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Friday, December 07, 2012

Testa: Jesse Jarnow on baseball, Hoboken history, and the rise of indie rock

Baseball, New Wave Hot Dogs and whatever…

When music journalist and WFMU deejay Jesse Jarnow decided to write a biography of Yo La Tengo, he realized that he needed to tell more than just the story of a rock ‘n roll band. So the book became Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo & The Rise Of Indie Rock, and included carefully researched details about the birth of Hoboken’s music scene in the early Eighties.

But Jarnow went even further, and started his book by writing about baseball and the role that Hoboken played in the birth of America’s national pastime.

...“The story of Maxwell’s just intrigued me so much,” Jarnow said. “About how and why that happened, and why it happened there as opposed to anywhere else. And part of it is the separation from the city. And then the baseball thing came up. McCarty’s would have been about where the end of 12th Street is now. So there’s this huge coincidence – or maybe it’s not a coincidence – how these two bars separated by over a hundred years played this huge role in changing not just a city, but American culture. There’s just so much to the story of Maxwell’s, and you do just naturally come to Yo La Tengo at the end of it. So working backwards, it really made me curious to dig deeper into the history of the bar and the coffee factory and Elysian Field, and how all those pieces fit together.”

“The more I researched, the baseball part of the story became a little bit of an obsession,” he continued. “I actually found the expired insurance maps from the 19th Century to try and figure out exactly where McCarty’s stood and where Elysian Field was. That map is hanging on my wall now, but I’ll be taking it down and bringing it with me to the museum so people can see it when I give my talk.”

Repoz Posted: December 07, 2012 at 02:05 PM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, music

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   1. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: December 07, 2012 at 02:32 PM (#4319531)
I lived in Hoboken for about 2 years (09-11.) I think I went to Maxwell's once.

The bar scene in Hoboken, generally speaking, is loud and atrocious.
   2. bachslunch Posted: December 07, 2012 at 02:55 PM (#4319538)
Depends on what's considered "indie rock." Yo La Tengo was formed in 1984, but by then there were lots of local scenes for what is sometimes called "college rock" -- Athens GA, which spawned R.E.M. and The B-52s and Pylon and Guadalcanal Diary; Minneapolis, which produced Husker Du and The Replacements; and Milwaukee, which produced the Violent Femmes. I'm hard-pressed to know the difference. I've also seen all this subsumed under the category "alternative rock," as well as the work of other bands.

And there are all sorts of precursors, going back to British punk and pub rock (Sex Pistols, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), American punk (X, Black Flag), 70s NYC CBGBs bands (Talking Heads, Ramones, Television, Blondie), and even earlier stuff (Velvet Underground, New York Dolls).

Labels are a funny thing in disciplines like this.
   3. Chicago Joe Posted: December 07, 2012 at 03:15 PM (#4319553)
Labels are a funny thing in disciplines like this.

Exactly. IMO, "indie rock" sprung from having strong independent labels, which were in relatively short supply prior to the late '80's, AFAICT.
   4. eddieot Posted: December 07, 2012 at 03:23 PM (#4319564)
I lived in Hoboken from 1991 to 2004 and Maxwell's was the best place on earth. Indie bands would often play the tiny back room one night before playing much bigger venues in Manhattan the next. Tickets were usually between $10-$20 and the sound was fantastic. Through the years I saw Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Beck, Swervedriver, Goo Goo Dolls, Dinosaur Jr., Lemonheads, Bob Mould, Pylon, L7, Superchunk, Archers Of Loaf, Liz Phair, Roky Erickson, Sleepy LaBeef, Robert Randolph, Uncle Tupelo, Jayhawks, Replacements, Velocity Girl, No Doubt, Juliana Hatfield, Luna, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Screaming Trees, Lyres, Swingin' Neckbreakers, Mudhoney, Sleater-Kinney, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Ben Folds Five, Original Sins, Friggs, Muffs, Meat Puppets ... and that's just off the top of my head. I would never claim that indie rock began there but I would say it deserves accolades for it's scene lasting so long. A Lot of that had to do with Todd Abramson's amazing booking and Steve Shelley getting involved to bring it back when Steve Fallon sold it. A truly great music venue. And the food's good!
   5. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: December 07, 2012 at 04:08 PM (#4319596)
Labels are a funny thing in disciplines like this.

And of course, "alternative" rock was supposed to be an alternative to the mainstream, and after Nirvana broke, it became mainstream. So mainstream rock became "alternative" rock, and real alternative rock became "indie rock."

I don't think there's any difference between "college," "indie," and pre-Nirvana "alternative." We've just been calling the same thing by different names since the early 80s.
   6. Nasty Nate Posted: December 07, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4319605)
Through the years I saw Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Beck, Swervedriver, Goo Goo Dolls, Dinosaur Jr., Lemonheads, Bob Mould, Pylon, L7, Superchunk, Archers Of Loaf, Liz Phair, Roky Erickson, Sleepy LaBeef, Robert Randolph, Uncle Tupelo, Jayhawks, Replacements, Velocity Girl, No Doubt, Juliana Hatfield, Luna, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Screaming Trees, Lyres, Swingin' Neckbreakers, Mudhoney, Sleater-Kinney, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Ben Folds Five, Original Sins, Friggs, Muffs, Meat Puppets ...


I haven't heard this much name-dropping since I had dinner with Elvis at John F Kennedy's house.
   7. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: December 07, 2012 at 04:26 PM (#4319617)
But yeah, Maxwell's is a fantastic place to see a show. I saw Elliott Smith there in 1998, no backing band, just him and his guitar before he got as famous as he'd eventually be. He let my friend place a tape recorder underneath his chair on stage, and graciously chatted with us after the show. His death especially saddened me because I remember just how nice he was to me that nice.
   8. Repoz Posted: December 07, 2012 at 04:32 PM (#4319620)
when Steve Fallon sold it.

I threw a rotting fish head at him that day.
   9. bob gee Posted: December 07, 2012 at 05:45 PM (#4319691)
saw a bunch o'bands @maxwell's in the 90s; missed nirvana but saw some other noteworthy bands. hoboken was also where bands would play if nyc was booked and they were doing the boston -> d.c. run (with stops in providence, ct., and philly mixed in). brooklyn wasn't a place anyone played then.

to me, maxwell's was only good because of the small setting. i knew andy (sound) from college, i think he did a good job in that space as well. they had a change when todd didn't bring in the bands, but then they brought him back, i think? my memory is a bit fuzzy.

i thought pier platters was always a nice tie-in with maxwell's; there's all kinds of linkages between the bands / owners / bar/none / maxwell's / ppl who worked @pier, but it seemed to have a nice synergy to it.

eddie - was there '86 -> '01.

now i've got to listen to some tiny lights...
   10. Repoz Posted: December 07, 2012 at 06:24 PM (#4319720)
i thought pier platters was always a nice tie-in with maxwell's

Well...Steve Fallon was originally a co-owner with Bill Ryan in Pier Platter's (that grand opening idea of having future vomity wine & cheese was all his idea)...until he sold out to LP-hawking Tom Penderghastly.
   11. bob gee Posted: December 07, 2012 at 06:56 PM (#4319742)
repoz - remember when sam goody opened across the street from pier platters? didn't think that was a very well planned idea...
   12. asinwreck Posted: December 07, 2012 at 07:20 PM (#4319755)
I regret that Yo La Tengo's Hannukah shows are sold out.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: December 07, 2012 at 08:55 PM (#4319770)
I don't think there's any difference between "college," "indie," and pre-Nirvana "alternative."

As a "genre" probably not (broad genres being rather silly things anyway) but there is a difference between an indie label and a major. Well, there was. So this kinda differs by band. REM was scooped up pretty much right away as was X I think. Husker Du and the Replacements lasted, what, 3-4 albums before getting signed to a major. Throwing Muses got kinda picked up quick -- always on 4AD but Sire grabbed the US rights quickly. Meanwhile Superchunk was always indie, although Merge is practically a major by today's standards.

The 80s were roughly like the pre-farm system days -- the majors would sit around and let the indies develop bands, then try to scoop up the best. REM and Nirvana hit it big, most of the others really didn't.
   14. Repoz Posted: December 07, 2012 at 08:59 PM (#4319772)
remember when sam goody opened across the street from pier platters? didn't think that was a very well planned idea...

The first week Sam Goody's opened...we stumbled out of the mob-infested Wilton House, crawled through the cobblestone back alley and finger-forced vomit on the front window. Revenge never tasted so bitters!
   15. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: December 07, 2012 at 09:30 PM (#4319778)
As a "genre" probably not (broad genres being rather silly things anyway) but there is a difference between an indie label and a major. Well, there was.

Yeah, we can't take those terms literally. The Flaming Lips are another example. They've been on Warner Brothers for years, but no one would call them mainstream. On the flip side, Creed is actually the biggest-selling indie band of all time, but no one who says they like indie rock will include Creed in that "genre." These designations are all very silly, but I find the contradictions in the terminology interesting nonetheless.

Very good analogy regarding true indies and pre-farm systems.
   16. Lassus Posted: December 07, 2012 at 11:30 PM (#4319817)
Everyone thinks they were first.
   17. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: December 08, 2012 at 12:31 AM (#4319828)
As a "genre" probably not (broad genres being rather silly things anyway) but there is a difference between an indie label and a major. Well, there was. So this kinda differs by band. REM was scooped up pretty much right away as was X I think.

X was on Elektra (part of Warner) starting in 1982. REM was on the IRS label for much longer, with their first major label release in November 1988 (Green) (also on Warner).
   18. Walt Davis Posted: December 08, 2012 at 05:14 AM (#4319860)
IRS as "indie" is a close one. Technically probably so but they were distributed by a major from the beginning which was not the usual case for indie labels in the late 70s to early 80s. Given they had zero trouble getting their stuff played on pop radio from day one, I'm guessing they had the marketing budget of a major too. From some website or other:

The original concept behind I.R.S. was not an actual record label per se, but an independent label conglomeration, backed by the distibution/marketing muscle of a major label (A&M). The concept wasn't new -- JEM Records out of Englebrook, NJ and Reseda, CA had been distributing indy and import records for years. With I.R.S. it was the major label affiliation that made the difference.

Of course A&M could be argued to have been an indie label at the time so ... y'know, semantics.

Eventually pretty much everybody was distributed by a "major" distributor as there was virtually no choice -- sometime around the early-mid 90s if memory serves.
   19. vortex of dissipation Posted: December 08, 2012 at 05:43 AM (#4319861)
To use X again as an example, when they were on Slash, that label was distributed by Warner Bros. As others have noted, there's a fine line between an indie and a major. Heck, Island was an indie until the late 1980s, but with its hugely popular roster of artists, and its distribution deals with the major labels, it never felt like one...
   20. The Fallen Reputation of Billy Jo Robidoux Posted: December 08, 2012 at 09:16 AM (#4319867)
So:

Columbia, Warner Brothers, Polygram, etc. = MLB

Merge, Touch & Go, Factory, Beggars Group = Japanese League

80s IRS, Sub-Pop, 415 = AAA

Kill Rock Stars = Mexican League
   21. eddieot Posted: December 08, 2012 at 10:46 AM (#4319888)
I actually took pictures of Pier Platters on the day it was closing, just to remember. For a couple years I lived above the short-lived second Pier Platters location on 1st St., which was their CD outlet, while the main store still only sold vinyl. I tended to visit Pier Platters twice a month, the days my paychecks were deposited, and I'd binge. It doesn't have anywhere near the atmosphere but Tunes on Washington St. is a decent indie CD shop these days. I'm glad to see it's surviving the chain-ification of Washington St. Most of my favorite haunts seem to be long gone ... Louise & Jerry's, Fabian's, the Elysian (which is now an upscale restaurant) ... but the aforementioned Wilton House survives!
   22. Walt Davis Posted: December 08, 2012 at 05:55 PM (#4320069)
Merge = Japanese League

Well, maybe. I'm old enough (and Triangle-y enough) to remember when Merge moved into their "new, big" headquarters -- a rented house with 3-4 staff. I assume they've grown some since then but I assume it's still pretty much a small operation and I'm guessing Mac is not doing blow off bikini model's stomachs.

Matador was a bigger deal at the time but I guess not these days. There was also a CH label that got bought out by Disney* ... I'd swear they had an "M" name too.

*Well, they probably entered a "creative partnership" or some such.
   23. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: December 08, 2012 at 06:36 PM (#4320082)
Capital actually bought 49% of Matador in the mid-90s, but the label was able to buy them back out a few years later.
   24. squatto Posted: December 08, 2012 at 06:58 PM (#4320087)
Based on Jarnow's book, a 49% share of Matador was bought and sold by several of the majors. It was usually a label's Hobson's choice (no, not elbow chips or blow); get someone with muscle for distribution's sake or get little reach into retail outlets.

And because no music industry discussion should lack the inimitable stylings of Steve Albini: The Problem with Music.
   25. Repoz Posted: December 08, 2012 at 07:16 PM (#4320094)
I actually took pictures of Pier Platters on the day it was closing

And with the legendary Bleecker Bob's record store set to close...I'm down to only my wife yelling at me now.

   26. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: December 08, 2012 at 07:20 PM (#4320096)
Exactly. IMO, "indie rock" sprung from having strong independent labels, which were in relatively short supply prior to the late '80's, AFAICT.

The whole "indie" thing goes back quite a bit further than all that.

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