Sunday, January 29, 2012

CBC Record Library #RIP

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is quietly (shhhh!) dismantling record libraries in many of its locations across Canada.

As you can see in this article, the Globe and Mail newspaper calls it a "cultural treasure trove built up over decades."

My friend and former colleague Chris dela Torre reported about this on the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday January 26, 2012. You can hear his story here.

If you've read some of my other blog entries you know I'm not a Luddite when it comes to music. I may have grown up in the age of the vinyl but I consume music in all formats. 

That being said, getting rid of CBC music libraries is a tragedy. 

As a former long-time employee of the CBC, I lived through many cuts. I was even laid off for a brief period because of budget cuts. In my two decades-and-a-bit with the Corporation, I witnessed a variety of decisions about programming and personnel. The worst ones were always based on money and, for the most part, they were made in haste and reversed when the dust settled.

I want to make it clear that I am very much in favour of the CBC creating an internal digital music service where producers have access to the music library online. I know this was being discussed and planned about the time I left the CBC in 2008 and I hope they are making progress. There is no doubt that it is the best way to manage music for broadcast.

Calgary rock band circa 1969
The reason to keep records and CDs is not necessarily to play them on air. The case to be made for retaining music libraries is to maintain an important historical archive.

There are hundreds of LPs and CDs in the Calgary library by local artists recorded decades before present day digital technology existed. Those must be preserved. Digitizing the music is not good enough. The record covers and liner notes have historical value.

Record covers and CD booklets contain important art and information that must not be lost. I believe that part of job of the CBC is stewardship of this resource.

If the regional libraries aren't retained, then, at the very least, CBC staff should be painstakingly reviewing the contents of the libraries  to make sure copies of unique releases are retained, preferably in the regional locations but if not, they need to be catalogued and shipped to the remaining libraries  (I'm guessing Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal).

I am not holding out much hope for this though. Outside of the main archive, it's my experience that the CBC does not see its important roll as an archivist in the regional locations.

My biggest fear is that people who run the present-day CBC will expeditiously dispose of this resource and a few short years from now it will become painfully clear why this was a bad idea.

Then it will be too late.

Here's an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener with a CBC executive explaining why this is happening. (Updated Monday January 30, 2012)  

Here is a link I found to an article about issues surrounding digital archives: Preservation Reformatting Conference: Digital Technology vs. Analog Technology

Here's a link to a collectors site, specifically about LP collecting - Collectors Weekly

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Who is Tom Northcott?

It popped into my email in box the other day. A nice note from the folks at Rhino Records (now a division of Warner Music Group.) The subject line said.

Who is Tom Northcott? 

My first thought was: "I know that. Tom Northcott is (or was) a singer from B.C., Vancouver I think. His music was on the radio when I was a kid."

Northcott had a number of hits in the early '70s, mostly with songs written by other writers including I Think it's going to Rain Today (Randy Newman) and Girl From the North Country (Bob Dylan). I remember buying one of his records many years ago and it's buried in my collection, The Best of Tom Northcott (see the youtube video below).

A day or two later I saw the question again on twitter from Rhino "Who is Tom Northcott?"

And I tweeted "@Rhino_Records It kind of takes the wind out of this marketing plan when a person knows who Tom Northcott is."

Then they tweeted to me. "Spread the word."

So I guess that's what I'm doing except, Rhino is marketing Northcott as a one-hit wonder who was ignored by mainstream audiences in the U.S.A. In fact he had a mainstream, albeit brief career in his native Canada with a respectable string of hit songs. He was even nominated for a Juno as you can see if you click this bio link or read his Wikipedia entry.

I enjoyed Tom Northcott's music back in the 70s and since I own some of his original vinyl, I doubt I'll invest $25 in a reissue. His bio says he became a lawyer. I hope he's a rich one, but if not I hope he gets a big fat royalty cheque from this fancy Warner reissue.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Talking Heads Changed My Life

The other day I saw this tweet from Neko Case

Neko Case @NekoCase
Sometimes I am just punched in the face by how many GREAT songs the Talking Heads recorded.

I tweeted back to her

musicbaum  @musicbaum
@NekoCase Talking Heads changed my life.

She didn't respond to my tweet and that's okay, but I have to thank her for reminding me that, indeed, Talking Heads did change my life. 

I was obsessed with music from the time I was a child in the mid 60s. My brother brought home Beatles singles, I watched the Monkees on TV.I took guitar lessons because of both.

I listened to rock in junior high and high school. Jethro Tull, Joe Cocker and Canadian bands that were beginning to blossom at the time, Lighthouse with their string and horn sections and blues-boogiers King Biscuit Boy and Crowbar. . 

I walked into campus radio (CJSW) the first day I attended University of Calgary and continued to expand my musical influences to jazz and blues and some more obscure rock bands that the 3rd and 4th year students recommended. 

I moved to the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, Canada to study Communications and, the day I walked onto that campus I also walked into the campus radio station CJAM. On the strength of my U of C radio experience they gave me a time slot right away, which was great, but they said the first hour of my show I had to play an entire record from beginning to end - one the program director was to choose for me. I was not amused. I was a cocky college radio kid and i didn't need anybody to tell me what music to play. I had already dismissed punk and new wave as just so much posturing without much substance.

As you might have suspected by now, the record they gave me to play was Talking Heads '77 

I was gobsmacked. I could NOT believe the music that was coming out of the monitors. It was frantic, and quirky and rock and roll and it was wonderful. It was unlike anything I had heard before. And, because it had been labelled "New Wave" - which, in retrospect is something of a nonsensical label - it made me rethink my opinions about many of the safety-pin and skinny tie bands that were emerging at the time.

It paved the way for my appreciation for a flood of music from bands that remain my favourites: Elvis Costello, The Clash and the Sex Pistols. The movement also lead me to the Ska revival with bands like the Specials, Selecter and the (English) Beat. And the whole roots rock and country punk movement which included bands like Rank and File (Alejandro Escovedo was in that one) as well as Los Lobos and the Blasters.

My attraction to this particular Talking Heads record also taught me one of the most important lessons of my life which is to never prejudge music and dismiss it without a fair listen. I learned to open my ears and take it all in and to like, or not like, on its merits alone.

My appreciation of Talking Heads directed me to see some great bands back then. I saw The Ramones with Joe Jackson in Detroit and Canadian punk icons Teenage Head in their prime in Windsor.

Although like Moses who never got to the holy land I never did see Talking Heads in concert but I did get to see Tom Tom Club once and I finally got to see David Byrne in Calgary a couple of years ago at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Flight of the Muppets

I snagged free tickets to see The Muppets movie when it opened in November, actually before it opened. I won free tickets to take my 10 year old girl to see a sneak preview. I love the Muppets. I have always loved the Muppets, particularly their TV series. But there was one thing I never liked about their movies - the songs.

The movies always wandered towards the edge of saccharine schmaltziness until the Muppets broke out in song and then they dropped into the deep end. I liked the way the new movie started but it was getting close to the opening number and I braced myself. And shock of all shocks it didn't suck.

I learned why.

The songs were written by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords. There was something immediately likeable about the songs which were still Muppety-sweet but just a bit loopy.

You can really tell it's the Conchord's style when you compare this ... the rap in the Muppets movie performed by Chris Cooper playing the evil villain Tex Richman.

And this Academy Award winning song.