Atlas 1 500Atlas Shrugged. I'm sorry to disappoint you. This blog post isn't a tedious explanatory note about Ayn Rand's influential book from 1957. Instead, it deals with the closing of Atlas Records (formely known as Atlas CD-börs). The record store in Stockholm was named Atlas since it was located in the block named Atlas south of S:t Eriksplan, between S:t Eriksgatan, Torsgatan and Barnhusviken. The block got its name after an industrial and engineering company, AB Atlas, which operated there until 1927. Atlas had five different locations in the block. First location was at Atlasmuren, and then Torsgatan (two different locations). For over 15 years Atlas had a prime location at S:t Eriksgatan 78. However, a "market adjustment" put a stop to that. The owner of the premises, a housing association, raised the rent with 100 000 SEK a year (11 300 USD). They cried crocodile tears in the local paper. Atlas had on one hand been a problem-free tenant and some of the members in the housing association were customers, but on the other hand the housing association needed to act "in the interest of its members". Self-interest always takes precedence over moral considerations. The new rent was far beyond what a used record store could take. Atlas found a new home around the corner at S:t Eriksplan 5, where it remained until the end. It was only a stone's throw away, but it took some time for old and new customers to find their way there and for the store to regain its former glory. A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the rise and fall of record stores, read more here (opens in a new window). It has been all downhill after that. Atlas survived very hard times: illegal downloading, legal downloading, vinylmania and, last but not least, streaming. The virus covid-19 became the straw that broke the camel's back. The economic margins has always been small. You are dependent on a steady (however small) flow of customers. This Tuesday the owner Micke Bofält closed shop and retired. What made Atlas so resilient and viable? First and foremost, a knowledgeable owner and manager. Second, a store kept in an impeccable order (some adjacent cd stores give the concept of chaos a new and deeper meaning). Third, a large variety of offers. I even bought some gothic country cds there. Fourth, moderate and correct prices. Fifth and last, good customer treatment. The S:t Eriksgatan-Odengatan route was known for accommodate the highest density of record stores in Europe. This era is now long gone. The few remaining stores struggle to survive. For example, Skivbörsen has closed until further notice due to covid-19. Atlas Records was without any doubt one of top-three record stores in Stockholm. Atlas was a Titan. The closing of Atlas may not have rocked the world in its foundations, but the end of the block shrugged. The Titan Atlas was namely condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity.  

     

Volvo 1 manipulIf Neil Young can write a song about his car, then I can write a blog entry on the same subject (no comparison intended). Let it be said. I have never had the slightest interest in cars. In fact, I'm a serial mistreater of cars. Never any regular service and rarely any car wash or oil change. However, one car stand out from the rest: a Volvo 945 Kombi, 1996 years model. Some die-hard Volvo enthusiasts claims that the 945 model is the last "real" car, where you could open the hood and actually see how it works. Haynes repair manual and a socket wrench will not apply today. Modern car engines are covered and you will need computer diagnostics. When you are popular some people can't stand you. A derogatory term for the Volvo 945 Kombi model is "sossecontainer" (where "sosse" is a slang term for "socialdemocrat"). Well, the socialdemocrats used to have many voters and some of them probably drove this car. At a management training course, where personality types where discussed, I learnt that people who preferred this type of car didn't seek adventure. I tick in the box. I didn't acquire the car as a result of a personality test or as a political statement. The opportunity just appeared. We had bought a terrace house in Suburbia and didn't have a car, which made us suspicious in the neigbourhood where most families had two cars. I bought the Volvo from a good friend. It had just being serviced with a new cambelt, new brakes and more. I knew that I broke the first rule. Never ever buy a car from family or friends. If trouble arises, very strained relationsship may occur. If you buy a car from someone you don't know and as issues come up, they will be dealt with in - if not professional - than in an impersonal order. I called my friend and told him that the car had broke down and that he had sold me a useless car. He didn't enjoy my joke.    
     

Volvo 2 manipul

Who in their right mind would wreck the car on the left and buy the car on the right? I did. I broke the first rule again. My father-in-law offered us the silver Audi A3, 1997 years model (on the right) for practically nothing. I also broke the second rule. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Let's compare the two cars. The Volvo was built to last and fit for hard winter conditions. When you turned the ignition key, it never failed. The car quickly got warm and the fan kept the windshields clear. The seat comfort was of royal standard and suited for long distances. The legroom in the backseat was generous. The dashboard was simple and intuitive. The loading capacity was enormous. If you fold down the back seats the loading capacity you could sleep there. It was also a crash proof car. On the downside: the fuel economy and rear-wheel drive prone to losing traction in rain, mud or snow. The Audi A3 starts indeed when you turn the key, but the battery has discharged two or three times. The heating system is a complete disgrace. In the wintertime the windshields are full of condensation. You have to wipe it off with a rug to be able to see anything. The seat comfort leaves much to be desired. You have to fold and unfold yourself in and out of the car. The legroom in the backseat is for people without legs. The dashboard is incomprehensible. The loading capacity is a joke. The fuel economy is, however, good. On the downside: almost everything. We have never connected. I have never played "Long may you run" on the car stereo. So, how could this happen? The Volvo 945 was a bit scruffy with incipient corrosion after years of neglect. Some people don't think of a car as a vehicle, but as a branding of themselves. A senior colleague, who I gave lift, was very surprised to find out that I drove a "drug addict car". He thought this was below my pay grade. But, new and expensive cars have never interested me. The same goes for my closest friends. My friend Johan has two principles: the purchase price of your car shouldn't exceed the purchase cost of your hifi equipment and always strive after to be the last owner of the car. Principles cost, but new cars cost far more. The Volvo 945 leaked some oil which meant that it always failed the Swedish Motor Vehicle Inspection test. However, the guys at my low-priced car service were practical men. They simply washed the engine and took it back for inspection. The car was approved, so there wasn't really an oil leakage problem. The fuel economy of the car wasn't any real problem either, since we drove less than 10 000 km (6 214 miles) per year. I broke rule number three. Never exchange something for nothing.    

Volvo 3 800Neil Young's 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse (a.k.a. "Mortimer Hearseburg") was last seen alive in Blind River Ontario, Canada (contrary to popular belief in 1965, not in 1962). The Volvo 945 was last seen in Lunda industrial area north of Stockholm in June 2017. It had been brought to a wrecking yard by yours truly. Why didn't I sell it? The answer is that selling a low-priced used car privately is like entering Dante's nine circles of Hell. You attract the lowest of the low. The son of good friends of ours had started a career as a used car salesman. He bluntly estimated the value of the car and also targeted the potential customer: a single middle-aged woman with dogs living in a geographically remote part of the county looking for a car with cargo grids. It settled the matter. I decided to wreck it and to lose the money. The man at the wrecking yard did some small talk while he was filling in the Certificate of Destruction. "What's wrong with it" he asked. I answered without thinking. "Well, nothing really. Some oil leakage". He look at me with incredulous eyes. Certainly, this man must have seen and heard everything, but somehow I think I directly made it to his top ten lists over terrible persons. To be able to wreck a perfectly good car takes a certain kind of cruelty. The mileage was only 298 423 km (185 431 miles). This is no mileage for a Volvo ("I roll" in Latin). The die-hard Volvo enthusiasts chuckles and say: "only running-in the motor". A mileage of 500 000 km (310 686 miles) isn't unusual for a Volvo. Admission of guilt is taking responsibility for a mistake. This was a terrible mistake. And you may now ask how a car ends up in a blog entry for a gothic country site. Well, maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but it's black and could easily be mistaken for a funeral car. And common themes in the gothic country genre are repentance, punishment and regret.


inthemidstoflife”In the midst of life we are in death". The first time I heard the line was in the song "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" by The Smiths. "Poor woman / Strangled in her very own bed as she read / But that's o.k. / Because she was old and she would have died anyway". The song, literally dripping with heavy irony, was recorded in 1986. But the ambiguous words "in the midst of life we are in death" are very old. "Media vita in morte sumus" is the first line in an old Gregorian chant, read more here (opens in a new window). It's meant to mean that death is part of life. We have to accept this as a fact. Many people have, from different angles, come to the same conclusion. For example, the infamous Reverend Jim Jones in his famous last words "I haven't seen anybody yet that didn't die". Maybe there is a better afterlife. Then it's understandable that some people can't wait to die. The sooner the better. Most people, however, want to live a full life before they die. What "full" means varies depending on your mindset. The life-death relationsship is often represented in art, read more here (opens in a new window). The beautiful picture above is a skull optical illusion. The picture represents a woman full of life. Or not. The human skull is used universally as a symbol of death. Do you see life or death, or both? Maybe, this says something about you.  


   

EbaySCACimage”Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” These words are the wording of the famous fictive detective Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I came to think of the quote when two cds surprisingly arrived after more than eight weeks. Normally, it takes 2-3 weeks for a cd to arrive from the US. To lose a cd or two in the mail comes with collecting. It's inevitable. But some losses are bigger than others. The two cds weren't just any cds. The stakes were high: two rare SCAC albums: ”Crossbreedings Begins At Home” and their first self-titled and self-released album. Along with ”American Country Music Changed Her Life” (which I already had) they constitute a trinity in the SCAC catalogue. "Crossbreedings Begins At Home" is so rare, that I didn’t even bother to tick in the Wantlist-button on Discogs, which I normally do. However, improbable things do happen and one day it came up for sale on Ebay together with first self-released album(!). I just had to get them. It cost me $61 to win the auction over another bidder, $14.50 for the shipping and another $10 for import taxes and administrative fees. 

Sometimes it's a long and winding road to get from point A to point B. Unlike many Swedes, I hold the Swedish Postal Service very high in regard. It was founded in 1636. The reversed licence conditions specified that 85 per cent of all items of mail should be delivered overnight and 97 per cent within three days. The Swedish Postal Service used to reach this goal. Quite astonishing, since Sweden has a population density of 24 people per square kilometer (1 kilometer=0,62 miles). The postal service used to work very well. Then came three disastrous events: deregulation of markets and new competition, a decrease in mail volume and a history of poor decisions. The far worst executive decision was to merge with Post Denmark in 2009. Some critics think that the Swedish Postal Service might as well have merged with a bankruptcy estate. A downfall in service and reputation followed. The Swedish locution "as a mail in the post" for something that is safe and reliable has ironically turned into its opposite. The Swedish Postal Service is applying a new strategy. A pilot project will start in September 2020 with delivery every other weekday instead of every weekday. However, I don't think the Swedish Postal Service is to blame in this case. They're not that bad. In fact, they are extremely effective when it comes to collect import taxes and charge administrative fees for my imported cds. Who's to blame then? A prime suspect is an anonymous US postal worker. The low work ethic and, to say the least, dubious working methods of postal worker Newman from the television show Seinfeld is forever etched in my mind. He didn't submit to the unofficial motto for US postal workers is "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." On second thought, postal worker Newman is probably not very representative for USPS and they are hereby cleared. I started to speculate about what happened. One imaginative sequence of events after another. We tend to prefer complicated hypotheses to simple ones. But, always look for the simple solution. The cds were never lost, only delayed or disrupted due to the coronavirus. Probable, and quite possible.     


 

498One of my tricks to keep me informed of what’s going on in the genre is to follow artists on Bandcamp. To "follow" means that I get an update whenever there’s any news. I don't get news very often. Business is slow. The genre is slowly but surely evaporating into thin air. On May 13th 2020 a most unexpected event occured. Black River Brethren released a new digital album. Their one and only EP "Anatomy of a Gun" was released in 2009 on defunct Devil’s Ruin Records. In an e-mail Darrell Brown (who plays mandolin, banjo, dobro among other instruments) explains: "I have been wanting to put this out for quite some time. The five song Anatomy of a Gun EP that we released - first independently and then on the independent label Devil's Ruin Records - was a single snapshot of the Black River Brethren. Due the fact that dark roots music (or whatever you want to call the underbelly of alt-country) wasn't really a "thing" when we were heavily engaged in writing, rehearsing, and recording our material (one venue was excited to have a "creepy country band" in the local scene) combined with life circumstances, we just never got around to getting all of our material out there ...I thought it was high time to let the world in on a little more of the world of the Black River Brethren. And hey, there might be a few more tracks to see the light of day in the future...". The new album is titled ”From Behind the Cellar Door (demos)”. I wavered back and forth whether I should write a review. In the end, I decided not to. The new album is more of a compendium than a thematic album. However, compendium or not, the album showcases their versatility and songwriting skills. 

BRBThe band members of Black River Brethren isn’t exactly close neighbours. Some of them had, at the time of the recordings, to drive a long distance for rehearsals. In the e-mail Darrell Brown explains the process: "a part of our process was when an individual songwriter wrote a new song that they wanted to introduce to the band (there are three primary song writers in the band), to make things easier, we would create a scratch track to share with everybody else so we could familiarize ourselves with the song and begin our own creative contributions so that when we came together, we could learn material quickly. This isn't to say that there hasn't always been great collaboration as well." The album contains alternate versions of ”Something Wicked" and "You Must Be The Devil" from the Anatomy of a Gun EP. Darrell Brown explains: "I thought including the two previously released tracks showed nice characters that aren't necessarily present on the EP versions, namely, the folk qualities of Something Wicked (nicely accentuated by the cello) and the raw/ruckus energy of You Must Be The Devil live (it really is a great song live!). Ultimately, there's a certain honesty to these recordings that I am glad was caught along the way." I agree. Other than these songs there are a couple of nuggets on the album like ”Army of the Dead”. It is based on a ghost legend Darrell Brown found in a book he picked up in Charleston, South Carolina called The Doctor to the Dead Grotesque Legends and Folk Tales of Old Charleston (John Bennett). The songs ”Governor Boggs” and ”Bordertown” also stand out. Other songs on the album have a softer expression, almost leaning towards alt-country.

The survival rate in the gothic country genre is disturbingly low. Therefore, it’s equally surprising and encouraging to find out that Black River Brethren is soldiering on. "While there's life, there's hope", said Cicero. In the email I finally asked Darrel Brown about the status of the band. He replied: "the Black River Brethren still exist. Will be playing live any time soon? Probably not. Is there more music? Sure there is. Beyond the songs on Behind the Cellar Door, there are other BRB songs that are still worth sharing with the world, as well as music from other projects by BRB members that are currently bubbling their way to the surface, so stay alert, because the Black River Brethren story isn't over...".


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