beauty, pt. ii.

And so it goes.

The year went by, and I kept blogging and blogging.  Sometimes 1,500 words a day for a week or two straight.

Gradually, as the year went by, people from the old days would find their way onto the blog, or my sense of nostalgia would cause me to reach out to them – by email, on Facebook, through a Google search, whatever.

A lot of those reconnections took place right in the “comments” section of this blog.  If you read the comments, you’ll see.

Telling the story also helped bring me right back to indie rock, buying records, discovering new bands.  Some of the best music I’ve ever heard is music that just came out this year.

In a lot of ways, it really is like riding a bike.

Making the blog helped rekindle some of the enthusiasm, as did recreating the memories.  But the most rewarding things about doing it were two-fold: first, seeing the traffic build slowly over the months.

Don’t get me wrong: traffic to the blog hasn’t been enormous.  At the time of this writing there have been maybe 20,000 or 25,000 page views between the blog and our Facebook page.  But those figures are greater than anything we ever achieved in the years that Dromedary “Mach I” was an active label, all put together.  The number of comments to the blog and contacts on Facebook and Twitter outweighed all the mail and email we received in the 90s – and I didn’t even have an email address available on the blog.  It’s pretty cool to learn that something you’re doing is compelling enough to get people to come back again and again.

The second thing that was rewarding about this was reconnecting with so many people, and re-establishing relationships with them.  By the spring, I was pretty convinced that starting the blog – one of Rich’s last suggestions to me – was a great idea.

I never stopped loving music.  I never stopped wanting to be that guy who introduces you to a new band.  Suddenly, the blog became a way for me to do that.  As I posted MP3s of various bands, people started rediscovering the music.  And it didn’t cost me anything.  Nothing measurable, at least.  I didn’t have to manufacture the CDs anymore, and I didn’t have to send them to Dutch East where they’d sit on them for months at a time with no indication of whether or not anyone ever listened to them.

Instead, I’d tell a story and post an MP3, and get an immediate reaction.  I could see – not only if someone left comments, but by the traffic to individual blog entries.  I could see if people were linking to individual entries.  I had this instantaneous way of obtaining feedback – something that just wasn’t available to me in 1995, in the infancy of the internet.

The blog was fun.  A shitload of fun, actually.

And it’s been cathartic, as well.  I got to write down a lot of the episodes that made me bananas in the early 90s.  I got to relive the work stresses that drove me right to the edge of sanity in 1995 and 96, and re-evaluate them with the benefit of a little age and wisdom, and realized that the things that had me all bunched up were really not all that bad.  I got to write things about Rich that helped me – finally – put them in a place where they made sense to me.  You still never get over it, but if you can make it make sense, that’s not so bad.

It started as a project I wasn’t sure I’d finish.  Perhaps I’d run out of steam in February or March.  Maybe I wouldn’t even make it out of January.  And – more likely – nobody would give a shit, and I’d wind up taking the rest of my life to write the story, adding a new entry every week or so, or whenever I felt like it.

But then I’d go two or three days, and I’d start getting emails and IMs from people – friends, mostly – asking when the next entry was going to happen.  Or I’d watch the web stats and notice somebody accidentally stumbling onto the blog – searching for big, bouncing tits, or for Cinnabon, or something like that – and then they’d wind up staying up all night, reading 30 or 40 entries.

And as I started to see evidence that people were enjoying what I was writing, I became more confident about what I was writing.  More willing to move away from being snarkily self-deprecating and open up a bit more – write about some of my many neurosis (I could write for another two years about my health-related anxiety issues, my relationship with my father, and my self-induced, work-related stress, but I’ll spare you).  It felt good to tell you that I’m insane.  It somehow made me feel less insane.

By spring I was hurtling through the story, writing half a dozen entries every Sunday and actually having to hold myself back from posting them.  And by summer, I’d mapped out most of the story, how each installment would appear, and how I’d finally wrap it up.

On a warm night in July I sat in my in-laws’ living room, in their empty house on Cape Cod.  We’d invited friends to spend a few days, but they’d all gone home.  Sandy was having dinner with some old friends from high school, and I stayed at the house, watched a movie with the kids and then put them all to bed.

As I opened another cold beer, I laid out in my mind the way I’d spend the last few months of the blog: dealing with the dissolution of the company and then its near-resurrection through Razortone, Rich’s passing, my own evolution into adulthood, and the conclusion of the story at the dive bar in the country, Ralph Malanga providing the soundtrack to the final passage of this whole, strange experience.

I guess there was no big revelation that resulted from this exercise.  No earth-shattering thing, no big conclusion.  We were an indie label, at a time when there were a lot of indie labels, pumping out music, pressing seven-inches, being a part of what was, at the time, described as a glut.

I never thought of it as a glut.  I thought of it as an unbelievably creative period, a time when competing businesses didn’t think of one another as competing, a time when a nationwide network of punks and indie kids helped create a culture.  And although most of us didn’t make it out, it doesn’t diminish what we did.

During the process of writing this, I had the occasion to pull out boxes of records I hadn’t interacted with in years.  My CD compilations from Simple Machines Records.  My seven inches from Pop Narcotic.  A couple of Puddingmaker 10″ EPs on Ratfish, with cover art screen-printed on the jackets of vinyl records purchased at thrift stores (my copy was printed on – and included – Billy Joel’s Glass Houses LP).  A stack of self-released seven-inches by unsigned bands that were good enough for me to hang onto all these years.

These things were beautiful.  They looked beautiful, they sounded beautiful, and they took on a whole new meaning to me.  When I was putting them out, too, I was going through hell to get them out – hand-screening art, hand-assembling records, individually packing them into envelopes, hand-stamping each envelope while we sat around, drinking beers and listening to the music of our peers.  We did all this because we wanted to make something.

What we never stopped to consider at the time was that all the bands and labels that we looked up to – they were doing the same thing.  Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson – lawyers today, or whatever – sat in their kitchen just like me, inserting sleeves into baggies, trying to keep their fingerprints off the vinyl.  Lou Barlow plugged his guitar into a four-track cassette recorder just like Doug Larkin did, trying to document his feelings and do it over and over again, until he got the perfect take, hoping that the cassette tape didn’t have any glitches in it, praying that he had the recording levels set right so that the take was properly recorded.  Hundreds of bands, all over the country, trying to figure out how they could sneak away from work for two weeks, hoping to squeeze in a quick tour.  Dozens of people, sneaking Xerox copies from the office copier, hoping that Factsheet Five would like their zine, stopping by See Hear in hopes of seeing their own zine on the shelves.

In writing these stories down, I realized that in New Jersey, Ralph Malanga worked his ass off in the shipping department of a retail store, then came home and sat down on his bed, trying to nail the hook that had been going through his head all day.  In San Francisco, Adam Cohen was doing the same thing.  In Michigan, Lenny Zenith was doing it.  In New York, the guys from Gapeseed were doing the same thing.

In Wilmington, the WE Fest guys were trying to create an indie scene, supporting each other, putting on a summer festival.  In New Jersey, Steve Bailey was doing the same thing.  The same thing was happening with varying degrees of success in Richmond, DC, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Raleigh/Durham, Austin, and in other cities all over the country.

In Chicago, the people in the scene fought like hell to keep the legendary Lounge Ax club open, and they mourned it when it closed.  We did the same thing in New York when Brownie’s closed, or Coney Island High, or just a few years ago, CBGB.

When I wrote this story down, I suddenly got it.

Dromedary Records was not a micro-indie that crashed and burned.  That’s how I described it when I first started this blog.

Dromedary Records was a part of a movement.  It was a movement that was at the forefront of a wave of musicians and labels, feeling their way around, trying to reinvent the music industry.  We made our own music industry, with our own bands, our own record labels, our own media, our own live venues, our own support network.  We didn’t crash and burn – we simply gave way to the next movement, which was created by the people who took what we did another two or three steps further.

We’re living in a time when it’s suddenly possible for the smallest DIY band to obtain mainstream exposure completely on their own.  Technology has taken us to the precipice of something unbelievably special, and it totally favors the indie band and label.  Dromedary was there when it started, and that makes me proud.

We didn’t crash and burn.  We helped lay a foundation.  I just told you the whole story of how we did it.

Almost the whole story.

~ by Al on December 29, 2009.

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