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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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thin White Line

Good news for Jawbox fans: their third album, For Your Own Special Sweetheart, will be finally be reissued on Dischord later this year with three bonus tracks. Remembering when this reissue was announced back in 2004, this is pretty fantastic and all that good stuff. But the bad news for Jawbox completists: the band's cover of the Avengers' "Thin White Line" will not be on this reissue. Nor is "Falk" or "Chump II."

Essentially, this Sweetheart reissue contains the original album, along with the B-sides from the Savory+3 EP. These three B-sides ("68," "Lil' Shaver," and "Sound On Sound") are fantastic non-LP gems. A Peel Session version of "68" originally appeared on the My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents compilation, but not the original studio version. "Sound On Sound" gets the double-dip reissue, but "Lil' Shaver" has never been reissued anywhere else before.

While I've never heard "Falk" or "Chump II," I actually have "Thin White Line" on CD. I just so happened to be very lucky in picking up a copy of the super-rare "Cooling Card" promo at the CD World on Greenville Avenue five years ago. The deal is, I've only heard the song once, and I've never really pined to hear it again and again. Not that it's a bad song; it's just not a lost gem. (I won't lie: it is nice to have the song on something physical and CD-quality.)

I remember reading an interview in AP with Kim Coletta about why certain B-sides were not featured on the My Scrapbook of Fatal Accidents comp. If I remember correctly, it was their comp and if they didn't think the song was good, they didn't include the song on there. Wise choices because there really isn't a stinker on the comp, and there are a lot of songs on there. Bad songs wear good comps down, you know?

Of course, the atmosphere of being a completist for any band is much, much different now in the world of SoulSeek and torrents. You can scour all you want online, but it's nothing like scouring through a used record store looking for CD singles or 7-inches with songs not found on reissues or box sets. And probably the biggest difference: when you got one of those rarities in physical form, you didn't have to wonder if the sound quality was less than 192.

So, good news for those who have always wondered why Jawbox's third album is such a treasure. And to think, this was originally released on a major label. Now, how's about a reissue of that final, self-titled Jawbox album from 1996?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What part of "no" don't you understand?

If there's one thing that's incredibly frustrating in life, it's when you don't think you're being heard when you want to be heard. In hopes of steering this away from a vanilla vague philosophical matter, I say that because of a recent run-in with online ID theft.

I love the bank I work with. They are very reliable and helpful, and I was surprised how quickly they responded to an apparent fraud on my account. Somehow somebody got a hold of an old credit card number of mine and tried to set up an account on a dating web site. My bank's fraud department immediately called me because the card number expired well over a year ago.

While all that's well and good, the deal is, this was a card I never wanted, and when I was offered it, I flatly said "No." But they still sent me one.

Compounding this, while depositing some money earlier this year, my very friendly teller started to give me the pitch for another one of these cards. When I kinda-politely cut her off and said no, I told her and her manager that I have never wanted more cards than the ones I already have.

Why I'm so anti- on having more cards is that frankly, I don't need them and I'm very, very hesitant to dig myself a grave of deep debt. I've seen debt ruin people's lives for many years, and I don't want to be one of those casualties.

But what's really the point at hand is that I've tried multiple times to cancel this unwanted card in the first place. And the deal is, nobody at my bank seems to really get it that I don't want the card. It's as if I go mute for the few seconds I say I don't want the card.

And I wonder why people get into horrendous debt in the first place.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Getting off the fence (cable edition)

Some encouraging news about me getting off the fence and actually making a decision. I decided after much debate that I should go ahead and sign up for cable television. Yes, this is proof I can make decisions beyond the ones I make every single day.

Basically, since the digital switch, I have had very little success receiving any channels on my rabbit ears. With each channel scan I received less channels than the previous one. So, with the Dallas Cowboys season starting up and a desire to check out some of the upcoming new TV shows, (and with a housemate willing to split the cost) I decided to get digital cable from the same provider I get my Internet service from.

Why this seems so big is that I went without cable for almost my entire eight years. For a while at my previous place, I was able to pick up MTV and AMC on my rabbit ears. To show how long ago this was, I remember how Joel and Benji from Good Charlotte hosted a show on MTV and AMC played movies like Halloween 4 on Friday nights. Now there are a lot more things to look at with the hundreds of channels at our disposal.

Why I held out for so long with cable had a lot to do with money spent versus quality of life in return. I didn't want to become hooked on "reality" shows that were so addictive even though they are venomous to your well-being. Plus, I didn't want to spend all of my free time away from reading books, writing books, surfing the Internet, running, watching DVDs, and playing video games. It's not like I thought that would really happen, but I used to watch such an insane amount of TV when I was younger. I didn't want that stuff to go away because I felt compelled to get my money's worth with watching.

To go further (and stretch things some more), I didn't want cable to become the cure for boredom. Without fail, whenever I go over to the houses of relatives or even my parents' house, cable is the way to pass the time when I'm not doing anything else. I didn't want that in my house.

Now that I have cable, I will not lie and tell you how nice it was to watch the Cowboys opener in widescreen without snow on the reception. And I look forward to watching the final season of LOST in the comfort of my home, where I can hoot and holler and scream at every little big moment. I just have zero interest in cable being my life when I choose to not do anything else.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Rewatch!

While I continue to sit on the fence about getting cable, I've made more definite plans to watch (or rewatch) an entire TV show from the beginning on DVD. I'm in the middle of the third season of Cheers, and have just begun to watch LOST again from the beginning. Just watching the pilot episode of LOST again has had immense impact, and I look forward to watch the rest of the series so far up to the season premiere of the sixth and final season next year.

As this goes on, I still want to do a BSG Rewatch (as Julie describes it in her household). The thing is, there is a new, stand-alone TV movie called The Plan that is about to debut on TV (and soon, DVD). Like the other stand-alone Battlestar Galactica TV movie, Razor, this covers events that were only mentioned in passing in the regular series. So, what's the hold-up? Well, I'm considering my rewatch to be in chronological order instead of when the episodes originally aired.

Geekitude is totally confirmed by this desire, but hear me out.

Like LOST, BSG has a lot of storylines going on episode after episode. So much so that trying to keep track of them or merely describing them is a task in itself. I think it would make perfect sense to watch BSG again in chronological order, but I'll have to do some research as to when would be a good time to take a break from the regular episodes. And yes, that's even geekier, but I have the desire to do this.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Outlander!

As I frown over the news about another redundant remake in the works, I am curious if there are more remakes in the works from a certain beloved horror author. Yes, me, Mr. Anti-Remakes is curious if more remakes of Stephen King's works are in the development phase. Why so? Because many previous adaptations look incredibly cheesy today.

I don't know if the remake of Ocean's Eleven is what got Hollywood into thinking that remaking/modernizing films was a good idea. (It definitely wasn't with Gus Van Sant's nearly-shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.) But as I've seen time and time again with many horror movie remakes, they just seem forgettable and rather pointless other than a quick cash-grab. While there are exceptions (I still think Rob Zombie's take on Halloween is worth exploring), I just scowl. This is mainly because the originals have held up so well over time.

But in the case of films like Children of the Corn and IT, there could be so much more done with today's technology. We don't live in an era where happy endings are a must for a Hollywood feature. Heck, we live in a time when Frank Darabont's take on King's The Mist had an even darker ending than the original one in the book. So Children of the Corn could be done in a way that's closer to the short story, and at least the special effects would be better than the original. (A TV remake version of Corn is about to debut, and there are rumblings about a feature-length remake as well.)

Since we live in a time where there's a desire to reboot a series rather than put out a standard sequel (like say, The Rage: Carrie 2), more and more remakes are just gonna keep coming. So here's hoping that some things will get a better shot the second time around.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Three-Legged Workhorse

Over the weekend, while hearing apologies from a band member in the band I watched (and enjoyed the hell out of), something hit me. Not physically, but mentally. When there's a show, there are actually two shows going on. Meaning, there's the perspective from the audience, and then there's the perspective from the band. Too often, those perspectives don't seem to cross.

I've played many shows where something went wrong. That something might have been a missed musical cue or equipment issues, but rarely have I talked to an audience member that noticed the problem or thought it was a big deal. Yet when you get the band's perspective, those gaffes seemed to make the show one of the worst shows of all eternity.

In the case of what I saw over the weekend, I could tell there were some issues with a guitar, the amp, and the PA. Based on the looks between members and the soundman, things seemed to be frustrating all around. But for me as a fan, that didn't hamper the show. This was a band I wanted to see, and so many things went right for them that night.

In hopes this doesn't sound like a "don't sweat the small stuff" sort of discussion, I counter with how a person defines "small stuff" and "big stuff." If your desire as a band is to play as well as possible and not have equipment issues, then having a show hampered by sound issues is a big deal. But if your desire as a fan is to enjoy a show, hear your favorite songs (and hear new ones as well), and see a band play well together, then that stuff is small potatoes.

All this said, I could just be way too lenient. I remember a few years ago when a local favorite got a chance to play on a late-night TV talk show. As happy as I was to see the band play and get some great national exposure, all I read on the band's message board the following day was how loud the bass sounded. Um, what? You choose to overlook a great band share their charm on national TV and all you have to say about it is a bunch of nitpicking? That's not my style.

Frankly, I laugh at the idea that a band should practice over and over again in hopes of putting on a flawless show. As I've seen with my friends' bands and some of my own experiences, you enter a completely different world the minute you play outside of your practice space. If anything, you'd just better have your songs down and hope for the best. And it's important to remember that mistakes are going to happen, it's just how you choose to learn from those mistakes.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

This Will Destroy You

My first B-sides feature for the Observer is now online. This one is for the instrumental rock of This Will Destroy You.

This Will Destroy You Sets Out To Make A Name For Itself In One Way Or Another

Comparisons to post-rock bands like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky are easy to make when listening to This Will Destroy You's music, but don't let those comparisons fool you into thinking that this band is anything like, say, Ozma aping Weezer, for example.


Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

There's money in the banana stand

Out of all of the TV shows I've loved, my opinion of Arrested Development underwent the most dramatic turn. Watched the pilot years ago, and didn't find most of it very funny, and had no desire to watch any more episodes. Yet giving the pilot another chance a year later resulted in a quick change of opinion, and then led to watching the entire series. I was now a fan of this show that so many people I knew had praised, so I was now in the proverbial know.

I, like most AD fans out there, am patiently awaiting the arrival of a full-length feature film, but frankly, when I saw Noel's mention of a documentary on the show, I became way more interested in that.

Other than a few behind-the-scenes featurettes and the commentary tracks on the DVDs, there's quite a story to be told behind this show. I hear so much about what gets mangled by a TV network in order to appeal to the most amount of people, so when a show like this got on the air, there's something very peculiar. And, just a friendly reminder: this was not a show that was yanked after two episodes. There were two full seasons and a semi-full third season, and in my opinion, not a single bad episode. That kind of equation is way better than a show that lasted ten seasons and had maybe fifteen fantastic episodes.

Sure, there is an element hinted at in the documentary's trailers about how the show was never a blockbuster hit. That plot point is almost always made with a show that seemed under-appreciated in its initial run. Yet when you talk to people who love the show, they don't hold back their love for the show. I wouldn't say it's a love-it or hate-it kind of thing. The ones that really remember the show not only love the show but constantly quote from it.

I remember hearing on the Police Squad! DVD about why the show didn't grab a large audience: because people had to actually watch the show to really get the humor. While that might sound like a "duh" kind of assessment, it proved very true with a show so hooked on visual jokes and crafty wordplay. I think the same applies to Arrested Development. But this was not a show that was yanked after six episodes.

Seeing how this documentary has been in the works for a while, I think we'll get to see that before any feature film materializes. Frankly, I'm rather shocked and amazed that something already has been cooked up for a show that was on only a few years ago.