If Six Were Five

(Illustration by Alex Fine)

We Got Yer Sixth Borough Right Here!

I still think we should’ve gone with “Philadelphia: You Comin’ or What?” instead of “City That Indicts You Back” or whatever it is. But if media-friendly catchphrases really are tourist catnip, we could do a lot worse than being called the sixth borough.

Really, some of you protest too much, methinks. Would it really kill you to be so hip it hurts for 15 minutes? You don’t have to believe the hype, but at least enjoy it. Like I tell my celebrity friends: There will come a day when they don’t ask you for your autograph. And then you got worry.

We are living in interesting times, my friends. Not since, well, ever-but let’s just say the glory days of Gamble and Huff-have technology, talent, buzz and geography aligned in such a fortuitous orbit. If we’re going to be the next “it” city, we’re going to need an emblematic music scene.

In the near-distant past, the spirit was willing. There was some great music, and some even got over. But most of it didn’t, because the infrastructure was weak: no house label, few opening slots on the big stages and at best token access to the commercial airwaves (plus the usual corruption, ineptitude, drug problems, bad luck and life’s essential unfairness).

With the recent move of the Plain Parade gals into the label business, we now have one of those vacancies filled. They recently released Songs From the Sixth Borough, a compendium of Philly indie kids covering Philly songs from then and now. And seriously, this thing is so good, I’m going to have to insist they do at least four a year.

The thing that makes this both practical and necessary is that Plain Parade is a download-only label. Now, I know what you’re thinking: junior league. Maybe in the past, but now I hear the future. CD technology has gotten so cheap that even the most pitiful have their own “release.” You’re still looking at a few grand to start up, and I couldn’t in good conscience ask Plain Parade to do that four times a year. And nobody can hear a CD if nobody plays it on the radio. And you can’t buy a CD if nobody stocks it in their store.

But if you go to www.plainparade.org/songs you can hear every song beginning to end and then download the whole thing, with artwork, for a measly $8. Easy as pie and dirt-cheap to make. Most of the bands recorded fast and on the fly, giving everything a pleasantly medium-fi quality. It’s like a digital dirigible of Philly indie sounds hovering over the city that anyone anywhere in the world with decent Web access can beam up to.

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! A plane! No, it’s us. And this is our music. Keep it comin’, I say, even if this thing would be worth twice the price with a third less tracks-but such is the messy nature of the comp beast.

Still, there are at least eight great tracks here-not just great for Philly-and at least as many good ones. I’m not going to say which; after all, I have to drink with these people. And while I could quibble with the sequencing, none of that really matters anymore.

After you download it you make all those decisions-you edit, delete and sequence to taste. You’re the DJ. You are what you play. I know you’ve heard all this before, but this time it’s really true.