Monday, September 21, 2009

The book of love has music in it

I love Merge Records. And I love books. The
real kind – not the Kindle kind or the Dan Brown kind. So Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records is the perfect combo, yes? Some of my favorite music of all time has been released by the label – Magnetic Fields, Lambchop, Richard Buckner, Neutral Milk Hotel… and they continue to introduce me to new favorites (Wye Oak) and reintroduce me to bands I managed to miss the first time around (Polvo). I knew before I’d even cracked the cover that I’d love it, but thought sections on bands I didn’t know much about (Butterglory) or care about (Spoon) would be boring or tedious.

Aside from the rambling preface by Ryan Adams*, not once did this book lose my interest – because it’s not just a look at a label and some bands. It’s an inside view of the end of the major label system and proof that actually giving a shit about music was always the way to go. It’s not like I felt any real sympathy for the major label players before reading this book, but reading about the experiences of bands with majors during the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy is fascinating. From bands getting completely fucked over by jerks who made promises they couldn't keep to the stupid, wasteful stunts labels are still pulling to try to woo bands like Arcade Fire, it makes you wonder how anybody could ever want to be on a major label.

The thing that pops in my head most often from this book is the image of Sylvia Rhone, the head of Elektra records, clad in a designer sweatsuit, meeting with Lou Barlow and bullshitting him in her office. As soon as he leaves, she tells her staff member, "He doesn't have what it takes." This is the same woman who reassured Spoon that if their initial record didn't do so well on the label, Elektra would "work it long term, make it work at radio or press." They weren't going to drop one of their precious artists just because they're not moving enough records! Of course Elektra dropped them. Guess they were too busy "making it work" for Third Eye Blind.

From what I can tell, the only real advantage to a major is more money. But it’s not real money, because as soon as the first record tanks, they rip the rug out from under the band and leave them holding the bill. It’s not like Merge came up with some risky out-of-the-box business model that nobody could’ve predicted would succeed. It started because they loved music and figured they might as well make their own records. Thankfully, that still seems to be why they do it.

*Did Ryan Adams agree to write the Introduction only with the stipulation that it could under no circumstances be edited or proof read? We get it – you love Merge records! and you love to type in ALL CAPS as well as vacillate between forgoing punctuation, or using a lot of it!!!!!! It's annoying.


Lew said...

Everyone to their own opinion but I loved the forward by Adams, which was endearingly fanboyish. It's a good book, but Merge and its musical
output always had a kind of cultish
feel to it, if only because it was
so very very Indie, and I thought
he captured that feeling very well.

Laura said...

I liked the "fanboyish" aspect of it. But sentences like, "Me looking at my first 7-inch record. I was all 'what' and 'huh,' you know..." didn't do much for me.

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