“Relix” Recalibrates Its Definition Of “Real Music”

anonocritic | October 31, 2008 10:00 am

Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he switches things up a bit and gives the latest issue of Relix a once-over:

Keyboard Krybaby first became aware of the publication considered this week when he was 17 years old. Said first issue featured on the cover the Dinosaurs, a supergroup involving Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cippolina, the Jefferson Airplane’s Spencer Dryden, and, notably, the recently deceased Merl Saunders, a keyboardist who enjoyed a long association with Jerry Garcia.

KK supposes that, even in 1988, the editors of Relix, a publication founded in 1974 and made by and for Deadheads, felt like they couldn’t put the Grateful Dead on the cover every single month. So they went with a bunch of veteran San Francisco musicians who doubtless learned to depend on the kindness of Deadheads. (By the way, has Backstreets, the Springsteen journal, ever put one of Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez’s bands on its cover? How about Tone, the band led by David Sancious?)

KK also supposes that 1988 was a really good year for Relix. The year before had seen a massive influx into the Deadhead ranks, due to the Dead’s hit “Touch of Grey.” It seems the song provided a gateway for many kids around KK’s age into an alluring lifestyle. The guy who owned the issue KK mentioned above was one of many from elite Eastern boarding schools he knew who fell hard for the Dead: KK witnessed that dude and another excitedly singing the platitudinal lyrics to Jerry Garcia’s “The Wheel” to one another one morning.

In KK’s experience, Deadheads around his age weren’t very interested in music. Did they like the idea of following a band remarkable for its lack of propulsion around the country, and thus not bathing, guzzling drugs, and picking up lots of ass? They did indeed. Weren’t the ‘60s, y’know, so cool? That it was generally the well-heeled Mean Girls and their soccer-playing swains who embraced this lifestyle—and not any kids he knew that could be traditionally described as misfits—was not lost on KK. Ahh, trustafarians!

Apparently, longtime Deadheads were concerned that these newbies were ruining the shows for everyone else. KK remembers reading letters in subsequent issues of Relix wherein greybeards complained about these goddamn kids or somesuch.

But the November 2008 edition of Relix reminds KK of something his former drummer, a onetime Deadhead, told him a day or two after Garcia’s death: “It’s time for all those folks to get into some other music.” Relix calls itself “the magazine for music,” but it would be better described as “the magazine for the lifestyle that has outlived Jerry Garcia.”

KK is willing to acknowledge evidence of the past 13 years that Deadheads, or whatever it is that one is supposed to call them these days (Phish Phans?), are interested in music besides the Dead, since the Bonnaroo Festival and similar events (like the Outside Lands Festival, held in late August this year and noted in this particular issue of Relix) clean the fuck up every year. While Relix mostly busies itself with acts that evoke the Dead and Phish in one manner or another, the mag reflects the increasingly catholic tastes of the post-Dead culture.

Of course, the recent doings of Dead peers Richie Havens and Dave Mason are recounted in the “Rearview Mirror” and “Parting Shots” departments. The “Exposed” slot presents a chat with Jay Blakesberg, a photographer who had unusual access to the band in the 1980s and ‘90s. Joan Osborne, who toured with the most recent post-Jerry version of the band and has a new Manhattan-centric album, Little Wild One, is profiled in “City Songs.” And since the black music idiom Deadheads have long liked best is reggae, we learn of the activities of Burning Spear in “Jah Is Real.”

But the Clash, nominally an act that most Deadheads would have shunned 25 years ago, is memorialized in the cover story, “The Battle of Shea Stadium,” in which managing editor Wes Orshoski recounts how opening for the Who was the band’s last hurrah. Sound Tribe Sector Nine, a Tortoise-esque quintet based in Santa Cruz, is profiled in“Right Here, Right Now” by contributing writer Aidin Vaziri. And for no apparent reason that KK can understand, Lucinda Williams expounds on why she enjoys living in the terminally unfashionable San Fernando Valley in “Why I Love The Valley,” easily the most interesting piece in the mag.

What KK can infer from this is that Relix now covers “real music,” i.e. artists that play real instruments, so to speak, and otherwise have no truck with the likes of Miley Cyrus and T.I. If Bonnaroo can present jam bands (or, as per Relix‘s stylistic convention, “jambands”) alongside old punk rockers and alt-country doyennes, so can Relix. This is not, despite KK’s disinclination towards the Grateful Dead and its legacy, a horrible thing. Fans of jam bands and similarly inclined acts can have a publication catering to their tastes, although the mag can seem indistinguishable from Paste at times.

But! Remember the old joke, “what did the Deadhead say when he ran out of dope? ‘Hey, this band sucks!’ ” KK won’t go far enough to suggest that the Relix staff should leave the bong alone during working hours, but he’ll present the following evidence of a worrying lack of attention on the part of whomever is entrusted with copyediting the magazine.

• In an obituary of Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright, we learn the following: “he, like Mason, is the only member to perform on every Floyd tour.” This sentence describes an impossibility: either Wright “is the only member to perform on every Floyd tour,” or “Wright and Mason performed on every Floyd tour” (which is correct).

• In the Osborne profile, writer Holly Gleason says that her interlocutee “literally has done it all.” “Literally” is a word that should be avoided, since, even in a purely musical context, to KK’s knowledge Osborne has not performed with Blowfly or Tygers of Pan Tang and has not recorded a happy hardcore track. She ain’t done it all. And a passage describing Walt Whitman’s affinity for NYC contains a misspelling—”he really understood the spirituality of it,’” says Osborne, “just this vision of a teaming place that’s sensual but also very spiritual.”

• In “Right Here, Right Now,” the Sound Tribe Sector 9 profile mentioned above, by Aidin Vaziri, the band’s new album Peaceblaster is described as its “most coheisve to date.”

• In the “Scene and Heard,” the mag’s front-of-book live review section, letters in words like “lonesome,” “guitar,” and “gorgeously” are omitted: we read “lonsome,” “gu tar,” and “gorgeou ly” instead.

Music magazines are more or less fucked, for reasons that KK has detailed before. KK wouldn’t blame staffers at any publication for being distracted or frightened. But as long as Relix publishes a physical product, those kind of errors do not reflect professional standards of which KK is aware.