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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Find 'em . . . eventually

There was a time when Best Buy aggressively pushed obscure artists destined for major popularity in all of their stores. With their "Find 'Em First" campaign in '99, artists like Remy Zero, Rufus Wainwright, David Garza, Kelly Willis and Mary Cutrufello were given some nice exposure. In addition to commercials that played in the store on a loop, Best Buy Radio played a couple of tracks from each artist every hour on the hour. I couldn't avoid these guys as I worked in the media department and frequently walked by the TV department. With the tagline of "You don't know now me now, but you will," I wonder how much of a help this was for these folks. I am by no means a big fan of any of the aforementioned artists, but I think it's interesting to revisit them, especially since one of them is currently featured all over a certain TV commercial.

At the time of the Best Buy promotion, Remy Zero was supporting their critically-acclaimed sophomore album, Villa Elaine. Though I never picked up the record, I saw them play live with Semisonic in Austin at Liberty Lunch. I thought the show was great and kept my ear open for what the band did next. Turns out, I would hear their material for the next few years because of a certain TV show. With "Save Me" used as the theme song for the WB's Smallville and having a roommate that watched the show every week, I couldn't avoid the song. No matter how many times I heard it, I rarely got tired of hearing the song's big chorus. The accompanying album, The Golden Hum, was pretty worthwhile and their biggest-selling album. As far as what the band is up to now: they're broken up.

Austin's David (pronounced 'da-veed') Garza is still going. His Atlantic album This Euphoria didn't break him as a mainstream act, but according to his website, he still touring and recording. I believe his most recent release was a box set called A Strange Mess of Flowers. He's on tour with Fiona Apple and Damien Rice this summer.

According to her website, Mary Cutrufello is still active with playing live, but she hasn't released a record since '01. Rufus Wainwright has kept a very visible profile with a number of critically-acclaimed albums, including his most recent double album, Want. As far as Kelly Willis, this is where matters get a little weird.

Currently, Willis and her husband Bruce Robison are featured in a commercial for prescription nasal drug, Claritin-D. According to this article, Robison and Willis are actual users and they were asked to be spokespeople. Now I don't know if this represents a nadir of either performer's career, but I don't know of many artists that are on-screen endorsers of a prescription drug. The ad campaign must be working as the commercial (complete with a jingle written by Robison) airs very often on TV. Even with the small amounts of time I actively watch TV, I see this commercial everywhere.

Feed Your Habit has a nice post on this and has a great point: what's one to do with a country singer with clear nasal passages? Here's a snippet:


Now I’m more used to Kelly Willis singing songs of heartbreak in that nasal twang so beloved of country artists.


All funniness aside, is this the best way to promote one's music? Instead of knowing Willis or Robison for their songs, you know them because of a sales pitch. Whatever it takes to get one's name out, I guess.

Best Buy no longer does their "Find 'Em First" promotion. As a matter of fact, I think they retired it about five years ago. Since then, they have done a promotion involving special divider cards that suggest lesser-known artists with well-known ones (ie, "If you like Taking Back Sunday, try Hawthorne Heights"). I argue that kind of promotion is like saying, "If you like Coca-Cola, try Tab." This kind of recommendation may work for some bands, but it doesn't guarantee that they'll be thought of in their own unique light.

I gotta credit Best Buy for actually trying to present not-so mainstream acts for a mainstream audience, but as the current status of all of its "Find 'Em First" artists show, promotion does not mean mainstream acceptance. But for those that aren't awaiting mainstream recognition, they just do what they want to do.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

A pitchfork in the road

This morning, Large Hearted Boy posted this Washington Post article on the popular indie music publication, Pitchfork Media. Though there have been plenty of articles on the 'fork in the last few months, this one really struck a nerve with me. I have a love/hate relationship with the site, but I can't deny its impact on music listeners.

I don't exactly remember when I started reading Pitchfork, but I think it was around the time I was a junior in college. I was getting more involved with my college radio station and Pitchfork was frequently brought up. At the time, I thought the site was the only major place to find record reviews and news on indie bands that I was interested in. Keep in mind, this was before there was a proliferation of MP3 blogs and similar resources.

With certain reviews, I felt like the reviewers were trying to be smarter and more indie than the average indie rock fan. There was the infamous 10.0 review of Radiohead's Kid A penned by Brent DiCrescenzo, complete with off-the-wall comments like, "The experience and emotions tied to listening to Kid A are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax." Then there was the 0.0 review of Sonic Youth's NYC Ghosts and Flowers, also penned by DiCrescenzo, that compared the band to communism. While those kinds of reviews are few and far between these days, something that hasn't changed is the way they report music news. Usually taking press releases that have already circulated around the Internet and adding smug and snide comments to them, I always approach their news section expecting some major cringing.

After all these years, I can slightly understand what is trying to be said, but I still can't get fully behind this style of reviewing and discussing music. Swarmy humor may be really funny and more "real" for some people, but I find it incredibly irritating. Realizing that these are merely opinions and not facts (even though the opinions are often presented as facts), I realize that I don't have to be so sour about what they have to say.

Pitchfork is still incredibly stingy about what's worthwhile and what's not, so I at least give some attention to what they recommend. David Moore's review of the Arcade Fire's Funeral and Matt LeMay's review of Modest Mouse's Good News for People Who Love Bad News piqued my interest in those records. They were understandable because they didn't muck around with their points. I think of these records as some of the best records in the last few years, so that reminds that Pitchfork's general BS detector is strong. Though I don't often agree with their record reviews (the few that I still read), I think it's worth to at least hear what they're raving about. However, I think I would listen more to what they would have to say if I didn't find so much of their content to be snobby and jaded.

One section in particular in the Washington Post article made me realize my major difference of opinion with these guys:

"Honesty is such an important journalistic attribute," says Schreiber, who had no journalism training when as a 20-year-old former record store clerk he launched the site as a solo operation. "And you have to be completely honest in a review. If it gets sacrificed or tempered at all for the sake of not offending somebody, then what we do sort of loses its value. . . . That's so the opposite of what criticism is supposed to be.

"So I think we maybe have this sort of snobbish reputation. But we're just really honest, opinionated music fans. We might be completely over the top in our praise, or we might be cruel. But to anybody who reads the site, it's clear that we're not pulling any punches."


I think I should address the usage of the term 'honesty' here: there's a wide range of what constitutes honesty. You can be tactfully honest and you can be honestly rude. I'm not talking about worrying about offending people's feelings by being honest; I'm talking about making a thought-out comment considering many sides of the coin instead of making a one-sided comment coming out of one's ass.

This isn't exclusive to Pitchfork when it comes to talking about music; it's everywhere. When one whittles life down to snarky criticisms, I think too much other stuff is left out. Yeah, certain records are better than others, but I don't aim to be indier than those considered indier than thou. Plus, I can only truly represent my views, not everyone's views. I can summarize what other people I know say about such-and-such, but the writer expresses his/her opinions. I know there is a tendency to write a "consumer guide" kind of review, but that's not convincing enough for me. Whenever I read Roger Ebert or Jim DeRogatis, I want their views on a movie or an album. I don't refer to them as be-all, end-all gatekeepers. They offer solely their views instead of views that are for everyone.

I used to get so pissed off at reading reviews by people who came across as impossible to please. I had to realize that I don't have to read those kinds of reviews and didn't have to take them as means to an end. Because of this and for various reasons, I feel I have to write every day, including doing a blog post. I'm thankful that I have the spare time to write as much as I do because it's become a no-option situation for me.

Friday, April 28, 2006

If it's too loud, turn it down

I haven't been to many instore shows in all my years of going to shows. The first one I went to was accidental: Harvey Danger was performing at the Tower Records in Austin and my friends and I didn't even know it until we got to the store. We heard them soundcheck and play one song, but that was all we saw. We didn't dislike what we heard, but we were going some place soon and we had to leave. After that one, I saw a couple instores at Waterloo Records, but they were also by accident as I was there to shop.

A few weeks ago, the Happy Bullets and the Tah-Dahs played a free instore at the last Tower Records store in Texas. This store just happens to be less than ten minutes away from my house, so I figured what the hell. This definitely was a different kind of show as there would be no cigarette smoke, no bar in the back and plenty of area to move around. The show was by no means packed, but plenty of familiar fans, friends and family gathered around the small stage set up towards the back of the store by the DVDs. The Happy Bullets were first and they went into their regular set. However, following their first song, the store manager told them to turn their sound down because it was too loud and customers were complaining. My response? Oh brother.

With the Happy Bullets, probably the loudest parts of their songs are the vocal harmonies and horns. Nevermind the two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, those are the louder aspects. Overall, they're not a really loud band, so it kinda came as a shock that they were considered too loud. The rest of their set went with no noise complaints and with the exception of a point in the Tah-Dahs' set where the vocals were turned down, the rest of show went without a hitch. But I wondered: what was the staff expecting when they decided to open their doors for bands to play live?

Oftentimes, instores feature a band playing an acoustic set at a tolerable level. Not so with the last two instores I've seen at Tower. The bands played with their amplified electric guitars, full drumsets and keyboards. Fearing that last night's [daryl] and Black Tie Dynasty would be another tense "Hey, could you turn it down a little?" battle, I originally didn't want to go. Well, since the show was free, at a early time and so close to home, I went on down. To be honest, I'm glad I saw this to prove my point: a full-on electric instore while the store is still open is not the way to see a band play live.

With [daryl]'s set, I felt like I was watching the band play in someone's garage with restless neighbors. They weren't playing at their full potential as their rather unencumbered sound was encumbered in this setting. Chargers like "Happy Accidents" and "Serious" were slowed and toned down and just didn't have the same kind of impact. I felt bad for the guys and had no idea as to how Black Tie was going to be treated. Longtime [daryl] fan DB said he felt like the place was more of a library than a record store and I agreed. Surprisingly, Black Tie played a little louder and was never asked to turn things down. Maybe as a result, I enjoyed Black Tie's set much more because they weren't conscious of things that bands normally should not be worried about when they play live.

If Tower continues to have instores in their building, they should not be telling a band to turn things down. It's extremely hard not to play loud when you have electric guitars going amps, drummers playing with regular drumsticks and microphones turned on. Maybe all-acoustic sets would be better as they would be quieter and a chance to see bands in another light. However, just walking around the place makes me wonder how much longer this Tower is gonna be around.

To pass the time between sets, I decided to look around at the magazines, CDs and DVDs. While roaming the aisles, I was reminded of a reason why people don't buy that many CDs anymore: the outrageous prices certain places like Tower and Virgin charge. The new Secret Machines record was going for $18.99 and I gasped. Who would really buy this at this cost? Ten Silver Drops is an awesome album, but I'm not about to pay $20 for a copy of it. Couple that with Tower's current Chapter-11 status, a local Virgin Megastore closing and all Best Buys drastically reducing the amount of CDs they stock, I think it's safe to say that the days of big corporate CD chainstores are about to be behind us. It's been a great ride though.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Kids"

Last September I blogged about why I don't like to use the word "kid" when describing younger music fans. I still agree with my views, but I have some more to tell as I've noticed/remembered some stuff in the last few weeks. Again, I don't fault people who call them that, but I'm always looking for a word other than "kid" when describing someone who is a few years younger than me. Honestly, I don't understand how I, a 27-year-old, could call a 17-year-old a "kid." "Kid" implies that the younger person doesn't know as much as the elder, but come on, when do we really know everything?

For me, I look at pictures of Eric and Amy's daughter Hailey and Jeff and Leah's daughter Sophie Bean and I see kids. Hailey and Sophie are only a few months old and they're just beginning childhood. I don't know how their parents will react when they want to go to live shows of their own, but I bet the parents see a lot of themselves in their children already. The 27+ year age distance between them is a generation, but for some reason, in the world of music, a generation is usually considered ten years. From what I've noticed in the world of punk and hardcore, a generation is as short as three years. Huh? And I thought dog years were short . . .

I just finished an excellent book on straight edge culture called All Ages: Reflections on Straight Edge. Within its pages, "kids" and "straight edge kids" are brought up a lot. Are these guys and girls referring to people that are rolling around on the floor in diapers? Nope, but I'm still confused at how people refer to people that look a little younger than them.

When I first saw a picture of Panic! at the Disco, I thought they were sixteen at best. Turns out, they're around eighteen and nineteen. Looking at this pic, I saw a band of young uns who have a contrived image and no clue about making good music. When I actually heard them, I was mostly right, but I don't think their music is flat-out terrible. I took some slight pity on them seeing that they're fresh out of high school and they just want to play in a band. However, they're in that spot that so many people go through in their lives -- a spot when they don't know what they want to do and think that playing in a famous band is the way to go. I'm not kicking dirt on all younger people who want to tour and do music full time; rather, I have zero sympathy for bands that want to get popular in the mall punk world. The mall punk industry is thriving off of them for the time being while they just want to be a band. When the band's younger audience realizes how bad of a joke so much of this music is, they won't look back at bands like this with sincere memories. Mark my words.

Why I bring up Panic! is that in their recent cover story in AP, they refer to "kids" coming up and talking to them. Pardon? A nineteen-year-old "kid" talking to a sixteen-year-old "kid"? Am I missing something here?

I remember seeing Saves the Day in 1999 and thinking these guys were still in high school. Seeing them play this junior kind of mix of Lifetime and the Get Up Kids only furthered my implications. Well, I don't know about all of the band members' ages, but singer Chris Conley is only a year younger than me. Another example: in the last year, I found out that the Get Up Kids' Ryan Pope is only a few months younger than me and his older brother Rob is only a year older than us. When I saw them play in 2000 with their mix of pop-punk and post-hardcore, I wasn't thinking about their ages. I was so enthralled with their music that their ages didn't matter. What helped was that they were playing songs that I could relate to.

I haven't been called a "kid" in a while. Other than "Eric," I'm sometimes referred to as "man," "dude," "you," "sir" and "mister." They're names that let me know that I am being spoken to. I don't mind any of them, but still, I don't like being called a kid. Though from time to time I like to call my older co-workers "kids" to make them feel a little younger and I sometimes slip and call people a few years younger than me "kids," I try to avoid such labeling as much as I can.

In my eyes, calling someone a few years younger than me a kid implies that this person "doesn't know any better." To push the implication some more: "dumb" and "naive" can be thrown in too. I may have a few more years of experiences on someone a little younger, but I'm not about to imply that I know tons more. We're always growing and while we don't always look young, some of us remain young at heart and recognize ourselves in younger people. We give those people the benefit of the doubt and let them grow on their own terms. That's how I was treated and that's how I want to treat others younger than me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Would you remake this?

Watching the teaser trailer for the upcoming The Omen remake, I got to thinking about another way of explaining why remakes are nine times out of ten worthless. This time my side involves something by Leonardo da Vinci (and yes, it's tied in with some book that recently went to paperback and a forthcoming film based on that book).

Wouldn't it sound incredibly ridiculous to remake da Vinci's painting, Mona Lisa? An iconic painting with a warm, but rather mysterious, aura around it, people have known this painting as a truly timeless piece of art. So, how would matters sound if some person or persons somewhere thought the painting needed to be introduced to a new audience and commissioned a remake? Take any painter (no matter what experience he/she has) and tell him/her to give this remake a modern flair. Nevermind the fact that millions of people flock to see the original painting year after year, how many people would like to see a remake and keep coming back to this remake year after year?

If you catch my drift, almost any kind of remake will go on to be a footnote in the shadow of something that has stood the test of time and will continue to stand the test of time. There are definitely exceptions to the rule when something is not very well-known at first but is later better known with a remake (Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" is a great example), but that number is small potatoes in the grand scheme.

With this remake of The Omen, what is trying to be accomplished? Other than some choppy editing and forced acting, the original version is just fine. Yet there is this notion that something needs to be, to use the Mona Lisa example, "repainted" for some virtual audience that has never heard of the original and/or never would have heard of it if it weren't for a remake. Folks, I don't know about you, but who in the world is really like this? I know children aren't born with a keen sense of cynicism, pop culture prowess or a knowledge of centuries of history, but come on, if something has stood (and will continue to stand) the test of time, what makes people think there needs to be a remake?

Out of all the movie remakes that have come out in the last few years, can you name one (other than Ocean's Eleven) that is better remembered than the original? We're not stupid people with zero knowledge of history, especially in a medium that is so well documented and preserved for posterity in pop culture, but Hollywood thinks we need more remakes. These original films are still widely available on DVD and look even better when they first came out. There is definitely an understandable way of effectively modernizing something that was originally cheesy and lame (see the original Battlestar Galactica and its remake on the Sci-Fi Channel), but this idea is not that commonplace. Are we really a creatively bankrupt society? Absolutely not. I just think more of this train of thought by the major motion picture studios will bankrupt them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Joys of Spanish Television

With the small amount of TV that I actively watch, I find myself watching more Spanish television than English. The kinds of shows I watch in particular are popular American shows that have been remade for the Spanish-speaking market. What's strange is that I don't care to watch shows like Fear Factor, American Idol, Blind Date, Jerry Springer or Cheaters, but I get a kick out of their Spanish counterparts.

After six years of Spanish in school, I still can't speak or understand the language at its super-fast pace. I can get the gist of what is being said, but if I find myself lost in a Spanish-speaking country, I'm in big trouble. Regardless of the language gap, I can follow along with the shows' seemingly no attempt to cover up the fact that they're presenting something really forced and contrived. I know so much English-speaking TV is also this way, but they try and make some of their content believable for the English audience. Not so for Spanish TV-at least judging by the shows that I watch.

Fabrica de la Risa is a goofy little soap opera spoof complete with a fake laugh track. Gana la Verde is Fear Factor with a smaller budget (but there's plenty of live bugs and raw meat to eat in the second round). Objetivo Fama follows the American Idol formula but with more duets and theatrical ensemble numbers than solo performances. Buscando Amor: Desafio is Blind Date but with money at stake with the success or failure during "rounds" on a single date. Then there are the big ones: Jose Luis: Sin Censura and Secretos: Houston. Jose Luis is just like Jerry Springer: it's a talk show where people confront other people in their lives and make fools of themselves by fighting each other. Secretos: Houston is Cheaters but often follows people living a double life of illegal activities more than people cheating on his/her's significant other.

Maybe I'm losing or gaining something in the translation here, but I don't for a second believe that these shows are trying to be authentic. Of course they're entertainment, but I feel they expose the root of "reality"-based television: there is nothing "real" going on here. What you're seeing is 98% fake but at least these Spanish shows have a wink implied.

On Jose Luis, the main attraction is the tension. The tension usually leads to fighting between one or two guests and you don't have to know a lick of Spanish to get what's going on. The funny thing about it is that the men who look macho "fight" like sissies. Forget putting up one's dukes: these guys want to roll around the floor and hold each other tightly. For the women, they are more no-holds-barred: they kick, pull hair and are rather merciless. Regardless of gender, guests are egged on by the audience constantly. The audience loves to chant lines like "Beso!" ("Kiss!"), "Mucha ropa!" (implying that a female is wearing too many clothes and needs to take some off) and "Fuera!" (essentially telling the guest to get off the stage). This only makes the show more lively even if the guests' stories and fights are fake.

Host Jose Luis himself is a really charming and funny guy. He essentially introduces the guests, lets them explain their stories and lets them do whatever they want to do with each other. There's a dozen security guards who break up the scuffles as Luis stays back and observes. Sometimes he'll don caps or sunglasses worn by a guest that fell off during a brawl and resumes his business as host. He represents the guy who just sits and watches the sparks fly and provides a nice balance to the tension.

On Buscando Amor: Desafio, they usually pair a shy and reserved female with an outgoing and pushy male. Somehow that's funny for some, but it's not for me. Yet there is something akin to watching a train wreck when zero sparks are flying: you don't want to watch, but you can't turn away. For me and my uptight nature, seeing something like a date (which can be a really fun and carefree) be turned into a contest would offend me. Yet again, it's hard to turn away.

Then there is the plethora of shows and movies in English translated into Spanish. As always, the dubbing is off and is almost always way more melodramatic then intended. Watching WWE: Smackdown with zany, high-pitched translators gives this an edge over the original English translation. But that's no match for the cheesy kung-fu movies dubbed in Spanish. Forget all the poorly-dubbed English versions of foreign kung-fu movies from the '70s, take action flicks from the '80s like American Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja or any Chuck Norris vehicle and you've got some really funny stuff.

When I'm watching these shows or movies, I'm not focusing on the dialogue. Rather, the overall presentation (complete with fake acting and cheap special effects) is one of humor for the cynical mind. While I don't think I'm a cynical person overall, there's this sense of enjoyment I get out of watching shows like this than say something like VH1's Best Week Ever or American Idol. The detachment found could be because of the language barrier, but I'm constantly reminded at how contrived this stuff is while so many others think it's legit.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Girlfriend Music

". . . and everyone's girlfriend knows the words by heart"

-Horace Pinker, "Appreciation"

---

I'm not sure where I heard the label, "girlfriend music," but I've been trying to come up with a more concrete understanding. From what I've gathered so far, girlfriend music essentially is music that the boyfriend doesn't really like but he listens to it because his girlfriend likes it. I know I hate pigeonholes, but I think it's fun to come up with some ideas about what falls into this category and what doesn't. What's interesting is how wide people's love music goes beyond gender.

If I were to think of Top 40 girlfriend music, I'd probably say light rockers James Blunt, Daniel Powter, David Gray and Train are culprits. I'm talking about music that features a rather soft voice over a polished mix of guitars, piano and drums. I have nothing against artists like this (as a matter of fact, I like a few Train songs and a number of David Gray's songs), but I'd rather listen to something that has a little more oomph in the music. The deal is, for people that remain at bay with Top 40's parameters, it's very easy to be befuddled by someone that likes music that cannot perfectly fit into one or two formats.

A lot of females I know and hang out with aren't buried in the sand of Top 40/mainstream music. I think that's awesome because I find myself really opening up to people that have no major constraints with a broad view of music. Since music is as important to me as eating, sleeping and writing, I'm drawn to people that get something deeper out of listening/playing/critiquing it. Rather than viewing music as background space, I think a strong connection can be made out of all those notes, beats and lyrics.

Now I think about what females may think of as boyfriend music. This could really be anything (just like girlfriend music), but if I were to think of the Top 40 crowd, some bands would include Nickelback, Velvet Revolver and Guns n' Roses. Yeah, that may work for people who want to slowdance to "November Rain," but music can't be bound by radio format, pigeonhole or gender preference for me. Certain artists attract a larger ratio of one gender over the other, but I'm all for the kinds of artists that attract a blurred audience.

In case of something like boy band pop (like Backstreet Boys and NSync), chances are good you'll find that in a female's music collection more than a male's. Yet I wonder why somebody like Lou Pearlman (the mastermind behind those aforementioned groups) wanted to go strictly after the demographic of preteen and teenage girls. There's a wide world out there, so why would somebody want to go after what has jokingly been called the incredibly wide demographic of 13 to 15-years-old? Yeah yeah yeah, I know, studies have shown that girls are rabidly attracted to this over that when they're coming of age more than guys. But you know what? I think that's a very slim view of mass-appealing music. The targeting may work for a little while, but as anyone who has lived longer than a day can attest, we're always growing.

Thinking about this slim demographic of pop music makes me think about how wide it used to be. For example, in the 1960s, Berry Gordy wanted to make his R&B acts on his Motown label to be appealing for blacks and whites, males and females. He did just that, but he didn't water everything down for the lowest common denominator. So many Motown artists continue to strike a chord with a wide range of ages, race and gender. These days, being so broad with music would seem crazy for the major record companies, but whenever I hear a Supremes song, Jackson 5 song or a Four Tops song, I think of music that means something deep and is for almost anyone. The same can be said for other artists like the Beatles, Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach.

I think about all the people I've come to know and really gravitated towards because of music. These people may have not shared the same feelings I've had with the music I like, but there is a mutual respect going on here. Sure, there's some music that only girls can really dig into and there's some music that only guys can get into. Regardless of gender, if I feel very open when someone really understands how powerful music can be in his/her life. The broader the spectrum, the better.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What Republicans Have Taught Us

I'm not a huge fan of political mudslinging, but my friend Mikey sent me this and I couldn't help but repost. This is pretty funny and right on:

What Republicans have taught us . . .

Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.

Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

The United States should get out of the United Nations, but our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, butmulti-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops inspeeches, while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.

If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.

A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy, but providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

HMOs and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at Heart, as do oil companies.

Global warming is junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense, but a president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.

Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80s is irrelevant.

Support for hunters who shoot their friends and blame them forwearing orange vests similar to those worn by the quail is expected.

Ten Silver Drops

Until last week, I kept mixing up Secret Machines with two different record labels: Secretly Canadian and Simple Machines. Upon hearing tracks from Secret Machines' sophomore album, Ten Silver Drops, there is no more confusion.

For us Dallas folk, we may recognize the members of this band from their time in some notable '90s bands. Brothers Ben and Brandon Curtis played together in UFOFU, Ben played in Tripping Daisy and Brandon and drummer Josh Garza played in Captain Audio. Though the band relocated to New York a few years ago, they've made no attempt to hide their past. Hearing what these guys have done together of under the moniker of Secret Machines is a point of pride.

The band's debut album, Now Here is Nowhere, is a pretty expansive collection of spacey rock, but I find it a tad frustrating. Songs build and build and sometimes emit tuneful melodies, but that's only sometimes. Ten Silver Drops does not have this problem as melodies really come out of nowhere and are easy to enjoy over and over again. Don't think Secret Machines have become some radio-friendly rock for the Top 40 crowd; rather, they've made good on the promise of Now Here is Nowhere.

To be honest, I'm really glad there is a band like this out there getting some nice attention with it. I'm hesitant to call these guys shoegaze rock or stadium space rock ala Pink Floyd, but if you're tired of all these young bands playing a modern version of post-punk, this is something different. Maybe this is why people are taking notice. I don't know, but it's pretty cool to hear stuff like Jim and Greg rave about them on Sound Opinions and David Bowie interviewing them via a podcast (thanks for the heads-up Nerver!) instead of megasized web banners and full page magazine ads. This is organic praise, not mechanized praise. Sure, not everybody gets this band, but the ones that do understand how such a sigh of relief this is.

Though major labels pitch artistic freedom to indie bands to lure them out, there rarely is a follow-through. In the case of Secret Machines, though on Reprise Records (you know, the label that rejected Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for not being commercial enough), the band has fully utilized the kind of resources a major label can offer. Producing their albums themselves, releasing their albums online weeks before they're in stores and headlining clubs instead of sheds, these are just some of things they've done. I'm sure there are dozens of bands on major labels that would kill for the kind of stuff that Secret Machines have been able to do. This doesn't restore my faith in major labels, but at least these guys have been able to pop out some great rock that's not tied down by the trendy styles of the day.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Plans

"We make plans for big times/Get bogged down, distracted"

-Bloc Party, "Plans"

---

I often hear the line (or a variation of it), "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think things would turn out the way they did." Thinking about the experiences I've had in the last ten years, there is very little that I thought would happen or expected to happen. So I wonder: why do we expect life to go accordingly to our plans?

A relatively new idea that I embrace everyday is there's very little I can control in my life. I can steer a lot of things, but I'm not in full control. I don't mean this in a defeatist kind of way, but matters rarely happen the way I thought they would. Regardless of what I think will or will not happen, the feeling is much different after the fact than before it. Again, what's the purpose of expecting life to curtail to our dreams?

I have a theory about what we hope will happen versus what actually happens: they are rarely congruent. These days, instead of being angry about the results, I have an easier time comparing notes. Of course I can't help but feel let down when matters don't pan out in my favor, but that's a part of life. We don't get everything we want when we want it. What's really cool about life is when we experience something that we never thought would happen to us.

I'm thankful for all the things that have come my way. One of the most important is the friends that I've made. All the people I've known as a friend have been easy and natural in getting to know and keeping in touch with. There are plenty of former friends friends that I've lost touch with, but I no longer take the blame or blame the person as for why we don't talk anymore. Some friendships last a lifetime and some only last a few years.

I can't forecast surprises hence why they're called surprises. For example, while walking Juliet this morning, did I foresee her kicking a bunch of dirt on me as I cleaned up her "business"? Nope. Did I flip out when she did? Nope. Before I took her outside, I foresaw us walking for a little over twenty minutes down our street with many pitstops. That was the extent of what I saw, yet this kind of "surprise" made matters rather fun. I didn't enjoy walking down the street with all this dirt on my arm, but I took heart in the fact that I would be able to wash it all off when we got back home.

I have goals and expectations, but I'm firmly aware that they may or may not be met. I've heard that one's serenity is proportional to one's expectations and I agree. I could sit around and be very pessimistic about my future, but I don't get any life out of doing that anymore. What's that line, life is what happens while we're making plans? Well, anything could happen, so thinking about what may or may not happen is a matter of passing the time.

To be honest, I become very annoyed when I'm around people that constantly complain about how life has handed them lemons. Nevermind the thought of making lemonade, these people act all stunned that lemons have been thrown their way. We all know life isn't fair, so why do people act like it is?

I don't look forward to setbacks, obstacles and detours, but on the road of life, have some good alternate routes in mind. I enjoy when matters work out organically and without much conflict, but that doesn't always happen.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Real Deal

"We don't touch music anymore. People download it, preview it, and delete it."

-Bob Mould, in a recent Punk Planet interview

Amy wrote this up on Wednesday about the modern day version of sharing music. I agree with her views as how it is incredibly easy to find an MP3 on the Internet of some band you're interested in. While this is all convenient, as she put it best, "it used to mean something to hold that cassette tape or record or compact disc in my hands and rock out with my friends. don't get me wrong, i now feel that mp3's and mp3 players are super convenient but it's definitely lacking in the excitement department." I agree with that, but all to a certain extent. I think about the pros and the cons the Internet has given me the music fan over the years.

I feel there is still a sense of surprise in finding a new band or record that I wasn't actively seeking out that really blows me away. A great recent case in point is the Secret Machines. While I have their debut LP, Now Here is Nowhere, and the EP, The Road Leads Where It's Led, I've never really dug deep into them. Now after hearing tracks from their forthcoming Ten Silver Drops, I am incredibly psyched to hear as much of their stuff as possible. But the deal was, I wasn't excited about them until circumstances beyond my control allowed me to hear them. Last week, Jason watched the band's new video in his room and I was able to hear the song down the hall. I was impressed and asked who it was. Then I heard three strong songs on Sound Opinions a few days ago and became incredibly excited about the new record. This was definitely a surprise, but these are rare instances these days. The Internet is everywhere and easy to get around it at one's pace, but the experience is not the same as sharing in person.

I love the immediacy of hearing something shortly after I've read about it. Hell, Ten Silver Drops has been available on online music stores for a few weeks now. But still, the grand prize of listening to music is having it on CD. This is a physical object that not just has music that I want to hear, but information that comes with it in the liner notes. I'm talking who produced it, who played on it, who did the album art and so on. This information was what made me even more curious about bands, labels and all things related. Plus, CD still sounds better than vinyl and cassette, but it's so much easier to take a walk with a multi-gig iPod than a CD player that plays one CD at a time.

I don't know how many gigs of MP3s I have currently on my hard drives (maybe 30 total, I'm not sure). While it's convenient to have them all in one spot, those are computer files at the end of the day. They're no different than my Word documents, e-mail messages and pictures. I value what is on these files, but they mean way more when I can touch and hold them in my hands. Not to sound all melodramatic, but it was through the information in the liner notes of CDs that I was able to connect with bands early on.

While I wrote one handwritten letter to a band (A.F.I. and I got a response back from Hunter) back before everyone had e-mail, crucial relationships that would help out my research on Post came from writing to e-mail addresses listed in CD liner notes. The relationships are helpful with getting information straight, but what I truly value is the fast and easy connection between band and fan. The two biggies back before I even thought about writing a book were with members of Jawbox and Horace Pinker. Jawbox's '96 self-titled release had an AOL account listed in their liner notes and I dropped them a line. J. Robbins wrote me back and things went from there. Getting to know him, Bill and Kim through my fandom, they remembered who I was when I told them I have plans for a book with a chapter on Jawbox. In the case of Horace Pinker, I e-mailed their old drummer Bill Ramsey mistakenly thinking he had rejoined the band. He was nice enough to forward my message to the current members and we've all kept in touch over the years. These are people I am happy to have know not just as a fan, but these people have been really encouraging folk along the way (with and without a book in mind)

I bring all this stuff up now because it's a nice mix of the old and new for us that remember a time when the Internet wasn't everywhere. E-mail and MP3s are simple and easy, but the real deal is talking to people in person about music with the music in our hands. Whether or not a younger generation will ever embrace this way of thinking, I don't know. But if they ever wonder why they don't feel "connected" to music, I think it's safe to say that I'll point to this example.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Can you really take this seriously?

Despite all my grumblings about mall punk, blink-182 is still one of my favorite pop-punk bands from the late-'90s/early-'00s. Yeah, they had their goofy videos with all sorts of toilet humor, but they were pretty consistent with coming up with good tunes. After a couple of hit records, they made a rather bold move with their fifth album, blink-182. The songs on the album were a step away from songs about relationships in a high school-like mindset. Many songs have darker moods and feels while still being lively and energetic at the same time. Interestingly, the album was a hit with fans, but ultimately, it turned into the band's swan song. With drummer Travis Barker doing a variety of things (including being in an MTV "reality" show called Meet the Barkers and being featured in cell phone ads) and bassist/vocalist Mark Hoppus producing records and working on a new project called Plus-44 with Barker, guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge has made the most noise post-blink. However, I'm not so sure this noise is really something to praise.

DeLonge's new band, Angels and Airwaves, will release their debut album, We Don't Need to Whisper, on May 23rd. While some songs are up on their website, I think it's safe to say this album will not live up to the hype that DeLonge dished last fall. Saying stuff like, "I have a new band . . . and it is the most amazing music I have ever made by a long shot. I am two songs from finishing the best fucking album anybody has heard in 20 years . . . This is the best music made in decades . . . It is so much more powerful, emotional and melodic than Box Car and Blink put together, that I am currently shitting my pants." Um, what?

It's not like I don't think people can mature in the world of punk rock, but when a group of guys documented themselves as funny juveniles, how do you know when they're trying to be serious? In the case of DeLonge, between blink albums, he and Barker did a band called Box Car Racer, a band that was more influenced by Refused and Fugazi than Screeching Weasel. Their self-titled album found a wide audience and the songs weren't bad at all. However, as it's been proven time and time again, your biggest splash is your biggest shadow.

Stuff like "this is the best music made in decades" may come from the horse's mouth, but I seriously doubt that's what music critics are going to say when We Don't Need to Whisper drops. blink-182 did have some rather serious songs (like "Adam's Song" and "Stay Together for the Kids"), but the overall presentation was that they were a pop band that played fast songs. They even had an album called Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. So seeing what I've seen and heard with Angels and Airwaves, I definitely don't agree with DeLonge's claims. However, I don't think the songs are bad at all.

So far, two tracks ("The Adventure" and "It Hurts") have been posted on the band's official website. The songs recall blink's midtempo material, but they have a little more of a darker, new wave sound to them. They're pretty catchy songs, but this is not the work of something that will make my year-end list of favorites. Of course I'll have to hear the whole album to make a full decision.

Why I bring all this stuff up is that when someone has affected a large number of people with a certain persona, it's hard to move on. Plus, I think the kind of persona is a major factor in regards to whatever the person does next. For example, it's one thing to have someone like Alex Chilton go from aping his R&B influences with the Box Tops to making timeless power pop with Big Star. On the other side of the coin, here's a guy that made a number of hit albums under this very juvenile image and now he's trying to act serious.

Not to sound pompous myself, but it seems like a number of bands in the modern day mall-friendly/watered-down versions of punk, emo and hardcore are completely incapable of making something timeless. Whatever the bands think they're doing is going to be some of the greatest music in decades is completely off center. I've found that some of the greatest music of all time does not come from a mall cheese factory; it comes from a vacuum. Whether the vacuum is large or small, when there is no defined, target audience, the greater the chance the music is going to stick. Seeing DeLonge try and stick out with Angels and Airwaves makes me think of yet another fast food analogy: DeLonge came from being a "chef" at a pretty good fast food joint but now he thinks he can make stuff in the gourmet variety.

I credit DeLonge for actually trying something unique at a time when he could just sit back and live off the millions of dollars he made and the notoriety he gained from blink. Second acts are not the easiest of transitions, but I think it's cool to at least to try and have a second act. However, matters don't help when hype that is insurmountable to live up to is dished out before anything gets released.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An Old Fangled and Misbegotten Genre

I believe my first introduction to mall punk was in August of 2000. Nevermind Alvin and the Chipmunks covering new wave songs in the '80s and nevermind the mainstream's exposure to Green Day and the Offspring in the mid-'90s, I'm talking a youth culture that was raised with poppy punk rock rooted in the '90s than the '70s and '80s. This culture grew up knowing the way to look "punk rock" was to go to Gadzooks or Hot Topic in the mall (hence the title) and buy some loose clothes (including baggy pants and shirt along with the option of a baseball cap intended to be worn backwards). My introduction came from a band called A New Found Glory.

At the time, I was a street-team member for Vagrant Records and had to show up early to certain shows in order to pass out whatever promotional material I had. face to face, one of my all-time favorites, was playing at Deep Ellum Live on a tour sponsored by Napster, and I was so thrilled to see them play again. I showed up to the venue early to see face to face soundchecking and noticed a number of band members from the other bands on the bill just sitting around. I briefly talked with Dan and Mike from Alkaline Trio and they were incredibly cordial. Then I noticed a couple of guys who looked like they just came from the mall wearing stuff like baseball caps (on backwards of course), shorts longer than average shorts but not long as pants and a wide assortment of piercing on their faces. I would introduce myself to them and found out they were A New Found Glory. I only really talked to a couple of them (I think it was Chad and Cyrus) and thought they were really nice guys. Despite their niceness, I didn't like their band.

A New Found Glory was up first on the bill and they proceeded to play what I think of now as "cliches and chords." Every single stage move (especially the jumps during pauses in the songs), guitar riff, drum beat and fill and backing vocal looked and sounded incredibly familiar. These were things that were immensely popular with bands on Fat Wreck Chords and Lookout! Records back in the mid-'90s, but this time, there was a large percentage of this being watered-down and played out for me. Jordan Pundik's vocals in particular were grating as he sang more through his nose than his throat. I thought this was some kind of joke. A few months later, I realized the joke was not a joke at all.

Dropping the 'a' in their name, New Found Glory's second record was released on Drive-Thru/MCA Records later that fall. A hit with younger fans, I, for many years, couldn't understand why younger people actually thought this was good music. I still really liked blink-182, but seeing the floodgates open on this version of mall punk was a little crazy. Things haven't been the same since with the majority of pop-punk.

I argue that up until this time, pop-punk was a really fun genre. It was something for younger people and older people for a number of different reasons. Sure, the songs' lyrics may be about high school-like relationships, but the songs were incredibly tuneful. Yet when Drive-Thru Records came in, a shallow, fast food-only culture overshadowed everything else. Predominant immaturity from their label owners in print and with their bands, Drive-Thru was not something I could get into at the time. Yeah, a band like blink-182 was funny and tuneful, but Drive-Thru seemed to represent a bastard child of pop-punk. The annoying thing was that younger people bought it and more kept coming.

Drive-Thru these days has an expanded roster, but a roster of fast food versions of gourmet food. Whether it's emo-punk or folky pop, there is no band on their label that I think is worth my time. As far as New Found Glory, well, a recent article had the headline of "New Found Glory Guitarist Reassures Fans That Next LP Will Not Be Mature." How timely.

I don't think I'm alone here with sentiments about good and bad pop-punk. I know at least my fellow blogging friends Eric and Amy remember good pop-punk and know it when they hear it a modern band. Seeing Eric's write-up on the Loved Ones and his multi-part, "incomplete history of Chicago punk rock" posts are nice reminders of how good this music can be. I'm not really sure people who currently like New Found Glory will say the same in ten years.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

. . . but gravity always wins

I think it's hard to remember a time when Radiohead wasn't a groundbreaking band. Well, upon viewing the (relatively) recently released DVD of a live set from May 1994, a lot of memories and thoughts came rolling in.

For a brief moment, forget about OK Computer, the career-defining album the band released in 1997. Back in '93 and '94, they could have very well been perceived as a grunge knockoff from the same school that Bush came from. They had an enormous-selling single called "Creep," a song that seemed to bottle all of the things perceived as stereotypical grunge. With its mopey, self-deprecating lyrics and soft to blaring dynamics along with an accompanying video featuring a singer with bleach-blonde hair looking like he's asleep at the microphone, Radiohead seemed to fit perfectly with the times. Yet the band was more than just their grungey contemporaries: they put out a stellar second album that put them in another place way far away from anyone else. Since then, a number of acts have taken their lead, but before that happened, Radiohead really had nothing to lose or gain by playing the London Astoria in May 1994.

The Astoria London Live features Radiohead presenting soon-to-be classics (aka, songs from the sophomore album The Bends) and songs that they would rarely play live ever again (aka, songs from their debut album, Pablo Honey). The set is surprisingly top-heavy with songs from The Bends along with highlights from Pablo Honey. Since The Bends had yet to be completed, a few arrangements on songs are different. Hearing the drums kick in halfway through the first verse of "Fake Plastic Trees" and hearing a cold intro to "Black Star" are very subtle differences than their recorded versions, but I thought this was a cool little alternate look at these songs.

Once The Bends was released, it surprised a lot of people, including myself. Here was the "Creep" band making something a little more tuneful and incredibly more mature than anything else out there. I was slow in being convinced, but when I saw Radiohead open for R.E.M. in late-'95, I was pretty blown away. I may have my memories off, but I vividly remember when a lot of mainstream rock critics were declaring "rock is dead" in 1996 and 1997. For every one Radiohead, there was about fifteen grunge placeholders (like Seven Mary Three and Silverchair). Plus, there was some overcrowding in the world of British imports (a certain band called Oasis comes to mind). The thought to make was easy: guitar rock was dead in the US mainstream and something new had to come. Eyes were on electronic-based music from England as the next big thing.

Well, despite the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers having hit records, electronica was not the next big thing. The album that turned so many heads (and I believe shut up a number of "rock is dead" critics) was Radiohead's OK Computer. I'm still amazed at how far a band went from Pablo Honey to The Bends to OK Computer in just four years. The sad thing is, judging solely on Billboard singles charts, Radiohead is sometimes seen as a one-hit wonder. Nevermind all the times that MTV and M2 played "High and Dry," "Paranoid Android" and "Karma Police" back in their day, the only single of their's to cross over into the mainstream was "Creep." That's truly a shame, but I think the same could be done to Pink Floyd. A couple of their songs ("Money" and "Another Brick in the Wall Part II") ranked high on the charts, they weren't like Diana Ross & the Supremes with a string of number one hit singles.

Maybe I'm comparing Jupiter to Pluto here, but Radiohead is one of those bands that really gave us grunge fans something to really sink out teeth in with as we started college. I still think highly of Radiohead, especially The Bends and OK Computer, and there isn't a doubt in my mind that the band will be held in high regard as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd someday in the future. Just by watching The Astoria London Live made me realize that this stuff doesn't happen overnight.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Critics at their worst . . .

"Critics at their worst could never criticize the way that you do"

-Aimee Mann, "Nothing is Good Enough"

---

As I finished up another round of reviews for Punk Planet last night, some thoughts on criticism in general came to mind. I think about how I used to respond to it and how I respond to it now, plus the kind of feedback one gets when stating it.

In the case of the records I receive for review for PP, sometimes I get truly awful stuff and sometimes it's really incredible stuff, but most of the time it's so-so/mediocre. I hate using the word 'meh,' but I think it definitely can be used in this case. Interestingly, I think the mediocre stuff inspires me to think a little bit harder about what I want to say. But, there's a trap that used to bug the crap out of me years ago: the mentality of a critic where nothing is ever good enough. Well, after reviewing records for a few years, I can now see where that sentiment comes from, but I don't want to fall into that trap. Not everything is going to blow me away nor is everything going to drive me insane. Some records in an artist's catalog are going to be held in high regard for a wider audience, but ultimately, it's up to the critic to give his or her two cents on his or her feelings on something.

I don't know how many CDs, vinyl records, DVDs, books, zines and comics my editor Dave sorts through every week, but I wouldn't be surprised if the numbers are in the three digits. I think he does a good job of sending us reviewers stuff we may very well like, but it's not like this material will drive us to write lengthy reviews ala Lester Bangs that gush or stomp on something. Surprises come in all shapes and forms every time out for me. In the case of my reviews for issue #74, a band called Venice is Sinking sent just an album sleeve and a burned CD-R. What was encoded on the CD was some incredible moody pop with male/female vocals, violin, old pianos and big drums. Then there was the Moonlight Towers' record, Like You Were Never There, which has some incredible packaging (a crimson-colored cardboard sleeve) and a lot of amazing songs. Yes, this is like getting a box of chocolates . . .

Something else that confused me for years is the seemingly inconsistent reviews a publication has with an artist's catalog. For example, a band's then-current album gets mixed reviews, but when the follow-up comes out, all these critics rave about how the previous album was so much better. Huh? Well, there's a huge divide between which critic reviews it and which publication it comes out in. Of course there are general agreements and disagreements among critics, but they are merely statements of opinions, not binding law that represent the views of everyone involved at the publication. Since most publications have a wide variety of reviewers with varying opinions, inconsistency is always going to happen. However, I rarely hear something like this: "Barry Walters didn't like their new record." Instead, I hear: "Rolling Stone didn't like their new record."

Given the publication, from an online blog that's read by a dozen different people a day to a weekly magazine that reaches millions of people, reviews get people talking. This is a major part of the marketing of a record. Yeah, that's a big "no duh," but I must stress that even if a record gets a nice write-up or a bad write-up, that doesn't impact the life of the record. The record is there for anyone to take a listen regardless of what others think about its quality.

I know it's incredibly easy to be dismayed by a negative review if you were involved in some way with the making of the record (whether being in the band, producing the recording, releasing the album and so on). I've been hurt by negative reviews before, but I had to stop and realize that when a reviewer is given something to review, it's for the sake of giving his or her honest opinion. He/she usually sees the result instead of the whole process of creation, so some things may hit below the belt if they're cast in a negative light. It's as if the negative light is also saying something negative about that person's upbringing, personality and/or life in general. Well, just because somebody didn't like your record doesn't mean that you are a stupid, wretched person whose existence is a waste of space.

I don't know if this ever happened, but I remember Jim DeRogatis brought up a really interesting idea in an interview a few years ago. He spoke of one record being reviewed by three different reviewers and those reviews came out in the same publication. That's a really cool idea, but I'm not sure that's something people would really go for en masse. For people that read a lot of different publications (from blogs to magazines to newspapers), it's easy to compare and contrast opinions on records. For those that only read something like their local paper and Entertainment Weekly for reviews, this presents a narrow view of what's really out there. There's always great music out there, but it's just a matter of finding it that presents a challenge. However, when it is found, the results can be so incredibly rewarding that one wants to keep digging.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Comicology

For half of college and a couple of years after it, I was a big fan of comic books. I have to thank writers like Kevin Smith and Brian Michael Bendis for writing stuff that made me really interested in comics again. The inclusion of comic books in Smith's films (especially Mallrats and Chasing Amy), along with his runs on Daredevil and Green Arrow, got me fully into something I had briefly dabbled in when I was younger. Plus, Bendis' Powers was one of the best comic series I had ever read. So, why don't I read comics on a regular basis anymore?

From time to time, I read trade paperbacks or graphic novels (a full storyline in one binding). Sure, it's not the same as reading a new issue each month, but the story is the most important part of the reading experience for me. As I've said before, I'm such a slow reader, so these benefit me better.

Then there is the whole aspect of collecting comics. Since the first issue in a series is usually worth something of monetary value, there is a scramble to pick them up. Whether or not the series is any good, there is a desire to have something that may very well be worth a lot of money someday. Realizing that so few first issues are actually worth a lot of money, I felt this wasn't worth going much further with. From then on, I became focused on getting comics that I thought were interesting from the angles of quality artwork, writing and story.

Eventually I became less and less inclined to pick up new issues every Wednesday. I got more enjoyment out of reading trade paperbacks and proper novels. Though there is a wide variety of comics out there, I lost my taste in reading gritty crime noir and neverending superhero stories. I found some great comics by people like Andi Watson and Alex Robinson. Their stories were about people going through life events like being dumped, between jobs and just frustrated with one's life. Books like Breakfast After Noon and Box Office Poison were what I was looking for and I still think highly of them. However, with the exception of Robinson's recent Tricked, I haven't cracked open a comic, trade paperback or graphic novel in at least a year.

Maybe I find more enjoyment out of reading novels (fiction and non-fiction), but comics are not a regular part of my life these days. I definitely don't miss a number of things about the world comic book geeks. Though I know plenty of cool people that are into comics, it's the socially inept mongrels that ruin it for me. You know, the people that inspired the character of Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons? That's what I'm talking about: people who are incredibly cliqueish and almost completely unable to function in society by themselves. They get life out of spewing their negative opinions aloud in a comic book store and online with poorly-worded message board posts. That kind of personality is not missed with me.

Previously, I brought up a desire to doing a graphic novel following Post, but at this point, I'm not really sure. I have to finish Post and then I'll start working on something new. Comics are great, but I'm not sure if I'm one to script and/or draw one.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Our Generation's Packaged Nostalgia - Touring Edition

Remember that Diet Dr. Pepper commercial where there is a group of Village People lookalikes performing under the name, the Retirement Village People? Well, if you don't, the point was to show that most revised versions of something popular are not the same as the real deal. Apparently the Dr. Pepper company thought their diet version was as good as the regular version, but I'm still not sold on any kind of diet cola. Nevertheless, a really interesting subject to ponder is this: when should a band call it a day?

After years of seeing oldies acts come through town, it doesn't surprise me that a number of acts that I grew up with are doing the same thing. A most recent and notable example is a tour featuring the "New" Cars and Blondie. These tours are nowhere near the caliber of reunion tours from indie acts like the Pixies, Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr. These kinds of tours are not for the hardcore fan. You're gonna hear the songs that you hear on the radio and/or on their greatest hits albums. If you want to hear these songs live and relatively cheap, these shows are the place. However, they are not the same as seeing a band back in their heyday.

For many of the musicians, this is the only thing these people think they are capable of doing for a steady income. Of course it's better than working a crap job, but I'm not so sure if I would be much happier playing songs that I played in high school. Those songs had a place in the past and while that place is well-regarded, I don't want to be stuck in a timewarp. However, not everybody feels that way.

I'm sure there are a number of other factors as to why these groups reform, but I think this is not the best for these bands' legacy. Call it throwing dirt on a legacy or dragging a known name through the mud or whatever. These rarely help preserve band's past by rehashing the songs in the present. For acts that want to play new material along with the hits, their crowds are probably not going to get the same kind of enjoyment. I've found that most mainstream audiences like the familiar more than the unfamiliar. Blockbuster acts like Paul McCartney and James Taylor will play some new material to promote their latest releases, but people are there to hear stuff like "Hey Jude" and "Fire and Rain."

A frequent feature of these packaged nostalgia tours is that not all of the original members of the bands are present. Regardless of which act it is, when crucial members are not there, it's not the same experience. When a band gets popular with a certain lineup, most people want to see that lineup in a live setting. Of course there are factors that may prevent such from happening (from legal reasons to members no longer among the living), but the biggest bang for the buck is that all original members are back together.

In the case of the Cars, original bassist/singer Benjamin Orr passed away a few years ago and original singer/guitarist/songwriter Ric Ocasek did not express an interest to reform the band. Regardless, a version of the Cars is back on tour. The "New" Cars feature original members keyboardist Greg Hawkes and guitarist Elliot Easton along with legendary singer/producer Todd Rundgren on lead vocals and guitar, bassist Kasim Sulton and drummer Prairie Prince from the Tubes. Interestingly, this revamped lineup sounds a lot like how Creedence Clearwater Revisited's lineup is arranged. That version of CCR features two original members of Creedence Clearwater Revival (bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford) playing all the hits and deep album cuts. By pure coincidence, Elliot Easton's previous gig with the "New" Cars was with Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

Every band is different. Some keep going without all the original members present and still do a decent job (like Journey and the Ramones). I argue when a crucial member is not a part of the reformation (especially in the lead vocalist slot), I usually believe the band should stop. Though there are exceptions (like AC/DC and Van Halen) but most of the time, I think the bands should call it a day. As much as I love Queen, I'm not about to see the latest incarnation with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company on lead vocals. There's only one Freddie Mercury.

Now, bands that I grew up with in middle school are going down a similar path. Alice in Chains, the hard-rockin', alterna-metal band had a mysterious but enigmatic lead singer named Layne Stayley. Stayley passed away a few years ago, but now there is word that original members Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, longtime bassist Mike Inez and a rotation of lead singers will be touring soon. To quote Mumbles from Dick Tracy: oh boy . . .

As the Split Enz song goes, history never repeats. I agree with that statement to a point. History technically never repeats, but patterns repeat over and over again. Speaking of Split Enz, the True Colours-era lineup has reunited for live shows this summer. I think they'll be able to pull it off because brothers Neil and Tim Finn still have that spark. I'm more familiar with Neil Finn's work with Crowded House and as a solo artist. Maybe this is a way to be formally introduced. Maybe that's a major impetus for bands to reform: play for a new audience while also respecting the older fans. But as I said, this mindset doesn't work for all bands.

Friday, April 14, 2006

I Don't Wanna Grow Up

"When I see my parents fight/I don't wanna grow up"

-Tom Waits, "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"

"I want to be stereotyped/I want to be classified"

-Descendents, "Suburban Home"

"Changes somehow frighten me/but still I have to smile"

-John Denver, "Poems, Prayers and Promises"

---

Props to Eric and Jason Simon for pointing the way to this article that inspired today's second post.

Last weekend, a certain all-"news" TV channel was doing a story on "grups" (aka, people that still act young well into their adult years). Sending a reporter out on a busy street, stopping whoever looked like a grup/indie yuppie and through the magic of editing, a "point" was made: there are people actually like this out there. Yes, twenty/thirtysomethings are still listening to indie/hipster music and acting little younger than their age shows. I was very annoyed by this story and quickly turned off the TV. My contention: who cares and why is there a need for a pigeonhole?

I brought this experience up with a coworker a few days ago and he said, "Eric, you just don't like being pigeonholed." He is totally right, but I wonder why I am this way. Maybe because there is so much more to life than labels. Unfortunately for me, labels are reinforced everyday by a variety of sources, including the Fourth Estate.

At this point in my life, I'm 27, single and very unsure about the work field I'm in. I never imagined my life being the way it is now back in college, but then again, I never imagined that far in advance. I still don't imagine very far into the future as today is the most important for me to stay rooted in. Before I went off to college, I thought that I would be married shortly after graduating and living in suburbs. Thankfully, that didn't happen as I realized that probably one of the biggest shifts in my (and many others) personality is going from a student to a worker. This shift can split apart some of the closest of friends and to be honest, I still think that sucks. Maybe that's nature's way of clearing the deck for another stage in life.

I'll be honest with you, I think it's great to know people who view music in similar ways to mine and they retain these views as they age into adulthood/parenthood. For me, my parents, my sister and I all had very different views of music. I don't fault my dad for being a big band fan or my mom staying at bay with Top 40 music from the '60s and '70s or my sister remaining at bay with what she heard on regular radio programming, but when it came to rock n' roll music, they didn't see it the same way that I did. In the case of my parents, they, being the best kind of parents to anyone growing up, were (and still are) relatively open-minded towards what their children were/are into. They didn't understand the power of rock n' roll and punk rock (I'm not sure they still understand it), but they respect me and I respect them for who they are.

These days, I really enjoy talking music and life with people like Eric, Amy, Jeff and Jason and Andrea from the Happy Bullets; aka, people that are parents and are still cool and relatable. Why? Because I used to harbor this thought that once people become parents, they're uncool people forever warped into a bland lifestyle with things saccharine pop music, SUVs, Prozac and having no time for themselves or their friends. Sure, there are plenty of people that adhere to that lifestyle, but that doesn't mean that I have to adhere to it. Amazing what options can do for one's life.

All this talk is way more than just a label, but of course it's easier to get to the point with one. Well, I can't reduce life to such simplicity. I'm not off the hook as I am very guilty of labeling people as tweens, comic book folk and mall punk fans. Labeling others that aren't like me is a surface thought, so I should be more careful about what I say and think, but I do it anyway. I'm sure people think I am so emo for saying things the way I say them, I'm a grup because I'm still into indie rock, I'm a punk for not falling into line and so on. All in all, I just don't want to become a lame person. People can call me whatever, but what's most important is how I think of myself. Of course there are parts of my personality that direct me to convenient labels, but that's not all of who I am.

---

"It's OK to grow up - just as long as you don't grow old. Face it . . . you are young"

-Pulp, This is Hardcore

iTunes shuffle (4.14.06)

Here's another iTunes' shuffle for this week:

"Ode to Manheim Steamroller" by Reggie & the Full Effect
I think my father has every Manheim Steamroller Christmas CD, but I don't think he has any of their non-holiday releases. The music was fun to hear when I was young, but I find much less favor with them now. I think I've heard their version of "Joy to the World" enough times in my life, but it's not about to be removed from retail outlets' holiday music rotation. Oh well, but this Reggie track is a lot of fun.

"Both Sides Now" by Judy Collins
A favorite of mine growing up. Joni Mitchell wrote it, but Ms. Collins hit this version on the head. The keyboard hook is pure candy and it's never lost any flavor with me. It's one of those songs that means more than just the sum of its parts as I age. I've always thought the lyrics are about seeing life from both sides of a coin and realizing that you're just on the tip of the iceberg.

"In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3" by Coheed and Cambria
As much as I think the whole sci-fi story about Coheed and Cambria is a bunch of nonsense, I do like a few of their songs. Even though I think the band is ushering a new era of unnecessary theatrical excess, they have some good rockin' songs. This is a good track, but "Blood Red Summer" and "A Favor House Atlantic" are more favored.

"Underneath the Waves" by the Twilight Singers
I'm still sifting through Greg Dulli's work with Afghan Whigs and without them. Gentlemen and 1965 are getting a lot of play as of late, but Black Love and Powder Burns are getting there. This track, along with "Bonnie Brae," merits more listens to the whole Powder Burns album.

"Light & Day/Reach for the Sun" by the Polyphonic Spree
My favorite Polyphonic Spree song. Maybe that's because I've heard it more than their others, but every time I hear that flute, those strings and that guitar in the intro, I have to listen to this all the way to the end. The chorus is great and just keeps going. However, I'm still not sold on the Spree as a whole. I'm still a huge fan of Tripping Daisy's Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, an album I aruge was the transition for Tim DeLaughter going from goofy alternarock into something deeper.

"The Mumbling Years" by Hotel Lights
When Darren Jessee harmonized with Ben Folds in Ben Folds Five, they sounded so similar. Hearing them separately, they don't sound anything alike. That's OK because Jessee has a fine voice himself. Hotel Lights is the band that he fronts and their songs are laid back, but not sleep-inducing. This is a great introductory track.

"Wonderful People" by Q and Not U
From Q and Not U's final album, Power. A nice dancey track, but it's still weird to be reminded that this is the same band that put out the stellar post-hardcore release, No Kill No Beep Beep. Maybe this band progressed too fast for people. Now that they're broken up we can catch up.

"Eddie Walker" by Ben Folds Five
Another slice of somber pop from the Five. This time it's a b-side from the their debut album. The line about the trees getting cut down after the aunt dies really gets to me. For some reason I think about my family in Selma whenever I hear this song.

"Your Red Hand" by the New Amsterdams
I gotta credit the Get Up Kids for being so pro about downloading MP3s. At a time when major labels were freaking out about peer-to-peer networks, Napster sponsored a Get Up Kids tour through the US. MP3s were a major source of the band's popularity, so I thought it was very cool that Matt uploaded Killed or Cured, a discarded New Amsterdams album, on his website for free.

"Adhesive" by Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots started out as a hard-rockin' band but they morphed into a melodic alternarock band without losing a lot of fans. Honestly, I find Purple and Tiny Music as incredible records because of tracks like this, "Lady Picture Show" and "Kitchenware and Candy Bars." The trumpet solo is a really nice touch.

"Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd." by Ryan Adams
The quiet finale to Adams' powerful sophomore album. After all the rocking and sad songs, this song is a perfect way of ending an album that begins with "New York, New York."

"Move Out, Move On" by Koufax
A bouncy little ditty from this underrated keyboards/guitar pop outfit. I've always interpreted this song as being about maturing and getting on with your life. Just like "Adhesive," the trumpet part is also a nice touch.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Voices Carry

I constantly hear different voices in my head. Regardless of other people's voices I hear, there is an ongoing point/counterpoint debate that is a part of my inner-dialogue. On one side is a voice expressing something I'd like to do, but that is usually countered by a voice that doesn't want me to do it. It's really tough to do anything when there is a fear that something bad will happen as a result. Well, I'm still working on this, but there are times that I just need to acknowledge the devil's advocate and just go for it. What is this "it" I'm referring to? I think it's called life.

Early on with writing Post, I came upon the thought that the only person holding me back from writing a book was myself. Nevermind the workload, the physicaly/mental cost, or any possible negative effects, if the tales of Jawbreaker, Braid and the Promise Ring remained at bay as bedtime stories for my grandchildren, I felt that I would have accomplished something by writing them out. I still feel this way, but I wonder why I can't redirect this attitude to other parts in my life.

Years ago, after I had listened to Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen a number of times, I was curious about these two other Ben Folds Five releases I saw in the CD racks: Ben Folds Five and Naked Baby Photos. At that point, those were the only other BFF albums out, so buying them would not be a major gamble without hearing them beforehand. Yet I still wasn't convinced. Sometime later (after looking at these CDs over and over again), I believe a voice I heard in a dream told me to just buy the damn things and get on with it. Whadda ya know? I bought those records and they were in constant rotation in my CD player for the next year as I made the slow adjustment to university life in a new town. They're still staples in my library, but I wonder why I had skepticism with them in the first place.

It's as if my life often turns into a never-ending carousel: things keep turning but I don't think I'm going anywhere. I often forget about all the times that I didn't give into doubt. Yet it's the other times where things did not yield positive results that make me want to avoid ever going through something like that again. Like rafting down a river and stopping to go ashore whenever I see rapids up ahead, the thought of going through more and more discomfort makes me rethink about why I'm doing something.

Money and possible scheduling conflicts often are reasons not to do things out of the norm for me. For example, I've been wanting to visit a local a museum for the last few months. I love museums (especially black and white photography exhibits) but the thought of having to pay for parking in a parking garage and figuring out when I could go for cheap are excuses that I make. These excuses make me want to hold off or maybe even cross the desire off for the time being. I think about asking a friend (or friends) to accompany me, but then I automatically think of them making excuses as to why they can't go, so I don't think about it any longer. I often feel like everybody's too busy doing other things in their own lives while I just have all this time to spare time, even with book writing/research, blogging, walks, listening to music, reading and watching DVDs. Like an old friend of mine once joked: "When lives go on sale at Wal-Mart, we need to pick some up."

Overall, I am happy with my life in regards to what I want to do. However, I fall very easily into a schedule that is predictable and I become torn. I like the fact that I have downtime for stuff like writing and reading, but I just wish they weren't the only options. I love hanging out with my friends here in town and talking to my friends that live a long way's away, but matters seem like everybody is too wrapped up in their own worlds to do anything much outside of them. Of course life is awesome to be able to do the things that we want to do, but I guess I wasn't so prepared for so much personal downtime.

Maybe I need some new voices in my head. The kinds of voices that strongly urge me to do off-the-beaten path sorts of things (like paint more pictures, take more photographs, cook more food at home). I welcome these voices but I'm still dogged by a desire to keep things calm and safe. Maybe I need less voices in my head and just need to hear real voices from other people around me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Looking for the Heart of [Sunday] Night

Pearl Jam has been on my mind lately. Regardless of the fact that they have a new album coming out soon, their name and music have come back into my life. It's not like I swore off listening to them forever, but I just had not actively listened to their music in years. Just like Nirvana, I rarely listen to grunge these days. I do have fond memories of listening to them in middle and high school and upon revisiting them, I think they hold up fine. How did I come back to these guys? Sunny Day Real Estate, of all bands.

Currently, I'm doing some extensive research on the Seattle grunge scene as a backdrop for what Sunny Day Real Estate was not directly tied to. While SDRE was on Sub Pop during the peak of the genre, that's where the comparison ends, until Dave Grohl steps into the picture. When Sunny Day first called it quits, drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel joined Grohl's new band, Foo Fighters. But what's the connection to Pearl Jam? A little radio broadcast they had back in January of 1995 dubbed, Self Pollution Radio.

I forget what the desire was or why they did it, but Self Pollution was a chance for Eddie Vedder and his bandmates to play music they liked for a worldwide audience. Setting up in a house in the woods somewhere in Washington and beaming their signal to satellites, an untold number of people were tuning in. I technically was one of those people as I listened to some of it live and listened to the rest of it on tape. My father rigged up the radio to play through the VCR so I could have the whole four (five?) hour show on one tape. The point of bringing this all up? I think it's safe to say that this show changed a lot of things for me getting into music. It wasn't an immediate change, but new gears started going in my head.

Hearing Sonic Youth's "Teen Age Riot" for the first time was cool, but getting to hear new material from Dave Grohl was even better. Just a short time before this, Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs listed the Foo Fighters' demo as one of his favorites of 1994. "This is Dave Grohl's new project," he told Rolling Stone. "He plays everything. Your mind will be blown." I was curious. Just as Dulli predicted, I was blown away by what I heard from the two tracks played ("Gas Chamber" and "Exhausted"). Foo Fighters showed up later that summer while I was taking a summer math prep class and ever since then, I've listened to the Foo Fighters more than Nirvana. To use Jim Ward's phrase, Nirvana was the baby food and then the Foo Fighters were the steak and potatoes.

Self Pollution Radio aired on a Sunday night, a night I would later find to be the night of the week to listen to the radio and watch MTV. By the middle of high school, I had reached a point where I felt compelled to really seek out music that really moved me, instead of the stuff that was readily available during the daytime that wasn't moving me. Most of that stuff was pure crap to me, so I felt like I had no choice but to look elsewhere. First up was David Sadoff's Lunar Rotation, then Modern Rock Live and then 120 Minutes. There was plenty to enjoy and I have to say that was one of the most fruitful and fun times finding new music. There was no hipster elite around me at that point, so I dug far and wide, but it didn't feel like a desperate dig. I found tons of great stuff with ease and kept going.

These days, I rarely listen to the radio, even on Sunday nights. There are so many options these days with finding music (podcasts, MP3s, MP3 blogs, Internet radio), but nothing really beats live and local Sunday night specialty shows on the radio. Fort Worth's The Good Show and Denton's Frequency Down are out my frequency range and Dallas' The Adventure Club is over by the time I'm done with traffic reporting for the night. Let's just put it this way, it's all CDs and MP3s for me in the car and in front of the computer.

Maybe it's my hard-headed/impatient ways that I don't listen to the radio on Sunday nights. Maybe it's because I think I'm fine with the ways that I find out about music these days. Besides, I think Sunday night specialty shows benefit the young listener better. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that can't stand Black Eyed Peas on Top 40 stations or the Killers getting played right after Korn and blink-182 on modern rock stations. As much as people complain about how bad mainstream radio is, I argue that it has to be generic and bland to bring in more curious listeners out of the woodwork. Hey, it worked for me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A complete idiot's guide

Check out my "Complete Idiot's Guide" to Ben Folds Five and Ben Folds' solo material up on Jeff's blog today. Grab the MP3s while you can; I don't know how long they are kept up there (maybe a week). Though I don't have one favorite band of all time, Ben Folds Five is one of my all-time favorites. To sorta-quote a line from a certain concert from their's: If you've heard these guys before, then you're a fan. If you haven't, you're about to be.

Double Wide

As another Deep Ellum venue closes, the area feels more and more like a ghost town to me. The thought that I was at the Double Wide merely two weekends ago for the Undeniable Records show is still fresh in my mind. Maybe I'm going through the "disbelief" phase of grief since this closing came as a shock.

I saw a number of shows at the Double Wide in the last few years and by pure coincidence, some of the best ones were recent. The Numbers Twist blew my head off, as did [DARYL], the Golden Falcons and Saboteur, for various reasons. The sound was always incredible; I could actually hear things like shakers and backing vocals. On top of that, the layout of the whole place was fantastic: if you just wanted to sit and drink, you could go inside to the bar or outside on the patio. If you wanted to see the bands playing, you went into a separate room connected to the patio. The layout was ideal for a lot of people and unlike a certain now-closed venue nearby, they had really cool bartenders and door folks. Yes, I'm gonna miss this place, however I'm not about to get all sad and start saying all sort of ugly things about Deep Ellum. I have my misgivings about the area (especially the outrageous price for paid parking and the outrageous lengths to walk for free parking), but it was made very clear to me a few weeks ago about how much the place has changed for me.

While walking from Sons of Herman Hall to the Liquid Lounge to meet up with some friends, a lot of memories came into my head. They were good memories, but they were memories. I passed by the Door and thought about the numerous shows I'd seen over the years (Braid, No Motiv and the Get Up Kids were just some). While the Door is still going, the places that have closed brought back a lot more memories. The Galaxy Club, a haven for punk, hardcore and metal shows for years, moved its Main Street location to Upper Greenville sometime last year. Regardless of the location change, I thought about the numerous shows I'd seen there back in college. I saw Slowride play its second show as they opened for Strung Out, No Motiv with Saves the Day and H2O, Hot Water Music with Indecision, AFI and Sick of It All and so on. Those were great shows, but they were years ago.

As I got to the Liquid Lounge, I thought about the few times that I loaded in to play the venue whether it was with the 11:30s or Voigt. I thought about the Curtain Club right around the corner to the left of me and Club Clearview around the corner to the right. I hadn't been to this part of the area in at least year as I often go to places like Lower Greenville, Fair Park, Denton or Fort Worth for shows. It was only 9:30pm as I waited for my friends, but the whole area felt out of step with me. I always go where the show is, but the shows I want to see aren't usually in Deep Ellum anymore. Maybe my tastes have changed, maybe Deep Ellum really is bad as what people say it is, but it's all in perspective.

It's not like there's a dearth of places to see shows here in town. I would liken this recent visit to whenever I go back to Kingwood, the town I spent most of my life growing up. Feeling like I'm stepping back into a former life, some things have changed and some have not. The change wasn't overnight; it was little by little, year by year.

These days, I'm very happy with going to Lower Greenville for shows, Fair Park for Fallout Lounge for drinks and Ave Arts for dancing at the Smoke. I don't feel like I'm settling for anything by going to these places instead of Deep Ellum. These are the places that I want to go to. It's not like I live in some small town where there are only three bars and only one has live bands play. There are so many places here in Dallas, along with a number of great places in Fort Worth and Denton. Even though the Double Wide was one venue, it was a really special place for those that enjoyed it for what it was.