food for speculation. "[Web-based transmission] is still in its early stages, but it's coming on fast," predicts Glahn. "When the computer becomes the center of the home entertainment system, I think the possibilities are great!"
Glahn cites the latest digital audio format, known as MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3), as one piece of evidence that our music universe is expanding rapidly. Early formats were plagued by pitfalls involving transfer and sound quality, but MP3 largely surmounts these problems.
Says Glahn, "MP3 is a compression scheme for audio files. It's used to store sounds in more compact files, making it easier to transfer as files over the Net, and is less cumbersome to store. For example, you can fit 11 hours of music on a CD using MP3." Glahn does add that at the moment MP3 files burned to disc can only be played on a computer's CD-ROM player, but even that scenario is likely to change in the future as technology advances. (In fact, Billboard recently reported that one company, Nordic Entertainment Worldwide, has bypassed the disc issue altogether and is marketing a portable MP3 player, dubbed the MPMan, that allows consumers to plug directly into their computers and transfer music from hard drive to the player's memory.)
Perhaps even more significant is the widespread availability--which is to say, affordability--of recordable CDs (CD-R). While the cassette has nothing to fear just yet, record collectors owning computers are embracing CD-R burners at an astonishing rate. The trading of homemade CDs is already commonplace. And faced with the shrinking bootleg marketplace (due to assorted legal woes of late, many international bootleg companies have shut down), grassroots entrepreneurs are stepping into the gap and spawning a new breed of bootlegger specializing in CD-Rs.
"The bootleggers are the first to grasp the advantages of the new technology," states Glahn. "Even without paying royalties, there were always economic considerations for bootleggers. For example, most CD pressing plants would only press in quantities greater than 500 or 1,000 copies. Given the limited number of hard-core collectors, this meant that only the most popular artists (Beatles, Stones, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, etc.) were usually bootlegged. CD-R's have helped in returning bootlegging to the fans. I'm seeing more and more limited CD-R bootlegs by such artists as The Skids, Pussy Galore, Crack The Sky, etc. There are some appearing that rival the professionals in terms of sound quality, packaging, etc. And the scarcity of the material is sometimes astounding."
Boy howdy to that. Out-of-print material has proven irresistible, with mastered-from-pristine-vinyl, pirate editions of CDs by Buckingham-Nicks (the duo's self-titled album), The Who (My Generation), Southern Culture On The Skids (First Album) and Neil Young (six titles from his '73-'81 years, each disc filled out with live/rare bonus tracks) all causing a stir among collectors' circles.
Additionally, as Glahn indicated, limited edition bootlegs have been cropping up with such regularity that it's obvious some major tape archive combing is underway: The Byrds' Flight Pattern offers a mini-history lesson ('64 to '67), via assorted TV and stage appearances, and tags on a pair of Gene Clark demos at the end; Patti Smith's Mother's Day presents, on two CDs, an unedited radio broadcast from 1979; Tom Petty's The Fillmore 20 is a staggering three-disc set recorded last year in San Francisco that features unbelievable mixing-desk sound.
The fan's compulsion to hear music is nearly as strong as the urge to procreate, and the advent of new means by which one can obtain that music continues to fuel that compulsion. There's no telling where things will lead, but just the same, as Glahn succinctly observes, "It's a fascinating time to be a music collector!"
HOT PICK: In 1984, on their masterpiece Double Nickels on the Dime (arguably one of the greatest punk rock albums ever released), the Minutemen included a song describing how their band came to be, giving props to those who influenced them along the way. "I was E. Bloom, Richard Hell, Joe Strummer, and John Doe/Me and Mike Watt playin' guitar," sang/spoke D. Boon on that self-referential track, giving a lot of punk rock purists pause to ask, Who the hell is E. Bloom?
Almost 15 years later, it's downright sad that most of those people still don't know the name Eric Bloom as well as they do Richard Hell, Joe Strummer, and John Doe.
Eric Bloom is the singer for Blue Oyster Cult, one of the most overlooked influential bands of the '70s and '80s. Just as the "hard rock/power pop" tag of Cheap Trick never did them justice, the "hard rock/heavy metal" label put on BOC didn't go very far in defining what they were all about.
First of all, both bands were smarter than most of their contemporaries. (BOC even enlisted friend/fan/poet Patti Smith to co-write a couple of songs for their 1976 release Agents of Fortune). Second, both bands wrote inventive songs with catchier melodies than most of what was being put out in the name of hard rock. Finally, both bands have endured into the late '90s, ignoring all musical trends, still touring, and putting out albums.
Sporting a new rhythm section (which has undergone numerous changes over the years), BOC's new release, Heaven Forbid, on CMC International Records, retains their original core line-up of Bloom and guitarists Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Allan Lanier. Expectedly, the new album doesn't live up to the band's earlier records, but at least retains their patented sound; and when you've got a catalog as deep as these guys do (including such FM rock staples as "(Don't Fear) the Reaper", "Burnin' for You," and "Godzilla"), there's no need to worry that the live show won't be a blast.
Blue Oyster Cult hits the stage at 8:30 p.m. for an all-ages show at the New West, 4385 W. Ina Road, on Sunday, August 30. Doors open at 6 p.m., and tickets are $14 at the door. Advance tickets are $12, available at Dillard's, Cowtown Boots, Corral Western Wear, and the club. Call 1-800-638-4253 for tickets; and 744-7744 for more information.
LAST NOTES: Local label Hovercraft Records showcases its roster of talent over two nights this weekend. Unified Field Theory will kick things off at 10 p.m. Thursday, August 27, followed by headliners The Fearless Vampire Killers, an alt-metal three-piece playing in support of their debut release, mmm...hogfat. On Saturday, August 29, Hovercraftfest continues with Bubba Grubz headlining, and Love Mound opening at about 10 p.m. Both shows are at the Double Zero, 121 E. Congress St. Call 670-9332 for details.
Ex-Wafflebutt member Aaron "A.C." Canfield's new band The Money Shot makes its debut performance on Saturday, August 29, at The Yankee Doodle, 1929 E. Grant Road.
Self-described as "free-form white-boy funk," the group will play where the Bass Ale flows freely, and there's always a table with your name on it. DJ Buttahfly will spin tunes before the live set. Call 325-1771 for information.
Finally, a hearty farewell to Mike Ahern, singer/songwriter/guitarist for Beyond 7 (who played one triumphant last gig at Nimbus Brewery on August 15), and banjo-picker for Creosote (with whom he played his last gig at Third Stone on August 20). The quirky, good-natured scenester will be leaving town in early September for a position as Staff Scientist at Tulane University in New Orleans. Thanks for the music, Mike. Godspeed.
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