abbey road 50

I drew the Beatles in honor of Abbey Road’s 50th anniversary. Each has a lyric they wrote, or in the case of Ringo, the drum solo in The End.


let it be


the white album

As longtime readers know, I’m a pretty big Beatles fan. One of my first forays into realistic art was a shaded graphite portrait of the Beatles based on their White Album pictures. This time around, I went a little less real. It was fun to revisit these photos as a way to try a new technique. These were drawn on an iPad and on the computer using Photoshop.

autobiography Blog

we used to buy CDs

Compact discs are on a precipice. There will be a time, perhaps in the next few years, when they are no longer the main way people buy and listen to music. Like records, though, I predict the CD will be around for the rest of our lives. Unlike tapes (or even the 8-track), CDs have staying power. If you like album art, the digital download doesn’t compare. The compact disc sound quality (to my ears anyway) is superior, and the discs don’t degrade unless you really abuse them.

This is a personal history of music purchasing, not music listening. I don’t think there is much writing out there on how people acquire their music, beyond the occasional hyperbolic article entitled something like “CDs Soon Extinct: Is This The End of Record Companies?” Of course listening to the music is the most important part of the process, but how we get to that step has changed over the years, and that interests me enough to share my own story.

I bought my first CD at Target in Tucson, Arizona. My parents had purchased our first CD player maybe a year or two before. I still remember the salesperson selling us the player: “CDs are indestructible. You can throw them like a Frisbee and they won’t break.” The promise of perfect sound forever, coupled with the amount of space you can save compared to a record collection, was enough incentive for my parents to take the plunge.

Being a kid, it took a while to accumulate the funds to purchase a CD (they were more expensive than tapes). I also had to decide what CD was worth buying. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were not exactly a swell time for new music. Being a lifelong Beatles fan, my first CD was a Paul McCartney greatest hits album. It was new, and I already had the Beatles albums on tapes. I still have the CD, for sentimental reasons. It isn’t a great album, but it does include Band on the Run.

At first CDs came packaged in something called the “longbox.” It was a worthless rectangular cardboard box that you threw away as soon as you opened the shrinkwrap. The longbox’s only purpose – perhaps beyond discouraging theft – was to sit the CDs taller on the shelf. Because everybody knows you can’t see a compact disc when it’s just sitting on a shelf. It needs to be stilted so it’s staring you in the face.

I can’t remember when stores finally did away with the longbox, but it was maybe midway into the 90’s. Long enough that there are millions of these longboxes choking our landfills today. I would hope distributors learned something about packaging from that mess, but the cynic in me doubts it.

I had a few weeks to listen to Paul sing Silly Love Songs before my mom decided I was getting lazy. So, at the tender age of 12, she sent me to work in a warehouse. Speaking of packaging: my job was packing computer software into boxes. At the end of the day, I was called in to the manager’s office. “The owner found out that we hired a 12-year-old and she doesn’t want that liability. Here’s your paycheck.” I think he wrote out a personal check instead of a company paystub, such was the stigma of my being there. It was my first job and my first firing, all in the same day.

My mom picked me up and I told her the news. She took it way harder than I did. I think she had hoped my job would lead to me moving into my own apartment and becoming a productive member of society. Instead, I just went to school and made her buy me food, clothing, toothpaste, and underarm deodorant.

On the way home from my failure, we stopped at Target. I used my paycheck (almost all of it, as I recall), to buy my second CD: The Beatles’ Help. It was the first time I purchased an album I already owned. Later, we would call the reissuing of an album a “double-dip.” Double-dipping is actually the reissue of an album on the same format (like the recent Beatles Remasters). But in practice it had the same outcome: now I had Help twice.

Target used to have rows and rows of new and old music. After a few years, maybe by the mid-to-late 1990’s, I outgrew their selection. It was a combination of factors: my tastes became more diverse and less mainstream, and their music selection dwindled to a few new releases and some “Golden Oldie” greatest hits compilations. Once you have the Lynyrd Skynyrd Greatest Hits album and the Beyoncé oeuvre, Target isn’t going to help you anymore.

I moved on, like many young men of my generation, to that beautiful technological paradise called Best Buy. Best Buy stole my heart as well as my wallet. I spent countless hours of my high school years perusing the racks of CDs.

There were a few independent music shops in Tucson. Zia Records and PDQ had much larger selections than Best Buy even in its heyday. You could chalk it up to the longer drive to get to either independent store (driving 45 minutes to get somewhere is not unusual in Tucson), or you could point to my still fairly mainstream musical tastes at the time. Both would be right as to why I stuck with Best Buy for most of my CD purchases.

College changed my listening habits forever. I learned that there was good – nay, excellent – new music being made every day. There were bands I never heard on the radio because The Man was keeping me down. That musical oppression riled me up. Fortunately, the cure was all around me in the form of musically liberated friends.

Not only was there a great college radio station, but we had a whole Conservatory churning out classical and jazz players every year. Some colleges have basketball teams to follow. I went to free concerts dozens of times a semester. They wanted an audience and I was more than happy to oblige.

But this post is about purchased, not free, music. And so, just like you may have noticed I omitted the major musical revolution of the first decade of this century, I will linger no further on free student concert-going.

Today I buy my music in two ways. I don’t use iTunes unless someone gives me a gift card. I buy CDs from Amazon or from one of two fantastic music stores in Portland. Between those three sources I can find just about anything.

I suppose in this day of reducing our carbon footprint I should reconsider the purchase of physical media, especially when the digital download offers almost as good sound quality and far better portability. But when I want to listen to good music on my home stereo system, look through liner notes, or study stupendous cover art, the compact disc remains my format of choice.

Blog reviews

listening to the beatles remasters

I bought the world’s biggest, most inefficient ipod.josh-beatles2
Just kidding!

The Beatles remasters are out on CD, and this blogger has been listening intently for the past week.

Everybody knows the band: Liam Gallagher on vocals and rhythm guitar, Noel Gallagher on vocals and bass, Liam Gallagher on lead guitar, and Noel Gallagher on the drums. Everybody also (should) know the songs. But what this blogger, and millions of people my age and younger, don’t know is how the Beatles themselves wanted the music to sound.

You see, I’m 29. 22 years ago, the Beatles released their albums on CD. Before that, they were on records and cassette tapes. In order to listen to an album, I had the choice of hearing my parents’ records, a cassette, or the tinny, terribly mastered CDs. Records sounded good but they had been played for the past 30 years or so and sounded a bit worn. Also, you couldn’t play them in the car. Cassettes played just fine in my Dodge Aries but they never sounded good, even in the best of circumstances. And the CDs, like I said, were rushed to market and sounded like it. But no worries, right? Every band was re-releasing their albums in the 90’s. Except, of course, the only band that really matters.

So for my entire life, I’ve never heard the sound the Beatles intended. I heard either worn records (not too bad, but also not portable), cassettes, or the hastily-produced CDs. Mainly it was the CDs.

And so it was with much anticipation that I put on the newly remastered White Album to hear While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Just for comparison, I first put on the version with which I was familiar. Then I popped in the new CD and was amazed, amazed I say, at the clarity of this 40-year-old recording.

I suddenly heard the Beatles themselves. I heard musicians playing the instruments. I could feel the presence of Ringo at the drums, rather than just a drum-sound. I heard the sound of Paul catching his breath in Paperback Writer. I heard John (at least I think that’s John) coughing in a quiet section of Norwegian Wood. Sometimes I can hear them putting down their instruments at the end of a song. The Beatles are closer now, the songs I’ve heard thousands of times more exuberant, more human, and more dear.

The sound quality really makes a difference. Dear Prudence really sounds like the band playing in a room together. It made me wish they could have performed it live. When they sing harmonies I can actually make out the separate voices. The bass is more present, as are the drums, but not overwhelmingly so. The comparative levels of the songs haven’t changed, it’s all more clear. The Beatles no longer play in a room full of gauze. There’s air there.

My earlier trepidation has been removed. The Beatles CDs finally sound as good as the music recorded onto them. Now I’ll get back to my Beatles ipod.josh-beatles

Blog reviews

today you can hear john lennon sneeze

Beatles remasters came out today.paul-john
I’m not sure who picked the date (9.9.09) to release these, but I do know John really liked the number 9. Songs he wrote: One After 909, Revolution #9, #9 Dream. Was this release date a coincidence or exceptionally good marketing? Only the Sun King knows.

There are lots of reviews floating around the internet, but probably my favorite is the one done by Bob Boilen at All Songs Considered. He and his show producer listen and comment on the remastered Sgt. Pepper.

For the record, I’m more of a White Album guy. It’s sprawling and sure, I rarely listen to Revolution #9, but there’s a lot to be discovered on that double album. I’ve been wondering for weeks which song or album I should listen to first. I might take Bob’s advice and listen to Sgt. Pepper.

Blog fiction

who is bigger than The Beatles?

In 1966 John Lennon did a magazine interview in which he said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. He was kind of lamenting the fact that religion had become as much a commodity as rock music, and that as a result a pop group could be more well-known than a nearly 2,000 year old belief system. The point is, he wasn’t exactly happy about it, and so it was therefore a shock when kids began burning Beatles albums in protest.

Times have changed, and the Beatles are no longer as big as they once were. Who is bigger than the Beatles (and therefore Jesus) today?

  • The Spice Girls
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
  • Jesus (pronounced hey-seuss), my neighbor
  • Malia Obama
  • The next American Idol
  • [TIE] Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana
  • The Three Members of The Doors Who Aren’t Jim Morrison
  • The guy who wrote “Happy Birthday”
  • Pete Best
  • The Sneezing Panda
  • Miss South Carolina 2007
  • The ipod Nano