“It’s not quite as romantic anymore, is it?” asks David Gedge, who, with the Wedding Present and Cinerama, has made a career of describing the travails of romance. But this time, he’s talking about the state of the music industry, not love. “Downloading files onto your laptop is not quite the same as going into the shop and buying a single.”
Gedge has been sending people into record stores to buy singles—and EPs, albums and Peel Sessions—for two decades. His conversational tales of jilted suitors and helpless love slaves made the Wedding Present one of the best-loved bands in Britain, post-Smiths and pre-Blur/Oasis. Now, after an extended hiatus—his Cinerama years—Gedge has resurrected the Wedding Present with the new Take Fountain (Manifesto).
Growing up in a devout Baptist household in Knoxville, Tenn., John Davis also worshipped deities like John Lennon and Pete Townshend. He was conflicted, believing true salvation might not be divined from the word of Jesus but rather the lyrics of musical gods.
Davis did find glory, if it can be measured by Superdrag’s outstanding albums, critical success and fan adulation. He wasn’t saved by rock ’n’ roll, though. In fact, its excesses nearly killed him.
Elliott Smith, 34, died on Oct. 21, 2003. He is survived by a private history, his personal demons, questions about his death and some songs that make sense of it all. By Jonathan Valania
Something terrible happened on the night of Oct. 21, 2003, in the cozy, box-like bungalow at 1857 1/2 Lemoyne Street in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles where Elliott Smith lived with girlfriend Jennifer Chiba. In Chiba’s version of events, the couple had an argument that grew so heated she locked herself in the bathroom. At some point, she heard Smith scream and unlocked the door to see him standing with his back to her. When he turned around, there was a knife sticking out of his chest and he was gasping for breath. Panicked, Chiba pulled the knife out of him, and Smith turned and took a few steps before collapsing. Chiba called 911, and an operator talked her through CPR until the paramedics arrived. Smith was rushed to a nearby hospital, where emergency surgery to repair the two stab wounds to the heart couldn’t save his life.
Back at the house, police found a note written on a Post-It: I’m so sorry.
God forgive me.
When the coroner’s report was finally issued in January 2004, the nature of Smith’s death was maddeningly ambiguous. While the circumstances of the case had most of the hallmarks of a suicide, certain factors also pointed to the possibility of a homicide: the absence of hesitation wounds (the nicks and cuts that come from tentative initial attempts to stab yourself), the fact that Smith didn’t remove his shirt before stabbing himself, a pair of cuts on his hand and arm that could’ve been defensive wounds incurred while fighting off an attacker. There’s also Chiba’s removal of the knife and what police characterize as her refusal to cooperate with investigators, all of which leaves the precise nature of Smith’s death in limbo. Chiba has since refuted police reports that she didn’t cooperate, but the case remains officially open and under investigation.
You don’t have to go looking for the blues in the Black Keys’ hometown of Akron, Ohio: The blues will find you. By Andrew Parks
Ohio’s Economic Portrait—The Heartache Of It All
“Ohio lost about five times the number of jobs from 2000-2004 that it lost during the 1990-92 recession.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer, page A1, Oct. 21, 2004
Patrick Carney’s car, a 1969 MGB roadster that’s barely big enough to accommodate his six-foot-five frame, won’t start. The drummer for the Black Keys is currently behind the wheel of a loaner: his grandfather’s silver, boat-sized Cadillac Coup DeVille. Along with Black Keys singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach, Carney is giving MAGNET a guided tour of the five miles that matter in Akron, Ohio: a dismal stretch that includes one decent record store, an antiquated, single-screen movie theater and lots of bars. Carney cues up Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” on his iPod and begins to narrate details about his hometown.
On “Cruel But Honest Fortune,” from Jay Bennett’s The Beloved Enemy (Undertow), the ex-Wilco multi-instrumentalist sounds like he’s headed for the edge. “There’s a cruel but honest fortune inside every misery,” he sings over a loose-stringed guitar. When reached at his studio in Chicago, however, Bennett laughs and swears the quiet, near-murder ballads that fill Enemy, his second solo album of 2004, aren’t really that out of character.
“I think it’s a sad record, and I wouldn’t say there’s resolution, either,” he says. “I didn’t put this out to say hello and then invent, investigate, experiment with this side of me. I’ve always done this kind of stuff. I’ve got tracks like these that have been around for 10 years.”
Bennett is often portrayed as Wilco’s shaggy dude with dreadlocks, a guy you suspected was always a bigger influence on records like Summerteeth than he was given credit for. Bennett admits he’s a “pop guy,” which only makes the stark nature of Enemy that much more surprising. Even the album’s best songs—the tender “My Little Valentine,” “If I Forget How To Land” (a duet with alt-country singer Michelle Anthony)—are bereft and brooding.
Don’t attribute the melancholy heard on Enemy to Bennett being unceremoniously booted from Wilco in 2001, however. As sordidly documented in the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Bennett (who, through selective editing, comes across as the bad guy) was anti-climactically fired for erratic behavior and various drug offenses. But he doesn’t want to rehash the film or his departure from the band, other than to assert that his new album isn’t about Wilco or Jeff Tweedy.
“No, that record would have been called The Fucking Enemy,” says Bennett with a hoarse laugh. “How do you tell someone you’ve moved on? I’ve moved on. I lost a wife and had two uncles and my grandmother die. Come on, compare that to a guy whose head was getting so big there was no longer room in the room. I didn’t have to go mining for subject matter on this one. On the list of pain I was feeling, not being in Wilco is so far down it’s ridiculous. It was an exorcism in a way, but I wasn’t the most depressed guy in the world when I was doing it. This gave me joy.”
Bennett’s two previous post-Wilco albums—2002’s The Palace At 4am (Part 1) (recorded with Edward Burch) and 2004’s more stripped-down Bigger Than Blue—at times feature a full band. The poignant Enemy, on the other hand, is nearly a one-man show, from Bennett’s opening exclamation (“Whoa, it’s cold”) to the unlikely closing cover of Tori Amos’ “Pretty Good Year.” Rather than labor over the project for months, dubbing and overdubbing a la Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Bennett cut Enemy by himself in one week.
Keeping up his pace of writing and recording, Bennett has already finished his next album, titled The Magnificent Defeat and due out soon. “It’s the Beatle-y side of pop,” he says. “Maybe it’s the fast version of Enemy. It’s over the top in a sloppy way. Contrary to my reputation as a studio-wiz dude, this is not a return to that. It has a weird kind of energy to it, elements of light and dark.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante is learning to make brilliant mistakes on his own albums. Lots of them. By Patrick Berkery
It will take you roughly 15 minutes to read this interview with John Frusciante. In that time, the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and his frequent collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Josh Klinghoffer, might record basic tracks for six or seven songs and add percussion overdubs. Maybe that’s stretching it a bit, but such an exaggeration illustrates that, when left to his own devices, Frusciante works quickly and quite often. Half a dozen releases are scheduled to be out by year’s end on the Record Collection label, all of which were recorded, mixed and mastered in a six-month period beginning late last year.
The first release was Frusciante’s fifth solo disc, The Will To Death, which came out in June. Tracked in a handful of mad-dash sessions, the album is purposefully raw without sounding rushed. A psychedelic-rock record that’s heavy on mood and melody, Death leaves plenty of open spaces for the slow-motion beauty of Frusciante’s expressive guitar work. Also arriving under Frusciante’s own name this year are the D.C. EP (recorded with Ian MacKaye and Fugazi’s tech/second drummer Jerry Busher) and the full-lengths Inside Of Emptiness and A Sphere In The Heat Of Silence. You have to wonder where he finds the time.
Multi-instrumentalist Martin Slattery recorded and toured with Joe Strummer from 1999’s Rock Art And The X-Ray Style until Strummer’s passing. Slattery, along with his fellow Mescaleros, completed work on Strummer’s final album, Streetcore, following his death on Dec. 22, 2002. Here, he remembers his late friend.
I first met Joe in 1996, when I was playing in Black Grape. Joe was a big fan of the band. I knew of the Clash, but I didn’t really know who Joe was or what a momentous effect he had on everybody. I was talking to him and going, “Sorry mate, but what’s your name again?” Maybe that put us in good stead for the future.
It was a slow process to get to know the man. He just kept his cards close to his chest. Not in a “going in on himself” way; he was just seemingly more interested in other people and in what you had to say. That was his trip. I think it stems from a real humble streak, not just wanting to blab on about himself. He’d always be talking about other bands or other music he was into.
Obviously, Joe’s performing capability kicked everyone up a notch. A good example is playing through the tunes in rehearsal: They sounded good, but they never really came alive until Joe sang with us. There was very much the rock ‘n’ roll spirit being with Joe. One thing I’ve realized in the last couple of months is that we were in this great little world with Joe. The record company never bothered us. We always sold enough records to get through and do the next thing. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.
The last night we were in Rockfield Studios working on Streetcore, in December of 2002, everyone hit the sack about 1 a.m., but me and Joe sat up until about dawn, just talking about stuff. That night, I felt really close to him. I also had a brief chat with him on the phone a couple of days before he passed away. Just a little phone call from a mate, you know? That was what was so great about being in the band. I can genuinely say we were mates. Nobody was like, “Oh, it’s Joe Strummer!”
I haven’t a clue about Joe’s financial situation, but I know he wasn’t a millionaire. Joe could’ve made hundreds of thousands of pounds guesting on other people’s albums, showing up for this, showing up for that, but he wouldn’t do any of it. He was about creating music for himself and for him to be able to perform and give to all the people. God, the amount of people that would come backstage and say, “Joe, you changed my life … ” We never left the venue until everyone had been talked to and everyone’s records had been signed. And it wasn’t just him going, “Hey, that’s great, see you later.” We’re talking about hours. We’re talking about commitment to the whole deal—hence, why so many people feel a connection with him.
The guy bore a lot. He took a lot on his shoulders: his band, his family, hundreds of thousands of people who he felt musically responsible to. And he dealt with it amazingly. He was one of the most naturally spiritual men I’ve ever met. You read books about Daoism and stuff like that, the way it talks about going with your life: Don’t fight what’s happening, move with the world. Obviously, he fought it lyrically, but he was always cool. He moved and talked with humble authority.
Joe was into the individual: You’ve got to do what’s right for you. Which is another kind of Daoist principle. You’ve got to follow what’s in your heart and not what’s in someone else’s heart. Tuning in to your own spirit—that’s what people should take from Joe. The fact that he came from what he did. At one point, he was digging graves; at another point, he was playing at Shea Stadium. That’s the spirit of an individual: finding the self within and not relying on someone else. He did that. It was incredible—that incredible energy.
Radio City Music Hall, 1985: It’s the second annual MTV Video Music Awards, and host Eddie Murphy is in the middle of his opening monologue. As the leather-clad comedian scans the famous faces in the audience—Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Corey Hart, Wang Chung—Murphy marvels at the assemblage of big-name talent and unloads a line that gets the night’s biggest laugh: “Man, if someone dropped a bomb on this place, Glen Campbell would be the biggest star left in the world.”
It’s a measure of the colossal success he’d tasted that Campbell could laugh off such a cruel jibe. After all, he’s forgotten more of fame and fortune than anyone in that audience could possibly dream of. Once a star of stage, screen, radio and record, Campbell—at the peak of his popularity in the late ‘60s—had been bigger than the Beatles.
Like Elliott Smith—as big a Beatles fan as there probably ever was—I never met John Lennon. I saw Nirvana as many times as most people of my relative age and musical proclivities (maybe even a few more, since I was practically in their backyard when the band and grunge “broke”), but Kurt Cobain was always more of a generational icon to me than any kind of tangible presence. I was living in New York when Jeff Buckley emerged fully formed from his residency at Sin-e to go on to critical acclaim and superstardom. But standing several rows back from the stage in a Manhattan nightclub was as close as I ever got to him.
Elliott Smith, on the other hand, was decidedly real to me. Human. Humble. Flawed. Generous. Opinionated. Fragile. He was all of these things (and a good deal more) to countless others as well.
MAGNET presents a case study on the state of the music biz: an industry hopelessly addicted to the press generated by its publicity foot-soldiers and the desperate quest for artificially stimulated demand. By Corey duBrowa
A year ago, MAGNET ran a story I wrote titled “Saving Private Ryan,” which detailed Ryan Adams’ career and the wave of hype surrounding his then-current release, Gold. The story was something of a mixed bag: Adams declined to be interviewed for it; his friends, foes and ex-bandmates weighed in as they saw fit; and the resulting piece sparked three issues’ worth of letters to the editor about whether it was worthy of the space it occupied.