Last weekend Julie and I spend a few days around Woodstock, New York. I’d never been in this area, and we visited the towns of Woodstock, Phoenicia, and Saugerties. I loved it. Beautiful place, and you can’t believe you’re a 100-minute train ride from Penn Station. As we were driving out of Saugerties, I had a thought: you know, we’re here, I’d really like to see if we can find Big Pink, the house where the Band lived and recorded The Basement Tapes with Bob Dylan. I had remembered reading about it online somewhere and I thought maybe it was a museum now, or something. So I googled the address on my phone and got that into maps and we started driving through the hills in West Saugerties. They were winding streets, there was no signal on my phone but somehow, the GPS can still sort of work even when that is not the case? Not sure what the deal is. But the phone was guiding us as we drove up through the hills and finally we saw the turn with the road that the house is on. But oddly, it was a dirt road, and it was through the woods, it looked like it was barely used. And as we were driving down this dirt road through the woods, we saw signs on the trees that said “Private Road: No Trespassing”. And I suggested to Julie that maybe we should turn around but she said we came all this way, let’s see what is here. So the dirt road came out into a clearing and there was a guy working on his car in front of a house that was not Big Pink. We rolled down the window as he walked over and we were prepared to say that we were lost, or something, and the first thing he said was, “Big Pink?” We said yeah, that we didn’t realize it was not a public thing, and he pointed further down this private road and said “It’s right over there, go ahead, they’re out of town.” So we drove 80 or 90 yards and parked and got out and there it was.

I took this photograph. I really wanted to walk up to the window and look in the basement, but that didn’t seem appropriate for a private house even though the owners weren’t home. But standing in front of the house that I’d seen as a photograph on the Band’s Music From Big Pink LP sleeve felt pretty amazing. It was a beautiful day. It’s obviously all in my head because this is just a building on a mountain but my mind goes to this place and I start looking around and imagining Bob Dylan walking into that door with his guitar case and he’s just written “I Shall Be Released”, and wants to show it to the guys. I could picture it. 

And then, two days later, I come into work and I see that after many years Dylan’s finally going to be releasing the complete Basement Tapes sessions, the holy grail of his unreleased music, and the fact that the announcement came two days after I was standing outside this building was something. 

Posted at 9:39am and tagged with: Bob Dylan, The Band, writing,.

Last weekend Julie and I spend a few days around Woodstock, New York. I’d never been in this area, and we visited the towns of Woodstock, Phoenicia, and Saugerties. I loved it. Beautiful place, and you can’t believe you’re a 100-minute train ride from Penn Station. As we were driving out of Saugerties, I had a thought: you know, we’re here, I’d really like to see if we can find Big Pink, the house where the Band lived and recorded The Basement Tapes with Bob Dylan. I had remembered reading about it online somewhere and I thought maybe it was a museum now, or something. So I googled the address on my phone and got that into maps and we started driving through the hills in West Saugerties. They were winding streets, there was no signal on my phone but somehow, the GPS can still sort of work even when that is not the case? Not sure what the deal is. But the phone was guiding us as we drove up through the hills and finally we saw the turn with the road that the house is on. But oddly, it was a dirt road, and it was through the woods, it looked like it was barely used. And as we were driving down this dirt road through the woods, we saw signs on the trees that said “Private Road: No Trespassing”. And I suggested to Julie that maybe we should turn around but she said we came all this way, let’s see what is here. So the dirt road came out into a clearing and there was a guy working on his car in front of a house that was not Big Pink. We rolled down the window as he walked over and we were prepared to say that we were lost, or something, and the first thing he said was, “Big Pink?” We said yeah, that we didn’t realize it was not a public thing, and he pointed further down this private road and said “It’s right over there, go ahead, they’re out of town.” So we drove 80 or 90 yards and parked and got out and there it was.
I took this photograph. I really wanted to walk up to the window and look in the basement, but that didn’t seem appropriate for a private house even though the owners weren’t home. But standing in front of the house that I’d seen as a photograph on the Band’s Music From Big Pink LP sleeve felt pretty amazing. It was a beautiful day. It’s obviously all in my head because this is just a building on a mountain but my mind goes to this place and I start looking around and imagining Bob Dylan walking into that door with his guitar case and he’s just written “I Shall Be Released”, and wants to show it to the guys. I could picture it. 
And then, two days later, I come into work and I see that after many years Dylan’s finally going to be releasing the complete Basement Tapes sessions, the holy grail of his unreleased music, and the fact that the announcement came two days after I was standing outside this building was something. 

Waiting for a Leader - New York Times

I have a strong memory of reading this New York Times editorial following Katrina. I lived in Richmond at the time but we’d come to New York because Julie was performing at a festival; for whatever reason we needed to do laundry and so I was sitting in a laundromat that is just around the corner from the old Pitchfork office on Grand Street in Williamsburg (the office is not there now and wasn’t then—we didn’t have a Brooklyn office at that point, and I was just a contributor to Pitchfork). And while I waited for the laundry I read the Times, looking for information on Katrina, and came across this editorial.

It was notable because in the first half of the last decade, the Times editorial page was remarkably deferential to Bush; it was deeply frustrating the extent to which they swallowed his line about Iraq. There was actually a great deal of skepticism about WMD in Iraq, but somehow little of it found its way here. And I really do remember the morning reading this thinking “maybe they’re finally coming around on this idiot” and they never really saw Bush the same way again. Possibly b/c of that the lede of this piece has stayed in my mind.

Posted at 9:21am and tagged with: George W. Bush,.

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

We will, of course, endure, and the city of New Orleans must come back. But looking at the pictures on television yesterday of a place abandoned to the forces of flood, fire and looting, it was hard not to wonder exactly how that is going to come to pass. Right now, hundreds of thousands of American refugees need our national concern and care. Thousands of people still need to be rescued from imminent peril. Public health threats must be controlled in New Orleans and throughout southern Mississippi. Drivers must be given confidence that gasoline will be available, and profiteering must be brought under control at a moment when television has been showing long lines at some pumps and spot prices approaching $4 a gallon have been reported.

Sacrifices may be necessary to make sure that all these things happen in an orderly, efficient way. But this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice. And nothing about the president’s demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis.

With the founding members all gone now, what are your thoughts/feelings on the Ramones?
Anonymous

Well, I love them. One of the best bands of all time, so many great tunes and a lot of heart. That said, I can’t call myself a huge fan b/c I am content with hearing my favorite songs by them over and over. Around 1989 I bought a comp called Ramones Mania on CD. It might have been the first thing they released on CD, I’m not sure. But it was promoted heavily and got around. It had 30 songs and it was an absolutely packed CD, coming close to the max of what the format allowed at that time. And it also had maybe 90% of their best-known songs. So I listened to that a million times and it usually seemed like the only Ramones I ever needed—even had the best of some of their 80s stuff. Later I heard those first four albums and of course they are all amazing, hardly a duff song on any of them, but I’m still pretty content to hear my favorites from Ramones Mania when I want to hear the Ramones. 

Posted at 12:09am and tagged with: ramones,.

What's more important to you in a song: lyrics or the music itself and why?
Anonymous

Ultimately I’d say music. Because it’s the one thing that can only be expressed in terms of itself: you can read about music, but it’s nothing like hearing it, while reading about lyrics can be sorta close to hearing them. I also have a deep love and emotional connection to a whole lot of instrumental music, which suggests that there is a lot of feeling embedded in there.

All that said, to paraphrase the famous Berman quote, if you can combine both, that’s how you make immortal work for the ages. 

Posted at 12:23am.

What do you think of Johnny Marr's solo work thus far?
Anonymous

Has made no impact on me. I think he’s one of the great geniuses of both guitar and songwriting in pop history, easily, but I’ve not connected with his work as a frontman. 

Posted at 12:20am.

Do you ever worry about forgetting music you love or are attached to? Are there ways you try to stop this?
Anonymous

I don’t worry, because it’s going to happen. And when it does happen, it can actually be kind of fun. There’s a special joy in hearing something you loved a while ago but had forgotten completely. In one way it’s almost better than the first time you heard it, because you have that feeling of brand-new discovery combined with memory of why it mattered in the first place. That can be exhilarating. But more broadly, I am comfortable with the current state of the human capacity for memory. I think the amount of stuff that fits in there is just right, given how long we live.

Posted at 12:18am.

So P4k has obvs cultivated a unique authority in the world of music criticism but people seem to have this weird perception of it as this thing to be openly loathed and only secretly read/enjoyed (see the often hilarious comments on P4k facebook posts). Any thoughts on this perception as to its accuracy/fairness? Does the P4k staff actively try to achieve a certain perception or is it not a concern? Or sorry if this is something you're tired of talking about.
Anonymous

This is a big question that touches on some things I think about a lot and I feel like I could write a book on it. But it’s a book very few people would read so I think I’ll just reply here. 

I think about this general question and the sub-questions nested inside of it from a few different angles. As best as I can do late at night here before going to bed, it breaks down like this:

I’m a human being with feelings, so I am as susceptible as anyone else to criticism of our work. Since I am the editor-in-chief of Pitchfork, I take ultimate responsibility for everything that appears on the site. This doesn’t mean that I’m closely involved with everything that appears on the site, or that I agree with every opinion, not by a long shot. But at the end of the day, if there is anyone to blame for something substandard being on the site, it’s me. That is part of my job description. So by definition, I can’t help but take criticism of Pitchfork personally. If you are now or are in the future charged with editing a magazine that publishes 10k words a day involving 50+ freelancers and 10+ full-time staff people, perhaps you will empathize with me on this point: it’s not easy. There is so much to cover, so many ways to hear things, and trying to pull it all together and make it coherent and also entertaining and useful is very challenging. But also, of course, very rewarding. I feel nothing but gratitude. That I make a living with this and work with such amazing people and my job is to think about music—come on. I have had a lot of jobs in my life and this is one of the good ones.

So on one hand, the negativity does get to me. I’m not someone who loves to be in charge of “the site you love to hate,” or whatever. Just not who I am. My deepest desire with Pitchfork is for the site to report on and offer a critical perspective on the world of music as we see it, and do so in an entertaining and rigorous way. That is the ideal, and we may not always get there but we’re trying.

While some of that negativity might bum me out, I understand all of it. For one, we’re in the business of criticism, and that’s a two-way street. We dish it out, saying what we think, and it would be ridiculous to not expect criticism in return. That is part of the deal, so having a thick skin is a must. But more than that, to engage with music critically and not be ready for readers to engage with our work critically would actually be doing the entire idea of critical engagement a disservice. That it happens is healthy, and in fact it’s important; we’re a small part of a much larger idea. 

The second part of it is that we’ve done well enough and been lucky enough to be in a position of importance as far as the idea of music criticism. That brings with it responsibility. We need to be sure that we’re using our position to the best of our abilities and doing things with it of which we can be proud. It needs to be honored. And it also brings with it scrutiny. People pay attention to Pitchfork, even if they are pushing against it, and being on the receiving end of criticism given that is a great privilege. Any time someone wishes we would do better is a sign of hope or of a certain amount of belief. There are any number of publications where no one cares at all what they think and the fact that people do care makes us one of the lucky ones. Along with everyone else at Pitchfork, I really want to live up to that, to be worthy of the attention. 

Posted at 11:59pm and tagged with: writing,.

This comes from a lecture called "My Emily Dickinson” by Mary Ruefle, collected in her book Madness, Rack, and Honey. This whole book is just incredibly good. But this piece in particular, which is about Emily Dickinson, Emily Brontë, and Anne Frank, a kind of meditation on writing, confinement, what we can know about someone and what we can’t, and many other things, is one of the best single pieces of writing I’ve read in years. 

Posted at 7:13pm and tagged with: Mary Ruefle,.

But what of Anne? Deceased. Anne did not die, though had she lived she would have been capable of it—of that I am certain. She expired, like an animal. She was denied her own capacity of dying because…because somebody else took it away from her, robbed her of it…by force. Not even a “body,” not a somebody, but an enormous, a huge, an overwhelmingly large and pervasive Though Machine Made Manifest on Earth.

Cause of death? The inner invasiveness of typhus, typhoid fever.

Cause of Typhus? Unclean living conditions.

Case of unclean living conditions? The outer invasiveness of an ideology lacking a circumference of love wide enough to shelter, among other things, a precocious, dark-eyed, fifteen-year-old girl in love with her fountain pen, and her hair.

Will you and/or other pfork folks be publishing your individual lists for the best of the decade so far?
Anonymous

Yes it’s happening now and will continue through the weekend:

http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/tags/my-decade-in-music-so-far/

Posted at 10:14am.

Do you think that Girls (esp Father, Son, Holy Ghost) turned out to be less important, less defining than a lot of people thought when they were around? Looking back at the decade so far, they don't seem to be as lasting as a lot of other music released three or for years ago has been?
Anonymous

You’re probably right about that; I still love them as much as ever, but I think Owens’ POV is ultimately odd in a very specific way, and if you don’t connect that, even the appealing musical stuff about Girls might not be enough to sustain your interest. He’s got a v. unusual way of seeing the world that I connect with.  

Posted at 5:52pm.

There was an interesting article by David Carr in the NYT today about Ferguson and #Ferguson, talking about how twitter can amplify news and “turn up the heat” on people in power to spur them to action, esp. in re stories that haven’t been picked up by big media yet. And that’s definitely true, even if it probably takes a few twitter people with power (trusted people with a good number of followers) to really make that happen. It’s hard to imagine a better example in the U.S. than #Ferguson (so many parallels w/ things that have gone on in the Middle East in the past couple of years, mostly in frightening ways). But it’s also not a bad time to think about what twitter is and how it’s structured, and how that structure informs how we experience “reality” through the internet. One, #Ferguson made me more aware than I’ve ever been that I follow people that mostly think alike. The 350 people I choose to follow (and the vast majority of them are music writers, since I consider twitter to be a work tool) tend to see the big events of the world through a similar lens (progressive and liberal, to use the broadest possible terms), which also happens to be the one through which I see the world. And while I do not think there are “two sides to the story” of what is happening in Missouri (it’s a rare thing, but here it’s true), it’s hard not to reflect on the idea of me, sitting in my apartment in Brooklyn, looking at re-tweets from my few-hundred like-minded twitter followers, and think that I’m absorbing the “truth” of the situation. Here the truth seems simple, and nothing I’ve gathered leads me to believe anything different. But it still makes me uneasy to think that my hand-picked filter of 350 people that see things in very similar terms is my window to the world. Weirder than relying on NBC or CNN? Maybe not. 

This week I also came to understand more deeply that one of the unusual things about twitter is that it presents every tweet in exactly the same way, they are all 140 characters or less, displayed in a linear fashion, and no one tweet seems any more important than another in glancing at your feed (also why they have trouble with ads). Since the mechanism of twitter doesn’t make this distinction, its users count on publishers to make that distinction for them, in part by asking them to hold tweets about things unrelated to the crisis  at hand (this came to me b/c some people got upset about Pitchfork tweeting news when Ferguson was raging, which I think is a reasonable response). So twitter as a news tool is a little clumsy in that regard—there’s no 72-point type to say “Japan Surrenders, End of War!”; the tweet just comes by like any other, no more or less important than me cracking a joke about how many Neil Young albums I have. So when you’re looking at your feed and you see these trifles next to the important stuff, it’s hard not to be angry at the people posting them, even though it’s really up to twitter’s design for this project, where the container for every tweet is identical. 

Posted at 1:17am and tagged with: writing,.

Working late and listening to “The Sinking of the Titanic”

Posted at 9:11pm.