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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The straight and narrow

As I've enjoyed reading Brian's book and look forward to a documentary on straight edge, I can't help but think about how much the concept of straight edge still affects me to this day. In short, be it the Minor Threat song, the extreme interpretations that are out there, or the non-extreme interpretations, I try to take care of my body and not get into trouble doing stupid things. Common sense, right? Well, straight edge is a little more than that.

There was a brief time that I thought I identified with the straight edge label. I had zero interest in drinking alcohol, but that was when I thought all beer tasted like the Dos Equis amber beer my mother would have once a week with Mexican food, and all red wine tasted like the wine my parents would drink from time to time. I had no idea what moderation was. My slippery slope was very steep, and I judged matters in a black and white way. Oh, and I was about to move out into the bigger, broader world that was college. So, the unfairness of life and cruelties of the world at large could be stopped by teenagers and college students across the nation and the world, right? Well . . .

When I came upon what it meant to be straight edge in 1997/1998, I really retraced my steps and chose my words carefully. I wasn't about to dress up like a member of Earth Crisis or kick anyone out of a band who wasn't straight edge. I wasn't about to fall in line with people who wanted to get wasted and silly, nor did I want to become somebody who wanted to be intolerant of those who didn't adhere to a strict lifestyle. Once again, the fence was a good spot to sit on.

Over the years, I warmed up to the notion of social drinking, but there are lines I still choose not to cross. I refuse to become so out of reality that I can't tell when I'm not aware of consequences. In other words, no falling down/stupid drunken antics. I may act silly when I'm around people who get my humor, but alcohol is not necessary to act that way (for me, at least).

So, I don't mean to say all this and act like I'm a superior creature of being because of what I don't do. If anything, straight edge taught me a long time ago that it's OK to not want to drink excessively, take drugs, or screw around. Basically, its message was, "you're not alone."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jump

Well, no surprise with this decision: I went ahead and ordered the complete series BD set for Battlestar Galactica. I knew in the back of my mind that I would buy it, but like a lot of things in my life, I have to think and think and think some more before I can make any sort of decisive opinion. Why are things this way? I think it's a matter of justifying things and mapping out what all I would say if people ask.

In the case of the BSG set, I'm firmly aware that the amount of change changing hands is not as small as a trip to the grocery store, nor is it as large as buying a small house. So, I just try to remember why I wanted what I wanted, and try to keep them in mind in case somebody were to ever harshly criticize my judgment.

Of course, as I've seen time and time again, planning and mapping out those sorts of things is like preparing for a race that may or may not happen. Better be prepared than not prepared at all? Sure, but I've found that I wasted a lot of energy on planning for things that never happened. So now I'm left wondering why I put so much stock into that thinking in the first place.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's on your mind?

As much as I like the multiple uses of Facebook, I'm a little in the dark about why people I know are so willing to openly talk about how much they hate their job. Granted, Facebook is mostly a private thing, since non-users can't see anything. But still, I'm a little taken aback by the frequency and degree of anger directed at the job itself.

I'm very, very well aware that I have something special with my main gig: the downsides are greatly overshadowed by the upsides. If I were to have problems with the gig, I sure as hell wouldn't post them on a site where my bosses are friends of mine. Yes, I have no problem with being online friends with them and I have no problem with them seeing the person I present online. Maybe I'm in a minority here. I don't know.

I do know this, knowing full well I once wrote a lot about overall frustration with life (job situation included) on this blog, it's pretty unprofessional to bad-mouth your job online. I can understand that people have a therapeutic release by writing things out, but come on, don't act all surprised if you get fired over this stuff.

At the risk of sounding like I'm bragging, I'll go ahead and say this anyway: I'm thankful that I work at a place that I like, and I don't mind spending forty hours of my week at. I've done the whole work-from-home-at-my-own-pace, and frankly, I just didn't find my life was as fulfilling. That's probably given the fact that I would usually wake up at 9 in the morning (or later), and be very well aware that half of a day was gone by the time I really started to get going with stuff. So, working mornings, taking a midday nap, and doing whatever for the rest of the day has been a very agreeable schedule for me.

This is not to say that every day I work at my main gig is wine and roses. But it's not like I'm counting the days or hours until the weekend. Since my mind is on many other things at the same time, I just figure that my Facebook status updates should be rather amusing, funny, or just something I've been thinking about rather than airing my grief about something.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jay Bennett

Very sad to hear about the passing of former Wilco multi-instrumentalist, Jay Bennett. Say what you will about him ("the best thing to ever happen to the band," "the band hasn't been the same since he left," "somebody who overstayed his welcome in the band"), but this truly is a major loss. Greg has a very nice tribute as well as Jim.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

To jump FTL or not

There's a line in The Matrix Reloaded between the Oracle and Neo: "[Y]ou've already made the choice. Now you have to understand it." In my case, I'm attempting to understand why I keep thinking (and then debunking) why I should buy the entire re-imagined Battlestar Galactica box set on Blu-Ray when it comes out at the end of July. Yes, these sorts of things do rattle in my mind, along with plenty of other things that have nothing to do with DVDs, books, and bands.

Reasons not to buy:
--It's pricey: $244 for the whole thing. Even though I'm not planning any major purchases or even a vacation this year, I can handle this. But, to no surprise to those that know me, I overthink a lot when it comes to money. (Combine that statement with pretty much everything else in my life.)
--Overall, I dig the show, but there are a number of episodes (and moments in a number of more episodes) where I just groan. Whether it's an issue of spotting which major event from history is being homaged or if it's a lot of military macho attitude or jargon, I can't say that's the stuff that really affects me in a deep way. I'm just not really into politics or history.
--Even though I can handle watching the Saw movies and The Silence of the Lambs, I'm not a huge fan of watching the scenes where major surgery is being performed. People who have seen the show know what I'm talking about, but in case you haven't, there's open-chest surgery, intense cancer treatment, and a leg amputation for starters.
--While the box set's listing is for the "entire series," it's technically not true: a one-off entitled The Plan is set to come out this fall on SciFi Channel. Covering events not shown in the show but alluded to in episodes, The Plan will be a lot like the Razor one-off. Maybe there might be a double-dip re-release that adds The Plan to the "Complete Series"?

Reasons to buy:
--Even though I will always hold Star Wars in the highest regard for sci-fi, BSG is probably one of the best sci-fi TV series I've ever seen. The writing, acting, and directing are all top-notch, and are worth watching over and over again. And Ronald D. Moore's commentary tracks are great as well.
--The entire Season 4.5 will come out the same day as the Complete Series set. Due to the lack of (legal) availability of Season 4.5's episodes on the Internet, I missed a couple of episodes between 4.0's cliffhanger ending and the final four episodes. So I have yet to see the coup that ends up killing a lot of people, and the crucial backstory episode of the Final Five Cylons, "No Exit." (I read detailed plot descriptions of them before I watched the final four episodes, but I'd like to actually see the episodes.)
--Once you find out who four of the Final Five Cylons are, all of the previous episodes have different meanings and more depth. So there's a big reason to rewatch the entire series and have different interpretations.
--The series does not end on a cheat or a whimper. No screen-to-black. No "it was all a dream." No huge cliffhanger. Just a very satisfying conclusion. Plus, while there are a number of episodes that are very stand-alone and predictable, there are a number of other ones that throw out the rulebook (in a good way) of making an effective episode. ("Unfinished Business" is a great example of this.)
--And with the price, we're talking four entire seasons, along with the original pilot/miniseries and Razor, loaded with engaging extras like commentary tracks and behind-the-scenes stuff that goes beyond fluffy EPK stuff.
--It's Blu-Ray, damn it! The best visual quality there is, until the next one comes along and we all have to rebuy everything.

So those are factors I'm all considering. And yes, I actually spend a lot of time thinking about all this stuff when usually a simple yes or no would suffice. But I can't look at life like that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ripped

There can be many red flags that spring up when you review a book you were interviewed for. There can be even more when you're thanked in the acknowledgments at the end. The deal is, I would have read Greg Kot's new book, Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music, whether I was interviewed for it or not.

When I heard about the idea for the book, I wanted to read it as soon as it was available. I was a big fan of Kot's first book, Wilco: Learning How to Die, so it made sense I wanted to read his follow-up. As somebody who has listened to Sound Opinions (the radio show/podcast Kot co-hosts) for four years, I wanted to read what he had to say on the Internet and its effect on music.

Well, I must say this book is incredibly thorough and understandable. I never thought I was talked down to or talked over my head. Rather than preaching an apocalyptic view that things will never be the same in the era of the iPod, Ripped gives many reasons why there are more options now in the digital era. And that, after hearing enough news stories for the past nine years about how terrible things are in the world of music distribution and performance, is welcome.

If Time Life were to resurrect their History of Rock 'n' Roll series or if VH1 did a Behind the Music episode on the first decade of the new century, I wouldn't be surprised if the topic of burning CD-Rs and ripping MP3s was easily glossed over and tied up in a neat bow. Thankfully, at no point in reading Ripped did I find anything truly simple or black and white. When the fog lifts from a foggy era, many matters are easy to forget once it's passed. So having a book that documents this foggy time is pretty crucial.

Profiling artists as diverse as the Grateful Dead, Wilco, Prince, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, and Girl Talk, and labels like Merge and Saddle Creek, the ones that are in for the long haul get the spotlight. These are people that choose to embrace technology rather than fight technology. The same goes with the music fans, including myself. I experienced the fast absorption of Napster from a music geek thing to a mainstream thing in just a matter of weeks when I was in college. I knew I wasn't the only one, so sharing my experience along with many others was validating.

So yes, you can consider this recommendation a biased one, but I'm not some robot who's unbiased nor am I someone whose meals are funded by promotional dollars. I like reading books about music, bands, the music industry at large, and the many mindsets that operate alongside or in it. Ripped is very much worth your time if you want to understand the context of the past and have an idea about where things are going in the digital era.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Dears show review

My review of the Dears' show at Hailey's is now online over at DC9 at Night.

The Dears, Great Northern, Eulogies
Hailey's Club, Denton
May 16, 2009


Better than: a bill featuring The Dear Hunter along with The Dear and the Departed.

For The Dears' first show in Denton, it was rather surprising to see Hailey's far from capacity. Blame this on the fact that UNT was out of session, maybe.

But for whatever reason, a lot of people missed one hell of a show.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Burning Fight

My copy of Brian's book, Burning Fight, showed up in the mail yesterday. The amount of happiness in holding a copy was next to the experience of receiving my first physical copies of Post in the mail. Why? Because I'm all too well aware of all the hurdles that go into putting together a book and hoping that it comes out alright.

If you're curious about the book's topic, basically it encompasses hardcore as more than just a style of music compared to other books. While the focus is on many hardcore bands in the 90s (from Unbroken to Racetraitor to Coalesce to Texas is the Reason), the general message is large: hardcore did not die in 1985 or 1986. The first wave might have crashed and washed to the shore, but it didn't stop dead cold when seminal American hardcore bands either broke up or went metal.

Say what you will about Steven Blush's American Hardcore (I think it's great reference material for gaining insight on many of hardcore's seminal bands, but Blush's commentary can be incredibly grating), but I think Burning Fight should be read right after it to understand a bigger (and broader) picture. And no, I'm not saying that just because I know Brian, Post is referenced in the bibliography, or that I'm thanked in the end credits. This was a book I would have read this book anyway, and I'm happy to see it's out there for anyone who wants to read it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The resting room

I forget which Beatle said it (maybe it was George or Paul, I can't exactly remember), but one of them said that during Beatlemania, the only time they got some peace and quiet was in the bathroom. Remembering that quote is something that makes me wonder whenever I'm in a public bathroom and someone is on the can and talking on a cell phone.

There's a reason why "rest" is the word, restroom. Are you in a situation where you need a break from things, or you just need to relieve yourself? Go there. But I'm definitely not one to carry my business into the bathroom with me. Boundaries are good, no matter how good cell phone coverage is.

Still, it's weird to hear people conduct private phonecalls in a not-so private place. Do people really want to know what's going on at your job? Do you even care that people are listening to you talk about your job or what you want for dinner that night? I frankly don't want to hear that stuff, but what do I know? I'm always a little behind the times on things.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Further Instructions

What's been interesting about watching the reimagined Battlestar Galactica from start to finish on DVD? Four seasons zoom by much faster than watching them on their original broadcast schedule. Of course that's a big "duh," but comparing my experience with watching LOST -- it's different without the element of waiting weeks or months for a new episode.

I recall when my friend Ryan borrowed my copies of seasons one, two, and three of LOST -- and he finished watching them within two or three weeks. Then he caught up on season four by viewing episodes online since that had yet to appear on DVD. I asked him what he thought about the seemingly-universally-despised-characters named Nikki and Paulo. He didn't mind them, and if I remember correctly, their flashback episode helped tie up some loose threads.

Where I'm going with this is, he didn't have to deal with weeks of analysis and speculation or months of analyzing. If a certain episode felt off, he would watch the next episode after that. There were no morning-after debates on a message board or a comment section. There were no discussions about sharks jumping because of such and such. The experience is just the show and the show alone. That's been my experience with BSG, and I find it's a relief.

I wouldn't trade the experience of watching LOST week after week for anything, but once again, I find it frustrating when people deride the show for being what it is. Not every episode will answer every question posed. Not every episode will make sense right away. That's what is fun about the show (especially rewatching episodes on DVD) but it can be hard to deal with impatient, armchair screenwriters who probably would never take a crack at the computer and come up with a better show.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gimme Fiction

A question that's already been asked by a couple of friends of mine: why do a fictional oral history rather than a nonfiction oral history for When We Were the Kids? That's a very good question, and my response comes with a mix of humor and seriousness: because I don't have the time or drive to interview 200+ people from my high school days. I took three years to interview 40-50 people just for Post. I can only imagine how much time it would take for an amount triple that size.

But in all seriousness, I think there's a much, much more compelling story to tell based on my experiences around local rock scenes in high school, college, and post-college. Setting the story in high school and in a middle class/upper-middle class suburb are crucial to the whole story. Why? Because I find something fascinating about living in an area so vastly cut off from whatever is considered hip or cool and somehow finding compelling/life-changing music that is off the mainstream's radar. Plus, playing in a band is a wonderful experience. The kind of experience I know has yet to be captured in a way that doesn't have platinum records or great tragedy. That happened to me, and it's happened to millions of others. That's why I think there's a story that should be read outside of my family and friends.

I started throwing ideas around two years ago on this book, and I still am throwing ideas around. Since I plan to self-publish again, I'm not committed to deadlines. When I think it's ready to go, it will come out. But once again, I'm not aiming to be like the Michael Douglas character in Wonder Boys -- especially the part where he hoped he'd have a 500-page book, but ended up with a 5,000-page book.

What I've found so interesting is taking elements from bands I knew (or played in) during my high school years and mixing other elements from bands I knew (or played in) after my high school years. There's a goal in making defined archetypes instead of stereotypes, and it takes a lot of writing to get to that point. Of course, it will take a lot of editing to get a result that is readable.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Agony & Irony

A few months ago, I seemed to have a streak of hearing from people I had not heard from, merely days after I thought about them for the first time in a long time. As of late, certain random questions I've had have been answered -- and it's just rather weird about the timing.

Since these questions involve very little of what I could remember, the most I could ask would be along the lines of a line in Clerks: ". . . that one with that guy who was in that movie that was out last year?" In other words, Google searches wouldn't completely help.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

--Ever since I saw a spoof trailer on YouTube that fused clips from various Martin Scorsese films (or the trailer was cut in a similar fashion to Scorsese's films), I've wondered what the main music cue was used. Since I only knew it was an instrumental, I had no idea how to describe the song other than it had this strong building piano line. Yeah, that's really helpful.

Well, cue to me reading Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live, and on page 116, there's my answer: it's the coda from Derek & the Dominoes' "Layla." Since I have heard Eric Clapton's Unplugged version hundreds of times and the full length studio version of the song zero times, no wonder I didn't know what it was. The album version features the coda, but the Unplugged version does not. I had only seen Goodfellas once and I never would have believed it was "Layla" if I looked in the credits. I would have just figured it was a song on in the background in a scene.

--For the past few days, I was trying to remember the name of the author that was praised by Oprah for his memoir, but when The Smoking Gun presented evidence that certain parts of the memoir were fabricated, it caused a major uproar. Well, this morning, glancing at Fox News for a second, I got my answer: James Frey. The morning show was teasing a story about his next book. Now I had my answer.

--I picked up Alkaline Trio's Agony & Irony for 50 percent off at a local Borders a few weeks ago. Ever since then, I had wondered about the Trio's record label situation. They signed with V2 after working with Vagrant for a long time, but soon found themselves label-less when V2 was gutted. Signing with Epic and releasing Agony & Irony last year, I thought about their next record, especially since I found their odds-and-sods collection Remains and Agony & Irony to actually be pretty good.

Well, today's word from AP says the band is off of Epic and is releasing their next record on their own label. Oh, the timing.

Where I'm going with all this funny coincidental talk is this: you can never know where answers come from, even if they seem like odd places. I think the same goes with life lessons. Just pay attention, and you'll get most of your answers.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hell Freezes Over

I don't know why it's taken me so long understand this aspect of reporting, but without fail, a lot of drama makes for good copy. More specifically, when it comes to covering bands in the press, whenever you have warring words between current and former members, it always seems like something worth writing about and having people read. It's like you have a big new cow with plenty of milk ready to come out. Of course, when the band members reunite, it's like all's well, even though there's all this bad blood in the press.

Earlier today, I read this article on Creed's recently-announced reunion. I was reminded of the years of very pointed words between singer Scott Stapp and the other former members, especially Mark Tremonti. Then I read this article on UB40's now former singer and the possibility of reuniting with the group: "I will never again play with the remaining members of UB40 while I live and breathe."

I bring all this up not to be a robot and pretend like I've never said anything mean or harsh about somebody behind his or her's back. Oftentimes you just want to express your hurt by saying hurtful things. But for me as a rock music fan, and knowing full well that bands are made up of human beings, I can't help but take caution whenever estranged band members appear all chummy-chummy again. From blink-182 to Van Halen to the Smashing Pumpkins to Suede, I just wonder what can really turn people around from saying hurtful things into saying lines about how "time heals" and so on. And I'm not so sure money is the sole root.