Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2009-03-20

Where The Music Is

Whatever else you may think of Jimmy Fallon and his entree into late night host-dom (and actually, I think he is okay. Not brilliant, but okay, which is fine for now), the dude wears great suits, has some seriously awesome music going on. First of all, The Roots are his house band, which is cool for several reasons:

  1. The Roots are from Philly, which, living as it does in New York's shadow, needs all the cultural visibility it can get;
  2. The Roots flat-out rule. They are tighter than skinny jeans and way, way more flattering to everyone's figure. Yes, even your size 2 teenage daughter looks better when listening to The Roots.
  3. Questlove, the Roots' drummer, wears a pick comb in his 'fro at all times. This will never not be cool, although due to the complex calculus of cool, it is only cool for Questlove to sport this look.
Anyway, The Roots are versatile and they both rap and rock, and I think it says something pretty great about Jimmy that he hired a house band that is several [hundred] times more professional & entertaining than he is. I think he's also shown impressive depth of musical knowledge & passion with his musical guests on the show. Thus far, musical guests have included Glen Hansard (of Once fame, singing the wonderful, slightly obscure R.E.M. song "Hairshirt"), Santigold, the Virgins, Ludacris, Public Enemy, and on Wednesday night, hipster dreamboats Vampire Weekend, playing a brand-new song off their as-yet-lacking-a-release-date second album:



Like Conan before him, Fallon is using his position as a late-night host to promote not just whoever has a new album coming out, but artists he is personally passionate about, which is great for those of us purchasing or handselling music in a library setting. As he provides lesser-known acts (and classic acts wanting to reach a new audience, such as Public Enemy) with a national venue for their work, he makes it easy for us to do listener's advisory. Because his show is archived at the show's website and at Hulu (not to mention YouTube), it's easy to say to a patron, "oh, you missed Glen Hansard's performance? Let me pull that up for you -- it was lovely! If you like it, you may be interested in the Once soundtrack, some of his work with The Frames, or Green, which is the R.E.M. album this song originally appeared on."

When I hear colleagues fretting about the Internet putting us out of a job, I think about the kinds of cross-media connections we can make for our patrons, and teach them to make for themselves, and I think there may be a future for us, after all.

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2009-02-05

Lux Interior, RIP

The LA Times music blog reports that Lux Interior, co-founder and lead singer of seminal psychobilly band The Cramps has died at age 60. Full obit here. If you've never heard of the Cramps (indeed, my own knowledge of them extends not much farther than rocking out to a few great singles on various compilations and an appreciation for Poison Ivy's unique fashion stylings), here's a lovely, succinct analysis of why they matter:

The band's lack of a bassist and its antagonistic female guitarist quickly set it apart from its downtown peers and upended the traditional rock band sexual dynamic of the flamboyant, seductive female and the mysterious male guitarist.

[...]

The band's influence can be clearly felt among lauded minimalist art-blues bands, including the Black Lips, the White Stripes, the Horrors and Primal Scream, whose front man, Bobby Gillespie, allegedly named his son Lux.
Pitchfork has a nice obit, as well, featuring some great live clips, including their 1984 performance in a mental institution.

Allmusic's analysis is delightful, as well:

[...] the Cramps celebrate all that is dirty and gaudy with a perverse joy that draws in listeners with its fleshy decadence, not unlike an enchanted gingerbread house on the Las Vegas strip.
Yes!

Allmusic's entry on the Cramps is particularly useful if you're looking to offer some listener's advisory to distraught fans (or to folks who'd never even heard of the Cramps before but are curious about their sound). Check the list of Moods & Genres -- if you click "trashy", for example, you'll be brought to this page, which lists similar moods, trashy albums highlights, and top trashy artists. It's so well organized and so browse-friendly that it's easy to get lost in there, but what a wonderful time you'll have!

Bust out the crushed-velved blazer (in black with blood red piping, please) and black eyeliner, folks, while you put together a display to honor Mr. Interior featuring but by no means limited to:

  • All of your trashiest rock biographies;
  • CDs by Iggy Pop, White Stripes, Elvis, and other artists you find on AllMusic;
  • Movies by John Waters;
  • Maybe some pink flamingos (you know, the ones for putting on one's lawn)?
Other ideas? Put 'em in the comments.

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2008-12-12

Friday Fun with Pancake Mountain

What could be better than a Pancake Mountain? How about a tv show, ostensibly and mostly for kids, featuring live performances by some kickass bands, an amblyopic host called Captain Perfect, with the nonexistent "board" of the show as his enemies? What if that show was called Pancake Mountain? Well, it is, and it beat the also-awesome Yo Gabba Gabba to the party for kids shows that don't suck by several years on public access TV in Washington DC.

The show was created by producer Scott Stuckey (yes, of those Stuckeys) and features Captain Perfect and a goat puppet named Rufus Leaking who attends band press briefings and music festivals, plus cartoons, music videos, and footage from several Pancake Mountain Dance Parties, which are basically concerts for kids where no "kid's music" is actually allowed. Pancake Mountain has featured acts like Thievery Corporation, Arcade Fire, Steel Pulse, M.I.A., The Melvins, and even legends like Billy Idol, Henry Rollins, The B-52s, and George Clinton. Rufus is a hilarious interviewer, rude without being crass, and the amount of awesome kids get exposed to in just one episode of Pancake Mountain handily offsets a Wiggles Marathon's worth of suck.

Pancake Mountain episodes are available on DVD and would be great in the youth video -- or the non-youth video --- collection, because the show only airs in a few cities and full episodes aren't around much online. Plus, these discs are a slam dunk for the emerging hipster parent demographic who has already torn through Here come the ABCs and Here come the 123s and have been given hope that children's tv doesn't have to stink all the time.

Because the show airs on cable access, you can also consider trying to get Pancake Mountain to be broadcast in your community, especially if you're colocated or affiliated with your cable access channel. At my library, we've been able to bring Pancake Mountain to the good children of Ann Arbor, Mondays at 6PM, and we hope to get Rufus out someday to stage a PM Dance Party of our own.

Check out Pancake Mountain, but realize that you may never look at kid's TV the same way again. In a good way!

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2008-08-20

Music, Music Everywhere, But Not a Note to Plink

I'm on a constant need to discover new music. It doesn't take long for me to get bored with something. Mostly, that's because I play something so much when I'm into it that I make myself sick of it. (currently overdoing it on Katy Perry)

This started in High School. I listened to a lot of heavy metal. And I wasn't choosy about it. I listened to everything from Slayer to Poison. I read a few magazaines religiously (Circus, Hit Parada, Metal Maniacs), watched Headbanger's Ball on MTV (I'm sure our readers remember when MTV played music, right?), listened to the rock radio stations, and traded tapes and albums with friends.

When those resources weren't enough, I'd tune in WMSE (91.7) and listen to alternative radio (REAL alternative radio), watched 120 minutes on MTV (I was the only person I knew listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More in 1986), and found more obscure magazines (like Thrasher, the skateboard magazine that covered hardcore) that covered lesser known bands.

Then I hit college and it all exploded. I spent two years in the dorms re-configuring my head. Instead of being the kid that listened to all the unusual music, I met person after person who had entire collections of music that I had never heard of. There were amazing music stores like The Exclusive Company and B-side Records; and many used CD/vinyl stores where you could swap and trade like mad. We signed each other up for BMG and Capitol music services (BMG was better since you only have to buy one CD, and got two for every friend who signed you up) and increased our music collection exponentially.

Then I graduated. And I wasn't around a music scene. And I wasn't living in a place with a high concentration of young people looking for something new. And yet, I still wanted to learn about new bands.

For a long time, I subscribed to the CMJ music magazine and got a CD every month of 20 or so songs from new albums from established artists and tracks from new artists. It was great for a long time, and then in 1998 or so, what I got via CMJ didn't interest me anymore. What was I going to do?

We did have satellite television, which gave us satellite radio. That was cool. But whether it was Sirius or XM, there wasn't enough variety for me to find new stuff. We watch the Brit Awards, and that gives us new British music that isn't covered here in the States. iTunes gives me Internet radio, but in some ways it makes me feel overwhelemd with choices (current German pop? um, how much do I have to listen to before I can move onto one of the other 100 international stations?). We watch VH1's Top 20 countdown every week, and that at least keeps me on top of popular new music, but where do I find the edge stuff?

This isn't a unique problem; people often get stuck in the music they loved in High School or college. It's comfortable and familiar. It makes you feel young. It was one time in your life when you HAD time to follow music.

I'm too busy these days to scour magazines or chase around the internet for music. I tried to wrestle Marcus away from Sophie, but she won't give him up. Any suggestions as to how/where to find new music?
_____________________________
PS-Sorry for the long time away, folks. I was essentially out of town for a few weeks. There's a more detailed story here if you're interested.

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2008-04-30

Wednesday Night Lights: 1992's Influence on Music

This is quite long, I'm sorry for that. Once I got going, I couldn't stop. Also, I've linked primarily to Wikipedia articles for consistency of style.

It seems that I'm on a roll with music lately. The other day I was listening to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks' new album, and there were some bits and pieces of it that reminded me of Nirvana. That got me thinking back to when I first heard Nirvana. Well, not first heard, but when I first bought Nevermind on casette. That's right, I bought Nevermind on casette.

This was 1991/1992 so portable CD players existed, but they were iffy. You were better off with a portable casette player since the CDs tended to skip. A lot. So if I was trying something out, I'd get it on casette. Nevermind came out in September of 1991 (is that really 17 years ago!?) and I had heard/seen "Smell Like Teen Spirit" a bunch.

No one knew who they were; not me, not my friends. I already was listening to Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. Without knowing it, I was already keying into the Seattle sound, aka "grunge."

I decided "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a strong enough song that I would pick up the album. A friend was coming into town that weekend, and we swung by a record store on the way to my place. I picked up the casette, having no idea what lay in store for us.

To show how dorky I am, the weekend was spent listening to Nevermind (the casette didn't have the hidden track that's on the CD, so the auto-reverse would just flip the tape over and we'd get the other side) over and over and over and over again while we played Super Mario Bros. That was basically it.

The album was brilliant. I couldn't get enough of it. My roommates and my friend...? They had their fill. Thankfully for them, I could listen to it in my trusty Sony Walkman.

In early 1992 (see, I'm bringing the title of this post in) Nevermind hit #1. Music was changing. The grunge music was in full swing, causing a ton of Seattle-based bands to get signed to record deals so that labels had a grunge artist in their list. I bought a lot of that music, and I won't even try to list it all.

Even outside of Seattle, you had releases from bands like San Diego's Stone Temple Pilots, who had a definite Seattle or grunge quality to their music. I was in my third year of college, and music was hugely important to me. I was in bands, playing guitar, singing, doing all the things that I thought would make me a rock star (except actually working hard at it, of course).

On top of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, there was the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and they both got me thinking about 1992 again. And I was curious what was released that year and what sort of influence it had. I came up with a short list of, in my opinion, hugely influential in music.

In addition to grunge, there was Rage Against the Machine (RATM) with their self-titled debut. This didn't sound like any of the Seattle music. This was quite different. And it had a lot of say. Even today, sixteen years later, I can listen to the first RATM machine and became angry due to the content of the lyrics. Highly politicized, RATM caused controversy wherever they went:
"At a 1993 Lollapalooza appearance in Philadelphia, the band stood onstage naked for 15 minutes with duct tape on their mouths and the letters PMRC painted on their chests in protest against censorship by the Parents Music Resource Center. Refusing to play, they stood in silence with the sound emitted being only audio feedback from Morello and Commerford's guitars."
Sca-core band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones released their first full-length album More Noise and Other Disturbances. I saw them for free at the student union, and can safely say that was the craziest show I've ever been to.

While I didn't come upon the album until much later, Gordon from the The Barenaked Ladies came out in 1992. And I'm not ashamed to admit that the Barenaked Ladies are my favorite band. I saw them on a whim in 2000, and metaphorically kicked myself for missing out on the band for so many years. Although to be honest, I probably would have hated them at the time.

It was all good, 1992 foisted a full Right Said Fred album on us, and Color Me Badd had a #2 single with "I Wanna Sex You Up" (sorry, no links...I can't bring myself to do it). This was the type of stuff that was burning up the charts prior to grunge. I, for one, was glad that grunge came along.

But what about the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy? Who the heck were they? Well, frontman Michael Franti has gone on to form Spearhead, and like RATM, use his music to bring awareness to political issues that are often overlooked in the United States. But there's more. The album Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury introduced us to the work of a young guitarist named Charlie Hunter.

Hunter is a jazz guitarist, and one of my favorite musicians. He plays an eight-string guitar (although now I see he's moved down to a seven-string) and performs both the guitar and bass lines on the same instrument simultaneously.

Here's where things get funky, Hunter's 2001 album Songs from the Analog Playground featured the vocals of a young songstress, Norah Jones, who of course went on to win a Grammy for Best New Arist with her 2002 alubm Come Way with Me. When I first heard "Don't Know Why," I couldn't figure out why her voice sounded familiar. Then I figured it out. I had heard it a year earlier.

If not for the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (who I found through the Alternative Tentacles album Virus 100, a compilation of Dead Kennedys cover songs) we might not have heard of Norah Jones. Considering the talent level of Hunter and Jones, it's likely we would have heard of them regardless, but the connection is there.

Jones' Come Away with Me hit #1 on the charts in 2002, ten years after Nevermind hit #1. Things had changed over those ten years, not least of all Kurt Cobain's tragic suicide. My own musical tastes had changed to allow in artists like the Barenaked Ladies and Norah Jones. What albums from 1992 resonated for you? From 2002? What musical connections do you know about that are kind of cool and funky (if not obscure)?

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2008-02-29

Fun Friday: Music Trivia Quiz

I tried coming up with a unifying theme for this quiz, but I am recovering from a broken foot and just started a new job (more on that later -- it's awesome and I love it), so I am slacker girl this week.

1) What do the following albums have in common?

Weezer, Weezer
Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers [UPDATE: this is wrong -- see the comments]
Guided By Voices, Do The Collapse
Bad Brains, God of Love

2) What was legendary British DJ John Peel's favorite song?

3) When The Modern Lovers broke up and Jonathan Richman went solo, which notable New Wave bands did some of its members go on to join, and who were the members?

4) What do the following artists have in common?
Bryan Adams
Shania Twain
AC/DC
The Cars
Def Leppard

5) Who are (according to some reports) the real-life Terry and Julie in the great Kinks song Waterloo Sunset?

First person to post all correct answers -- without using Wikipedia or other reference materials -- to the comments (be patient -- I'll have to approve each comment before they show up!) wins...um, something cool. Brainstorm a reasonably priced prize in the comments!

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2008-02-22

Fun Friday Musical Tastes

Right after I finished my undergrad in 1994, I subscribed to CMJ: New Music Monthly. The magazine had a full CD of new music on it every month (I have no idea if that's how they do it now or not). Every month was a whole CD of music I loved. It was great. I often looked really cool by knowing about music well before anyone else did.

I had a subscription for a couple years, and then when we moved out east in 1997, we let it lapse. Every now and then I would think about the magazine and say to myself that I should resubscribe.

So one day I bought an issue without looking at its contents. It was not pretty. Here I was a few year's out of college and there was ZERO music that I liked on the disc. Had music changed that much?

I hadn't thought much about the magazine until I found a mix CD I had burned of all the songs I really liked from the monthly CDs I had accumulated. It's a mixed bag. While I still like songs from The Stone Roses, Rake's Progress, Citizen King, and Portable, there's a lot I don't care for as much anymore. Like who? Like Jill Sobule, Hagfish, Dangerman, and Throwing Muses.

And who's heard of any of these bands these days? People think today's bands have weird names, but what about Jimmie's Chicken Shack or Fun Loving' Criminals or Ben Folds Five? The disc is a strange testament to my former music tastes. Now, Ben Folds Five is not on the mix CD since I bought their entire album, and their subsequent album, but they were a band I discovered through CMJ.

So how do you discover new music these days? Where can you point your patrons to find the hot songs of today that will be in the 'cutout bin' of tomorrow?

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2007-08-09

John Moe's Pop Song Correspondences

From McSweeney's Internet Tendency. There are no words, only gasping, hiccuping giggles. Current favorites: a letter from "The Power" to Public Enemy, Marvin Gaye explaining what he heard through the grapevine, and a retort to Carly Simon regarding her charges of vanity. Hee!

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