Chris Milam is a native Memphian who followed his music to Nashville and NYC before returning to the Bluff City in the fall of 2010. Milam’s first album, Leaving Tennessee, was released to critical acclaim in 2005. He followed it with the EP Tin Angel in 2008 and 2009′s Up. In the fall of 2011, he released a double-sided single (“Never In Love” & “Always In Love”), recorded at Memphis’s own Ardent Studios. A prolific songwriter and perpetual road warrior, Milam now calls his hometown his homebase as he spends much of his time touring. Follow his tour dates here; check out his music here.
Since their recent break-up, I’ve found myself (predictably) revisiting the R.E.M. catalog. I love it all: the self-assured weirdness of Green, the the humor, anger, and vulnerability of Monster, etc. But Automatic For the People was my first R.E.M. album (really, tape), and it’s still my favorite. I play it in any season, at any time of day. I play it on road trips and in the background when I’m returning emails. I play it when I don’t know what I want to hear. And, nearly twenty years after its release, I play it as much now as I did then.
Artists–and I’m putting myself in this group–can be selfish. We create a musical world and ask the audience to join us there, to accept it on its own terms and merits. We make demands. But Automatic For the People doesn’t. It simply gives, and gives, and gives some more. Every song is an outstretched hand. It’s a little miracle.
Here’s my favorite:
This nonfiction collection takes its name from the Brady Bunch theme: “…this group could somehow form a family…” The title story traces Earley’s adolescence–working class in Appalachian North Carolina–through the prism of the television shows he grew up watching. The story climaxes when Earley randomly encounters Ann B. Davis (Alice, from the Brady Bunch)–his real life colliding with his escapist life–and he can’t talk to her. The story is beautifully written, funny and deeply moving. I can’t think of a better illustration of the ways pop culture impacts our lives, the reasons we seek it out, and the voids it can’t quite fill.
Cameron Crowe’s recent Pearl Jam 20–which is a fun overview of the band’s history–prompted me to revisit Single Video Theory. It chronicles Pearl Jam during the 1998 sessions for what would become their fifth album, Yield. Maybe it’s my enduring, irrational, fanboy love for that record (I think it’s one of the most underrated rock albums of the last twenty years). Maybe it’s the insight into the band’s complex power dynamics, personality differences, and shared sense of humor (Stone Gossard admonishing the band between takes: “it’s called keeping time…we invented this thing in the seventies.”). Maybe it’s the candid looks at the creative process: Mike McCready outlining how “Given To Fly” sounds like a wave growing, then crashing; Stone’s sales pitch for “In Hiding;” Jack Irons, battling carpal tunnel, icing down his arms between takes; the argument over whom should play what during “Wishlist”’s guitar solo.
Rock documentaries and biographies rarely explore the creative process, and are rarely honest about it when they do. Fans are led to believe that records magically happen in a flash of inspiration. Single Video Theory artfully, engagingly shows the truth: no band is above punching a clock and getting down to work.