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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"With bad TV you just don't care"

In years past, I have been very guilty of a certain kind of addiction: watching bad TV shows. When I mean "bad," I mean shows that are cornball, shallow, cheesy and very easy to poke fun of. I'm talking Days of Our Lives, Joe Millionaire, American Idol, WWF Wrestling and others. These days, there are several reasons why I only watch one certain television program on a regular basis.

Sometime ago while my sister was home from college, she suggested I check out NBC's long-running daytime soap opera, Days of Our Lives. She didn't suggest it to me because it was an emotionally engaging show - she suggested it because it was so silly. Hammy melodrama and absurd plotlines are prime for ridicule and ridicule them I did. However, I got addicted to the show. Whether it was Marlena being possessed by the Devil or Austin being caught in a love triangle between Sami and Carrie, I really got into the show. I knew fully-well that I was watching a silly show, but I couldn't stop watching it.

With American Idol and its knockoffs (Fame, the WB's Superstar USA, Nashville Star and so on), audiences watch in droves and pretend to care about the performers. For me, I never can fully get behind people that show up to a cattle call, enter a spruced-up karaoke contest and think they get a legitimate singing career out of the deal. However, it's really easy for me to take the piss out the people when they do a lousy performance and/or get voted off the show. I had no sympathy for these wannabe performers as people. Instead, I was addicted to the unpredictable nature of a live show. Plus, I was curious as to how well or how poorly these people could sing familiar songs. I don't know if I felt better about myself whether something was sung well or poorly. All I know is that I could really care less about happened to these people once the season was over.

These days, I often find myself with a lot of free time at home. I could watch a lot of TV if I really wanted to, but I don't. I haven't had cable installed in my living quarters for three years and I don't really miss it. So, it's been free broadcasting via rabbit-ear antennas for me. If I do turn on my TV, it's to watch a DVD or a tape (except for Wednesday nights at 8pm on ABC). When I'm not in front of my TV, I'm often in front of my computer, sitting in my recliner reading a book or a magazine or taking a walk. I fill up my free time with stuff that gives me something back mentally. I think this is good and I'm very wary of getting hooked again onto bad TV shows.

I will admit: I have recently sneaked a peak at some really obnoxious cornball shows. Thankfully I haven't become addicted to them. MTV's There & Back is a favorite of ridicule by a blog of I often read, Reality Blurred. Each week, a new wrap-up details this week's episode on Ashley Parker Angel's quest for the "good life" as a singer-songwriter and family man. Angel comes across as a trainwreck of insecurity and stupidity and this is all documented in each wrap-up. With the amount of time I save by reading a wrap-up each week, I don't have to waste my time with actually watching the show. I'm mildly curious as to what happened on each episode, but I don't revolve around it. In the end, I don't care about how Angel will end up by the end of the season - I just laugh at the absurdities of his actions and attitudes.

Maybe I'm falling into line with how these shows attract audiences. Give them something to watch, but it's not going to make them think really hard or really care about that much. Maybe that's the goal of entertaining people in general, but I've stated over and over before here, I can't turn my brain off with this stuff. Sure, it's fun to poke holes into bad TV show, but ultimately, I'd much rather be writing, reading or watching something that speaks to me on a deeper level.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Does the "P" stand for "Poseur"?

While I wouldn't consider myself a fan of the show, I've seen a few tidbits of ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Yes, there were plenty of great celebrity dancers on there this past season, but I kept my eyes on Percy "Master P" Miller. Why? Because the dude just couldn't dance. After what I saw this season, along with the music I've heard from him via his No Limit record label, I wonder if the "P" in his nickname is really for "poseur" instead of "Percy".

There was a time when New Orleans-based No Limit Records could not be stopped. In the late '90s, they kept churning out hit album after hit album, hit single after hit single. The formula was simple: release a solo album featuring a cavalcade of guest rappers, use the liner notes as promotional tools for future albums and interest will hopefully keep up. This worked for quite a while for a number of other upcoming No Limit acts. I remember stocking many copies of records by artists like Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder, Lil' Romeo, Mystikal and Master P himself over and over at Best Buy.

Along with glitzy videos, low-budget, straight-to-rental movies and an avalanche of albums, probably the most recognized product from No Limit was the inescapable club banger, "Make 'Em Say Ugh." With a moronic chorus set on repeat on the radio and in the clubs, there were plenty of people saying "ugh" whether they liked the song or not. There was no limit to this silliness in sight. Or was there?

Somewhere along the lines, No Limit's shimmer dulled as other labels like Cash Money took over and then crunk came along. So, what happened to No Limit? To be honest, I don't really care.

I've never been a big fan of rap and hip hop. From a musical standpoint, I've never been all hot on big processed beats, off-key shouts, sleazy keyboard sounds and monotone vocals. While that's not all of what rap and hip hop sounds like, those are the characteristics that I keep hearing with mainstream and underground acts. That kind of rap/hip hop ain't for me, but I'll never say never to it.

So how this pertains to Master P is this: a lot of rappers and hip hoppers like to focus on "the game" instead of the music. Yes, money is nice to have, but flaunting it on MTV Cribs (complete with a larger-than-life painting of yourself in a hallway) is not something I can relate to. Maybe the point is to create a facade that dreams do come true and there's hope. Well, there is always hope, but to dream you will have millions of dollars, millions of fans, nice cars, big houses and lots of jewelry is much like dreaming about winning the lottery. It's important to have goals, but not the kind of aiming for happiness with the acquisition of millions of dollars.

Over the years, I keep hearing about how people don't care about the quality of the music they release. This doesn't just pertain to hip hop: it's in all genres. The intent is to get somebody somewhere to unload a few hard-earned dollars for a CD, DVD or some form of merchandise like a T-shirt. Yes, this makes sense from a business standpoint, but can you really count on this music being timeless? Of course not. Not all music is made from the same source of inspiration, yet it's all documented the same way for the ages. No matter if it's on CD, vinyl, cassette tape or MP3, it's gonna stick around whether you like it or not. Don't believe me? Go to any used record store in the world or check out a site like Half.com. I get the feeling that something like Marvin Gaye's What's Going On is going to last much longer than Master P's Ghetto D.

Some people want to express themselves however they want to while others want to express themselves so they can make a lot of money. From what I've seen of Master P, the quality of the music was important, but there were other intentions. Building a major empire out of the label, opportunities like acting and playing professional basketball came about. After a few years of not hearing a lot out of him or No Limit, he reappeared on Dancing With the Stars. Proving that he was a weak link from the get-go, the fan vote kept him on the show for a few extra weeks.

I'm no dance critic, but seeing a person shake his wobbly arms and stiff legs around ain't the kind of dancing that is wanted on Dancing With the Stars. The judges hated his performances and I wondered when P was going to get the boot. When that moment finally arrived, it was a blessing.

I don't roll around in joy for this kind of stuff, but when I see a poseur, it's a sense of satisfaction to see his/her limited talent be exposed. Yeah, there were plenty of records sold and millions of dollars thrown around in this case, but when the dust settles, what do you really have to show for it? Looking like a washed-up fool ain't something to aim for.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

"Is that what being a celebrity means?"

While recently watching Inside Deep Throat with the directors' commentary on, a comment was made that made me really think. One of the directors commented something along the lines that Paris Hilton is the modern day equivalent of Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace. It took me a few minutes to understand, but lights turned on in my head once I realized it.

The Cliff Notes' backstory: While 1972's Deep Throat was rated X, it was one of the first movies to be shown in mainstream movie theaters. Given all the controversy with it being banned in 23 states and under investigation by the US government, the film would reportedly gross hundreds of millions of dollars (though its figure is still largely debated). Another result was that the film's star, Linda Lovelace, found herself in the celebrity spotlight.

Though she would denounce her role in later years, Lovelace played along with the fame game in the '70s. She made the most of being a mainstream celebrity coming from a non-mainstream field. At the time, this was a major blurring of the lines of celebrity. The traditional channels of fame were set aside as Lovelace was frequently featured and quoted in the news and on TV. Seeing all the press on people like Anna Nicole Smith, Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton these days, I can't help but think that Linda Lovelace was a trailblazer. However, this isn't the kind of trailblazer that I look up to.

Blame the publicists/agents and other PR folk, but even people who act stupid can make other people interested. Call it info-tainment, but it's often mixed in with traditional news, thus blurring the lines even more. Whether it's Anna Nicole Smith acting drunk at an award show, Jessica Simpson saying something stupid or Paris Hilton's wild party antics, when it's printed in the mainstream media, somebody somewhere seems to care. Speaking for myself as somebody somewhere: I don't care.

While I find humor in certain stupid things (ie, cheesy action flicks), I don't understand people acting stupid to get attention. Do I feel any better about myself when I hear Paris Hilton say something stupid? Nope, I just feel indifferent. I know someone somewhere feels better about his/her life as he/she vicariously lives through other people's stupidity.

I'm not against stupidity across the board, but the attachment I see makes me sick. How these people seemingly become famous because of acting stupid with a straight face makes me wonder if this kind of celebrity is a modern thing or it's always been there. I don't remember Linda Lovelace being a total airhead when she was in the press, but there was a degree of implied irony and silliness involved too.

Maybe the root of all of this is the desire to be liked and accepted. As much as I want to belong, I want to do it on my terms. Maybe a part of the nature of celebrity is exposing one's self in a vulnerable/embarrassing light. I may roll my eyes at moronic quotes and press releases from a modern day celebrity, but I find no humor in people that actually look up to these people. I find it all very sad.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wait 'til tomorrow

As of late, I catch myself before I gripe about younger bands like Hawthorne Heights, Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy. Why? Because these bands remind me of older bands like Seven Mary Three, Silverchair and Candlebox, but not in sound. These bands sound nothing alike, but as far as a function in the music industry, they're genre placeholders. Bands like Silverchair and Candlebox kept me interested in modern rock music just before I realized there was a whole underground of rock bands out there. Once it got to the point where these guys and these guys were always on the radio, I had to find something else to rock my world. I get the feeling that a large number of 15/16/17-year-olds are on the verge of finding something deeper (if they haven't already).

Bands like Seven Mary Three, Silverchair and Candlebox were signed to keep the corpse of grunge alive for a few more years. They were successful . . . for a little while. Singles likes "Cumbersome," "Tomorrow" and "Far Behind" received a lot of airplay and the albums they came from sold in the millions. They were a big deal in their day. They weren't one-hit wonders and they had a couple of other songs that received substantial play on the radio and MTV. These days, they're rather hard to remember. I get the feeling that modern bands like Hawthorne Heights, Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy will have a similar fate.

Time is the enemy for all of us. Fame is a fleeting thing. Blah blah blah, right? Well, I don't think this can't be said enough. For something so temporary, people often cling to fame like it's always going to be there. For bands that seem to be on top of the world now, there is an inevitable decline following close behind.

I bring this all up because these younger bands act like there is nothing stopping them. While I think it's good to maximize your potential as a band, don't think playing a certain popular kind of music is the elevator to longterm success. No matter how many times you hear/see something about a hot new band, they're only new once. In the never-ending game of musical chairs, new bands are always getting in the waiting line.

Checking back in with Silverchair, according to their website, they're still together. Their popularity in Australia remains strong, but they are a footnote in the US. Candlebox's original line-up is reportedly back together with plans for shows this year. Seven Mary Three recently celebrated their ten-year anniversary. That's nice to hear, but I'm not really pining to hear any of these bands' material any time soon.

I have a theory about underground/non-mainstream music: if you get into it, going back to your previous Top 40 ways is very hard to do. Sure, it's great to hear certain pop hits from time to time, but some just don't move you the way they used to move you. "I have become cumbersome" indeed.

Friday, February 24, 2006

What were you listening to?

A popular generalization about Top 40 music of the mid-to-late '80s is that it was all hair metal and teen pop. I don't know about you, but when I think about what I was listening to on the radio between 1987 and 1990, I never heard any of that stuff in regular rotation. So I wonder, if you're talking about what was big and popular back in the day, what were you really hearing on a regular basis?

During the day, I watched plenty of MTV and saw a large amount of Whitesnake, Europe, Def Leppard, Tiffany, New Kids on the Block and Debbie Gibson videos in addition to videos by U2, the Pet Shop Boys and R.E.M. At night, I listened exclusively to KRBE, a Top 40 station. I never once heard a hair metal band or a teen pop act on it. I honestly wondered where all those acts I saw on MTV were being played on the radio.

On the flipside, I heard a number of songs on the radio that I rarely saw videos for on MTV. Especially between '88 and '89, I heard a lot of Depeche Mode (tracks like "Policy of Truth," "Personal Jesus" and "Strangelove"), New Order (tracks like "Blue Monday," "True Faith" and "Bizarre Love Triangle") and the Cure (tracks like "Just Like Heaven" and both versions of "Close To Me"). These were big hits, but it seems like others prefer to remember what was "wrong" about hair metal and teen pop instead of relishing about how great is was to hear an act like the Cure or New Order on the radio.

So, if Top 40 reflects what a popular consensus is into at any given time, then why wasn't I hearing what are considered the main genres of pop music at the time?

Maybe it was me tuning at a later hour when there were looser restrictions on what could or couldn't be played on the radio. However, I remember hearing quite a bit of the same stuff they played at night during the day. While I think I was overstuffed with songs like "Policy of Truth" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" because of them being played constantly for years, I've recently listened to them again. My verdict: they still really hold up well. This is something that a lot of hair metal and teen pop don't have the distinction of.

Sure, it's fun to jokingly dance around to Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" or Tiffany's version of "I Think We're Alone Now" at parties and wedding receptions now, but these songs don't cut the mustard as well. Hearing "Bizarre Love Triangle" again was like seeing an old friend that has grown up, but is still relatable and cool.

I wonder about what younger people are being exposed to now with Top 40 radio. I think so much of it is robotic garbage, but you could make the same assessment of the stuff I was into when I was their age. However, it seems there is a big hole to fill, but there are too many distractions in its way. Yeah, iPods, the Internet and satellite radio weren't around when I was getting into the Top 40 of my day. However, I think there can be artists that can really break through to a younger demographic and not make people my age moan and groan about how cheesy it sounds.

I think a band like the Killers is a great example of a band that appeals to an actual, wide audience. Their music is pretty snappy and dancey and it's not covered in Cheez-Whiz. Compared to other bands like them, the Killers are rather watered-down, but they don't suck either. Are record companies afraid of appealing to (gasp!) a larger audience that isn't all teenagers?

With time always moving forward, I'm sure that only a handful of popular genres will get talked up in a mainstreamed version of '00s nostalgia. Top 40 has always been about a variety of music, yet why do we often remember very little of that variety?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hipster

I'm still in the dark with understanding what exactly constitutes a hipster. I've always thought it was a negative title describing someone who is constantly trying to be ahead of the curve. Only recently have I seen positive connotations with it. It may be better to be hip instead of not being hip, but what really is hip? How much of being "in the know" yields you to really being "in the know"?

For most of college, I thought a hipster was somebody like Kramer on Seinfeld: always in pursuit of something new while being a little out of step with the rest of the world. Post-college, I kept hearing the term used in a context of music fans. Trying to figure it out, I saw all sorts of different archetypes. I thought it was a negative label, but actually talking to people considered hipsters, I realized that there was way more to them than musical lingo.

Judging by the people that I see at shows, at parties, via blogs and message boards, I get a sense that I fit in with the general stereotype of a hipster. I don't think the actual labeling is a bad thing, but when I see myself grouped in with others whose tastes constantly sway back and forth, I get a little testy. I wonder if the people I'm grouped in with are really into these artists/bands because they really like the music or are attempting to fit in.

Then I see a big stumbling block with being "up" on music: not all music is cool to like. This is where my line and the general lines split off. Yes, I really like Bloc Party, but I also like Journey. I like Sufjan Stevens' Illinois, but I also like Hot Water Music's No Division. I love Belle and Sebastian, but I also like Converge. Telling others about my rather unrestricted tastes in music has not always been embraced by open arms. After years of suppressing, I just said to hell with it and just stood up for what I like.

For people that don't really follow underground/up-and-coming bands/artists very closely, the hipster tag is very easy to stick onto people that do follow it in some shape or form. People I know call me a hipster, but I feel like tearing the tag off and placing it onto other people that I know that know way more than me. I'm aware of what may be or may not be hip, but I definitely don't pride myself in or claim to be hip. I like what I like, whether it's considered hip or not.

I'm not somebody that really likes to roam around a lot to find something that I may or may not like. However a certain act is promoted (heavily or not) and has a sound I might be interested in, I'll check it out. I don't usually go out of my way to hear all the latest albums that people are talking up on message boards or MP3 blogs. Maybe I'm being a tad close-minded with this, but I'm not a huge fan of wasting my time on music that I don't like.

What I often find myself doing is really getting into artists I've heard about over the years. If I get little tastes here and there, I may very well end up finding an artist or band that I really love. Recent cases in point: Feeder and Tom Waits. I've heard tracks from both acts over the years, but after hearing a string of really strong songs from them in the last few months, I decided to check out some of their albums. I haven't regretted these choices, but neither of these acts could be considered hip compared to what is considered hip now in 2006.

So, if actively searching out music and keeping open eyes out on what's happening below the mainstream surface is really a hipster, then that's me to a T. But I don't feel comfortable being defined by a broad stereotype, especially when it comes with a restricted view of music. I may know more about modern music than my parents do, but that doesn't make me better than anyone else. I want to make myself happy with the music I hear - not impress others with how "with it" I think I am.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Open the past and present and the future too

I've been a fan of Green Day's music for over ten years. Yes, I was one of the millions of teenagers that got hooked on them with Dookie and I find no shame in it. For someone who hadn't really known much about pop and punk sharing the same bed together, Green Day was really different back in 1994. They weren't doomy and gloomy like Alice in Chains or Nirvana. They rocked, they cursed and they looked like the nobodies you kinda knew at school. I could relate to this and still do, but I can't relate to the Green Day of today.

Back in 1993, when word got out that Green Day had signed with a major label (Reprise), longtime fans felt betrayed. The band was reportedly banished from playing their hometown haunt of 924 Gilman Street for life. Tough crowd - and this was well before they had released anything on a major label. Of course it is very narrow-minded to immediately hate a band for signing with a major, but majors have never had a great overall track record with nurturing bands' careers.

Green Day proceeded to put out a string of really good (and big-selling) albums, Dookie, Insomniac and Nimrod, but by 2000's Warning, their creative needle was on E. There was only so much they could do with their tools of the trade and they seemed like they were on their way out. This was a band that always put on an entertaining live show and put out bubbly singles, but what else could they do? They had grown up and their material was becoming more and more mature. So, how could a band of jesters do more when they ran out of tricks?

Enter American Idiot, a rock opera of sorts, complete with intricate song structures while still retaining a pop-punk feel. Its lyrics narrate a long, drawn-out story, all backed by a wide range of tempos and feels. This was something really special and people really responded to it, especially with issues brought up in an election year. American Idiot is as strong as Green Day's other albums, but their public persona has gone towards something that the people back on Gilman Street feared the worst: they've become the kind of rock stars that you can't relate to.

It's not the glitz and the glamour that I have a problem with; it's the attitude that the band, especially singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, seems to exude these days. Reading in Rolling Stone about how Armstrong feels like he's pretty good at being a rock star is not something I can relate to. Before, I could understand this rather pudgy guy with crooked teeth. Now with all the black eyeliner, designer clothes and the rock star attitude, he might as well be Mariah Carey. Hearing about how their shows are more arena rock clichefests than anything else, I wonder if the band's playing a really funny joke on us. Is it too late to call these guys sellouts?

I know it's not my life and not everything is going to be as pure as I would like it to be. I have a right to speak up as much as other people want to talk up fame and fortune. What interests me is a sense of disconnect between a musician as a person and a musician as an entity or myth. We're all human beings, but there is a myth that once someone attains certain achievements, that person has superpowers. Well, that Jedi mind trick works on others, but not me.

I still think highly of Green Day because they were a gateway band for me. If it weren't for them, I don't think I would have appreciated a band like Screeching Weasel or Operation Ivy. They've done some great stuff on all of their records, but it annoys me that I have to turn a blind eye to them playing the roles of rock stars for the mall punk crowd. This isn't about community. This isn't relatable.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Airplaying

I don't know when I started, but I've played plenty of air-guitar and air-drums over the years. Yes, I'm referring to the solitary act of pretending that a rock music lightning rod is at my disposal. Using my imagination, I see both of my hands playing a real guitar or a real drumset. As silly as it all sounds, I can't help but break out into action when I'm drawn to do so. If I hear a song that gets me riled up (which could be from any genre), I let loose. While it can be a fun sort of thing to do while a song is playing, I find a deeper meaning to it.

In playing a musical instrument, there is a whole lot of mental, as well as physical, concentration going on. For example, when I'm trying to learn a song from a record, I airplay along to get the parts down. Of course it's different when you try to actually play something you learned by ear, but there is greater amount of mental preparation put in to help guide the physical playing.

The interesting thing about this is that it's also rather embarassing if someone "catches" you in mid-act. I've been "caught" a few times before and while they were awkward at first, feelings smoothed out over time. I'm now to the point where I'll actually air-drum or air-guitar a short little part in public. I don't mean it as being tacky; I do it out of love for the song.

Sometimes I wonder if I should enter an air-guitar contest. While it may be fun to knock back some beers, get up on stage and let it rip, I shy away from such shenanigans. I've seen competitions where people get up and try to play like Yngwie Malmsteen with pure air. That may be fun to see, but it's definitely not the same as seeing a real guitar be ripped up and down.

Airplaying is a part of being a music fan and a musician at the same time. I recommend you use caution around where you do it, as not everyone will understand what's prompting you to do such. For those that get enjoyment out of playing music, airplaying is just something that comes with the trade.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Anatomy of a dream

From time to time, I have incredibly strange dreams. Before I get into my description of a dream that I had this morning, I will say this: I had some medication beforehand, so maybe that was a big part of it. However, it was a very vivid and strange dream and I'm trying to understand what I dreamt. Surpisingly, I remembered quite a bit of it, so here's what I remember:

I start out in some bar in some town that I've never been to. Moving towards a table, there's the one and only Kyle and I learn that face to face is playing at this bar later on. Cut to us up front watching face to face as a four-piece with Chad Yaro on second guitar. Between songs, something happens and the band runs off stage and does not return.

I slowly get out of the bar and think I see some familiar faces out in the parking lot. Turns out these faces aren't very familiar with the exception of an old friend from college. She gave me an update on what she's doing (especially how she's moving into a new place with someone). Somehow I get into a truck/SUV hybrid and drive around.

Suddenly it's morning and I park in front of what I believe is Aimee Mann's house. I get out, walk around and see a person coming out the front door. I say hello and think it's the one and only Ms. Mann. Well, it isn't: it's a woman who looks like her, but has red hair.

After conversing with the woman, I look back at the truck/SUV. I see that it was broken into by cutting a back window around its edges. I didn't see anything of value taken, but I notice that the roof is collapsible. The roof is currently down, so with the assistance of the red-haired woman, we put the roof back up and then I wake up.

OK, what? Dreams rarely make sense, but I'm trying to understand where certain aspects come from.

First off: Kyle and the face to face show. Kyle is a big fan of the late-great '90s pop-punk band, as am I. During their glory days, they were a four-piece with Chad Yaro on guitar, but he quit the band sometime after '00's Reactionary. They finished their career as a trio, so seeing Yaro playing again with them was a sight for sore eyes. Plus, I thought about the live version of "Disconnected" from the band's recent career retrospective, Shoot the Moon, sometime last night.

Second of all: my friend from college was someone I saw a few months ago. She was doing well, but working all the time to make ends meet. She said she was happy where she was living, so it piqued my curiosity that she was moving.

Third: the truck/SUV. I have not ridden in either a truck or an SUV in a long time. I had a roommate in college that had one and have a couple of aunts and uncles that own SUVs, but that's it. How I, a compact car driver, got behind the wheel of one, I don't know.

Four: Aimee Mann and her supposed house. I'm a big fan of Mann's solo material, but I've never obsessed about it or her as a person. How I even thought that it was her house was beyond me.

Five: Realizing that the woman was not Aimee Mann and realizing that the truck was broken into. The red hair is important to point out: I recently watched a Charlie Brown Valentine's Day special and the main story is about how Charlie wanted to dance with the elusive red-haired girl, but ultimately didn't. This all sounds more like something that could have been in a world like the one in Mulholland Dr. Strange, my dreams have been as of late indeed.

All in all, there are themes of punk rock, old friends, the suburbs, a vehicle I would never drive that was mysteriously broken into and a case of mistaken identity. Some of these themes have been on my mind recently, but how the other things got into it really makes me wonder. I wonder if any of my friends know any dream analyzers.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Voxtrot Karaoke - TPE Edition

Chris posted his account of last night's Voxtrot show at the Cavern this morning. I have a very similar account, but before that, here's some backstory on the band.

Things have been very fruitful for Austin's Voxtrot in the last few months. There have been some nice write-ups on them on various blogs along with some mentions on Spin.com and Pitchfork. They've done some touring and have worked really hard to get their name out. With a second EP in the pipeline, they recently began another nationwide tour and they hit up Dallas last night.

With a great opener set by Tacks the Boy Disaster, local favorites the Happy Bullets put on a really inspired set. I hadn't seen them play in a few months, so it was good to hear a lot of their songs again (especially the yet-to-be-released song, "Keeping Warm"). During the Bullets, the place was packed. It was so packed that I considered splitting once they were done. I had forgotten that Voxtrot was scheduled to headline, but after there was an announcement that Voxtrot's set may be a little different on this night, I decided to stay.

The word was that lead singer Ramesh was coming back from Chicago that night due to a family emergency. Well, he was delayed four hours at Chicago-Midway and was running really late in arriving at the Cavern. To kill time before the place closed at 2am, Jason, Mitch, Matt and Jared decided to make due with what they had. First, they tried a number of songs with various people singing lead vocals (either from the band or the crowd or both), then they decided to break out some cover songs.

Later joined by Jason and Tim from the Happy Bullets and others, various cover songs were given a go. Songs like "Just Like Heaven" by the Cure, "Undone - The Sweater Song" by Weezer, "Sexy Sadie" by the Beatles, "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes, "Laid" by James, "Where Is My Mind?" by the Pixies and "Waiting for the Man" by the Velvet Underground were played, complete with forgotten lyrics and botched arrangements. From mere descriptions, this sounded like an embarrassing trainwreck. However, this was a really inspiring sight.

I didn't take inspiration from the sloppy runthroughs; I found inspiration with the band for just sticking with it and swallowing their pride. They weren't sitting in a corner and crying about how life had handed them lemmons. Once Ramesh showed up (apparently running a 102-degree fever) at 1:45am, the band proceeded to kick out two songs before they had to close up shop. They were super tight and fun and ended the show on a really good note.

I should also compliment the crowd that stuck around. There were plenty of people up front who cheered along and had a good time. Instead of acting like zombies wanting to be entertained, the people standing around understood the situation and had fun. They knew that the band wasn't usually this loose, so they took pleasure in what could be cobbled together.

Taking all this in, I add another reason to go out and support local bands. This could have been seen as tragedy if the stakes were high. This could be seen as one of Voxtrot's worst shows. For me, there was no tragedy.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Downloading Life

With the RIAA recently deeming the act of ripping music for iPods as not fair use, I think back to my college days. These were days when I saw firsthand how file-sharing started small and got big really quickly.

It's spring of 2000 and I'm really grooving to all things Jimmy Eat World, especially Clarity and Static Prevails. I am aware there are a number of non-LP tracks available on 7"s, EPs and comps and there's even an unreleased demo of a new song called "Sweetness" floating around. I have a desire to hear these songs, but I didn't know how to get a hold of them on CD, especially since a lot of these comps and 7"s were out-of-print.

At the time, I subscribed to a list-serv mailing list for all things Jimmy Eat World-related. People are talking about all these non-LP songs (especially "Sweetness") and someone asks, "Where can I find these songs?" In response, a member posts a link for Napster.com. I click on it and download the program. I get all the non-LP songs I could find and notice that there is quite a variety of songs available for download. Figuring I wouldn't be downloading tracks by artists like Britney Spears, I stay on the hunt for non-LP songs by other bands like Coldplay.

A short time later, one of my roommates was looking for a Britney Spears song via the Internet. Frustrated that he couldn't find anything via the traditional search engines like Google, I suggest he check out Napster. After he downloads the program and sees what all he can get, he looks like a kid that has just discovered television. It's a whole new world.

Following this, another roommate of mine finds out about Napster and is constantly downloading songs from it. He would often sit in our den, think of a song he wanted and see if he could get it. Oftentimes he found what he was looking for and would soon burn these songs onto CD-Rs. This was before CD-Rs and CD burners were as error-proof as they are now, so many miss-burns were had.

Thinking about this trail now, it seems like what happened all across the world with peer-to-peer networks. Sure, Napster was later banned on campus, but by then, other P2Ps like BearShare, Scour and Kazaa were up and running in its place. There was definitely a cool opportunity to grab as many songs as you wanted, but then came in this big misconception about downloading.

For me as a music fan in the US, I didn't have cheap and easy access to b-sides found on singles by my favorite bands. Seeing if these songs were available on a P2P was worth the dig. In the case of Coldplay, when I found all of the Parachutes-era b-sides, I marveled at what I heard. I had purchased Parachutes because of the tracks I downloaded and wanted to hear more. Not only did I get their terrific b-sides, but I also obtained a full live BBC concert. Downloading didn't sway me from buying music; it made the experience more than just a single album with a dozen or so tracks. However, people like my roommates didn't exactly see it this way.

What has stunk the whole time with downloading, ripping and sharing MP3s and burning CD-Rs has been the general lumping together of one mindset. The most common is that people get these songs from the Internet and don't buy any music. Well, that's not me. My mindset is this: get the song or album however I can. Whether it means downloading from an MP3 blog or iTunes or ripping a song from a CD from either mine or Jason's library into iTunes, I do whatever is the easiest. I'm a stickler for 192-CD-quality and remastered quality for songs pre-1990s, so each song is a search in itself.

I continue to be lost in the shuffle on this topic. I love hearing music and love the kind of access the Internet grants. It's just a bummer to share a "guilty by association" with so many others who have a pedestrian view of music.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Eagle*Seagull

Last night we played The Cavern once again. Unlike last time, I didn't have a 3:30 am wake-up call, so I got to stay and watch the other bands play. Blackheart Society was pretty together and played a trippy new song (with an improvised jam). The headliners, Eagle*Seagull, were an absolute delight. Here are some attempts to explain what I saw and why you might like these guys.

First, the set-up: two guitars, bass, violin, keyboards and drums. Overall vibe: somber, but very big, tuneful and catchy. After a few songs, I couldn't help but think of this comparison: The Arcade Fire intersecting The Good Life with a certain amount of caffeine. While I'm not about to slap a "If you love The Arcade Fire and The Good Life, then you'll love these guys" sticker on their CD, I don't think these comparisons are that far off. It's not like calling The Dismemberment Plan "Beastie Boys meets Radiohead."

An issue I have with a number of underground/unsigned/indie bands is that for every great band, there are about twenty other mediocre bands. A lot of times the comparisons to other well-known/established bands raises the expectation levels incredibly high. In the case of Eagle*Seagull, I really like what I've heard so far and I'm curious as to what they'll do next. I won't make any grand declarations about them; I'll just sit back and enjoy their self-titled record on Paper Garden Records.

Listen to tracks via their official site and their MySpace page. Let me know what you think of these guys.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Certain Trigger

I said it recently and I'll say it again: it's interesting how bands/records you initially pass on come back into your life. The latest one for me is Maximo Park. Frank at Chromewaves recently chimed in with similar thoughts on these guys too, so here's my story.

Sometime last year, Jason played me a clip of "Apply Some Pressure." Rolling my eyes at the sound of yet another British band on a non-melodic, post-punk bender, I didn't want to hear anymore of it. Fast forward to last week: I'm in CD Addict and Mark plays a song on their CD changer that really catches my ear. Sounding more like a cross between the brilliant, poppy post-punk of The Futureheads, the sunny pop of The Thrills and a touch of pop-punk ala Screeching Weasel, I was curious. Who was this band? The one and only, Maximo Park. And even more impressive, the song was a b-side called, "Fear of Falling."

Mark suggested I check out their debut album, A Certain Trigger, and a forthcoming b-sides collection entitled, Missing Songs. Hearing some more of their songs, I will freely admit that I shouldn't have passed these guys up so quickly. A Certain Trigger and Missing Songs showcase incredibly catchy pop with some dips into post-punk territory. Hearing this now is a lot easier than this time last year. Last year was a year where it was very easy for a band like this to be lost in the shuffle.

In 2005, modern bands with various odes to '79-'83 post-punk (whether intended or not) got a lot of write-ups in the press, especially the British press. I don't know about you, but I had about enough of it around SxSW last year with all the hoopla about Bloc Party. That was in March and there were quite a few other bands written up in the following months. While I absolutely love Silent Alarm and like a few of these dancey, post-punk-styled bands (especially Franz Ferdinand), a lot of other bands with a remotely-sounding post-punk feel got the shove-it-down-yer-throat treatment. To quote George Costanza: Oxygen - I need oxygen!

With my mind always wandering from band to band and record to record, trying to separate the great from the crappy in a big and hazy genre that I wasn't completely sold on was tough. I've never hated the skronky guitars and the disco drumbeats completely, but when they back a track that lacks the kind of spark that makes a song really powerful, I grow very impatient. Seeing as how certain media outlets and labels like to pump as much gas out of a filling station until the very last drop, I didn't want to wait around for that time to come.

Now with the moronic, "Like the Stone Roses in '89 and Oasis in '94" kind of hype around Arctic Monkeys, even more dancey post-punk is probably making its way through the hype factories. That's a big "oh brother" for me, but I really don't know. There could probably be another really promising band to come out of this current mining operation. Of course it's really up in the air as to where bands like Bloc Party, The Futureheads and Maximo Park will go next, but all these new trails shouldn't be seen as one big trail.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My friends look out for me like family

I make no secret that friendship is very important to me. As an idea and with the ones I call my friends, friendship is vital. To use a line by Alex Chilton, without my friends I've got chaos. I think of friends as the kind of family you construct, not the family you're born into.

As I spend a few days off in Houston, I'm reminded of why I care so much about my friends. Friendship is a major topic in Post and I hope it gets across without forcing it down people's throats. I've found that no matter how hard a struggle is, having your friends back you up is a helping hand when you really need it. As routine as that sounds, it means way more than words when you have strong feelings about it.

Spending time with Chris and Tim Monday night, it was great to catch up with each other. I hadn't seen them in months, so there was plenty to talk about. Like getting together at Matt's wedding, it didn't really feel like "the good ol' days" - it felt more like better days in the present. Sure, I'd love to see these guys more often, but various factors (including the physical distance of four hours on my end) prevent such. In turn, we appreciate the time we have together, no matter how short they may seem.

This rather intense feeling of friendship comes from growing up without many close friends. Finding people that I could really relate to as high school ended and college began, I started to realize how strong the ties of friendship could be. At the time, I was listening to bands like H2O and Pennywise sing about friendship and brotherhood, so I was able to have a better understanding of what they were talking about. "My friends look out for me like family" indeed.

Though I wasn't planning on making friendship a big deal in Post, I couldn't help but come back to it. Many band stories involve four or five friends getting together to play music and seeing where it goes. Sometimes the band ends on a bad note or sometimes it ends like putting an old dog to sleep, but more often than not, the friendships are tested. Where they go after that and what they learned from it is vital.

Early into researching the Jawbox chapter, I came across this quote from J. Robbins in '98 in Positive Rage: "We wouldn't absolutely rule out working with a major again, but we love working with our friends." Just that one quote steered things in a different direction. I felt I should explore that more and see how someone could make a comment like that. The path to understanding this has been very rewarding, but I get the feeling that I'm just getting started.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"How can people live like this?"

In Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld tells a story about the Glenn Miller Orchestra and a family they encountered en route to a gig. The story goes, the plane the band was flying in landed in the middle of a snowstorm. Near where they landed was a house and they walked into it. The band members, all wet because of the snow and slush, see a family that looked like they came straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. One band member says to the other: "How can people live like this?"

In terms of how I was raised, I had no problem with living in a suburb. By the time I moved away for college, I had enough of suburban life. I have no problem with visiting my family, but I can't live in their environment (for the time being). Where I am in my life now, the squeaky clean and relatively new suburbs aren't the place for me. I sometimes ask myself, "How can people live like this?"

I don't blame or criticize people who want to live the kind of life that Rockwell painted. Sure, innocence may be captured very well in those paintings, but those are only moments in time. Those moments stay frozen in art, but I think it's important to understand that those moments come and go. Of course that's a big "duh!" but I see a lot of people living in daydreams.

I wouldn't object to living in the suburbs, but in my current place in life, I'm not so keen on being a suburbanite. I live in an older part of town with homes and apartments and I don't call it a typical suburb. Places like Flower Mound, Lewisville and McKinney are typical suburbs and they are perfect for people that want to live a suburbanite life. For my life now, I like where I live. I'm close to most of my favorite bars and venues in town, bookstores and record stores. I'm not set on changing this scenery just yet.

I'm sure there are people that see my life and wonder, "How can people live like this?" Well, we all live, regardless of living conditions. That's the important part.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Party's Over

As socially inept I may be, I actually enjoy parties. I especially enjoy the ones at our house because I don't have to think about how or when I'm going home. Plus, I get to DJ the event, also to my enjoyment.

Last night was the big anti-Valentine's Day/birthday party for your's truly and, no surprise, I had a really good time. It was a happy birthday party with sincere birthday wishes from friends and guests. Plus, people were very complimentary of the mix CDs and the recent article in the Observer. I heard no complaints about mixing up college rock hits with Top 40 hits though one guy didn't find favor with the fact that the music all came from the '80s. Ah, a minority of one . . .

Overall, my experience was relatively uneventful compared to what happened to the Wee Demon. How someone could mistake a corn chip for a cigarette is beyond me . . .

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Juliana Theory: 1997-2006

Punknews.org passes along another band break-up: The Juliana Theory. While I wouldn't say they were a crucial band in the development of post-hardcore/emo/whatever, they were definitely a band that deserves some mentions.

If I recall correctly, the first time I heard of The Juliana Theory was when Brett Detar decided to leave Zao to do TJT full-time. A short time later, I heard "August in Bethany" on MP3 in my dorm room in Brachman. Compared to what Tooth & Nail usually released at the time (mostly MxPx-styled punk or detuned hardcore-metal), hearing a band in more of the vein of The Get Up Kids was definitely different. What really helped was that The Juliana Theory's debut album, Understand This is a Dream, was really good.

Understand This is a Dream was released in March of 1999, a year that I strongly believe was a turning point in the mainstream's acceptance of what they would lump all together as emo. Sure, the word 'emo' had been kicking around since the mid-'80s and was often used in the mid-'90s to describe bands like The Promise Ring, but once a more mainstream audience got a hold of it, the brand name was emo.

Between 1999-2002, there was no turning back: demand for bands like The Get Up Kids, Saves the Day and The Juliana Theory made major labels very interested in them. After a few false starts the '90s (Jawbox and Jawbreaker not breaking through to a mainstream audience, Mineral and Texas is the Reason breaking up before they signed with majors, Jimmy Eat World putting out incredible albums on Capitol only to be commercially ignored), major labels would finally find a recipe for creating hit bands out of all things post-hardcore and poppy.

The Juliana Theory got caught up in a twister of major label interest. As soon as they started touring for Understand This is a Dream, they sounded rather ambitious for a band playing this kind of rock music. Hearing rumblings that they were very rock star-ish onstage and off, they quickly gained a bad reputation. I never understood all the anger directed at them, but then again, I never interviewed them and never saw them live.

Months before they would record their second album, Emotion is Dead, the band made a really big deal about wanting to break out of trappings of emo. Well, they went for it with Emotion is Dead and they kind of came across as pretentious rock stars in the process. With the exposure the album got, more people got into them either as fans or naysayers. Their popularity reached to a point where it seemed incredibly natural to sign with a major label.

When Love dropped on Epic Records in February of 2003, expectations were high. They had made a big and polished rock record with Jerry Harrison that was prime for mainstream airplay. Unfortunately, The Juliana Theory got the same kind of treatment that a lot of bands get when they sign to a major label: lots of building excitement before they're on a major is followed by a cold shoulder once they've released something on a major. That's the rub about building excitement: when you think you're getting to the point of going higher, you realize that the moment has long since passed.

I don't blame a band like TJT for wanting to go all the way, but as I keep seeing over and over again, you can't set your goals so high. Audiences in general are fickle and the mainstream audience in particular is incredibly fickle. I don't think The Juliana Theory wanted to be something like Van Halen, but I don't think they wanted to play places like The Door in Dallas for their whole career. It's totally worth it trying to see how far you can go.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hearing

Inspired by a post on Kev's blog, I feel I should add my thoughts on the concern that an iPod's earbud phones can do more damage to one's hearing than regular headphones. As an iPod owner for over a month, I have not suffered any sort of ringing in my ears or felt any sort of discomfort following usage. No matter how personal stereos evolve, the biggest factor in hearing loss is volume.

I don't like to listen to music at a quiet level nor do I like to listen to it at a piercing level. I like to hear all the major frequencies, but not to the point where they're overbearing. Sometimes I briefly hear a light, high-pitched squeal after a listen, but that's the extent. This usually happens after I've listened to a CD in the car and I didn't notice how loud it got until after the fact. Whenever I see my rearview mirror slowly bumping around, I sense the urge to slightly turn down the music.

In the case of my iPod, I keep the volume level at less than 50%. In turn, I'm amazed at what I can hear other than the music. I hear stuff like cars passing by, people talking and the jingles of Juliet's tags. I hear all of the music, but it doesn't distract me. There is zero over-ring and as I said, I don't feel any discomfort.

Maybe the concern is that I'm doing way more damage to my hearing than I think. Well, if that's the case then that's the case. I've always gone to great measures to protect my hearing so if some pucks get through the goal, then they get through the goal.

I've never attented a rock concert without wearing earplugs. I've played drums without earplugs only once (it was in a jazz band combo in high school) but I have had them in all of the other times (whether it was practice or a performance). I still practice safe hearing to this day.

I know a number of people who don't play with earplugs because they can't hear anything. Well, I hear enough to know what's going on and I don't think I'm missing anything crucial. Not only is there a potential for hearing loss, but I have a major flinching problem with listening to loud things sans earplugs.

Though I started playing drums since high school, I never played percussion in the marching band. As a trumpet player on the marching field, I thankfully was rarely around snare drums. But the few times that I was, I would flinch like crazy. I couldn't focus and if it weren't for earplugs, I'd be flinching throughout every moment of every practice and performance.

So there you have it. One's hearing is super-important especially for someone who loves music. As long as it doesn't hurt to listen, I'll keep listening.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Instant classic?

I've been reading Rolling Stone since high school. While my tastes have slowly moved away from the stuff they usually cover, I always think highly of their writing. I've always respected what they've said in their reviews, but as of late, I've been thinking about their grading scale for record reviews. I don't know how long they've used their "star" scale but here is the rundown: one star is "poor," two stars is "fair," three is "good," four is "excellent" and five is "classic." I don't know about you, but I think "classic" should be taken off the scale.

In my time of reading RS, only a handful of albums have received the prestigious five-star rating. Off the top of my head, albums like Automatic for the People by R.E.M., August & Everything After by Counting Crows, Sea Change by Beck, Elephant by The White Stripes, Goddess in the Doorway by Mick Jagger and Love & Theft by Bob Dylan have received such rating. Not to piss on the merits of the other albums, but I believe only Automatic for the People is a truly time-tested, classic album.

Whatever is or isn't considered a "classic," I have to call attention to something: aren't things considered "classic" after they've been around for a few years and have really held up? So, how can anyone claim that a new album is a classic upon its initial release? I don't mean to knock the knowledge of RS's writing staff (David Fricke is one of the finest music critics of our time), but come on, these records don't come with tarot cards.

Greg Kot said on last weekend's episode of Sound Opinions that Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not by Arctic Monkeys was recently voted by the NME as the #5 best album ever in UK music history, ahead of The Clash's London Calling and The Beatles' Revolver. What? Granted, there is a lot of sensational excitement right now around Arctic Monkeys, but the important thing to wonder is: is this excitement going to stick around for years to come? Probably not, but the true litmus test for all classic albums is time.

For me, I don't believe that a young band's debut album can come in and sit high with time-tested classics right away. In regards to records that have come out in the past six years, I believe a record like Is This It? by the Strokes will be continue to be highly-praised for years and years to come. The album was praised royally when it was originally released in '01, but it wasn't considered one of the best albums ever. After the flood of 'the' bands playing some form of stripped-down rock & roll for the masses, Is This It? will probably be thought of as highly as the Ramones' debut album. As for right now, it's a big crapshoot for Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not.

There is usually no point of reference or legacy with a new, young band. The excitement is in the now, but sustaining a classic status can only come with repeated listens over many years. I guess some people like jumping the gun. I guess these same people like eating their words too.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Reunion

Inspired by this thread polling message boarders which reunion would they like to see, Smashing Pumpkins or At the Drive-In, I'd like to chime in once again on band reunions.

Reunions are a real dicey issue with me. Many bands break up and its band members say over and over again they'll never reunite and then, they reunite. Sure, they eat their words, but it thrills longtime fans that they're getting back together. Recent examples of this include Gang of Four, the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. While I think bands like these reuniting is cool to see, I generally don't pine for reunions.

In the case of At the Drive-In, I believe they went out on their peak with their final album, Relationship of Command. That album shows the band in a fully-realized form. The sound and design were things they had been hinting at with their records up to it. It's still a powerful album and it's the result of many years of hard work. The band members had a goal of breaking out of the average, confining mindset found in their hometown of El Paso and they did it. They continue to do such in their respective bands, The Mars Volta and Sparta.

But for a lot of people, they would love to see At the Drive-In play together again. I was lucky to see them twice and I will testify that they were one of the greatest live bands I've ever seen. As much as people want a reunion, its ex-members keep saying it will never happen. I honestly doubt they will ever reunite, but I think that's for the better. I don't mean this in a bad way.

There's a sort of mystique around a band like At the Drive-In. They said what they said and moved on. That's a testament to who the band was and what they stood for. They didn't play along to what people expected them to do; they did what was best for themselves. They said if one member wasn't into the band and left, then that would be the end of the band. That attitude may be a little arrogant and self-centered, but if the power behind ATDI was out, it wouldn't have the kind of impact of when the power was on. I credit them for sticking to their word when they split in 2001.

In the case of the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr, here were bands that said they would never get back together. Especially with Dinosaur, there were plenty of harsh words said between members in interviews and song lyrics over the years. There were no chances of anything diluting all the bad blood. In the case of the Pixies, there were signs that a full reunion could happen as Joey, Charles and David worked/toured together for many years following the band's break-up, but the possibility of Kim Deal's participation was doubtful.

When bands like the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and Mission of Burma announced they were reuniting, people were very excited at the chances of what could happen with this. At least there will be a chance to see these bands play live again, but a big "if" happens when the band decides to record new material. Off the top of my head, Mission of Burma's new material has the distinction of being as highly-regarded as their older material. That's a rarity because new material is not usually as widely-embraced as the material that the band earned their reputation with. Both Dinosaur and the Pixies are recording new material and there are some great expectations with whatever comes out. We'll have to wait and see if their new material holds up as well as albums like Doolittle and You're Living All Over Me.

Whenever I hear about band reunions, I think a band is trying to recreate its youthful energy by playing songs from yesteryear. This is usually a fun sight to see if the band members still play the material with a sense of vitality. However, there have been plenty of times that acts have reunited and the results have been very spotty. Sure, it may be cool to see surviving members play together again, but if the performances blow and the new material sucks, I think it's better to stay apart.

Monday, February 06, 2006

When a Stranger Calls . . . Again

Though I saw an all-time great movie on Saturday (the Marx Bros.' A Night at the Opera), I'd like to talk about the highest-grossing movie at the box office. If you hadn't heard, it was a remake of When a Stranger Calls. The original may have brought some loot in and the remake brought some in too, but still, the original When a Stranger Calls is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Now, with the recent post on Bram Stoker's Dracula, don't think I try to intentionally watch bad movies. I don't like to marvel at all of the bad movies I've seen in my life, but seeing the ads for the WASC remake reminds me of when I watched the original in college.

As a film nut and a horror fan of films like Scream, Halloween and Psycho, I heard mentions about When a Stranger Calls. Its first fifteen minutes had a reputation as being pretty scary (the creepy phonecalls are coming from inside the house) and this part was paid some homage to in the first fifteen minutes of Scream. That was enough of a hook for me to check out the movie. While I'm glad I saw the movie once, I'm glad I don't have to see it again.

Essentially, the killer kills the two kids the babysitter is babysitting, escapes into the world and comes back to terrorize the babysitter. Simple premise, but the execution shoots the movie in the foot. The pace slows down to a crawl and the acting is pretty lame. Going nowhere plot-wise, the killer comes back for a nice little "Gotcha!" in the third act.

Thinking about the movie now, When a Stranger Calls feels like another relic from the post-Halloween terror/Friday the 13th shlock. Well it is, but this doesn't help it age over time. So, there is a chance to remake the movie and make it into a possibly better movie. While I haven't seen the remake, I think more remakes of bad movies should be done if Hollywood continues to remake older movies. As much as I groan at the sound of remakes, I give the studios some credit for trying to make a stinker into something a little better.

I haven't heard great things about the When a Stranger Calls remake, but think about the Ocean's Eleven remake. The original Ocean's Eleven had a reputation of being one of the worst Rat Pack movies and I think there was a sigh of relief with the remake. So, why aren't more bad old movies remade instead of older, great, time-tested movies?

Familiarity with subject matter is crucial in selling a movie to a mass audience. In the case of When a Stranger Calls, it's a splatter flick, pure and simple. It's not high art or ground-breaking. With splatter flicks, just pair up a crazy guy with people in distress and throw in some scary music and you have some eye candy. The original When a Stranger Calls wasn't that great nor was it very well-known, so there wasn't much to lose with a remake.

Remakes are still coming in, whether their originals were good or not. Seeing the preview for the upcoming remake of The Shaggy Dog, I groan in pain. I stay away from this kind of stuff and spend more time watching other stuff, like classics from the Marx Bros. Next up: Duck Soup.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Anti-Valentine's '80s mixes

To do a post ala one of Josh's blogs, here are the tracklistings for the Anti-Valentine's '80s mix CDs:

Disc 1
1. "Video Killed the Radio Star" - the Buggles
2. "Under Pressure" - Queen and David Bowie
3. "Black and White" - the dB's
4. "Whip It" - DEVO
5. "White Girl" - X
6. "Cars" - Gary Numan
7. "Turning Japanese" - the Vapors
8. "Come On Eileen" - Dexy's Midnight Runners
9. "Enola Gay" - OMD
10. "Working for the Weekend" - Loverboy
11. "Freak Scene" - Dinosaur Jr
12. "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" - Cyndi Lauper
13. "Rock This Town" - Stray Cats
14. "Everyday I Write the Book" - Elvis Costello & the Attractions
15. "Centerfold" - J. Geils Band
16. "Love Plus One" - Haircut 100
17. "Steppin' Out" - Joe Jackson
18. "Poor Old Soul" - Orange Juice
19. "Walking on Sunshine" - Katrina & the Waves
20. "Cum on Feel the Noise" - Quiet Riot
21. "I Ran" - A Flock of Seagulls

Disc 2
1. "The Breaks (part 1)" - Kurtis Blow
2. "I Melt With You" - Modern English
3. "Going Underground" - the Jam
4. "Dancing With Myself" - Billy Idol
5. "You Better You Bet" - the Who
6. "99 Luftballons" - Nena
7. "Ceremony" - New Order
8. "Hungry Like the Wolf" - Duran Duran
9. "Jessie's Girl" - Rick Springfield
10. "Inbetween Days" - the Cure
11. "Don't You (Forget About Me)" - Simple Minds
12. "Talking In Your Sleep" - the Romantics
13. "Shake It Up" - the Cars
14. "In a Big Country" - Big Country
15. "Into You Like a Train" - Psychedelic Furs
16. "To Hell With Poverty" - Gang of Four
17. "If You Leave" - OMD
18. "Strangelove" - Depeche Mode

Disc 3
1. "Shout" - Tears For Fears
2. "This Charming Man" - the Smiths
3. "West End Girls" - Pet Shop Boys
4. "Beat It" - Michael Jackson
5. "What You Need" - INXS
6. "Summer of 69" - Bryan Adams
7. "Jump" - Van Halen
8. "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops" - Cocteau Twins
9. "Makes No Sense At All" - Husker Du
10. "Circles" - Dag Nasty
11. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" - the Police
12. "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" - Wang Chung
13. "Our House" - Madness
14. "Always Something There to Remind Me" - Naked Eyes
15. "Temptation" - New Order
16. "Don't Stop Believen'" - Journey
17. "Pride (In the Name of Love)" - U2
18. "Uptown Girl" - Billy Joel
19. "Seen Your Video" - the Replacements
20. "Tainted Love" - Soft Cell

Disc 4
1. "We're Not Gonna Take It" - Twisted Sister
2. "Owner of a Lonely Heart" - Yes
3. "867-5309/Jenny" - Tommy Tutone
4. "Your Love" - the Outfield
5. "Just Like Honey" - the Jesus & Mary Chain
6. "Billie Jean" - Michael Jackson
7. "Holiday in Cambodia" - Dead Kennedys
8. "Space Age Love Song" - A Flock of Seagulls
9. "I'm in Love with a German Film Star" - the Passions
10. "Don't You Want Me" - the Human League
11. "Rock You Like a Hurricane" - Scorpions
12. "The Back of Love" - Echo & the Bunnymen
13. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" - Tears For Fears
14. "I Want You Back" - Hoodoo Gurus
15. "Sex Beat" - Gun Club
16. "Take On Me" - a-Ha
17. "Close to Me" - the Cure
18. "Something So Strong" - Crowded House
19. "Teen Age Riot" - Sonic Youth

Disc 5
1. "Livin' on a Prayer" - Bon Jovi
2. "Rise" - Public Image Ltd.
3. "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" - R.E.M.
4. "Bone Machine" - Pixies
5. "Panic" - the Smiths
6. "Magic" - the Cars
7. "Tell Her About It" - Billy Joel
8. "Punk Rock Girl" - Dead Milkmen
9. "Take the Skinheads Bowling" - Camper Van Beethoven
10. "Manic Monday" - the Bangles
11. "Here I Go Again" - Whitesnake
12. "Jet Fighter" - the Three O'Clock
13. "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" - Pet Shop Boys
14. "Personal Jesus" - Depeche Mode
15. "Town Called Malice" - the Jam
16. "The Killing Moon" - Echo & the Bunnymen
17. "Walk This Way" - Run DMC with Aerosmith
18. "Pretty in Pink" - Psychedelic Furs
19. "Let My Love Open the Door" - Pete Townshend
20. "Fame and Fortune" - Mission of Burma
21. "Voices Carry" - 'Til Tuesday

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not

This may be old hat now because Arctic Monkeys' debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not, has sold a lot of copies (360,000 and counting in the UK), but I still think their name is one of the dumbest band names I've ever heard.

Hearing their name reminds me of a scene in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People. Tony Wilson talks about the worst band name he had ever heard: Barabbas. To take a cue from that conversation, I'll substitute Barabbas with Arctic Monkeys. Can you really imagine people saying . . .

"Who do we want? Arctic Monkeys!"
"When do we want 'em? Now!"


Again, I don't care how many records they've sold (supposedly it's the fastest-selling record of all time in the UK), the name just doesn't have the kind of ring that names like Franz Ferdinand, Joy Division or Oasis have. Those names don't evoke images of monkeys swinging around in frozen weather. But, names are just names - the music defines the name, goofy or not.

So far, what I've heard from Arctic Monkeys is a rather harder-sounding kind of dancey post-punk. I refuse to call them "the new Franz Ferdinand" because Franz Ferdinand is Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys is Arctic Monkeys. As much as they may generally sound alike, they are two separate bands with different influences. Anyway, the point is that Arctic Monkeys have a sound, but their name still doesn't hold up well.

I think about some of worst band names I've ever heard. My friend Goose told me he once played in a band called Stool (I always thought of the kind of stool that you sit on in a bar, not the sample). That name is up there on the list while I try to think of other bad band names. However, if you think about it, there are plenty of names that sound a little weird or dumb at first, but you get used to them after a while.

For example, Dustin Kensrue called his band's name, Thrice, a pretty bad name in the recent documentary, If We Could Only See Us Now. I don't think it's a bad name; I think of that old SNL sketch with Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley ("I am thrice-divorced and I live in a van down by the river!") when I hear the name. Thrice is a serious band and their music is pretty good. When I'm listening to their music, I'm not thinking of the SNL sketch. The name doesn't sound goofy or silly; yet I can't get the silliness out of the name Arctic Monkeys when I hear their music.

What doesn't help Arctic Monkeys' case is that they are being touted as important as Oasis was back in the '90s and The Strokes were earlier in the decade. That's an insane amount of pressure for a young band. We're talking a band with only one album out after being together for a little more than a year. If they're going to be a big, great and influential for a long time, that kind of stuff is not going to happen instantly. Signs don't look so good in the long-run for a band called Arctic Monkeys.

In parting, I'm only talking about a name here. Names only identify us, but they don't define us. However, tacky names don't really help.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Handle With Care

In honor of Jeff posting The Traveling Wilburys' Volume One in the MP3 format, I bring up a very interesting thing about out-of-print titles: the ridiculous prices people ask for them on CD.

When I last checked, Volume One goes for an average of $40 on places like Half.com, Amazon.com and eBay. These days, that kind of money will buy you a handful of used CDs or even an entire box set. Asking that much really presses the customer into how much he/she really wants it. Sure, you can find so many out-of-print titles on the Internet, but for people who want the actual CD, the liner notes, et al. you have to be willing to pay up big time.

It seems like a distant memory now, but there was a time when Jawbreaker's Dear You was out of print and a hot item on eBay. Auctions after auctions would end with the winning bidder forking over an average of $50 per copy. I was never lucky in winning one of those auctions; I found a copy from an Internet retailer in Canada, but I had to pay a total of $27 after taxes and stuff. Why would I pay so much for a single CD? Because there were definite concerns that the album would never see the light of day again on CD.

In the case of Dear You, the album's sales were a very big disappointment for a major label artist. I've heard conflicting numbers, but somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 copies were sold. While there are indie artists that would kill to sell that many copies of a record, for a band throwing their hat in the big leagues, Dear You was a flop.

However, proving once again that sheer numbers do not equate quality, Dear You would find an audience for people that missed out on Jawbreaker back when they were around. People coming late to the band probably weren't aware of the fan backlash of the band signing with a major label (after years of saying they would never do so). They let the music do the talking.

Sure, Dear You is a big and glossy record, but it's probably one of their best albums. When people realized this and knew that Geffen had ceased printing copies of it, a huge demand was born. Apparently Jawbreaker owed Geffen a ton of money, so you really had to scramble to find your own copy of Dear You.

Back in '99, CD burners and peer-to-peer networks weren't as user-friendly as they are now. Trying to get all of the album tracks in CD-quality and burn them onto CDs that could play in any player was a crapshoot. For me, my friend Gabe in Oxnard burned me a CD-R copy to listen to. However, I wanted the full deal, so I plunked down $27 for it.

Thankfully, Jawbreaker drummer Adam Pfahler's Blackball Records reissued Dear You a few years later with some smokin' bonus tracks (including the unreleased studio version of "Shirt"). While Dear You has a happy ending, The Traveling Wilburies' Volume One remains a hazy cloud of questions.

I don't know the story about why the record is out of print, but there are probably most definitely entanglements with rights and ownership over the group's back catalog. Volume One boasted a hit single with "Handle With Care" and the song is still popular today. Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley recently covered the song with help from Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes and Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service, thus adding even more attention to the original.

Usually, supergroups made out of well-known artists sound good on paper, but they rarely pay off. Expectations are so high because of the individuals' previous work, so putting them together with other heavyweights is like putting ice cream on pizza (great separately, but not great together). For a group consisting of Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne, The Traveling Wilburys were an exception.

Volume One is worth hearing, but I'd much rather listen to Jeff's free MP3 upload than fork over $40 for it. And you wonder why people are so annoyed with the prices of CDs that they turn to downloading . . .

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hey, Remember the '80s?

As Jason and I plan our next party, I'm nearing completion on the mix CDs for it. Since every party we throw has some sort of theme, this one will double as an anti-Valentine's Day party and a birthday party for me. Instead of putting on a bunch of downer songs on the mix CDs like I did last year, I've decided to put on songs all from the '80s, downers and non-downers. Plus, I'm doing something I would have thought was stupid a year ago: mixing Top 40 pop hits with college rock hits.

To avoid what I think are major musical trainwrecks, I've decided to stay away from jumping around musical genres too much. I'm sticking mostly with the pop and rock genres, but I think some rap, post-punk and punk rock can slide through.

I've been to a few '80s-themed parties over the years. While I love hearing the familiar Top 40 hits, I feel there is too much other good stuff that is left out because it didn't get play on Top 40 radio back in the day. Well, I want to see how acts like the dB's, Michael Jackson, Gary Numan, Dead Kennedys, Van Halen, Echo & the Bunnymen, Soft Cell, Bon Jovi, The Cure, Billy Joel, Dag Nasty, The Police, Tears for Fears, Pixies, Loverboy, Duran Duran, Gang of Four and Crowded House fit together. If you want to look at social relevance at the time they originally came out, this is like the outcasts hanging out with the jocks and cheerleaders in harmony. However, I'm not interested in social relevance here. I want to hear good songs whether they were left of the dial or elsewhere back in the day.

Of course sound production is going to fluctuate going from something like "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson into "Holiday in Cambodia" by Dead Kennedys, but I want to hear some better variety with my '80s music. As someone who enjoys my Like, Omigod - The '80s Pop Culture box set as much as my Left of the Dial box set, I want to hear a number of tracks from both sets.

As a way of honoring the music I grew up on in the '80s (pop music) along with the music I can now better understand (underground music), I don't want to turn this into a safe, "play the hits" mix. That kind of model works well for people that want to keep people dancing, but we're talking "background music" here.

I'll admit it; if I'm not really mingling with our guests elsewhere, I'm in the room with the stereo and paying close attention to the songs. Maybe I'm really that socially inept, but if I'm more intrigued with the music, I see what kinds of conversations I can strike up with people in the same room.

So there you have it; a wild variety of songs from a decade that many say "didn't matter" because of its disposable nature. Disposable? Why do I keep getting the feeling that the '00s is a retread of the '80s? Why do I keep thinking that others say these kinds of times don't matter do matter for others? What I mean is that the time we have does matter. This includes the music that we listen to; the disposable and the meaningful.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dallas Observer article

Thanks to Wee Demon for a really awesome article on Post.

Here's a sampling:


He's So Emo
Eric Grubbs chronicles two decades of DIY music the only way he knows how--doing it himself
By ANDREA GRIMES
Article Published Feb 2, 2006

Slowly, people are trickling into the Cavern, sporting requisite hipster wear in all its various forms, from punk chic to whatever's on the mannequins over at Urban Outfitters. It's Thursday night, and they are, or will very soon be, hard at play. Forty miles west, at KTVT-Channel 11 in Fort Worth, the folks on the night shift are hard at work planning the next morning's broadcast. But in both the Lower Greenville bar and the news hub, the fact that Channel 11 reporter Rebecca Flores has the flu is a problem.

Eric Grubbs, who is nervously bouncing his foot on the Cavern floor, will be responsible for filling in for Flores in just a few hours. He should be home, sleeping, with his closely-shaven head resting comfortably on its East Dallas pillow. But he has a more immediate task: a concert with his band, Ashburne Glen, the first they have played in nearly a year and a half. Eyeing the tiny stage, he plans his exit strategy--off the drum stool, over the amp and out the front door to a couple hours of sleep. At least, as a traffic reporter, he doesn't have to go on camera.


"Yeah, and with these ears?" Grubbs says, cupping the sides of his head and laughing to himself. He has a deep voice perfectly suited for broadcasting; he easily sounds 50 years old. But at 26, Grubbs is one of the youngest guys in his field, reporting accidents, brush fires and other commuting impediments to the rabid motorists of North Texas on stations like KLUV-98.7 FM and KRLD-1080 AM. It pays the bills, and he takes it seriously. As tempting as it might be to get riled up about High Five congestion, however, Grubbs spends most of his time thinking and, most recently, writing about music. For the past two years, Grubbs has divided his life between the clean-cut, chronically square world of alternate routes and construction delays and his book, a do-it-yourself, homemade volume about the evolution of post-hard-core music and (don't say it too loudly) that dreaded, much-maligned genre known as emo. It's called Post: An Anthology of American Post-Hardcore /Whatever-You-Call-It-Core: 1985-2005.

"Nobody wants to talk about it seriously in any form of press other than in bits and pieces," says Grubbs in an interview at a certain Seattle-based corporate coffee house on Knox Street. The definitive work on the music thus far is a book called Nothing Feels Good by Spin magazine contributing writer Andy Greenwald, an admitted outsider in the scene. While it's not his only reason--or even his main one--for writing Post, Grubbs thinks Greenwald has it all wrong.

"Nothing Feels Good seems to be the epitome of how a lot of mainstream people like to write about [post-hard-core, emo, pick your term], which is 'Aww, these poor little guys, they've been mortally wounded by girls,'" says Grubbs, cocking his head and batting his eyelashes in mockery. "I get the feeling that they've got their tongues in their cheeks when they're writing it. This is ridiculous."

Grubbs' approach to the book, which is still a few chapters from completion, takes more from early DIY punk rock than modern publishing. Grubbs is seeking to redefine the perception of bands from Minor Threat to Braid and Jimmy Eat World by tracking down the musicians themselves, without the backing of a well-funded music magazine or publisher, and asking them to tell their stories. From a fan's perspective, Grubbs is finding out how--or whether--Ian MacKaye's music morphed into the acoustic angst of Dashboard Confessional. It's taken a lot of cold e-mails, a lot of waiting backstage after shows and a fair amount of luck.

After getting nowhere with Jimmy Eat World's publicist, for example, Grubbs finally met drummer Zach Lind because of a band T-shirt he wore at a party. When a friend saw his Sparta tee, Grubbs says, "He said, 'Hey man, Sparta's awesome.' We got to talking, and he grew up with Jimmy Eat World. He got me in backstage at the show."

Grubbs has made incremental advances such as that since he decided to write the book in March 2004, after getting hit on the head with a pile of shingles at his apartment complex.

"I was kind of in a daze," he says about the injury. "Whenever I'm sick or injured, I think of when things are going to get better. I had heard [Nothing Feels Good] was overlooking a lot of stuff. I thought, 'Well, obviously, there's going to be somebody who's going to write a book about this.' With this going through my head...I'm going to my afternoon gig at KLUV. As I'm going through the Wycliff toll plaza, I said to myself, 'Well, why don't I write about this music?'"

He called his TCU college buddy Nick Wright, now the owner of Mission Label, an independent record label in Chicago, and told him about the idea. Wright, who had no experience in publishing, jumped onboard immediately. He's taking his book-marketing approach from that of newly formed bands who may or may not have a full recorded album to shop to fans. The theory, more than anything else, is just to get people to listen rather than buy.

"We're trying to find the best way to get the word out organically," says Wright, who calls Grubbs an "encyclopedia" of the post-hard-core genre. Wright and Grubbs have already created a press release and post cards promoting Post and hope to build an audience the way a band builds a fan base.

"The bands [Grubbs] talks about in Post had to do the same things [Grubbs did] to be heard or to get their records out," Wright says. "We all should understand that really good, independent, DIY music comes from people who have that same attitude."

As is true of many of the artists he interviews, Grubbs has a sense of major-label skepticism and rejects the idea of shopping his book to the likes of Harper-Collins or Penguin.

"I don't want to bother getting an agent and beg publishers to get it out," Grubbs says. "There was no middle man when people started their own records. Why should there be a middle man when publishing a book?"

For now, Grubbs is very much a man in the middle. Between performing with his band (Ashburne Glen's second album, It's All Just a Dirty Game, will be released by Mission Label on February 7), demystifying morning commutes and just trying to get some sleep, he has a limited amount of time to dedicate to Post, but he says he gives it all he can.

"The emotional reward is writing it, researching it and finishing it. That's the experience I'm always going to remember."

I put it all on black

After reading Amy and Eric's interview with Alkaline Trio for their old zine from the late-90s reminds me once again how much has changed with the band and punk rock in general. Not even a press release from the band promising more older material in their setlists on their upcoming tour can really sway these thoughts.

I don't mean to single out or bash the Trio here, but they are a great example of how a band goes from being a small punk band with a devoted audience to becoming a major marquee act. While I think their music has remained consistent up to a point, I find their embrace of being a slick rock band with Goth-like tendencies very distracting. Sure, the lyrics have always had a macabre feel to them, but when it feels like they are being macabre for the sake of being macabre, imagination hits a glass ceiling. Plus, the band's sense of macabre used to be very tongue-in-cheek, but now it seems like a big part of how they are marketed to a large audience. Yeah, I know I'm not the target demographic here, but I'm just passing along my thoughts on the matter.

Case in point, the band used to wear Goth make-up for promo pics as a joke. If you can have a band make funny faces with false teeth (see here), chances are you'd think the Damned/Misfits-like make-up was a joke too (see here). While they still dress in relatively human attire (t-shirts, jeans, ballcap) most of the time, the promo pics that get printed in the magazines project a different view. Band members are often dressed in A Clockwork Orange-in-black suits and are always surrounded by Goth-like imagery (skulls, bleeding hearts, tombstones, etc). Part of me thinks this is an extension of the joke, but a part of me thinks it's a fabricated and serious image. Intended humor is really hard to translate when looking at a pic or their website, but I wonder what's serious, what's fabricated and what's humorous. This kind of grey area is all over the music industry.

Maybe I'm late in truly understanding this, but certain things get played up big time in order to help get a band noticed. That's all well and good, but when the music and the image become so polished and slick, I just want to rip it all apart. When stuff like this becomes so glossy and devoid of any relatable form of average human life, I feel the walls of impersonality closing in.

As much as I would like to not get all tied up in a band's image, I can't help but feel that an overall glossy nature carries over into the music. In the case of the Trio, I feel like the band's gloomy-but-poppy punk has become extremely played out with their last few records. I picked up Good Mourning because I loved "All On Black" and it was on sale at Best Buy for $7.99, but I didn't even bother with their most recent release, Crimson. There are only so many ways you can recreate specific styles album after album and I just gave up after four proper albums. I still think highly of their first two albums and select tracks from From Here to Infirmary and Good Mourning, but I think there is too much of the same kind of paint surrounding their corner.

Maybe I just don't understand the idea that glossying up an image is just a small compromise in attaining a desire to create what you want to create for a steady income. As I've said before, there's living and then there's making a living and if something severely dilutes what I want to do, I resist. Maybe I'm thinking in absolutes here without a strong point of reference. Maybe I just don't get the supposed humor implied with it. Well, when it feels like detective work with piecing together assumptions, I come to a very inconclusive verdict.

I'm proud that the Trio have stuck around for this long. While I may not be so welcome to their later material as much as their older material, I'm glad they've stuck it through with a series of tumult (label problems, drummer changes, etc.). Seeing where they started to where they are now, it's interesting to look back at all of this. In a broader sense, I'm curious as to how people handle matters when more people are interested in a creative outlet and when a significant amount of money flows around it. It's a common fear that money corrupts creativity but oftentimes it's worth it to try and see how much you can get away with, joking or otherwise.