Posts Tagged ‘Anniversary Edition’

In celebration of the 23rd anniversary of The Old Grey Cat (sans the hiatus of about seven – or was it eight? – years), here’s a post from the original website. Just as I do on this blog at year’s end, I recapped one aspect of 1998 once December rolled around…

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DECEMBER 14th– This time of year, magazines, newspapers and the broadcast/cable networks look back at the year that was. And why not? It’s a cheap, easy way to fill space. Of course, few new insights are proffered; instead, we’re served clipped headlines and predictable analysis. For instance, 1998 is already being called “The Year of Monica.”

Uh, excuse me? As far as I’m concerned, 1998 was “The Year of Lucinda.”

Aside from being an instant classic, Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Dirt Road was the best album of the year, hands down. In years to come, folks will write about it with the same reverence that they share for such albums as Gram Parson’s Grievous Angel or the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, a genre-busting effort that is more than the sum of its parts. In a live setting, backed by a powerhouse band featuring the likes of guitar slinger Kenny Vaughn and vocalist extraordinaire Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda offered a stew of sublime, superb and incredible songs, tasty morsels all.

1) Lucinda Williams – June 26th – Philly/TLA – The circumstances were suspect, at best. Due to thunderstorms, Lucinda’s plane was detoured to NYC; she took a train south, and didn’t hit the stage until 10:30 p.m. Add to that the fact that she’d had two hours sleep the night before…but, to quote Stephen Stills, it’s “No matter. No distance. It’s the ride.” And what a ride this night was! She and her band were right in time; and we, the audience, were left moaning at the ceiling… especially on the extended guitar jam that brought bliss to “Joy.”

2) Steve Earle & the Dukes – Feb. 7th – Philly/TLA – The term “ragged glory” must have been invented to describe a Steve Earle show. After opening with the timely “Christmas in Washington,” Steve led the audience on a two-hour, 20-minute tour of society’s “other side”… “Taneytown,” “Copperhead Road” and Fort Worth were just a few of the stops. Others: “Guitar Town,” New York City and … the soul. This was a night of glorious, guts-first music that rocked the soul even as it connected with the intellect. I was lucky enough to see Steve twice this year, four months apart. The main difference? The band. Here, he was buttressed by Buddy Miller on guitar and Brady Blades on drums (half of Spyboy, in other words). Small wonder that, after Steve and the Dukes left the stage, the Philly crowd took up the chorus of the night’s closing song, “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” and brought him back for more.

3) CPR – July 1st – Philly/TLA – A sparsely attended show, but you’d never know it from the way Crosby, Pevar and Raymond played. Same goes for the magical opening act, Anastasia & John. An incredible, magical night. CPR remind me of Steely Dan, but minus (what to me is) the Dan’s smarminess. Crosby was in exc. voice, and the new songs are among his strongest. That’s not to say the old songs weren’t appreciated… don’t pass on seeing CPR, if given the chance. These guys rock (and Pevar’s guitar playing blows the mind).

4) Maria McKee – Dec. 6th – Philly/Tin Angel – This year, the Absolutely Sweet Maria undertook a brief tour billed as “A Close Encounter with …” At the Tin Angel, those words are oh-so-true. It’s a small venue, fitting no more than 125. Despite suffering from a cold and “airplane throat,” Maria took hold of the audience for a good 75 minutes… yeah, 75 minutes. Too short, to say the least, yet it was a riveting show. Suffice it to say, she is not collecting dust. She opened with “Life is Sweet,” played a hand-full of new songs and just a few of her older classics. “Panic Beach,” for example, tho’ these ears missed “Breathe.” The night’s highlight: An intense “I’m Not Listening.”

5) Steve Earle – July 15th – Philly/TLA – Minus Buddy Miller and Brady Blades, but still damn good. “Won’t get far on 37 dollars and a Jap guitar… WANNA BET!” See him, buy his albums, help him pay off that 16,000 pound phone bill he racked up in London last year… I could go on, but why?

This month marks not one, but two noteworthy anniversaries within my online life: In February 1997, Diane and I launched the original Old Grey Cat website on GeoCities; and 15 years later, in February 2012, I joined the blogosphere via the Hatboro-Horsham Patch. I’ll save the latter for later this month, and focus on the former today and next weekend. 

Diane and I first traveled the electronic highway in the dirt-road days of 1991 on our IBM clone, prowling Prodigy’s message boards and trading tapes, making acquaintances, making friends. It was fun, if frustrating, due to the sometimes byzantine business practices Prodigy employed, such as charging per message and, later, by the hour. One could also access the World Wide Web, as it was known, but only through the Prodigy interface – which wasn’t that good. Then, sometime in the fall of 1996, offline friends who’d just made the jump to an ISP and Netscape Navigator introduced us to the Web proper.

Our minds were blown.

Within a few months, we shed Prodigy in favor of Erol’s Internet – and staked a claim on the Web thanks to GeoCities, where we “homesteaded” in the Towers section of the SunsetStrip subdivision. (For those unfamiliar with GeoCities, it was the WordPress.com of its day, providing free server space and a URL in exchange for modest advertisements on each page. And, just like WordPress, it provided an option to upgrade to a unique URL and no ads.)

For that first attempt at a website, I used Microsoft Publisher, a consumer-facing desktop-publishing program that included an option to convert pages into HTML files. We wrote a few reviews, which I then copied over to Publisher, and uploaded everything to the Web. I named the end result The Old Grey Cat – after our old grey cat. (His name was Smokey; he lived on the second floor.)

I also included this statement of purpose: “The aim of The Old Grey Cat is to bring back something that’s been missing from rock criticism in recent years: Passion. Back when the genre was born in the ’60s (via Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone), when you read a review of an album you were generally reading more than just a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” critique of the music. The writers went one step further and took you inside the music with their own words, reflecting the rhythms, melodies and themes so that the readers could/would get an approximation of what, say, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On was about.”

That initial design, I should add, wasn’t very good: Microsoft was all about bucking HTML standards, as it wanted the Web for itself. Which is to say, the site looked as intended when viewed with Internet Explorer, but like a bazooka had made mischief with the layout when Netscape Navigator was used. I switched to Microsoft FrontPage, which did adhere to HTML standards, soon thereafter.

Unfortunately, my digital archives don’t include the original incarnation; I fear it’s been lost to time. (The above images are from sometime in ’99.) But, I did come across this on a backup CDR:

Yep, a page from the first year in which we celebrated all things High Fidelity – Nick Hornby’s novel, that is, not the movie (which wouldn’t hit the theaters for a few more years). Diane wrote the intro.

These were our Top 5 Albums of All Time:

These were our Top 5 Singer/Songwriters of All Time:

And, because the original aim was to be about more than “just” music, these were our Top 5 Novels of All Time (FGS is one of the offline friends who introduced us to the Web):

One present-day observation about the lists: I’ve become much less absolute when it comes to who or what ranks where in the pantheon that is popular music. By and large, it’s all good – and, as Neil Young famously says, “all one song.”

Another observation: Bruce Springsteen would place much higher on both our lists – he’d top Diane’s and place beneath Neil on mine (if I still made such lists, that is). Back then, we’d yet to recover from (and forgive him for) the Human Touch/Lucky Town debacle, not to mention ditching the E Street Band.