Cultural Consumption: 3/4/24

It's another Cutouts Gone Wild-style Monday

Cultural Consumption: 3/4/24
One more than 699 miles

We've talked about this so often on the Record Player that I'm sure some people are awfully tired of hearing me bring it up, but there are a lot of different ways to be successful in the arts, and most of them don't look like a pampered rock star being brought breakfast in bed at one of his many estates. For the vast majority of creatives, this is lunchpail work that may or may not consistently pay the bills; simply attaining the level of craft and artistic insight that makes people interested in what you do, and/or willing to give you money to do it, is a huge achievement. Maybe the only one that matters. This is why I fly into a rage every awards season when fans and pundits start chirping about who got "snubbed" — I'm sorry, but if you made something that is so widely regarded as one of the best works from the year it was released, then you have not been, and I would argue cannot be, snubbed. You have won. Take a bow.

Anyway, I'm not here to grouse about awards. I'm here at the end of a whirlwind work day to explain that because I didn't get to dig into any particular record today, I'm reaching into my own collection and pulling out an album that's been out of print for decades: (seven hundred), by the relatively short-lived '90s trio 700 Miles. This is a band that most people have never heard of, and the ones who did hear of them during their brief run have mostly long since forgotten. Not long after (seven hundred) came and went with a whimper, they returned with a foll0w-up titled Dirtbomb, and then simply vanished.

Except they really didn't, right? I mean, that's how we talk about acts that come and go, but they made enough noise to land a record deal, and they put out some music that hasn't vanished, even if it isn't available on streaming services and it's supremely obscure by pretty much any metric a person could think to apply. But I've had (seven hundred) sitting on some CD shelf or other since 1993, and I'm listening to the record as I write this. Anything you put out there can find an audience, no matter how small. There's no shame in that.

And it wasn't the end for the members of 700 Miles, either. Frontman John Carlin has carved out an admirably peripatetic career since the group split, occasionally releasing new music (including a solo album and a collection of songs written for kids) in between acting gigs. Bassist Tom Clapp moved into production and is now, as far as I can tell, a partner in a media rights acquisition company. Drummer Justin Guip has his own impressive resume, which includes a stint with Levon Helm. Like I was saying: Success in the arts comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes. None of these guys are household names, and their careers doubtless haven't gone the way they envisioned when they signed that contract with RCA in the early '90s, but the paths they ended up following are no less worthy in their own right.

Having said all this, I need to pause and stress that I don't want to oversell (seven hundred). I went out of my way to give it credit upon its release because I thought — and still think — that they incorporated a certain amount of soulfulness into the narrow constraints of the then-overwhelmingly prevalent grunge playbook, and I suppose I tend to agree with critics who view them as a sort of baby Crazy Horse; if you're in the mood for some good old-fashioned power trio bash 'n' yowl, this record will probably do a decent job of scratching that itch. I do wonder whether a different label might have had better luck with this album — songs like "Cherish This" and "Lullaby" could have found a home on the airwaves with enough promotional muscle — but I wouldn't go so far as to say that the record is a lost gem, or that the world had no idea what it was doing when it let (seven hundred) slip through the commercial cracks.

As an album, I think it's an interesting artifact of its time — but for me, it's more interesting as an example of how something that feels like failure can often just be things turning out differently than you might have hoped or expected. I mean, hell, when (seven hundred) came out, I'd been writing professionally for years, but what I really wanted was to have a shot at making a living with my music. I took that shot toward the end of the decade, only to quickly discover I had no business trying to pass myself off as a singer or songwriter who had any right to impose on the time and wallets of others. If you've lived enough life, I'm sure you have some stories of your own. My point is: What feels like the end of everything is often something else. If you've recently bumped your shin on fate and you're feeling like a failure, take it from your old buddy Jeff — you may just be at a bend in the road that you can't yet see past.

Anyway, here's (seven hundred) for posterity. (If you were a member of 700 Miles and you want me to take these files down, just say the word.)

Shared with Dropbox

Watching: I'm all caught up with the current season of Abbott Elementary, which is better than ever, and still continuing with my journey through Northern Exposure. I just watched S1 E8, which concluded the show's first season (it was a midseason replacement), and I'm pretty sure this might have been the first episode I saw while the show was airing — it introduces the cantankerous forest-dwelling misanthrope Adam (played by a terrific Adam Arkin) as well as the motorcycle-riding former IRS agent Bernard (Richard Cummings Jr.), who turns out to be the long-lost brother that Chris (John Corbett, years before Sex and the City or My Big Fat Greek Wedding) never knew he had.

Reading: Cheerfully working my way through The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor, which is exactly what it sounds like, and also a perpetually humbling experience as a reader if you also happen to be a writer; these stories are marvels of economy as well as imagination. It's been a pretty long time since I decided to read any capital-C Classic works, and I don't know when I'll do it again, but I'm awfully happy to be doing it now.

Elsewhere: My latest General Hospital column for Diagnosis Daytime is up, and if you should choose to do so, you can read it right here.