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.


Thankfulness: Chinese Democracy, At Last

In all seriousness, I would be truly grateful for actual democracy in China, but today I'm tongue-in-cheekily grateful for the release of Guns n' Roses' looooooong-anticipated album, Chinese Democracy. Hipsters who love GnR in a semi-closeted, ironic way; metal fans; and 1980s nostalgics alike can now breathe a sigh of relief as the great opus from W. Axl Rose and company is released to conflicting critical assessments (Jon Pareles is disappointed; David Fricke is enraptured; Pitchfork has not yet weighed in) and free Dr. Pepper, (today only -- bizzarely, the coupon makes no mention of the album tie-in, though it was kind of a big deal a few months ago) through Best Buy only.

Which makes me wonder: how are libraries going to get this album on the shelves for their patrons? Will Best Buy accept Purchase Orders? Of course, Best Buy & libraries may be utterly beside the point, as Chinese Democracy has logged over 3 million listens on MySpace Music to date, making it the the site's most listened-to album ever. I also have to wonder if all those listens will translate to similarly huge sales, and if they'll be enough to launch a tour (which would be considerably more lucrative than album sales), and if they do, if Rose will be mentally up to such an endeavor.

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And party every day

A few months ago, I was chatting with some co-workers and they started talking about music. Many of the people I work with are really into classical music and opera, and they were comparing favorites. Now, I enjoy classical music and opera as much as everyone else, but I also, as many of you know, really like rock. So I had to ask, "Am I the only person in this room who listens to Led Zeppelin?"

Because I was the only person in the room who listened to Led Zeppelin, I was recruited to put together a list for November's BCCLSVisor, a monthly reader's advisory feature that offers lists of books on every topic from autism to the modern-day vampire. The list is now available for your perusing/collection development/rock music debating pleasure: Rock and Roll all Night. It has albums that represent the sounds of the past five decades, plus books on musicians and the rock genre.

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Best albums of the decade: What do you own?

My favorite New York radio station, 92.3 K-Rock, is holding an online battle for the best albums of the decade so far. Of course, a rock station is going to have a very different opinion on what the best albums of the decade are so far than a Top 40 or a country station would, but there's an important point here: These are albums that make up the hard rock/metal canon of 2000-2010 (with a little alternative thrown in), and the top vote-getters are probably good bets for libraries to buy if you don't already own them. As of the writing of this post there are 150 albums up for voting. If I could only buy five of them for my library, I'd pick:

Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace by the Foo Fighters
American Idiot by Green Day
Hot Fuss by the Killers
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2

Are these my personal favorites from the list? No, save for Stadium Arcadium, but they are the ones with wide appeal, good reviews, Grammy nominations and wins, and the ones with the songs the average radio listener is likely to recognize and therefore request from the library. As rock fans look back on the 1990s and remember albums like Nevermind, Metallica, Automatic for the People, Ten, and The Downward Spiral, these are five albums that I think will be remembered a decade from now.

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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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Friday Fun: My Favorite Pop Culture Reference Sites

Happy Friday, all! This week, I'd like to share three of my favorite pop culture reference sites for those idiosyncratic information needs to which I love to cater [admittedly, usually my own, but I'm always happy to share]:

Second Hand Songs: "Find out who performed the original version of a particular song, or who covered the song." Great to consult before making your iPod playlists. "Great party! Love the three-layer dip! Oh, is this Rob Base? No, wait...it's Lyn Collins!"

The Hype Machine: Aggregates MP3 blogs; you can search for a particular song or artist and/or find the artists that are most often blogged and searched. "Hype Spy" lets you see what other people are doing on the site RIGHT THIS MINUTE! Fun!

Rocklopedia Fakebandica: A great way to kill about eleven hours without even realizing it. It calls itself the "ultimate fake band list" and it's not kidding, despite not being updated since last September. Sure, there's Spinal Tap, but there's also The Bower Family Band, as featured in the 1968 Disney flick The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, the plot of which involves the family band attempting to perform their original hit "Let's Put it Over with Grover [Cleveland]" at the 1888 Democratic National Convention and the stars of which include Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn YEARS before they started permanently living in sin!

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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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Wednesday Night Lights: Band Names

So on my Twitter feeds today, Merlin Mann linked to Google Trends and made the comment that it could be a "One-stop shop for band names."

Google Trends, if you didn't know already, is a constantly updated list of search terms that were used on a given day. Or as Google puts it:"Google Trends aims to provide insights into broad search patterns. Several approximations are used when computing your results. Please keep this in mind when using it." You can even click into the terms to see its search volume.

Going back to Merlin's idea, if I look at the current list, I see search phrases that could be emo band names like "mock turtle soup," "aunt jemima recall," "identical triplets," and "posh puppy." This made me think of an off-the-cuff remark I made at Midwinter that the great and mighty Linda Braun tweeted about. For the click adverse, I muttered the phrase 'guilt by proxy' and Linda thought that was a great Rock Band band name.

The more I look at the Google Trends page, the more applications I can see. You could use it to write quizes for what was on people's minds on certain days. It could be an informal research tool in the same manner. You could use the search terms as writing prompts. The Trends only go back to May of last year, so you couldn't use it to make a display of "things on people's minds one year ago today." But, as long as May represents when they started tracking Trends, in a few months you should be able to make such a display.



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
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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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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Forget the Police, Here's Crowded House

Don't get me wrong, the Police were a youthful favorite of mine, but their reunion tour does nothing for me. Crowded House, on the other hand? That's a love that has transcended time, space, and the tragic suicide of their drummer, Paul Hester. And now they're back with a new album, and a reunion tour, and I could not be happier. I can't really think of a way to tie this into libraries, besides maybe having a display of materials of bands you thought would never get back together? The Police, the Eagles, the Who, Van Halen (the true soap opera of rock -- they're going to tour! No, they won't! Diamond Dave is back! No, he's totally fired!), et al. To be totally honest, this is a post for my husband, who is a Crowded House superfan.

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Rock & Roll Mamas (and The Library)

I found clips from the forthcoming documentary Rock & Roll Mamas, which promises to showcase "the struggles and triumphs of both emerging and established rock stars who are also mothers" via a link at Babble.com. You can view clips on YouTube of notable female rock luminaries such as Suzanne Vega, Corin Tucker (ex of Sleater-Kinney), Zia McCabe (of the Dandy Warhols) and Kristen Hersh (ex of Throwing Muses).

As of the filmmaker's most recent blog post, there are only 5 minutes of edited footage, so it's not as though this is a movie coming to a theater near you in the next month or so. Still, it's worth noting for a few reasons:

  • This is a documentary which will appeal to lots of new, youngish parents. The musicians whose interviews are showcased on YouTube are perhaps not famous in a Beatlemania sort of way, but they are very well known in their own way. Does your library hold CDs by these artists? If so, you can cross-promote two collections at once when the DVD comes out.
  • This is a project you can replicate, cheaply & easily, at your own library with a video camera, a USB or firewire cable, and some editing software, in about 15 minutes after storytime. Call it Your Town Mamas, and post your videos as responses to the videos already hosted at YouTube! Who knows, maybe you have the next YouTube star singing along with "The Wheels on the Bus." She's so money, and she doesn't even know it.
  • This is just one more entry in the endless parade of examples you can file under DIY for the nanotech age. This is what our present era is about: people creating their own content and using it to make connections with others. On a broader scale, look at what John & Hank Green and their devoted Nerdfighters are doing for microfinanciers kiva.org, through their Brotherhood 2.0 project. This is amazing, world-transforming stuff! I'm not saying that Rock & Roll Mamas rises to the level of transforming the world at the macro level, but I think it will at a micro level ("Hey, having a baby will change my life, but I'll still be myself!"), and I bet Your Town Mamas would have a similar effect. Consider it a kaffeeklatsch for the digital age.

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