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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Inspiration

Inspiration to pick up a musical instrument comes from a variety of places. I've heard many guys my age say seeing somebody like Kurt Cobain or Rivers Cuomo or Billie Joe Armstrong play guitar was their inspiration. Then I've heard of people say some guitar virtuoso like Jimmy Page or Steve Vai was their inspiration. For me, my inspiration to pick up a guitar came from a rather unlikely source: Dolores O'Riordan of the cranberries.

It's summer of '94 and the video for the cranberries' "Zombie" is on MTV every day. I love the song (especially the drum part) and the mostly black and white video (complete with an on-camera performance by the band). One day, after seeing the video many times before, I noticed a shot of singer/guitarist O'Riordan playing a simple, descending guitar line on the high E string before one of the verses. Seeing how simple it looked to play, I thought I could emulate the same thing on my mother's acoustic guitar (which was lying comfortably in a case in our gameroom's closet). I get the guitar out and fidget around until I think I've got it down. More and more, I kept getting the guitar out to try and find new sounds, much to the dismay of my sister's ears/taste.

About a year before this, my uncle showed me a few barre and open chords on the guitar. The deal was, I couldn't really get my head around pressing all of my fingers on a fretboard at an odd angle (it really hurts the first few times!). Now with this interest in figuring out simple guitar lines, it would soon be natural to learn traditional chords. How I learned them came from the cranberries once again.

Sometime during the fall/winter of '94, MTV airs "the craberries: Unplugged" a few times. I have it on tape and watch their live performance of "Linger" (one of my favorite songs of their's) over and over. After a certain number of repeated viewings, I looked down to see what O'Riordan was playing on the song. Turns out, "Linger" is only four chords repeated over and over for the entire song. I would soon learn those open chords and not cower in pain from playing them.

While I still prefer to play drums in a live rock band setting, I pull out my guitar from time to time. My knowledge of chords and technique expanded a little via the power chords found in altera-rock and punk rock and the weird, non-traditional chords found in post-hardcore and the Smashing Pumpkins. I'm too fidgety with playing chords over and over so it comes as no surprise that the only times that I've played guitar has been as a pseudo-lead guitarist.

In an early incarnation of what became the 11:30s and for two shows near the end of the 11:30s' tenure, I played lead guitar on some songs. Emulating what I was hearing at the time (Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Coldplay, Radiohead and Sigur Ros), my lines were not that far off from Dolores O'Riordan's line in "Zombie." You could say that I hadn't really progressed but I was just enjoying the moment and not thinking about my chops.

While drummers like John Bonham and Lars Ulrich inspired me to pick up the drums and bassists like James Jamerson, Peter Hook and Bruce Foxton to pick up the bass, I think my inspiration for the guitar is a tad strange. Musical inspiration knows no gender, but I hear all the time about how seeing a guitarist play four barre chords inspired someone, but it almost always is via a male guitarist. Now I'm not saying that Dolores O'Riordan is a wimpy guitarist- I think she plays what's best for the song. That kind of inspiration still rings true for me, whether I'm playing the guitar, the bass or drums.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hooray for Blogs!

Inspired by a link posted on Large Hearted Boy, I think it's important to praise the presence of blogs, specifically MP3 blogs, on the Internet. Here's my favorite snippet in the "10 best ways to get the most out of the next musical revolution":

1. MP3 blogs: The Internet isn't just a great place to find amateur porn and clips of fat kids acting out scenes from "The Phantom Menace." It's actually an incredible resource for discovering new music and the best sites to do that at the moment are MP3 blogs such as The Hype Machine (hype.non-standard.net) and Largehearted Boy (blog.largeheartedboy.com), which offer daily, no-nonsense links to free music available online. Meanwhile, personal blogs such as Stereogum (www.stereogum.com), Sixeyes (sixeyes.blogspot.com) and Said the Gramophone (www.saidthegramophone.com) hand out iPod-friendly tunes along with smartly written previews. For those with a couple of hours, weeks or months to kill, a staggering list of MP3 blogs is available at the Tofu Hut (tofuhut.blogspot.com).

Even though I only visit a couple of the links mentioned above, I feel it's necessary to talk about why MP3 blogs are great.

I hate to break it to you, but most of the modern songs you're hearing on regular, commercial radio and seeing on MTV and VH1 were not selected for rotation because they evoke a deep response from the listener. So much stuff goes on behind the scenes with legal forms of payola, favors, barter and other business practices that owe very little to the actual listening and responding to music. While focus groups are still used to get more specific and personal responses from listeners, there are many reasons why the music you hear on Sunday night speciality shows sounds way different than the music you hear during regular weekday programming. Yes, it's a business designed for certain audiences, but for the ones that crave a different kind of response from music are looking elsewhere.

A few years ago, peer-to-peer networks were the best way to find stuff online. I don't use peer-to-peer networks anymore- there are way too many viruses and spyware programs floating around them that I don't want to harm my computer any more than I already have. There is so much music out there: from sublime to decent to crap. Finding the sublime is hard and a worthwhile journey and MP3 blogs help navigate the way.

I give a major high-five to Frank over at Chrome Waves for introducing me to Stars. Frank posted a video for the band's "Reunion" and I became even more curious about the band. I had read some nice reviews in print, but after hearing the song a number of times over the timespan of a few months, I decided to venture out and get their Set Yourself on Fire record. I haven't regretted this decision and it's one of my favorite albums of the year.

Probably the best thing about MP3 blogs is that the songs on there are there by choice of the webmaster, not because of promotional dollars or focus groups. The blogs are way more honest with the listener because the people that run them are listeners too. I love reading about some band that Torr or Chris or Eric or Jef admires and actually hearing the music myself.

Remember earlier this year when Sufjan Stevens was on almost every major MP3 blog? Well, that wasn't by string-pulling by his record company. Many people (including myself) have been amazed by his Come On Feel the Illinoise record and have wanted to spread the word about this album. Now, Stevens has become one of the biggest draws in off-the-mainstream-radar music.

Before, the only way you could hear about non-mainstream music was through college radio, Sunday night speciality shows and talking to a record store clerk. Now, you still have those options but you also have a more direct, easier and honest way of finding this stuff. The best part is that this is all on the Internet, a terrain that can't be tamed. The people who pay for the Internet use are moving the enjoyment of music past the fences of yesterday. As much as people complain about crappy music, there are so many other reasons to champion better stuff.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Criticism

I used to get all huffy and puffy when I would hear negative criticism. I still get a little up-in-arms on certain things (ie, Star Wars), but in my older years, I think I've mellowed out. Negative criticism is going to come my way, just like how diarrhea will come my way (unexpected, unplanned and will eventually pass). Along with doing what I do, liking what I like and reading about people that just did their stuff (doubters and all), I've realized this: negative criticism doesn't stop creativity.

In many cases, when people rip someone else's work apart, it tests the creator's confidence. I've never heard of somebody who stopped doing what he or she does just because of what critics say. Some people revel in negative reviews while some cry their eyes out. For me, I know what I'm into and what I want to do. The stuff I'm into isn't for everyone (is there really anything for everyone other than food, sleep and liquids?), so I don't aim that far.

Doing this in the way of a critic, I want to be honest with how I feel about a piece of music, a movie or a book. I'd like to think that a critic would do the same with something of my own. However, if someone were to write a rude, vicious and misinformed tirade, that would probably sting the most. I can't prevent that stuff like that from happening, but I don't think I would ever take comfort in one.

If you've followed the films and fandom of writer/director Kevin Smith over the years, you may very well know that he likes to make fun of the world of anonymous back-talkers on the Internet. Some of these people troll Ain't It Cool News, the popular site for movie gossip, interviews and reviews, and leave comments on every article that is run. In the case of Kevin Smith's films and Kevin Smith himself, naysayers love to diss on the writer/director's work (from saying he can't direct, can't write, he's fat and so on). This isn't just for Kevin Smith; the "Talk-Backers" rip everyone apart, even the most widely embraced. Interestingly (and an AICN first), Smith has decided to fire back at these naysayers by responding in the Talk-Back forums (his latest responses can be found here). I found one of his remarks incredibly right on target:

But here’s the thing: I get that there are folks who don’t dig on what I’ve made. Just like I understand there are plenty of folks who do dig on our flicks. But while I can understand someone seeking out a website/thread to talk about some movie they like, I’ll never get my head around the folks who spew forth the bile. I mean, what’s the point? If I don’t like a movie, I never watch it again. If the dislike is so intense that I need to vent about it, I vent to my wife. If the preoccupation with the flick is still there, I bounce around under the old lady for awhile ‘til my head’s clear. If that doesn’t work, I watch another movie I do like. But never once have I been so hell-bent for leather that I’d go to some website to vent about movie-hating – particularly if I wasn’t profiting off it somehow. I mean, what’s the point[?]

Smith makes a very good argument, but in the case of the most driven Talk-Backers, this doesn't stop them from criticizing, just like they don't stop Smith from making movies, writing comics, etc. Sure, Smith makes no bones about being a little miffed by this kind of criticism (hell, he spent most of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back making fun of it), but he keeps doing what he wants to do. Smith may keep taking the piss out of Talk-Backers, but that won't stop them from dissing his work. They'll keep going as long as there is something to bitch about.

It's human nature to complain and criticize, but why do we do revel in it so much? I think it's easy, natural and relatively harmless to talk about something that works against us. A variety of opinions is great but I don't think we ever truly enjoy negative remarks as much as positive remarks.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Black Friday

Today is what is now often dubbed as Black Friday because most retail outlets are "in the black" with sales. For those that work in retail, I give you a hand because I hope to never work in retail ever again because of a day like this.

If you've never worked retail before, imagine the job you have now but add random strangers walking around and asking a wide variety of questions (some good, some stupid and some just plain annoying). The job is a huge juggling act and on a day like today, it's a relief when the doors close for the night.

Slashed prices on items in the store are always a big incentive to come out. Some places are selling select DVDs for $3.99 a pop. You know, that would even make me go out and weather the crowds, but I'm in no rush to own stuff like The Cat in the Hat (the Mike Myers version), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey version) or A Beautiful Mind. I'd go out if they had a sale on stuff like the new Beavis and Butthead DVD collection, Tom Waits CDs or spindles of Memorex CD-Rs. Alas, this is not the case today so I can hold off.

I love how parents say their child "needs" something for Christmas. This year, it's XBox 360 for a lot of them. It comes as no shock to me that there is a shortage of them and there are reports that a lot of the ones that have been bought have bad glitches in them. If I remember correctly, this is very much like what happened to Playstation 2 when it first came out. Parents were apparently furious and their children were majorly let down. One person even paid full price on eBay thinking he was getting a Playstation 2 but all he ended up with was an empty cardboard box.

Do kids really "need" something like XBox 360? I understand if they really want one, but will their bones fall off, their hearts stop beating or their heads fall off if an XBox 360 isn't under the Christmas tree? No, but there will be plenty of frustration with the parents and their children.

I'm not a parent and I don't understand how I could "do everything" for a child. I hear it's just a natural feeling you have when you are a parent, but does that mean meeting up with every one of your child's material desires? I don't think so, but whenever I see some yahoo going crazy that his or her's kid "has" to have something for Christmas, I wonder. I'm thankful for whatever I get and I'd like to think that I can teach that to a child of my own someday (if that day ever comes).

Bill Cosby joked that he and his wife were intellectuals before they had their children. While I think that line is funny, it also frightens me that I would have to "start over" with someone after I've come so far. I know things like basic communication are tough to convey between a parent and a child. A parent knows so much more and is accustomed to a way of communicating while his/her child has almost no points of reference at a young age.

The task of raising a child is a long and hard one, but I hear it's a rewarding one too. Teaching children morals like honesty and forgiveness is incredibly important. Going way out of one's way to appease every material impulse they have isn't one of them.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

"I'll be there in five minutes"

Some of my favorite parts in Sam Jones' documentary on Wilco, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, involve Rolling Stone senior editor, David Fricke. In one particular clip, Fricke explains that we live in a culture where there are people standing out on a sidewalk talking on cell phones and the gist of their conversations are, "I'll be there in five minutes." Fricke's response to someone doing this is to quit standing around and "just be there in five minutes." Even though Fricke's statement was made on September 10th, 2001, his words still ring true in our post-9/11 world.

I'll admit it; I'm guilty of being impatient with people by calling their cell phones if they're late. I don't want to be hung out like a clown so since the technology is handy, I give in from time to time. The deal is, you can be a little too impatient with the kind of technology cell phones allow. If someone is five minutes late, I wait it out. If he/she is thirty minutes late, I give him/her a call. The funny thing is, I heard a "I'll be there in five minutes" conversation while I was in Chicago back in October.

I was walking down Randolph Street and passed by a guy filling up his truck with boxes. He's on a cell phone, walking around his truck and the only thing I heard him say was, "I'll be there in five minutes." He was in motion and sounded like he was gonna be there in five minutes, but I couldn't believe I had actually seen an almost exact recreation of Fricke's description. My father once told me about people he rode on the bus with that would call his or her spouse with a conversation about he or she would "be home in ten minutes." It's one thing to give people a heads-up on your ETA, but when it becomes this habitual timekiller, I think it's a statement about our technology-bound culture.

In the '80s and '90s, cell phones were things that mostly rich businessfolk had. The thought that you could carry a phone around with you wherever you went sounded cool, but it didn't seem like a necessity. Now that I'm hard pressed to find someone who doesn't have a cell phone, we can make calls whenever and wherever. While I love how I rarely miss a call and how I don't have to pay long distance to talk to friends and family, I try and catch myself before falling into the dark side of impatience. Is it really gonna matter if I take a call now, ten minutes from now or ten hours from now? Eventually a conversation will take place.

I understand that some calls can't wait, but isn't a part of multi-tasking doing something over saying something? I know time is precious, but if it's spent burning up cell phone minutes to state the course of action planned in the next ten minutes, should we really be wasting our time by talking about it?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Goblet of Fire redux

I braved the elements and saw it last night. It's a wonderful movie for various reasons and I highly recommend it to those that are curious. I won't give any of the plot details away, but I will say this, it's incredibly well-paced (from slow and intimate to fast, big and loud) as it covers all the important plot details that will be paid off in the next few movies. I couldn't believe how much from the book they put into the movie and how surprisingly it didn't feel rushed at all. Thinking about the other Harry Potter flicks along with certain other book/comic book-to-film adaptations that have come out in the last few years, I think it's safe to say that movie studios "get it" after decades of not getting it.

What is 'it' you ask? 'It' means making the film as close to the book as possible but adding some different touches for a better effect. Case in point, The Goblet of Fire is the first extra-long Harry Potter book and a page-by-page film adaptation would be at least five hours long. Instead, certain smaller plots are slimmed down or completely trimmed out to make for a sturdy 157-minute running time. This way, the time just flies by as so much goes on.

Before for the first Harry Potter flick was made, there had been talk about essentially butchering the book's plotlines for a film version. Apparently, there was talk of taking the biggest action scenes from the first three books and throw them into one film. Then there was talk about Americanizing the whole story. Thankfully, none of this happened and the films are what they are: great films for a wide variety of people that make a killing at the box office and on DVD. They keep us excited about the next film in the series as each sequel improves on the last one.

There has always been a struggle between making artistic statements and going for commercial gain. Artists want to be faithful and original while companies with loads of money want to play it safe so they can harbor the delusion that they'll get all their money back. By thinking outside of the "play-it-safe-by-making-it-stupid-for-the-lowest-common-denominator" model, smart, intelligent blockbusters like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Spider-Man movies and the Harry Potter movies come out. The more you engage the audience by hitting on a lot of emotions (from making them jump to warming their hearts to making them cry), you have something that is dense and watchable over and over.

Since the industry thrives on the DVD market, it helps to make movies that are watchable over and over again. Giving these movies royal treatments on DVDs with extras out the wazoo only helps the enjoyment. Now I'm not saying the film industry is in the clear here; they still make plenty of terrible movies for the lowest common denominator. I was reminded of this before The Goblet of Fire as a couple of trailers made me roll my eyes in disgust. Movies with big stars doing lamebrain slapstick and saying moronic one-liners made a number of the audience members laugh. I'm sure they'll watch those movies over and over again and get something strong out of it for years to come . . .

Yes, I'm a little harsh and a tad arrogant here. My tastes have turned me into a bitter old man that sits alone and doesn't want to be bothered while I watch a movie. Sometimes I think I should not be like this but then there are times that justify such behavior. I enjoy certain movies and certain books. When I feel like dense, profound and relatable stuff is put into them, I feel like the creator is being faithful to his or her voice and is not going for the proverbial "brass ring." I don't think you can intentionally get the major studios to have your ear by gambling on a formula. Like all things in life, you stumble upon that kind of influence by doing what you want to do, doubts be damned. This kind of mindset is something that can last a lifetime; not just the amount of time spent watching or reading.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Goblet of Fire

Tonight I plan to go out and see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, thus making this my second trip out to the movies this year. Yes, the yearly amount of times I go out to the movies is now about average with the yearly amount of times I go to a comic book store or a video game store. I'm still very satisfied with watching movies at home, but there are some movies that I can't wait for rental.

The experience of seeing a movie on a screen 200 times larger than my TV is a cool spectacle. The sound effects are great and deafening at times (in a good way). So, I hope to have a good time tonight. Even my fidgety nature of being in a dark room full of strangers won't stop me from seeing this picture.

I used to often go out to movie theaters, but that was when I had a student ID or was still considered a "child." As the cost of a ticket grows closer to the cost of owning the movie on DVD, I'm more than willing to wait a few months. I understand that in most places, you pay extra for the atmosphere, but I'm such a tight-wad with these kinds of things. Plus, my tastes have become more pickier. I don't think of movies as mindless entertainment, but a large sect of the buying audience thinks they are reasons to turn off one's brain. As long as I am living, I can't turn off my brain; not even with a so-called, "brainless" flick. As long as I'm interested enough in a particular film, I'll bypass whatever anxieties I have and go see something that I'm 95% sure I will enjoy.

I'm baffled by the thought of people constantly going to movies and seeing whatever is new. Some of my relatives do this and I don't fully understand why. Nevermind the fact that a movie looks good or stupid; people will go to it since it's new. I don't think there is some sort of makeshift tribal community formed by a hunger for Milk Duds, Coca-Cola and popcorn. I think a lot of people want to be entertained without having to think much about their own life. I can't just be "entertained" and forget things in my life. I want to get something really dense out of a flick. I know I'm not going to get that with National Treasure or Dukes of Hazzard.

Yes, back in the days before there was a vast amount of information on the Internet and before I had developed a jaded eye towards the world of making movies, I enjoyed movies like Independence Day. Back then it was pure excitement for me, but after seeing certain films that rocked my socks off on some many emotional levels (from The Lord of the Rings to Clerks to Donnie Darko), I can't go back to a world of being a consumer looking for a brief blast of fun.

The Harry Potter films really do justice to the overall story, the charm and the aura told in the books. I enjoy seeing each one and am very much looking forward to the next three films in the next few years. I'll definitely pay to see something like this in a movie theater. And to think, a certain big-name director wanted to Americanize Harry Potter in order for it to translate to an American audience. I'm glad Jo Rowling said no to this and kept the films very British. You don't have to know British slang or even understand its class system to get this epic tale of good versus evil.

Monday, November 21, 2005

We're not that far off

Last week I wondered if we are close to a time when the pomp and posy excesses of '70s and '80s stadium rock are once again en vogue. Folks, we're even closer after I saw Dropsonic play Friday night and read an article on Avenged Sevenfold in Rolling Stone. You've been warned. Here's why:

Dropsonic is a pretty tight trio from Atlanta, GA, with mathy and glammy leanings. I don't think I've ever seen a band combine the shifting rhythms found in math rock along with the kind of guitar solos and flamboyant vocals found in glam rock. I thought they put on an impressive set as they played on the bill with powerhouses Traindodge and Saboteur. Traindodge rocked hard with their mix of melodic, dropped-D post-hardcore and Saboteur blazed through their inspired, punk-fueled post-hardcore. Dropsonic fit very well on the bill, but one certain thing set them apart (for good and bad reasons) was the presence of guitar and drum solos.

I'm not talking eight bars of a little flash here-I'm talking three to five minutes of just pure wankery. Dropsonic's drummer was great but after three minutes of his solo, I had enough. I know, I know; three to five minute solos aren't too bad right? Well, I was enjoying their songs until certain members decided to take a chicken-choking break. If this was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, please tell me.

Yes, I'm totally out of line here because there was a time when I loved to play drum solos. In high school, I thought a rock drummer's worth was in how hard, how fast and how steady he or she could play in a given period. Well, that's a way to think of it. I choose to think in terms of how a drum part or a guitar part fits in within a verse-chorus-verse song structure. When you give one another breathing room instead of stepping all over each other, that's a more relatable model of a band.

I'm not a virtuoso drummer. I can't play like Neil Peart from Rush or Buddy Rich, so if a disciple of their styles of drumming wants a drum-off, I would lose. I don't like to play simple, boring beats either. I like to play stuff that supports or compliments what the guitarists and vocalists are doing. I try to add whatever colors I can and I don't try to outdo anyone. There are plenty of virtuoso musicians out there, but not everybody is a virtuoso in the classical sense. Some may say Marky Ramone of the Ramones was a genius player while others would scoff at such a claim. In my view, it's not how many notes you play-it's which notes you play.

Don't think that I'm anti-solos in all kinds of music. In jazz, solos are welcome. There's a set (and bearable) space for a player to get a little loose from the main melody and come back to it. I haven't sat through extremely long jazz sets (maybe Kev has) and don't have many jazz records and I have yet to come across a bad solo live or on record. I'm sure there are some bad ones out there, but since jazz is more based on loose and looser rhythms, solos make sense.

But I'm talking about rock music here. The kind of music that affected me as a youth and continues to affect me today. Of course people are going to get a little out of hand with their egos and make wild claims about their lifestyles and music. So when I read a line courtesy of Avenged Sevenfold's M. Shadows in Rolling Stone, "We love rock & roll from the late Eighties and early Nineties. We love the rock stars, and all the shit that goes with it. We're trying to take what we know from that era, bypass the whole anti-rock star era and take people into the next one," I couldn't believe my eyes.

The members of Avenged Sevenfold make no bones about wanting to live the kind of lifestyle popularized by the hair metal bands in the 1980s: big hair, cocky attitudes, having lots of money, driving fast cars, living in mansions, banging hot girls and so on. Well guys, if enough people believe in that kind of debauchery, enough people will think that this lifestyle is something for everyone in the longrun. I don't believe in it for a minute. While those things may be cool to be spoiled with for a while, there is too much damage to deal with down the line. Don't believe me? Just read Motley Crue's The Dirt.

Us old fogies in our twenties and thirties remember how silly (but fun at times) hair metal was in the 1980s. We also remember how seriously amazing Nirvana was in 1992 without the cheeseball songs and the big hair. Maybe it's time for a younger generation to understand this the hard way.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Black Market Music

Placebo was first recommended to me via Matt when the band's second album, Without You I'm Nothing, was first out in '98. I didn't care for the album's first single (and sole US hit), "Pure Morning," but he said I would really dig some of the faster, punkier album tracks like "You Don't Care About Us." As it turned out, my roommate at the time had Without You I'm Nothing and I gave it a listen. Matt was very right and I bought my roommate's copy because he only liked "Pure Morning." I couldn't really call myself a big fan of Placebo, but I really dug most of the tracks on Without You I'm Nothing. This claim was very much the case when the band's follow-up, Black Market Music, came out. The songs didn't perk my interests, so I moved on.

Now that I live with a housemate who really likes Placebo and happens to have a DVD of all their videos, I decided to give Placebo some more attention by watching most of the DVD yesterday. Upon viewing and hearing songs from their entire career, I can now claim to be a fan of Placebo. The interesting thing is, I'm really at a loss for words for how to describe their music. It got me thinking about Manic Street Preachers, Therapy? and Skunk Anansie, aka, bands from across the pond with a very-difficult-to-describe sound. All I can say is this: you wouldn't be able to find bands like these in America.

While I would not lump Manics, Therapy?, Skunk Anansie and Placebo all together in the same musical boat, I will say they don't rock like traditional, categorized American hard rock or American alternative rock. Manics have churned out poppy rock songs with a variety of rock stylings (punk, hard rock, grunge and so on), Therapy? has mixed dark humor with poppy punky and riffin' rock, Skunk Anansie mixed industrial and hard rock with ballads and AC rock with a wildly versatile singer and Placebo has jumbled up a lot of stuff in a tuneful way since '96. In other words, this ain't your typical grunge-inspired, quiet-to-distorted-loud rock that you heard all throughout the '90s. This was a mark of a different kind of beast.

With the exception of some good airplay with "Pure Morning," Placebo is the only band of this grouping that can claim to have had some decent media attention in the US. Placebo still has a sizable audience here, but abroad they are one of the biggest mainstream bands. I don't know how marginalized rock music is in the UK, England and Europe, but coming from an American's point of view, this stuff defies simple pigeonholing. Granted, I'm coming from a perspective where these bands are special imports in a sea of bad groups. I'm sure our friends across the pond will say the same about select American bands.

I now understand that on any continent, the good stuff is out there, you just have to wade through so much mud, garbage and crap to find it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Make Up the Breakdown

I'm not the biggest fan of Hot Hot Heat but I really enjoy their Make Up the Breakdown record and I've liked what I've heard off of their most recent record, Elevator. While their twisted, guitar-and-keyboards pop is cool, I find something rather odd when I read about why their guitarist Dante DeCaro left the band while recording Elevator. Thus is another tale of differing stories as to why band members really leave bands.

In multiple interviews, HHH's current members often say that the reason why DeCaro left was because of touring. “Once someone has established that they don’t want to be on tour, it’s kind of like a disease,” frontman Steve Bays explained to Straight.com. “It spreads to everyone. And so if you’re at that point during the day where you’re just so burnt out, and you need someone to come up to you and say, ‘Remember, this is our dream,’ and instead that person comes up and goes, ‘You know what? Not only does this suck, but it really sucks,’ that really nails you down, and it’s a horrible feeling to have that in the bus. But it’s not like I resent him for feeling that way. He just didn’t want to live that lifestyle, and I don’t blame him, because it’s a messed-up lifestyle.”

DeCaro's excuse for leaving was very believable until I saw this news item: he joined Wolf Parade in August as a touring guitarist. So, I'm a little puzzled as to why a guy would leave a touring band and join another band as a touring member. Now keep in mind that all comments about him leaving HHH because of touring were made by his ex-bandmates, not him. Did he realize that he missed touring while he was out of HHH? I don't know about Hot Hot Heat's past or current touring schedule, but Wolf Parade's touring schedule looks very busy for the rest of the year as they are currently on a multi-date European tour.

My question is this: is there something going on that HHH and DeCaro don't want to talk about in the press? I understand if ex-members want to leave "dirty laundry" out of the public's eye, but when I believe I see a plot hole like this, I raise a question.

Why band members leave is usually for multiple reasons. In the bands that I've been in, reasons like the person wasn't into our material as much as we were and/or the person moved out of town for job, family or school were some of the biggest ones. They're very valid reasons for quitting a group and they usually don't involve much drama. However, in some cases, there is usually good deal of drama with whether or not a band member's departure was voluntary or involuntary (remember in '96 when Sammy Hagar claimed he was fired by Van Halen while his bandmates said he quit?). If the exact reasons don't look good in print, I don't blame people for keeping mum.

Clear communication between people is crucial to making a relationship work. The problem that frequently harms this notion is when assumptions, actions and words are thrown in a blender. Feelings get hurt, lives are altered and relationships can be forever changed. Why exactly Dante DeCaro really left Hot Hot Heat is up for him to say. Then, I think I'll have a better understanding or just more confusion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Compact Discs

Rolling Stone has this article on how this fall's big CD releases didn't boost overall CD sales. Kanye West's Late Registration sold a ton, but titles by Ashlee Simpson and Destiny's Child didn't sell as much as expected. On the flipside, downloading is way up. How all this translates to me is this: CD sales will continue to decline but CDs themselves won't become extinct.

I still buy plenty of CDs every year. New records by Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, My Morning Jacket, The Go! Team, Foo Fighters and others have been added to my library this year. I don't know if I buy as much or less, but I also buy a number of older releases, including reissues and albums that I never got around to buying. I like a wide variety of rock music and I doubt that I will buy fewer CDs in the upcoming years.

Even with all my CDs, I have become a big advocate of iTunes too. I enjoy building up my digital library with my favorite songs so I can have them in one convenient spot. However, music through computer speakers is still not the best way to hear music (that honor belongs to my den's stereo and in my car's stereo). Even at a cranked level, tiny little speakers can only hold so much.

iTunes has solved a dilemma that has plagued music listeners for years: you don't have to buy a whole album for just one or two songs. No more wasting $14 on something you can get for $3.19 (or free if you get it via a peer-to-peer network). While there are bands/artists that I want to hear at least one whole album from, there are plenty others that I just want a few songs from. It's purely instinctive for me: there are sounds that I want to hear a dozen or more songs in that style and then there are sounds that I want to only hear a few songs in that style. Case in point, I wanted to have the whole Go! Team album but I only wanted to have Public Image Ltd.'s "Rise" and "Public Image" in lieu of an album.

Since the ways of how people obtain music is so diverse, I doubt that CDs will go the way of the 8-track tape. Music is still at its best-sounding on CD and I haven't heard of any up-and-coming sound technology that will change that. Plus, as long as computers have CD drives (not just for music, but for software and games), CDs will be in demand.

For now and the foreseeable future, whenever I go into a large retail chain like Best Buy to buy a CD on sale, I'll have to wade my way through the endless racks of DVDs, video games and cell phones to get to my beloved CDs. Whenever I want to find a new reissue of an older album or a used copy of some record that I meant to buy three years ago, I pay a visit to my locally-owned record store. I like the interaction of me as a curious person roaming from rack to rack more than typing in an artist's name to an Amazon search engine. The immediacy of holding a CD is way more appealing than just looking at a small .JPG, a price and some customer reviews.

Labels can moan about how much they're losing in CD sales every year from here on out. For me the music fan, I enjoy the fact that I have way more options now than when I first started buying music. Music's popularity and need in our lives is not going anywhere. Where exactly it's going isn't clear right now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Are we not that far off?

Last night was spent eating dinner, walking Juliet and watching Coheed and Cambria's Live at the Starland Ballroom DVD. While I was watching it, I got to thinking: if emo, cheesmo and screamo are becoming passe with a younger audience these days, is something like what Coheed and Cambria does that far off too or about to become even bigger?

For those that don't know, Coheed and Cambria is a four-piece with three records out: The Second Stage Turbine Blade, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 and Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness. (Yes, those are the full titles) Previously, I had only heard a little of In Keeping Secrets but after reading interviews with them and seeing their video for "The Suffering," I had to find out more. Why? Because I think we're only a few steps away from having a rebirth of pompous virtuoso rock, last seen in the 1970s.

I will credit C&C this: they have great energy and some pretty good songs. I hear elements of screamo and emo in their sound along with elements in '70s progressive rock (Yes, King Crimson, etc.). Frontman Claudio Sanchez is often compared to Rush's Geddy Lee, but I feel that's a misnomer. Yes, Sanchez hits notes in the upper register (like Lee does) but he doesn't have the same feel or sounds like a carbon copy of Lee's voice. In short, I'm not about to buy their records, but I don't think they're crap.

Now here is a point of "uh-oh" with C&C: this supposed storyline of Coheed and Cambria that will be completely told in five albums. Yes folks, a storyline involving multiple characters named Coheed, Cambria, Claudio, the Writer and others. Somehow, a guillotine, girls, guys, life, death, near-death, a life-force, other dimensions and memory all play out. Vaguely, it sounds like Star Wars, but unlike Star Wars, this story is almost impossible to follow. By going from sequel to sequel to prequel of the main prequel (yes, the first album has "Second" in the title, the second album has "3" in the title and the third album has "IV" in the title), trying to follow or even understand this plot is beyond me, even after multiple readings of interviews that give hints about it. Maybe the point is to baffle but I just want to hear "le rock" and leave the storyline debates for the band's message board.

Extra "uh-oh" comes with the band's expanding live show and videos. With the videos for songs on In Keeping Secrets, they are humorous and relatively low-key affairs. Upon watching Good Apollo's first video, "The Suffering," I couldn't help but think of Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge." The video features the band playing in a cave (yes, a cave) with smoke intercut with a man/horse fighting a monster to save his woman (a mermaid). I kept looking for a mini-Stonehenge or something that was like a wink so I could laugh. The deal was, there was none of that. Uh-oh indeed.

Now I may be overreacting here, but isn't this the same kind of pomp and posy stuff that punk rebelled against in the '70s? I mean, come on, convoluted storylines told through album art, lyrics, comic books, videos and intricate live shows? The only extras needed are never-ending drum solos and guitar solos and it will be a full revival. Virtuoso musicianship may be a spectacle to gawk at but how in the world is some teenager going to really relate to something this in the long run?

The essence of rock music is the basics. I'm not saying rock should be confined to boundaries, but seeing the patterns of rock history, I don't think were too far off from a time when overplaying and wankery will be en vogue. The ageless, relatable aspects of the song and its melodies, not the white-hot guitar solos or operatic vocals, are the keys to the heart of music. Couple Coheed and Cambria with the Mars Volta (who I actually enjoy) and the silliness of the Darkness (which I cannot get into), this irony of fantasy rock may very well become a nightmare if labels sink more money into developing younger bands in this style. If this is all supposed to be a joke or tongue-in-cheek irony, somebody please let the young 'uns know.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Dallas vs. Fort Worth

Growing up in Houston, I always loved coming to Dallas. Once the city’s skyline was in view, I got excited. I don’t exactly know what I was excited about other than cooler weather and seeing my relatives, but it was always a welcome change. When I lived in Fort Worth, I liked the town, but if I wanted to go to the good record stores and venues, I’d have to make the 40-50 minute drive to Dallas. Now that I live in Dallas, I rarely go anywhere else because everything is in Dallas. However, something that keeps coming to my attention is the fact that people in Dallas don’t like going to Fort Worth and vice versa. Here’s my question: Why?

I’ll admit it: since moving to Dallas in 2002, I’ve never wanted to move back to Fort Worth. I still enjoy going to Fort Worth from time to time for various things (like the Good Show or a show at the Ridglea Theater or Wreck Room), but I usually stay within the Dallas city limits. I like it here because it’s so spread out and there is no shortage of fun things to do (bars, venues, record stores, bookstores, museums, etc.).

Talking with people who live in Dallas, Fort Worth sounds like it’s nine hours away. We’re talking a 40-50 minute car ride here (sans traffic). This is the same amount of time it takes to get to Denton from either city. To some people I’ve met who live in the suburbs north of Dallas (like Flower Mound, Lewisville, Frisco and McKinney), Fort Worth seems even further away. I know some people that do the long commute daily and I gotta commend on such a long trek. The traffic on I-30 can be a beating even when there are no major accidents working.

I’ve heard stories that there is some kind of longtime rivalry between the two biggest cities in the Metroplex and that’s why there is a rift. It's like two siblings that don't want to acknowledge each other. Fort Worth has a vast supply of good stuff but Dallas has even more. Maybe this is more of a nonsense rivalry more than anything else. Maybe it’s something with the people that are born and raised in their respective towns. There might be an unspoken hostility to the other town for one reason or another. For us transplants, we just scratch our heads.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Baby Pictures

I don't know if this is because of tradition or impulse, but I've always wondered why parents take so many pictures of their children as newborns. I'm not saying this is a bad thing that is ripe for Seinfeld-like mockery, but looking through old family photo albums, I noticed that there are plenty of pictures of me and my sister as newborns/toddlers, but there are fewer pictures of us growing up. There are plenty of pictures of me in my crib, in the arms of friends and family and crawling around our house. There are also quite a few pictures of Susan and I growing up after that, but there aren't quite as many as when we were newborns/toddlers.

I am not a father and I am not an uncle, so I have no real first-hand experience with childbirth and all the things that come after it. I'm not opposed to having children myself, but I'm in no rush to have them. I love seeing pictures of newborns, but as I said, why are there so many in this opening stage? Is it because all the child can really do is lie down, nap and look cute, instead of being able to do things like storm out of a room and talk back? Is this trying to capture as much innocence as possible?

Looking at my cousin Karen's child grow up, I see quite a bit of development from such an early age. Karen's daughter is less than a year old but she's looking good with a full head of hair and a big smile. In the cases of Eric and Amy's newborn, Hailey, and Tom and Angela's newborn, Meg, I enjoy seeing the substantial progress from a few days old to a few months old. It's definitely a sight to see.

I do wonder, do the photo-snappings happen less when the child is aware that his/her picture is being taken? Is the roadblock of "Oh, mom"/"Oh, dad" grumbles that much of a deterrent? Jokingly, is this proof of a child's happiness when the child goes through the growing pains of adolescence so the parent can say, "What happened to my baby?"

Maybe I should just chalk this up as another "You have to experience it for yourself and then you'll understand" lesson. Since this experience won't be happening anytime soon and since I always seek more answers, I ask for them now.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Tom Waits

I don't remember exactly when I was first introduced to Tom Waits, but I've heard about him since high school. As far as actually hearing his material, that's still a new thing for me. Come to think of it, I probably know him better as an actor than a musician. I've seen Down By Law, Short Cuts and Coffee and Cigarettes but I've never sat down and listened to Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombones or Closing Time. I still can't wrap my head around his stark, jazzy and percussive musings with squirmy vocals. As sacrilegious as it sounds but some of the stuff I've heard is some of most cacophonic stuff I've ever heard. Because of hearing bits and pieces over the years, I always pegged him as doing only that kind of music. Well, this changed after I heard Bob cover Waits' beautiful, "Take It With Me."

"Take It With Me" is a tender piano ballad featured towards the end of Mule Variations. Bob transposed it to guitar and it was as striking as the original. I was amazed that the same guy that has made some of the most unlistenable stuff could also make some of the prettiest stuff too.

Following the night that I heard "Take It With Me," Nick and Aaron played for me "Tom Traubert's Blues" from Small Change and "Ol' 55" from Closing Time. I was even more blown away by what I heard. These were some of the most melodically lush songs I've ever heard in my life, right next to R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming" and Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah." I had to check more stuff out.

I don't know anything about Waits' story other than he's the guy that wrote "Downtown Train," put out a bunch of records on Asylum and Island and has acted in quite a few movies. I'm sure there's some biography out there that could help me out. There are a couple CD anthologies out there (including Used Songs) that I plan on at least trying out. Track suggestions? Feel free and leave a comment below.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Young Turks

As much as I groan at the sights and sounds of most young bands somewhere on the emo and hardcore radars, I actually do like a few of them. I dig Taking Back Sunday (especially Where You Want to Be), Atreyu, Thursday and Thrice to name a few. Then there are songs by bands that I enjoy but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan, like Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue” and the Used’s “The Taste of Ink.” Where I go from there usually induces eye rolling and the saying of phrases like, “Oh brother.”

Right now, lots of people are apparently really excited about Fall Out Boy. Their songs are on TRL and the radio and girls like to scream at the sight of them, especially bassist Pete Wentz. Fall Out Boy’s music is an amalgam of pop-punk, emo and hardcore-lite; in other words, this is right up the alley of people into bands like Taking Back Sunday. For me, when I hear their music, I can’t get into it. Simply put, I don’t get a strong reaction from their music or frontman Patrick Stump’s voice.

Hawthorne Heights is another band I can’t say I favor. Not only is the music (which is hardcore-lite to say the least) lacking but with puppy love scribbling like “I’m outside your window with my radio/I sleep with one eye open so I can see you breathing,” I can’t give this band a “hell yeah.” Whenever I hear a band like this, all I can think of is the late great band, Grade.

Grade was a band that utilized screaming and singing, emo melodies and lyrics all with convincing sincerity. They put out a few records on Second Nature Recordings and Victory to some varying degrees of praise. They were appreciated in their day and they still get some good props today, but there should be more. They should be credited with making a distinct sound in the bridge between emo melancholy and hardcore toughness.

When I first heard Thursday’s Full Collapse, all I could think of was Grade but with a different singer. Thursday was a little angrier and angst-filled and whaddaya know, they got popular with a younger generation of music fans. When I heard Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends, I thought this was an even more watered-down version of Grade but with more pop hooks. Something was going on.

Music is crucial in any stage of life, but I get a tad annoyed by how exploitative it gets with marketing as much as possible to a younger buying audience. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but if the masterplan is to stay away from releasing quality music (read: music that makes a strong impact upon first listen and continues for many years to come, regardless of culture change or age) to a younger audience so they can later feel ripped off and seek out the good stuff buried underneath, then they are well on course.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Beavis and Butthead

Today sees the release of a 3-DVD set of MTV's classic animated show, Beavis and Butthead. Ah, memories of middle school and high school filled with phrases like "Uh huh huh huh," "Yeah yeah!" and "Come to Butthead." Those were good times and I'm happy to see that this DVD set has (I believe for the first time on DVD) the segments where Beavis and Butthead watch music videos and critique them. This, in my opinion, was the best part of the show.

Sometimes they'd agree ("Yeah! This rules!" "Hell yes!"), sometimes they'd wince ("Oh no!" "Oh brother . . . ") and sometimes they'd really disagree ("Metallica sucks" "Shut up Butthead!") at a video's first sight, but almost always it was hilarious. The videos were usually holdovers from MTV's Sunday night speciality show, 120 Minutes, but sometimes they'd pull one out of the vaults (like Grim Reaper's "See You in Hell"). I was introduced to plenty of bands through this show and even one of them is featured in Post: Jawbox.

Yup, Jawbox's first major video, "Savory," was screened by Beavis and Butthead. The video's concept is that the band is playing a girl's birthday party and the girl receives some rather odd gifts (a gas mask, an axe and a dead dog). Sounds crazy? Well, most videos sound crazy on paper but it's all in the execution. From what I remember, Beavis was shocked and offended by the sight of the dead dog. You heard it right: Beavis, the same guy that offended so many people because of his pyro ways, was offended by this.

As the years pass, there seems to be a black hole in mainstream rock music between 1993-1997 (the same years that Beavis and Butthead was on). Major labels were squeezing grunge's nipples as hard as they could, pop-punk got really popular and nu-metal was just starting. I have to be honest: I remember these years very well. These were the years where I was finishing up middle school and going to high school. No matter how much someone can piss on a band like Silverchair or Candlebox, these were bands that kept me interested in rock music. For that, I'm grateful that Mike Judge is putting out this DVD set. I hope more sets come and more music videos are on them. It sure would be nice to see that "Savory" commentary again . . .

Monday, November 07, 2005

Fiddler's Green

Over the weekend, I watched two summer blockbusters that I skipped out on in the theaters for sake of eventual DVD rental: Batman Begins and Land of the Dead. While I still stick behind my reasons for not seeing them in the theater (annoying audience members, endless commercials and trailers, ticket cost being half the price of the movie on DVD, etc.), I'm glad I finally saw them in some form or another.

I had reservations about Batman Begins because in my mind, I had already seen a dark Batman movie: Tim Burton's Batman. Well, I realized after watching Batman Begins that you can go much darker than that. Without giving the movie away, Batman Begins focuses on the pathos and the drive of a young Bruce Wayne as he becomes Batman. This attention is more fleshed-out than anything I've ever seen or read on the character before. In the case of Land of the Dead, class and administration are put under the microscope as more zombies keep looking for human flesh. Yes, there is plenty of gruesome zombie munching in this, but this is probably the second best of Romero's "of the Dead" series (right behind Dawn of the Dead).

It occurred to me while watching these flicks how wayward they could have gone given to the wrong hands. The simple act of character development makes all the difference in the world. In the case of Batman Begins, I'm hard pressed to find a one-note character. Even the supporing roles are multi-faceted. One of best ones is Katie Holmes' character, Rachel Dawes. She could have been this lovestruck damsel in distress as her no-brainish ways get her into trouble. However, we see her as a strong, but likable friend of Bruce Wayne's since childhood who is now a district attorney trying to take down a crime warlord. Amazing how adding just a few extra layers draws more in.

With Land of the Dead, a premise of a zombie attack could have been perfect fodder for the splatter flick formula. One-note characters could have been slowly picked off because of one reason or another, but not if George Romero has anything to do with it. In his hands, the consequences of ignorance and greed happen mostly to the ones that revel in it. This isn't the kind of criticism that you usually get in a horror movie, but this isn't just a horror movie.

Big-budget mainstream flicks are often designed by smart businessmen thinking they can make something for a large, unsophisticated audience. Just like how the upper-crust residents of Fiddler's Green in Land of the Dead sit in their high-rise apartments, the sights of a movie becoming dulled down into emotionless drivel is ignoring the problem. If you want a large audience to keep coming back to something, you must make something that will draw people back to it after their first viewing. All kinds of research can give some ideas as to what might work and what might not work, but anything can happen.

As I've said before, the true success of anything is that it gets made and is released in some capacity. People too often confuse its business earnings with artistic success. It's funny how many of the most beloved movies of all time, like It's a Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane, weren't instant box office smashes. Don't tell me how the industry is different now and how trying to make something new is tough. Seeing Batman Begins and Land of the Dead proves that adding more layers and giving a truly fresh take on something does work. Simply putting a fresh-faced actor or actress and a hot director in the hands of a remake doesn't guarantee that this will work. It just doesn't make any sense to me that a Xeroxed remake of something that has stood the test of time will be a big draw. I know that a lot of people often go to the movies just to see something new (whether it's good or not). If something like Spider-man 2 and the Lord of the Rings movies pull something strong out of a large audience, then what makes people think that a film version of Dukes of Hazzard will do the same?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Punk: Attitude

I recently watched the acclaimed Don Letts documentary, Punk: Attitude, on DVD. It's a pretty right-on look at how punk rock came into being from the late '60s to present day. You get your standard spotlights on the Velvet Underground, Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, Ramones, Clash and others but Punk: Attitude actually gives a little more light as to what went on in the 1980s, something no other documentary on punk has. While that's great and all, there's this major gripe I have about most documentaries and books on punk - we always hear about how it started in the '60s and '70s, but rarely do we hear about what happened in the '80s and '90s. There are some great books about what happened in the '80s (like Our Band Could Be Your Life and Dance of Days) but there is barely any information about what happened in the '90s.

The story goes that author Michael Azerrad was watching the multi-part documentary, The History of Rock & Roll, on TV and was excited to see the part about punk rock since he was a fan. There was a lot of coverage of punk in the '60s and '70s but then it jumped ahead to Nirvana in 1991. Remembering what he experienced in the 1980s, he felt that he should put more light on the most crucial/influential bands and labels of the decade into a book. And that's what he did with Our Band Could Be Your Life.

Just like how labels like SST, Dischord, Twin/Tone, K, Touch & Go and others put out records by necessity in the '80s (because they didn't think anyone else would put them out), I believe the same applies to books on the continuing story of punk rock and all its offspring.

Whenever I go to a bookstore and look in the music section, I always see books on the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen and '70s punk but I'm hard-pressed to see anything covering what I went through in the early-'90s and up. Sure, there are books on R.E.M., Guided By Voices, Pavement, Nirvana and others but there is scant on punk rock post-1992. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places, but I long for other books about the punk rock ethos that I went through as a teenager and college student. So, I'm doing something about that with Post. I can't guarantee it's what everyone wants on post-hardcore/emo/whatever-you-call-it-core, but something is better than nothing.

Is there some gap in my generation with writing books on rock music? Sometimes I think that there hasn't been enough time to warrant this stuff into print. However, it's been 14 years since Nevermind came out and plenty has gone on since then. Seeing as how certain stories (especially post-hardcore/emo) get jumbled up and packaged in a neat bow, I get a little pissy.

I love hearing stories about how someone really got into music. The people who were forever changed by a band, a show or an album is always inspiring to hear. I think that there is plenty to tell from a generation that wasn't even born when the MC5, the Stooges, the Clash and the Ramones first hit. When will it be expressed? Only by the passing of time will we know . . .

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Degrassi Jr. High

For years, a certain conversation in Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy has always made me curious about Degrassi Jr. High:

Holden: So, uh, what do you wanna do tonight?
Banky Edwards: I dunno. Get a pizza, watch Degrassi Jr. High.
Holden: You got a weird thing for Canadian melodrama.
Banky Edwards: I got a weird thing for girls who say, "Aboot."

I never saw Degrassi on PBS while I was growing up. For me, PBS was Sesame Street, 3, 2, 1 Contact and stuffy programs about stuffy news and art. So when Jason picked up the first season of the show on DVD last night, I felt compelled to watch a few episodes.

I must say, after viewing only two episodes, I think this is good, quality stuff. It's funny, melodramatic and closer to what middle school was really like compared to something like Boy Meets World or Full House. It deals with issues like homosexuality, divorce and peer pressure on a level that isn't sappy or preachy. This definitely wasn't primetime sugary sweetness; this reminded me of my own middle school days.

High school was way better than middle school for me. The beginning of middle school saw me learning to understand music a little better, doing theater and hanging out with friends that I could file under a "best friend" category. By the end of middle school, I was still learning a great deal about music (Nirvana and all things grunge came in 7th grade), not doing theater and not hanging out with the same people that I once categorized as "best friends." After going through all that stuff (and other angsty stuff) in middle school, high school was a relatively easy ride.

6th, 7th and 8th grades are these very strange years for kids. We're not little kids anymore, we're growing hair in places that never had hair before, we're not thinking cooties are that bad, we're a little pissy at times and other things. These changes would be glimpses of what was to come in high school (for better or worse).

Watching what the characters in Degrassi Jr. High and Freaks and Geeks went through, I've come to the conclusion that I didn't have the warped middle school experience that I thought I had. I know that's not the kind of fodder that always yields gigantic ratings and big marketing tie-ins, but I truly give a hand to people that make something closer to real life and that is watchable over and over again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Most rock journalism . . ."

In the last few months, I've come across a certain quote from Frank Zappa in two separate spots - Kyle's clips page and Mat Callahan's The Trouble With Music. The quote goes like this: "Most rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read." I don't know when Zappa made this statement, but it doesn't matter that much to me because I find this claim still relevant today.

As a curious music fan, I'm constantly reading about bands or artists that I like or might like. When I was younger and hadn't done interviews myself, I ate up whatever I read about a band. It didn't matter how large or how small the article/interview was; I was all eyes and ears. Now that I'm older and have done a number of interviews myself, I'm a little pickier as to what I believe and don't believe in print. Facts can get exaggerated, large assumptions can be made and truth can be compacted all for the sake of space. Of course there is always room for more clarification but when stuff is just flat-out wrong, I throw a flag.

In doing interviews for Post, whenever I bring up something that was printed in an older article, I often learn way more to the story than what was printed. Maybe the person wasn't so willing to talk about certain stuff back in the day for one reason or another. With the writer's angle, I understand that writers often have deadlines, limited space and/or limited time to collect his/her thoughts and ideas onto the page. But time after time, I get dismayed by a certain view of writing about music: making bold or tacky statements in the now. Why? Because the now is always changing into another now.

For example, I'm talking about making obscure pop culture references ("Remember ______? Neither did we") or using jargon of the day ("____ is the new ____!"). This dooms the writing's shelf life, even if it's not meant to be taken seriously. Sure, a lot of things are said thinking that it's for immediate disposal, but when you print something on paper or on a website, chances are good that it's going to stick around for a while. Knowing this, I try to be careful and honest with how I express my thoughts and understand that I'm still going to regret certain things that I say. Christ, reading some of my blog posts from a year ago make me wince. It's not what I said, but how I said it. A part of me wishes I could erase those regrets, but I feel it's important to leave them up. Why? So I can understand where I've come from and know what I want to or don't want to do next.

One observation I've made with reading interviews over the years is the perceived distance between the artist and the interviewer. I don't believe there should be a distance, but there is. I'm guilty of asking all the traditional questions ("Where did you get your name?" and "What are musical influences?" are some of them) but if I didn't get those out of the way, how could I get to the real meat of the conversation? I want to understand whoever I'm interviewing as a relatable human, not as a demigod with immortal musical powers. I don't mean to take the piss out of a person; I just want to get past genre nicknames, cliches and black-and-white recaps.

If life isn't just short and sweet anecdotes, slogans and wrap-ups, then why do so many people read what they read as be-all, end-all sources of information? I understand that not everyone wants to know more than just a skimming of the surface, but how can we truly understand who these people are? Is the purpose of rock journalism to pump more air into an already small balloon? I don't think it's always the case because it's all in the writer's perspective. While I may want to know what makes an artist tick, others (but not everybody) may want to paint with very wide and broad strokes.

There is so much to gain by knowing more so maybe just a little article (with or without writing deficiencies) helps the gears of thought start up.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

October Leaves

Halloween was a great time this year - chilly, safe and relatively calm. Yes, we passed out a lot of candy (about nine bags worth in two hours) but we still have a few pounds of various Snickers, Reese's and Tootsie Rolls left. I'm sure all of these leftovers will surely be gone by the end of this month given our sweet teeth.

I'll admit it - I was a little choosy with how I distributed the candy. I held off on giving out my favorite kinds of Reese's away until I saw someone who had a costume that I really liked (Spider-Man, Scream Ghost, demon). I couldn't be so picky during the busier times but when the slow times came (and they frequently happened), I was extremely picky. Whatever - the kids got their candy and they were happy.

I saw plenty of unique ways to collect candy. From pillowcases to shopping bags to beanies to bare hands, I saw it all. I wondered how far a kid could go with only bare hands collecting (probably pretty far if he/she ate it between the houses) . . .

Some encouraging news came my way shortly before the trick-or-treaters came. I got a call from my old boss at my traffic reporting gig. He wants me to come back and work part-time for them on the weekends. Since I was planning on calling him this week to go back part-time anyway, I was once again beaten to the punch. I'm happy to come back with them and earn some income while I look for something full-time during the week. The way I see it, having some income is better than collecting a set amount of unemployment insurance for however long it takes me to find something more stable. I'm still very interested in finding a gig in the world of post-production, so I think it's good to have some flexibility with a relatively steady paycheck.

October has been a relatively calm month even with its relative upheaval. I'm glad the "vacation" is over with.