Thursday, May 31, 2007

After the Love Has Gone

Seeing this op/ed in The Onion's archives brought up a bizarre/curious fact of life. Its headline says it all:

I Don't Wonder What Jesse Camp Is Up To These Days

If you frequently watched daytime MTV in the late-'90s, you might remember the name. For everyone else that doesn't, here's his Wikipedia page. But what I wanted to talk about is how this satirical piece speaks so much truth. "Hey, you know who I haven't been thinking about lately?," it began. "That guy Jesse Camp who I never used to watch on MTV." The point to be made is how something or someone can seem so big and popular in the present, but is reduced to a cynical joke when it's in the past.

Something that still pisses me off is how promotional dollars can create the illusion that people actually care about something or someone. Meaning, when you hear a song constantly on the radio, see its video in regular rotation, see the artist in multiple magazines and constantly see news items online about them, you could think people sincerely care. But, fast forward a few years and it's a different story.

In the case of Jesse Camp, here was a guy that seemed to win the sympathy vote. He was a tall and skinny aspiring rocker with a loopy personality. The TRL audience seemed to love him and wished him luck when he got a record deal with Reprise Records. The resulting album, Jesse Camp & the 8th Street Kidz, was a poor-seller and Camp disappeared off the pop culture map shortly thereafter. But before the latter happened, there was a lot of promotion that went into that record. Now, it seems like a hazy memory for many. I remember otherwise.

In my case, I went through a couple of months of hearing the album's single every single day I worked at Best Buy. If I worked an eight-hour shift, chances were good I heard the song twice a day. Since I always thought people got airplay because they made good music, I was a little baffled by this song's inclusion on the playlist. Camp's voice was terrible and the song's glossy production didn't hide it. I wondered why such a bad song would get airplay. The same applied to Limp Bizkit, Creed and Kid Rock.

It would take a few years of interviewing people for POST that I connected the dots. Whenever a band leaves a label claiming "they didn't promote our record," it's more or less the truth. It doesn't matter how great an album is; it mainly matters if can it be promoted enough in hopes that it sells a lot of copies. Sure, that's business, but I thought great music sold itself and sold well. Promotional dollars give it better exposure, but what really made an impact was if it was really good or not, right? Well, seeing records like Devil Without a Cause, Human Clay and Significant Other fly off of Best Buy's shelves made me think otherwise.

I don't want to sound like snobby music critic here, but this notion of selling music didn't really kick in until I saw this firsthand. I knew Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love was not being promoted to me and my tastes. But when it came to mainstream rock music at the time, I felt like I was being passed aside. Promotion was directed towards people that didn't think Creed was a Ten-era knock-off or didn't think Limp Bizkit was lame and childish. These weren't the people who bought Social Distortion's White Light, White Heat, White Trash or the Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape a few years before. It was around this time that I realized I should dig even further for music that actually spoke to me. And chances were very good I wasn't going to see this on MTV, VH1, the local rock radio station or even Best Buy Radio.

The point in all of this? There's a severe disconnect when it comes to the present and the past. Right now, I could easily think Amy Winehouse is a highly-lauded and popular singer based on what I've seen written about her. But what if her follow-up records don't really catch on? Will her legacy be reduced to cynical, dismissive comments on a message board frequented by 50-60 different users? That's why I wonder about how far can promotional/advertising dollars go. When they cease pushing a record, does it always get thrown to the overly-critical wolves for final judgment?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bury Me

After discussing the Smashing Pumpkins' "reunion" with fellow hardcore Smashing Pumpkins fan Ryan, I wanted to share my feelings on the matter here.

No matter how much one can make light of James Iha and D'arcy's contributions to the band's original line-up, they were an integral part of the band's identity. They may have not played all the bass or second guitar parts on the albums, but that's a moot point. It's like saying Dennis Wilson wasn't really an integral member of the Beach Boys because Hal Blaine played drums on all the hit records. The point is, while almost every song was written by Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin played on almost every record, there was a special chemistry there (dysfunctions and all).

The Billy/James/D'arcy/Jimmy line-up is the line-up that made the band. No matter how many copies Zeitgeist sells, the majority of the fans going to the shows want to hear songs from Gish, Siamese Dream, and Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness rather than new songs. They want "Disarm," "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "Today" and will tolerate "God and Country" and "Tarantula" if it requires getting to them.

All this said, I can understand why Billy resurrected the band's name. Like Page Hamilton resurrecting the Helmet name, as chief songwriter and frontman, these new songs were going to be compared to the old songs no matter what. So it makes sense to just use the brand name instead of hiding behind a different one. Billy and Jimmy tried the different name approach with Zwan and that didn't seem to pan out. (Personally, I found Zwan to be a great post-Pumpkins project. However, I seem to be in the minority view.)

There's an epidemic with music fans: they always want one more encore. It doesn't matter what the logistics are, they want another round to see if it's worth a damn. The deal is, nine times out of ten, bands' legacies get damaged in the process. These encores are usually seen as footnotes in the bands' histories. Don't believe me? Look at the rather scant information on the Clash after Topper Headon and Mick Jones left. Look really hard for information about the Velvet Underground sans Lou Reed.

Yes, I'm a purist about these sorts of things, but I have plenty of reasons why. I have plenty of fond memories listening to Melon Collie, Siamese Dream, The Aeroplane Flies High and Machina, as well as watching Vieuphoria over and over again. Nothing is going to replace those memories. Yet I find it odd to see a band use a brand name knowing that it's definitely not the same band. Frankly, I find it lame and cheap.

Monday, May 28, 2007

You Gotta Feel It

If there's one way of recommendation that I don't like, it's the following: "Eric, you've got to hear this!" If there's another, it's recommending a band while name-dropping very defined and well-known bands. As much as I appreciate this person wanting me to hear something, there's something else going on. Being a recovering people-pleaser, I place myself in a difficult position. With the exception of some people who know my musical tastes very well, I have a sense of hesitation with these tactics. I don't mean to be a jerk about this, but let me explain.

A few months ago, while talking to a music critic I greatly admire, he mentioned how much he liked Parts and Labor. At no point in our conversation did he say, "Eric, do you like Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma and the Jesus Lizard? Then you'll love Parts and Labor!" He merely mentioned the band in passing and why he liked them. At no point did he force it upon me to listen to them. The deal was, I was very curious for several reasons. I trust his opinions and we've often agreed about bands in the past. So, I checked out the band's MySpace page soon after. I really liked what I heard and I hope to give them some nice ink in a future issue of Punk Planet.

With all the years of finding music, I have to say this is the preferred method with making me curious. In the case of Parts and Labor, there were no band names dropped as reference points, so I was going into them blindly. I wasn't listening for a Sonic Youth or Mission of Burma comparison because there weren't any made beforehand. The deal is, the way I've seen a lot of new bands be promoted mention established band names and sometimes come with a flimsy tagline (ie, "This is your new favorite band!"). To be honest, I'll say that takes the urgency away immediately.

It's one thing for Matt to strongly advise me to check out Spoon's Soft Effects and Love Ways EPs. It's another thing for a promotions person I don't know send me MP3s, EPKs and photos of new bands I don't know about. The key difference: I've known Matt way longer and know his tastes are very congruent with mine. So, when he tells me to consider Spoon's "I Could See the Dude" for my Spoon mix-CD collection, I happily abide. With the latter example, after listening to scores of heavily-promoted mediocre bands in college, I can't help but have trepidation when I get e-mails from promotional people these days.

I treat 98% of my music listening as a joyous, zero-pressure situation. If I want to hear the Free Design's "You Could Be Born Again" over and over again just because I want to, that's cool. Nobody's telling me what I should think. As nice as it is to get free MP3s and CDs from promotional people, what I really want to listen to always takes precedence. If I want to hear Tom Waits' "Kentucky Ave." for the 798th time right now, then I'm going to do it.

Make no mistake, there's a deeper, personal quandary here. And it's been in place long before I really started digging for music. Do I listen to this band just to satisfy this person's advances? What if I don't like it and can't seem to muster up my honest opinion? Well, the way I like to talk about music is talking about music that positively moves me. Sure, I like to talk about music I dislike, but it takes a lot for me to talk about something I find mediocre.

Now this is not to say that every band that gets written about and freely passed around is mediocre. Far from it. I'm just saying for every find like Death Cab for Cutie, there's a few Blueline Medic's, Fastbreak's and Sinclaire's. The way I see it, I want to find records that impact me now and they don't have be released this year. I may have not understood Small Change ten years ago, but I do now. I wasn't ready to jump into XTC four years ago, but I'm open to it now. But I can dig deep with Sky Blue Sky and Voxtrot right now too. It's different for every situation. I may the miss the boat on new stuff the week it's released, but I don't think I should be faulted. If anything, it's recognizing my hard-headed ways and not feeling bad about having them.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Series of Sneaks

Well, thanks to the wonderful world of iTunes, the Internet and Jason having all of their records on CD, I have a lot of Spoon to listen to. Here's the tracklisting:

Disc 1
from Telephono
1. “All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed”
2. “Cvantez”
3. “Nefarious”
4. “Dismember”
5. “Primary”
6. “The Government Darling”
7. “Plastic Mylar”

from Soft Effects EP
8. "I Could See the Dude"

from A Series of Sneaks
9. “The Guest List/the Execution”
10. “Metal Detektor”
11. “Reservations”
12. “Car Radio”
13. “Metal School”
14. “No You’re Not”
15. “Quincy Punk Episode”
16. “Advance Cassette”
17. “The Agony of Laffitte”
18. “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now”

from Girls Can Tell
19. “Everything Hits at Once”
20. “Believing Is Art”
21. “Me and the Bean”
22. “Lines in the Suit”
23. “The Fitted Shirt”
24. “Anything You Want”
25. “Take a Walk”
26. “Take the Fifth”
27. “Chicago at Night”

Disc 2
from Kill the Moonlight
1. “Small Stakes”
2. “The Way We Get By”
3. “Stay Don’t Go”
4. “Jonathon Fisk”
5. “Someone Something”
6. “All the Pretty Girls Go to the City”
7. “You Gotta Feel It”
8. “Vittorio E”

from Gimme Fiction
9. “The Beast and the Dragon, Adored”
10. “The Two Side of Monsieur Valentine”
11. “I Turn My Camera On”
12. “Sister Jack”
13. “I Summon You”
14. “Was It You”
15. “Merchants of Soul”

from Gimme Fiction bonus CD
16. “Carryout Kids”
17. “You Was It”
18. “Sister Jack” (piano demo)

from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
19. “Don’t Make Me a Target”
20. “The Ghost of You Lingers”
21. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”
22. “Rhythm & Soul”
23. “The Underdog”
24. “Black Like Me”

Listening to more from this band, I realize what's eluded me for so long about them. Their music doesn't immediately suck me in with big hooks. There are hooks, tasteful playing and smart lyrics embedded here, but they are much more toned down compared to all the other stuff I listen to. I blame my occasional impatience for this.

Once again, here's a band that I've been hearing about for years, but have never dug that far with. I remember David Sadof playing a track from A Series of Sneaks on Lunar Rotation, but I don't remember which one. Ever since then, after hearing "Me and the Bean" and "Sister Jack" through various places (our first anti-flip flop party, Sound Opinions), I've always been curious. When the opportunity to see the band for free came up this week, I couldn't resist. Getting to hang out with a few friends I hadn't seen in months was also nice.

So yes, there are ways to break through my hard-headed ways of listening to music. I still resist the "you've got to hear this now!" recommendation for plenty of reasons. And I still have limited hard drive space for MP3s. And I still have no patience for crappy-sounding MP3s. So, the walls aren't coming down anytime soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

To spare everyone who doesn't watch LOST, I've held back on talking too much about the show. Well, after watching season three's finale and reading Noel's right-on post about it (and the show in general), I couldn't hold back any longer. Assuming you've seen the episode, read on. If not, skip the next paragraph.

Frankly, I don't know where this show will go from here. There were definitely pros and cons with this flash forward twist, but it seems like a sensible step forward. I think it's funny that the big game-changer was just a slight change in the show's formula. But it worked. Quite a few things that had been brewing for the entire series were paid off in this episode, but there's so much else that remains unanswered. Again, there are all sorts of possibilities with where the next season begins. Alas, I'll have to wait until a few weeks before I turn 29 to find this out.

Yes, the show will not return until February 2008. I will have plenty of time to go back over the first three seasons and connect some more dots. That's what's so great about the show: the more information you find out with later episodes, older episodes show more easter eggs. In other words, you're rewarded for paying attention and watching every episode. This is definitely not normal TV and I'm so thankful for this. It's made me actually actively turn on the TV again -- something I wasn't so sure would happen.

Since Seinfeld went off the air, the only show I really got into was Six Feet Under. I found the first two seasons incredibly dense, smart and most of all, human. Yet when the third season moved forward by making the main characters less and less likable, I slowly lost the desire to play catch-up. I still haven't seen the later seasons. I think that's what really deepened my distaste for following a serialized show.

I heard raves about LOST when it first premiered. Friends of mine were incredibly hooked and a few recommended I watch it. I resisted, but when I caught a summary episode one Saturday night, I grew really intrigued. A show about deeper stuff more than just the things that go bump in the night and who's doing who? A show that deals with the kind of philosophy and sociology that I frequently think about? I thought this was not possible, especially with a network television show.

My fandom for the show grew with the more episodes I watched. Watching older episodes to catch up, my fandom was cemented. I will say though, having to put up with the annoying complainers, groaners and pundits has been frustrating. It's one thing to politely disagree with a friend, family member or co-worker about the season or a certain episode. Yet hearing moans and groans from people I don't really know can be draining. They want more answers, but also more mysteries and more character development at the same time. What people post on message boards and blogs right after a show can bring out the worst in them. And these are the people who speak up and get counted.

Well, for us LOST fans, it's like the book we've been reading was taken out our hands when we reached the 150-page mark. We want to read more, but we have some trepidation along with nagging curiosity. Think of it this way: we've made it through three seasons and we're still engaged. You can't say that about a lot of TV shows and I'm glad. It's this trait that makes LOST so special and a cut above.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

A few things I realized after last night's "secret" Spoon show at the Granda Theater:

-After five years of living in Dallas, I finally went to the Granada.

-The sound at the Granada is not as bad as people have made it out to be.

-Jack Daniel's sponsored the event. I never forgot that during the entire show.

-I believe I reviewed opening act Sally Crewe's previous CD for Punk Planet. I didn't realize this until a few songs into her set.

-Spoon was great even though I was vaguely familiar with most of their set. There were some songs from the forthcoming Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga along with songs from their entire catalog. There was no "Sister Jack," but we got "I Turn My Camera On," "I Summon You," "Everything Hits at Once" and "Me and the Bean."

-I enjoyed the smoke-free environment until somebody behind me lit up a spliff.

-Time to finish up a 2-CD mix of Spoon tracks. Jason just happened to have all their records.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"These are lost drunken men who don't know where they are, but do care!"

In the last five days, I've come across various versions of a similar gripe. Be it comments in a blog's comment section, a cheer at a show or laughs at a stand-up act, people are quick to think nobody cares when there's no immediate response. Well, I think I should speak up and say people do care, but they don't know exactly what to say or how to express it. And just because we don't say something right away does not mean we don't care at all.

Here are a couple of examples of where I'm coming from. The first is from Donna:

I'm depressed that the last two entries I did -- about various aspects of my teaching philosophy and practice -- have garnered exactly zero comments.

Here's what Idolator said in a post about a new Ash song:

Judging by the dearth of comments on our previous Ash posts, we're guessing only a handful of you will be interested in this one--but what if we told you that it was written in Bono's house? Or that it's a mid-tempo ballad that seems destined for one of those painfully hammy closing-episode montages on Scrubs? Actually, that probably won't help . . .

As a blogger who gets a few comments here and there with each post, I sometimes wonder if what I'm saying resonates with anybody. Based on some conversations I've had with regular readers, there is a lot of resonance, but that doesn't mean they're always going to leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Sometimes they simply don't know what to say. Some don't want to come across as a jackass in the process. I can relate because that's what I think about when I read blogs.

In my time of blogging, writing reviews about music and movies, playing records on college radio, I'm used to not getting immediate responses. I assume there are people reading or listening, but I rarely hear from them. And that's OK.

I'm often really moved by stuff I read, hear and see, but I don't speak up every time. In the case of blogging, I sometimes leave comments in hopes that the writer doesn't feel like he or she is talking to a wall. That said, sometimes I just don't know what to say. Maybe I don't have time to write a comment. And I don't want to just say whatever comes off the top of my head.

What I'm saying is this: life can't be solely based off of a knee-jerk response. Sure, it can feel isolating and lonely when nobody seems to kick up a response. Maybe the people you hoped would leave a comment weren't reading your blog that day. Maybe the people you hoped would laugh at every joke you told couldn't come out that night. Maybe you said something that flew over people's heads and it's taken them a while to get what you're talking about. The possibilities are endless. The point is people care. The number of them may not be what you hoped for, but they're out there.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Hurt Process

Since there is a dearth of information on the Internet about Boxer, I want to say a few things. Quite a few things actually. In a time between releasing face to face's Live! and the Get Up Kids' Something to Write Home About, Vagrant Records had a few relatively unknown bands on their label. They had previously done one-off 7"s, distributed some records and released the first volume of Before You Were Punk. Now, they were signing bands and had a few in the pipeline. Inserted in the liner notes of Live!, it was there that I first read about Boxer.

Described as "Shades of Lifetime and the Promise Ring," I was very curious to hear this Boston-based four-piece. I was just getting into those aforementioned bands and was all ears with what The Hurt Process had to offer. Ordering the record without hearing a note, I was really taken with what I heard. There was definitely a comparison to Lifetime with the speedy tempos and melancholy melodies. But the wavering vocals sounded like frontman Dave Vicini was having a panic-fueled freakout. Still, I liked it. A lot.

What seems like such a short time now didn't feel like it when the band was around. Hitting the road supporting the record, they had an augmented line-up. Drummer Chris Pennie opted to work with the then-unknown Dillinger Escape Plan and was replaced by former Get Up Kids drummer Nathan Shay. Also adding a second guitarist to the fold, Boxer was out and about, but not for long. They had some new songs and planned on doing a second album, but the band fell apart in 1999.

Boxer was one of many great bands that burned brightly, albeit shortly. Like their fellow brethren Empire State Games, they kicked major ass and their music still resonates. Though their stories don't carry as much leverage as bands like Braid, the Promise Ring and Hot Water Music for what I wanted to do with POST, I haven't forgotten them. I must say, it's strange to love a band so much but seven years later, it's almost like they never existed. I'm glad people like Eric and Amy remember them, but in a world that seemingly only cares about what matters to a young target demographic today, the fight to not forget is difficult.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I know my mission won't complete itself

"Life happens," as George Rebelo succinctly told me last year. All along the way of writing POST, this has been a recurring theme. Be it the loss of a full-time job, tracking people down for months, or being paid the kindest of compliments, there's been a lot of ebb and flow. With the good and the bad, I've adjusted with what I think/feel is right for the book. And what was very difficult to comprehend was putting this out with someone I didn't already know.

Make no mistake, the encouragement from Nick has been there since day one. He was the one who said my idea for the book was not crazy and that he would help me put it out. In the critical turning points in life, saying the right thing can really get the ball rolling. That was my case in March 2004.

Along the way in doing my research, I heard a few horror stories of close relationships that were ruined because of working together. More often the case with a band working with an independent label run by their friends, the friendship was heavily tested when the band chose to work with another label. Feelings got hurt and some relationships were never the same afterwards. The same with some bands: when they formed, they were tight friends. Now, they rarely speak to each other.

I was afraid that things might go awry, but I felt this was worth risking. It wasn't that much of a grand leap of faith -- if I didn't follow-through and complete the book, I'd regret this for the rest of my life. Thankfully, there have been no regrets, hurt feelings or ruined relations. Quite the opposite actually.

It was Nick himself that suggested I shop the manuscript around. When he told me this last summer, I was a little perplexed. I still wasn't so sure about going with somebody else that I didn't know very well. But just like how he encouraged me to write the book, he was encouraging me to go further. And I'm so glad he did. Even though we're not working together now, we're still as close as we've ever been.

Though I had to spend a few months working 10-13 hour days to get a full manuscript done, it got done. Working with a very reliable source that I trust and enjoy working with, I feel very positive about the prospects. Though there is no publisher attached to the project as I type this, my outlook is positive no matter what the actual result is. Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Maybe the sun will shine today

This week has been pure Wilco overload. With Tuesday's release of their sixth proper album, Sky Blue Sky, reviews are everywhere. Some are glowing and some aren't. With almost everybody chiming in with their opinions, I'll keep mine short and sweet. I love it. It's gentle and very satisfying. All this said, I have yet to see any reviews of Shake It Off, the 45-minute documentary that comes with the deluxe edition of the album. Here are my thoughts in an unabridged form.

With a lot of these CD/DVD releases, you're more than likely to get short-changed. For five or six dollars more, you get some fluffy promotional material that is probably already on YouTube. Sure, it's cool to have this stuff on DVD, but how many more times are you going to watch it? Well, Shake It Off is definitely not some forgettable, fluffy affair. Far from it. If anything, it serves as a nice coda to '02's I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.

Sam Jones' documentary chronicles probably one of the most crucial times in the band's history. Seeing the band struggling to make a record, struggling with their record label and with themselves, it's still a really compelling look at a band in transition. That said, from a traditional storytelling angle, there really isn't a strong sense of closure by the final credits. In the case of Wilco's story, it's great that there isn't.

Cut in between studio performances of eight Sky Blue Sky songs, there are some really great soundbytes from the band members. Jeff Tweedy gets the most face time, but it makes sense since he's the bandleader. What's really refreshing to see is how healthy he looks compared to I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Tweedy has always had interesting stuff to say; here, he comes across as a whole lot sharper and wiser.

From an aesthetic angle, the fact that this is in color is very important. Just like how the black-and-white film fits the mood of Heart, the use of color in Shake feels right. It's a nice, warm snapshot of a band creating another fine album. It's pleasant on the eyes and the ears.

I highly doubt that you could make a compelling feature-length documentary on Wilco now. In other words, Shake It Off doesn't scream for a 50-minute encore. The members are happy with where they are with their strongest (and tightest) line-up yet. And with Tweedy's recent excellent interview with the AV Club, I don't have any doubts about the future of the band. If anything, this is a band that I can believe in not just with music, but about life. ". . . anything you do is going to be a disappointment to somebody," he said. I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Garden of Earthly Delights

Yesterday's post included a mention of an XTC song. The deal is, while writing the post, I wanted to hear the song. I had never heard "Down in the Cockpit," but I had it on a burned CD-R copy of English Settlement. Now, why in the world would I not be familiar with a song I already had on CD? Well, despite not always listening to every track on every album I obtain, there's another reason.

When I got Comcast high-speed Internet in 2002, I downloaded SoulSeek right away. I wasted no time in getting all sorts of records I heard high praises about mostly in The Big Takeover. Within a few days, I had full albums by the Pernice Brothers, the New Pornographers, Government Issue, and XTC. The downloading just never stopped. I spent so much of my free time downloading music that I didn't have a lot of time to listen to everything. But when spyware eventually took over my hard drive, I had to pull the plug. The deal with XTC in particular was that I had almost all of their catalog. I wondered where I should start.

Over the following years, I got plenty of mileage out of a number of choice cuts on the Fossil Fuel singles collection as well as their debut, White Music. Yet I still had trepidation towards seeking out more with album cuts and non-LP tracks. XTC was not a band I instantly grabbed onto. As a matter of fact, I was rather annoyed by my first listen to "Science Friction." Regardless, I gave their material another chance and warmed up to it fast. For some reason though, I still never got around to digging through the albums for choice cuts. That was, until yesterday.

Culling tracks from Fossil Fuel and the albums I downloaded, I sought out to make a new, updated 2-disc set. So after starting a thread on the SOMB asking for suggestions, I had plenty to choose from. My fellow SOMBies did not let me down and ended up making a 3-disc set. While I can't handle going through ten discs back-to-back, I can handle three discs.

For the time being, while not listening to the new Wilco record, I'll be listening to this set. I have to stop myself though; what if I just kept downloading and had hundreds of records that were barely listened to in CD-R form? This is something I've found very troubling with downloading over the years. There seems to be little room for growing with an album. That attitude has seemingly been replaced by a never-ending, fast-paced hunt for more albums. As fast as my thoughts move in my brain, my music habits are still in arrested development. And I'm not really that inclined to change this anytime soon.

Are You Receiving Me?

Michael posted a very interesting story about a recent encounter at his rehearsal space. After rocking out to XTC's "Down in the Cockpit," a member of another band asked him if this was a new song. Politely explaining to this mid-20-year-old it was a song from 1982 by XTC, this got him thinking.
. . . there are some exceptions, but for the most part rock music's evolution has slowed to a crawl in the past quarter-century. To illustrate what I'm saying, think about this: 1982 was 25 years ago, and music from that time can still sound contemporary even to relatively discerning ears. But what if it was 1982 and I was practicing to a record from 25 years before that — i.e., 1957 — and the same guy walked in. Would he have said, "Is that your band or…?" I doubt it.

So what's up with that?

I shared my perspective in the comments section, but I'm not so sure I have a full answer to his question. I'm still baffled as to why modern hipster culture is so tied in with, in Michael's words, the "1978-1982 post-punk golden era." Be it Gang of Four, Talking Heads or even PiL, this stuff sounds incredibly modern today. Blame this on the Strokes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or Franz Ferdinand, but that style has been very well respected by people my age. We were too young to understand Drums and Wires and Underwater Moonlight when they were first released. I guess we've been playing catch-up.

What I ask of my older friends/colleagues/mentors is this: don't discount us simply because we have 20-30 less years of experiences than you. We may be forever behind the curve, but that doesn't mean we're unable to learn more about artists that were before our time. In some cases, modern bands help me understand the older bands they are often compared to. I probably would have passed off Gang of Four as a funky Clash clone had it not have been for Bloc Party's Silent Alarm. So, cut us some slack. We're already having to deal with younger music fans trying understand the music we grew up on.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Day of the Brain-dead

I dig my fair share of zombie flicks. Like a lot of people, I find the original Dawn of the Dead to be a classic. I find Shaun of the Dead to be a tender story that just so happens to have zombies in the mix. These aren't munch-outs where one-note stereotypes get picked off one by one. There is real chemistry between the protagonists. The threat of being attacked by zombies is not their only problem.

28 Days Later is not a zombie flick per se -- it's more like The Crazies where people go into a murderous rage because of a virus. Still, there is real depth and chemistry between the characters. The same can be said about the Planet Terror film in Grindhouse. With George Romero's Land of the Dead, it actually says something about social class structure and ignoring society's problems. In other words, this is entertainment with logic, truth and relatable human drama.

But aside from these films, what I've come to find with most modern day zombie flicks is utter silliness. Zombies that can run in the Dawn of the Dead remake? Um, how? I wondered what people would think up next. Well, when an advance review came online of the "remake" of Day of the Dead, I had a big laugh at the following quote:
But these aren't regular zombies. These zombies are fast! They run, they climb up walls and crawl across the ceiling. They even drive cars. When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will drive the earth.

Visions of zombies driving cars in an American Graffiti-style setting came into my head. How ludicrous is this? And it gets better: a zombie who refuses to eat flesh because he was a vegetarian in his former life.

I understand I'm not the target audience for this film. The original Day of the Dead is not that great, but I didn't consider seeing its "remake" in hopes it would be any better. If anything, the only connections are the title and a character name. This is pure mindless entertainment -- the kind of stuff I try to steer as far away from. It doesn't matter how good the CGI or gore is, give me characters I can care about and a feasible plot. Is that too much to ask or do focus groups, clueless producers and marketing strategies suggest otherwise?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Downward is Heavenward

Major kudos go to Frank for recently sharing a live clip of Hum performing "I'd Like Your Hair Long" on 120 Minutes. Merely watching this performance reminded me of how powerful this band was and why. The deal is (and sad thing as well), bands like Hum seem to fall into a weird category with people. It's a category that is filled with all sorts of '90s alt-rock bands that are not as well remembered today. It's as if they fell into a black hole.

In Hum's case, their single, "Stars," received some very nice airplay back in '95. Not only did you hear the song on modern rock radio, a portion of its video was featured on Beavis & Butt-head. Their album, You'd Prefer an Astronaut, reportedly racked up sales of 250,000 copies. It was no small feat and there was a lot of promise for its follow-up. The deal was, despite Downward is Heavenward being a better album, its sales figures were far less than Astronaut. The band quietly went away in 2000, but did a one-off reunion a few years later.

What bugs me to no end with rock history is how people tend to make light of the years between '94 and '01. A whole hell of a lot happened during that time, but to a modern, populist audience, it seems rather scatter-brained. Trends like pop-punk, ska-punk, big band swing, and electronica were just some of them. Radiohead's The Bends and OK Computer came out during this time for crying out loud. But for so many alt-rock bands that enjoyed mainstream success during the mid-'90s, they seem more or less as cult favorites. I'm talking Hum, Sponge, Veruca Salt, Tripping Daisy and even Seven Mary Three.

Why I want to make sure that people don't forget these bands is simple. Seeing what I've seen with nostalgia and how it packages history so concisely, this time is more than likely to be glossed over. In other words, the next installment of The History of Rock 'n' Roll will go from Nirvana to Green Day and then the Strokes and White Stripes. Just like how it went from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana and hip-hop, there were some crucial years seen merely as developing years. That, in my opinion, is nonsense.

No, you will not find You'd Prefer an Astronaut or Downward is Heavenward as influential as Nevermind or Dookie were to a populist audience, but that doesn't mean they were some cult flukes. In the case of Hum, they were a band that effectively used spacey atmospherics, thick and colorful guitars, busy drumming and conversational vocals. I'm firmly aware that doesn't make them easily typecast, but that's fine by me. What isn't fine by me is tossing them off and forgetting them.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A double kick drum by the river in the summer

Last Saturday night was spent watching something I think I was destined to eventually see: a hair metal cover band. From the gender-bending fashion to the tongue-wiggling to the high-pitched wails, Poison Cherry and Posin had everything down pat. A lot of memories of being in elementary school came back to me. All those hours watching videos on MTV and thinking hair metal was really cool. The deal was, I also had a better understanding of why Nirvana was such a relief in 1991.

I'm of the argument that hair metal could've only been massively popular in the Eighties. The excessive, there-is-no-line debauchery fit in with that time, but that time has passed. Thankfully, it's still fun to revisit that time by watching videos, listening to records and especially watching tribute/cover bands.

Between 1987-1990, hair metal was something I watched in awe. Sure, those R.E.M. and U2 videos were cool, but those hair metal bands seemed so over-the-top and likable at the same time. Guitar solos were cool, as were high-pitched vocals. But I was a prepubescent in elementary school with limited knowledge of what else was out there. When I got into Nirvana, along with classic rock, hair metal felt incredibly out of touch. It didn't really occur to me until a few songs into Poison Cherry's set as to why.

If anything, hair metal was about partying and getting laid. But for people that want something more out of music, there was a desire for deep substance. I didn't have that desire in fourth grade. I did by seventh and eighth grade. Now that's not to say hair metal wasn't tuneful or had flashes of dense stuff, but the songs that epitomized the sleaze seemingly got the most attention. You may not know what you got 'til it's gone, but you really want nothin' but a good time.

Despite certain modern bands aping the sleaze and stupidity of harder-tinged hair metal bands (ie, Escape the Fate and Avenged Sevenfold), I seriously doubt they will be as remembered as the ones that inspired them. From what I saw Saturday night, hair metal today sits rightfully where it belongs: in a bar.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Miss Mishap shared on her blog one of the many things she did this past weekend. Out of all she did, the thing that really struck me was that she did a karaoke rendition of R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know it (and I Feel Fine)." Why this struck me is that I don't know anyone else who has attempted this song in karaoke. I've attempted it twice and pulled it off (Matt and Chris are at least two of my witnesses). I love to do this song. It's definitely not a regular karaoke song because it's insanely wordy. But I'm up for the challenge.

Doing karaoke requires some fear, but a lot of courage as well. For me, all the times that I've done it, it's been singing to my friends. Sure, there are all these other people in the room, but I'm there with my friends. They're my net. So the songs that I seem to know/am sure will impress my friends are the ultra-wordy songs. Other songs I've tackled are Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and Barry Manilow's "Copacabana." Why do I prefer doing these songs instead of say, torch songs? Because I can't sing.

There's plenty of skill involved in saying "Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn - world serves its own needs, regardless of your own needs. Feed it up a knock, speed, grunt no, strength no. Ladder structure clatter with fear of height,down height. Wire in a fire, represent the seven games in a government-for-hire and a combat site" in eight seconds. All those years singing that song in the back of the band bus paid off. The deal is, there's very little "singing" involved with that song. I might as well cover a Dylan tune or a Velvet Underground song. So I'm safe.

This is not to say I haven't attempted torch songs or just fun little songs. I've done "It's Not Unusual" with ease a few times. But I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for utterly destroying the great Elvin Bishop tune, "Fooled Around and Fell In Love." I sang it totally off-key and poorly and I shudder at the memories of it. On top of this, my voice just goes to shreds whenever I do a song like that. So to save others' ears and my speaking voice, I stick with the rapid fire vocals.

Make no mistake, I'll try a torch song again, but alcohol will probably have to be involved. There would probably have to be a vast reduction of the fear factor as well.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

At the movies

Credit goes to Donna for the following movie-centric questionnaire:

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Long before we had cable TV, we had a Betamax tape machine. A family friend who worked at a video store dubbed us some movies, including that one, Back to the Future and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. My sister claims I watched Back to the Future everyday for a whole summer, but I disagree. Since I don't own Back to the Future on DVD but do own Star Wars on DVD, that's the answer I'm giving.

2. Name a movie that you've seen multiple times in the theater.

The Royal Tenenbaums. Not necessarily my favorite Wes Anderson film, but it was the only movie worth seeing one night when I was asked to leave my apartment for the evening.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.

Actor? Christian Bale. Because of American Psycho, The Machinist and Batman Begins. Actress? Naomi Watts. Because of Mulholland Dr.

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.

Freddy Prinze Jr.

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.

I can't quote from just one Star Wars film. These days, it's a toss-up between A New Hope and Revenge of the Sith. I keep thinking about "Use the Force Luke. Let go! Trust your instincts" and "you were to destroy the Sith, not join them!" especially.

6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.

The Sound of Music. "I am sixteen going on seventeen . . ."

7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with.

The Muppet Movie

8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.

The Muppet Movie. It's got plenty of stuff for kids (furry puppets) with all sorts of smart humor for adults (90% of the script).

9. Name a movie that you own.

American Graffiti. I own quite a few others as well.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.

Mandy Moore. She's fantastic in Saved!

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?

Never seen a movie in a drive-in. I had never actually seen a drive-in theater until a few years ago.

12. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven't yet gotten around to it.

Borat. It's on top of my TV, but my Netflix movies keep getting priority.

13. Ever walked out of a movie?

Nope, but I did suffer through There's Something About Mary and American Fork in theaters. Yes, There's Something About Mary.

14. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. More tears flowed during the second viewing. Why? Because this movie, along with The Two Towers, really hits on emotional nerves that I strongly agree with. There are so many metaphors for everyday life in this big tale of a ring, a land of evil, hobbits, elves, wizards and a dwarf.

15. Popcorn?

Never. I can't miss any dialogue with the sound of my chomping.

16. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?

Rarely. I go maybe twice a year. Thank you inflated prices, lowest common denominator crowd members, cell phones, crying babies, commercials before the previews, and short turnaround time to DVD!

17. What's the last movie you saw in the theater?

Grindhouse. It's perfect for a movie theater and a whole lot of fun.

18. What's your favorite/preferred genre of movie?

The kind that makes me think.

19. What's the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

I think it was Return of the Jedi or Bambi.

20. What movie do you wish you had never seen?

Scary Movie 2. After watching it, I wondered, "Did I just watch a movie?"

21. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

Memento. Hands down.

22. What is the scariest movie you've seen?

The Exorcist. The flash of the evil sign in the kitchen did it.

23. What is the funniest movie you've seen?

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. The first time I saw it, I actually fell onto the floor laughing. Not many other films have done that other than Kentucky Fried Movie, Student Bodies and A Night at the Opera.

24. Is there a movie you try to model your life after, or one that you look to for inspiration?

The Muppet Movie. No, I'm not a frog looking to become rich and famous in Hollywood, but it's the central message that gets me every time. "Life is like a movie, write your own ending." I tend to forget that from time to time, so it's good to watch it again once in a while.

Friday, May 04, 2007

It's not about living under command

Oh, the great stuff you can find on YouTube. While searching the other night for interviews with writers/critics I respect, I came across this clip of Jim DeRogatis on Roadtrip Nation. Briefly discussing his time at Rolling Stone, there was a link to Roadtrip Nation's website advertising the full interview. As I searched for his segment, I watched a few episodes and really dug what I saw.

If you've never seen the show, its premise involves taking three groups of soon-to-graduate college students and sending them cross-country to interview all kinds of people. The goal is to see how these people became successful in their chosen fields. Even six years post-college, I found these insights to be very inspiring.

Finding the full interview clip with DeRo, I was really moved by his final quote. Discussing his upcoming show with his band VORTIS, he describes the band's frontman: a 65-year-old political philosophy professor at Purdue who's written twenty-three books.
On paper, he's not supposed to be fronting a rock band. But if you're gonna live by those rules of what you're supposed to do and let somebody tell you what you can't do, there's not much point in living.

This got me to thinking: why do we let other people's rules dictate our lives? This is something I've wondered about for years while letting plenty of "rules" dictate my life.

Make no mistake, I've been a people-pleaser for most of my life. I've always done what I've wanted to do, but preferably out of other people's view. I never thought anybody would fully understand me, so I'd just hang out in my room reading books and magazines and listening to the music I wanted to listen to. If not a lot of other people knew what I was up to, I didn't have to worry about being judged and/or dismissed. Well, that worked in high school, but the gameplan started losing its power in college.

All through college I believed there was going to be an easy track post-college. There would be a steady job, promotions and a pretty smooth working life. In a lot of ways, that has been my case, but in other ways, it hasn't. I believed for a long time that you're not really a functioning member of society until you have a full-time job with benefits. The same applied to making a yearly income over $30,000. It also applied if you were still single by a certain age. Well, I've been guilty being all of those, and I'm just now understanding this is not failure. It's life. It's unscripted. And there's nothing wrong with it.

Most of the time, the desire to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer comes from parental wishful thinking. There's no fault in encouraging children to aim high, but not everybody can be doctors, lawyers and engineers. My parents, like many of my friends' parents, have never pushed me to go into one field or another. The only push (and the kind of push I agreed with) was to actually do something with my life. That "something" is still in development, but I think I have a better picture now compared to six years ago. What I perceive to be average society's rules still dog me and often think about them. When I start thinking about why I think about them so much. It's a vicious cycle.

As simple as it sounds and as lofty as it sounds, I am firm proponent of "follow your bliss." That doesn't necessarily imply your bliss will ever make you money, but if you don't, it will more than likely result in a pitfall. Sure, it would be nice if I made a healthy income writing about the stuff I write about, but that's not why I do it. There's this inner drive that says I have to do this. Though there are people who think doing a serious hobby isn't worthwhile unless you make money off of it, that's not me. Writing is not an option for me. It's like breathing.

But we all run into people who tell you to give up your dreams and follow the rules. Chances are, these people gave up their dreams a long time ago and have been regretting it ever since. So they want to serve you their sour grapes and call it being a realist. Now I'm not some dreamer with a head in the clouds, but I'm not a non-dreamer with a head stuck in the mud. Dreams can be attainable with healthy pragmatism. Any time I doubt this, I think about a certain friend of mine who is doing the whole suburban dad routine, but is still writing professionally and is still an amazing person with a passion for music.

Probably the best part of life is living it. Sure, you can read the playbooks and rulebooks of others, but they can't predict your own life's outcome. It's the whole difference between "knowing the path and walking the path." And like Hot Water Music sang about, it's not about living under command.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

An alternative to what?

Back when the Shins' Wincing the Night Away came out, I noticed a rather peculiar quote in Rolling Stone from frontman James Mercer. Explaining the appeal of his band, along with a band like Modest Mouse, he used the term "indie." I found that rather strange because neither the Shins nor Modest Mouse are on record labels that are indie. All of the Shins albums have come out on partially-owned-by-Time-Warner-since-1996 Sub Pop. Modest Mouse's last three albums have come out on Epic/Sony. Thinking about this for a few months, I finally came to the realization of something that's been staring right in front of me: what was once considered an independent alternative to major labels now has barely any competition from major labels.

With today's publication of the NME/XFM's Greatest Indie Anthems Ever, the "i" label gets stretched some more. Looking at the top ten songs listed, I see a few songs that were never released on an independent record label. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came out on Geffen. "Last Nite" came out on RCA. So I wonder: what gives? Has the once-exclusive nature of indie rock become so stretched out that the only things it excludes are cheesehead stadium rock and prefab pop?

Something that further questions this positioning is how certain large media outlets brand themselves as "indie" or "alternative." Here in Dallas, radio station KDGE went by the title "Your New Rock Alternative" for a while up until last year. Now, the strange thing is, KDGE is the only major rock radio station in town that doesn't play classic rock. It wasn't always this way. Hard rock/metal station the Eagle was blown up into a lite rock station a few years ago. AAA/modern rock Merge went classic rock a few years ago. Beloved Q-102 was blown up almost ten years ago. So what does KDGE's current playlist offer as an "alternative" to in regards to mass appeal rock music? Maybe that's why they dropped the "alternative" part from their positioning statement and became simply, "New Rock."

If anything, the playing field has leveled off. Sure, there was a time when that division was very rigid. But we're not in 1981 anymore folks. Face it: while the Big Four major label groups still have a very strong influence, their space in the parking lot keeps shrinking. All kinds of independently-run labels have sold amounts only majors could once sell. It's pretty cool to see, but the terms "alternative" and "indie" just don't seem to make any more sense in these regards. It just seems like "alternative" and "indie" are codewords for dense rock music pure and simple.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

T.V. Eye

When I got a place of my own in Dallas back in 2002, I didn't get cable TV for one primary reason: to save money. Whatever I would've spent on it each month would go towards books, CDs, DVDs and/or a high-speed Internet connection. Plus, the chances of me really liking the books, CDs and DVDs were much greater than the repeated viewings of the Creed Behind the Music episode.

Despite moving into a bigger place with a housemate in 2004, neither he nor I have seriously considered getting cable. Speaking for myself, I think my life is a lot better this way. I don't know if I will always feel this way, but it sure is nice to have options whenever I want to entertain myself.

For some reason, if I had cable, I'd feel obligated to watch it. I'd watch a lot of it, actually. I'm paying for it, so I should get my money's worth, right? Besides, I just can't channel-surf for a few minutes and turn the TV off. There's always something worth finding to watch, even if it's something as silly as Secretos: Houston. This can go on for hours and I wonder where the time goes. So not having the obligation to watch cable, I watch stuff on YouTube, read blogs/message boards, watch a DVD or read a book or magazine. It's pretty liberating.

(I still have a pair of rabbit ears on my TV. They barely pick up any channels, but the one channel that comes in crystal clear is ABC. That ensures the only show I actively watch gets taped every single week.)

Why I find this all so liberating is the reduction of exposure to crappy programming. I don't feel compelled to see how bad Jeeper's Creepers is. I don't feel compelled to see wall-to-wall coverage of the Anna Nicole case. I don't have to be bugged about this stuff because it's not coming through my TV. Of course, there are plenty of great programs to watch on Comedy Central, HBO, VH1 Classic, IFC, and Bravo, but the cost doesn't justify forking over all the dough to get all these channels.

Again, I find something much more worthwhile with reading books about the making of Star Wars or people talking about their jobs than watching another interior design show or a lame "reality" show. I can get something more out of watching a rented DVD than seeing the same movie in pan-and-scan with commercial interruptions. I want to be entertained just like everybody else, but I don't want to just settle with the TV to be my main form of entertainment. And this is coming from somebody who watched TV for most of his life.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Think Before You Post

Props to the Hater for posting this last week. It's a new PSA from the Ad Council warning teenagers about what they post on the Internet. It's pretty unintentionally hilarious. Enjoy!