Saturday, February 28, 2009

Okkervil River - The Stand Ins

I got a chance to see Okkervil River last year during the tour for The Stage Names. It was in a dingy club and there may have been a little over than a hundred patrons there that evening.
“We’re starting off with our best foot forward, ladies and gentlemen.”
And with that proclamation, Will Sheff led the band off into a great rendition of “Plus Ones.” Throughout the evening Sheff strummed away on a ratty acoustic guitar and looked every bit the tortured artist that The Stage Names and its more recent companion album The Stand Ins lyrically alludes to.
Those in attendance dutifully sang along and, I must confess, it was one of the most profound live shows that I had seen in a long time.
But Sheff himself sees something else in this participation. Since he’s a major part of the band’s creative process, he knows the ratio of truth-to-bullshit. While he could easily parlay the public affection into enhancing his ego, he dismantles it. On “Pop Lie,” one of several songs on The Stand Ins that goes out of its way to dismantle the very idea of hero worship, Sheff admits that everything is “calculated to make you sing along” and, because he lied when creating it, “you’re lying when you sing along.”
Knowing this now, does it make my own experience less profound? Not really. Rock itself is built upon lies, exaggerations and bullshit. Did you really think that Willie Dixon, a balding black man topping the scales over a deuce-and-a-half, really slept with all those women he wrote about?
In addition to alluding to his own art of deception, Sheff chooses two subjects, porn actress Savannah and glam-rocker Jobriath, as key illustrations. “Starry Stairs” documents the adult film star’s decent into depression, a condition that would eventually cause her to take her own life. The idea of that industry’s illusion is notorious, so Sheff takes a regular routine most actors in the business must succumb to…an AIDS test…before they are allowed on the set. “They asked for blood/What do you think this woman’s made of?/I stuck a small, thin pin in my thumb/They dropped a low, long line to be crossed/And I crossed it.” His eye for detail, focusing on this requirement of truth before allowing the star to essentially lie on camera, is what makes these character studies so effective.
“Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed On The Roof Of The Chelsea Hotel 1979” shows the man, better known as Jobriath, at the bottom of his career. Five years prior, Jobriath’s picture was plastered on Times Square. By 1979, Campbell was singing cabaret songs in New York City, living paycheck to paycheck and finding happiness in a few drinks and a few intimate encounters.
“Fuck long hours/Sick with singing/Singing the same old songs/In the bar” he laments, considering the days…still vivid in his memory…when the record company advance was still lining his pockets. After being groomed to become the next David Bowie, Jobriath was unceremoniously dropped by his label and played to continually diminishing returns until he passed in 1983. While Morrissey has notoriously championed Jobriath’s credibility as an unsung hero while Sheff champions the performer after he’s fallen; the moment when he’s no longer part of a marketing lie, yet the truth of his reality has him longing for the return of that untruth.
Musically, The Stand Ins handles all of this melodrama and detailed narrative with the same painstaking arrangements. Pianos, horns, bells, banjos, organs…all are used to fastidious effect. This may be Will Sheff’s story arc, but it’s the band that allows all the drama to work.
The Stand Ins is billed as part two of last year’s The Stage Names and, according to accounts, is the remnants of that album as it was originally intended to be a double-disc set. Okkervil River wisely voted against that idea, as well as a simultaneous release schedule. While the latest is not as jaw dropping as the latter…we’re now accustomed to the idea that this band can produce greatness…its nearly as flawless. To be fair, Stage Names may have a slight edge on the sheer number of splendid songs (three of Stand Ins eleven tracks are merely instrumental interludes) and there isn’t one track here that’s as awesome as “A Girl In Port” or “Plus Ones.”
But The Stand Ins does possess a better sense of continuity and just because it falls a few eyelashes shy of the previous album does not discount the fact that it is a major piece of work. And because both albums are of such remarkable caliber, it should place Okkervil River as one of America’s most vital bands performing today.
Even if Will Sheff is pulling our leg every step of the way.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fun In The Cubicle

One of the things I like to do when speaking with a customer is to simply mute the line and wait for the customer to end the call. The moment the call ends, I am monitored how long it takes to complete the task that I’m presented with. As a result, there is a slight incentive to finish the task while I’m still on a call, or to try and get as much done while the customer is still on the line. You get “dinged” a bit the longer you stay off a call dealing with work.
One of the things that I do is to simply mute the call when it’s done and start working. 95% of the time, the customer ends the call and it makes no difference. The other 5% for some strange reason, stay on the call…mainly without knowing they’re still on…and go about their routing. Occassionally during these moments, I get a chance to evesdrop into the everyday lives of random people. Mostly, it’s just the sound of people watching television or listening to the radio while they’re doing work. But on a few moments, I get a sense of what it is like in the caller’s real world. These can be very entertaining:
Like the call last week where the customer found out his ex-wife had legally made off with $10,000 of her ex-husband’s money. I could hear him muttering “Jesus Christ” for close to five straight minutes.
Or the call from a few months ago where a drunk elderly woman began to berate her very polite husband for asking her a question. She was doing their checkbook, and he asked where something was. She lost her place in the check ledger and this upset her so much that she began swearing at him in ways that completely surprised me. The couple were in their mid-70’s and I took the call before noon. They called from the west coast, so that meant that they were already drunk by the time The Price Is Right was on TV.
I told my new co-worker about my exploits and he decided to give it a go. The lucky bastard struck gold within minutes of incorporating my technique. After dealing with a forty-five year old woman from Chicago, he heard the following conversation between her and her female friend.
“What are you gonna do with your tax refund money?” her friend asked her.
“I don’t know.”she replied.
“Well, we could go get some weed like we wanted to last week…Or you could pay bills, but that’s lame.”
Amen sister.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

OCD Chronicles: Patti Smith-"Piss Factory"

I probably neglected to mention the change in my real world duties, so here’s the rundown. The division that I work for suddenly changed my work schedule to a time that I could not manage. When I was hired, I was advised that my shift ended at 4:30. When I confirmed my work schedule, I was told that it would be 4:30pm, 5:00pm at the latest. They then introduced a “shift bid” process, which means that you are forced to bid on your shift preference each quarter. Three criteria are used if you get the bid, with seniority being one of the criteria.
Everything was fine for the longest time, but then in an effort to fill vacancies, they began offering positions to people in other divisions. There was an overwhelming response and most of the shifts were filled with tenured associates, thereby eliminating my own seniority criteria.
They also began tweaking other aspects of the shift bid process which, to make a long story short, put me at a shift that was two hours past my traditional shift end and put a unworkable child care situation. In short, one kid’s after school program ends at a certain time and the other’s childcare provider ends even earlier. My shift would have ended after both of those times, and I was unwilling to find new arrangements within the two-week start date they proposed.
The solution was to work for another division within the company.
Previously, I dealt with more high-end clientele. Arrogant rich fucks and the local sales base that “supported” them. I now deal with a blue-collar clientele, individuals with much smaller income and even smaller understand of what products they have. It’s frustrating, but surprisingly less frustrating than the bullshit that I was dealing with before.
The new position required 4 weeks of training, one in which I was placed with a pair of new hires. As we made our way into our new surroundings (mine, ironically, just three sections down from my old cubicle, which means that I retain my view of the lake) I saw the excitement that one particular newcomer had towards his position and the great desire to make an impression.
I was immediately reminded of Patti Smith’s “Piss Factory.”
“Hey sister, you’re movin’ way too fast
You’re screwin’ up the quota”
I looked at the stats and, sure enough, said noobie was already near the top of our team’s stats. I wanted to tell him that he’d have the rest of the year to blow it out of the water, to take it easy for the first 90 days because nobody cares about his stats now. When it gets to the end of his first ninety, his boss will get with him and set realistic goals. Why bust ass and then find yourself having to bust even more ass just to demonstrate that you’re making an improvement? Start low and move up gradually.
“Now get off your mustang, Sally
You ain’t goin’ nowhere…”

At least for one year; those noobs gotta stay in one spot before they can transfer elsewhere.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Late Night With Conan O'Brien

I hated the Late Show with Conan O’Brien when it first came on sixteen years ago. I was a Letterman supporter and anything that NBC concocted to fill his void after Dave’s departure had to be lame.
And for a while, it really was.
I can’t remember when I gave Conan a second chance…it would have been a few years after his debut…but I remember noticing a distinctively different host. Gone was the nervous tick and scripted jokes. They were replaced by this admittedly nerdy guy with a strange sense of humor that was right up my alley.
Conan O’Brien himself made me a fan.
It might have been when O’Brien booked Letterman to return to the show. The famous “I love what you’ve done to the place.” line before Dave rolls his eyes with sarcasm. Once Letterman gave his blessings, it seemed, once he declared that he had no problem with Conan, then I began to take notice of his replacement host. It was an important event, I think, as Conan brought Dave on not only out of respect…that was certainly due as Letterman practically invented the format that Conan was using…but to let us know “I agree. Dave got shafted. I’m a fan too. I’m just trying to honor what he made.”
He did honor what Dave did. The question is now will he be able to take that weirdness to an earlier time slot, or will he tone it down (like Letterman did) in order to cater to the more mainstream audience?
He’ll have to, I’m sure of it. But I hope that someone realizes that we now have a few generations who grew up on Letterman and O’Brien late night. Regardless of how old we are, we can handle things like this now.
It’ll be tough to figure out what to watch at 10:30 now, it wasn’t so much before. It’ll be even tougher to figure out what to watch at 11:30 as 1.) I’m not a huge Jimmy Fallon fan and 2.) I’m old now, do you really think I’m even up at 11:30 at night?
Regardless, one thing that O’Brien has taught me was to never judge a book by its cover and how sometime it takes a few shows before a person’s true talent is shown. I’ll be sure to take that into consideration with Fallon, but more importantly, I’ll do it with O’Brien’s next gig as well.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Doug Roberson

It’s truly an end of an era when the final remnant of one of Iowa’s most legendary music venues is dismissed, seemingly another victim of today’s economy and Iowa City’s fickle local support.
Doug Roberson was given the pink slip from his gig at The Picador on Thursday, marking the end of over twenty years at the venue, most when it was known as Gabe’s Oasis. A full account is given at Corridor Buzz, with Roberson giving his take on the event with brutal honesty and without a hint of bitterness.
It’s fairly typical of him to speak his mind like that; I’ve heard him talk about previous bandmates in unfavorable fashion, lay into current members if he felt they were wasting precious time in expensive recording studios, and toss a stern word or two at anyone he felt wasn’t giving their best. It’s probably because he’s had his hand stuck in so many different areas of the business that he doesn’t suffer fools lightly. He’s been there, he knows what the job demands, and all that he asks that you put the whining aside and just do what you’re asked.
One constant has remained over the years: Doug Roberson looks pretty much the same as he did twenty years ago. I remember once admiring his sense of Rat Pack style and asked him about his attire. I learned that looking like a million bucks only cost him ten; everything on his body that night was gleaned from second-hand stores. I swear his wardrobe could have been nothing but designer fashions.
His complexion retains this certain youthful exuberance to the point where he’s always looked like this handsome thirty-something, even when he was in his twenties. Because of this, he’s suited his share of ladies, including one that I used to date.
I didn’t feel bad, that’s just Doug.
If The Picador thinks they’ll be able to find someone who can manage that place better, I’ll be hard pressed to know whom. These are different times, but not in the sense where someone Roberson’s age should be used as the reason why The Picador isn’t drawing the crowds like it used to. The reason…and I believe anyone around the area would tell you…is because Iowa City no longer has the type of local talent that will draw crowds like they do when a national act is coming through town. Back in the day, you had local talent that would draw crowds just as large, and no young blood is going to change that within the Picador. That change has to come from the musical talent themselves.
As symbolic as Doug’s firing is, the real test will be how long the club itself can withstand this recession without him. It’s been through them before, but something leads me to believe that there’s some financial backers at the club that are desperately trying to get their investments back. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it sounds as though some of these dealings are causing local talent to go a book their shows through other venues, perhaps because they’re getting a better deal.
I don’t know anything about the back-end dealings, I only know that the place was getting some good shows as of late and that Doug was the only recognizable face there for me. After my obligatory beer, I’d follow it up with straight soda paying for the first one while Doug would pour the next ones without charging. It was a brief gesture of goodwill of my loyalty, perhaps, one in which I’m hard pressed to return the favor somehow.
So thanks Doug. Thank you for those free refills, booking all those great bands, and getting up on the stage yourself and performing some excellent music. More than anything, thanks for being there…that reliable constant that made me feel how we’re all young at heart for rock and roll no matter how old we may have looked to that collegiate clientele.
The picture of Doug holding a bottle of Blatz was taken without permission from his MySpace page.

No Seriously, Tom Scholz: Cool The Engines

I overlooked this little gem of an article that mentioned how Boston’s Tom Scholz has threatened a fan site with a cease-and-desist order if they don’t remove the offending material related to Scholz. I totally overlooked this story just like Tom Scholz overlooked the fact that Brad Delp isn’t alive anymore, so what the fuck is he doing touring as Boston?!
It reminds me of a conversation I had last year with a guy who’s around my age at work. I hate telling people who I like when they “So what kind of music do you listen to?” 99% of the time they go, “Who’s that?” when I tell them, so I just say “The Beatles” or “Bob Dylan” and be done with it. Everyone’s heard of them and the answer probably isn’t that far from the truth anyway.
So this guy notices that I drum all the time on my desk, a habit that thankfully nobody has really harped on me about, even though everyone has noticed. He’s seen me do this countless times, assumes that I’m a “rocker”, and proceeds to tell me that I should check out the concert that he and his wife are going to for the weekend. Apparently, Boston was playing at some nearby fair and I had no idea they were even touring.
“Isn’t that kind of hard to do, considering their lead vocalist killed himself?” I asked without a hint of sarcasm.
He made up some excuse how it was for his wife and stopped pressing the issue.
More recently, a guy who happens to be an admitted Boston fan started a couple of websites devoted to the band. I say “a couple” because the first one was shut down because Tom Scholz didn’t like that one either. If you’re a member of Boston, you’ve got a lot of time to Google your own name during the downtime.
The guy starts a second site and a few fans immediately begin to badmouth Scholz and his treatment of Delp. This leads to Scholz hiring a lawyer and then the whole threatening prospect begins again. The website is called Cool The Engines, and its proprietor is one George Gouldsmith. Mr. Goldsmith recently replied to the accusations on the Musicradar website:
“I am frankly tired of Ms. Parenteau's (Scholz’s lawyer) inaccurate remarks, which she chooses to spread around the Internet about me and my group. Ms.
Parenteau has yet to detail what remarks my private, invitation only group (
> 20 people) made which were "malicious untruths". She says I took pleasure
in making "defamatory remarks about Mr. Scholz" which is completely absurd. Our
group had unmonitored, open discussions about many Boston topics, unlike the
other Boston fan boards, which are heavily monitored by those in the Boston
camp.Instead of Mr. Scholz strong arming small fan boards to close, because he
doesn't like what they post, why doesn't he focus on creating new music,
releasing a boxed Boston DVD/CD set and making peace with the prior bandmates?”

Valid points, and the entire thing points to the fact that Tom Scholz sounds like a complete asshole. If he gets so worked up about such things, you tend to wonder if there isn’t some truth behind the words he’s trying to conceal.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Cramps - Bad Music For Bad People

I know I’m supposed to be a champion of catalog titles, real albums that reflect the artist’s state of mind that year or their creative output for a specific period. As Bruce McCulloch so eloquently put it, “Greatest Hits albums are for housewives and little girls.” They’re also fodder for record companies who typically use them as profitable linings and contract fillers, often packaging them over and over again just to make sure they get every dime of an artist’s worth.
On some occasions, the greatest hits compilation is fine. I could, for example, totally advise you that the only Abba album you need is Gold and only the most insane of completists or devoted of Abba fan need look further.
On other occasions, the greatest hits album is so full of great material that it’s hard to dispute it, even when there are other catalog albums that are equal in importance. These types of compilations should be considered too for their ability to prompt the listener to seek out the artist’s proper catalog titles.
Bad Music For Bad People is a great example of this. It’s features The Cramps’ best songs and is so start-to-finish awesome that you’ll be looking for Songs The Lord Taught Us and other Cramps albums immediately after listening to it.
Yes, Lux Interior’s passing had me thinking about this, because for me, there is no better place to gain insight on that man’s brilliance than with this flawless compilation.
It is the Webster dictionary of “shockabilly” and the most worthy of Cramps’ compendiums in existence.
It was the mid-to-late 80’s, and I found myself in Iowa City with a friend and a few acquaintances, one of whom was French and worked at the University of Iowa at some capacity. I met him a few times prior and we had a wonderful discussion of the importance of the Eurythmics’ 1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother) album. We both agreed it was an overlooked album and the duo received unfair criticism for it.
We started at his rental house for a few drinks and he mentioned a party in his neighborhood. It was late, it was within walking distance, and it seemed like a good thing to do. I had no idea where I was or who the people were, but they seemed friendly enough.
It was more than I could say for the music that they were playing.
There was about two or three dozen people there and they showed us to the freshly tapped keg. After a fill of beer, I made my way to the living room, sat down, and was struck by the strangeness of the music playing from the stereo.
“Who’s this?” I asked a man rolling a joint.
“The Cramps” he replied.
Bad Music For Bad People” added another guy, eagerly waiting for his friend’s handiwork to be done.
By the time it got to “She Said” the two were sharing the joint with everyone within proximity, whooping it up along with Lux.
They turned the record over and began another round on side two.
Halfway through it, the doors opened and a bunch of hippies came in. The bars had closed, and a few dozen more people came in. The hippies took of that Cramps record and put on a Byrds record. They had more weed, so I didn’t protest much, but I made a note of that record that struck my nerve before.
Start with Bad and you'll be looking for the good in the rest of The Cramps' catalog.

Shearwater - Rook

If I coyly hinted that Shearwater’s last album, the great Palo Santo, sounded an awful lot like a lost Talk Talk album, then let me make it abundantly clear that the new Shearwater album sounds even more like a lost Talk Talk album.
Two points addressing this: Talk Talk’s leader Mark Hollis was an unheralded performer that straddled brilliance on a few occasions. He was also a slow creator, spending as much as three years in between Talk Talk albums and a full seven years before releasing his own solo album. The point here is that Shearwater Jonathan Meiburg should not be chastised for wanting to pursue Talk Talk’s lead, as that band left only a handful of clues to begin with and the time is ripe for further examination and Shearwater’s precise explorations, particularly considering that Mark Hollis is all but retired from music anyway.
The other point is that Talk Talk used similar strategies with their own creative muse, Roxy Music, and you don’t hear anyone bitching about that now. Ironically, at the time you did (Spirit Of Eden received its share of negative reviews initially and then built a more positive reassessment over the passing years) and so it’s extremely shortsighted to dismiss Shearwater based upon their incredible close-to-the-vest recreation of Mr. Hollis’ opus.
This long-winded preface wouldn’t be necessary if Rook, Shearwater’s fifth and most reasoned album to date wasn’t so damn good. The truth is, I probably enjoyed Palo Santo a little bit more for its accidental beauty, but Rook is no slouch. It’s intentionally positioned and it’s very apparent that Meiburg has spent the last two years carefully creating what should go down as his crowning achievement.
His winged themes abound on this appropriately titled album, and part of the success has a lot to do with the removal of the reverb and other treatment that hid Shearwater’s previous outings. Such shenanigans are unnecessary, really, as Rook is permeated with a wide catalog of instruments like harps, glockenspiel, vibraphone, dulcimer, and an occasional brass section.
All of them add to the album’s inherent sense of melodrama, which itself if complimented to Meiburg’s increasing growth as a vocalist. What was once curiously underneath the mix is now center stage, showing how he’s now channeling the aforementioned Mark Hollis with a touch of Jeff Buckley sweetness around the edges.
Ironically, the album’s only suffering point may be another problem that its apparent inspiration had: the lack of a single. Rook is an album that requires a complete listen as just one focal point merely diminishes the album’s strength as a whole. For a mere half-hour, the listener is blessed with a beautiful artistic event and to narrow that down to a simple four minute section would undermine its overall impact.
That’s important to remember when seeking this record out: give it time. Because when you set aside the appropriate amount of attention it deserves, it will lift you like no other record will this year.
Even when Rook is flying right next to its obvious influences.
This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Duffy - Rockferry

I guess the Grammy's were last week. I don't know for sure because I don't really watch the Grammy's because they suck balls. I did glance at the winners, noticed that Allison Kraus and Robert Plant won a bunch of them, which is cool because that album is great. Everything else seemed pretty safe and expected.
I did notice that Duffy won a Grammy for her album Rockferry, which is a piece of harmless white soul that my Mom probably thinks is pretty great. What does she know? She told me to turn down The Doors "My Wild Love" when I was playing it loud, deeming it was just "a bunch of noise." I also drove her Lexus last week and noticed a Mariah Carey cd in the front seat.
Here's a review of Duffy's album that I did for Glorious Noise. I may have come off as a little too harsh when I wrote it; Rockferry isn't really a bad album, it's just not as good as my Mom would have you believe.
I haven’t figured out if the reason why I’m enjoying the recent influx of white soul singers so much is because they strike a chord with an earlier time and I’m comforted with that familiarity. Or perhaps it’s because I’m burned out on the excessive polish and immaculate production that has permeated nearly every facet of recorded music, not just soul music, and anything remotely organic or harking back to an age when there wasn’t devices that could fucking correct your flubbed notes is now downright appealing.
Lacking the God-given talent of Amy Winehouse or the emotional frailty of Chan Marshall, Duffy makes her own entrance into the female soul arena with Rockferry, her debut that possesses just enough grit to cater to retropolitans and enough panache to appeal to young urban hipsters. Cutting through the clutter one finds an enjoyable offering that will probably owe just as much to timing to its success as its material.
But I won’t be making any “best soul album in so many years” statements for this album as this site has done before. No, there is a big difference in Duffy and Winehouse. While both may possess the appropriate record collections to draw inspiration from, it’s Duffy that’s lacking in that real world heartbreak that sends her material to your own heart.
A lot of this is due to Duffy’s apparent youth. The absence from those trials of life make every “baby spend your time with me” statement sounds cribbed from the lyric sheets of her parent’s lps instead of personal experience.
Then there’s the matter of production. Bernard Butler slops so much coordinated strings on Duffy’s backside that it fits snuggly in the third row of a Honda Odyssey minivan. And since we’re shuffling through to Mom’s cd collection in the armrest, lets put Rockferry next to Petula Clark’s Memphis instead of Dusty Springfield’s In Memphis.
All of this nitpicking won’t matter to those minivan drivers and this is probably getting huge spins at hip urban retail outlets that hire pricey music consultants to make sure the speakers are pumping the shit that makes you go “Who is this playing?” through the speakers. The clerks don’t know, and without drug-addled headlines and tabloid stumbling blocks to aid the record company’s marketing strategy, Duffy is prime to become another forgettable Joss Stone once the honeymoon is over.
Too bad, because there are moments in Rockferry where Duffy shows enormous talent. “Mercy” lays out the same type of grit that made Winehouse so noteworthy: neo-soul grooves with Supreme-ly “yeah yeah yeah” backing vocals underneath Duffy’s refreshing update of Motown-via-London. A few more of these and we wouldn’t so alarmed by Winehouse’s increasingly wasted talents because we’d have another awesome facsimile waiting in the wings.
But instead, we have a carpetbagger, and one that’s in need of a few stiff drinks to really let things loose. Hopefully that firewater will put some courage in Duffy so that she may pink-slip those who are now holding her back and softening her rough edges. We may indeed have room for another British soul sensation, but we’re still in desperate need of more sensations with some soul.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

It’s Friday the 13, which means that there’s another Friday The 13th movie. God bless ‘em, I say, because the franchise got so close to parody that it only makes sense to take the idea and start over again, some thirty years later.
So close to parody? If I recall, in one movie they sent Jason in fucking space. What’s up with that? Is it so hard to kill the guy at the end before noticing that you didn’t actually kill him? Boom! Sequel!
But no, they had to take the series in this whole evil spirit thing and before you know it, Jason was actually dead but there was room for others to resurrect the spirit or some bullshit. That’s around the time that I started paying attention.
The first Friday the 13th movie that I saw was the second one. All of the older kids told stories of how the first one was so bloody that us younger kids were jealous that the ticket lady wouldn’t let us in.
Yes, things were so much simpler then. If you remotely looked like you were seventeen then they’d let you into the movie. None of this “Can I see your id?” bullshit. For the first movie, we barely had pubes, so there was no way they’d let us in and, to be honest, we were so dumb we wouldn’t know how to respond if they challenged our intentions to see this stupid slasher movie.
Oh yes, even at that age we all knew that Friday the 13th was stupid. Christ, it isn’t even that scary. We went because it was just a series of surprises followed by a brutal murder and the occasional tit shot. When you’re fourteen, you live for those tit shots; it’s the closest thing that you can get to a woman’s breast.
All of this, the feeling that you’re getting away with something, the tits, the surprise “It’s Jason” shots which caused the girls to scream and grab on to you tighter (if you went with a date, more on that later), the blood, it all added up to a value enhanced evening.
Friday the 13th Part II started with a recap of part one, which was great because I missed it and there really wasn’t a lot that I missed. I was there with my friend Tim. We sat next to each other and shared popcorn. None of this “let’s leave an empty seat between us so everyone knows we’re not gay” bullshit. I remember that happening much later…like when I was in my early twenties…and I totally ripped the friend I was with for doing it. Throughout the movie, I kept reaching over and running my fingers on the back of his neck, totally playing the part that I was gay and decided that there, in the theatre, I was suddenly going to make my move on him. Seriously. What the fuck is wrong with us guys?
Anyway. Friday the 13th II was far from scary. I’m sure we both jumped at the end when a disfigured Jason jumps out of Crystal Lake and attacks that girl in the boat and I’m sure we both looked at each other like “I meant to do that” just to save pride. There were a few tit shots and we got a chance to be “seen” by the older kids (particularly the chicks) just to show them how cool we were.
It didn’t work. A year later, we were still virgins.
And a year later came another Friday the 13th movie, part three if I recall, and it was in 3-D. It was around this time that HBO or some other premium channel began running Friday the 13th marathons on Halloween or, you guessed it, any date that happened to be 'Friday the 13th,' giving you an opportunity to get caught up on the series if you happened to miss the last one. I should note that at no time was I able to secure any chicks to go see a Friday the 13th movie. They all wanted to go to something more legitimate or to a proven blockbuster. I may have caught one at a drive-in, but I was stoned and making out with this chick Amy on a blanket near the back fence. I mean, why look for celluloid breasts when the real thing is right there.
Speaking of drive-ins, the last Jason movie that I saw was Freddy vs. Jason, a clear hint that both franchises had run there course until finally somebody said, “Let’s just throw the two of ‘em together and fight to the death, like those old b-movies from the 50’s.” It was awfully awesome, and I’m proud to say that I drove over two hours to see the movie from the back of my truck in an old drive in Moberly, Missouri. You had your choice: you could actually listen to the movie on your radio or through the traditional wired speakers attached to the post. When you did both, you could create this weird aural effect, which was cool. The whole place was great, it was like stepping back in time when things were simpler.
Keokuk did have a drive-in, which I was in high school that suddenly took off when they lowered the prices so that everyone could fit in the car and pay one price. They showed second run movies and it was a great place to get high. A tornado came through the edge of town and took out the screen and the owner’s chose to cut their loses and not replace it. I’m sure it wasn’t the first drive-in to die from Mother Nature.
It’s sad that kids today probably won’t get to experience the drive in, but there is a little bit of solace knowing that they’ll be able to experience the retardedness of Jason Voorhees. The new movie will probably feature unnecessary craftsmanship (better cinematography, high-end graphics and special effects, you know, clutter) and be far away from the spirit of the original movie.
That spirit came close in movies like Cabin Fever, but whoever’s at hand for the Friday the 13th reprise will probably try to make it into a horror movie. And anyone one that’s ever seen one of the original movies knows that Friday the 13th anything but a horror movie.
As that weirdo Ralph said “You’re all doomed! DOOMED!”

Monday, February 9, 2009

Red Rockin' Chicken Fingers

What the fuck is it with Saint Louis and Sammy Hagar? Growing up, Hagar would have released an album of farts and every rock fan in St. Louis would have eaten it up. I don’t understand the connection, but it’s apparently great enough that Hagar has now opened a fucking restaurant there.
You know, I’m all for musicians expanding into new ventures, provided that…like their own creative outlets…they have something to say. Let’s consider the remote possibility that Hagar cooked a mean fish taco or is renowned for dishing up some of the local flair down in Cabo. Sure, it would be perfectly acceptable then, for him to bring a creation or two and spin off a restaurant in the process.
But no, judging from the menu at Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill, the only thing he’s doing is relocating a few chef’s to some location at Harrah’s in St. Louis and having them whip up a plate of hot wings, chicken fingers, and a fucking hamburger.
Oh yeah, you can get a margarita made from Sammy’s overpriced tequila if you want.
I love the gentle, out-of-focus picture of Sammy walking along the beach on the menu. It’s kind of like the gentle, out-of-focus records he’s been putting out over the years.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bruce Sprinsteen - Working On A Dream

Let’s get right down to it: “Outlaw Pete,” the opening track of Bruce Springsteen’s sixteenth album Working On A Dream does sound just like Kiss’ “I Was Made For Loving You.” It’s not a complete re-write, but there’s a series of do-do-do’s and a guitar part that mimic the same note sequence as Paul Stanley singing “I was made for lovin’ you baby,” from the horrific Dynasty album.
It’s enough to get Gene Simmons’ attention, but not similar enough to get him to try to sue The Boss.
The déjà-vu won’t leave you mad at Springsteen, but it will have you scratching your head “Why?” Why didn’t any of the performers, producers, confidants, whoever, come up to him and say “You know Bruce, that one part sound like that shitty Kiss song…The one when they went disco…Whadya say we rework it, or better yet, just leave that section out?” Seriously: the song, which drags on for a yawn inducing eight minutes, doesn’t need it at all.
No sir, what it and The Boss needs is a district manager. Someone who can sit him down and advise him on little matters like Kiss, Wal Mart, and his own legacy within the scope of rock and roll.
Working On A Dream isn’t about to change Springsteen’s place in rock history, but more to the point, it won’t going to help it either. It comes off like the third installment of the Human Touch/Lucky Town sessions but even less focused. And even though the liner notes to attribute the performers as the E Street Band, one could make the argument that their character has been all but erased here, supplemented with misguided attempts to sound updated and relevant. Producer Brendan O’Brien may be to blame for some of the unnecessary bombast and clutter within the arrangements, but the real fault lies with Springsteen for putting O’Brien in the predicament for having to cover up what was a weak album before the tape even started rolling.
Take “Queen Of The Supermarket,” a faux lust piece where Springsteen seemingly has run down a list of blue-collar careers primarily held by women (Waitress? Already been done. Hairstylist? Ditto. Checkout girl? Perfect!) and then slapped a few clichés and sappy phrases on it. O’Brien layers so much shit on top of the lyrical nonsense that by the time the song reaches the second half, he has Patty Scialfa doing an over-the-top refrain, a ridiculous orchestral swell, and the fucking beeps of a checkout aisle in the mix. It’s the most embarrassing thing ever in Springsteen’s catalog and it’s almost bad enough to make you give up on listening to the rest of the album.
As for the songs that are at least tolerable, they suffer from an uncomfortable feeling of this iconic artist is growing lost as he approaches his sixth decade, and no one has the good sense to light a fire under his ass or challenge his authority. “Life Itself” sounds like he’s trying to channel Warren Zevon. “Good Eye” finds him aping the blues while the rest of the band sounds like they’re lost inside of the interloping rhythms of Bruce’s distorted yelps and repetitive harmonica. “Tomorrow Never Knows” utilizes a nice acoustic shuffle before, once again, Brendan O’Brien starts tossing pointless vocal effects and worthless instrumentation into the mix.
Working On A Dream is nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at building excitement for another arena tour with the E Street Band. The thing is, the show itself is excitement enough and Bruce’s latest greatest hits compilation for Wal-Mart will probably do more to fill the seats than any memorable track on this album.
And for good reason: the songs on that compilation hark back to a time when Springsteen was a reliable champion of the everyman while Working On A Dream sounds like a white collar effort from someone who’s become part of the problem.
The only dream that is being worked on here is The Boss’ financial well-being.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

10th Avenue Sell Out

I have no idea what the fuck is going on inside my body, but I began vomiting like a champion about thirty minutes after the Super Bowl ended on Sunday. And then, when there was nothing left to vomit, my body advised me that I needed to vomit some more. How strange it is when you can literally make the most unholy of noises and have nothing to show for it. One could theoretically walk down the street dry-heaving and have your clothes remain dutifully in tact and soil free.
Not that I was in any shape to walk around, mind you.
The next morning I called in sick…puke free, thank God…but with the soreness of Apollo Creed after facing the Rocky Balboa.
“Hit ‘em with the body punches, Rock!” said Mick.
And my body felt like it had witnessed a flurry of body punches per Mick’s grizzled yells from the corner, as it hurt to laugh, cough, or sneeze.
“Ain’t gonna be no rematch!” said
Don’t want one. But then the poopsy daises stopped by which led me to begin reading a book about The Night Stalker. After chapter seven, things had calmed downstairs enough for me to crawl to bed, secretly wishing that I was old enough to get a Depends “undergarment” and have someone else deal with my exploding diarrhea.
Too much information?
It’s a great Police song!
I recently did a review of the new Bruce Springsteen album and then checked out some of the other reviews of it. I don’t like reading reviews of albums before I start writing one of my own. Typically, I’ll wait until afterwards and then I’ll get paranoid that what I’ve written is too similar to what I’ve read, forcing me to contemplate a re-write. Fuck it though, if what I’ve written is fresh and what I feel then it should stay, no matter if someone else feels the same way or sites similar passages.
The new Bruce album sucks balls. It’s really bad, trust me. Not awful, but piss poor in a “what the fuck were you thinking” kind of way for someone like Bruce Springsteen. Anyone who feels that his best work is behind him need only listen to Working On A Dream once to determine that it’s true.
I see that Rolling Stone magazine gave the album five stars. I know it’s funny that something from Rolling Stone would work me up to a lather, but I have to tell you that there has to be some kind of shenanigans afoot here because, unless there’s something wrong with your auditory functions, there is nothing on this album that would warrant a five-star rating.
The only thing I can figure is that the editors of Rolling Stone don’t want to offend the boss to the point where he won’t speak to them any more, which is hilarious because the magazine’s teen base doesn’t give a fuck that Bruce Springsteen is anyway.
I began reading the review to get some kind of insight into what could possibly warrant such a great rating. I mean, there is a ton of what I would consider “five-star” albums out there, but I have to acknowledge that some of them are great because I think they are. It doesn’t mean that it is something that has to be in your collection, unconditionally. Those are the undisputed ones…the Pet Sounds or Never Mind The Bullocks…the ones that you have to have. The ones that I think are vital, but aren’t universally necessary, I’m going to give 4.5 stars.
And believe me, Working On A Dream is nowhere fucking near a 4.5 star album.
On top of all this, I was genuinely excited about the Boss performing at halftime at the Super Bowl. True to form, Bruce gave a capable performance that, like the new album, was far from fucking memorable.
Do I remember the songs?
Some kind of truncated medley, wasnit?
Freeze Out>Born To Run>Shitty New Song>Glory Days? Right?
Maybe it was my fever dream, but I can’t remember shit about the actual quality of the songs other that Bruce shoved his wing-wang towards the camera, told me to put down the guacamole, and shot the shit with Little Steven at the end.
Oh yeah, and he’s going to Disneyland. Like anyone goes to Disneyland. It’s Disneyworld boss, and you made enough to pay for the upgrade.
And they didn’t even have to really work at it.
Yes, apparently performing live at the Super Bowl is such a chore now that they essentially had the band play along to a backing track with the only “live” part of the festivities being Bruce’s vocals. That’s fine, I suppose, but don’t advertise it at “Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band performing live at halftime.” Call it “Bruce Springsteen singing live at halftime with the E Street Band on stage, acting like they’re playing but not really.”
More distressing than a by-the-numbers performance where most of the band wasn’t even really playing or than an overly-hyped shitty album is Springsteen’s recent transformation into a money-grubbing caricature of his former self. He’s made more than enough from album sales and successful touring to secure himself and his children. Why the need to secure a deal with Wal-Mart for yet another greatest hits compilation? Why alienate your fan base…the same ones that will be forking over large sums of money on nonsensical convenience fee and service charges…by letting them flounder in shady Ticketmaster offshoots that require even more money?
This isn’t the Bruce I remember.
This won’t be the Bruce that I support.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

R.I.P. Lux Interior

Erick Purkhiser turned 60 last year along with my Mother. 1948 was the only thing that they shared in common, as my Mother grew up but Erick, better known as Lux Interior to you and me, failed to advance past the age of 16.
He liked comic books, horror movies, old Rockabilly records, scantily clad women and drugs. With hobbies like these and little incentive to blend in to the mainstream world, it is amazing that he survived. The majority of social rejects don’t make it too far. But Erick found his way to the stage, on the screen, and on television sets around the world, speaking directly to like-minded freaks with like-minded interests.
He picked up one of them hitchhiking. A chance meeting that turned into a lifelong love affair. Her given name was Kristy Wallace, but Erick helped her become Poison Ivy around the same time that he decided on his more appropriate name.
They liked Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls, but didn’t put any thought behind trying to play music themselves until they saw The Ramones. They figured that if four ugly looking dudes who could barely play their instruments could get a band together that captured the essence of those early rock ‘n roll records then, be-bop-a-lula, so could they.
Erick…um, Lux….would be Elvis, only uglier.
Kristy…uh, Poison…would be Scotty Moore, only prettier.
And the whole fucking thing would have to be mixed in with songs straight out of those movies they saw on the local Creature Feature horror show.
They called is rock music, but those that needed to put a new spin on such an old word called it “Psychobilly.”
Over the next thirty years the band this two formed barely moved an inch creatively. They didn’t need to, of course, because The Cramps would sound silly if they changed at all. It may have prevented them from garnishing the success that they most certainly deserved, but then again, what would have Ed Wood turned into had Plan 9 been a box office smash?
He wouldn’t have been Ed Wood, that’s for sure.
For anyone that saw the movie Urgh! A Music War, the first thing mentioned was Lux’s performance. Ms. Ivy played a primitive guitar pattern and drummer Knick Knocks laid down a repetitive shuffle. Lux commanded the stage and urged everyone to “tear this damn place up!” When the crowd didn’t oblige his wishes, Lux threw himself on the floor, hit himself with the microphone and eventually placed the entire head of it down his throat, screaming while it was lodged deep inside his gullet.
It was amazing.
It was memorable.
And now, that memory…along with any others that you may have been fortunate enough to see…is all we will have of Lux.

Monday, February 2, 2009

50th Anniversary of The Day The Music Died

50 years ago today, three pioneers of rock played a gig in a small Iowa town during a cold, snowy night. Early the next morning, the three boarded a small Beechcraft Bonanza plane and attempted to fly to their next gig scheduled in Moorhead, Minnesota. Shortly after take-off, the plane crashed in a nearby cornfield, killing The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly. Don McLean called it “the day the music died” in his 1971 hit “American Pie.”
When that song was on the charts, my Father told me the story of the plane crash. This was around the same time that he also told me about the death of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin. All of those figures, along with the three that perished on that cold February evening, became entrenched in my memory of rock ‘n roll myth. They were the fallen heroes, the saints of rock and I felt an obligation to respect them and their memories.
It struck me as a bad omen that the three had died in Iowa. I was too young to understand, but it seemed logical to me that the reason people as famous as Buddy Holly didn’t perform in Iowa any more was because they were afraid to end up like Buddy Holly: dead in a cold Iowa cornfield.
I’ve never been to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. It looks awesome and, occasionally, they get some decent performers there. I’m sure a lot of them are drawn to the history of it, even though Holly’s stop there on February 2, 1959 was a last minute edition to the “Winter Dance Party” tour. The Surf wasn’t on the original itinerary, but when the promoter noticed an open day, he called The Surf and asked if they could add the stop to their agenda. The ballroom said “yes” of course.
When I was getting ready to ask my wife to marry me, I thought about doing it at The Surf. This is something that I’m sure she doesn’t know about, but I noticed that Shooter Jennings was performing at The Surf. I considered writing his management company to ask if Shooter might let me on stage to pose the question before, after or during his set. Shooter’s Father Waylon, in case you didn’t know, was a member of Holly’s band during the 1959 performance. He gave up his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper who was suffering from the flu and told Buddy before he left that he hoped the plane crashed.
Imagine the guilt he faced when he heard the news.
Anyway, Shooter cancelled the date and I was forced to pose the question in another manner. It was at her parent’s house if you must know, and it was done in a pretty awesome manner I must say, but The Surf idea would have been a little more my style.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame recently honored The Surf Ballroom as one of the most historic rock locations in America. It would have been nice if The Surf was known for something a little less tragic, but because of the events fifty years ago, it’s known as the last place that Buddy Holly ever performed.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Is there anything more neutering than having to stay at home with the kids on Super Bowl Sunday while the wife is at work? I’m exaggerating as the wife will be home around the time of kickoff, which means that I can at least focus on the game somewhat as there will be another adult in the house that the kids can bug.
Since my wife is not a football fan, she usually draws the short end of the stick every year on this date. All of her male co-workers put in their time off requests well in advance and a few actually ask for the following Monday off to recuperate from the ensuing hangover.
I tried not to go overboard in terms of the preparation of shit for today. I’ve learned from years past that it’s not worth cooking a bunch of wings and throwing together a bunch of nachos because nobody will help eat it. I live with a bunch of pussies who think anything beyond mild salsa is too hot and, unless it’s barbeque, the sauce for the wings is too spicy.
Silly rabbit, that’s what the beer is for.
So I’ve opted for a plethora of cheeses and pickled herring…the latter of which I’m proud to say that the boy has developed a taste for. Call it the remnants of those Swedish genes floating around in my bloodstream. Everyone else just looks at those raw fishy cuts and goes “Ew!”
It’ll be the Steelers by 9 this year and, as a Cleveland Browns fan that pains me. What makes it worse is that I know many Pittsburg fans, so I will be forced to acknowledge them when they win tonight.
Actually, there’s a weird division going on in this state at the moment. On the Eastern side, the Steelers fans are fueled by an admitted impressive past as Pittsburg was often a worthy foe to the even worse Cowboys during the 70’s. And if the Super Bowl featured the Steelers against Dallas then I would be forced to lend a weak nod in Pittsburg’s favor.
There are also a lot of Pittsburg fans around here that draw a connection between them and the Iowa Hawkeyes as retired Hawk coach Hayden Fry lifted the design of Iowa’s uniforms from the Steelers. At that time, the Hawkeyes were on a decades long losing streak while the Steelers were in their heyday. Fry wanted to get people to associate the Hawkeyes with something that visually resembled positive.
It worked and it provided people with an extensive wardrobe of yellow and black to continue wearing those colors long after the collegiate post season ended.
My resentment towards the Steelers started during those glory days. I was an Oakland Raiders fan, and the Steelers always proved to be worthy spoilers. I loved Ken Stabler’s laid back style compared to the cocky shenanigans of one Terry Bradshaw.
Fuck that dude. He annoys the piss out of me.
When Al Davis uprooted the Raiders to L.A., I stopped supporting them. It was then that I started to pay attention to that NFL team with no logo on their helmet in a crumbling city next to Lake Erie. Ironically, similar circumstances befouled the Browns as the cocksucking owner moved them to Baltimore even in the face of enormous fan support and strong ticket sales.
It has been a trying time during my support of this team. I’ve endured “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” and a 10-6 record from two years ago which prompted no post-season opportunity and high expectations for this past season, which true to Cleveland form, provided nothing but another losing season.
Probably the only other team that has had it worse than Cleveland is the Arizona Cardinals. They have a substantial amount of support this year as Kurt Warner hails from Burlington, Iowa, a town just up the road from my hometown. He also played for my alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa, but didn’t really take off until two years after I graduated.
After graduating, he played for the Iowa Barnstormers and his success there led to a shot in the NFL. Since St. Louis is right next door to us, Warner’s success with the Rams was pretty big news around here.
The only drawback is that Warner is nice…too nice in some respects. He makes regular visits around here, usually speaking at church events and offering endless praise of the “Heavenly Father.” Iowa may be proportionally more religious than other states, but I can assure you that most of us aren’t religious to a point where we’re obnoxious about it. Like good Midwesterners, we tend to shut up about it and let others decide for themselves. Warner seems like the type of guy that goes out of his way to wax on about faith, providing a big role model for like-minded bible beaters and the need for additional clarification from the rest of us. Clarification as in: “Hey, most of us aren’t that obsessive about Christ here in Iowa.”
Nonetheless, because of his lineage, locale and the fact that I have relatives that reside and/or own homes in Arizona, I’ll be rooting for the Cardinals this year.
And with a little help from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they’ll beat those fucksticks Steelers.