Okay, so it’s long been established that I’m cheap. I don’t like to spend money. That probably comes from never having had any money – after moving out of my parents’ house, my jobs ranged from cashier at a gas station to cashier at a sub shop, with brief forays into ushering at a movie theater and one sad day as a waiter at a restaurant that served mainly breakfast to the kind of people who eat long breakfasts on weekdays on the east side of cities and are drunk (or maybe stoned) by the time breakfast rolls around, so their breakfasts involve alcohol, making obscure jokes to their waiter (me) who doesn’t get them, and leaving a tip that was nowhere near worth it.
By the time I had a job that earned some money – my current one – I also had a massive amount of debt from student loans used not just to finance college and law school but an ill-advised (albeit fascinating and scary) trip to Morocco. And I have five kids. So I’ve never been what you would consider flush with cash, and likely never will be.
But I am what you would consider flush with a love of new music, and unheard music and rare artists and things that others have never heard of so that I can say I discovered them. And after discovering them, I can mostly keep them to myself. While I frequently bemoan the fact that my tastes in music, books, TV, movies, clothes, etc., are not popular, secretly, I actually like that. I like that not everyone gets my music, books, TV, movies, clothes, etc., because it makes me think that people are just not as cool as me, not as hip as me, not as intelligent as me, not as sensitive as me. They don’t get it because they’re not as anything as me.
That’s how I got through high school, by the way. That was why the girls didn’t like me. It had nothing to do with being about 100 pounds overweight, or the spiky hair or the comic books or the D&D. It was all about being so good that girls didn’t like me.
So while I appreciate it when my music occasionally breaks through – like when the Violent Femmes get their music into a commercial
(although I do not appreciate it when a cool song like “Melt With You” gets used for a Taco Bell commercial because (a) I’ve never liked Taco Bell ever since someone spread a rumor about the one down the street from the movie theater I worked at and (b) the commercial with “Melt With You” is all about melting cheese and the way they film the people eating burritos and stretching the melty cheese, it looks like snot coming out of the people’s nose) I would actually be horrified if my music was to suddenly become super-popular to the point where it was overplayed and stopped being so cool. Overplaying things, any overexposure, always makes things uncool. Look at Steve Carell.
(And, on that note, I’ve learned that instant access to songs that I like can make me like them less. Here’s a partial list of songs that I’ve always loved and now that they're on my iPod I’m kind of over them: Ballroom Blitz, Come Sail Away, Modern Love, Faith, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Peanut Butter Jelly Time… I take that last one back. I’ll never get tired of that song.)
Back to the subject. With little money and a love of obscure songs, the Internet has been a blessing to me. I mean, yeah, the easy access to information, yeah, the instant communications around the world, blah blah blah. What the Internet has really meant is free music from obscure bands. I have discovered bands I might never have known existed because they don’t make it into Entertainment Weekly.
(And another side note: I have less time these days for reading magazines and decided to cancel two of the three subscriptions I had. Previously, I subscribed to Newsweek, Discover, and Entertainment Weekly. Only the last one survived.)
(Also, I don’t read anything in the Sunday paper anymore except the comics, and the sports section.)
Without the Internet, and helpful people posting their songs on the Internet for me to download, I would not have discovered hundreds of great bands including The New Pornographers, Allison Crowe, Adam Chikushin Tucker, The Apparitions, or my current favorite (who I’m listening to right now), Joe Henry.
And before you artists and copyright lawyers get all mad, let me add: first, I only download legally, and second, I make it a point to get out and buy CDs from the artists who I decide I like. So the free sample of music serves its purpose: I discover them and then they make some money off of me.
But we music downloaders know that there’s a lot of information out there, a lot of songs, a lot of sites, a lot of crummy bands trying to suck you into using precious disk space on your computer and iPod to store their crummy songs. And you’ve got to sort through them, be judicious, not download just anyone because the songs will get lost in the shuffle (literally) and you’ll have to keep skipping over junk just to get to, say, a song from Say Hi To Your Mom.
That’s where the music bloggers come in. They do the work for me, and for all of us, and sort out what’s good and what’s bad and post it and link to it and generally let me save some time by going to their sites and seeing what they’ve found for me. And I’ve spent a lot of time going through the music blogs, and deciding which ones were worth visiting and which ones were not.
I’ll give a few nods to some of the good ones before getting to The Best, so you can check them out yourself. I don’t know much about them other than what I tell you here; I don’t read about the bloggers, I go there for the music. But I like Muruch, a new one I’ve found. You’ll find ethereal, generally quieter and somewhat obscure music there – like Petra Haden’s version of Don’t Stop Believing. I also like 3Hive, which posts a really eclectic set of music and has pretty good descriptions of the songs that are generally trustworthy. They get a little chatty, but who am I to knock someone for that? Music For Robots tends to lean towards the obscure rocker end of things, and has some really interesting selections. And for British invasion, there’s no beating Headphone Sex, which is where I found the band Bromhead’s Jacket, which is the best of the British “lad rock” bands.
Those are just a few of the 20 or so sites I skim through on Sunday mornings when I used to read the paper, looking for the next new thing and updating music for my jaded ears. But they all pale in comparison to The Best of the mp3 sites, Fingertips.
Fingertips each week puts up “This Week’s Finds”, a post of just three songs per week. But what a set of songs! Each week I go there and download the three songs selected without any hesitation. I don’t know what the guy who writes it does or how he does it, but he has an uncanny knack for finding the absolute best songs out there. I can hardly think of a song I downloaded from his site and did not like. And you don’t have to skim through 15, 20, 30 songs to find a couple that sound interesting, or wade through lengthy posts, or pictures. It’s just the three new songs, each week.
What sets Fingertips apart, too, are the descriptions of the music. He posted the song “The Underdog” by Spoon, and not only was the song great, but he mentioned in the blurb about the song that they had a complex bit of clapping in it (he gave the actual time of the song that it would happen) and I was cued in to listen to it and he was right, and it actually very much contributed to my enjoyment of the song.
Here’s Fingertips’ description of the song I just now actually downloaded from the site, “Summer’s Ending,” by Steve Goldberg:
Well okay summer has actually already ended, but just barely, and in any case the indelible complexion of late summer/early fall is delightfully embodied in the words, the music, and the spirit of this charming song. The bittersweet cello that leads into the first verse--with its singular way of sounding upbeat and sad at the same time--is just a hint of the tuneful orchestral treat the Pittsburgh-based Goldberg has in store for us, with its nicely incorporated string, woodwind, and brass parts. I like how, even so, the guitar and drums--the only "normal" rock instruments on display--are still given their due; the guitar plays an important textural role, and the drums are woven into a larger percussive sound with a nifty sort of homespun finesse. And boy was this homespun: the self-titled album from which this comes was recorded over eight months as Goldberg's senior project as a music student at Carnegie Mellon University; all the musicians on the album (a total of 22 instruments employed) were CMU students as well. Goldberg even sang into a microphone that was custom-built by an electrical engineering student. And perhaps it took an actual college student to so evocatively capture summer's end, with its looming, double-edged departure scenes ("I couldn't wait to leave/But now I want to stay"). Kind of gets you right in the stomach. The CD is available via Goldberg's web site, as is the MP3.
I have a love of good writing, and This Week’s Finds displays that, capturing in one paragraph enough information about the song, the artist, and the feeling it conveys, to make me want to listen to the song even if I just didn’t automatically download whatever he tells me to. I love the use of the phrase “indelible complexion” and “looming, double-edged departure scenes.”
I also broke my rule and tried to find out a little about the blogger behind the music. Here's what Fingertips has to say about its creator:
Fingertips is designed, written, edited, and nourished by Jeremy Schlosberg. All mistakes are his, all dead links are his responsibility (but don't expect them to be fixed overnight!), and everything that he says is great that you think is not so wonderful, well, what the heck. "It's a strange and beautiful world..."
Then, when you click through his name, you get:
Jeremy Schlosberg is a writer, editor, and playwright with 20 years of experience writing for a wide variety of national publications, including the New York Times, GQ, Salon, Smart Money, Utne Reader, Lingua Franca, Parenting, and others too numerous (and, often, obscure) to mention.Jeremy's love of music dates back to epiphanies experienced while listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in Junior High School. You know, it wasn't a bad place to start. Soon enough Blood on the Tracks came along; by the time of This Year's Model, an abiding love for intelligent, passionate music had taken root. While he has largely steered clear of writing about music professionally, occasionally the opportunities have arisen. Musicians he has interviewed over the years include Jane Siberry, Dar Williams, Lucinda Williams, and the late, great Kirsty MacColl.You may email Jeremy via this page.
(I actually also only assumed that “Fingertips” was a "him", which might be kind of sexist of me, but that’s me: I ride my own melt.)(Plus, I was right. Is it sexist if you’re right?)
So it's not surprising that Fingertips is well written, given that background. And, it seems, it should not be surprising that I like the music Fingertips picks out, since one of the earliest albums I owned was an 8-track that included "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road," too. (I also owned Supertramp's Breakfast in America.)
The world is a large and confusing place. It’s the kind of place where you think, as a kid, that you’re going to want to travel the world after you get done working at all the fast food restaurants, but then you end up in Morocco eating a sheep’s eyeball and getting a gun pointed at you. It’s also the kind of world where thousands of bands are posting millions of songs, a dizzying array of music that would overwhelm even the most diligent music-surfer. In that kind of a world, it’s nice to know that you can always live in the suburbs of Wisconsin eating Ranch Pops, and it’s nice to know that someone out there will post, each week, the exact three songs you want to hear right then. Thanks, Fingertips, for doing that. It makes you The Best mp3 Site.