People inevitably ask me where I find out about music. The internet certainly accounts for a lot of what I'm listening to these days. Every band has a website. Every music critic can be found on line. It's easier than ever to sample new things before you buy, etc. Yet, in spite of all the wonderful information available on line, I still enjoy hard copy subscriptions to various magazines. Over the years—at one time or another—I have subscribed or religiously read: Creem; Circus; Rolling Stone; Crawdaddy; Trouser Press; Spin; Melody Maker; New Music Express; Alternative Press; Rock Scene; Paste; Musician; The Scene; and my latest favorite, Under The Radar.
Circus and Rock Scene were the People magazines of rock music back in the '70's. Great for glossy cheesecake photos and fold out posters to cover the walls of my bedroom — not terribly articulate or well written when it came to articles or reviews. Creem was the opposite. The home of Lester Bangs, Creem had great articles and bizarre rants and raves, but crappy photos. Bangs, like the Village Voice's Robert Christgau, offered up intelligent, well-written music criticism that was as much about pertinent social issues as it was about rock. I'm sure I didn't grasp half of what they were writing about back then, and that's why I have books by both writers sitting on my shelves now… Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy were as political as they were musical. Hold overs from the 60's, one didn't survive the '70's and the other one probably didn't deserve to last as long as it has managed to last. The heir to Penthouse magazine, Bob Guccione, Jr. tried to give Rolling Stone a run for its money back in the 80's by publishing a magazine that claimed to be more attuned to “alternative” music. In the end, I found Spin had become just as bad as its nemesis. In effect, David became Goliath, and consequentially less relevant and interesting to me. Melody Maker and NME were, and still are, a great read whenever I'm in the UK, but when I tried to maintain a subscription one or the other weekly back home in the states I was always weeks behind or never seemed to get my full subscription. It was almost as though someone in the mail room on the other side of the Atlantic was saying “Screw him! What's he gonna do about it all the way over there?” Musician became too polished and full of itself, and The Scene was a weekly music rag from Cleveland that I subscribed to when I first moved to DC so I could keep up on the music scene back home. Once I no longer cared about the music scene back home (a few months after living here), I cancelled that subscription.
Probably one of my all-time favorite monthly music magazines was Trouser Press (which is an homage to a silly song by a group of crazy Brits called the Bonzo Dog Band — stay tuned for their appearance in one of these missives). Ira Robbins was the creative force behind TP and while not on a par with Bangs and Christgau, he did seem to care and know more about current alternative music than all of the social ramifications surrounding and impacting it. The other really cool thing about Trouser Press was every issue came with a free flexi-disc. What's a flexi-disc? I hear you say. Well, long before magazines like CMJ started shipping free CD's with each of it's monthly publications — in fact, long before CD technology was even available, flexi-discs were the page-thin squares of colored plastic which you could tear out of the magazine, put on your turntable just like a real record, and play. Sometimes they were 33rpm and sometimes 45rpm (sometimes I think they even came on the back of cereal boxes!)— depending on how many songs were on it. Typically the flexi's were only one-sided, but not always, and next to the spindle hole was a circle where you were encouraged to put your penny to help hold the plastic sheet down on the turntable. We're talking low-fi here folks. Low-fi. Still, I thought it was just about one of the coolest fucking things I had ever come across. I still have those flexi's and one day they're gonna either make me a rich man on e-Bay or wind up in the trash.
One of the best songs to arrive on a flexi disc between the pages of Trouser Press was by a New York band called The Bongos. They only released two albums: Drums Along the Hudson and Beat Hotel / Numbers With Wings. The later was originally just a 4-song ep, but it has since been re-released with all kinds of extra tracks. Drums Along the Hudson is a brilliant album from start to finish. Even after all these years. But The Happy Medium Song of the Day comes from a black plastic flexi-disc that was available way before the follow-up ep was even released, and it's called “Numbers With Wings.”