Imperial Bedrooms

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Elvis Costello is one of the most gifted lyricists of our time. His prolific run of albums between 1977 and 1983 rank among the most memorable song collections in music history.Attractions

With the passing of one of Costello’s many collaborators, Allen Toussaint on November 10, I thought it was worth tossing in my two cents on Costello’s masterful memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.

Here are ten points on the book. Much more in depth reviews are available elsewhere.

  1. Buy the audiobook. It is narrated by Mr. Declan McManus himself. He alternates between his Liverpudlian lilt and west London twang as the story requires. He is animated and brings the fantastic prose to life.
  2. The book is at its best when Costello discusses the inspirations for his songs. The studio crafting of Imperial Bedroom is particularly mesmerizing.
  3. The book is not totally chronological. This adds a unique series of tangled webs throughout the book that is far more colorful than a straight passage through time.
  4. McManus’ father Ross is an ever-present character. His long career as a performer in the Joe Loss Band exposed young Declan to the rigors of show-business and the glories of performance. The grind-it-out schedule and his frequent absence are sources of pain for both father and son alike.
  5. Like me, Costello needed an editor. I will admit that I didn’t finish the book which clocks in at over 600 pages. His relationships with Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach, George Jones, among others, are interesting but these chronicles eventually become tedious. Costello’s encyclopedic knowledge of music is, however, incredible.09BOOK1-master180
  6. Britain in the Thatcher era is on full display. The miner’s strikes, the hopelessness of youth, the sense that one can’t rise above a working class level are palpable. If anything, Costello downplays his own rise from country western pubs to American tours and record deals. He worked hard.
  7. The Attractions get short shrift. The relationship is strained between the quartet, but we never really get to the core issues. Steve Nieve, Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas are genius musicians and they deserved far more attention.Nieve
  8. Costello gets off a little easy when he talks about his failed relationships. His allusions to affairs and bad behavior are not explicit enough for a true memoir.
  9. His explanation of his most controversial moment: alleged racist comments made in a Columbus, Ohio bar during 1979 about black music luminaries such as Ray Charles gets an impassioned defense, but it feels like he performs an escape act rather than uncovering a full character analysis. In Costello’s defense, this topic has been Beaten to the Punch like a King Horse over decades. Its been so debated and discussed that it really is last Year’s Model. There is no question that Costello more than made up for his possible transgression: The influence of R&B is significant throughout his catalog.
  10. Did we really need all that Brodsky Quartet information? Snooze.09BOOKCOSTELLOJP3-articleLarge

Anyone who appreciates Costello at his peak, knows that his true gift to the music world was (is?) the ability to wrap up biting sarcasm and satire in the sweet and sugary beauty of a pop hook (just listen to Get Happy and you’ll find 20 songs that hit on all Five Gears – not in reverse). Unfaithful Music delivers the background for these awesome songs. The Beatles loom larger than expected (and why wouldn’t they?). The bitterness of politics (Radio Radio, Oliver’s Army) and misguided relationships (The Long Honeymoon, Man Out of Time) are laid bare in these pages.

Feedlots lost an average of about $500 per head of cattle sold in October

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Continuing Feedlot Losses Will Add Pressure on Cattle Prices

Feedlots look likely to extend into 2016 losses which began in 2014 – putting “even more downward pressure” on feeder cattle prices, and undermining the revival in the US herd. Feedlots lost an average of about $500 per head of cattle sold in October, taking nearly to a year their spell in the red, with cattle marketed in November 2014 the last to show a profit.  And this spell in the red could easily continue until at least January 2016, spelling fresh troubles for feeder cattle prices which last week hit an 18-month low of 170.375 cents per pound in Chicago’s futures market, extending to 22% their decline so far in 2015.

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This fellow appears to be quite virile. Alas, the prices for his offspring are not.

These negative margins will likely exert even more downward pressure on feeder cattle prices, as well as on cow prices and these price drops could in turn temper enthusiasm for what has appeared to be a rapid build-up in cow inventories” from their lowest in more than 70 years.

Feedlots’ woes reflect a vicious circle of increasing weights in slaughter cattle undermining beef prices and animal values, in turn encouraging feeders to hang on to livestock and fatten them more in the hope of a recovery in values ahead.  Cattle are spending longer periods on feed primarily because feed costs are relatively low, and the current market does not provide much incentive to sell fed cattle, resulting animals spending longer time in feedlots.

The trend of elevated fed cattle weights – exacerbated by the heavy weight of feeder cattle bought into feedlots, as southern US ranchers attempt to exploit to the maximum pasture condition improved by decent rains – have been evident in slaughter data.

Cattle carcass weights are at record levels and continue to increase counter-seasonally, flagging steer weights which, at 920 pounds in September, exceeded bull weights for the first time, and increased to an average of 927 pounds as of the week ending October 24.

Bid to force the market lower

However, the effort by feedlots to feed their way out of difficulty has met with limited success in part because of the inability of a beef market, suffering a hangover from high prices, to absorb the extra supplies. The USDA termed as “fragile” US beef demand, noting “weak interest in the ground beef complex and sharp drops in the value of byproducts such as hide and offal”.  Furthermore, beef packers, themselves facing deteriorating profitability, have increased the discounts on very heavy cattle.  Packers are attempting to support their margins by constraining front-end supplies to force the live cattle market lower.

Seasonal trends

Packers at least have the calendar on their side, with the run up to year-end typically provoking an improvement in wholesale beef prices.  Seasonal trends suggest that beef cut-out values should start to move higher post-Thanksgiving, potentially improving beef processing margins.  However, for feedlots, no such imminent relief is not in the cards, with the backlog of heavy cattle on feed likely to provide large numbers of market-ready cattle, disproportionately steers, through at least the first quarter of 2016.

Source: The Cattle Range

 

 

Nirvana wasn’t exactly nirvana at the time.

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I really did interview Nirvana. It was 1991. Smells Like Teen Spirit had been the “Screamer of the Week” on WBRU in Providence. It was not unusual for bands to drop by the station on promotional tours and Kurt, Dave and Kris made an appearance during the “afternoon drive”. Nirvana hadn’t gone mainstream yet, so it was not a remarkable event at the time. Obviously, if it had been remarkable, my entertainment career would have probably lasted longer than four years.
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I think the interview with Nirvana went ok. I remember them being friendly. I do have a cassette tape of the session. But what would I hear if I was to load it into “Ye olde boom boxe” and press play?

My biggest fear is not what I will hear on that tape, it’s the fear of what I won’t hear. Could it be a barely imperceptible silence lasting milliseconds, or a gap of Nixonian proportions?

It’s called dead air – those awkward moments of silence that are just about the worst possible hell that a live radio dj can endure. To this day, I still have nightmares about a song ending and not having anything cued up. Cold Sweats.

Dead air during an interview was always lurking around the corner. Get a group of nice guys like Miracle Legion or Soul Asylum and you can have a party, get the Goo Goo Dolls and you have crickets.

Logistics added to the risks. If you had an interview with a band, you were likely to play multiple songs during their visit. Unless you had two copies cued up in both CD players, you needed an assistant standing behind you to manually re-cue the CD to a different track. Otherwise, you’d have to re-cue it yourself. This involved turning your back on the guests immediately after you asked a question. Under the best circumstances, a voluminous answer would follow that provided one with the precious time to adjust the disc.

Occasionally, you’d fail to listen to the answer while completing this twisted-torso motion. (Multi-tasking was not perfected until the early 2000’s.) If your guests were less than loquacious, the response to your question might conclude just as you were fumbling for the buttons. Suddenly, like Wile E. Coyote spinning his legs in mid-air before plummeting below, you’d have – that momentary panic – dead air.

We were woefully under-prepared for most interviews. I had known virtually nil about Nirvana. Established bands were blessed with a description in our Google of the day – a dog-eared copy of The Trouser Press. To bone up for newer groups, you generally had to rely on a two paragraph bio that the record company sent over. I’m sure I asked Nirvana about Seattle and the album art and…

If the Nirvana interview had been one of the high points of my brief radio career, then it was desperately needed as redemption for the disaster that had been my interview with Blur earlier in the same year. This was a classic case of zero preparation. I think I asked the band if they hung out with The Stone Roses (because, shit, of course you would if you lived in England during the early 90s).

Blur_770 The microphones cut out during an acoustic session and I got a little angry when Damon Albarn dropped a cuss. I made a ham-fisted attempt to scold them but it was a miserable failure. I wish I could have that one back. They ended up becoming one of my favorite bands (along with everything everything else Albarn and Coxon have put on vinyl).

The one way I find solace in these historical ramblings is that I was just a kid back then. So were Blur and Nirvana. Damon Albarn and Dave Grohl are still kicking ass, so I guess there’s something to be said for having the Lama on your side if you’re looking for nirvana. Lama’s a big hitter. Gunga Galunga.

Omaha Apartment Market, Pockets of Oversupply but No Worries

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We continue to have positive views on apartment demand going forward. Occupancy has exceeded 95% for over two years. However, we view 2016 with some trepidation as a surplus of 500 units reaches the market in 2016. 

Market Breakdown

We believe the Omaha Metropolitan Area apartment market is heading towards an over-supply level of 500 apartments. However, this amount is fairly insignificant in light of the pace of job creation, population growth, and the overall amount of units in the market.

Three reasons support this idea.

  1. Supply is roughly in line with demand, but has slightly outpaced typical homeownership percentages.
  2. Multifamily supply has been in line with job growth, but has recently exhibited a ratio that signals some caution.
  3. The perceived amount of oversupply is not only a function of job growth. It is also a function of income growth. Construction costs have pushed rents to levels that many new entrants to the housing market will lack the means of stretching for rental payments in new projects.

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Supply and Demand Equilibrium Levels

The Omaha metropolitan area has grown beyond a population of 905,000 and has a consistent level of household formation around 4,000 per year. With about 70% of new housing demand typically attracted to homeownership, rental housing stays at rough equilibrium between supply and demand at 1,200 units per year. That number is roughly line with current supply numbers, but there are signs that new apartments have begun to outpace growth.

As a percentage of total housing supply, multifamily units have, in aggregate over the past three years, exceeded the typical homeownership ratio by 2%. There were 3,041 single family permits issued in 2013, 2,639 permits in 2014, and 2,830 for the trailing 12 months ending September 2015. Multifamily housing hit 1,370 units in 2013, 1,533 in 2014 and 1,114 through September 2015. The sum of the three years shows that multifamily has been approximately 32% of new housing. Meanwhile, historical averages for homeownership in the Omaha MSA have hovered at 70%. In this instance, the oversupply of 2% translates in 250 excess apartments.

As an aside, the peak single family construction occurred in 2005, when 5,877 units were permitted.

Total Units

Units         Single Family    Multifamily    Total      % Multifamily

2013             3,041              1,370            4,411              31%

2014             2,639              1,533            4,172              37%

2015 ttm       2,830              1,114            3,944              28%

Total             8,510              4,017            12,527            32%

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Job creation and Housing Demand

Apartment demand follows job creation levels in a fairly lock-step pattern. The Omaha employment market has been robust since 2012. Between the 2008 nadir of 437,000 jobs and the recent 2014 figure of 462,500 jobs, Omaha has created over 25,000 jobs. This level far outstrips the supply of housing by more than double. By comparison, the stock of housing increased increased by an astonishing 56,700 between 1999 and 2008, but jobs only grew by 26,200!

Typically market research firms such as Axiometrics use a ratio of 5 jobs per unit as a demand equilibrium ratio. In an ideal equilibrium, the 25,000 jobs created in Omaha since 2008 implies a maximum apartment supply of 5,000 units. In fact, over 6,000 multifamily units have been permitted between 2008 and the end of 2014. This implies a ratio of 4 jobs per unit. If one assumes a job growth rate for 2015 of just over 1%, it can be figured that 5,000 jobs have been added during the past year. The ratio for 2015 is, therefore, slightly better at 4.50.

The ratio of jobs to units at a sub-5 level implies an oversupply of about 750-1000 apartments in the metro area.

Year Employment Population Jobs/Population
1999 411,240 761,603 54%
2008 437,478 845,119 52%
2014 462,515 904,421 51%

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Income Concerns

So far, we’ve established that an oversupply of between 250 and 1000 apartments exists in the metro Omaha area. While this number is statistically insignificant out of Omaha’s 100,000 rental units, the direct peer group for new construction is much smaller. The peer group for these units really amounts to about 10,700 units built over the past ten years. These apartments have been built at the top end of rental rates. In this case, a 5-10% oversupply is a number that deserves watching.

Why do we say this? The new apartment math requires an annual income of $38,800 per year. This is towards the high range for single person households who have recently entered the workforce. With young people graduating with significant amounts of student debt, the ability to afford rents approaching $2 per square foot per month may be under pressure.

In Conclusion

Apartment supply as a percentage of homebuilding implies a 2% level of oversupply – about 250 units. When a job ratio is applied as a benchmark, the oversupply level rises to between 750-1,000 apartments. Our best estimate is that the Omaha MSA is heading towards a 500 apartment surplus in 2016 that will cool the occupancy levels from the peaks enjoyed the past several quarters. Additionally, units being delivered to market must be cautious about the pressure of income levels. While employment growth has been robust, student debt is high and many new jobs are below $35,000 per year.

Are we concerned? Not yet. We believe that many of the areas receiving supply have been absorbed at a rate that has exceeded our own expectations. Meanwhile, some experts believe that the Midtown Omaha area is going to be pushing the limits of absorption by late 2016. Also, while supply may have been running ahead of demand recently, the level of occupancy has been in excess of 96% for a few years now. Anything above 95% implies a very tight market. In this regard, there is proof of continued high demand.

One final caveat: We are not in the camp that there has been a paradigm shift in home-buying attitudes. Millenials will eventually get married and have kids. This process may have been retarded by the recession, but it will continue.

Desert Island Discs

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This is more for my own enjoyment than anything else. This entire blog is for my own enjoyment, for that matter. If anyone derives any pleasure from these self-indulgent posts, then…well…that’s on you.

The Clash.

The Clash.

We used to play this game all the time when I worked at WBRU Fm in Providence, Rhode Island in the early 1990’s. It would start with some basic questions: “What’s the best concert you ever saw?”, “What’s the first album you ever bought?” After some rocket fuel had been ingested, we’d blast off into questions of an obscure nature:

Q: “What’s the best concert you saw from which you expected nothing?”

A: INXS after their arena days were over (post-Kick) at Paradise in Boston, 1993. There was maybe 500 people in the house.

Q: “Worst concert with the highest expectations?”

A:  Happy Mondays in Boston 1992. I think Shawn Ryder actually sat in front of the drums for 30 minutes before they drifted off. I paid $40 for that ticket. (note: If someone asked me this today the answer, hands down, would be Bob Dylan in Omaha, 2007. I walked out.)

“When did punk music start?”

A: Britain, 1976. Sorry fans of The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, and Velvet Underground. I would however, give an honorable mention to Iggy Pop.

And on and on it would go… If you saw High Fidelity with Jack Black and John Cusack, you know what I’m talking about.

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But the most important list of them all was the Desert Island Disc List. If you were washed up on a deserted island and only allowed 10 albums, what would you bring?

This leads to logistical questions, of course. Presumably, you would have no ability to leave this island or reach other humans, but you would have a portable stereo system with enough battery power to last long enough to listen to said collection. Perhaps these items, as well as your discs, would wash up on the beach in some FedEx boxes along with a volleyball.

Here is my self-indulgent list. Wait…wait…some rules first. We always had rules!

No greatest hits or compilation albums allowed. No soundtracks. No pretentious prog-rock bullshit that your friend, brother, cousin told you was mind blowing (read: Can, Captain Beefheart).

Dark Side of the Moon, Exile on Main Street, The White Album or Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, any Zeppelin, any Steely Dan is/was banned for being cliché. And no, you can’t list some fucking Grateful Dead bootleg of a show in Cincinnati in 1974 or some wildcard like that.

Bowie was never allowed because one guy loved Bowie (in an almost unhealthy way) and we banned Bowie just to piss this guy off.

Now, rap presented a conundrum… Ah, yes, hip-hop albums were set as a bear-trap in the underbrush for the uninitiated parlor game player. You disagree and you are a racist. You emphatically agree and you look like you’re trying too hard. Invariably someone would throw in a Public Enemy reference or maybe NWA. I think they never actually loved the albums that much, but it made them sound culturally wise. Best to remain agnostic on the topic and move on.

As you can plainly see, with one exception, my list is stuck in the late 80’s to mid 90’s. These were years during my impressionable youth, and naturally when my brain had been most pliable. Neurons had been programmed towards the north of England. As a teenager, I must have identified with the post-industrial cynicism of Thatcherite Britain. This is an obvious choice for a middle class boy from Omaha. The parallels are uncanny.

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Metal Box

Here we go then…

  1. Public Image Limited – Metal Box.
  2. The Fall – Wonderful and Frightening World
  3. Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom
  4. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
  5. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
  6. Radiohead – OK Computer
  7. Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
  8. Massive Attack – Mezzanine
  9. The Clash – Sandinista
  10. Wire -154

Whoa, you say. Sandinista? Not London Calling? Yes, my friends. London Calling is pretty polished for all the talk of how innovative they were  in 1979 (sorry, ripping velcro to sound like fire is not really experimental it’s just screwing around in the studio). Sandinista is full of dub experiments, reggae, occasional pop, and biting sarcasm. The Clash had discovered New York City and some of the hip hop elements started trickling in.

No Smiths? Nay. Meat is Murder gets an honorable mention. Hatful of Hollow is one of the first albums that blew my mind. But I never got the “Best Smiths Album Ever” title bestowed on The Queen Is Dead. Vicar In a Tutu? Please.

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Albums that slipped off the list from earlier times: Happy Mondays, Pills and Thrills sounds slightly comedic upon today’s listens. The Mondays’ “Madchester” peers Inspial Carpets’ album Life aged much more nicely.

New Order’s Love Vigilantes fell off the list. The frog sounds on Perfect Kiss are a little too gimmicky in hindsight. What about Power, Corruption, and Lies? No argument there…should be on the list.

REM’s Reckoning was and is a masterpiece. It fell off the list by sheer association with their later efforts. Shiny Happy People sullies the catalog beyond repair.

No Jam? Not even Modern World? Sorry, as much as I like the Jam, none of their albums can sustain 45 minutes of ecstasy. Paul Weller’s first solo album, however, now that’s a solid record from top to bottom.  

What’s on your playlist?