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Friday, June 30, 2006

Witness

Oftentimes, reading about metal music is really funny for me. All of these bands are trying to make the "heaviest," "sickest" and/or "craziest" record of all time, but that seems like a futile way of talking about their music. I don't care if a new record is "heavy as fuck" (how is that possible?), standard metal is just like standard pop-punk, rap and country: it paints itself into a really tight corner.

For me, I like bands that don't try to be the heaviest or the sickest. I'm still a fan of Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest and Pantera especially because their riffs really "sing." I think there are still some merits with nu-metal bands like Korn and Deftones, but can you really sing their riffs? No, because with the further use of detuning a guitar, riffs have lost their melodic bite for me. Add in the constant usage of making dissonant and "skronk" chords, this has made metal too atonal and muddy for me.

That said, I've really gotten into bands like the Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge in the last few years. Yes, these bands play incredibly technical, detuned metal but they come from a background of hardcore punk/metal. This means that sections of songs only last a really short time and traditional song structures are thrown out the window. There is a sort of novelty factor with Dillinger's blast of beats, guitars and screaming, so I was glad they started branching out of that with their last record, Miss Machine. Now in the case of Converge, here's a band that has put out some fantastic records in the last few years: Jane Doe and You Fail Me. Instead of trying to be heavy, they are just incredibly heavy by nature. Sure, some songs of their's make me wonder how the hell they could write stuff that's so technical and wild, but they are not trying to impress me with their technical prowess either. But what about younger bands that are doing something as good? If you ask me, you've really got to look for them.

A few weeks ago, I read an interview in Punk Planet that my editor Dave did with Modern Life is War. In his introduction, Dave really caught my attention:
Hardcore needs help, people. Just pretending that bands like Atreyu don't exist won't make them go away. We need to support bands that are making music that's worth getting excited for, and stop making small talk with dudes in shitty bands at venues by telling them that their new record is "awesome." Negative reinforcement can be a beautiful thing!

With that, I proceeded to read one of the most hopeful write-ups I've read about hardcore in a long time.

Modern Life is War comes from Marshalltown, Iowa. Reading about how they came from a nowhere town and made their own scene is a nice little reminder that DIY is still an underground, self-motivated thing. Despite the term becoming synonymous with something like uploading a song onto the Internet that you recorded last week with your two-week-old band, DIY started underground and the roots are still underground. The band released an independent 7" a few years ago and have since made two records, My Love. My Way and Witness. Deathwish Inc. (owned by Converge's Jake Bannon) released Witness in '05 and plan to reissue My Love. My Way later this year with bonus tracks.

These couple of releases alone make me really really happy and proud to see a band like this around. Why? Because they write songs that aren't filled with goofball imagery, shredding riffs or guttural, atonal garbage. Rich melodies are a part of Modern Life is War's sound, but they neither sugar-coat them or mask them with noise. They aren't going for the sub-atomic, guttural jugular either.

In the grander scheme of things, I see this band as bringing some great importance to the overall genre of hardcore. There was a time when a poppy-punk band like the Get Up Kids could play with the brutal metal/hardcore of Coalesce to the same crowd. Instead of being factioned off by sound or image, these bands came from a community that supported them no matter what. Now I don't know who all Modern Life is War has played shows with, but I think they could play with a wide variety of different-sounding bands. Not just metal or punk, these guys have a real kind of appeal to metal fans and non-metal fans alike. They don't have a mass-marketed appeal that will make them the laughing stock of younger fans in years to come.

I have no clue if people will really "get" what I'm talking about with metal. Just like talking about the musical merits of post-hardcore or pop-punk with a number of people, they don't get what's the big deal. For me, metalish-sounding music can be really awesome, but when I feel like there's more of a gimmick than substance, I pass. Yet when there are no boundaries of who a band is "for," I have to applaud them, especially when they did this by being themselves.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

This Ain't No Picnic

The Minutemen are one of those bands that I've heard about since high school but have never really heard much of their music until now. Talked up in books like Henry Rollins' Get In the Van and Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life (which got its title from a Minutemen song), I did not fully understand the importance of the band until I watched We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (here's the trailer).

In some aspects, the Minutemen were rightfully classified as a punk band. They were on SST, the home of Black Flag and the Descendents. They played most of their shows with punk bands in their day. Yet putting them in the same sentence with just punk bands is a little unfair. Instead of aping the sound of Minor Threat, the Ramones, the Clash or the Sex Pistols, or dressing up like a crusty punk with a mohawk and combat boots, the Minutemen came from the idea of punk rock, not its stereotype.

The Minutemen were inspired by fast punk rock, but they weren't afraid to let influences like jazz and blues be a part of their sound too. This was something that too many punk bands didn't understand. Being punk rock isn't about dressing a part or being a carbon copy of a popular band; the idea is to be yourself. However, the idea of being yourself is a general idea too. Some people think that being themselves is to copy and follow. But then there are some that really look inside themselves and just are who they are even if they're not hip or cool. The latter was what Mike Watt, Dennes "D." Boon and George Hurley were drawn to in the '70s.

Even though the story of Minutemen is twenty or so years old, their story is as relevant today as it was in their day. I hear about way too many punk bands that narrow themselves with strict boundaries, while a band that never narrowed its scope is still an inspiring story. I can understand why punk and hardcore bands wanted little or nothing to do with major label machination in the '70s and '80s, but seeing a number of bands just welcome such has always made me scratch my head. To use a line from a certain film, "It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them!" too many punk bands joined the Dark Side thinking they could do bigger and better things by becoming rock stars. I'm not talking which label they're on, who they tour with or what they say in the press, if a band bends over backwards to be accepted, this is the making a scar on their history.

The deal is, despite the fact that I already knew the basics of the Minutemen's story, I realized so much more with watching We Jam Econo. Sure, there are the praises from fans, friends and family, but they aren't blowing a bunch of smoke up the band's ass. These people really mean what they say and if you need proof, just watch the numerous live performances and old interviews in the film. Since Mike Watt is essentially the film's narrator, he explains the story in simple English without pandering or pretension.

Make no mistake, the Minutemen were proud to be where they came from: San Pedro, California. They didn't hide their origin and they didn't hide what they were into. Sure, from time to time, they did things that were funny and most of their songs were really short, but they weren't some jokey novelty band. They were definitely a band that you could mirror your own life around whether you played music or not. Instead of pretending to be from some place that you're not, you can be proud of where you come from, warts and all. As much as that idea may sound like preaching to the choir to some, I don't think others realize this or even fathom this. Maybe that's why the story of the Minutemen still resonates today.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Video did more than kill the radio star . . .

Merritt sent out a MySpace bulletin yesterday that had Jason and I cracking up. Along with the video for Journey's "Separate Ways," she posted this commentary:

Okay, we've all seen this video, but it's probably been a while. I would just like to take the opportunity to examine some of the worst (and simultaneously, the best) aspects of it:

1. invisible instruments. seriously.
2. steve perry's high-waisted, tight-crotched tapered jeans
3. the leather-clad hair model with no apparent destination but numerous wharf warehouse doors
4. headless bass
5. band choreography - both West Side Story and drill team styles
6. steve perry's repeated use of universal handsign for "chains that bind you" (ie, making fist, then grasping the wrist below it)
7. keyboardist's pawing motions during frames near beginning (this might be included with number 1, but I feel it's absurd enough to stand on it's own)
8. steve perry's horror-stricken backward run through stacked pallets
9. white pumps, tweed blazer, foosball t-shirt
10. hubcap cymbals
11. slow-mo montage

It is, I think, both brilliant and atrocious.

The result of this "journey back" in time? A visit to this site that Jason found via this blog. Hilarity ensued with watching videos from acts like Icehouse, Bad English and Whitesnake. Yet the watching of them got us to thinking about how music videos have impacted us as listeners. Jason made the remark that these are good songs, but we tend to remember the really silly parts of the videos in addition to (and sometimes more than) the hooks of the songs. I gotta wonder: have we been duped?

I recently watched School of Rock for the first time and a line that really stood out to me was:

It was called rock 'n roll, but guess what, oh no, the Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV!

I understand why MTV gets the slagging of "Image became more important than the music!" but I think MTV should not get the full blame here. Full disclosure: yes, I have worked for a division of MTV's parent company, Viacom, before, but I think a bigger part of the blame should be on the videos themselves.

If I were to think of a song like "Is This Love?" by Whitesnake, not only would I think of the slow pace, piano accompaniment and its melodic similarities to Hey Mercedes' "Quit," but I would also remember Tawny Kitaen's sexy looks, David Coverdale's rugged face and hair, the smoke flying around the set and the headless double-neck guitar. The same can be said about so many songs with their videos, but was all of this a ploy to get us kids born in the mid- to late-'70s to be excited about music and buy it? I think they were.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta said last year that the video for "The Widow" was a "trailer" for their second album, Frances the Mute. I think that's a good way of describing a sort of tip-of-iceberg with how a video can give a taste of what's on an album, but not everybody makes "albums" if you know what I mean. Not all artists put out an album that is meant to be listened to the whole way through. Videos are a vehicle for product, but they have become an art form unto themselves.

Plenty of aspects from music videos from the '80s and '90s were not cheesy. However, the cheesiest aspects of them have found a way into our psyche. I'm talking the tight zoom-in of Neal Schon singing the chorus to "Separate Ways," Icehouse's Iva Davies' mullet in the "Crazy" video, Dee Snider's hair and make-up in Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and so on.

At least they weren't commercial jingles for something other than vinyl LPs, cassettes and CDs, but videos made an impression on us that the generation before us didn't get. That generation just had album covers, periodic TV performances and live concerts to give them something to look at with the music. With the nature of videos being a form of documentation, we can look back and laugh at really silly stuff from the past. For some reason, a Flock of Seagulls video is funnier than a Yes live performance clip from the '70s. Whether or not videos devalue the appreciation of music, I can't help but think of headbands and three quick shots of cymbal hits whenever I hear Loverboy's "Everybody's Working for the Weekend."

Ultimately, I think this is a way of us twenty/thirty-somethings to laugh at what we thought was cool when we were younger and "didn't know any better." I gotta say though, videos kept my attention with music through the years. I wasn't going to find out about a band like Mission of Burma from my parents, so with regular MTV, VH1 and radio playing stuff that I couldn't get into in '96 and '97, I had to look elsewhere for music that spoke to me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ten Thousand Orchestras

Despite the traffic on I-35 through downtown, the packed-in feeling living in and around downtown and the excessive heat, Austin is still a great town. When it comes to music, there's plenty, but for some odd reason, I don't hear about many newer bands from there, even though I live three hours away.

How I was introduced to the awesome twang-less country rock of Moonlight Towers was by pure fluke: they were opening for the mighty Red Animal War at the Double Wide a few months ago. I heard about Voxtrot first from Jason and have proceeded to really enjoy both of their EPs. Now, thanks to the good people at AAM, I have a couple of other Austin bands to enjoy: Golden Bear and the Channel.

I can't help but think of Mass Romantic-era New Pornographers and Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb-era Tripping Daisy when I hear Golden Bear. I can't stress this enough though: they don't sound exactly like those bands, but characteristics of Golden Bear's sound remind me of what I've heard before. What I think is really in favor of their self-titled album is this is fuzzy pop with the right amount of sugar. The songs have tons of great hooks on top of multiple layers of sound, but they don't come across as whimsical children songs. Also, Golden Bear doesn't sound like a knock-off Dave Fridmann/Flaming Lips record (as in, super-boomy drums, screeching guitars) and that's a major plus in my book.

What helps Golden Bear's case is that despite the layers of sound, this doesn't sound messy, to my ears at least. Horns show up in spots while keyboards, pianos and vocal oohs and aahs are all over the place. The core of the songs are simple but really special; the extras on top just make this better.

Reading through the liner notes of Golden Bear, the members of Golden Bear also pop up in the Channel. In other words, the two bands go hand-in-hand, but they don't sound that much alike. Golden Bear is more or less singer/guitarist Chris Gregory's project while the Channel is Colby Pennington's project. They share so many members that it's like one big band.

The Channel (not to be confused with the awesome, J. Robbins-led trio, Channels) has a new album - a double-album no less - called Tales from the Two Hill Heart/Sibyllinne Machine. 23 songs may be a little too much for me to handle, but at least the songs are worthwhile. Decidedly stripped-down and more low-key than Golden Bear, the Channel brings some tuneful stuff with a nice use of pedal steel. Thankfully, this isn't sad-eyed, hokey country twang.

I don't know what the deal is, despite the fact that a number of Austin bands play in Dallas, but since I don't get out that much, I tend to miss bands right after they play here. Voxtrot has played Dallas plenty of times before, but the only show I've seen so far was the now-legendary (in my mind) Voxtrot Karaoke show (my review here and Chris's here). Golden Bear and the Channel are coming to Dallas the same night we're having another one of our wine-tasting parties, so it looks like I'll have to skip out on that one. I'm thankful that the drive isn't too bad for bands to drive back and forth, but hey, at least this isn't as spread out as a place like Iowa.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Reunion

"One morning, over at Elizabeth's beach house, she asked me if I'd rather go water-skiing or lay out. And I realized that not only did I not want to answer that question, but I never wanted to answer another water-sports question, or see any of these people again for the rest of my life."

-Anthony Adams, Bottle Rocket

---

Seems like every once in a while, I'll look up and see who's listed on my high school's and college's alumni pages on MySpace. I think of this as a virtual reunion; a reunion that doesn't have the in-person awkwardness like the regular ones. Whether virtual or in-person, these looks also serve as a reminder of certain things from the past that I had forgotten about. Some are good to remember while some are matters that I'd like to move past.

Overall, neither high school or college were bad times for me. I had fun, but seeing how my life is now compared to being in school, I get a little ticked off. Did I really have to learn all that complex math? Did I really have to be subjected to my study hall teacher screaming at my chatty classmates? Did I really have to listen to a "sermon" every Friday from my algebra teacher? Did I really have to read all that modernist poetry? Of course the answer is no, but I wonder, why is the school system so focused on piling so much excessive BS into your life?

While I ponder that, I ponder why I even bother to look up and see what my old classmates are up to now. There is some sort of curiosity factor with seeing what some of these people are doing now. Probably the funniest one I've found so far is a guy who was an annoying jerk in band who's now a sheriff. (I'll be staying out of his jurisdiction for the time being.) For so many of the other people, they've gone on with their lives. That's cool, but I wonder, am I really going to bother with going to my high school reunion next year? At the present time, my answer is no.

I argue that the people I really care about from high school and college are the ones that I'm still in touch with. I like hearing about what's up with people like Matt, Tim and Chris and I try and see them whenever I visit Houston. Yet there are plenty of people that just simply moved on that I have lost touch with. I keep thinking there's a reason or two why I have lost touch with these people and trying to reconnect with them probably isn't the best thing.

When I was in high school, which class you were in was a big deal. I had friends in my grade, the grade above me and the grade below me. Yet, no matter what, the seniors ruled the world and the freshmen were the salt of that world. I'm still in the dark as to why, but let me say that I am happy that this is not the way I see life now. I often forget that people like Kyle and Jason are three to five years older than me while Nick is a year younger than me and Joshua is three years younger. I have to wonder: why the divide in the first place?

All these questions with "why" in them are some of the reasons why I'm not so inclined to attend a ten-year reunion or really reconnect with certain old classmates. I'm not so sure that many people actually enjoy waxing nostalgia, especially after only ten years. Ten years are a little too soon to stop and take stock of our lives so far. Many of us are just getting out of college and trying to think about what we want to do for a career. There will be no swapping of pictures of grandchildren, talking about when you retired from your job and so on. Mentally stepping back into the world of tardy bells, seniors-only parking and homework is not something I've had enough time away from to have a full perspective on.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Distractions

A few months ago, The Onion did a story that really got me laughing. Let's start with the headline:
FCC: All Programming To Be Broadcast In ADHDTV By 2007

Then there's this picture which shows the ADHDTV format. The description: "On standard 4:3 televisions, ADHDTV programs will be shown in letterbox format, with the top and bottom of the screen alternately filled with bright, flittering butterflies, undulating rainbow-colored patterns, and singing hamsters in top hats."

Satire is based on truth and sometimes, it's is closer to the truth than anything else. I doubt there will be an official ADHDTV format, but we're already well on our way to something just like it.

I had a roommate in college who liked to have the TV on (with the volume off), music playing in headphones, AOL Instant Messenger going and e-mail up, all while working on homework. He said that having all those things going helped him concentrate. Out of habit, I would have AIM going, music playing and Internet Explorer up at the same time, but I was constantly distracted.

These days at home, the most online multi-tasking I can do at once consists of Outlook Express and maybe a couple of Internet pages. Trying to read and listen to music at the same time is almost impossible for me. In other words, I've kind of cut back.

I won't lie: I'm still very easily distracted by various things (from the TV, Internet, music, stuff to write down), but when I talk with people, I have to really focus with staying on topic. So much information is in my head that I can't help but get distracted. For example, if someone were to mention something that sounds like something that happened on a Seinfeld episode, I can't but be reminded. Whether or not I mention this aloud, that's my decision. In general, in order to be polite, I try not to confuse.

With what I see with other people, I'm amazed at the levels of distraction. Just looking at how people can play a lightning-paced PC game like Half-Life or talk on a cell phone while they write e-mails and AIM messages, I'm not surprised if they speak quickly and act nervous and jittery. They say they can concentrate that way, but I'm not so sure they're fully concentrating on one thing.

Distractions in general aren't bad, but when they take you away from doing something that needs to be tended to, that's when they're a problem. If you're all bummed about something going on, that's not the best time to have a video game going, music playing and e-mail up all at the same time. Sometimes we really need to tend to things with nothing else running.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

You are innocent when you dream

The Tom Waits fandom continues. Waits' '88 concert film, Big Time, has never been available commercially on DVD. Since I had never seen it and don't know anybody who has a copy, I jumped at the chance to see it as a part of the midnight movie series at the Inwood Theatre.

Until last night, there was one movie synonymous with the midnight movie moniker for me: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm talking the audience participation with singing along, chanting lines, responding to lines and dressing like characters in the film. After seeing Big Time with a room full of Waits fans, I can safely say that the screening was not like seeing a Rocky Horror screening.

Instead of the usual baffle of "Who the hell is this guy?", I thought it was cool to be with people that really enjoy Waits' incomparable mix of junkyard blues, avant garde jazz, throaty singing, and gut-wrenching ballads. Like watching a Monty Python film in a room filled with people that know all of the jokes and quotes, this was my experience with Big Time. As a result, I'm more compelled to check out more of Waits' back catalog.

Looking at the separate parts on the outside, songs found on albums like Swordfishtrombones and Frank's Wild Years would not work with other artists. Somehow, they do with Tom Waits' world. Yes, they sound weird and off-the-wall to people, but songs like "Clap Hands" and "16 Shells from a 30.6" work for me in this alternate view of music. I don't have to be in a particular mood to get into this stuff, especially the ballads like "Time," "Johnsburg, Illinois" and "Train Song." Definitely the soundtrack for any mood for me.

Believe you me, if Waits' back catalog was reissued today, I'd probably end up picking up almost every one of his records. Only his Used Songs and Beautiful Maladies compilations feature remastered tracks, while awesome albums like Small Change and Rain Dogs currently sound flat and tinny on CD. Along with Neil Young's back catalog, these classic records need the reissue treatment. This gives new life to the albums and they deserve to perserved.

I don't know why Big Time is out of print on VHS and has never been issued on DVD. However, I'm glad that the Inwood had a print to show on the big screen. This legacy deserves something more.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Strength Through Wounding

Whenever people talk about being a fan of a punk band back in the day and how they aren't fans of the band anymore, there's an assumption that either the band sold out or they've simply outgrown the band. Well, that's not completely off, but I've had this strange on-again/off-again relationship with AFI. I'm not going to throw around "sell-out" accusations or say I'm too old for them, but they're a peculiar band for me.

I remember Brian "Dexter" Holland talking up AFI while he was promoting the Offspring's Ixnay on the Hombre. As a part of his label, Nitro Records, AFI would release five albums and an EP that saw them go from a kind of jokey punk band to a really cool mix of Misfits and dark, hardcore pop-punk. I originally couldn't stand Davey Havok's voice the first few times I heard "He Who Laughs Last . . .," but at one point, I just thought, "Hey, this is pretty good." I would pick up their third album, Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes, in my freshman year of college and despite it being much heavier and angrier, I really dug it.

With a new line-up of Jade Puget on guitar and Hunter Burgan now their permanent bass player, Black Sails on the Sunset was a whole other beast. Heavier, faster, while also being really melodic, this band was showing more of an influence from the Cure more than the Misfits (especially evidenced on their A Fire Inside EP with their covers of "The Hanging Garden" and "Demonomania"). Seeing them on tour with Hot Water Music a few nights before Halloween was an awesome sight. Yes, Davey was in full black leather with white powdered make-up on his face, but they weren't some stupid Goth band. Sure, this was a "show" element, but the force of the band's music went way beyond their wardrobe choices. Yet, by the time of the band's follow-up, The Art of Drowning, I felt I had enough of AFI's music. You can only sing "whoa-oh" in a certain amount of ways before it feels routine.

After the release of The Art of Drowning, the story goes that Holland, one of their biggest fans and label boss, told the band that they should find a label bigger than Nitro to go with. Holland's own experiences with the Offspring going from indie Epitaph to major Columbia Records was a step in the right direction for them. This was a classic case of a band's popularity becoming so big that an indie couldn't keep up. Well, the deal is that so many bands have become casualties of this decision to move into the world of major labels. Going to a major label usually means the older fans aren't going to be that into whatever the band releases next and there's no telling if a wider, more mainstream audience is going to even care. In AFI's case, they came out OK after they went with DreamWorks for the next album.

2003's Sing the Sorrow was an album that came out at a good time as nu-metal was finally fizzing away in the mainstream. Seeing a crossover into a broader audience (aka, not just punk and hardcore punk fans), the album received some high marks in the press (including a four-star review in Rolling Stone) and sold really well (I think it sold a million copies in the US). But what did I think of the album itself? I thought it was a necessary reinvention of their sound, but this reinvention didn't sound all that great. More attempts by Havok to sing in a natural singing voice along with forays into electronica didn't impress me. I tried to give the album a chance, but I couldn't get into this record at all.

Now with their new album, Decemberunderground, out, I find myself really liking the lead-off single, "Miss Murder." Yes, this sounds more in the vein of Green Day's American Idiot than the Misfits' Walk Among Us, but at the end of the day, it's a catchy tune. I'm not sure I'm that inclined to hear the whole album, but at least I can dig that song whenever I hear it.

What's strange now about the band is what kind of audience they play for. I'm sure there are some longtime fans in the mix, but a large percentage of the band's fans are young people going for this neo-Goth/vampire look. With their sort of KISS Army fan club going (The Despair Faction), I think of this as a long way from when they played for Sick of it All and Hot Water Music fans back in '98. Parts of this are cool to see (the band growing and evolving) but others aren't (your teenage cousin who thinks dressing up as a vampire makes him "unique" and "underground"). Sure, the band plays up their black/Goth vibe in their fashion choices and lyrics, but I don't think it's time for a Goth Talk-like spoof . . . yet.

So, there's my view. No "sell-out" accusations; just an outgrowth of gang vocal "whoa-ohs" and dark hardcore pop-punk after so many albums. I don't think that's abnormal as this is what often happens when punk fans get older. We still like punk rock, but not as much as we used to. So, we'll listen to our favorite bands from time to time, but we're not hopping online and waiting for the minute such-and-such's new album leaks on a file-swapping program.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hain's Point

"I read somewhere that every wall's a door to something new/Well if that's true - why can't I get through?"

-Rites of Spring, "Hain's Point"

---

Back in college, a frequent line I heard from various people in regards to various jobs was, "You won't make a lot of money doing this." Approaching five years out of school, I'm still trying to understand why people say this. Is there an assumption that college students expect to make as much or more than their parents do right out of college?

I don't know what exactly was driving me, but I wanted to work in radio when I got out of school. Did I want to spend four rough months after college working twenty hours a week and constantly fearing that I'd have to move back in with my parents? No, but that's what happened. Have I made much money working in radio and TV? Not really, but I haven't gone homeless. Do I want to find another field to work in? Yes. Do I regret working in the radio and TV world? Absolutely not.

A matter that people tend to make of light of is the asset of having experience in the first place. No matter how little you're paid, doing something is better than not doing anything at all. I think I've learned a lot about myself as far as what I want to do and what I don't want to do in a job, so how can I moan about how little I've made on a yearly basis? Income is measurable; experience is not.

A field that I know I can't do is sales. Sure, there is a lot of money to be made in that world, but I can't do it. I have this repelling feeling about being forced into selling something that I don't fully believe in. Yeah, getting a nice commission check would pump up my bank account, but if I had to betray core values of mine to get it, I'd feel dirty and weird. Maybe I'm too paranoid or just really traumatized, but I'd rather make an honest dollar than a dishonest one.

A major stumbling block that I have with finding a new job is the feeling that finding a job I'd actually like is impossible. Sometimes I think I'd have a better chance of landing a role in a film that's not a porno flick. I talk to friends about their jobs and I tend to hear the negative aspects of them more than the positive aspects. Maybe that's just our conditioning to talk about what's against us rather than what's with us. Well, this all makes me feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place (a line I still don't understand because isn't a rock a hard place?).

Some people think that finding a new job is about as easy as going to the grocery store for a gallon of milk or a record store for a CD. I'm not one of those people and I get very annoyed with people who think that. Finding a job is not just some quick little perusal; it's this long, drawn-out process that gives me way more resistance than I care to have. Was any of this brought up in school? Nope. Did I ever think it would be? Nope. Would I like to tell college students this? Absolutely.

A problem with hindsight is that everything seems to fit nicely when looking back. Living in the moment, current events seem so out of place and frustrating. What I'd like to convey to younger people is that your first job out of college will more than likely not pay very well. Chances are you'll change careers a few times in your working life. How much money you make is important, but the experience is way more important.

Working in broadcasting has not really yielded a very livable income for me. I get by financially, but there's no way I could support anybody else. However, the yearly income is not the only reason why I want to find another field to work in. Broadcasting is like a track and field event that goes on 24/7/365. After six years, I just want to move onto something else. I'm not about to be the bitter old man that spews all sorts of negativity to people who want to get into the industry. My experience may be nothing like another person's so why do I assume that it will?

People I know have told me that since I love writing, I should write for "a living." Well, writing is a passion of mine and I don't want to make it an obligation. Sure, that may sound like I'm selling myself short, but as Barton Fink said it best before he sold his soul to hell and the devil, ("If I ran off to Hollywood now, I'd be making money, going to parties, meeting the big shots, but I'd be cutting myself off from the wellspring of that success, from the common man.") I don't want to be stuck in something that I can't get out of. Maybe all this stuck feeling is mental. I get the feeling that it's not all mental.

I feel bad about how I constantly give my friends and family excuses when we try and brainstorm about what fields I could possibly go into. I think I come across like a child that is never satisfied on a clothes shopping trip. I don't mean to hard to work with; I'm just really gun-shy and traumatized. Mud may be very comfortable since it's familiar, but it's still mud.

Thinking about matters now, I have yet to meet someone who has had an easy transition out of college and into the working world. Whether the field is education, medical, law, sales or engineering, the transition rarely yields a large yearly income, but a lot of long hours and overall frustration in return. Since the playing field is level, I've always felt like I could do anything. Sure, telling college students "You won't make much money doing this" is easy to say, but telling them about everything else is really hard to explain. As long and drawn-out as it may seem to do that, I'd rather do that than give quick little anecdotes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

There's got to be a morning after

All right, I won't lie: it sucks to see the Dallas Mavericks lose the NBA Finals. However, what did we "lose"? I don't think we lost anything. The Mavs made it all the way to the finals. That in itself is an accomplishment. The Mavs will be back playing next season at the very least. However, saying this on the morning after is like being all upbeat at a funeral. Well, this is not a funeral service; this is the blogosphere and here are my thoughts.

I come from Houston, a city that had its NBA team claim the NBA title a couple of times in the '90s. Yes, seeing them win was awesome, but I remember way more about the experience than the actual outcomes of the games. Seeing guys like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexlar play great ball was memorable to see. Until I read their Wikipedia profile this morning, I had forgotten who they played and such and such. The point is, there are so many small things that matter more than winning and losing.

I know I may sound like a calm parent trying to comfort his crying child, but I can't help saying this. Eventually the victory parties, the kisses on the trophy, the hand gestures of "number one," the parades, the applauding and the other post-victory celebrations will end and a new season will begin. We don't stay stuck in the perpetual motion of victory fever forever. Sure, I can understand how important the Boston Red Sox defeating the New York Yankees broke "the Curse," but not all victories are like this.

As conveyed in Friday Night Lights, there can be a lot more learned from a loss than a victory. Of course there is a hopeful mindset to have a perfect season and win the championship, but come on, that's living in a fantasy land. Sure, winning the big game or the series (depending on the sport) is a nice cherry on top, but there is so much more of a pie below to enjoy. Just because there isn't a cherry on top doesn't mean the pie is bad.

What I take from watching the 2006 NBA finals is this: seeing guys like Dirk, Jason Terry, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse play incredible basketball, the American Airlines Center packed with "NBA Finals" banners all around it, the nervous fun I had watching the games, the annoyance of the thinly-veiled Miami Heat fandom from the TV commentators, and other things. An NBA championship win would be remembered in my mind, but as a fairweather professional sports fan and coming from a town that did win the championship a couple of times years ago, I think that's a pleasant reminder, but not something that's going to improve my everyday life.

In the final seconds of last night's game, when it was abundantly clear that the Mavericks were going to lose, I turned off the TV. I didn't want to see Heat players like Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal cop their arrogant smiles, thank God, Jesus and Mom, spray champagne over each other while the Mavericks look all down and out. I figured that would be prolonging the abuse. So, with that, I went back to work on the book. The book is something that really energizes me and seeing the Mavericks play all throughout the playoffs was some great inspiration. The path to a better understanding of yourself is not easy and this year's playoffs were not easy. While there were a couple of blow-outs, both teams played incredibly well in the finals.

We can be easily led into thinking that life is about big wins and big losses. Well, so much of what I've experienced are small victories at the same time of small defeats. As someone who couldn't fully enjoy these small victories for a long time, I'm glad that I can now. No, I don't enjoy not getting what I want when I want, but who am I kidding? I'm thankful for what I have, but there's always a desire for more. I try and really focus on the matters and things that I have over the ones that I don't, but that's kind of difficult to do most of the time.

Jason and I have a friend nicknamed Goose, who is from San Antonio. I remember how happy he was when the Spurs won the NBA playoffs (the thrill in his voice, his message board avatar featuring a Spur), but was his life forever made better by these wins? I don't think so; he's moved on with his life with finishing up school and moving out to San Francisco to do graphic design. I'm sure he'll still brag about the Spurs to us, but I don't think their wins affect his times with his friends, his work and his overall view of life. That makes me wonder: how important are wins to the fans? They are very important, but I think there are much more important things in life to cherish.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Elliott man . . .

Jeff posted my Complete Idiot's Guide to Elliott Smith today. Let me know what you think.

The Rap You Grew Up On

Kev posted a great comment on yesterday's post:
Here's something I've always wondered: In ten years, will there be a classic rap station? Imagine a velvety voice beckoning Gen Y-ers to reminisce upon "the rap you grew up on."

Other than appearing on satellite radio, I doubt this will happen as a format on terrestrial radio.

Full disclosure: I have never been a big fan of rap music. In middle school, when jocks were listening to NWA and wearing Los Angeles Raiders jackets, I was listening to EMF and Cathy Dennis and wearing Stussy shirts. Sure, I saw a lot of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg's videos in high school, but I've never been very attached to hip-hop and rap. For me, it's too much talking over repetitive beats without a lot of warm melodies.

I know in the world of rock critics and hipsters, hip-hop is an exciting and ever-changing genre. However, I've never gotten into Kanye West, 50 Cent, Common, Ghostface Killah or Missy Elliott. I'm a melody fan deep down and I just don't hear that in their material. No matter how many strings and pianos Jon Brion put on Late Registration, I still only hear monotone talking over and over again.

That said, I'm probably a little off in this assessment, but knowing what I know, rap is not meant for a nostalgia format.

Listening to older hip-hop and rap is like watching old episodes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. If you lived through that time and paid close attention to the media, you'd get what Carson was talking about. However, so much of what he's talking about is lost on later generations. Talking about specific people like Michael Spinks or Geraldine Ferraro and topics like the Cold War were about what was going then. However, we don't hear about that stuff in the headlines now, so what makes me think that younger generations are going to know or even care?

When lyrics describe a specific time and place in the past, I can't help but think that if I lived through that, I'd know what the writer was talking about. However, if I wasn't, what could I relate to? What does "911 is a Joke" mean to people now? What does "Burn Hollywood Burn" mean to people now? For me, they are specific snapshots of a time and place, but does that necessarily translate into nostalgia fodder? Not for me. The music is always the key and when the music is more samples, drum machines and breaks than anything else, what can I get out of that musically?

While I was in college, I heard a few club bangers of the day. I'm talking about those songs that you hear in heavy rotation in the clubs and on the radio until the point of submission. For me, I heard Lil' Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller" and Master P's "Make 'Em Say 'Ughhh'" enough times to safely say that I don't ever want to hear those songs again. Too repetitive, too hypnotic and (once again) not very melodic to my ears.

I forget who called hip-hop this, but hip-hop is like CNN with their coverage of "what's really going on." That said, I think hip-hop is a crucial form of expression. As a form of music, the palette is almost completely limitless. However, devoting a whole channel to older hip-hop would be almost like re-airing old CNN stories. They are crucial moments in time that are specific to what all was going on at the time. Nostalgia formats usually smooth out the intensity of the times for entertainment value.

Hip-hop is about what's going on now in a very specific way. However, there are reasons why a song like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" still works: it's timeless. From the instrumentation to the lyrics, I still get chills whenever I hear these songs. In the case of "What's Going On," the lyrics were inspired by a certain time and place, but they are as relevant today as they were back in the in '70s. I can't say the same about "Wanna Be a Baller" or even "Fight the Power."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Nevermind

Inspired by a comment left by Mr. Atrocity on Jason's post on classic rock, I think it's time I share this theory I have with music's impact on a younger audience in the last six years. First, the comment:
Every once in a while a band like Nirvana comes along who are good enough to have a couple of their songs added to the roster, but generally the repertoire remains pretty constant.

I agree, so I'm wondering what people will be saying in ten years about what's happening right now. What will be considered prime for classic rock radio? Moreover, what will be generalized views of this part of rock history? Here's what I'm thinking: there was no one major sea change in 2001; there were two minor ones. Where did this all begin? I argue that they started with At the Drive-In.

In September 2000, At the Drive-In released their third album, Relationship of Command. For various reasons, this album was considered the equivalent to Nirvana's Nevermind in 1991. I would say the biggest reason why is that this album was seen as a great rock album with a wide appeal. When I mean "wide," I don't mean just 13-17 year-old suburban teenagers. I mean teenagers, along with jaded twenty and thirty-somethings, could come to a common ground on this record. Well, that kind of happened.

Relationship of Command sold well and a wide variety of people liked it. Hell, it was even ranked in the Village Voice's prestigious year-end Pazz & Jop poll at #22. However, when it comes to greatest-albums-of-all-time lists, the album is nowhere to be found. The "relevancy" of the band has been mostly posthumous as the band called it a day in early '01. I think another major factor is because of two totally different sounds coming into the mainstream roughly at the same time.

2001 saw the release of the Strokes' Is This It? and the White Stripes' White Blood Cells. In a time of goofball nu-metal and cheesehead rock, this stripped-down version of rock & roll was a major breath of fresh air. Yet in this same year, a commodifed version of poppy post-hardcore known as emo came into the mainstream. Records like Full Collapse by Thursday, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most by Dashboard Confessional and Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World were released. I think for a lot of younger people, you either liked the garage-y rock bands or the emo-ish bands more; common ground was rare.

From what I remember, the college crowd went for the Strokes and the White Stripes while the teenagers went ga-ga for Thursday, Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World. Sure, there was some blurring between genres with fans, but there wasn't a lot of it going on. The people that I knew that were into the Strokes definitely weren't into Dashboard Confessional. Dashboard was the soundtrack to teenagers' first major case of a broken heart while Jimmy Eat World and Thursday were the soundtrack to general teen angst. The Strokes and the White Stripes had a wider appeal, but they didn't have the same kind of appeal like Nirvana or Pearl Jam did in '92.

My point is this: if you want to know why there was no single defining rock sound for the new millennium, blame it on further factioning off of things. A big Strokes fan wasn't a big Jimmy Eat World fan too. As much as I hate generalizations, I believe this was the case. I know I'm in a minority view with the music that I like, but I liked both genres in those days. Why I liked those genres were for very different reasons. Acts like the Strokes, the White Stripes and the Hives showed that modern rock could still kick ass and reach a mainstream audience. With acts like Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional and Thursday, they morphed the mid-'90s post-hardcore into an even more melodic direction. This was something that I enjoyed, but seeing the subsequent proliferation of horrible mall emo bands in the following years makes me feel a little dirty. I still think albums like Full Collapse and Bleed American are great, but I doubt I'll see them on any best-of-all-time lists any time soon. Why? Demographics.

As I read AP every month, the one band that is always cited as a major influence on these up-and-coming bands is Jimmy Eat World. Jimmy Eat World spoke to a younger generation way better than Creed could ever speak to them and in a different way than the White Stripes could. With Bleed American being their most accessible release, I understand its importance as a gateway album for a lot of people. Bleed American spawned a radio staple, "The Middle," a song that sounded more like Guided By Voices than Christie Front Drive, but the mainstream just saw this all as emo.

How all of this will play out in time will be interesting. I can imagine a band like the White Stripes getting some airplay on classic rock radio, but I highly doubt that will happen for Thursday. When matters come to the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I'm sure we'll see Is This It? and White Blood Cells on there somewhere, but I doubt we'll see Relationship of Command or Bleed American. Why? Because these records seemed to be synonymous with a certain version of teenage angst. The carryover into adulthood is slim because we don't carry all of our teen angst with us into adulthood. We only experience our first crush and usual/inevitable break-up once, so what makes us think that people want to relive that well into adulthood? But again, time will give us a verdict.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Sporting Life - Finals Edition

I've always enjoyed watching and playing sports. What I've never understood is the fanatical draw to a team, whether it's a high school football team or a professional baseball team. I've never been depressed after "my" team lost. As a matter of fact, I still don't consider myself a part of the team because I'm a fan. However, with the Mavs in the finals, I can't help but be a little fanatical.

I will admit it: I'm a fairweather sports fan. I'm way more interested in what songs people like Eric and Jeff are posting, which shows are worth seeing in town and what's going on in the world of hardcore and punk and its spawn. I've never been to a professional sports game in my time as a D/FW resident. Thinking about it, the last time I went to any professional sports game was a Houston Oilers game in high school. The price to see this kind of entertainment is way beyond my means, so I stay at bay with TV broadcasts.

With the Mavs, seeing them go from a joke team to being in the finals in just a handful of years is cool to see. With their chances of being the NBA champions this year, I get excited at any possibility of that happening. So yes, I hoot and holler a little bit whenever a good play happens. Usually, the team doesn't matter, but since it's Dallas, you know who I'm pulling for.

I may be misunderstanding the TV commentators, but I get the feeling these guys are Heat fans. I hear more about the good things about the Heat over the cons, while I hear more about the cons of the Mavs. Maybe I have some filter in my ears, but that's what I've heard all throughout the finals.

As interesting as the NBA finals have been for me, I'm not about to fall into the sports guy stereotype. There is no drinking of beer, no expensive jerseys being worn, no buying of season tickets, no listening to sports talk radio, no throwing of objects around my house when a team loses, no money lost on bets, no sports cable-TV pacakages, no reading of sports websites, magazines or papers with me. That's just not me.

Tonight's game is going to be exciting. I will briefly applaud at the good plays and moan at the bad ones, but this is something I'm observing, not playing. That said, Go Mavs!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Hot Rock

Jason brought up a great topic yesterday: the appeal of classic rock to younger generations. Though acts like U2 and R.E.M. are now considered classic rock, I'm talking the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Cream. Regardless of which generation it is, acts like these get people excited. I wonder though: why are these bands still revered even though there have been so many other bands after them?

I remember when I got into classic rock: I was in 8th grade and Led Zeppelin was the band for me. The year before, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Metallica showed me that rock music could be a little tougher and harder than bands like Poison, Whitesnake and Europe. With some exposure of classic rock radio along with various sources, Led Zeppelin came into my life. Physical Graffiti was my first record of their's and I would get their whole catalog over the next two years. Over the years, I have added a few Who records (Tommy, Live At Leeds, Who's Next, Sell Out, a couple of collections), Pink Floyd records (Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Echoes) and Stones records (Aftermath, Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Hot Rocks), but I don't own any Sabbath, Deep Purple, Cream or Hendrix records. I've always meant to get these records (especially Hendrix's three proper albums), but I always get distracted. Plus, with these acts still staples of classic rock radio, I still hear their songs.

Though I've listened to indie rock, punk rock and hardcore (and its various spawn) for most of the last ten years, a number of classic rock bands have still stuck with me. Sometimes I'll dig out a Led Zeppelin record and be amazed at how great this music still is (especially Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III and Houses of the Holy). So, what's so great about this stuff? Plenty.

In the late-'70s, bands like Journey and Styx offered a more pop-friendly version of rock while a band like KISS put the emphasis on the spectacle while also becoming more and more pop-friendly. Then there were bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Kansas and Yes who let their chops be at the forefront. Becoming a large pimple rather than a welcome juggernaut, punk rock was a sense of relief for a lot of people. Instead of trying to out-solo each other, punk was about the pure simplicity of rock music heard in the '50s and '60s.

The '80s saw all kinds of metal with bands like Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Slayer, Scorpions and Iron Maiden, along with a gravy train of pop-friendly hair metal bands. Then you have bands like Pantera, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam in the '90s, who were more influenced by bands of the '70s classic rock than '80s cheese rock. However, with the cheeseball faux rock of Creed and Nickelback along with nu-metal of Limp Bizkit and Korn, this stuff only really lasted for a while in the mainstream. With emo and screamo looking like they're not going to last in the mainstream, I'm better understanding classic rock's appeal.

With classic rock, there is vast appeal without a severe factioning off. Bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin still rock harder and have a wide appeal. Back when they were starting, there was no such thing as corporate rock. These bands were themselves with melodic tunes with muscle. This formula has tried to be modernized over the years, but you just can't beat the original, real thing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Going to Panic

With friends and family, I normally do not take pleasure in watching them fail. However, when I see a band made up of people I don't know that are essentially doomed from the start, I get a weird sense of pleasure when things start to fall apart. This week, a certain article on Panic! At the Disco made me feel such pleasure.

The band recently parted ways with their bass player, Brent Wilson. As for why he left, that depends on who you ask. His former bandmates say his departure was due to a "lack of responsibility and the fact that he wasn't progressing musically with the band." Wilson thinks he was kicked out of the band because of money. With a headlining club tour coming up, the band is set to make a nice sum of money in return. However, Wilson's accusation was countered by what I think is one of the funniest lines in the story:

Panic contend that this statement just isn't true, and that most of the money the band is set to make on the tour is being spent before it even materializes, on expensive stage props and guest performers (Los Angeles-based Vaudeville troupe Lucent Dossier was recently added to the bill for all shows).

Yup, stage props and guest performers. Is this a rock band or amateur theater? The point is, I get the feeling that this band is trying to cover up some major holes here. Not to be arrogant about it, but I sensed these holes early on.

I'll admit that what little I've heard of the band's record, A Fever That You Can't Sweat Out, is not bad at all. Yes, it's a little goofy and juvenile, but I don't take it too seriously. However, I get the feeling that these guys think they are serious. That's where things go haywire.

Panic! is signed to Decaydance, an imprint of Fueled By Ramen that is owned by Pete Wentz. There are plenty of similarities between Wentz's band Fall Out Boy and Panic!, but the key difference is that Panic! presents themselves as a little suave and arrogant. Fall Out Boy comes across to me as a few guys having a good time while they play for "the kids." Panic! comes across to me as trying to have a good time but with a lot of strutting and posing in the process.

From the first time I laid eyes on them with this picture, I got a bad feeling. Here are four guys who look like they're still in high school trying to be daring and unique. They've been brainwashed into thinking that they can stand out by looking like this. Well, they look like poseurs in the process. The look on singer Brendon Urie's face says to me, "I'm trying to be cool by trying to look charismatic." The same can be said for the rest of the guys in the pics. Learning more about them through various articles, I can't help but think these guys are really being taken for a ride.

The music industry loves to take people on rides, but they could really care less about what happens when the ride is over. They're looking for new people to take on rides and this is where the really sad part begins. "Panic was my life," Wilson explained. "I'm 18 and I thought I had things figured out: I gave up baseball in high school because of this band, and I could've gotten a college scholarship," he said. "Now I'm taking some classes and my dad owns his own business, so I'm helping him out. But I'm not going to lie: The whole thing is really difficult. I never thought my best friends would do this to me."

I don't think there is one magical solution to this. A part of me wants to blame bands that fall into the trap of wanting to do a band full-time beyond their means. Another part of me wants to blame the music industry for creating the mirage that this can happen without severe repercussions. Ultimately, I think the individuals caught up in the dream get hit the hardest when they wake up. A band like Panic! At the Disco is more likely to be remembered like Winger is: fun for the time being, but forever joke fodder at a later time.

I get the feeling that these guys simply want to play in a band and not sell themselves short. I don't fault them for that, yet ambitions can blind us so much that we can really lose our sense of purpose. This is what I'm seeing, but I doubt they realize that. As much as I would like to experience things on my own, I can't help but side with people that people that have gone through the whole experience rather than ones that are just beginning their's. Seeing the gluing, ungluing and repairing process of many bands over the years, I can't help but sound like a cautious older brother here.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Step Right Up

After listening to select tracks from Tom Waits' back catalog, I'm still finding great tracks like "I Wish I Was in New Orleans" and "Better Off Without a Wife." Despite hearing songs like "Tom Traubert's Blues" and "Ol' '55" many times in the last few months, I can't get enough of them. Also on this list is a little bebop tune called "Step Right Up" from Small Change.

If you've never heard this track, let me clue you in: the lyrics are made up of almost every sales pitch you've ever heard. The funny thing is, you never know what's exactly being sold. Rather, the lyrics paint a picture of a man standing out on a corner desperate to sell you this something.

I think the whole song is great, but here are a couple of my favorite lines:

That's right, it filets, it chops
It dices, slices, never stops
lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn
And it mows your lawn
and it picks up the kids from school
It gets rid of unwanted facial hair
it gets rid of embarrassing age spots
It delivers a pizza

and

Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets
that's right
And it entertains visiting relatives
it turns a sandwich into a banquet
Tired of being the life of the party?
Change your shorts
change your life
change your life
Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy
get rid of your wife

Now I don't know how long infomercials have been around, but the lyrics sound like a mash-up of various ones. As somebody who is not a salesman, I really enjoy what Waits has to say and what he has done to prevent his songs from being used in commercials. "They want to plug your head into that and change the circuitry," Waits explained to the AV Club a few years ago. "While you're dreaming about your connection with that song, why don't you think about soda or candy or something? It's too bad, but it's the way of the world. They love to get their meat-hooks in you." I totally agree.

The deal is, with a Mojave 3 song being used in a Hummer commercial, a Kings of Convenience song used in an AT&T song, a Kinks song used in an IBM commercial and so on, this is kind of exposure is like its own format. Commercial radio isn't going to play this stuff nor will commercial music channels. So, in one way, this is a cool way of introducing great music to more people, but that comes with a brand attachment. While I'd rather imagine Neil Halstead singing and playing his guitar whenever I hear "Bluebird of Happiness," I remember the Hummer commercial that featured the song. (Gulp!) I'm not going to buy a Hummer any time soon, but the sales pitch has entered the private room of listening to and enjoying music.

Recently, EMF's "Unbelievable" has been used in a Kraft commercial, re-recording the hook of the song as "You're Crumbelievable!" A few years ago, Pringles reworked C&C Music Factory's "Everybody Dance Now" to "Everybody's Pringles" (I think). Turning hits from my sixth grade year into jingles makes me wonder when "Ice Ice Baby" will be used in a soda commercial.

Though I don't remember the actual jingle, but Waits successfully sued the Frito-Lay company for making a soundalike version of "Step Right Up" in a Doritos commercial. Waits alleged that the company wanted to use his song and he said no, so a knock-off version was done and was used as a jingle. Waits received a nice sum of money in return.

The reason why I don't like invasive advertising is that it's crowding my personal space. Though no one else can see what I consider this space, I still get very cold around people that invade it with a sales pitch on something I don't want. Maybe that's a price to pay with being around people. Door-to-door salesmen selling their version of Christianity or lawn services, pushy cashiers telling me that I can receive eight free issues of a flimsy magazine, and bums begging for money at a gas station are just some of the boundary crossing. As somebody who repels from doing this kind of activity myself, I repel from people that do this.

A former co-worker of mine once told me about when he sold cars. He said his intentions were to sell a car to somebody that didn't want the car. Maybe I'm just really protective of my own boundaries, but I could not do this. Sure, there's a lot of money in sales, but I would feel really dirty about ripping people off. I know not all sales are about ripping people off, but when I know I'm selling a widget that benefits me way more than somebody else, I can't get behind that.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Twist the past and reward the arrogance

A constant question I ask myself when I write is, "Why do I say that?" Maybe that's a holdover from college with all the papers I had to write, but the question definitely makes me think more and more about certain subjects over time. One question I think I haven't fully answered is why I don't like Andy Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo. I've blogged about my feelings on this book a few times (previous one found here), but I think I have some more explaining to do.

Have I read Nothing Feels Good from start to finish yet? Nope. Why? Because trying to read this book still makes me angry and annoyed. Why am I angry and annoyed? I have several reasons.

First things first, let me describe what this book is and isn't. Andy did not set out to write a history of emo, post-hardcore or hardcore. He makes no secret in his preface that he is an outsider to this genre. Seeing all these young people come out to CBGB's for a Dashboard Confessional show, his quest to understand why emo is popular with young people begins. From there, he interviews several teenagers and college students, writers (like Jessica Hopper), label people (like Darren Walters from Jade Tree), musicians (like Jason Gnewikow of the Promise Ring) and various other people.

With chapters looking at the loose origins of hardcore in the '80s and the '90s, who are modern day fans, which record labels are really popular, how these young people feel about the music, what some of the most popular bands are about, and finally, a look at sites like Livejournal.com and Makeoutclub.com. This rundown sounds more like I'm OK You're OK than Our Band Could Be Your Life, but both of these books ring truer for me than Nothing Feels Good.

When I try to read a chapter out of Nothing Feels Good, I keep getting the sense that this is a look at what the mainstream version of emo right now . . . in 2002. In other words, a lot of this stuff feels dated and stale. When I read something out of Our Band Could Be Your Life, it feels vital as it rings true for me. Sure, the topic is on bands in the '80s, but they weren't written about in a style that's steeped in the '80s.

The storyline and approach of Our Band Could Be Your Life is one that is in a classic style; talking about events, activities and mindsets that have been around for ages and are still around. Nothing Feels Good is more based in the ephemeral and always-changing nature of the whipped cream of life. Using the disposable nature of pop culture as a base, I can't help but feel there is more of the pie to describe (especially the bottom crust).

What really bugs me in Nothing Feels Good is the lack of quality sources. Sure, Darren Walters and Jason Gnewikow have some great things to say, yet the book is littered with these random quotes from random fans. Yes, the fans' voices need to be addressed for this topic, but for myself, I don't really care that a Jawbreaker fan thinks Jets to Brazil's music is pretentious. I care way more about who the bands and labels are. I want to know about their lives and philosophies. I want their perspectives while also telling a story that I want to read.

A point of frustration I have is this rather voyeuristic approach to looking at life. This isn't just in Nothing Feels Good; this is everywhere. Do we really want to share all of our warts in public? Not me. I'm not hiding from anything here on this blog, but there are certain matters that I don't feel are worth talking about in this arena. Sure, I'll talk about my frustrations with finding a new job, my experiences with writing a book, the music I like, the aspects of culture that interest me and so on. However, I don't want to go into topics that are best reserved for a therapist's office and/or a diary. Living in a culture where people have private phone conversations in spaces where many people can hear them, I choose to keep certain matters as private as possible.

That said, Nothing Feels Good represents some of the worst aspects of modern day surfaceness. Here is this outsider looking at a genre from the mainstream/commodified part and going kind of inward. Since he wrote a book about this genre, he obviously knows what he's talking about right? Well, I wouldn't say he's off in what he found on the modern day culture, but I feel there is way more deeper stuff to talk about.

I joke that after my initial attempts to read Nothing Feels Good, I felt that the bar for writing a book on emo/post-hardcore had gone down so low that a traffic reporter with no professional writing experience could do this. Taking the lessons I learned with my own experiences and the experiences that Our Band Could Be Your Life talks about, I realized that it was up to me to do something about this. So many people are fine with the fast-food culture they can get easily. For me, the stories of the Promise Ring, Dischord Records and Jawbreaker are incredibly inspiring even if you don't care for the music. But you have to search these things out.

As somebody who has liked this loose genre for well over ten years, I think the stories behind these bands are even greater than the music. This is music that still strikes a deep chord with me, but I know it doesn't with a number of people. I could spend 300+ pages about how Jimmy Eat World and the Get Up Kids got me through such-and-such times with such-and-such people in college, but those are my own private experiences. I've had plenty of experiences since then.

Ultimately, I feel the stories behind these people are way more interesting than my own. Sure, I blog about what I like and don't like in a conversational way here, but this a blog, not a book. With a blog, you can read as much as you want for free. With a book, speaking only for myself, if I were to spend some money on one, I'd rather read about Jawbox's decision to go to a major label rather than someone's experience of learning "Savory" on guitar at home instead of going to the prom.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Skeleton

Even with last week's post on bloggers still on my mind, I had a wonderful time at the Gypsy Tea Room last night with the line-up of Cold War Kids, Figurines and Tapes 'n Tapes. All throughout the night, I kept thinking why so many people packed the place despite all the press the headliner has received recently. I kept thinking about what makes these three bands unique. Ultimately, I had to let the music and the presentation do the explaining.

LA's Cold War Kids plays a kind of music that has a heavy emphasis on walking/stomping rhythms. This made for a good beat to bop my head to as the songs built and built. On top of these beats are elements of gospel, jagged indie rock and hooky piano rock. Visually, these guys move. They move so much that I must say that I hadn't seen a band move so much on stage since I saw AFI six years ago. The guitarist, bassist and singer all played musical chairs around spots on the stage, all while playing extremely aggressively. Being up front for their set was great, but seeing Figurines up in front was a special treat for me.

I make no secret that I love Skeleton, the band's second album. Seeing them play a short little in-store at Good Records a few hours before the show (thanks to We Shot JR for the heads-up), their main set delivered all of the goods. Since I'm a huge fan of melodic guitar rock played at quick pace, my brain was going haywire. Since Figurines exude a number of things I like about tuneful indie rock, seeing them live was the organic next step after listening to them almost non-stop for the last couple of months. Seeing the high vocal harmonies and sliding guitar lines were especially sights to see.

Now with Tapes 'n Tapes, this was a much better show than the last time I saw them. The key difference? The venue. Simply, the soundsystem at the Tea Room was better suited for the band. Tapes 'n Tapes has an overall vibe that goes from whisper quiet to loud and raunchy. When the quiet parts feel loud and muffled, key intimate moments get lost. This was not the case as the band put on the best set of the night. The flow, the mood and the punchy nature of their material really shined the brightest for me (despite really losing my mind during the Figurines' set).

Letting the music say so much, thoughts are still kicking around my head about how I could explain why this show was, as a friend of Jason's told him about a show a few months ago, "hipster high." I'm sure there were plenty of people that were there last night to see what the fuss is about with Tapes 'n Tapes. However, where I was standing, the people around me were not casual observers. A number of people enthusiastically cheered when opening riffs were played and they sang along throughout.

At some point of the night, I think I came up with the best possible reason why a certain amount of people are attracted to this music: there are no gimmicks, no bullshit and no rock star attitudes. Thus, the music that they create is not something you can say sounds like any commodified version of music out there. I know, plenty of music with gimmicks and rock star attitudes can still make great music, but with the people I saw out in the audience last night, they were seeing reflections of themselves on the stage. Turns out that the people onstage make some good music and are really genuine people.

I had the privilege of chatting with members of Figurines and Tapes 'n Tapes at various points of the night. At no time did I ever feel like I was talking to some star or an untouchable god. These were guys I could talk to at a party about the same things and almost forget that they play in a band that I like. No matter how many times I say this, this is the kind of interaction I like between fans and bands feels fresh for me. With the kind of music they make, I have a better understanding of why people are into what they're doing.

With a lot of the modern music that bloggers often talk up, they're talking about music that isn't coming from a cheese factory, a major label factory or a star-making factory. Sure, plenty of bloggers (including myself) are guilty of talking up a band and then seemingly forget about them. I argue that there is so much stuff to listen to, plenty of stuff can be lost in the shuffle or accidentally forgotten about. As much as we search for the music we want to hear, the convenience of essentially being handed something is more accommodating. However, if what we're being handed doesn't cut the mustard, that makes us press on even more.

I honestly doubt there is some sort of race going on with bloggers on who "discovered" a band or artist first. Sure, people may get a kick out of being the first to post on a "talkback" section, but that kick lasts about as long as cotton candy fills you up. The people that I know that talk up acts like Sufjan Stevens, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the Knife aren't trying to win scene points or credibility. There are certain elements that they dig and well, they just want to share them with people. I think matters could be much worse if they weren't shared at all.

Monday, June 12, 2006

You lazy hipsters make me sick

A few weeks back, I blogged about Nightmare of You. Getting to listen to their self-titled debut album this past weekend in Houston, I have come to a verdict on these guys: they are fantastic. However, they might be one of those bands that you pass up at first for various surface reasons.

Let me first clean the surface. Yes, by name only, Nightmare of You sounds like another piss-poor emo band strictly for the melodramatic teenage vampire crowd. Yes, singer/guitarist Brandon Reilly is a hunk and used to be in the Movielife. Yes, that is the one and only Sammy Sieglar of Youth of Today, Rival Schools, Bold, Judge and CIV on drums.

Now let me discuss why they are a fantastic band. For one, Nightmare of You sounds like a band that is influenced by bands like the Cure and the Smiths, but they are not copying them. I argue that their '80s influences are far less noticeable than so many other retro-sounding bands these days. There are no choppy post-punk riffs or half-melodies here. Rather, this is some really tuneful guitar pop that is not afraid to go places. Yes, there is country-tinged song (complete with pedal-steel guitar!) and there a couple of spots with horns. These liven the mood and they give some extra spice. With high harmonies and pianos/keyboards all around, I would say the only drawback is that this record is almost too sweet and sugary. This is by no means flimsy, forgettable pop, but still, I get the feeling that the band has some room to explore with their follow-up record.

Nightmare of You has opened for a variety of acts, including She Wants Revenge and the Rocket Summer. While it would be cool to see the Rocket Summer to open for Nightmare of You (castrated, goofball emo-pop opening for a band that has actually has depth and a wider appeal? Impossible!), I don't know if that gonna happen any time soon. All I can say is this: Nightmare of You may not seem the kind of band hipsters would go ga-ga for at first, but if more of them actually heard their music, they might change their minds.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Where You Want to Be

Chris posted a New York Times review of a recent Tapes 'n Tapes show but had a great comment/question about it:
Why is it when traditional media outlets mention blogs (mainly, in relation to generating buzz about a band), they do so with tongue firmly planted in cheek?

Here's the part of the article that rubs me the wrong way (aka, the opening paragraphs):
Tapes 'n Tapes is indie rock's latest Internet-driven mini-success story, which is no surprise. This charmingly nerdy quartet is just the kind of band a blogger loves. It makes hazily majestic, slightly experimental indie pop that honors at least two forefathers (Pavement and the Pixies). Its members do not come from a hipster enclave. (They're from Minneapolis.) They have a babe-in-the-woods origin story (literally: they recorded their 2004 EP in a freezing cabin in a Wisconsin forest).

Most important, their work seems humble, as if they aren't quite sure they deserve to be liked. When the record labels came calling, bloggers got to feel good about themselves, as if they had saved nice guys from a sad life of dive bars and bowling alleys.

Nevermind the natural fan reaction of "What's so great about [band/artist that has received praise on some MP3 blogs]?" To those in the "traditional" media, I can understand why they may take the piss out of bloggers (ie, anyone with an Internet connection can blog), but I think MP3 bloggers are a tad misunderstood in their intentions.

The author of the New York Times piece is Sia Michel, former editor-in-chief at Spin. I didn't read many of her Spin articles because I have never read the magazine on a regular basis. Simply, I've never really warmed up to their general approach to covering music. I don't mean to imply that all of their writers rub me the wrong way, but a general style that a number of their past and present writers go with doesn't agree with how I like to discuss music.

For me, I like to read something with a strong sense of sincerity. I've always thought of writing with a sharp sense of cynicism over sincerity is a distraction. If almost everything is written with a tongue in a cheek, then how can I tell when the writer is being serious or sincere? Plus, if the focus is on the "lifestyle" side of music, I can't say that I'm really interested in that. I think there is too much stock being put into this side of ever-changing culture. In other words, this kind of writing tends to make bold statements in the now. However, the now is always changing into another now. I'd rather talk about stuff that's in the now in a way that will still be relevant in a week from now, a year from now, ten years from now and so on.

Despite the fact that fellow former Spin writer Andy Greenwald wrote a book that I don't like, I do not think of him as my sole punching bag with this kind of writing. However, I recall a short little piece he did on My Chemical Romance that was rather on the surface. Instead of talking about their music, this was more about their fashion sense. Do I sound like a total nerd for wanting to read about music instead of fashion? Maybe, but I want to read about concrete matters instead of matters that are a part of the whipped cream of life.

So this leads me to what MP3 bloggers are trying to do. Sure, I've griped that the natural tendency is to post a hyperlink and say "download this." However, getting to know various bloggers in person and via Ryan's great ongoing "Get To Know Your Blogger" series, I'm realizing some things I didn't even consider before. Though I think some sort of explanation is good to decipher what you're getting, oftentimes for others, just posting some music to download is enough.

After hanging out with Chris a few times, I get what this guy's about: he loves music and likes sharing new and obscure bands with people via his site. He's not into this for the fame or attention - he just has some good ears to tell what's worth talking up. When he put together a bill featuring a then-unknown Tapes 'n Tapes and Birdmonster this past spring, I wanted to go see these bands without even hearing a note of their music.

Instead of thinking I would have future bragging rights about seeing them before they got popular, my intention was to support a friend. Though I wasn't really sold on either bands' music, I had a great time as they both put on excellent live sets. I may have not been completely taken with their music right away, but that doesn't mean I'm going to dismiss them. I liked what I heard and I'd like to hear more, but there is some much other stuff that I want to listen to at the same time.

I had a great talk with fellow blogger friends Eric and Amy last night. Chatting about various topics for Post, we came to a realization about music blogs in general: they're very much in the spirit of fanzines. Instead of printing 500-1,000 paper copies of one at a local Kinko's, as long as we have an Internet connection and Blogger or Typepad account, we can spread the word on what we like and don't like. As tempting as matters would be to write about what we don't like, we have to choice to talk about what we do like. Nobody is telling us what we can and can't write about; this is coming straight from the heart and the brain and onto the keyboard.

Bloggers may never get the full respect of traditional media, but then again, neither did the paper fanzines in the '70s, '80s and '90s. As shown in Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, fanzines (and their spawn) are a part of the lifeblood to promoting music that isn't promoted in the mainstream. Since the chances are very good that nobody else is going to talk about the underground/obscure bands that we like, it's up to us to do something about this.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes

Lewis Black is interviewed in this week's AV Club. While I can handle his humor to an extent, I had to laugh at this little joke:
Anybody who likes writing a book is an idiot. Because it's impossible, it's like having a homework assignment every stinking day until it's done. And by the time you get it in, it's done and you're sitting there reading it, and you realize the 12,000 things you didn't do.

That said, as a published author, Black said he'd like to do another book:

I'd like to do one on religion. My version of the Bible.

If you've seen Black do his stand-up or as a commentator on The Daily Show, you can understand that this guy is pulling our leg with a lot of truth. Knowing this, I have to chime in with his comment on book-writing.

In my two years of working on Post, doing interviews and research, along with writing everyday, has become a lifestyle. Fortunately, this lifestyle isn't that far removed from what I was doing before. Instead of the hours I'd spend making fun of TV shows like American Idol or Last Call With Carson Daly, I'm on the computer doing stuff (like editing and reading articles). While I definitely take my breaks with visits to pages like MySpace, Punknews.org, Defamer and the SOMB, along with eating, sleeping and going out for various things, I'm pretty well glued to this book.

I don't mean to sound like my life has been unwillingly taken over here. Rather, this is what happens when I've become firmly committed to doing something. Though I've done creative things in the past (like photography, writing songs, and painting), this book is the only thing that I've really wanted to put out to an audience outside of my friends and family. How big that audience is, I don't know. I don't really even think about numbers as they're merely a facade to me.

So what keeps me going even though I have no firm deadlines, a publisher or an editor? Self-determination to see this from creation to completion, odds be damned. I'm fortunate to have a weird work schedule that allows me time to devote completely to what I want to do. I know I can't always have this schedule, but since I feel the time is now to do this book, I have to make the most of this time.

I look at people that live essentially through the motions of what others dictate. They don't have the time or the drive to do something they want to do because there are birthday parties to take their kids to, baseball games to watch, doctors appointments that need to be made and mortgages to be paid. I can't be satisfied with a lifestyle of giving up so much of my life to other people and barely having any time to do something creative. That's my perception of a straight life scaring me away and driving in other solitary directions. In other words, that's an explanation to people that I haven't seen in a while that don't understand why I'm not living the average, suburban lifestyle.

I joke that the most rebelling thing I did when I went off to college was waking up on a Saturday and doing whatever the hell I wanted to do. Usually, that meant playing video games, listening to music and getting onto the Internet. As much as I enjoy being around my parents, I've reached a point where I cannot live with them anymore. They have their own lives and well, I want to have my own. Instead of being in the safety zone of being under my parents' roof, I wanted to know what it's like to really fall down and get back up. I'm still not a huge fan of a trial and error life, but there are so many things I want to have full experiences from beginning 'til the end. Instead of hearing about lessons learned by past experiences from older people, I want to have my own experiences. Of course there are things that I don't want to do (be an alcoholic, be a criminal, be a dishonest person, be a jerk), but there's so much more I want to have first-hand.

Part of this first-hand experience is doing this book. Though I've been committed to see this through thick and thin, I won't lie that it's nice to hear encouraging words from people. I did an interview yesterday that went really well. One of my last few chapters has a lot more information now thanks to this interview, but I'll never forget what the interviewee complimented me on with my long-ass research trail: the truth takes time to tell. He wasn't jerkin' my chain - he was being sincere. No matter how long this project feels to complete, whenever I hear a compliment like that, I feel good and inspired. This is the kind of inspiration that no monetary value can give and that's why I keep going and won't give up.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Now You Are One of Us

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how a certain record store didn’t act like they knew how to handle an in-store performance. Well, seeing the pAper chAse do an in-store at Good Records last night, I was reminded of how cool they can be and most importantly, how fun they can be.

Right before the band started playing, they turned out the main lights in the place, thus letting the residual sunlight in. There was plenty of natural light coming in at 7 o’clock, and the place was packed with people. I had never seen the band play live before even though I’ve know a couple of band members for a while. I’m not sure if they play out in D/D/FW that much, but I could be wrong. They played a mostly metal/hard rock show at the Granada a few weeks back and I passed on going. I figured they would play some place a little more accommodating soon and I was right. Being ten minutes away from Good Records and with the show being free to get in, I had no excuses.

For this show, none of the weird atmospheric stuff on their records would be present. No drums were set up (the drummer wasn’t even there) and no samplers were used; all that they used was a stand-up bass, a cello, a piano and an acoustic guitar. This was definitely going to sound different from the band’s recorded material, but that’s was fine by me. I figure I will see the band’s full electric set-up someday; here was just an alternate view.

Though I don’t have any of the band’s records or have really heard much of their stuff, I do know that the band’s music is a little, well, off-the-beaten path. Mathy, a tad caustic, maybe a little baroque, all with some stabs of melody, the pAper chAse isn’t some band that you can fit into a mall rack and sell strictly to teenagers. Promoting their new album, Now You Are One of Us, with a number of tracks from it, they played incredibly well to a really receptive audience. Going in cold with no expectations, I was impressed. I might not rush out and get their stuff right now, but I did like what I heard.

A key factor in the pAper chAse sound is one of “wrong” notes. You know, those notes that the band director would stop a song in rehearsal because somebody played them? These notes aren’t in the key that everyone else is playing in, so they are gonna sound weird. Well, “wrong” notes are a major part of the guys’ songs. While cacophonic tones don’t always go over well with music fans, I gotta give the band credit for not being afraid of them. Certain notes on the piano, guitar, cello and bass may not be in the same key, but that’s a part of what makes them unique. I doubt they do this to be different. I think it’s them really knowing how to play their instruments but not being confined by the traditional rules of music theory.

Despite the stripped-down nature of the performance, the “wrong” notes were on full display, but if you only paying attention to them, you’d be missing out on the whole picture. These guys write some great songs with some great lyrics, all while putting the focus on writing material that is truly their own. If playing a song on an acoustic guitar is the litmus test for the vitality of a song, then the pAper chAse pass the test in my book.