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It's Only Rock & Roll...

and here's why I like it

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There are those things that we all love about music -- a wistful melody, a great beat, a toe-tapping rhythm. Perhaps we're particularly fond of Jeff Buckley's soaring vocals, or the way Stevie Ray Vaughan's fingers could make a simple bent note sound like a desperate cry for help.

But what about all the other little moments that help make music such a magical thing? Don't those deserve mention too? At the risk of getting all Nicholson Baker on your asses, might there be worlds contained within a single musical grain of sand? Could it be that our favorite music is greater than the sum of its parts? (We sure hope so, because we're doing a whole article on it, whether you're with us or not.)

Anyway, you get the picture. Without further ado, here are one writer's ruminations on the shadowy world that exists outside of The Song. Never mind the Shoegaze, here's the navel-gaze!

1. The fact that -- no matter what folks like the RIAA might lead you to believe -- music is free. And will free you. And will be free forever.

2. The fact that no matter what you're feeling, someone's written a song about it.

3. Finding a lost classic in the cut-out bin.

4. Making a mix tape for a friend, and then noticing a month later they've bought most of the records you took songs from.

5. Pulling off the shrink-wrap after a purchase, and slipping the disc into the mouth of your car's CD player.

6. Knowing tomorrow's Tuesday, and the new album by (fill in the blank) is (finally!) going on sale.

7. Taking a road trip and searching the low end of the FM dial every time you pass through a college town. It's music that's challenging, it doesn't have commercials (unless you count the local burrito hut), and it's all put together by people that (gasp!) are actually passionate about the music.

8. The fact that all college radio DJs use the exact same monotone: "Upnextwehavethenew onefromtheMoldyPeachesthenKara'sgonnacomeinandplaysomeDeadMilkmen."

9. The fact that the English press will unabashedly slobber like a truckload of bulldogs about every eight months over some new American rock band. They might not like our President, but they sure do like them some Kings of Leon.

10. The moment when the lights go down right before a show you've waited ages for, and everybody goes crazy. It's all downhill from there, usually.

11. A roadtrip to Atlanta or Chapel Hill, for no other reason than to soak in another scene.

12. The way rock guitarists in really cheesy bands get all homoerotic on stage without even knowing it.

13. Rappers who talk about "keeping it real" while drinking Cristal and pretending that being intelligent is some kind of curse (hint: while you're keeping it real, the record company is keeping it real with your royalties). So rap's the CNN of the hood. That's not such a compliment, now is it?

14. Labels, and how they're particularly perpetuated by the very people (hello, indie nation) that claim to hate them worse than shopping malls. Go practice with your GrindSalsaCore band and shut the hell up.

15. Hearing an old song you haven't heard in ages, and, depending on the context, being swept away in waves of melancholy or sheer joy. Both are exhilarating, and music can take you there better than any art form I know of.

16. Rock T-shirts. If Taschen or somebody's not yet done a book of them, they should. Three-quarter sleeves, especially.

17. Show flyers. This is functional art when done right, and can tell us a lot about the age we live in. My collection only contains a few dozen, but I'd say they're collectively as interesting as many of the "fine art" shows that pass through town.

18. Vinyl. It's unwieldy, it stinks after a few years, and it scratches easier than a dog with eczema. It still sounds warmer than anything we've since devised, and the effort involved can often give music that ritual place in our lives that it deserves.

19. Local Music. When you go to see a local artist who has international talent, it's a special thing, and helps create a sort of artistic critical mass for the local scene. Every band or artist you like now comes from one hometown or another. Why not ours?

20. Stupid rock mysteries. Thank God (or J.R.R. Tolkien) for Led Zeppelin and their goofy runes. Huzzahs to the Beatles for the whole "Paul is Dead" thing. A "right on" to everyone who ever had "backwards masking" on their records, or hinted at faux-Satanism. Finally, a handclap for R.E.M. and Radiohead and all the other acts of today that know a little mystery goes a long way.

Have some musical lint of your own to share? Send it to timothy.davis@cln.com, and we may use some in a future issue.

Music Merchandise Rocks On

According to a recent report from Reuters, the market for music-related merchandise (i.e., T-shirts, posters, etc.) is growing and boosting income for some performers who have experienced a decline in CD sales. "The reality is that while record sales are diminishing, bands are still touring and selling lots of merchandise," said Felix Sebacious, president of rock merchandiser Blue Grape. Reuters reports that in 2002, retail sales of music-generated licensed properties totaled $2.3 billion, generating about $119 in royalties -- which is up 1.7 percent from 2001. But with the music industry there's always a certain amount of risk involved as veteran music attorney Jay Cooper points out. "Even though the memorabilia sales have been a bright spot for some acts in a down market...it remains a risky hit-or-miss proposition," he says. But one thing is for sure: you can't very well download a T-shirt now, can you? -- Lynn Farris

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