There's been a lot of talk lately about this little old thing called "online music." Last week, a court ruling ordered the file-sharing system Napster to close its electronic doors for good (a ruling that was subsequently stayed until Napster's pending appeal can be heard). In the wake of that decision, a barrage of similar but less exciting "legal" sites (read: ones that charge money for downloads and thus don't ruffle the feathers of the legal eagles at the Recording Industry Association of America) have been popping up to show that they are ready to fill the very large void that a Napster shutdown would create. This is despite Napster CEO Hank Berry's repeat assertion that the company will be vindicated when it wins its filed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit -- and the Nappie ones will be allowed to legally operate. Some of these sites are ready with RIAA-friendly mission statements and PR campaigns that seem designed to convince the digital public that, since the days of unregulated methods of obtaining music on the Web are clearly over, you might as well give in and click on to a slightly less brave new world.
Listen.com -- a site based in (where else?) San Francisco -- offered a statement on the same day as the Napster ruling that was somewhat reminiscent of a snitchy child exploiting the moment when his more clever peer gets in trouble for doing something slightly naughty, but ingenious. The statement repeatedly reminded the reader that Listen.com is, and has always been, in full compliance with copyright law and recording industry friendly (in fact, the five major record companies -- yup, there are only five left-- are investors in the site). That's all fine and dandy until you consider that Listen.com doesn't even post music on its site; rather, the staff posts thousands of reviews of new music and provides links to other sites that do offer legal downloadable files.
Even less helpful or interesting is MusicBank, a new site slated for launch later this fall. MusicBank will provide the incredibly stupid but wholly legal service of allowing users access to their own personal music collections -- "anytime, anywhere." (In other words, if you buy the new Holly & the Horselips record at Virgin Megastore or any of the other monolithic merchants who will eventually sign on with MusicBank, the computer will know it. Later, after you've tired of the excellent sound quality of your personal home stereo system -- or don't want to carry your discs around with you for CD-Rom use -- you can log into your account and your Horselips disc. Zippity-freakin'-doo-dah.) Last week, the Universal Music Group -- the world's largest music conglomerate, a company that probably somehow owns the rights to that tune you just made up on your way to the toilet -- followed the lead of BMG and signed a three-year deal with the new company. At the moment, it looks as though the majors are far less interested in developing legal sites where experimentally minded listeners can broaden their exposure to new sounds (as Napster users do) than it is concerned with finding new ways to give the buying public a big, fat audio enema.
Obviously, copyright/intellectual property as it relates to the online world is a thorny issue with no clear heroes or villains. Probably the guys in Metallica -- and others who've been vocal in their opposition to Napster -- are not greedy pigs. Probably artists should be paid when entire albums are downloaded. And though Napster contended -- and offered evidence in court -- that its users buy more CDs as a result of sharing music through the Web, we all know there's plenty of click-happy kids out there who racked up Zip after Zip of pro bono digital files, saving their money to buy dime bags and cargo pants. Whatever. Even if Napster falls, it's had a hell of a run, and on the bright side, it's probably a good thing that so many people are thinking about music -- where it comes from, what it costs, who gets paid for it. And most important, what it means to us when our access to music is threatened.
There do, of course, remain several bastions of free file-sharing fun, but perhaps not for long, if the Napster decision is an indication of legal precedent, as many assume it will be. Not that Backwash advocates getting something for nothing (aside from the occasional detergent sample in the mail). But should you be of the mind to investigate such a thing, check gnutella.wego.com (for a download of file-sharing software) and other Napster-esque sites like FreeNet.com, imesh.com, scour.com and napigator.com. While you still can, of course.
He will probably not be sued by the RIAA anytime soon. But the odds are good that some sort of Gay Zombie Civil Liberties Union might file a complaint against local Web-master Maris the Great for defamation of character. On his hilarious but vile site (maristhegreat.com), the Great One credits himself as Headbanger and ZombieFag Extraordinaire, a roving reporter of sorts whose goal is to eliminate Colorado-based bands he views as a professional threat to his own band, Maris the Great and the Faggots of Death. Maris invites unsuspecting, and popular, local bands to an innocent-seeming interview. Although by and large they constitute intelligent discussions, Maris's interviews are often presented with a slant toward his own penchant for genitals and butt jokes. A recent interview with Costa Rican implants Colemesis, whose latest CD is titled Jalapeños in Burger Republic, began with the question, "So, does your penis look like a jalepeño?"; Maris also asked Blister66 to mull over the following brainteaser: "What kind of ass do you enjoy?" (For the record, the answer was: "Something that flaps around when you smack it.")
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Invariably, Maris's Q&As end with the interviewer attacking, butchering and dismembering the interviewees, usually sucking out their brains and chomping on loose ligaments, with a series of photographs documenting the carnage every step of the way (see photo below). Remarkably, some musicians do make it out alive. Colemesis guitarist Fabian Bonilla, "managed to escape unscathed," much to Maris's dismay. Other past victims haven't been so lucky. Though they can be found busking in local venues, members of Dear Marsha, Scary Valentine and Jepedo's Juice are all -- in Maris's world, at least -- long dead. (Perhaps they're now zombies as well?) A funny site not recommended for those who fear the sight of blood -- or gay zombie jokes.
Of course, if Web sites -- legal, disgusting or otherwise -- aren't your bag, or you're of the old school that still feels that music and computers should leave each other well enough alone, there's still the worldwide web of live music for you to get entangled in. Luckily, this week has a couple of standout offerings: Sally Timms and Jon Langford -- two Brits better known for their work with the fascinating collective the Mekons -- will be at the Lion's Lair on Friday, August 4. In the past couple of years, the pair has been taking the Mekons' early forays into neo-country sounds a step further; for Langford, it's been ongoing projects with the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, while Timms has released a couple of lush solo records (including last year's excellent Cowboy Sally's Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos, on the Bloodshot label). Should be a fine night of alterna-twang...Also on the country front: On Saturday, August 5, the Mercury Cafe will host the inaugural performance in the "Cowtown Saturday Night" series, a new effort to showcase some of the fine traditional and alternative country acts emerging from the area. Featured artists are the much beloved locals the Dalhart Imperials and recent Westword profile subjects Halden Wofford and the Hi Beams...The excellent local guitar impressionist Neil Satterfield will perform with a small army of area luminaries on Friday, August 4, at Swallow Hill. Satterfield, apparently still celebrating his gorgeous disc Wanderlust (initially released last year), will be joined throughout three sets by Carrie Beeder of Room 40, former Denverite turned San Francisco dweller John Vecchiarelli (whose occasional returns home are truly welcome ones), members of Antelope and Space Team Electra, and Kat Elinger from Worm Trouble. A Wanderful lineup, indeed...Finally, it's time once again for NedFest, the mountain musicfest organized by "Michigan Mike" Torpie. Though the roster of the two-day Nederland event is too exhaustive to list here (see our concert listings or michiganmike.com), highlights will include performances from the Tony Furtado Band, the Motet, Stanley Jordan (Saturday night, 7:30 p.m.) and the Yonder Mountain String Band. That's a lot of music, folks. Get the hell off that computer.