Thursday, February 19, 2009
Post Modern English
The end of Paul Westerberg’s 49:00, the thorny issues of intellectual property and the intrinsic renegade spirit of rock n’ roll were still swimming uneasily in my brain when I headed downtown to see Workday /Schoolnight at Greensboro’s The Green Bean Friday evening.
Westerberg paints the back end of the album with a smattering of covers, flipping through them like someone’s spinning the dial of a radio, all laid out in his impeccably rough-hewn style (from “It’s Alright, Ma” to “I Think I Love You”). The thing collapses into “You want a law suit/ I got a swim suit” (it’s hard for me not to think of it as some sort of bigger picture, punk rock curmudgeon “Get In The Ring”).
Did Westerberg get sued? I don’t know. Should he have? I’m not really sure. Am I on his side? Almost as a rule.
Bart Trotman, the progenitor of the one-man Workday/ Schoolnight makes beats with equipment culled from his past employment at a public high school, mixes in audio from found answering machine cassettes and self help audio books as well as his own looped vocals and keyboard melodies. It’s great stuff: intelligent, accessible experimental music that distinctly dispatches with a lot of the pretension that usually accompanies “electronic” or “experimental” music.
On a certain level everything about Bart’s work is borrowed (and I don’t believe, on any level, that impinges on the amount of creativity) and in a tertiary burg with a tiny, unnoticed scene, it’s a given that this is just fine. Is this a reason to celebrate a scenester’s ghetto? How can we ignore the fact that, whether you’re Bart or Paul, the real issue isn’t “sampling” or illegal covers. The issue is “sampling” or playing songs by artists whose back catalogue is protected by phalanxes of lawyers.
And we’ve all had this conversation. I remember a friendly waiter in Portland complaining to me and a friend about the recently installed satellite radio at his café. It seems they had been told to stop rocking CDs or suffer the consequences. It all hurts my head a bit, honestly.
However, as I stepped outside the joint that night, I couldn’t figure out when Bart had slipped into such a compelling and haunting version of “Melt With You”. Then I realized that the bar next door was enjoying music by two dudes playing Top 40 songs on acoustic guitars. Their cliché cover was sliding over W/ S’s keyboard and drum machine which were grooving at about half the tempo.
Like the big DJ upstairs was doing some mixing of his own on a Friday night in a way no lawyer in the land could touch.
*photo by Jessica Trotman