Saturday, October 11, 2008

I think I need to talk to Steve Nikleva I need another interview that I have to write up; as if suddenly I'm addicted to talking to the people whose music has fascinated me. There is something compulsive in all this, something that troubles me. Hm.

I know of Steve Nikleva as a sometimes cohort of Al Mader, The Minimalist Jug Band, and via Al, I know of Nikleva as an associatiate of the late Ray Condo and of Veda Hill. Here's what I didn't know: that Steve Nikleva - a name I associate with roots music, rockabilly, country, that sorta thing - was the guitarist for a now somewhat forgotten Vancouver experimental pop band of the 1980's, Red Herring, for whom I have great fondness. I have just discovered this fact tonight, after listening to some newly acquired Red Herring. It is a discovery that makes me slap my head in awe - I've written Nikleva's name in print, in writing about Al, and not realized that he was the guitarist on this fucking EP; that I have some of HIS guitar licks even now reverberating in my skull, and have always had them there close at hand over the years, while hearing about him and never making the connection. How could I not have known? How is it not common knowledge?

Fuck, maybe it is. Is it just me? Hm.

Allow me to backtrack: since I was given the gift of a turntable by a good friend not long ago, I have been slowly going around seeking out certain albums. The albums by Vancouver musicians that other people are not actively seeking, that they may not know were there. The ones that people are not paying $80 apiece for (yet). The ones that are not on the wall with Hardcore 81 and Perfect Youth and Incorrect Thoughts. And, most significantly, the ones that are not only not available on CD, but maybe never will be.

See, I don't need to pay $40 for Slow's Against the Glass; I have a download of a perfectly serviceable vinyl rip and can listen to it whenever I need, until such a time as the CD comes out, which I'm sure - no, I don't know anything - it will someday do. I'm not so sentimental about that album, it turns out, that I need to own the vinyl artefact as well. Maybe if someone gave me a cut rate price on it, because I'm so supportive of the local music scene - sure, that'd be fun! Or if I found it at a thrift store (fat chance). But given $40, and the choice between Against the Glass and, say, the Melodic Energy Commission's The Migration of the Snails, I would likely choose the latter, as a far more unusual, far more interesting artefact of our music scene. (Plus there's even more chance someone will give me a discount on that particular title). Likewise, why would I invest heavily in Hawaii when I might be able to pay a lower price for the far less legendary, but far more revealing and curious, debut album by the Shmorgs? I have the Young Canadians CD, too, after all, but fat chance anyone will put out a Shmorgs disc! ...And if I was going to go for a punk album, I'd be more likely to get excited about Schizofungi by The Spores than any of that, anyhow, not just because it too would likely be cheaper (or because a CD release is unlikely; I would say a CD release is more likely than most of y'all realize) but because, in fact, it speaks more deeply to me musically (and the cover is soooo much more fun).

It takes awhile, of course, to put these pieces together. They're not that uncommon - I fully expect to have a Schizofungi in my hot little hands within the year - but record store owners aren't so excited about selling such discs or stocking them or displaying them, and don't offer so much, or pass up the purchase outright, when people come in to try to sell them, because (not being dummies) they realize that these albums will sit around for years before anyone even picks them up and expresses curiosity. A savvy businessperson would do better to keep them in a box out of sight to wait for some fabled day when demand rises, and thus to encourage an illusion of true scarcity. Trying to move them now is just taking up space that could be reserved for albums that will sell much faster, for more money: what's the point?

I know a little bit about such things, because I work in a record store sometimes. Over the years - less frequently, lately, with all the writing I've been doing - I've sat at the desk at Carson's Books, watching people not even stop to look at the Shmorgs LPs there. Watching the albums people pick out and buy from the punk bin (actually a cardboard box) has been an education. We've had DOA come and go, and Against the Glass, and the Subhumans' "Death to the Sickoids" single fetched a pretty penny on eBay, but Red Herring's Taste Tests, moderately priced, has sat there for at least two or three years, and the same single copy of the Animal Slaves' Dog Eat Dog has been hanging around, I think, since I got back from Japan in 2002 and started doing occasional shifts there. People don't really care, buyers or sellers equally. These are bands that were taken for granted or dismissed in the day, that too few people know well enough to appreciate now; they exist far enough away from the din of the marketplace (which is where the majority of music fans gather, even still) that they aren't really noticed, regardless of where they might be great (or at least really interesting). Besides, they don't have much investment value, do they?

These are the albums I want to own. Vancouver LPs I am proud to have in my possession in vinyl at the moment: Tunnel Canary's "new" LP of old material, the limited run still available at or on the shelves at Zulu. July Fourth Toilet's newest, with the really long title, the short version of which is Balls Boogie. The Animal Slaves and Red Herring, which I bought off Tim soon after getting the turntable. Al Neil's Boot and Fog is on the shopping list, which I know tends to hang around Neptoon. I would be curious to hear some o' that Tim Ray stuff with Alex Varty and Bill Napier Hemy on it. I don't need to own Nomeansno's Mama on LP - I reconciled myself to not owning that years ago, when I sold my copy to Ty Scammel (he who "discovered" the New Creation) at the Flea Market for $80. I'd rather own One, anyhow - that's an album I want to hear on vinyl! ...or maybe I'll decide to peer into the current scene and pick up records by The Mutators, The Shearing Pinx, the Emergency Room compilation - which may be the Dog Eat Dogs of tomorrow, the albums people are passing over while looking for Black Mountain...

In any event: listening to Red Herring's Taste Tests tonight, and in particular its brilliant, quirky, prog-punk title track, with its litany of asinine consumer choices and choruses of "Coca Cola/ Pepsi Cola" or repeated insistence that "This is the best lipstick," I am stunned by how neat certain aspects of this city's musical history have been. And to discover, dammit, that Steve Nikleva is the guitarist on this - his playing owing more on this disc to, hell, I dunno, Robert Fripp or Pat Metheny or somefuckin'one than to roots rock! - I am filled with wonder and curiosity. I need to know more. Who were these Red Herring people, anyhow? Who is Enrico Renz, the lead singer, and where is he now? How many copies were pressed of this? Who else knows about it? Who else cares?

Or are these too questions of mere consumerism? Is Enrico Renz my "best lipstick" for the moment? Is Steve Nikleva an underarm deodorant, really? Is that what this is? Does it matter really which LPs I want to own? Is it really a worthy topic for my time, or yours?

I mean, objectively probably not, but sometimes it sure seems so...

Maybe I need to take a holiday from all this for awhile...

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