Monday, January 24, 2005

Look Into The Eyeball

Five days left with my current job, then it’s off to the majors again. Actually, more like Triple-A level, but at least it’s not the farm league like my current employment situation. I just found out that they’re creating a management type of position there which would pay the same amount as I’m making now. I’ve got to give it to them for trying to make things more tolerable financially, but the immediate supervisor (the one who supposedly doesn’t like me) is moronic. I think I’ve determined the reason she doesn’t empower people to do things, even when we’re bored shitless: She’s afraid the more she teaches others, the more at risk her own job is because she feels inadequate. You are inadequate and I could give a rat’s ass about your painkillers.
Which leads me to my own medical condition. I’ve now contracted some crazy-assed eye shit which is making my eyes blood red. Initially, the entire left eye was swollen and it looked like I had taken a beat down. At that time, the shit was cornered to just this one left eye, and it was leaking some yellow sticky tear fluid at a rapid pace. Having no medical insurance at the moment, you can guess that I was a little freaked out. I immediately thought: “What would The Residents do?”

Thankfully, the SLF’s kid had contracted some eye shit the week before and was provided with eye drops. If I could hold the shit together until Friday night, I could nick some of the little one’s unused drops. I had been informed that his eye had gotten better in three days or so. That would put me fully recovered by Monday night. Fuck health insurance! I see now that “W” just wants us to be foxy in regards to staying healthy.
Obstacle 1 turned out to be the news that the SLF also contracted the eye shit and seemed to be running a day behind my own symptoms. That meant that we’d have to share the remaining portion between each other. As the Mother of a 20 month old son, she had witnessed the wonders of pink eye and assured me that this was not that ailment. Supposedly, I’d be itching like a squirrel, scratching my retinas into bloody submission. My eyes didn’t itch, they made everything look pus yellow. Everyone I encountered appeared to have a liver disease and I really had no desire to communicate with anyone. A large sign pointed to my face announcing “Look At The Bloody-eyed Freak!” My roommate advised me to go to the doctor, but that fucker thinks everyone is born with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

So I get to the SLF and immediately start dropping. Of course, it’s in baby doses, so I up the shit a few. Soothing. But I want immediate results. It doesn’t happen and the SLF’s condition starts to worsen. I say with pride that at no time did her eyes ever look as blood filled as mind. Perhaps it was a sign from that subscription to Fangoria I had.
Her parents stopped by and saw the wonderful shape we were in and immediately called back to recommend that she go to the emergency room. Fearing the medicine would be used up if she didn’t, I pressed her to charge that shit to Wellmark. If I recall, those bastards charge extra for emergency room visits, but are there any doctors available on Sundays?
She came back upset because the doctor diagnosed it to indeed be pink eye, but she was steadfast in her opinion that it wasn’t. So much so that she leant me the new prescription while she continued to use her old medicine. That’s fucking teamwork.
So this medicine has created a thin blood red line right on the inside of my lower eyelid. It’s still blood red on the eye itself, but the pus has died down and the shit looks to be spreading to the right eye too. It was fine before I started using this newer medication, which makes me think that the SLF was correct in her original diagnosis. But I’m going to have to deal with this shit, new benefits start next week, so I’m a tad short on medical expenses at the moment.
Getting back to The Residents for a moment, they were a curio from my middle school/high school days where you could send a buck to Ralph Records and get a single sampler of all their artists. A few friends did and one walked away with a compilation that had The Residents singing “Easter Woman” and Snakefinger’s “Thrashing All The Love’s Of History.” It’s was awesome, but it belied the leather-clad skull that demanded “Buy Or Die!” in the print advert.
Reading the story of the Residents kind of sealed the deal for me. Nobody knew their identities (a la Kiss) and their real names. I think this was around the time of Kiss’ “Unmasked” effort, so you can see why The Residents started to appear a little more groundbreaking. Plus their “Commercial Album” had something like 40 songs at :60 seconds a pop. A great value, even at today’s inflated cd prices.
I finally got to see them in the late 80’s, but by that time, the had one of their eyeballs stolen and were doing a whole theatre piece. It was still pretty bitchin’, but I was jacked up on a lot of mushrooms too. Below is a picture from that tour. I’ve got the ticket stub somewhere and a memory of driving around Minneapolis, lost and freaked, surviving one encounter with their superb police department. I wish I could say the same for the St. Paul PD, I heard a few months ago that they killed this nice Russian girl that I hung out with once. It’s fucked up when you hear news about people you know who are killed by those hired to protect you. As usual, Joe Strummer was right again.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Rock And Roll Damnation

Can I take this time to acknowledge that AC/DC’s Phil Rudd is one of the best drummers in rock music? When one thinks of AC/DC, they tend to think about their monster riffs, cattle prod in the ass vocals, or lyrics that don’t tend to progress beyond the 8th grade. Fair enough, but for me one of the unsung heroes of the band and virtually unnoticed in rock drummer circles is Phil Rudd. An “in the pocket” player, Phil finds the grove and doesn’t deviate much from it. He certainly knows his place even though a band with AC/DC’s power would cause most drummers to try and hammer out every speedy fill they could in between those monster chords. “Fuck her gently.” Says Phil.

I heard ScorpionsBad Boys Running Wild” on the way home from work tonight, and remembered how much I liked these guys in high school. I don’t know what my thing for Krautrock is, but I know my adoration for German heavy metal music contains 1.) Some savage guitar work and 2.)English as a second language lyrics. The Scorpions certainly fit both requirements. Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs are very efficient guitar players with a nice metallic interplay while vocalist Klaus Meine is one of the most distinctive vocalist in rock music, thanks to an operation performed back in ‘81. Of course, singing the catalog in English also adds to his distinctiveness. Sample the lyrics to “Arizona” from the album “Blackout:”
“Arizona really was a gas
I was screwed up in a total mess
Mind blowing all the way you know
Just out of sight”
In case you’re wondering, in Germany “gas” and “mess” are phonetically the same when you’re speaking English. And “Bad Boys Running Wild” from “Love At First Sting” comes out as bad boys running wide. It really is a gas.
I’m still holding on to the belief that their early to mid 80’s output still rocks (“Animal Magnetism,” “Blackout,” “Love At First Sting”) and holds high court in my own personal collection. I’m tinkering with the idea of getting “Lovedrive,” which I recall has this kickass cover art and some guitar noodling from Rudolf’s brother Michael Schenker who served in the most awesome UFO and with his own project called the Michael Schenker Group. Actually, I wouldn’t mind having a couple of those discs either as I’m sure my cassette copies have been lost over the years.

I lost track of them around “World Wide Live,” where Klaus does the infamous “Do you see the microphones in the air? Do you see them?!” spiel. Like most people, however, I grew to despise them by the time they had their major hit about a guy who follows a little squirrel down to Gorky Park to listen to the gentle wind. But fuck man, I’d go see ‘em today if the price is right. As James Turner said in the 8th grade during basketball practice: “It don’t get no better than ‘The Zoo’ by the Scorpions.” He was right. He was also black. He also served time for robbery.
The station also played Ozzy Osbourne’s “Zombie Stomp” from the 1991 release “No More Tears.” The song starts out pretty good and the guitar playing is impressive. Then, the shitass drum production takes hold and Ozzy starts singing some of the most retarded lyrics ever. I mean, what the fuck?! Couldn’t somebody tell him that “hey hey do the zombie stomp” aren’t the most metal lyrics put to paper. I mean, it’s like a half step above “the bird is the word” on the metal meter. Some of these fucking metal artist would be better served recording in shitty studios with some stringent like Albini manning the microphones. I’m sorry, but there’s no fucking “big drum sound” on any early Sabbath album; those things are heavy as fuck because the band played heavy as fuck and didn’t leave the work for the mixing sessions. Someone needs to smack some sense into that guy. My money is on the horse that says his beloved wife is the one holding back any meaningful Sabbath reunion and then, if it does happen, the sessions will be marred by some big budget douche bag that spends a month getting the right guitar tone from Zakk Wylde.
I’m still working on “The Baker’s Dozen” list for 2004. It will comprise the best cd’s released last year and is created from over a year of research by the world’s most important rock critic: Me. Debate amongst yourselves, but the list will be final and cannot be changed. Unless I find a record later on that deserves to be in the top 13. For now, I’m leaning towards Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose” as the top pick. The Fall album, the new Brian Wilson, Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, and others will be included to. Due to my working situation, this will mark the first year that I don’t actually own all the titles listed. Thanks to the internet, I managed to sample the albums that will be included. I’ll get around to buying them eventually.
Every time I go record shopping lately, I get caught up in the “shit I need” mode and ignore new stuff. Last week was a prime example. I was actually holding the new Le Tigre and Libertines albums, only to replace them with Sweet’s “The Best Of” and The Rolling Stone’s “Between The Buttons.” Actually made out pretty good with those purchases.
Sweet indicates that I haven’t fully gotten over my whole glam period and I really didn’t have a good representation of The Stones in their ‘66/’67 period. In case you’re wondering, that’s a very good period for them, but The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, and others were clearly ahead of the curve. The finally gave up on this direction and returned back to more familiar pastures with “Beggar’s Banquet.” And that album turned out to be ten times better than “Abby Road,” so there you go. Speaking of The Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts is the shit too.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Highway 61 Revisited Reprise (Slight Return)

How do we fall into this thing called music obsession? I know a lot of people with the obligatory parent issues, and not all of them fret that they simple don’t have enough money to keep up on their cd collection. Not all of them seek comfort in knowing that they have the entire XTC discography. I can’t confess that all of them are even serious music fans, let alone fanatics. They don’t marvel at liner notes and stare at album jackets for hours on end. In fact, some of these people will actually portend to enjoy music more than they actually do simply because they notice that you speak of music with a passion. Psychology calls this the “Stockholm Syndrome.” I call it “posing.”
You probably think this is the part where I quote something by Nick Hornby. But my drive to work got me thinking about something different: “Where did this shit all start?” Then it got heavy.
I think my Dad liked music. I say “I think” because I still don’t really know my father. I find out surprising shit about him all the time. Like the night in high school he and a few buddies got busted with booze by the highway patrol. Or when I found out he cried when the family dog died. Or when you report to your parents that you’re on high blood pressure medicine and find out that your father has the same condition.
I bring these points up as a blatant analogy demonstrating how I was never emotionally close to my Father. I don’t need to know everything about him, but it would have been nice to have an actual conversation with him or feel a tad bit wanted. And by conversation I don’t mean politics, movies, history or (yep) music. No, I’m talking about real conversations where you hear about their own emotions, humanity, desires and failures. You need to hear about how it really hurt to have that fucking cocker spaniel die. You want to know if their own family was emotionally crippled and rife with a therapist’s thesis. You particularly want to know if you’re a tad bit wanted after the unwanted news of your own conception.
Sure, I’ve gotten to that whole “Forgive, Love E’m For Who They Are, Feel Sad For The Opportunities They Lost” bullshit already, and I’m not a bitter about it as I once was. But nonetheless, it did make me sit up and consider the reason why I love music with the passion that I do.
Growing up, I was handed down all of my parent’s 45’s and given access to one of those portable turntables from the sixties. My parent’s primary source of new music was via a new form of technology called the 8-Track. The 8-Track player was put high above my reach. I knew the old man liked The Beatles, so they became my favorite too. After the singles were absorbed, Dad gave me “Sgt. Pepper’s,” “Meet The Beatles” and “The Beatles ‘65” in long-play form. I had all the lyrics for these albums memorized before I turned 4.
There were a few albums that continued to remain out of reach along with the 8-Tracks. Those albums were Peter Paul & Mary’s first album, Pete SeegerOn Campus,” and Bob DylanHighway 61 Revisited.” All the people on the folkies albums looked old, but Dylan looked pretty young in that leather jacket and Triumph Motorcyles t-shirt. I imagined that someone took the photograph while he was working on the motorcycle. In my mind, he probably knocked out “From A Buick 6” immediately after installing spark plugs.

But I could never get my hands on that album. Dad deemed it to be too important to hand down to me and took notice of my love of writing on record labels with pens while they rotated around the turntable. I immediately stopped writing on my singles and album jackets, thinking that it would suddenly demonstrate responsibility enough to warrant a listen to that precious Dylan album. He wouldn’t budge.
Years later, I was snooping around one of Dad’s file cabinets and came across a file with a bunch of Bob Dylan lyrics typed out. I knew the words to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” before I even heard the song.
I began to “study” more music and became a handy reference table that my Father seemed to enjoy having. We could actually talk about music! My research continued.
By the time the inspiration for being a music geek was sown, a revelation occurred to me. As a teenager, I opened up the same desk drawer that had housed “Highway 61 Revisited” for so many years and found that the album was still there. At that point, I was the only person in the household that actually had a stereo, let alone a working turntable. The 8-Track player had died and never was replaced. Only a couple of radios remained in the house, and even these were only turned on in the morning during coffee as both parents listened to the news. It took a while before Mom became enamored by Katie, Matt, Al and Ann.
I grabbed that Dylan vinyl, marched up to my room, and smacked the fucker right on to my Craig stereo with the ceramic cartridge (I was obsessed by turntable cartridges, for some reason. I was convinced that metal cartridges were superior and looked for ways into incorporating one into the tone arm of my Craig stereo, even though it was fruitless effort). The snare cracked and I heard the familiar refrain about someone who dressed nicely, once upon a time, when they were younger.
I announced to my Dad that I had borrowed his copy of “Highway 61 Revisited” and would return it when I was done. He had forgotten that it was even there. How does one forget about their copy of “Highway 61 Revisited?” The thing was tucked away like a family jewel for years and now suddenly it’s not valuable? I knew that I’d been duped.
It was too late by then. I was already immersed in this who rock thing and I just couldn’t turn my back on it the way Dad turned his back on Bob. I’d even gone to such lengths as to replace the paper record sleeves with non-scratching ones by Discwasher, just to protect their contents. I bought Queen’s “News Of The World” and Cheap Trick’s “Live At Budokan” album and played them until both parents became annoyed, asking me to play something different.

You might say, it was my first “punk” period. Maybe. All I knew was that Queen’s “Get Down Make Love” was about sex.
So what started as the possibility that I could somehow form a relationship with my Father based on a mutual love of music suddenly gave way to the stark realization that he was merely a poseur. The music may have actually moved him at some point in his life, but now, it was just an occasional nudge. The next time I actually saw him get deeply entrance with a song was when he heard that baby-boomer history lesson by John Fogerty called “I Saw It On TV.” If you’ve never heard it, it’s along the same lines as Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” but not as pretentious. I had to listen to the entire “Centerfield” album because Dad didn’t want to hear the Run DMC tape that I had purchased that same day. Guess which one is cited as groundbreaking?
So now we’re at the point in our relationship where I actually lecture him on his music collection. It’s riddled with “Super Saver” greatest hit complilations on the “special marketing” subsidiaries of major record labels. I chastise him for not having a copy of “Sgt. Pepper’s,” “Beggar’s Banquet,” or even “Highway 61 Revisited” anymore. He’s moved on to wine, buying suits, and hobnobbing with political brethren while I remain steadfast in my musical obsessions. How does it feel?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Anger Could Be Power

There are days when I feel really bummed out about the death of Joe Strummer. Admittedly, I don’t dwell on it a lot, but when I do, I get bummed. Is it wrong of me to admit that I’ve been more bummed about his death during the past year than my own Grandfather’s passing? Probably not; Gramps ‘bout haddit while Joe was still young enough to whip together a bitchin’ Clash reunion one of these years. This is the way I roll.
There are days when I think The Clash were the best fucking band in the world and, during their prime, this was probably the case. “The only band that matters” was one of their slogans and while it didn’t ring true to me back in the day, it certainly makes sense now. Give me a break: I would have rated “Candy-O” higher than “London Calling” in 1979 and stumbled onto The Clash’s masterpiece only because Epic Records decided to put a “offensive warning” sticker on the cover of it.
So I bought “London Calling” again for the third time thanks to a Best Buy gift card given to yours truly for taking some of Motorola’s wonderful on-line training. I’d like to think that the real reason I got it was because I complained that my login to Motorola’s website wasn’t working and that not being able to take their on-line courses was “making me very sad.” I got at least a dozen email responses from actual Motorola workers immediately afterwards apologizing for the inconvenience. I love it when sarcasm isn’t translated into the typed word.
With the Best Buy gift card, I walked right into their gay bathhouse of merchandise and bought the only disc that mattered: “London Calling (The 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition).” Let me state that I’m with you: I’m tired of all these labels re-mastering, re-packaging, re-marketing all of their shit for the sixth time only to have you buy it once again. God bless the girl who admitted to me that this deluxe edition was the first time she’s purchased it since it came out on vinyl. I have the shitty original cd issue and can attest to its weak-ass mastering.

The new one sounds fucking incredible. Go get it, particularly if you don’t have the Clash dvd documentary “Westway To The World.” The re-issue includes a dvd on “London Calling,” but it replicates a lot of footage from the “Westway” release, which makes me an even bigger sap. Just watching Joe’s eloquent everyman interview makes me want to flick off the Lord and ask “Why the fuck do you always take the good ones? You can have Don Dokken instead!” Just watching the documentary also makes me consider: “If I were gay, I would totally let Paul Simonon have his way with me.” I can’t say that about George Lynch.
The bonus dvd also has some great footage of the actual “London Calling” recording sessions, in retrorific black & white. It’s complete with producer Guy Stevens throwing chairs, twirling ladders, and jumping around like a crazy dude. Whatever he did worked and the footage is incredible.
Another selling point was the inclusion of the infamous demo recordings called “The Vanilla Tapes.” The tapes themselves don’t reveal much other than the demos of a band learning the songs that would comprise the bulk of the album. Sure, it’s fun for those of us that get a kick out of hearing shitty sounding versions of the songs we love, but it’s nothing to recommend to someone who only knows The Clash as the band they play whenever we bomb Iraq. For the rest of yous, the regular remastered edition is plenty enough, cuz they were the only band that mattered anyway.

Sunday, January 2, 2005

The 2004 Baker's Dozen List

Here are the top 13 albums of 2004. They are not up for debate and any disputing of the standings is entirely wrong. I only reviewed a few or more of 'em, then I got bored. Maybe in a few days I'll throw out the rest for viewing; I think I've got 1 through 30 lined up enough, but I was thinking about doing a top 40 like Jack Rabid does. What can I say? I'm a big fan of lists. Add a fucking comment if you think you're so smart.

  1. LORETTA LYNN-”Van Lear Rose”
    This is the way to do a comeback. Get back to the basics that brought you stardom and sing what you know. Loretta knows a lot and could probably teach people 50 years her junior a thing or two. Thanks to some amazing and complimentary basic production from Jack White, Loretta easily makes the most country sounding album Nashville has seen in 20 years. It shouldn’t have come this way, but I’m glad it finally came.
  2. MODEST MOUSE-”Good News For People Who Love Bad News”
    If you see these guys live, you’d never expect they could amount to much. But turn them loose in a studio and something magical happens. They managed to hint at greatness in previous efforts, but “Good News” demonstrates that they’re in full capacity of their remaining brain cells, and consistently deliver some of the best quirk rock in the past decade. There’s no other band sounding like them today.
  3. FRANZ FERDINAND-”Franz Ferdinand”
    You gotta love 80’s retro particularly when the new bands pick a sub-genre that really never had much of a moment in the sun. For those fans of that bass-heavy, choppy rhythm guitars that graced a lot of overlooked gems from the early 80’s, here’s a band that finally seals the deal. This album was successful for a reason: because it’s good. Memorable, hook laden, and up tempo, this debut may be hard to top, but right now it’s hard to put down.
  4. THE FALL-”The Real New Fall L.P.”
    For almost 30 years, The Fall have been making albums. Some of them are groundbreaking or, at the very least, great while a few could be listed a frustrating. But no one could have expected Mark E. Smith to reach in and provide with a truly remarkable title at this stage in the game. Mark delivers his lyrics with as much fire as a man half his age and for some reason, this Fall line up seems positively energized.
  5. COMETS ON FIRE-“Blue Cathedral”
    Blue Cheer were a band from the late sixties that had some minor success and influence. Comets On Fire would like to sonically remind you about Blue Cheer. In the meantime, Comets On Fire’s music is performed with such enthusiasm that one may just take their word for it, and nod in agreement. The nodding will eerily match the tempo on any song from “Blue Cathedral” and cause an inner need to witness a liquid light show.
  6. BRIAN WILSON-”Smile”
    Few`people can return to a shelved product some 37 years later and expect it to work. Add a little bit of bi-polar to the mix and a probable recipe for disaster is in the mix. But Brian’s demons seem to be controlled when he remains focused on his crafter, and his craft is deserving of some distinction. The album sounds like it was recorded in 1966, and it sounds like nothing recorded in 2004. Brian is a master at vocal harmonies and in arrangements, and the “Smile” completion lets one ponder the “what ifs” had it been released when it was originally scheduled to.
  7. A.C. NEWMAN-”The Slow Wonder”
    It sounds like a New Pornographers album and, surprise, most of that band are on it. As the leader and creative force behind that band, it makes no sense to release a solo album as it’s essentially the N.P. without the democracy or Neko Case. But hey, that’s not a bad thing since “The Slow Wonder” is filled with more hooks than a candy cane and with just enough sugar to make the most fervent crit tap their feet. It’s a great summertime record in the tradition of great summertime records. And drink up kids, cuz the thing clocks in a just a hair over a half hour.
  8. BJORK-”Medulla”
  9. WILCO-"A Ghost Is Born"
  10. THE ARCADE FIRE-”Funeral”
  11. IRON & WINE-”Our Endless Numbered Days”
  12. DUNGEN-”Ta Det Lugnt”
  13. DANGER MOUSE-"The Grey Album"

Best Reissue:

THE CLASH-"London Calling"

Best Single:

JAY Z-"99 Problems"