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Friday, September 29, 2006

Away message

I'm taking a few days off from writing to head on down to Houston. My good friend Chris is getting married on Saturday. For the time being, here's some good reading material:

Tom Waits' interview with The AV Club from a few years ago.

Merritt's Dallas Observer article on karaoke.

Kyle retells his time at Touch & Go's 25th anniversary show.

Eric ran into an old bandmate of his during a pitstop over the weekend.

Finally, here's yours truly making a funny/insane face.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I ain't got no crystal ball

I've never been a big fan of Sublime's reggae-punk-ska, but I feel bad for their hardcore fans. Billboard reports that a four-disc box set featuring previously released and unreleased material is on the way. How is this a bad thing? Well, the number of posthumous vault-raiding collections greatly outnumber the band's proper releases. That usually isn't a problem, but the quality of them is very suspect.

When they were together, the band recorded three proper albums, Robbin' the Hood, 40 Oz. to Freedom and Sublime. Sublime would be the band's breakthrough record with the mainstream, but that success was very bittersweet. Shortly before its release, frontman/guitarist/songwriter Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose. In the following years, the effects of apparently a bad record deal have yielded compilation after compilation. Here's the rundown so far:

Second Hand Smoke (1997)
Stand By Your Van -- Sublime Live in Concert (1998)
Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell and Friends (1998)
Greatest Hits (1999)
20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection (2002)
Gold (2005)
Sublime: Legacy Edition (2006)

That's one odds-and-sods collection, three greatest hits collections, one live record, one acoustic record and one reissue with a bonus disc of previously unreleased material. So I wonder, how much of this stuff do Sublime fans really want? Not to take a piss on the band, but do they really warrant such a pillaging of their vaults? They were an important and popular band in their day and they're still popular, but they're not in the league of someone like Jimi Hendrix.

Hendrix was constantly gigging and recording in his prime, leaving plenty of material to be released for decades after his death. While I still don't have his proper albums or compilations, I've always meant to get into his stuff. There's plenty of stuff to get into, but I think I'm best off with his three proper albums, Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. Stuff like Blues, Band of Gypsies, First Rays of the New Rising Son and BBC Sessions are for the people that want more and that's totally fine. Why? Because this is good stuff, not scraping the bottom of a barrel.

With Sublime, I can't help but think a barrel, not a vault, is being raided. Do you really want five remixes of "Doin' Time" on the Legacy Edition? How many versions of "What I Got" or "KRS-One" do you want to hear before you've had enough? How can you tell me this is a good thing for the band's legacy? I know this kind of stuff has happened to a number of bands before, but it seems very unfair when it happens to a band that didn't have that much material to begin with.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tramps like us

Credit goes to David for pointing this article out. The Dallas Morning News' Thor Christensen reviews a handful of this fall's hotly-anticipated records by acts like the Killers, Beck and Janet Jackson. Responding to a claim made by the Killers' Brandon Flowers that his band’s new album is 'one of the best albums of the last 20 years," Christensen wrote: "Every musician wants to record a classic album, but the odds against doing it are astronomical: For every disc that earns the 'timeless' tag, 10,000 wind up in the $5 bin at used-CD stores." Very true words. So I wonder: is there a bulletproof way to make something classic and timeless?

Earlier this year, Tom DeLonge shot himself in the foot by hyping his post-blink-182 band, Angels and Airwaves, himself. If there's one major lesson to be learned, it's that the general public, not the musicians, producers, record label folks or the critics, that decide if the music is good or not. How people will appreciate the record over time is really up in the air. Nine times out of ten, making bold claims becomes an albatross. Yet there are those that hope they are the lucky ones that beat the odds.

Sharing an album, a book or a piece of artwork you made is like when you bake something for a lot of people. You spend a certain amount of time preparing, mixing and heating it up and then you let people have it. The deal is, you can't put a finished book, album or artwork back in a proverbial oven once it's out there. Some people may like it, others may mildly dislike it and some may hate it so much that they can't have more than two bites. That's a major nerve-wracker. You could wonder when is the best time to unleash something. You could also wonder if it should have been released at all.

I argue that bands, writers, painters, photographers and so on need room to fail. When a lot of stakes are riding high with something, they can make for a good motivator but they could also make for a major pitfall. I think the ones creating should be passionate about what they're making. They should please themselves first and foremost, but also hope that other people can enjoy it too. Since you're making a statement that you will be held to for the rest of your life, I think you should fire on all engines. If you've got only one shot to make this statement, you can't half-ass it.

Brandon Flowers credits Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as a major inspiration for the Killers' new record, Sam's Town. Springsteen indeed thought big with his third album, Born to Run, as this appeared to be his last shot at making a record. With Born to Run, he spent months working on a record that he thought would blow people's minds and change their lives. Now I don't know if he made these claims in public before the record came out, but his hopes came true after it came out. I don't know if Springsteen thought that big with his subsequent albums like The River and Born in the U.S.A., but plenty of people of think of those records as classics too.

I recently interviewed Brian Baker about Dag Nasty's seminal, '86 record, Can I Say. He's still proud of that record, but he says there were no bold motives behind it. The lyrics and music were not written in hopes that this would ever be considered a classic. Forecasting a 27-year-old in Dallas talking with him about the genius of the record twenty years later was definitely not imagined when it came out. The band knew they had a good record, as did its producer Ian MacKaye, but they didn't think they had this golden egg on their hands.

With writing a book of my own, I hope that people get something positive out of it when it comes out. My goal is to write it in a way that will stand the test of time, but I could be totally off. I have some big inner goals but I'm not going to make any bold claims here. I'll tell you what Post is about and how it's constructed, but I'm not going to make stupid, hype-filled claims before anyone reads it. I really believe in the stories that I'm trying to tell, but how even my closest of friends will respond to it, that's a very hazy forecast right now.

As proven by Angels and Airwaves and the Killers, band members are not the best psychics. Hell, faux-psychic Miss Cleo might have had better predictions as to how We Don't Need to Whisper and Sam's Town would be received. You've got to believe in what you're doing, but on a scale where a number of jobs are at stake based on its immediate financial success, that's a really tough obstacle. Failure may not be an option, but what if it does fail to make that kind of immediate impact? Well, CDs aren't going anywhere (despite what people claim). People rediscover albums and put a new slant on them over time. In a day and age when Weezer's Pinkerton is considered a classic album (despite being originally thought of as sophomore slump/bomb), anything can truly happen.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Avoid

Now let's make sure, that this time, this never happens again.

--Dante Hicks, Clerks cartoon

Over the weekend I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is having some major "life" issues. I don't remember if this was about a possible relationship, a job concern or something else, but I told him in a serious/sarcastic voice, "Do what I do: avoid life!" Then I started thinking about how mentally tied-up I am. I tried to understand why this is the way it is.

I'll say this flat out: I don't like making mistakes or doing something that I'll later regret. Making mistakes is what got me fussed at for most of the my life from a variety of sources. Because I made a "careless" mistake, that would make me regret why I even made the decision in the first place. Now I feel like it's difficult to make decisions beyond what clothes I'm going to wear, what food I'm going to eat and when I'll do laundry. Why? Because I want to avoid the unpleasantries of life in hopes of having conflict-free life.

This all may sound like pure silliness, but this is something I struggle with daily. If I don't have to be anywhere on a day off, I'll just stay at home and do a mixture of writing, reading and watching a DVD or two. I know people may think that's a charmed schedule to work a few days and have the whole rest of the week off, but it's not the greatest. I work very hard during the week with writing the book and searching for a new job, so when I work on the weekends, the free time feels very condensed. I appreciate the time I have to work on the book and write other stuff, but it feels like the default activity when nothing else is going on.

I have this negative image in my head of someone wasting his or her life away by living a life of pure laziness. I'm talking lying on the couch for days, eating junk food, yelling at Fox News and posting asinine comments on message boards. There is no harm in general relaxation, but living this mentally and physically sedentary lifestyle just doesn't work for me.

Yet "life" issues for post-education young adults seem incredibly daunting. Trying to construct a life of my own is difficult when I see older people stuck in traps (like bad marriages, bad jobs, health problems and so on). For those of us that see only the end result, I think it's natural to want to avoid anything that could lead to a bad situation. Taking such avoidance to an extreme, there's this "missing out" feeling that rears its head from time to time. What if the path to some possible bad situations is the same path that could lead to great or even better situations? Walking and staying on that path isn't easy.

Feeling this way and talking about it sounds rather whiny and melodramatic, but I get the sense that a lot of people feel this way at some point in their lives. Why I talk about it is because this is a part of the phase of growing up after we're supposedly all grown up. We grow everyday, but it doesn't seem like that when we're doing versus reflecting.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Feeling the rapture grow

When I was in college, I would often hear about Blue Velvet. All along, I thought these people were talking about National Velvet, the 1944 film about horse racing starring Elizabeth Taylor/Mickey Rooney. I didn't recall Dennis Hopper being in it or the film being rather bizarre. If anything, it was a film that my sister liked when we were younger.

Somewhere along the way, a nice friend of mine explained what the difference was between the two films. There's no Elizabeth Taylor, horses or syrupy music in Blue Velvet and there's no Dennis Hopper, oxygen masks or dismembered ears in National Velvet. On top of that, I seriously doubt that my sister would like Blue Velvet.

I can't give a movie review of Blue Velvet right now because I haven't seen it the whole way through. No, I didn't stop it because I was offended or grossed out; the copy I rented from Netflix had two long scratches on it. I didn't realize they were there until I reached the 35-minute mark of the film, when Jeffrey is in Dorothy's closet and she confronts him with a knife. Noticing my DVD player skipping a few seconds at a time, I realized that I was missing important dialogue, even if it was a loud interrogation. Trying to fast-forward and rewind a few times, I gave up and alerted Netflix about the problem. A replacement is coming my way in a day or two, but I can't help but be annoyed.

I'm not angry at Netflix, but I found it very funny that the movie started glitching when the movie shifts into a much more tense atmosphere. I look forward to watching the rest of the movie when it arrives. I hear I'm in store for some really crazy stuff when Dennis Hopper's character shows up.

Why I'm writing all about this is because I'm really digging Lynch's work. I saw Mulholland Dr. a few years ago, but had yet to see any of his other work until recently. Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. have strange happenings in places that look perfectly fine on the surface. I know we all have skeletons in the closet, but I find these films to have more than just skeletons in closets. There's a dark sense of comedy (especially in Twin Peaks), but it's surrounded by all sorts of oddball stuff.

Luckily, this is not oddball for the sake of oddball. Lynch creates puzzles more than straightforward films and you have to pay incredibly close attention. I learned this right away with Mulholland Dr. as I'm still not completely sure what all happens in that movie. Mixing dreams and reality to a point where it's confusing, the clues are more in the atmosphere than in the dialogue. So, I had to stop my glitching copy of Blue Velvet because I was sure that if I skipped to the next chapter, I would be missing crucial stuff. I've got a whole hour and a half to go before I can even begin to understand what's what with Blue Velvet. To be continued . . .

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What is this?

I don't know how they found this clip, but Jason and Merritt have it on their respective blogs. Where exactly is this clip from? Moreover, what the hell is going on in this clip? Here's what I can tell you in brief: it's a little man/child who dances as his family watches. The spoken language sounds Spanish, but it could be something else. Why am I some interested in this? Well, instead of dismissing this as some silly, random YouTube clip, I think about what it could possibly be. Moreover, how does somebody find a clip like this?

With Twin Peaks still fresh in my mind and the first thirty-five minutes of Blue Velvet very fresh in my mind, I think this clip is akin to David Lynch's work. Maybe because of the dream-like quality, I think of the Black Lodge sequences on Twin Peaks. You know, those backward-sounding conversations where you don't know if it's a dream or reality? That's what I thought as I tried to understand its bizarro nature (especially the shared smoke at the end).

The debate is whether the dancing person is a child or a dwarf. His voice sounds full of Helium and his dancing moves are very fluid. Plus, what's the deal with the Spanish(?) version of Madonna's "Holiday" as the dance music?

Wherever the clip is from, I wonder how somebody could find a clip like this. As someone who looks at YouTube on a daily basis for live clips and music videos, the weirdest stuff I find usually consists of fan-made clips. I'm talking video of some teenager playing the opening riff to Killswitch Engage's "This Fire Burns" in his bedroom or a montage of photographs as a new Wilco song plays. It's not everyday that people type "Spanish clip of little man dancing" into a search engine. I could be wrong though.

The bigger question is why do we watch this kind of stuff? I think the reason why is that there is no real reason why. There is something so odd, but funny and creepy, all at the same time. It's like a puzzle that can't be solved. Still though, I wonder how people find stuff like this.

Friday, September 22, 2006

This fire burns always

One of the more anticipated records of the year for me is Killswitch Engage's As Daylight Dies, due November 21st. I'm of the attitude that I will buy it the day it comes out, but with seeing a pattern in the band's back catalog, I might have to wait a few months. No, it's not because of delays, but because it will probably be reissued in less than a year.

Eric totally sold me on the band with his post on the band back in July. Featuring two newly recorded tracks found on compilations (one original, "This Fire Burns," and one cover, Dio's "Holy Diver"), I was certain that they would reappear on a future KSE release. I hoped "This Fire Burns" would show up on As Daylight Dies, but according to a recent MTV news story, the song will not be on it. Then I started thinking that the album, just like all of KSE's records, will get the reissue treatment. But I wonder who gets to benefit most with this? For the fans that want it when it's originally out, they don't want to plunk down the dough for the same album again. Now I'm in that same boat.

What's been cool about the KSE reissues is that they sport some fine bonus stuff. Each reissue of their three albums came with a bonus CD of previously unreleased tracks or only found as b-sides or compilation tracks. The reissue of The End of Heartache was an awesome package as it was a great introduction to the band. But I can understand why people would be pissed at a reissue like this, especially after only a year from original release.

What is the true benefit of doing this to records, especially records that are easy to find and are not out of print? As I've stated before, reissues are great for older records that don't sound as good with today's technology. The tacking on of bonus tracks really sweetens the deal, but bonus tracks can be very hit and miss. Demos, acoustic and live tracks are usually weaker versions of the album's tracks, making for a cry of rip-off. In the case of KSE, hearing Howard Jones sing live on older songs that he originally didn't sing is cool. Yet the Resident Evil version of "The End of Heartache" isn't that awesome as it's essentially a remix of the song.

A way that some labels have dealt with this is making the bonus content available on the web. Wilco did a fine job of offering a handful of b-sides as a free download for those that bought Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. With Fall Out Boy, the bonus tracks found on the From Under the Cork Tree reissue are available for download on iTunes. The bonus tracks on The End of Heartache are also available on iTunes, but the same cannot be said about KSE's previous records, Killswitch Engage and Alive or Just Breathing.

Are labels really trying to milk something to new fans or are they just shooting themselves in the foot? Like Eric, I want to have the new KSE record as soon as it's out, but I wonder if I should wait a few months or so. I find trying to do that very difficult.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton

David posted the link for this article a few weeks ago, but I'm just getting around to reading it. Decibel Magazine, the metal magazine run by Choosing Death author Albert Mudrian, recently printed a round table discussion on hipster metal. Featuring John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, Metal Blade CEO Brian Slagel and a couple of writers, they discuss metal's rather hip nature in the last few years.

Seeing positive record reviews on bands like Mastodon, Isis, Killswitch Engage, Converge and Slipknot in publications that seemed to steer clear from this kind of music, there is something going on. I do wonder how this happened. I think a comment Slagel made in the article nails it on the head:
The hipster kids are writers -- the indie rock people -- they're no longer going, "Oh, metal. Behemoth, they're horrible! So now all of a sudden some of these really cool bands are really good and those people are getting into [them], but I think it's more a validation of the people, especially like the indie rock people the writers and stuff. They kind of validate it; "Well, it's part of hipster metal so that means it's going to be cool for us to listen to."

I will admit that I've listened to much more college rock, post-hardcore, emo and pop-punk in the last few years. Not that I've grown tired of that stuff, but metal/metalcore has reached a point where I can enjoy it a little more than I used to. I don't have to be pissed off to get into the detuned guitars, bellowing/screaming vocals and pounding drums. These days, I'm finding myself listening to records like Converge's You Fail Me and Killswitch Engage's The End of Heartache as much as I listen to Cursive's Happy Hollow and Blackpool Lights' This Town's Disaster. I ask myself, why and why now?

There was never a point where I disliked metal after I got into indie rock, but the chances of finding someone that was into both of those genres were very slim. Feeling like metal was perfect when I was pissed off, records like Master of Puppets and Vulgar Display of Power would get a spin. I was much more interested in records by the Get Up Kids, Jawbreaker and Hot Water Music in addition to Idlewild, Red House Painters and Sigur Ros. There just wasn't a desire to get into modern metal. Besides, in the late-'90s, anything remotely like popular metal was a joke. Nu-metal was plaguing suburban youths with its faux, white-boy pain. Korn and the Deftones put out some really impressive stuff during this time, but it was easily mixed in with all the watered-down junk floating around too.

At some point a few years later, bands like Shadows Fall, Converge and Killswitch Engage were getting some attention, but I didn't know why. The rap/rock hybrid in nu-metal was being overshadowed by screamo and that wasn't much better. Sure, Thursday and Thrice put out some good stuff, but just like with nu-metal, this was caught in a blurry mess of weaker stuff.

When David Fricke's four-star review of Slipknot's Iowa ran in Rolling Stone, I felt that modern metal had reached a certain kind of credibility. Not to think in a lemming sort of way, but a lot of rock critics would be quick to dismiss metal because it was metal. Fricke has always struck me as an open-minded music critic and a great writer and writing what he wrote about Iowa, I felt compelled to check it out. Though I found the record to be a great soundtrack for the Playstation 2 shoot-'em-up Red Faction, I didn't really find it that compelling to listen to more of it.

Two years ago, as I was going through KTCU's "crap" box, I came upon a copy of You Fail Me. Thinking this was going to be a funny little metal record, I took it home with me. Turns out that I was really blown away by it, especially the title track. I kept coming back to the record and was surprised that I didn't have to be at odds with my everyday life to enjoy it. This led into me really getting into other bands like Killswitch Engage and Dillinger Escape Plan.

Now, I'm seeing what's going in favor of a handful of modern bands: they're doing metal right. There's nothing contrived about Converge, Mastodon, Shadows Fall, All That Remains, Lamb of God or Killswitch Engage. These bands act like they've studied the history of metal closely, but have done something out of the box with it too. Plus, none of these bands just dropped out of the sky. These bands didn't start two years ago. They aren't prancing across music television channels as flimsy fads. They're being rewarded for a lot of hard work after being off many people's radar for years.

With now, I have a better understanding why we're seeing a few metal records get some nice props outside of the metal world. Sure, it may seem odd that these are considered kosher for the hipster crowd, but I seriously doubt that this stuff will have a full embrace by them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Just Say No

Even as my ten-year high school reunion looms, I'm still trying to get over some high school angst. No, it isn't about my hairstyle or why I liked Silverchair, but with saying no. I have no problem telling panhandlers or door-to-door solicitors no, but other matters are much more difficult. If work calls me on short notice to fill in or the band is asked to play a last minute gig, I'm torn. If I didn't have anything lined up for that time, I say yes. But what about when I already have plans? How important are those plans compared to what is being asked of me at the last minute?

The reasonable and understandable answer is to say "Sorry, I already have plans." No problem, right? Well, when I was in the high school band, nothing else could interfere with one's attendance to band practices. If you already had plans, you had to break them because band always came first. If you weren't there, everything would fall apart and a major guilt trip was coming your way. What a strong morale booster that was.

Add on top of this was attendance in general. If you missed a day at high school, it wasn't a huge deal, but it was very important to be there everyday. I had perfect attendance all throughout high school as I thankfully was never sick or had a family emergency. I just didn't want to be behind on schoolwork when I came back. In college, you were royally screwed if you missed a day. It didn't seem to matter if you were sick or had to go to a funeral on the day of a test. If you missed a test, your make-up exam was intentionally much harder than the exam everyone else took. In a roundabout way, the reasons for missing were all your fault. It was your fault you got sick or had to go to a funeral.

Five years post-college, I still have this feeling to always say yes. Saying no still doesn't feel like the best immediate option. At previous jobs, I would go in even under extreme circumstances like the roads were iced over or I had the flu. I would be chastised for missing or even considering missing. Why? Because I was convinced that normal, everyday operations would go completely haywire if I wasn't there. I didn't want to let the team down and I would never be forgiven for missing a day.

All along, I've heard people say, "You've got to do what you gotta do." But shortly after people say that, there's this insinuation that severe drawbacks are going to happen. This will make me feel guilty for doing something for myself and reconsider why I'm doing what I'm doing. I'd like to blame my old teachers, band directors and bosses for making me feel this way, but I should really put under a microscope why I let this train of thought run over me.

I have to constantly remind myself that in my current job and band, no guilt trips have come my way for missing. Especially on a freelancing basis, I work when I'm available, but I'm available most of the time. As important as this book is to me, I can put aside writing and editing a few hours later in the day. I can hold off on walking the dog for later in the evening. But when I have meetings and interviews already lined up on a day when the job calls and asks if I can fill-in, a part of me thinks that I have to break those previous engagements.

I'm starting to see a bigger picture here. I know I should not feel like a part of a train track. But still, I think about possible rearrangements if something comes up at the last minute. I'm pretty flexible, but when all my time is eaten up by last-minute matters, I wonder why I didn't say no. Is saying no really that bad or is this all in my head?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We could plant a house/We could build a tree

MTV News has a great little write-up on a question that's been asked by many for the last fifteen years: Could there be another band like Nirvana come along and completely change the way we think about popular rock music? Forget the Next Big Thing -- the Next Nirvana would be a band that no one would have predicted such a major takeover. The deal is, anything is possible, but the odds of this happening now are much greater compared to how they were in 1991.

With the immediate blockbuster success of Nirvana's Nevermind in late-'91, major labels were caught off guard and tried to catch up in 1992. What made the whole alternative/grunge tag appealing was its vagueness. Bands like the Flaming Lips, Helmet and Soundgarden sounded nothing alike, but they were not hair metal, so major labels were interested. Granted, those three bands had major label deals before Nevermind came out, but they definitely had an easier time finding a larger audience after that record came out.

What really helped with the appeal of alternative/grunge was that the rate of hit albums was very high and consistent for the next couple of years. Albums like Ten by Pearl Jam, Dirt by Alice in Chains, Meantime by Helmet, Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins and Core by Stone Temple Pilots all went platinum and those were just some of them. Major labels wanted to keep the alternative rock engine going, so anything went. Bands like Jawbox, Shudder to Think and Seaweed would be signed and there was hot anticipation for what was coming next.

Well, even with a decline in overall interest and Kurt Cobain's death in April '94, bands that sounded like watered-down alternative rock like Better Than Ezra, Seven Mary Three and Silverchair had a couple hit records. For bands like Jawbox and Shudder to Think, who put out records that were even more complex than their previous records, people weren't gravitating to that in droves.

For the rest of the '90s, short-lived replacement fads were seen in the US. There was electronica, Britpop and ska and not one, but two waves of pop-punk. Bands like Green Day and the Offspring were a part of what made pop-punk household names in '94. In '99, bands like blink-182 and New Found Glory were a part of what made pop-punk an even more welcome name, especially in the teen pop world.

Yet for those that craved rock music that had a mass appeal but was also dense, there was a hole. Teen pop was insanely popular for a few years, but that stuff didn't rock. As far as what was considered mainstream rock music at the time, that was either the rap-rock/nu-metal of Korn and Limp Bizkit or the rock schlop of Creed and Nickelback. Despite selling a lot of records, rock fans still wanted something more. For a brief period, eyes were closely watching El Paso's own, At the Drive-In.

If there was one band that could have been as big as Nirvana, it was At the Drive-In, or so people in the industry thought at the time. With Gary Gersh and John Silva (the same guys that worked with Nirvana) working with At the Drive-In, it seemed like planets were aligning. At the Drive-In had made an incredible record, Relationship of Command, and it had a lot of "right" things: there were melodic hooks in addition to crazy, off-kilter stuff all wrapped in a kick-ass production that was very radio-friendly. With Relationship of Command coming out almost ten years after Nevermind, the time seemed right for a changing of the guard.

Despite a big promotional push and some very nice write-ups (even getting ranked #22 on the prestigious Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll), Relationship of Command didn't change the world immediately like Nevermind did. With At the Drive-In breaking up in early 2001, people seem to have dusted the band off, but the change that they brought had a rippling effect. The aesthetic of stripped-down, no bullshit rock helped the Strokes and the Hives find larger audiences and the aesthetic of melodic hooks with strained singing helped Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World find larger audiences. Though there wasn't much crossover between those, they help explain what we have today.

While not as big in overall impact as alternative rock in the '90s, the look and feel of mainstream emo has come close. While Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco may have songs that a large number of people find catchy and fun, they certainly don't have the weight that Nirvana brought in 1991. So, where did all the weight go? That's a great question.

I argue that non-musical cultural changes had bigger impacts. With the Internet and cell phones becoming everyday necessities and 9/11 happening, these were a part of a much bigger and more widespread impact than any group of guys with guitars and drums could do. Plus, along with MP3s, iPods and music blogs, music feels much more factioned off now. There's always a chance there could be something new that jaded twenty- or thirty-somethings could get excited about along with wide-eyed teenagers, but don't hold your breath.

Michael Azerrad has a great perspective on this matter: the next big cultural change may not be from a musical act at all. "It may be a piece of software, or a Web site or a personality on YouTube, or something enabled by technology we haven't discovered yet," he said in the MTV News piece. "We're in a changing time, where music may not be the mode for youth culture phenomena. And because of the fragmentation of music fans, you're never going to get another Beatles or Nirvana, because not that many are into the same kind of music. Not that many people want to be in the same stadium together." How very true that is, but again, anything can happen.

For what passes as mainstream rock these days, we have an amalgam of glam and glitter with whiny emo and metal bands pretending to be decadent rock stars. Overall, there is too much show and very little on the depth side. This is a perfect time for a band to come along and blow all this out of the water, but people have been saying that for the last ten years or so. At the Drive-In came extremely close, as did the Strokes and Jimmy Eat World, but still, the door's open. For me, there's so much music out there that I haven't really gotten into. Yet Nirvana was the band that showed me that bands could rock in a different way. They didn't immediately change my life, but they immediately opened my ears up to a different kind of rock music. Not many bands can do that and that's what so difficult about finding one.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Everybody knows what's best for you

As a follow-up to my previous post on faith and organized religion, the topic has reared its head again in my head. I still do not label myself as a follower of a certain kind of beliefs. I'm spiritual and hopeful, but I'm easily deterred by negativity. What's been annoying me in the last few weeks and months is the certain ways that people try and force their religious beliefs down people's throats, even if it's by walking on eggshells.

Being reminded of a show we played a few months ago, I think about what one of the other bands on the bill said during their set. I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of, "I just wanted to let you know that Christ is in our lives. We don't want to call ourselves Christians because a lot of people these days have made it a bad word. If you want to talk to us about it, we'll be around after we play."

I've never understood this approach. This "we'll be around after the show if you want to talk with us" approach sounds suspect rather than open and friendly. No matter how light the tone of voice, there's a sense of encouragement/forcing a possible conversation/debate. More often than not, I see it as a trap for slippery slopes and Bible verses. That's not the kind of conversation I'm interested in having. I have my ideas and beliefs and that's that. Those kinds of conversations are gonna happen anyway and you can't really force them to happen.

I know there's this attitude to go into the world and share/preach your religious beliefs. The more conversions that happen, the better. This doesn't work for me. If I felt like I should go to a regular church service, then I'll go. I don't need someone forcing me to go. If some stranger were to stop me in the grocery store and tell me that my soul needs some cleaning work, I would get pissed. This kind of confrontation does way more harm than good. There are a lot of great ideas in religion, but man had to come along and faction everything off with beliefs.

Why am I so adverse to this stuff? Well, over the years, I've seen certain sectors of organized religion plummet to ridiculous depths to try and appeal to more people in the modern sense. I think of this as a Botox-ed version of Christianity. I'm talking rock bands playing in sanctuaries, congregations dressed in play clothes during services and high-tech gadgets, like big-screen TVs, everywhere. It's as if the presentation is way more important than the ideas being discussed.

On top of this, I see people try to live a life without the secular matters of the world, especially in music. According to this view, it's not spiritually safe to listen to Cyndi Lauper's version of "Time After Time," but Spoken's cover of the song makes it safe? Having a group made up of outward Christians makes the song's meaning now pure and cleansed? How brainwashed do you have to be in life to be fine with this?

I see this way of life is like believing that Sam's Choice Cola is the only soda pop around. Forget Coca-Cola and Pepsi; those represent the secular version of soda. Because someone else told these people that Sam's Choice was pure, it's OK to drink it. Sorry, but that kind of factioning off of life is something I can't sink my teeth into. This sculpting of a mutated form of the Christian brand is not going to make me go back to church. If anything, it makes me stay far away from regular church services.

I don't have problems with weddings or funerals, but regular church services do not serve me well and haven't served me well in almost ten years. I've developed my own worldview through spirituality, faith and philosophy through various trains of thought. For the most part, this works very well for me. Is this view of life worth gathering for two hours every Sunday at a church? No. I feel that my views have to work in the everyday world outside of a church service. I've seen one-too-many people act like everything is peachy in church when their lives outside of church are really bad. That's just not me.

The stories, morals, ideas and lessons in the Bible are, for the most part, timeless. So seeing how commodified the selling of Christianity has become, I get even more turned off from that world. A stained-glass window of John the Baptist in an old church is still beautiful while an action figure of Jesus is tacky. This is marketing for the short-term -- the long-term is not even being thought about. There might be points in reaching out and converting more people with this approach, but it's just more ammo for reasons to stay away.

Like I said in my previous post, just because you brand yourself as a Christian doesn't mean that you're free from everyday problems. Putting a What Would Jesus Do? bumper sticker on your car doesn't make you a safe driver. Going to church on a regular basis and reading the Bible everyday doesn't make you free from divorce, drug abuse or cancer. And the branding definitely doesn't make it OK if you're a jerk to people. So if someone were to force a conversation onto me about how Christ has affected his or her life, I can't say that I really want to get into it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Like Eating Glass

After being available in limited release earlier this year, the God Bless Bloc Party DVD saw a wide release a couple of months ago. Part of that wide release included being available on Netflix, so I was finally able to see it. Despite some lackluster reviews, I wanted to see it. Well, I'm glad I saw it, but a certain percentage rubbed me the wrong way.

Bloc Party is an incredible live band and a full live set alone is worth putting onto a DVD. Yet God Bless features a documentary that splices interviews with parts of a live set in LA. To be frank, the presentation comes across as a distraction. Featuring a number of awkward moments during interviews, this stuff made me wonder about the nature of interviews in general.

I remember seeing Matt Pinfield trying to get the guys from Blur to talk on 120 Minutes. He might have had better luck doing dental surgery without morphine. Speaking just above a whisper, getting a full sentence out of them was hard. I felt the same watching a bored Bloc Party answer questions I'm sure they've been asked many times before. No matter how annoying answering the same questions over and over again can be, interviews are a part of the game when you want to play music in front of people.

Not to toot my horn, but I always do some research on someone before I interview him or her. I figure there's always room for meatier stuff beyond the standard questions (What are your influences?, How long have been a band? and so on), so I want to get to that as quickly as possible. The person might have answered this question hundreds of times over a handful of years, but I argue that I should give people the benefit of the doubt. Usually, my interview is my first conversation with the person, so how could know his/her's life story off the top of my head?

When I meet new people and I bring up my traffic reporting gig, I'm usually asked if I fly in a helicopter. I don't get angry, shrug or roll my eyes at this question because this is my first conversation with this person. Now, if I was asked this question twenty times a day for six months straight, it could get annoying, but still, this is always a first conversation situation.

I look forward to Bloc Party's new record (due early next year) and I'm sure they'll do plenty of press. Here's to hoping that another DVD comes out. Maybe someone will commission a documentary on their story and hopefully these guys will be up for talking about themselves.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Steady as She Goes

Merritt briefly mentioned Meg White from the White Stripes in her preview of the Raconteurs show:

With the White Stripes, Jack carries the duo, while Meg provides a writhing sexiness. But I ask--do her tribal gyrations always translate into good musicianship? Thought not.

I might be off here, but her statement feels very overdue. Even as a White Stripes fan, I totally agree. The frustrating thing has been whenever someone criticizes Meg White's drumming, a number of people will shoot back that her drumming is just fine. Not that I'm an expert drummer, but I often feel like Meg is not carrying enough of the load and it's unfair to Jack.

Not only is there a hole in the band's sound with only guitar, drums and vocals, but the strict simplicity of Meg's drumming leaves too much space. She rarely plays beyond a basic stomp and sounds either incredibly timid or too arrogant to play anything more. She gives Jack too much basic stuff to play on top of, but he does a pretty good job on his end. Yet the reciprocation feels very uneven and unbalanced.

All this said, songs like "Fell in Love With a Girl," "Seven Nation Army" and "Hotel Yorba" are perfect with her style of drumming. But a number of their other songs feel too constrained because of her approach. If she were to play a fill, that would be too much. Well, for crying out loud, is it too much to ask to play something that covers just a little more space than just the basic foundation?

Something I don't understand that a lot of people like is the sexual tension between Jack and Meg. Yes, they used to be married and playing together as a duo still draws out some tension. Along the lines of watching Fleetwood Mac perform so the interaction between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham can be seen, the White Stripes seem in the same league. I for one am not attracted to that as I care first and foremost about the music. "Go Your Own Way" may have been written as a kiss-off to Nicks and "Fell in Love With a Girl" may have been written about Meg, but why do I like them? They have catchy melodies, great singing and good beats -- no sexual interference needed.

I've heard a few other guitar/drum duos (like the Evens, the Like Young and Two Gallants) and I have no problem with the drumming. The Evens' Amy Farina may hit very lightly, but she doesn't pitter-patter around a style that sounds like she picked up the drums two days before the show. Even in a limited zone of guitar, drums and vocals, these bands have a lot of colors in their melodies. With the White Stripes, they have a lot of their own colors, but still, there's only so much that Meg can do.

I haven't really heard much of the Raconteurs' material, but it's very safe to say that I don't have the same misgivings with them as I do with the White Stripes. But the White Stripes really show off Jack White's wildman side. I really dig watching his guitar playing, singing and his general body language with the Stripes. Looking over at Meg, I see someone very confined who doesn't want to go anywhere else. Yeah, I could maybe see some sexual tension, but if my ears aren't hearing something appealing, I wonder what's the deal.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wolf Like Me

Jason has some very valid gripes about the way we read about music these days, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents. I've covered this topic before, but as time goes on, I think about other things that I hadn't thought about before.

Let me make something clear right away: I do not think of MP3 blogs as "mini-NME's" as fellow Dallas blogger Stonedranger called them. The NME is about 98% full of crazed hype and exaggeration with whatever band is popular or about to be popular. My eyes might be deceiving me, but I have yet to run into a blog that goes about discussing bands this way. Sure, you'll hear a lot about the new TV on the Radio, M. Ward and Joanna Newsom records right now, but you're not going to find them on a Best Records of All Time list ranked higher than Revolver or My Aim is True anytime soon.

I get the sense that MP3 bloggers want to share the music they're grooving to as fast as they're being exposed to it. I don't know how long these bloggers listen to something before they post an MP3 or two, but the turnover rate seems fast. I get the sense there's a desire to not be the last one to cover a buzzworthy act, but that's not just in the world of blogging.

Also, for a lot of people, the proof is in the pudding and that's that. There's just not enough time or words to describe why something is worth hearing. For some, that's perfect as it's a great way of cutting to the chase. If I saw a blog today that posted a song from the forthcoming Converge record, I'd download it immediately. If there's any sort of review along with the MP3, I'd probably read what the blogger has to say, but I want the song more than anything else (that's why I went to the blog in the first place). I don't mean to put words into a blogger's mouth, but I get the sense the blogger likes what he or she hears and wants to post it and let his or her readers form their own opinions. As fellow DFW blogger Jesse puts it at the the end of his blog posts: "For your listening (dis)pleasure." It could be as simple as that.

I'll admit it -- I'm not one to check out The Hype Machine every single day for stuff like the latest Gnarls Barkley remix, Decemberists track or Rapture b-side. I check out the kinds of interviews linked off of Largehearted Boy, the latest news stories on Punknews.org and the threads on the SOMB more than anything else. Since I don't spend a lot of time scouring MP3 blogs, I could be totally off in my assessment here. Bloggers just want to share, but when they seem to talk up something too much, a backlash is definitely going to happen. I may not understand what's so great about the National's last record or the Mountain Goats newest record, but you may not understand why I'm looking forward to the new Killswitch Engage and Converge records.

I don't blame MP3 bloggers for praising something that they like. On the other hand, I don't blame readers for hating something that an MP3 blogger praises. I'm not so sure that the intent is to hype something up, but it can feel like too much subpar stuff is being forced onto you. It's like you're at your favorite restaurant and the waiter keeps asking you to sample stuff that you may or may not like. You want what sounds good and of course there's going to be trial-and-error with this approach, but that's a major part of the search itself.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

There's a gas shortage and A Flock of Seagulls. That's about it.

Following up my previous post on Angels and Airwaves, there's been something that's been kicking around in my head for the last few days. To recap, former blink-182 guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge starts a new band with the advance buzz (from DeLonge himself) that this band is special. ". . . it has the conceptual depth of Pink Floyd, it has the anthemic architecture of U2 but it has the energy and youthful vibrancy of Blink," as he told MTV News. In addition to the claim that their debut album, We Don't Need to Whisper, was "the best fucking album anybody has heard in 20 years," DeLonge hyped the record and band up so much that a major backlash was inevitable.

After reading several reviews on the record and hearing half of the record, I think it's safe to say this: what DeLonge aimed for resulted in something that came up very short. I can hear the traces of Pink Floyd, the Cure and U2, but Angels and Airwaves comes across as A Flock of Seagulls more than anything else. Just like how I feel about "I Ran" and "Space Age Love Song," I really dig We Don't Need to Whisper's lead-off single, "The Adventure." I'm talking echoey lead guitar over a brisk beat, thus making for a catchy song from start to finish. But for those that have the whole album, there's 45 more minutes of music that doesn't match up.

It's not like A Flock of Seagulls was a bad group, but their few big singles have lasted much longer than any album they cut. For Angels and Airwaves, I would not be surprised if they, along with Plus-44, will never be taken seriously. Why? Because these guys are known for their juvenile sense of humor; this was something that was a big part of the popularity. Not only were they cute and funny, they wrote catchy little ditties. Now that they're older and DeLonge especially has shed his intentionally goofy side, I'm not surprised by the relatively lukewarm response to Angels and Airwaves. Reading interviews with Tom DeLonge now is about on par with reading interviews about Tom Cruise; it's like the guy is pulling your leg but comes across like he's serious.

blink-182 was a goofy pop-punk band that was a major part of a transition that made pop-punk into a squeaky clean Top 40 commodity. More than new wave and Dookie-era Green Day combined, this transition brought in bands that could play on the Warped Tour and TRL without a flinch. Though blink-182 had serious songs like "Adam's Song," "Stay Together for the Kids" and a number on songs on their final, self-titled record, they were never considered a serious band by those that seek a certain timeless depth in most of the music they listen to. I'm still a fan of their stuff (especially Enema of the State), but I won't lie, I don't listen to it that often anymore.

So with DeLonge's delusions that Angels and Airwaves is way more serious and potent than blink-182, I keep waiting for when he's going to crack up and say, "I'm just kidding." Seeing as how the promotion of We Don't Need to Whisper, very much like what happened to Taking Back Sunday's Louder Now, stiffed after only a few months, a harsh reality about popular music came to a head. More younger fans were more interested in Panic! At the Disco and My Chemical Romance instead of what DeLonge had up his sleeves. I'm speculating that the people that were introduced to blink-182 via their '99 album, Enema of the State, have grown up and developed wider tastes in music. As popular and seemingly inescapable blink-182 seemed at the height of their fame, all that stuff feels like a distant memory now.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Better Off Without a Wife

All my friends are married
Every Tom and Dick and Harry
You must be strong of you to go it alone
Here's to the bachelors and the bowery bums
Those who feel that they're the ones that are better off without a wife


--Tom Waits, "Better Off Without a Wife"

Ernie Brown's recent (and excellent) article inspires another post. This time, instead of wondering what to call this decade (I'm still not so sure about the Oughts as a title), I gotta say something about what his article is mostly about: being single these days. I still stand behind what I wrote the last time I talked about this subject, but Ernie's article got me to thinking about many other matters.

To recap: I'm single and have been single for a handful of years. Depending on what I look at, that can be considered a blessing, a curse and sometimes a mixture of the two. I would like to be with somebody not for the sake of thinking I'll be a "complete" person, but for the sake of sharing who I am, warts and all, with someone who cares, understands and inspires. This kind of relationship goes deeper than a close friendship, but it's not that far off from one.

Ernie describes a situation that I think we've all heard of:
. . . I've lost count of the number of male friends who have approached me in confidence over the last 25 years and given me the "side of mouth" whisper, "You don't know how lucky you are . . . I mean, I love her and all, but just be glad you're single." Usually that whisper is followed by the wife calling the husband to drive with her to Bed Bath and Beyond so she can browse the tasteful decorating ideas while the man can look for any object with which to discreetly kill himself with a minimum amount of attention drawn to the act of hari-kari.

This echoes a fear I've had for years: giving up a lot of myself in order to be with someone. I used to think that compromising involved giving up a lot of my time, wants and desires and getting almost nothing in return. Well, I realize that doesn't have to happen and that doesn't happen that often (or at all) in relationships. In the case of the Bed, Bath and Beyond trip, if there's also a trip to a local CD store afterwards, this is not bad at all. At least in my eyes, this is a healthy compromise. If she wants to spend an hour looking at linens and curtains then I think it's very fair for me to spend an hour looking for used copies of Sonic Youth, Elvis Costello and Ride reissues.

In the last few years, some of my closest friends have gotten married. Do I think it's alienating to see this? Not at all. These friends are still close friends of mine and they're doing what they want to do. They're married to really cool people and they're happy, so what's the problem with that? Yeah, I might not get to spend time with them now as much as I used to, but there are plenty of other non-marriage factors that make matters this way. Be it the job situation, family commitments or whatever else, I make time to be with my friends if they're available.

Seeing what I've seen, I know that certain people are baffled by the notion of those that have been single for a long time. People tell me that the right person is waiting just around the corner, but I've heard that for a good eight years at least. This is not a matter of giving up too easily or trying too hard -- I argue this is fate more than anything else. I strive for happiness with what I have now and hope I can still strive for happiness with the augmentation that occurs when involved in a dating, serious or committed relationship.

For some reason, we are led to believe that being with someone in a relationship is a symbol of belonging in society. Well, what if you're in a bad relationship and you're miserable all the time -- how can this be a good thing? For people that observe others by only looking at the surface of other people's lives, being in a relationship is way better than being single. In these people's eyes, being single means there's something wrong with you or you don't have a grip on your sexual orientation. And being in a bad, unhealthy and unhappy relationship is a better situation?

I won't lie -- I'm pretty darn inspired being around couples that are made up of two inspiring people who deeply care for one another. On the flipside, I'm downright bummed being around couples made up of two people who rarely get along, bicker constantly and act like they don't care for one another. I know the luster of being in a relationship can fade, but I argue that a major part of a relationship's foundation is an enjoyment of the mundane together. Sure, it's fun to spend the day at Six Flags, spend a weekend on a beach, have sex on a regular basis and so on, but what about all the other hours in the days, weeks, months and years when you're not doing that kind of stuff? I'm talking the hours lying around the house reading, listening to music, walking the dog, watching movies, preparing meals, running errands, writing letters, doing laundry and so on. That's what so much of life is (at least in my eyes) and if there's an enjoyment of that, this is a step in the right direction.

But still, people think there is some sort of failure with being single. If these people can't understand my reasons and views about why I am single, then it's rather futile to convince them otherwise. I'm of the argument that the most important matter of life is a sense of inner happiness. Sure, a relationship, a lot money, a big house and/or a nice car may lead to that, but those are matters that augment life, not fill it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I belong to the _____ Generation

Until I read Alissa Quart's Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, I thought I was a part of the generation known as Generation X. Since the Generation X tag was frequently used throughout the Nineties to describe this young generation that was into grunge/alternative rock, I thought they were talking about me. Well, upon reading Quart's description of Generation Y, I realized that my birth year placed me in the category of Y and not X. Why do I bring all this up? Because I don't think I'm really at ease with being a part of one generation over the other. I'm still in the dark as to why I thought Generation X was something that covered at least thirty years. So, I resort to what Richard Hell sang about his own generation identity confusion: "I belong to the _____ Generation."

Reading Wikipedia's thorough entry on Generation X, I'm still confused. First gaining recognition in 1964 and appearing again in the following three decades, Generation X sounds like a wide net. Looking at the sidebar of generation names, Generation X's years are listed between 1961 and 1981, but Generation Y's years are listed between 1977-2003. Being born in 1979, I'm right in the middle. Maybe I'm just so adverse to life being factioned off into compartments, but I wonder why we bother with trying to label generations. Sure, it makes for good conversations with sociologists and reference points for articles, but as I've maintained all along, there's way more to life than labels.

I'm of the argument that there is so much carry-over with generations that it's too broad to label matters and attitudes specifically for one generation over the other. What's the criteria that supposedly separates the generations? More often than not, it's the tools and technology that were brand new in pop culture at the time. I could be lumped into the Nintendo, WWF and MTV world because that's when they were first introduced. But it's not like that stuff is no longer around. Today's teenagers are around Nintendo Wii, WWE and MTV, but they are also around stuff that wasn't around when I was their age. There were no ringtones and blogs when I was fifteen, but so what? It's not like we were living on Saturn with Klingons in the Eighties and now we're living on Mars with apes.

In my view, attitudes about life are not restrained to age. An upcoming documentary's trailer opens with this quote that rings in a very timeless way:
I hate my boss. I hate the people that I work with. I hate my parents. I hate all these all these authoritive figures. I hate politicians. I hate people in government. I hate the police and now I have a chance to be with a bunch of my own type of people and I have a chance to go off and that basically what it was.

Though this was in reference to the early- to mid-Eighties hardcore punk, I think this echoes the general appeal of rock 'n' roll in itself. I could hear a fifteen-year-old who's just getting into punk rock say this now, but I could also hear a 41-year-old say the same thing. This is the stuff that defies generation labels, so I wonder what's the deal with the grouping in the first place.

If people are going to tell me that I belong to a certain generation, I'll just keep it uneasy and difficult. I say this not as a way of thinking that I'm different or cool. Rather, this is my assertion about the grayness of life. Richard Hell never felt like he belonged to one generation or another, so he put those thoughts into a song called "Blank Generation." This song came out in 1977, two years before I was born, but the way that he describes himself in the song is pretty damn relatable even today.

Along those lines, I'll end with some lyrics from a song written ten years ago: "Generation Why" by the Reverend Horton Heat:
Beatnik, slacker, hippie or a freak
Ain't it all the same thing all of us seek?
What did gramps do, way back when?
Makes me say the same thing again and again.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

This is the next century . . .

A major lingering question for the last couple of years has been this: what are we gonna call this decade? The Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties were easy, but six years into this first decade of a new century, the Oughts keeps coming around. I never would have thought of this label, but I'm curious if this is a good way to label this decade.

Until a few weeks ago, I only heard about individual years (like "oh-six" and "oh-eight"), but no decade names. I thought the 2000s was a good name. I also thought the Double O's was a great label, but then I realized that the year number is made of digits, not letters. The Oughts tag was brought up in a book interview I did with Jim Suptic a few weeks ago. I didn't really understand what he was talking about until he said, ". . . or whatever this decade is called." Now, after reading Ernie Brown's excellent article on being single these days, the Oughts tag feels like it's going to stay. But I argue that the Oughts tag doesn't sound right.

Saying the Oughts sounds like I'm talking about somebody with the last name of Ott (like Jeff Ott from Fifteen). Plus, ought sounds short for an otter or a nickname for the school bus driver on The Simpsons. Ought is often used as a verb, but it can also mean the digit zero. So, that's the saving grace? Well, there aren't that many alternates available. Saying the Zeros sounds either like a garage rock band or gang of losers accepting their loserdom. So we're supposed to settle on the Oughts? Well, it doesn't roll off the tongue like Eighties or Fifties, but I guess this will do. Still, it sounds weird to me.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Shut the Door

I don't mean to be an unsympathetic jerk here, but I've decided to disable anonymous comments on this blog. Why? I've had enough of the random visitors who leave poorly-written, typo-filled cheapshots under the generic name of 'anonymous.' Why did I enable the option in the first place? So non-Blogger users could comment. I like open dialogue, so I didn't want people to feel like they had to be Blogger member in order to comment. Well, after one-too-many catty, nonsensical comments, the option gets the heave-ho.

My previous post on anonymous comments generated some great comments from regular readers. Some of them used their real names and some didn't. I have no problem with people who use usernames, but I've had enough of the comments that simply say, 'anonymous.' Why? Well, as jonofdeath put it best:
What they are saying is completely disposable.

I agree. Thinking about it, and this may sound extreme, but these kinds of comments are about on par with spam. I don't think it's a sense of punishment to those who regularly post comments. Rather, I think this is a sense of relief for me and the regular readers.

What was the final straw? This comment directed at Jeff's comments on Fergie's "London Bridge":
Ok. 1st of all. Fergie has not even said WHAT the song is about. I love it. cool beat and all. Just now, about 5 minutes ago, I heard that "Fergie won't say what she's singing about in this song." So you cant go off and assume its about skanks and crap. holla

This person has every right to speak his or her mind on this topic, but to leave a comment anonymously is cheap and suspect. The typos and poor use of grammar are ripe for ridicule, but I've lost my taste for this. I get the feeling that plenty of other bloggers and readers have too. But at what cost?

I always hated it in school whenever an entire classroom of students would get fussed at because of a few bad apples. As much as I appreciated Fugazi addressing crowd surfers and rough dancing in concert, I felt like I was back in school when they would stop a song to address this. I don't think I'm trying to regulate morality by making this decision, but I hope you understand.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Waiting for the Next End of the World

All this week I've been watching the second season of LOST on DVD. I couldn't help it as the third season starts in a few weeks and I wanted to be reminded of what all happened last season. Not only have I picked up a number of matters that didn't get in my first pass, but I've often thought about why people had such an adverse reaction to this season. I argue that there has been no dipping in quality, intrigue or character development, but still I think about why people were rather disappointed with certain episodes and the season in general.

I will admit it -- there were several times during the second season where the preview/trailer was more exciting than the actual episode. Locke, Sawyer and Jack meet the Others? Awesome! But all I got out of the meeting was vague information and a decent flashback on Jack. However, knowing where the rest of the season goes, this episode was a nice little taste of what was to come. This was the case for a number of other episodes. Yet people were crying foul and ready to quickly jump ship after appearing to be big fans. When asked why, I rarely could get a definite reason other than "I don't know."

As a whole, this show is meant to be seen on DVD. Both seasons make up for a really long, drawn-out story that pays very close attention to its continuity. I really enjoy that aspect of the show; the ones who are paying close attention get the most benefits. It's something that really keeps me going even when I don't fully "get" an episode right away. Plus, the acting and characters are so fleshed out that the mystery element is more or less icing on the cake.

Yet I get the feeling that speaking so highly of LOST Season 2 will generate more negative responses than positive ones. People will groan about episodes like "The Long Con" and "Fire + Water" are up for the prize of the "Worst. Episode. Ever." People will talk about how the character of Anna-Lucia made the show "jump the shark." Complaints are plenty, but I wonder why people take the time to vocally vomit out their complaints with cheap and quickly dismissive claims. Were the same people that praised the show in its first season as the "Best. Show. Ever." just waiting for the first slip to cry, "It's jumped the shark!"? How can you convince me that this waiting for the first sign of possible failure is a form of fun? Moreover, what exactly did people not like about the second season and why? Do these naysayers have standards so high that they don't to be around when something might crash into the ground?

Like I said in my previous post on "jumping the shark," people love to pick apart the aspects that seem so easy and flimsy. Yet there are people that seem to live squarely in this flimsy, fast-food-like world. Yes, I could be a valuable team member on a Trivial Pursuit game about '80s pop culture. Yeah, I get my kick out of Jose Luis: Sin Censura and Secretos Houston, but they are not shows that I take a major vested interest in. In the case of LOST, I have a lot of interest in so many aspects with the show. As long as there are characters that I can identify with and stories that I can get into over many different episodes, I'll keep watching. I'm not on some stupid deathwatch sharpening my pitchfork, mixing a bucket of tar and looking for feathers. Somehow I doubt that the naysayers do this, but why do they talk/write like they have been whenever an episode doesn't immediately make sense to them?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Rings Around the World

Along the lines of my recent post about 40-50-year-old men wearing Hawaiian shirts -- what's the deal with men wearing their wedding ring on their left hand's middle finger? Yes, the traditionally longest finger that can be used to make an obscene gesture is being used as a ring finger. Here's my question: why? Are there different meanings for the ring finger these days?

The first time I saw this arrangement was on a 60-year-old man who had recently lost a lot of weight following surgery. I figured that his ring's size was too big for his ring finger, so he moved it to a thicker finger. Case closed, right? Well, a short time later I saw this arrangement on a healthy 40-something that had not lost a significant amount of weight. Now, I've seen it on a guy who's my age. On the flipside, I've never seen a woman wear her wedding or engagement ring on her middle finger. It's solely been men. So I wonder: what's the advantage or is there an advantage at all? Is there some sort of religious reason or is there any real reason at all?

All this time, I thought the reason was because the middle finger is substantially thicker than the traditional, fourth/ring finger. If the ring has become too loose on the ring finger, one would move it up to the middle finger. Taking a very informal poll by inspecting my hand, my index finger and thumb are thicker than my middle and ring fingers. The ring and the middle are about the same, so that throws that theory out the window.

I'm not fearing we're in for some revisionist rebranding of ringer fingers here, but I do mind about the placement of a ring on the middle finger. Not only would the sight of a ring on a fully-extended middle finger take away some of its obscene nature, but it looks like the guy doesn't have his bearings straight. A ring on the ring finger isn't as conspicuous as to when it is on the middle finger.

Another interpretation is that the moving of the ring to the middle finger symbolizes a marriage is in trouble. Well, none of the men I've seen with this are in troubled or failed marriages. Maybe there are religious reasons, but maybe there aren't. Maybe I should be glad that men still wear their wedding ring as it's a sign of recognized unity. Previously, I often wondered about the guys that didn't wear one at all and were still married. Of course, people can be in sham marriages and still present matters on the outside as being OK. To me, that's got to be one of the worst.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Nevermind the world . . .

Some of my regular readers work as editors, so maybe they can help with answers to these questions better than others, but anybody can answer:

Since when did the letter T become something you frequently capitalize?

How do you properly cite a blog or a website?

I remember the Associated Press writing style in college, but to my knowledge, that style is always being tinkered with. So I wonder: did I miss a memo about the letter T? Are blogs and news websites still not worthy of italics?

I bring all this up because of a book I'm currently reading. It's called Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash and it was written by Pat Gilbert, a former editor at British mag, MOJO. I'm firmly well aware of the differences between American and British writing styles as I read this book, but I keep noticing the letter T being capitalized in spots where they normally wouldn't. I'm talking a line like, "Musically, there wasn't that much separating The 101'ers from The Pistols . . ." I could chalk this up to the writer coming from a British style of writing, but I've seen this done in numerous American online and print publications in the last year or so.

To me, when mentioning a band with the word "the" before it, it remains lower-case except when it starts off a sentence. I'm talking "the Rolling Stones," "the Beatles" and so on. Now, with a TV show, the "the" is always upper-case: "The Tonight Show," "The Hogan Family" and so on. Yet more and more, I keep seeing T's being capitalized (great example: "T-shirt" instead of "t-shirt"). I thought the letter T and the word "the" were not supposed to draw attention, so why do more writers keep doing it?

As far as the website stuff goes, I've seen the following in print publications: "CNN.com," "MySpace," "Gorilla Vs. Bear" and "Perfect Sound Forever." I know I'm talking about four different websites here, but is there a distinction between citing them? With CNN also being a cable-TV network, telling the difference between it and its website should be as simple as "CNN.com." With MySpace, it's really up to the eye of the beholder as to what it is. Some call it a great networking site while others view it as a dangerous waste of time and in several cases, it's a forum for press releases and album previews for bands. So, I think it should stay as "MySpace." With blogs, since I view them like paper fanzines, they should be in italics. Yet the jury is still out on blogs and websites in a number of print publications. You're gonna see "he told zine Forced Exposure" but not "blogs like Gorilla Vs. Bear and Largehearted Boy."

So this all leads me to the bigger question at hand: is there no right or wrong writing style? Each writer is unique in his or her own ways (as are editors) but are we in the wrong if we write in a way that isn't universally accepted? For me, the book that I keep referring back to is Our Band Could Be Your Life. Nevermind the fact that the book's topic speaks to me on a number of different levels; the writing style is very close to how I like to write. The language and writing style are not out of left field, but it's not all prim and proper like PR copy. The book is very conversational, but not overly-conversational. Plus, the spelling is not distracting. It's "the Minutemen" instead of "The Minutemen." It's "punk rock" instead of "Punk Rock." And it's definitely "t-shirt" over "T-shirt."

A part of me thinks just shut up and write and not worry about this stuff, but I argue this is less of a worrying stance and more of a curiosity stance. I read Stephen King's On Writing a month ago and found it insanely inspiring. Talking about language and his interpretation of it, he wasn't stating law; he was stating his well-informed opinion. As Post nears its beginning editing stage, all this stuff is swirling around in my head and it can be very confusing. I can't let this all blurt (as Lester Bangs said), but I can't play defense and offense all the time.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday.

I think it's very safe to say that if Noah Baumbach had never co-written The Life Aquatic with Wes Anderson, I would have never heard of Kicking and Screaming. Forever confused with the 2005 Will Ferrell/Robert Duvall kids soccer movie of the same name, Baumbach's 1995 film could also be considered one of the seven movies that Parker Posey acted in that were released that year. Add Eric Stoltz to the mentions of who's in the film and you have a film ripe for indie film stereotyping. So why should you give a crap about Kicking and Screaming? Because it's a story is about a time in our lives that is too often looked passed as a brief transition.

Originally titled Fifth Year, Kicking and Screaming portrays the first year of a handful of friends post-college. Opting to stay close to the university they graduated from, one re-enrolls, one ponders either graduate school or a job, one drifts with no real goals and one tries to get over a break-up. Doesn't that sound like people we know? It does for me with the people I know and have known in my first few years out of college.

I stayed in my college's town eight months after I graduated in December '01. Working part-time but obsessively worrying full-time about not having a full-time job, I felt very low for a solid three months. A number of my friends were still in school, so I spent a lot of time hanging out with them. Playing in two bands in town, I had plenty of stuff to do, but I still had the "Now what?" feeling. This is definitely something they can't prepare you for in school, but this is a challenge we must take on. We gotta feel like the pinball in the pinball machine sometime and it's not exclusive to the first year out of college.

Watching Kicking and Screaming, I quickly realized that the character types up on screen weren't that far removed from the attitudes and personalities I've run into. I'm talking the smart guys who seem like they have it together but are as scared as you. "What I use to able to pass off as a bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life," says Max in one of his most memorable lines. How true. How true.

A major part of the film that I'm puzzled/intrigued by is the ending. I'm not giving it away, but to me, the film pauses more than it ends. You don't get a full resolution, but now that I think about it, this seems like a great way to end the film. Think about your own life -- was there a point when you realized you weren't a kid anymore but didn't feel like a responsible adult? I've been feeling like that for years and often question my level of post-collegiate "success."

Not to knock The Graduate or Bottle Rocket, but Kicking and Screaming is able to look at people's live post-school with a sharper sense of grounded reality. Like those films, Kicking and Screaming tells this story in a very timeless way. Other than some hairstyles and clothes, very little about the film has aged in a bad way. As a film that came out post-Slacker, the Generation X tag is almost always going to be found somewhere in the description. Until you actually watch the film for the first time, you'll probably realize that this is not just a Generation X thing. Just like teen angst, we go through the post-education angst phase, but we don't often see it in the movies. So kudos to the Criterion Collection for re-issuing this on DVD.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"You can find it anywhere . . ."

With all the information that's easily found on the Internet, I'm surprised by the lack of information about Mike Judge's new film, Idiocracy. Other than some recent reviews/news found on Ain't It Cool News, trying to find even a trailer for this film is difficult. I could speculate 'til I'm blue in the face as to why Fox is releasing this in limited release with barely any publicity, but there's a deeper matter at hand. No matter how vast the Internet is, there's still plenty of stuff out there that isn't on it.

Despite featuring Mike Judge (of Office Space, King of the Hill and Beavis and Butt-head fame) as the director, Luke Wilson as the main star and a hilarious premise (A civilian enlisted by the Pentagon to take part in a secret "Human Hibernation Project" awakes 500 years in the future. Despite having been considered a dullard in his own time, he is now the smartest person in the world), this has yet to catch much attention. Seemingly joining the list of much-buzzed movies that quietly get released in limited release, Idiocracy could end up just like Judge's Office Space. Knowing Office Space is one of those required Gen-X/Y movies, I doubt this movie will completely disappear.

Seeing the tongue-in-cheek buzz about Snakes on a Plane all year long, I'm puzzled by the lack of buzz for Idiocracy. I guess matters don't help when an official trailer isn't available online (it's not even available on YouTube as of this writing). So how do we find out any more information about this flick? Well, if you live in one of the seven cities that it's currently showing in (Dallas, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Toronto), you're in for a treat. For others, in the words of Pavement's Bob Nastanovich, "You'll just have to wait."

As much as we would like to think that you can find anything online, there's so much stuff that is very difficult to find. Sure, you could look on Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, the Hype Machine or a peer-to-peer network, but that doesn't mean that you're gonna find exactly what you're looking for. I'm sure I could find a CD-quality MP3 of Chase's "Hello Groceries" on a peer-to-peer or have Chris send it to me via YouSendIt, but it wouldn't be as simple as finding it via a Google search or a Hype Machine search.

This kind of searching is a good thing. As easy I can find out how high Journey's "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" charted or what happened in the Twin Peaks pilot, this was a nice reminder that there is still a lot of searching to do even in the Internet age.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Take me to the Black Lodge where you live

As I was getting into LOST for the first time last year, a fellow ABC series with a devoted cult following was often mentioned: Twin Peaks. I had never seen the show but heard plenty of raves about it from a variety of people. A neighbor two doors down from our house was addicted to the show when it was first on. It's hazy now, but I remember various news stories about the appeal of the show and so on and so forth. However, nobody really wanted to fess up about what this show was about. Being in sixth grade in 1990, I didn't get Twin Peaks at the time, but then again, I didn't get the fuss about Seinfeld either. Those opinions changed over time.

I remember Matt showing me his copy of the first season of Twin Peaks on DVD a few years ago. I loved the box's design and wanted to finally watch an episode of the show. Yet it wasn't until yesterday that I watched the first four episodes (thanks to Netflix). I quickly realized that trying to get complete enjoyment of all things Twin Peaks is difficult for the time being.

Because of rights, the two-hour pilot episode of the show (which introduces most of the main characters, the set-up and so on) is not available on DVD. Thanks to the wonderful site that is YouTube, I got to watch the pilot split into fifteen parts. No, it wasn't the same as watching on DVD, but it'll do for now.

Also, coming off a spectacular first season, many critics of the show would throw mud at the second season. Ratings fell and the show didn't come back for a third season. You do find out who killed Laura Palmer in the second season, but as you probably realize after only after a few episodes, this show wasn't just about solving a murder case.

Still bizarre and gripping today as it was in 1990, the overall plot of Twin Peaks is out there, but not incomprehensible. Yet with only one full season on DVD, the second season overdue to be on DVD, no pilot episode on DVD and a prequel movie on DVD that is best understood after you watch the two seasons, you wish matters were a little easier. Trying to follow along with the overall plot is difficult enough. Is it too much to ask for a box set with everything?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Frankie died just the other night . . .

As I read the newest issue of AP the other night, a certain recurring idea kept coming into my head: what's the deal with all these modern rockers looking like how Nikki Sixx has looked for the past twelve years? I'm talking black, feathery/spiked hair with tattoos all over the place and torn-up black clothing (example). You're seeing this more and more with bands like Papa Roach, Escape the Fate and Eighteen Visions. I'm getting the feeling this is becoming the look of '80s hair metal's spawn now and we're just getting a taste of this. Hold onto your seats folks, this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Especially in the case of Papa Roach, the latest promo pic says it all. A nu-metal tablescrap that should have gone away like Coal Chamber and Puddle of Mudd, how this band still has a large audience is beyond me. Instead of looking like the normal dudes they were at the height of their fame (example pic), now they look like clowns, especially frontman Jacoby Shaddix. I can't say these guys were ever "themselves" when nu-metal was all over the mainstream charts, but I'm finding humor with them trying to look like they're still relevant.

I must say, Nikki Sixx has aged pretty well despite all the drugs he's taken over the years. He's still a tough guy with a heart and has never struck me as fake. His image since the Motley Crue self-titled record has been pretty consistent since 1994, but now all these lemmings are copping his look. This is a look destined for lampooning as it's popping up everywhere.

I doubt we're in for bands that looked like Poison, Cinderella, Europe and Whitesnake (ie, long, coifed hair with tight leather outfits), but this is the same kind of impact. These guys don't want to dress nice -- they want to look over-the-top, dangerous and sexy all at once. The deal is, they look stupid in my eyes. However, there is a desire for rock stars to look this way.

My generation has seen the cycle come and go, but this younger generation has not. The cyclical nature of the music industry is rearing more and more a look that owes way more to '80s hair metal rather than '90s grunge. There has to be a puffing up of sorts in order for something new and stripped down to come and kick that over. For those waiting for rock music with a mainstream appeal to "mean something" again, you're gonna have to wait a few more years. We have some more shenanigans to be thrown our way.

Friday, September 01, 2006

We're not the first/I hope we're not the last

Do we really need another film about punk rock? It depends on what it covers. If it's on something that hasn't been explored enough in film, then by all means yes.

American Hardcore is based off of Steven Blush's oral history/reference book on American hardcore between 1981 and 1985. The book has come in handy with a lot of information for my book (ie, Gainesville's Roach Motel's recorded output, straight edge's influence, early days of Dischord), but if you're expecting American Hardcore to be like Our Band Could Be Your Life, read Our Band Could Be Your Life. Blush comes across as someone who feels that hardcore came and went solely between 1981 and 1985. The word/idea 'hardcore', just like punk, has evolved into different meanings over the years, but that's not the case with telling the story of American hardcore, at least in Blush's eyes.

I argue that you can't read American Hardcore like a start-to-finish novel. Like a really good encyclopedia, it works in bits and pieces and not necessarily in order. If you read it from beginning to end, you hear over and over again about how some band forms, puts out a great 7" or two, makes an awesome album and either breaks up or goes metal (aka, they started sucking according to Blush). While a lot of the stories are incredibly thorough, you don't really get to know who these people really are.

American Hardcore seems like everything and the kitchen sink was put in, but the human-ness was left out for space. Plus, Blush often comes across as a rather narrow-minded fan of music in that hardcore is the be-all, end-all. I thought of that Vision song, "Close Minded" from time to time (sample lyric, "Everyone tells me I’m close minded/If it’s not punk rock, I’m never gonna like it"). Sorry guys, I take to the idea of punk rock like the Minutemen did: be your true self instead of a close-minded lemming.

All this said, I'm really looking forward to American Hardcore the documentary. We have the classics Another State of Mind and The Decline of Western Civilization, but they only tell parts of the overall story. Punk: Attitude briefly mentions hardcore while We Jam Econo talks about the idea of punk through the eyes of the Minutemen. None of these films focus too much on what Blush's book talks about, so I argue there's enough space right there. While I may have the same gripes with the film as I do with the book, I look forward to hearing stories told by people like Keith Morris, Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins. Say what you will about these guys, but they are well-spoken storytellers.

I argue that the telling of a story involving a musical genre needs a lot of views. No one picture can tell the whole darn story (unless it's a 10-hour Ken Burns documentary), so the more the merrier. I'd much rather have American Hardcore, We Jam Econo, Another State of Mind and The Decline around on DVD than some worn-out VHS tapes of CHiPs and Quincy episodes dealing with stereotypical, troubled punks. This is how you honor great music with all its forms of documentation. There is plenty more of a story to tell with later years with post-hardcore, ska-punk and so on. I look forward to what all comes next.