Saturday, January 28, 2006

File Under: Popular Music

My record collection is waiting for your admiration. Admittedly, there’s a part in every music collector’s ego that secretly wants a fellow fanatic to come over and admire the fruits of their labor. That labor, incidentally, is nothing more than shelling out moneys for an overpriced piece of plastic that somehow represents a memory trigger of an incident, feeling, event, or individual that has now been reduced to a fading image. That aural reminder vaguely colors in that image, and for a select few of us, we’re willing to invest a large portion of money for this. And we’re willing to look silly in the minds of others who just don’t get it.
There are definitely others that we’ve observed over the years that have done the same. We remember these individuals too, and sometimes, we get a little envious over the quantity and quality of their collections.
The first one that comes to my mind was a friend of my parent’s named Eric. His wife worked with my Mother and the two became close friends, which in turn, meant that my Father had to socialize with the couple too. Not that he minded; Eric and my Father would become drinking buddies and I can remember being dragged along to become the proverbial third wheel in their social activities. These activities usually involved card games, board games, softball leagues, and Sunday barbeques.
Typically, we would go over to their house and some times they would visit our house. I had my own creative ways of entertaining myself when they came over, but I really enjoyed those times that I was brought over to their house. Eric had the largest record collection I had ever seen at that point. It spanned the bottom half of a wall and it contained pretty much every popular album from 1965-1978. He was a huge Beatles freak, which was a plus, and I specifically remember him showing me a “White Album” re-issue that he purchased with limited edition white vinyl. “It will be worth a lot more someday than what I paid for it.” He explained. Never mind the fact that he already had an original pressing that is probably worth more, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was just impressed with his enthusiasm.
Eric worked for the coast guard, and I remember him getting drawn to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Summertime Dream” album because it contained the hit “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
He also was the first person to expose me to Frank Zappa. Eric bought “Sheik Yerbouti” when it first came out and I overheard him talking about how raunchy the latest Zappa album was. While the couples played cards in the kitchen, I was given full access to Eric’s collection and stereo, provided I listened to everything on headphones. I immediately located “Sheik Yerbouti” and put on side one of the offensive effort. After side one alone, I learned that sex was stinky, that tampons can ruin plumbing, that “poop chute” was another name for an asshole which was another name for your butthole, and that ugly people should die. It was quite a mind-blowing experience for someone who was only 12. When I went to put on side two, Eric walked past the stereo on route to the bathroom. He saw me playing that Frank Zappa album and said “Man, you really shouldn’t be listening to that.” He didn’t stop me though, and he did the responsible thing of telling my parents that I was in the other room listening to the Zappa album he was talking about earlier. Neither parent got up to request that I listen to something else, so I learned about a homosexual sex spastic named Bobby Brown.
Eric chastised me for listening to Cheap Trick’s “At Budokan” too much. He also didn’t think it was cool that April Wine used the same guitar line as “Day Tripper” at the close of their “I Like To Rock” track.

He did teach me some critic things in my music obsession.

  1. Number one: When making a mix tape, try to put like era/like artist cuts together. It was a strategy that I used until 1989.
  2. Don’t use that shitass Memorex normal-bias shit. Throw down the extra cash and get that Maxell XL-II shit. High bias. Chrome. Aw yeah!
  3. Wipe that shit down before you play it. Grab that Discwasher fluid, trickle it on that big ol’ brush and get that lint off the vinyl, bitch.

So then I started collecting stuff, alphabetizing it, and spending money on plastic record sleeves. Once, I was talking to a friend who really didn’t have much of a collection himself and he mentioned that he knew this guy that used to be an Assistant Manager of the local Disc Jockey record store, or some shit. We made our way over to this dude’s house one night and we rolled a j with him. His entire wall was vinyl, and I remember specially ordering Syd Barrett’s “The Madcap Laughs” from him at the store. He said I was the third person in the past week that had been asking about Barrett, which made me happy, because I remember talking about the original lead singer of Pink Floyd with them at school that week. It was nice to know I had aligned myself with fellow music explorers.
I immediately asked him if he remembered the Barrett incident and he did. He showed me some bootleg Barrett vinyl that he had and I asked if I could borrow it. “I don’t lend out albums.” He explained. That’s the best lesson a fellow fanatic has ever told me: if you really love this shit, then you won’t treat it fleetingly. From then on, I never loaned out any of my records to anyone.
He did let me return some other time and record the album on his own stereo. That was pretty cool, as was his acoustic rendition of Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
He was the man in Keokuk, Iowa, but he was nothing like the freak in Waterloo I met years later. Tom, a man who had a record store once, got cancer, quit the business and became this hermit-type of guy who lived with his Mother. Almost the entire basement of his house was filled with alphabetized cassettes, reel tapes, vinyl l.p.’s, singles, every fucking format known to man.
He had everything no matter how obscure. He was proud of his collection and he would litter each conversation about the magnitude of his old store and how majestic his new store would be, if he could just get it off the ground.
Tom provided me copies of rare albums that he insisted that he use his own equipment for. It would take him a week to fire up all the components on it and he had some theory about taking noise reduction techniques out of records during the transfer of audio to a cassette tape. It was crazy, and most of the copies he made for me ended up sounding dull and flat with no high end and a very barky low end. Tom had the original copy of Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel” single and an original copy of The Replacements “The Shit Hits The Fans” live album released on cassette only.
Tom later moved out of his Mother’s house and got an apartment in the downtown area. Right below his apartment was his new record store, filled with inventory of albums that he didn’t want anymore. It was pretty underwhelming, as Tom really didn’t want to part with many of his albums. The store closed about a year later.
Finally, I vaguely remember the record collection of a female roommate who lived with some friends of mine. She seemed fairly reserved. An East-coast bohemian type who eventually fucked one of my friends (also a roomie) and who’s name I cannot recall. Strangely, I do remember her record collection. She left one holiday to return home out of state and I snuck a look at her goods. Amazingly, it was primarily reggae music, deep catalog stuff, with a few new wave albums leftover from high school thrown in to add a sense of history. Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, she even had a huge stash of Black Uhuru albums. What devotion! I found it admirable that she had found a specific genre and completely embraced it to the fullest. Her stringent collection impressed me more than her Christian name, and the drama of fucking a roommate led her to eventually split very abruptly from the house and take Natty Dread with her.

Her collection told me not to go beyond my own musical capacity: Her comfort zone was reggae. To this day I have not delved headlong into jazz because, honestly, I have a lot of uncomfortable feelings about improvisational musicianship that goes beyond my own musical understanding. I understand “Jailhouse Rock.” I understand also that “A Love Supreme” is more spiritual than I can comprehend.
There are some other collections that have stayed with me over the years too. It’s reassuring to know that there are others with the same ailment as me, and it’s interesting to see where and in what areas their collections have grown. Some are completists. Some have narrowed their vision to a particular time or genre. But everyone of them can tell you a story if you’re fortunate enough to admire them.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Life Changing Baker's Dozen

I think this topic has been addressed on this blog before, but I recently examined my musical past and determined the top ten albums that utterly defined my music tastes and changed my way of “listening” to things for evermore. At first, I wanted to make the list as highbrow as all get out. But then I realized that would be a disservice and, for lack of a better word, a lie. I mean, if a guy has a life-altering experience after hearing Rainbow’s “Difficult To Cure” album (read: one of the worst albums ever made) then so be it. If Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” album open the door to another planet for you, that’s your link. A real man would point to that album and stand by it, no matter how uncool or passé that album was/is. Unless that album happens to be Rainbow’s “Difficult To Cure.”
The key would be to have some passion in your explanation of what makes that album a watershed mark. If you really dug Rush’s “2112” and that’s what got you to listen to lyrics, then that’s an influential album.
Also, it’s got to be a “big picture” album. For example, I’ve got a ton of stuff that I could point to specific areas of preference. David Bowie is a hugely important artist to me, but it was Alice Cooper that led me to David Bowie in the first place, so “Love It To Death” would be on the list instead of “Hunky Dory.” But what led me to Alice Cooper? That’s where it gets tricky. I’m going to try and give it a stab, so let’s take a look at the records that made me into an elitist music snob.

1.) THE BEATLES-“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
I swear to God, I probably knew the words to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” before any children’s song. “Sgt. Pepper” with the rainbow ring of Capitol Records’ old label spinning in my bedroom, I listened to this album incessantly. Why my parents let me take this album is beyond me, but I had access to all of their respective singles and relatively few long players. They made the switch to the 8-track format and placed the collection too high for me to reach. I completely destroyed to actual cover after permanently engraving the artwork in my head. The songs allowed me to consider unique sounds while reveling in The Beatles’ masterful sense of melody. The other long players at my disposal were The Beatles’ “’65” album and “Meet The Beatles” and the number 2 selection on this list.
2.) THE ROLLING STONES-“Beggar’s Banquet”
The first album that was purchased exclusively for me. I asked my parents at the Woolworth’s store in Shenandoah, Iowa for this album and they bought it. I immediately wrote my name all over the American cover art and thought that “Sympathy For The Devil” was a fairly naughty song because it talked about that guy with the pitchfork and killing the Kennedys. The underbelly and ‘poor boy do?’ of the blues Started with this record.
3.) THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE-“Are You Experienced?”
From my first exposure to Hendrix came the explanation from Dad that the guy was a hot shit guitarist. Not that I had any prior exposure to hot shit guitarist up until that point or anything and not that I would later become a hot shit guitarist myself. I simply knew the guy could play the guitar behind his bath and with his teeth. I also knew that Hendrix died too soon and that others worshipped him; my Father had an original print of Hendrix made by a student of his. This framed tribute didn’t move my Dad in the same way it moved me. He gave it to me and it found its way to the wall of my room and I associated “cool dead guy” with Jimi Hendrix. Further proof was when I brought “Are You Experienced?” to show and tell in Kindergarten while others were bringing Kermit the Frog’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” The stereo separation was lost on the school’s monophonic turntable and I understood that something was lost in the translation. I also understood that I needed to pay more attention to rock guitarists when listening to rock albums. Hendrix’s playing also prompted me to pick up the guitar backwards and try to play left-handed, a trait that remains with me to this day despite the fact that I write with my right hand.
4.) BOB DYLAN-“Highway 61 Revisited”
As mentioned before, the parents offered me a few albums to entertain myself when they probably shouldn’t have. There were three albums that my Dad kept hidden away that were off limits. Peter Paul and Mary’s first album was one, Pete Seeger’s “On Campus” was another, and this album was the third. The first two did nothing for me, but “Highway 61 Revisited” struck a nerve. I’d play it without my Father’s permission, and I eventually taped it directly from a speaker onto a portable cassette recorder. I also found a bunch of transcripts of Dylan lyrics that he used for English class. It signified that even Rock performers (there was no prior knowledge of Dylan’s folk roots) could be considered writers and I began to take note of the actual words within songs. This album was the holy grail of all albums.
5.) THE DOORS-“The Doors”
No other album brought me to the dark side like The Doors’ debut album. Throughout middle school (6th to 9th grade), this album was perpetually on my turntable, reflecting my disdain for parental units (“The End”), my new love of weed (“Break On Through”), and my new appreciation of girls (“Soul Kitchen”). The book “No One Here Gets Out Alive” was also read repeatedly and I started to subscribe to the live fast die young ethos. I later regarded Morrison as a drunken dipshit, but there’s no denying that the Lizard King pointed me towards a more literary direction and an appreciation to rock music’s dark corners.
6.) ALICE COOPER-“Love It To Death”
I wasn’t joking about Alice. My Father and I went to a local record store that was going out of business. They were auctioning off their remaining stock alphabetically and he placed a bid on the “B” and “C” section hoping to nab some Beatles and Cream albums. What he got instead were things like The Beach Boys, Joe Cocker, Bloodrock, Badfinger, and this album by Alice Cooper. “The Ballad Of Dwight Fry” freaked my shit, “Black Juju” was menacing, and the rest of the album was the heaviest thing I had ever heard in my life up until that point (age: 8). When I started to look into some of rock’s heavier acts, this was the album that I used as a reference point. Bands like Black Sabbath rated high on the scale. Bands like Kiss didn’t. He was also the first artist that genuinely dismayed my Grandparents when they caught me watching something like Don Kirshner’s rock concert with him on it. And anything that makes the older generation squirm is typically a good thing.
7.) THE CLASH-“London Calling”
I firmly believed everything I read about punk rock in mainstream music magazines. They were portrayed as dumb, talentless freaks….Except for The Clash. It seemed that these guys were credible, and for a thirteen year old that was enough. I swear to God that the selling point of this album to fellow classmates was the parental warning sticker that declared some of the content would be consider offensive to some listeners. I totally missed the line “he who fucks nuns must later join the church” and totally learned that punk rock sounded an awful lot like regular rock to me. Out of the big three (The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash), these guys were first for me.
8.) BLACK FLAG-“Damaged”
When I finally got around to accepting punk as a credible rock genre, I began looking for more recent examples of it. Around the same time, a friend came back from a boarding school out East and with him, a collection of l.p.’s, singles, and mix-tapes of various punk bands. Minor Threat, Christian Death, The Avengers, Dead Kennedy’s and others all spawned from this discovery, but it was Black Flag’s “Damaged” that jumped out. There was enough novelty to appeal to the drinking buddies and enough chaos to accommodate those who continually spun Judas Priest or whatever.
9.) THE CARS-“The Cars”
New Wave fever took over America in the late 70’s, because most of us were told that Punk was a bunch of retards who couldn’t play anything, spit on their audience, and had funny looking clothing. I think the Cars were better dressed and they sang catchy fucking radio hits, of which this album is chock full of. The brilliant thing was that they were hugely influenced by a number of more less-commercial bands, and I felt obligated to investigate them right after I stopped “Moving In Stereo.” I gave up on them after “Panorama” because by the time of “Shake It Up” I was already spinning the bands that influenced The Cars rather than The Cars themselves.
10.) SONIC YOUTH-“Bad Moon Rising”
Unlike anything I had ever heard before. The scales fell from my eyes when I heard this album in college, some two or three years after it was originally released. I hated it at first, but a friend continued to praise and play it. This album enabled me to look at guitar bands in a completely different manner and look for creativity in feedback.
11.) THE SMITHS-“Meat Is Murder”
The opposite sex brought me to a band fronted by a celibate lead singer. Go figure. But liking the Smiths sometimes brought a connection to unique members of the female gender. Their misery was a perfect soundtrack to High School, and it spawned a network of mopey drama kids too sensitive to understand why they were so depressed in the first place. The American cassette version featured the new single “How Soon Is Now” as the kickoff track to side two, which made the auto reverse function fairly popular with this release. Probably their worst album overall, but hugely important to yours truly.
12.) JOY DIVISION-“Closer”
None blacker. A collegiate entry that hit in every category: depressive lead singer who commits suicide immediately before displaying his literary talents to American ears. They released two certifiable classic albums before the tragedy and I favored this, their second album, as the backing music for my entire time at college. I briefly gave up metal because of this album, because this was the “heaviest” shit I had ever heard.
13.) THE RESIDENTS-“Commercial Album”
In the back of Rolling Stone magazine was the album charts. I used to love looking at it and tracking the progress of my favorite releases. Right before the charts, a small record company out of San Francisco called Ralph Records regularly ran advertisements stating “Buy Or Die.” You could get sampler records cheap from Ralph and it featured some of the most unusual music known to Earth. One of the bands making some of the most unusual music known on Earth was made by The Residents. “The Commercial Album” was one of those records that only a few of us actually listened to and even fewer tried to describe. Not rock, not punk, not new wave, The Residents made the kind of music you’d expect if it was made by four eyeballs. They also forced me to look beneath the radar, past the album charts, for groundbreaking music.

Monday, January 2, 2006

2006: Still Tippin'

Resolution 1: Watch more boxing

I suppose I can fill you in on the personal shit now. Things are good and I’m glad 2005 is over. Moving. Starting a new job. Leaving it. Starting a new job. Putting the house up for sale. Hurricanes. War. Retards running this country. Death. New car. Lots of shit went down last year. At the end of the day, I’m fairly content. Work sucks a little ass, but I won’t hang around forever if I don’t feel like it.
Jesus is the reason for the season, and for the first time ever, I went to church on Christmas Day. A pastor whose own congregation had left him during the holidays, found his way into another church where he was invited to give the Christmas sermon. Rotund and wearing an out-of-style sweater, the pastor wanted to delve into the “heart of Mary,” but ended up confusing the majority of those in attendance with speculation on items totally irrelevant to the holiday. “But what about the myrrh?” He asked. “What about the myrrh?” He briefly explained that myrrh was used to mask the stench of human decay, which made it such an unusual gift for the baby Jesus. They also had a little slideshow and put up the bible passage “The Lord loves a cheerful giver” as the collection plate was passed.
I spent the holiday on a fucking air mattress and showered in a cold basement with a flimsy stall. The baby Jesus, on the other hand, slept on some hay while the myrrh covered up the smell of the rotting afterbirth. At least that’s what I’m guessing.
This would be the first Christmas I felt a little disconnected. I spent most of the time trying to figure out who had the motherfucking Christmas plan after it had become so routine that most in attendance, aside from me, already knew the motherfucking Christmas plan by heart. This just in: there’s a guest here with an air mattress backache that doesn’t have a fucking clue what’s going on. Throw the dude a bone and give him an idea of what the drill is. That’s a critical part in being cool.

Resolution 2: Stop smoking this year

On New Year’s Eve, I spent a shitload of money on a mediocre four-course meal that featured a bitchy old lady next to the table I was at. There’s nothing better than a retired woman bitching about how rare the prime rib is. The next day I got baked and went to “Syrianna” with the SLF. I have no idea what the movie was about. I think it had something to do with oil. Matt Damon had a kid in it who died. Tim Blake Nelson gave a little soliloquy on corruption. George Clooney has a beard. That’s pretty much all I remember about it.
You know what really grinds my gears?
“Syriana”-A plot so complex that you’re forced to give up on trying to follow the plot. Brilliant. At least give me a little eye candy to prevent me from yelling “What the fuck is going on?!” at the screen.
Wal-Mart-Every other word out of my mouth was “fuck” when I had to go there for some job-related need just prior to the holidays.
The entire staff of the C.R. Home Depot -Just make the fucking thing self-serve, cuz these motherfuckers you’ve got in there now really don’t want to be there. They hate us, and it shows.
Extended holiday hours -Fuck the "need" to get that $19.95 dvd player at 5:30 am in the motherfucking morning!! Go to bed. Stay at home.
American Bistro That wasn’t a $45/plate meal, fucktards. I’ve had better dinners at my Mom’s house.
Anyone under the age of 23-Seriously, you guys need to chill the fuck out. You don’t get it for free and the world ain’t gonna end if you don’t buy it. Learn some manners. Tuck in your shirt. Get a dictionary.
That Craig Ferguson guy -Who are you? When did this motherfucker get a show after Letterman? Isn't he that guy from "The Usual Suspects?"

Resolution 3: Purchase 6 Bob Dylan albums in 2006.