Like Demo 1979 before it, this unofficial live album from Duran Duran surprised me when I found it while flipping through the stacks at Jive Time Records. It’s housed in a generic sleeve with a photocopy of the track listing taped to the front, and it isn’t even an accurate listing.
The Duran Duran Wiki says it was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in December 1981. At one point during the concert, Simon Le Bon refers to “Last Chance on the Stairway” as “a new song”.
That was a transitionary time for the band. The biggest hits had yet to be written, so the set list includes three b-sides from the self-titled debut. The erroneous “Instrumental Jam” listed at the end of Side A actually consists of “Late Bar” and “Khanada”. “Faster Than Light” and “To The Shore” round out the once and future rarities.
The band is on fire in this performance, tearing through the songs with the exuberance captured on Arena. The rough edges from the 1979 demo had been smoothed out.
I’ve seen Duran Duran a number of times, and the rarest song I’ve heard them play is “Friends of Mine”. So it’s a treat to hear b-sides part of a set list. I probably won’t fall down the rabbit hole of collecting Duran Duran bootlegs as a result of this purchase, but I’m glad I got to hear something other than the hits done live.
In the two years since writing about Purple Rain, my interest in Prince had actually grown so gradually, I scarcely noticed I had become a fan. His untimely death affected me a lot more than I anticipated.
I bought up a whole bunch of his albums after hearing the news, partly to get ahead of everyone else buying Prince albums after hearing the news. I didn’t do that for David Bowie, and Bowie had far more influence on my favorite artists than Prince. But through my brother, Prince had a definitive presence in the household of my family.
My first pivot from ambivalence to appreciation dates back to 2013, when I picked up a vinyl copy of The Family for $0.50. I made an offhand remark on Facebook that The Family was the album Prince should have released instead of Around the World in a Day, to which a friend replied, “WRONG!” I enjoyed The Family, and it made me wonder what it would have sounded like had Prince recorded it.
But in the interest of balance, I picked up Around the World in a Day. I heard it once in 1985 when my brother played it on the family stereo, and I decided it was one too many. Nearly three decades later, I could see how my friend could declare my opinion “WRONG!”, but I’m still hoping a future reissue campaign brings The Family back from obscurity.
The next pivot was The Black Album. I was browsing the “P” section of Sonic Boom’s used CD bins, looking for John Zorn’s Painkiller. Instead, I found a bootlegged copy of The Black Album. I picked it up, familiar with the mythology of the album. Back in 1994, I almost considered getting a copy of the album myself.
The bootleg turned out to be a decent if flawed transfer from vinyl, so I bought a used copy of the official pressing from Discogs. Critical consensus indicates The Black Album would have been groundbreaking had it been released in 1987 instead of 1994. Decades removed from that context, The Black Album is still an odd duck in Prince’s output, which probably lends its appeal for me.
In the days following Prince’s death, I filled the gaps in my collection between 1999 and The Love Symbol Album. I haven’t reached a point where I want to explore anything before or beyond that fertile period, with the exception of HITnRUN Phase Two. That’s more than enough music to keep me occupied for a while.
2016 has been pretty brutal for rock heroes, and I must confess an ambivalence for most of the figures who have shuffled off this mortal coil. But something broke with Prince. For many years, I dismissed him out of habit because of a silly, sibling rivalry turf war. When I started to appreciate him, it was in a cool, intellectual way. I admired the craft that went into his albums, but I didn’t let myself love them the way long-time fans do.
That ambivalence finally melted into fondness, but it took his death to make that happen.
I swear by the Music Collector software made by Collectorz.com. I bought a license for it in 2000, and I’ve used it to track every single item in my music collection ever since. But I’d been gathering data on my collection from way before then.
I didn’t really remember those proto-Collectorz days till I ran across a few .wdb files on a floppy disk. What kind of file is a .wdb file? It’s a Microsoft Works database file. That’s right — not an Access file or even an Excel file, a Works file. Microsoft Works was a home consumer version of the Office suite and came pre-installed on the first computer I owned.
Works amazingly lasted all the way till 2010, when Office finally supplanted it. Microsoft doesn’t provide a utility to convert Works database files to Excel, but a Java application by Duncan Jauncey does the job. So I took a peek into the state of my music collection in 1998, and I’ve shared it for the world to peruse.
The columns of that old database reflected how I kept records on paper. Yes, I do mean paper. Back in high school, I would type out lists of my collection, noting artist, title, release year, label and genre. Those fields became the basis for my Works database.
How do I know this file dates back to 1998? That was the year I replaced that first Windows 95 system — an Acer — with a Dell, and I bought a license for Office 2000 to go with it. I wanted a grown-up productivity suite, and the Works files were doomed to the digital dustbin.
I also kept track of genre, a concept I let go once I started shopping at Waterloo Records in 1997. Waterloo doesn’t organize its bins by genre, so Elvis Costello went right next to John Coltrane. When I migrated my data to Collectorz.com Music Collector, I stopped tracking individual genres.
Of course, you could probably date the list by its total lack of anything released after 1998.
A lot of the albums in that spreadsheet are the same ones in my current collection, which Collectorz provides online through its cloud service. 1998 was 18 years ago. 1988 was 28 years ago. I’ve held on to some of these records and CDs since then. Shocking, right?
Probably the most interesting aspect of that old spreadsheet are the number of titles no longer in my collection. I’ve written a few entries about albums I’ve welcomed back after letting them go. I thought I would feel an urge to listen to revisit those rejected albums, but looking at that list, I remember why a lot of them went away. If curiosity gets the best of me, there’s always the streaming services.
Very rarely would I fail to recognize an album completely. Case in point, Sunday Morning to Saturday Night by Matraca Berg. I did a search on YouTube to figure out who she was. I discovered Emmylou Harris covered a song from Sunday Morning to Saturday Night on her second duet album with Rodney Crowell. (I knew I heard “Back When We Were Beautiful” somewhere!)
The album is nowhere to be found on streaming services, so I actually found a used copy to figure out why it exited my collection. It’s not a bad album, but compared to other country albums I encountered in the late ’90s — Jack Ingram’s Livin’ and Dyin’ and Kim Richey’s Bittersweet — it went on the chopping block earlier than others.
Do a Google search for “Meet the Composer” and the top result should lead you to a podcast introducing curious listeners to modern classical music. Five years ago, that same search would have led you to the site for a grant program of the same name.
I didn’t learn about this merger till I tried researching a pair of albums I bought on a whim back in 1990.
Nonesuch Records partnered with Meet the Composer in the late 80s, right at the time I started getting curious about modern classical music. The first album Nonesuch released under the Meet the Composer imprint was Harmonielehre by John Adams. The last albums Nonesuch released in the series — the ones I own — were collections of works by Tobias Picker and Joan Tower.
In my chase for all things Nonesuch, I fell down a rabbit hole of research to find the other albums released in the series. Given the esoteric specificity of the topic, information was scattered. I got so far into the weeds, Google at one point stopped serving search results to me because it thought I was attacking it. (I was searching for barcodes. I did learn a valuable lesson about check bit numbers, though.)
After two weeks of scouring library databases and web searches for Nonesuch catalog numbers, I filled in those holes. The Discogs page on Meet the Composer contains the fruits of my labor, as does the Wikipedia entry about the Nonesuch discography.
So what did I find out? Over the course of five years, Nonesuch released 10 albums in the series. The advent of the compact disc bisected the releases — the first four were issued on vinyl and cassette, the last six on CD. Only John Adams went on to sign with the label, and Harmonielehre is still in its catalog.
Here, then, are the Meet the Composer albums released on Nonesuch:
John Adams, Harmonielehre, 1985, 79115
John Harbison, Ulysses Bow / Samuel Chapter, 1986, 79129
Joseph Schwantner, A Sudden Rainbow / Sparrows / Distant Runes and Incantations, 1987, 79143
Stephen Paulus: Symphony in Three Movements; Libby Larsen: Symphony: Water Music, 1987, 79147
Charles Wuorinen, The Golden Dance / Piano Concerto No. 3, 1988, 79185
William Kraft, Contextures II: The Final Beast / Interplay / Of Ceremonies, Pageants And Celebrations, 1989, 79229
Christopher Rouse, Symphony No. 1 / Phantasma, 1989, 79230
Alvin Singleton, Shadows / After Fallen Crumbs / A Yellow Rose Petal, 1989, 79231
Joan Tower, Silver Ladders / Island Prelude / Music For Cello And Orchestra / Sequoia, 1990, 79245
Probably the most prestigious Meet the Composer release was a recording of Symphony No. 1 by John Corigliano. The work, inspired by the AIDS quilt, won a Grammy Award for Best New Composition. Meet the Composer’s arrangement with Nonesuch expired by then, and the album was released by sister label Erato.
At that point, I lost track of Meet the Composer and wouldn’t think about the organization till recently.
On the whole, the works in this series are really appealing. American modern composers don’t seem to get bogged down in abstractions the way European composers might. Yes, the works produced by these composers won’t be mistaken for Jean Sibelius or even Leonard Bernstein. But there’s a melodic sense threading through these pieces that American composers are more willing to exercise.
The Nonesuch pressings of these albums have been out of print for a long time, but around 2004, the First Edition label reissued a number of them. Only the Paulus/Larsen and Schwantner albums remain unavailable. The Schwantner release didn’t even make it onto CD.
Although Meet the Composer, the residency, surrendered its name, it left behind valuable recordings that I hope remain out in the world.
It’s nearly half way through the year, and the Favorite Edition 2016 list is pretty sparse. Every new release I’ve bought this year is on the list because I don’t have enough to fill the list out. So I’m pretty much watching out for vinyl reissues.
Anohni, Hopelessness, May 6
I miss Anohni (a.k.a. Antony Hegerty). I only ever seem to encounter him on Björk albums any more.
10,000 Maniacs, Our Time in Eden, May 3
This album was released on vinyl in Europe back in 1992. I nearly bought a used copy of it. I already have the first three Maniacs albums on vinyl, which I originally bought in the ’80s. In My Tribe also gets reissued the same day.
Enya, The Memory of Trees, May 6
The Memory of Trees makes its first appearance on vinyl with this reissue, which also sees the return of Watermark and Shepherd Moons.
The Killers, Hot Fuss, June 17
Have you seen the resale value of the original vinyl release of this album? We’re talking triple digits.
Sonic Youth, Murray Street, June 17
Amazon originally listed April 22 as a release date, but now it’s changed to June 17.
LeAnn Rimes, Blue, July 8
People were awed by how much the teenaged LeAnn Rimes sounded like Patsy Cline at the time this album was released. I remember playing it on the stereo at the student newspaper office in college. For some reason, we were all really into it.
Duran Duran, Duran Duran (The Wedding Album), Sept. 23
I still haven’t seen much corroboration for this reissue. I don’t even think the band knows it’s being planned. Amazon originally listed Feb. 12 as a release date, but it came and went without a single copy in sight. I would be a lot more anxious for this reissue, but I dropped a pretty penny for a used copy of a Korean issue.
When I started collecting music, vinyl records were the medium of choice. Walkman players shifted that focus to pre-recorded cassette tapes for a short while before compact discs steamrolled over everything. I nearly joined the 21st century in forsaking physical formats till I bought a pair of decent speakers for my stereo system.
Then I played a record from my old collection on that system, and a new obsession began.
Records force listeners to interact physically with the act of listening. You have to care for records. You have to flip slides while playing them. You have to pay attention. Computer files can be strung together in hours-long stretches that effectively severs that personal connection.
When I started collecting vinyl again in 2013, I focused on used copies of albums I could have bought as records but hadn’t discovered at the time. But slicing through the shrink wrap of an unopened record was an act I hadn’t experienced in more than 20 years, and something about it felt communal.
So now I double down — if I really like an album, I’ll buy it on vinyl as well. For me, the vinyl purchase is the premium display of support, short of seeing a band live.
Seattle arts scene
I lived in New York City from 1992 to 1993 on an exchange program between the University of Hawaii and Hunter College. I had an internship at a classical record label. I saw Kronos Quartet twice. I went to Broadway shows I’d been craving to see since high school. And my first Duran Duran concert happened two weeks before the band released The Wedding Album.
It makes me wonder what more I could have done if I had my 2016 income in 1992.
I would probably be doing a lot of the same things. I’ve seen Kronos Quartet three times now, and my fifth Duran Duran concert happened in Puyallup. I went to see a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins in March 2016, and I’m a subscriber of the symphony.
It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve given up trying to be a tastemaker, and I’m glad to have yielded that responsibility, not that I was great at it. I used to have a vague clue about what’s popular, but I can’t even claim that any more.
I don’t want to say I’m done exploring music, because every time I think I’m done, I fall down yet another hole. I do, however, feel my tastes have settled down. I have my go-to genres, my go-to periods, my go-to artists.
Just when I thought I was done cycling through niches, I found one last rabbit hole into which I tumbled long and hard. The earliest days of this site owes its reputation to that period, but midway through the last decade, something broke.
Japanese indie rock
I remember the moment I was introduced to Cocco very well.
A co-worker was playing a Japan Nite sampler CD, and when it reached Cocco, I got up from my desk to find out who was singing. Here was someone who could have gone the easy route and sing anime theme songs. Instead, a wail of grunge guitars backed her. It was the Japanese rock for which I was searching.
The office sent me to cover SXSW music events, and I volunteered to cover Japan Nite in 1999. That night introduced me to Missile Girl Scoot, eX-Girl and NUMBER GIRL. A trip home to Honolulu in 2000 led to Utada Hikaru, the brilliant green, L’Arc~en~Ciel and Shiina Ringo.
Web sites covering Japanese music focused primarily on pop idols. I wanted to feature more of the rock music showcased at Japan Nite. So Musicwhore.org became a webzine to do just that. My rusty Japanese needed a lot of help from online tools, but over time, I got proficient enough to localize short news stories into English.
I also used this site to hone my skills as a web software engineer, pulling together the articles I was writing with various discography services. Building the site from the ground up while also creating its content took its toll, and after five years, I pivoted to write more broadly about all the music that interested me.
It takes a lot of work to be connected all the time, and in the heady music blog days of the mid-2000s, bands got deafening buzz from posting a single MP3 to MySpace, and then the focus would shift elsewhere before that band could make a second song.
I just didn’t have the energy to trawl music sites in Japanese to find another band to fill the NUMBER GIRL void, and Western bands sounded too similar to what I grew up with to make a non-cranky judgement. So I retreated into catalog.
Cutting out the middle man
One interesting side effect of the shift to downloads and streams is the rise of direct fan relationships with artists. Facebook and Twitter makes it easy to discover and connect with artists who don’t rely on a label for promotion and distribution.
In an effort to find gay artists who played music more to my personal taste, I skimmed articles in gay publications and sites for leads, and a great majority of them sent me directly to an artist’s web presence. Similarly, I would follow opening acts at concerts if their performances impressed me.
The label system lacks such transparency that the direct fan relationship feels a lot more pure. I know when I buy directly from Matt Alber, Sacha Sacket, Jarell Perry or Shaprece, they’re getting my cash, not the middle man.
As my high school career drew to a close, I went off the rails because I couldn’t make sense of what my hormones were doing, so I channeled that insanity-making into my choice of music.
I badly mimicked Björk at a time she could barely stay in tune herself. I made regular trips to the library to borrow anything on Nonesuch. I swore off radio and depended entirely on music magazines to determine what I listened to next.
In 1993, the first alternative radio station launched in Honolulu, and seemingly overnight the music that put me on the outs with everyone was socially acceptable. Of course, my young, dumb reactionary self couldn’t abide by that. So while everyone was catching up with where I was five years earlier, I found ways to go further afield.
Robotech was a huge hit in my household, probably the only thing on which the siblings in my family could agree. But when the home video market made it possible for anime to be released stateside, a whole world opened up, particularly J-Pop. One of the first CDs I bought — and still own — is the Macross Song Collection. In fact, the first few CDs I bought were anime soundtracks — Megazone 23, Bubblegum Crisis and Akira.
But the prohibitively expensive Japanese imports made exploration of J-pop economically unfeasible for a broke college student. As much I liked J-Pop, I still wanted something that something closer to the Replacements than Paula Abdul.
Downtown New York
Nonesuch’s release of John Zorn’s Naked City sent me down a rabbit hole of downtown New York jazz, but the independent nature of the scene guaranteed I wouldn’t track down a fraction of the recordings connected to it. Not from Honolulu, at least. So I concentrated on the major label artists I could access — Bill Frisell, Robin Holcomb and for a while, Wayne Horvitz.
A political science class finally gave me Internet access, and a few pioneering sites attempted to connect music fans with rare recordings. I was ordering albums from the Internet even before Amazon launched.
Clannad really took off after Volkswagen featured “Harry’s Game” in one of its commercials. Enya laid some groundwork in introducing the beauty of the Irish language, but her siblings in Clannad took it further with their catalog of folk albums.
I think this passing fascination wouldn’t have spiraled if it weren’t for USENET and a newsgroup called alt.music.celtic. This precursor to the web message board offered a few more recommendations, and I spent a good part of the mid-90s listening to Altan, Capercaillie and Talitha Mackenzie.
Emmylou Harris and country music
Asylum Records sent an interview disc of Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois talking about the making of Wrecking Ball to the school newspaper where I was the features editor. I was familiar with Harris’ name but not her work, and I can’t say I was entirely open to covering country music.
But Wrecking Ball wasn’t country, and it made me receptive to listen to Harris’ previous work. A year later, Warner Bros. released the Portraits boxed set, and I became a fan for life.
I learned right away that Harris’ music bore little resemblance to the kind performed by Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain, and the country music I preferred drew its lineage from Uncle Tupelo.
Welcome to Austin, Texas
My college career concluded with an internship to the Austin American-Statesman and my first job out of college. The homegrown music scene focused mostly on Southern music — blues, country and its derivatives — but it had enough versatility to include a diverse rock scene.
In my first years in Austin, I supported the likes of Asylum Street Spankers, 8 1/2 Souvenirs, the Kiss-Offs and Bruce Robison. Toward the end of my time in Austin, I became a fan of … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Explosions in the Sky.
This month, I turn 44. I’ve been collecting music for about 81 percent of that lifespan. I bought my first album when I was 8 years old.
OK, it was my mom who caved into my whining about wanting that Manhattan Transfer album with the “Twilight Zone” song on it (Extensions, by the way.) She’s regretted it ever since. I think the last time she chided me for spending too much money on music was … three months ago?
When my collecting took off in junior high, I went through phases where I would dive deep into a particular style of music and play it to death on the family stereo. Every year, I would glom onto something new, then ditch it for something else. It was such a reliable metric, my siblings would ask, “What are you going to get into next year?”
In college, the phases started to grow longer and overlap to the point that I though I outgrew them. In reality, I was just figuring out what kind of music sustained the dopamine rush. I kept those around while I explored other things.
By then, I had figured out that anyone can like any style of music if you learn how to listen to it. When I got into post-punk music, my siblings hated being subjected to singers who couldn’t sing. They had been raised on a steady diet of radio pop and didn’t understand a lack of polish was exactly the point.
So to commemorate this birthday month, we’ll explore the various phases that marked my history as a music fan, starting our first decade with the 1980s.
I can’t say MTV influenced my music consumption because my parents didn’t subscribe to cable. But network TV attempted to ride the music video coattails with such shows as Friday Night Videos and Prime Time Videos.
It was music video that spurred my childhood interest in ABBA. And it was music video that got me into Duran Duran, Eurythmics, ABC, Tears for Fears, Huey Lewis and the News and Sting. I preferred the more theatrical videos made by bands from England and Europe than the song-and-dance numbers of American bands.
That steady diet of English bands set up an affinity for punk-influenced music that would set me at odds with my peer group. That didn’t stop me from trying to fit in.
In 1986, I started high school, and I wanted to establish an identity different from the one I had in junior high and elementary school. So for a time, I was listening to Club Nouveau, L.A. Dream Team Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and Janet Jackson.
But my conscience eventually won out. Some of the most popular hits played on the radio weren’t songs I really liked on first listen, and repeated plays didn’t make them any better. And the popular kids with whom I was trying to ingratiate myself? Turns out I didn’t really like them all that much.
“Hawaiian Electric” by Hiroshima
In 1987, Hawaiian Electric Co. commissioned a pair of television ads featuring music by jazz fusion band Hiroshima. It was my first introduction to non-Western instruments, and I was fascinated. Hiroshima was a staple on a new radio format for light jazz and new age. Basia, Enya, Spyro Gyra, Hiroshima — all different styles of music unified by mood. It was a diversity I’d been craving.
In my junior year of high school, my band instructor introduced me to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jesus Christ Superstar. Around the same time, a television broadcast of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George alternately bored and fascinated me. Jesus Christ Superstar led to Cats, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera, while Sunday in the Park with George was the springboard to Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music.
Sondheim and Lloyd Webber pretty much allowed me to break rank entirely with everyone in high school. I no longer felt a need to fit in. I would explore music that interested me, and the more it confused my cohorts, the better.
Music: An Appreciation by Roger Kamien
All throughout these years of exploration, I was taking piano lessons, but when I expressed interest in songwriting, those piano lessons became rudimentary lessons in music theory and composition. To take advantage of my large finger span, my teacher introduced me to works by Claude Debussy and Aram Khachaturian.
My dad also took a music appreciation course at a community college, and I used his textbook, Music: An Appreciation by Roger Kamien, as bathroom reading. Over time, I absorbed the names of composers, the eras in which they lived and the forms of music they composed. The section on 20th Century Music fascinated me in particular.
All these events came together when I ran across a description of Kronos Quartet in a music magazine, and my love for modern classical music was born.
As my high school years drew to a close, a free magazine published by Tower Records, named Pulse!, became my bible. Pulse! introduced me to Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Camper Van Beethoven, the Sugarcubes, the Replacements and Steve Reich. It published some of Adrian Tomine’s earliest comics, and one of its columnists spurred me to write about music. This blog owes a lot to Pulse!
Up next …
College would deepen my understanding of classical music, but when all the underground rock I was precociously consuming during high school became mainstream, I would find new ways to differentiate myself.
Why should I be surprised the vinyl bug that bit me hard in 2013 has expanded its scope to include reissues never released on vinyl? It’s because I’ve already back-filled my pre-owned collection, and I still can’t get enough. Record Store Day doesn’t make it any easier.
Guided By Voices, Please Be Honest, April 22
Back again? Oh, it’s another configuration.
Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris / Linda Ronstadt, Complete Trio Collection, Sept. 9
Finally! This reissue was rumored to be available back in October 2015, on the same day as Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 4. Now it’s turned into a bigger deal, with simultaneous vinyl releases.
Lin-Manuel Miranada, Hamilton, April 15
This musical is more than two-hours long. I don’t think it’s all going to fit on two LPs.
Sonic Youth, Murray Street, April 22
I remember this album getting overplayed on the Waterloo Records in-store stereo system. I think it’s why I sold it for cash after a few years.
Rufus Wainwright, Poses, May 6
I didn’t like Rufus Wainwright at first. His nasal voice is an acquired taste, but the writing on Poses won me over, and I’ve been a fan ever since. This album appears on vinyl for the first time.
Moby, Play, May 13
I haven’t listened to this album in more than 15 years. I didn’t really need to because it wasn’t licensed to holy hell at the time.
Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris / Linda Ronstadt, Trio II, Sept. 9
At the time this album was released, it seemed the trio couldn’t really give it a heavy promotional push. I remember one TV appearance where Linda Ronstadt lost it, and then everyone was back to boy bands and pop idols.
Record Store Day
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Why limit this album to Record Store Day? Really, it should just be in print on vinyl. Period.
Clint Mansell / Kronos Quartet, Requiem for a Dream
I saw Requiem for a Dream with some friends during its theatrical release. I left the theater recognizing it was a good film. I just didn’t like it. I don’t own the soundtrack, and while I collect Kronos on vinyl when I can, I’m pretty ambivalent about this release.
Death Cab for Cutie, “Tractor Rape Chain / Black Sun”
I was nicely surprised by Death Cab for Cutie’s cover of “Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston. “Tractor Rape Chain” is also one my favorite Guided By Voices songs.
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, I Guess We’re a Fucking Surf Band After All
I have no doubts I won’t get my hands on this release, but I’m only interested in Savvy Show Stoppers. I hope at some point Yep Roc splits this box set into individual reissues.