Thursday, 11 March 2010

Going, gone & gone for good this time

Some weeks, the music industry delivers nothing but disappointment. It started this time last week hearing Mark Thomson announcing at the FT Media Conference, as part of a new BBC consultation, the proposed closure of 6 Music. The logic was nothing if not cloudy. However, it has been good to note that since, there has been a really strong & swift backlash, with a groundswell of opinion rightly raging against the machine.

Now 6 Music is not perfect, but it genuinely serves a sustainable, growing niche - exactly the role of a public service broadcaster essentially. If you, like me, don't want to lose your Guy Garvey's Finest Hour (the best two hours of a Sunday evening there is second perhaps only to when Wallander's on), Gideon Coe or Adam & Joe, then go and join up the various petitions and comment on the BBC consultation site. Help make them see some sense for goodness sakes.

So I got a call yesterday from a business correspondent at the Indy asking for a quote on Elio Leoni Sceti. I hadn't heard the news even, but it took me less than a second to realise - and to not be surprised. Didn't even miss a beat in the conversation. But it's no less disturbing when reflecting on it. The italian gent was, in my view, an inspired choice - something Guy had not exactly built a reputation for in the music business, by the point to which he hired Leoni-Sceti.

I met Elio twice last year. Both times he made a point of coming from behind his desk, not a blackberry or iPhone in sight, to sit ready for pure, effective exchange. Undivided attention. That's quite rare among music leaders in my experience. He was a good listener and asker of questions. He's calm and collected and had managed to galvanise what was left of morale within EMI. The results under his tenureship (if you can call it that) were unarguably good.

But then after just 18 months in the role, he has become yet another licensed-to-innovate leader from outside the music industry that has essentially failed to innovate from within it. Not his fault. Like a legendary football manager once said, you can only do so much up to the point when it all becomes about the players on the pitch. But with music, maybe it's not the players either, but the structure by which the whole game is put together.

Gone again
Even much worse news had come the evening before via a text from a friend (you can see how much I'm keeping up with music news of my own volition right now), who sent me a link to a Tim Jonze blog titled "Sparklehorse took the ugly and made it beautiful". I knew instantly what that meant - before reading one more word of the fittingly touching piece. Turns out Mark Linkous had shot himself in the heart.

I bought Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot when it was first released in 1995. Didn't get on with it, despite all the rave reviews it got. I left Sparklehorse well alone until I capitulated - again on the strength of the reviews - and bought It's A Wonderful Life on the way home from a New York trip. Fell in love with it on listen two - right there on the return flight. I saw them/him tour that album with a gig at Union Chapel Islington - quietly inspiring. I loved seeing a sedentary Linkous just play, calm & focused, his sometimes driving rock, but his oh so delicate fragile ballads - he even played the tracks with all the twiddly bits. He seemed to know the strength of the material and the way in which it was played was what mattered, more than any sense of performance. It was a privilege to witness that. And I liked the way he played guitar, like he'd learnt it only recently, but didn't want to play any better than he exactly needed to for the songs.

I've since played his weirdly abstract, utterly unique sounding music during times high & low. Most of all, I remember playing a compilation of Sparklehorse ballads I labeled 'lullabies' (on minidisk) to my first daughter for the weeks after she was born. I even nick-named her Homecoming Queen (later Queenie) after the song of that name. Kids actually love Sparklehorse, because the lyrics make sense to them maybe, somehow. And he mentions lots of animals. Somehow, of all Linkous's spaced out crazy lyrics (did I really forget to mention him when I blogged here about those before) the one I like best is from Spirit Ditch, which might actually frighten my kids a bit. It goes:

"woke up in, a burned out basement
sleeping with metal hands
in a spirit ditch"

Now I don't know what that means and you don't know either. Neither did Linkous probably. And none of us would want to end up there. But my word it is worth listening to every now & then. Linkous reminds us it's a sad & beautiful world, but also a wonderful life. Linkous was fully qualified - after all he once died for a full two minutes before making a recovery. But this time he really is in the Spirit Ditch.