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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What can I do?

With yesterday's post still fresh in my mind, I think about how far DIY translates. For a lot of people, doing it yourself is seen as an exclusive thing with making music. You know, start your own band, write your own songs, record your own songs and book your own shows. Well, since that pile of shingles fell onto my head in March '04, I realized how much further I can apply the idea of "If you don't like this, do it yourself."

As I've said before, I didn't like how the mainstream media picked up and jumbled the story of post-hardcore/emo, so I started writing a book and a blog. While writing the book has been a little tougher than blogging, it's not like this is advanced rocket science. Something like blogging is easy and free, so what's holding people back?

I believe motivation is a major factor here. People have their reasons (there's no time to blog, there's nothing interesting to say) and they are valid, but it's not like blogging is a full-time commitment. This is just like sticking to an exercise regimen -- but not everybody has an easy time sticking to a regimen. Yes, I spend a couple of hours a day writing and editing my blog, in addition to my book, but that's because I have the drive to do it. If you have the drive to something, then by all means, do it!

My point for all of this: if you don't agree with what's being handed to you, think deep inside yourself and see what you can do. You don't like websites/blogs that spew negative bile? Start your own site talking about the things you like. You don't like the bands playing down at your local bar? Start your own band. You don't like what someone said in a review? Write your own review. I know we all have our limits, but it's worth looking inward to see what we can do.

Monday, October 30, 2006

History Lesson - Pt. II

When I was in Chicago last October, I noticed some posters at Beat Kitchen advertising shows where local bands covered well-known, national bands. Thinking this was a cool concept, I wondered if these kinds of shows ever happened in Dallas, Fort Worth or Denton. Well, fast forward to this past Saturday, Dan's Silverleaf in Denton hosted "Our Band Could Be Your Band," a tribute to the bands featured in Michael Azerrad's book, Our Band Could Be Your Life.

Since there are thirteen bands featured, this could have been a day-long concert. Instead, the show began at 8:45 and it had to end before the bar closed at 2am. So, each band had only ten minutes to cover an average of three songs. This was a great set-up, but I wish the bands had more time to play as precious minutes were eaten up by a babbling MC (more on him later) and babbling gushers introducing each band and reading a passage from the book. It was great to hear stuff from the book be read aloud, but it got old very quickly with all the gushing added in.

The MC looked like David Cross before he started balding and his material consisted of rants/taunts that tried to be as biting as Steve Albini's Forced Exposure columns. They weren't; they were always annoying and unfunny and they were between every single band. Again, I would have preferred to hear each band play an extra song or two instead.

As far as the bands, this is what made the show one of the best shows I've seen in a long time.

Black Flag was covered by Drink to Victory, a trio featuring a singer/guitarist who had Henry Rollins' tattoos drawn all over his body. Of all the bands that played this night, they were one of the bigger letdowns. While "Wasted" was delivered well, one of Black Flag's greatest songs got butchered. "Rise Above" just didn't work at a slower speed, with only one voice on the "Rise above!/We're gonna rise above!" part and with a botched final section (complete with forgotten lyrics and an extra chorus). After their four songs, that was it and I was a bit relieved. I wasn't so sure how the rest of the show was going to be.

Deep Snapper got the show going right with their Minutemen set. Complete with a bass player that dressed like Mike Watt and played as furiously as Watt, this trio was spot-on. Highlights included "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs" and "This Ain't No Picnic."

Birth to Burial raised the level of excellence some more with their Mission of Burma set. Starting off with "Academy Fight Song" and ending with "That's When I Reach For My Revolver," I was pretty blown away. Though not as ear-splitting as Burma was back in Eighties, the tribute was very sincere and powerful.

This Ain’t No Picnic did a better job looking like Minor Threat compared to playing Minor Threat's songs. Songs like "Guilty of Being White" and "Straight Edge" were played accurately, but they had all these dropped drumbeats that killed a lot of their intensity. The singer looked a little like Ian MacKaye while their guitarist had Brian Baker's blonde hair-and-glasses look down pat.

I believe the Replacements' Slim Dunlap once said that Bob Mould could do three things at once on a guitar. Well, that was very apropos when Raised by Tigers covered Husker Du. Complete with three guitars, the five-piece tore through classics like "New Day Rising," "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill" and "Ice Cold Ice." Though there were no vein-popping vocals, these guys did a fine job.

The Replacements were perfectly covered by The Drams. Vocalist/guitarist Brent Best donned a sports jacket with a Gibson guitar, lead guitarist Jess Barr wore a dress, bassist Keith Killoren had frazzled hair, eye shade and a checkered-colored jacket on and drummer Tony Harper dressed up as Pappy the Clown, this was one of the best sets of the night. Tearing through "Color Me Impressed," "Can't Hardly Wait" and "All He Wants to Do is Fish," there were moments of pure drunken Replacements rage replicated. Be it Killoren falling down during a song, Best's guitar strap falling off mid-song or a brief, impromptu cover of "Feel Like Making Love," this was proof that these guys knew who they were covering and how they should be covered.

That said, Fra Pandolf's Sonic Youth set was even better. I would even venture to say it was the best set of the night. They didn't noodle around; they just went for the noisy art punk without any hesitation. Though I didn't recognize any of the songs (still holding out for those SST-era releases to get the two-disc reissue treatment), I was blown away. I was reminded of something Matt once told me: you have to see Sonic Youth live even if you don't know their songs.

The classic Butthole Surfers came alive with the Baptist Generals covering "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave" and "John E Smoke." Complete with a projection screen at the back of the stage showing all sorts of odd and disgusting stuff, I got a good look at what I had only read about in books and reviews. By this point, plenty of alcohol had been consumed by the attendees and more was to be had. I think that's what made it even more fun, albeit a little dangerous. Some people looked like and walked like they were in the original Dawn of the Dead.

Inaction Park did a fine tribute to Big Black as did History at Our Disposal with their Dinosaur Jr set. When the mighty Record Hop tore through three Fugazi songs (including "Great Cop" and "Waiting Room"), the place went nuts. I'm talking a full-on mosh pit without stopping the songs to address the moshing. I was smack-dab in the center and was pushed against the edge of the stage many times. I had not felt so alive in a long time being in this spot and screaming my head off to the songs. Though I have bruises all over my legs and arms, it was a good kind of pain.

When Record Hop was over, I had to sit down. I enjoyed White Drugs' Mudhoney set as I did with Denton County Revelators' Beat Happening set. I thought about leaving as DCR was finishing, but I stayed until the end. I'm glad that I did. DCR's vocalist/Record Hop drummer Josh Prisk said something that was so damn inspiring even though I've heard this all before: if you don't like what you're hearing, start your own band. This idea was new in the Eighties and I gotta say, it still sounds new today. Sure, there are plenty of really awful bands out there thinking that they're playing something worthwhile, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't pick up an instrument, start a band or a record label.

As I've said before, Our Band Could Be Your Life is one of my favorite books. While I don't like all of the music by the bands featured in it, the stories are what I love. Not a day goes by that I don't think about the book and how it affects me. Even though I was listening to Huey Lewis and the News, Janet Jackson and INXS and had no idea about these underground bands in the Eighties, I'm glad Azerrad decided to document the decade's underdogs. Even though I've read portions of the book several times, I always get something new out of it. Seeing a full-on tribute show devoted to it, I have even more stuff to enjoy and remember.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I Second That Emotion

I have the attitude that the more books there are on one subject offering different viewpoints, the better. In the case of Nineties pop-punk, post-hardcore and that dreaded 'e' word, books are scant with information. Andy Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good does very little to describe the history of this era as that was not the crux of his book. While I continue working on Post, I want to let you know about a couple of books that are scheduled to come out in the near-future that touch on this era.

First of all, Marc Spitz, co-author of We Got the Neutron Bomb: the Untold Story of L.A. Punk, releases his next book, Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times and Music of Green Day, next month. Alternative Press recently published a sampling from the book and it looks very promising. Green Day's story is definitely something that interests me, so hopefully this will fill some holes in the supposed black hole of music's history between '94 and '01.

Secondly, my friend Trevor co-authored a book with his friend and fellow AP writer Leslie Simon called Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture. The book isn't scheduled to come out until May, but Amazon already has it up for pre-order. I have yet to read any of it, but it apparently is a rather humorous take on what emo culture is circa 2006.

Lastly, Punk Planet Books will be issuing another collection of articles/interviews in the new year. Their first collection, '01's We Owe You Nothing, is a great read with interviews with people like Ian MacKaye, the ladies in Sleater-Kinney and Noah Chomsky. While I haven't heard about what will be in this new collection, I hear that some articles that Kyle and Trevor wrote will be in there.

I won't lie; if a book that covered roughly exactly what Post covers gets released before Post comes out, I'd feel like I was unwillingly thrown into a pissing contest. I doubt that will happen, but seeing as how things are in limbo for the time being with a release date, I really hope this will see the light of day next year. I'm remaining quiet about how it will come out, but just to forewarn you, I might have to eat some words I've said in the past. Why? I realize that this material deserves a healthy push, not a small tug. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Bear Chronicles

Credit goes to fellow friend/blogger Steve as he gave me the heads-up on last night's show at the Cavern featuring February Chorus, Green River Ordinance and Oliver Future. All three bands have ties to my previous life as a Fort Worth resident, so last night's show was a mini-reunion of sorts.

February Chorus features Brandon Lea from Flickerstick, a band that I've always liked but have never seen live. The band also features a former bandmate of mine named Taylor (we once pulled double-duty as the rhythm section for the 11:30s and Voigt) and Jordan formerly of the Audiophiles (a band that shared stages with the 11:30s and Voigt). I had not seen these guys for at least three years, so it was good to check in with what they've been up to.

I don't know if February Chorus is a side-project or not, but judging by what I saw, I'm hoping that they're not. I like Brandon's vocals, so I was pretty set in that department. But what sold me were the shoegazer guitars complete with a violin drenched with echoey effects. Definitely a band I hope to see again.

When I saw Green River Ordinance four years ago, their songs had a bouncy groove not far removed from what Dave Matthews Band does. What I saw last night had none of that groove, but what remained (and what I really enjoyed about them when I last saw them) was their sense of melody. Yes, these songs are polished, but the strong hooks didn't get rubbed out in the process.

I know the guys in GRO want to "make it" in the music industry, but they have a lot of right things going for them that say they could definitely have a go at it. Their songs may be suited for soundtracks to those teen/young adult dramas you see on the former WB (now the CW), but that doesn't mean this stuff is bad at all. Five nice guys playing poppy, clean-sounding guitar rock with some atmospheric guitar leads to boot.

Oliver Future is a band that I shared a stage with once at the Aardvark in Fort Worth. From what I remember of their set, their sound was a very peculiar Austin sound; it had that kind of vibe found in a number of Austin's off-kilter rock bands. I'm talking ragged vocals, big beats and layered guitars. When I heard one of their CDs a year later, it sounded like The Bends-era Radiohead and not in a good way. When I heard that Jordan Richardson, a fellow friend who played in a couple of Fort Worth bands I dug, was now their drummer, I was curious. When I got word that their material was more dancey, I started to cringe. Sounding like coattail-riders of what hipsters have dug in the last few years, I wasn't so sure about what I was going to see last night.

Yes, there were moments that made tap my foot to a disco-like beat, but this was definitely not a post-punk/disco retread. As a matter of fact, I still don't really understand what I saw. I didn't hate what I saw or heard, but I just don't know how I could describe this. Even though the band moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, they have not lost their weirdness. The ragged, dramatic vocals are still there and there is still some traces of Bends-era Radiohead in the guitars. They've definitely been honing their act as they've been writing and recording steadily for the last few years. I hear a new record is coming out soon.

As someone who visits Fort Worth less and less these days, it was cool to see all these people from there play in a spot that I consider my home turf. As much as I enjoyed living in Fort Worth, I'm much happier living in Dallas. Though the Fort Worth vs. Dallas rivalry continues to plague us, at least some of Fort Worth's better bands made the 35-minute trek across I-30 last night.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's Not Over

I've talked about face to face at great length before (some posts are here and here), but I want to talk about them again today. Last week saw the release of Shoot the Moon: the Essential Collection on DVD. Two discs filled with a documentary on the band, (most of) their videos and their final live show in 2004. Though I will always hold this band close to my heart, this felt like a great way of putting the band to rest. I don't mean that in a morbid way, but a nice capping off.

face to face was a band that was very well-known in their day. The wild popularity of Green Day and the Offspring in 1994 turned a lot of people (especially suburban teenagers like myself) onto what all else was out there in the pop-punk world. I was introduced to face to face via a segment on the band on MTV's The Week in Rock. Covering the band's recent matinee show at CBGB's, the interview sold me on them. At a time when pop-punk was all about being bratty and juvenile, the guys in face to face were mature about how they treated their fans and their music. Sure, they could have morphed their music into something goofy for all "the kids" but being what they were made them a special cut above the rest.

Right off the bat in the Punk Rock Eats Its Own documentary on the first disc, Trever Keith and Matt Riddle describe their attraction to melodic punk rock. Realizing that Iron Maiden's songs about Icarus and pyramids weren't based on everyday life, they found reality in stuff like the Descendents and Bad Religion. That's what they put into their music from day one as face to face.

The documentary is suprisingly thorough even at 70 minutes. Covering the band's growth in popularity, the various labels they dealt with and the line-up changes in frank detail, this is what I wish every band would do with documentaries on them. There's no ugly bad-mouthing between band members nor is there a lot of piss-taking hindsight (ie, "We were young and stupid"), so this didn't feel like a trashy episode of Behind the Music. Instead, this was a well-rounded view of the band, faults and all.

One part that I was really happy to see coverage on was the band's loved/reviled fourth album, Ignorance is Bliss. Darker and moodier compared to their earlier material, I've always loved that album. However, when I saw the band debut a number of its songs to an Austin audience one summer, people were thrown for a loop. As great as the songs are, mixing them with their other material just seemed weird. I don't blame the band for trying something different and I was happy to see the band not apologize for it in the documentary.

A brief, but cool feature is the commentary track on the band's videos. Their video for "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" is not included, but all of the other ones are plus an unreleased alternate version of "I Won't Lie Down." Most of the band members are present for the whole track along with manager/friend/fan Rich Egan. I don't know about you, but I thought it was cool to hear stuff like Matt Riddle's comments on the band's material following his departure. I realize that a lot of amends have been between them made even though they have moved on with their lives.

The second disc is comprised of The Only Goodbye, the band's final show. As someone who was lucky to see the band play live three times, this is a really amazing show to have captured on DVD. Though some of the Reactionary material isn't as powerful as a trio, the rest of the material is as good as when they were a four-piece. Choice cuts from Don't Turn Away, Big Choice, face to face and How to Ruin Everything are pulled off in ways that slightly differ from their album versions, but in good ways. At 76 minutes in length, I definitely get my fill.

Yes, it would have been nice to hear more stories with dirt in the documentary. Yes, it would have been nice if the First Seven Years documentary was included. Yes, it would have been nice if Rob Kurth could have been interviewed somewhere other than a trade show. But as a face to face fan, the Shoot the Moon collection covers enough to go beyond just simple satisfaction. The records are the jewels themselves, but most are out of print. I believe Trever's Antagonist Records is reissuing them sometime in the near future. This is definitely a band to check out if you've come to know pop-punk only as sophomoric, bouncy music that your teenage sibling/child wants to mosh to. They might change your life just like they did with mine.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

When I was a young boy

Despite all the coverage My Chemical Romance has received in the last few years, I've only heard a couple of their songs. I've heard "I'm Not OK (I Promise)" a few times due to the fact that it's on a free DVD I received with a magazine. I've heard "Helena" only once -- it came on at a local bar Jason and I frequent. Had Jason not said that it was My Chemical Romance, I would have never noticed.

The band's third album, The Black Parade, arrives in stores today. Though a trip to the record store is on the schedule for today, I won't be picking this one up. I'll definitely be picking up Sparta's Threes and hope that I can find Converge's No Heroes with relative ease, but why no love for My Chem? Simply, I don't really get a charge out of these guys. But there's more to this. If I was younger and didn't know a lot about what all is really out there in the music world, I'd be all over this record.

A few weeks ago, my friend Trevor posted a blog about the band's video for "Welcome to the Black Parade." He wondered if the video was the result of Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" plus Green Day's "American Idiot" minus You Can't Do That On Television. I wonder if the equation is more like Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" plus the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie plus a half-hearted reach for the grandiose heights last seen by Queen in the mid-'70s. I can't knock the band for trying hard to go further than their previous efforts, but I'm still not bowled over.

Every time I watch the "Welcome to the Black Parade" video, I think about how excited I was when was in high school watching the "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" video on MTV. Something about a video with people rolling in dirt and mud around the band was awesome to me. Plus, that quiet-to-scream part in the bridge section sweetened the deal. While I still like the band, I definitely don't pull out their stuff on a regular basis. Somehow I get the feeling that will be the fate My Chemical Romance will have with their teenage fans in ten years.

Taking a listen to The Black Parade, I hear overtones of mid-'70s Queen and Wall-era Pink Floyd with running, ascending guitar lines, big drums and big choruses. Still, I'd rather listen to songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "In the Flesh?" rather than "Welcome to the Black Parade." This is not out of spite, but the feeling I get when I hear the former is stronger. I have a good ten years of hearing those songs over and over again and I still like them. I feel rather detached from what My Chem is trying to do here. Maybe they're trying to introduce teenagers to the power of Queen and Pink Floyd by doing their own version. Well, as long as there is classic rock radio and the records stay in print, the popularity of albums like A Night at the Opera and The Wall will remain intact. I don't think these records need any extra push, but they can't be hurt by a modern band channeling them.

I'm not alone here in this assessment. I came across a quote in a SOMB thread from UselessRocker:
I don't think the guys in My Chemical Romance would be surprised or disappointed in a 27 year-old dude not getting them. Queen had pretty amazing range - they could be campy as hell, but pull off real emotion. You don't get bands that can pull off "Somebody to Love" and "Flash" every day.

Yet a number of people my age find My Chemical Romance appealing. Maybe because it's a throwback to the epic nature of '70s arena rock. But given the choice of either listening to The Black Parade or Queen's Greatest Hits, I gotta go with the latter. Queen had the chops, but they could write songs that tugged at your heart even with some humor thrown in. Sure, a song like "Bohemian Rhapsody" is bombastic, but it's definitely not some bloated, contrived little tale directed at the mall-goth crowd. As simple as a song like "We Are the Champions" is, I still get chills when I hear it. Nevermind all the football games I've been to that play the song, I still want to get up and cheer when I hear it.

With My Chemical Romance, I feel like they're taking themselves way too seriously. If you're this angst-filled teenager that takes yourself way too seriously, this is perfect. Somehow I'm now realizing that a 27-year-old was probably saying the same thing when I was going ga-ga for Smashing Pumpkins in '96.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It's Hard to Know

Here's a little snippet from POST from the still-in-progress Hot Water Music chapter:

Then there’s “It’s Hard to Know,” featuring a call and response with the immortal line of “live your heart and never follow.” The interesting thing is, this part was not in the song when they entered the studio. This wasn’t the sole empty spot; Schreifels recalls other songs having entire instrumental parts with no lyrics. He urged the band to write more lyrics, so more lyrics were written on the spot in the studio. “They would go in the other room and they’d just come back with some insanely inspirational thing that I’ve seen people just losing their mind to,” Schreifels remembers. “They really understood how to tap into people’s enthusiasm, hopefulness and rebellious spirit in a real positive way.”

In the case of the call-and-response in “It’s Hard to Know,” “I was like, ‘Dude, you can’t have this instrumental section. You gotta have something there. And we gotta have some back and forth or something like that,’” Schreifels says. “And then Chuck goes, ‘How about ‘live your heart and never follow’? I was like, ‘Great.’”

Short, compact and memorable, No Division focuses on just what the title alludes to: zero distance between the people who make the music and the ones that listen to it. “You read the lyrics,” Wollard says, “there’s no question what the songs are about.” “There’s [sic] certain bands that have the kind of [attitude] like, ‘We are the band, you follow us and you’re in the audience,’” Schreifels says. “I think with Hot Water, it’s more like, ‘We are the band. We are the audience. You’re a part of us and we’re a part of you.’ And I think that comes through in their music.”

Friday, October 20, 2006

Alive or Just Breathing

When you put something out there for the public, it's tough to escape it. Be it a record, movie, painting or book, it will stick around. If you're a part of something that inspires people for years, be prepared that you will probably be asked about it for the rest of your life. In the last few days, I've run across a couple of people in print that have two different views on this.

This week's edition of the AV Club features an interview with Pixies frontman/solo artist, Frank Black. Here's the part that really caught my attention:
AVC: Writers often use Pixies as a point of reference for your new albums, instead of discussing them in terms of your other solo work, which seems strange. How do you react to that?

FB: It's not weird, because Pixies are a big reference point, and writers assume they have a stupid audience that isn't going to understand the article unless there's some catchphrase they're going to recognize. And that's okay. It's something I'll probably never escape unless I have a hit record. Until I write my "Walk On The Wild Side," I'm not really going to escape "Here Comes Your Man" or "Monkey Gone To Heaven."

Sounds like a man who understands how big of an impact his old band has made on generations of music fans. As evidenced by his reunion tours with the Pixies and his frank honesty about his past in interviews for magazines, newspapers and books, Black is not trying to force people to stop talking about the Pixies with him. There may have been a time when he didn't talk about the band, but he talked openly about them for a number of years before they reunited. He's still kicking out solo records every year and has no plans to stop.

Now on a different view, I found the following on former Killswitch Engage vocalist Jesse Leach's MySpace page (typos included):
FOR ALL KILLSWITCH QUESTIONS READ THIS BEFORE ASKING ANY QUESTIONS! I have answered the same questions for FOUR years & I am done! So I will put it all to rest: I am where I am in life because I made decisions & I stood my ground with my beliefs. There are no hard feelings I absoultly love those guys & I am very proud of there success, I have no regrets, I do not have children yet & yes my voice is alive & better than ever. Just listen to my new album with SEEMLESS " WHAT HAVE WE BECOME" out in store now...

I can understand the desire to not be asked the same questions about his former band over and over again. Leach has explained himself many times in print and film, but he still gets asked about his departure and its effects on the band. I believe he realizes how strong of an impact his contributions to KSE were and I don't blame him for wanting to move on. Yet no matter how far Seemless goes, Leach will probably be asked about KSE for the rest of his life. Killswitch is one of those life-changing bands and he was a major part of what helped steer the band into what it is well-known for. He admits that it's weird to see his replacement Howard Jones sing his lyrics, but his focus is more on getting his messages out there.

The general nature of asking questions is starting out wide. The deal is, it can be annoying when interviewers only ask about the widest appealing stuff. If they're writing for a publication that has a wide audience, chances are good that the questions are going to be general, frequently asked questions. I don't blame people for going this route, but I love it when something a little deeper-reaching gets asked.

Think about your own life. I'm sure you've heard the same questions/responses when you describe who you are, what you do and where you come from. For me, I'm often asked if I fly in a helicopter when I do traffic reports. Instead of trying to fight the stereotype that all traffic reporters fly in a helicopter, I politely say that I do my reports in an office down a phone line. More often than not, these questions are coming from people I've just met or haven't seen in a long time. I can't blame them for not knowing what I've known for all these years.

Not everybody can write a song like "Debaser" or "My Last Serenade." Not everybody can write a comic book like Watchmen. Not everybody can make a film like Clerks. There's this kind of impact that attracts people to music, books, films and artwork. From passive entertainment to essential brainfood, people have all sorts of reasons to be attached to them. Given the opportunity to talk to the person or persons involved in making it, more people are going to slowly start at the shallow end than jump into the deep end first. Such is life.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Do the stars conspire to kill us off with loneliness?

Credit goes to the Wee Demon for pointing out Sam Roberts' article in the New York Times about how the number of married households in the U.S. is now a minority. Here are the stats from the survey taken in 2005: 55.2 million out of the U.S.'s 111.1 million households were made up of married couples (with or without children). That said, Roberts added this:
The numbers by no means suggests marriage is dead or necessarily that a tipping point has been reached. The total number of married couples is higher than ever, and most Americans eventually marry. But marriage has been facing more competition. A growing number of adults are spending more of their lives single or living unmarried with partners, and the potential social and economic implications are profound.

So, what does this mean to me? Well, the results accurately sum up what I see on a regular basis with the people I hang out with.

Taking an inventory of my friends and the acquaintances I normally run into at shows and parties, the number of people in committed relationships is a little more than the number of single people. The number of married couples is in a distant third on the list. Is this bad? Absolutely not.

When I was younger, I thought a big part of being an adult was being married shortly after you graduated college. When I actually graduated college, I realized that marriage was not the best decision for me to even consider with anyone at that point. I had just begun to live my own life and really think for myself. I didn't want to feel pressured into something like marriage (plus, nobody was pressuring me into it).

A number of my friends come from divorced parents, but that number is about on par with the number of friends that come from happily-married parents. I have never had a friend that was pressured into marriage. As a matter of fact, my closest of friends married on their own volition and didn't rush into it. To be honest, that's pretty awesome.

Maybe there's a grand scheme here. Should we pat ourselves on the back for wanting to marry someone we truly feel positively connected with? Or, should we feel like we're running away from the same hazards we saw with our parents by avoiding marriage? I think you could say both, but there's something bigger than marriage here. You can run from your parents as much as you want, but you're more likely to still have a number of their traits. Their DNA is in you, but that doesn't mean you have to be just like them.

I think the deeper issue is this: do you want to be married for the social status and companionship? Or, do you want to be with someone you truly love (faults and all) and that person truly loves you (faults and all)? I've known people (not necessarily friends, but people I've known) that wanted that status/companionship way more than the status of being single. It's as if the status of being single is a sign of total failure. More often than not, they get into an OK relationship that slowly turns south. That's not something I aim for, nor do I think anyone does. But still, being single for certain people is like being unemployed in the love department.

Being single is seen on par with being lonely, but as my parents told me and Ben Folds sang about in a few songs, you can be even more lonely in a bad relationship.

I'm not against a committed relationship or marriage for myself. That said, I'm in no rush to be in one. I definitely have fears about being with someone who acts like somebody I'd want to be around who later turns into someone I can't stand. I'd like to be around someone that inspires, understands and cares (and vice-versa). Knowing that I have to flex my creative muscles, I don't want to be with someone who prefers that I didn't. Not that I'm looking for a cheerleader who tells me everything I do is genius, but someone who is tactful about my pros and cons. I don't want to be around someone that constantly bickers with me about surface matters and who refuses to deal with deeper-rooted problems. Those are just some of the factors on my mental list (a list that keeps growing year after year).

In the four weddings I've been to in the last five years, each one has been a really awesome occasion. Yeah, the food, music and dancing were fun at the reception, but they were mere tidbits of a larger celebration of a union that was already in place well before the actual ceremony. There were no doubts that these couples should be together. There was nothing forced onto either the bride or the groom.

So what all does this stuff mean? Well, this is proof that what I see is not some exception to a majority view. Yet beyond the figures (and in a category all their own) is if they're in happy, successful relationships. I think we're finally understanding the difference.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How It Feels to Be Something On

Book update time!

As of last night, here's the latest with the nuts and bolts. The Sunny Day Real Estate chapter is halfway through completion. The Dischord chapter is almost to the Fugazi section (in other words, it's near the halfway point). The Hot Water Music chapter is 3/4ths done. The epilogue and prologue are a bunch of ideas that may or may not end up in the final cut. All of the other chapters are in a spot where they are ready to be put under a microscope.

The question of "What's taking so long?" appears again. Though I have a lot of time to commit to working on the book these days, I spend a lot more time researching than actually writing and editing. With researching Sub Pop and the Nineties alternative rock explosion for the Sunny Day Real Estate chapter, I've gone over parts of books like Come As You Are, Our Band Could Be Your Life and Loser: The Real Seattle Story and Doug Pray's documentary, Hype! Why all this research on something seemingly not tied to Sunny Day Real Estate? Well, if you've never understood why Sub Pop was so special in the Eighties, you wouldn't understand why it was a big deal for Sunny Day Real Estate to sign with them. Also, if you didn't understand how crazy the media's exploitation of grunge/alternative rock was in the early-'90s, you probably wouldn't understand how they latched onto the emo genre in the late-'90s, early-'00s.

In the case of Sunny Day Real Estate, here you have a band that is signed to a very well-known indie label playing a style of music that is more or less melancholy post-hardcore. In the eyes of history's revisionists, it's the birthplace of '90s emo. In my eyes, it's a band that was doing their thing and not concentrating on labels. Yes, Sunny Day Real Estate inspired bands like Mineral and the Promise Ring, but I'm not interested in choosing sides in who's emo and who's not in this case. That's the attitude I've taken with writing about this subject: it's about the thoughts and ideas of people putting out the music while also talking about the music to some extent. The music's great, but the stories behind the music are way more interesting.

On a related note, I have to address this: I do not know how this book will come out. Will it be self-published? Will it come out on a small publisher? Will it come out on a big publisher? This is stuff that I do not know at this time. I have some options, but can't exactly say how it's going to come out. My attitude all along has been to finish the book and then think about how I can put it out. I'm nearing a complete first draft and once that draft is done, I'll start sniffing around.

I never thought that writing this book would take nearly three years to do, but that's the way it's panned out. I've never hated the writing, research or editing part. I have never seriously considered stopping the project. I know I won't always have the amount of time to devote to this project, but I would much rather do this than stay up until 5am watching anime in my pajamas and sleep all day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

C is for Cookie

The Cookie Monster has been on my mind as of late. He's always been one of my favorite Sesame Street characters, right up there with Bert & Ernie, Big Bird, Elmo, Grover and Oscar the Grouch. I don't have any complaints about him. Everything -- from his big floppy neck to his blue fur to his bouncing eyeballs -- is great. For a one-note character, I find him so endearing, but why?

A big no-no in script-writing is making one-note characters. Sure, plenty of writers sculpt one-note characters and critics tear them apart (see reviews of pretty much every splatter/slasher flick post-Halloween). With the Cookie Monster, all he wants are cookies even if he also has fruit and vegetables in his diet. No matter what the sketch is, chances are good that there will be some scarfing of a cookie or a few cookies. After 20+ years of watching these kinds of predictable sketches, I never get tired of the Cookie Monster.

What's been so funny about taking the piss out of metal bands is the fact that a number of their singers sound like the Cookie Monster. That low, bellowing growl is definitely not as warm as normal singing, so it usually causes a mixture of reactions. I can handle that style of singing to an extent, so I appreciate the bands that also have clear singing in their songs. But why is the Cookie Monster, out of so many other deep-throated growlers, seen as the stereotypical voice of these bands?

More often than not, these metal bands take themselves too seriously. The Cookie Monster does not (other than his eternal quest for cookies). He has grown over the years as he's learned to ask questions and have some nutrition in his diet. For those death metal bands that seem to always spit out the same record, you wonder why their growth is so stunted. Hell, even the songs that the Cookie Monster performs have more melodic variety in the vocal department (ie, "C is for Cookie").

I guess since the Cookie Monster, along with so many other Sesame Street characters, are staples of our childhood, we have a hard time forgetting. They are staples of so many generations after ours that they're constant reminders. Since the world of metal has been dominated by singers that share that tonal growl for at least twenty years, I guess I now understand why he's always compared to them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

There I stand neath the Marquee Moon

With rain in the forecast for most of the weekend, I'm glad both of the outdoor shows I saw to went off without a hitch. Friday night was spent at the Amsterdam Bar with the Bracelets, Pegasus Now and the Happy Bullets. Saturday night was spent with Moonlight Towers at Lee Harvey's. I noticed with both shows how the bands sounded so much better because they were outdoors. I wondered how this was possible. Aren't outdoor shows supposed to be all thin-sounding?

With Friday's show being Andrea's final show for a while with the Bullets, I really wanted to come out. It didn't matter that the State Fair was wrapping up for the night one block away and parking was difficult -- I had to go. Some of my favorite songs feature her on lead vocals and I don't know if they'll perform them in her absence. So, after enjoying the Bracelets (whom I previously saw at Rubber Gloves sitting in front of the stage with only acoustic guitars and no mics), I was treated to a set where I actually heard everybody in Pegasus Now.

Pegasus Now's six-piece line-up features three guitars, two keyboards, three vocalists, one bassist and one drummer. This set-up can be a mixing console's nightmare as there is so much stuff going on at once. I had seen them a few months ago and the sound system sounded like it was shorting out. The vocals were constantly in the red, so they were frequently distorted. As much as I like their songs, I couldn't bear this distortion-fest, so I left.

With the band's set Friday night, I finally heard what Pegasus Now actually sounds like. Other than the vocals, keyboards and electronic drumpads going through the PA, nothing else was miked. There was no bad echo or sound bouncing off of walls -- it was there in the clean open air. This also helped the Happy Bullets' set.

Opening with fog and bubble machines going off, the Happy Bullets proceeded to play the same songs I've heard at every show for the last year. This is not a complaint, but that's what it was. This way, I knew that my favorite songs were coming and they came. As also seen with previous shows, the really fun part was when stuff started to not work. Josh's trumpet sounded muffled for some reason after a few songs and Rhett's bass drum pedal broke during the final song. They made due (Josh sang his trumpet parts, Rhett turned his bass drum on the side and hit it with his right hand) and they were good as usual.

No rain was expected in the forecast Friday night, but there was some rain predicted for late Saturday night. Getting to Lee Harvey's patio area just in time for Moonlight Towers to play, everything seemed clear in the air. Right as they started playing, the rain slowly came down. I stood on the patio with them as they kept playing. They played non-stop, doing every song that I believe they knew. Their originals rocked as usual and they also brought out a number of great cover songs. Covering the Beatles' "Dig a Pony," John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" and Television's "Marquee Moon," their set stretched to an hour and a half. With the rain finally lightening up, the lyrics to "Marquee Moon" had a special meaning as James sang them: "I recall lightning struck itself/I was listening to the rain/I was hearing something else."

Thinking they were finished after the 10+ minutes of "Marquee Moon," they were asked to play some more. Covering Guided By Voices' "Smothered in Hugs" and Roy Orbison's "Crying" and playing a few more originals, I got my fill as they finished for the night. Thankfully, with the rain stopping as they did their encore, more people were watching. Moonlight Towers were perfect for this setting, even in the rain.

Similar to the previous night, only vocals were going through the PA. Surprisingly, everything could be heard very clearly. So I wondered why was I finally getting to hear these bands like I was listening to their records.

I'm no soundboard wizard, but I know whenever you're putting everything through a mixer (from a floor tom to a lead vocal), some things aren't going to be as pronounced as others in the final mix. In the case of Pegasus Now, I rarely heard Chad's guitar/drumpad/keyboard set-up at previous shows. I could see that he was playing something, but I think I had to be onstage near him to hear him. This was not the case Friday night.

Now I'm not saying that all shows should be outside and small indoor venues make for muffled sound, but I was impressed by how both of these outdoor shows came across. While you couldn't feel a bass guitar or bass drum make your clothes move, you could hear each member without much concentration. Had these shows been in the middle of the summer or winter, I would've had a much different experience. These were the kind of nights that make fall in Texas fun.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Continuing my appreciation of modern metal, I think about a key difference between today's metal and Eighties metal: the singing. These days, it's common to find a band with a singer that can sing clearly, scream his guts out and make grunts like the Cookie Monster all in the same song. What's very uncommon these days is the high-pitched alto that was a key part of high profile bands (like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest) and lesser bands (like Grim Reaper) in the Eighties. There are plenty of bands today that still use this approach, but I'm not hearing that in bands like Mastodon, Killswitch Engage, All That Remains and As I Lay Dying. This is a part of the sense of relief I have with these bands.

From a hindsight perspective, I wonder why the mixing of opera-like vocals with riffin' guitars and pounding drums was so prevalent in the Eighties. Yes, heavy metal has plenty of ties to classical music, so maybe that's a key with the opera angle, but metal is (and will always be) a very masculine kind of sound. Hearing a very feminine voice on top of very masculine-sounding music sounds like an odd fit now, doesn't it? It does to me.

If you're a Ben Folds Five fan, you may have heard their live, spontaneous songs like "The Ultimate Sacrifice" (found on Naked Baby Photos). What's one of the funniest things about these songs? Folds' wail. This wail stays in an register that is so high that it doesn't even register on a regular musical scale. This vocal approach is what I'm talking about.

A few weeks ago, Captain Groovy took a listen to Killswitch Engage for the first time. He told me he heard a lot of Iron Maiden influence in their music and I agree. Though the spartan guitar riffs may sound similar, the vocals are almost night and day. Maiden's Bruce Dickinson has that banshee wail while Killswitch's Howard Jones has a much deeper grunt whenever he hits that high register. In a larger spectrum, you're seeing major generation differences here.

When Maiden was beginning in the late-'70s, metal was more or less a new thing that combined classical music with bluesy hard rock. With Killswitch forming in the late-'90s, metal had seen some tremendous highs and lows. There was plenty of buffoonery in the Eighties with hair metal, but there was also grindcore and speed metal. There was plenty of faux-angst in nu-metal in the Nineties, but there was also plenty of consistently strong stuff from bands like Sepultura, Tool and Pantera. Taking the good and the bad, somehow a number of these metal bands today are doing something that feels natural and less contrived. Sure, there are plenty of rockstar poseurs in vintage clothes and leather pants, but poseurs wear a lot of different coats and they're not just found in metal.

My point is, as I've said before about modern metal, there are a number of bands who are finally doing something right. They've paid attention to the bands before them and respect them, but they are showing more of their vulnerable (not ultra-vulnerable) side in the process. Dark imagery with castrated vocals sold teenagers in the Eighties on metal, but after a while, people realized that this was rather over-the-top goofy rather than over-the-top serious. Now that metal can successfully rock without a wall of total contrivance, this is the start of something good.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Said the Spider to the Fly

Chris from Gorilla vs. Bear addressed Rolling Stone's recent graph/article that pokes fun at "how the geeks who control the music blogosphere destroy the bands they love." Claiming that Chris's raves about the Cold War Kids' show at the Gypsy Tea Room in June was the high point of their career, Chris responded:
Does anyone else think that mainstream publications are starting to give blogs way too much credit (and by extension, way too much blame) by overestimating the impact that the blogosphere has on a band's career?

Here's what I wonder: how come bloggers are treated like they live in a land far, far away from the where "traditional" and "regular" critics live in? I've discussed this topic before on this blog (which celebrates two years today), but once again, some more ideas have come into my head.

When I read this graph, I feel like bloggers are being pissed on for doing something that critics in print publications do all the time (and have done ever since the publications started). The scenario often begins with a band with potential that wows some people who are thought of as tastemakers. Those tastemakers tell other people they know (tastemaker or not) and they are wowed too. When this sharing of wow becomes something that feels like it's an annoyance to those that aren't wowed, a backlash begins.

I've seen print publications declare plenty of praise for some artist only to declare plenty of harsh criticism some time later. The swaying views are in the eye of the writer, but I don't think people realize that a number of writers with different views work at the same publication. In turn, the writer's individual views are often considered in synch with the whole publication's views. No matter if there's a disclaimer or not, this is what people tend to think. I never realized this until I started writing for a print publication.

In the case of Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield isn't the only music critic at the magazine, but Rolling Stone gets the brunt of the blame or praise for running a piece that Sheffield wrote. The same can be said about Punk Planet. You don't often hear something along the lines of "Justin Marciniak didn't really like the Blackpool Lights record in his review for Punk Planet" as much as you hear "Punk Planet didn't like the Blackpool Lights record."

The way I see it, we're all just talking about what we like and don't like. There is very little difference in where we're expressing this, be it a blog, a magazine or a newspaper. Yet in my two years of blogging, a number of people just frown at what bloggers praise because it's from a blogger. Despite the fact that a number of us spend a lot of time on the Internet, we still act like it's suspect.

Yes, a number of bloggers have a distinct taste in underground and emerging artists. No, they don't often have the credentials like writing for a newspaper or magazine. Yes, there are plenty of people with those credentials that also blog. But for MP3 blogs like Gorilla vs. Bear, Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan and You Ain't No Picasso, its writers don't have such. So when a number of these bloggers agree on somebody (be it Sufjan Stevens, Cold War Kids or the Knife), those that don't agree pinpoint the fact that the praise is coming from a blogger with no traditional credentials. MP3 blogs like these have reputations, but just because they are blogs does not mean they all feel the same way about particular artists. There is no bloggers union, nor is there a union filled with critics from print publications.

I won't lie that I still get annoyed whenever some critic (be it a blogger, magazine or newspaper writer) praises the hell out of some artist only to make light of the artist years later. It feels like these people always want their music fresh and can't stand the idea of leftovers. I have to catch myself and realize that I do this all the time too. As much as I love one record by one band doesn't mean I'm hotly anticipating their follow-up record. I'd like to hear the follow-up, but I don't try and get my hopes up that it will be good as the last one. I didn't have big expectations for Converge's No Heroes or Cursive's Happy Hollow, but these records are really blowing my mind right now. I have no idea about their next records though.

The debate can go on and on, but I just wish that people would realize there's a bigger picture here. I like sharing what I'm into and what I'm thinking about on my blog. There are plenty of people that could really care less about Killswitch Engage, Secret Machines, Tom Waits or post-hardcore. This blog is just me expressing what I think in a virtual portal. No, you can't touch a virtual thing like you can with a paper, magazine or a book, but this is basic communication above all else.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hello, Control

I'm still a big fan of iTunes. I haven't tried Napster, Urge or eMusic as I've been perfectly happy with Apple's program ever since I downloaded it two years ago. However, an annoying new feature has come up with its latest version, 7.0. Whenever you pull up your music library, a sidebar taking up 3/4ths of the screen appears plugging the iTunes Music Store. Why is this an annoyance? Well, first and foremost, since you can't close the sidebar, you can't escape it. I believe a music library is a private collection, a spot away from the music store. So what's the need for constant advertisements and plugs?

To provide a better visual, let me describe what I see whenever I pull up a song in my iTunes library. When I listen to "This is a Fire Door Never Leave Open" by the Weakerthans, I see a graphic for Left and Leaving, the album that it comes from (and available in the iTunes Music Store), along with a list of the Weakerthans' other albums, the most downloaded Weakerthans songs and a list of what other listeners to this record bought. When I pull up a song from a release that's not available in the store (like Schatzi's "Death of the Alphabet"), the sidebar advertises the latest big releases (Keith Urban, Rod Stewart and Lloyd Banks in this case) along with most popular songs and albums ("Maneater" by Nelly Furtado and The Crane Wife by the Decemberists in this case).

So what's so bad about this? If you've ever seen Dave Chappelle's skit imagining the Internet as a real place, here's how it would go in this case. Pull out any CD from your CD collection and put it in your stereo. Whether you like or not, an advertisement for that CD, other catalog titles and popular other tracks immediately pop up and covers half of your CD player. You can't hide this advertisement, so you just kind of deal with it. How I deal with this is wondering where my privacy went.

This annoyance is about as irritating as whenever you hit up Amazon, browse its store and return to it. You were curious about a Raffi song title, but didn't have any more interest other than the name? Well, the store is convinced that you're really interested in all things Raffi and alike. When you come back to the site, there's three or four recommendations for similar items all displayed very prominently at the top of the page.

Why I bring up these complaints is that there is no sense of privacy with listening to music through these ways. While it might be helpful that someone is always recommending more music to you, this is coming from a source which is totally phantom. Plus, this phantom source is observing everything you're looking at. I know the Internet is not a private place, but is it too much to ask for some privacy when it comes to listening to music?

(UPDATE: Fellow reader Bill gave me the heads-up on the View --> Hide MiniStore option. That rocks, but my feelings on the subject of privacy remain.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I'm not crazy

With my review of George Romero's The Crazies now up on Doomed Moviethon, I have a few things to add. So far, this is the only Romero flick I've seen without zombies in them. The Crazies is not his best work, but it's definitely not something you should pass up if you're a fan of his best work. I'm a firm believer that Dawn of the Dead is his best film, but the road to making that film required some trial and error with his films before it.

In the ten years between his zombie flicks, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Romero directed four films, worked on a short-lived TV show and made a documentary on OJ Simpson. The four films, There's Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch, The Crazies and Martin, were not widely-released in theaters and made little returns at the box office. Night of the Living Dead had become a midnight movie favorite around that time, but there wasn't a large carryover to his new films. This was the Seventies, a time when the home video rental system was not around. Like a number of directors with a relatively small, but fanatical fanbase, Romero's flicks found their own audience on rental. I can now count myself in that fanbase, but this all came with some searching around.

How I even knew about The Crazies was because of The Dead Will Walk, a retrospective on the making of Dawn of the Dead. Romero briefly touches on the four films between his Dead flicks and he kind of makes light of them as they were rarely seen and didn't make much money when they first came out. Seeing a short clip from The Crazies with army men in gas masks and white suits shooting at people going wild, I thought this was pure B-movie cheese. But with it being the month of Halloween and the thought of writing another review for Doomed Moviethon, I decided to rent it from Netflix. I really enjoyed it and saw a number of things that I like about Dawn of the Dead in The Crazies. I started seeing a trail.

Romero usually starts his films after something bad has happened. You see a zombie walking through a field before you ever hear about some radiation falling from the sky in Night of the Living Dead. With Dawn, it starts in a TV news studio with people panicking about this zombie crisis. The same can be said with The Crazies; you see a man try to murder his whole family before you ever hear about a plane crash that accidentally sets off a bio-weapon called Trixie. Instead of weighing you down with exposition before the action, you're stuck in the middle of the chaos from the first frame. You have to follow along with the main characters to understand what is going on. This makes for a compelling mystery, but the main point of these films is how to deal with a crisis.

Romero not only succeeds with some deep social commentary with these films, but he also does a great job of covering internal drama between totally different camps. The Crazies deals with people trying to escape the town and the people trying to fix the problem. Like Dawn of the Dead, none of these characters are one-note cardboard cut-outs from B-Moviemaking 101. You sympathize with them and you know that an easy resolution would be a major cop-out.

The point of all this picking apart is that Romero kept working at something he wanted to do. He didn't give up when Night of the Living Dead didn't make a huge impact at the box office. He didn't take ten years off from making movies between his zombie flicks. Dawn is a drastic improvement from its predecessor, but I don't think it would have been as special had he not had some room for failure. I think we can correlate this notion into with what we want to do in our own lives. I know how easy it is to be bogged down and distracted by resistance and failure, but if you're set on doing something, nothing can really stop you. I know that's a very routine lesson in life, but sometimes we need it reworded in our own ways to have it make better sense.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Altered Beast

Friday night was devoted to avoiding the Texas-OU crowd filling up the bars in Deep Ellum and Lower Greenville. Instead of staying at home, I decided to hit up the Double Wide to see my friends in Blood on the Moors. Showing up at the insanely early time of 9pm, there was plenty of parking and not a lot of people in the venue. Dodging that bullet, I proceeded to have a great time at the show, but it definitely was a different kind of experience for me.

I can't remember the last time that I saw hard rock bands play with a sense of flair but with a lot of fun and irony too. When it comes to what is considered hard rock (head-bangin', but not total fuzzy sludge), I've seen one-too-many bands in the last few years act like they're all important while they proceed to not rock. They don't act like they're up there for a good time -- they're up there for a serious cleansing of their souls. In direct contrast, the three bands I saw onstage Friday were having a good time, rockin' hard, being a little goofy but also playing seriously. Here was proof that this kind of fist-pumping music can rock and not take itself too seriously.

Austin's Stun Gun was OK, but left a lot to be desired. In stark contrast, Los Angeles-by-way-of-England's the Thieves was pretty damn amazing. Their big amps and pounding drums made for some arena-sized sounds, but they thankfully didn't resort to arena-rock theatrics to put on a good set. Brothers Hal and Sam Stokes moved around stage with commanding authority but weren't pricks about it. They joked with the audience between songs and were very respectful too. That might not be "rock 'n' roll" to some people, but to me, that's what it's all about.

Now with Blood on the Moors, they make no secret that their whole image is a joke, but their music is not. Spoofing a number of Eighties metal bands (especially Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Guns 'n Roses) with their looks, seeing them play was like a blast from the past. I'm talking large wigs, bandanas, cowbells and tight jeans and each band member going under a fake name (like Stretch Denim and Leon "The Anchor" Anchorstein). Playing songs that sounded like a mix of Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath and Guns 'n Roses, the songs had a nice boogie feel to them. There were no big Spinal Tap-isms (other than a few songs that ended with a two-note, descending "da-dum" riff), but nothing along the lines of "Stonehenge" or "Hell Hole."

Seeing so many hair metal bands' videos in my youth, I was reminded Friday night of a time before grunge showed everybody a new way to rock. I don't pine for those days as I'm much happier knowing that the guys in Blood on the Moors are doing something intentionally funny. That attitude seemed to be lost on the Eighties hair metal bands. Too many bands (like Danger Danger to Bulletboys to Grim Reaper) came across as hams this way and they are still hams to me. Yes, there is plenty of irony in what Blood on the Moors does, but at least they were no attempts at making it a shot at low-budget theater with stage props, smoke and fire. Maybe that's what will be at the next show.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Tommy can you hear me?

Merritt continues to openly express her love for pants on Suck It Trebek. I don't know why she likes pants so much that she wants a T-shirt that says "Pants," but this makes me think of a question that I've asked for years: why are Tommy Hilfiger's jeans so important that there are T-shirts devoted to advertising them? Maybe this is a question perfect for Useless Advice from Useless Men, but let me explain some more.

A few years ago, I saw a guy my age wear a T-shirt that said "Tommy Jeans." To be funny, I wondered if his pants said "Tommy Shirts." That was a no-go, so I've always wondered why the jeans, more than anything else Hilfiger puts out, are worth this kind of advertising.

Sure, I've seen a number a T-shirts that have logos of Lee, Levi's, Dickie's and Docker's, but no big plug for their jeans. Is Tommy Hilfiger, the man who designs such apparel, trying to make his jeans stick out more than all the other clothes he makes (and jeans in general)? As someone who has never worn Tommy Jeans, I ask this.

I see a greater function beyond the branding. Do the pants go from waist to ankle and don't feel uncomfortable? That's the main criteria I have. However, there is such a large market for wanting the best brand names out there. I won't lie that brand names aren't useful, but they don't make you a better person if you have their products. When I shop for clothes, the brand names that I've known to be reliable take some precedence over the no-name brands. With shoes, I'm pretty set on Vans, Reebok and Sketchers, but when it comes to khaki pants and button-down shirts, the fabric is what matters most. If it's relatively priced, looks good and doesn't feel uncomfortable, then that's what I go for.

But still, there's this lingering feeling that if you want to fit in, you have to wear such-and-such brand. If you have a lot of money in your bank account, you have to wear designer clothes. Well, something the pAper chAse's John Congleton (whom Merritt introduced me to for the book) told me about a totally different topic really pertains to this topic: just because you can doesn't mean you should. You make $60,000 a year? Well, that's a lot more than I make, but do you have to drive a $80,000 car, eat at expensive restaurants and wear all designer clothing? How important are these expensive things in order to fit in?

As someone who's never really fit in but has always wanted to be around people that share my core values and interests, this desire for the supposed cream of the crop lifestyle flies over my head. It's like a Jedi mind trick that doesn't work on me. Tommy Jeans might look good, but why should you put so much stock into their supposed worth?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fixation on the Darkness

Chris over at Culture Bully has a great discussion/review of Mastodon's Blood Mountain. Reminding me of the my recent post about hipster metal, Chris nails something on the head that I didn't even touch on:

Metal is and will always be somewhat inaccessible to the vast majority of listeners, and there within lies the difference between it and any number of albums that have given foundation for bandwagon-jumpers through the ages.

How true, but why are a number of critics now warming to modern metal? The music has definitely not softened or become something totally different, so what gives?

Maybe this is along the lines of when I heard all sorts of praise for Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come. Hearing only a few tracks, I wondered what was so great about something that came across as a retread of Nine Inch Nails and hardcore. Upon hearing the record the whole way through, I "got" it and have continued to love it ever since. Echoing Chris's statement, I've come to the realization that harsh, discordant sounds with no trace of warm melody will never be completely welcome to a mainstream audience. Parts of me are OK with that and other parts find that really annoying.

Metal, like hardcore punk, is too often disregarded as the soundtrack to juvenile angst. Sure, that stuff is awesome when you're an at-odds-with-the-world teenager, but what about when you're a relatively stable grown-up? Based on my own experience, I've come to the notion that I don't have to be in a pissed-off mood to enjoy this music. I definitely get a big charge out of the music if I'm really angry, but I can enjoy it when I'm happy too. Besides, I've always liked metal, but there have been plenty of good reasons in the past fifteen years to not like metal.

Because of a desire to one-up each other, metal morphed into this tail-chasing genre in the Eighties. Band after band wanted to play faster and heavier than the last one and that attitude continues to this day. For the bands not trying to do this and just be themselves, a number of them have come out in the last eight years that are doing something right. I'm talking about Converge, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, Shadows Fall and so on. Yes, these guys play chugging, detuned riffs with screaming and busy drumming, but that's not a reason to dismiss them.

We still live in an age where some people think that metal music has direct ties to backwards-thinking, deviant behavior or worse, Satanism. No matter what, the use of the tri-tone gives people the thought this music leads to the ways of the Anti-Christ. As someone who has listened to metal over the years and has read about a number of metal bands, I've never bought into that idea. So much of that posturing is an attempt to stick out by way of putting on a smoke-and-mirrors act. Looking past the presentation, I've always thought that heavy music is great music with no handicap.

Instead of taking the attitude of "either you get it or you don't and if you don't, we don't need you," I think about the music that I don't get. I can't get into pop music that sounds like robots, not humans, are performing it. I can't get into dance music that is all about the beat and little about the melody. I can't get into hip-hop that only focuses on moronic melodies and big beats. I can't get into pop country that sounds more like pop rock than country. That's just me as I realize there are people that treasure what I trash.

Rounding back to the point at hand, there is an understandable criticism as far as what's so different about this modern form of metal compared to the metal we've heard in the past. I understand someone like Jason for not understanding what's so great about a band like Killswitch Engage. I think about the modern stuff that he's into, like Man Man, Beirut and Voxtrot. He likes the fact that there is something new and unique about these bands, but he doesn't like it just because it's new and unique. I get the feeling that my views on Killswitch Engage and Converge are very similar. The draw is the vibe and that vibe differs with every person.

Where we all run into a trap is thinking that more people should listen to the stuff that we like. That in turn causes a bunch of hype that always leads to a backlash. I talk up the aforementioned metal bands because I like them. I never mean to imply that these bands should be something you should play for your mother who begins and ends with Celine Dion or your friend who only enjoys obscure blues and jazz sides. This music, along with post-hardcore, pop-punk, older Top 40 music and eclectic rock, does a lot for me, but I have to understand that music is not as important in other people's lives.

Narrowing the field down some more, I realize that people aren't going to find any merit in metal, but that's not a reason to be combative. It's just a way of understanding why some of my friends are a little befuddled when I listen to The End of Heartache. If metal were to gain a better understanding with the hipster crowd via a record like Blood Mountain, I'm all for it. On the other hand, I don't mind that other people don't get. Deep down, I won't lie -- it would be nice for me to listen to this kind of music and not have to feel like I have to constantly defend it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What's to get?

Yesterday, a number of blogs and message board posts praised Pitchfork's "review" of Jet's new album, Shine On. What was the line used over and over again? Best Review Ever (as posted on a number of sites like We Shot JR, Good Hodgkins, the SOMB). What was so great about it? Well, instead of a rating or any text, it's just a clip of a chimp drinking its own urine. Tee-hee, haa-haa, right? Not to me.

Pitchfork has had its fair share of intentionally funny reviews, like Nick Sylvester's write-up on Audioslave's Out of Exile. Personally, I don't get a strong sense of satisfaction with these kinds of reviews. I make no bones about how goofy terrible bands like Panic! At the Disco and Hawthorne Heights are. Yet if I'm going to take the time to talk down about them, I can't just post a clip or snarky comment and expect people to get what I mean.

I remember a review that ran in Guitar World years ago for Iron Maiden's live album, A Real Dead One. Giving it one star, the reviewer simply wrote, "No argument here." Funny stuff? Kinda, but as proven over and over again, this kind of stuff is more or less just tacky amusement. I like a good laugh, but don't really go looking for one in a music review.

I think about my friend Geoff's site, Monsters of MySpace. I really enjoy it because he usually goes beyond a sentence or two to make a funny remark about a band. Listing stuff like "unlisted influences," his satire is biting and effective at the same time. Listing Hoobastank's unlisted influences as "assembly lines. cookie cutters. androids," I think that stuff is really funny. There is a great context to what he's trying to say and makes himself abundantly clear.

Yes, this is just a matter of personal taste, but I wonder why waste time taking small swipes at something I don't like. I'd much rather talk about something I really like, but I can't help calling out stupid, moronic stuff too.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Move Out, Move On

In the broadcasting field, "blowing up" a station means that a station underwent a format change. Blowing up stations is nothing new, but it still catches people off-guard. Why stations change formats is usually for various reasons, be it ratings or something else. From the listener's perspective, I have yet to run into someone that was incredibly thankful that a station flipped. More often than not, I hear about people annoyed about such change. My 18-year-old cousin still complains about how the hard rock station in Dallas, the Eagle, flipped formats to Lite Rock a few years ago who then flipped to Tejano. I get the feeling that plenty of people pulling up 107.5 FM today will be wondering what happened to its smooth jazz format. No longer the Smooth Jazz 107.5 The Oasis, it's now MOViN' 107.5.

Instead of Dave Koz, Chris Botti and Kenny G, 107.5 now plays 50 Cent, Prince, Marvin Gaye and Will Smith. I'm sure my fellow blogging friend Kev will be happy to know that "the G Weasel" is not on that frequency anymore, but I'm sure there are plenty of others that aren't. The smooth jazz format itself relies less on older, free-form jazz and more on a modern mix of fusion and light rock that has jazzy and atmospheric leanings. For a lot of people, this music is perfect; it's instrumental, upbeat and it's not in-your-face. I'm sure another smooth jazz station will pop up here in Dallas, but for the time being, a number of people are at a loss today.

For me, I have a number of friends and colleagues that worked for the station, on the air and behind the scenes. I worked in their promotions department for almost a year doing a number of remote broadcasts at a variety of places (from small Cingular Wireless stores to the Dallas Museum of Art). While passing out stuff like concert tickets, I got to know quite a bit about the DJs and the audience that would come out. Never before or since have I seen such a strong dedication to a radio station. Oftentimes, people would tell me this was music that a wide range of tastes and ages could agree on.

You're not going to find me unloading a preachy tirade about the state of the radio field here. I will say this, with the format switch costing a number of people's jobs, this is just business plain and simple. Nothing personal is meant with the work that the people did at the station, but a change happened. I find myself really relating as today marks one year since I lost my full-time job. I won't lie that bouncing back hasn't been easy, but there have definitely been some really useful changes and growth in myself in this time. Somehow I get the feeling that's just starting with a number of other people today.

Monday, October 02, 2006

In convenience

Chris's wedding over the weekend was fantastic. A lot of fun and good times were had and a lot of ideas came into my head. The reception was long and eventful with a lot of food and dancing, but a very strange sight happened during one of my trips to the bathroom.

Being on a Saturday, there were plenty of college football games, along with crucial baseball games, played on this day. I heard about the Cardinals-Astros game, along with the Baylor and Texas A&M games, in various areas of the reception hall. Not being up or really into sports, I figured all this stuff was on par with people not really up on music listening to me talking about music. In other words, it's like hearing a discussion in a foreign language, but it's all in English. You know English is being spoken, but it's definitely not the kind of words that you're used to hearing.

That said, I stopped in my tracks when I saw a man dialing his cell phone while taking a leak at a urinal. What was the reason for him calling? To find out the score of the Baylor game. This sight alone got me to thinking about how the general convenience of modern technology has made us super-impatient beings. I'm talking about phone conversations about future phone conversations and meetings that are scheduled to happen in five minutes. We can't wait to hear about a final game score even though the score is the same ten seconds, ten minutes and ten hours after the game is finished. How pressing is it that we have to be up on these things?

I can understand the desire for constant updates if the situation involved a family member/friend being in a very serious medical situation (like being in critical condition following an accident, heart attack or stroke). No matter how important your alma matter's football team is, the game's score is far less important. Yet why do I see people act like a score is as important as the other pressing issue?

Maybe because I'm not an avid sports fan is why I don't understand this. Maybe because I treat my time in the bathroom as a peaceful and stress-free experience is another reason why. But I don't want to be behind with information pertaining to my interests either. What's the first thing I do when I get up? Turn on the computer and check my cell phone for messages. What do I do when my computer loads? I pull up Outlook Express and leave it up (it's set up to check for e-mail every minute). I definitely want to know what's going on up to the minute, but this is mostly done without talking to anyone or eating up cell phone minutes.

I'm around a computer with Internet access everyday, so whenever I have some free time, I'll frequently check sites like MySpace, Punknews.org, SiteMeter, the SOMB and Defamer as they are constantly updated. Am I on a quest for the latest breaking stuff? Not really, but there is desire to know about something the minute that it becomes available, within reason. When it comes to cell phone calls, if I can talk, then I'll pick up. When I say I can talk, I mean when I am not engaged or about to be engaged in a face-to-face conversation. Despite the fact that I can multi-task, I often choose to not take a phone call while I'm busy doing something else.

So that's where I stand on this. Is our culture that impatient that we blur the super-pressing in with the mildly-pressing? Do we have to take a break with our private time to know something like the score of a game? How important is all of this in our lives? For me, I can live with not checking my e-mail or cell phone messages for a few hours barring any wait for replies to urgent messages. And when I mean urgent, it's not involving my friend's thoughts on the new Channels record, American Hardcore or how his/her's dinner was.