Monday, April 29, 2013

Nothin' But a Good Time

When Rock of Ages was a Broadway hit, I rolled my eyes. Hair metal turned into a Broadway smash? Kill me, said my punk rock purist attitude.

When Rock of Ages was made into a movie, I anticipated Razzie nominations and mocking upon its release. This isn't a movie I should ever consider seeing, said my far-flung movie tastes. And this was coming from somebody who loves the movie version of Mamma Mia!

I don't necessarily know what compelled me to rent Rock of Ages from Netflix, other than the fact that I tend to have dry spells. As in, I want to watch something I've never seen before, and I'm usually up for something different . . . even if it's something I initially found forgettable. No matter how many hair metal songs were in it.

I embrace the fact that hair metal was a crucial element in me appreciating modern rock music when I was a kid. Songs like "Wait," "Here I Go Again," and "Carrie" might have been made into cheesy videos for MTV, but the melodies, polished sound, and somewhat aggressive style certainly helped bridge a gap between James Taylor and Nirvana. I couldn't have understood the importance of Nirvana had it not been for Steelheart, Trixter, and Slaughter.

Rock of Ages is filled with songs that I remembered hearing all the time before I became a teenager. Hair metal was awesome when I was in elementary school, and it was a point of constant mockery in middle school and high school. Now I'm at an age and a truly comfortable place in my life where I openly acknowledge myself as a music enthusiast. Melody and perceived passion weigh heavily into what I react to. Doesn't matter if it's a Jay-Z song, an ABBA song, or a Dillinger Escape Plan song, my tastes are all over the place and unpredictable. So it's not too far-fetched to say that I can enjoy "We Built This City" and "I Wanna Rock" without irony or cringing.

Am I biased in finding enjoyment in songs I loved before puberty struck me? Of course. Did this weigh heavily with finding value in this movie? Absolutely.

With the Rock of Ages movie, I knew there would be lots of sexual innuendo and one-liners, just like all the songs that are featured. A number of the jokes felt flat to me, but that didn't deter me from enjoying the movie. It's probably the best adaptation one could expect from the source material. Really good actors who can sing to various degrees of success, mixed with faithful modern recreations of 80s hits. And given the satire of the PMRC and kid-friendly hip-hop, I couldn't help be pulled in. 

I have no illusions how my assessment would fall on deaf ears. This movie isn't Ikiru, nor is it Baby Geniuses. It's entertainment, folks. We have our Nick Drakes and we have our Taylor Swifts. You get to choose what you want to hear and see. Having the choice is better than no choice at all.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


For the past two years, I have resisted the urge to seek out the exclusive pieces of vinyl released on Record Store Day. I didn't think the time and effort would be worth much: standing in a line for hours, hoping to find something that I wanted. Plus, there haven't been many items that I really wanted. Matter of fact, the only RSD exclusive that I wanted was that Foo Fighters 12-inch featuring cover songs they had done over their entire career. When I saw the line to get into the record store closest to me wrap around the block, I turned my car around and went home.

This year, there were a handful of records that I wanted to get. A couple of them were modern classics that I wouldn't mind owning on vinyl, even though I already owned them on CD. I still try to stick to a relatively strict code of vinyl purchases (as in, I try not to own something on vinyl and CD), but there are times when I cannot resist. This happened with Bruce Springsteen's catalog between his debut album and Tunnel of Love. Having iconic works like Born to Run and Nebraska are worth the double-dip, in my opinion.

Going into yesterday's event, I had At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command, Braid's Frame & Canvas, and Cave In's Until Your Heart Stops on my list of wants. I also wanted to pick up the debut EP by Their/They're/There, a new group featuring members of Cap'n Jazz and Into It. Over It. I had received some great intel from a record hound friend of mine that a couple of stores in my area usually had smaller crowds and better quantities than other stores. I had to give this a shot.

I woke up at 6am yesterday and got out the door a little after 7. While the first store that I went to had plenty of stock, there wasn't much room to move around. Fifteen to twenty anxious audiophiles were stuffed into an area that was maybe six feet wide. To get your hands on a record, you had to be comfortable with leaving your comfort zone and (somewhat) grope the people around you. I smelled plenty of coffee breath as well as sweat, but if this was my only chance to get these records, I told myself that I could always shower later.

I grabbed the sole copies of Frame & Canvas and Until Your Heart Stops and one of the many copies of Relationship of Command. As I tried to make my way to the T section, I saw my friend Brian holding what turned out to be the only copy of the Their/They're/There EP. Brian is a great guy who loves the kind of music that I love, so seeing him hold this sole copy was fine by me. Better him than some person who is going to sell it unopened for triple the price on eBay.

After talking with a few more friends who came out, I decided it was time to plunk down my cash and get the hell out of there. My grand total was a whopping 90 dollars. Since two of the records were double-LPs, that made the price much more than I usually spend on vinyl. (Usually, I spend about 25 dollars a month on books and vinyl because I like to eat food on a daily basis and have a roof over my head.) Given that I received some wonderful news on Friday about something I can't quite address publicly yet (it involves me working a regular schedule for the first time in sixteen months), I figured, why the hell not?

I came home happy, but I couldn't stop thinking about another store in town that also participates in RSD. When they opened their doors a few hours after most of the other stores opened, I dropped in to see what was available. At a few minutes after they unlocked their doors, the scene was like throwing scraps to a kennel filled with hungry dogs. This place had much less stock and none of the other releases I wanted to check out.

Getting back home, I marveled at the vinyl I got. The Braid 12-inch was on clear vinyl while the other two were on brown marble swirl. I'd say this was worth doing, but I am OK with not stepping into a record store again for a few days. To help fight the temptation, I spent the rest of the day on a golf course. Surrounded by great company and playing in gorgeous weather, I had a wonderful 4/20.

As for next year's Record Store Day, all bets are off, but if they have a few things I'd really like, I'm willing to do this all over again.

Friday, April 19, 2013

For You

Last year, while I watched the Revival Tour for the first time, I noticed the guy playing the first solo set of the night. I didn't know if he was local or not, but I certainly remembered his curly hair. A week later, I saw him at LaGrange and introduced myself. The guy's name was Corey Howe. Not much later, I interviewed the band for My First Show.

Now with their debut record coming out this week, I wrote a story on the path they've taken to get there. Definitely was a fun one to write. I hope it's a fun one to read.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Don't Talk to Strangers

My introduction to Rick Springfield was not through General Hospital or hearing "Jessie's Girl" on the radio. It was Chipmunk Rock, an album mostly made of of cover songs with Alvin and the Chipmunks. While I can't really stomach Alvin, Simon, and Theodore's version of "Jessie's Girl" these days, there were roots laid in my mind. The same went with many of the other songs on the album, like "Take a Chance on Me," "Whip It," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and "Leader of the Pack." That's the kind of stuff I went on since we didn't have MTV in our household until 1987.

I've heard the original "Jessie's Girl" many, many times in my lifetime and I still enjoy it. Yet thinking there was anything more to Rick Springfield was not really on my mind until recently.

I had seen the Behind the Music episode on Rick a few times and I knew he had a very frank memoir out on in bookstores called Late, Late At Night. I thought of him as a pop star trying to retain his rocker image. This desire was not too far off from Rod Stewart, believe it or not. A song like "Don't Talk to Strangers" doesn't really rock, but I still like the chorus.

Leave it to Dave Grohl with showing me how much more Rick Springfield is as an artist. Yes, an artist.

In Grohl's documentary, Sound City, a number of other hits besides "Jessie's Girl" are featured. "I Get Excited," "I've Done Everything for You," and "Love is Alright Tonite" came to my attention, making me way more interested in Rick, beyond what I had heard before.

Giving a listen to the Essential Rick Springfield, I can't tell if Rick wants to be Sammy Hagar or David Cassidy. Maybe that's the thing that's plagued him for his entire career. When you're too good-looking to be a rocker but too rocking for a pop crowd, one end of the spectrum is gonna win over the other one, depending on the song.

I recently read Late, Late At Night and found it pretty open and honest. He makes no bones about his life-long battle with depression and sex addiction. Not exactly dinner-table conversation, but his songs make more sense to me after reading the book. Not many memoirs are this blunt.

I've already begun my hunt for my favorite LPs at the local record stores. I found Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet and I hope to see Working Class Dog soon. Those are two that I consider "essential" and his other records are not too tempting for me. Something clicked perfectly on those two records and I'd like to dig into the other non-single tracks.

Funny how this journey started with an Alvin and the Chipmunks cover. I hope to meet somebody someday who got into Modest Mouse because of Kidz Bop.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Take the Long Way Home

When I first heard a Supertramp song, I thought there was irony in where I heard it. Featured on the thirteen-song Magnolia soundtrack, "Goodbye Stranger" and "The Logical Song" seemed out of place between the low key pop songs by Aimee Mann. It was like a couple of Bat Out of Hell songs from Meat Loaf were featured on a compilation dominated by Clouds-era Joni Mitchell. As in, bombastic, multi-layered songs tacked on a collection of moody, Sunday morning songs.

Plus the band had a silly name. Supertramp? Really?

With the insanely-high vocals and jazzy beats of "Goodbye Stranger," I passed off the song as a product of excessive late 70s/early 80s production aiming for the same audience that made Styx and REO Speedwagon household names.

Well, I still feel that way about the band, but after hearing "Take the Long Way Home" a few times, I've decided I need to invest a lot more time into this band's catalog. Given how much I love Ben Folds' sense of pop melody and songwriting, Supertramp sounds like the bridge between Elton John and Ben Folds. And Steely Dan. And Todd Rundgren. And, to a small degree, Air Supply. All artists I un-ironically love. Yes, I love Air Supply.

In other words, I have a lot of Supertramp music I need to listen to.

Just this morning, I took a listen again to "Take the Long Way Home" as one of Jenny's favorite iTunes playlists was on shuffle. The song's pre-chorus really grabbed me and I wanted to hear it again and again. So I later took a listen to Matt's copy of  Breakfast in America on vinyl. Already I'm in love with the aforementioned "Take the Long Way Home," but also "Just Another Nervous Wreck." It's like Burt Bacharach interpreted for a Broadway musical. And that's something I can dive head-first into.

Still, with a silly name like Supertramp, I should put the music on and not care about the band's image or album covers. I should just enjoy the tunes.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Josh Venable

There are other freelance writers at the Observer who have worked in radio, but I seem to be the one who writes about radio and fellow radio personalities. I met Josh Venable years ago at a show at the Gypsy Tea Room and we talked about Ash. When Ash came through town last month, I talked to him about doing a story about his life after Clear Channel cut him loose. Here's what I wrote.