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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tramps like us

Credit goes to David for pointing this article out. The Dallas Morning News' Thor Christensen reviews a handful of this fall's hotly-anticipated records by acts like the Killers, Beck and Janet Jackson. Responding to a claim made by the Killers' Brandon Flowers that his band’s new album is 'one of the best albums of the last 20 years," Christensen wrote: "Every musician wants to record a classic album, but the odds against doing it are astronomical: For every disc that earns the 'timeless' tag, 10,000 wind up in the $5 bin at used-CD stores." Very true words. So I wonder: is there a bulletproof way to make something classic and timeless?

Earlier this year, Tom DeLonge shot himself in the foot by hyping his post-blink-182 band, Angels and Airwaves, himself. If there's one major lesson to be learned, it's that the general public, not the musicians, producers, record label folks or the critics, that decide if the music is good or not. How people will appreciate the record over time is really up in the air. Nine times out of ten, making bold claims becomes an albatross. Yet there are those that hope they are the lucky ones that beat the odds.

Sharing an album, a book or a piece of artwork you made is like when you bake something for a lot of people. You spend a certain amount of time preparing, mixing and heating it up and then you let people have it. The deal is, you can't put a finished book, album or artwork back in a proverbial oven once it's out there. Some people may like it, others may mildly dislike it and some may hate it so much that they can't have more than two bites. That's a major nerve-wracker. You could wonder when is the best time to unleash something. You could also wonder if it should have been released at all.

I argue that bands, writers, painters, photographers and so on need room to fail. When a lot of stakes are riding high with something, they can make for a good motivator but they could also make for a major pitfall. I think the ones creating should be passionate about what they're making. They should please themselves first and foremost, but also hope that other people can enjoy it too. Since you're making a statement that you will be held to for the rest of your life, I think you should fire on all engines. If you've got only one shot to make this statement, you can't half-ass it.

Brandon Flowers credits Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as a major inspiration for the Killers' new record, Sam's Town. Springsteen indeed thought big with his third album, Born to Run, as this appeared to be his last shot at making a record. With Born to Run, he spent months working on a record that he thought would blow people's minds and change their lives. Now I don't know if he made these claims in public before the record came out, but his hopes came true after it came out. I don't know if Springsteen thought that big with his subsequent albums like The River and Born in the U.S.A., but plenty of people of think of those records as classics too.

I recently interviewed Brian Baker about Dag Nasty's seminal, '86 record, Can I Say. He's still proud of that record, but he says there were no bold motives behind it. The lyrics and music were not written in hopes that this would ever be considered a classic. Forecasting a 27-year-old in Dallas talking with him about the genius of the record twenty years later was definitely not imagined when it came out. The band knew they had a good record, as did its producer Ian MacKaye, but they didn't think they had this golden egg on their hands.

With writing a book of my own, I hope that people get something positive out of it when it comes out. My goal is to write it in a way that will stand the test of time, but I could be totally off. I have some big inner goals but I'm not going to make any bold claims here. I'll tell you what Post is about and how it's constructed, but I'm not going to make stupid, hype-filled claims before anyone reads it. I really believe in the stories that I'm trying to tell, but how even my closest of friends will respond to it, that's a very hazy forecast right now.

As proven by Angels and Airwaves and the Killers, band members are not the best psychics. Hell, faux-psychic Miss Cleo might have had better predictions as to how We Don't Need to Whisper and Sam's Town would be received. You've got to believe in what you're doing, but on a scale where a number of jobs are at stake based on its immediate financial success, that's a really tough obstacle. Failure may not be an option, but what if it does fail to make that kind of immediate impact? Well, CDs aren't going anywhere (despite what people claim). People rediscover albums and put a new slant on them over time. In a day and age when Weezer's Pinkerton is considered a classic album (despite being originally thought of as sophomore slump/bomb), anything can truly happen.

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