Publicists are paid to have a way with words.
But an e-mail that rolled in last Wednesday from the owner of a Chicago-based, punk-leaning public relations firm was propelled more by emotion than commerce:
"Nothing like profound tragedy to make our myopic punk-rock world and scene squabbles seem truly meaningless. It's hard to know what to do, a feeling I am sure everyone can identify with."
Truly, last week's events made the usual music-industry-related pursuits seem a little trivial, if not downright icky. It was hard to know what to do. Backwash had intended to file a column from New York, while in the process of soaking up the numerous musical offerings surrounding the College Music Journal Music Marathon, an annual event that was slated to take place in scores of venues scattered around Manhattan, New Jersey and Brooklyn from Thursday, September 13, to Sunday, September 16. CMJ is second only to Austin's South By Southwest festival in terms of size and importance, and thousands of industry-mongers and musicians -- including Denver's Yo, Flaco! and the Apples in Stereo, the only local artists selected to participate this year -- found their plans similarly thwarted.
The annual CMJ marathon is the bread and butter of the College Music Journal, a radio trade publication reportedly in the midst of terrible financial strain; CMJ's publishing schedule has become noticeably erratic, with current listings of new releases more than a month behind schedule. Earlier this year, the company laid off a hefty portion of its staff, ceased reporting on Internet radio and killed its own online station, Radio CMJ.
Although festival planners have rescheduled the event for the second week of October, it will likely carry on in skeletal form only. Even a month after the tragedy, it may seem slightly distasteful to club-hop around a city that will, without question, still be in collective critical condition. And shortly after CMJ announced that the marathon would go on, albeit after a several-week delay, e-mails began circulating from record-company reps who announced that their acts would be unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts. According to the Apples' Web site, the band will be on a short Southwestern jaunt with the Minders during the new CMJ dates. Yo, Flaco! manager Krista Koehler says that her band, which had been one of ten selected to compete in the Coca Cola New Music Challenge, a CMJ-affiliated contest to be hosted by Dick Clark, is keeping its schedule open while it awaits word of the exact time the replacement challenge will be scheduled.
Considering the hit the marathon is going to take, it is not inconceivable that CMJ's future was crippled, if not toppled, along with the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. And CMJ's cancellation is just a small measure of the profound ripple effect of last week's tragedy.
Locally, the music community's reaction was, at first, dictated by practicalities: A number of shows were postponed or canceled altogether, because performers were simply unable to make it to town. (See this week's concert calendar and club listings for revised information, beginning on page 108.) While many performances did go on as planned, some were reconstituted as charity events; for example, Clear Channel donated a percentage of ticket proceeds from shows by both Sade and Pat McGee to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. House of Blues' Snoop Dogg show at Fiddler's Green, the City of Denver's "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" event and an open-forum community meeting at the Boulder Theater morphed into fundraisers as well.
The digital space occupied by local radio stations also brimmed with altruistic intent. As a companion to on-air announcements, most radio sites offered information on how to make cash and blood donations to aid victims. Several, including KBCO and KBPI, were accepting credit-card donations through the sites themselves. And some bands used the cyber realm as a sounding board for their own newfound militarism: The Web site of local heavy-metal outfit Rogue featured an animated flag over the enlarged "Rogue Nation" emblem, along with this delicate statement: "You may have hit us hard...but we are going to hunt you down and kick your ass!"
Such sentiment suggests the kind of reactionary, newly recharged patriotism surging through the country. A visual statement recently made by Los Angeles-based rap group the Coup smacks of something slightly more spooky: The original cover of the band's forthcoming album, Party Music, features two smiling individuals standing in front of the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers burning. In the image, which reportedly was created months ago and has become an Internet fave since last week, Coup bandleader Boots Riley gleefully has his finger placed on a bomb detonator. (One of the album's lead singles is titled "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO.") It's an uncanny image, with both towers flaming in roughly the same spots where the actual suicide pilots struck. The Coup's record label, Ark 75, pulled the cover art from its Web site on September 11 and has promised that Party Music will sport new, generic artwork when it's released in November. In the meantime, Mr. Riley, are you available to take a call from the FBI?
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In the same vein, Dream Theater has some problems of its own (aside from the obvious): The band's latest album, Live Scenes From NY, which was released last Tuesday, depicts a flaming World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty atop a barbed-wire apple. Dream Theater's record label, EastWest, is deciding whether or not to pull the album from retail shelves nationwide. (Survey says: Duh!)
Next time, fellas, can't you just call Frank Kozik and get a nice cartoon?
Slim Cessna's Auto Club returns to town this week to make us all feel happier. Slim appears at the Boulder Theater on Saturday, September 22, with Preacher Boy and Open Road...Opie Gone Bad appears with the on-again/off-again acoustic duo, Rachel and Andy, on Friday, September 21, at the Soiled Dove...Marking one of his last local apperances before jaunting off to Europe, j.frede leads the charge of this year's Denver Atonal Festival, a two-day journey into experimental media. This year's attractions include performances by electronic composer Kim Cascone and Crix Madine, an offshoot of the MULTICAST collective. The atonal adventure will be held Monday, September 24, and Tuesday, September 25, at the Gothic Theatre.