Musical Family Tree

Spreading Indiana Music


I don’t hold myself out as an historian or an authority on Indiana music. I’m just a fan. I’ve gone through a few phases during which I limited my listening to specific styles, but for the most part I love some artists or tunes in every style of music. I’m also a musician, though due mainly to technical limitations I’ve played mostly rock and pop. But I know a good song when I hear one...

Regarding important figures in Indiana music history, I’ve been re-assessing John Mellencamp. A guy in my band brought in the song “A Ride Back Home” from his 2008 album Life, Death, Love and Freedom, and we’ve played it a dozen or so times. It’s a really amazing song – simple yet powerful. It's one of my favorite songs to play these days. I bought the album from iTunes and I realized it was the first time I’ve ever purchased any of his music.

It’s nearly impossible to have a conversation about important figures in Indiana music without discussing Mellencamp, but other than acknowledging that he’s “important,” it’s tough to think what to say about him. He’s been famous as long as I can remember. It might have been a little strange to be a kid growing up in Bloomington, glued to MTV, and seeing those videos shot in the neighborhood. But it wasn’t that strange. It just…was.

I secretly loved those ubiquitous hit songs during the 80s – Jack and Diane, Hurts So Good, Pink Houses – but I pretty much kept it a secret. His meteoric rise coincided with my discovery of punk and hardcore, and admitting to liking anything vaguely commercial would have made me an outcast. I just didn’t have that much self-confidence. For some reason it was okay to like Springsteen…I’m not really sure of the perceived difference.

When I moved back to Bloomington from Boston around 1990, having established myself a little bit in the music world, Mellencamp loomed large. My friends and I used to take the piss out of him (in the abstract) a fair amount, and I’m not sure why. I had a great deal of respect for Scarecrow and most of his late-80s/early-90s output. I’m not sure why we publicly cultivated such ironic detachment from and occasionally disdain for the man. I think it might have had something to do with the distance he kept from the local music community despite his purported loyalty to the town.

It was weird: I had all these connections to Mellencamp. I shared a house with his engineer. I played and recorded with his violinist. I spent more time in his guitarist’s recording studio than I spent in my own apartment. My band-mate taught him and his wife yoga. I did sessions with his drummer. But despite all of those connections, in my five years in the Bloomington music scene, I never once laid eyes on the man. Not only did he not give a crap what my friends and I were up to musically, it seemed he barely even existed in town outside the walls of his home and studio.

I have a music journalist friend who considers Mellencamp to be one of his pals and looks forward to their marathon interviews over weekends at his house. I've met a number of people in the music biz community who hold him in the highest regard. I’ve also heard plenty of credible stories from insiders about Mellencamp’s temper tantrums and indefensible behavior. At the end of the day I don’t really give a shit either way. Now that I’ve spent more than a decade living away from Indiana, I think it’s awesome that we have an artist and star on that level we can truly claim as our own. Unlike Indiana born and raised talents such as Michael Jackson and Axl Rose, Mellencamp stuck around, and his association is such a huge part of his character and image. I'm content to judge the man based on his work, and the consistent quality of his work makes that point clearly and easily.

I’m not about to do some big re-discovery of his music; there’s no point. I like it when his songs come on the radio, as they do all the time. I’m psyched that he’s still digging deep and doing relevant, interesting work, and I’m psyched that he’s a vocal and committed lefty. I don’t have some big point to make here, but I’m glad I’ve reached a point where I can just sit back and appreciate the man and his work sans the baggage of all my pre-conceptions. He might never mean as much to me personally as my very favorite artists, such as Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt, Joe Strummer, Leonard Cohen or (Mellencamp pals) Lou Reed or Dylan; but at this point I’m psyched to consider him one of the great Hoosier artists.

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Comment by Frankie Camaro on April 16, 2010 at 9:40pm
Thanks Michael and Yukki. Good ideas. I'm going to keep looking in to it. If they could put a little record on the back of a cereal box 50 years ago, I'm sure some kind of home record cutting could be made cheaply. I'm not sure the exact material to use but I was thinking like light colored vinyl.

I think if more people knew you can buy a USB Turntable cheap, they might buy vinyl more often. Then you could transfer to your computer.

Then with the USB Home record cutter, you could have fans cut their own record at home, and have them perhaps print the jacket like at kinkos or something.

sorry for getting off Mellencamp and I'll try to move this to the future of Music discussion or start a new one. Thanks
Comment by Kurt/Yukki on April 16, 2010 at 11:34am
Acetates degrade easily. They're only good for about three plays before they are practically useless. They are also fragile and have to be handled with extreme care...Oh, and brittle.

Bad stuff. They're fine for quick tests, which is what they were designed for. Vinyl is where it's at.

Really, though, I wonder what happened to all the record pressing technology that proliferated. They have to have gone somewhere!
Comment by Michael Eugene Henry on April 15, 2010 at 10:19pm
I'm no engineer but I'll take a stab. I know that acetates could be made easily enough. They use to cart the recorders around on ships and string a microphone into a village and make recordings off of batteries. IU Bloomington probably has some old ones lying around, unless professors took them home. I think they use standard quarter inch plugs. You'll have to rig your device off of one of these. Better yet try to find the vinyl presses used at the amusement parks etc. That might be your best bet. I'm sure a few went out of business and have crap lying around. Good like finding acetate though. Vinyl might be your best bet.
Comment by Jeb Banner on April 15, 2010 at 2:42pm
I just bought a record collection yesterday and it had a couple of those little hand cut records. I haven't listened to them yet but I love the idea. They are so heavy. Acetates.
Comment by Frankie Camaro on April 15, 2010 at 1:12pm
Okay anyone an engineer? I had this idea about digi-vinyl. I remember as a kid you cut a really cheap record like at certain fairs and places. They would cut an actual record on the spot. My brother recorded "Hold that Tiger, Hold that Tiger", hahah, at the New York World Fair in 64 to give me as a present.

Why can't we have cheap usb record cutter, that makes an analog record from your computer? And maybe a way to prevent mass production, perhaps like a hidden code or something or some software key.
Comment by Frankie Camaro on April 15, 2010 at 1:06pm
I think about cloud computing and where we are going. More and more people are going to rely just on digital bits stored all around in the cloud.

Excellent Jeb. And thanks for having this great site so we can work on these issues.
Comment by Jeb Banner on April 15, 2010 at 1:03pm
Frankie- I've actually thought about that- what if the Internet or this website goes away? That is actually what I'm trying to proactively prevent. In having downloadable MP3s we are essentially crowdsourcing the storage of all this music. Everytime an MP3 is downloaded it is being stored on a local server, burned to CDs, etc. That is essentially our back up system for MFT. So posting MP3s for the public to download is a safeguard against losing all this great music from the face of the earth even if MFT or the Internet were to go away. The more copies of something, and the greater diversity of formats, the greater likelihood it will survive for future generations.

I've thought about selling hard drives of the entire site, as captured on a particular date, as an additional way to create backups. I don't think we can over state the slow corrosive decay of time on archives of any type.
Comment by Frankie Camaro on April 15, 2010 at 12:56pm
I saw this thing on bandcamp.com. When you buy an album, you get the digital copy and they create a record with a cover.

I say have a marriage of digital and analog-vinyl. A way to have the cool record cover Art, and a digital and analog copy for you to keep. There is something great about holding a record cover full size that you will never get with just downloads. So you keep have the best of both worlds and it really adds to the value I think as you can hold that in your hands for life where digital bits can just vanish at any time.

Do you really want to put all you own in just digital form on the internet? What if it goes down?
Comment by Jeb Banner on April 15, 2010 at 12:38pm
maybe MFT needs to sponsor some sort of survey of working musicians?
Comment by John P. Strohm on April 15, 2010 at 12:36pm
PJ: I reposted that graphic via FB and Twitter - and I showed & talked about it at my UA class yesterday. My re-posting actually led to my getting involved in a major project to carefully vet those numbers and co-author a more extensive article addressing those issues and making recommendations regarding potential future models (BTW: the numbers are actually pretty accurate).

This is all right in line with my "future of music" post from a couple months back. My opinion is that unless all the interested parties - rights-holders, creatives, ISPs, the Internet, artist management - get together to devise a workable solution, we'll end up with a crappy default solution. If Spotify becomes the new reality and we're actually having to generate 5 million streams to make a grand, then recordings as a revenue source will be pretty much a thing of the past. I think there's plenty of cred in the incentive theory of copyright, and I think if that happened we'd see a sharp drop-off of quality recordings being produced. If there's no money in the product of the recording, then what's the point? There are plenty of other ways - potentially profitable ways - to express one's self.

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