WEIRDLAND: Buddy Holly Historical Recordings, Under the Silver Lake (Songwriter Scene)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Buddy Holly Historical Recordings, Under the Silver Lake (Songwriter Scene)

The fire that swept across the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood on Sunday, June 1, 2008, began early that morning, in New England. Eventually the flames reached a 22,320-square-foot warehouse that sat near the King Kong Encounter. The warehouse was nondescript, a hulking edifice of corrugated metal, but it was one of the most important buildings on the 400-acre lot. Its official name was Building 6197. The scope of this calamity is laid out in litigation and company documents, thousands of pages of depositions and internal UMG files that were obtained. UMG’s accounting of its losses, detailed in a March 2009 document marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” put the number of “assets destroyed” at 118,230. Randy Aronson considers that estimate low: The real number, he surmises, was “in the 175,000 range.” If you extrapolate from either figure, tallying songs on album and singles masters, the number of destroyed recordings stretches into the hundreds of thousands. In another confidential report, issued later in 2009, UMG asserted that “an estimated 500K song titles” were lost. Among the incinerated Decca masters were recordings by titanic figures in American music: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland. The tape masters for Billie Holiday’s Decca catalog were most likely lost in total. 


Virtually all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost in the fire. Most of John Coltrane’s Impulse masters were lost, as were masters for treasured Impulse releases by Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and other jazz greats. The vault fire was not, as UMG suggested, a minor mishap, a matter of a few tapes stuck in a musty warehouse. It was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business. UMG’s internal assessment of the event stands in contrast to its public statements. In a document prepared for a March 2009 “Vault Loss Meeting,” the company described the damage in apocalyptic terms. “The West Coast Vault perished, in its entirety,” the document read. “Lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage.” Source: www.nytimes.com

It's hard to comprehend that the master tape for Nevermind, a huge album from my college days, possibly doesn't exist anymore along with those beautiful sounding Buddy Holly tapes. Along with an unthinkable amount of other important and interesting music. Just heartbreaking. It is unknown exactly which master tapes were held by Universal, it they were the ones still kept in Clovis. Norman Petty did send master tapes to Universal and to Steve Hoffman in the 80s and didn't get them all back. What Petty received back were duplicates. So this whole thing is still a bit of a mystery. According to one official source, the Analogue Productions (2017) issue of the 1958 self-titled album "Buddy Holly" was taken from the original master reel. Supposedly it had both tape splices between songs and Norman Petty's notes. If we are to assume the N.Y. Times story is correct, and all the "true analogue tape masters" were destroyed, the new question becomes the storage location of the digital transfers made by Steve Hoffman in the mid 1980's. Hopefully they were not in the same facility. 

One point I'm not sure whether the Buddy Holly LP masters would have contained the actual masters as recorded by Norman Petty, or if they would have been copies made by Decca. My impression was that Decca did not receive the first generation masters, and thus those LP tapes would have been copies of some sort. Steve Hoffman probably knows, but he's probably not in a position to discuss the matter. The second part of the question is: other than the 20 tracks on the 1986 compilation CD, how many other tracks in the entire catalog were transferred to digital at that time, and did Hoffman keep a digital copy of the entire catalog for safety, as many recording engineers do? Due to circumstances around the departure of Hoffman from the employ of MCA, and the dispute between Maria Elena Holly and MCA over increased royalties paid to Norman Petty for making the first master tapes available, much of what we would like to hear is still cloaked in fog. It would be great if new high quality reissues were made available, in time for the grand opening of the fabulous Buddy Holly Center for the Performing Arts. Source: www.voy.com


Under the Silver Lake (Songwriter Scene): The piano man says that “I am the voice of your generation, your grandparents, your parents and all the young people...”. The songwriter appears to be very old, around 80 years old. That means the piano man would have been 16-18 when he wrote the songs he claims which seems pretty unlikely; if he was around 30 when he did, that would make his actual age closer to 100, which seems unlikely considering how well he plays the piano. Or, he’s not the one who wrote the songs. Again, it’s pretty speculative but in the same context he states "I wrote this" and begins to play Beethoven - Ode to Joy, written in 1824. Which is impossible. Then he plays a litany of popular hit songs: Earth Angel by The Penguins, La Bamba by Ritchie Valens, I Love Rock and Roll by Joan Jett, Where is My Mind by The Pixies, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, etc. 

The piano man might have become senile, and is mistaken about what music he wrote - I’d buy this rationale. He seems decided to destroy Sam's illusions, telling him bluntly: "I don't care what's fashionable or cool. It's all silly and meaningless. I've created so many of the things that you care about... the songs that give your life purpose and joy. When you were fifteen and rebelling... you did that to my music. There's no rebellion." When Sam kills him, the shot of the mans head basically reveals an empty skull. Another explanation is the piano man is in fact not the first one to falsify the pop culture songs. Because he speaks in first person about himself and his predecessors, it obfuscates the fact he is not the first. Possibly he is a demonic archon whose role is to deceive naïve people like Sam. In Dictionary of Gnosticism (2009)Andrew Phillip Smith defines the Archons as: "The archons have a negative role, restraining the spiritual impulses of humanity and direct human affairs for the Demiurge, being responsible for the flood of destruction and the crucifixion of Jesus."

I asked one of my musician pals to help me decipher the decorative sheet music on the Songwriter's fence. The notes are: A♭ A C B E E E. The sharp on the second note is apparently cancelled out by the flat on the first, according to music theory, and the last three notes are all E, the first being low, the latter two being high. The original theme is: C C# E E♭ G# G# (last G# note 1 octave higher). It is the same as A♭ A C B E E only 3 tones higher. I think in a more general way the songwriter scene shows us the inner destruction of a society, made by this symbolic personification of "modernism" combined with a failed capitalist system. I think the scene isn't meant to be perceived literally. The Songwriter is the personification of the entire pop-culture facade spun around by the "elites" (whoever they are). As such, his skull is empty because the message is empty (and disingenuous). It's also a metaphor that the elites themselves are empty, as Sam discovers at the end of the film when he solves the riddle. I think the reason Ode To Joy is thrown into the mix is done so precisely to point to the Songwriter being a figurative/metaphorical/fantastical being that transcends time. And the make-up isn't meant to look human, he's mean to look human/monster-like. 

Several years ago a series of blog posts (later expanded into a book called Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, by LA researcher David McGowan) was published postulating that the popular hippie music of the 1960s was in fact designed by a government conspiracy to derail and discredit leftist movements. For no discernable reason musicians with spooky, government and military-connected backgrounds and parentage began to congregate in LA's Laurel Canyon in 1965. People like Frank Zappa, whose father was a chemical and biological weapons researcher for the defense industry, and Jim Morrison, whose father was a Navy admiral in charge of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. I have no doubt that the director of the film is aware of this conspiracy research, and is referencing it all in the songwriter scene.

The climax of the film takes place in the Hollywood Hills. Sarah says "There's no getting out now, so I may as well make the best of it". Andrew Garfield then replies "Yeah", there is a cut to the Hollywood sign, then a cut back to Sam and he says "Same here". Why would he say that? There's the desire for immortality and living forever - the tombs under the Hollywood Hills - a common trope/desire of being a Hollywood star is being immortalized on the silver screen. The rich can hide underground while awaiting ascension - avoiding what’s to come for the rest of citizens - but Sam functions like a Holy Fool witness to a technocratic dystopia that is ready to plan its demise. The sad state of late stage capitalism is also exposed by the contrasting of the old glamour of Hollywood (the old movies and stars his mother adores) with the new Hollywood (where everything seems shallow and meaningless). The subtheme of the futility of looking for order amidst chaos is compensated with a subtle commentary of how meaning only comes through love (trite maybe, but a timeless theme), which is shown in the scene when we see Sam entertaining the possible idea of suicide, and minutes later looking touched by Janet Gaynor's performance. 

Starting with one classic motivation—the sudden disappearance of a beautiful girl—Under The Silver Lake evolves into a sprawling adventure that updates the neo-noir for the millennial generation. We go down the rabbit hole with Sam, as he sets off on an increasingly weird and mysterious adventure across the City of Dreams. Mitchell pitches us into the full-on weirdness of a Los Angeles filled with drugs, violence, deception, conspiracy theories, cults, underground societies, odd-ball characters, an incomprehensible parrot (it seems to howl 'Hollywood' or 'I Love Her') - and there’s also a dog killer on the loose. Sam bumbles along from one event to the next, somehow finding his way towards the end of his journey. There’s puzzling games (involving a map on the back of a vintage cereal box), codebreaking, and plenty of symbols to examine, keeping Sam attentive to his journey, which also includes imagery of actress Janet Gaynor. Sam contacts with an underground comic books author who reveals him hidden conspiracies and lives in fear of the Owl Woman, as he feels that the secret he possesses has marked him for death. The Owl Woman is Hollywood incarnated, she kills whomever doesn't pay reverence to her.  

Andrew Garfield is often disaffected as the central character, none too bright but deeply inquisitive, perhaps the most unspectacular sleuth of the millennium. He’s a pretty unlikeable character but Garfield gives him just enough playfulness to negate the selfish side of his personality. Eventually, Sam approaches the truth—not just about what happened to Sarah, but about the entire fabric of modern society and his miserably inconsequential place within it. Formally, Under The Silver Lake is unmistakably Lynchian (with a particular debt to Mulholland Drive), even including a courier (The Homeless King) who leads Sam into underground tunnels which in his first incursion connect to a convenience store’s refrigerator room. You really don’t get to know what makes Sam tick, why he is so oblivious to his own personal situation, and why given the crises in his life he would rather devote all of his time in the pursuit of someone he only met once. But maybe that is the point of the film. Perhaps Sam is just another comic book character and living in reality is the last thing he would want to do. Source: www.avclub.com

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