Spent the last few days (Wednesday through, er, this morning) in Washington (state) for the Experience Music Project pop music studies conference. A few people have wanted to hear the writeup, so here it is...
Last Tuesday night: wrote & recorded my song of the day, "Drunk in the Desert," very very quickly. Slept a few hours, woke up too early for my mental well-being's sake, and flew out to SEA/TAC, working on my paper in the meantime. (The paper was called "Push It Real Good: Compressing Pop," and was all about compression and digital limiting and the way they've changed the shape of pop music over the last decade or so. It involved playing the same Led Zeppelin song three times. Ask me about it sometime.) Rebecca picked me up at the airport and took me out for a dinner I scarcely remember--I was too blotto from sleep-deprivation. Managed to blurt out a tiny little song, "Vin Ordinaire," into my portable tape recorder before I could no longer hold my eyes open.
Just as I was waking up, I had a dream that I'd gone into a comics store and seen what looked like a new edition of Watchmen, with a new cover drawn by Dave Gibbons. But then I realized: it wasn't a Gibbons cover, and it wasn't Watchmen--it was Watchmen II, and browsing through it revealed that it was only about 170 pages long, didn't involve either Gibbons or Alan Moore, and guest-starred Iron Man and Wolverine. Then I realized that the spine and back cover and UPC were all the same as some Batgirl TPB collection, and that it'd been put together to try to force Moore into doing his own Watchmen II, and had been printed in what was supposed to be a tiny edition that would never get out into the public, but this one had gotten out by accident.
I spent most of Thursday taking buses across Seattle, whose basic geography remains a conundrum to me. Nonetheless managed to find a cool little record store, J.A.M., with a big selection of vintage terrible disco. There are any number of things I almost bought (only two dollars for Meco's version of the entire Wizard of Oz score? HOLD ME BACK!) and then put back (on second thought I'LL HOLD MYSELF BACK!), but I ended up with the s/t album by 4 on the Floor (Al Kooper et al. doing a wrist-slitting disco Rolling Stones medley, with Vocoder--bad-bad, not good-bad, unfortunately), plus Bumblebee Unlimited's Sting Like a Bee (haven't heard yet, co-produced by Patrick Adams, which is promising, plus woman in bumblebee outfit on cover and song called "I Got a Big Bee"). Eventually made it over to the Experience Music Project's building--no two of its beams are alike, and it's actually supported by the concrete dome that covers them--in time for a tour and a beginning-of-convention party. The "hey, this is like that Onion Yo La Tengo thing" joke was made many, many times.
Escaped from it in time to have dinner with Rebecca, Steve Burt and Geegaw in a very patient sushi joint. We returned to EMP in the hopes of seeing No. 2 play, and sat through a kind of bad band for a couple of hours before we asked and found out that No. 2 had cancelled. I took advantage of that to go home and get some more sleep, but not before I'd freestyled "I Dreamed of Watchmen II Last Night" into the Walkman. I'm nothing if not painfully literal.
Friday morning, the conference proper began with some really good pastries, followed by panels. Best in show: John Darnielle's homage to contemporary fans of '80s hair metal, K. Sanneh's piece on how rappers stopped calling themselves rappers and then started insisting that they weren't rappers, and Steve's commentary on how contemporary poetry frames pop music. The worst was one about how, um, the USA Patriot Act is a very very bad thing, and especially for musicians, and something about frontier America and the power of popular music and theories of the novel and such, and really it's important to be vigilant about very very bad things like the USA Patriot Act. My paper was somewhere between those extremes, I think--I was pleased by how it went over. Plus I actually went three minutes under time--I am the Ramones! (Well, I talked quickly.)
Spent a little while in the EMP's practice rooms noodling into the Walkman with Sara Marcus, and figured that counted as my song of the day. The keynote speech was by Robert Christgau, who was subsequently presented with a festschrift in honor of his 60th birthday--go Bob! I was packed off to a rockcrit party (eek!) afterwards, where when I mentioned that I was probably going to go back soon and catch some of Solomon Burke, Bob gave me one of those Socratic looks of his and said "I bet you're probably going because you think he's good, aren't you?" Well, um, I've never seen him, I stuttered. "He's got to be the greatest self-promoter of all time. But go ahead--maybe you'll enjoy it." The damnable thing is that Xgau was absolutely right. I'd forgotten that Burke essentially has no songs of his own, and after "Proud Mary" and the Little Richard medley and the Otis Redding medley and the version of "I Will Survive" his daughter sang, I thought, hmm, maybe there's less to this spectacle thing than I'd imagined.
Saturday, with my paper over and done with, I was a lot more relaxed--got to kick back and enjoy some more of the papers, esp. the "Personal Stories" panel with a former KISS roadie, a woman who'd helped to put together the Ali soundtrack, and Sarah Dougher. Also figured I'd better write a real actual genuine song, came up with a very basic AABA 16-bar tune called "I've Never Had That Experience" during R.J. Smith's paper on the history of "Open the Door, Richard" (as I seethed over the sheer level of Hendrix-worship going on in that particular building), and played it by myself up in the practice room. Dinner with Demaris Schneider--Jay was playing in a Magic: The Gathering tournament, but Demaris knew where the good pho place in town was, and it was really good to catch up with her. Afterwards, I met up with Rebecca & a friend of hers for the big evening show: the Mountain Goats (in top form, and it was a joy to watch 3/4 of the audience freak out at the remaining 1/4 simultaneously and unexpectedly yelling "Hail Satan!" and making the devil-horns sign, though I sometimes wonder if asking for requests when you know you're going to get 50 things yelled simultaneously isn't simply an ego-gratifying move), Sarah Dougher (had to borrow a guitar after like 2 songs and was not happy about it, though the early songs she mostly stuck to sounded fine and tart), and Quasi (good if not the best I've seen them--Rebecca was totally won over, though, and says she wants to be Janet Weiss when she grows up--well, so do I, if it comes to that).
This only takes us up to Saturday night, I know, but Sunday was Olympia, which was a whole other thing. Tomorrow.