Apologies in advance for the crappy sound. Recorded it using my Sony digital voice recorder with the input mic slipped into the body of the guitar: click here
Lately, one of my favorite pasttimes has been listening to “Texas Blues Radio” on KNON 89.3FM while I’m driving to take the dogs for their daily walk. Sometimes I’ll hear interesting and amusingly unpolished segments on Texas history, where I learn about guys like Sam Houston and Davy Crockett. Yesterday I learned about Robert Johnson.
They were playing a special segment dedicated to him on yesterday’s program. It was seventy-five years ago this week (June 19-20) that he recorded a number of songs in 1937 up on the third floor at 508 Park Avenue in downtown Dallas. One of the new owners of the building, who was on yesterday’s show talking about the place, mentioned that they’re planning to revitalize the property and turn it into some kind of blues museum or something. I took a drive out there today to have a look at this bit of Texas blues history.
Much of downtown Dallas is a ghost town on the weekends. The building at 508 Park Avenue is in an especially vacant part of town. It stands alone sandwiched between two dirt lots. I drive up and see a lone black guy standing out front. I park the truck and get out. The guy’s standing right next to the entrance which is gated and locked. He seems a little confused and disheveled. His stare is as vacant as the dirt lot next door. I say “hi,” hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of those face-chewing zombies high on bath salts. He nods hello then returns to staring off into the distance. I wonder what he’s looking at? There’s nothing out here. A police squad car comes around the corner, and he shuffles across the street and down an alley. I pretend to ignore the cop and start snapping a few pictures with my iPhone.
Although my blues preferences generally lean more toward another Texas bluesman, Lightnin’ Hopkins, or Mississippi native, Howlin’ Wolf, it isn’t possible to be a fan of the blues and not recognize the importance of Robert Johnson’s legacy. I can’t say I know a whole lot about the man other than the story surrounding his supposed deal with the devil at the crossroads or running from hellhounds on his trail. This mythology weaves as a thread through much of popular music over the last century or so and has made an imprint not only on blues but also on rock-and-roll and most everything that came after that. Anyway, it’s interesting to see the actual building where some of this mythology may have been created. And recorded.
A couple of workers are loading tools into trucks on the side of the building. Probably part of the crew doing renovation work on the place. One of them pulls over to the curb and motions me over. “Excuse me, sir,” he says. “Do you know what this building is?” I get the feeling that I’m not the first person he’s seen who just randomly came up and started taking pictures of the outside of the place. I tell him about Robert Johnson and how he recorded here in 1937. “Up on the third floor,” I say, as if that makes it seem any more significant.
“Ahh,” he nods blankly. He’s probably more familiar with Tejano music than Texas blues.
“Have you heard of Eric Clapton?” I ask him.
“He recorded an album here in 2004.”
“Ahh,” he nods blankly again. Then he tells me about some special event scheduled to take place this Tuesday. “But I don’t know if it’s here or over there.” He points to the soup kitchen across the street. “And it doesn’t start until after four.”
“Cool,” I say. “I might come check it out.”
So today I bought some music using Amazon’s “1-Click” method. I’m usually behind the curve with this sort of thing. Technology….phfft! I didn’t own a CD player until 1995. And I still prefer to buy CDs today. However, with the extinction of brick-and-mortar music stores, coupled with the efficacy of downloading music on demand straight to your computer so you can listen to it NOW, I figured it’s time to give this thing a try.
First impressions from a Linux-head: It’s a pain in the ass with a few not-so-apparent hooks and dependencies. Having been a Linux user for the past decade or so, I should be accustomed to this kind of neglect.
Allow me to explain:
Amazon waits until you’ve entered your credit card information and completed the transaction before you get to the download options. Fair enough. There are three options as of this writing:
1) Download to Amazon’s Cloud service.
2) Download to your PC using Amazon’s own MP3 downloader.
3) And the not so obvious one: Download directly to PC using an embedded music player (in my case, Banshee).
The one they emphasize, of course, is their Amazon Cloud service. You can’t miss it. It’s the only large type button you see on the next screen once they’ve verified your credit card info. What they don’t mention, and what customers using non-Windows/non-Mac PCs will soon discover, is that there are a few annoying dependencies built into this process, which I’ll describe a bit later.
Further down the page a few lines, in plain text hyperlink is an option to download directly to your computer. I chose this one first. Because I’m old school and subversive like that. Whenever I see big shiny buttons that some company is trying to get you to click, I always think: IT’S A TRAP!
The next screen I see is a prompt telling me that I need to download Amazon’s special MP3 downloader before I can actually download the MP3s that I just bought.
I’m then presented with four button options to choose from: Ubuntu, Red Hat, Debian, and SuSE. (There are two plain text hyperlinks linking to the Windows or Mac version of their installer. I’m guessing their tool somehow auto-detected my OS and presented me with Linux options only).
I click the Ubuntu option but since I’m running the latest 11-dot-whatever, and the MP3 download tool they want me to install says it’s for Ubuntu 9.03 (or something), I get some kind of dependency-check failure when I try to install it in Ubuntu’s software installer. I suppose I could take a look at the downloaded package through a console prompt, resolve the dependency failure, and try to install it manually. (But fuck it. This shit should just work automatically. Isn’t that the point of this “1-Click” stuff?)
So I go back to my web browser and click back to the giant button telling me I should use Amazon’s Cloud service. Now, when I used this for the very first time for the first album I purchased, it took me to the Cloud main page after clicking through the terms of service agreement, but I didn’t see my MP3s listed anywhere. I poked around a bit, clicked the “Recently Purchased” link….nothing. Where the hell’s my music…?
Back to the browser, I click back and now see a link: “Still having problems downloading your MP3s?”
YES! YES I AM!
This opens up another prompt and I see that the Banshee music player is automatically selected. I click through it, Banshee fires up and starts doing its thing. Ahh….so nice to see the music downloading to my PC. Technology is beautiful when it works.
Here’s the thing, though: This option to download directly to PC using Banshee was not listed at all on the first go-through. I was only presented with Amazon Cloud or that other link to install their (non-working, dependency-check failing) MP3 downloader. It wasn’t until after I clicked the “Back” button on my browser that I saw the “Still having problems?” link and was able to download the files using Banshee directly.
Ran into the same problem buying a second album, except this time around Amazon Cloud displayed the music I purchased.
But when I clicked the link to download the stuff to my computer, I was taken back to that same non-working, depedency-check failing MP3 downloader. Amazon has got to get this stuff working with the latest and greatest, or alternatively make it so their home-made MP3 downloader isn’t so painfully version-dependent.
I clicked the browser back button again and found the “Still having problems” link and downloaded my stuff using Banshee.
(Mac guys never have these problems. Maybe I should have used iTunes.)
P.S., in case you’re wondering…here’s what I bought: