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Monday, July 01, 2019

Every Wave to Ever Rise

For almost two years, I have worked on a sequel to my first book, Post. Titled Forever Got Shorter: Reunions, Revivals, and Another Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 2009-2019 unless I come up with a better title, this book continues to be a DIY, labor of love project. And I’m happy to say I’ve reached a breakthrough in the research process.

Something I must address in this new book (that I was able to sidestep in Post) was how far the reach of mainstream emo was from 2001 until 2011. From Fall Out Boy to My Chemical Romance to Taking Back Sunday, it would be unfair to avoid the cultural significance of these acts, no matter how I felt about their music at the time I wrote Post

I’ve come to accept that a lot of people think emo/post-hardcore is only reflected in the stereotypes that came from fans of the mainstream version of emo. Eyeliner, flat-ironed hair, black nail polish, black clothes, and lots of yelping/screaming in a very calculated sort of way. But I still want to offer another view that has nothing to do with what was on sale at Hot Topic. 

For months, I did research on emo DJ nights. There’s the DIY, independent version and then there are touring editions that don’t often play emo (and are more of a 2000s nostalgia night). Seeing a certain touring version come back to Dallas quite often (and when the local promoter decided to mock me on Twitter when I called them out about it), I started to wonder if I was stuck in a swamp trying to make sense of this offshoot of emo’s popularity. I never considered giving up on the project, but I did wonder where the hell I was going. 

Alas, I had a breakthrough when I recently interviewed Keith Latinen from the Count Your Lucky Stars label and the band Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate). Though I’ve interviewed him before and we’ve known each other since the MySpace days, we had a really good talk this time about the emo revival. We got to talking about how important a small amount of people in 2007-2014 (something like 100-150 people) played music that wasn’t in line with the mainstream defined as emo. Instead of booking agents and bars, these bands played houses. Bandcamp was how you found out about these bands, because their ambitions were not of the grand level. 

That’s when I realized: If the focus of my first book was about DIY artists, shouldn’t the sequel be as well?

Whether it’s American Football or the Get Up Kids or Holding Patterns or Dowsing or Overo, there are a lot of bands to write about and profile. Couple that with the handful of important record labels. Something that will be much different (in terms of format) is that I do not plan to devote individual chapters to bands like how I did in Post. There is too much to go into and doing individual chapters to bands doesn’t quite fit. Then again, I might say something different when it comes down to editing this stuff down to a readable book.

This project really started out as an idea I originally had for a new, 10-year anniversary edition of Post (which itself was from an idea Hope suggested with making a documentary on this side of the genre). Since all of the bands I wrote about in Post have reunited (Fugazi has reunited, but behind closed doors), it makes sense to write about the hows and whys these bands came back together. What I first thought would make for a good afterword became a whole new book when I pitched an anniversary edition and no name publisher wanted it. 

Rather than be dismayed (not the first time, remembering the time an editor at a name publisher thought the Braid chapter in Post was boring), I decided to use “no” as a gift. Instead of sitting around and complaining about things online, I choose to do something about it. 

I wrote a few years ago that I hoped my third book would not take years to write, but here I am. I don’t have a deadline, as I plan to use the same print-on-demand service I used for Post. But whenever this comes out, I promise it will be worth the while of the reader to buy a sequel. People are still discovering that first book, so I know there is an audience out there. It’s not in the millions, but this is for the people who want to have some documentation of the emo revival. This is for them. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

It's a Long Way Down

There was a time when I listened to Ryan Adams' music practically all the time. Back in 2001, as I finished college and tried to navigate post-college life, the double dose of Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia and Adams’ Gold led me to everything else he had made before. It was countrified rock music that spoke to me in a deep way, mainly on the musical front.

I don’t tend to really pay attention to lyrics, but I connected with Adams’ lyrics about being young and perpetually heartbroken. I thought some self-inflicted mental pain about awkward and failed attempts at relationships put me in the headspace to relate to songs by Adams, as well as Bright Eyes. There was so much time and energy spent on anger and sadness directed at myself for things not working out, so I found solace in songs like “Harder Now That It’s Over” and “The Rescue Blues.”

As it turned out, there was a pattern in my life: if I had a little taste of a feeling of sadness or anger, I could relate to those who had it much worse than me. I thought of it as coping, “You’re not alone in feeling this way” sort of thing.

Almost every release Adams put out between 2001 and 2005 -- mainly Demolition, Love Is Hell parts 1 and 2, and Rock N Roll -- were in regular rotation in my car. Driving around during seven-day work weeks, shows, and band practices, practically anything Adams did was a major fixture, along with everything else I listened to, from Chicago to Ben Folds to face to face.

Yet after I listened to Cold Roses a number of times, my desire to hear more of his new music suddenly came to a halt. I knew there would be two more albums released in 2005, but something changed in me where I didn’t want to hear everything he released. I didn’t hate Cold Roses, but I wasn’t really onboard with what I thought was more of the same with Jacksonville City Nights and 29.

From then on, I would occasionally hear a post-2005 tune or two that I really liked, but for the most part, Adams didn’t make music that connected with me anymore. Aside from his cover version of Taylor Swift’s 1989, nothing really made me want to spend a lot of time with the plethora of material he had put out since Cold Roses. I knew plenty of people who praised albums like Prisoner, Ashes & Fire, and Easy Tiger, but I could not find the same joy they had.

Seemingly out of nowhere last week, Adams was the subject of a damning portrait in the NY Times. Heavily-researched and backed up -- mixed with various denials by Adams through his lawyer -- there were many allegations from multiple women about his treatment of them. Like a lot of articles written about people who have repeatedly misused power with inappropriate behavior, I lean towards believing accusers who have nothing to gain by coming forward.

Once the allegations were made public, it was understandable to declare that Adams hid in plain sight, as an article in Jezebel laid out. In my eyes, as someone that heard more about his erratic, oftentimes childish, behavior than his new records, I never thought he was that toxic. Yes, I believed that knowing about that angry voicemail he left for Jim DeRogatis, his rather short-lived feud with Power Trip, how he treated people who used flash photography during his live shows, and throwing out a fan who requested a Bryan Adams song at a show.  I knew he had a reputation, but not one that made the lines between his music and personality make me feel uncomfortable about liking what he produced.

Therein lies the way things tend to go with not believing what you hear. You hear bad things about somebody for years, but they tend to be passed off, based on debatable severity. The really damaging -- potentially libelous and/or criminal -- tends to be very hard to prove without concrete evidence. Famous people can get away with it for years.

While Adams apologized and addressed the NY Times article in a small series of tweets last Wednesday, he did not help his damage control by blocking people -- from Zach Lind of Jimmy Eat World to Jasun Lee of the FW Weekly -- for tweeting out scrutiny of him.

Locally, I’ve seen the backlash quickly escalate. Respected musicians like Nicholas Altobelli and Vanessa Peters tweeted about their feelings about Adams not long after the article went live. Altobelli, in particular, is someone I remembered talking about how much he loved Adams’ output. As in, would drop serious cash own certain rare recordings. I don’t think getting to the point of saying “I’m done” was easy for any superfan, but it makes sense when there are allegations to the degree Adams has been accused of.

Many rock stars have had stories of inappropriate behavior follow them around for years. From Chuck Berry to Led Zeppelin, take your pick. Though it’s common, it doesn’t mean that kind of stuff is permissible. I’m not one to burn up or throw away records by artists who have been accused of unethical or unspeakably horrible acts. But listening to them can be tainted to the point where I feel bad about or weary of something as small as streaming a song they get $.0346 cents for. There’s a break that forms between the listener and the artist. A tainting of an experience.

When I look back at the person I was who listened to a lot of Ryan Adams albums, I think about how I had little or almost no social awareness about how I acted. Who would want to date someone who connected with a song like “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home”? Moreover, someone who was still bitter about things that happened years before and no lesson was learned? The hindsight makes things really clear now, but when you’re so full of yourself with your thoughts and feelings -- and not much time thinking about other people’s thoughts and feelings -- it’s easy to stay stuck under dark clouds.

Who knows what will happen to Adams’ career, if there is a way it can recover for the immediate future. A planned new trilogy of albums has been put on hold, amongst the beginning stages of a serious legal inquiry. It’s bad buzz for him, and it seems like years of damage -- intentional or not -- have come back to haunt him.

For me, the songs I used to listen to over and over serve now as reminders of how not to be. As in, you can’t pretend to be a victim when you’re the problem. If you want to keep blaming others and not own up to what you’ve done, well, you deserve to be alone.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Participation Trophies

The topic of participation trophies seems to come up more and more when describing why people aged 25 and younger seem to settle for mediocrity. It's an easy, straight line to make, especially in the sports world, as a women's basketball coach proclaimed in a press conference in 2016. As in, a child is raised to believe any kind of effort deserves to be rewarded -- no matter the win-or-lose outcome -- and he or she can't tell the difference later in life.

As someone who's about to turn 40, this apparently modern idea is not one to me.

I played in an outdoor soccer league for a few years in the mid-1980s. At the end of each season, the coaches threw the team a party and gave each player a small trophy and ribbon. Neither the trophy nor ribbon said something like "Best Striker" or "Best Keeper." They were generic. Even then, as an elementary school student, I didn't think these trophies meant something grand. It was simply proof that I played on a team.

Was I rewarded for scoring two own goals in a season? No. Was our keeper rewarded for having a meltdown one day at practice where he decided to sit and pout inside the penalty area? No. The trophies were mementos of hours spent after school and Saturday mornings on a soccer field in suburban New Orleans.

If memory serves me right, there were tournaments that our team competed in. If you won them, you received really big trophies you could hoist at the end of the final match. Those were the accolades that meant something. But we never got close to such heights. I never felt left out. We were not a great team, pure and simple.

I switched from sports to band a few years later. There were no participation trophies in band, and I didn't hear of any from people I knew who played sports in school or recreational. Trophies that had value and meaning were given to those who earned them, just like those soccer tournament trophies.

I don't really know if something momentous happened in the past 20 years, aside from Columbine and 9/11, but the embrace of children's deep thoughts and feelings became very common in society. Not just what the parents, coaches, and teachers saw -- it was also what the therapists saw. Maybe it was evaluating what truly hurts or hinders children's growth, or something related. For adults who want to make the youth of today happy, the amount of praise for any effort was raised. This was not new to me, as that kind of stuff was addressed when I was young. I saw it in myself as well as other students.

Towards the end of Fred Rogers' life, a certain cable channel designed to counter-program and play devil's advocate singled out a frequent message by Rogers on his show, Mister Roger's Neighborhood: you are special. This channel thought the message gave kids an idea that any effort is good enough, and those kids expect everything handed to them as adults.

As a regular viewer of the show as a child, I never, for one second, thought Mr. Rogers said you're entitled to receive praise for everything you do. It was, you bring value to the world. Not grand or small. You have meaning to society as a whole. Also, it's OK to feel down as not everything you try leads to success at first (or at all). He told generations of kids that it is totally acceptable to own your feelings. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that idea.

No matter the generation, the basic concept of hard work -- along with the rewards of doing hard work -- is still pretty well defined. You want to get further in life? You can't half-ass it. I half-assed a lot of things in my 20s and 30s, thus explaining why a few things worked out well, surrounded by a mountain of frustration and lingering desires.

I freely admit I have struggled with how hard I should put into hard work as an adult. As in, should I be recognized or rewarded for all the things I do? Do I have a right to get defensive about what I've done and shown in a tangible way (versus how much mental energy I spent)? None of these difficulties came from ideas that Mr. Rogers or soccer trophies taught me. They came from my attempts to understand how life really is. I'm someone who didn't know the extent I -- not others -- had to put in to find success.

If you want to pinpoint a problem in modern society of something a lot of kids don't truly value, that's an easy take. If you want to take a deeper look at why young people aren't apparently as motivated as previous generations, a silly little trophy is not the endgame.

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Year in Music, 2018

This year, I made an effort to be more open about listening to a bigger variety of music. I’m always up for listening to new music, but for quite a while, it was more passive than active. As in, I would listen to what friends would recommend more than actively tracking down stuff on my own.

In 2018, I listened to a lot more modern music on the radio than I have in many years, as well as frequently checking Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist. So, I believe this list is a bit more diverse than previous years.

But before I get to that, I have something special to share. In hopes this doesn’t sound like a lame piece of self-promotion, my band Caved Mountains released our debut collection of songs, A Slow Decline, in January. I’ve played in bands since 1996, but it was not until this year that something I played on was released worldwide.

I’m immensely proud of the work we put into this, and it was nice to have local bloggers write about us and have radio stations like KXT and KTCU play our music. We spent all year working on new material and hope to record the best of the bunch in 2019.

You can hear A Slow Decline on Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify.

Now, for my list of albums I enjoyed the most this year, with direct Spotify links. You can also enjoy a mix of my favorite songs from this year, too.

Favorite Albums















Vacationer, Mindset (Spotify)
For some reason, I listened to this album for the first time at a really early hour of the morning. Normally I do not try to dig into new music at 5 am, but something compelled me to check out an advance copy of Vacationer’s third album a few months before its release. It came from a trusted publicist I have worked with over the years, so I was not so afraid to dig in. What I heard was something from another planet, where sounds reminiscent of Tame Impala’s recent work and listenable Flaming Lips songs made me feel warm and fuzzy. And to boot, it’s from the guy who fronted the emo-punk band, the Starting Line.















Leon Bridges, Good Thing (Spotify)
Leon Bridges took a lot of sonic risks here, but when the songs are great, I am not one to cast stones. Rather than sounding like a throwback akin to his first album, this is more about the modern day, but not trying to sound like modern day pop or R&B. The opening track, “Bet It Ain’t Worth the Hand,” sounds like something out of a musical that I would love to see. Leon has a special kind of voice, and I hope he has a long and illustrious career.















awakebutstillinbed, what people call low self​-​esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you (Spotify)
I have an emo/hardcore/punk-tinged blog Sophie’s Floorboard to thank for introducing me to this record. Just when it seemed like the emo revival was withering away into indie rock territory, this comes out. It’s emo that is not afraid to be raw and ugly, but also cathartic and catchy.















Frank Turner, Be More Kind (Spotify)
Normally I would not recommend a record with a big dud or two, but I make an exception for Frank Turner’s closest attempt at a pop record. Feel free and skip “Make America Great Again,” but enjoy the rest, which is a collection of bouncy songs that are meant to make you feel good and be rest assured that are better days ahead.















Tiny Moving Parts, Swell (Spotify)
Tiny Moving Parts’ third proper album, Celebrate, remains my favorite of theirs, but this year’s Swell should not be missed, either. One of their finest songs yet, “Caution,” is on here. They’re one of the few emo revival bands that haven’t broken up, and I hope they don’t for a long time.















Nothing, Dance on the Blacktop (Spotify)
I had begun to lose interest in this shoegaze revival band with their previous effort, Tired of Tomorrow. But Dance on the Blacktop brought me back to them. It’s like a lost Slowdive/Teenage Fanclub side project I didn’t know I wanted, but glad I found.















Deafheaven, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Spotify)
By now, I should have given up on Deafheaven. A black metal-tinged band that likes to show their love of Slowdive, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Oasis had to have run out of ideas by now, right? Wrong. This is a really strong effort, one that features ballads as well as sonic fireballs.















Ghost, Prequelle (Spotify)
While I don’t think Ghost’s latest is their best work per se, but this ode to ’80s Top 40 rock is quite good. People can wonder why in the hell they thought a saxophone solo was a good idea, as well as a song that sounds like Loverboy, but I dig it. The outro to “Rats” is one of the best riffs I’ve heard this year.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Unknown Road

Over the final weeks of summer, I found myself watching a lot of episodes of Bar Rescue. As in, as many as I could watch on TV and online for days. I had been aware of the show for years, but I never realized how host Jon Taffer is more of a life coach than a consultant until he was a guest on a friend’s podcast.

Though I don’t have any aspirations of owning a bar someday, I struggle with anxiety and pride issues. That’s why I found Taffer’s tough love really engaging to hear. What he had to say to delusional owners rang true. It was easier to understand my hang-ups reflected in people that had even worse ones. I even bought his book, Don’t Bullshit Yourself! Crush the Excuses That Are Holding You Back, and read it in record time for my usually slow reading rate.

One episode that really stuck with me involved a California bar owner who insisted his dive bar only needed upgrades to its interior, but not any improvements that could very likely bring in more paying customers. He wanted a kitchen, but not better acoustics or a diverse drink menu. The employees knew the owner was stubborn and there was no point in challenging him.

The guy’s excuse for how he was? Punk rock pride. Not the loose idea of punk rock where you follow your own path in life. Rather, the kind where a limited view of life is because of the fear of selling out. Punk rock pride sometimes leads to punk rock guilt, leading you to wonder why you were afraid of change in the first place. But not with this guy. Apparently, through the magic of editing, he is someone who could not fathom non-punk rock fans coming into his bar. Any major changes would lead to massive failure, even though his business was already failing.

Taffer is not a stranger to punk rock. He managed the legendary bar the Troubadour in the late ’70s and dealt with bands like the Dead Kennedys and Fear. Rather than seeing punk rock through the eyes of the scriptwriters on CHiPs and Quincy, ME, Taffer saw things firsthand.

So it made sense in this episode that he brought in his friend Joe Escalante from the Vandals to give some feedback. While the bar owner recognized the band’s name, he dismissed Escalante’s criticisms because of the cardigan Escalante wore.

After trying to talk some sense into the owner, Taffer decided to not rescue the bar, which has only happened a couple of times in the show’s history. Despite it losing money each month, it’s still in business as of this writing. Certain people online say it’s because the guy came from money. If that is true, his hardline stance of keeping it strictly a money-losing punk rock dive bar is easy to have when he has a steady foundation of cash to walk on.

I’ve been in venues that pride themselves in being a dive, but also understand how to run a successful business. Whether it’s welcoming regulars as well as newbies, booking non-punk bands as well as punk bands, or selling creative mixed drinks in addition to cheap beer, the owners understand how to run a business rather than spout punk rock views they heard at a Pennywise show.

Why I related so strongly to this episode came from realizing having a purist attitude usually boxes you in throughout your life. Rather than trying something new on a relatively regular basis, you routinely fall back on what you already know. Any sort of change for the betterment of your life is treasonous.

And thus, I understood something deeper about what has held me back for many years: fearing change and admitting to making mistakes. I thought perfection could be obtained. I could be free of mistakes, full of wisdom, and be an expert on practically anything. And I didn’t have to listen to what anyone has to say because I’m smarter than everyone else.

It’s really easy to boast about your righteousness and not listen to what people have to say, especially those closest to you. But it can be hard to fathom why you have fallouts with friends, loved ones, and significant others throughout your life. You’re just being yourself. It’s always their problems and faults that drive them away from you, not the other way around.

Therein lies the nonsense you can believe for years. Even the entire rest of your life. Punk rock says to fight authority, be yourself, and not be a poseur. Well, you don’t have to agree with everything your boss or politicians say, and you don’t have to listen to trendy music, but you can’t win in the fight for its extinction. Just because you disagree with others doesn’t make you some superior being. And if you don’t want to listen to what others have to say, why should they listen to you?

If life is like living in a big house, you can either live where you’re free to walk around it or you relegate yourself to sitting in a small corner. After living in a corner for so many years, life is way more hopeful and exciting living in the whole house.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Yesterday Once More

If it weren't for Chuck Brinkman, I highly doubt I would have ended up in the traffic reporting business.

Not long after I graduated college and had worked in radio promotions for a few Infinity Radio stations, I was offered the chance to produce the afternoon show on KLUV, then an oldies station. I had known the previous producer and she did not like the job whatsoever. Eager to see what the job was really like, I took it on. 

Though I made mistakes on my first day, Chuck gave me another chance and let me come back the following day. As tough as this job was, I ended up working for Chuck for two years. 

During that time, which seems like a very short period in retrospect, I remember laughing quite often. There were things to do at all times, from answering the listener line to relaying messages to account executives. Yet there was time to hear stories about introducing and interviewing the Beatles, being around the Carpenters, and random trivia about 7-inch singles. 

Roughly a year into my time with Chuck, I asked him if there was a way my position could be full-time. For whatever reason that doesn't matter now, my position was seen by the higher-ups as what interns and part-timers did, not a full-timer. Chuck suggested I call the director of operations at the traffic reporting service we used. 

Even though my only experience with traffic reporting was watching our airborne reporter, Ben Laurie, compile his report, along with driving around the metroplex for promotional appearances, I seemed to be qualified for a weekend reporter position. So, to make ends meet, I worked at KLUV during the week and on the weekends as a traffic reporter. Months passed without a day off, but I was happy to be on my own. 

But things got to a point where I needed a full-time job. And that meant I had to leave KLUV to work full-time in the traffic reporting world. Chuck wasn't happy about me leaving, but he understood why I had to do what I needed to do. 

I continued down the road of traffic reporting, even with two layoffs. I heard from Chuck a couple of times, but the last time I saw him was at Ben Laurie's memorial service. I knew KLUV had gone in a slightly different direction, dropping the oldies moniker and going with the classic hits format. Chuck left the station after many years, working at an easy listening station and co-owning a station east of Dallas. 

Last Friday, Parkinson's took Chuck away from the earth. He was 83. Only a few days before, I got word that the traffic reporting company I work for is about close down this fall. A big coincidence, and one that's been on my mind a lot lately. 

I am not exactly sure I know what I will do next professionally, as the options in this industry are less and less. But if there was ever a perfect time to utilize my skills as a verbal communicator and writer in a field outside of broadcasting, now is the time. And I'm totally up for it. 

But if it weren't for Chuck, I'm not really sure I would be doing now. Sometimes we need people to give us a little direction and we eventually find the path we want to be on. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Why So Serious?

Last week, as I saw numerous think pieces about the impact of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight ten years after its original release, I remembered a decision I made prior to seeing it in a theater. I thought the movie was great and all that, but something sticks out to me as I walked with my friends en route on a typically hot day in late July.

The memory is more about what I didn't do and why I did what I did. It's not a regret. It's simply a reminder of the importance of how we treat people.

The movie theater is in one of the biggest malls in Dallas. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, it was understandably filled with people shopping, eating, and whatever else they wanted to do.

In the midst of all these people, I noticed a familiar-looking face. It was a radio talk show host I had reported traffic for only a couple of years prior. Since I reported from a different building, I never met the host. I knew a lot of the news writers and reporters on this station, but not him. And frankly, after having to listen to yell and scream at people who disagreed with him on the air, I thought it was good to not know him.

However, recently, the host had lost his wife after a lengthy illness. As he walked alone among the shoppers, he looked sullen and a little lost. The compassionate side of me felt drawn to go up to him, introduce myself, and say I was sorry for his loss. Then I thought about all the times he would scream at callers, all the commercials for his show that featured him declaring, "You will not out-shout me!!!" and the times he was in front of a camera ripping apart people who didn't hold his same political views.

Since me and my friends wanted to get a good seat in the days before reserved seating in a movie theater, I let the moment pass and I kept walking without stopping. I thought I should have said something, but then I thought, If this guy wants to present himself as a polarizing person, then he should be left alone. He deserved to be alone.

As cruel as that might sound, I don't regret holding back.

Others might credit karma or revenge, but I stand behind an idea that toxic people deserve all the disappointment in their lives. You might have a lot of money and/or power, but if you routinely treat others like dirt for your feet to walk on, then I don't have much or any sympathy for you when something unfortunate happens in your life. I'm definitely not one to wish ill will on anyone, but I don't want to hear any whines or complaints when life hands you a challenge that you may never get over.

Yet what's weird about media personalities is distinguishing the difference between who they are with a microphone in front of them and who they are without one. I've worked with some total divas who sounded like warm and funny gentlemen on the air. I've also worked with people who are eager to be liked by everyone at the station, yet get on the air and cast scorn on those who have the opposing stances as them.

The purpose of this is not about what your political views are. It's how you treat those who see things differently than you. Of course I'm not OK with participating in illegal matters, but I'd prefer to not be a monster towards people who voted for someone I didn't for.