Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Satellites Gone...Way Up To Mars

You wanna know why radio sucks? Well, there’s a long list of reasons to it and a notable history of general shit-slinging, but one has to point to the 1996 Telecommunications Act as the ground zero of suckiness.
It paved the way for the wonderful Clear Channel absorption of nearly every radio station on your car radio. This meant that, no matter where you called home, you could hear 103.5 “The Beaver” is all its glory, occasionally with the same canned shtick-kickers reading from the same AP entertainment wire copy. The idea was consistency, I guess, placing you local radio station along the same lines as a McDonalds. You knew that your Filet O Fish would taste the same no matter where you ordered it, and you knew that “The Beaver” was about ready to kick off another 30 minute rock block with the latest from Creed.
It was wonderfully American.
It was also woefully bland: listeners with more and more options at their disposal fled in droves and many like me found some solace in satellite radio. I logged a lot of windshield time and treated myself to one of the two providers available. I based my decision to go with XM on three things: It was commercial free. It (supposedly) sounded better, and it (supposedly) had a better range. Almost immediately I was hooked and singing its praises.
After a few years, however, I had a tough time justifying the expense (which I learned was automatically deducted from my credit card with barely a courtesy card. I noticed that some of the disc jockeys that I rather enjoyed were now absent, and the playlist of the “alternative” station became a bit tame. I heard plenty of shit by, say, The Walkmen or New Pornographers but very little in terms of cutting edge bands. I went over to the 80’s alternative channel until I recognized the limits of their playlist (maybe about 1,000 songs strong). I then went over to the metal channel, became disoriented in how everything sounded the same and locked in the classic metal channel for a while.
I found a way to work around the Sirius log in feature while at work (meaning: I got a hold of somebody’s password) and enjoyed some of their channels. I specifically remember one of my favorite channels, Underground Garage, used to play “Dead Man’s Curve” a little too frequently for my tastes. But the first time I heard it, stoned and a little drunk in a friend’s car equipped with Sirius, that Jan & Dead tune was awesome.
Ain’t that the truth with the first time you hear a song. I mean, you can’t top the first time you hear “Stairway” or “Smoke On The Water.”
But no, radio had to fuck that shit up. It didn’t seem to get that there were other tracks on IV or Machine Head that were just as awesome. They’d tell you some bullshit that the tracks they played had been “researched.” That’s pretty amazing considering most radio dudes I know don’t have a statistical degree but they totally understand that they can’t eloquently explain why they’re playing songs that a few people may not be able to identify.
The FCC, seemingly retarded and not realizing that the Clear Channel fiasco of government-aided homogenization, approved the merger of Sirius and XM radio as both companies faced mounting debt and lurking bond notes. In other words, the FCC completely reneged on their original decision to ensure there wouldn’t be a satellite radio monopoly and approved a satellite radio monopoly.
How this will ultimately impact subscribers is yet to be seen, but one has to consider what good came from any monopoly of service and why does the government now seem so keen on allowing satellite radio to become one?
It seems obvious that we’re set for another round of generalized homogenization, appealing to the largest audience possible and providing Sirius XM with an unfair advantage over like-minded broadcasters.
I’d be outraged if I gave a shit, but thanks to another FCC ruling from several years ago, I rarely listen to radio anyway.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The OCD Chronicles: Peaches "Fuck The Pain Away"

I haven’t thought of this song in forever, but I found myself with a bit of alone time this past week and decided to spend it in the Mancave with a few hours of Lost In Translation. I have no idea why I felt the need to revisit that movie, but it’s awesome so you can’t really consider it as time not well spent.
The problem is that “Fuck The Pain Away” then became stuck in my head like all get out and it’s really not appropriate to be around small children singing “Sucking on my titties/Like you wanted me/Calling me all the time like Blondie/Check out my Chrissy behind.”
As a matter of fact, there are very few moments where reciting those lyrics is appropriate.
Nonetheless, there it was: that dirty-electro trash, spinning endlessly through my grey matter, which reminded me of the following.
You see, there was a time when Peaches was not only inappropriate, but forbidden. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not the type of guy that responds positively when I’m told what to do. I am one that tries to avoid conflict, particularly when it involves members of the opposite sex, and my ex-wife inexplicitly felt positively threatened by Peaches.
I dunno if you’ve seen pictures of Peaches, but she’s clearly not an overtly attractive woman. Take a glimpse of her Fatherfucker album cover and you’ll be turned off for life. But that’s her shtick…shock value….a her lyrics certainly reflect this. There was a moment, before the shtick wore thin and Peaches turned out to be a one-trick pony, where she was considered fairly novel. The back-story: a former elementary school teacher who once called Fiest a roommate and then transformed herself into a camel-toe, pubes spilling over, sexually aggressive cougar who programmed her own beats and wrote explicit electronic songs about fucking.
My ex-wife didn’t like that and felt that, without even asking, that perhaps I somehow wanted to be with a woman like this.
The thing was, I just liked the primitive beats and the explicit nature of the songs. Just like I enjoy that scene from Bad Lieutenant, where Harvey Keitel pulls over those teenage girls and verbally abuses them while jerking off on the side of their car.
Peaches is like Harvey Keitel, but she replaces his line “Show me how you like to suck a fuckin’ cock” with “Diddle My Skittle.”
So rather than face the endless barrage of guilt, dirty looks, and continual attempts for attention from my ex-wife, I put Peaches away until a few nights ago when I felt the need to fuck the pain away again.
The only shit I get from my current wife is not to play Peaches around the kids.
I’m also gonna need to check out Bad Lieutenant again now that I think of it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Paul Westerberg - 49:00

Thirty seconds into the new Paul Westerberg album 49:00, you realize something: it’s a fucking bargain.
But then again, you probably already knew that without hearing a note.
I’m sure there will be a few cheap bastards, those who are conditioned that recorded music is theirs for the taking and the taking means they don’t pay jack shit. Those people are douchebags, spending double that amount on McDonald’s Dollar Menus and too dimwitted to understand that the story here isn’t the price point. You’re paying to hear what Paul Westerberg did last week in his basement.
Ain’t that worth a penny a minute?
To believe that the entire thing was done in a week is a tad unbelievable, but I certainly believe that Paul spliced together decent songs, half-baked ideas, and a few ridiculous cover choices in the span of a few days.
But inside this mess are some great songs and even more great fun.
Billed as a journey into Westie’s head, songs fade in, end abruptly, and occasionally overlap each other. There’s a real sense of intentional chaos on places while other hints of outright mistakes. Listed as one track, there are actually about 23 songs ranging from six seconds in length to four minutes. Of course, one could debate the idea that six seconds actually constitute a song, so we’ll appease that by stating that there are twenty-three different movements within this one-track album.
Fans of Grandpaboy will find comfort here as Paul channels that low-fi winner while the more irreverent entries on 49:00 bear close resemblance (fidelity-wise) to Westerberg hero Alex Chilton’s Like Flies On Sherbert.
Understand that the Sherbert comparison is a bit unfair as Chilton was clearly out of his mind on that recording while Westerberg is using the tape hiss and audio distraction to hide some incredibly personal work. Paul’s father passed away not too long ago and he was sidelined with an accident that nearly cost him his guitar-playing ability. Many of the themes on 49:00 reflect this heaviness: the lyrics occasionally reflect passing and the guitar parts are noticeably more animated than in recent efforts.
At the same time, it is the playfulness of 49:00…the entire rush to release this thing…that points out a passion for living.
By the time we’re over forty-minutes into the album, Paul regresses, delivering a morose version of the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” before handing the microphone over to his son for a rollicking outro “Johnny Said So.” What it lacks in professionalism and structure, it makes up for in pure, unadulterated adoration. A devotion to the three-chord church of his youth, symbolically passed on to his own son. The act lovingly documented here for us to witness, and with the unbelievable price point that’s brought so many interested ears to consider this, it’s apparent that Westerberg wants us all to share in the affection.
To discount the worth of this album is grounds enough to question your own passion of music. As there is so much to be critical of here in terms of how a legendary performed like Westerberg should “behave,” it should be quite clear to anyone who still feels moved by rock and roll that this is a fine document of that fervor.
And while it only takes a few bits to be reminded of it, the results are priceless.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Motley Crue's Most UnMotley Moments

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Motley Crue. There’s no explanation for it. It’s similar to the Ratt phase that I went through last summer and I’m sure there are other questionable rock acts that I’ve fixated on for far too long.
You have permission to kill me if next year I start listening to a lot of Firehouse.
But I haven’t forgotten those things about Motley Crue that bring their integrity into question. They market themselves as the bad boys of metal, and to be sure there are moments in their fabled past that would qualify them for that distinction. But for every indiscretion, there seems to be a calculated, exaggerated, or retarded moment that puts the band back at square one, leaving much to be desired in terms of their reputation.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of Motley Moments that make them the schmucks of Los Angeles:

13.) Vince Neil beating up a prostitute
For real: in 2003, Neil was charged with battery after grabbing a prostitute at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch by the throat and throwing her against the wall. Frequenting is more sad than metal while kicking the shit out of them is about as hardcore as admitting Pretty Woman is one of your favorite movies of all time. Seriously, a metal legend of Vince Neil’s stature should have no trouble finding a fatty to bang for free, particularly if we’re to believe the prowess of Neil in the pages of The Dirt.
12.) Mick Mars has an arthritic condition...just like your Grandma
It’s not Mars’ fault for having a physical ailment that essentially fuses his bones together…but it’s certainly not very metal either. Mick always seemed to be levelheaded enough to understand how fortunate he is. After all, the dude slugged it out in bands for nearly a decade before he rechristened himself with the metal moniker and teamed up with a bunch of ragtag young’ens and formed the Crue. He had the condition then and watched it worsen, addressing it only with alcohol consumption. That’s right, instead of addressing the condition, which could hinder his money ticket, he chose to self-medicate. He later let it become so bad that he looked like a frail little man that could barely move, prompting many to wonder if he had a prop holding his old ass up during the duration of the “Red White and Crue” tour.
11.) Generation Swine
Apparently, a new Crue album was ready to be delivered when someone on the payroll got tired of not making any money with replacement vocalist John Corabi at the helm. The managers put a carrot at the end of a fishing pole and got Vince Neil to meet with the rest of the band under the pretense that everyone’s egos would be checked at the door. In a display of complete contempt, they got Neil to sing the songs originally penned while Corabi was on board while catering to Elektra Record’s demands. The rock thing to do would be to say “Fuck you” to the label (hell, even the Grateful Dead did that) and carry on. But no, the lure of money was so great that the band did check their egos long enough for the check to clear. Months later, Neil punched Lee in the face (metal!) causing Lee to quit and thereby causing this first reunion attempt to implode.
10.) Tommy Lee’s ridiculous attempts at upstaging
It started with the silly things that his drum set would do during some of the band’s tours from the 80’s. At the same time, it was a drum solo…everybody except for drummers hates that…so kudos for trying to keep the audience in the seats during a concert’s obligatory beer run break. But then Lee started to get a tad more presumptuous. I’d like to say that it’s merely gotten to a point where his bass drum is now so ungodly larger that fans can barely see Lee behind it. But no: there’s more. He kicked that chick from Baywatch while she was holding their baby. Classy! He also starred in a totally retarded reality show that put Lee in a fucking marching band. A few years ago, he thought that his success in the Crue was enough to jumpstart a career in the rap-metal-cumfart outfit called Method of Mayhem…or something like that, I forget….and so did everyone else. Less than a year ago, he said that he was leaving the Crue because he liked “DJing” more. Priceless! More recently, he started painting his face during the “Carnival Of Sins” tour like he was a member of the Insane Clown Posse. The smartest thing the guy could’ve have done is realize that his wiener was bigger than most of the male population and been content with reminding us of this fact during every subsequent interview afterwards.
9.) “Brandon”
Check out this jem from poet Tommy Lee:
You bring those tears into my eyes so well
I've been waiting for this day so long
Brandon I love you
You are the one
Brandon my son
You run around
And chase the clouds
I only want you to be yourself
Forget me not
You're all I've got
As you can see
You are the One
Brandon my son
Your mother gave birth to you
With love inside
She had candlelight
And songs of life
Brandon I love you
I love her
She is your mom
True love is ours
Nobody else
I only want you to be yourself
And when I'm gone
Don't cry for me
We'll always be one
You are my son
You are the one
You are the one
The one who wrecked
Pam's vajayjay coming out
8.) Vince Neil Appears In Court Wearing A Suit
Killing the drummer from Hanoi Rocks while going on a beer run? Metal! Naming your box set Music To Crash Your Car To about the event. Metal!. Feathering your hair back and donning an ugly suit while trying to get the judge to be lenient on your drunk ass? Pussy! The proper thing to do is to stroll into court with your codpiece in tact and advise the judge that you needed to drive drunk because you were out of Lowenbrau. The maximum that Neil was set to do was about eighteen months…he served two fucking weeks. Note to upstarts: jail time makes you credible. Vince Neil skated out of minimum-security prison thanks to a big time attorney and a fucking suit. Razzle deserved better.
7.) Using Larry King Live as your venue to televise announcements
Not once, but twice. They announced their “first,” second reunion on Larry fucking King live for no good reason. King had obviously no idea who they were, continually mistaking Nikki for Mick Mars. A few years after this utterly uncomfortable event, the band’s management books them on the show again. Do they really thing the typical Crue fan kicks back and watches Larry King Live? They couldn’t find a better venue for their announcements? Oh wait…
6.) The Greta Van Susteren show
On June 23, 2008, Greta Van Susteren interviewed Motley Crue on her Fox News television show. Susteren typically does investigative pieces about notable crime cases, but during an apparent slow night, booked the Crue for a pointless interview that went nowhere and revealed nothing. One would have thought the logical thing would be to fire whoever was responsible for this fiasco on the following day, but no apparent pink slips were given to any of the band’s current management team for this potentially detrimental choice in media outlets.
5.) Lip Synching
Using taped backing vocals during your live show I’m sorry, there ain’t no way that the backing vocals to “Dr. Feelgood” or “Girls Girls Girls” are being performed live. If they are, then Tommy, Mick, and Nikki have developed a pitch-perfect vocal technique that hasn’t changed a bit since the songs were originally recorded. With Mick needed every bit of breath to stay alive, Nikki prancing around like a junkie rooster and Tommy drumming, everything sounds too perfect for these ears. Bad boys don’t lip-synch. They take pride in their shitty vocal abilities (like Keith Richards) and they sucker punch anyone who dares to make fun of it.
4.) Shitty Choices In Cover versions
Jailhouse Rock? Anarchy In the U.K.? Helter Skelter? The Crue scored a gimmie with “Smokin’ In the Boys Room,” but there’s nothing revelatory about it other than giving noobs a chance to learn the band members’ names. I hope they gave a gold record to that weird looking dude from One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, because it’s a tepid version, salvaged only by an awesome video. Then there’s the rest of them, currently residing in the “What were they thinking?” category. Note to every band in existence: don’t choose cover material that you can’t come close to, completely rework, or totally annihilate while performing. In each of the cover versions they’ve chosen (including Cub Koda’s classic), Motley Crue merely play it by the book and sound like one of those shitty hard rock cover bands that’s in every single town across America.
3.) Vince Neil holding the microphone out to the audience on nearly every song of their live set
Seriously dude, sing the fucking song. The audience has paid a nice admission to see you perform. This kind of stage presence is tolerable to an extent…maybe during the first few lines of “Home Sweet Home” or the “Shout!” part on “Shout At The Devil.” But you seem to resort to this trick on every fucking song…even the lame ones like “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” and you do it during moments that don’t really need audience participation. It’s almost like you’re forgetting the fucking words and need that drunk 38 year old in row 8 to help out. Earn your money. Sing the damn song.
2.) Nikki Sixx and the paramedic story
If you’re the last person in rock that hasn’t heard it, the story goes like this. Sixx overdosed on heroin. He died. A paramedic on hand was a Motley Crue fan and, after others had written Nikki off, continued the attempts to revive him, thereby saving his life. Nikki didn’t necessarily learn his lesson and repeated using heroin, but it is this story that he continues to tell. It’s become such a common story that you wonder if he enjoyed repeating it more than than learning from it. As metal as the story may be, it loses its edge with every single telling. And why haven’t we heard from this supposed Crue-fan paramedic?
1.) Theatre Of Pain
It was the first Crue record that I noticed chicks owning. It contained the first true hit single, “Home Sweet Home,” which lasted ad-infinite on MTV’s most requested video show. For those of you too young to remember: MTV had this show strategically placed after school in which you could call in to their toll-free number and request your favorite video. Forever and a day, that video was “Home Sweet Home.” It got to the point where MTV actually changed the rules of the show a bit so that videos essentially had a “shelf-life” before they became ineligible for consideration. “Home Sweet Home” was a first for the Crue: it was a power-ballad that set its sights on Top 40 radio while Theatre Of Pain was a blatant polishing of the Crue’s rougher edge so that they could transcend the metal community in favor of mainstream success and all of those aforementioned chicks. If you’re looking for the album where Motley Crue took a turn for the worst, here it is.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

This record should appeal to me: I dig all of the blatant influences, am a fan of that late 70’s/early 80’s honky chateau, and seem to fall head over heels with bands that get a shitload of praise/hype/press before they self-destruct or implode.

I was there for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Strokes, The Knack, and a bunch of other bands that were later raped on the front pages of yer hipster zines and distanced by Rolling Stone after Jann proclaimed them the new Dylan or some other bullshit tag.

But I cannot get my head around Vampire Weekend.
There’s something fairly novel going on with their debut, it is a relatively unique disc that is deserved of some attention, but the second coming of the Talking Heads it ain't.

I think my problem centers around one line, “Fuck the girls from Wellesley,” hinting at a privilege that few of us could imagine and portending a direction of extreme importance as influential as an Icicle Works record. This is rock music for the Ivy League that’s about as far away from rock as one could get because, from the sounds of it, rock music is beneath the members of Vampire Weekend.

At least with the Heads you got the impression that the pale faced kids wanted to play guitar, but couldn’t get it right because their practice amps wouldn’t go loud enough.

Photo by Tim Soter
I bring up this band because 1.) Vampire Weekend is indebted to them and 2.) they haven’t bothered to put the kibosh on such nomenclatures like “upper west side Soweto.” The closest that these guys have gotten to South Africa is the gold that’s housed in their family’s jewelry boxes.

My issue isn’t with their race, but with the sneaking suspicion that the world music they cherry pick really moves them, because there's barely a hint of passion with their own results.

Vampire Weekend is a streamlined and pleasant record album from a bunch of Northeastern dudes that placate Afropop to the point where their friends…more importantly, the chicks at Wellesley…conveniently overlook any of the political, economic, or historical aspects of the genres it’s lifting.

At least the Heads sounded respectful. Vampire Weekend sounds like the music that “inspires” them is already beneath them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

In A Big Country

Holy shit! I had no idea that the dude from Big Country killed himself….nearly seven years ago! 2001, particularly the last half of the year, is pretty much a blur in terms of notable events. Everything seemed to take a back seat after the towers fell.
Big Country seemed to take a back seat also immediately after that debut album, The Crossing, went gold. Listening to it now, I am reminded that it wasn’t that bad of an album and perhaps two things were working against the band: the silly bagpipe sounding guitar tones that’s throughout The Crossing (ironically, one of the reasons why they were noticed to begin with) and the band’s penchant for yelling “Ha!” during their most dramatic moments.
Neither one of these minor complaints are enough to throw away the band’s catalog.
So where is it? Why isn’t it more readily available? The copy that I download is obviously from the vinyl version of The Crossing. Believe me, it’s not the “romantic” kind of transfer either, as a few spots shows the snaps of the grooves to be too audible and the record actually skips on few occasions. I’m sure that this album was available on cd at one time, so what gives?
And what’s the deal with the singer, Stuart Adamson, getting so depressed that he hung himself in a cheap Best Western hotel room in Hawaii? Who knows. But what is know is that Adamson wrote a note to his son at their home in Nashville over a month before actually killing himself stating that he’d be back on the next Sunday. Sunday came and went, Adamson apparently watched a soccer match in Atlanta before disappearing until six weeks later when he was found dead in that Hawaiian hotel room.
The last I heard of Big Country was one of their frequent comeback albums, this one from the late 80’s, where all of their trademark sounds had been whittled away leaving only a similarity in name alone. The song was fairly unremarkable and the album itself even more so.
That’s the thing about the 80’s, particularly with the MTV-era bands, lots of success was made to virtual unknowns but relatively few of them were able to maintain it after the first video was played to death. Even if a band wasn’t a one trick pony, the video hinted at it.
I’d love a series that merely shows what some of these bands are doing now. Not the “Bands Reunited” thing (which I loved, by the way) which puts people in that uncomfortable position of having to deal with people that you separated from. Just a show that shows what the band is doing nowadays, what they look like, and if they still hold a grudge against anyone in the band.
I can probably figure out why Big Country called it a day, but it would have been telling to try and see why one of the members had a heart so heavy that he decided to check out early.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

She's An American Girl

If you have a daughter under the age of eighteen, chances are you know what American Girl is. I have one under eighteen months and I already know about it, thanks to a crash course from my wife and my mother.
It started when Callista was born. My mom was very excited at the prospects of taking our daughter to the American Girl store and picking out a dolls. I thought “Oh, it must be a doll store,” but I’ve since learned that it is more than that.
According to my wife, American Girl started as a book series, geared towards girls which would explain why I’ve never fucking heard of them. When I was growing up, the boys read the Hardy Boy mysteries and wouldn’t be caught dead with a Nancy Drew book. The same must be true today with the American Girl reads.
It was explained that the stories are based on different girls going through some kind of turmoil at various points in history. My wife told me that her favorite was the character Samantha, a girl from the start of the twentieth century that befriends a poor, servant girl and learns how true friendship is greater than any amount of money.
She explained that she was enamored by the series and read the majority of the books…some of them more than once…stopping around the age that most girls grow out of the series.
Someone then had the genius to start making dolls of the characters, and that’s where my daughter becomes involved. My wife claims to not knowing of the doll division, and judging from the price of them, she probably wouldn’t have gotten one anyway. Prices of the dolls are around $90, which makes it an item that is pretty exclusive to well-to-do girls.
At American Girl Place in Chicago, you have three floors of dolls to choose from. But the walls are not filled with just the dolls. In addition to them, you can outfit your doll with a variety of fashions that are priced around $25. You can also accessorize them with pets, wheelchairs, pianos, houses, just about anything you can imagine. If that’s not enough, you can actually purchase the same clothes for yourself as your doll. My father told me he saw a pair of Asian girls there once dressed exactly like the doll they were carrying.
The store also sports a hair salon where you can have a professional hair stylist that can give you and your baby a hair makeover, thereby giving the real and toy girl the same hair style.
Afterwards, you and your baby can make reservations at the café and have a tea party.
While walking through the store, I was amazed at the level of exploitation involved here and had to ask my wife why girls would be so attached to such a product. She explained that it encompasses a girls primary desire to be a mother herself, to dress and take care of her “baby” as a way to prepare herself for the real thing. It also, I assume, helps prepare them for the inevitable desire to shop like any other good girl.
I must have missed the three other movies that American Girl has marketed, but I was very aware that a new American Girl movie involving the “Kit” character is in theatres now.
My mother who visited the store a few weeks ago, went in with the intention of browsing. She left with a “Bitty Baby,” a baby doll that American Girl markets for younger girls not ready for the “responsibility” of a true pre-teen A.G. doll. Understand that my girl is still shitting herself, so I’m not sure why any baby or doll…other than a stuffed one that she can chew and slobber on…is something that she needs to have already. Nonetheless, moms was caught up in the moment and got Calli a Bitty Baby that’s scheduled for Christmas delivery.
The same phenomenon was happening to my wife while we were there. She was overcome with the idea and vowed that my mom wouldn’t be the only one taking Callista to American Girl Place as she wanted to be part of the experience too. I actually had to discourage her from looking for Bitty Baby accessories that would compliment the one that my mother already purchased.
But the best thing about the American Girl Place is watching the men…Dads and husbands who were seemingly dragged into the store at the mercy of their wives or daughters and looking miserable on each one of the store’s three levels. There was the glaze in their eyes, this empty look, as they obiediently followed their female leaders, occasionally pausing to find a seat for their aching feat.
My advise is to try and sire a son, because I plan on taking Ethan to a Cubs game while the girls navigate their make believe world of American girls.
The above shot, in case you’re wondering, is of Julie Albright, an American Girl from the 70’s who overcomes the adversity of her parent’s divorce and getting ripped off by a scalper who peddles off some overpriced seats to go see the Bay City Rollers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Back To The Egg

Back from Chicago and already missing it. It’s crazy to get away from the kids, miss them, don’t miss them, and then miss them only to wish that you could have had an extra day away almost ten minutes after getting home. The hugs and kisses were great, shortly followed by the whining and competing for attention and just a general transition from the spoils of Grandma and Grandpa’s house to the reality that is Mom and Dad’s rules.
Calgon, take me away.
The Yazoo show was great, tears were nearly shed, and a review has already been composed. Vince Clarke barely moved…I expected at least a toe tap…but no, barely a muscle was used. The only time he smiled is when Alison went over to hug him a few times. He later returned the favor and it was awesome.
As was Alison. She was great, in full form and totally generous. People kept yelling “We love you Alison!” throughout the show and she grinned from ear to ear nearly the entire time.
The intermission music was “I Before E Except After C!”
Everything was fairly loyal to the original and, by my count, only three songs out of the band’s entire catalog was missed. They thankfully left out “Happy People” but included “Unmarked,” the two songs I really don’t dig.
My wife, who had no idea who Yazoo was, exclaimed “She looked good….but she’s put on a lot of weight.” I had to explain that Alison has always been a big girl. She looked great, however, complete with a flattering hairstyle that is MUCH better than the new wave shit they both sported in the early 80’s.
Beth kept laughing at me as I sang along to nearly every song, danced to a few and generally acted like a little fan-boy.
One of the funniest moments was hearing a Chicagoan bark out “Yaz! Back together again! Get your programs!” in a very localized inflection. They were only ten bucks, so I got one. Very tempted to invest in the box set In Your Room which just came out last week.
The rest of Chicago was a blast and we (again) tried to cram too much into a short amount of time. The picture is from our hotel room which was directly across from Marina City…the apartment complexes that grace the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. How rock is that?
I have a blister that’s bigger than a silver dollar on the ball of my foot, which now makes me hobble like the old man that I am.
More posts about the visit will come, but I need to spray some Bactine on my wounds.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Heavy Metal Chick

I’m worried about my daughter. Lately she’s taken a liking to screeching…full on…at ear-bleeding levels for fits of frustration and fits of joy. Now the joy I can handle; chasing her little ass around with her screeching and laughing as she tries to get away. She’s usually got the satellite remote with her because she knows that’s the quickest way to get us to chase after her. To her it’s a game. To me, I get worried because I’m fairly sure that those cocksuckers at DirecTV have got some kind of clause where they’ll charge me $100 or something if I break the remote on them.
The other screeches, the annoying one, comes when she is mad or frustrated. This happens when you do finally get a hold of her and take away that aforementioned remote. She gets mad, red in the face, clenches her fist and screams bloody murder. This has happened a few times in stores and the only thing you can do is look at those people watching to see if you broke the kid’s arm or something and throw back some basic resignation: That’s my girl.
I’m not worried about any of this. I can deal with the screeching because on occasion I’ll randomly yell at people for no real reason…Like if I see some one walking down the street talking on a cell phone I’ll scream “Hey! Are you talking on a cell phone?! You’re mobile! You’re cordless! You’re talking on a cell phone!” They’re confused for a moment, but it gives them something to talk about later.
What’s troublesome is her apparent love for metal. She will immediately bob her head to AC/DC and I did catch her grooving to Motley Crue. Strangely, we were watching a Kiss concert once and she stared at them for about a minute before casually walking up to the television to change the channel.
These behaviors are demonstrating unequivequibly that she is my daughter.
Liking metal isn’t that bad, but walking about with her sippy cup, raising in the air and doing a little butt wiggle strikes me as obscene. I’m reminded of those Girls Gone Wild commercials. She also likes taking off her shirt and is fond of running around naked.
Actually, her Mom does that too , so these behaviors are demonstrating unequivequibly that she is my wife's daughter.
We took the kids to the Grandparents today; we will be kidless for an entire week and just 90 minutes after dropping them off, the house is too quiet. It always goes like this: we miss them, we get used to them being gone, we start to enjoy the serenity and each other as a couple, and then it’s time to pick them up. But this will be the longest time we’ve been away from them, so we’ll see how long after “enjoying the serenity” before we begin to really miss them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Breeders - Mountain Battles

Shame on me for not keeping up to speed on Kim Deal. Like many people, I just plain stopped paying attention. It’s not that I dislike her; in fact, I regard the first two Breeders records very highly and think that they hold up well today.
But there are dozens of albums, artists, memories, whatever, from the 90’s that I’ve left behind to collect dust. The Breeders just happened to fall into that category, right next to Belly, Veruca Salt, Boss Hogg, et all.
Thanks to a Pixies reunion, the new Breeders album is receiving a lot more press than the bands true reunion album, Title TK, which I completely overlooked when it was released.
So here I am, proving that the additional hype courtesy of that aforementioned reunion must have worked, because I’m suddenly catching up with Kim, reading all about her and her sister’s addictions, and noticing in the process that The Breeders circa ’08 are missing half of the members that helped Last Splash sell over a million copies.
Nitpicking aside, this new version the band itself all about Kim who returns with a wonderfully brief and curiously subdued effort that seems to totally ignore any attempt at commercial appeal. It opts to bypass those infectious songs and focus instead on delivering a low-key effort intent on creative progression.
It works; Mountain Battles trades in prior traditions of spontaneity and sisterhood for a dark and at times unsettling tone.
“Overglazed,” the album’s opener and most aggressive track, features one lyric: “I can feel it,” perhaps a testament to Kim or Kelley’s sobriety or perhaps the result sheer lyrical laziness. Whatever: her reverb-soaked vocals underneath a wall of distorted guitar and manic drumming belie the rest of the album’s decidedly underhanded strategy.
Mountain Battles is not an album that will be awarded any watershed moments of new musical direction. It does seem The Breeders, and I’m talking about Kim and Kelley here, have reached a point where their own technical inabilities are placing the band in the dubious distinction of musical redundancy. And when they award Steve Albini the role of album “recorder,” you’re pretty much guaranteed that every inch of their musical limitations are going to be prevalent.
Which is why the tone of Mountain Battles is somewhat unsettling. As hard as it may seem, they’ve actually managed an album that serves as a departure from the rest of their catalog without having to learn any new chords.
It’s strange going, this sparse and fragmented affair, with Kim sounding curiously subdued and introspective at times. There’s not a lead-off single to be found throughout Mountain Battles that will compare to those nostalgic moments of Pod or Last Splash, where at least a few cuts could be heard in your city’s obligatory alternative radio station, cleverly labeled as “The Edge” or “The End” or some other such classic rock destruction tag line.
Mountain Battles is itself a bell toll to that era while managing to be firmly indebted to it. It could have very easily been recorded and released after Last Splash, becoming that decidedly non-commercial effort that caused them to be dropped and their casual fans to lose interest.
It would also become the album that long-term fans would refer to as the overlooked gem that was unjustly ignored by the majority of those millions who purchased Last Splash. But let’s be honest here, there’s a good chance that it’s going to be overlooked now, as the climate, industry, and performers themselves are vastly different than they were back in ‘93. Added to this, Mountain Battles is an intentionally difficult album, going from surf, folk, traditional alternative, and country numbers at the drop of the hat, sung in either English, German, and Spanish, and coming in at a few minutes over a half-hour.
That’s too long of a ride for some, but for those who stick with it, they’ll find some rewarding moments. Mountain Battles does was no other Breeders record has managed to do before: establish Kim Deal as a vital artist whose own musical contribution to the independent landscape is just as important as the ones where she’s been assigned a supportive role.
In other words, it pays to keep up to speed on Kim Deal.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Showbiz Revisited

The video I had embedded last month that showed a Showbiz Pizza Place training video from the early 80’s was taken down shortly after the posting. For those of you lucky enough to watch it, it was indeed awesome. For those of you who weren’t, I’m sorry that some douche caught wind of it and asked YouTube that it be taken down.
I’m not sure how those things work, but I am sure that you need to be paying attention to the work of Chris Thrash, a 32 year old from Alabama that is doing some very incredible pop culture work.
Thrash, a simple man that enjoys slasher flicks, music from the 80’s and the Bible, has an enviable collection of the entire…THE ENTIRE…Rockafire animatronics collection in his garage. The collection is lovingly set up and fully functional and best of all, Chris regularly programs updates to the machines so that they perform a variety of songs.
There is a website devoted to these song programs and I encourage you to check them out quickly as the word appears to be spreading and, as a result, many of the videos are being taken down because of some ridiculous copyright infringement legalese.
His anonymity is further jeopardized by a movie scheduled for release this fall called The Rock-afire Explosion that tells the story of this mild-manner man who had the good fortune to come across a complete set of Showbiz characters. You see kids, at one time Showbiz and Chuck E. Cheese coincided together, a weird dynamic of different characters, scenarios and locations built by the same company. Ironically, Chuck E. Cheese declared bankruptcy, Showbiz bought out their locations, and the two existed together until the parent company unified the concept at phased out the Showbiz characters. Enter Chris Thrash, who took advantage of the consolidation and bought up the characters to appease some nostalgic memories and because of this curious hobby, he is Glam-Racket’s man of the moment.
There are others…many others…that also share a fond memory of this pop culture icon, but Thrash appears to be a main focus in this upcoming movie that is certainly going to raise a few grins from people my age that remember these strange entertainment centers. What’s crazy is that Showbiz was prominent in the Midwest and I remember feeling a little left out after seeing ads for Chuck E. Cheese because we didn’t have those around here. Now that Chuck E. is all we have, it’s Billy Bob, Fatz, Mitzi and all the other characters that I wish were still around.
Thanks to GloNo for the news tip.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Caffeinated Ramblings

Starbucks announced that it is closing around 600 stores nationwide as it deals with an overabundance of underperforming stores as well as a constant erosion of its brand name. This has nothing to do with music, by the way, just an overzealous love for caffeine and a certain amount of hypocrisy in some of Starbucks’ biggest opponents as they watch the big player struggle through tough times like the rest of us.
First of all, I’m not a Starbucks’ apologist and I don’t have any financial ties to that company. I do pick up a coffee there on occasion, but thanks to a tighter pocketbook, most of my coffee is made and consumed at home.
And yes, the primary coffee that I do brew is some kind of Starbucks brand…but I also happen to dig variations of Dunkin Donuts, Caribou, and good ‘ol fashioned Folgers crystals.
There is no one to blame for the company’s seemingly retarded over-expansion, of which we in Iowa were not really a part of. I think there’s a few Starbucks in our area here, but I primarily drink from a local coffee shop called Coffeesmiths because they make badass coffee and it’s, literally, four or five blocks away from my house.
But in the rest of the state (like in my former hometown), there was no chance of getting a Starbucks so the brand was fairly novel. It was something to get when shopping in the big city. It was something to buy at the grocery store to somewhat reproduce the experience. In the larger cities there were stores within eyeshot of each other and even us dumb hicks in the boonies understood that this type of strategy was not very bright.
So is it right to wish for a company’s downfall because of their ill-advised expansion strategy? Do we cheer at their downfall because the mermaid lady is so oversaturated that we no longer feel hip with our double soy mocha?
There are those that will claim how Starbucks put a stranglehold on local coffee emporiums, pushing them out of business by means of sheer proximity. For sure, if I were a coffee shop owner and Starbucks moved in right next-door, I would most certainly take it personally and view it as a declaration of war. I would also take steps to make sure that my product is consistently good and priced accordingly. When you think of it, it’s not the logo and cute marketing graphics that helped push Starbucks into the stratosphere. It was because they delivered a good product that people liked and they delivered it consistently. Had they fucked up every coffee they sold and gave customers a product that varied from order to order, then those customers wouldn’t have kept coming back. I can think of several local coffee shops that I was supposed to frequent based entirely on the notion that they were local. But the thing that turned me away was the simple fact that every time I ordered the same goddamn cup of coffee, it tasted different each and every time. At least I know that my coffee at Starbucks is going to taste the same here in Cedar Rapids as it does in Chicago, Cleveland, and every other city that I’ve been to.
Here’s the other fucked up thing about spoiled coffee drinkers rejoicing at the downsizing announcement: Starbucks actually provides their employees with health insurance. Even the part-time ones! Absolutely none of my part-time employers in college provided me with health insurance and I’d be damned surprised if any of those equally overpriced independent joints provide their baristas with health insurance. My guess is that well over half of them don’t and with that being said, those layoffs will have real life repercussions that go beyond some hippie idealism that this national chain is the bad guy.
Starbucks also does a fair amount of local donations to charitable organizations, something that goes overlooked during this entire discussion.
Am I losing sleep over Starbucks closing stores? Does this really have an impact on me? Absolutely not. Which is why I find it absurd that there is a fairly large contingency that feels the need to add their own two cents to the discussion, basing their entire fervor over some fairly lightweight reasons.
To quote Sinead O’Conner for no apparent reasons: “Fight the real enemy!” and focus your soapbox towards those cocksuckers at Wal-Mart.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Street Fair In Des Moines

Recently, I bitched about the lack of promotion of Iowa’s first music festival with an indie-rock bent and, more to the point, of how I was left off the mailing list when it came time for comp passes to the event.
In an almost spiritual manner, a pair of tickets to the event mysteriously arrived at the Totale household, which then prompted another logistical matter: what to do with the kids. Thanks to some flexible grandparents, one of the two nights that the festival was running became open, allowing the wife and me to check out The Flaming Lips on the opening night of the inaugural 80/35 Music Festival.
On that aforementioned post, I also complained about how the festival organizers seemed to be excluding the rest of the state, not only with some poor promotion outside of the Des Moines metro area, but also in advising outsiders how to get there.
We found this out first hand, following the directions to the event verbatim and still having to stop by a Quick Trip to get directions. The 80/35 website provided wonderful directions on how to get to the zoo, but failed to put in a critical “turn left at Ingersoll” in their text in order for anyone to get to the festival from the East side of the state. I guess they didn’t want the ruffians dirtying up their gentrified downtown district.
Which is, by the way, most awesome. Downtown Des Moines has transformed itself into a fairly hip little urban center where the beautiful people and disenchanted youth can come to play, hang out, and smoke cigarettes. I’m a little jealous of the way it turned out and hope that, thanks to our recent water damage, our own city leaders will model their own urban renewal projects after the Des Moines area. At the same time, the Des Moines area was planned well before we ever thought that floods could be severe enough that they could actually reach some of the landmark buildings, so who knows what Cedar Rapids will consider during their quest to rebuild.
The festival itself consisted of three stages: one a free stage with local talent, the other with more recognizable acts (Cracker played at this one when we arrived) and the main stage that was sectioned off, as it required a ticket to get in. Throughout the streets (which were closed off) were vendors of varying degree (Homer Records had a booth) and youngsters between 18-34 in varying degrees of intoxication. This was promoted as a family event, and while we didn’t bring ours, many interesting people brought their own kids so that they could intermingle with the drunk young adults.
The show itself was well attended and most of the drunks were well behaved. Having been to a few festival shows before, I can safely say that I am too old for such shenanigans as managing around a wide birth of drunks isn’t necessarily my bag. It won’t be the last time that I’m in such a predicament, I’m sure, but if there’s a good movie on television and a semi-popular band that I may be remotely interested in seeing live, it will be a close vote on which choice gets my presence.
The Flaming Lips are more than a band that I’m remotely interested in; they’ve been a part of my own soundtrack for over twenty years. So we braved the drunks, laughed at their retardness, and even on a few occasions, poked them with sticks. They all were fairly placid and we only witness one young woman being escorted out of the festival. Although I tend to despise drunks, I dislike smokers even more. Since my wife and I are both former smokers, cutting the habit has turned us into Nazi’s. We’re not afraid to glare at those that cross our paths and we were anticipating Iowa’s recent cigarette ban to mean that nobody can smoke anywhere. I explained to my wife that perhaps the government considers being outdoors as a smoker’s reprieve, but we still gave the hairy eyeball to the tattooed douchbag standing next to us that was insistent on chain smoking throughout the night.
Smokers, drunks and silly youthful exuberance aside, we both agreed that the trip was $4 a gallon worthy and would attend again…provided that 80/35 can maintain a high caliber of participating bands.
It also seems to be competing with another festival that was going on at the same time: Lazerfest. My wife knew about that one, and was actually excited at the idea of a Stone Temple Pilots reunion. I guess that she wasn’t alone as I overheard another concertgoer lament that he wouldn’t be attending the Saturday night festivities because his friends were dragging him to the Lazerfest show in the area. While these two events are polar opposite of each other musically, one would think that they’d want to pace the festivals properly as to not take potential audiences away from each other.
Another complaint: I kept repeating the phrase “plenty of free-parking” over and over because the festival’s website gave no directions to parking ramps or anything, coyly suggesting that there was ample parking around the event. Actually, there was, but thanks to some endless construction downtown, blocked streets, and a zany layout, we circled the event a few times just to find a suitable parking garage. Ironically, it wasn’t that far from the main drag, so would it have killed them to provide a few lines for direction or, at the very least, an address to where the public parking ramp was?
Again, it seems to be another example of the clique behavior that the organizers seemed to maintain for this festival (the initials “DSM” fit prominently between the “80” and “35” in their stupid little banner). If we ever get our shit together here in Eastern Iowa, lets hope that we can be a little more inclusive in our hospitality, a little more generous in our marketing, and a little more detailed in our directions.
Until then, we’ll still have to contend with those creeps in the capital city.
The picture above is the dude that stood in front of us. If that ain’t enough to creep you out, consider that halfway through the show, he went topless. The reason why is because some twisted fuck who thought he was being clever offered him $20 for the shirt. The offer was good enough for him to accept even though the rest of us who had to witness this dude shirtless afterwards should have been equally compensated.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sunshine Daydream

I listened to “Sugar Magnolia” for the first time in forever. That song, along with a plethora of other Grateful Dead material, used to be a signal and then occasional soundtrack to summertime activities. And since it hasn’t really felt like summer for the obvious reasons, I haven’t brought out the Dead.
Reggae is another familiar summertime favorite, although I’m more apt to spin that genre when the mood hits. It’s great during the winter. It makes you long for the summer, or at least an isolated beach, a joint, and a bottle of Red Stripe.
The Dead were simply entrenched in summertime tradition: the never ending tours and the chance, even for just one show, to immerse yourself in this stinky, quasi-Utopia society where everyone sold enough grill cheese sandwiches to get to the next town. I understand that they carried a ton of baggage with them.
Later on, the vast majority of fans seemed to be living in this make-believe bubble that looked the part on the surface, but underneath, you knew that their trust fund would bail them out of any dire straits should their ride get searched for drugs on the way to the Hartford show.
It was also a glutton for scam artists, selling the paper tops of cigarette packs as blotter acid, baking soda as cocaine, and ditch weed as high-priced Afghani sativa. It was fuckers like this that eventually brought the pigs around, snatching up drug users like fish in a barrel, putting relatively innocent people behind bars for merely shaking their bones. These opportunists brought somewhat of a dark cloud to the festivities, a reoccurring reminder like Altamont that the sixties were over, and you needed to watch your back at a Grateful Dead show.
But who could resist the temptation of tens of thousands like-minded people traveling into a city with one common purpose? I remember the traffic jams and remember not being too upset about the delays, mainly because I was one of those journeying to the show. I can’t speak to those impacted by the traffic otherwise, but I can certainly understand their frustration.
I can also understand why people, including many of my own friends, didn’t “get” the appeal. The Dead could be pretty awful on occasion and if you weren’t wired for extremely long forays into improvisational jamming, then you would certainly be unimpressed at a Grateful Dead show. But if you could allow yourself to acknowledge the incredible impact that this band, seemingly isolated from anything modern, had on literally hundreds of thousands of people and the fact that they did it in their own, skewed solo way, and then you may have been able to count yourself as a fan.
You may have even been able to tolerate the nightly jaunts into “Drums/Space.”
I was one of those. And at the moment I started to schedule part of my summer plans to include a Dead show or two, the band disintegrated. The photo you see was purchased from a bootleg vendor after the last show in Soldier Field back in ’95. I bartered with the guy to get two shirts for $20. After some resistance, he agreed, probably to get me away from him. It was the least I could do, as the band gave a completely lackluster performance; they got my ticket money (the band had one of the best mail-order programs ever) but I would be damned if they got anything extra in their merchandising, considering how poor the performance was. Garcia kept fucking up solos and forgetting words; you knew something was wrong with him. But Jerry was a resilient dude, and you figured that he would address his issues and be well in time for the next summer.
A month later he died, apparently from trying to get a handle on his demons and failing in the process. It wasn’t until the next season when his passing really hit; the endless tour had ended and the search for a replacement began.
That band, Phish, provide me with a few years of suitable facsimile, but there was stylistic differences and, more importantly, huge reefs in the community compared to the Terrapin crowd. At nearly every Phish show, I saw a heavy police presence, I saw fans younger than me under, dismantled under the influence of illicit drugs, and I saw very little in terms of actual camaraderie outside of the small cliques of concertgoers.
Not only did Garcia appear to be the de-facto leader of the Dead, he also appeared to be the figurehead for the followers own morality tale.
And on occasion, particularly during a summertime spinning of American Beauty or some other Dead album, I reminisce about that brief Utopian encounter and wish others could experience it too. This year, it was during a spin of a Hartford, CT show from 1983 where the band goes from the obligatory “Drums/Space”>”The Other One”>”Stella Blue”>”Sugar Mag.” While trying to repair some leaking plumbing, hearing that set made me think at how great it would be at that show instead of under that sink.