Tag Archives: joe strummer

Fred Mills: 10 Records, 10 Days

What records have had the greatest impact on YOUR life? Here’s 10 of mine.

By Fred Mills

It started as an innocent Facebook “make a list” meme—favorite records, blah blah blah. Me being the extemporaneous gasbag that I am, I took the concept and ran with it. Well, strolled might be a more accurate description. But it did seem that certain records have had a profound impact upon me as a person and not simply as a music journalist. So this is not my all-time Top Ten; it’s more of a confessional. (Thanks to fellow music maniac Glenn Boothe for tagging me in the first place and getting me started here—now you know who to blame.)

 

Day 1 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

Various ArtistsGarden of Delights 3LP
(Elektra, 1971)

In ’71 my record buying options were pretty limited; I was still 3 years away from shipping off to Chapel Hill for college (but when I did finally get there, I encountered my first store that sold both new and used records, so things would ramp up considerably, as would the balance on my parents’ Visa card), and while my hometown’s five-and-dime as well as Mack’s Record Rack mom-and-pop store did stock albums and singles, including stuff like Cream, Hendrix, and Steppenwolf, the odds of them having an album like this one were pretty low. So it’s likely that I found this at a headshop in Charlotte, about an hour away, called Infinity’s End, as they had a small but vital bin of records that was very much of an underground bent. I bought my first hippie fanzine there as well, along with patches, headbands, rolling papers, etc.

This compilation was a revelation and it completely rebooted my mind, much like those great Warner Bros/Reprise 2LP “loss leaders” collections of the era had done. It’s not every day you see the Stooges, Judy Collins, Atomic Rooster, Renaissance, Love, Crabby Appleton, Incredible String Band, Spider John Koerner, Tim Buckley, Audience, and Earth Opera all on the same album, testimony to the genuinely visionary – culturally subversive, too – nature of the Elektra label at the time. And it was also my first exposure to over half the artists, notably David Ackles, Roxy, Bamboo, Rhinoceros, Koerner, Earth Opera, and the Voices of East Harlem – several became instant faves. The album also had full liner notes on the sleeves of all three LPs that detailed each artist – more fully, in fact, than the aforementioned WB/Reprise titles – effectively schooling me in ways very few albums had done previously. If this were to be released for the first time today, I’d be all over it like the true #vinylporn hound that I am.

I can’t say I’m all that interested in multi-artist anthologies these days, but in the ’70s, compilations were our mixtapes and playlists, and the gateways to discovering new music, particularly if there wasn’t a non-Top 40 radio station with reception in your hometown. So there’s both cultural significance and an emotional resonance attached to Garden of Delights for me. For the rest of you, there are plenty of cheap copies at Discogs, and I’m not sure if it’s ever been on CD, so it is well-worth the purchase.

 

Day 2 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

Flamin’ GrooviesShake Some Action (Sire, 1976)

I already owned “Teenage Head” and loved it, but when Cyril and the gang went full Carnaby Street and tuned up the 12-string, something seismic occurred. The title (and opening) track alone was downright volcanic – journalists (yours truly included) have written entire essays just on that song. And as I have mentioned many times, my family has orders to play the song at my funeral ‘cos I want folks to leave the church grinning and singing along; the ushers have been instructed to allow air guitar as well.

For me, the album also represents one of those classic scenarios you only get from walking into a record store. In ’76 I was attending UNC-Chapel Hill and living in a trailer nearby, just over the Chatham County line (no pun intended). The first North Carolina Schoolkids Records was on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill (original location, two door down from the Varsity Theater), and it had been recently opened by a young hippie couple from, if memory serves, Ann Arbor or somewhere in that vicinity of Michigan. Kinks-worshiping and savvy retail merchants, they had sized me and my musical tastes up early on and would tip me to new releases they thought I might dig. My parents didn’t “dig” the subsequent uptick on their monthly MasterCard statement… but I digress. So there I am one sunny afternoon, wandering into the store, and John, the co-owner, nodded, reached over to the bin of LPs beside the house stereo, and dug one out. “Hey Fred, I bet you’ll like this new one, you ever hear of the Flamin’ Groovies?” Yes, I had, but not the new LP. He lowered the needle onto side A, and my mind proceeded to be blasted into outer space well past the rings of Saturn….

Trust me, you won’t get anywhere near a similar experience browsing the playlists on Spotify, or letting the algo-bots of Amazon making suggestions. Support your local indie record store!

Day 3 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

Spirit 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (Epic, 1970)

The 1970-72 period yielded a ton of records that would go on to be among my all-time faves, and the 4th album by Spirit is easily in my top 10. In 1970 I was already into the band to a degree, having been primed from the get-go with early single “I Got a Line On You.” But I didn’t have all the records yet. “12 Dreams” wrapped its sonic tendrils around me like nobody’s business, and I even bought the 8-track version as well so I could hear it in the car.

In fact, the first time I heard it was on 8-track. A vivid memory I have is of riding to Charlotte with friends for a concert one evening, and as I sat in the back seat of Bryant Hunt’s green Mustang fastback, the (cough) “enhanced mood” gradually coming over me, the Spirit album unfolded in metaphysical waves to match that “mood.” I can even hear in my mind right now the telltale “ka-CHUNk!” as the 8-track player advanced each of the 4 programs. (For all you kids scratching your heads about what I’m describing: go look it up.)

Years later, in 1991, I was interviewing guitarist Randy California from Hawaii and I related that anecdote and he got a huge laugh from it – and he genuinely seemed to appreciate getting praise for his work over the years and “12 Dreams” in particular. “We did know it was special, yes,” he replied to me, ever the fanboy, asking a lot of obvious questions along with a few pretty insightful ones (if I do say so myself), when I asked him did he know it was a different kind of record when they had finished it, given that the original lineup would split very soon afterwards.

Randy died tragically in ’97 while saving his young son from a riptide off the Hawaiian coast, and I bawled when I got the news, having by that time scooped up every available Spirit record and California solo recs and well into a live tape collecting habit. I still miss him terribly, and “12 Dreams,” with key tracks like “Nature’s Way,” “Nothing to Hide,” and “Morning Will Come,” has never been too far from my heart.

Day 4 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

DJ ShadowEndtroducing (Mo’ Wax, 1996)

“The music’s coming through me”… it sure went through me, too. Sometimes a measure of a record’s timelessness is how many reissues it has undergone, and in the case of Shadow’s epochal debut, with Discogs.com listing in excess of 40 iterations, one supposes that’s a pretty strong argument. And even if you have gone for the deluxe/expanded versions, which admittedly yielded all manner of crucial-listening proximate material, remixes, reimaginings, etc., the original 1996 release is THE one to own, and THE one for unadulterated listening.

I was working at Zia Record Exchange in Tucson at the time of its release, and as the store’s import buyer, had already caught the buzz on DJ Shadow, and I subsequently ordered heavily on any imports and singles the album yielded – “What Does Your Soul Look Like” remains a stone classic of the nebulous genre known at the time as trip-hop.

Soon enough I found myself on the telephone interviewing the artist for Magnet magazine, and rather than suffer through a conversation with an obvious sampling/hip-hop neophyte (that would be me), Shadow patiently discussed his motivations and inspirations, and even a few of his methods. At one point he asked me about record stores in Tucson, and he audibly became excited when I told him about a nearby store that was 95% vinyl, one that even had a special “invite only” vinyl inner sanctum for pre-approved customers. I have no doubt that he went crate-digging in Tucson the next time he came through Arizona.

The album as a whole is soulful, nebulous, psychedelic as fuck, and amazing music to listen to barreling down the highway – a perfect road-tripping album. A few years ago Magnet had me, a former editor and contributor to the magazine, contribute to a feature on the greatest albums of the ‘90s: My choice was, no question, “Endtroducing,” and it remains my selection to this day. I’m Fred Mills, and I approved this message.

Day 5 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

The WhoLive at Leeds (1970, Decca/Track)

Another entry from the 1970-72 period that was so influential upon a young Fred Mills, stuck in a tiny North Carolina nowheresville and counting the months until he might be able to ship off to college. People will debate endlessly over WHAT IS THE GREATEST EVER LIVE ROCK ALBUM: Is it the Allman’s “Fillmore East”? The Stones’ “Ya-Ya’s”? MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams”? Nirvana’s “Unplugged”? Cheap Trick’s “Budokan”? FRAMPTON FUCKING COMES ALIVE?!? (I’ve always been mildly offended that Humble Pie’s “Rockin’ the Fillmore” doesn’t regularly make these lists, but I digress…)

Live at Leeds” is obviously “THE” greatest—there’s no comparison, no live platter as viscerally thrilling, as brick-in-face immediate, as GENUINELY live (e.g., no post-production “sweetening in the mix” going on). The original single LP still wields a hypnotic power over yours truly, just like it did in 1970 to my teenage brain. Since then, a number of expanded iterations have been released—the bootleggers, naturally, beat the band’s official label to the punch—primarily in order to showcase the “Tommy” portion of the Leeds concert that was not originally included. All versions are must-hear, a point I made in a 2,500-word review for Goldmine Magazine in 2001, on the occasion of the release of MCA’s 2-CD expanded reissue. But you still owe it to yourself to experience the record as it was originally intended, from the track sequencing to the duly noted, intermittent, crackling sounds in the audio to the memorabilia-stuffed sleeve (which was designed to mimic classic bootleg LP sleeves like the Stones title mentioned above and Dylan’s “Great White Wonder.”

Within a year of the release of “Leeds” I would finally get to see the Who in concert, in Charlotte NC touring behind “Who’s Next.” A decent chunk of “Leeds” material was still in the band’s setlist, and the show remains in my all-time Top Ten concerts… hmmm…. NO ONE on FB has ever thought about starting THAT tagging meme, right?


Day 6 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

SidewindersWitchdoctor / Auntie Ramos’ Pool Hall (1989 & 1990, Mammoth/RCA)

I’m cheating somewhat by listing two albums here. But (a) they are, indeed, of a piece, to such a degree that I sometimes find myself having a hard time remembering exactly which song goes on which album; and (b) for a long time I carried around a c90 cassette in my car that had both albums on it. The Tucson band played so-called “desert rock” – a mélange of garage and power pop with occasional classic rock leanings (think Tom Petty meets Neil Young), and infused with primal energy and some of the most pristine melodies you could get this side of Neil Diamond. It’s not a coincidence that one of their best tunes was a cover of “Solitary Man.”

By 1990 I was deeply in love with Tucson bands, thanks to discovering them via English zine Bucketful of Brains, and subsequently writing about them myself in US zine The Bob and elsewhere. By 1992 I was LIVING in Tucson, subsequently meeting and hanging out with members of the Sidewinders, River Roses, Giant Sand (including future Calexico members), Naked Prey, Al Perry & the Cattle, Rainer & Das Combo, and more. (I was a few years away from meeting this awesome Arizona band called The Beat Angels, but all in due time…) Admittedly, the grass is always greener from afar, and when I did move to Arizona and eased my way into the local music scene, some of my idealism dissipated as I realized dope really had its grip on some otherwise brilliant, talented folks and it undercut their mojo.

But even though I moved back to NC after a 10-year run in Tucson, the place permanently holds a special place in my heart. In fact, it was the Sidewinders song “Get Out of that Town” that started the love affair: One night, when my wife and I were looking at places we might want to move to, having started to burn out on Charlotte, we were literally on the verge of throwing darts at a map of the US. Pouring another glass of wine for each of us, I cued up the Sidewinders, and the aforementioned song began to play: “Get out of that shopping mall,” sang the band, “C’mon down here!” And while they were referring specifically to Arizonans getting out of Phoenix and relocating to the far more culturally progressive Tucson, the fact that we North Carolinians had been slogging away working at malls for way too long made the song seem personalized for us. Two vacations and one Mayflower moving truck to Tucson later, we arrived on July 5, 1992. The heat that first month or so just about did me in, but with the Sidewinders and some of those other bands I mentioned, I knew I’d be able to make it.

 

Day 7 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

Patti Smith Horses (1975, Arista)

This is a no-brainer. Not only did she revolutionize the whole notion of “women in rock” – in the process demolishing the earlier objectification “chicks in rock” – Patti subverted the so-called feminine “ideal,” which of course had been a patriarchal construct. In the process, she became a hero to both females and, dare I say it, males (including this one). Put another way, she grabbed the baton passed to her from the likes of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Joan Jett from the Runaways, and the Millington Sisters from Fanny, and outpaced all the subsequent rock ‘n’ roll  competition.

“Horses” itself was revolutionary, from its surreal poetry and pointed sexuality to its punk/garage musicality and invocations of an earlier rock ‘n’ roll era. I must have played it 6 times in a row the day I brought it home from the store – I still own my original copy, and it’s hopelessly battered (thank you, Record Store Day, for the 180gm reissue a few years ago).

I communed with Patti twice, in significant fashion. The first time was when the band came to Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill for the Radio Ethiopia tour, and I managed to ease my way into the stage crew by simply showing up at soundcheck and offering my services. Naturally I grabbed a few opportunities to get autographs and yak with the bandmembers. One abiding memory is of some fellow students gathering outside the venue to listen to soundcheck, a couple of them clutching gifts for Patti, and she instructed the security to let them in and allow them to stay (it was a general admission show I think). A classy lady who cares very much about “the people.” She walks it like she talks it.

The other time was not long after my mom died, a phone interview for a Goldmine Magazine cover story. Ironically, I conducted it from my mom’s house while I was living there in my home town for a few months to get it cleared out and cleaned up and ready for sale. I told her how I’d had 1996’s “Gone Again” with me during a summer beach vacation that also turned out to be the last time I’d be able to spend extended quality time with Mama – and how, ever since, I’ve associated that album with those memories. “I hope they are good memories,” Patti murmured, noting that one key through-line of the album for her was the notion of loss and how we process it. She added, “Sometimes, the role of the artist is to provide a shoulder for the rest of us to lean on when we most need it.”

Thank you, Patti, for offering that shoulder when I needed it.

Day 8 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

Joe Strummer & the MescalerosGlobal A-Go-Go (2001, Hellcat)

This FB exercise is technically about albums that “made an impact” on me, and not an all-time Top Ten list; for the latter, my list would probably change every year, whereas here I’ve been talking about stuff closer to Desert Island Disc territory. The second Strummer/Mescaleros album certainly qualifies, and not simply because it has some kickass music on it while also showing off Joe’s more eclectic impulses as well as his democratic approach to fronting a band.

Prior to its release I had a CDR promo of the album from Hellcat as I was preparing a couple of stories on Joe, one of them for the Phoenix New Times (I interviewed him over the phone from England in advance of some Southwest and West Coast shows; at this point we had given birth to our son in early 2001 so we’d moved back from AZ to NC to be closer to family, but I was still writing for a couple of weeklies in the region… ah, the good old days of freelancing, when you could actually make a credible living as a music writer…). I had also arranged to interview in person in NYC, where the band was going to appear at Irving Plaza the same week as the CMJ convention; this was to be a cover story for Magnet Magazine. So the morning of my flight north had arrived, my bags were packed – along with my Strummer notes – and sitting beside the front door. Then the phone rang, and it was my wife’s sister: “Turn on the TV fast.”

This was the morning of 9/11. You know the rest. Needless to say, my plans changed instantly.

(I would still get my NYC sojourn, a month later, as Strummer’s original date was cancelled and rescheduled. And I’d still write my cover story, even winding up in Dick Rude’s Strummer doc “Let’s Rock Again,” which included footage of the band onstage and backstage at Irving Plaza. Strummer was awesome. We talked about 9/11 a little, too, and it clearly had shaken him as well.)

But for the time being, the psychic discombobulation of 9/11 was profound, and intense. We decided to get away from TV and news reports for a few days and rented a cabin near Asheville, about 4 hours away from my hometown where we’d been living. The only media we consumed on the trip were newspapers and WNCW-FM, a community station out of nearby Spindale with a heavy Americana focus. Not a talk or news station. And as it turns out, the just-released Mescaleros album had gone into heavy rotation on WNCW, so it basically became my de facto soundtrack for the mountain trip.

To this day, I associated the songs on the record, and Joe in general, with 9/11, all the shock and horror and grief… and the deep, abiding sense of relief and love I took from knowing that I had been with my wife and kid, and not on a flight to NYC, when the towers fell. Those feelings of relief and love, and a kind of mental smile, are what I still experience when I listen to “Global A-Go-Go.” What a gift. Thanks, Joe.

 

 

Day 9 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

The SlitsCut (1979, Island Records)

Like all of the other entries I’ve been writing about, this album has a significance for me that goes far beyond the music. Of that music: released during the punk explosion, its blazing blend of rock and dub was unlike anything else I’d been listening to, and it quickly went into heavy rotation on the Mills stereo. That the nude cover itself was outrageous goes without saying, a bold feminist statement intended to both shock – it wasn’t every day you’d see three attractive young females standing topless and deliberately de-prettifying themselves so overtly; this was not a strip club mud wrestling depiction, in other words – and teach. I’m pretty sure more than a few record stores sold it in a paper bag, or at least with paper across the breasts. I like to call this record, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the dub.”

Cut to late 2004, and I’m on the phone to the Slits’ Ari Up. A slightly expanded CD of “Cut” was about to be released in the US, so I was doing a story for Harp Magazine on the record and the band. She was utterly delightful, with a great memory for detail, a self-deprecating sense of personal pride, and comfortable in her own skin and with her legacy, which certainly wasn’t a huge as, say, her peers in the Clash or the Pistols, but she knew that the Slits had been pretty damn influential, and an inspiration to female rockers operating in a male-centric music business. One memorable portion of the conversation involved her recounting some of the harassment she’d experienced as a woman, particularly a woman who “invited” abuse by being deliberately in-your-face, visually.

She even teased me a little when we talked about the LP sleeve and I mentioned that I’d had it up on my wall across from my desk: “You haven’t said yet how good I look on my website,” she giggled, referring to her current musical activities. I think I mumbled something about downloading photos off her website to hang beside the Slits album, and her throaty laughter told me she was pleased that she could still work her charms on a hapless male journalist.

A few years later I would interview her again about her solo projects, and she was just as much fun a conversationalist; I’d also get to see her performed with a reunited Slits during SXSW one year. She passed away, sadly, in late 2010, following a battle with cancer.

I’ll never forget that wicked laugh of hers, and I have hopes that now, in the #metoo era, a new generation of young female artists will discover her and her music and draw inspiration from it.

 

Day 10 of 10 days. 10 all-time favorite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list. Post the cover, no need to explain (unless you want to), and then nominate one of your FB friends to share theirs.

[TIE] U2The Unforgettable Fire (1984, Island) / Dream SyndicateMedicine Show (1984, A&M

Obviously I’m cheating here for my final entry by listing two. But my mid-’80s memories are indelibly inked with these two classics, and they continue to inform my emotions and ideals to this day.

“I got a Page One story buried in my yard”:@ The Dream Syndicate‘s second full-length hit me with a psychic immediacy I didn’t anticipate, for as powerful as its predecessor, “The Days of Wine and Roses,” was, this -to me, at least – marked a quantum leap in both the songwriting of frontman Steve Wynn and the collective group’s ability to remain true to its Amerindie ethos and its willingness to step into the void and embrace the potential of mass appeal. (We can all thank R.E.M. for laying down that particular blueprint…)

To this day, both the smouldering noir-rock narrative “Burn” and psych-skronk epic “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” bring me to my knees, and with last year’s return to the record bins by the band, accompanied by extensive touring, it’s clear from that Wynn understands that he and his band have created a legacy as meaningful as any rock band you’d care to mention. And what a timeless album he and his compadres crafted. I feel honored to have seen the Dream Syndicate in its prime and touring behind the record, and even more chuffed to have interviewed Wynn when it finally got remastered and reissued on CD, a free-wheeling conversation that detailed the lead-up to, the making of, and the aftermath surround “Medicine Show.” (Read it here: http://blurtonline.com/…/scene-crime-steve-wynn-dream-synd…/ ) There’s not a bad record in the D.S. or Wynn solo catalog, and the group has become a contemporary force unto itself with 2017’s “How Did I Find Myself Here.” But “Medicine Show” is in a league all its own. Front-page news, indeed.

U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” has a specific Mills backstory I’ve told many times, so just go here ( http://blurtonline.com/feature/joshua-tree-u2/ ) to read it in case you are so inclined. In a nutshell, the 1984 album came out at a time when I was neck-deep in publishing a U2 zine called U2/USA, and as the band hadn’t quite gone mega in the U.S. just yet – that would come with in 1987, with “The Joshua Tree” – little publications such as ours were still able to enjoy access (and in our case, occasional unlimited access) to the U2 extended family. Sitting alone in an Atlanta arena dressing room with Bono one night, after the concert, and passing a bottle of wine back and forth while conducting an interview, is one of those “tell the grandchildren…” stories that a lot of my fellow rock journalists will no doubt identify with.

This isn’t about that. Rather, “TUF“‘s spiritual and emotional impact upon me at the time is what I remember the most. It opened a lot of possibilities within me, the kind that I want to think led me on a search on how to become a better person and how to care about the world beyond my little self-centered bubble. I realize that’s a ridiculous cliché, and I probably never genuinely lived up to that type of lofty ideal; it’s not like I suddenly got religion (although I would experience some moments in the album’s aftermath that I can only describe as “metaphysical”), or that I suddenly became a die-hard activist (although since January of 2017, I have gradually found myself renewing certain social vows I took three decades prior, and remembering why I took them), or even that I suddenly surrendered all my vices and proceeded to live a life on the straight and narrow (don’t get me started). But because the album arrived at the proverbial time and place, and as I was approaching a crossroads of sorts in my own life, I associate it with a period of learning and renewal for me.

Rock ‘n’ roll can be a catalyst for change, after all. It’s not just dope, guns, and fucking in the street.

 

Fred Mills: Facebook is the Empathy Box Philip K. Dick Warned Us About (a/k/a What I Did On My Vacation from Social Media)

The author is the editor of BLURT and has been rumored to be among those who won’t back down.

BY FRED MILLS

A little over a week ago I started to think I needed to get off social media. It was purely an act of self-preservation, and it wasn’t an altogether alien urge to ditch my “socials,” as people (primarily marketing folks and public relations flacks, but work with me here) like to say, Facebook chief among them. Like most of you, I’ve dropped out from time to time for a day or two in the past, in some instances purely by chance due to the work load at my full-time day job. (By way of full disclosure: I am the editor of a monthly print magazine here in North Carolina—not referring to BLURT, incidentally, which at the moment is online-only, but we hope to revive the print version soon. Editing BLURT content and posting it to the site is something I do to help keep our brand active and, by my way of thinking, also to give our writers and photographers an easy—if not overly reliable, on a day-to-day basis—outlet for their stuff, a place where they can park their words and their pictures and hopefully have a better chance of being seen by peers, musicians, and random music biz folks rather than simply slapping it up on their personal blog. No one here gets paid, in other words. We do it ‘cos we love spreading the word and giving love to the artists we love. And, er, to keep us in those free records we love, too.)

This hiatus from social media was different, though. It came on the heels of a particularly grueling several days, starting the morning after the Las Vegas shooting, through the heartbreaking news of Tom Petty’s sudden passing, and well into the ensuing emotional onslaught wrought by both events, of which Facebook became a nonstop outlet for those emotions.

Indeed, Las Vegas hit me with the same kind of confusion, fear, disbelief, and, ultimately, black grief that I felt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Yes, I know the body count difference puts the two events into completely different leagues, but, hey, try using mathematics-based logic on one’s body stressors and you’ll quickly understand that equivalencies aren’t necessarily absolutes. And, much like 9/11, you couldn’t get away from the nonstop news reports and online outpouring of grief. Sixteen years ago, four days after 9/11, my wife, 8-month-old son, and I desperately needed to depressurize, so we drove four hours west to the North Carolina mountains, rented a cabin out in the sticks, and spent a long weekend hiking in the woods, cooking on a grill, entertaining an innocent young child who was otherwise oblivious to anything but his toys and snacks, and listening to Americana radio. We came back home in a far more receptive frame of mind, knowing full well that we would re-entering a world that had changed and would never look quite the same again.

With Petty, well… I’ve already penned a rather lengthy story about what my relationship with him has been and what he means to me. Spoiler alert: He’s among my Top 5 all-time favorite artists, and he’s been an emotional presence in both my life and my wife’s since he debuted in 1976. Losing him hit me as hard as losing Joe Strummer before him, and before Strummer, Keith Moon. We can go into all this in more detail over beers some warm summer evening, okay?

The 2017 week, however, was also different from the 2001 week, in that I couldn’t take off for the mountains—well, technically, I live in the mountains, so let’s just say that I couldn’t take off for the beach, or the desert, or the New Orleans whorehouses, either—because I have that full-time job I mentioned above; my wife has a full-time job herself (combined, we put in 100-110 hours per week, easily); and my little son is a little older now, a junior in high school with advanced placement class commitments.

What I could do, however, was remove myself from as many of my primary stress sources as possible: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn (just kidding – I haven’t updated my profile on that failing platform in several years! SAD!)… pfffft. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News…. zappppp. (Well, kinda; on the family iPad we have quite a few news apps, among them CNN, AP, local and regional newspapers, and aggregators like Flipboard, and it’s remarkably easy to let one’s finger to drift across the screen while deciding between Netflix, Hulu, or Vudu, and open up one of those news apps. But I’m proud to report that I didn’t obsessively refresh, and I quite consciously limited myself because I was also wanting to free up time to read a few books I had already partially begun.)

I even did my best to steer clear of the urge to watch the late night comedy (read: political) shows and, instead, look for comfort food such as nature and music documentaries, reruns of Frazier, the latest season of Gotham, and the re-boot of Will & Grace. Just last night my son talked me into starting to watch the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series again, which feels pretty goddam perfect for the times we find ourselves in. With any luck, by the time we complete this lengthy binge, we’ll find ourselves in markedly different times. And for some reason I also found myself engaged in a selection of YouTube mini-binges: Fela Kuti, my old friends in the bands Dreams So Real and the Sidewinders, Rachel Sweet, and others. (Yes, I did just type “Rachel Sweet.” Should I also type “Rex Smith & Rachel Sweet”?) You’d be amazed at just how much mainstream news media you can NOT watch when you put your mind to it.

In this context, Facebook was an interesting case study in solitude, solipsism, and self-righteousness. Everyone’s experienced, at some point or another, a FB friend announcing he or she was planning on taking a break from the platform. These social media “vacations” are typically voluntary—maybe something happened in their lives that requires their extended attention, like a death in the family, and they get off the media knowing full well that upon their return they will be greeted with scores of so-very-sorrys and wish-you-wells that had been posted in the announcement’s comments section (can we all agree that the toothless, bordering-on-banal, phrase “sending thoughts and prayers” should be permanently retired? put some actual thought into your condolences, people!); and that they will dutifully express gratitude for all the support that was expressed. Occasionally, the virtual departures from FB appear to be voluntary, but in fact they are probably done at the strong urging of a fellow professional and prompted by some bad behavior—say, you were caught texting a photo of your private parts to an underage kid, so you’re being told that maybe you should lay off the pro-Weinstein FB rants and lay low for awhile; or you innocently posted some remarks that turned out to be nakedly anti-Semitic then made things worse defending yourself following the social media shitstorm, so your P.R. person suggests now might be a good time to take that sweat lodge sabbatical you’ve been talking about for ages (can we all agree that making one final FB post about your “needing to do some much-needed reflection and healing” is probably not a smart move either?).

Taking a cue from my old friend Peter Holsapple who, a day or two earlier, had announced he needed a short break from FB, I bailed. Mindful of the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that would no doubt ensue if I simply disappeared from my digital community like a Second Life avatar soaring towards the heavens just prior to logging off, I made the usual bye-bye-to-Facebook announcement at my FB page . Facebook, I had come to realize, is the Empathy Box that sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick warned us of in his classic book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It tricks us into thinking we are having a collective/communal experience every time we react to some tragedy, some offense, some heartwarming story, some quirky/funny/cool “thing.”

Trust me, all those digital murmurs of compassion or screams of outrage—which I am as guilty as the next person of typing onto my computer screen—along with all those “likes” and laughing/weeping emojis that we register throughout the day, amount to anything but a communal experience. In your social media cocoon, in your groupthink cyber-node, you are deceiving yourself. Sorry to break this to you, millennials, but you might turn out to be replicants (the vote’s still out), and if that’s the case, your brave new off-world experiences are rapidly coming to a conclusion. You want communal? See my below note about talking with a neighbor of mine face to face one recent afternoon.

I’m proud to say that as I ditched Facebook, I said nothing about healing, although as you may note below about “redirecting my energy,” though absolutely descriptively accurate, did come somewhat close to new age mumbo-jumbo. At least I didn’t work “sustainable” into the dialogue. Still, I promise that there were no deaths or tragedies in the family, no wiener photos or sex scandals, no anti-Semitic comments or excursions into misogyny, no bullshit I’d been needing to own up to for far too long. I was just burned out and bummed out in the wake of the worst week I could remember in over a decade, and I realized I had been and around in my gerbil wheel of ugly/tragic/hypnotic national news while accomplishing next to nothing at work or at home. Laying I bed one morning at 4AM, thrashing and adjusting and readjusting my pillow, I had even thought I was about to have a panic attack.

From my Facebook post:

“I’ve decided I agree with Holsapple – time for a break. From the general social media white noise, onslaught of listicles, etc., to the obvious political overkill and partisan baitmongering, to the “no, I have the biggest grievance here” attitudes, to the blatant p.r. pitches at what is a personal, and not a business, page that I get, FB exhausts me even when I am, myself, indulging in my own form of blatant behavior in order to get that one final “like” affirmation. I need to redirect my energy. Plus, there’s that fall veggie garden and kitchen rehab we have going on here at Mills University. See y’all next semester…”

And, damn, it felt good when I hit that “post” button. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. But thanks for asking.

But Fred, you are also asking, what the fuck did you actually do while you’ve been off social media, restricting your news diet, etc.? I fucking banked a good bit of extra time in order to do other “stuff,” for starters.

A report this past March at Adweek, citing a study by Mediakix, indicated that the average amount of time spent per day on Facebook is about 35 minutes, and I can assure you it’s probably more on weekends or days off. In fact, 35 minutes seems way too low, based on what I’ve observed among quite a few of my FB “friends,” who seem to make 10, 15, 20, or more posts to their pages each day, then diligently reply to the comments while also making comments of their own on other friends’ timelines. So I’m going to up that 35-minute estimate to a still-conservative 45… hell, let’s just call it an hour per day, which means that I saved 8 FREAKIN’ HOURS over the course of the past 8 days simply by not dicking around on Facebook—8 hours is a COMPLETE WORK DAY if you have a regular job, or if you are a freelance worker and know how to organize your work day and discipline yourself.

Now, I can’t exactly wave my magic Make America Great Again wand and turn those hours into wages—maybe I should move to Kentucky and get a job in the coal mines since Trump and Scott Pruitt are definitely bringing those jobs and those wages back from a galaxy far, far away—but I reckon I could use the extra time to hustle up some outside writing gigs. Or maybe load all those shitty promotional CDs I get in the mail up for sale on Discogs, Amazon, or eBay—hell, I’ll even settle for averaging the local hourly minimum wage in online sales. I’m not greedy.

At any rate, if we are talking transforming all that digital time I accrued into real-world quality time, I think we have a winner, Bob. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing this past week that I either was not doing the week prior to that, or at least was doing in considerably smaller quantities:

  • Finished what seemed like The Never Ending Landscaping Project in our back yard, something we’d begun months back with the intention of wrapping it up by Fall. (Mission now accomplished.)
  • Burned a shitload of leaves and yard debris in the fire pit, which was semi-linked to TNELP but, since it was in a different part of the yard, something I considered a standalone project.
  • Got the last of my Fall vegetables planted in our two box gardens, and yes, I know that by the first and second weeks of October, one’s garden should have been planted, at very least, a month earlier. 6-8 weeks earlier if possible. So how much time did YOU put into your Fall garden, bub, in between trying to pay your rent and keep yourself I cigarettes and beer?
  • Helped my wife get our kitchen ready for a partial renovation. I don’t do demo on floors and walls, or install flooring and drywall, but I still understand that I’m expected to pull my weight in the prep work when there’s a family project such as this. (Memo to wife: please stop laughing.)
  • Started cleaning up the garage in anticipation of finally clearing out my storage unit where, for 100 bucks a month, I pay for the privilege of not being able to thumb through my collection of vinyl, CDs, books, and music magazines whenever I might get the urge to do so.
  • Alphabetized the vinyl records I actually do have at the house because, duh, that’s what a record collector does when he has some spare time.
  • Wrote 15 record reviews for BLURT and 3 for another outlet, most of which you lucky readers will be able to view on the site very shortly. That may not seem like a lot compared to the output of a lot of music writers, but don’t forget, I also have a 50-55 hour-per-week job as an editor at a print publication, so sitting at the computer during every free moment I have at home isn’t necessarily the most attractive proposition.
  • Went to the YMCA to shoot basketball with my son on three evenings, feeling both physically out of shape and needing to subject myself to the ritual humiliation of a 16-year-old smoking his old dad on the court in everything but free throws. (Very pleased to report an 80% percentage on those.)
  • Went to see Blade Runner 2049. Okay, I would have done that anyway.
  • Scheduled a long overdue colonoscopy. Okay, I might have done that anyway.
  • Started to make a list of random stuff I would have posted to Facebook if I had been on during the week. You know, all the crap you think is clever and profound and poignant while you’re in the moment—the same crap you roll your eyes at when you spot someone else trying to be clever and profound and poignant. I figured I could save it to post on FB whenever I decided to get back on FB, and we’d all have one nice communal empathetic chuckle—how meta of him!
  • Ditched my list of random stuff I would have posted to Facebook if I had been on during the week, because, duh.
  • Cooked a full breakfast several mornings for that same 16-year-old mentioned above, rather than just throwing some Eggos in the toaster. I don’t necessarily attribute this to having extra time; it’s not like I was getting up on a schoolday earlier than usual. But for some reason, I was feeling more productive than usual. When you feel good about yourself, you behave differently.
  • Finished reading Blood Done Sign My Name by celebrated N.C. author Timothy B. Tyson—I’d previously been kinda futzing along with it, reading a half chapter this morning and a half chapter the next evening before grabbing the iPad each time to scour all my news apps, because, Trump—and started reading a bio about Steph Curry and a novel by my friend Michael Goldberg. Regarding BDSMN, a stunning memoir about growing up white as the son of a liberal minister in the segregated South of the ‘60s, my own kid had urged me to pick it up after he’d finished it for a class assignment, telling me he thought Tyson’s experiences seemed a lot like what he knew of my upbringing. He was right; Tyson is my new favorite author; and I’m pleased to say that when I tracked down Tyson’s email and wrote him to tell him so, he actually wrote back in less than a half hour, and we continue to exchange nots. (In the Facebook capsule-blurb era, who even has time for crafting a decent email anymore—emails now on the verge of become the digital dinosaur equivalents of old-school formal letters between correspondents. I’m finding myself trying to write friends and acquaintances notes with a bit more meat on their digital bones than “got your info—thanks!” or “let’s catch up soon!”)
  • And perhaps most revealingly: Spent a couple of hours commiserating with my next door neighbor regarding the Las Vegas massacre. In the past year living in our neighborhood, we’ve never been in each other’s house, but we sometimes chat over the back yard fence while going about our respective outdoors routines, and as I mentioned, I have been out there doing a good deal of work. This time, though, I was stopped in my tracks in mid conversation when he disclosed that the company he works for, a sound and audio company, was handling the Jason Aldean show that horrific night in Vegas. Only one of his employees was hurt, just a small ricochet injury, but the psychological injuries others experienced were potentially profound, and he’d already met with some of them, offering them grief counseling, extended time off, etc., if they needed anything to help cope with the aftermath. (Here’s a local media interview with one of his employees who describes in vivid detail what it was like to be on the mixing stage, under fire, and trying to take cover and get out of there.) A couple of times while my neighbor recounted all this, he became visibly emotional, as did both of us when we subsequently found ourselves talking about losing Tom Petty—he was a big fan himself. It was a sobering couple of hours, to say the least.

 

The point here should be obvious. There wasn’t anything I did during those “extra 8 hours” I picked up thanks to jettisoning social media from my life and trimming back my news consumption that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have been doing anyway.

But as regards that backyard convo with my neighbor, I’m not so sure. We all like to think that we readily sympathize and eagerly empathize (oops—somebody call Philip K. Dick) with one another on Facebook when something momentous has happened that affected them enough to post about it. But you sure can’t see that haunted, troubled look on someone’s face, or hear that sudden, spontaneous catch in someone’s throat, when someone is posting to Facebook.

***

In an op-ed essay titled “Finding Grace Around the Kitchen Table” (online it’s “How to Find Common Ground”) that was published September 30 in the New York Times, conservative pundit and talk-show host Erick-Woods Erickson wrote about how a life-threatening incident and its aftermath forced him to look inward and try to figure out what he would want his kids to know about him that they might not automatically know if he were suddenly no longer with them. (This is something every parent, particularly if you’re a writer, ponders and even agonizes about at some point. So we start writing all that stuff down for posterity. Yes, I have. Thanks for asking.)

In the essay, Erickson also ruminates both obliquely and directly about some of the things I’ve been discussing here. The following 3-paragraph passage in particular stands out:

“As we have moved more of our lives onto the internet, we have stopped living in actual communities. Instead we have created virtual communities where everyone thinks the same. We do not have to worry about the homeless man under the bridge because he is no longer part of our community. He is someone else’s problem. But that simply is not true.

“Even as the internet provides us great advances, it also segments us. We have social-media tribes and our self-esteem is based on likes and retweets. We have hundreds of television channels and even more video choices online where Hollywood no longer has to worry about broad appeal. There is a channel for everyone, and everyone in the tribe will get the inside jokes. Social-media interactions have replaced the value of character.

“The truth, though, is that our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet him.”

The value of character: To my Facebook friends who might opt to read all the way to the end of my own essay here once they have spotted me back online and noticed the link to this essay that I’ve graciously posted on my FB page: If you need your flowers watered, your mail gathered, your lighting scheme cycled, even your cats’ litter boxes scooped while you go on vacation, if I happen to be in the same town, just let me know, and I’ll do it. If you get sick and need somebody to go pick up some food for you because you feel too shitty to cook, or come walk your dog because you’re too worn out to deal with that hyperactive mutt, or take you to the doctor because you might feel worse at the end of the visit than at the start, I’ll do that too. Let me know. No strings attached.

Just don’t reach out to me on Facebook or try to message me. I might not be on FB. And I disabled Messenger months ago. Phone me, text me, email me, in that order.

Better yet, if you see my car in the driveway, just walk out to the back yard fence and holler in the direction of my back door. That, it turns out, is one of the oldest forms of social media in the world. And it doesn’t require cellphone service or a WiFi connection.

Fred Mills: Who Wants an Autograph?

Replacements crop

Yeah, I’m showing off with all these signed record sleeves. And you’d do the same. Above: The Replacements (duh).

 BY FRED MILLS

 This weekend an old friend dropped by, and while looking through some of my records he spotted my copy of the first Replacements 45, which had been signed by all four of the original members, including the late Bob Stinson—I had gotten the single autographed in January of 1985 when the ‘mats played a punk rock club in Charlotte, NC, and subsequently wrote about the memorable night in a story for BLURT. This prompted my friend to ask me how many other records I had autographed. Well, you could say there are a few: 45s and LPs along with CDs, the stray cassette cover, and even a few napkins and scraps of paper I later inserted into sleeves. (There’s also a framed Patti Smith concert poster from ’79 that also houses the autograph she gave me at the concert.)

 Some I’ve gotten rid of over the years, either selling them or giving them to friends who were super fans, like a copy of Jane’s Addiction Nothing Shocking. I actually wish I still had the signed GG Allin 45 and the signed copy of Screw Magazine (the one with the GG pictorial) from the early ‘90s, but I had eBayed them a number of years ago because at the time memorabilia of the late scum-rocker was fetching seriously good money. But I still have quite a few, and my friend encouraged me to scan some of them and share with a wider audience. Yeah, I’m bragging, sorta, but I’m also proud that I have these. In recent years I’ve started getting records inscribed to my young son. I’m not sure exactly why, since he hasn’t demonstrated the slightest interest in becoming a record collector; maybe there’s some weird paternal ego thing going on. He will inherit them some day and maybe he will figure out what my urge was all about if and when he becomes a father.

 Anyhow, here’s a modest sampling of some of the signatures I’ve scored. Enjoy.

  U2 crop

In the early ‘80s I had started a fanzine called U2/USA (yeah, I was a U2 geek, so sue me), and, taking notice of it, the band subsequently gave the staff pretty much blanket access when touring the States. I got the double-45 for “Pride” signed by the band when I went to a concert in Roanoke, VA. Shortly after I obtained the signatures I found myself sitting backstage with Bono, sharing a bottle of wine and interviewing him for the zine. Those were certainly far more innocent times.

 REM crop

Similarly, in the ‘80s I wrote frequently about R.E.M., even penning the liner notes for the sleeve of the “Femme Fatale” flexidisc they did for rock mag The Bob. I have copies of that signed as well as the original Hib-Tone 45, but the double-45 for “Wendell Gee” is my favorite.

 Minutemen crop

Speaking of R.E.M., the Minutemen were guests on one of the band’s tours, and as I had backstage passes for a series of NC and VA shows I was able to strike up a friendship with the opening act as well. Rest in peace, D. Boon.

 Ramones crop

The Ramones—should I even comment? One of my greatest regrets is selling my signed copy of Road To Ruin, but at least I held on to a couple of singles that Joey, Johnny, Marky and Dee Dee inscribed. (Look closely.) The band was in Raleigh, NC, to do a show at the club The Pier and that afternoon they did an in-store at the nearby Record Bar. After the signing session they all fanned out, scouring the bins for music. Joey was particularly excited with some of his finds.

 MoB crop

Raise your hand if you were a Mission Of Burma fan. Their initial incarnation was my favorite version of the band, and when they came to Chapel Hill around the time of their first album, I had the good luck to be the one chosen to show them around the UNC campus and take them for some post-soundcheck grub at a small Greek eatery. Their “Trem-Two” 45 is my favorite record by the Boston band.

 Chilton

Alex Chilton: you may have heard of him. Or possibly that little band from Memphis he was in. I got him to sign a few sleeves when he came to Charlotte with his solo band. He wasn’t the crabby guy I had heard him made out to be, but gracious and easy to talk to. Rest in peace, LX.

 Joe Strummer cop

Joe Strummer: you may have heard of him or a band he was in as well. When Joe and The Mescaleros played the States in October of 2001, they appeared at Irving Plaza and I was assigned to do a profile for Magnet magazine. He signed my London Calling CD sleeve after the show and also asked if I had gotten enough material for my interview. I don’t think he was just being nice—he really seemed to care about treating journalists and fans (and, it should be said, opening bands) properly. Go here to read my interview.

 Arcade Fire crop

Around the time that Arcade Fire’s Funeral album was starting to blow up they came to Asheville, NC, to honor a previously-made booking. The 2005 show was sold out, of course, and they could have played four nights in a row. I was doing a profile on the band for Magnet (you can read the story and interview here), so I got my copy of the CD signed by everyone in the band the next day when I took them all out for lunch.

 Warren Haynes crop

I’ve seen Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule numerous times, often at the annual Haynes Christmas Jam in Asheville. Interviewing Warren for Stereophile Magazine prior to one of the Jams, I got him to sign a couple of pieces, and for some reason I asked him to autograph one to my son, setting in motion a tradition on my part that I still indulge.

 Jason Isbell crop

Ditto Jason Isbell, who I’ve also seen numerous times and of whom I have sung the praises frequently in these pages. He signed this one to my son when he came to the Grey Eagle in Asheville for a solo performance.

 Ettes crop

And ditto one of my favorite bands in the whole damn universe, garage demons The Ettes. I suspect my son might be embarrassed by all the scribbling on the sleeve dedicated to him, so Eli, if you are reading this—please don’t be. It’s all sincere (you were only six at the time anyway), and I know for a fact that the folks in the band dig you.

 Alejandro crop

Alejandro Escovedo actually asked me what my son’s name was without prompting at a show one night in Asheville. Amazingly, he’d remembered I had a young kid from when I’d interviewed him several years earlier. After the concert he came out to the merch table and patiently stood for more than a half hour for autographs and photos with fans. A class act all around.

 Rainer crop

It’s fitting that the last one I share with you is of Rainer Ptacek, who passed away from a brain tumor in late 1997. I had gotten to know the Arizona guitar maestro (and sometime member of Giant Sand) while living in Tucson from 1992-2001, and I’m proud to have called him my friend. We would often talk music down at the record store where I worked, or at the music shop where he worked, and I also interviewed him a few times for different publications. Nocturnes is my eternal Rainer favorite, a gentle and luminous album that I played in the delivery room when my child was born. This is the proverbial record I would rescue first if a fire broke out at my house. God bless you, Rainer, I still miss you deeply.

 

 

Fred Mills: Remembering Joe Strummer

 Joe Strummer bw

The Clash icon and Mescaleros frontman passed away eleven years ago this month, on Dec. 22. By way of tribute, we present this story from the archives.

 BY FRED MILLS

 On December 22, 2002, unexpectedly and tragically, Joe Strummer died, apparently from a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. I had interviewed Strummer twice in 2001, once over the phone from England and then again in person when he appeared at New York’s Irving Plaza for an October concert with his band The Mescaleros. Portions of those interviews subsequently saw publication in the Phoenix New Times and Magnet Magazine, and in a surreal twist, a few video snippets of me interviewing Strummer in NYC would turn up in the 2005 Strummer documentary Let’s Rock Again! by filmmaker Dick Rude (who I vaguely recalled having been present with a camera during the interview). At any rate, as today marks the anniversary of Strummer’s death, it seems like as reasonable a time as any to share with readers a vastly expanded version of my Strummer story, combining material from both interviews. Continue reading