Tag Archives: radiohead

Euphemistically Stealing

Yet another article was posted to NPR’s All Songs Considered blog Saturday morning concerning iTunes in the Cloud, specifically referencing Bob Boilen‘s transition. I’ve enjoyed reading the occasional updates on this, as I’m about to join iTunes Match myself. While I’ll continue to invest in physical copies and (paid) digital content, I’m augmenting my library with it. (As opposed to “making the switch” – I’m not trading one for the other.) I think it’ll be a great help while teaching, especially during my month-long study abroad program in Austria.

This article, however, was not by Bob but an intern, Emily White. In her article, titled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With,” she made the decent point of iTunes Match not being a big deal because her whole library is already digital. Therefore, the transition from physical to digital is non-existent.

Beyond that, I was caught up in the twisted logic behind her music library: “I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs. […] But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs.” At this point, Ms. White lists euphemism for how she “legally” acquired the rest of those albums:

• Kazaa (the only “illegal” ones)
• Gifts (no problem there, of course)
• “Swapped hundreds of mix CDs” (um…)
• A 15GB “deposit” onto her iPod (*raises eyebrow*)
• “I spent hours on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop…” (what?!)

That’s a list of euphemisms if I’ve ever seen one. “Words that hide the truth” were George Carlin’s greatest linguistic enemy (see my thoughts on him and his rant here), and also one of mine. The above list begets: “As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. […] But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” But she would like to pay for Spotify, hoping that the company one day includes a much better royalty payment system than its current iteration.


Really? I’ll not waste too much time re-treading every reason why I believe it’s important to pay for what you like, since regular readers of this blog probably know my stance well. I see and hear the “convenience” trope quite a bit, but rarely does it answer the question of how the fan will actually pay for the music. And the fact that this was so proudly and publicly written by an intern at NPR Music – a really solid source for a whole variety of music and music news – further flabbergasts me. “Hey, musician! Come play our Tiny Desk series. Don’t mind our employees that don’t financially support your primary creative mode of expression. Got any free schwag for them?” I was no fan of Bob’s article about concert volume – though it inspired me to write this post on noise protection – but at least he financially supports the art he loves.

Swapping mixed CDs and “ripping” music is still stealing. Yes, stealing is a harsh word. But let’s avoid the “soft language” (as Carlin put it), and opt for the “simple, honest, direct language.” In music school, I knew a bunch of classmates who would spend hours at the library ripping albums to their computers. Because music is an aural art, the listener isn’t physically touching the music while he or she listens. But if it were a book instead of a symphony it’d be a different story. Imagine walking into an English major’s home or office and seeing their personal “library” of thousands of photocopied books in 3-ring binders. Impressive? Meh, didn’t think so. Yes, check out an album or ten from the library. But if you like, get your own copy. Really, it’s not that hard.

Instead of going deep with artists or genres, I’ve heard many people refer to their music collections in terms of bytes. “Yeah, man, I have 20GB of jazz.” Cool. Have you listened to it all or know it well? Or did you get a 15GB deposit too? While I don’t like to part with my money, I enjoy paying because I then have a vested interest in the music. I paid for it, therefore I’m damn well going to listen to it. Even if it’s a blind purchase I end up disliking (which rarely happens), I’ll give it a couple good listens just to be sure. And if I like it, then it’s mine and I’m happy to have it. I earned that money, therefore earning that album or box set, and I’m going to take it in. It’s also why I don’t like to buy too many albums too fast. While I have a one album per week average, I’ve ended up recently falling behind on my listening because I’ve gotten ahead of myself with my purchases. Six new albums in the last couple weeks means that I just today listened to Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, an album I bought two weeks ago. (It got lost in the shuffle.) When I say I have 1,XXX albums, trust me that I’ve listened to them all.

Beyond my ownership of the content, I want to support the musicians behind all of these recordings. Yes, Apple and the various record companies take a big chunk of change. I understand that, and don’t much agree with the ratio. This is where I empathize somewhat with Emily’s attitudes toward Spotify. But there are also other models. Louis CK wasn’t the first to totally manage the distribution of his content. Radiohead beat him to the punch with In Rainbows and then King of Limbs. And there were others before that. Yes, Metallica has more money collectively than they know what to do with. But what about those thousands of other lesser-known and unknown musicians out there doing the nitty-gritty on the road and at the local level?

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

I get it. People will steal music. It’s now part of the culture. But you’d think that, at the very least, musicians and those in the industry would perhaps participate in this tricky bit of commerce.

Pay for what you like. And, to NPR Music: get it together.

Radiohead Live in Detroit

Monday night my bucket list substantially shrank thanks to Radiohead’s performance at The Palace of Auburn Hills. (I know I’m not the only one who can say that.)

Like many, I hold Radiohead on a pedestal. No matter what else is happening in music, I know that they’ll continue to press forward, creating stimulating art that both moves and makes you move. I discussed this a bit here in the context of artistic evolution. I know that a number of rock music fans felt betrayed by the electronic turn with and after Kid A. But, for me, that’s just when the band started to get to the nitty gritty. Yes, OK Computer was a harbinger, but it’s still a solidly nineties rock album. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The point is that I seem to love the band and its catalogue more with each new album. (King of Limbs and Amnesiac are probably my favorite Radiohead records, for what it’s worth.)

Famously, Radiohead hasn’t performed in Detroit for fifteen years. Even though the band tours little as it is, the tours that do sweep through the US skip Michigan, often with the band playing Chicago and Cleveland while thumbing their noses northward. Needless to say, my anticipation for Monday’s show was immense, despite my hearing and reading mixed reviews of past Radiohead concerts, both in media and from friends and colleagues. Well I’m hear to say (write/type/etc.) that their performance at The Palace was AMAZING.

I entered the venue excited but with a slight asterisk in the back of my mind, attempting to buttress any possibility that the band might go off the rails with experimentation, etc. Midway through the first verse of “Bloom,” the opening number of both the show and their latest album, any shred of doubt was instantly forgotten. The band, expanded to a sextet with the help of Portishead‘s Clive Deamer, performed impeccably. I wasn’t too surprised by the instrumental cohesion, but Thom Yorke solidly maintained his delicate falsetto throughout the night, something I didn’t quite expect. (I was similarly surprised, positively, by Justin Vernon’s vocal acrobatics when I saw Bon Iver in December.) “Reckoner” and “Give Up The Ghost” sounded no more difficult for Yorke during the encore than “Bloom” and “There There (The Boney King Of Nowhere)” did at the show’s start, more than two hours prior.

I’m not here to write a concert review, but rather to simply state what a wonderful time was had on Monday evening. Technical facility aside, it was refreshing to see a band like Radiohead “rock” an arena with typically un-arena-rock stylings. (Except for three songs from OK Computer, all the material was from Kid A and beyond. Though if you can get beyond the timbres and registers, it’s not as far from rock as one might think.) They simply did what they do, and they did it well. My wife and I sang and danced the whole night and are still grinning ear to ear.

It was a great way to cap off an epic weekend of concerts. (The preceding DMB shows in NY are discussed here.) And if there’s to be a moral to this story, and a way to tie my recent posts together, it’s this: as much as I love creating and performing music, I also love simply being an audience member. I fear that this is something too many performers  and composers forget. It’s nice to produce, but there’s nothing like being on the receiving end of something so enchanting as a great live performance. Especially one such as this.


A few weeks ago I finally picked up Radiohead’s quickly-(in)famous King of Limbs. I’d been wanting to give it a listen since its initial (surprise) digital release. (However, being a stickler for always wanting a hard copy, I opted to patiently wait until the physical release.) My primary interest stemmed from my being a longtime fan. Another part of me, though, wanted to see what all the hubbub was about – Facebook and the Twitterverse were blowing up with very mixed reviews. Most critics lauded the effort, with fans going in many directions. Friends and colleagues were in quite the tizzy. Six weeks later I finally got my chance – I love it! I gave it two careful listens that first day, and a number of others since, and my fondness has only increased.

But this isn’t a “New Listen” review…

I’m continually amazed by fans’ feeling betrayed by an artist’s (in this case, band’s) natural evolution. (Yes, I’m certainly aware that everyone can’t be a total fan of everything, but this concerns active fans.) Of course, an artist can unexpectedly change course – for reasons personal, commercial, or otherwise – and cause an uproar, the response to which could be perfectly understandable. However, often times, when discussing those heavies with long careers and extended catalogues, change is almost always inevitable. In fact, my personal Top 5 – TOOL, Dave Matthews Band, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Smashing Pumpkins – is united by their collective tendency to evolve over time. Some had smoother transitions than others – TOOL and Trane are/were smoother overall than Miles – but each one’s arc can be heard as one sonic narrative, with each new phase or “sound” including both an element of the “core” sound and an aspect of picking up where they last left off (even if it’s somewhat of a reaction to a previous approach).

Like the aforementioned Top 5, Radiohead also continually evolves. Succinctly describing their most recent release, I would say: King of Limbs is Radiohead’s next logical step after In Rainbows. Now, that doesn’t really mean anything to the passive fan, but those familiar with the whole Radiohead catalogue should understand that this denotes: more effects and electronics, less traditional instrumentation and form, more experimentation. Radiohead started with a definitive early-90s anthem (“Creep”), pivoted with a slightly more progressive but wildly commercially successful album (OK Computer), then forcefully proceeded down the avenue of electronic experimentation (Kid A through present). I could understand someone enjoying OK Computer in somewhat of a vacuum and being dumbfounded by King or even Amnesiac (these two are probably my favorites, FYI). But, if you were to listen to all of their albums in succession, you would most likely hear a single band slowly transforming.

A primary grievance is that the new album is too down-tempo. Did anyone really expect an anthemic rocker after the last few albums? Seriously? Many await another OK Computer. I can understand that to a certain extent, however that was their third album. King of Limbs is their EIGHTH studio album. They’re far beyond that stage, for good or ill. For those who felt betrayed, the “betrayal” occurred not in 2011, but rather gradually over the last decade. Similarly, Miles and Trane continually evolved. Those who expected Coltrane to play “Locomotion” in ’66 or ’67 were gravely mistaken, and likely walked out of performances and stopped buying his albums. He had moved beyond the blues – moved beyond swing – by that point. And was it that he no longer liked “that old stuff”? No. He simply transcended all earlier endeavors and was progressing beyond jazz to something greater. Returning to “Syeeda’s Song Flute” would have been a stifling distraction. The same is happening here.

Art, and the artists who create it, evolve. Just like everything else. You don’t have to like everything an artist does, not by a long shot. However, at the same token, don’t be surprised if, after 5 or 10 or 20 years, they have moved on to a different place.