Music Fun Fact #371: Jack White Fights the Guinness World Records and Loses

During The White Stripes’ short-lived, yet brilliant career, the band has had more than its share of eccentricities. There’s the red, white, and black color scheme. There’s the strange relationship between Jack and Meg White. (Are they brother and sister? Are they married?  Turns out they were married, but divorced in 2000.)

But none is stranger than their epic quest in 2007 to play a show in every province of Canada.

Jack and Meg played in buses, bowling alleys, cruises, old folks homes…you get the idea. And they ended this mighty achievement with the greatest show of all: the one-note show in Newfoundland, the last province they needed to get Canadian BINGO.

The reason for a one note show was quite simple. Jack wanted to achieve the shortest concert in history and be placed alongside the pantheon of heroes listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. For instance, there’s the dude with the longest mohawk, the girl with the Hello Kitty armada (does anyone else think they’re going to come alive at night in some disturbing horror movie fashion?), and the guy with the fastest four-limbed 100 meter dash. And those are just the Japanese heroes!

So, here’s the famous one note concert:

From the reaction of the audience, it seems most people knew that the concert would be very, very short. Most were appreciative of The White Stripes paying them a visit. Yet you have to feel for the one guy who paid good money to buy a ticket from a scalper to come see the show buy himself. This is the guy without any friends who wanted to join him. Without any girlfriend to join him either. Unknowing of the situation, he gets there three hours before the concert to get a view right by the stage. The band gets on. He jumps up and down. They play one note. He gets excited for a second note. They leave. The guy, let’s call him Joe Canada, is confused. He looks around at people clapping. He yells out, “play ‘Effect and Cause'”. Nothing. The fans go home. He cries. He waits two hours for a potential encore. Nothing. It starts to rain. He goes home. He creates a Jack White dartboard. He throws darts and plots his revenge. He becomes a Nickelback fan to spite good music.

I feel sorry for Joe Canada.

On the Jack White front, all is well for a while. Then Jack White finds out that the Guinness World Records robs The White Stripes of its place in history! He starts a small war with them, calling them a “very elitist organization”, which makes sense of course because only an elitist organization would have the guy with the largest nose in their records.  Jack White loses the war.

The good news is there’s a moral to this story. If you’re going to play a concert, play for longer than one note.

You never know when a Joe Canada might strike.

The Passion’s Gone: R.E.M.

When I was young and full of grace
and spirited, a rattlesnake.

– “I Believe”, R.E.M.

R.E.M. has been a thing of the past for nearly 15 months now and any time I hear one of their albums it still seems a bit sad to me.  It’s not as if there was a death in the family, but it seems like a part of me died with them.  As many people who listened to them, I was in my formative years when I first heard their music.  I remember a vivid night as I looked out at all the small houses below while standing on a mountainside park with a girl I knew at the time, thinking of “Nightswimming”.  I remember spending an entire summer listening solely to Automatic for the People, part of the time trying to decipher the chorus to “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”, part of the time learning how to play “Find the River” on guitar.  I remember listening to “Fall on Me” and actually feeling that this world won’t last forever, that we are destroying it one tree at a time.  And I remember playing “Country Feedback” over and over again one night around 4AM, each playback hitting me harder than the last.  “Crazy what you could have had.”

R.E.M. was so ingrained within the culture of my youth, both as a popular act and as a comfort during my own introspective moments that without them, it seems that that youth is now, officially, over.  There is no fall back anymore.

However, if I am honest with myself, R.E.M. stopped being R.E.M. a long time ago.  Their string of success lasted for an absurdly long time given how out of place they were with the musical culture through most of it.  For starters, you could hardly understand their lead singer in their first few albums.

Case in point:

As time went on, they gained a cult following through their work on the independent label, I.R.S.  This included a nearly unparalleled string of successes, each album a bit different than the last.  Lifes Rich Pageant was clear statement on environmentalism, while Document was more geared towards the politics of the working class.  On and on they went, until they finally switched over to a major label, Warner Bros., leaving people skeptical.

The 90s for R.E.M. started with Out of Time, which was a good, but not great album.  It had “Losing My Religion”, which I honestly cannot stand any more.  It also had “Shiny Happy People”, which to this day I believe is some kind of deeply ironic statement on something.  I just don’t know what.

Then came, in my opinion, their best album, Automatic for the People.  The album was centered on mortality.  Dark, morose ballads were the centerpiece of this group of songs.  As a popular album from a majorly popular rock band in 1992, Automatic for the People was a bold release.  Think about it.  1992 was when grunge exploded, Kurt Cobain hadn’t killed himself, U2 was on their Zoo TV tour, and electric guitars and defiance was at the epicenter.  R.E.M.  went completely in the opposite direction.  And it worked.  It was that rare album that sold millions, yet also was deeply personal to each listener.  The last three songs (“Man on the Moon”, “Nightswimming”, and “Find the River”) are still the best group of closing songs I’ve ever heard on an album.

From there on, the group shifted again to two rocking albums: Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi.  Of the two, the latter is the one to invest in.  However, the latter was also the last with the whole band.  Bill Berry, the band’s drummer, left after the conclusion of the following tour.

But the band played on.

Instead of continuing in the same musical vein, they shifted again to a more electronic, quiet sound.  This led to Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun.  And after Around the Sun failed spectacularly, they finally took a step back to find their well worn bag of tricks.  This led to two good, but only good, albums: Accelerate and Collapse into Now.  Both played the nostalgia factor to perfection.  Neither had a new idea to speak of.

And then it was over.

In looking back, after Bill Berry left, the band was never the same.  The edge was gone.  The moment was gone.  R.E.M. was over before the band knew it.  Band’s have a shelf life and R.E.M.’s lasted from 1980-1996.  It was a great run.  Their last moment of relevance was the last lyric on “Electrolite”, the closing song on New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

Your eyes are burnin’ holes through me
I’m not scared
I’m outta here

– “Electrolite”, R.E.M.

The Best Song R.E.M. Never Wrote

Ask a group of Athens acolytes to list their favorite bands to emerge from the proto-punk scene of the early 80s and they’ll probably list Guadalcanal Diary dead last. Or at all. That’s because they’re so indie, they don’t even know they exist.

Guadalcanal Diary were one among the many talented bands roaming the streets of Athens, GA during the time when soon-to-be great bands like The B-52s and R.E.M. were putting together a few of their most memorable tunes.

The first track from Walking in the Shadows of the Big Man–their best album in my humble opinion–is possibly the greatest song R.E.M. forgot to write. It’s got all the major cues of an early R.E.M. tune minus the mumbling; lead singer Murray Attaway sings about lonely women who are fond of wearing black in a clear and audible tone.

For your listening pleasure, I submit to you: “Trail of Tears”

The Best Way to NOT Get Over That Girl That Dumped You

Play “No Distance Left to Run” by Blur on repeat, over and over.  Blur was the band you knew with that video with people magically being thrown against walls.*  Yes, apparently they are capable of being sad, very sad.

 Sad, right?

In my experience, any time someone mentions they’ve got no distance left to run, it normally means one of two things:

1)  It’s a cry for attention.  I used to fall for this sort of thing.  I’d call the girl or guy on the phone and make sure they’re ok.  They’d then complain and explain how depressed they are about not getting ice cream or something.  Blah Blah Blah. Nowadays, when someone says they’ve got no distance left to run, I just tell them to stop running.  Case Closed.  Nine times out of ten it’s just a cry for attention.  I don’t play that game anymore.  Granted, there’s that faint one out of ten chance it really is…

2) A cry for help.  In which case, if you don’t actually hear him or her out, he/she might just jump off a bridge.  If that happens, then no matter what anyone says, it really is YOUR fault.  But honestly, play the odds.  Call their bluff and roll the dice.  You’ll be happy you did, unless the person kills himself, in which case you won’t be.

*= If you were wondering, that song with that video with people being thrown against walls is “Song 2”.  Check it out.  It was part of the whole British Music Invasion in the mid-90s.

Is It Still Any Good: Bush “Swallowed”

“Is It Still Any Good?” is an on-going feature dedicated to examining pop-culture artifacts in order to determine if they still have any sort of relevance in the present day.

“Swallowed”

Remember Bush? Apologies for stirring up bad memories, but I was up late last night trudging through YouTube in a nostalgic and masochistic mood and I stumbled upon a few of their old videos so now you will have to feel my pain. Accept it. The year was 1996, and Bush was already lame. Their first album made me hate Nirvana as much as Nirvana made me like Nirvana. Now two years removed from their first abortion, Bush–for reasons unknown–decided to release a sophomore effort even more esoteric and alien than its predecessor.

I suppose if you’re going to rip-off a hugely-successful band, you may as well go all out. It’s remarkable how similar “Swallowed”–the lead single from Razorblade Suitcase (Jesus, seriously?)–sounds like the genre-defining “Heart-Shaped Box” from In Utero except that “Swallowed” eschews drums entirely during the verses in order to one-up Nirvana’s formula by way of some retarded pop-song derivative calculus.

The lyrics are really the high point here. Gavin Russdale Rashdale Rushdie, bless his heart, never quite grasped the concept of surrealism, and as a result listeners are forced to decipher lyrics that literally make no sense whatsoever (remember “Glycerine”?). Reading Gavin Rushdie’s lyrics gives me the impression that listening to him speak would be like listening to a martian approximate what it thinks English sounds like.

So, is it still any good?

It’s a question without an answer. It wasn’t good to start with.

Bob Dylan, Tempest

Tempest

With every new Bob Dylan album comes a rearrangement of his oeuvre in order from greatest to worst. Blood on the Tracks, The Basement Tapes, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and eleventh-hour classics like “Love and Theft” and Time Out of Mind rank high on any half-assed best of list and so the question must be asked: where does Dylan’s latest opus rank among his highly-venerated past?

The answer is sorta tricky. Tempest is his late-period Desire–a would-be contender held back by a few missteps. There are a lot of great moments on Tempest; at its best it’s a slightly more focused iteration of Modern Times, however, at its worst it’s Dylan on auto-pilot trudging through tired cliches while occasionally delivering the classic one-line zinger hipster-neophytes and old-timers alike adore.

Dylan’s greatest late-period album may be Time Out of Mind–and oddly enough Tempest makes a strong case for it. Produced by Daniel Lanois, Time Out of Mind featured a word-weary grittiness that perfectly meshed with Dylan’s scowl and bitter odes to love gone wrong, and while every album after Time Out of Mind has found Dylan rummaging through the same old-timey, washed-out, blues-tinged song cycles, they simply haven’t matched Time Out of Mind’s gloriously triumphant sad-bastard sonic landscapes.

There’s a certain Phil Spector-esque sheen that has pervaded Dylan’s work ever since 2001’s “Love and Theft”; the end result sounds a little too clean; a little too polished. The late-night-dive-bar murkiness that defined much of Time Out of Mind has long since been eradicated in favor of a cleaner, brighter, sometimes hard-rocking, but ultimately suffocating sound that sounds more like a static template for Dylan to ramble on about topics ranging from crazy women to John Lennon to–of all things–the Titanic.

Tempest is at its best when Dylan puts on his best Dirty Harry impersonation and calls for bloodshed–but not his own. The rocking numbers (basically every odd-numbered song on the album) are truly great; it’s the ballads that drag. The album’s even-numbered tracks fail to reach the seemingly impossible heights of classics like “Not Dark Yet” and “When the Deal Goes Down” while the “Desolation Row”-esque title track falls short of its 14-minute plus ambitions.

While the first half provides a few memorable numbers, Tempest remains a curiously innocuous album that finds Dylan further settling in to his late-period formula of vintage old-timey sound, trading rockers with ballads through a 10-song cycle largely devoted to the same themes he’s been harping about since 1997. Dylan’s raspy, angry vocals are as raspy and angry as ever; it’s just a shame the songs themselves lack any sort of bite.

Grade: B –