I Had to Tell You About the New Roky Erickson Documentary and Tour

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, a statement rarely applicable to the TMT news column. Yet, nowhere is the phrase more appropriate than when describing the bizarre life and times of psych patriarch Roky Erickson, whose experiences could literally and figuratively be described as mind-blowing. First coming to prominence in the early 1960s as founding member of The 13th Floor Elevators, who are often credited as the first psychedelic rock group, the group continued breaking new ground, playing, and recording throughout the decade. Eventually, his vocal support for marijuana and LSD proved to backfire on him, causing much police attention and ultimately leading to his arrest for a single joint. While on trial, he plead insanity rather than face a 10-year prison sentence, which also proved to backfire -- the plea got him sent to a mental hospital, and his several busted escape attempts from it got him sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

There, he was subjected to electroshock therapy and heavy doses of Thorazine. After being released, he spent the next few decades undertaking new musical projects, claiming to be an extraterrestrial, and living under the eye of his heavily religious mother (among other things). It was only after legal custody of Roky was awarded to his younger brother in 2001 that he began recovering, regaining control of his life to the point where he is now able to make music again, even playing several shows and festivals in the past and near future.

A documentary about Erickson's life, entitled You're Gonna Miss Me (via Palm Pictures), is due for a theater release on June 8 and a DVD release July 10. Note to movie producers: I think I can speak for all aspiring musicians dabbling in recreational drug use from Texas who have religious parents when I say the recent documentaries about Erickson and Daniel Johnson have not exactly been the most encouraging. Just one movie about someone not suffering from schizophrenia by their late 40s would be a serious breath of fresh air. It's difficult to complain though, because at least judging by the trailer on the film's website, this movie is going to be a much-needed retrospective on the important achievements and far-out events in the life of one of the most influential musicians of the 1960s.

But seriously, electroshock therapy?

Another DRM Update: Apple and EMI Join Forces to Bring a Software Licensing Model to the Music Industry, and the Industry Reacts

Growing up with 8-bit video games and Saturday morning cartoons as main sources of entertainment generally leads to a short attention span -- and a lack of patience. This new generation raised on the virtues of "right now dammit" are even worse. To combat this increased lack of patience, a "hot" story was put onto the back burner last week to soak in the sweet flavours of the inevitable information fallout. In short, I've been busy.

Last week, EMI announced that it would soon be offering its entire catalogue in a DRM-free format. You read that correctly. The entire catalogue, even Dirty Vegas and Everclear, will be sampled at a rate of 256 kilobytes per second, and will be completely unencumbered. Those a little fuzzy on this whole digital music thang may be content with that much information, but EMI has more to offer.

The music will be sold on iTunes (Stevey J was at the announcement shindig -- shown in the above picture) and will be provided in the AAC format. Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) is a standardized format that is similar to MP3, but claims to offer better sound quality at a lower compression rate (laymen: more bang for your buck). Purists cry fowl, as the accepted standard for digital music is MP3, but Apple has its reasons. MP3 is a licensing nightmare, with many different companies claiming the rights to the encoding (ripping), decoding (playback), and file structure (shit you don't care about). On the other hand, since AAC is a proper standardized format, there are no royalties to pay and roughly 60% of the devices capable of playing digital music today support AAC, so it's not a bad business choice.

Now, normally iTunes music is released at 128 kbit/sec, so the jump to 256 pleased SOME audio enthusiasts. The rest bickered and whined that the music is still in a lossy, compressed format and therefore unacceptable. These are the people who own nice/expensive audio equipment and have a properly tuned ear that can pick out tiny discrepancies between the original recording and the lossy version. Quickly: lossy means that the original music has parts of it stripped away that cannot be "heard" by a human ear, and the remainder of the music is squeezed into a tiny format that gets turned back into music at a later time by a decoder such as your iPod. The jump in quality is essentially worthless because one group of people won't notice the difference, and the other would claim the difference is not good enough. These purists want uncompressed, lossless files such as the FLAC format, which will probably show up later in another "upgrade." Which of course will cost more, but will probably only upgrade the tracks to 360 kbit/sec, with another upgrade planned to FLAC for the second quarter of 2008.

The catch to this good news is the price increase from .99 to 1.29 for DRM-free music. It's not a huge jump for small-scale purchases, but with EMI offering to upgrade your entire catalogue of their music at 30 cents a track, it could get pricey. The increase is a victory for the label, but sets a terrifying precedence for the consumer, as the price for a single song has risen 30 cents and there is absolutely no way to justify it. Without DRM, there are reduced software development and licensing costs to Apple and EMI, the encoding process requires fewer CPU cycles to downgrade a CD-quality recording to 256 kbit/sec, and fewer cycles to NOT add DRM at the end, which is a huge bonus for Apple.

Some would argue the increase in file size, which is small to begin with, would amount to a greater amount of bandwidth consumed, and while true, does not justify a 30-cent increase (bandwidth is cheap these days). It could also be argued that since EMI is removing the DRM, they're protecting their investment with a higher price, but with the money they're saving on software development, licensing, and customer lawsuits pertaining to DRM restrictions, they would of already come out on top without the increase. In short, the price increase is absolutely unnecessary.

So while the removal of DRM is the first step in creating a viable business model for the 21st century, it still puts the business ahead of the consumer. The major labels can tweak their business model all they want, but the up-and-coming generation was raised on the freedom provided by the internet, and half-baked schemes like this one just ain't gonna fly in their eyes. But with WMG's shock at EMI's decision (especially during a high-profile takeover) and Microsoft's knee-jerk announcement of its intent to also release DRM-free music, the formerly out-of-step EMI has added tremendous pressure to the rest of the industry to play catch up.

I Had to Tell You About the New Roky Erickson Documentary and Tour

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, a statement rarely applicable to the TMT news column. Yet, nowhere is the phrase more appropriate than when describing the bizarre life and times of psych patriarch Roky Erickson, whose experiences could literally and figuratively be described as mind-blowing. First coming to prominence in the early 1960s as founding member of The 13th Floor Elevators, who are often credited as the first psychedelic rock group, the group continued breaking new ground, playing, and recording throughout the decade. Eventually, his vocal support for marijuana and LSD proved to backfire on him, causing much police attention and ultimately leading to his arrest for a single joint. While on trial, he plead insanity rather than face a 10-year prison sentence, which also proved to backfire -- the plea got him sent to a mental hospital, and his several busted escape attempts from it got him sent to the Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

There, he was subjected to electroshock therapy and heavy doses of Thorazine. After being released, he spent the next few decades undertaking new musical projects, claiming to be an extraterrestrial, and living under the eye of his heavily religious mother (among other things). It was only after legal custody of Roky was awarded to his younger brother in 2001 that he began recovering, regaining control of his life to the point where he is now able to make music again, even playing several shows and festivals in the past and near future.

A documentary about Erickson's life, entitled You're Gonna Miss Me (via Palm Pictures), is due for a theater release on June 8 and a DVD release July 10. Note to movie producers: I think I can speak for all aspiring musicians dabbling in recreational drug use from Texas who have religious parents when I say the recent documentaries about Erickson and Daniel Johnson have not exactly been the most encouraging. Just one movie about someone not suffering from schizophrenia by their late 40s would be a serious breath of fresh air. It's difficult to complain though, because at least judging by the trailer on the film's website, this movie is going to be a much-needed retrospective on the important achievements and far-out events in the life of one of the most influential musicians of the 1960s.

But seriously, electroshock therapy?

Meat Puppets Reunite; Miss Piggy Stops Doing Coke

In honor of the seventh anniversary of Jim Henson’s death, the long-forgotten Meat Puppets have decided to reform. The American populace had their first taste of The Meat Puppets in 1976 during The Muppet Show. Originally billed as the local butchers, their airtime was significantly cut when Henson started targeting a more youthful audience and needed more positive and less brutal characters.

The brothers, as they were deemed to be, had little qualms about the lack of airtime, but egos stared to flair when Miss Piggy was introduced to the cast. It was understood amongst the puppet world that Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog were romantically linked, but the crude Meat Puppets didn’t care so much for societal norms. Rumors started that Miss Piggy was having a fling with both brothers, and from 1975-1977, the three faced a limited suspension. Things culminated, finally, on April 2, 1979, when Kermit guest-hosted The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Miss Piggy was in attendance to watch her frog do his shtick, but after the show, The Meat Puppets showed up completely drunk and offered her a gram of coke if she would perform several sexual acts on them. It was the late '70s, and Miss Piggy was notorious for her coke habit, so she submitted quite easily. Kermit walked in while the three were heavily involved in acts not suitable for this publication. The police were called, but matters were settled out of court. The Meat Puppets agreed to leave the Muppet family for good, and Miss Piggy checked herself into rehab.

Now, almost 30 years since they left the Muppet family, the brothers are back, and this time they are making music. They have a brand new album, Rise To Your Knees, which is chock full of 12 songs in the vain of their old, off-the-cuff lifestyle. Yet, at the same time, it is a rebirth from their clouded past of drug abuse, jail time, and other legal problems. The album is due July 17.

Look for them on tour this spring, hitting mostly West Coast venues. No word if Kermit or Miss Piggy will be making any appearances alongside the brothers, but word is they’ve squashed any problems from the past.

UPDATE: As of April 10 of 2007, the year of our lord, Miss Piggy has announced she is completely clean and has also become the latest spokespig for PETA. Congratulations!

* fans-only event, tickets not for sale

Clutch Come Through in the… You Know; Tour Plans Upcoming, Pending Approval of Family of Auto Mechanics

As I think back on my long association with Clutch — from the time I first heard the classic “Juggernaut” B-side to the time I saw them play an enhanced ‘swing’ version of “Dragonfly” in a Spokane dive — I can’t help but run through different associations I have with their band name. To wit, ‘clutch’ can comprise an important part of an automobile, the part that windshield-wiper fluid goes into, methinks. I’m not really sure though; I’ve always been a white-collar pussy, to be straight about it. I used to date a girl from a family of car mechanics, and they would just sit and stare at me, amused. I wish they would have talked to me more though because I’m sure they were thinking the same thing I was: White-Collar Pussy.

Which brings me to another use of the word ‘clutch’: some things are just, well, CLUTCH, and some things aren’t. For example:

Clutch: making the winning basket with .01 seconds left to play in the NBA Finals

NOT Clutch: playing your little brother on a kiddie hoop and dominating him like Bill Murray’s swooping rejection in Rushmore, then telling your mom he’s not very athletic

Clutch: hot sex with a totally hot hottie in the hot-as-hell backseat of a hot-pink VW bus

NOT Clutch: masturbating with your thumb in your ass in the back of a short bus

Clutch: when your best friend shows up at a concert with your ticket and a fatty, which you both enjoy in the front row

NOT Clutch: when your best friend shows up at a concert and explains that he spent your ticket money on Taco Time, a Love Tester arcade game, and a 3-D poster, which you enjoy grudgingly while he watches the show

Clutch: watching Pantera open for Skid Row in 1992, just before the Big Hair Ban

NOT Clutch: watching Skid Row when Pantera’s done

Clutch: Scotty Ian

NOT Clutch: Ted Nugent

Clutch: hearing Deltron 3030 at a college party five years ago

NOT Clutch: hearing Deltron 3030 at a college party last night

Clutch: being vegetarian

NOT Clutch: talking about being vegetarian

Clutch: every Clutch album up to and including Pure Rock Fury

NOT Clutch: every Clutch album since Pure Rock Fury

See how some things come through in the Clutch and some don’t? It’s a fine line, let me tellya, and though Clutch haven’t been too clutch of late, they got another chance when they released From Beale Street to Oblivion on March 27. They’ll also try to make a ‘swish’ in a concert venue near you, unless you live in Pullman, Washington... but I guess that’s a given.

How many tourdates does it take to impress Scotty Ian?:

NOW! That’s What I Call Selling Indie Rock at Wal-Mart, Volume 1!!!

You know Vice Records? Right, right, it's the record label arm of everyone's favorite nihilistic hipster publication, Vice Magazine. Since the whole Vice empire is known for its haughty irreverence, one wonders whether the day has come for the magazine to start making fun of the label. I may as well save them the awkwardness by beginning the ridicule right now. Here's the deal: Vice Records has announced plans to team up with other big indies, potentially including Matador and Sub Pop, to release a series of compilations akin to the nauseatingly popular Now That's What I Call Music series. Targeted to what Vice's general manager Adam Shore called the "very casual record buyer," the albums will include such crossover (oh man, if there was ever a word to make you barf, that's the one) artists as Bloc Party, Silversun Pickups, Bright Eyes, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, as well as erstwhile indies like Sonic Youth (say it ain't so, Thurston!) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Shore, who may just be considering a switch from crotch-hugging jeans to Armani suits, risking unfavorable photos in Vice Magazine's "Dos and Don'ts" section, further explained: "We're partnering with MTV2, and the focus is going to be Wal-Marts, big box stores, red states, and TV advertising — to really go beyond.... We don't really expect indie-rock stores to support this record." Hey, don't worry about biting the hand that feeds you, dude. And while you're at it, let's hope no one reads into your statement and realizes that what you're really saying is that you're dumbing down indie rock for a mainstream audience -- a proposition that's insulting to both the genre's current audience and the faceless masses for which the compilations are intended. Let's go one further and think about what it means that Wal-Mart and red states represent the kind of audience that indie labels are trying to reach. The word "indie," derived from the word "independent" and carrying the connotation of difference and iconoclasm, has died infinite deaths in the past few years, but that doesn't make this one any less gruesome. On the bright side, I can't wait to see the TV commercials.