NOTE: A while back I posted a short musing on the fact that I was using my DVR to capture music on TV, and in that way it was feeling a lot like an iPod. An editor asked me to write up a longer version for a magazine but it got lost in the haze, or maybe it was Axl finally releasing that Chinese Autocracy album that bumped it…whatever. I humbly share it with you, my selective audience here at the Pulmyears Music Blog.
My DVR Is Like A Big Clunky iPod
These days, interactive TV brings music to my ears…
There was a time in my life when my friends and I were like musical detectives.
By night, we’d comb the clubs and concert halls in pursuit of local bands and touring headliners we’d read about in the NME, Trouser Press or New York Rocker. By day, we’d hang out at the three best record stores in my native Toronto; chatting with Randy over at Records On Wheels, Garwood at Sam The Record Man, or over to the Record Peddler to be humiliated by one of their cold, High Fidelity-ish clerks.
“XTC?,” the weasel in the black Joy Division T-shirt once snapped back, sarcastically, “I don’t think we have it. I’m not really into that lightweight, quirky British pop.”
That stung, but back then it was all in a day’s work and, hazing or not, we always found the time to find the tunes.
These days, I still manage to stay fairly current in my listening, but as a grown up, I’ve discovered there’s more to life than clubs and record stores. You’d think that as a professional music writer my whole day would be spent chasing down great songs and cool bands but in reality, my day’s filled with a lot of mundane tasks like tracking down publicists, recording interviews and then transcribing them. Plus, I have a life now. I frequently write and play my own music and besides happily sharing some quality time with my wife, I’ve become addicted to political television from the Daily Show through Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and (moreso during the run up to the 08 Presidential Election) the Sunday morning News forum shows.
Come to think of it, the one thing I didn’t do so much in the music detective days was stay home and watch television. Aside from the rare guest shots by Elvis Costello or Talking Heads on Saturday Night Live or Tom Snyder’s wacky Tomorrow, TV was the last place I’d look for new music.
Sure I had a VCR, but in those early days of time-shifting, the technology was dodgy; the videocassettes were bulky and unreliable and you could only record 120 minutes at a time. So, forget it. There was barely enough time to eat or sleep, let alone time to waste in front of the set.
But lately, my Digital Video Recorder has changed everything. And with its help, my television has now become my unlikely ally in the quest for new music. Recently, while scrolling through my queue of recorded broadcasts by Tom Petty, The Raconteurs, My Morning Jacket and Zappa Plays Zappa, I had an epiphany — my DVR is just a big, clunky iPod.
Well, not literally. I mean, the TV / DVR combo is too cumbersome to drag onto most public transportation, you can’t make playlists or shuffle tracks and it’s still easier to hook up an iPod to the car stereo. So on a pure volume-of-songs and portability basis, my iPod is safe as my in-pocket sound carrier of choice. But in the realm of home entertainment, my DVR rocks a big sound and big picture that, bolstered by a few premium cable channels, provides a constantly replenishing music source and I have fallen in love with its fully searchable and digitally recordable technology.
Scanning the schedules one day last year I noticed that Wilco were the upcoming musical guest on SNL, Liam Finn was on Letterman and Martha Wainwright and Bloc Party were on Conan. I set record and watched them all at my leisure, zipping straight ahead to the musical guest and past all the actors and authors plugging their movies and books. The talent bookers of the late night shows have hastened my ability to get snap shot takes on certain UK flavors of the month like the Ting Tings or Hot Chip, both of whom I first saw on Jimmy Kimmel Live, neither of whom I really got into. On the other hand, I was happy to discover Bon Iver or…
…Fleet Foxes on Conan.
Fleet Foxes on Conan O'Brien
…or Glasvegas on Late Night with David Letterman
Glasvegas on David Letterman
Though I still troll the clubs and record stores when I can, these days I also scan the TV schedules for musical guests, aided by web resources such as the Late Night TV Page (http://www.interbridge.com/lineups.html) or VH1’s Rock on TV site (http://www.vh1.com/artists/rock_on_tv/).
Living in Berkeley, I’m also well served by multiple Bay Area PBS stations, that enable me to bag multiple episodes of Austin City Limits, Soundstage, plus a Les Paul documentary and a 1977 concert by The Who. One night last year, for example I was thrilled to discover that one PBS outlet were airing an Austin City Limits with Kings of Leon in a double bill with Texan psychedelic pioneer Roky Erickson while another had the ACL with Arcade Fire. Dirty secret: I routinely fast forward through those long PBS pledge drive segments, but I swear I’ll make a donation someday soon!
The ever-expanding cableverse has only widened my recording options. For instance, the new HD channel Palladia regularly broadcasts Yahoo Studio Concerts and big festival shows from the UK while Live From Abbey Road, on Sundance Channel, recently aired intimate sessions by Brian Wilson, Teddy Thompson and The Kooks. And I just snapped up the Elton John Goodbye Yellowbrick Road episode of Classic Albums from VH1 Classic.
And lately, Elvis Costello’s Spectacle (seen here on the Sundance Channel) provided a few great moments of Elvis with Lou Reed (above), Rufus Wainwright, The Police and Sir Elton again.
Back in my teens, I never would have guessed that TV would one day become a partner in my quest for musical variety. The only problem now is, with so much music on my DVR queue, I barely have enough time to watch it all.
Can somebody please invent a machine for that?