Sunday, May 17, 2009

A 'whoa' post on Live From Memphis

Below is a really nice blog post from the Thief in the Night blog on livefrommemphis.com. Should we be scared?

Check out the entire article at www.livefrommemphis.com


Turns Out It Was Peach Cobbler

It’s no secret that I am a Robby Grant super-fan. I have all the Big Ass Truck action figures. I have a Vending Machine vending machine in my garage that is chock full of Mouserockets. I even have his rookie card from Fester. As a matter of fact I am sitting in a lawn chair across from the street from his house right now. It looks like his family is sitting down to eat. It’s hard to tell. These binoculars are foggy.

When you're as awesome as Robby Grant, you can expect to have LFM bloggers stalking you. (photo by Don Perry)

Everyone is looking for the genuine article, a song or a sound that defies all categorization and genre, free of influence and uncolored by convention. But this can cause problems. In an uncomfortable exchange that I had with a presumptuous, albeit very talented producer, I was unsuccessfully trying verbalize the sound of an airy, washed-out cymbal. When I asked him if he had ever heard a particular song by Jesus & Mary Chain, he tossed aside his computer mouse and replied, “Um, I am pretty anti-reference.”

While I got what he was getting at, the noble inflection got me thinking he was misguided at best and grossly na├»ve at worst. The thing is, there is no such thing as original music. Everything comes from something. The best painters, sculptors, scarf knitters are not always the ones that shun their predecessors. Christopher O’Riley is a classical pianist who recently released an album of Radiohead songs reinterpreted for solo piano. In an NPR interview with Terry Gross, he was asked what makes such a band, as songwriters, worthy of such attention and reworking. His reply was great. “The best musicians, period, are those that assimilate, refine, and regurgitate in a creative way everything they hear…so you have a musician, who is writing music that could not have been written at any other time in history and yet takes into account all that has come before it.” That is the thing that makes Robby Grant’s discography noteworthy. Grant embodies what O’Riley said about truly great artists. The best musicians are not reference-free. The good ones are the in-betweeners—the ones who recontextualize the familiar without being confined by it. You can hear the Beach Boys, the Beastie Boys, the Dead Boys, and any number of other boys in his music. It all comes from something. I’m not holding out for a reinvention of the wheel, I just want to see someone put a dope-ass rim on it.

Speaking of references, Grant, in all of his incarnations, is a virtual Cliffs Notes to Memphis’s musical past and present, from Alex Chilton’s hooky garage pop to The Grifter’s disjointed slack rock, from Steve Cropper’s single-string guitar stabs to Isaac Hayes’s lush textural funk, from Ross Johnson’s lyrical oddity to Amy LaVere’s whispery ballads, from Early 8-Ball & MJG's creeping bounce to Greg Cartwright’s spastic rock n’ roll, not to mention every Memphis teen’s homebrew four-track self-indulgence. He has even modeled some of Elvis’s mutton-chops at times. But don’t get me wrong, he is not simply a conglomeration of these people. While reflecting these artists, Grant has avoided the 800-pound honor badge of nostalgia that has kept this city anchored to its own out-dated identity.

I am not one to blow sunshine up a whole region’s ass and praise all that hails from it. Memphis has certainly contributed to the collective pile of shit-music out there. I’ve stacked a few turds myself. But we do have a strong handful of those artists who reflect and reinterpret with honesty and quirk with an exposition of one’s own abilities and identity without the bullshit posturing. Grant is one of them. You are never forced to consider his motives; the music is simply enjoyable, like the funny-looking kid with the harelip you knew from grade school—offbeat, unassuming, and ultimately endearing.

Until his next release, I am resigned to sit and wait, stroking the lock of hair I just dug out of his trash. It looks like the family is on to dessert. Apple crumb pie, I think. I’ve got a ladder. I’m going in for a closer look.


Check out the entire article at www.livefrommemphis.com

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