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Friday, June 29, 2007

Rah, rah TCU

Seeing a story like this makes me very proud of being a TCU alum. Thanks Bob for showing that age and job don't stop the music.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Going to Pieces

Despite what I wrote last week, I decided to watch Hostel. I still stand behind what I wrote, but my reasons for watching were more out of curiosity than anything else. I wanted to know if writer/director Eli Roth had something to say about our post-9/11 fears instead of making a brainless slasher flick. Seeing as how the Halloween/Friday the 13th formula is still in effect with other movies, I was hoping to see a different approach. To my relief, it was. Plus, despite Roth's claims on a commentary track about not trying to make overt political statements, I can't help but think they slipped into the movie anyhow. And that's fine by me.

I'm not one to cheer while watching scenes of torture and gore. No matter who the victim is, it's something I don't wish upon anyone. Not even the kinds of frat dudes I ran into back in college trolling for a "good time." I definitely squirmed while I watched certain parts of the film; I felt no pleasure during its most intense scenes. Especially towards the end of the movie, I constantly felt the five fingers on my left hand to remind myself that I was watching a movie. Despite this, I was glad I watched the movie instead of dismissing it without even taking a look.

In addition to that Morton Downey Jr. clip, I recently caught a slasher film retrospective called Going to Pieces. In it, there's a segment from Siskel & Ebert At the Movies where they rip apart movies created after the box office success of Halloween and Friday the 13th. Coming across as uptight fuddy-duddies, I found their complaints to be on par with Tipper Gore's complaints about Twisted Sister, Charlton Heston's complaints about Body Count and Dan Quayle's complaints about Murphy Brown. In other words, this sounded like a call for "family values" to stomp out this supposed moral decay. I simply roll my eyes at this and sigh.

Hostel is definitely not something I would watch with someone who could not see past the gore and violence. The person could be thirteen, twenty-eight or even forty-four. Age isn't the issue here. And it's not necessarily a matter of life experience or appetite. If you're gonna get up in arms and don't want to watch a movie like this, then don't feel pressured to watch it. I won't criticize you for not watching, but don't think I'm some hellbound, failure of society because I choose to watch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I Love the . . . VH1

If there's a show in the vein of VH1's I Love the '80s and I Love the '90s I'd really like to see, it's I Love VH1. Allow me to explain.

VH1's programming was originally something like MTV's oldest sibling. Playing more R&B and smooth jazz artists as well as other adult Top 40 acts, you weren't going to find any hair metal, grunge or even rap on the channel. You had My Generation with Peter Noone (and later, David Cassidy), along with 8-Track Flashback, playing performance clips from the Sixties and Seventies. You had Rosie O'Donnell hosting a stand-up comedy show. Repeats of Midnight Special and American Bandstand were also on there, as well as hour-long concerts from people like Neil Young. In other words, this programming was vastly removed compared to what they've had on the channel since Behind the Music debuted.

For me, a music nut who frequently watched TV growing up, I would almost always switch to VH1 if I didn't like what I was seeing on MTV (and vice-versa). Both channels were next to each other in the channel line-up, so it was an easy switch. I especially remember when the show Crossroads was on. Featuring the Jayhawks' tune "Blue" as its theme song, there was a sense that alt-country could really break big with an audience. It was on this show that I first heard of Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and Wilco, as well as Hootie & the Blowfish and Blues Traveler. Though Hootie and John Popper's band sold more records in the day, Uncle Tupelo's offspring won the long haul race in my book.

But it seems remembering this time is like a fuzzy blur. Seeing how VH1's programming has been dominated by pop culture nostalgia for quite some time, I wonder if they would ever take a swipe at their own history. I'd totally watch this.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

You're Lucky to Be Alive

With the arrival of Punk Planet's final issue in my mailbox yesterday, I wanted to share some more thoughts about the closing of the magazine. Sure, it was great to see my interview with John Congleton on page 18, along with my featured review of Bob Pollard's Normal Happiness and Kyle's article on SXSW, but there's something deeper I wanted to discuss.

I always had a sense of pride going into a Borders or Barnes & Noble in some of the richest areas in town and seeing copies of the magazine on the newsstand. Why? Because the distribution went beyond where the converted shopped. That idea may break rule #1 in certain people's Rules of Punk, but it's not in my rule book.

The way I saw it, Punk Planet was out there sitting between copies of Alternative Press, Rolling Stone, and Spin. Similar to a record store carrying a Sunny Day Real Estate record filed near System of a Down records, it was visible and available to those that had never heard of it. The magazine did not bend over backwards or compromised anything to get to that spot on the shelf. That's a testament to sticking to one's proverbial guns.

I've mentioned before that the magazine was a very helpful source of research for Post. With interviews covering Deep Elm Records to Jawbreaker, I couldn't find this coverage anywhere else. I connected the dots that a number of articles and interviews would help unlock a lot of stuff I hadn't really known about the '90s post-hardcore/emo scene. So I'm eternally grateful; referencing a number of its articles and interviews in the book is just the start.

What I'm proud of with issue #80 is that there isn't a sense of, "It's over. We should have never done this in the first place. I'm going to cry in the corner." Though the magazine has ceased operation, that doesn't mean we should stop thinking the ways we have been. It's like what Ian MacKaye says in American Hardcore about the Bad Brains influence on him when he was in the Teen Idles: "Take it seriously. Don't settle for a bunch of shit. Push it." Though the Teen Idles broke up in '80, MacKaye still sticks by this attitude (or positive mental attitude if you like).

This is not some rallying cry to stamp out the cruelties of the world or live on the fringes of town off the grid. Rather, this is the spirit that started countless zines, labels, bands, blogs, and newspapers: if you really want to say something and share it with people, say it. Don't outright dismiss sharing your thoughts. Why? Because I doubt there will ever be a lack of people that don't want to fall into a box of mediocrity or unbalanced compromise.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Where Were You in '88?

Going through last week's Chartburn on Jeff's page, I came across a relatively memorable clip from the one and only David Lee Roth. "Just Like Paradise" was in regular MTV rotation back in 1988 and being the daily watcher of the channel at the time, I saw it plenty of times. Looking at the video now, I'll admit it's over-the-top and goofy. And, it's a light and fluffy song. And yes, it screams everything that was hair metal-related in the Eighties. But you know what? This didn't warp my perspective on what good music is in the long run. Realizing this makes me take a few steps back with modern music.

I'm not covering my tracks here: I've been very critical of what the mainstream views as emo. If I were to call what has been peddled to the Warped Tour audience, it's hair metalcore. To be frank, I just don't get a lot of mileage out of this music. And I've often wondered what kind of impression this stuff has had on young people. Well, I've come across a few things in the last few weeks that put a better perspective on this matter.

In the liner notes for Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation reissue, there are press clippings lauding the album. One of them is the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop poll. Landing at #2 right behind Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Sonic Youth's opus came out at a time when I was more into what was on daytime MTV. I didn't stay up late on Sunday nights watching 120 Minutes. I didn't read The Village Voice. Hell, I didn't even read Rolling Stone. Music not in regular rotation on commercial radio and MTV was not on my radar. That view wouldn't change until a few years later.

Over the weekend, I read Lester Bangs final interview, conducted by then-high schooler Jim DeRogatis. A number of topics were discussed and truth to be told, a lot of this stuff doesn't sound a day old. Though the interview was conducted a few weeks before Bangs' death in 1982, a number of quotes ring true in 2007. I found myself coming back to a notion I've had for the last few years.

I see an underlying theme here: there will be no lack of disdain towards what younger people listen to by older generations. But just because a younger generation listens to something like hair metal, disco, or mall punk does not mean that mountains will crumble and rivers will rise. Far from it. We all have our gateways into dense music and more often than not, it's with music of the light and fluffy variety. Is a 25-year-old off base because he/she likes "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees? To the tastebuds of a cranky 47-year-old that had to put up with disco everyday for four years straight back in the Seventies, sure. But that doesn't mean this same 25-year-old cannot come around to Captain Beefheart, Leonard Cohen and the New York Dolls.

What I'm saying is: what you listened to in your formative years does not automatically prevent you from getting music on a deeper level later on. If you're that curious about music, more of it will come into your field of view. So, just because somebody watched hair metal videos or saw Can't Stop the Music in a theater does not mean he or she will never be able to have an informed, well-rounded opinion on music in general. I should keep this in mind whenever I go shopping and pass by teenagers dressed up in Hot Topic gear and have Hawthorne Heights on their iPods.

Friday, June 22, 2007

B.N. (Before Netflix)

I'm still a very satisfied Netflix subscriber, but I can't help noticing something: my personal DVD collection has not grown that much since I signed up for the service. Is this necessarily bad? Nope. I think it's a relief.

I own a few movies on DVD that are far from favorites of mine. I don't own any movies I absolutely detest, but given the choice of watching American Splendor or Manhunter, American Splendor wins out. I'm not saying Manhunter is a bad film, but the reason why I own it is because there was no way of renting it when I got it. As a fan of the Hannibal Lector films, I wanted to see this different vision made a few years before Silence of the Lambs was made. I had never seen the movie, but heard good things about it. The risk was worth taking.

When I was in college and when I first moved to Dallas, the only options with renting were Blockbuster, Blockbuster and . . . Blockbuster. I never knew the existence of a place like Premiere Video in the SMU area. Besides, I would have never considered driving all the way from Fort Worth or even north Dallas just to rent a movie. So, with at least two Blockbusters within ten minutes of where I lived, I'd look and see what all I could choose from. More often than not, I found oodles of copies of a Ben Stiller vehicle ("Guaranteed to Be There!") while I found classics like The Apartment and Double Indemnity only available in crappy, pan-and-scan VHS. And I didn't even bother looking that far into their music section for concert videos or the like.

In other words, there was a tremendous void. This was right as the DVD market exploded and the VHS section was quickly shrinking year after year. Still, the selection of movies I wanted to watch went down to nil. At the time I considered going to Netflix, I realized I couldn't rent The Ben Stiller Show or the BBC version of The Office from Blockbuster. That was 2004 and I haven't stepped into a Blockbuster store ever since.

I don't mean to slag Blockbuster here. My tastes are simply different from what they carry en masse. I don't want to see A Night at the Museum; I want to watch Maxed Out. I don't want to watch another direct-to-rental American Pie spinoff; I want to watch The Last Picture Show. I'm firmly aware that I am not the target demographic here and that's OK.

For my budget, I'm glad that the cost of risk with renting a DVD from Netflix is much lower than buying it on a whim. I don't regret buying movies like The Player or The Hidden Fortress on DVD (my then Best Buy employee discount also had a lot to do with this), but ever since 2004, the DVDs I want to own are the ones that I truly love and want to watch over and over again.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Wagon

Here are some thoughts about last night's Dinosaur Jr/Black Keys show at the Ridglea:

-No, the ticket had the line-up correct. Dinosaur played before the Black Keys.

-As much as Dinosaur should have headlined, their 45-minute set was the perfect length. It wasn't too long and it wasn't too short. Their songs easily blur together -- as evidenced by the recently-released live DVD -- but not during last night's set.

-A couple of songs from Beyond were played ("Almost Ready" and "Back to Your Heart") as well as classics such as "Freak Scene," "The Wagon," "Little Fury Things" and "Feel the Pain." Yes, "Feel the Pain." And it was incredible.

-Despite wearing earplugs, my ears were sore by the end of the set. J's eight amps probably had something to do with this.

-The Black Keys were enjoyable to watch, but I'm not really inclined to check out their records. Just not really my cup of tea.

-That said, I saw how drum fills are really essential if the band is just a two-piece. Keys' drummer Patrick Carney proved that. See also Two Gallants, Mates of State and the Like Young.

-I'd never seen a half-circle tambourine be used as a drumstick. I also had never seen cymbal stands move so far after being hit by this tambourine.

-Major kudos to the Ridglea for putting on a well-run show. Plus, I was really thankful for the abundance of parking space. It was nice to leave the venue once the show was over, get into my car and drive home without ever having to slow down.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I've got to sing just to exist

The headline says it all:

Punk Planet magazine -- R.I.P.P

by Sinker

Dear Friends,

As much as it breaks our hearts to write these words, the final issue of Punk Planet is in the post, possibly heading toward you right now. Over the last 80 issues and 13 years, we've covered every aspect of the financially independent, emotionally autonomous, free culture we refer to as "the underground." In that time we've sounded many alarms from our editorial offices: about threats of co-optation, big-media emulation, and unseen corporate sponsorship. We've also done everything in our power to create a support network for independent media, experiment with revenue streams, and correct the distribution issues that have increasingly plagued independent magazines. But now we've come to the impossible decision to stop printing, having sounded all the alarms and reenvisioned all the systems we can. Benefit shows are no longer enough to make up for bad distribution deals, disappearing advertisers, and a decreasing audience of subscribers.

Read the rest of the statement here.

This news is not necessarily a shock, but it just sucks that this day has come. In the last year or so, the cash flow problems were well documented in the press (and even in the magazine). That said, I didn't think the ship would totally sink. The optimist in me says it won't. Here's why.

As stated in the statement, the magazine has stopped, but the website and Punk Planet Books remain. Just this alone means all is not lost. Acclaimed books by Joe Meno, as well as the fantastic collection of articles, We Owe You Nothing, are still out there. It proves there is still a relevant approach to punk other than what Maximumrocknroll does. Besides, on a personal note, I'm not forgetting what writing for them for the last two years has meant to me.

I had read about Punk Planet in Our Band Could Be Your Life, a book that has influenced me in so many different ways. Early into researching Post, I came across a copy of We Owe You Nothing in a Barnes & Noble. From there I became a regular reader of the magazine and lucked into doing record reviews for them. The gig offered no money, but free records and regular coverage. That was totally fine with me.

Sure, I reviewed some embarrassingly bad records and a whole lot of mediocre stuff. But like my time in college radio, I knew what it was like when I found in an incredible record in a lake filled with not-so-incredible records. Finding out about bands like The Pathways and Hanna Hirsch, along with reviewing Cursive and Explosions in the Sky records, made it all worthwhile.

It was in this time that I realized how to still be myself, not fall in line, all while growing up and maturing as well. I saw how smart, intelligent people took to punk more as an open-ended approach to life rather than a uniform you wore. That still resonates with me and I doubt it will cease because the magazine has closed up shop.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The American Nightmare

Earlier this year, Keith posted a clip from The Morton Downey Jr. Show all about slasher flicks. Meant to get the audience up in arms, a number of 80s slasher flicks are tarred and feathered for their depiction of gore and violence. The editor of a horror magazine and a movie critic who hates slasher flicks share their views, but it's pretty obvious that the disgusted get the final word. As funny as this clip was, I had to catch myself from becoming one of the audience members when I read reviews of Hostel: Part II a few weeks ago.

I'm not going to argue with people: horror movies make for a twisted form of entertainment. They will never be a completely mainstream form of entertainment. You can't get the whole family to watch (and enjoy) the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's just not going to happen.

I always get up in arms whenever clueless, lowest common denominator people rip apart something based on a surface glance. It's especially the case with people blaming movies, music and video games for the problems in society. Tupac's music murdered a cop? Beavis and Butt-head's stupidity burned a girl alive? I didn't think that stuff had a force so great to lure people into doing unlawful things. I didn't think that then and still don't think this now. What's that David Cross line wondering about which video games Hitler played?

Art is a reflection of society more than society is a reflection of art. In the case of horror flicks, this was made abundantly clear to me when I watched The American Nightmare a few months ago. Juxtaposing newsreel footage from the Vietnam War with footage from The Last House on the Left, Night of the Living Dead and Halloween, I understood the background a whole lot better. Compared to what was shown/mentioned on the news, what was in the theaters was incredibly tame. Then again, there is a vast majority of people who want real life far away from what they view as entertainment. I'm not one of those people.

So, in regards to Hostel and its recently-released sequel, I was rather befuddled at first. Reading various online reviews of both films, I couldn't relate to the ones that seemed to love watching scenes of torture and murder. This was definitely crossing the line for me as someone who can watch horror movies and not really get freaked out. But I had to stop before I started writing rants about this so-called "torture porn." Isn't one of the biggest saving graces about horror flicks is the fact that they can have a deep subtext about society today? George Romero knows quite a bit about this with his movies, so maybe this was also the case with Eli Roth.

Alas, I choose to not watch Hostel or Hostel: Part II. Through no fault in the filmmaking or the story, I'm just not that compelled to watch this stuff. I'm firmly aware of how people want to bag on this kind of entertainment, but it's definitely no match to the horrors in everyday life, especially in our post-9/11 world.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Buy You a Drink

If there's one thing that baffles me about hipsters' tastebuds, it's the seemingly hands-off approach with hip-hop and R&B. Meaning, records by Wilco and Pelican get overanalyzed and scrutinized, while records by Lil Wayne and Kanye West get a free pass and overpraised. (Here's some proof, more proof, some more proof, and even more proof.) I don't think Pitchfork or certain MP3s bloggers are to blame for this. It's just a reflection of what's going on.

At first, I thought this was some cruel, cynical joke, but apparently, hipsters actually like a lot of music made to make you bounce and groove. As it was put to me by a friend who's done a lot of DJing around town in the last couple of years: drunk hipsters like to listen to this stuff late at night.

I'm not putting hip-hop and R&B down here. But think about it: do you really listen and respond to Explosions in the Sky's music the same way you listen and respond to R. Kelly's music? I don't. The feeling I get from "I'm a Flirt" is much different than "The Birth and Death of the Day." I bop and sway to R. Kelly's beats, but don't feel a deep connection to the music as I do with Explosions' music.

If I were to reframe this angle to a different time, picture this: What if Creem Magazine ripped apart a Television record while the latest Giorgio Moroder disco production is heralded as a hands-down, modern classic? I thought music created to make you dance on the dancefloor was something critics were born to trash. Music not created for the dancefloor was fair game and some could be the second coming.

Maybe I'm missing the point here. Those who write about modern hip-hop and R&B probably grew up on a steady diet of that when they were young. Hearing new, fresh approaches to the genre sound like it should be praised. It's kind of like my appreciation of certain modern metal bands. I've heard plenty of crappy metal bands, so when I hear bands actually doing something fresh, I'm more inclined to talk them up. But again, it seems like modern hip-hop and R&B never does anything wrong. Hence the continued feeling of being baffled.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Still They Ride

Though the biggest Journey-related item was the usage of "Don't Stop Believin'" in the final Sopranos, this other item seemed to have slipped by. Thanks to Idolator for catching it:

JOURNEY ANNOUNCES DEPARTURE OF JEFF SCOTT SOTO
Press Release / June 12, 2007

Journey has parted ways with their recently named lead singer Jeff Scott Soto. Jeff's first appearance with Journey was July 7, 2006 in Bristow, VA. He had been filling in for Steve Augeri, who had to leave the tour shortly after it began on June 23 due to illness. Jeff's last performance was May 12, 2007 in Leesburg, VA.

According to guitarist Neal Schon, "We appreciate all of Jeff's hard work and we can't thank him enough for stepping in when Steve Augeri got sick last year. He did a tremendous job for us and we wish him the best. We've just decided to go our separate ways, no pun intended. We're plotting our next move now."

Keyboardist Jonathan Cain continues, "We were lucky to have a friend who was already a Journey fan step in on a moment's notice during the Def Leppard tour to help us out. Jeff was always the consummate professional and we hope that he remains a friend of the band in the future. We just felt it was time to go in a different direction."

Journey--Neal Schon (guitar), Ross Valory (bass), Jonathan Cain (keyboards) and Deen Castronovo (drums) is taking the rest of 2007 off to spend time with their families, write new songs and map out plans for 2008. WebLink: http://www.journeymusic.com/

Melodic Rock adds this:
Comment from me? Where does one start? Right now I am too disappointed to comment, but I guess Neal and Jon have a different vision for Journey than that of Jeff Scott Soto.

And no...Steve Perry is not returning to the band.

In case you're keeping track at home, here's the list of Journey's lead singers:

1. Greg Rolie/Neal Schon (1973-1977)
2. Robert Fleischman (1977)
3. Steve Perry (1977-1997)
4. Steve Augeri (1997-2006)
5. Jeff Scott Soto (2006-2007)

I guess the journey continues, but at this point, is it really necessary to flog this horse some more?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

as the knife stopped spinning the answer came: you're going to have to save yourself

Q: Can someone be a brilliant artist without being seriously fucked-up? Can someone be a brilliant artist and be completely sane and well-adjusted? Can the sane and good create art that is meaningful and not simply bland or pretty to look at? —Isaiah Technician

CP: Here's my theory: Anyone who makes a career in writing, music, painting, or whatnot succeeds as being a constant witness, always harvesting from the world. Any "artist" makes a living by expressing what others can't—because they're unaware of their feelings, they're too afraid to express those feelings, or they lack the skills to communicate and be understood. Being fucked-up isn't required. In fact, it tends to cut careers short.

So goes an answer to a question recently posed to author Chuck Palahniuk. I completely agree with his answer, but I'm curious why certain people think great art must come from great tragedy.

Be it Bukowski, Pollock, or Cobain, there's been no shortage of internal strife in people that have created masterworks. It seems to play into the fantasy/one-in-a-million nature. Looking beyond the drive to create, when there are elements like drugs, alcohol and/or painful childhood memories involved, they seem to reinforce this idea of the tortured artist. So when the thought of getting some sort of professional help is brought up, there are those who think that's a bad idea. A really bad idea.

A recent example is Jeff Tweedy. He suffered from migraines starting at an early age. Along with suffering from depression and panic attacks, he checked himself into rehab to treat an addiction to painkillers. His decision delayed a tour promoting a recently-released Wilco record, A Ghost is Born, and things seemed very up in the air. Would the great talent behind such songs as "Misunderstood," "She's a Jar," and "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" be able to create songs as good if not better? Well, seeing the wide variety of opinions out there about this year's Sky Blue Sky, some want to blame his decision to get healthy as to why this record doesn't resonate as well as previous Wilco records. Frankly, I find that to be a load of bullshit.

We want our friends and family to be healthy -- live long lives and live to their fullest potential -- right? So why doesn't the same apply to our favorite musicians, painters, and authors? Maybe because our relationships with our friends and family are quite different from the ones with our favorite artists. It's easy to forget that artists are humans too. But that idea doesn't always make for the best copy. In the case of Tweedy, he recently said this:
. . . I do think that there's a lot of different reasons for the myth that you have to suffer or you have to have some horrible friction or turmoil in your life to create. Primarily because it makes a lot better ink. People are much more willing to write about it when it's framed within this mythology that has existed since people began making art.

Yes, stories can sound more interesting/compelling when there's a tortured angle, but we're mere observers here. Fans don't know Tweedy's sleeping or eating habits. Most fans know him solely from what's on Wilco and Uncle Tupelo records. Those records are snapshots and mean a lot to those who cherish them. And once there seems to be a drop in quality of future records, certain personalities love to break out the knives and rip this stuff apart.

Frankly, I think the ones who fear getting professional help themselves are the worst purveyors of this myth. They can't face their own demons so they strike down the ones that choose to face their own. I can't say that's how I've felt before, but I know what it's like to be afraid of this kind of change. Will all my creative juices get zapped and make me some tree-hugging Jesus freak? Thankfully, this hasn't been the case for me. Far from it. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for choosing to get better, I probably wouldn't be writing at all. I'd probably still be in my old cramped apartment living in a mental jail cell.

Sure, it's easy to think you have to go through hell to create something beautiful. But I argue you shouldn't have to stay in that hell for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

(Not) Married to the Mob

As annoying as it is whenever non-fans come out of the woodwork to say, "I never got this show," I want to say some things about The Sopranos, and people's fixation on mafia culture.

I read Keith's review and Defamer's recap, as well as seeing a story on the CBS Evening News, but I know very little about the final Sopranos episode, aside from its ending. Truth to be told, I don't know much about the overall storyline of the series. But I tried. I repeatedly tried to get into this show over the years and I never fully made the leap. Allow me to explain.

Though I find The Godfather parts I and II fantastic movies, I've never understood the deep connection a lot of people claim to have with these stories. I hear about how mob stories are about the pursuit of the American dream. But I can't seem to understand how that's the case when there's machismo, violence, and murder in the mix. That was definitely not something I read about in my history books growing up. It's definitely not something I saw in my own family history or friends' family histories. Maybe that's why I couldn't really understand what was so compelling about The Sopranos.

As someone who doesn't know a lot about mafia culture, I couldn't really understand what the hell these guys were talking about when they were talking business. They might as well been IT guys talking computer networks and ISPs. However, whenever there would be scenes inside the Soprano's house, I could really relate. As a matter of fact, a number of those scenes portrayed a family dynamic way more realistically than anything else I had seen on TV. This was the saving grace.

That said, all the cheating, back-stabbing, and general gang-mentality distracted me. Who was I supposed to root for? Or was I not supposed to root for anyone? Was I supposed to accept this grim reality and stick with it from beginning 'til the end? This was definitely not something where I had sympathy right away (unlike say, opening with a plane crash and seeing the survivors trying to stay alive). Moreover, I felt like a detached observer to these people's dreary lives. How could I relate to a mob boss banging a prostitute while his wife has eyes for a younger man?

On top of this, merely explaining my feelings on the topic seems to warrant a very macho, "get-outta-here" response. Much like how I could not get depressed for a whole week because my favorite sports team lost a game, I don't feel that drawn into the world of mob bosses, drops and whacks. So I ask, what am I missing here? Is there a deeper thing about "keeping it in the family" that I don't get? Does my upbringing as a southern kid raised on Star Wars, The Muppets and The Cosby Show prevent me from understanding such?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Onward Quirky Soldiers

Continuing on the root of a routine, I seem to see the same local bands play over and over again. And I rarely get tired of seeing them. Sure, I see plenty of other bands, but I definitely see my favorites as much as I can. To me, it's more than just seeing some songs performed live. And it's not just some social clique either.

Back in high school, I saw Matt's band play in all kinds of places. Backyard and block parties, the Young Life church, talent shows, Battle of the Bands, and so on. I must have seen them play thirty times and I always enjoyed the experience. No two shows were alike, so maybe that's why I continued this approach in college.

Some of the greatest bands I've seen live were from right here in Dallas/Fort Worth. Chomsky and Red Animal War rocked my mind in different ways. Chomsky had their skittish, melodic rock while Red Animal War made twisted post-hardcore into something of its own. Whenever they played and I was available (which was usually the case), I'd head on out. It didn't matter if they were playing as close as the front of campus or up in Denton, I was there because I wanted to be there.

Probably the best part of seeing local bands over and over is getting to know the band members personally. It still means a lot to me that I can shoot the breeze with somebody and then watch him or her play a great set. I definitely would not have that experience seeing Coldplay at the American Airlines Center. I don't mean to say that in a snooty way; there's a deeper, personal involvement this way.

My point is that I have a routine of seeing the same bands repeatedly. I'm not one to blindly walk into a venue not knowing anybody on the bill. Suggestions are always welcome from people I know and I always try to arrive early/stay late for the other acts on the bill. But why I stick to this routine is because I know that I will enjoy the show and get my money's worth. When I hear about how ticket prices just go through the roof to see someone like Barbra Streisand or the Police, I wonder if I would get any pure enjoyment by paying out of the nose. That's very doubtful to me.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The tipping point

Every once in a while, one of our neighbors throws a big shindig complete with a practice I'm still unsure about its function in society: valet parking. I can't seem to talk about valet parking without mentioning my questioning of tipping, so let's kill two birds with one stone.

There have been a couple of times where I thought valet parking was great. Be it a play or some bar where parking was limited, I didn't want to hunt for hours looking for a spot. Both times it was convenient and pretty inexpensive, but something didn't seem right. Seeing the amount of cash I could've spent on a meal at one of my favorite places was going to a guy that simply parked my car. Then I started thinking some more: I'm driving my car to and from the place, but parking myself is out of the question. Um, what?

What's even more puzzling is the last time I had to go through valet parking. There were no alternatives: it was either pay $7 or hunt for an open parking meter. So, I just played along and let my guard down. The sign at the valet's station said the tip was a part of the total price. That eased up some of my uppity feelings, but maybe that explains why it took nearly thirty minutes until I got my car back. When I got back into my car, I didn't give an extra tip for several reasons. I don't think I was in the wrong in this instance.

When it comes to tipping, that's where I'm almost completely in the dark. I remember how my parents tipped and that's what I've done. But it never ceases to amaze me about the unwritten laws of tipping. (Notice I didn't say "rules" -- they are laws.) I especially notice whenever I go to bars.

Other than happy hour drink specials (which I rarely go to), I rarely buy drinks in a bar. Why? Because I don't understand why I should pay an extra dollar or two for a tip. Sure, I understand when there's a level of skill in making a mixed drink, but grabbing a bottle of beer out of a fridge warrants that as well? And by the time you've paid for the drink, you've dropped almost the same amount you could spend on a six-pack at the grocery store.

Truth to be told, the angle I'm coming from is from zero experience as a server. I've never tended bar or waited tables; I've just stocked media at Best Buy, done promotions work, produced and anchored reports. So my angle is very skewed, but I wonder why the favoritism towards the service industry and valet parking.

I discussed this with a former coffee shop employee recently and I believe he said he rarely got tips. My memory is hazy, but he may have never received any tips. I find that baffling because if there's a job where there is a lot of skill in making something, it's making a coffee shop drink. It's not easy trying to remember something like "Tall Lemonade Iced Tea with Black Tea, Sweetened." Just think about the orders with multiple drinks. Yikes.

Clue me in here. Is there something about the pay scale where a server with great customer service gets a little bonus every time? Does a small tip (or no tip at all) really mean you're a bad server? Why can't other fields allow tipping? What about cheapskates like me that over-analyze life and watch every dollar I spend? Am I to stay away until I can grow some sensible, self-assertive legs?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Take the Time

As a regular YouTube visitor, I've found plenty of great stuff. In researching Post, I found Ian MacKaye's legendary rant about emo-core in 1986, as well as when At the Drive-In stopped playing in Australia because of moshing. The list is long, but with non-research stuff, I find myself watching certain clips over and over again. And these are clips, like yesterday's Poison clip, that cast light on certain sides of my music tastes that are miles away from hip or kosher. I still believe there should be no guilt in pleasure, but fessing up to this stuff seems to take a large leap of faith. Regardless, here are some examples of unashamed enjoyment:

Earth, Wind and Fire performing "After the Love Has Gone" live
I didn't know EW&F performed this song until a few months ago. Hearing it again at my favorite Chinese food place, I looked up the song on Google when I got home. I was surprised that this was the same band behind such uptempo numbers as "Shining Star" and "September." Well, after also realizing Phillip Bailey was in the group and the duet partner on Phil Collins' "Easy Lover," I looked up "After the Love Has Gone" on YouTube.

I must say, this is a pretty stellar rendition. Those high harmonies that kick in at the 2:13 mark are pretty darn amazing. Though I'm well aware this is in the style my friend Kev would find sacrilegious, I can't contain my love for this song. Sure, it falls into the category of smooth, poppy fusion that is branded as a form of jazz, but I can't pass up a good melody because of category.

Dream Theater performing "I Walk Beside You" on the Score DVD
Quite a few months ago, something compelled me to seek out Dream Theater's "Pull Me Under" video. I guess I wanted to compare notes about where I am as a music fan now to when I was in eighth grade. Checking out a few other clips, I came across this straight-forward, poppy tune. I couldn't believe it: Dream Theater pulling off a straight-forward pop song that was more like Snow Patrol instead of King Crimson? Impossible.

Well, I wanted to see the whole Score DVD (especially the documentary on the band's history), so I rented it. I felt like I should challenge myself by watching 8-12 minute songs with odd time signatures, noodling and everything else punk rock set out to destroy. I must say, I got through the whole concert without getting bored, but this song is still my favorite part.

John Legend performing "Ordinary People" on Sessions @ AOL
I actually found this clip last night, but I've been enjoying this song for a few months. It's the kind of song that gives me goosebumps all over. Sure, it's just vocals and piano, but it's so alive. It reminds me of the poppy R&B I grew up listening to. Wonderful, timeless stuff.

Tom Waits on Fernwood 2night
A spoof of late-night talk shows, Fernwood 2night had two very familiar hosts: Martin Mull and Fred Willard. The deal is, this performance/interview with Tom Waits made a very big impression on me. Performing "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)," he keeps it straight while the audience laughs at him. Make no mistake, it's a song with silly/drunken lyrics, but how Waits composes himself is what I find inspiring. Playing along with the goofball nature of the show, his interview segment is as powerful. Joking that he lives at the intersection of "Squalor at Bedlam," plenty of other classic one-liners are delivered here.

But it's with this clip especially that brings up a sticking point with me. We're free to listen to what we want to, but when it comes to openly talking about it, we have to be on guard. I've experienced the whole "Listen to what you want, but we'll mock you for the uncool things you like" from people around me a few times. Boy does it suck, but I know I should stay on track. Admitting I can tolerate and enjoy a number of Dream Theater tracks will not win me cred points. Then again, I never got into talking about music for the sake of getting cred. Music is endless and I'm still exploring at my own pace.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Something to Believe In

From time to time, Frank posts music videos on his MySpace page. As an ongoing series called "Videos I Remember and Love from 120 Minutes," he's shared plenty of fantastic videos. I'm talking that dog's "Never Say Never," Failure's "Stuck On You" and Idlewild's "Roseability." There are plenty of 120 Minutes nuggets I'd like to share (Suede's "Trash" and 60ft. Dolls' "Stay" are at the top of the list), but I want to do something rather different. Very different.

Children are not born with a hip taste or a cynical look at pop music. That is something that comes with time. Well for me, between 1987 and 1990, I thought the kind of rock music that really rocked was hair metal. I wouldn't go so far to say I was a devoted fan of one band in particular, but I watched a lot of MTV then, and hair metal dominated their playlist. I saw plenty of videos filled with glitz, glamor, guitar solos and a lot of melodic singalongs. Of course, things were never the same after the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video got regular rotation.

But before that change occurred, I liked almost hair metal song I heard on the radio and saw on MTV. One in particular really moved me. And I'm not ashamed to say it still does to this day (but in a different way): Poison's "Something to Believe In."

Yes, the same four guys who wanted to be the loudest, snottiest, sleaziest band in the land actually had a real tender side as well. Watching the video again, I remember a lot. Hearing the last thirty seconds on the radio coming back from a Boy Scout trip on Casey Kasem's countdown show, I wanted to hear the whole song. Luckily, the video was soon in regular, heavy rotation. It would remain that way for months.

Certain images, like Bret knocking his mike stand with his guitar, the fast push-in on C.C. during his solo, Bobby's piano slide, and the black and white shots, really stuck out in my mind. What can I say? Being a sixth grader at the time with limited knowledge that there was richer and denser music out there, this was the top. Once I learned what else was out there, it would be easy to dismiss all hair metal. It would be really easy to dismiss it at my age, but it still sticks with me.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Payback -- literary edition

Py Korry issued a Self-Torture Book Challenge; a challenge to read a book you would never, ever, read. In his case, he's reading Private, a fictional tale of a 15-year-old's dealings at a private school in Connecticut. Since this book is aimed at teenage girls fascinated with high school gossip, this 42-year-old, happily-married man is reading something he is sure will be utter crap. Not even sure if he could read it the whole way through, he's taking the challenge.

But I wonder: could I take the Self-Torture Book Challenge? At the moment, hell no!

My feeling is, it's taken a long time to enjoy reading books for pleasure. Why should I try to jeopardize this? If I did, is this the beginning of payback for me? Meaning, payback for all the zany and silly TV shows, movies, and books I subjected my parents to as a child? Will I have a better understanding of what parents have to go through with their kids when they're young? Yikes. Yikes. Yikes.

When it comes to free-time, I don't want to consume something I'm fairly certain I'm not going to enjoy. Nope, I'm not one to take something at face value. I know trying to read Modest Mouse -- A Pretty Good Read will make me want to throw it across the room. So why should I spend quality time with a non-quality book? Hence the challenge. In my case as an author, it's really challenging.

In the last three years, I've completed one book and have begun work on another. Lots of time has been devoted to making the material as strong as possible. Facts are checked and re-checked. Tone and pacing are looked at over and over again. Feedback is welcomed from my peers. It's a long, but rewarding process. So it makes me wonder when I see some poorly-written rush job get notoriety. Frankly, it feels like a slap in the face and fuels further impatience. But, all good things in time, right? I believe in that, but I get distracted whenever I see crappy books always in stock at my local bookstores.

So, for now, I'm passing on the challenge. What about you? Do you think you're up for this?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Where's your anger? Where's your f@!l*# rage?

After watching the splendid American Hardcore Friday night, Ryan and I got to talking. Hardcore originally came from a time of great disdain for the current Republican administration. Ronald Reagan was the target of many, and as Henry Rollins puts it in the film, "oranges were hurled." Young people were pissed not just at politics, but the world around them. They wanted to do something drastically different from the norm. The deal is, Ryan and I wonder why there hasn't been something similar with George W. Bush's term in office.

I could be completely overlooking something here, but here's my take.

For one, back in '80-'85, there was no Warped Tour. There was no Green Day. There was no blink-182. And losers, drop-outs, nerds, punks, and angry youth were not mass-marketed to. If anything, hardcore was seen as a failure of society. It was what wayward, problem kids were into, as seen in unintentionally funny episodes of Quincy and CHiPs. It's what reportedly caused $250,000 worth of damage on a Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live (though it was actually $2,500). In other words, it was a threat.

Ever since the first wave of hardcore, things haven't been the same, for better or worse. Things splintered and splintered some more. You had post-hardcore, emo, straight edge, metal-tinged hardcore and so on. Post-Dookie (and especially post-Enema of the State), the mainstream's view of punk and its hardcore spawn has been much more welcoming. What is sold as youthful rebellion and anger is very much from a marketing angle. This has been this way for a long time and I doubt it's going to change.

Teenagers could very well think punk and hardcore is what Alternative Press, Fuse and the Warped Tour covers. For those outlets, they listen and care about what their audience wants. So it doesn't surprise me by how well they do what they do. But I wonder about the people who reject all this stuff. I'm talking people who cannot relate to the struggles of Panic! At the Disco, Taking Back Sunday and The Academy Is . . . I'm talking the people that don't like going to the Warped Tour. I'm talking the people that want to actually develop a band instead of getting on the fast track to fame. Where are these people? I know they're out there, but I'm just curious if they're speaking up.

I still believe there's a sharp difference between what gets promoted and what's really out there. It's difficult for me to gauge because of where I am in my life and where I live. I don't live in the suburbs. I don't have teenage children. I'm not in high school. If there's any sort of alternative to mall punk/screamo/emo, I haven't found it. But something tells me I'll hear an alternate history of this time that was completely under my nose. And that is pretty promising. But for now, things are very foggy.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The root of a routine

Mad props go to Mrs. J for her Green and Black Olive Chicken recipe. As a fan of almost anything chicken related, I'm looking forward to making this at my own house. The deal is, I rarely cook. And I rarely cook for anyone other than myself.

Even if I had the kind of cash to eat out every day and night, I'd still want to eat a number of meals at home. There's something about home that can't really be replicated in a restaurant or an eatery. But my aversion to cooking has been relegated to making stuff that's easy to prepare and plenty for one meal. I'm not a big fan of leftovers. Plus, I'm the type that will eat the same thing for weeks straight and not tire of it.

In a lot of aspects of my life, routine is good. Taking a walk every day, weather permitting, is great. Writing something every day is great. And when it comes to meals, I have a routine of favorites. I'm talking pizza, bean and rice burritos, assorted fruit, nuts, and Chinese food. As of late, I've been enjoying Frito pie with turkey chili. Yet sometimes I wonder if routine is bad.

You could blame my parents for giving me the trait of sticking to a routine, but I don't see a problem with sticking with one's favorites. We're one to go with what we know is good while being open to something else. Yet the thought of something else rarely comes up. Without fail, whenever I go down to Houston for a visit, I want to hit up the same Mexican restaurant they go to every week. (Their bean and cheese burrito is fabulous.) So why do I sometimes have to be defensive about this?

Like a lot of people, sides of me are fearful of a routine. If it's a routine that's stressful and neverending, that sucks. But if it's a routine I'm comfortable with, why should I change it? Well, to be honest, a part of me agrees whenever someone suggests I should broaden my horizons a bit. But when it comes to preparing a meal for myself, who else do I have to answer to? I'm not feeding anyone else. Who knows, I could be making Green and Black Olive Chicken for years. And if I like it every time, why should I stop?