Physical Graffiti

When you walk around Brooklyn, there are lots of buildings that look like the cover of the Led Zeppelin album I stole today’s title from. I was recently in a conversation with some random person at a bar about records-vinyl, and I told him about how many of the Led Zeppelin albums had some little trick to them. Funny little things like on Zeppelin III where there was a wheel in the corner that you could spin and there would be different images you would see on the open window section. If you don’t know what I’m talking about think of children’s pop up books and how you can slide a character across the book to represent them running or something like that. So Led Zeppelin albums were like pop up books for young adults and teenagers. Things to do while you listened to the music. A lot of old albums had cool things like a gatefold so when you opened it there’s a big picture of the band, or really cool artwork. The Grateful Dead album Dead Set featured live performances from the Fillmore West and Filmore East, in San Francisco and New York, respectively. The front picture has a male skeleton looking over the Golden Gate bridge to the City and the back picture has a female skeleton looking over the Brooklyn bridge towards Manhattan. Open the gatefold and the whole picture is two skeletons back to back looking out over their cities. Nevermind the fact it puts New York in the West, it’s a cool picture.

CDs were the beginning of the death of album art. I won’t say it was completely void of creativity, but the loss of scale meant the old album features were never recreated so a kid could buy a Zeppelin CD and never know that on Physical Graffiti, which was a double album, depending on which sleeve you put in the front, and which side was facing out, there would be different scenes of people in the windows of the brownstones.

I was into vinyl in the era when cassettes were about to be taken over by CDs and was fortunate to inherit the collections of my parent’s friends who were making the transition. One collection I never got ahold of belonged to my aunt, maybe were her ex-husbands, but they were just kicking around in the bottom cupboard of a bookstand. Who knows if she gave them away or trashed them, but I remember a couple of Cheech and Chong albums. One being the Wedding Album, depicting the two comedians as Siamese twins with both the brides fully pregnant and probably many other visual gags with all the extended families. The other album was Big Bambu. That was the album that came with a rolling paper the size of the album. I’m sure many people in the ’70s used it when they first bought the album, but I distinctly remember this one being intact at some point in the mid ’80s, but now it’s long gone. But if CDs were the air strikes in the war on album art, mp3s were the foot soldiers. I know you can still buy CDs, and I know for some people, they want the tangible item to hold in their hands, but I haven’t purchase a CD in a long time. I have a massive collection of music from all the CDs I started buying in the early ’90s, that eventually were backed up on external hard drive, and many of the CDs sold used. Then there was the Napster phase of finding all the one hit wonders that I would never buy a full CD of, and swapping collections with friends. Honestly, my collection is a mess. Not a complete mess, but there are things that need to be deleted because they are awful and came from somebody else’s collection, or compiled because the artist’s name is spelled incorrectly in multiple instances; i.e. AC/DC, AC-DC. And really what I’ve done, is load just a fraction of my collection onto my iPhone and listen there, so if the album art shows, which it rarely does, it’s the size of a stamp so who cares? The rest of the time, if I’m looking for a song I go on YouTube, or if I want a certain genre I go to my Pandora playlist. In my lifetime, I’ve listened to music on 8 track as a kid in my parent’s VW bus, cassette tapes on the very first Sony Walkman, owned a five CD carousel changer-5 hours of random music on shuffle!, consolidated my CD collection to my favorite 40 to bring to Korea with me in those book style collections that let you ditch the jewel case, and still it was a bunch of extra weight to haul around. Now I sit on the subway and half the people have their headphones plugged into iPhones, potentially carrying ten times the collection I brought to Korea in the palm of their hands. What’s next? Psychic Radio? “Hey dude, can you think a little quieter? Your Slayer is drowning out the sound of my John Tesh.”

Things are changing all the time, sometimes for the better, other times I catch myself getting old and declaring, “They don’t make ’em like when I was a kid!” Which in the case of Big Bambu is true. Even though I’m a musician and not a creator of visual arts, I miss that aspect of music packaging. It’s become more simplified.

The other reason for today’s title is that I just met a friend of my roommate who’s from Brooklyn. He showed us this video he made of himself train surfing.

Crazy right! Among other subversive things he likes to do is graffiti, and he gave us the run down on waxing, which is a way of marking trains that he’s known for. Our other roommate is a tattoo artist from Spain, and he does graffiti as well, so it was decided that the two of them are going to decorate the apartment. We have these big canvases of white walls in our empty living room, so they are going to add a little life to them. Then we’ll have a party and I’ll post a picture or two.

And now for today’s music. Led Zeppelin right? In my research I found out the Physical Graffiti buildings are 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. The steps of the buildings were also featured in today’s music, so you’re gonna get Mick, Keith, and the boys instead. What’s funny to me is these were both British bands, but even as a kid I pictured these as being in New York. Way before I ever visited here the first time. This video is worth it, if just to laugh at Mick’s goofy lip synching, and when Keith stumbles up to the steps at 1:31.

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