Thursday, December 30, 2010

Several Species OF Small Furry Thoughts - 2010

I’d like to say this year was somehow different from the other previous 21 years here at Twist and Shout, but honestly, it still feels about like it did in the beginning. Things have definitely changed but the basic feeling of being in a record store, turning people on to music, and validating their identities is still pretty much the same.

The changes seem like they are going on around, or in spite of us. More and more people download music. Unbelievably there has been a massive shift in the way our world consumes music. In the blink of an eye, entire generations of people have turned their backs on the advances made in sound replication in favor of storage ease. (Wow, Steve Jobs paid attention when he heard the axiom about never going broke by underestimating the gullibility of the American public.) Along with that, the social aspects so integral to listening to the music we so revered in the 60’s and 70’s have just disappeared overnight. Young people don’t listen to music together the way they used to. They can’t. The Ipod has created a self-sufficient bubble for each individual. There are devices for listening over crappy little speakers but from what I can tell, it is only adults who use these, and then wish they had never gotten rid of their turntable. For the most part, the social dynamic associated with popular music has shifted.  Does this mean that people have stopped loving music? No, it does not. In fact, I am seeing those kids who do take it seriously start to poke their heads in here again. As they become enamored of certain artists, they want to see what this “collecting” thing is all about. The artwork, feel, texture, smell and “life-force” of the actual object (CD, LP, 45 or DVD) brings an artist to life in ways that a download simply never will. To hold an LP by Muddy Waters is quite something special compared to downloading ten Muddy Waters songs.  I don’t labor under the false hope that downloads are going away - they are the future - but, as I had hoped, there is still a place for the real stuff. It is the final step in the life of a collector, no matter their age. If you love The Beatles, eventually some physical form of The Beatles is going to make its way into your life. So, the downloading of music has become a stepping-stone to collecting - as once the transistor radio was. Get a taste for it cheap or even free, then when you are ready to get serious, we’re here for you.

So what physical stuff did we sell this year? Vinyl Vinyl Vinyl. It is not a flash in the pan! It is back in a significant way. We have seen tremendous and sustained growth in the most physical of all formats. Across the board, artists and labels are starting to see the real value in offering their fans records. It illustrates my earlier point; once you have fallen for, say Godspeed You Black Emperor the reality of your love for that band can only be consummated in the soft flesh of a record. Once you hold something close and dear, it becomes so much more real. Over and over this year, I saw kids with that libidinous glow of pride as they approached the register with an LP or 7” by their favorite band. The smart bands truly get it. I would not expect Gaslight Anthem or The Black Angels or Animal Collective to ever release another album without a vinyl version. Their fans will demand it at this point. Of course, the limited nature of most vinyl issues insures that they will go up in value. Some of our biggest successes on Ebay this year have been with records that are less than five years old.

And let us not forget our old friend the CD. While it has been battered and insulted, proclaimed dead every year for the last decade and a half, it still is our biggest seller. Don’t believe the hype; the music industry still turns on the sales of the CD - period. Anyone who tells you differently is either a fool or a liar. It is still the format of choice for the vast majority of serious music listeners. It is over 60% of our sales and it still represents billions of dollars of sales to the industry. CD-wise, there was a difference this year; the biggest sellers were almost all newer acts. Sure, Eric Clapton and Neil Young both have new records that we are selling quite well, and the Elton/Leon album is something of a phenomenon, but the real winners this year at Twist are The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, Arcade Fire, Cee-Lo Green, Ray Lamontagne, Bruno Mars, Kanye West, The National and countless other bands that have made their mark since the third Woodstock festival. In other words, that first and second graduating class of rock royalty no longer sits on the sales throne. Those artists still matter, but the young bloods matter just as much. And that is a good thing. If we are going to stay valid then the new artists need the same love and honor we give Elvis, Mick and Jimi. We have, we do, and we always shall stay excited about new music at Twist and Shout.

And then there is all the other stuff. A number of years ago when I paraphrased our friends at the great California store Salzers by saying “when people in Colorado think gift, I want them to think Twist and Shout” I didn’t know how real this idea would become. Sales of what we call our boutique regularly hover between 15-20% and this Christmas they were even bigger. I saw plenty of people who were shopping here just for the gifts - no music or movies at all. That’s just fine with us. There is a thin line between a new album and the shirt you wear while listening to it. It all adds up to who we are as individuals.

Like every recent year, people will come up to me in the coming weeks and hesitatingly ask how it went. I will be able to tell from their downturned eyes that they expect the worst answer possible. But, just like all the other years I am filled with optimism and fully believe in the mission - still and always. 
See you in the aisles,
Paul Epstein

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'd Love To Turn You On: At the Movies #3 - Cat People

Cat People (1942, dir. Jacques Tourneur) / Curse of the Cat People (1944, dir. Robert Wise)

Here on one mid-priced DVD, we have two very different films bearing the same tawdry kinds of titles that belie the subtlety and craft that went into the films themselves. First off, there’s Cat People, one of the great horror films of the 1940’s. Director Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton (who was responsible for a terrific run of films at RKO studios at the time) worked together with a minimal budget to create a film long on atmosphere and suggestion, knowing that a few well placed sound effects, some spare lighting, and good performances from their actors were worth ten times more than the shock of showing a big budgeted monster effect that then took

all the imagination out of the equation. In the film, Simone Simon plays Irena Dubrovna, a Serbian-born woman living in New York, who begins to suspect that meeting her new husband Oliver Reed (played by Kent Smith) will awaken her familial curse and turn her into a murderous panther. Whether this curse exists or is the work of her emotional state and suppressed sexuality coming to the fore is a question left to the viewer as Tourneur and Lewton brilliantly and eerily suggest both possibilities – she may be a dangerous shape-shifter or an emotionally disturbed young woman. When Oliverturns to a co-worker for companionship that his wife is unable to provide, is he about to unleash the emotions of a jealous wife, or a deadly feline wreaking vengeance? Find out, in Cat People!
Two years later, Lewton returned to the success of his Cat People with the sorely mis-titled Curse of the Cat People. For this film he enlisted the aid of director Robert Wise, a journeyman Hollywood director able to take on projects as diverse as this film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, just to name a few of his 40+ director credits. Lewton and Wise did not have a psycho-sexual thriller in mind this time though, instead this film, which takes place six years after the original, focuses on shy, withdrawn Amy Reed, the daughter of the original film’s Oliver Reed (a role briefly reprised here by Kent Smith). Amy talks to herself and to her imaginary friend rather than engaging with playmates her own age. Could she be the victim of a curse as well? Or is she simply a child living in her imagination, in need of attention and help being drawn out of her fantasy world? The film’s evocation of the child’s interior life – which unduly concerns her parents – is miraculous; it’s one of the few children’s fantasy films that feels like it really understands the child inside and out, rather than portraying childhood in the cloyingly sentimental glow of adult reminiscence. Go in expecting more dangerous panther-women and you’ll undoubtedly be disappointed. But if you’re prepared to set aside your expectations of the spooky horror of Cat People and instead to experience one of the great fantasy films about childhood, you’re in for an absolutely classic double feature.

- Patrick

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'd Love To Turn You on #24 - Quicksilver Messenger Service - Happy Trails

When one thinks about the music of the 1960’s several different locales come to mind; London, New York City, Dee-troit, Memphis and of course, San Francisco. Of the San Francisco bands, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and Santana seem to get the most attention, yet the work of Moby Grape, The Charlatans and most importantly Quicksilver Messenger Service deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. In fact, if push came to shove I might have to name Happy Trails the most compelling argument of the Bay Area’s impact on rock. There is no better illustration of the potency of jamming wildly while on LSD than this incredible album.
The first side is just one song; Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, recorded live at The Fillmore and stretched to the limits of psychedelic imagination. Guitarists Gary Duncan and the great John Cipollina elongate the song to its artistic and sonic limits, intertwining their similar, yet always distinguishable styles into a snake of many heads. They play with such sympathy and telepathy that at times one can’t believe this is improvised music. They seem to know exactly where the other is going at all times and the result is a guitar freak’s wet dream. There is no other album that will drive a normally sedate 50-something man into such a frenzy of air-guitar as to worry his family. “I haven’t seen him this amped up over an album since the last time he listened to Quicksilver.” For me, there is no more distinctive and criminally under-appreciated guitar player than John Cipollina. Listen to the part of the song subtitled “How You Love” and hear Cipollina wrench vibrato and note bending out of his guitar like nobody this side of Hendrix. His practice of wearing a pick on each finger of his right hand combined with his completely muscular and manic left hand attack make him sound like no other player. He is the definition of day-glo guitar. Flower Power given body.
Side two is also largely taken up by one Bo Diddley song. This time it is “Mona” whose pounding, archetypical rock and roll beat opens up and lets Cipollina again ride a multi-colored beast around the Fillmore like nobody’s business. I have always considered Jerry and Jimi and Mick Taylor to be the tops, but I hold a completely special and unique place in my musical heart for John Cipollina. He burned so brightly and produced such a recognizable, stinging sound from his customized Gibson SG that he is just hard to beat. Check this picture out. It is his guitar and amp stack on permanent display at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I always loved seeing him live up until his untimely death in 1989, but I have to admit that he never topped the playing he did on the first two Quicksilver albums.

After “Mona” romps through the Elysian Fields for about seven minutes, side two continues with Gary Duncan’s gorgeous instrumental “Maiden Of The Cancer Moon” before a sly edit takes us from the live milieu to the studio for another beautiful, feedback-laden guitar workout titled “Calvary.” At about three minutes in, when Duncan is majestically strumming acoustic and Cipollina is wringing the neck of his guitar within an inch of its life…bliss. “Calvary” might be the definitive acid-guitar instrumental. Happy Trails ends on an upbeat, funny note by winking at the freaks ou
t there andthe band singing the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans classic “Happy Trails.” I guess trails can be taken to mean several things.
When I first got the idea for this ongoing column, I’d Love To Turn You On, this was precisely the kind of album I had in mind. Something that I would give friends or customers that they were unfamiliar with, then, without fail, a month or two later I would see them; “wow, how did I not know about this album? This is the greatest thing I’ve heard. Who is this guitar player? I gotta hear more.” That type of reaction is what we, here at the record store, live for. In addition to the awe-inspiring music, Happy Trails is also blessed with one of the most pastoral and iconic covers of the 60’s. It perfectly captures the heady blend of modern thinking and a respect for an older sense of style that San Francisco has always embodied. Put on Happy Trails and it IS 1969.
Paul Epstein

Friday, December 10, 2010

Several species of small furry thoughts - Memories of Ebbets Field

I first started going to concerts in the Denver area in about 1971 and by the time Ebbets Field opened in early 1973 I was starting to venture into clubs that would allow people under 21 to see the acts. Ebbets was one of those. You would get hand-stamped or wristbanded and were allowed to enter and see the best acts of the day in a tiny, intimate setting and buy overpriced cokes (there was a two drink minimum as I recall). I remember going to my first show there (Taj Mahal and Corky Siegel) with what would also be my first date. A great show where I learned about the magic of seeing a band up close and the horror of the first date. The girl’s name was Miriam (same as my mother) and she was totally beautiful and I just couldn’t quite put together that she was there WITH me and I was her date too. That part didn’t go so well, but I was smitten with seeing bands in clubs. I’d sort of figure the woman thing out - thank god for Jill - later in life, but rock and roll was very clear to me from the beginning. Some of the great shows I saw at Ebbets field were Country Joe McDonald, Renaissance, Roger McGuinn, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Peter Frampton among many others. It was such a special place to see a show. At the furthest you were maybe 25 yards from the band and the sound system that Listen Up installed and ran was many people’s first exposure to really world-class sound.
You wouldn’t know it now, but going in to downtown Denver in those days was more of a rare occurrence. In the early 70’s, when you came into downtown after 5 pm or so, it was quite literally a ghost town. There was very little going on, and Ebbets was an early glimmer of the cosmopolitan life that awaited Denver in the decades to come. In other words, it was a glittering, special event to go see a band at Ebbets. Denver was also not the primary concert market that it has become in recent years. We didn’t get all the great bands back then like we do now. Chuck Morris, Barry Fey and their early efforts to put Denver on the musical map really did accomplish that goal. We are now as good a market as any city in the country, and the first tentative steps represented by Ebbets, Tulagi’s and later the Rainbow Music Hall were milestones in Denver’s development. 
And so, our friends at Listen Up have released the 4th volume of their Live From Ebbets Field series. For you see, Listen Up not only ran the sound in the legendary club, but they recorded the shows and broadcast many of them on the radio. For years I loved listening to these shows surface on various radio stations, and the series of CDs that have been released have brought back many great memories. Volume 4, which benefits The Morgan Adams Foundation, is a wonderful disc that really captures the magical intimacy of these performances, but also the eclectic and hip nature of the booking. Highlights of Volume 4 include Cheech and Chong introducing The Beau Brummels as “The Bro Bummers,” ex-Byrd Gene Clark’s riveting version of “Set You Free This Time,” a young, angel-voiced Dan Fogelberg playing “Stars,” a triple shot of blues greats with Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Freddie King all making appearances, Doc and Merle Watson tearing up “Wabash Cannonball” and ragers by El Chicano, Spirit and The Marshall Tucker Band. This CD really reminds me of a great time in music history, and a special period in Denver’s movement toward becoming a world-class city. This is a limited release, with a charitable component, and this is the only record store where you can get it. Rush in and get 10 right now - they make great gifts. 
We also were lucky enough to get the few remaining copies left of Volume 3. This disc will benefit the - soon to be a reality - Colorado Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (of which I am a board member). It is only $4.99 and it goes to a cause very close to my heart. Highlights of Volume 3 include an over-the-top version of “Green Grass and High Tides” by The Outlaws, “Hello Hello” by Sopwith Camel and more great stuff by Robin Trower, PeterFrampton, Pure Prarie League and many others. These discs are a wonderful reminder of a very special time and place in Denver’s music history.

-Paul Epstein

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'd Love To Turn You On: At the Movies #2 - Microcosmos

Microcosmos (1996, dir. Claude Nuridsany/Marie Pérennou)

Microcosmos is a very hard movie to really explain to people.  Well, you can explain what happens in it, but that's not the same as explaining it.  Like many films, Microcosmos features struggle, conflict, violence, death and an extended (and rather sloppy) sex scene.  Unlike most such films, this one is rated G.  And unlike most such films, nobody is acting.
Microcosmos took three years to create (between designing the cameras and filming all the footage). The filmmakers take you down into the grass, into the world of insects.  And then...they leave you there.  With nearly no voice-over and not much music, you're simply allowed to watch as insects go about their daily lives.  You spend a few seconds with some insects, and several minutes with others. The insects scavenge for food.  They eat.  They attempt to avoid getting eaten.  They search for mates. They procreate.  They sleep.  And a few of them die.  
As I said, this explains what happens in the movie, but it doesn't explain the movie itself.  As somebody once wisely proclaimed, "it's not what it's about - it's how it's about what it's about that matters".  And directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou really did something remarkable here.  This might have been just another (rather interesting) documentary, but it's not a documentary at all.  The filmmakers in fact took a bit of grief when this film was first released.  Apparently several of the scenes were "staged" - the settings were provided, the insects placed into them, and the cameras rolled.  But that just means that Microcosmos isn't a documentary in the traditional sense.  It might have been, if the camera had moved back more, if they had hired a stern-voiced British actor to explain what we were seeing at all times. But that's not how most movies work.  We rarely have any need for a narrator explaining what movie characters are doing, and why they're doing it - the movie trusts us to figure that out by watching the characters interact.  And this is what the directors have done - they bring us in close, and they simply let us watch what's going on.  Sometimes, it isn't exactly clear what we're seeing, or the insects' motivation for doing what they're doing.  But in a sense, that's part of the appeal.  What ARE those two ants doing?
...and who would have thought I would ever want to know the answer to such a question?
As you can well imagine, this isn't a typical film to watch.  I'm not sure it's something you'll want to invite the whole family or a bunch of friends over to experience.  But "experience" seems to be the right word.  I never felt like cheering or crying or laughing while watching this film.  But that might be because I was so wrapped up in it.
- Alf