- Written by: Puffer
About 8 years ago I discovered you could get Pat Benatar albums in pristine condition for less than $8 or maybe $12. So I collected the entire discography. I’ve always had a soft spot for her and her band even when I was a snotty post punk kid. Even the dumb songs are terrific.1
It’s odd to me that she doesn’t have, as far as I can tell, the same nostalgic footprint as other 80s acts. I mean, she was huge for a while, right? You would think some nostalgia-bait television show would needle drop, say, "We Live For Love"2 and send it back up the charts.
1 This is not necessarily a slight on Benatar and her partner, co-songwriter Neil Giraldo. I'd say for the majority of long-running acts with a deep catalog of primarily original material there's gonna be a dumb and/or goofy song or two on each album. Especially acts doing traditional pop or rock songs, verse chorus verse, especially the deeper we get into their catalog. A band like Mogwai it's harder to tell because they're instrumental, moody and hard. Whereas listening to, say, The Cars' Door to Door, and there are songs that I have a hard time believing weren't composed in the studio in an under an hour. How we approach the dumb songs says a lot about we feel about an band or artists in general. If we love them how we approach those songs completely changes. The song that inspired this comment back when I posted this on Mastodon was "Fire and Ice". This was a fairly big hit from what I recall. Definitely played on the FM rock stations. But, come on, the lyrics are pretty dumb.3 Still, it's a super fun song.
2 Absolutely one of my favorite Benatar songs. Top notch new wave inflected FM rock.
So you think you got it all figured out You're an expert in the field, without a doubt But I know your methods inside and out And I won't be takin' in by fire and ice
- Written by: Puffer
There have been a few times I actually visited a record store on Record Store Day.
For a couple years I would join the folks at Analog Underground in Providence, perhaps my favorite indie record shop that I visited regularly. I cannot use enough superlatives about how great that shop is. Interesting stock curated by people who know their shit, without attitude, don’t overvalue their records and thus have a great turnover. Since they’re a true indie shop their actual official RSD stock was pretty minimal. It was more just an excuse to have a sale and some DJs and the regulars talking about music.
There was one year where I wanted to get a release of DEVO Live at Max's Kansas City so I went early to a Newbury Comics, but alas they either didn't get it or were already sold out. And the rest of it was a scene. And that was it for me, on getting my hopes up about any particular RSD release, on dealing with crowds. I was happy to support Analog Underground, and I'm happy for any way this actually helps independent record stores, but the whole endeavor seems like kind of a drag these days. Sure, anything that gets people excited about music I try not to be too cynical about. But it is also very much a product of late state capitalism.
If you're not from Southern New England and don't know, Newbury Comics is an independent chain store that has music, movies, collectibles, and, yes, comics. It started out on Newbury St in Boston, hence the name. The flagship store opened in the 80s I think and still has a dozen or so operational stores. The one I visited that day was in a strip mall in Warwick, Rhode Island. But many years later, when I was commuting from Pawtucket, RI to outside of Boston, the route I had mapped out to avoid the worst of the commuter traffic took me right by a mammoth store location in Norwood, MA. So at least once a week I would stop in and see what had come in. They priced their stock aggressively1 there; it was wonderful.
So for a couple of years, the Monday after RSD I would stop at Newbury in Norwood, see whatever was left over. And for all the hype you'd be surprised how much was left over. We all know those records stores that have a RSD section, all the shots at nostalgia and/or fandom that fell short; some of them hang around for months, years. But it meant I found some terrific records, including the pictured rerelease of the first The Go! Team record, the UK version with all the original samples.2 So, sure, I've probably missed a few releases that I would liked to grabbed, but my method is more in keeping with my approach to collection records.
Today, the day after RSD 2023, I went to Turn It Up in Brattleboro, Vermont. I was able to grab a Magnetic Fields record for a new Mastodon friend who was hoping to score it also without braving the crowds. For myself, I spent too much on an Orb with Lee Scratch Perry record. Plus a couple of used records.
1 Analog Underground was the same. Too many record shops find what on paper is a desirable record, look at that top end price and then just hang it on their wall at that price. A copy of Bat Out of Hell with a lot of surface noise is not a $20 record. A good record shop will know the practical value of a record is only as good as what someone is willing to actually pay. Newbury was constantly marking down stock and having vinyl sales. AU had 3 for $5, 3 for $10 bins filled with unbagged records in fair to pretty good condition, while keeping the actually desirable records in primary displays. (I'll be writing more about used vinyl pricing soon.)
2 tbh I first heard about this record from Pitchfork when it was released in the UK. I downloaded an MP3 version via I want to say some message board group...? Anyway, I bought the US version with a bunch of the samples replaced; I've never done an academic comparison but have often thought it could probably be an interesting exercise. But mostly I just listen to the original version, which is a favorite. So to see a one copy left, two days after RSD of the original version on vinyl, this made me happy.
- Written by: Puffer
Another day, another milestone of new Mastodon users. Many, many of those users will be fleeing Twitter. And many of them will wind up disappointed or bored with Mastodon.
It’s not a mind-blowing thesis to say Mastodon will never fully supplant Twitter. Do a random web search and you'll hit dozens of hot takes opining more or less the same for one reason or another. A lot of these are about UX decisions, debated and remarked upon ad nauseam on Mastodon itself: lack of quote tweets, search discoverability, siloed comments. But one thing that really strikes me are some fairly significant differences in how the architecture of the platforms means different things for people who are famous and those for whom following, interacting with famous people is a draw on Twitter.
My thoughts here are mostly anecdotal so take them for what you will. I was not an exceptional Twitter user; nor have I been on Mastodon particularly long in the lifecycle of the software.
I joined Twitter in July 2007. And by the time I put the @digitallofi account into its final sleep in November 2022, I had roughly 380 followers; I followed about 295 to 310, 195(ish) of who were mutuals. Now I'm going to conservatively say that 1/3 of these mutuals were inactive. Maybe a dozen or so of the active ones had me muted. (Guessing on that, but speaks to a greater point I'll get to later.) So, while I was an active Twitter user, I rarely got beyond the reach of my mutuals, and never went viral.
I wasn't in the first wave that fled Twitter post-Elon, but by November I couldn't in good conscience continue using the site (I forget the exact tipping point; so much happened in a short amount of time). I gave in and went over to mastodon.social where I had already set up an account back in June 2018 that I had posted on exactly twice and decided there wasn't much going on. But since I was absolutely done with Twitter, I endeavored to give Mastodon a shake on its own terms and logged back on.
Of course, I'm all in on Mastodon and the Fediverse. I've had more meaningful interaction with a wider swath of people than I ever did on Twitter. More people have meaningfully listened to my music. Read my posts. Responded to conversations. The whole idea has me excited about the internet in a way I haven't been in probably more than a decade. It's not perfect, there are some real structural questions that are being debated–endlessly–but at its core, it's a very exciting endeavor.
But this involves interacting with Mastodon on its own terms1, and one thing I can't ever see Mastodon being able to replicate is the spheres of celebrity that Twitter facilitated and engendered.
So what do I mean by spheres? Broadly, there are two spheres of famous people on Twitter: *Famous* Famous people; Twitter Famous people.
But go a bit deeper and there are more spheres contained within these two spheres, and these spheres have washy borders whose edges bleed into each other.
Let’s delineate them:
- Famous Famous.
Think Taylor Swift, or Ben Afleck. But are they really "on" Twitter? Let's be honest, there is a publicist and/or management layer between these folks and their Twitter accounts. Twitter itself has little impact on their career in the grand scheme of things.
- Famous Famous who are also Twitter Famous.
Stephen King, George Takei, Patton Oswalt, et cetera. When these people are recognized in the airport it's not because they're on Twitter. And they get recognized a lot. So while they’re also active Twitter users and it most likely has some effect on their public profile, their careers are mostly independent of their Twitter usage.
- Not Famous Famous but like Mid-Level Famous, also Twitter Famous.
The average person isn’t likely to recognize them but they have an audience, fans, a career that has nothing to do with Twitter. However their beloved Twitter accounts have definitely helped raise and maintain their audience. e.g. John and Jon from The Mountain Goats, Margrett Attwood, Open Mike Eagle, James Adomian, that guy from Eve 6.
- Twitter Famous.
They're all over your timeline. Maybe they're funny, politically active, tech leaders, regional personalities. Often journalists, bloggers, YouTubers, smaller musicians. Or gimmick accounts. You'd most likely never heard of them before Twitter but you definitely know who they are once you’ve been on the site a while. They follow and interact with the other spheres of celebrity. The algorithm favored them. I could rattle off a list of monikers but the point is if you hadn't been around Twitter for a long time these names would mean almost nothing. Some of them had Verified badges, some did not.
- Twitter Famous who have parlayed it into some measure of a Mid-level Famous.
This is a pretty rarified sphere. Chapo Trap House springs readily to mind. But some comedians and writers have built to a larger mid-level fame from a beloved Twitter account. And that mid-level fame will probably persist beyond the demise of Twitter.
- High Follower Count but Not Quite Twitter Famous.
While they have follower counts in the mid-to-high thousands, they usually they don’t have verified blue checks. Still they get picked up by the algorithm frequently. They get retweeted by the greater spheres of fame. But outside of Twitter they are just some person. These could be podcasters, high-concept accounts, weird Twitter, or just some joker who writes clever tweets. They might eventually transition to being Twitter Famous but whatever notoriety they have eked out for themselves will mostly evaporate when they leave the platform.
- The Character of the Day.
It might be one of the above, or just some random person who just said some shit that got on someone's radar. And in a short while everyone has to know about them. Then 2 weeks later everyone is "hey remember that clown?!"2
As for the rest of us. We're either just tweeting our random thoughts, observations, mildly amusing jokes for the dozen or so people who might see the post when it scrolls across the timeline, hoping to get people to engage with our art, our lives, our humor, our outrage.
Or we were there to try to be famous or interact with famous people.
Myself, I have little use for celebrity. In all sincerity, I am not much impressed by fame. Even less so in the last 25 years. I have a couple dozen stories of encountering or meeting or spending time with people of various levels of fame including genuine movie stars. And I don't think I've told more than a few people some of those stories. When I do it's just because it's a pertinent detail about something else I'm talking about.3 Most of these "stories" aren't really all that interesting when you get down to it. So it just comes off as name dropping. I mean, there have been artists whose work meant so much to me that on the rare occasion that I met them I was genuinely star struck. But I've had friends with famous parents and that gives you a bit of perspective into what being famous must be like. And it’s not that interesting, they're just people.4
There was that time I sat one table over from Weird Al Yankovich in a LA nightclub, which is a pretty amusing momentary proximity to fame.
Mostly fame and celebrity are a blight on our culture. I have no problem with people being recognized for the work they do. I understand that artists and actors and writers with large audiences are going to have fans. Hell, there are famous people I hope are genuinely good, interesting people. But fan culture is a rot. And the era we're in where people are famous for being famous is tiresome and silly.
But this is not a widely held position. Just look at the replies on any celebrity's Twitter (or Instagram) post and you just see people thirsty to get noticed. If I post something like "Cheese toast is the pillow on which I lay my head" it's just a middling bit of random nonsense that no one pays a second thought to. But someone who is in one of the spheres? 300 to 10k likes | 150 to 15k retweets. Clout chasers quote tweeting it adding "so true." And replies. So many replies. None of them really have anything to add. More just “notice me!”
And in a pretty major way, this is/was5 Twitter's secret sauce. At least in the western world. To be sure, there are lots of pockets of community filled with people that interact with each other irrespective of their "status". Film Twitter, Black Twitter, trans Twitter, rightwingnut Twitter. But the spheres of fame have wide, erratic orbits, and no corner was left untouched by them. This is partially why it had become a dick measuring contest of follower counts. Twitter rewarded people who's follower count were greater than their "followee" count. And it was logarithmic, this reward. Like capital income, it increased with very little actual effort the larger that ratio became. How much of this was because of the algorithm and how much was just because of the social nature of fame I'll leave for others to debate. But it was definitely built into the structure of Twitter.
And few of these people are going to be happy on Mastodon.
The people who inhabit these spheres of fame are going to miss their algorithmically juiced audience. If one is used to receiving hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands tokens of validation (likes, reposts, comments) they’ll probably have a hard time starting anew on a site that is decidedly not programmed to reward the very act of receiving those tokens. They’re essentially starting from scratch on a decentralized platform whose mechanism for getting your "content" in front of people who don't follow you is pretty lo-tech compared to the years of data science behind the behemoth social media giants. Followers are scattered across dozens and dozens of servers/instances that only talk to each other in some murky way that doesn't promote attention in and of itself.
Moreover, even their audience is likely to find the experience off-putting. The normies who do nothing but lurk, or retweet and/or reply to famous people. They're going to what? Be happy looking at pictures of moss and cats, laugh at stupid puns, take in conversations about German culture, navel gazing about Mastodon itself? And beyond the people who just want to soak in the aura of someone more popular than themselves, the nature of Twitter fame created an ecosystem where parasocial relationships bloomed. e.g. one can listen to a record or read a book, think it's great, find the creator on Twitter, and tell them you dig their work. And they either give you a virtual high-five, or have a bit of a conversation. Occasionally they'd follow back. All these parasocial relationships, contracting, expanding.
Of all the spheres, The Twitter Famous people are the most likely to adapt6, especially if they are academics or tech savvy, bloggers, photographers, musicians. Many are already transitioning with what appears to be various degrees of enthusiasm and success. They are the true posters. They post because they can not because they want to be popular. They’ll find maybe not the same number of followers, but the same number of engaged followers. But I have a hard time seeing 50 Cent, or Jason Isbell, or Marc Maron setting up shop on mstdn.social or beige.party, at best “verified” through their “official” website, and really getting into the experience.7 And without that level of active famous users most ordinary people will wander away, lose interest, find a site/app that scratches that itch.
Me, I don’t care all that much whether these folks come over to Mastodon. I didn’t follow too many famous people on Twitter, instead relied on my mutuals to help elevate them to my ambient engagement. Sure I’ll miss some of these clever, funny, cool people from those spheres. I’ll miss the randomness with which these paths crossed. But you can’t separate that from the rest of the site, an engine of late-stage capitalism whose currency is popularity. Parasocial relationships that can be leveraged like reward tickets for the wealth of attention. It’s entertaining to have a mechanism that lets you interact with the cool, popular kids. But this gamification of our attention is never satisfied.
What Mastodon and the Fediverse offer is a way to rebuild the communities without the demands of The Feed, designed as it is to lure us in with the promise of access, perhaps even entry into these spheres of fame and the attendant rewards. Mastodon does not promise this because it cannot. It’s imperfectly fulfilling a promise the internet offered back before the enshitification began.
So what next? I wish I had some grand conclusion. This is obviously something I’m working out. I feel like I could parse this for many more paragraphs and footnotes8, but, like Twitter, it’s time to let it go.
1 I won't go into it here, but there are some very particular ways to interact with Mastodon that allow us modest users to get the most out of it. And it can take a bit of work.
2 I have never known of anyone who parlayed being The Character of the Day to being Twitter Famous. But plenty of the Twitter Famous have had their reputation, followings wrecked by becoming The Character of The Day.
3 For instance, how I came by an early copy of The Blair Witch Project ahead of its Sundance preview, on a blank video cassette that just had Blair Witch Project handwritten in marker on the label. Which I watched alone on a Saturday night at midnight, having no idea what it was. One of the most memorable movie watching experiences of my life. What's interesting to me is a personal cultural phenomenon, not the way I came by it.
4 Albeit rich people. Because being famous is often rewarded with the prizes of wealth. And rich people can be pretty strange.
5 The tense in this piece is messing with me. What I’m talking about is largely past tense for me. It may be Twitter is more or less the same–I'm not logging on to check this out. Since the Blue checkmark system has been all but dismantled the nature of Twitter fame is probably completely borked.
6 Interestingly, I think Just High Follower Count but Not Quite Twitter Famous people may have the hardest time adjusting, as their audience is not likely to translate. You see them occasionally on Mastodon asking for boosts so they can “find their audience”. It’s really off-putting.
7 These would be people who are coming from a platform built to allow them to have interaction with other famous people without having to bother with the commoners if they don’t want to, and now have to follow back hundreds of people and then use lists & filters to get anything out of the platform. That seems a tall ask for lots of people who are used to systems designed to cater to them.
8 I didn’t even get into trolling and dunking which is very much a part of the ecosystem.
- Written by: Puffer
A couple of years ago A. C. Newman of the New Pornographers posted a picture on Twitter of the vinyl section in a Target, stuffed with stock and not a person in sight. He wrote (possibly paraphrasing), "I have never seen anyone looking at records in Target." I personally don't go in Target that often but when I have looked at their vinyl selection anecdotally that bares out. Just a bunch of overpriced records that no in the store cares about, no real turnover to speak of. Not even casting aspersions on any of the music contained therein, which is almost entirely not interesting to me. Even if it was, it's still all basically garbage.
There were a couple of unrelated but totally related posts over on Reddit:
Adele's 30 for 2 bucks at Goodwill....probably over 200 available.
What are your thoughts on my local Target’s selection?
That's the thing, this is all so much wasted resources. All those $30+ albums filling the shelves at Target and Walmart and at larger indie stores, they are not needed in the world, at least not in the quantity that they exist. But vinyl production is a scale business, in that the more you print cheaper it gets per unit. Figure in generating hype and wanting to dominate shelf space and you get these massive print runs that no one is hankering for. For all the talk of the vinyl resurgence, outside of the collectors for whom this is like Funko Pops or Beanie Babies, most records just don't have a demand of more than a couple hundred. And that's for established musicians. Sure Taylor Swift can shift probably a couple 10,000 units (a lot to people who own no other records and sometimes not even a turntable). Phish probably slightly lesser numbers but probably in that ballpark. And the world is already saturated with Dark Side of the Moon and Nevermind pressings. But at least there is some value to records by beloved or cult artists. 100s of thousands copies of Harry Styles latest record? Not so much.
Target fills their shelves with these, hoping for what? To move a few crappy all-in-one turntables and birthday/holiday gifts? Most of this stuff will wind up in attics and basements and flea markets. If the vinyl isn't defective (lots of quality control issues; I wouldn't be surprised if that's the reason all those Adele records are dumped in that Goodwill), even if the bubble doesn't burst, none of this stuff is going to be rare.
When all these records come flooding back into the market as people get bored, sick of lugging them around, as they get damaged? What happens when the used market is dripping with them? Queen's Greatest Hits, ABBA's reunion record, Montrose on 180g vinyl, and mostly pop music that has yet to prove it has any sort of legacy. Most of this is stock that will do nothing more than lose value.
I obviously dig collecting records. I can spend hours in a good record store. And while I'm almost entirely about used vinyl and dead-stock, I'll buy the occasional new pressing. I have some Vinyl Me Please pressings in my collection. Coincidentally I just got a copy of the New Pornographers first album. But most of this, it's just more plastic into the world.
All that said, I'd by a $2 Adele record.
Photos lifted from Reddit user Medicina_Del_Sol/
- Written by: Puffer
April 1st is the birthday of D. Boon. I’ll assume most folks reading know who he is. I won’t try to cover a lot of remedial ground; suffice to say, he and The Minutemen were one of *those* bands for me, absolutely formative. I was blessed to be young and carefree during a time when they were a going concern. I saw them live a couple times. The albums I own are the same ones I owned back then1. My partner loves them and has the same sentimental attachment to their music, so on D. Boon’s birthday—reclaiming April Fools Day—we listen to some Minutemen records. There was a time when we would have had some tequila (As in "Jesus and Tequila" which admittedly isn't on this record, but that was one of the "biggest" "hits") but alas not much drinking these days.2
My favorite Minutemen record is whatever Minutemen record is playing at the moment but this record is, as the kids say, an absolutely banger. D. Boon fully embraced the guitar overdubs on the e.p. before this and just went for it. This record sounds big. Even their usual weird, lo-fi experiments have a polish that their earlier records do not. It's funny, I hated most guitar solos back in the days when I was listening to The Minutemen (with loads of exceptions) but more than ever I love D's solos.
One cool/sad bit is that I still have the mail-in ballot that was supposed help inform the planned next record, 3 Dudes, 6 Sides, 3 Live. After Boon's death they cobbled together whatever live tracks they had for the double record Ballot Results (another record I wish I had hung on to). Not sure why I never filled out my ballot, probably because I wanted to keep it and was going to photocopy it but didn't get around to it before it was "too late."
1 I was noting on Mastodon, how is it that records I have had and played extensively since the 80s have less surface noise than new, straight from the shrink wrap records I've bought in the last few years? Granted, I've always taken reasonably good care of my records, but these have been played on consumer turntables, and at my college radio station. But these records have held up really well.
2 For no particular moral or recovery reason just age and interest therein.