Friday, May 06, 2016


Good haul for $35 - and worth an encounter with "Richard"
My Saturday plans changed. I was originally set to go to Brooklyn for the WFMU Record Fair but it turned out I needed to stay close to home. Yet the universe provides: On my way to the C-Town I stumbled on one of those multi-family tag sales and even from a distance I could see there was a lot of shiny silver media on display. My pulse quickened - what would I find?

Quite a bit, as it turned out. The wife of the guy manning the table had recently been laid off by Sony Music so they were culling their collection. I found Hendrix remasters, a nice Legacy Edition of Santana III (with this ace jam), a bunch of Birthday Party albums, Nilsson Sings Newman, Coltrane in Japan, Red Garland, an outré disco collection, and a sealed copy of A Voice On Air, among other things.

While flipping through the discs I noticed a lot of things I already have, including a copy of Live At The Gaslight 1962 by Bob Dylan. This is actually a slightly rare item, as it was sold for a limited time only in Starbucks stores. So when a guy showed up and started looking through the CD's with what seemed to be an appreciative attitude, I pulled the album out of the box and pointed it out to him. "If you're into Bob Dylan, this is a great item, and it's out of print."

"I used to be more into Dylan," he replied, "but then I read this interview." "What'd he say this time?" I asked. The gist of it was that Dylan revealed that he wasn't all that into being a protest singer and was essentially going along to get along in the early part of his career. This led to the man, whom we'll call Richard, feeling that Dylan's potential lack of sincerity made songs like With God On Our Side and The Times They Are A-Changing less interesting. "Yeah, he's always saying stuff like that," I pressed on, "but this is really special. It's Dylan in a small club, playing mostly traditional songs (Barbara
Allan, Cocaine, etc.) but he also does early versions of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall and Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - songs people in the audience had never heard before! Plus, his guitar playing is brilliant."

Richard said he would consider it and added it to his stack. Then he popped the question: "Who's the greatest singer-songwriter of the 20th century?" I knew it was a trap, but I entered anyway with what is for me the obvious answer: "Bob Dylan." He shook his head. "Really? No, I'd have to say Joni Mitchell." Just the way he said it, I knew I was in for it. Buttonholed.

"Interesting," I said, "I respect her and everything, but something about her voice bothers me, so she's never been a favorite." "But that's just the stuff from the 60's!" he retorted, "Have you heard her albums from the 70's and 80's?" Then I knew I was really in trouble. First of all, she only had two albums in the 60's and one of them was her fairly negligible debut. Second of all, he employed the horrid rhetorical tactic of assuming my ignorance. Of course I've heard Blue and other classics from her canon. Naturally, as a music lover I would want to see what all the fuss is about. In fact, I've revisited her discography more than once, and each time I do, I get stopped in my tracks by vocal flourishes that are like nails on a blackboard to me. Strange, yes, when you consider that I love Marc Bolan to death, but taste is taste. 

I even mentioned that I had seen Joni Mitchell performing Mingus at Tanglewood, with Jaco Pastorius no less, and found it meandering at best, and only tangentially related to Charles Mingus. "Pearls before swine," Richard muttered, before coming out with "Do you read literature?" I admit I couldn't hold back my shock. Did I look like a slob? "Of course I read literature," I replied with a little bite. "Ok, sorry," Richard said, "a lot of people don't. What do you read?" "Lots of different things I said," picturing the stacks of poetry and other books in my apartment, "Phillip Levine, Philip Roth, Shakespeare, Dante, Mary Karr, contemporary stuff, I've read a lot." I should have said, Donald Goines, Suzanne Collins, and Harlan Ellison, DUDE, which would also be true.

Then he starts peppering me with quotes from Joni Mitchell songs, as if hearing a few lyrics would make me completely change my feelings about her. But now I was done. "It's all beautiful word-smithing," I said, "but doesn't really move me, and I don't really think she is as important as Dylan." His contempt was palpable. "Do you like Prince?" he asked then. "You know," I answered tentatively, wanting to be honest but thinking of my many grieving friends, "I've never been a huge fan. Dirty Mind is super-funky and I like the song 1999, but a lot of the production seems dated now. Talented guy, great guitarist, and he died too soon, but he's not really for me." It was as if I'd said nothing. "Prince said The Hissing of Summer Lawns was one of his favorite albums," Richard told me, as if this well-worn fact would also have an effect on me - even though I just said that I didn't like Prince.

This is when I started to back away slowly and head off on my other errands. I noticed he was holding a copy of the deluxe reissue of The Bends. For some reason the whole unpleasant encounter left me cravenly trying to prove that I wasn't a philistine and my departing words were, "But I love Radiohead! Great album!" I do, and it is, but ugh.

I'm relating this story because I never want to be Richard. I seek only to help people find their joy through music. I'm never going to try to convince someone that their favorite shouldn't be their favorite or that they are wrong for liking what they like. Once I know someone has actually listened to something I'm recommending, it's almost a bonus if they take pleasure in it as well. 

While I'm not always championing the seriously obscure, I often feel like I'm going against the music industry power being put behind a few artists - just look at the "New Releases" listed on Spotify or other sites, with each and every spot bought and paid for. I don't think people should necessarily let these musicians define our times. I want people to listen beyond the obvious and take in some of the richness of the musical ferment around us. It may change their lives.

But if I'm ever being Richard, feel free to let me know!

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