April 22, 2013

Record Store Day Pilgrimage, and then some

Got up at 6am last Friday to get ready and go to work, just like any other day, except for the back of the car being full of a bag of clothes, a cooler full of Cock’n’Bull ginger beer, a sleeping bag, and a folding chair.  Left work a bit after 3:30 in the afternoon to hit the road.  Got caught up in the creepy-crawly traffic on the DC Metropolitan Area’s notorious parking lot, er, I mean route 66 (no relation to the celebrated Mother Road, more like an evil doppelganger of that highway) and the backup from DC to Gainesville, VA ended up adding an hour to my total drive time.  Just past Gainesville, the overcast sky began dropping buckets of rain so thick that fellow drivers were putting their hazard lights on. Pulled off route 81 just after the rain ended around 7pm for a plate of meatloaf and lima beans at a truckstop diner.  Back on the road, started yawning about 9:00 or so.  Around 10, I began to get that goggle-eyed feeling where you can't tell whether your eyes are open or not and you think you might be getting ready to start hallucinating.  By 11, no amount of slapping myself in the face was keeping my eyelids up, so I pulled off at a gas station a little ways before the Tennessee border to stretch my legs and get some fresh air.   Back in the car, blew a kiss at the huge guitar (photo from a previous occasion) across the highway from the TN Welcome Center as I crossed the state line, then set Freedom At 21 on repeat at full volume and before long was flyin’ fast and high.  (That 5 Hour Energy stuff kicks in damned quick, y’know?)

At midnight, route 40 past Knoxville, TN was just as ugly as I remembered it being in the daylight three years ago.  Around 1am, the road emptied out and other cars became few and far between, and my little Honda ate up a lotta lonely miles under a moonlit sky.  Finally, around 3am, I rolled into Nashville and pulled up at Mecca, er, I mean Tent City, er, I mean Third Man Records to join the dozens of fellow pilgrims already camped out along 7th Avenue South.

I was here for Record Store Day, in the year 2013, the year that Jack White was elected Record Store Day Ambassador, only a week shy of the third anniversary of my first visit to this place, when I drove from DC to Memphis for my very first experience of Jack on-stage and then swung through Nashville on the way home so that I could also experience TMR for the first time.  That was a damned good trip.  So much has changed since then...

The wait in the wee hours of the morning went well.  I don’t know how people were able to sleep, but Tent City was silent.  It was very cold, but not miserably so.  The couple of folks who arrived right after me were just as wired as I was, so we huddled in our sleeping bags and chatted quietly about Third Man and music while we waited for the sun to come up, and then for a handful more hours while the line continued to grow and we waited for the event to begin at 11am.

A cheer went up at the beginning of the line when The Door opened--

And then we waited some more. Sales of the limited edition Record Store Day release of the White Stripes album, Elephant, were in TMR's Blue Room performance space, taking place at the same time as performances by a couple of artists on the Third Man roster. Sales of other limited vinyl and some nifty new novelty merchandise were in the shop on the other side of the building. If you wanted to try to get everything, you had to make it through one looooooooooooooong, slooooooooooooooow line and then go join another, but if you wanted to see the live performances you'd end up farther back in the other looooooooooooooong, slooooooooooooooow line, and if you wanted to get something to eat or drink you had to ask someone to hold your space in line while you ran to get into that line (fortunately the food lines were short'n'quick).  And if you were one of the many, many folks who wanted to avail yourself of Third Man's latest addition (more on that coming up), then there was yet another line for you.  For me, at least, the lines were only part of the chaos.

Over the last three years, I’ve become involved in the Jack White fan community to a fairly high degree. It’s been almost impossible not to. I want to know what’s going on, so I spend a lot of time on two Jack-related message boards and other places on the 'net for both information and that phenomenon called "social networking".  I’ve been to so many shows and met so many people, some of whom I’m now very happy to think of as long-distance friends.  But, as always with me and other people, this has led to drama.  Much of it is my own fault, as I’ve a tendency to unconsciously try to take charge of things, to be the one in the know, to lead.   It’s a characteristic that has served me well at work, as I take assignments and run with them, learn whatever I can about the ins and outs of the project to keep it on track, and to get what I need from others to get things done.  In a social situation, like a music fan community or just a group of friends, it can lead to conflict.  Which it recently has, with my level of obnoxiousness being brought to my attention just a few days prior to this weekend’s pilgrimage.  So I was tense going into this whole thing, knowing I was going to be seeing people who were becoming fed up with me.  Fortunately, there were others there with whom I’ve not been so involved and I was able to hang out with them for most of the day and keep a low profile.  In addition to that was the speculation and expectation running through much of the crowd.  Everyone knew that Jack was there that day, though he'd so far remained within the inner sanctum of the building.  Pretty much everyone (hard-core vinyl collectors and flippers may have been less concerned) was brimming with anticipation for him to hit that stage in the Blue Room and give us a taste of what had brought us all there.  At the very least, as Record Store Day Ambassador, folks expected he’d make some sort of proclamation.  It created an edgy atmosphere, as some folks were hopeful but relaxed, while others became quite angry that he might just blow us off.  As for Jack, a couple of the times that he was visible during the afternoon gave me the impression that his biggest priority was the latest addition to the TMR Novelty Lounge-- A vintage record booth in which, for $15, anyone can "not only record your own vinyl record, but send it to anyone, anywhere in the world to share a song, poem, or private message with".

All of the social consternation and event confusion and will-he-or-won't-he expectation created a feeling of high school drama that swirled as an undercurrent to the whole day and brought me to the conclusion that I need to extricate myself a bit.  It begins to sour the pleasure and meaning I get from the music.  This has happened before and caused me to turn away from music that I loved, but I will not let it happen with Jack’s music.  He’s opened too many doors for me and what I get from his music and all of the music that he’s introduced me to is more important than knowing what’s going on behind the curtains and being a part of whatever “scene” any of us fans might be privileged to be a part of (or that we imagine we are a part of).  I’ll still keep track of what he’s up to because what he does is so important and inspiring and there's no way I'll give up any shows or events of this sort that I can afford to get to, but it’s time for me to take one or two steps back from the community, out of the drama and away from the temptation to take any sort of lead.  

Now, lest it seem that I had a miserable soap opera of a day, rest assured that there was much fun as well.  It’s impossible to be within sight of the black, red, yellow, and blue walls of Third Man Records and not become at least a little giddy with excitement.  At one point, a camera man working for PBS overheard me talking about my 11-plus hour drive from DC and asked whether he could interview me for an upcoming documentary about the history of vinyl records.  The 90 minute show will apparently go all the way back to sheet music and from there follow our desire to save music for posterity, with a focus on the vinyl format.  He wanted me to talk about why I’d been compelled to travel such a long distance to Third Man and what it is that makes vinyl records so special.  I feel like I completely babbled and, of course, can now sit here and think of so many things I should’ve said that didn’t come to mind impromptu, but it doesn’t matter because what I did say will probably end up on a cutting room floor anyway (Note: Need to watch for the show to come on ‘cause it sounds like it’s going to be very informative and interesting).  What matters is that what’s going on at Third Man is being noticed and I tried in that brief interview to sum up why it should be—It’s their passion, their contagious excitement for what they do, their love of history, their kid-in-a-candy-store joy for technology both old and sometimes new, their driving compulsion to always be making something, anything, unique and special that’s either never existed before or that used to exist but doesn’t any longer, all for the purpose of getting people to be involved with music.  And the fact that the music, that nebulous, intangible thing that affects us emotionally and neurologically in ways that I don’t think will ever be fully understood, is all wrapped up in tangible, interactive forms makes it a heady concoction that can be as intoxicating as any drug.  And a damned sight healthier for us.  It’s this that I want to experience, that I will travel hours and hours to feed off of and then carry the feeling of back home with me.  All the rest is either just icing or, in some cases, bits of burned crumbs on the bottom of the pan.  Give me that yellow, black, and white cake, with or without extra icing, and I’ve got all that I need.

And, finally, here is one of the other big reasons that I was so eager to make that long drive to Third Man-- To experience one of the most visible signs of their sense of whimsy, a bidet installed on the ceiling of the men's room as a functioning shower. I couldn't reach the controls, but was able to jump high enough to smack the upside-down towel.

Photo by Daniel Kitching

April 18, 2013

The art (?) of conversation

You know how some paintings are obvious masterpieces?  A perfect unity of color, line, perspective, and form culminating in something that provokes, inspires, and moves people.  And how some other paintings are just a big jumbled mess that makes you wonder why the artist ever put paint to canvas, or that, even worse, actually offends?  Conversation is a lot like that.  Chris Cornell once wrote in The Day I Tried to Live, "The words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head." Those words resonated with me, and have become even more apropos now that so many of my conversations take place via the written word here on the interwebz. Pretty much everyone realizes the disconnect-- Without tone of voice and facial expression to help with conveying the meaning of your words, you're at the mercy of them being interpreted in a myriad of unexpected ways, no matter how carefully you try to choose them. 

For example, you can be happily conversing in a chatroom when someone mentions what they're eating. Completely off the top of your head, you type "I haven't eaten that since I was a kid". On your end of the internet, it's nothing more than a statement of fact and you're thinking "Wow, it's been a long time since I had that" and the words you both typed and thought are accompanied by nostalgic memories from childhood. On the other end of the internet, though, there are people thinking "Wow, she just insulted that person's taste in food. She must think she's better than people who eat that." How does that happen? 

On another occasion, you could write something with a lighthearted, joking intent, with a mischievous grin on your face as you type, only to find out that people on the receiving end are deciding that you're a disrespectful troll hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. How does that happen? 

I often wonder if people interpret the written words they read in a tone that they themselves might use, depending on what their own mood is at the moment, instead of stopping to think about the person who wrote the words, and what they know about that person. You'd think that enough of us have experienced this phenomenon to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to not assume the other's intent quite so quickly. Perhaps we're all too busy multi-tasking. Or, perhaps, that fatal flaw of faceless, voiceless communication will never be completely overcome.  How on earth did people handle this sort of thing back in the days of letter writing?

On the flipside, there are also times when this weird disconnect can be intentionally manipulated, such as when you sit at your desk in a state of miserable depression and, by scattering a few exclamation points and smiley emoticons through your words, convince the people on the other end of the internet that you're actually quite cheerful. Funny, that. 

I don't know about you, but I don't know what to say. I don't think I ever will.