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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In a Future Age

Thanks to David at Largeheartedboy for pointing the way to this article by Michael Patrick Brady on Pop Matters. Brady's topic is a topic I can relate to: which artists/bands will the children of the '80s and '90s claim as all-time greats when they reach their 30s and 40s? It's a something to ponder, but not something to be fearful of.

Every once in a while, publications like NME and Rolling Stone run lists of the "greatest artists of all time." On these lists are plenty of artists that Baby Boomers loved that still hold up today, but there are even more that just elude generations after them. So, what's gonna happen when the boomers aren't the desired demographic for most advertisers? "When the boomers are no longer the economically and culturally dominant generation, they won't be running the magazines nor will they be buying them," Brady wrote in his article. "And the new list readers aren't going to spend their inheritances on magazines that tell them how great their grandfather's favorite band was; they're going to want to feel the warm, reassuring validation for themselves. The new list makers will want it as well, as they need to create that feeling for the new generation so they themselves don't look like out-of-touch old fogies."

That's a big gulp to think about, but I'm not overly worried. Here's why:

This sounds so basic, but as long as you record something, you are documenting it for the future. As the act of recording audio in some form or another progress, thankfully the older ways stick around. If we can hold onto tapes of bluesmen, country singers and big band orchestras from the early 1900s, we can hold onto more from the rest of the century. While the numbers in a large audience accepting the relevance of these artists is very up in the air, at least it's obtainable for anyone that's curious. It doesn't matter if it's culturally relevant for a large audience - it matters that it's there.

Now, about the acts that could be considered some of the greatest of all time for future generations. I think there will be a major shift, but not so major to the point where these lists will be completely different. For example, the Beatles will still be highly placed but Michael Jackson will probably be higher than he has been placed before. Bob Dylan will probably drop quite a few spots as Nirvana will jump much higher and so on.

But here's an important thing to address: do we really need these lists? Sure, they get people talking and may get them to check out records they had never checked out before, but are we ever fully unified in liking one act over another? Listening to music is such a solitary thing for me, so I make no bones about how farflung my tastes are. I'm not thinking of the social relevance of an artist/band when I'm driving alone in my car or walking with my iPod on. If I want to hear Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" followed by Tom Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues," I do so. I'm not sure my tastes warrant priority for advertisers, but I'm a single person, not a general archetype.

A cool thing I see is that a lot of older artists still ring true for younger generations. Teenagers still find favor with an act like Led Zeppelin as they also groove to whatever what's modern and cool. Somehow certain artists hold up regardless of shifting popular culture. Having their material documented on tape, CD or MP3 keeps them alive for future generations to hear.

My point is, don't be surprised to see Madonna be as highly regarded as the Beatles someday. Don't be surprised to see Radiohead be as highly regarded as Led Zeppelin someday. While that may make older people feel even older, take heart in the fact that there is so much music out there to enjoy in the coming years. If one is that curious in music, it doesn't take much looking to find a new fix, whether it's with a modern act or an act from previous generation. What's popular is always going to shift but it's interesting to see what sticks around after the years. This is not something to panic about with its social relevance - it's all about a person's own interests.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Where's the best buy?

Seeing Frank's discussion today on Best Buy's sales tactics that lure people away from buying records at indie stores reminds of me of my own personal experience on the matter. As someone who worked for Best Buy off and on for three years and has friends that own a small indie store in Carrollton, I thought I'd chime in on the discussion.

In the early '90s, the options I had with buying CDs were incredibly limited. I was living in Kingwood, a suburb 30 miles north of Houston, and the closest record stores were Sound Warehouse, Camelot and Sam Goody in the mall, and a tiny indie store called Sound Disc. I forget how much CDs were at these places, but I believe they were usually $15. In these pre-Internet days, this was variety.

Sometime at the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, I heard about this place called Best Buy that sold CDs at cheap prices. This sounded very tempting and I ventured out to see this place. Turns out, Best Buy was super advanced compared to any other big record store I'd ever been to. Plus, the CDs were indeed very cheap as the average CD cost between $9.99-$11.99.

Since the closest Best Buy was about 25 minutes away from where I lived, I only went a few scattered times and settled for Sound Warehouse almost all the other times. Well, I was in for a break in '94 when a Best Buy opened up down the street from where Sound Warehouse used to be. Best Buy still kept up their allure with having cheap CDs while all the other music retailers were asking for $13.99-$17.99 a CD.

While the Camelot and Sam Goody stuck around in the mall, Sound Warehouse slowly petered out and became Blockbuster Music once it was bought out by Blockbuster Video. The only thing going for Blockbuster Music was that you could listen to any CD in the store to see if you liked it or not. Since their prices were still much higher than Best Buy's, my friends and I would often go down the highway and pick up the CD for less at Best Buy.

As I was finishing up high school and planning to attend community college in the late-'90s, I decided I wanted to get a job at Best Buy. I knew their music selection very well and I also knew the VHS and video game selection pretty well. I was hired and I was so thrilled to get a job in their media department. The job was easy and fun: stock CDs, videos, video games and software and help customers. However, I would come to realize that there are really big downsides to working in retail.

It's very well-known that retail places are overloaded around the holidays. In my time at Best Buy, I worked two Black Fridays and two Day After Christmases. I had never seen chaos like this before and I hope to never be a part of such ever again. Feeling outnumbered like the humans in Dawn of the Dead, people were everywhere looking for all sorts of items that you didn't have in stock. They wanted answers and usually your answers weren't good enough for them. The carnage didn't end until the doors closed for the night.

During the non-holidays, day-to-day life on the job wasn't too bad. Of course my feet were dead at the end of the day, but I felt I was learning a lot of good things by working in retail. I understood firsthand what customer service was like and how to deal with it. Plus, I got a very nice employee discount on any item in the store. I made some good money during my time at Best Buy but towards the end of my time there, I was rather annoyed by sales tactics that were lurking into the one area that didn't need them: media.

Every single day and night, all departments met up and discussed either the day ahead of us or the day past us. Usually, numbers were run down and there was always a determination to sell more than just one item per customer. There was no commission, but there was definitely intent to add to the bottom line with the selling of service plans and accessories. Media was not pressured to sell extra things but by the end of my time there, there was heavy pressure by the supervisors and managers to do so.

I resisted this kind of pressure. Why? Other than video game systems (where extras like batteries, joysticks and service plans were very helpful), trying to sell accessories was a waste of time. Seeing someone buying a CD and suggesting he/she buy a CD wallet or tower was often met with the response of "I already have one." I didn't like bugging people in this regard. I didn't like the thought of pressuring someone to lay down more hard-earned cash just to affect our bottom line. I never thought it was fair for the customer and I hated the kinds of tactics that our managers suggested we take in doing so. I always felt my role was to be there and help anyone that wanted help; not treat people the same way you would treat a person buying a computer.

Thankfully, I never got into trouble for avoiding this stuff. I did what I always did: stock product, answer the phone and help anybody the best that I could.

The reason why I bring all this backstory up is this: I don't blame people for bypassing an indie record store to get a $7.99 CD at Best Buy. However, not all CDs at Best Buy are $7.99. Most are $11.99-$15.99 and they have been for a long time. The $7.99 CD is a hook to bring you in and it's definitely obvious now with their floorplans that CDs are not a priority for them. After wading through rows upon rows of DVDs and video games, you can find CDs in the back. The overall selection has become smaller, but they still carry a wider variety of artists (indie and major).

I still shop at Best Buy for their prices on new CDs and DVDs. They often have the best deals in town for an item's opening week. I won't lie; it's cool to get a CD on sale and save a few bucks. However, Best Buy and other retailers like them don't offer the kind of atmosphere that a used/indie store does. They never have and they never will.

Every few weeks, I drop by one or two of the handful of used/indie record stores in town. I love searching for stuff at half price. Plus, the people working there are usually cool. Most of the time they're people who feel music has a deeper meaning than just added numbers on a bottom line. They don't try to compete with the kinds of offers that Best Buy advertises. They have the strength of selection, cheaper all-around prices and a relaxed vibe to them.

Best Buy may have made it to the top of the hill with being the "best" in town, but don't count out indie stores just yet. Buying music on CD is still popular even though the overall sales keep going down. I always go where the best deal is and it doesn't always mean that "best" is in the name of the store.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Family-friendly"

It has come to my attention that a certain TV channel positions itself as a "family" channel while it often shows theatrical PG-13 movies in its regular line-up. Now I'm not saying this as a moral crusader for "family values," but did I miss a shift in what's considered "family-friendly" and what's not?

When I last checked, G meant the film was OK for all ages to see, PG was OK for children under 13 and PG-13 was OK for children 13-years-old and up. Sure, age is not the 100% connection to maturity level, but it's a decent ballpark estimate for growing children. So what does it mean when something that could be construed as "family-friendly" for families with young (read: 13 and under) children has content that isn't really appropriate for them?

I remember when my mother had some concern about my older sister seeing a movie rated PG-13 called Ferris Bueller's Day Off. My mom wasn't throwing a big stink about it; it was just a concern. Sure, some things in the movie weren't appropriate for an 11-year-old (like profanity), but these things are a part of life. My mother wasn't trying to prevent my sister from being exposed to the curse words said in the movie; she just wanted to make sure my sister knew what's appropriate and what's not in most social settings.

So it's strange to me when I see PG-13 movies be considered family-friendly these days. Did I miss this shift just as how I missed the shift in drink cup sizes and pizza sizes? Somehow Small became Medium, Medium became Large and Large became Extra Large and somehow PG-13 movies became equal with PG. Maybe the target audience for this channel is families with teenagers, but the term "family" is incredibly vague. Just like a lot of things in life, a label is subject to many different interpretations.

What baffles me is when I see parents go incredibly out of their way to prevent their children from being exposed to things like sex, violence, drugs and curse words. While I don't think parents should be hands-off with what their kids are watching/reading/hearing, parents have got to understand that their kids are gonna find about the "dirty" things in life whether they like it or not. We don't live in sanitized bubbles, so why do some harbor the delusion that we do?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Chronology is King

I really like "greatest hits," singles collections and other sorts of compilations on CD. However, I'm not too hot on placing the songs on them out of chronological order. Here's the story:

Tom Waits' Used Songs collects 16 choice cuts from his career between 1973 and 1980. Waits started out with some rather safe singer-songwriter material, like "Ol' '55" and "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night." Then he started moving towards the material that he is more known for: from powerful ballads to avant garde-jazzy-blues. Hearing this period be jumbled up on CD is a tad frustrating for me. Why? I like to hear the progression of an artist, album by album, not just a random mixture of songs.

In the case of Waits, hearing his voice on a song like "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night" (which sounds more like a Bruce Springsteen knock-off) be followed by "Muriel" (which showcases Waits' trademark croak) doesn't flow that well to me. Both songs are amazing, but the jump in styles isn't. Maybe the goal with Used Songs was to go with the best flow of songs (the soft/quiet to the loud/wild and everything in between) regardless of when they were released. Hmph.

Luckily, with iTunes and my CD burner, I simply rearrange the songs to how I see fit and go from there. While that's easier for me and my usage, I wonder why so many compilation CDs jumble up songs by a single artist.

As a lot of artists/bands progress with making albums, you hear some very big differences in sound production. The production often gets glossier over time, thus making the initial albums sound young and rather archaic by comparison. For example, would it really make sense for a Cher compilation to have the orchestral-pop of "I Got You Babe" be followed by the dancefloor techno of "Believe"? Not to me.

I guess I'm more of an anthology kind of listener. If I like an artist very much, I want to hear the progression more than the equivalent of pressing the 'random' button. I like to hear how an artist developed and understand how maturity doesn't happen overnight. I like hearing the slow process even if it renders dodgy results. I think that's worth hearing.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Diseases of the Tongue

After a year and a half of not playing shows, our band played at the Cavern last night. The night went by very quickly and I'm still trying to collect my thoughts. To be honest, I felt we had a great set with no major slip-ups. Sure, there were some bum notes, forgotten lyrics and dropped beats, but the point was we came out strong and played well. This kind of satisfaction in a show like this has been a long time coming.

When I was very young, I thought it was cool to be up on a stage playing for adoring fans. When I actually started playing instruments like the drums and guitar, I realized that I enjoyed playing more than anything else that came with it. Sure, it's nice to play to a large and responsive crowd, but I've always chosen to focus on the people up on stage with me and how we play off each other. I've played to two people and I've played to 200 people and it's always been about the chemistry between me and my bandmates.

What's so strange about practicing for shows and playing them is that no matter how much you practice, it's never going to be the same as playing in front of people. In the case of Ashburne Glen, we practice at a moderately quiet volume level. When we play live, we play much louder and are way more intense. Weird things happen, like extended outros and a third verse with no vocals, even after you practice hard to get the songs down. It's what you do with the weird things that test your confidence and your improvisational skills.

I've played in bands before where it felt like there was a desire by other band members to get noticed (either by friends or A&R reps). That has never been a goal of mine and it wasn't a goal last night. Sure, we played to a lot of friends and a lot of people we didn't know, but the point was that we played well together. Whatever notice we receive afterwards is a nice extra pat on the back. I won't lie; it was really cool of Mark Reznicek (formerly of the Toadies) to come up to me, shake my hand and tell me I played well. I was pretty flattered by that.

Even though I had a very early morning wake-up call this morning (3:30) and a concern that I wouldn't wake up on time, I was glad I stuck with playing and focused on the fun factor of playing a show, regardless of time slot. While I was playing, I wasn't thinking of the infinite possibilities of what could go wrong nor whatever woes have been really challenging my patience as of late. That's the freeing thing about playing music; time doesn't really exist in its traditional form. Holding together a shared bond is special and means more than how we were paid, who forgot what or whoever had to leave as soon as the set was over.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

First Book Update of 2006

It's been a while since I've chimed in on the status of Post, so here's the latest:

-I've begun working on the Hot Water Music chapter. Like all the other chapters so far, each one started out from a loose outline of facts, paragraphs and quotes. At this stage, the chapter is too rough to tell how it's going to end up, but just like the other bands/labels I'm featuring, I want to pay tribute to them the best way that I can.

-The Jimmy Eat World chapter is currently stalled. I have all the info that I want to finish the chapter, but I keep getting sidetracked. I think a part of this is trying to explain how a younger generation latched onto a commercialized version of emo/post-hardcore and geek chic. I could be all bitter about the subject, but putting too much anger into writing distracts the overall message. Deep down, I do feel there are positive aspects to this kind of mainstream embrace, but also feel there are major downsides to it. There is no white without black.

-Since October of last year, my work schedule has fluctuated on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis. Trying to sit down and set time aside for writing and researching is a little tougher now, but this really tests how much I'm willing to put into this. Of course I want it done as soon as possible, but at this point, I can't guarantee a set release date.

Another book update is forthcoming; maybe as soon as next week. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Expectations

For the longest time, I could never really understand criticism. I always thought the one dishing it out considered him/herself free of mistakes (aka, perfect). Well, knowing what I know and going through what I've gone through, I've realized that no human is free of mistakes. As a matter of fact, I have a phrase that I like to say:

Shit happens and those that don't believe it happens are full of shit.

I don't mean to be tacky or profane, but come on, why do people put others through the ringer thinking they are fully realized and free of fault? Maybe deep down these people do know that, but they put on a mask to hide this. I think we can be spared of a lot of grief if people were a little more honest with themselves.

I've been fussed at for years by all kinds of people. Shame, regret and guilt were some of the usual feelings I felt whenever this would happen. Fearing I would never be forgiven for my "careless" mistakes, I would close off more and more of myself to others.

Well, it only was until recently that I realized that I should not carry this kind of weight. To be honest, there is a big sense of relief with understanding this. My knees don't feel so close to the ground now.

I don't pretend to be free of fault and I don't aspire to be. I choose to strive for something I heard in a movie recently: "It's about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn't let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could."

Now, when I hear or see a person fussing/overly-criticizing another person, I imagine other possible factors with the person that is dishing it out. This person isn't just yelling at the other person; this person is yelling at the parent that didn't give him/her enough attention, the spouse that won't listen, the child that just doesn't understand things the way he/she does and so on.

Realizing all of this, I came to the grand understanding of something very freeing: it's not my fault. Even if it is my fault, I shouldn't beat myself up over it. This is a basic concept of life, but coming to the understanding of it isn't as simple as one would think.

Criticism is a natural tendency. It's an activity that we all do but do we ever stop and think about what we're saying? Of course we want others to be honest and we want to be honest with others, but how much do we want? I doubt anyone truly enjoys rude/misinformed comments, but we can't stop them from coming our way or them coming out of us. I don't think we're bullet-proof, but we shouldn't feel like we're target practice.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Numbers Twist

Last Friday night was spent watching Bram Stoker's Dracula, but Saturday night was a much better experience. I saw The Numbers Twist play with El Gato and [daryl] at the Doublewide.

The Numbers Twist consists of three members of Red Animal War (Justin, Matt and Brian) with two drummers (Todd from Doosu/Flickerstick and Tony from Tendril). As a longtime fan of Red Animal War, I was very impressed.

I'm starting to see two drummers in groups of all sorts of styles: from The Go! Team to . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead to the Happy Bullets (almost always when they play a show with The Tah-Dahs). Sometimes having two drummers at once sounds like a sloppy mess, but in the case of The Numbers Twist, they made for a powerful force that was felt. Rather than playing the exact same things together, Todd and Tony gave each other space. If one was hitting the hi-hat, the other was hitting something else (from a rim to ride cymbal). They didn't step over each others parts; they made them fit together nicely.

Other than the dual drumming, this is not too far removed from what Red Animal War had been doing for a while. This is more tight, angular, poppy post-hardcore without any wimpy emo shenanigans. I don't care if "the kids" like this or not; this stuff speaks to me now and will probably speak to me in years to come, just like Red Animal War's stuff.

The show was packed by the time [daryl] stage and it made me think. Sure, other major Deep Ellum venues are shutting down for various reasons, but in the case of the Doublewide, I hope it sticks around. It's a nice, intimate venue that can hold plenty of people between its two rooms and patio. I don't go to DE that much anymore for various reasons (no major shows that I really want to see, parking is a hassle, homeless people pestering patrons for money, etc.), but when there's something too good to pass up, I had to go. I'm glad I did.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Until last Friday, I hadn't seen a really bad movie in years. Before, The Beach and the original When a Stranger Calls were probably the worst movies I'd ever seen. Now I can add Bram Stoker's Dracula to that list.

I remember the trailers for the movie when it came out in 1992. The movie looked cool, but I wasn't completely drawn to see it. I had read part of the book but never finished it. Fast forward to a few weeks ago: I'm reading Innocent When You Dream, the Tom Waits reader that came out last year, and I see that the great Mr. Waits had a role in this flick. I felt compelled to see another flick with Mr. Waits as I had recently seen Short Cuts and saw Down By Law a little more than a year ago. He was good in both flicks so I felt inclined to see if he was good in Bram Stoker's Dracula too. Well, he's probably the only thing worth watching in this train wreck of a movie.

Waits plays Renfield, a once sane man now locked up in an insane asylum because of his connection to Dracula. Waits shows depth for a character that is essentially a one-note character. If you've never seen this flick, be aware that all of the characters are one-note characters. That spells trouble: Anthony Hopkins plays the smart-ass/mysterious Dr. Van Helsing, Keanu Reeves plays the stiff Jonathan Harker, Winona Ryder plays the damsel in distress Mina and Gary Oldman plays Count Dracula in all his different permutations. Any kind of believable tension between them is not there. They're just there with very little connection between them other than Dracula being at the epicenter.

Adding to the trouble equation is the far-flung/haphazard plot. Essentially Dracula longs for his wife who committed suicide several thousand years ago. When he believes that Mina is his long lost bride reincarnated, he goes after her. Somehow along the way Dracula infects Mina's friend Lucy and she becomes a baddie. Nice little diversion from the main plot, but ultimately it leads to a showdown between the mortal men (and woman) and Dracula. Guess who wins? Guess who doesn't really give a flip what happens by the end of this?

Bram Stoker's Dracula has "turkey" written all over it. It's slow, boring, long and very anti-climactic. I'm glad I saw it for Tom Waits, but I didn't find much else to savor. I didn't expect the movie to be bad at all. What could have been a non-b-movie adaptation of the classic Dracula tale just became a b-movie with major stars in it. Ugh.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tattoo You

I've never really felt compelled to get a tattoo. I don't believe there is one design, phrase, name or graphic that I would like to have on my body for the rest of my life. I like looking at tattoos, but they aren't for my body.

Besides the permanent factor, another major factor that shields me away from getting one is the pain that one endures during the procedure. No matter where it's done on the body and no matter how small it is, it hurts. I would rather suffer through such pain from surgery, but surgery is done to help something heal, not to decorate. In the last few months, I've seen tats over a place on the body that makes think of even more pain than one placed on a traditional spot: the throat.

The first guy I saw with a throat tat was Jacob Bannon, vocalist for Converge (pic here). Nevermind all the tats he has below his neck (he has plenty), but just one above it makes me squirm. It's hard for me to look him in the eyes with this. Now I'm not saying that people are copying him, but now I see guys like Travis Barker from blink-182, Mike Herrera from MxPx and Dan Weyandt from Zao with ones on their throats. No matter how many times I see these, I keep saying this: "Owwww!"

Why do tattoos on the neck in the throat area make me do this? That part of the neck is super sensitive and getting permanent ink on it just pains me to think of it. I'm a softy when it comes to these kinds of things. Am I alone in this kind of squirming? I don't think so. It's like seeing a broken bone in a cast for me. My imagination of pain goes wild.

Tattoos are still frowned upon by mainstream society. I'm not somebody that hopes for the day when they will be mainstream. Forget how beautiful they can be, they are still seen as tacky by others. If you're willing to stand up for yourself to that level, I think that's brave. It's one thing to stand up for yourself mentally but to do that a visual level too, that says quite a bit about the person (whether you see it as foolish, dumb or brave). Using the body as a canvas is cool, but it's not for everyone.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Help the Aged

Reading through the most recent issue of Alternative Press, I came across a quote in a review that really struck me:

Fire, Blood, Water's tracks burst with the kind of fuzzbombs and jangly riffs found on your parents' old Replacements and R.E.M. records, but feel as fresh and innovative as the latest iPod jam.
Your parents' old Replacements and R.E.M. records? I couldn't believe it at first, but then it sunk in: those who grooved to Let It Be and Murmur when they first came out are old enough to have teenagers. I'm curious what kinds of conversations parents like these have with their kids about music. But, there is a stumbling block that often rears its head.

For some reason, a lot of children resist a lot of things that their parents were into when they were their age. What is newer/closer in age to younger people is often more appealing than something older. This definitely applies to music. There are exceptions (like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Who, etc. in the case of music), but a lot of older stuff is often seen as past its relevance point by a younger generation because it's, well, "old."

In my eyes, it's pretty amazing to go back through your parents' record collection and give certain stuff another listen. In my case, I've never sunk my teeth into the big band music that my father likes, but I've always liked other stuff my parents played for me when I was younger. Growing up, I identified with the Top 40 music of the '80s a little more, but I didn't dismiss older music because it was older. I still fancy those Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Diamond and John Denver hits, among other stuff. In those cases, those songs get better with age and they are often introductions to the original albums they came from.

There are definitely differences between the musical generations, but the approaches haven't really changed. There are people that have to play/listen/write music and/or there are people that want to become famous because of music. There's always a sense of rebellion in some form or another; it's a part of human nature. It's important to understand that it's always going to be there. In other words, those that sang along and identified with the Replacements' "Kids Don't Follow" back in '82 can still identify with it now. Maybe their kids can identify with it too.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The first record

I often hear this question asked between music fans: what was your first album? For me, I can't give a straight answer because there are various categories (and formats) involved. Here are some of them:

a.) Vinyl album that was given to me
Early on (as in, five or six years old), I had a couple of Alvin & the Chipmunks records where they covered such classics as "Leader of the Pack" and "Jessie's Girl." At the same time, I had a record from Showbiz Pizza (a place very similar to Chuck E. Cheese) featuring music that the house animatronic band played.

b.) Vinyl album that I bought for myself
Pet Shop Boys, Actually. Hearing "It's a Sin" and "What Have I Done to Deserve This" on the radio and on MTV really grabbed me to get this. This is the only 12" vinyl I've ever bought.

c.) Cassette tape that was given to me
Starship, No Protection. I got this when I was in 3rd grade because our teacher allowed us to play one tape from home. Since I didn't have a proper tape of my own, I convinced my father that I needed one and chose this. I still love the singles off this record like "It's Not Over ('Til it's Over)" and "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now."

d.) Compact disc that was given to me
After my father got a CD player and speakers in the mid-80s (which still work and are in great condition in my parents' den), my parents decided to buy some CDs. Along with greatest hits collections from Simon & Garfunkel, John Denver and various big band music, my parents bought us kids Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's Born in the U.S.A. I don't think I was a fan of Bruce before I got this (I don't think I had ever heard his stuff), but I was a fan after the first listen. The title track still gives me chills.

e.) First compact discs that I bought for myself
U2's War and R.E.M.'s Document. With getting a portable CD player for Christmas, I needed to get some CDs to play. After much debate about what to buy with a Sound Warehouse gift certificate, I went with these two.

What's interesting is that of all the "firsts" of listening to music, the biggest impact I had was from a record I didn't own until a few years ago: Michael Jackson's Thriller. Here's the story: Back in '84 or '85, while my sister and I were over at a neighborhood friend's house in New Orleans, I saw that she had a copy of Thriller and asked to hear it. For some reason I was really excited about having the ability to control how many times I could listen to a single track. I think I asked to hear "Billie Jean" three or four times in a row. My mind was blown.

It's strange how we look back at our first gateways into music with a sense of embarrassment. Of course I don't listen to those Alvin & the Chipmunks records anymore for several reasons (I have no idea where they are, plus I'm a stickler for original versions, not cover versions), but they were just right for my age. We would like to think that we were born with a great taste in music, but we often aren't. I wouldn't have understood Minor Threat's Out of Step when it first came out (I was two) nor would I have understood Echo & the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain when it first came out (I was five).

As much as I moan about certain bands/artists that are out there now that are only for younger people, I have to remind myself of where I came from. If you can get a person involved with music at a young age with something easily chewable, chances are greater that you can inadvertently condition that same person to seek out the not-so-chewable. The major record companies know that when you're young, you don't know/don't want to think about a lot of "real world" issues, so they peddle the light and fluffy.

Somehow people of all types come around in some form or another to the cynical "real world." Just like that line in Almost Famous where Lester Bangs tells William Miller where he'll meet his fellow classmates someday ("You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle"), I get the feeling I'll be talking "shop" with former Hawthorne Heights and Fall Out Boy fans someday in the near future. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Jingle jangles

For quite a while, I thought having one's music in commercials seemed like a good thing. A VW commercial introduced me to a Nick Drake song. An AT&T commercial gave Kings of Convenience a second chance for me (I originally blew them off as a Belle & Sebastian knock-off). After reading an interview with Tom Waits in The Onion AV Club from 2002, I wonder about the real pros of having your music be used in commercials.

Here's a snippet that really clicks with me:
O: I still can't hear "Good Vibrations" without thinking of Sunkist.
TW: Oh, wow, yeah. That's exactly what they want. They want to plug your head into that and change the circuitry. While you're dreaming about your connection with that song, why don't you think about soda or candy or something? It's too bad, but it's the way of the world. They love to get their meat-hooks in you.


Mr. Waits has a great point. Combine a song (popular or not) with a commercial and chances are good you're going to remember the product and the song. Yes, I know "advertising works" but when a song not originally intended to used for an advertisement is used in one, which is more memorable in the long-run?

I say the song is the one that stands out longer only if it's not attached to the commercial forever. State Farm will probably always be remembered for their "And like a good neighbor/State Farm is there" jingle but that's their own jingle. In the case of Circuit City currently using the Cars' "Just What I Needed," I think of the flashy commercials with laptops and flat-screen TVs more than the band's album covers or video for the song. No matter how much I like the song, I'm still not going into Circuit City (when you have Best Buy and Frys in town, why bother?).

Then there are songs that were once used in commercials that aren't anymore. Given the amount of time and the people not exposed to the commercial, chances are good that there won't be a connection to a commercial. Case in point: I believe Carly Simon's "Anticipation" was used in a Heinz 57 ketchup ad in the '80s. Since I vaguely remember the commercial (a pre-Friends Matt LeBlanc tilted a bottle on the roof of a building and bought a hotdog just as the ketchup flew down), I vaguely remember the usage of the song. These days, I remember the song more for its opening line ("We can never know about the days to come/but we think about them anyway") more than anything else.

In the case of Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" being used in a VW commercial, I don't think of VWs when I drive around to his music. Reminded of the moon shot in the commercial, I tend to look up to the night sky when I have the song on in my Toyota. I'm not thinking about how I should own a VW, but it keeps their name in my mind.

Advertising is a really sneaky medium. Ads get into your brain whether you like the product or not. While I'm not one to become a zombie and think that because of Circuit City using a Cars song I must buy my next TV from them, this kinda spoils the enjoyment/privacy of listening to music. Sure, using songs in commercials may be a good thing for an unknown artist getting its name out, but most artists don't set out to be jinglemakers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Either/Or . . . Or?

From time to time, Jason and I find ourselves saying this quote about bands/artists: "You either love 'em or you hate 'em." The deal is, when I think about it, I often find myself liking a band or artist, but not really loving them nor hating them. Some aspects I love more than others, but more often than not, it's a general enjoyment.

A great case in point: Morrissey. I enjoy his stuff with the Smiths but I often find myself listening to his solo material more. I've always enjoyed his voice and his lyrics, but I don't worship him. There are people that I know that can't stand the man (whether it's his singing voice, his lyrics, his image or what he says in interviews), but then I know people that adore him. There is a thought that there is no middle ground, but there is, whether we acknowledge it or not.

You can make the same assessment about Tom Waits. Back before I knew he wrote gorgeous ballads, I had a pretty firm repulsion with his junkyard/swamp operas. Now that I know more of his material, I can say I like certain aspects of his body of work, but not all of them. He's definitely not for everybody but it's not an either/or situation for me.

The only artist that I could say I cannot get into is Bjork. After years of hearing bits and pieces of her stuff, the same things that draw people to her (especially her voice) are the same things that drive me away from her. Off the top of my head, I would say this is probably the only case where it's an either/or relationship.

It amazes me how we can be so turned off by an artist or a band initially and later have a major reversal of opinion. Then there are artists that we love the instant we first hear them and never change our opinions. For me, one of the latter biggies is Ben Folds Five. They struck me from the first time I heard "The Battle of Who Could Care Less" on 120 Minutes and continue to mean something to me. While I don't listen to their records as often as I used to, I still come back to them.

So my question is this: are there really a number of artists that you either love 'em or you don't? There is plenty of gray area and chances are there is a very slim number for the latter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Live documentation

Bloc Party releases their first DVD, God Bless Bloc Party, today in stores. As much as I am a fan of this band, I'm holding off on picking this up for the moment. Why? Live releases (whether they're on CD or DVD or both) are getting out of hand these days.

The way things used to be was that a concert on vinyl, CD or video showcased an artist's material over the span of a few albums. You could hear and see the development of the artist with the variety of songs that are played. The concerts were long, thus giving more bang for the buck. Now, more and more young bands are putting out DVDs after only one record. The result: there is a dearth of material to choose from. Essentially, it's the first album played live without much variation from what is already on tape. A cover, a b-side and/or a new song often fill out the setlist, but the bulk is from the first album. I don't know about you, but I think this is a rip-off.

It seems like the sights of a long career in music are dimmer these days. Maybe these young bands know they won't last long so their labels try and pump as much gas out of them as they can. Is the thought of longevity a bad thing?

I was listening to Wilco's 2-CD live record, Kicking Television, yesterday. This is an effective live collection as it's two CDs filled with a variety of material and zero filler. With five proper albums, two volumes of a collaboration with Billy Bragg and a whole score of b-sides, Wilco had enough to pick and choose to make for a really cohesive document. There's sunny stuff from Summerteeth and the Mermaid Avenue collections while there are a number of tracks from their darker, more ornate albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. Live, the arrangements of songs differ in quite a few ways from the original album versions, thus showcasing good alternate versions for your listening pleasure.

Wilco's got the right idea here, as do a number of time-tested artists. For a band like Bloc Party, they're just getting started. Having a live document from their first album is cool, but is it really going to offer more of the experience of hearing Silent Alarm from start to finish? I doubt it, but for a band like Bloc Party, it's good to have a well-done concert film for the long run. Who knows what the band will do next, but they can always have this as a document.

In the case of Franz Ferdinand, a band that has two albums out, they released a 2-disc DVD set late last year. The filming took place as they were working on material that surfaced on their second album, so this DVD features almost the entire first album over and over again. As much as I like their stuff, the thought of having four live versions of "Take Me Out" is too much to handle. Combine this DVD along with the album's initial release and the reissue with a bonus EP of b-sides and chances are good that you have a fan that has spent a large amount of money on the same songs over and over again.

There are a number of defunct bands that this newer model of live concert DVDs would have been perfect for. Case in point, Joy Division. All that I know that is somewhat available is the VHS collection, We Are the Young Men. With live footage looking like it was filmed as a bootleg along with promotional videos, there is a lack of good-sounding, well-shot footage on this tape. This really sucks as JD was such an incredible band and they continue to inspire those who listen.

Maybe the record companies are trying to preserve a band's progress inch by inch. The technology is available and affordable, so why not use it? It may be good for Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, but in the case of all these young pop-punk and emo bands, I wonder what is being preserved for the long-run. Maybe it's youth, maybe it's naivety, but definitely not variety or a body of work.

Monday, January 16, 2006

MP3 blog gripes

I've stated on this blog before about how much I enjoy MP3 blogs. They're the real deal; the people writing about bands/records want to write about them and share them with others. I still enjoy reading these sites, but I have some reservations with what I often see.

Here's some background info: I was involved with my college radio station for about four years. Lots of incredible, great, OK, bad and terrible records passed through the station the whole time I was there. I was introduced to a number of bands that I still think highly of today (ie, Idlewild, Hot Water Music, Ryan Adams, Weakerthans, Hey Mercedes, Doves and others) and a ton of terrible bands/records that I have forgotten about. It was a true hunt for the good stuff and I was often rewarded. The problem with that hunt was trying to stay on top of things. Once some record was en vogue with a certain crowd, there was a desire to find something else to praise.

So much time was spent listening to records that it was hard to give a lot of records special attention. Every week I had a stack of records that I picked out and gave them a few spins. When I was modern rock director for a semester, I was always searching for songs that had a certain formula (ie, decent to smooth production with good hooks, especially in the chorus) and if I wasn't immediately taken with it, I moved on. This kind of thinking led me to pass up on great records like Idlewild's 100 Broken Windows, Jets to Brazil's Four Cornered Night and Red House Painters' Retrospective. Luckily, certain records somehow find a way of getting back into your life.

Away from the college radio life, I choose to listen to the stuff that I want to at my own pace. Currently, I'm really digging The Life Pursuit by Belle & Sebastian, Used Songs by Tom Waits and Silent Alarm by Bloc Party, among others. I'm not looking for hits or songs to play for my friends; I'm just enjoying what I hear at the pace that I choose.

Reading multiple MP3 blogs everyday, I quickly lose track of what is worth checking out. There is almost always a new artist/band/record featured everyday on the blogs that I read, but I have a hard time deciding which ones I should give some time out for. Since writing about music is a lot like writing about food (one can talk about the ingredients and the feeling one gets from the whole thing, but ultimately it's a feeling that is hard to explain in words), certain recommendations can sometimes mean way different things to different people.

A big stink I have with MP3s in general is the varying degree of sound quality. If the bitrate is anything below 192, I usually stop listening to it. I can't stand the sound of fluttering and distorting that come with bitrates like 128 or 160. It's almost just like hearing a poorly dubbed song on a worn-out cassette. Certain parts get washed out and they can leave a wrong impression with people. I don't fault bloggers who post MP3s that are below 192 (there are probably bandwidth issues as to why), but I get very distracted with hearing something that is less than CD-quality sound.

Then there is the course of recommendation. I love how bloggers like Eric, Jeff and Frank explain in depth why they like a certain track, record or band. This is like having a knowledgeable friend give you exact reasons why you may or may not like something. This is always very helpful. With some people I know and some MP3 blogs I've seen, the buck stops at "You need to listen to this song" with no explanation other than the person likes it. Sorry, unless I was interested before the recommendation, that's not enough for me to take the time out to listen. That's my hard-headed nature at work; I don't want to waste time on stuff I don't like.

Maybe this is all because of my fear of wasting time and hard drive space. Maybe I should relax. Nobody is putting a gun to my head and saying, "Listen to this!" However, if it's listening to something that is of poor sound quality and has very little in the "reasons why I should listen" department, I pass up the opportunity.

I should stress that I'm not trying to piss all over people's passion over exposing new music. Seeing new artists/records be praised everyday is more proof to me that there is never a time when there is a dearth of good music out there. However, the means of getting from one person's ears to another has some kinks that should be ironed out.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

"Worst Year Ever"

Rolling Stone has its year-end wrap-up in their latest issue. The title and subheading say it all: Music Biz Laments "Worst Year Ever" - Labels' woes continue as album sales drop seven percent, while digital single sales surge.

Here are the stats: album sales are down 7.2 percent while digital downloads are up 150 percent. Translation for the anxiety-stricken: PANIC! Translation for the calm: quit fighting and adapt if you haven't already.

On the next page, a separate article brings up an interesting issue: sales from single digital downloads from services like iTunes do not bring in the kind of money that albums do. That's a big "uh oh," but ultimately I have very little sympathy to the major recording industry's woes. This is like seeing a gambler lose a good chunk of change by putting too much blind faith into certain "sure-fire" things. You can be as scientific as you want with what works and what doesn't, but nothing is certain.

As the major labels consolidated together, the intent was to put more money in sure moneymakers. R&B, rap and pop are traditionally big sellers, so it made sense to think that these were worth betting the farm, the cattle and the clothes for. However, the fickle nature of human consumers threw certain "guaranteed" blockbuster records under the bus. Whether or not these records got the promotion they needed to be a blockbuster or were just really crappy, this betting was beginning to show more red more than black. Add that in with the popularity of peer-to-peer downloading and you have a pickle of a problem.

I don't blame record companies for trying to curb downloading via p2ps but the deal about the Internet and its ever-changing technology is that there is no way of fully stopping it. Just like how the movie industry panicked when television was introduced, there was a legit reason to panic but it was very foolish to go out their way to stop the new technology. People adapt to what's easier, not necessarily what's "right" or not.

When I see reports like these, I get the impression that a lot of people think the age of the CD is on the quick decline. I doubt CDs will go completely away in the near future (how can you rip songs into the MP3 format without a CD?), but people need to rethink that of CD sales as a main IV. The quality of the music is important, but as proven time and time again, the promotion of the record greatly outweighs the quality.

For longtime readers of this blog, you know that this a frequent topic that I like to bring up. While I don't really listen to modern mainstream music these days, I can't forget the place that got me into music. Seeing companies lose their minds because of new technology is very amusing to me. Change is constant, whether we acknowledge it or not. Panic and speculation get people talking, but I wonder why we think so much about uncertainty.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Who I am and who I am not

As long as I have lived in the DFW area, I've been asked if I'm related to the Grubbs family that owns a number of car dealerships in town. Well, I'm not. My uncle traced the whole family tree and found out that we're not related to them. End of story, right? Well, it turns out the owner of Grubbs Nissan in Bedford is named Eric Grubbs. Just as a reminder, that's not me.

When I first moved to Fort Worth, I received a rather panicked phone call late one night. The conversation went a little something like this:

MAN: Mr. Grubbs? Eric Grubbs?
ME: Yes?
MAN: Are you related the Grubbs family dealerships?
ME: No, that's a different fam-
MAN: Well, we've got a situation going on out here where we have some people locked out on the lot. Can you come on down-
ME: I am not related to those Grubbs. That's a different
Grubbs.

MAN: Oh, sorry!

A few years later, KRLD ran a show on Saturdays called The Auto Show. It was sponsored by Grubbs Infinity and its co-host was George Grubbs III (who I believe was the owner). Well, guess who read the traffic reports every ten minutes during this show? Your's truly. Thankfully, nobody called and asked if we were all related.

In the last year or so, Grubbs Nissan has run spots on a few local radio stations and who's voice is on them? Its owner. Thankfully, we sound nothing alike, but I'm really tempted to try something: go to Grubbs Nissan and meet the man himself. I wonder if he's ever received phone calls looking for me.

I bring this all up because no matter how strange or unique we think our name is, chances are there is somebody else out there with the same name. It's amazing when you enter a name in a search engine like Google. For example, there's the Kev(in) McNerney I know from his blog but there is also a former microbrewer and a partner at Heidrick & Struggles with the same name. There is Jeff Giles I know from his blog but there is also a Senior Editor at Newsweek with the same name.

I'm glad there is not a cheesy balladeer that shares my name (like the Michael Bolton character in Office Space) or a serial killer that shares my name (like the Joel Rifkin that Elaine dates in an episode of Seinfeld), but what about people that have very common names? Ever had or heard of a weird encounter with that?

I gotta remember this: names are merely reference points. They give us identification but they don't define who we are.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Return the Gift

Have you ever played in a band that was compared to another band that you had never really heard before? I wouldn't say that has happened to me, but after listening to Bloc Party's Silent Alarm for most of 2005 and recently listening to Gang of Four's Entertainment! and Return the Gift, I wonder about other bands.

In the case of Bloc Party, the young band's music is often compared to the music of the legendary post-punk band, Gang of Four. Members of Bloc Party have said many times before that they weren't really influenced by GoF or much of any post-punk circa '79-'81. Since these guys are my age, I can understand not knowing much about the genre. Sure, I've been a fan of Mission of Burma for years and listened to Gang of Four from time to time, but that was pretty much the extent of it. If I started a band that I thought was different and unique by adding a dancier feel to poppy post-hardcore, would I be considered a Gang of Four knock-off too?

The strange thing about originality is that it has been played out for quite a while. Bands/artists have been rubbing off on others for a long time and they have also been pigeonholed as copycats. Sure, the Beatles took a lot of cues from American rock & roll and R&B, but they molded them into their own unique style. I'm sure there are people that still think they poorly copied Little Richard, Elvis, Roy Orbison and Cliff Richard and watered it down for a larger audience.

There is a line between intentional and unintentional nods when creating your own sound. In the case of my old band, the 11:30s, we were very much influenced by shoegazer rock bands like Ride and '60s garage rock bands like the ones you found on the Nuggets box sets. We really enjoyed the Strokes, the Hives and other modern bands but I wouldn't say we were copying them. I'm sure there are people that thought we were and no amount of us explaining our influences could change that.

I remember interviewing Dave Vicini from Boxer and asked which bands, other than Lifetime, influenced them. Turns out, he said that Lifetime wasn't really an influence even though their sound was very much in the vein of Lifetime's. He said the Pixies were probably the biggest influence more than anything else. From then on, I've been careful about asking bands about their influences.

It's unfair how we paint bands into corners by thinking they're copycats, but we do it all the time. In the case of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, so many people scoff at their sound as being a Talking Heads knock-off. I haven't read any interviews where they discuss their influences, but I wouldn't be surprised that CYHSY didn't list the late great Heads as one.

Bands tend to get signed because of similarities in sounds to other emerging acts. When you group them together, one can't help but think that they are copying or paying homage to each other. Well, that's understandable but how could you explain a band in Ohio and a band in Florida who sounded alike, but had never heard of the other's music, is a ripoff or a copycat?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

TV on DVD

As much as I am a fan of Lost, I was skeptical about owning its first season on DVD. Why? Owning seasons of TV shows on DVD are not the same as owning films on DVD. Of course that's a big "duh!", but in the case of a show like Lost, owning the first season on DVD is crucial in understanding the arc of the series so far.

There is an obscene amount of TV shows on DVD these days. From popular favorites to cult classics to shows that only lasted half a season, it's hard to find a show that's not on DVD. However, the big question about owning entire seasons on DVD: will you really watch these episodes over and over again?

In the case of Lost:Season 1, seeing the development of the characters and the island's mysteries are worth watching over and over again. There are so many things that are laid out in every episode that it's easy to get confused. For the ones paying close attention, there are plenty of payoffs abound because you often pick up on something new.

However, a big point of speculation is how long can Lost keep its momentum up over the next few years. If the show does go south in a lot of aspects, people may be very ticked off. In the case of the people that collect each season on DVD, a pickle may appear.

Case in point, Six Feet Under. Its first two seasons are incredible, however I couldn't fully get behind the show in the third season. Having the main protagonist slowly become an antagonist along with other characters turning towards unsympathetic lights made me lose interest. Also, slap a $79-89 pricetag on every DVD volume and you have a partial fan with a partial Six Feet Under library.

Maybe it's the completist in me, but if I really like a certain band, filmmaker or TV show, I want to have everything that is commercially available within reason. I'm so hooked on Lost that I want to see this show onto its end. Wherever the show goes in its third season and beyond, I can take heart in knowing that at least two seasons were super solid and worth owning on DVD.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The problem with being "Single?"

Driving around town for the last few months, I've seen a few signs (from billboards to tiny plastic cards sticking out of the ground) that carry the advertisement of "Single?" with the name of a website listed below it. Now I may be taking this wrong way, but I get the feeling this kind of advertising is no different than saying "Overweight?" or "Depressed?" The message that I get is that this single word is a major problem in someone's life and it needs to be fixed. Well, who said this stuff (especially being single) was really bad?

Being overweight and/or depressed are not traditionally good for one's health, but I don't think of being single as one. As I've learned the hard way, things sell a little better when the means to take care of these "problems" sound cheap and easy to do. There's nothing like imagining in black and white in order to crush one's expectations.

I've been single for a number of years and like a lot of things in life, it's a mixed blessing. Sure, it's nice to do whatever the hell I want to whenever I want to and not check in with somebody else. However, not getting to share a certain kind of enjoyment and encouragement with someone else is a downer. I'm aware that there is a trade-off in almost every action, so I don't get my head in the clouds thinking that certain problems will cease once something in my day-to-day life changes.

I'd really like to believe that the reasons why I've been single for so long are because of bitterness, anxiety and inexperience, but I can't. Ultimately, I haven't met somebody that I've really wanted to get to know much deeper than a friendship level and that person has wanted to do the same. Bitterness and anxiety play into my distance, but they aren't the biggest reasons.

To me, most of the business of connecting people is built on smoke and mirrors. Sure, you hear about people getting together through interaction via the Internet, but I still hear more about people getting together because of pure chance in person. While I understand that certain people have schedules that make it difficult to meet new people, I leave the chances of connections up in the hands of other forces I can't control (insert whatever Christian, Buddist, Lucas, Tolkien or Rowling reference you want to).

I'm constantly amazed by how things work out because of something often called "dumb luck". There's nothing dumb about luck; stuff pans out, but not in the way we thought they would. When I see people go way out of their way trying to enable things to work out in their favor, I'm not surprised when they don't fully pan out.

I used to be very annoyed with being single. When I was able to see through the eyes of lonely person in a relationship, my annoyance went slightly away. As I said, there's a trade-off to almost every choice, so I just prefer to choose wisely.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What's the real prize?

A few Thanksgivings ago, I found myself bored out of my mind at my parents' house. I didn't bring anything down to read, so I watched a lot of TV, moreover, MTV. On one particular day was a marathon of Making the Band, a "reality" show which followed the development of a boy band called O-Town. Since I couldn't find anything else on TV, I decided to give a few episodes a try. To be blunt, this show was as funny as This is Spinal Tap, but the sad thing was, it wasn't made up.

If O-Town doesn't ring a bell, they briefly caught some waves as the boy band tidal wave between '98-'00 was fading away. They were rather embarrassing with their faux-pop/R&B and super-contrived, watered-down image (the same formula that sold millions of records for other groups) and they disappeared after the release of their second album. O-Town was a little too late for Backstreet Boys-like notoriety, but they did manage to have a couple of high-charting singles and big tours.

Making the Band focused on the group coming together, making an album, making videos, going on tour and living together in the same house. Sounds interesting, but when it's surrounding a boy band, you might want to change your mind. Seeing five young guys try to make their dreams of singing and dancing come true by bending over backwards is supposed to be interesting, right? Seeing these guys not get along and wonder why they don't have any credibility is engaging entertainment, right? Well, it's amusing at first, but it becomes very painful after awhile. The really sad thing is, these guys were playing the fool and they are all trying to find places in the real world (and I don't mean the show).

Now, former O-Town-ie Ashley Parker Angel has a show on MTV called There & Back. The premise is that cameras follow Ashley as he tries to make a legitimate singer-songwriter career. While I didn't watch the whole show last night, I caught a video wrap-up online and read Reality Blurred's wrap-up this morning. Judging by what I saw and read about last night's episode, I wonder what the real prize of being on a "reality" show is.

Maybe it's out of sheer boredom or sheer escapism, but people apparently still enjoy watching these kinds of shows. I watched (and enjoyed) quite a bit of The Real World and Road Rules back in the day, but I got burned out by it. Somehow the show (and subsequent shows like Newlyweds) hit paydirt when there was a notion of acting outrageous and/or dumb catapulted cast members into apparent fame. Sure, the person is famous, but is it the kind of fame that one really wants? Fame maybe fame, but if you're forever thought of as a one-trick joke, how could one say this was a good thing?

Reality Blurred takes a look at the reality behind "reality" shows. Reports of staged scenes, things taken out of context and personal background checks are way more interesting to me than a bunch of quick cuts and "Oh my God!" shots. "Reality" show ideas often tend to lose steam after a few seasons, but when a new one comes along that people notice, more keep coming. This isn't entertainment for me. People may think it's funny, serious and/or entertaining, but I'm not convinced.

As RB points out, MTV may very well have a hit on their hands with There & Back. Whether it is or not, I find it rather ironic that Mr. Angel has chosen to do another "reality" show. Didn't Making the Band do enough damage to him? Maybe what I believe is "damage" is supposed to be a good thing for someone. All I can say is that it isn't for me.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Hardly Clerkin'

Here's a Monday treat: the Clerks 2 teaser trailer can be found here. This is a teaser; as in, barely anything is revealed about the plot other than Randal and Dante are now working at Mooby's. Familiar View Askew faces (Ethan Suplee, Jason Lee, Ben Affleck) have cameos alongside the main regulars from Clerks but with very little dialog. At least it's better than that silly Hannibal trailer a few years ago (whose sole film frame was a recycled shot from The Silence of the Lambs).

I have to be honest: there is quite a deal of skepticism on my end for this movie. I still enjoy Clerks, the Clerks cartoon and the "Flying Car" skit that appeared on The Tonight Show. However, the thought of devoting a whole other feature to Dante, Randal and Jay and Silent Bob feels like a stretch. Wasn't everything said at the end of the first Clerks? There was hope for these guys to turn their lives around and the ending was very open-ended. Having a sequel quashes the open-ended imagination.

Word is that Clerks 2 is super-raunchy and will be released unrated. Sure, that sounds like good news, but I'm not watching this movie just for raunchy jokes. I want to be entertained but I don't want to be let down with a bunch of dick and fart jokes either. There are deeper tones to all of Kevin's flicks (even Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), but I keep coming back to Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma more than anything else.

I'm not making any predictions with Clerks 2. I will probably most definitely see it in the theater when it comes out later this year. Who knows: this may be the only movie I'll see in a theater this year.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Where do you put all the rock music?

Remember when a number of rock radio stations (as in, hard rock to metal to modern rock) were dropping like flies all over the country? It wasn't that long ago and it seems like the sackings have tapered off for the time being. As of late, I've noticed a trend with a lot of songs that were mainstays in the format: they are getting a lot of play on talk radio.

These days, I hear songs by Pantera, Guns N' Roses and Van Halen used as theme music for a number of talk shows. It doesn't matter if it's a liberal or conservative show; I hear them on both. I find the usage rather cool, but I'm a little confused: why hard rock over other kinds of music, like dance and pop rock? Is the intent to grab the listener's ears? Maybe it is, but why do so many shows use this kind of music?

Hear me out: I still dig this music even though I listened to it much more when I was in middle and high school. Hearing "Mouth for War" again reminds me of the good ol' days of Headbanger's Ball and Beavis and Butthead. These songs still hold up, but I find myself listening to other kinds of metal (like Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan) more than anything else. Maybe it's different levels of angst that people go through that bring such desire. I think it's about having a variety of music in one's diet.

In some martkets like Dallas (where its Eagle was blown up and then turned into a lite rock station), the chances of hearing this music anywhere on the radio dial is slim. The Edge, the modern rock station in town, adopted some of the Eagle's playlist to accomodate listeners, but it's still a modern rock station. Yes, it sounds a little weird to go from the Killers to Nirvana to Metallica to Korn, but at least it's something.

I'm amazed at how this music is being recycled by a completely different format. Adults listen to these kinds of shows more than teenagers, so I'm puzzled by the song selection. This is the kind of music that is perfect for sports arenas, but we're talking about talk shows here. No physical violence is going on. There is no cheering crowd. There is no scorecard. What is the connection between these two formats? Is there a connection at all or is this just a trend?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Friday Night Lights

Just like Frank at Chrome Waves did, I decided to watch Friday Night Lights especially to hear Explosions in the Sky's score. As a fan of EitS, I found their "from total silence to total violence" music perfect for this story based on the 1988 Odessa-Permian Panthers football team. As someone who went to many Texas high school football games in middle school and high school, I was already familiar with the world that FNL is set in.

In Texas, high school football is a big deal. In a lot of cases, the stadium is a social epicenter for the town. The players, the coaches and the team represent the hope of the community and a lot of faith is sunk into them. Friday Night Lights shows a small town's intense obsession with the sport (local businesses close down for games, for example) and takes a rather neutral look at it. The town expects perfection with a winning season and a state championship, thus raising the pressure level to a rather unrealistic view. While the town's expectations are represented, what is at the heart of this film is something I've never seen a film about sports: the idea that there is more to the experience of playing than winning and losing games.

As someone who is very turned off by lines like "Winning is winning" and "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," I was deeply moved by Friday Night Light's message. Billy Bob Thorton's character, Coach Gaines, delivers it in a very memorable speech before the team goes back for the second half of the state championship:

"Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It's not about winning. It's about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn't let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could. There wasn't one more thing you could've done. Can you live in that moment as best you can, with clear eyes, and love in your heart, with joy in your heart? If you can do that gentlemen - you're perfect!"

That speech goes beyond the playing field for me. It goes beyond the season, the playoffs and the championship ring. While the desire for a state championship is there every year, there is a bigger desire for the players to get out of town and doing something more with their lives. This is also a central theme in American Graffiti and a theme I greatly relate to. I know living in Odessa is not the same as living in Kingwood, but the desire to step outside of the comfort zone of your hometown has been driving me for years. Not to imply that one's hometown is bad, but if one is curious about what else is out there, it's best to look somewhere less familiar.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Further Seems Forever: 1999-2006

Punknews.org has the news. It's sad to see yet another great band in the post-hardcore vein break up. Recent others include Bear vs. Shark, Q and Not U, Pedro the Lion and Troubled Hubble. This is another bummer in a series of bummer band break-ups.

Further Seems Forever may always be thought of as the band that Chris Carrabba left to do Dashboard Confessional full-time, but they did great stuff after Carrabba left. 2004's Hide Nothing was a short, but memorable record with their third lead vocalist (and former Sense Field frontman) Jon Bunch. I was fortunate to see the Hide Nothing line-up twice in 2004 and was very impressed by both shows.

This news doesn't come as a shock since the band announced they were on hiatus a few months ago. Hearing about the end of the band makes me want to dig out some of their older material before they signed with Tooth & Nail. They had a fantastic track on Deep Elm's Emo Diaries along with a handful of great songs on a split EP with Red Stars Theory. Maybe some of those songs will appear on a collection someday. They're very worthy.

Not all hope is lost with the force behind post-hardcore. "There's a light up ahead," Bunch sang on the title track and I stand behind this statement.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Sporting Life

Because of the Rose Bowl game last night, I once again bring up the relationship between sports teams and its fans. Not in any way to take the piss out of UT's win last night (it was a thriller), but I'm still in the dark with how spectators feel they are a part of a team.

There is no 'I' in 'team' and I feel there is no 'we' in 'team' when it comes to fans and teams. All I can do is watch, observe and react to a game. I don't think I'm a part of the team I'm cheering/rooting for no matter where I am (whether in the stands, at home or out at a place with a big screen TV). Like it was brought up in the MTV.com article I posted the last time I talked about this, do you hear Peter Jackson fans talk like this: "Hey, have you seen our latest movie, King Kong?"

Sports are exciting to watch and they are big business, especially in the case of college and professional levels. No matter what PR nightmare a sports team or league may go through (the NHL hockey strike last year, for example), people come on out and pay up big time for the experience of seeing it live. Hearing about $9 cocktails at sports arenas and hearing about people buying Rose Bowl tickets for $1200 a pop, I wonder where the fan element ends and the consumer element begins.

I can understand if you have a good seat near the players and think you're a part of team, but these guys are going to play whether you're there or not. They do care about their fans (games without audiences in the stands wouldn't be the same), but it's a mass audience-not an individualized, specific audience-rooting them on.

I won't lie: if a game is on that I'm remotely interested in, I may very well get into what I'm seeing. There have been plenty of Cowboys games that Jason and I have viewed in our den and we've hooted and hollered about good plays and touchdowns. Do I ever think I'm a part of the team? Nope, I'm just a guy watching a game on my TV. Seeing a good play for a locally-based team draws something out of me, but not a sense of oneness with the players and the coaches.

In the case of college and high school teams, teams appear to represent the hope of the people that go to the school and live in the town it's in. Well, the team represents the name of the school, but I don't see the correlation between observer and player. Texas is a big football state and it's not uncommon to hear about people losing their marbles when "their" team loses a big game (case in point, the UT/OU game every year). Hearing about how people are depressed for a whole week because their team lost, I scratch my head at the emotional investment.

I often think of seeing big games much like seeing big shows: there is a lack of intimacy. Maybe it's my need for individualized attention, but I don't want to be treated as a generic consumer. I don't fault the teams or the bands for drawing large audiences but I don't want to drop a lot of my money to see them live. I'd rather stay at home and have a better look at what I'm seeing.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I Love the 00s

Over the past few weekends, I've caught bits of VH1's I Love the 70s, I Love the 80s and I Love the 90s. If you've seen these shows, you know the format: take some iconic trend or item that was popular in the day and have actors, comedians and musicians discuss them. The material is rather sarcastic, deadpan and often funny. Not every little thing is raked across the coals, but quite a bit of it is subject to witty/attempting-to-be-witty banter. Seeing these shows and listening to what people my age and younger talk about, I wonder: when did pop culture become such a big joke?

Maybe pop culture has always been seen as a big joke, but this kind of looking back is relatively new to my eyes. Maybe Seth McFarlane's Family Guy was really ahead of its time back in its few first seasons (talking about the A&E Biography on the other guy in Wham! to talking about Tom Hanks' comedic streak) and maybe ABC's Clerks cartoon was even more ahead of its time (from talking about Fonzie jumping the shark on Happy Days to lampooning Outbreak). For people who grew up in the 80s (like myself), I guess this kind of humor goes over like gangbusters because of its widespread train of thought. For my 26-year-old self, I will say that I enjoy this kind of humor, but it has its limits.

Older pop cultural references are fun to make, but it sounds like neverending examples of the carefree past being ripped apart by our harsh present. Often it feels like our childhood memories have been overrided with eye-rolling, cringe-inducing moans and extremely harsh cynicism. For us painted as eager kids with Nintendo and slackers in flannel when we were teenagers, we're in a different place now. We're still a desirable demographic, but a younger demographic is even more important. That grouping makes sense: we don't have the same kind of extra cash to spend on non-essentials like when we were younger. I don't know when our age group becomes less desirable, but someday we'll be seen as the "55 to dead" demographic.

Seeing how people are poking fun at what was "cool" 10-30 years ago, I wonder what these same people will be poking fun of in 10-30 years from now. I can kind of see it: I Love the 00s with regulars Michael Ian Black and Hal Sparks, among others, talking about/making fun of things like dressing like a metrosexual, iPods and reality shows. Maybe this stuff will be even funnier in time. Maybe this show won't even happen because there will be a much different way of looking at pop culture. What's that line in Crimes & Misdemeanors? "Comedy is tragedy plus time."

I know there is a certain degree of embarrassment whenever I look back at old pictures or home movies. Of course there is a desire to take the piss out of what I did then and pretend like I'm fully arrived now. But I get the feeling that I'll be making fun of certain things that I'm into now in ten years. Chances are I'll be holding onto things that have made a deep, long-lasting impact on me more than anything else. I may joke about how low reality shows went, but I'll probably speak more highly of a show like Lost. I want to be into things that don't have a short shelf life and I don't believe that will change any time soon. Sure, it could be fun to make fun of what Paris Hilton did somewhere and roll my eyes about what kind of "reality" show has such-and-such has-been celebrities on it, but I want depth and not just some fluffy fodder.

Is our culture just not interested in long-lasting things because of what happened on September 11th, 2001? I think there's a large percentage out there that is interested in things that last, but their voice isn't heard as much as the bitter/cynical/uber-sarcastic one. I'm not about to erase 9/11 from my memory, but I'm not about to think that everything thrown at us in the media is subject to the same kind of treatment we have with toilet paper.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Life Pursuit

I've been digging Belle and Sebastian's sixth proper LP, The Life Pursuit, quite a lot lately. I don't know how they do it, but they keep putting out really good records. A much more electric and keyboard-heavy record than before, I can't help but compare a number of songs to 70s glam rock and Steely Dan. For a band that used to remind me of the energy of Stereolab's faster material, I think it's amazing that B&S can still hold it together over the years. Not every band is this lucky.

A pundit's opinion of B&S is that the only B&S record you need to have is If You're Feeling Sinister. While I would not argue that the record is their best from start to finish, they have so many good songs on their other records that warrant listening too. I know a lot of their songs sound alike, but they're different enough for me to enjoy them as their own. It's kind of like the Ramones' back catalog: you're not going to find much variation, but if you can't get enough of it, you're rewarded.

One thing that has remained consistent with B&S's sound is that it owes a large debt to older Top 40 pop music. I'm not talking Human League here; I'm talking artists from the '60s and '70s like Phil Spector, Burt Bacharach, Motown and a whole slew of other pop giants. The cool thing is, the band makes contemporary music without aping the sound of the Wrecking Crew or the Funk Brothers. You definitely hear the influence, but they sound more like art school students doing their own version of it.

I think it's awesome that bands are still out there that owe a lot to the kind of Top 40 pop you first heard in the '60s and '70s. I firmly believe that the music industry drastically changed once desire and technology became even more influential in the '70s. Back when artists had to really play as perfectly as possible, there was still a human element to the music. With technology rendering more polished sounds and with labels and artists wanting to reach as many people as possible, some dilution started stirring. But that's just the mechanics; what about the songs' melodies (you know, the stuff that makes us hum along and make a connection)? They're always there, but just in a different mold.

In an age where most bands peter out after a couple of records, I strongly believe that B&S are one of the few bands that still puts out fine records well after their initial buzz has gone out. I'm very well aware of people who haven't dug their last few records for various reasons, but I gotta give the band credit for keeping going strong. Only a few other prominent not-really-obscure-but-not-Top-40-material artists (like Wilco and Aimee Mann) can have a large audience and not succumb to pitiful lows after a few years of greatness. People aren't going to go crazy over The Life Pursuit the way they went over If You're Feeling Sinister and The Boy With the Arab Strap, but there will be people that will enjoy what they hear.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Listening

I often wonder why people's opinions on music get tangled up because of perception. We're not blind; we judge the whole package (the music, the image, the coverage in the press, what critics say, etc.). But why do we discount the value of music because of things that have nothing to do with the listening of it?

I'd like to say that I judge every artist based on the music, but I'm guilty of this kind of scoffing too. For example, I have never enjoyed Britney Spears' music. What I've heard is trashy, beat-intensive R&B with faux-sexy vocals. Other than the outro to her song "Lucky" owing some melodic similarities to Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" and the chorus to "Oops! I Did It Again" reminding me of Barbra Streisand's "The Woman in Love," I have not made a connection to her music. Maybe because of the fact that I like the songs I compared to her songs is why I get some sort of feeling. With what I perceive as a person with hearing with ears and seeing with eyes, I know more about Spears' private life than her music. I have yet to hear of song of her's that I've thought, "Hey, this is a good song" nor have I read or seen anything about her that makes me curious about her.

It's amazing how perception changes over time. I think a big reason why is because stuff is taken out of the context of when it was first introduced. Looking back at certain things instead of every thing yields a thought of black and white clarity. There is a perception of exciting times, while the times weren't really that different from now. Whatever what was going on in politics, technology, music, art, film or pop culture, people were feeling good, bad and everything in between.

How the perception affects music listening paints a very interesting picture. I often hear about how the Ramones were a breath of fresh air when they first came out in the mid-70s. On the pop charts was disco, pop-country, crossover ballads, corporate rock and prog rock. Here were four scruffy guys in leather jackets playing 50s/60s rock & roll at a faster pace. Of course their image was striking for the Top 40 audience, but their music was even more striking. Even in this day with a commodified version of pop-punk, what holds up with the Ramones is their music. Maybe it's great since it was created with no commercial aspirations, but conception is not as important to me as to how I feel about the music.

I like the Ramones, but I enjoy Journey as much. I know that would be considered blasphemous by others, but I'm not going to hide what I like. A mere mention of Journey brings to mind the bloated excesses of '70s/80s corporate rock: monster guitar solos, over-the-top vocals and stadium anthems. Without being aware of their embrace by people when the band was at their commercial peak, all I have are their records to decide whether I like their music or not. Sure, the band wore funny clothes and appealed to the lowest common denominator, but I'm not thinking about that when I'm listening to their Greatest Hits collection.

I'm not saying we should all take a blind eye to music, but I think it's pretty cool to listen to music without having factors like image. I think it's interesting how we have a private relationship with all kinds of music but don't talk openly about them. I don't believe in calling something a "guilty pleasure" since there is no guilt in pleasure.