I frequently sequestered myself in my basement bedroom in our ranch-style house, under my ginormous headphones with rock and roll pouring directly into my brain. And I studied the album covers. It was in the cryptic writing on these strange and mysterious pieces of graphic design (which I really miss, by the way) that I learned a bit about what went into making a record. Elton John was not just Elton John – no, Elton John was Elton John Bernie Taupin Davey Johnstone Nigel Olsson Dee Murray and a whole mass of other worker bees like… the arranger, producer and the engineer…. The names grew to be as familiar to me as (and much more comforting than) my own adolescent anxieties.
It was all utterly fascinating to me, this world of attractive, grown-up, long-haired dudes on either side of a glass booth making phonograph records. It sometimes seemed like their instruments and mikes were plugged directly into my headphones. To an awkward, angsty girl who was floundering in the world, these record makers became like a second, much cooler family.
Later, in the eighties, I actually met people who made records. Although I’m pretty sure THEY have no recollection of it, I thought it was pretty awesome… like a dream come true. I met Mitch Easter and Don Dixon and John Plymale… I reveled in this proximity to the glass booth guys, although I never did get to see the records getting made… despite my tight relationship with a musician (NOT one of the above.)
|Don Dixon and Mitch Easter – two
glass booth guys who I'm sure
don't remember meeting me.
It begins with Dave Grohl recounting the excited pilgrimage in the nineties of his band Nirvana to record at Sound City, the fabled studio where so many iconic albums had been recorded… by iconic musicians and groups like Neil Young, Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac.
|...directed by Dave Grohl
(What a great smile - am I right?)
We learn about the studio's origin and about its owners Tom Skeeter and Joe Gottfried. Their goal? To find the next Beatles and make a zillion dollars. Their tools? A shabby warehouse built around a custom-made $75,000 Neve soundboard. If their purpose was mercenary, what followed was… not exactly.
|The legendary Neve soundboard.
And me being me, I immediately thought, "That's a blog post." And yet… the applicable thoughts and analogies and quotes just starting tumbling around in my head, and refused to be corralled into any reasonable order. Because… well… because I’m analog and not digital. Meaning that… I’m human and messy and limited. And sometimes I can’t get it together.
|Mick Fleetwood made AOR history
at Sound City.
Forget that I am actually writing this on the computer – sure, I can fix my typos, but the order of the words? That’s all up to my human brain. I have to figure out on my own how to convey my thoughts and feelings, while in making records, musicians can rely on each other. Indeed, analog recording demands the help and skills of others. And, sure, you could whip out your Pro Tools – and sometimes economics demand that you do so, but… like Mick Fleetwood says: “The downside these days is thinking that I can do this all on my own. Yes, you can do this on your own, but you’ll be a much happier human being to do it with other human beings. And I can guarantee you that.”
|So did Tom Petty.
And it’s not just the creation of music that was a community process for the citizens of Sound City… as Petty said, it was about people relating to each other. “ ‘Family’ might be a little heavy, but there was definitely a warm feeling between us and the people that worked there,” Tom says. Other musicians beg to differ. Barry Manilow says it's the most familial place he's ever recorded at. (Grammar people, haud yer wheest!) And a couple of stories told in the movie sort of highlighted this for me.
|Apparently Rick Springfield
won a Grammy. Who knew?
And then there’s the story of the group that grew to become Fleetwood Mac. It began as a couple of kids (Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks) making their first album in Sound City’s perfect room. So Mick Fleetwood comes in, just scouting out the place for Fleetwood Mac's next album, and they play him one Stevie and Lindsay's tracks. Later, when Bob Welch suddenly quit Fleetwood Mac, Mick inquired about Lindsay’s availability… turns out Buckingham wouldn’t work without Nicks… and the rest is AOR history!
|Look at the babies!