Apr 042008

People who don’t play rock ‘n roll sometimes have misconceptions – or inflated conceptions – about what motivates those of us who do.

  • A love of music? We must hope YES, above all else.
  • An opportunity to be cooler that we really are and/or attract sexual partners? Certainly.
  • The chance to make a great album that will one day inspire a hopeless dreamer like yourself? Bravo!
  • A chance to be a rock star living a wild and wealthy life before retiring to one’s country estate and skeet shooting one’s gold record? Why not!

But many of us have other, possibly unexpected motivations for sticking with the goal of making rock ‘n roll music to the best of our abilities. For instance, I’m getting old by rock ‘n roll terms, I’m aware of my musical limitations, and I’m happily married. With the exception of the added cool factor, all of the above reasons for spending time holed up in my garage with my friends, arguing over the same old issues of whether to use the “Ticket to Ride” beat or not on a new song, are in the rearview mirror. However, there’s one dream that keeps me going: the hope of a reissue of past releases that necessitates brief, song-by-song liner notes by me and my bandmates. That’s right, I’m not afraid to open up and share this sad, little dream with you – and I expect those of you harboring your own unexpected motivations for carrying on to show similar bravery!

I typically cherish anecdotal, song-by-song liner notes in reissues by my favorite artists more than I do the inevitable bonus tracks. The penultimate, to date, reissue of Elvis Costello & The AttractionsImperial Bedroom is a good example. I was shocked at how weak most of nearly two dozen bonus outtakes were. I knew that the B-sides from that album were mostly nothing write home about, but combined with the outtakes that second disk served mainly as a testament to the editorial skills of Costello and producer Geoff Emerick, I presume. With the wrong choices, that self-proclaimed and possibly accurate “masterpiece” could have been a turd.

However – however – the booklet accompanying that CD is loaded with rich, song-by-song details provided by the loquacious Costello. His descriptions of the outtakes and how some of them were used for scrap parts to make what would eventually become a great song on the final album is worth the wasted second CD. One of the early CD releases of The dB‘s first two albums had great, anecdotal, song-by-song liner notes. Same goes for that new Big Dipper set. I’m a rock nerd, and I love it! What do I really care about what drugs an artist took, who they slept with, etc? Anyone can do that! Well, just about. What we can’t all do is have enough of a dedicated rock nerd audience to care about the genesis of our precious songs. But maybe we can try.

Finally, along with the sense of sharing the “creative process” behind an artists works, the other thing that attracts me to these liner notes is the role they play in giving thanks and weaving into the fabric of our beloved rock ‘n roll tradition. Letting the world (or the 500 collectors who snatch up your reissue) know that one of your songs was inspired by a rare track from the German import of a Monochrome Set album not only makes you seem a little cooler, not only says Thanks to the Monochrome Set, but ties your song into the Great River of Rock Wisdom. Granted, sharing this obscure reference likely won’t get you laid or high, but it helps to achieve a number of the other initial motivations musicians often have for getting into music.

Depending on the response to these thoughts – and especially the willingness of longtime musicians of any stripe and degree of talent to be open about their remaining motivations for sweating it out in a dank basement or dusty garage – I have an idea…


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