Time to move on from Google Play Music – FOR REAL THIS TIME

I’m not waiting for Tuesday’s release of the eventual successor to Google Play Music. Ever since the horrendous Google Buzz came and went, and the completely unnecessary and lamentable death of Google Reader, I have known this day would come. And yet, I, like the gullible rube that I am, made my commitment, uploaded thousands and thousands of songs and made Google Play Music an appendage of my very self. throughout my entire post-adolescent life, I have had need of a massive yet portable music collection that needs to be me with me at all times. In the 80’s, this meant a stack of records, which quickly gave way to multiple bread racks of cassette tapes. All the while, I was more interested in the rare bootlegs and b-sides and non-sanctioned, unofficial releases. In Philadelphia (Valley Forge, really) we had a record convention every Thanksgiving where I could find CDs and cassettes of the finest bootlegs from Pink Floyd, Mahavishnu, the Grateful Dead and Gabriel-era Genesis. There is a set of Pink Vinyl from the Roger Waters-less Pink Floyd of the 80’s, and many plain white sleeves containing scratchy recordings of this or that band. Double CD bootlegs, some from radio recordings or soundboards, and some from the audience (complete with ecstatic cries and drug-induced witticisms) could be obtained for $45. $25 for a single disc. And the collection gradually grew and grew and grew.

And then downloading and streaming music came along. Google Play Music arrived as a locker service, which worked fine for me since I had been gradually transferring the entire behemoth of a collection onto mp3 so i could carry it around on my chunky iPod clone. There were actual Apple branded iPods eventually, but the collection was always too big for the storage options I could afford. So a portion was portable and the rest was at home, saved on CDs, CD ROMs, DVDs, hard drives, and cassettes and LPs in the basement.

So when the locker service started, I was well-positioned to spend a night or two slowly uploading all of those mp3’s i had lovingly created from half decades of collecting.

And tonight, I am now DOWNloading all of those titles and more, pulling the data down from the Google “cloud” to be deployed to the Apple “cloud” because Google (a) doesn’t know shit about streaming music services, and (b) doesn’t really care. So, the symmetry of that long, long upload a few years ago, and now a long long download is somewhat poetic.

I knew this would happen. From the very beginning, I fretted about it. I said, out loud to countless people, “Google had better not discontinue this service. If they do, I’m going to be really screwed!”

Welp, I’m really screwed. Replacement service is starting on Tuesday, and the rumor is that Google Play Music will cease to exist by the end of the year. For fuck’s sake!

I had an inkling, recently, that this might be coming. It was not a coherent thought, but more an urge to explore the Apple Music service (using their 90 day promo period) so that I could compare and contrast. Fortunately, it’s fine, it works, it does what it’s supposed to, and there are no significant drawback compared to the Google product. I like having a standalone app to listen with on my laptop, but iTunes is slow and has a confusing layout. So while the overall Apple experience is better because of a more elegant layout (I know, shocking!), I wish iTunes were a bit more intuitive and straightforward in its layout.

Now that expiration of Google Play Music seems imminent, I’m glad I got the hands-on experience of using Apple Music. I treated the trial period as if I were making a switch, so I uploaded LOTS (but not all) of my music that isn’t available on Apple. When I realized that there was not a significant difference in the services, i decided to stay with Google. I think I had an Android phone at the time. As I now prepare to reactivate that account I have no idea if those uploads will still be there.

Google has an option for me to download my whole collection of over 18,000 tracks, which process is currently in its ninth hour and counting. The problem is that all of the tracks are being dumped into a folder with no attempt at organization. The hope would be that I could just drag and drop the whole download into iTunes, but I have a feeling the songs that have already been uploaded will now appear twice. That would be typical Apple. It’s a company that spends so much time trying to make things easy that it often locks out or makes exceedingly difficult any use of its products that deviates from the narrow user experience envisioned by the developers.

Zappa family working towards peace?

From Dweezil’s website – this looks like extremely good news.

We regret that our communication broke down and that things were misconstrued. It may be a bumpy road at times – we are a passionate Italian family – but we have decided to work toward privately discussing issues rather than using public forums and lawyers.

We are hopeful that if any of our father’s fans have felt conflicted, they can join us in the peace of our resolution.

The Mega-Shuff, ep. 1

Stephen Stills – Pensamiento from Bananafish Gardens (1973)

What a song to start off the Mega-Shuff institution! This is the randomness that you worry about with such an experiment, and there’s almost certainly no other way I would have explicitly wanted to listen to this recording. Stills is frustrating. He is a multi-instrumentalist, does all his own stunts in terms of songwriting, producing, performing, and even had the Jimi Hendrix seal of approval. Having seen Stills a bunch of times in the 80’s, I can confirm that he is a prodigious guitar player, a real blues man. He dabbled with mixing the music of other cultures into his brand of popular folk/rock, but he never went as far as he should have with it. As much as I dislike the music of Paul Simon, there is no denying the absolute brilliance of Graceland. Stills arguably had the music-biz juice to execute such a move, if he had it in him, but he was a apparently bogged down by the fame and fortune of his super-group. As much as Stills has given us over his storied career, I can’t help but think there was even more brilliance that we missed out on.

This isn’t the version from Bananafish Gardens, but about six months later, and it’s very similar.


Primus – Golden Ticket from Primus & The Chocolate Factory (2014)

There’s no way I would have picked this one and so the deities of randomness and algorithms assert their unyielding will again. My best argument (to myself) is this band’s extraordinary approach to rhythm. Perhaps that’s owed to original drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander returning to the band after a hiatus. That means that return of Rush and early Peter Gabriel solo as major influences – that’s real progressive rock! But, for better and worse, there is usually no space for nostalgia because of the band’s aggressively individualism. I could never argue with the true progressive credentials of Primus – there is a fearless persistence to define their own sound that makes the albums utterly unmistakable. That’s some strong branding. At the same time, there is a delicateness that is missing. When prog and fusion giants roamed the earth, there were moments in the composition that recalled a more primitive form of music, a jazz or blues riff here, a Scottish folk progression there. If used correctly, these forms can provide emotional context to the complexity that, on its own can make some prog and fusion tiresome. While this may be a full subject elsewhere, suffice it to say here that Primus, as much as I want to love everything the band has produced, doesn’t ‘swing’ – a lot of the time. Maybe this is evidence of my lacking a good appreciation of Heavy Metal as a genre. Even here, when Primus has progged out to the extent that this is a full concept album, I still can’t get completely on board.


David Bowie – TVC15 from Los Colinas (1983)

I’ve certainly been thinking about Bowie enough recently. As i try to get back into playing a band, it is helpful to learn more well-known songs. Bowie has a ton that check the boxes of fun to play, viscerally appealing and recognizably popular. This particular track is more of a deep cut that i might have occasionally heard on classic rock radio of my youth. What particularly interesting about this version is that it features Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar. SRV’s prominence on “Let’s Dance” is revelatory. The circumstances which lead to him NOT touring with Bowie in support of that album are summarized in this article. I disagree with the notion that Bowie “made” SRV’s carrier, whether indirectly or directly. SRV was going to become the colossus he became, no matter what. The rehearsals for that tour are one of the great bootlegs in circulation. You can hear the entire concert on YouTube.


Mississippi Fred McDowell – When I Lay My Burden Down (1968)

When I talk about my experiences in music, there is a clear distinction between music I learned how to listen to, discovering nuance and soulful beauty in complexity and chaos, and music that affected me more like getting a wrench smashed into my funny bone. Sometimes things would just click for me because of what my parents listened to when I was growing up (Bob Dylan, Neil Young), but I didn’t get exposed to too much blues music. And yet it has clicked, possibly because I discovered it at the same time I was trying to lean how to play guitar. Regardless, Muddy Waters and BB King quickly became regular listening. Then I graduated to John Lee Hooker and Albert King. And then, years later, I discovered the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues and the gentleman farmed called Mississippi Fred McDowell. This track appears to be from March of 1968, but I can’t find the name of the other vocalist.


Bonnie Raitt – Love Me Like a Man from Ultrasonic Studios (1972)

WHAT A COINCIDENCE! Probably not. Probably proof that there it is more algorithms than actual randomness. I continue to hope that randomness plays some role. I want to see the dark corners of my collection. The reason it’s no coincidence is that in 1970, Bonnie backed up Fred McDowell at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. They became friends and Raitt studied guitar from the undisputed master of the Mississippi Hill Country Blues. Here is the audio for the entire glorious session, which features legends Lowell George and John Hammond Jr. Love Me Like a Man is the first tune.


#stephen/stills #Primus #David/Bowie #MIssissippi/Fred/McDowell #Bonnie/Raitt


The Mega-Shuff


For many decades I have been collecting albums, live recordings, bootlegs, outtakes and any other kind of ear candy. I started with vinyl and then cassettes for the car and then CDs and MP3’s and now streaming music. Throughout all of these iterations, I have tried to discover more and more different kinds of music from different kinds of artists from every corner of the globe. I have my favorites, of course, but the thrill of discovery may be the most favorite thing of all.


I invariably engage in contextual listening. The purely aesthetic experience is always there – and I certainly know what I don’t like – but I’m always thinking about how one title sounds next to another – as a DJ would select track after track to purposefully create specific feelings and reactions on the part of the listeners.


Context is not limited to how one song followed by another may reveal previously unknown aspects o both works. Context includes the familiar personal, social, racial, political and economic aspects of work. Sometimes these aspects are front-and-center and sometimes they are hidden. Sometimes these aspects inform a negative view following a positive aesthetic reaction. In such a scenario, the listener is really forced to make a choice and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Active listening is always encouraged!


My focus here is on this narrow type of context – that generated by modern convenience of being able to shuffle, with apparent randomness, through tens of thousands of songs with no overarching connection other than that they are in MY collection. That will be the jumping off-point and from there I’ll engage the music in whatever manner it strikes me.



Mike Bloomfield – From His Head To His Hands To His Heart


Been waiting a good long time for this one.  Here’s Vintage Guitar magazine on the tendency Bloomfield’s playing had to change people’s lives.

Mike Bloomfield had that effect on people.  For a Jewish kid playing the blues in the mid ’60s, that’s no mean feat. But regardless of who his influences were and how proficient he became at various styles that preceded him, there was guitar playing before Bloomfield and guitar playing after Bloomfield. It’s as simple as that.

The compilation comes out next month.

Natsuo Kirino – ‘Grotesque’


I don’t really know what to say. I was amazed. This book is an extraordinary rumination about big ideas like gender, economic class status, Japanese and Chinese society. But this is also one of the most intense depictions of the complex nature of human emotions. There is horror here as characters descend into madness and brokenness and death. But it is never so overwhelming that I felt I wanted to put it down. It is a “page turner,” but I felt sometimes that I should set it down, out of respect for the loss these characters endure.

I went into this expecting a mystery, a detective novel. I come out of it thinking so many things, chief among them that I will read all of Kirino’s translated work. ‘Grotesque’ is quite simply on of the best books I have ever read.