Behind the Face of the MusicDoes the story behind an album's creation add to the listener's enjoyment, or detract from it? I like to know how a record was made, and what the songs signify. But sometimes I think that the stories bandied about in the news media can overshadow the music itself, and mislead potential listeners.
We all know the story of the guy who got dumped by his band and his girlfriend, and how he retreated to a cabin in snowy Wisconsin to chop firewood and write morose melodies. And the one about the band whose family members all died in a fire at an arcade or something. Have you heard the one about John Petkovic? The guy who sang with Cobra Verde and Death of Samantha? His mom died, and he went on a road trip, and then he formed a new band with J.Mascis and the guys from the band Witch.
They call themselves Sweet Apple, and their album Love and Desperation is a collection of simple but supremely catchy hard rock songs -- reminiscent of an era when BTO, Bad Company, and Grand Funk rocked the FM airwaves. You might not have guessed that Sweet Apple's songs were so upbeat if you ready the story of the band's origin., and you really don't need to know the story to enjoy the record. Sure, it adds a poignant aspect to otherwise pedestrian lines like "I drove and drove and drove and drove," but the songs aren't all about death and grief. Most of them are about chicks and dudes. And sex. And vampires.
Even a band like Venice Is Sinking gets more lines of type for the circumstances surrounding their album -- recording live to tape like the Cowboy Junkies, and the subsequent Georgia Theater fire -- than they do for the gorgeous music that they worked hard to create in that space and time. I guess it gives writers an angle, and it's easier than trying to describe the music itself. We can all relate to tales of hard luck, sobering up, losing a loved one, etc. These trials sometimes lead to catharsis and creation. And many of us like to look for meanings in the lyric sheets and liner notes (or the digital versions thereof), to add to our enjoyment or understanding. But great music doesn't require great personal loss, and these stories of suffering can distract us from the music itself, like judging a book by its cover.
One story I do enjoy is about the genesis of the Kevin Dunn compilation CD. Brad (who runs the Casa Nueva label) was an obsessive reader of the Trouser Press Record Guide. He was intrigued by Ira Robbins' descriptions of Dunn's music, and he sought out the records and fell in love. Having spent a lot of time with the TPRG, I can relate to that tale of discovery It's not a story of great loss, but it is the true tale behind No Great Lost.
Buy Love and Desperation. The LP comes on red vinyl with a download code, and it looks great sitting next to my copy of Country Life. Listen to Sweet Apple's "I've Got a Feeling (That Won't Change)":