Columns

A Day Without Music? A Lifetime? Unthinkable!

Earlier this year, I needed to get some repair work done on our dishwasher. I asked a good friend who runs a record label near our house if he could recommend anyone, since he’d help us find repair people in the past and I trusted his opinion. He said he knew a guy who had been involved in the Boston hardcore scene in the early ’90s—I don’t think they’d known each other back then but met through their children, who go to the same grade school. Something like that. Anyway, my friend told me that the repair person wasn’t interested in music anymore and I found that rather puzzling. I figured there might be some bonding over his hardcore background, at least. Perhaps I’d get a “scene discount” for old-times sake.

So the guy came over to look at our dishwasher and I mentioned that my friend had told me about his hardcore roots. He said that he didn’t really get into hardcore for the music but for the fighting. He loved the fact that it enabled him to get into the pit and beat the crap out of people and that it wouldn’t have mattered what was playing along with it. But he eventually outgrew it and now he’s a responsible family man and business owner. He said that he wouldn’t care if music just disappeared completely. It served no purpose to him.

I was really taken aback by that. I didn’t press the issue that much but told him about music’s importance in my life and how I couldn’t imagine living even one day without it. I talked about my friend’s success with his label. He didn’t seem all that interested in continuing the conversation so I let him get to work. I should mention he didn’t really fix the problem but did find a little debris in the disposal and cleared that out. The total: $97 down the drain (literally), not bad for about a half hours work. So much for scene discounts. I could have used that money—to buy more records, of course! By the way, if you’re curious, we ended up replacing the dishwasher because it was apparently leaking. I didn’t ask the plumber who installed the new one about his musical taste.

But, yeah, that was a puzzler. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wasn’t into any music whatsoever, not even as a passive thing. It’s true that most people have abysmal musical taste (except for my MRR compatriots and you, dear readers) but they at least like something. My dad wasn’t a music junkie by any stretch, but he got good use out of his stereo—and discouraged me from putting my hands on it (I did, anyway). He liked light classical, Mitch Miller (ask your grandparents) and organ music. He loathed 99.9% of the music I listened to but I remember he did somehow end up with one of my records. My dad fixed stereo and audio-visual equipment as a side business. A lot of the stuff came from the local school system, including record players. Anyway, he used my old record to check and see if the record players were working again. It was by a studio band called the SUPER DUPERS and it was a collection of music inspired by comic book and TV superheroes. There was one really cool track called “March of Tarzan” and it was an instrumental that featured loud organ and fuzz guitar—kind of a garage/psychedelic combination. I suppose he was drawn to the organ sound and probably didn’t think of it as rock ‘n roll. He was good at fixing things because I heard that song playing triumphantly from our basement on many occasions. Incidentally, the uncredited band members included the ALLMAN BROTHERS and LEON RUSSELL and it was recorded in 1966. You can find it on YouTube. After he passed away, I inherited my parents’ record collection and it was still there. Not exactly pristine but it’s on the shelf next my SUPERCHUNK albums. I even did a digital rip of a few songs on the album.

Speaking of digital, that’s the way most people experience music these days, mainly through streaming. According to a 2018 Forbes article, “people have stopped purchasing music, as it’s available to them on a number of other easily-reached platforms at a fraction of the price. Sales have been falling for years…” So while more people stream, they’re not buying digital downloads. People would rather buy music on vinyl or CD (although the latter’s sales continue to plummet), if they’re going to own the music.

I like having the best of all worlds. When I’m out and about, it’s cool having over 20,000 songs to pick from. But, of course, nothing will ever replace the experience of pulling a record out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable and sitting down between the speakers. It’s a ritual I’ll never tire of. I did recently buy a Bluetooth receiver for my main stereo so I can wirelessly play the music on my phone through it, mainly for the music I don’t own physically. There’s definitely a difference in sonic quality, though. The other night I started playing an album I owned on vinyl and, about 30 seconds in, I was already heading upstairs to get it.

Still, vinyl doesn’t hold the same sentiment for everyone, including people whose lives have been immersed in music. Clint Conley from MISSION OF BURMA is one of those people, apparently.

He recently wrote a piece in the Boston Globe about how he’d decided to give away his entire record collection to his bandmate Peter Prescott. Clint writes, “when my wife and I moved from an apartment to our first home in the early ’90s, the big, bulky stereo system with heavy speakers never made it out of storage. The records — so crucial, so cherished, so much a part of my identity — were consigned to a closet ‘temporarily,’ and those of secondary importance were relegated to racks in the garage. And there they stayed. Decade after decade, in silent judgment of their unfaithful owner. I am loath to admit it, but the last time I played one of my LPs was over a quarter century ago. Today I do almost all of my listening on Route 128, through streaming services in the car. A total and abject cave to convenience.” He also appeared in the recent documentary Records Collecting Dust II (I also appeared in it), where interviewees discuss the importance of records in their lives, which ones shaped them, which three records they’d take if their house was on fire and so on. The second installment featured people from Boston, NYC and DC. Clint essentially said the same thing, that it’s easy with the digital stuff both in the car and in the house. He even says, “sort of pathetic, isn’t it?”

I discussed this online and some people said they kind of saw Clint’s point. Clint had mentioned not wanting to burden his family with having to get rid of his collection if he passed away. Others said the same thing. One said that he sold his collection when he was 27 or 28 because he realized that act of collecting mattered very little to his actual enjoyment of the music. And he posted a picture of what he got rid of. I’m sure more than a few jaws dropped when viewing that.

I love having my collection—sure, there’s a show-off factor, a bit, but I actually play them. I’ll play original copies of NEGATIVE APPROACH, MECHT MENSCH or MOB 47 on my radio show—I want my listeners to experience the music the way I am… of course, they’re either streaming it or downloading it but I hope, when they’re not doing that, it encourages them to listen to music the old-fashioned way.

By the way, for those of you getting any funny ideas, I’ve already made arrangements regarding my collections. So don’t think you’re going to be able to go through my trash or show up at a yard sale with dollar bills and get your dirty paws on them.

DAVEY G. JOHNSON, R.I.P.
Davey G. Johnson, a longtime automotive writer for Car and Driver and other outlets, recently died, due to an accidental drowning. He was test-driving a motorcycle and stopped for a swim and his body was found in the Mokelumne River, near Valley Springs, CA. He was only 43 years old. I actually didn’t know about his current writing career. We were Facebook friends but you don’t always catch everyone’s updates or read everything on their pages.

Davey had a punk background, though. I first got to know him when we were both at Hit List magazine in the late ’90s/early 2000s. For those of you who don’t remember Hit List, it was founded by Jeff Bale, who was also one of the founders of this ‘zine, before having a falling out with Tim Yohannan. Jeff’s political views had taken a sharp turn to the right, which put him squarely at odds with Tim, of course. Jeff’s a college professor and I think a lot of what fueled his changing views probably had to do with his disdain for the academic left. Hit List fashioned itself as a cantankerous, “non-PC” alternative to MRR. The thing was, even though I don’t embrace his philosophy, he still brought me on as a columnist because we shared a passion for aggressive, attitudinal rock ’n’ roll. And, to his credit, he never censored or changed anything in my columns.

Anyway, Davey’s title was “art misdirection/layout” and, by the end of the magazine’s run in 2003 (after which editor Brett Mathews started AMP magazine, another publication I wrote for), his title was “scamboogery.” I’m not sure if that represented a promotion or not.

I got to meet Davey and Brett in Berkeley in 2002. We went to some café along with Ellen and our friend Anna. Somehow, the talk turned to SLAYER and we broke into a spontaneous a capella version of “Raining Blood,” where the lead guitar parts were vocalized while the drum pattern was tapped out on the table. Ellen and Anna looked like they wanted to get as far away from us as possible. Definitely one of the highlights of that trip. He was a real character.

I think I’ll be playing “Raining Blood” on the radio show this week and maybe tapping out the drumbeats while vocalizing at least one of the guitar parts. I’m not sure if there’s a heaven or not but, if there is, I hope Davey can arrange some thunder effects to begin the song. We didn’t have that in 2002… R.I.P.

Al Quint, PO Box 43, Peabody, MA 01960, subvox82@gmail.com, subvox.blogspot.com, sonicoverload.net