Rhinofy-Physical Graffiti

It was released forty years ago this week and I didn’t even know it came out.

I was living in Sandy, Utah and there was only one rock station in Salt Lake and they didn’t play the new stuff and I was over Zeppelin anyway.

That’s right, I was burned out, couldn’t hear “D’yer Mak’er” one more time. They’re rewriting history and extolling the virtues of “Houses Of The Holy” but the truth is despite the hits it was a bit of a disappointment, certainly artistically, it was safe whereas everything before it was unexpected with rough edges that pushed the envelope. It was like the band was on a premature victory lap.

And then came “Physical Graffiti.”

I was into Zeppelin early. Had the first album way before the second. And you’ve got to know, when the second came out it penetrated the culture in a way that is unfathomable today. It’s all you heard for a month. Not only was “Whole Lotta Love” played incessantly on the radio, both the hip and wannabe hip bought the gatefold LP and you knew it by heart and to hear it again made you wince.

And “III” was a truly a disappointment. A left turn. Confounding expectations. I loved “Gallows Pole” and “Immigrant Song” and “Tangerine” but whereas the albums that came before were incredibly consistent, “III” was not. I didn’t even buy “IV” on the day of release. And “IV” is spectacular, for “The Battle Of Evermore” and “When The Levee Breaks,” never mind “Stairway,” but the debut was always my favorite until…

“Physical Graffiti.”

Well, maybe they’re tied.

But they’re so different.

I first heard “Physical Graffiti” on Jimmy Kay’s stereo in a frat house on the University of Utah campus at the end of April 1975 when we had a meeting and we all tossed in fifty bucks towards a ski house in Mammoth for May. I didn’t know these people and the music was so loud and Zeppelin seemed so adolescent that I made them give me a receipt, a hedge against them absconding with my money.

But they didn’t.

I heard “Physical Graffiti” one time more before I left the Beehive State. Actually, the night before. My next door neighbor blasted it while he toked up and I was torn between staying or leaving and I stayed way too late and as a result got a speeding ticket on the drive to Reno the very next day but…

I don’t want to get too far off course.

Bottom line, we rented that house in Mammoth and I had to endure “Physical Graffiti” incessantly from dawn to midnight, except when Jimmy played the Doobie Brothers, who I soon learned were not a joke.

And it was an 8-track made from LP. And the songs were not in order. But what first impressed me, got under my skin, was…

KASHMIR

A bludgeoning riff from an era when the riff was everything, majestic and orchestral with Robert Plant on top and once your brain clicks and you like “Kashmir” you can’t stop playing it. For a long time it was the third most popular song on FM radio, it came after “Stairway To Heaven” and “Free Bird” on all the surveys but they don’t do those anymore.

TEN YEARS GONE

This one hit me unexpectedly. It’s now my favorite Zeppelin track, my go-to cut, it speaks to me when nothing else does. Actually, that’s an important point about “Physical Graffiti,” it seems to be made without the audience in mind. That’s right, it’s hermetically sealed, it’s a peek into the life of musicians who are on their own journey and that’s what makes it so appealing, so different from today when everybody is pandering and trying to get you to like them. Zeppelin didn’t care if you liked them. Then again, maybe they knew they were so good that you couldn’t help but like them. “Ten Years Gone” contains Zeppelin’s magic trick, the transition from acoustic to electric and back again, from quiet to noisy and back. Just like the Beatles employed the bridge as part of their magic, Zeppelin utilized this shift in dynamics to hook young people all around the world. “Ten Years Gone” sounds like nothing else but it sounds so right.

BOOGIE WITH STU

Sounds like a throwaway, noodling in the studio, but it’s not. First of all, it’s Ian Stewart, the sadly-departed sixth Stone, tickling the ivories. And Robert Plant seems on such a lark. Talk about capturing lightning in a bottle…some of the best things in life are the simplest.

NIGHT FLIGHT

A tear. You don’t have time to ponder whether you like it or not, you’ve got to jump on or be left out. It amps up the beginning of side four after the contemplative quietude of “Ten Years Gone” at the end of side three. And as great as Page’s playing is, it’s Robert dancing all over the track that makes you love it, along with the stop and stutter halfway through and then the following acceleration. We were all ready to meet the band in the morning, the middle of the night, wherever they deigned to show up.

DOWN BY THE SEASIDE

A great set-up for “Ten Years Gone,” it’s almost like you can see Robert walking on an English stone beach. Side three is the most mystical, most out there. It opens with “In The Light,” which bugged me at first but I came to realize is quintessential, and then “Bron-Yr-Aur” which sounded like the first album, then “Down By The Seaside” and then the triumph of “Ten Years Gone.” What confidence, to do it their own way, daring us to throw away our preconceptions and just go on the journey.

CUSTARD PIE

The opening cut, but I never heard it that way until I purchased the vinyl when I finally had access to a record player months later. Not as good as other Zeppelin album openers, but that does not mean it’s not quality.

THE ROVER

Heavy! No wimps allowed. This was heavy metal before they sped it up and made it a niche. Headbanging music when that was not a pejorative.

IN MY TIME OF DYING

Ends side one. That was the amazing thing, the three unique, lengthy tracks that ended the first three sides, this, “Kashmir” on side two and “Ten Years Gone” on side three. “In My Time Of Dying” needed to be this long, Page was twisting and turning our head and Bonzo was pounding and the truth is Led Zeppelin was truly a band, and without every element it didn’t stand, never underestimate John Paul Jones.

HOUSES OF THE HOLY

Smacked of Little Feat, which was famous for leaving listed tracks off albums. Wasn’t this supposed to be on the prior LP?

TRAMPLED UNDER FOOT

It’s the aforementioned John Paul Jones on clavinet that puts this over the top. “Trampled Under Foot” takes no prisoners. Either you’re on the ride or you’re not. And if you are, it feels so good!

BLACK COUNTRY WOMAN

That’s right, acoustic blues were still part of the act.

I don’t know if an album like “Physical Graffiti” could be successful today. A double album, but in reality not much longer than your average CD, it had no hits as hooks, you just had to spin it until you got it, and people don’t have that time today.

But “Physical Graffiti” exists. An icon spiraling in the past. And either you know what I’m talking about or…you’re gonna have to lock yourself in your room for a week playing only it whereupon you’ll emerge bleary-eyed at the end exclaiming…EUREKA!

Rhinofy-Physical Graffiti

Release Day Blues

Records are not movies. Not made for one weekend only. Music, when done right, is forever. And now that streaming services rule, the drop date, the release date, is just a moment in time.

Everything will change.

All the front-loaded publicity, all the inane coverage of the horse race, it’s irrelevant. Now it’s all about whether people listen and continue to listen.

Who cares if you sold a minimal number of albums in your first week. And 100,000 is minimal, few people do more. That’s essentially nobody. And so many albums sell the first week and never more. Now we want to know that you’ve got a fanbase that continues to listen and hopefully grows. The spin era is over, the data era is here.

We don’t want to know that you chummed up to writers. We’re sick of hype. We don’t care about the launch, but only the flight.

As for physical retail… I don’t want to hear another word about it. The fact that people love vinyl and CDs are a significant revenue source don’t impress me. Neil Young was right, most vinyl is a joke, it’s a just the CD master on a big plastic disc, it doesn’t sound any better. And focusing the music business on CDs is like focusing the computer business on floppy disks. Ever notice that essentially all software is downloaded, even if you pay for it? And that new computers have no disk drive? And that Apple, the world’s most profitable company, makes a habit of throwing out the old to focus on the new? How come we can’t take a lesson from that? How come we can’t embrace streaming and get people to pay? Hell, everybody already is streaming, on YouTube, so blame yourself for eviscerating the record business, that’s right, all you musicians bitching about Spotify, you’re just scaring paying customers away. Then again, no one ever said musicians were smart.

Just like those saying they sell CDs at gigs. It’s a SOUVENIR! No one is gonna play it, it’s a trophy they’ve acquired with your signature. It doesn’t have to be a compact disc.

So it’s good we’ve got a worldwide release schedule. It’s a worldwide business. This helps eradicate piracy. Once again, the music industry leads. HBO and film studios force people to steal to get what they want. Now the music business is moving into the future, embracing the concept of giving people what they want. As for giving retailers what they want, those bitching about Friday as opposed to Tuesday, isn’t the goal to eliminate the middlemen? Isn’t that what the internet does?

So start your engines. The music business has changed forever. You may not be able to get a truthful royalty statement, you may not be able to get a fair share of streaming payments, but from now on we’ll know what is truly popular, what people truly want to hear. And we’ll know a hit is something that sustains, not something that is manipulated to number one for a week, never mind something that only lasts a week.

This is a good thing.

Never forget it.

“The record industry will make Friday the standard release day for all albums”

Twitter Wilts

It’s all about the data.

That’s right, the Benjamins still count, but they don’t tell the complete story. Twitter sells advertising, Wall Street is happy, but users are abandoning the service. How do I know? The number of Oscar tweets fell 47% this year, from 11.2 million to 5.9 million.

The spinners will say the telecast decreased in viewership by 16%, that there was no Ellen DeGeneres selfie to go viral, but that’s what’s wrong with America, those with access to the media tell us one thing when the truth is quite another, and the truth is we’re over Twitter, not only is it hard to use, no one is listening.

That’s right. Everyone’s given up. Except for the delusional who believe they’re building a brand by tweeting twenty times a day. Have these people never heard of MySpace? Did those friends port over to Facebook or Instagram?

Of course not.

The truth is social media is the new fad. Yup, once upon a time it was hula-hoops, and then music. Now every year there’s a new social media platform that’s gonna change the world when the truth is it peaks and then people abandon it.

But even more important is the decline in tweets proves that we’re over the paradigm. You remember the paradigm, don’t you? That live events were gonna save television, because we all wanted to sit at home and snark. But we don’t if no one is paying attention.

That’s the story of the teens (and why don’t we call them the teens?), the separation between winners and losers. The truth is you can connect with the friends you already have but you can’t grow your fanbase via social media, not unless there’s an outside force driving it.

Of course there are exceptions, the occasional YouTube star, the Vine star (and ain’t that a fad), but for those at home playing the game believing they can win if they just post enough, can increase their followers and become rich and famous…it ain’t gonna happen. And people realize this and stop participating.

So people have stopped tweeting. But since Twitter makes money, this story does not dominate. But it’s the only one that counts. Twitter is a moribund service. One where, as Mark Cuban says, corporations go to make announcements. He said it’s the new PR Newswire. As for interacting with others, that’s moved on. Cuban himself has moved on to dark social. Will that be the last stop on the social media train…OF COURSE NOT!

Meanwhile, all these live events keep trumpeting their social media values, that people’s desire to participate, to hate, to deride, is going to prop up their viewership. But not only did the Oscar ratings decline, but so did those of the Grammys.

Maybe sports still triumph, because the game is enough. Whereas with these awards shows, there’s no there there. They only exist for ratings. They’re hollow at the core.

So where do we go from here?

Back to where we once belonged. Eventually the public is gonna figure out that not everybody can be famous, not even for fifteen seconds, never mind fifteen minutes. There’s just too much noise and you’re not interesting enough.

The desire to group and be social will persist. In an alienated world, we want to belong. But it turns out we don’t want our rallying points to be phony events created for the sole purpose of bringing us together so the usual suspects can get richer. Homey don’t play that game no more.

And we’ve got no allegiance to any platform. The public will gravitate from one to another, almost nothing lasts, like the acts on the pop chart.

So when you hear someone trumpeting their Twitter followers, when they start talking about the social media element of their campaign, roll your eyes. Yes, it’s important to get the word out. But it’s cheaper and harder all at the same time. The tools are free but you cannot get to everyone. Famous people can, but if you’re not one already…

And stop tweeting, no one is listening.

And if you really want people to pay attention, develop a skill. Hone it. Get it to the point where people find you as opposed to you dunning them to pay attention. It’s your only hope. It’s very slow. It won’t work in most cases. But everything that lasts takes a long time to develop.

P.S. Talent does not always take a traditional form. The Kardashians are excellent marketers. They picked out a target audience, impressionable young women, and titillated their aspirations. The fact that you deride them only adds fuel to the fire and has their adherents cling tighter. Same thing with Bill O’Reilly. As to whether they last… The Kardashians eclipsed Paris Hilton, their time will end too. As for Mr. O’Reilly, he paid a lot of dues before anybody knew who he was. He kept on doing the same act. He found a small audience that appreciated him and a protector, Roger Ailes, to run interference for him. That’s right, O’Reilly is a musical act. With a great label and manager. Once upon a time musical acts played this game, before everyone lost their backbone and desired instant success built on social media for kids without pubic hair who had no experience and nothing to say. That’s right, the music business killed the music business, the managers, labels, agents and acts, they bought all the new hysteria, that the internet could rewrite the rules and make everyone bigger and richer. But the truth is without something at the center, without a new take on the game, you’re just throwing crap against the wall. And it never sticks.

The Croque Monsieur

My mother was a bad cook and I can barely make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Greetings from Snowbird, Utah where I endured a muscle cramp standing still and am still feeling the pain one day later. That’s right, I was minding my own business, luxuriating in the landscape, and I leaned back ever so slightly in my ski boots and I felt a sharp, jolting pain, only lasting an instant and I knew I was in trouble. It’s been that kind of year, falling on my ass, spraining my ankle, getting in a car wreck and now this. It seems whenever I’m on the verge of being healthy the unexpected arrives. And life is all about the unexpected…I had four pairs of ski socks for five days, was I gonna have to do laundry or wear a stinky-poo pair one more day? Now that no longer matters. If I can get back on the snow, and hopefully that will happen tomorrow, I’ll have enough.

And it’s so weird being back in Utah. On one hand it’s changed and on another it’s exactly the same. Vail is an ersatz village with wide open but easy skiing with a smidge of lifestyle injected into the sport. Snowbird is bare bones. You live amongst the people, i.e. Mormons, in the suburbs and you drive up the canyon where there’s only skiing, of the most difficult variety in the States, and only the hard core are in attendance, surprisingly oldsters, who remember when skiing was a hip sport, and very few women, just like it was in the seventies. And the conversation revolves around skiing. As if world peace relied on it, or it was the most important thing in the world and once upon a time it was to me and on some level it still is and looking at the landscape I see myself if I’d stayed. It’s hard to veer from the course. There are two kinds of people in this world, those who can’t make change and those who constantly jump the rails, go from one gutter to another. But to experiment, risk, leave your comfort zone for the unknown and then stay long enough to make it work…that’s hard. When I moved to Utah I wanted to leave, when I left I wanted to come back. Which is all a prelude to the fact I spent the morning reading the new Anne Tyler book “A Spool of Blue Thread” wherein a family stays in Baltimore, and it’s very good so far and I keep hearing that Carole King song in my brain…”so far away, doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore.” And I know that kind of contradicts my prior thesis but Carole is singing more about reliability…can we count on people, to be there for us, is there community. That’s one of the weird things about the social web, we know where everybody is but we’re no closer in real life. I reached out to an old college friend for the very first time Monday, figured he’d be glad to hear from me, I saw an article he wrote online and hit him back…but he doesn’t want to know me now. That’s the truth underlying Facebook, there’s a reason we lost touch.

So I’m staying at the house of someone who doesn’t want to be named, so I won’t. And I’m one of four, like the Tom Petty song, I’m the outsider. And I behave differently from the outside than I used to. I used to get all nervous and talk and alienate, now, after decades of psychotherapy I assess the landscape and wait for holes. The only problem is sometimes time runs out before holes appear. But this trip is long enough for me to find my place.

And Jackson’s place is to cook.

No, not Jackson Browne, although he used to snowboard, not sure if he still does. This Jackson has a pedigree, from Andover to Yale, but skiing owns his life, and somewhere along the way he learned how to cook.

Cooking?

I eat.

My father was a gourmand. There was almost nothing as important to him as a good meal. He treated everybody and was always up for a new experience. Which may be why I was raised on a steady diet of going out to dinner. Sunday night Chinese or pizza. But there were finds, like El Faro in NYC for paella. And I must remind you, Bridgeport, CT had phenomenal pizza. You know, thin crust with an oil slick on top, what did they call it, scamotz? My Italian is not good, as a matter of fact, it’s nonexistent. Jackson speaks French but he did not learn his culinary skills in school, or from his parents, he cracked cooking books, he experimented, and what he’s plating is positively mind-blowing, I’d rather stay in than go out.

He cooks breakfast, but I’ve only recently learned how to eat breakfast. And I don’t eat eggs, so I haven’t partaken of Jackson’s concoctions, one with a yolk in an sea of whites. But on the first day back from skiing, on our lunch break, Jackson cooked up some croque monsieurs.

Do you know what this is? Basically a ham and cheese sandwich, but so much more. You start off with white bread, Jackson asked if there was a Pullman loaf. And he saw some ham in the fridge, along with some cheese, so he was inspired and… He dipped the bread in some egg, put mayonnaise on one piece, mustard on the other, ham and cheese in the middle, plopped the result in a frying pan and what came out was…

Utterly delicious! As good as any I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I wanted to testify. And right now I am.

Today it was a three course lunch. The pasta… Jackson didn’t have a name for it. But he threw in a little butter, and then some ham and some cheese and what came out was not only al dente but minimal, not overdone, no wasted elements…the opposite of mainstream dining. That’s right, go to the Olive Garden and you get too much, they try to impress you with tonnage. Go to the upscale place and it’s small and simple and exquisite, like Jackson’s.

Then there was chicken soup and something with noodles and meat and carrots all thickened with sour cream that was unnameable, but delectable. I asked Jackson what inspired him. The wine added flavor, the sour cream…thickened.

I’m learning.

But my life is so fast, I can’t slow down. I can’t watch television, I’ve got no time. The incoming is persistent. They’re always making more news. And we’re constantly reminded we’re inadequate and behind the times. Not only do we need the latest technology, we’ve got to know how to use it, to find out the media is manipulated by the marketers and there’s absolutely no center.

So what’s a poor boy to do?

Not play in a rock and roll band. That’s so very sixties, maybe seventies. When the elite triumphed, when talent was paramount, when artists pursued their dreams independent of constraints, when they dictated to the label as opposed to vice versa, when they didn’t have to tell us how rich they were because we could tell, and we wanted to be them.

I don’t want to be Justin Bieber, I don’t want to be any of them. There’s something phony there. It’s kind of like a hula-hoop, some fad that preys on the innocent and uneducated that’s ultimately forgotten. But the difference is life is so hard that everybody is dunning you with their wares and complaining when they’re unsuccessful. We’ve turned into a nation of complainers, both left and right. Both believe someone is holding them down, whether it be the government or the corporations. And I’ve got a dog in this fight, but recently he’s been tired and wondering if it’s worth the struggle.

I’m burned out on politics.

I’m burned out on so much.

At the end of the day, I’m just an animal, here for a short while. I forgot to procreate, so now it’s just about eating, crapping, screwing and having a good time. There ain’t much more to it than that. As for achievement… The money will buy you a better lifestyle, assuming you have time to live it, the fame will buy you nothing. Fame doesn’t keep you warm at night, it’s not even a decent friend. Get old enough and you realize we all really are equal, with our own predilections and desires, and if you’re looking for someone to validate you you’re in trouble.

Oh yeah, Jackson also made these sandwiches, yesterday… Pulled pork and spaghetti sauce on Ciabatta bread. How’d he come up with this?

How’d we all come up with this?

We’ve all got our own stories.

My mother was a bad cook because it just wasn’t important enough to her. She lived for culture. She can barely walk but she’ll never miss a transmission from the NYC Opera. She sees every movie. She can actually cook a decent meal when she wants to, but normally she doesn’t care.

I’m trying to discover what I care about. For years I ran on sheer will and determination, striving for an unknowable prize. But realizing I’m in control I now wonder, where should I go next? How should I tweak the thrusters? Do I just proceed blindly, will I then be pissed if I miss the target, or do I risk going somewhere where everybody else is not, that might leave me happy but possibly alienated and broke.

I don’t know. But I do know when I eat a good meal I smile and life makes sense.

And I’ve smiled a lot this week.