Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Near Wild Heaven

As much as it's old news at this point -- and many thought this should have happened a number of years before -- I've been meaning to write about R.E.M.'s decision to call it a day last week. With this week's edition of My First Show featuring a remembrance of seeing the band on the Monster tour, I have a few things to share.

I read plenty of well-written tributes to the band last week, but the one that really rang true for me was -- no surprise here -- the one The A.V. Club did. With fond memories in them, writers like Noel, Josh, and Kyle hit the bullseye on what's it like to be a fan of this band. Keith's final line really hit me:
Some music you hear. Some music marks you, and shows you where you’re headed before you even know.

Referring to where he was in his life when he heard the R.E.M. records that impacted him the most, it's interesting how the band was there at pivotal moments.

I, along with many others, can understand the sentiment.

Even though I knew who R.E.M. was when Document and Green were out, I became a big fan with Out of Time. With "Losing My Religion" being an inescapable video on MTV (as well as "Shiny Happy People" and "Radio Song"), it helped that I really gravitated towards the band's sound.

I was in seventh grade when I became a big fan of the band. Almost every other fall between then and my freshman year of college, there was a new R.E.M. record. It's like fall wasn't really fall until the new record arrived.

As they toured Monster in 1995 with Radiohead, I was fortunate to see the band play at the Houston equivalent of the Starplex. Definitely one of those shows I speak of fondness with a little bit of bragging (especially since Radiohead was touring off of The Bends, which wasn't as heralded at the time as it soon would be), I don't find any embarrassment that I went with my parents. It's not like I took them to see Napalm Death.

Since I was too young to fall in love with the band when they released Murmur, the crux of fandom was (and might always be) between Out of Time and Up. Thinking of Keith's quote about music directing your future, this was definitely true with me and my life. For the past few years, I've been very lucky to review live shows and interview bands that I admire -- and it helps that I'll always have a positive memory of an early showgoing experience.

Plus, it's very important how records like Out of Time and Automatic for the People helped me see a broader and denser view of the world. With all the videos MTV played (as well as the many interviews with the band) over those years, I highly doubt anyone watching the channel now could get the same experience from the lifestyle programming that's on now. No, the post-R.E.M. generation will have to find that elsewhere, and I'd be more than happy to share.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Crawl Space

After many months of trying, I came to a conclusion last night: Breaking Bad will probably not be one of my favorite all-time TV shows.

I say this fully acknowledging the show is very well-written, acted, and produced, but at the end of the day (moreover, when I'm thinking about something to watch over dinner), I cannot join my friends in the near-universal praise.

I played catch-up with the series during its hiatus before season four began, so this is my first season I've watched week-to-week. And I've passed the point of whether or not I should continue watching the show. I don't hate the show per se; I can't give up on a show with characters I've taken a lot of time to know. I want to know how the series will end, so I'm hanging on through the end of this season and I will watch its final, fifth season when it airs.

Without going into spoiler territory, I point towards never-ending chasing of tails. When there's a problem that seemingly can't reach an easy solution, no matter how much it's between a rock and a hard place, eventually there is a clever solution. And it's usually an unpredictable solution, making things very engaging to see happen, albeit to a fault.

What also doesn't help: pacing. Plenty of episodes have long, drawn-out moments of discussion that sometimes can test the audience's patience. Alas, when a brutally violent confrontation or sequence occurs, all is forgiven.

But at what cost? Plenty to me.

There seems to be a certain, mostly male, attitude that loves this show. And guess what? I don't have it.

Although certain people I know, like my friend Millicent and my expert friends Donna and Noel (who have reviewed and been with the show since its pilot episode) have optimistic views on life, many males I've encountered can't get enough of this show because they see adult life as an ongoing series of disappointments. It's like, this show is an escape from the drabness of being lonely, broke, bitter, and disaffected. In other words, places in life I'm not at, or have been at before and don't want to be at again.

Again, I have not sampled a little of this show and said, "Eh." I've been on the rollercoaster and I don't want to get off of it. All I'm saying: do not expect me to own the entire series on Blu-ray or to be a part of the ongoing critical echo.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In the end, all you can hope for is the love you felt to equal the pain you've gone through

Two weeks ago, I reviewed Tim Kasher's show at the Loft. If you haven't read the review yet, I thought it was a great show overall that became a little unglued at the end. Well, at the end of every show review for DC9, we do a "Critic's Notebook" mentioning personal bias, random quotes, or whatever else we feel like sharing that wouldn't fit in the body of the review.

In the case of the Kasher show, I wrote the following in my Personal Bias section:
I am a fan of Kasher's stuff, but there are times when I find Album of the Year and The Game of Monogamy very hard to listen to. It's not because of the music -- it's the brutal honesty and vulnerability found in the lyrics. I think I needed this show.

There was a sentence between the second and third sentence that didn't make the final draft. I'm not pointing fingers or whining at why it was excised. Rather, I figured I'd explain a little more about what I was talking about.

Frankly, merely writing about this topic is a reminder of why I write: to get out what I have difficulty saying.

In short, between the end of July and end of August, I became single again and my band broke up. Both situations forged around the same time almost two years ago and both fell victim to erosion at almost the same time.

Once again, a big blow to my life happened in the middle of summer. Previous years saw a close friendship end in an ugly way, friends die after slow and painful bouts with cancer, a coworker die suddenly of a heart attack, and other things, all lining up at the span of the same time frame. And now this.

I know of people who have been through rough years and ask in the middle of them, "Can we just skip ahead to next year and start over?" I've thought that, but I prefer to not think about time travel or other things I can't change.

The one thing I can steer is my attitude. I can use these losses as a way to move forward. Keeping a positive attitude can be trying, especially when you're grieving, so I'm not going to act like I'm in denial. It's just that things sink in at different times, and when something stings, it stings like a colony of bees.

In an attempt to make use of the slow days, I've stayed very active with my exercise habits, my reading, and my writing. Matter of fact, there was a point for a few weeks where I worked 11-13-hour days between my regular work stuff and freelance stuff. But, like when I was laid off seven years ago, the positive drive can reach E and things start to coast on fumes. Right now, I'm at that point.

I can't give up on a positive attitude about life. I may say cynical, dark jokes, but it's always hiding some pain I'd prefer to dish out in small laughs rather than big tears.

Hope is not lost here. Far, far from it. I've been using my time to get a handle on where my life is now and where it's going. But there are times when I feels like I'm finally recovering from a massive blow to the body and head. Things don't heal overnight, you know?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My first show

This week's edition is with Eric Larson, bassist for Ume. He grew up in Houston and his first punk show was at the same venue that mine was. Great talking with him, and Ume is incredible live.

And if one just wasn't enough for this week's edition, I also interviewed Tom from the Horrors on his first show experiences. Read that one here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

First World Problems

I've recently encountered a phrase that fits perfectly into understanding the severity of something: first world problem. Often a hashtag on Twitter, the phrase has stuck and it's spawned some funny sites like this one.

In many ways, I find this an evolution of the Stuff White People Like blog: white people with a certain amount of financial security and particular lifestyle habits poking fun at themselves. It's all harmless and I find the humor in it is as well.

Yet knowing about this self-awareness makes me even more cautious to talk about my "problems." It's a great gauge to understand what's an earth-shattering problem and what is not. Merely watching snippets of a Real Housewives show or My Super Sweet 16 can show you plenty. I try to be careful about what I whine about -- knowing full well that I am a lucky and fortunate person.

It's like that line in Swingers (in the same conversation that spawned the title of this here blog), where Rob is conveying his frustration about making it in Hollywood: "You're telling me that your life sucks; that means my life is God-awful."

I hope I come across as caring and a non-whiner, but some things really drive me up the wall. Who I tell this stuff to is different. The more caring and understanding people I know, they hear it all. But with people that only know me in passing, my Facebook and Twitter friends, well, I watch what I say. Besides, do you really want to be lampooned and be cast as a stereotype?

Gotta Go

Last night was another late-nighter for me. This time, it was to see Agnostic Front at Trees. Here's my review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Postcard from 1952

A few years ago, I hoped to interview somebody from Explosions in the Sky for a Punk Planet feature. Their album, All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone, blew my mind and I wrote a very lengthy review. Well, I never got to interview somebody for a Punk Planet item because the magazine closed down, but I was happy to make up for it with the Observer.

In addition to yesterday's My First Show, I did a half-page feature that also runs in the print edition. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My first show

I'm proud to announce that this week's edition was one of the best interviews I've ever done: Munaf from Explosions in the Sky. Enjoy!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where you're from, where you are

In hopes of making interviews into friendly conversations, I'm always searching for icebreakers. Be it the town they're from, mutual friends we have, or when I saw them play live, I like to have things a little loose and fun. I definitely don't want to sound like a robot feeding questions into a mainframe computer.

Lately, I've talked with many a folk who are from the Houston area and it's always a fun topic. Earlier today, I conducted an interview for an upcoming My First Show piece and Houston was brought up quite a bit. Given how pop-punk was brought up as well, the conversation went deeper than the surface. It's about searching for reference points and finding spots to explore more, even if it's about a past life.

These days, I visit my hometown only a couple of times a year. I try to strike a balance between having my own life in Dallas and having Houston as my home away from home. I'm always welcome to make the four-hour drive, yet I prefer to be busy with my ongoing life in big D.

When I meet new people in person (or simply have a brief phone conversation for an interview), I never shy away from where I come from. Be it talking about my time living in New Orleans, Austin, or Fort Worth, these are parts of life's path and there's no reason to pretend like my times there never happened.

As I've said before, all I need is a few days back in the old neighborhood to remind myself why I moved in the first place. It's not the people per se; it's the lifestyle and environment. If I need reminders of landlocked, liberal-free thinking, there's the suburbs I grew up in. It's not like a chose a hippie lifestyle living off the land and recycling my urine. It's deciding to stay where I want to be.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Parking lots

Ending the week with a little rant I thought about when I was driving to see the Dodos last week. It's on three venues that have parking lots which are hard to get out of.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Cold Love

In this week's print edition, I wrote the main feature. It's on Maleveller, probably the only metal band I've interviewed where we could have talked at length about Richard Hawley and Elliott Smith.

Also, I covered Tim Kasher's show last night. It was epic to say the least!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

My first show

For this week's edition, I interviewed Tim Kasher, someone I've been a fan of for many years. So far, I've seen Cursive four times and the Good Life once, and I've never come away disappointed.

And if that wasn't enough, I also interviewed David Rogers-Berry from O'Death for a bonus edition of the column.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Tied to the '90s

I've spent a lot of time during this Labor Day weekend combing through many used-CD bins at a couple of Movie Trading Company locations. With a special of "Buy two, get one free" with 99-cent CDs, I've amassed a few small stacks for a total price of three new CDs.

While this makes my library even larger, I can't help notice what I've bought: almost all of these CDs were by bands I remember from high school or college. Only a few came out after I graduated college, which was ten years ago.

I'm talking Neil Finn, Dance Hall Crashers, Catatonia, Space, the Juliana Theory, and Underworld, to name a few. Records that I remember holding, whether I was at a Best Buy or at my college radio station. There's a different set of memories there -- and quite different from seeing songs saved as MP3s on my computer.

I find this stuff to be treasure. I doubt some of this stuff is on the Internet -- and it's been cheaper to get them in the used bin instead of spending a few hours clicking through to see what's available and hoping that the sound quality doesn't suck.

People may laugh or wonder why I hold onto these CDs instead of dumping them after I rip them. Well, hard drives could always die on you, losing all sorts of stuff in the process. It never hurts to have back-up copies. And it never hurts to recall when you first heard a record when it impacted you.

Friday, September 02, 2011


Speaking of the Dodos, I covered their show last night. Here's my review.