A guy in a long floral skirt and top hat just accused the cyclist in line for coffee of “doping like Lance Armstrong.” When asked to leave, his argument: “I’m just trying to have stimulating conversation, like when Charles Mingus used to hang out.” Ah, Silver Lake.

The Decemberists just released Long Live The King, an EP of b-sides from their excellent The King Is Dead album. One of the tracks is a cover of the Dead’s “Row Jimmy.” As a lifelong GD fan, I was fascinated by this choice.

Here’s Colin Meloy’s explanation of how it came about:

I spent most of my young-adult life with a healthy, if somewhat misdirected, dislike for the Grateful Dead. What was this based on? I don’t know. Bob Weir songs. Songs that eschewed structure in favor of indiscriminate noodling. The ocean of hippies making their way towards Autzen Stadium while I hid in my University of Oregon dorm room, smugly blasting my “difficult” music. One thing, however, stuck in my craw: bands I loved seemed to, here and there, namecheck the Dead like it was a dirty secret. Case in point: Ira Kaplan sings “I’m listening to Wake of the Flood / I’m listening to Wake of the Flood / And I’m high!” in, in my opinion, the only truly decent drug song ever written, “Drug Test,” from YLT’s 1988 “President Yo La Tengo.”

Then what happened: I met and married a self-professed deadhead. I joined a band with people who knew the Dead’s output inside and out. I moved back to Oregon.

So things change, you come around. I still don’t really like Bobby’s songs. And I kind of lose interest after ‘74. But those first few records have a lot of amazing, amazing stuff that I often disparaged without really even listening to. One of those records is “Wake of the Flood,” (thanks, Ira) and “Row Jimmy” is undeniably one of Messrs. Hunter and Garcia’s finest moments. So we recorded it and it we had a good time doing it and I screwed up the words, but I figure that’s okay. I’m still new at being a Dead fan.

I was in line at Shake Shack. “You ok?,” asked the text from a friend. “Yeah… About what?” I figured it was serious when he called a few seconds later. Dazed, I opened Twitter and saw a flood of links to apple.com. I told my wife we needed to go home.

I’ve spent the past few days thinking about how someone I’ve never met, and didn’t know, could affect me so deeply. I keep going back to one of my first experiences with the iPhone.

So many years in, it’s hard to remember just how exciting it was to hold an iPhone that first time. One of the first things I did  was open the camera app. I took a few snaps, holding the phone vertically, like most people do. Then I turned the phone ninety degrees to the side to take a landscape photo. When I did, the camera icon on the shutter button gently floated ninety degrees to the side as well, so that it was properly oriented. Not too fast, not too slow. I remember gasping, and my eyes watered for a moment. I was caught completely off guard, and looked away. It was the perfect little detail.

When I think about Steve Jobs and Apple, and the emotional connection that millions of people have with him, I often think of that moment. A connection that’s not easy to explain, yet is somehow deeper than “I’m happy because now I can listen to all mymusic on the subway.”

I rode home in a blur, and when I got there, I started looking at Twitter again. Maybe an hour passed, and suddenly the most beautiful thing happened: one after one, people started posting nothing but the Apple logo, . It was this cascading effect where, for a few minutes, every time the stream refreshed, that was almost all I saw. It was sad magic.

When I joined Twitter, I thought of it as an extension of the Apple/tech community, and while I still think of it that way, I realized that I now follow a much wider group of people: baseball beat writers, old friends, coffee shop owners, politicians. Everyone was suddenly united, and it was overwhelming. I’m not sure I could have drawn a common line though that group before that moment and, in an instant, there it was.

Outside of my family, there are two people without whom I can say, unequivocally, that my life would not be the same: Jerry Garcia and Steve Jobs. Their losses shifted the bedrock under my feet. The evenings that both passed, so many years apart, ended the same way: my head on my wife’s shoulder, eyes damp.

I’ll never know if Steve Jobs had anything to do directly with the way the camera icon rotates on the iPhone camera app. It doesn’t matter. As the memories pour in from those that worked around him, one comment comes up repeatedly — “What would Steve think of this?” was never far from anyone’s mind. That never has to change.

In a product that literally changed the world, I’m sure he thought that little detail was really great.

 

I’ve never kept my iPad in a case. I used to put a case on everything, but I stopped a while ago. These iPads and iPhones are beautifully designed products, and I prefer them naked. The only time that I’m slightly jealous of the cased-people, is when they have it sitting on a counter with the back propped up, typing and swiping away.

I keep the iPad in a Hard Graft sleeve, which I love. More and more I bring the iPad with me to the coffee shop to do work, and I’ve found that it really wants its back propped up for a proper typing angle. I’ve taken to shoving my wallet or keys under the back to give it the right angle, but that never felt overly secure. I wanted the typing angle a case gives, without a case. I’ve been looking for something small and portable—something that can easily be thrown in a small bag—to act as a solution, and I think the Compass stand by Twelve South is it.

Compass stand, typing angle

Twelve South products aren’t cheap, but from what I’ve seen in the past, they’re solid and well-built. When I saw the Compass Stand at the Apple Store a few days ago I grabbed it. The stand isn’t much bigger than a candy bar when it’s folded up (it easily fits in my pocket), and it has an impressive weight. It slips into a nice little travel case. The stand can unfolds two ways: as a more traditional easel, or as a flatter stand for typing. All the surfaces that come into contact with the iPad are covered in rubber, so there is no risk of the metal scratching the surface.

After a few days use, I’m really happy with the function, and it’s proved to be exactly what I was looking for. If I want to stumble out to the coffee shop half-asleep on a Sunday morning, I can just grab my iPad, throw the stand in my pocket, and spend an hour sitting there catching up.

This album has aged so well. It felt like a big deal when this was released, and it’s held up. The album’s street date was pushed back in the wake of 9/11, and “New York City Cops” was removed from the album (which I got, at the time). The original album artwork (released in Europe) was so much better than this, which was stripped onto the US version.

Is This It still sounds so good on a hot summer day.

British (Reissue) Invasion ’09/’10

With the reissue of Exile On Main Street, it looks like the Stones’ classic album is set to enter the Billboard Top 200 at #2 this week (behind Glee: The Music Vol. 3). Exile had a huge marketing push, and Keith and Mick—especially Mick—were everywhere in the past few weeks promoting it. That other big British band had their own enormous reissue campaign last Fall, so I took a look at SoundScan to see how some of the first week sales numbers compared. (I rounded all of the numbers.)

The Rolling Stones — First Week Sales (2010 reissue)
  • Exile On Main Street 75,000 units
The Beatles — First Week Sales (2009 Reissues)
  • Revolver 46,000 units
  • Rubber Soul 57,000 units
  • Abbey Road 88,000 units
  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 73,000 units

The rest of the Stones catalog is a bit harder to compare as it’s been reissued piecemeal by different labels. As a point of reference, the May 2009 reissue of Sticky Fingers sold about 1,400 units in its first week.

With a gun to my head I’d say Beatles, but every time I hear that opening “Rocks Off” riff, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Interesting, this new album. Here’s the thing: I have never been able to really get into The National. I’ve listened, and liked/respected what I heard. I’m told they’re really excellent live, but every time I put their music on, it just never quite sunk in with me. I do think it had some to do with his voice. It distracted me a bit, and I didn’t listen close enough, which may be lazy, but is also the truth. I go back and forth between how I feel about music that you have to work at to appreciate. I sorta chalked this band up to ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’ As High Violet was coming out, there was quite a bit of buzz. Feeling that The National was not quite my cup of green tea, I was curious, but not dying to listen. I knew I’d get to it eventually.

As soon as it came out, beyond the press, a few people I know keep telling me that I had to listen to it, so I finally picked High Violet up. I grabbed me from the first track and I have basically listened to it non-stop all weekend. I think it’s very very good.

Part of me is excited about it, because I feel—at least in my case—sometimes there is a right time for music to click, for whatever reason. It can be as simple as listening in the right setting to get over some small hurdle. From what I hear, and what I’m told, this album isn’t a huge departure from Boxer, so I’m looking forward to relistening to some of that work with fresh ears.