Saturday, September 26, 2009

You Wanted The Best And You Got The Best.

Mohair Pear may be the last remanent of old-school awesomeness on The Hill in Cedar Falls. It's been a while, but whenever I'm in the area I'll stop in and gawk like a creepy old dude. Then I'll march up to Hill Street News and Tobacco and fumble through the titty mags just like the old days. I try not to bug Dave and Barb too much, but occassionally I'll corner them to remind them of how cool they are.
Want proof?
Dig the picture of their latest ad.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yazoo - In Your Room

I’ve written at length at how completely influential this band was to my own creative development, so why not shell out a few extra clams that housed this electronic duo’s only two albums and a few extra oddities.
Allow me to justify.
My cd of Upstairs At Eric’s recently bit the dust and I used an old strategy of trying to gently rub out the scratches with toothpaste. It didn’t work. In fact, it made it worse. I swear, I’ve gotten it to work wonders in the past but for whatever reason…
I don’t have You & Me Both on cd; only on vinyl. It’s the original copy that I got in ’83 from Disc Jockey in Keokuk. A girl we nicknamed Denda was eyeballing a copy of it at the same time I was at the end cap of “New Releases” towards the entrance. We both picked up a copy and marched straight to the checkout. Shortly after, the store began carrying 12” singles of Yazoo stuff. I still have those too. Thankfully, those are all included in In Your Room.
I got into Yazoo before I got into Depeche Mode. And even then, I only liked Speak & Spell because it was the only album with Vince Clarke in it before he quit and formed Yazoo with Alison Moyet. After Yazoo broke up, about 18 months after they first began, we began scouring the record stores for their last single “The Other Side Of Love,” available only as an import. A friend of mine found it, along with Clarke’s post-Yazoo side project called The Assembly.
Then he formed Erasure and I hated them. The dude sounded just like Alison, but he didn’t write as good as her. I couldn’t understand why he would break up Yazoo for something with less substance.
Then came the reunion shows of last year, a quick outing to bring attention to the In Your Room box and to travel to a few places that never even got a chance to see them during the first round. Actually, that’s just about everyone since Yazoo only played two dozen gigs during their entire existence and only two of those were on American soil.
When I read about the shows, I nearly wept.
When I saw that they were playing Chicago, I nabbed the first pair of tickets that I could find.
Good thing too, the band promptly ended the reunion and any hopes of new material after two more shows were played.
So what is it about this band that conjures up so much emotion and blind allegiance with me? First off, Upstairs At Eric’s is a masterpiece. It’s an exercise of cold electronic minimalism against the warm, soulful voice of Alison Moyet. It’s two things that shouldn’t be together at all, but the way these two put it together, it’s eye-opening.
It also contains one of the best songs in the past 50 years with “Only You,” a timeless love song that should have been a massive hit in the States. I’ve heard dozens of versions of it since then, but none can match Moyet’s original take.
Eric’s also has one of the best dance songs ever put to wax, “Situation,” an ass-shaking bit tune that has been remixed countless times because the original is still so recognizable that it needs new window dressings every five years or so. There are five versions of it on In Your Room and there’s probably another dozen or so floating around.
You & Me Both is the break-up album. Literally. Most of the songs are related to breaking up and the album itself was recorded in the midst of Vince and Alf’s separation. Vince recording his part in the afternoon, Alison came in to do her vocals in the evening.
It’s not as weird as Eric’s and, admittedly, not as good. But there are enough good moments to make it a worthy purchase and it’s home to another fantastic single, “Nobody’s Diary.”
The American version had “State Farm.” The UK version had “Happy People.” I remember hearing “State Farm” on a small college station out of Quincy, Illinois once and immediately calling directory assistance just to find the station’s phone number so that I could thank him. He was playing the extended version (also on In Your Room) and I thought we might make a music connection; a mutual love of Yazoo. Imagine my disappointment when he had no idea what I was talking about. He was merely “following the playlist” that was provided to him by the music director.
So virtually everything is on In My Room. I had to get it. It also contains a short documentary, video clips, songs the two lip-synched on Top Of The Pops (many of them repeated) and 5.1 versions of the two proper albums. It’s perfect for the uber-fan and completists. It’s not the place that a newcomer should start.
I finally found a copy-suspiciously cheap from a dude in Hong Kong-and rolled the dice to see if it was legit. It was. Everything’s cool. It doesn’t appear to be a bootleg of the proper release. I’m stoked. Essentially, I got the thing for under $10 a disc and if you can manage to find a similar deal, then by all means nab it.
If not, or if the idea of jumping head first into a band you’re not familiar with ain’t your thing, then fork over the $10 for Upstairs At Eric’s. Fuck those single-disc compilations; that first album is awesome, like a science project that manages to split atoms or something. From there, I’m sure you’ll be searching for the follow-up in no time, or kicking yourself for not just getting the box set to begin with.
As the documentary title says: “2 albums, 4 singles, and that was it…”
And what it was, was gone way too soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fever Ray - Fever Ray

It wasn’t that long ago when Karin Dreijer Andersson, one-half of the duo The Knife, was blessed with the kind of praise that most independent artists would kill for. Pitchfork named their album Silent Shout as one of the best records of 2006 and the Swedish recording industry agreed by providing the Dreijer siblings with a total of six awards for the Swedish equivalent of the Grammys.
At that moment, the idea of playing ball should have been the first priority of the band. Instead, the two sent friends dressed up in gorilla costumes to collect their prize (an protest of Sweden’s Caucasian-heavy music scene) and then promptly went on hiatus.
During this time, Karin gave birth to her second child and while most parents of newborns become mentally numb during the months of ensuing sleep deprivation, Andersson used her somnambulist hours to program beats and put the beginning touches of a solo project on to her hard drive.
The project is entitled Fever Ray, a ten-song collection of post-natal electronica that effectively captures the dark corners of when restlessness sheepishly tangles with unchecked creativity. The circumstances here have helped to create an album that is both somber and cold while being strangely endearing.
Don’t expect much coherence in terms of Fever Ray’s lyrical content. It comes from an alternate universe and seldom makes sense on this planet. When it does, there are hints of a woman in need of a good nap. There are numerous references to time, the passing cycles, and of general exhaustion.
Karin attaches a variety of vocal sounds to match these moments; “Dry And Dusty” utilizes a pair of pitch shift vocals that drag her voice down to an eerie masculine persona. On others, she mirrors Kate Bush-minus the expansive range-an influence that Fever Ray is more than obviously indebted to.
Musically, Fever Ray wonderfully captures the cold chill of electronic minimalism with a lush palate of early 80’s synth-sounds. It’s a weird algorhythm of familiar nostalgia and modern hard-drive production and is the first album that I’ve heard in quite some time that sounds as isolated as it must have been during the creative process.
As a result, Fever Ray is unnerving as much as it’s intriguing. You can practically recreate the lethargy of the original recording just by listening to it and appreciate the dreams that its slow and methodic beats long to attain.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

John Paul George and Ringo

My cousin and I were also talking about the individual Beatles, specifically how annoying the Ringo songs were. I mean, God love him, he’s a Beatle and he’s an awesome drummer who’s just perfect for the band. He is one of the reasons why they are so legendary regardless of how technically good he was and regardless of how shitty he was as a singer.
There becomes a point in everyone’s life where various members of the Beatles are your favorite, and unfortunately, when Ringo is your favorite it’s because your mind hasn’t fully developed and logic skills aren’t completely in place.
Here's a timeline of the members of the Beatles and the age in which the average music lover begins taking notice of them

Date Range: 4 – 12 years
Selected Discography: “Yellow Submarine,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “A Little Help From My Friends”
Comments: His limited range is perfect for kids. It’s cute, easy to follow along to, and just annoying enough to become the first piece of the Beatles’ catalog that you grow tired of around the same time you grow pubes, or around the time you figure out when he says “getting high with a little help from my friends” that he’s not talking about your buddy giving you a boost onto a tree branch.

Date Range:
12 – 19 years
Selected Discography: “Michelle,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Birthday,” “Hey Jude”
Comments: Let’s get one thing clear: Paul is a genius. His genius is how he was able to incorporate so many different styles into the pop arena while speaking to so many different people. You begin to realize just how catchy and clever his songs are around this time and they never really leave you, they just begin to annoy you about the time you’re packing for college.

Date Range:
19 – 21 years
Selected Discography: “Within You Without You,” “Taxman” “Love You To” “Something”
Comments: George’s songs sound weird and boring…until you hit college. Then you start smoking pot and then they sound brilliant. If you move on to LSD, even “The Inner Light” sounds genius! Revolver is where George really shines as John and Paul gave the green light for a whopping three of his songs. They’re what make that album such a masterpiece.

Date Range:
1 – 100 years
Selected Discography: “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Revolution,” “Come Together” “I Am The Walrus.”
Comments: Everybody loves John, and that bugs the hell out of Paul. To be fair, Paul probably had an equal or even a few more flat-out brilliant songs than Lennon, but John always seemed to take the band’s success with a huge chunk of reality. Fiercely independent, incredibly witty, and endlessly creative, John is the safe Beatle to like at any age and the only one where you will never be second guess. When you’re a kid, he’s the one that made funny faces. When you’re a teen, he’s the one that seemed to write the heavy songs. And when you’re in college, he’s the dude that buried Paul and married Yoko.

But seriously, the above list ain’t the rule and it isn’t the Bible. It’s just a fun way to put together the individual Beatles at the points in your life when you began to warm to certain members. It’s part of what makes this band such a lifetime companion, and what’s really weird to you youngsters is how you begin to repeat the list as you get older: you go through phases where you begin to re-appreciate McCartney. Then Harrison. Then Lennon again.
One thing is for sure though, once you leave the Ringo era, you never go back.

Meet The Beatles (Again)

Aside from some Queen and a brief period of IPod shuffling, the weekend has been all about the Beatles. At nearly every big box retail outlet, I was met with various Beatles promotion and on nearly every music website, there is something about the Beatles re-issues.
I could be very cynical about such things-this idea that we need to purchase shit that we already have-but there are a few things about the Beatle reissues that have brought about a bit of a hypocritical aura.
First of all, the do sound awesome. I went the cheap route, purchasing the albums post-Rubber Soul using a strategy devised by my cousin: the individual cds are on sale at the place with the red bulls eye and when you buy two you get a $5 gift card. So buy a pair and repeat. You’ll save a bit of scratch.
It was just the hype talkin’ a few weeks ago when I had an itchy finger for that mono set.
Second of all, I just realized that all of my Beatles shit that I have currently on cd I never paid for. It’s all promo stuff that I got while in radio, except The White Album, which is a first edition serial number that my dad got me for Christmas one year.
So technically, this is the first time that I actually bought any Beatles material on cd.
I devised a strategy when my wife and I were running errands over the weekend, explaining that we needed to stop buy said big box to get some laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, pull-up diapers, Magical Mystery Tour and Revolver.
I also tried to explain to her how I was saving her money, but she didn’t seem to connect with that.
Over the weekend though, I figure out the real significance of this Beatles reissue. It isn’t really about the cds themselves. I’ve heard a lot of younger listeners state how they were going to pick up the music on ITunes, incorrectly thinking that the material would now be available there.
And really, cd sales are down so much now that not even the Beatles can turn around the sinking ship.
The real impact is with The Beatles Rock Band, the video game released on the same day. I saw a pair of brothers-probably aged 9 and 12-fiercly concentrating on “Yellow Submarine” at the Best Buy store. It was adorable, but it was also brilliant. In the process of following Ringo and George and watching animated (and historically incorrect-at one point, the band appeared to be playing the song in Shea Stadium) images of Beatlemania, they were becoming familiarized with the band’s material. Those 9 and 12 year olds may not have a copy from the big brother or parents to be passed down to them. Instead, they have a video game to learn the songs, and they’ll remember them too, long after their Xbox or PS3 or Wii has become obsolete.
Those songs will stay with them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How Many More Lives?!

God bless you, Your Humble Proprietor, for posting this incredibly edited, unsolicited video for Killdozer's "Man Vs. Nature" from their out of print gem, Twelve Point Buck.
For those of you not familiar with Killdozer, they are a woefully under appreciated band from Wisconsin that essentially invented grunge music and, as a result, should be compensated with back royalties for every copy of Nevermind ever sold.
Oh, and they had a fucking sense of humor too and didn't mope around like that pussy Kurt Cobain.

True story: I still have a copy of Your Flesh magazine lying around somewhere from the late 80's simply because it has a Killdozer tour diary in there and it's totally worth saving because of it.
Inspirational quote from said tour diary:
"A day that starts at Denny's is a good day, but one that starts at Waffle House is the best day of all."

And The Cassette Played Poptones

John Lydon has announced a few Public Image Limited live dates in the U.K. It’s the first time that PiL has reformed since 1992.
Immediately when I heard the news, I thought that this would be the classic PiL line-up of Lydon, Keith Levene, and Jah Wobble. I mean, it makes sense doesn’t it? With all of the recent reunions taking place and with live appearances becoming the largest source of revenue for artists thanks to declining cd revenues, you would think that Lydon would have been smart enough to concoct an event that would get some attention.
But no. Lydon seems to think that by reprising the PiL moniker, we will return. What he fails to remember is that Metal Box (Second Edition) is the band’s masterpiece and, essentially, the only evidence of Public Image Limited working as a ban (minus a consistent drummer).
Album may be the band’s last decent album, and that was nearly twenty-five years ago. That record was followed by a run of continual line-up changes and half-inspired material. It was clear that Lydon had either run out of ideas or no longer wanted to invest the time to work on a third album of groundbreaking proportion.
Think about how awesome it would be if Lydon, Levene, and Wobble got together and performed the Metal Box album in its entirety.
Never mind the Sex Pistols, that concert would be something worth seeing!
No bollocks.
Guitar geek alert: Check out the Travis Bean Wedge that Levene is playing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Statement Of Death

I just finished 1,200 words on the death of Jim Carroll.
Obviously, pretty influential on me if I’m going to invest that amount of time and energy to a man I’ve never met.
Immediately afterwards, I noticed the death of Patrick Swayze. And while I won’t pretend that Mr. Swayze had as big of an impact of Carroll, I won’t lie a suggest that I wasn’t a fan of Swayze either.
You see, Patrick Swayze is too easy just to pin as a joke. He made some shitty movies, no doubt, but they were usually entertaining when you lowered yourself enough to glance beyond the bad dialogue and impossibly stupid plot.
He was a dancer-a woefully effeminate art form-and his father was one of those hard-nosed masculine types. So for his entire life, there was this weird dichotomy of an obvious talent versus the type of role he must have thought his father might like. Take a look at his most famous roles, the ones that were his most successful, and they’re always the ones where the girls cite as a must see movie.
You know. Ghost. Dirty Dancing. Blah. Blah. Blah.
But what are the roles he continued to suffer through? Point Break. Roadhouse. Black Dog. You know. The good ones.
As entertaining as they may have been, you can tell that Swayze is going through the motions, perhaps unconsciously hoping that this role…THIS ROLE…will be the one that brings him closer to his father.
As for Jim Carroll, there’s enough documentation of his life that one need not wonder. He was a man of enviable truth-sometimes ugly and heart wrenching-and someone who had the good sense to document it.
Here’s one of my favorite poems from Carroll:

“For Elizabeth”
It is winter ending on earth.
The planets align tomorrow in March and grow more distant from the sun and each other like stray, worn soldiers retreating from an enemy that no longer exists.
It is a mild spring in purgatory.
In green limbo the children whose foreheads are dry, whose hands do not grow, are transformed themselves to seasons of birds circling an obelisk of shivering mercury. None are allowed prey, none are allowed heaven's crooked beak.
They are radiant swallows with thorns for tongues to feed on the shifting mercury from the mythology of God's hand, which I cannot break, even now, under this tearful scrutiny. I've tried.
I've tried.
I am allowing to pass through me a statement of death.
You, the catalyst of such distorted memory.
In that limbo the children move in some strange gravity within and outside Grace.
Their Lord is angry.
They have died with their innocence untested.
None knows what it has been or will be ~ each day it changes without changing ~ do you understand what I am saying?
It is the life you chose on this Earth, the life of junk and lies.
But that wasn't You, I knew You ~ you had perfect lips, eyes like a true child, your breasts unformed, an incandescent mind.
This place where I put you now, it is a cursed season, an awkward line, a flawed circle, a snake on fire devouring what tomorrow it will itself become.

Tears Are Falling: Crystal Shawanda-"You Can Go Home"

Now that Iowa eked out a win against my Alma Mater, Northern Iowa, I can resume supporting the Hawkeyes’ endeavors for the rest of their reason. The only time I cannot in good faith support the Hawks is when they play against U.N.I. It’s a matter of principle. Northern Iowa took more of my money, so I’m inclined to support an organization that swindled me out of several thousand clams.
So I’m watching Iowa destroy the despicable Iowa State Cyclones, the third public university in our state. Iowa State is known for a few things: agricultural studies, veterinarian studies, and a yearly event called Veisha in which the I.S.U. students get drunk and combative with the Ames police department. Even after repeated warnings, the students at I.S.U. don’t seem to have enough sense to tone it down a notch just to make sure they don’t get tazered, jailed, and reprimanded for future Veisha events.
Anyway, Iowa is walking all over the Hawkeyes and on every commercial break there’s this spot-obviously a public service announcement-for
The ad features a song from country vocalist Crystal Shawanda. Her song “You Can Let Go” plays over a video showing a father teaching his daughter to ride a bike, followed by that father walking his girl down the aisle to get married and ending with the daughter visiting her dad who is now dying in a hospital bed. The running theme of the song and video is that the daughter first tells the father how he can let go-from the bicycle, giving her the freedom to roam without the need of her father’s protective grasp, to the wedding day, when the father relinquishes his hand to her new husband. In the end, it’s the daughter who tells the father that it’s ok for him to let go of life-that she’s ready to face the world without him. It’s that assurance, her acknowledgement that she’ll be ok and that he can pass on without worry, that ends the song and the video shows the girl-now older herself-shedding a tear as she remembers the events in her life when her father was beside her helping her grow into adulthood.
I’d never heard the song before that day and I’d never heard of the organization, A quick internet search finds that the website is part of the non-profit group The Foundation For A Better Life, an organization that was founded nine years ago to “promote values that [it] sees as positive.” It suggests that it is not affiliated with any religion and does not accept any donations from the public. Its sole purpose is to promote through the media, messages involving one of the 52 values that it identifies. The value that the “You Can Let Go” spot is promoting is “everlasting love.”
A deeper internet search shows that “The Foundation For A Better Life” is funded entirely by Philip Anschutz. Mr. Anschutz is a Kansas native who is currently ranked as the 31st wealthiest person in the United States. His wealth was created from oil, railroading, and most recently in telecommunications. He generally supports Christian Conservative causes, was a major donor of both George W. Bush campaigns, and has helped fund the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that criticizes evolution.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Anschutz also has dabbled in the entertainment business. He was a producer for the movie Ray, a biography on the life of Ray Charles. Mr. Anschutz found that a lot of the movie’s drug use and sex was objectionable and ordered it removed.
Most recently, the Anschutz Entertainment Group-or AEG-was the promoter for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour in England. Since Michael Jackson’s death put a halt to those plans, AEG was faced with the reality that they would need to refund a substantial amount of revenue generated from the pre-sale of these events. To overcome this, AEG recently unveiled plans to issue “souvenir tickets” to anyone who purchased “This Is It” tickets prior to Jackson’s death. Since the “This Is It” shows are the intellectual property of AEG, the company can go through with the plans, despite the protests of the Jackson family. AEG is hoping that up to 50% of the ticket holders will choose the “souvenir ticket” option as it will amount to over $40 million in savings for the company.
As cynical and sinister as this all sounds, I am not posting this information to point out how hypocritical the ad was during my Hawkeye/Cyclone game. I bring this up only after going to the web site as the commercial suggests learning more about the organization that was BRINGING ME CLOSE TO TEARS while I was watching a fucking football game. Shouldn’t this ad be running during Oprah? Isn’t this more appropriate for the Lifetime network? Why am I muting the speakers during time out breaks for fear that I will begin bawling while that fake daughter holds the hand of her fake dying daddy?
Why I watch football, I want to swear, fart, and eat Sterzings Potato Chips with lots of French Onion dip. I don’t want to be reminded of my own mortality and later learn that the dude who’s providing the necessary money to make me cry was a major funder of one of the most valueless administrations in history.
I'm not going to embed the actual commercial; look for it if you want to cry. And the morons at BMG records won't let me embed the actual single-they don't want too many people to actually know about the song, I guess-so here's another clip of the chick who sings the song and what it sounds like. It's nowhere near the tear-enducing drama of that stupid ad, but it gives a little insight on Crystal Shawanda.
$10 bucks says her name is made up.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Is Hancher Headed Downtown?

Here around the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area, the flood of 2008 is still obvious. The wife and I took the kids down to the Bohemian festival in the neighborhood were a few artist-types reside and work only to notice the ever-present water line mark on the homes and endless boarded up windows.
We drove through the downtown area to get there and it looks like a ghost town. There were endless signs in the windows promoting “We’re back!” and other promises of resurgence, but very little in actual activity. It was a late Saturday afternoon and we noticed virtually no one walking the streets of downtown Cedar Rapids.
I’m well aware that these things take time and I know that there will be a point where the district bounces back to a level they were at before or better. I hope that the Paramount Theatre is a major part of that plan since it is the one venue that drew my wife and me downtown.
Iowa City, on the other hand, seems to be chugging along with contingency plans and, maybe because a lot of the rebuilding centers around the public university, much of those plans are available to glance over.
The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports that momentum is growing to bring Hancher Auditorium downtown, well away from it’s current location, an un-restorable venue next to the Iowa River. The idea is that a downtown location will help push the downtown as we know it further south as there really is no other area for it to expand. There’s also a larger picture here: for those of you not familiar with Iowa scuttlebutt, there are growing voices to restore rail service in this part of the state, tying Eastern Iowa to Chicago. Where would that rail service end up? The depot would be close to the area that Iowa City planners would like to see the downtown area moving towards.
For me, I think a downtown Hancher would be great with one vital caveat. If the U of I wants to use federal money to help build Hancher at a different location, then make it more of a place for the people. For close to twenty years now, Hancher has answered only to its biggest donors and created an environment that provides limited appeal for the community and surrounding area. I have no problem with the high arts and the facility being used as such, but there are other art forms that are more Pabst Blue Ribbon than pinot grigio and those art forms have been excluded from using Hancher. The first time I saw R.E.M. was at Hancher. Camper Van Beethoven opened and the show was part of the Life’s Rich Pageant tour. This was my first experience with the venue.
The last time I was there was for a ballet set to the music of Prince. That should give you an idea of the type of crowd that Hancher has been pursuing since those days.
So forgive me if my perception of Hancher has changed from one of a venue with universal appeal to one that’s exclusivity is neither representative of reality and the ground in which it sits on. I’m not asking for Hancher’s door to open for Gwar or even stray too far from its intention as a premier venue for fine arts. But in order to be a true house for the people and to be a venue that promotes the arts, Hancher’s promoters need to take off the blinders and look at what is best for the legacy that this new location will leave.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hey! Wait! I've Got A New Complaint!

So I have to give Kiko Jones credit for pointing out a nearly sacrilegious avatar that's floating around in the new Guitar Hero 5 game.
Evidently, after you unlock a few levels of GH5, you can use Kurt Cobain's likeness to play any instrument in the game. More importantly, you can get Kurt Cobain's likeness to play with any song in the game, no matter how shitty it is.
Actually, the soundtrack to GH5 isn't that bad, but the weirdness of watching Cobain's likeness going through the songs with programmed expressions and body movements is downright creepy.
It immediately got my attention enough to do a quick search to learn that Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic have spoken out against the feature and Courtney Love has turned on to full batshit crazy mode, implying that the gamemaker Activision, the controlling interest party of Cobain's musical legacy, and anyone else that she feels is responsible, is conducting rape, necrophilia, and a number of other reprehensible acts.
The one person she fails to acknowledge who is at fault?
Turns out, Courtney Love was part of the Cobain avatar design process. She directed Activision on which likeness to use and provided input on the design (notice the Daniel Johnston t-shirt on the image). She was the one (along with other parties of the Cobain Enterprises LLC, including Dave Grohl) who signed the contracts and agreed on a PRICE to be PAID for this deal. Ultimately, she would have been the one who would have asked "What would Kurt do?"
And we all know the answer to that.
And we all know the answer that we would have given if a similar opportunity was provided to us and we were beholden to the legacy of a fallen musical hero.
Look, I'm not a good person to consult in terms of the impact of Kurt Cobain and/or Nirvana. My heart is too full to give you an accurate idea of how this man impacted my life. I am one of those who has barely listened to a lick of Nirvana's music since he killed himself. I'm what you call a little pissed off at him still and a little tired of the martyrdom that he's been provided. I pulled out From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah on vinyl a few weeks ago and spun the stage banter side for a laugh-but I left the actual music sides alone. My wife has the greatest hits disc and leaves the radio on when a Nirvana song comes on, which in turn, means that I have to listen to it. The songs don't feel the same to me anymore, and there's really no reason why I should even get worked up about a Kurt Cobain avatar today.
But I do. Because I know it's morally corrupt. I know it's wrong and I know that it could have been stopped. Ironically, I have more tolerance for the things that Love rants about on her Twitter site (Cobain lunchboxes, Converse shoes, etc.) but have zero tolerance for this licensing deal and have not forgiven her for the entire Journal fiasco.

Does this latest controversy surprise me? In a way it does. It reeks of opportunity and goes beyond what normal hero worship of his likeness typically does.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome To The Pleasuredome

I occasionally like to remind myself that nostalgia hasn’t got the best of me yet. I’ll force something back down my throat that I originally was lukewarm too before coming to my senses and selling the goddamn album to a used record store. It’s like I think “Oh! Twenty years have passed, and a few songs on the record are pretty decent, so maybe I’ll give it another spin.” You know, just cause I miss that moment, that era, or that girl I was trying to make out with in my ’74 MGB.
Most recently, my thoughts came to Welcome To The Pleasuredome, the debut album from Frankie Goes To Hollywood. It was a double record set-that means it has TWO RECORDS in it-which is either pretty admirable if the band in question is pretty good and going through a manic creative phase or pretty pretentious if the band in question is Frankie Goes To Fucking Hollywood.
Let me digress for one moment and tell you the story of when I first heard of Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
In my hometown, there was a fair amount of friendly competition among music lovers who tried to be the first kid on the block to discover *insertfamousband* before they actually became famous.
I’d like to take credit for Inxs.
Brad Brody (not his real name, but close enough) can take credit for Motley Crue.
And my best friend Todd can take credit for Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
I don’t even know if he was trying to discover something new to unleash on the rest of us, but I do know he spent a few late nights listening to a countdown show from the BBC highlighting the Top 10 songs in England. Seriously, the dude had to stay up past midnight on a school night to catch this show, and out of intent or insomnia, he came to school the next day totally stoked about a song called “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
His excitement was evident, but he had no proof of the song’s power. He promised to record it on cassette to let everyone hear its power. He practically recorded the entire show just to get the recording of “Relax” to play it for the rest of us and even offered to dub it to another cassette for me because he was confident that I would love it as much as he did.
The following week, it was banned from the show, and this story made his find even more intriguing.
He even went so far as to special order the 12” single for “Relax” before it was released stateside. Of course, by the time he got his product, the song was beginning to air on MTV and become a hit in its own right here in the USA. He could have easily bought the domestic single for about $10 cheaper about a week after ordering it from the record store.
Nonetheless, this was his baby and it was indeed catchy enough-and naughty enough for all of us to giggle at. He was most certainly the first in line to get ready for the band’s debut album Pleasuredome and was probably the first one to fully comprehend the total disappointment that it provided listeners.
For to even slice Welcome To The Pleasuredome down to a single album would still require a few bits of filler, a few tunes of mediocrity and a pair of great singles. Yes, I said “Great” and yes, one of those is “Relax.”
The other is “The Power Of Love,” a wonderfully subdued ballad that should have been bigger than the follow-up to “Relax,” a song called “Two Tribes” which happened to have a better video pushing it into the top twenty here in the states.
“Two Tribes,” another naughty track called “Krisco Kisses” and “Black Night White Light” manage to round out a relatively solid-but never noteworthy-debut album.
But it isn’t a single album effort and, as a result, isn’t a “relatively sold” debut album. Christ, it’s not even a debut album by Frankie Goes To Hollywood when you get right down to it. Welcome To The Pleasuredome is an over-the-top exercise in producer Trevor Horn’s ego. Seemingly unsatisfied with his own work in the faceless Art Of Noise project, Horn shuttles together a bunch of untalented young saps under a hastily constructed band with about a half-a-dozen songs between the lot of them.
Horn extends the piss out of each one with drawn out refrains, countless measures of instrumental parts, and pointless arrangements that are obviously the work of no one named Frankie and no one from Hollywood.
He places vocalist Holly Johnson in front of the entire fiasco, and Johnson is seemingly unaware or just flat out doesn’t give a shit that he himself is a man of questionable talent. His range is weak and his penchant for enunciating anything that has to do with cock, balls, or ejaculation only proves how subtlety is nowhere to be found in his vocabulary.
Which is probably why Horn put him there, but it doesn’t explain why he couldn’t have trimmed Welcome To The Pleasuredome down to at least to a point where there might have been an interesting debate about the possibility of its greatness. Because for me to suggest otherwise would be grounds for musical mutiny and I would most certainly have to take a drug test just to think such a thing.
When the listener hasn’t grown tired of such shallow and continuous sloganeering (“The world is my oyster!” “Shooting stars never stop, even when they reach the top!” “Live life like a diamond ring!”) they’re treated to utterly pointless covers. “Born To Run,” “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and “War” all make a pit stop, only because Horn must have realized that-as stated early-Frankie Goes To Hollywood only came to the studio with a half dozen actual songs.
If the world is indeed your oyster, spend two bucks at ITunes to get the pair of awesome pearls from Pleasuredome (“Relax” and “The Power Of Love”) and save the rest for one of Horn’s real gems from the 80’s.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I can't help it.
I'm totally zany about this Beatles box set day even though I have nowhere near the funds or need to actually purchase it. To top it off, I want the mono version, primarily because I grew up on the stereo versions and am intrigued by the differences in the mix.
It started with Rarities, an album I still have, which was a collection alternate versions and mixes of various Beatles' song. It was the first time I became aware that differences between the mono and stereo mixes even existed-particularly on The White Album. The trouble was, mono was completely phased out by the time I began buying Beatles product.
Until now.
And for a limited time.
There was a brieft scare that the mono version of the box set was competely sold out, but evidently Capitol has shipped a few more units. Did I mention that it's about $50 higher than the stereo version?
A man can dream, can't he? Or maybe he can simply order the treasure trove without the wife finding out about it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Raw Power Reunion

Forgive me if The Weirdness has turned me into a jaded prick, but I’m totally taking the idea of a Raw Power-era Stooges reunion with a heaping spoon of Morton’s salt.
Did you hear The Weirdness?
The shit was so bad that I had to listen to The Stooges and Fun House about a hundred times each before I remembered how they were one of the greatest bands ever.
I don’t get it. Why not just do a reunion bit, throw in a few new tunes if you must, and then release a live cd/DVD to capitalize on the whole venture.
But no, they had to do a new album with all new material and they practically diminished Steve Albini’s reputation in the process. For a dude that so righteously preaches of wrong/right + bad/good, you would have thought that he would have tapped an aging Iggy and said, “I can’t be a part of this career destruction. Call Butch Vig.”
Raw Power was the first Stooges record I bought. It was the weird Bowie mix, so it took a while to warm up to. A dude named Tom who owned a record store in Waterloo told me to hook up three speakers in some strange sequence-a trick he learned from the liner notes of a Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land album.

You know what? Something did happen to that Raw Power album when I set the speakers up to do this. It suddenly seemed like Bowie’s weird-ass mix was intentionally designed for this type of set up, as impractical as it was at the time. Remember, this was before 5:1, 6:1, 7:1…hell, it was before surround sound…and Eno apparently discovered all of this through sheer accident.
Raw Power was later re-mixed by Iggy so that all of its badass glory was unleashed. Call it Rawer Power.
So the idea of this era of the Stooges reforming (somewhat, obviously) is extremely appealing to me. The Asheton brothers served Iggy well as hometown fuckups who stumbled on to genius, but it was James Williamson who took that genius and attempted to move forward with it. And I’ll be goddamned if he didn’t help do just that: Raw Power is just as groundbreaking as Fun House and yet it’s a different beast all together. Fun House sounds like the world imploding on itself while Raw Power sounds like the mutants sorting through the rubble.
Williams ended his time with Iggy right around Soldier and the two haven’t spoken since. If you’ve never seen Iggy around this time, check out the Tom Snyder Tomorrow show DVD featuring him; Iggy is obviously in piss-poor shape, occasionally gnashing his rotting teeth from what could only be excessive drug use. Williamson is too much of a legitimate musician to tolerate such shenanigans and he left the industry-read that: the INDUSTRY-entirely. The dude has barely picked up the guitar since that time and hasn’t performed live since the mid-70’s. All of this doesn’t bode well for any worthy new material.

But a live setting? Who knows. I just hope they’re not seriously entertaining the idea of a new album, even though there’s already talk of it. Someone needs to remind Iggy and company that there’s little interest in a new record-The Weirdness only sold 30,000 copies-and those that our interested just want to hear the band play Raw Power in its entirety and maybe a few other Stooges tracks. I wouldn’t mind if the pair also work on some Iggy solo material that Williamson was a part of (“Dog Food” from Soldier, “The Endless Sea” from New Values would be awesome and a few tracks from the pair’s Fun City album).
If they can keep it restricted to the stage (and if Iggy can keep his questionable banter down a notch) then this could be a good thing. If it becomes another idea of a reunion album on top of everything, this could become another reason to question Iggy’s logic as of late.
Back in the day, we could always rely on Iggy to make bad choices for the sake of rock and roll. Today, it seems that many of his bad choices are the result of looking ahead to a retirement package.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Iowa Embarrassment Factor

I’m a tad bummed that we’re already at the end of summer. We’ve had a mild one here in Iowa-cool with occasional bits of rain, like it really never got out of Spring. A good example is the kid’s inflatable pool: every time we inflated it over the summer, the water was still too cool by the end of the afternoon for the kids to thoroughly enjoy it. Typically, when it gets into the 90’s during July & August, you can fill the thing in the morning and after lunch it’s prime for splashing.
The seasons are one of the things that I love about my state, and I realize that my dislike of winter is primarily superficial. I hate that I’m an adult in winter, the dude that has to get up even earlier to shovel the overnight snow off the driveway before work only to have to do it again immediately after work because the city has plowed the snow from the street back on to said driveway.
Ok, so I have a snowblower. But the hard work is still by hand with those plow drifts preventing me to get to the garage.
I talk a good game, but I secretly would miss all four seasons. And that’s part of the reason I stay in the Midwest.
So what keeps me in Iowa?
Good question, and it’s one that I used to struggle with throughout my 20’s. I’m sure if you would have asked me “Will you still be in Iowa after college?” when I was in high school, I would have most assuredly said “Hell no!” This state and these small towns from which we’re from are the plague of death when we’re young. We incorrectly blame them for our predicaments and curse the lack of opportunity that they provide. What we fail to understand is that the limitations our small towns gave us forced us to be resourceful. We may not have had chic clubs with nifty lights and loud electronica, but we could muster up a bonfire in the sandpits by the river, pull up a Camaro with a decent stereo and tap a pony keg in a matter of minutes. Growing up, I lost track of the number of times spent following poorly recited directions to some farm house where a dude you barely knew was having a kegger. The drama of these evenings came from keeping a couple who recently split up away from each other, making sure every one knew the sheriff was patrolling the gravel roads looking for drunk teenagers, or figuring out if Def Leppard’s Pyromania or Quiet Riot’s Metal Health should be the next tape in the cassette deck.
I can see the resourcefulness now, but back then, Iowa was the enemy. I envied those kids in cities with their endless things to do and frantic lifestyles. I wanted out.
Sometimes I paruse Facebook and “catch up” on old friends, to see what they’re up to. More often than not, I won’t friend them-I figure a lifetime has passed since I’ve seen them and, in some cases, I’m embarrassed at how my behavior may have been at that time. Hormones, inexperience, and woefully inept social skill may have caused me to treat some in a manner that they didn’t deserve. It’s probably for the best that they’re not in my radar now, and there’s no amount of apologies that would really make an impact on their perception of me.
I still go to those class reunions-I was the senior class president after all, it’s my obligation-and I have a splendid time each time I attend. The ones that make the greatest impact, I’ve found, are the ones that come back from long distances. The ones who got out.
It’s crazy how there’s this underhanded embarrassment of this state, when the fact that these people got to where they are because of this state. I know of several examples of people getting their foot in the door of some company-sight unseen-because they were originally from Iowa. It’s the idea that they have a strong work ethic because they’re from Iowa, and in some cases there is some truth to that.
Then there are those that don’t leave. I’ve figured out why I haven’t-it actually came from as a sub-topic from therapy-and I’ve come to terms with it and am comfortable with why I’m here. I can think of no better place to raise a child than in Iowa and I’m very proud of the progressive direction this state is taking as of late. It’s like those that stuck it out are now beginning to shape the direction and we’re managing to influence some of our older generations a bit too. You see, it wasn’t that long ago when this state was very conservative. There is a large contingency of social conservatives here, but there are many more fiscal conservatives. These were old farmers that understood a bumper crop one year may see an awful crop the following year, so it’s better to save as much as you can because you don’t know what the future holds. These folks worked long hours, pausing only for Sunday church and the county fair, and they left generations behind them asking “Is this all there is?”
I think those who asked this are the same ones shaping a new future. We’re able to appreciate some of those same values, but we’re not going to work ourselves to the bone just because our fathers and grandfathers did the same. We moved to the city, bought a house in the suburbs and we taxi our kids to soccer practice. We don’t mind that our gay co-worker wants to marry, we don’t care that our presidential candidate is black, and occasionally we like to eat a tenderloin sandwich.
Over a hundred years ago, my great great grandparents boarded a steamship and traveled from Sweden to America. From some reason, they ended up in the fertile grounds of Southwest Iowa in a climate that wasn’t much different than the place they left. Evidently, it felt like home to them.
At some point in time, there’s a possibility that I will leave this state, but I don’t stress about it. I’m happy with where I’m at and even happier that my kids will probably be raised in this state too. We’re close enough to Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, etc. that we can experience them with the luxury of being able to get in the car and return to a slower pace in just a matter of hours. It’s the first thing I notice when I’m in the city-the stress of existing-and the first thing that I appreciate when I get back home. We do move a bit slower around here, because we understand that if you don’t put on the brakes sometimes, you’ll miss what’s around you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

(Not So Much) Fun In The Cubicle

I have to confess that for the past month, I've been so fed up with work that I merely go there, barely converse with anyone, do my thing and then go home. They've sucked the fun right out of the place and the company's lame attempt at fun is falling flat with cynics like me.
If you don't care about your staff, that's one thing. But to pretend that you care when you really don't is pretty unforgiveable.
But you probably know me well enough to know that I can't just sit idly by and not enteract with my fellow man. Dicking around a bit is in my blood and I'd like to think that my antics make coming to work a little easier for some.
For one individual, it didn't.
Brief backstory: I don't really work with this guy too much and have even fewer points of contact with him. He works for another team, does another task, blah blah blah. Let's just say he works for the team that tries to save customers while I mainly work with the sales people that...well, it doesn't matter.
Our story picks up when one of his contacts gets a hold of me by accident, isn't very forthcoming with information, and essentially says "Go get this guy for me. He knows what's going on." Fair enough, but I like to offer that person the courtesy of giving them a heads up instead of just blindly transferring them over. You know: there's this douchbag on line one looking for you.
The caller isn't really a douchebag, just a "do this now" type of guy. I do manage to get what the call is in regards to: it concerns a guy named "Chalupa."
"I'm sorry," I politely respond, "could I get the spelling of the name?"
"C-H-A-L-U-P-A" he offers, with a hint of a chuckle, knowing that everyone immediately thinks of the Taco Bell product line of the same name.
The guy he's looking for-we'll call him Christopher because that's his name-isn't available, so I offer to take a message and he accepts.
Getting all the information, I email Christopher with the message and have a little fun with it.
A few minutes later, I get a reply back. There's a half-assed line of gratitude, but there's also a surprising lecture in it to that I immediately notice and it totally ruins the rest of my day.
Here's the culprit and my original email:

From: Vagina, Christopher
Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2009 9:33 AM
To: Totale, Todd

Subject: RE: The Chalupa Case

thanks I will call him

in the future I would appreciate comments as such to be left alone

this is a very challenging case and has required alot of my time off the phone.

Thanks Todd

From: Totale, Todd
Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2009 9:04 AM
To: Vagina, Christopher

Subject: The Chalupa Case

George C. would like you to call him at 319-653-XXXX regarding the Chalupa case.
Later on, he would like to see you personally about the Gordita matter.
Don't get him started on the Beef Meximelt incident...

Seriously. What the fuck was wrong with that?! Everyone and their dog would immediately visualize a Mexican food dish-probably from that aforementioned fast food chain-when they heard the name "Chalupa." Rather than sending an inpersonal email saying "Call this douchebag," I decided to liven it up a bit. If you don't think it's funny, then leave it alone. If you do have a laugh, you're welcome. But this little pussy actually replies and spends more energy lecturing me than thanking me for passing along the message.
Here's an idea, why not give the guy a way to reach you directly instead of having me be your little "While You Were Out" bitch?
I've been to one training class with this guy and he seemed alright at the time. He offered a few laughs and responded as such when the rest of us did as well. But now he's obviously let his position of irrelevance go to his head, pretending to be an important cog in the chain of our company when the extra time that he speaks of is woefully exagerrated (I dug deeper and learned of the issue he was facing and it's something that shouldn't require much of his time at all).
As much as I wanted to respond and as much as I wanted to confront, I stayed silent-forwarding the jaw-dropping tit-for-tat email to a select few and sharing the exploits of my moronic counterpart to you-the world wide web.
No wonder I can't stop playing Jay Reatard's "It Ain't Gonna Save Me" over and over.