Tag Archives: music

Once Upon a Record Store

 

Kids today. . .

It’s a common refrain uttered by countless older generations when discussing a younger, newer one. Sometimes the speaker may be complaining that these kids today don’t appreciate how good they have it. Other times, a speaker may be lamenting the loss of a past activity that no longer finds favor with the next generation.

It’s this one, lamentation over loss, that put me in mind to write about one such relic that is becoming more difficult to find as the years march forward. The other day I found myself at the local shopping mall. You know, the sort of mall that had been hugely popular during the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s. This mall, originally opened in 1969, remains an easy place to meet my shopping needs. The ownership has maintained a clean and friendly environment that welcomes customers the way it did fifty years ago.

As a teenager, I spent many hours at the mall, shopping, hanging with friends, and flirting with girls. Back in the day, there were stores unique to malls across the country. Hot Sam’s soft pretzels were always a favorite while visiting. As was Orange Julius. Spenser Gifts offered some of the coolest items. While Spencer remains at the mall here, Orange Julius and Hot Sam’s have long-ago fallen by the wayside. So too have the record stores—which is what I want to talk about today.

Kids today. . . they don’t hang out at the mall. In fact, during my recent visit, I found a handful of elderly mall-walkers and a smattering of customers wandering through the near-empty space. There is truth in the fact that kids are kids—no matter the generation. But from one era to the next, certain things may get left behind and forgotten.

Record stores are among those lost to history’s tide. Kids today get their music from the internet. They buy downloads or they stream it—and even downloads are quickly fading. They listen to music that has been compressed and depleted of its full, rich tones and sound. But if you’ve grown up with this as your only source, you haven’t a clue what other possibilities existed once upon a record store.

For those of us above a certain age, we recall fondly a multitude of record stores that once dotted city landscapes across the globe. I remember spending many hours in local record shops perusing the latest albums or listening to the opinions of others regarding this band or that guitarist or who would be touring this year. We’d meet our friends there—or bond with strangers over the latest Led Zeppelin album.

But it wasn’t just about albums. At most record stores, we could find t-shirts and posters and buttons of favorite bands. We’d line up at these stores for tickets to the concerts passing through the area. And I’m not talking about the over-priced events ordered online these days. I remember buying tickets to see Blue Oyster Cult for $8.00 back in 1980. That was the first of many concerts I’ve attended throughout my life. I paid a mere $9.50 to see Ozzy Osbourne in concert—a show that included legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads. Sadly, Rhoads died in a plane crash just six weeks after I saw him. I still carry the memory of being mesmerized by this incredible talent. As I recall, the actual ticket price for the Ozzy show had been just $9.00. I remember being upset that the record store had the nerve to tack on an extra .50 to the cost.

Many were the days when a new album dropped, and I’d be there—early—just as the clerk began stocking the record bins. With the new disc or cassette (or even 8-Track) secured, I’d hang out a little longer, snooping through the import bins or the bargain bins, hoping to mine gold by discovering an album by a great unknown band or singer. The imports were usually those late 1970s and early 1980s British heavy metal bands that I’d read about in the music magazines. This is how I discovered Iron Maiden and Saxon and Motorhead and Tygers of Pan Tang. I lived and breathed metal in those days. Still do.

Sometimes, I’d hang out in the pop music department, over with the Duran Duran or Adam and the Ants albums. Why? Because that’s where the girls were found. I didn’t care for that sort of music, but I knew enough about it to hold a conversation with a pretty girl or two.

Record stores weren’t just for the young, either. I remember many a visit including my mother or father (and even grandparents), who had their own record collections to build upon. They enjoyed country music and rock-n-roll oldies from the 1950s and 1960s. I now possess many of those same albums. I also own CDs from Duran Duran and Adam and the Ants. It all comes back to memories tied to these wonderful stores and to the people who shared this same journey. Back to a time when life didn’t feel too busy or complicated.

Kids today, they’ll never know the joys of the record store, of the people and the culture that sprang from it across many generations. They have it easier, kids today. They can get anything they want simply by pointing and clicking on their smart phone or computer or tablet. But here’s the truth: something always gets lost when life becomes too easy. For many of us, that something is the record store. Gone but never forgotten.

 

Michigan Rockers Raise the Bar on The Unawakening!

Rating: ★★★★★

Michigan rockers Widetrack return with their new album entitled The Unawakening. And after one listen, it’s easy to hear these guys take the term progressive to heart. They haven’t grown fat and lazy since their last album. There isn’t any resting on laurels here. This band has moved their sound and energy into exciting new realms.

The opening number, a track called “Martyr”, kicks off this new collection with a galloping thunder reminiscent of the best of classic British hard rockers UFO. But that’s where any comparison ends. Widetrack, the father and son duo of Ron and Zach Tippen, have been busy carving out their own unique brand of alterna-prog rock in the global musical landscape.

The second track, entitled “Unveiled”, with its crisp guitars and righteously tasty bass work, carries the new album forward with thought-provoking lyrics:

 

Don’t let these poor blinded souls

Thwart your progress

 

No time for doubt to sway your heart

From those in flux

“Requiem” floats in on a dreamy undertow, its mood and words lamenting a life lost among the cruelties of a cold and deceitful world.

“Tribal” is perhaps my favorite song in this collection. This one is a rocker that weaves intense bass lines with frantic guitar riffs atop a punishing drumbeat. The echo in Ron’s vocals paint the lyrics in a dark and somber mood.

The fifth track, a jam called “The Rift”, sparkles with elements of the best of the nineties sound—but thoroughly modern and fresh. This is a song I’d expect to hear on modern rock radio.

On “Gone Dark”, Tippen sings:

 

The signs were all there

You sought no conversation

Trolling contact from calm violence

 

Proclaimed your god’s wrath

The fate of my conviction

From your pulpit of cult follows

 

Gone dark

We’re done

“Drones” is a trippy number with an acoustic beginning that builds, thrashing and kicking, into a mountain of sound.

The tenth track on the album, entitled “Voyeurs”, is a straight-forward rocker that really showcases the stellar drumming of Ron Tippen—who also happens to handle lead vocals and much of the guitar work.

I often speak of vibes and moods when sharing my thoughts on this album. That’s because each of the twelve tracks is awash in these elements. Mood and vibe are never easy to connect with if the musicians are not truly feeling their own music. Some bands, resting on reputation and past accomplishments, often half-step their way through studio sessions, just to be able to say they’ve got new product for sale. It is so obvious that Ron and Zach Tippen truly feel the music they’re creating. Each of the songs on The Unawakening are deeply imprinted with the hearts and souls of these musicians. There’s no half-stepping anything with these guys. Widetrack is a professional band on every level. These are talented guys creating incredible music. The Unawakening is an album worthy of your time and attention. Grab a copy and help this band continue to forge their own path across the modern rock scenery.

 

 

 

Karolina Protsenko – Violin and Piano! Just WOW!

I discovered this young girl, Karolina Protsenko, on YouTube recently. I know nothing of her life story outside of these videos. But I feel driven to share her incredible talent here on the The Indie Spot! This is why I created my blog nearly a decade ago—to share the beauty of art (writing, painting, music) in all of its glorious splendor. Though these songs she covers contain some of the most beautiful lyrics ever written, this girl teaches us that music doesn’t have to contain words to move the soul. I’m not ashamed to admit to having a lump in my throat just listening to these stunning instrumentals. Please, take a moment and listen.

Can’t Help Falling In Love

Hallelujah

Van Halen Versus Billie Eilish: Who Wins?

So today I saw Van Halen trending on Twitter. My first thoughts drifted to the recent disclosure that guitarist Edward Van Halen has been receiving treatment for throat cancer. Did something serious happen to the second greatest guitarist ever? Has the brilliant creator of numerous classic guitar riffs taken a turn for the worst?

Nope!

All the chatter centered around a single, simple confession. It seems the latest pop sensation doesn’t know who or what Van Halen is. But that’s to be expected, right? I mean, Billie Eilish, the pop singer in question here, is just 17 years old. She was born in 2001. Van Halen hasn’t released a successful album since 1995’s Balance, which sold 3 million copies (physical copies, no downloads back then) in the United States, and another couple million across the rest of the world.

Okay, I sort of get why some older people might be a little miffed that this kid doesn’t know who the once mighty Van Halen is or were. This is a band that has sold over 80 million albums worldwide. They’ve had two albums pass the ten million (Diamond) sales mark in the United States alone. They’ve been at it for 40-odd years. Their tours are legendary. They’ve more than paid their dues. But do these same angry Van Halen fans know who Billie Eilish is? Most have admitted they don’t.

As stated above, Miss Eilish is just 17 years old (though she’ll be 18 this month). She wasn’t even born when the VH machine made legit music and world-conquering tours. That’s excuse enough right there. Yes, she’s a singer and musician. She ought to know more of the history of who and what came before her. But that is not mandatory. It doesn’t disqualify her from being legit herself because she can’t pass a pop-culture trivia quiz.

Billie Eilish is making some seriously good music. She is touring the world in support of her first album. She’s also released an EP. I own every Van Halen album (including the Sammy Hagar stuff).

I also own both Eilish releases.

I am a music fan.

Period.

I cannot wrap my head around the animosity going back and forth on Twitter. Both sides dissing each other. One side accused of being old and out of touch, the other side dismissed as young and ignorant. I couldn’t ever imagine myself dumping on a band like Bill Haley and the Comets simply because they had their success long before I was born. I like the music. I own some of The Comets CD’s. In fact, my collection of nearly a thousand CD’s (and countless downloads) contains music that traverses a wide spectrum. I have music from Django Reinhardt, a French jazz guitarist popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I also have many 1940’s Big Band swing jazz albums. Billie Holiday—the original Billie? I possess lots of her music. I own many titles from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Grace VanderWaal, Pink, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Tupac, Eminem, and, of course, the aforementioned Van Halen and Billie Eilish.

It’s a collection befitting any true music fan. In my younger days, if it wasn’t metal, it sucked. Then I grew up and my love of music matured. Good musicians always look toward the future with an eye on the past. There aren’t many successful musicians who rise to the top by not knowing the past. But here’s the cool thing: the past is so vast and filled with tons of great music and musicians just waiting to be mined by a new generation. And by that same token, the world today is filled with some incredible new music and talented young musicians. Why would anybody choose to dismiss a band or singer based on age? Music unites, ignorance divides!

For those who may not be familiar with Billie Eilish, have a serious listen:

Are you too young to recall Van Halen’s glory days? Let this seep into your mind:

 

Grace VanderWaal is at the Top of Her Game With Letters: Vol. 1

Rating: ★★★★★ Grace VanderWaal is on a roll. The rapidly ascending singer/songwriter opened 2019 with a brooding single called “Stray.” She closes the year out with a brand new six-song EP entitled Letters: Vol. 1. And just what did she accomplish in between? I’m glad you asked. Miss VanderWaal released a soundtrack single for a major motion picture (Wonder Park), opened a handful of gigs for none other than Florence and the Machine, entertained a massive crowd at the Railbird Festival in Kentucky, before taking to the road for a sold out headlining tour of her own. Oh, and did I mention she had to squeeze all that in while keeping her grades up in school? You won’t hear me complain about my schedule ever again.

Listening to the tracks on the new EP, it’s easy to hear the time and effort that has been spent on creating this collection. The songs here are fresh and focused, filled with determination and life. The opening track, “Intro (Gucci Shoes),” is a short, playful piece. The lyrics seem poke fun at the vanity of self-make overs, of trying to be something other than who or what we really are:

I just bought some new Gucci shoes

Wasted my college funds just to look cute

Forty minutes to look like I did it in two

Maybe I am vain, so are you

 

So I got a new wig, got some new clothes

Then made some new friends that I don’t even know

And I got a new wig, got some new clothes

I learned a new dance, got a new nose

This theme runs through other songs as well. “Poser,” the second track in the collection, speaks to alienation and being fake, a poser, a person maybe not comfortable or confident in her (or his) own skin.

“I Don’t Like You” is another take on the age-old notion of being in love with somebody that you just don’t like. You simply cannot live with this person any longer—despite what you may still feel in your heart. This is a catchy number, one that will have fans singing along with VanderWaal for years to come, whenever she breaks it out during her live shows.

“UR So Beautiful” is a gem of delicate beauty; one of those songs that sticks in my head long after I’ve put my iPod away. It’s the vocal that sets the mood and carries with it a gentle vibe threaded throughout the song.

My current favorite of this collection has to be “Waste My Time.” As with the first track, there’s a playfulness embedded within the song. But there’s also a 1970s-esque bounce beneath the foundation of the track, one that will most certainly have them dancing in the clubs. I’ve said this elsewhere, but it deserves repeating: get this young lady a bass player, and her live band will rival the best in the business.

The final song in the collection is a guitar-driven piece called “The City.” Loneliness and frustration portray the lyrics in a melancholy haze. Grace’s vocal is both pleading and dismissive all at once, needing and wanting, but so over that selfish somebody. In this track I hear potential for lots of radio air play—or maybe as the soundtrack to a movie break-up scene.

Letters: Vol. 1 is solid from start to finish; it’s some of Grace VanderWaal’s best material thus far. If I were to utter a single negative, I would say it’s simply too short. But I’ll not lodge that complaint. I choose to be grateful for this wonderful bounty of new music.

 

Eclectic and Intriguing, Grace VanderWaal Returns with New Music!

Rating: ★★★★★

 ec·lec·tic   /əˈklektik/

adjective

  1. deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.

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Eclectic. It’s a word that distills the very essence of singer/songwriter Grace VanderWaal into a single definition—if that’s even possible. To those who have followed this young lady since her rise from YouTube vid kid to international musical acclaim, she’s simply a breath of fresh air in a world of sound-alike pop pablum.

“Stray,” VanderWaal’s latest single and video, pairs Grace’s raspy vocal with a lush, jangly guitar riff that sends this new music in a direction much different from her previous work. And this is a good thing. It’s a sign of maturity and of a fresh approach—rather than an attempted re-capturing of what has already been accomplished.

Her words are poetic and cautionary, filled with real and raw emotion. An undertow of fear and urgency is detectable just below the surface of her mournful voice. The anxiety of growing into an adult and facing a world of uncertainty is a central theme the singer has discussed in recent interviews.

“’Stray’ is close to me,” she explained. “Not because it’s the re-start of my continuing path, but because it explains the exhilarating fear and freedom of growing up. Growing up feels like a storm you weren’t prepared for. But how do you prepare? By practicing and appreciating you.”

Her lyrics in “Stray” illustrate a fear of losing that one thing that has brought her this far: songwriting.

I gotta write a song

But I wanna feel my words

And I keep getting it all wrong

Think it out, write it out, rip it out

Throw it all to the wall

To be certain, this fear is unfounded. She hasn’t lost a step in the songwriting process. If anything, she’s unveiled a greater prowess in crafting melodies and moods and words within her music.

The video for “Stray” is a gorgeous visual steeped in creamy, earthy tones splashed across a canvas of loneliness, longing, and desperation. The desert setting finds Grace, garbed in a long flowing dress and barefoot, searching for something elusive and undefined—a yearning common to human beings since the beginning of time. Symbolism adds to the rich scenery, with VanderWaal riding a bike through desert scrub while blindfolded, adding to the narrative of, not only the song, but of its creator, and her incredible journey in just under three short years.

Director Blythe Thomas skillfully captures mood and vibe and real feeling with an artistry one would expect from a master filmmaker. Her partnership with Grace routinely produces stark and unforgettable results. If you aren’t familiar with the director’s work, I recommend you visit her website. CLICK HERE

The song itself is a haunting piece of guitar-driven beauty—which is something we don’t normally hear in Grace VanderWaal’s music. It is this driving guitar that adds an indie-rock element throughout the track. It stands in contrast to the “Clearly” single, released last March. And “Stray” would show out as markedly different among the tracks on her brilliant Just the Beginning album. This is what elevates her above the mechanical, formulaic pop singers inhabiting today’s musical landscape.

Grace’s music has soul. It has life. It sounds the way music is meant to sound—alive.

A Quest for Vision!

Visionary.

It’s a word that we’ve all heard bandied about from time to time, usually attached to some famous figure in history known for inventing something important that has changed the nation—or the world—in ways modern generations could not contemplate living without. Take Steve Jobs for example. Mr. Jobs is considered a true visionary. He’s the father of the modern personal computer, a device with which a life without would seem unimaginable in this modern world. Or consider Henry Ford, automotive tycoon. Mr. Ford certainly didn’t invent the automobile, but he did perfect the assembly line, bringing costs down, allowing for the common people to afford their very own car—and through employment in Ford’s factories, a stronger middle class arose.

giphy (1)

The Oxford American College Dictionary contains multiple definitions for this complex yet simple word. The definition I like best reads as stated: a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.

The Oxford could be very well be describing a writer. Writers, by nature, are visionaries. Writers, in the name of creativity, must envision worlds that do not exist, populated with people that are not real. But the above definition mentions only the future. What about the past? Can a writer be a visionary in regards to a time that has already faded? The answer is most certainly yes. We construct alternate accounts of real events—like making Abraham Lincoln into a vampire hunter. A program on an internet site’s streaming service poses a world in the 21 century seen through the lens of a Nazi victory in World War Two.

Abraham-Lincoln-Vampire-Hunter

But being a visionary, it runs deeper than merely being a creative writer—or musician or artist. In a sense, everybody is a writer. If you write emails or texts, you are a writer. Here’s where the differences come into play. Not everybody is an author. Writers are not all authors. There are those who write down their personal thoughts and experiences in the pages of diaries or journals, never intending any other living soul to pry. Authors, they have to be bold and brave. They write to be read. If the words we seek to share with others are not visionary, you can bet you’ll hear from those who invested the time in sentences we’ve strung together.

Diaries, texts, personal correspondences; these are not meant to entertain the reader.  These are merely there to convey a message or to act as reminder to the future self that, on this particular day, so-and-so made me angry or happy or sad.

giphy (1)

Authors, writing to be read, must envision their story from beginning to end—before the writing process begins. We must see what does not, at this juncture, exist anywhere in this world. This will almost certainly require research of some sort—unless you’re creating your own Middle Earth setting. Research itself requires vision.

In beginning my work on Jazz Baby, I needed a road map through the 1920s. I am just past the half-century mark, having drawn my first breath of life in 1967. I had nothing by way of personal experience to shade my notions of the America of 1925. And we can’t just assume, either. Assumption is an enemy of the visionary.

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As I started to dig into my research, scenes from my story began to construct themselves behind my eyes. Scraps of paper quickly filled with ideas found within the pages of an old U.S. history book; situations came to life while watching documentaries on PBS or The History Channel. They didn’t have radio in their cars until 1932—so scrap the scene where the characters are driving to New Orleans singing along to jazz tunes on the radio. So how do we fill that void? Dialogue! These characters are now forced to speak to one another, sharing hopes and fears, and in the process, introducing their deeper selves to those who would come to read the finished product. A visionary finds ways to stay on point when something like reality cuts in and says, um, that can’t be. We make it work. And we don’t just make it work; we use it for the profound or the poignant. Statements are made in those quiet moments between Emily Ann and Tanyon—statements that wouldn’t exist had I stuck a radio in that car.

Being visionary is about seeing what’s not there, seeing it in multiple views, and possessing the ability to determine the best view. It doesn’t work very well to write about characters of which we know little or nothing. Vision allows us to see these characters, to meet them, to discover the personalities behind mere words on a page. To the visionary writer, his or her characters truly come alive before they ever occupy space on the page.

The fact is anybody can write a story. But the visionary writes the sort of stories people will want to read. The really good ones build a following of readers just waiting for the next story to unfold. The best storytellers throughout history possessed vision. And it’s that vision that gives both the writer and the story life eternal. Those without vision, well, nobody recalls the stories they’ve told. Nobody remembers their names.