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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let's play some jazz

Blogging will be near non-existent for the next few days due to the holidays, so I thought it would be fun to post a fun little clip that I keep watching over and over again. It's Bill Cosby on the Dick Cavett Show talking about a time he drummed for Sonny Stitt. Yes, it's nine minutes long, but if you like Cosby's way of storytelling, it's not long.

Happy holidays.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heavy Metal Drummer

Something that's been brewing for a couple of months that I haven't written about is that I have a new band going. We have no name, no songs completed, no plans to record soon, or any shows lined up. And I can't begin to tell you how great that is.

With all due respect to the bands I've played with before, I have the most fun with bands that start from scratch. A couple of bands I played with found me having to learn songs very quickly before a show in a few weeks or a month. Well, as fun and challenging as that may be, having a clean slate is a nice alternative. There's no rush, but there's no desire to just let things lag.

Basically, a few months ago, I pitched the idea via a Facebook status update about starting a new band. The message was simple: "Eric Grubbs thinks it's time to start a new band." Luckily, my friend Kyle expressed interest in playing guitar and singing. He's played in bands for years and has been between bands for almost a year. Then there is Mike, who was someone I was introduced to through a mutual friend at a restaurant opening. We hit it off pretty well and he mentioned he played bass. Suddenly, without really trying to force things into motion, I had some guys I could play with.

So far, band practice has been different from all my previous bands: we practice somewhat quietly in my bedroom. Pads are still all over my drums and cymbals, so I'm not bashing away at ear-splitting volume thinking that I'm playing in sync with the other guys. Our songs are coming together, and there's a classic rock vibe to the riffs and beats. Of course, that could change with the more songs we write.

I know I tend to lean on complaining about the things that going wrong in my life (hello, dryer and heater issues!), but this is one of many things that is going so right in my life. I hope to update our progress soon, so you're in the loop.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The calls are coming from inside the house

I don't have many Christmas-themed traditions other than present shopping, hanging some lights in my house, and listening to Christmas music, but I do like to watch a few holiday-themed movies and TV specials. One of the obvious, no-brainers is the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Elf is another one. But being a huge horror flick fan as well, the original Black Christmas is also another one.

I've written about this flick for Richard's site, and my opinions still stand. But I'd like to add a few things now that I've seen the film on a bigger TV (42-inch over 32-inch made for a much different experience) and after I've seen the absolutely awful remake that for clarity purposes I'll call Black X-Mas.

I never knew how much humor was laced into the original. The humor tends to break up some of the tension of the story, but the humor doesn't derail the story. Matter of fact, it's like you get to take a breath between all those obscene phonecalls and creepy camera angles.

Second of all, Art Hindle is in this movie. Art was in one of scariest movies I've ever seen (David Cronenberg's The Brood) as a major character, and he has a strong supporting role in this film. So seeing him again, I totally was that guy saying, "Hey, it's that guy!" Luckily nobody else was home or around to hear me geek out.

Lastly, thanks to seeing Black X-Mas, I can truly understand how story retooling in a remake is a bad, bad idea (nevermind the fact that the idea of an average remake is usually pointless and offensive to the original). The makers of Black X-Mas thought it would be good to explain exactly everything that happened to Billy before he went insane. Plus, they thought it would be good to fill up the sorority house with back-stabbing, annoying, and uninteresting girls. Yeah, that's the way you do(n't) do it.

To me, what makes Black Christmas so great is the sense that you're watching full-fledged people trying to remain strong in a terrifying situation. Save for a couple of characters, you can't really stereotype the characters. There is no The Brain, The Bitch, The Super-Bitch, The Virgin, and so on. And those obscene phonecalls are still disturbing to hear and explain plenty without explaining everything to the audience.

If anything, I'm glad there's Black X-Mas, so I can appreciate Black Christmas more and more and more with each passing Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I wanna dip my . . .

Good news on the taking chances front: I successfully made cake balls over the weekend. As someone who had never baked a cake on his own before, there were multiple miles gained by doing this.

Back when I had dryer issues and did a load of laundry at my neighbors' place, I noticed they were making cake balls. Knowing that I wanted to bake something for the first time for a potluck dinner in a few weeks, I figured I could try to make this stuff. Besides, if I had any questions, I knew a few people that knew what they were doing.

So using a recipe found in this article, I decided to use a yellow cake mix with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. Making the whole thing involved freezing clumps of cake overnight before dipping them in melted chocolate, but I gave myself plenty of time and plenty of room for error. Thankfully, there were no meltdowns in the kitchen or panicked runs to the grocery store. (But I did have to run to the grocery store before I started when I realized that I didn't have a measuring cup. That's neither here nor there.)

Seeing the looks on the faces of the people who had a few at the potluck (and the people in the office I brought the leftovers to) was quite a positive experience. They loved them, and I liked them myself, but seeing that my waist size has grown in the last two months, I held off on indulging.

The moral of the story: there's still hope for me in the kitchen. For as long as my desire for salvageable food made out of potential baking disaster is greater than my fear of failure, I'll be OK.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The same person

A short time ago, I heard a critique about Max Brooks' fictional oral history, World War Z, that I have not forgotten: every quote sounded like it was coming from the same person. Even though dozens of people from across the globe are interviewed after this zombie apocalypse, all the quotes sound like they're from one person. I've kept that in mind as I've worked on the second book, but sometimes, oral histories can't help but sound like they're coming from one person, fictional or nonfictional.

Two books that I still cite as big stylistic influences for my book are Fool the World and The Other Hollywood. In particular, the flow of the quotes from person to person in Fool the World has been a big influence. With The Other Hollywood, the massive amounts of different people quoted yields to a handful of very fleshed-out characters.

In those books, the use of language might sound similar, but the different personalities come out the deeper the quotes go. I definitely got a strong sense of who Charles Thompson was, as well as Linda Lovelace. But as far as word choice from them, that seemed very secondary to me. I just wanted to read something that was compelling. And I must admit that I sped through Fool the World much faster than I did with The Other Hollywood.

Trying to make a twisty storyline with quotes from at least twenty different people sounds tough -- and it is -- but that's part of the fun challenge of writing the book. The lack of a "proper" narrative might sound like you're trying to walk straight without a spine, but if the quotes are good enough, the narrative is not necessary.

I think of this like a great documentary without any voiceover narration. If the quotes can speak well enough, then why use redundant commentary from somebody else? Sure you run the risk of sounding like the same person based on word choice, but that can be an inevitable drawback in doing an oral history.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Agony and Irony

I have a saying that I sometimes use in traffic reports: when one major problem clears, another pops up. The deal is, that phrase can be applied to what Matt and I have gone through in the last week.

The good news is that the dryer is finally back working. After what one electrician and one washer/dryer repairman couldn't agree on, another electrician found the problem. The dryer is totally fine, as well as the outlet in the laundry room. The problem was how the breaker was wired up, and the fix took maybe five seconds to do. We finally had heat again in the dryer and the dryer worked properly (though I had to flip the breaker twice later that night to finish my load of laundry).

Literally one week later, I ran the dryer again and there were zero problems. The breaker did not have to be flipped. The dryer worked like a breeze.

And around then was when I noticed we were experiencing problems with our house's heater.

For almost forty-eight hours, there was a very loud screeching noise coming from our unit. I would describe the sound as nails across a chalkboard played through an amplifier. The heat still came on, but the noise was intolerable.

Then I started to notice that our house temperature was slowly falling. Set at 73 degrees, the house was falling slowly below 65 degrees. The heat would not turn on despite multiple attempts. The pilot light was on, but alas no heat. For safety reasons, Matt and I agreed that we should turn the heat off, despite the fact that it was below freezing outside.

I slept with multiple layers on that night, and I slept fine. The deal was, the whole house felt like the Fortress of Solitude when I got home. Everything, from books to remote controls to even my computer's mouse, felt like cold glass.

When we got word from the AC/heater repairman that the earliest the unit could be fixed was this morning, Matt and I had to decide where to sleep last night. Matt stayed with his parents, I went to my aunt's house, and Victory just slugged it out at home.

Our heater is back working thanks to a new motor. But I can't help notice that the temperature this weekend will be rather warm, with projected highs in the upper 60s. Ain't it the life?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

68

Thankfully as expected, footage from Jawbox's performance last night is now online. (Here's one of many sites that have the main clip, along with songs from soundcheck.)

As somebody who never saw Jawbox play live, this was quite a great performance. Keep in mind, I have no frame of reference of how they played between 1989 and 1997. So as somebody who saw J. play with Burning Airlines twice, has listened to the band's discography since 1996, and oh, wrote a whole chapter devoted to them, I'm very safe to say that I'm satisfied.

Not to be one of those annoying folks that wants bands to stay together forever, but I hope this wasn't the last we've seen of a Jawbox live performance. I definitely do not think these guys should give up what they've done since the band's breakup in 1997 and tour like maniacs. Rather, one-off live shows would be great, but I don't call the shots on that.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hey angel

Tonight marks the reunion of Jawbox as they perform on NBC's Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Chances are high this will be a one-off reunion, so I strongly encourage to check this performance out. If you hate Jimmy Fallon's nervous and fast humor, skip over that and just focus on the end of the show.

As I researched POST, it was abundantly clear to me that the members of the band were still on good terms. Of course Bill and Kim were on good terms because they have been married since 1997, and J. and Zach were still in communication with them. I never asked if a reunion would happen, and frankly, it never crossed my mind to ask.

I've never been one who pines for reunions, but if they happen, I usually don't object. Seeing the Sunny Day Real Estate and Get Up Kids reunions had a positive impact on their legacies. So I see no problem with Jawbox coming together and playing a show. Now if J. hired three mall-punks, called it Jawbox, and claimed that the contributions from Bill, Kim, Zach, and Adam never really meant anything, then I'd have a problem with that.

I must stress how different the circumstances are today versus the time that Jawbox performed on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, as well as 120 Minutes, on the For Your Own Special Sweetheart tour. Back then, they were just another band out promoting a major label debut after a few years on an indie label. To the general audience, they were another one of those alternative rock bands that just seemed to come and go every week on late-night TV. Now, the excitement around this late-night's showing is much more vocal. Hopefully footage will arrive online as soon as tomorrow.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Life on the other end of retail

As somebody who has worked retail, I know all too well about the perils of holiday shopping. The meanest people come out of the woodwork, and they can spoil everything for the ones that are extremely nice around the holiday season. So that's why I'm very thankful that about 97 percent of my Christmas shopping was done online.

I stayed away from shopping on Black Friday mainly for three reasons: I wanted to have a nice lunch with my family before I headed back to Dallas, I spent four hours straight in my car back to Dallas, and I rested for a little while before heading out to Denton for the Cursive show. So I didn't have to brave long lines or sit in traffic. The day after Thanksgiving was just another holiday travel day for me.

Between that day and today, I took advantage of Amazon's deals and didn't mind the three or four days it would take to get my stuff in the mail. Everyone on my list has something really cool awaiting them, and I took advantage of some good deals as well (Under the Dome for $15? Score. The Fly on Blu-ray for $9? Score.). As somebody who remembers the days before the Internet, I'm still impressed with the convenience that the Internet brings.

But there a couple of things I had to buy in person due to the nature of the present and whom they are for (my twin nieces). I was able to pick these things up as I purchased some baking goods for a big, semi-secret baking attempt I'll do later this week. Luckily I didn't have to wait in a long line at Super Target in the middle of last Saturday. Matter of fact, the girl who checked me out was standing in front of her lane waiting for somebody to check out.

Where I'm going with all this minutiae is to counter all those reports you hear about how terrible it is that holiday shopping is down this year, last year, five years ago, and blah blah blah. Believe me, the places I go are not ghost towns. There are plenty of people, but I just prefer to mainly shop at off-peak times. So many stores open early and stay open late to accommodate more people and their schedules.

Plus, if anything, the Internet gives more people more options instead of restricting things for more people. I like how I can get everything that I want and not get ripped off in the process. And I definitely take enjoyment in not having to deal with standing in a line stuck behind some irate parent that waited until the last minute to buy something for his or hers child. Funny how parents are the ones that tell their children to not wait until the last minute to do something.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Fifty novels, non-fiction books, and short-story anthologies

Even though this happened only a few weeks ago, I can't seem to recall exactly what drew me to check out the Stephen King section at one of the Borders I routinely hit up. Maybe it was because I had a coupon in my hand and I couldn't find anything that I really wanted to read in the music/movies/TV section? Maybe it was because I've seen positive reviews of King's latest, Under the Dome? Maybe because the ending of The Box stuck to me like the ending of The Mist did? I just can't remember exactly why, but those are all very valid reasons.

All I can say is, my dissatisfaction with the size of King's books in paperback led me to a secret goldmine found in almost any Half Price Books.

Yes, due to fact that most of King's books (save for the Dark Tower series) come in a size and shape meant to fit in your pocket, I have had no interest in reading a book that small. My eyesight is perfectly fine, but I don't like reading books that have no margins and are in small print. I like rest a book in my lap, not just in my small, skinny fingers.

But I've known for a few years that many of King's books in hardback make a stop to the bargain bin before they go back to the neverworld of returns. I picked up a copy of Cell a few years ago for $8, but I never picked up any more of his other books because I was frustrated with the book. (I have still not finished reading it.) That said, I've always appreciated his On Writing (which is something I highly recommend if you've ever wanted to write book), so I've always wanted to read some of his essential work. After reading Tasha's excellent primer on King, I wanted to at least start with Skeleton Crew.

Judging by the size of the selection of hardbacks at a couple of Half Price Books I visit, many of these former bargain bin specials wind up there. At the biggest Half Price Books in town, there is the equivalent of two bookcases devoted to King, and most are in hardback. Even in a smaller one I visit from time to time, there's plenty to look at, and most cost between five and eight dollars each.

So now I have small pile of King books to read (and hopefully finish by 2011): It, Skeleton Crew, The Tommyknockers, Misery, Skeleton Crew, and Needful Things (and Under the Dome shall arrive at my doorstep soon thanks to a great Cyber Monday deal). But rest assure, my next book will not be like King's books (in subject matter or average length).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Can't fight this feeling anymore

Some pretty promising news: I've started working full speed ahead on my second book, When We Were the Kids. I've worked on it here and there for the last two years, but I planned on devoting at least thirty minutes a day to working on a first draft starting January 1st, 2010. The deal is, I just couldn't wait.

Something kept me from taking a nap on Saturday. I just couldn't fall asleep in my recliner with Victory at my side. So I decided then and there to return to the first seventeen pages I had done and go from there.

Thinking about this, I thought I'd share another piece of helpful writing advice: it's better to write when you're inspired instead of when you think you'll be inspired. I know people have their preferences, but it's like you can't fully plan when a child is conceived or born. You can plan to set that stuff in motion, but many other factors out of your control make that stuff come to fruition.

In other words, when you feel inspired and drawn to do something, don't hesitate. I've found it hard to work up the motivation to become inspired. Luckily for me, after I worked on the first chapter on Saturday for a little while, I could nap soundly.

Since I'm still in the writing phase, I don't have an idea about when I'll be done, but it will be done when I think it's done. I have no idea about release dates or who will put it, but I'm fully committed to this no matter what.

Monday, November 30, 2009

After All These Years

This is a fun topic to come back around to: revisit your favorite records from years past and say what you think of them now. Since a number of sites have done "Best of" lists for the decade, let's review, shall we?

2000
I don't think I came up with a list for this year, but At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command was definitely one of my favorites of that year. The first nine songs really blew my mind, but it wasn't until years later that I grew to love the entire album. After the first nine songs, I just grew fatigued of the near-constant sonic assault. Now I think of that record as important in so many ways, so far as influence on many bands that came afterwards, and how powerful this record still sounds.

2001
Memory is very clear on this one: Ryan Adams' Gold. While I always liked the record, it wasn't until I was stuck in a 50-minute back-up on I-45 through Corsicana on the day before Thanksgiving that I realized this was my favorite record of the year.

Make no mistake, a lot of Ryan's work is great fodder for brokenhearted. I was still upset over a break-up that happened in the previous year, and a few months into 2002, I would feel even more brokenhearted over another proverbial flight to Hawaii that crashed into the ocean. So, Ryan's music was a great soundtrack. So was Demolition, Love is Hell, and Rock N Roll in the ensuing years. I don't listen to Ryan's music nearly as much as I used to, but I still enjoy it.

2002
The one record that I cherished during this time that I don't cherish now is Bright Eyes' Lifted. I went through the whole painful-but-necessary transition from a full-time college student mentality to a full-time worker mentality in 2002, and it's very safe to say that there were some very bleak months early into the year. When you tell yourself you're nothing because of you don't have a full-time job and you have a major falling-out with one of your best friends, it's easy to be drawn into Bright Eyes' music.

That was me at the time, and listening to this record now is like reading some prose or poetry I wrote that hasn't aged well. The record still sounds phenomenal, but Oberst's lyrics and singing are less appealing to me year after year.

2003
Truth be told, I had forgotten until last Friday night that Cursive's The Ugly Organ was one of my favorites of that year. I have listened to all of Cursive's stuff between Domestica and Mama, I'm Swollen so much that I forgot. Hearing songs like "A Gentleman Caller" and "Butcher the Song" again live, the record has not aged a day to me, and it's still massive.

However, the record that I liked the most that year was none other than Hey Mercedes' Loses Control. This is still a good record to me, but I tend to lean towards the band's debut album, Everynight Fireworks, when I want to listen to some Hey Mercedes.

2004
Look in the archives of this blog and you'll find my write-up on Modest Mouse's Good News for People Who Love Bad News. My sentiments on this record remain the same.

2005
Bloc Party's Silent Alarm still doubles as a fantastic debut album and a singles collection by default.

2006
Cursive came through with Happy Hollow, and like how I feel about The Ugly Organ, this is still an ace record.

2007
Wilco's Sky Blue Sky is the moody older brother to this year's (The Album), but it's a perfect soundtrack for a gray day with beams of sunshine spilling through.

2008
I still like Journey post-Steve Perry, and I still like their post-Perry albums as a whole more than the albums with Steve Perry. For the most part, I still enjoy Revelation, but one song that keeps getting skipped is "After All These Years." Hearing that song so many times on the radio killed the charm for me. It's pure slow-dance cheese at a wedding anniversary party -- something I won't be a part of for a long, long time.

Cursive

My review of Cursive's Black Friday show is now online.

Watching the four-band bill on Friday was like watching many Dallas Cowboys' wins: Everything came together in the last part.

The mighty Cursive arrived at one of Denton's finest venues with a relatively new lineup. Whereas the last time they came through DFW with three additional members on various instruments, the band had only one auxiliary member this time. Oh, and a new drummer as well. But, despite the ever-changing lineups, Cursive has yet to disappoint live, and the show at Hailey's continued the winning streak.


Read the rest here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A year in music

I heard plenty of good/great stuff this year, and with only a few weeks left in the year, I thought it was time to share. Since I like to list the artists that I listened to and enjoyed the most during the year, regardless if they put a new record out in 2009, here's the whole enchilada.

Thank you, Jason Hensel
Jason, my good friend, bandmate, and housemate of five years, decided to move out and buy a house at the beginning of the summer. As he prepared to pack everything up, I combed through his vast CD collection to burn copies of anything and everything I've wanted to hear but never got around to.

As I filled up half of a CD-R spindle, I came very, very attached to Beth Orton's first two albums, Trailer Park and Central Reservation. I shied away from Orton's material for years because I was led to believe it was mostly electronic with some forays into folk. Luckily, especially upon listening to Central Reservation, I realized the opposite was true.

Since summer, I've listened to "Sweetest Decline" about a few hundred times. Something about the combination of a jazzy groove, Orton's sweet vocals, and a lively piano just kept me listening over and over again. All that led me to check out the rest of Orton's material, and while there are plenty of merits on Daybreaker and Comfort of Strangers, her first two just ring the truest for me.

Thank you, Ryan Slavinsky, Borders, and Half Price Books
If it weren't for my friend Ryan and his love for Sloan, I'd probably miss the greatness that is this band.

I've known about Sloan since their One Chord to Another record, but I never felt inclined to check out any of their albums. While waiting to pick Ryan up one night, I heard tracks from the band's marathon album, Never Hear the End of It, playing in his den. I was struck by how tuneful the songs were and loved how each song transitioned into the next one. Getting a copy of that record, along with copies of almost all of their records, I had plenty to go through.

As luck would have it, the closest Half Price Books to my house happened to have every single Sloan record that I really wanted (from Navy Blues to Parallel Play) for cheap. Couple that with a massive clearance sale at all Borders stores where Never Hear the End of the It was over half-off, I now had much more Sloan in my library than just my rarely-listened-to copy of their A-Sides compilation.

Thank you, Vagrant Records' sale at the Warped Tour
While covering the Warped Tour for the Observer back in July, I came across Vagrant's merch booth. They were selling a ton of their CDs for only five dollars a piece. I picked up two records: The Hold Steady's Stay Positive and Placebo's Battle for the Sun. I liked the Placebo record, but man oh man did the Hold Steady have a more powerful impact. Songs like "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered in Memphis," "Lord I'm Discouraged," and "Magazines" helped me through some really rough months between the summer and fall. The Hold Steady is a band that plenty of people believe in; and now I'm one of the converts.

Listening to the Dillinger Escape Plan every year has unexpected pleasures
I can't seem to get tired of this band. They might sound like what a fit feels like, but tracks from Miss Machine and Ire Works have been played many times on my computer and car's CD player. I look very forward to their 2010 release, Option Paralysis.

Combine Glasgow with Las Vegas
Based on description only, Glasvegas's self-titled debut album (which saw stateside release this year) sounds like a bad retread of what the Jesus and Mary Chain did many years ago. Shimmering guitars, girl-group melodies, and simple drumming might make people dust off a copy of Psychocandy, but this Scottish four-piece put out a very fine album. It's loud, it shimmers, and it's hard skip a track. (And the stateside version has two great bonus tracks tacked on at the end.)

Music that's good when you're driving home at night and you're not sober but not drunk
I've found Neko Case's solo records work better while driving at night or in the early morning. Something about the scope of her voice and her hard-to-pinpoint version of country, folk, and gospel sounds so good when the sun isn't out. Her '09 release, Middle Cyclone, continued that trend for me.

Sometimes re-recording a B-side is a great idea
For the first time in their entire career, Zao made a record that featured the exact same, full lineup from the previous one. Awake? is not as frantic as The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here, but boy, does it cook. And the new version of "Romance of the Southern Spirit" just towers over the original version that was recorded as a bonus track for the Japan release of The Funeral of God.

The best two dollars I've ever spent on an album
Saddle Creek did a great promotion with Cursive's Mama, I'm Swollen: release the album digitally a full week before the proper street date for a price that was too good to be true. Thankfully, the MP3 copy I purchased for only two dollars (it was one dollar the previous day and three dollars the following day) was the real deal.

I'm not going to lie: previous Cursive albums flow better than Mama, I'm Swollen. The middle of the album just seems to drift, yielding songs that I usually skip over. People who really like Cursive and the Good Life might have liked this record more because it seemed to strike a balance between both bands, but not so much for me. Yet the power of the first four tracks and the final track are up there with the best the band's ever done. I'd even go so far to say "What Have I Done?" is one of Tim Kasher's best songs, period.

The Paper Chase (thankfully) did not follow The Foghat Rule
I remember when John Congleton told me he had enough material for a double album following the Paper Chase's Now You Are One of Us. I got very excited at the idea, but after listening to the first volume of Someday This Could All Be Yours (the second volume is due to arrive next year), I'm happy to take a new Paper Chase one disc at a time. Their records are so dense with a lot of twisted beats and melodies along with friendly melodies. Trying to wade through two discs worth would probably be too much for one sitting.

Nothing seems to stop Converge from making great records
I didn't have high hopes for Converge's Axe to Fall. Like most metal-infused music, not every record by a band you love will blow your mind. Even though Axe to Fall has all the earmarks of the Converge sound and style since Jane Doe, the band comes through again with another fine album. And the Tom Waits-like detour in "Cruel Bloom" is one of the best surprises I've heard on any album this year.

The lack of a lineup change between albums did not sway Wilco from making another great record
Definitely a happier-sounding record compared to Sky Blue Sky, (The Album) continues my love for Wilco. I couldn't help but think of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass when I heard Sky Blue Sky for the first time, and the same applies to this album. If Sky Blue Sky was more "Isn't It a Pity" and "All Things Must Pass" then (The Album) is more "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life?" And that's perfectly fine for me.

One record helps gain a major appreciation for a band's entire catalog
Mastodon's Crack the Skye helped me realize the many wonderful qualities of this band. This is definitely a record I'd suggest to people as a starting point, and highly recommending checking out all their previous records if you like what you hear. These guys aren't trying to be the Heaviest Band on Earth; they're trying to best they can be and be unafraid to expand their sound. This is still the same Mastodon but with other welcome additions like meaty grooves in spots. After years of eluding me about their greatness, I now understand.

If I'd have to pick just one new record above all else, this would be it
I distinctly remember the early summer night my friend Seth gushed to me about how amazing We Were Promised Jetpacks was. Their debut, These Four Walls, was about to come out in the U.S., but he had an import copy for a few months beforehand. Since Seth and I like a lot of the same music, I was inclined to check out something he raved about.

Without a doubt, this record grabs me with its twists and turns. On one hand, there's a familiar kind of vibe with the hopping drumbeats, but on the other hand, you don't really know where the songs are going. These aren't traditional, verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus songs. There's anger mixed with propulsive energy and catchy melodies. For many of the same reasons why Bloc Party's Silent Alarm is one of my favorites of the decade, this album fits nicely in the same league.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Have I Done?

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure," says Bill Cosby. And I agree completely. The problem is, my fear of failure is much greater than my desire for success. Except when it comes to writing books.

I've tooted my horn quite a bit about why writing POST was such a big deal for me. It was, for the first time, something I wanted to start and finish, and not chicken out on or lose interest in. I was determined from the day I decided to write the book and -- save for a few fleeting moments while watching a certain section of Spider-Man 2 in the theater -- to never give up. Why that desire was so strong is that I'm usually easily turned off by things when I hear about potential, severe downsides.

Case in point, if I were to quit my job today with no other job lined up, I'd think about the struggles friends and family encountered with finding a new job. Couple that with all the things I went through when I was laid off a few years ago. Add in a statistic I recently heard about job-seekers (most job-seekers these days take at least seven months to find a new job -- and that's not an average). So, my fear of failure keeps me at bay.

Another example is all the bands I've thought about starting versus the ones I've actually been in. There were a couple of projects I wanted to do in college that never got off the ground. Trying to find people that wanted to play emo/post-hardcore yielded no results. Years later, trying to come up with material I was satisfied with after listening to a lot of Kinks and Elliott Smith yielded no movement from jamming on my guitar alone to laying down tracks at a friend's studio. I just gave up those projects, but I still play. I can't help but tap along and want to get behind a drum set. That appetite never goes away, thankfully.

I do not think of myself as a failure, but I often run into a kind of writer's block with a lot of things in life. There are a couple of things in my life I'd really like to improve and/or change, yet any sort of traction with getting on the road seems to get derailed. I think I would really be game for trying new things if I didn't get so distracted and deterred with potential downsides. So I choose to stick to what I know and am cautious to step outside of the proverbial comfort zone.

Without going into specifics, I did something outside of my comfort zone as a drummer a few months ago. The whole time I was out of the zone, I felt nervous and the situation felt awkward. When I got home and back into my regular routine (aka, the comfort zone), I thought about the experience and didn't want to experience something like that ever again. That's when I thought a step outside of the comfort zone can be (but definitely not always) a step in the wrong direction. There are times when a step out of the zone is exactly what I need; other times, not at all.

Yes, I do ask "What have I done with my life so far?" but I think almost everybody thinks that. I just question my boundaries and goals, and I find things hard when I see all sorts of warning signs on the road. Yet there are plenty of warning signs that do not deter me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It was in the laundry room with Mr. Mustard and the candlestick

The ongoing comedy from my laundry room has yet to give a curtain call.

Yesterday afternoon, a washer and dryer repairman came out and checked to see what the problem was. Turns out, there's nothing wrong with our dryer, but an electrician must come out and fix the wall's outlet. So that means yet another day of no working dryer. That also means I'm down to maybe two more days of clothes, and that's it.

I have not done a proper load of laundry since October 30th. Jason was kind enough to let me do the rest of my laundry while he hosted a party at his new house. When I was led to believe that the dryer was fixed a week later, I went ahead and did a load. The deal was, that was when I found out that the dryer had very little (and eventually) no heat. Since some of the clothes eventually dried out, I got a few more days.

Now with two sets of towels and sheets that need to be washed in addition to nearly two weeks of clothes, I'm grasping at straws. I have a couple of options (do another load at Jason's or my upstairs neighbors'), but one option I'm pretty much ruling completely out is going to a laundromat.

I don't want to sound pompous, but I don't have fond memories of lugging a full basket of laundry around and hoping that a washer and dryer were available. I had plenty of experiences with people forgetting to pick up their clothes while I lived in the dorms in college, and I had plenty of those similar experiences (along with machines eating quarters and dryers blowing up) after college. Plus, a laundromat is a cold and lonely place, while Jason's house and my upstairs neighbors' place are friendly and welcoming. The choice is a no-brainer.

Now the obvious, no-brainer desire is to have a working dryer ASAP. But once again, life has taken on the words of Bob Nastanovich: "You'll just have to wait."

Monday, November 16, 2009

You mean I gotta drink this coffee hot?

Tomorrow marks the fourth time I will purchase Clerks, as well as the second time to purchase Chasing Amy and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. What's the occasion? Well, Clerks and Chasing Amy debut on the beloved Blu-ray format, and since it's available in a three-pack with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back on Blu-ray, I figured what the hell.

But a better question can be: why the hell am I buying these Kevin Smith movies again?

The answer is simple: with new bonus material on these BDs, I can't resist.

I have yet to encounter a flimsy, unfunny, or boring commentary track from Kevin. I even bought the special edition of Road House just to hear Kevin and Scott Mosier's "fan" commentary. I find this pure entertainment that is worth hearing again and again. So, my hopes are high with the long-awaited debut of the Oh, What a Lovely Tea Party on the Clerks BD and the new commentary and featurettes on the Chasing Amy BD.

Yet earlier today a fellow View Askew fan asked me why I wasn't inclined to pick up Dogma on BD, which currently goes for only $8 on Amazon. My reason: no new supplemental features, and supplemental features shot on 480 dpi are still no match for featurettes filmed on 1080.

Certain people I know still find Blu-ray to be a silly fad, but I think it's very, very safe to think otherwise. Even though I still hear rumors that on-demand movies are the way of the future, I'm still quite on board with DVD, and moreover, Blu-ray. It's just a good thing to hold onto those old standard DVDs when you end up at a friend or family member's house who doesn't have a Blu-ray player.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My Life is Right

While I have a tremendous bias towards this article on original Big Star bassist Andy Hummel (I lent the author my copy of Rob Jovanovic's Big Star biography for research), I found such a breath of fresh air in what Hummel had to say about his post-Big Star life.

Too often, I hear about how the life of a full-time musician, along with a full-time actor's, is the glamorous life. As in, this is the dream for those who don't want the apparent dread that comes with a regular, 40-hour day job. Well, there can be dread in almost anything you do job-wise, even if it's a job you love.

But the point at hand is how Hummel prefers the life he's had after quitting Big Star in the 1970s. He's married with children and works at Lockheed-Martin. On paper, that sounds like an ordinary life, but I've found that life only looks ordinary on the surface. Hummel still plays music, and that's what I find even more endearing about his path.

Too often, we hear about a full-time musician trading his or hers full-time status for something apparently less. Something apparently normal or average like a regular job along with marriage and family. Well, that doesn't have to be settling for anything. What you do in your spare time is your business and your passion alone.

For me, I don't have aspirations to become a full-time musician, but I can't stop playing the drums. No matter what kind of job I do, I gotta find some time at least for the practice pad when I get home. No matter where I am, I can't help tapping along, air-drumming along, and so on. As long as I have two arms and legs, I want to play. And if I were ever lucky to make a livable wage playing drums full-time, then great. But I'm still perfectly satisfied with working forty hours and practicing for three hours with my new band on Saturdays.

So yes, there is life after the cameras stop rolling, writers want to write books on your band, and record reviewers laud something you did decades ago. So nice to know that life isn't a sad past like a former high school quarterback who thinks his best days are behind him.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Feels Creamy

Sometimes, there are epiphanies that are simple but profound.

Recently, an epiphany came to me after reading a single list out of the A.V. Club's recently-released book, Inventory. Flipping through the book before I went into the theater to watch Where The Wild Things Are, I turned to page 114 and saw a large picture of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. With the list's subheading of "1 Amazing Mid-'90s Sketch-Comedy Show That Towers Above All Others and Still Provides Endlessly Quotable Material More Than a Decade Later," I figured it was time to jump in the deep end with Mr. Show.

Since my epiphany came from a book filled with lists, I figured it would be fun to explain my reasons in a list.

Feels Creamy
Why It Took a Good Ten Years and A Couple of False Starts For Me To *Get* Mr. Show

1. I had seen the show a couple of times late night on HBO when it was originally on. I don't remember laughing at a single joke. That said, I laughed really, really hard (and still do) when I saw the Yo La Tengo video for "Sugarcube," which features Cross, Odenkirk, and John Ennis.

2. I watched a couple of episodes from the third and fourth season with a couple of friends in college who, from time to time, liked to get high and laugh hysterically at almost anything. Anything included episodes of Mr. Show. Since I didn't (and still don't) get high, I found the show's brand of humor to be mainly for people who liked to get high.

3. While I laughed at the Oasis and Beatles spoofs on the show, I couldn't understand what was so hilarious about stuff like Ronnie Dobbs or Drugachusetts. Again, if high, you laugh. If not high, you're just in the dark. Once again, if I'm not getting what's so funny, I don't pretend to follow along just to fit in.

4. I had five years to borrow a copy of the first and second season set during my time living with Jason, but alas, I never borrowed it. Same goes for In the Company of Men, The Tao of Steve, Happiness, Your Friends and Neighbors, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and Wet Hot American Summer. I was too interested in checking out other things during that time. If I really an inkling to borrow them, I would. But still, no real strong desire.

5. But thanks to Jason having the entire collection of Arrested Development on DVD, I finally got into that show, featuring none other than David Cross. Of course, whenever I watch an episode of AD, I often forget that Cross plays Tobias Funke. It's like I don't think of Wayne's World when I watch Mike Myers in an Austin Powers movie.

6. Couple that with watching all of the Dinner For Five episodes multiple times over dinner, I watched both Cross and Odenkirk talk a lot about the business and got a sense of their humor.

7. Cap all this off with seeing Cross give a phenomenal two-hour show recently, I figured it was time to go back to where Cross really found his footing.

8. It didn't hurt that HBO shows are now (and have been for a couple of years) affordable to buy on DVD. It was very nice to buy a new copy of the entire series on DVD for almost the same amount I spent buying a used copy of Six Feet Under's first season on DVD seven years ago.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Dryer Trilogy

Normally I prefer to talk about movies and music, but the problems in the laundry room keep rearing their head. It's like a comedy of new issues when one is solved.

This past Friday and Saturday, a very friendly and hardworking electrician came out and swapped out another breaker. Getting the right breaker was a multiple-trip-to-Home-Depot ordeal, but he found the right one and installed it. With the dryer's light coming back on and the dryer working, everything seemed to be working . . . for a few minutes.

For whatever reason, before the electrician came out, the dryer would randomly stop a few minutes or ten minutes into a cycle. When I would open the dryer, the light would be off and I would then flip the breaker. One day of laundry meant flipping the breaker nearly a dozen times. (Yes, the lengths I will go to get laundry done.)

So I start up the dryer as the electrician finished putting away everything, and it stops two minutes in. I flip the breaker, start the dryer again, and then ten minutes later, the dryer stops again. Luckily, the man had not left, so I got him to come back in.

Then we looked at the outlet in the wall and took the whole outlet apart. After putting everything back together, the dryer worked just fine. The only problem was, (and I did not notice this until I came home late Saturday night) no heat came on. The only way that my clothes dried at all was that they had been in the dryer for three hours.

The following day, I kept trying to troubleshoot what else could be the problem. I pulled a ton of lent out of the outside vent and made sure the collapsible hose between the dryer and the wall worked, but still nothing. I don't know about you, but trying to troubleshoot a problem alone with no other plans for the day makes for a pretty wasted day off.

Luckily, the latest word is that my landlord will come by later in the week with parts that will hopefully fix the problem once and for all. My clothes will appreciate this greatly, and so will I.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Crash

My first full-page feature for the Observer is online. This one is on The Crash That Took Me.
A few years ago, downstairs at Sons of Hermann Hall, the wooden staircases and walls started to shake as two bands in the room above played a song that sounded like something off of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. Four guitars played one bendy riff at top volume, and drums pounded like wrecking balls. The song was called "Bloody Basin," and the two bands onstage were [DARYL] and Black Tie Dynasty.

Now, in 2009, you could say this was a defining transition moment for Dylan Silvers.

Read the rest here.

Also, I reviewed the band's newest record, and it is here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Unmasked

Last night, I decided to check out the new, modern retelling of V. As apprehensive as I am about the idea of remakes in general, I make special exceptions from time to time. Like Battlestar Galactica, I had no longstanding love for the original series, so I came to V like a cold fish.

Almost.

I've told this story before, but I don't think I've told the nuts and bolts of the whole story. So here's the context.

Though I spent a lot of time playing by myself in our house when my family lived in New Orleans, there were a few times I went over to friends' houses and played. One friend was named Janelle, and I seem to recall going over to play a handful of times. This was the early 1980s, and I can't remember my exact age, but I was maybe five or six years old.

A lot of neighborhood kids would come over to Janelle's house, and one day, a boy a few years older than me wanted to watch a show called V. I had never heard of the show at the time, but I still vividly remember watching a scene where a V peeled the skin off of his head to reveal that he was an alien. Being that young at the time, I had never known of make-up and prosthetics, so this looked very real to me, and I was grossed out and freaked out.

I didn't run home crying to my parents or have nightmares, but that experience has stayed with me ever since. Now as somebody who understands what make-up, CGI, and prosthetics are in the world of TV and movies, seeing that kind of stuff doesn't scare me. But I won't lie: I've never had a desire to watch the original V.

Looking back, I know there are far, far worse things to scare a child and scar him or her for life. Spousal or child abuse can do more damage than getting scared by flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz or the man in the big white suit in E.T. But it seems like a lot of people have some sort of story about seeing something when they were way too young to comprehend it. Be it seeing Halloween on USA late one night or getting the sex talk from a doctor in fifth grade and being totally in the dark about the concept and why women make weird sounds, we have some sort of experience to share.

So I had no qualms or fears about watching a modern day retelling of V. Overall, I enjoyed what I saw, especially Elizabeth Mitchell's overall performance and the pacing and tension of the second half of the episode. And no Vs pulled an entire piece of skin off. But if they ever do, I won't be scarred for life.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Dryer Wars

The dryer woes continue, but they have made for a rather amusing adventure in getting my weekly laundry done. And this has made me wonder about my laundry habits in the first place.

While I own enough different outfits to wear for maybe two or three months without a trip to the laundry room, that number is greatly reduced by the number of clothes that fit the size I currently wear. Thanks to sticking to a regular exercise routine and being mindful of what I eat, a lot of my clothes are too big for me. I still want to hold onto these articles of clothing, mainly out of fear I'll gain back all the weight I lost. So in other words, I wear maybe a quarter of the wardrobe I actually own.

I own a lot of T-shirts (mainly bands I was really into while I was in college), and while T-shirts are fine to wear to my workplace, I prefer to not wear them everyday. Pretty much every work week involves khakis, loose button-down shirts, and socks. I wear clothes until they fall apart, so I have many of the same pants and shirts in the washer and dryer every single week.

I like the routine of doing my laundry during the week, but when I can't stick to that routine because of issues that I have no control over, I get really crabby and antsy. I prefer to keep my loads of laundry down to three a week. That way, doing laundry takes up an afternoon and nothing more. Doing more loads infrequently is almost unfathomable for me.

For a few days after our new breaker was installed, the dryer worked just fine for Matt. But when I went to dry my clothes, the dryer wouldn't start. It was like the dryer quoted Superchunk and said, "I'm working, but I'm not working for you." So, out of the graces of my neighbors upstairs, I got to do a load of laundry including my bedsheets and workout gear. Those items are, in my mind, essentials.

The deal was, due to the fact that my neighbors were leaving for a trip the following day and needed to do their own laundry, I could only get one load done. I was thankful to get that one in, but I had to think about how I could dry my two other loads of laundry. I didn't want to take them to the semi-seedy/nasty laundromat around the corner from my house, so I came up with an idea.

Since I was going to a party at Jason's house on Friday, I asked if I could dry my clothes at his house while I was partying. He and Dana were kind enough to let me do my business, so the laundry got done.

But now it's Tuesday and I want to start laundry the first thing in the morning tomorrow. My landlord, who's been out of town for the last few days, hopes to come out tomorrow with an electrician to see what the problem is. I certainly have the patience for that to happen, but what has made me more antsy is just trying to understand why the dryer works for other people, but not me. I know I'm stretching one of the Four Agreements here by trying to not take things personally, but I'm just wanting an answer or two about this whole thing.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hey, remember the 90s?

I can't remember exactly when or where I heard this last week, but something about 1990s nostalgia was brought up in a conversation. Something was mentioned about how it was going to be the next nostalgia trend with people my age and younger. As in, more modern bands referencing 90s bands and people throwing parties centering around a theme that is very 90s-centric. And within just a few days, I talked with some friends at a party that were en route to a party where people were asked to dress up as a character from a 90s' sitcoms.

I know nostalgia doesn't stop, and I don't think nostalgia is a bad thing, but I find things strange to experience nostalgia for an era that actually lived through.

Being a teenager who was born at the end of the 1970s meant there were no 8-tracks, Led Zeppelin concerts, or a Vietnam War to deal with in your teenage years. So it's easy to imagine how things were much cooler in the 70s when the Ramones and the Clash put out their debut albums and how awesome films like Star Wars and The Godfather were in the theater. While Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Pavement were cool at the time in your teenage years, there was this strange (but understandable) kind of connection to a past where you weren't there. It's the, "things just aren't what they used to be" kind of thought process.

I'm very guilty by association with feeding into a mentality that certain things in the 90s were "better" (see my first book and my second book in the works), but I'm not trying to change the course of the past and alter the future. Rather, I think it's necessary to talk about the context of the day to understand why certain bands and movies were great in their day and are still great today.

That said, I'm definitely not somebody who wants to pretend like the 90s never ended. Far from it. I'm definitely not the same person I was in middle school and high school, and I don't pine for those days as much as I pine for the days ahead. I think I'll find myself in a time warp for the next few years seeing oversized pants, flannel, and vintage Big Muff distortion pedals back in style.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mr. Can't Fix It

As I continue to rent and apparently throw money away every month, I'm frequently reminded of why I'd be a bad homeowner: I'm terrible with fixing things. My answer to almost any problem that has come up in the time I've lived on my own: tell the landlord. Of course, I watch and take mental notes while something is fixed, but my indecisive nature would just cause me further headaches when I try myself.

A recent case in point: we have an issue in the laundry room. Our dryer, which was partially working anyway, seemed to finally bite the dust. When I went to pull a load out after my nap a few weeks ago, I noticed that the clothes were still wet and the dryer would not start. I told one of the landlords and he kindly gave us an old dryer he had. Problem solved, right?

Well, the following week, also on laundry day, the same problem occurred. Flipping a breaker, the dryer seemed to work just fine. That is, until I realized that the dryer would only work for about five to ten minutes before the breaker had to be flipped again. The breaker had to be flipped almost ten times that day just to get through a full three loads of laundry.

So last week, the landlord gets a new breaker for us, and everything looks to be running just fine. Now it's laundry day again and the dryer won't start. I don't know what to exactly do.

Since home repairs are something that I find to be right up the alley of people not like me, I'm pretty much screwed for life. My indecisive nature coupled with perfectionist tendencies just make me always prone to seek help from somebody who knows what he or she is doing.

That's why I keep proverbially throwing money away.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The New Flesh

Once again, I have a dilemma that's not really dilemma, and it's definitely not something that's earth-shattering or a huge deal, but it's something that always annoys people: what happens when you buy a book or a CD and only a few months later, you hear a new, updated version is out (or about to come out)? Do you suck things up and buy the thing again? Or do you stand your ground and say no?

The best example of this happening actually involved a friend of mine and Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted. A few years ago, he lost a bunch of his CDs, and one of the CDs he lost (and he bought again) was Pavement's beloved debut album. The sucky thing was, just a couple of months later, Matador announced a two-disc reissue of the album, with remastered sound quality and a whole gorge of bonus tracks. My friend was left out in the cold, so I seem to recall at least offering to burn him a copy of the reissue from me.

Without fail, it seems like whenever you buy something that's been out for a while, once you actually buy it, you hear about an updated version coming soon. And while that can be frustrating, there's some odd coincidence about it. Your imagination and patience are tested.

I remember when I watched the two main seasons of the BBC's version of The Office. Noticing that most shows eventually came out together in a box set, I figured there would come a day. Thankfully that day came near the holidays, so I patiently waited and asked for the set for Christmas. While that was a predictable box set to come to fruition, things are a little trickier with things that have been out for a long time.

Case in recent point, I have a strong desire to read Cronenberg On Cronenberg, a book of interviews with director David Cronenberg on his films. The deal is, the book was published in 1992. Other books in the Director On Director series, like Lynch on Lynch, have been published then republished years later to include newer interviews with the director. The deal is, Cronenberg On Cronenberg focuses on the director's career up to his adaptation of Naked Lunch.

Now, if you know Cronenberg, he's made a lot more movies since Naked Lunch. So, my quandary is this: do I buy a used copy of the now out-of-print edition or just wait for months, maybe years, for a revised edition?

Another factor with the first option is that I really have more interest in knowing more about his movies from the 70s and 80s, aka, the films that made him a recognized and distinguished director. Not to speak lightly of Crash, Spider, or A History of Violence, but I'm very curious about what influences a person to make something like The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome.

So for now, a fence is sat upon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Keep a book handy

As much as I enjoy watching the Dallas Cowboys play, I've decided to bring along the current book I'm reading to the couch. There are only so many replays of a play I can watch, and only so many times I can roll my eyes at a penalty.

While yesterday's game against the Falcons was great, I still had my copy of From Hell lying beside me.

The Cowboys are definitely a team to cheer on, but I've sat through plenty of games in the last few years that were sheer frustration and disappointment. In hopes I don't say to myself, "How can I get the last three hours of my life back?" I choose to do something productive. Whether it's bringing out the practice pad and doing paradiddles or reading a book while keeping an eye on the game, I don't want to waste any time, especially if the Cowboys blow the game in the fourth quarter.

I usually read whenever the other team has the ball. When the Cowboys have the ball, I watch, but in the time it takes between plays and watching replays from several different angles, I can read a half-page or a full page or two. And whenever the Cowboys score a touchdown, I always stop whatever I'm doing and holler some enjoyment. Then it's back to reading some more.

Since I like to use some of my weekends for catching up on reading, I try to balance this out with my desire to see the Cowboys try to go the distance. And as frustrating as some of their games may be, I'm glad I'm not a Chiefs or Raiders fan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Axe to Fall

For years, I wondered why it seemed like people abandoned a band because they put out a new record that didn't blow them away. Back when I read a lot of blogs and hung around a certain message board, people that were "in the know" seemed to praise the hell out of a band because of a certain record, but then beat the hell out of that same band when the follow-up wasn't as earth-shattering or groundbreaking. Fandom was a really questionable sort of thing.

I think my view on this is similar, but I try not to oversell a band onto people. I don't know many people who love ABBA, the Dillinger Escape Plan, and Journey equally, so I'm not about to try to convert those who aren't. I will praise the hell out of stuff that I like, but all bets are off if I am going to praise the next record. I'd prefer to not abandon a band, but sometimes they can get lost in the shuffle of the stuff that is currently rockin' my brain.

So it comes as a surprise to me about how incredible Converge's Axe to Fall is. As great as their last three records are, I wasn't sure I was capable of handling another record of sonic fits and bluesy detours. Well, miraculously, Axe to Fall is another worthy record.

There are some rather noticeable changes right from the start: are those full-on guitar leads I hear in the beginning? Yup. And there's a lot of crazed insanity equally tempered by jazzy blues, especially evident in a song called "Cruel Bloom." Sounding more like late 70s Tom Waits (yes!) in the beginning of the song, I never expected such a brutal and pulverizing band to successfully attempt and pull off such a thing.

So, my love for new Converge records continues, in a year where I found the latest effort by Killswitch Engage a frustrating letdown and the latest effort by Mastodon a record that completely helped me "get" the band. Whether or not this means I'm a Grade-A hipster, that's for other people to say.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Drink for a Reason

I have not seen a stand-up comedian perform in well over ten years. Usually, whenever a comedian I like comes to town, he or she usually plays a venue that's either too small (most of the time) or too big (some of the time). Plus, the cost is never something I really want to investigate because it's probably too much for something that probably won't last for very long.

All this said, when a friend of mine wanted to go see David Cross perform at a venue literally within walking distance from my house, I could not pass up the opportunity.

I've never seen David do stand-up before. I don't own any of his CDs, and I've never seen his material on YouTube. Matter of fact, I really only know him from Arrested Development and various interviews on late-night talk shows, along with Superchunk's "Watery Hands" video and Yo La Tengo's "Sugarcube" video. So, I'm not one to roll off obscure lines from Mr. Show or know exactly what he does in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies.

Well, with two hours of material ranging from the sounds he makes while taking a dump to barbs at Orthodox Jews and Mormons, you could say he covered a lot. And he never delivered this stuff like he reciting from tightly-written cheatsheet. No, he went with the flow, did his bits, and improvised when certain people yelled out random roles and random lines from his career.

What made the show a real special show was the spontaneity. When a female in the middle of the floor seats asked that he sign one of his DVDs as Bob Odenkirk, David decided to call Bob on his cell phone. When the theater's film projector seemed to not work correctly, David decided to tell another story. And when he wrapped up his story, he got word that the projector was back working, and thus the crowd got to see the first few minutes of a pilot he shot in London called The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. Based on the few minutes shown, I think it would be safe to say that there would be outrage if the show didn't go to series. Really, really funny stuff that deserves to be picked up.

As I came out of the show, I realized how satisfying the whole experience was. Even though David used many of the same rehearsed bits from previous dates, I didn't sense that he was just playing to a generic audience and then said, "Thanks. Good night." No, there was a sense of "You had to be there" to totally get what happened. So, I'm glad I jumped at the chance to see him. If I overthought going or not going, I would have completely missed a cruise ship of an experience.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not at a store near you

Even though a release date is far, far off for my next book, I can't help but think about how I'd like to release it. The deal is, I'm thinking about going the self-publishing route again. And that's not just because of control freak nature; I'm especially concerned at the growing consolidation of music books in most chain bookstores.

Maybe I've missed this, but the closest Barnes & Noble to me has stopped carrying all books related to movies and music. Yes, once they had a handful of shelves devoted to them, and now there's nothing. And believe me, I searched every single corner of this one and came up empty-handed.

Also, the multiple Borders around me keep reducing their stock of CDs, DVDs, and books about music and movies. What once had a handful of rows of books now is a row, maybe two at most.

Uh-oh.

Maybe this is just showing the ever-growing dominance of Amazon, or just the slow decline in general book sales. But in thinking about putting out a book in about a year or so, I wonder if it's worth the time and effort to see if a name publisher would like to put out When We Were the Kids. I have no problem self-publishing again, but if the word of mouth on POST was any indication of how slow-as-molasses my work can get out there, I don't really know what to expect.

But that's not any reason to consider not working on a book. As I've said before: if you have the drive to do something and want to complete it, DO IT!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nothing Gold Can Stay

At the end of this month, I will no longer be a subscriber to a magazine or newspaper. I never thought this would happen back when I read the newspaper in high school or when I subscribed to Rolling Stone back in college. But after I let my Rolling Stone subscription run out, now I'm letting my subscription to Alternative Press run out.

I hold no grudges against the magazine, but I think it's time that I stop subscribing. The big reason why is that I'm definitely not in their target audience. As I experienced at the Warped Tour over the summer, I had a good time covering it for the Observer, yet I was definitely not the same person that was super-excited to go to the Warped Tour back in 1997.

There are only so many stories I can read about some band that I don't care for their music, and after reading about their fame-seeking ways, I don't like them any more. Not every band featured in the mag is like that, but there are plenty of bands that epitomize the metaphor that mall punk/emo/hardcore is very much the hair metal of today. There are still great writers on staff, and there are plenty of deserving bands that receive some coverage as well. But there's a trade-off.

Something seemed like the right time to not renew when a recent piece ran about classic, influential albums that were released ten years ago. While there were plenty of great albums mentioned (Braid's Frame & Canvas and the Dismemberment Plan's Emergency & I for starters), I couldn't help realize that New Found Glory is now (and has been for a while) considered a trailblazer.

To me, that band definitely blazed a trail for younger bands, but I've always seen that band a highly-derivative, watered-down version of pop-punk. And not a good one at all, no matter how many records they've put out. In other words, when I saw that band all those years ago open for Alkaline Trio and face to face, that band signaled a turning point for me: I was too old to like this band and there was no going back. I wasn't a proverbial "kid" anymore.

Flash forward to ten years later, and here I am reading about many bands that are watered-down versions of watered-down versions of stuff I loved back in the day and still love. Something just didn't fit right. I held onto my subscription while I worked on POST, but POST has been out for over a year now.

I can't blame a magazine that's still in business for catering to the audience that actually buys their advertisers' products. Plus, I always like to point out that AP was a magazine that gave plenty of nice coverage to bands like Braid, the Promise Ring, and Sunny Day Real Estate back when certain other highly-circulated magazines moaned about why music videos suck and why grunge is dead.

So after this month, I will have to find a way to properly store all my back issues of AP, Rolling Stone, Modern Drummer, and Guitar World. At least I won't have to worry about moving into a bigger house to store them all.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Five

Five years ago, after not hearing back from a friend about being a columnist on his website and after thinking of a way of documenting the writing of my first book, I started this blog. There's something to be said about blogging for five years, even if I don't update the blog as much as I used to. I don't see any real reason to stop, so thanks for stopping by and reading.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Hey angel

Really big news came down today: Jawbox is reuniting for a one-off performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I thank Kyle for passing along the info to more people, but now I wonder if an updated version of POST should be considered.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Fat Skeleton

My review for the Sunny Day Real Estate show in Dallas is now online.

Sunny Day Real Estate returned to Dallas with such a rush that you couldn't help be deeply moved. Yup, they were that good last night.

There was definitely an air of extreme anticipation as the Granada's doors opened: A large crowd had already gathered and plenty of people were antsy to get in. By the time Sunny Day hit the stage just a little after 9, the crowd was packed in tight and ready to see something special.


Read the rest here.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A dropped-D metal band we called Requiem

I always get happy when I plow right through a good book. Whether it's a long book like a Harry Potter book or a short one like Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, there's a sense in accomplishment when I finish something in just a few days or even a day.

Usually I take at least three weeks to finish a book, but that's when I only read a handful of pages a day.

What always helps is when I have a great desire to read a book and keep reading the book until I finish. I'm happy to say that I started and finished the newly-released, Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, in two days. Why? Because it's that good.

I must admit tremendous bias here because I am very much a fan of books that cover the supposed "lost" years between grunge, pop-punk, and garage rock in the mainstream. Seen only as transitional years only years before, I like hearing stories about bands and labels that survived the post-Nevermind years. Merge's story is quite interesting, given how they once were a label that put out a lot of Superchunk 7-inches and (many years) later put out records that debuted in the Top 10 of Billboard's Top 200 chart.

For the most part, the book's format is an oral history, along with transitional paragraphs. There are plenty of quotes directly from the sources (Mac and Laura from Superchunk/Merge are co-authors), and that lends plenty of credibility to the book. Frankly, it's more of question of who wasn't interviewed. Yup, the book is that thorough.

Most of the label's story is told in conjunction with Superchunk's story, and as a Superchunk fan since college, I had no problem with reading page after page. A number of other notable Merge acts get chapters devoted to them, be it Matt Suggs' various projects, the Magnetic Fields, Spoon, or the Arcade Fire, they illustrate a lot without having to go into detail every single band that the label has worked with. (There is an updated discography at the end though.)

Anyway, if you want to read a refreshing take on what it's like for an indie to stay level-headed even when flushed with cash, read this.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sunny days ahead

My feature on Sunny Day Real Estate is now online.
Looking at an extended hiatus from The Foo Fighters, bassist Nate Mendel considered a couple of options. He considered playing again with The Fire Theft, a band he was in with vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Enigk and drummer William Goldsmith, or Sunny Day Real Estate, the acclaimed band he played in alongside Enigk, Goldsmith and guitarist Dan Hoerner in the mid-1990s.

Read the rest here.

And my review of the Get Up Kids' show is now online.
For a reunion tour, The Get Up Kids are not taking the easy route by just playing fan favorites. Last night at the Granada, the band definitely played the songs the fans wanted, but they played so much more.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ten minutes to downtown

Here's my preview of tonight's Get Up Kids show. And once it's up, I will post my review of the show. Hard to believe that Something to Write Home About came out literally ten years ago this week. I still remember remember receiving my copy in the mail directly from Vagrant.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Year Later

So one year ago, while doing a search on Amazon, I found this listing and felt so excited. Thrilled might be a better word, but I felt such a rush of happiness through my veins when I realized that I had a book out. I had waited for this day since March 1st, 2004, and here it was.

Now that a year has passed, I have quite a few things that I'd like to share.

If there's only one thing I wish POST had more of, it would be a stronger word-of-mouth buzz. Sales have yet to reach the 1,000-mark as of this writing, but it seems like there's always a handful more people that buy a copy each month. I didn't set out to write a book that would instantly sell like hot cakes, but when I looked at the concrete numbers of how many copies were actually sold, there was a feeling of deflation. It was definitely not a sense of failure though.

I was approached by a small independent press to reissue the book and supposedly give it more distribution. The deal was, I had never heard of this place and didn't exactly believe what was being pitched to me. I asked my agent what he thought and we both came to the same conclusion. Especially on the angle of collecting royalties, this place didn't seem the most inviting. So I politely passed.

(I should add that since I've published the book, I've received quarterly royalty checks. These sums are definitely not the kind where I could retire now, but they are coming in. If I went with this other place, maybe I'd receive a royalty check once or twice in a year, if at all.)

I was also approached by a publicist who wanted to do a small marketing campaign for the book. Basically the plan was to do what I had already done marketing-wise myself, only I would pay somebody $500 to do the same thing. As much as I appreciated the offer, I politely passed on that as well.

Maybe those were the "wrong" things to do, but I'm very protective of this project. It's not like I want to keep the book a secret. Far from it. I just didn't want to hand important things over to a place that I didn't firmly believe would do a better job than what my publisher was already doing (or I was doing myself for free). I might have been laughed at for wanting to hold the copyright for my book, but that's a very important thing to have in the long term.

And in regards to the publicist issue, I had a really good talk with a writer friend and a publicist friend about this proposed campaign while we were hanging out at South by Southwest. When I laid out the possibilities to them, they both told me I did the right thing with passing on the offer. What was funny was that, literally fifteen minutes later, the said publicist was standing about five feet away from me while a band played. Due to several reasons, I did not introduce myself.

So maybe my stubbornness is to blame for how POST turned out the way it did. But as I've said before, the book is out there how I wanted it. I'm still very proud of the book's content and have no problem talking about it with people. Be it the person lives down the street, in New Jersey, or in Indonesia, I have no problem talking about the book and its contents.

What's been funny is how the book has been cited quite a bit on Wikipedia. Be it on the page for Sunny Day Real Estate or the page for the Get Up Kids, I find it funny because Wikipedia banned me for updating my own page due to their conflict of interest policy. Plus, there's always a question of relevancy for anyone to have a page devoted to him or her. I wonder if that's enough to get somebody else to resurrect the page from web oblivion.

Though there is a temptation to do an updated version of the book, given how Hot Water Music, the Get Up Kids, and Sunny Day Real Estate have reunited in some form or fashion since publication, I stress the beginnings and middles of the band chapters are more important than the ends of the chapters. I'm not opposed to the idea of an updated version, but I wanted the book to be a snapshot of where things were all the way up to 2007.

What's been nice is covering these bands' current activities for the Dallas Observer. I have no problem being called an emo nerd or an emo expert by my editor. Frankly, I take those as compliments. There's nothing wrong with emo, and there's nothing wrong with being somebody who knows a few things about it more than the average person. I'm not better than the people who know less than me about the subject, but I'm more than happy to share what I know with people who actually want to know more about the subject.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More unsolicited writing advice

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts, so I figured now would be a good time. Again, these aren't meant to be law; they're just pieces of advice I've learned along the way that I think would be helpful to people who are thinking about (or are currently) writing a book.

I remember a quote from one of the members of Hot Water Music: "We write about what pisses us off." Now, Hot Water has always done a great job of conveying anger without sounding immature or lackadaisical. So I would not recommend saying something too broad and hurtful like, "You suck." That said, and where I'm going with this, use the anger you feel about something and let that motivate you to write something.

This is definitely the kind of stuff Stephen King so eloquently put in On Writing: let your life dictate your writing, not the other way around.

While I was writing POST, a lot of stuff motivated me to get things done. Just merely seeing a copy of Nothing Feels Good on my book shelf was plenty. But I was also frustrated with where my life was going up until I started writing the book, and I wanted to do something more with my life than just going to and from work and listening to music and watching DVDs. That's plenty there.

Without going into specifics, there are some things going on in my life now that are really helping me stay on track with When We Were the Kids. Anger I have about certain things are keeping me motivated with fleshing out these many characters I've come up with, and the scene they were a part of. Just writing this stuff out is a really great way of dealing.

There's a common adage that great work comes from depression, loneliness, and sadness. In other words, great art comes from great suffering. Well, that can be true, but I think it's important that you understand that stuff rather actually live that stuff everyday. If you lived that stuff every day, you might not live very long. Just a reminder: Bukowski didn't live every minute of every day of his life drunk and alone.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Part of the cat is out of the bag

Well, an upcoming feature I did for the Observer got a little plug yesterday. More to come very soon. For now, you can enjoy a clip that was hoped to be like a Ralph Bakshi cartoon, but ended up looking more like a-Ha's "Take On Me" video.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dodgecar

Now with fall in full effect, I'm happy to move on from a summer filled with my new car in the shop.

To recap: as I watched Know1ng on DVD early in the summer, a hail storm ripped through my neighborhood and pelted the area for about twenty minutes. The sun stayed out for most of it, and the timing of the storm seemed exactly in sync with the first major catastrophe of the movie (an airplane crash, no less).

With the very helpful advice of my sister, who used to work in the auto insurance business, I filed a claim and took my car in for an estimate. The damage was significant, and I felt embarrassed that it happened, even though there was nothing I could have done to avoid it. It's just after years of being fussed at with a lot of stern "Why?"'s coming my way, I had to put my foot down, not apologize, and say there was nothing else I could have done.

So I took my car into a large collision shop near my house that was covered by my insurance company, and I proceeded to be without a car for a whole month. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to do the extended warranty on my rental car (which just so happened to also be a Camry), but I was not too pleased at the $300 I had to pay for this when I turned it back in. Regardless, an experience happened and I could not argue with how great the job the place did on my car.

Literally a week after I got the car back, I'm rushing to a lunch date with a friend of mine. Right before I enter onto the freeway, I see there's a note attached to my windshield. With the words, "I am so very sorry," I then noticed that the rear of the driver's-side had been sideswiped while it was parked. Luckily, there was a name and an insurance agent's name. It just so happened the driver that hit me was a co-worker of mine, but she didn't know it was my car at the time.

I'm thankful that my co-worker and I were able to work through all the insurance stuff, but it ended up being another two months of back and forth with the insurance company, and then I got the go-ahead to take my car into the shop. I chose the same collision shop, and they all remembered me from the earlier visit this summer.

Now that I have my car back, along with a lot of hope that I won't take the car back in for damage repair in the near future, I must say that all the patience and impatience made for a really frustrating but rewarding experience. I can't complain when I don't have to pay the monumental repair bills, and I like working with people that truly care about your car and your well-being. So there's the lesson.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Two weeks later

Well, getting cable TV has had an effect on me, and thankfully, it's not the kind of effect where I spend hours every single day flipping through channels.

Not much of my life is really that different now that I have some 300 channels to peruse. But between myself and Matt, we have one more thing available to pass the time. I'm still doing the normal schedule I have during the week, but I will not lie how great it is to watch a Cowboys game in high definition. Even if the team blows it in the fourth quarter, it's still a treasure to enjoy a game without snow or fuzz.

Basically, I spend a little less time on the computer, but not by much. And that's a good thing.

I don't know why, but I tend to underestimate certain aspects of myself. One of them was not knowing how much I would respond to getting cable. I was convinced I'd get hooked on one trashy show after another and lose all sense of time with all the other things that I like to do.

And as old-hat as it may seem to most people now, I have to admit how new, fresh, and refreshing it is to have a DVR. While checking out the season premieres of NBC's Thursday lineup, I DVR-d the season premiere of Fringe. Getting up to speed on the episodes I missed from the first season, I must say that I'm back with the show based on the premiere.

So yes, giving in and finally getting cable has had a positive impact on my life. But before this sounds like a TV commercial that starts in dull lighting with people frowning and ends with bright lights and people smiling, I'll just say it's nice to have a few more options. You can't buy happiness, but certain grumbles from the past can be relieved when you give things another chance.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wrapped Up in Books

It's been a long time since I've grown so frustrated with a book that I've stopped reading it halfway through and put it on the shelf indefinitely. Well, that's happened twice in the last month or so, and I chalk this all up to impatience and a large backlog of books I've been meaning to be read.

Thanks to online coupons from Borders and the existence of Half Price Books, I've almost doubled the size of my library in the last four years. Since music books are the kind of books I like to read the most, there are quite a few books I want to read. But that takes time when I only read a few pages a day, and read at a rather slow pace.

Just a Modern Rock Story, a book on Belle & Sebastian, and Perfect From Now On, a memoir about how indie rock saved John Sellers' life, are the two most recent books I just gave up on halfway through. This abandonment came after much patience and hope that the books would get better. It's not like I didn't like the subject matter of either book. I just hated the authors' styles.

Whatever books I read, I make mental notes on the ones I dislike in hopes I don't repeat the same things in my own books. So with these books, if you're going to write a book about Belle & Sebastian, it really helps that you're a fan, but don't fill paragraphs saying the same thing over and over again. And definitely don't try to be cute and write certain sentences like how Stuart Murdoch writes his lyrics. And if you're going to try to write a sincere memoir about how important certain bands mean to you, don't write it in a half-joking/half-sincere way with rambling (and unfunny) footnotes.

I still have a year's worth of books to read on my to-read shelf, and I'd like to think I'm getting caught up. I'm currently reading Ian Christie's book on the history of heavy metal, The Sound of the Beast, and it's quite a compelling read. Even though a lot of his book are stories I've already heard, I really like how he puts this together for a compelling read.

So, in other words, it's storm ahead with reading books I want to read. I don't have any assigned readings or book reports to do, so I'm not under the gun to finish a book I don't enjoy reading.