I like to research my comedic premises thoroughly, ever since I wrote half a comedy FAQ, then Googled the premise to find a much better version of the same idea. Recently, I've been talking about Eddie Vedder on stage, so I would be remiss if I didn't do my homework about the man. And in doing so, I came across this gem.
There is so much wonderful stuff happening in this video. A few observations:
1. Chris Cornell has borrowed his facial hair from Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett.
2. The band is at the beach for this video. There's a lighthouse. Eddie Vedder is singing from behind some tall grass. Stone Gossard is playing in front of what might be the same tall grass, wearing a hat from 1992's Blossom For Men collection. They cut back to Eddie, and the cameraman can barely find him. He looks like he's hiding in a Christmas tree farm. So does Jeff Ament. Everyone else gets to play out on the beach, or at least in front of the bushes, but Eddie's face is totally obscured.
In a way, that makes the lyrics more believable. Yes, you're hiding in the underbrush like a tramp, or a highwayman, Eddie. Obviously, you don't mind stealing bread from anyone's mouth.
3. This demonstrates the early-90s video trend of bands playing electric guitar in wet areas, in the rain, or in this case, next to the ocean. Eric Clapton in "Pretending", Slash in every video Guns n' Roses made from 1991-3, all setting a poor example, safety-wise.
(EDIT: Slash doesn't play in the rain in "November Rain"; he just wails on an unplugged acoustic guitar outside a church, in the middle of a dust storm. He jams in a similar desert landscape in "Don't Cry", after he intentionally drives her car off a cliff to spite his nagging girlfriend.)
4. Flannel shirts: 1/6
Long hair: 5/6
Slap bracelets and Hypercolor t-shirts: Undetermined
5. The climactic shot of the fire brings it all together for me.
It's a great time for follow-up albums. Fresh on the heels of Radiohead's new, free-as-hell album, ZemblafavoriteThe Go Team released their sophomore album Proof of Youth. I really enjoyed the first album, and on the new release, it is more of the same. Maybe things are a little more complicated and ambitious with live instruments instead of samples, and maybe I haven't figured out a track that stands out quite as much as Huddle Formation, but fans of Thunder Lightning, Strike should enjoy this one just as much. Despite the lack of a killer single, this CD is more consistent overall. It's a baby step into more maturity and sophistication, but there's only so much of that you want with the Go Team.
The album cover suggests the mishmash of music and styles you'll find inside. There's a BMX rider, some fighter jets, a fist, a wolf, plus some letters cut out of construction paper, and it's all on graph paper. This image could have been the cover of any number of my friends' Trapper Keepers in fourth grade. Collage what?
Grip Like a Vice - The only thing I take issue with is how much lead singer "Ninja" seems to need reassurance that the crowd is ready to rock, and ready to turn it out. If this was the first album, maybe, but buyers of the second album know what they're getting into. By playing the CD, you've in essence pledged your intention to turn it out. Otherwise, we are right back in The Go Team's wheelhouse (I don't want to use the exclamation point). Hand claps, horn parts seemingly stolen from 70's adventure shows, complicated percussion, high school cheerleader cadences. They seem to let the guitar go off a little bit more. All in all, a stellar lead track to the new album
Doing It Right - They played this song live when I saw them in SF. It's a good live song because they can force the crowd to sing along to the chorus, as it is extremely simple. Doing. It. Right. That's the entire thing.
Titanic Vandalism - Best title on the album. More heavy drums, and that same pep-rally-at-Judgment-Night sound. Like Grip Like a Vice, this one is going to be a live classic.
Fake ID - It doesn't have a strong vocal, or at least, not a strong enough vocal to stand out amidst the percussion and background instrumentation. However, the background cheerleading is compelling, and the horn part is solid.
Flashlight Fight - Features Chuck D of Public Enemy.
Patricia's Moving Picture - There's another song called The Wrath of Marcie, which could make this song part of a multi-track Peanuts shout-out from the Go Team. It's very similar to the previous album's closer, Everyone's a V.I.P. To Someone; a horn-heavy instrumental that manages to sound wistful and heartwarming. The song is like a more effective version of the sad, reflective credits music on Saturday Night Live, making you think, "Maybe listening to a bunch of rapping cheerleaders and overdriven production was more of an emotional experience than I previously thought", just like some SNL viewers undoubtedly get teary-eyed at the bittersweet feeling that comes from knowing that the good times and laughter have come to a close until next week. Unlike the San Francisco Giants, the Go Team has little trouble finding a good closer.
This album is highly recommended, though not available for free like Radiohead, except that, yeah, every CD is pretty much available for free all the time, though not at OiNK.
Radiohead released In Rainbows this week, and I'm prepared to call it a minor classic. It's no OK Computer, but it's on the level of Hail to the Thief.
What are the best songs?
15 Step - As usual, Radiohead has selected an excellent song as the opener. Is this song about AA? Maybe England has extra steps due to the conversion rate. There is a great sample of children cheering that rivals the use of children's applause at the end of For the children.
You can tell that a Radiohead song is going to be entertaining whenever the guitarists take their hands off their instruments to focus on percussion. Seeing There There performed live, when Johnny and Ed started hitting tom toms, you knew it was on. In the live version below, you can see hand clapping takes precedence over guitar.
Reckoner - After I heard this song, I immediately went back and listened to it again. It was my first third-listen as well, and the first song I hummed during work the next day, and the first new Radiohead song I tried to sing in the car, while not remembering any of the lyrics, and trying to vocalize the instrumental parts. (I would like to add that I will be installing my car stereo this weekend, so this kind of solo automotive embarrassment will be at least diminished.)
Two minutes in, it sounds cool, but it's a basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus, conventional song. They shift gears about two-and-a-half minutes in, and the magic moment comes about forty-five seconds later. The bridge ends, we got back to the original melody, and the percussion kicks back in. It closes really strong, with a lot of new instruments come in, playing the part that the backup singers were doing before.
Potential for Thom Yorke to dance?
High in the first few songs, less so as the album progresses.
Is Radiohead doomed to mediocre album titles?
"OK Computer" is a great album, maybe my favorite album of all time, but the title was not encouraging as to its quality. "Hail to the Thief" - Yorke said he just wanted people to have to use the phrase, and just think about the illegitimacy of George Bush's election. People don't bring that up nearly often enough - that George Bush actually lost the 2000 election. Weirdly, this fact isn't really even debated, people just accuse Al Gore of whining. Digression!
So, even if his intentions are good, "Hail to the Thief" is kind of a childish pun, or something T. Winston McCranahan might say, if he were a political pundit. I feel slightly embarrassed saying the album title out loud. I usually referred to it as, "The New Radiohead". "Pablo Honey", not too great. Kind of hard to say. Seem to be missing punctuation. More punctuation might clarify things. Now, "In Rainbows", which Thom Yorke took from a drawing he saw on a nine-year-old's Pee-Chee folder, next to a game of MASH and a list of boys she liked. The only gayer title would be "On Unicorns".
Were there any songs you don't like?
House of Cards. I noticed something was amiss when I heard the line, "I don't want to be your friend/I just want to be your lover". Is Thom Yorke channeling John Mayer? Is this the radio-friendly slow jam? I think this song will be like "The Luckiest" on Rockin the Suburbs - always skipped. I can anticipate me skipping this song quite a bit. It's also five-and-a-half damn minutes long.
Dude, it's free?
With this digital download, "It's up to you" policy, Radiohead is re-opening The Free Store. They've officially become that hippie teacher in high school who lets you choose which grade you think you deserved. I gave them a few pounds, so maybe I fell prey to the reverse psychology. I do think it's a cool idea, however, so I wanted to support the idea that I didn't have to pay anything for this album by...paying something for the album.
There is no record company affiliation for this album, nor have they selected a company that will manufacture and distribute the physical recording. So, whatever you pay for the digital download is all profit. Radiohead has essentially $0 in the way of marginal costs.
They're acknowledging that this album is going to be available all over the web in free, digital form, almost immediately after its release. If that's the case, why not sell the digital download directly? Radiohead isn't going to sue illegal downloaders, nor even discourage them. They sell a physical version, which is not going to be shipped out for another eight weeks, where you get the CD, a vinyl record, artwork, and bonus songs.
Do you have quick thoughts about other songs on the album?
Nude - When the vocal comes in, it begins to sound really interesting. I don't know if it ever quite delivers on the promise it shows in that sparse, dramatic opening, but it's still pretty good.
All I Need - Pretty simple. One of my roommates loves it.
Faust Arp - Like Radiohead doing covers of White Album-era Beatles songs, with an chamber music ensemble backing them. I imagine that this is Paul McCartney's favorite song on the album, if he's been able to figure out the download process yet. I am also going to predict that this one is Fred Lee's eventual favorite.
Bodysnatchers - Sounds about 30% better every time I hear it. Through three listens, that makes it nearly twice the song I first thought it was. Reportedly a live favorite.
For people of my generation, Vanessa Williams's "Save the Best For Last" was a theme for the yearbook, or title for the last dance of eighth grade, or in my case, both. At that dance, they were almost compelled to play "Save the Best For Last", last, because to do otherwise would be a slap in the face to Vanessa Williams. But was the song as romantic as I remembered?
When Louise was driving me home from the movies, the song came on the radio, and we were struck by how oddly unromantic the lyrics are:
Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun goes round the moon
Meteorological irregularities, an abrupt overthrow of the heliocentric model of the solar system - Vanessa is describing a world where pigs fly. "I said I'd never hook up with you until hell froze over, but now that Hades is icing up...well, you want to go for it?"
(Just so this is clear, I am not referring to the X-rated video queen, but rather to the Vanessa with a singing career.)
At its heart, this is a song about deciding to finally settle:
It's not the way I hoped
Or how I planned
"Enough" is the romantic word where Vanessa finally lands. When you're on the dance floor in the auditorium that doubles as a cafeteria, hands on the hips of the girl across from you, careful to keep your upper bodies at least 9-12 inches apart, you don't think you're celebrating a love that just qualifies as "sufficient". Did Vanessa's man really save the best for last, or did he simply arrive at "last", shrug his shoulders, and decide it was for the best?
Sometimes the very thing you're looking for
Is the one thing you can't see
Sometimes the very thing you're looking for is the one thing you've ignored for years and years, never thinking you'd lower your standards far enough that it became feasible. But now we're standing, liquored up, emotionally dead, ready to surrender completely our hopes of ending up with not just our first choices, but also choices 2-24. Isn't this world a crazy place?
As a caution, "saving the best for last" is also how you end up married to Rick Fox.
I attended a bachelor party on a houseboat this weekend. It was an outing full of discoveries and revelations, none more profound than Dustin's observation about Cake.
After hearing our third auto-related song from Comfort Eagle, Dustin observed, "Boy, this guy really hates traffic!" At the moment, that sounded right, but I couldn't be sure until I got home and did some research. After an exhaustive study of the Cake catalog, I can state with confidence that John McCrea, lead singer of traffic, hates traffic more than anything else in the world.
We are building a religion
We are building it bigger
We are widening the corridors
And adding more lanes
John McCrea's first move of building a religion is relieving congestion, pre-emptively addressing traffic concerns. If McCrea were to found a civilization, he wouldn't start with a source of food, or a water supply, or a temple. No, he'd go straight to eight-lane superhighway.
The land of race car ya-yas
The land where you can't change lanes
The land where large, fuzzy dice
Still hang proudly
Like testicles from rearview mirrors
There's some dispute as to which city is the actual land of Race Car Ya-Yas, but because of the fuzzy dice reference, I have to think he means Los Angeles. While we're discussing decade-old pop music, I should mention that Geggy Tah's "Whoever You Are" is the antithesis of this song, a celebration of a successful lane change.
And taxi cabs
Don't seem like they can
Reach me here
Though he is sitting in an apartment on the 32nd floor, McCrea's thoughts turn, as always, to the cars on the street below him. It's telling that McCrea says "reach me here", as if the garbage trucks and cabs are enemies from whom he has fled. And while they may not be able to physically touch him in his perch, clearly, the cars have reached him, emotionally.
This song is key to understanding Cake and traffic. Here McCrea compares himself to a car, though not one trapped in gridlock. Man, Cake has a lot of songs about cars. If we extend his self-as-car, Satan-as-motor analogy to the rest of the catalog, suddenly we can see why traffic bothers him so much. Excessive idling is bad for an engine in general, worse when that engine is Beelzebub. If idle hands are the devil's tools, an idling car is truly the devil's vehicle. McCrea is not simply tormented by stop-and-go traffic, he is tormented by the Prince of Darkness.
John McCrea continues his commitment to traffic awareness by wearing a trucker hat
Stickshifts and safetybelts
Bucket seats have all got to go
When we're driving in the car
It makes my baby seem so far
I need you here with me
Not way over in a bucket seat
Also on McCrea's shit list? Bucket seats, seatbelts, stickshifts. Ostensibly, this is so McCrea can more easily put his arm around his lady, but I suspect that this is a smokescreen for his real reasons. "Stickshifts" comes first in the title because that's his main pet peeve. And why is that? Stop-and-go traffic requires constant shifting of gears, making the already-maddening experience of a traffic jam literally intolerable for McCrea. Note that he doesn't say, "I want you here with me", but rather, "I need you here with me". He's clinging to his girl just like he's clinging to his own sanity amidst the jam.
In the hiss and rumble of the freeway sounds
As the afternoon commuters drive their cars around
There's a ringle jingle near the underpass
There's a sparkle near the fast food garbage
And roadside trash
How about songs about inanimate objects (besides cars)? Will McCrea still make reference to the hellishness of being on the freeway? Yes.
While this song is about cars, Cake's bread-and-butter subject, it stands out from the rest. The driver who is going the distance is doing so after the race has concluded, and all the drivers and spectators have left - "the arena is empty except for one man". It's confusing - a man, behind the wheel of a car, who is not tormented by traffic, heat, nor bad air? In a Cake song?
A glance at the liner notes solves the mystery. "The Distance" was not written by John McCrea, but instead by guitarist Greg Brown. If it hadn't been such a catchy hit, I'm not sure McCrea could have brought himself to sing it, let alone accompany himself on vibraslap.
Take your economy car and your suitcase
Take your psycho little dogs
Take it all away
You've been racing through my mind
You're picking up in speed
You're driving recklessly
It's like a car crash happening on my street
Broken bodies at my feet
And sirens on the way
They're too late
'cause nobody's going to save us
We're a rubbernecker's dream
We're burning gasoline
Another swipe at Japanese cars precedes another extended automotive analogy. There's a car crash, and broken bodies, but ultimately, what's the tragic aftermath? Rubberneckers (presumably slowing the flow of traffic) and wasted gas, again supporting the anti-idling, anti-air pollution theme.
Finally, Long Line of Cars is McCrea's magnum opus, a Cake song about only traffic, and nothing more. I think there's more to it. The "long line of cars" can be read as the endless parade of Cake songs about traffic, with "no single explanation". With each new album, McCrea devotes more and more time to traffic rants, traffic rants that will "never have an end". Because as long as there is gridlock, as long as highways have metering lights, as long as young men are stuck on the business loop of Highway 80 outside Sacramento in 100+ degree heat, Cake will be there with a syncopated vocal about how much it sucks, and a trumpet solo to help you forget about your contribution to global warming, just for a moment:
There's a long line of cars
And they're trying to get through
There's no single explanation
There's no central destination
But this long line of cars
Is trying to get through
And this long line of cars
Is all because of you
We don't wonder where we're going
Or remember where we've been
We've got to keep this traffic flowing
And accept a little sin
So this long line of cars
Will never have an end
And this long line of cars
Keeps coming around the bend
From the streets of Sacramento
To the freeways of L.A.
We've got to keep this fire burning
And accept a little gray
So this long line of cars
Is trying to break free
And this long line of cars
Is all because of me
There's a long line of cars
Long line of cars
Long line of cars
Long line of cars
The most overplayed song on my Winamp playlist in 2006. If I didn't primarily listen to music on headphones, my roommates would really hate the fucking Strokes by now. The song is pretty simple. It also essentially repeats its two verses. Eminently hateable, unless you really listen to how awesomely crazy the guitar gets right before the first chorus, and continues throughout. I admire the Strokes for simply stopping abruptly once they'd played all they could out of the song.
16. "Born on a Train", Magnetic Fields
My second-most-overplayed song, and quite possibly the finest pop song ever written about a vampire drifter in love. The Arcade Fire does a very nice cover version.
17. "The Perfect Nanny", Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber
That's the part I put in! I think I would be an ideal nanny for the Banks children, though I might be blinded by their enthusiasm for rosy cheeks. I have never given a child castor oil nor glue. I also have 20/20 vision, so the issue of mischievous children hiding my spectacles is a rather moot point. I might occasionally smell of barley water.
18. "Comfortably Numb", Scissor Sisters
Pink Floyd meets the Bee Gees, and not a moment too soon. To me, the Scissors' performance implies that the comfortable numbness is located in the nasal cavities. The Scissor Sisters came to dance and rock, not hide inside their hotel rooms dodging their managers. Basically, cokeheads are stealing the anthem from stoners with this cover version.
19. "Who's the Nigga?", rX
I am pretty sure this song isn't racist. However, look at the title. This song might be a profound political statement, but it might simply be a cheap attempt to make it sound like President Bush said, "Nigga" through editing.
20. "Hold yor Terror Close"/"Everyone's a V.I.P. to Someone", Go! Team
Both of these songs are departures from the Go! Team's usual blend of rapping, skateboarding cheers, adventure guitars, cartwheels, and high kicks.
21. "Hoe Cakes", MF Doom
Doom charted on the top songs list already, as Viktor Vaughn. This song is "super", and contains the lyric, "One pack of cookies, please, Mr. Hooper." All the rhymes that Doom finds for "super" are what makes this song great for me: Super/trooper/Mr. Hooper/dupe her/D.B. Cooper/chalupa/King Koopa. Also, there's good beatboxing throughout.
22. "Crooked Teeth", Death Cab for Cutie
In my opinion, a lot of Death Cab's lyrics are really asinine. Not quite as asinine as the Postal Service gets (that cringe-inducing line about who shot JFK from "Sleeping In"). This song takes me back to the good old days of the Forbidden Love EP. In this clip, watch how the bass player sings along:
23. "Who Could Win a Rabbit", Animal Collective
A big guitar jamboree on acid.
24. "The Wacky World Of Rapid Transit", Del Tha Funkee Homosapien
There are not enough rap songs about AC Transit, but that's not Del's fault. A friend of mine recently declared Del "better than Tupac", even though Del has put out far fewer CDs recently. I love this song, but the interludes are even more entertaining than the verses:
"Yo bro, you got twenty-five cent on a transfer?"
"Can't help you."
"Yo man, I wasn't even ridin' the bus, but my Benz in the shop, you know, and my baby mama got my..."
"I don't have time to listen to your stories."
Del also wonders why kids always want to sit in the back, 35 years after the Montgomery bus boycott:
"Kids wanna ride the back
What kinda shit is that?"
Then a guy calls Del "Rosa Parks", for sitting up front.
25. "American Jesus", Dean Gray/Green Day/Bryan Adams
I specifically like the "Summer of the Damned" portion when they mix in "Summer of '69" with the "City of the Dead" part of "Jesus of Suburbia". When I first heard "Jesus of Suburbia", that riff sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. "City of the dead" = "Standin' on your mama's porch". Technically, the Bryan Adams authorship means this mashup might be more accurately dubbed, Canadian Jesus", but that implies a messiah who died for only 95% of our sins, because of the exchange rate.
Yeah, it's overplayed, but it's not Gnarls Barkley's fault. They didn't even release it as a single. This is the first year in a while that I have been driving regularly, and as such, the first year when I have a real perspective on what is and is not overplayed on the radio. It's not like I could watch music videos on television even if I wanted.
27. "Evil", Interpol
Rock songs can be a lot like comedy sketches, in that the premises are more interesting and thought-out than the endings. The "Applause" sign serves the same function as the fade-out. So when a rock group puts together a bang-up song with a tight, satisfying conclusion, like Interpol does with "Evil", it deserves praise. It's like the Asswipe Johnson sketch in that way, only with a better bass line and excellent piano work from the colorfully-named Sunnyland Slim.
(Note: In real life, Nicolas Cage, who plays Asswipe Johnson in the sketch, named his son Kal-El Cage Coppola, which might be a worse name than Asswipe Johnson.)
28. "Rump Shaker", Wreckx-N-Effect
This song features Teddy Riley, legendary hip-hop producer and the father of New Jack Swing. Riley eventually moved to Virginia Beach where he discovered Pharrell Williams and made the Neptunes his protégés, meaning he's influenced about two decades of hip-hip sound now. Riley also founded Blackstreet and co-wrote "Remember The Time" with Michael Jackson.
- Teddy Riley's verse in "Rump Shaker" was written by Pharrell.
- Wreckx-N-Effect used to be Wrecks-N-Effect until one of the group members was shot to death. The "x" in the group's name is a tribute to him.
- The deceased member of Wreckx-N-Effect enjoyed zoom-a zoom zoom zooming and boom-booming more than any of the others.
- There is nothing in this world sexier than a beautiful woman on the beach in a bikini playing the saxophone.
Timely as ever, here is my personal list of Top Songs for 2006. This does not reflect material that was produced or released in 2006, but rather the music I listened to and enjoyed most during the past calendar year. I spread it around, so that I didn't end up with multiple Wolf Parade or Ghostface songs, no matter how severely I overplayed those albums. Yes, I am aware that it's August.
If you'd told me in 2005 that my favorite songs in 2006 would be about the preparation, distribution, and use of cocaine, I'd have been surprised. However, it's 2006, and my top two is pure coke. At no point did I consciously decide I needed to know more slang terms for crack, but when I got The Clipse mix tape, those terms fell into my lap. As Pato Banton would tell you, I do not sniff the coke, but you know, here we are.
1. "Re-Up Intro", The Clipse
R-E-U-P-G-A-N-G. Some choice quotes:
"Sittin' on blades like Kristi Yamaguchi"
"Tickle us pink like white girl clitoris"
"I'm high like giraffe ass"
"We ain't holla back, nigga, we holla black"
"Suicide bomb ya like Mohammed Atta"
This song is not at all respectable. It has a dark, dirty beat, and in thoery, one could dance to it. It didn't come out in 2006, but it's #1 on my list for the past year. To my knowledge, it's the first song to ever analogize cocaine sales and high-level women's figure skating.
Here's some suggested follow-up lyrics for the Clipse:
"Slash your bitches like Zorro
I'm the godfather, it's routine like Philippe Candeloro"
They can use that one, no charge.
2. "Kilo", Ghostface Killah
Every kid in America had to learn the metric system in elementary school. Little did we know it would help us understand complex narcotics transactions. Here, Ghostface Killah uses what is presumably a "Go Metric!" sample to explicate the travails of crack production. All around the world today, the kilo is the measure. Take that, Jimmy Carter! My favorite part is the "Plane or a penthouse/Office or a warehouse" part.
3. "Let Me Watch", Viktor Vaughn
Of the first three songs on my list, two are performed by rappers who have historically performed on stage wearing masks. You can hear Ghostface and Viktor Vaughn/MF Doom commiserate on mask-wearing and its implications on, appropriately enough, the Doom-Danger Mouse-Adult Swim collaboration, The Mouse and the Mask. Both Doom and Ghostface Killah adopt the personas of Marvel Comics characters: Ghostface raps as Tony Stark AKA Iron Man whereas MF Doom alternately calls himself Dr. Doom or Doom's alter ago, Victor von Doom (Viktor Vaughn in the MF-verse)
"He talked, I listened/ He listened, I spoke/ We walked arm in arm and split a Cherry Coke/ Spit religion and politics, Sega and chess"
The story is simple. Vaughn tries to bed an underage girl, but, you know, he fucks it up. Hey fellas, don't call her a "ho". In the same way that "There's Something About Mary" stands apart from other modern comedies with its ingenious ending, "Let Me Watch" also stands apart due to its conclusion, as the oblivious Viktor Vaughn tells his spurner to, "Just holla, ring the buzzer".
4. "Ambulance", TV on the Radio
Look, I hate a capella music as much as, if not more than the next guy. Probably a lot more than the next guy. However, TV on the Radio has an advantage over most a capella groups:
1. No clever name like Vocal Point or Aural Fixation
2. No Beach Boys songs
3. General use of instrumentation on their songs, particularly drums and kickass electric guitars.
Neal Pollack is responsible for my initial exposure to this song. I gotta say, Hippy Johnny has to be a little worried that someone is going to take his place. However, since this song was recorded in 1975(?), Hippy Johnny is probably dead from his constant drug abuse. Here, Jonathan Richman adopts a technique I used in many fake letters to the Pleasant Hill-Martinez Record. Nothing is more demeaning to one's adversary than to address him by name repeatedly and unnecessarily.
"Why always stoned? Like, Hippy Johhny?"
"I'm certainly not stoned...like Hippy Johnny is."
Someday, I would like to preface a request for a date with, "Here's your chance to make me feel awkward..."
6. "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", The Kinks
I heard this at the end of a Sopranos episode when Tony is driving . My dad definitely endorses this choice more than the previous five.
7. "Everybody's Changing", Lily Allen
The original is by the band Keane, Irish alternative band, and Google-rank threat to me, Sean Keane. I much prefer the stripped down, Casio-and-guitar version from internet superstar Lily Allen. Maybe I just hate the Travis/Keane-style ultra-high British male vocals, but for my money, Lily Allen's version is a lot more emotional. It's quicker, it's shorter, and there's no fake orchestra in the background. Less is more, bitches! Lily Allen especially nails the "You're gone from here/soon you will disappear" part. She seems more genuinely worried about everybody changing than the dude from Keane does.
8. "Won't Get Too Far", Wrens
This song is really goddamn sad, especially for someone who is questioning the choices that led to their unsatisfying, vaguely-embarrassing job that they've worked at for far too long. Hypothetically, I mean.
"It's not the biggest bridge, but it's still something he did"
[This is part of my personal New Jersey revival, including my support for the Rutgers football team and their improbable BCS run, re-watching Season 5 of The Sopranos, thinking funny mean thoughts about Garden State, and remembering the good times of my relationship with a five-fingered girl from South Jersey. Thanks to a recent birthday gift, I now own two different t-shirts with an outline of New Jersey on the front: one is a Wrens shirt, and the other reads, "Jersey Girls Ain't Trash (Trash gets picked up.)".]
9. "Decatur", Sufjan Stevens
While this is not the most timely inclusion, "Decatur" is probably still eligible for a Grammy award for another 18 months or so. It's a great song, with amazing and ambitious rhymes, though none better than "Stephen A. Douglas was a great debater/ But Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator". I don't know if it's the brazen use of middle initial, or the historical accuracy, but I wanted to high-five Winamp when I first heard this one. No you di'n't, Sufjan! This song is also notable for its lack of a snare drum played with two didgeridoos.
10. "This Heart's on Fire", Wolf Parade
I think Bruce Springsteen could have had quite a hit with this song. I thought it was about a crazy, passionate love affair at first, but I read somewhere that it's actually about a the lead singer's dying mother.
11. "No One Else" (live), Weezer
Unplugging makes this song completely different. Nowhere does this show through than at "Tell her it's over now". In the original version, Rivers shouts "Now!" as an emphatic kiss-off. In the acoustic version, it's sweet, vulnerable, and it sounds like a pre-emptive dumping. I am biased, because I too secretly want a girl who will only laugh at my jokes, or at worst, laugh at my jokes discernibly harder than she laughs at the jokes of others. However, I have no problem with my hypothetical girlfriend wearing makeup when I am away. The campfire nature of the chorus is also amazing. Honestly, I have trouble enjoying the electric version now. This song makes me wish that karaoke bars:
a) offered acoustic versions of indie rock hits
b) offered any versions of indie rock hits
c) let me sing "Can't Fight This Feeling" already, when I've been waiting and drinking Bud Lights for like 90 minutes now.
12. "Eve of Destruction", The Turtles
I'm not actually such a big fan of this song. But after I heard it the first time, I couldn't help making up fake lyrics based on the premise the we were "on the eve of construction". Any time I see a barricade, grader, or plastic cone, I mentally write another verse. Sometimes I put on this song and quietly sing my own faux-Turtles lyrics along with it. "And even 17th Street has got bulldozer lying in it/And you tell me over and over and over again my friend/ That you don't believe we're on the eve of construction".
13. "Get By", Talib Kweli
There's a certain kind of hip-hop music that white hipsters universally embrace. Some call it "conscious rap", some call it "not commercially viable". Liking Talib Kweli makes me feel like a cliche, especially since I can also appreciate A Tribe Called Quest, Common, Jurassic Five, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Mos Def, and any rap song where group members all shout the rhyming words in unison.
My favorite story about "conscious rap" came when my old roommate was trying to explain the classification to a Ward Street guest. He put on a Mos Def CD and explained that "conscious rap" was more serious, dealt with political issues, and discussed women in a more respectful manner. the guest listened attentively, then asked my roommate what song was currently playing. He blushed and said, "Um...'Ms. Fat Booty'".
14. "Paper Bag", Fiona Apple
This song could be on my Top Songs list every single year, because I never, ever get sick of listening to it. If any song could be said to be my all-time favorite, it's gotta be this one, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" or "In A Big Country".
By the end of "Paper Bag", it sounds like there's about fifteen different instruments going, and everything sounds perfect, which is a testament to both Ms. Apple and producer Jon Brion. As wonderful as it is, I don't think this song was terribly popular when it was released, with the lesson being: Pick an album title with fewer then 90 words.
Even the video is great. It was directed by P.T. Anderson, shot in a huge old train station, and has dancing children dressed like gangsters doing choreographed routines with Fiona.
Here's a clip of Fiona doing "Paper Bag" live, accompanied by Jon Brion on guitar:
I saw Sonic Youth this week at Berkeley Community Theater. It's weird to attend shows that take place on a high school campus. Previously, the most exciting rock act I saw in a high school auditorium was when two guys who supposedly used to play with Carlos Santana drummed at our school's Multicultural Assembly. The assembly also included Filipino kids jumping over sticks, Irish dancing, and probably a lot of stuff that reflected Pleasant Hill's widespread cultural diversity.
The band played the classic "Daydream Nation" album in its entirety, as part of the Don't Look Back series. That meant they played my favorite song first, Teen Age Riot", but the rest of the show was not a letdown. I wrote some notes about Sonic Youth the Hedgehog, and "Daydream Nation" being an elaborate allegory for Dr. Robotnik's rise to power, but I will spare my readers that tedium.
When he found out I was attending the show, my friend asked, "Aren't they like 40 now?" Try 50, buddy. At this stage in their career, the band is more aptly known as Sonic Middle Aged. But they rocked pretty hard, considering Kim Gordon is the same age as my mom. I think I was unfair to her singing in my Pearl Jam review, because I quite enjoyed it this time. The lesson is, I don't especially like new Sonic Youth songs, but that isn't Kim Gordon's fault. I like Nico, so can I truly say it bothers me when a female vocalist can't exactly sing?
There were two enthused fans that were constantly shooed out of the aisle by our ushers, for not having tickets and for spastic dancing. We called them, Frog Man and the Wizard. Frog Man spent his time leaping in the air from a crouch and bumping into people, while The Wizard opted for a dance that was part epileptic seizure, part cardio kickboxing. The Wizard had long white hair and a long white beard, kind of like if Dumbledore had spent the 60's taking acid and reading Rolling Stone instead of learning spellcraft. At one magical moment, The Wizard grabbed Frog Man's shoulders and began dance-leaping behind him. If they were Transformers, this would have been the moment they combined to form Spazatron.
After they finished "Daydream Nation", Sonic Youth did two encores, playing new songs. Thurston Moore facetiously claimed they were going to do "Sticky Fingers" in its entirety instead, which would have been awesome, but everyone would have missed BART. They also brought out Pavement's bass player to help out, freeing Kim to do more dancing.
My companion, Emalie, wanted to hear "Sugar Kane", and I wanted to hear their cover of "Superstar", but the show ended with them again savaging reality television with "What a Waste". We weren't disappointed, but we heard a peeved indie snob complaining on the way out, "If they really wanted to go into the back catalog, they could have at least done "Youth Against Fascism". Then he snorted, zipped up his hoodie, and stomped away into the Berkeley night.
Since SY didn't play them at the show, here's "Sugar Kane" and "Superstar":
- I bet this guy feels symbolic every day.
- When he looks at the television, he's never, ever going to see himself staring right back at him.
- We all want to get big tattoos, yeah but, we got different reasons for that.
- Maybe it's not as big as this one, but someone, somewhere has a tattoo of Chris Barron, lead singer of Spin Doctors.
I have a soft spot for bands that play a lot of instruments. I knew that the Man Man show was going to be entertaining when during the second song, the guitarist put down the sticks with which he was also playing xylophone, and picked up a trumpet. My first clue that the show would be special was when I saw one band member painstakingly positioning a stuffed jackalope next to the drum set. These were professionals.
All five band members drummed at different times in the set, sometimes all at once. The bass player also played a harmonium and a recorder. The lead singer mostly played keyboards, though he had drumsticks. He also provided the most dramatic moment of the concert when he stood on a bench and dramatically played an improvised percussion instrument: a handful of spoons that he threw as hard as he could into a small metal bowl. The bowl wasn't miked, so the effect was essentially inaudible, but it was quite exciting to watch. Other instruments played by the band included a metal pot, a harmonium, a toy keyboard, a French horn, two different saxophones, a glockenspiel, plastic noisemakers, and this thing that was probably some kind of horn, but honestly looked like a glass bong.
Man Man's stage arrangement helped keep the energy up. They crowded all of their instruments as close to one another as possible, and the whole arrangment was pushed up to the edge of the stage, right next to the audience. The band members didn't speak at all between songs, and seemed to communciate with each other via head nods and pointed glances. There was highly coordinated jumping, dancing, and seamless position changes.
The average break between songs was 3/4 of a second. Every band member wore head-to-toe white, though each brought their own flair to the look. The lead singer wore cut off white jeans and a polo shirt. One guy had a tank top and white jeans. 60% of the band wore headbands. The guitarist had a two-month-long beard and a headband with the rising sun on it. 80% of the band has ridiculous facial hair.
The downside of Man Man was that while the performance was memorable, the songs really weren't. It's now about two hours since they left the stage, and I can hardly remember what the songs sounded like. I remember that some of the lyrics sounded like gibberish, and the frantic drumming, and that the band began one song by meowing in unison, but little else about the melodies. However, that might be because I didn't know their music going in. I'm certainly going to check out their collection now, but I don't know if it will compare to the madcap, near-psychotic energy of the live show.
A quick word on the crowd. Four middle-aged African-American women attended the show in full-on Geisha gear - kimonos, black wigs, face paint, and chopsticks in their hair. They pushed up to the front and seemed to know all the songs - jumping at the same time as the band members, singing along, and generally rocking the fuck out. I have no idea why they were dressed this way for Man Man, but online research indicates that this was the Urban Geisha Revenge. There were also two audience members waving peacock feathers. Again, no idea, but it didn't seem out of place.
The opening band really sucked. Even their name sucks: The Pink Mountaintops. They had seven members, but only played about 30% of the instruments that Man Man did with their five guys. Appropriately, they displayed roughly 3% of the energy of Man Man. One girl stood at the side, swayed, sang inaudible backup vocals, and played hand-held percussion instruments in the exact same rhythmn for every song. Maybe this is sexist, but we both assumed she was someone's girlfriend. The other girl had different hand-held percussion instruments, and added inaudible "lead" vocals on one song. They had a second drummer who faced away from the audience the whole time, but banged his head like Animal. Drummer #2 might well have been homeless. During zero songs was the extra drummer even remotely justified. There was a ghastly smoke machine that coughed up huge clouds of smoke at unpredictable intervals. The rhythmn guitarist looked like a roadie who no one had bothered to kick off stage. I was pretty sure they were all really stoned, but I can't discount the possibility that they realized how bad they suck, and the self-awareness was crippling.
In a way, the Pink Mountaintops were a wonderful band, because making fun of them with my friend JD gave me a lot more joy than their aggressively mediocre music gave me pain. The lead singer sang with vocal inflections that evoked a heroin-addicted Conor Oberst attempting a Cockney accent. JD asked where I thought he was from, and I replied, "Indie-ana." JD didn't have a specific guess, but he theorized that the band came from "somewhere incredibly depressing". When they finished their last song, no one realized they were done for a couple of seconds. Then the crowd replied with applause that was, if possible, even more half-assed than the Pink Mountaintops' playing.
I thought I might give a damn, and their first song, "Incinerate", was pretty good. But then Kim Gordon sang. She is a bad, bad singer. Kim introduced another song by saying, "This song was inspired by reality TV shows. It's called, 'What a Waste'." Their willingness to take a stand against reality television convinced me that Sonic Youth was still relevant.
I didn't hate Sonic Youth, except when Kim was singing, but I simply didn't care. I like some of their older material, but the band was doing songs from a brand-new CD. I was temporarily interested in the child taking pictures from the wings of the stage (Thurston and Kim's kid? A hipster child with a terminal disease who got hooked up by Make-a-Wish?), but then that bored me, too. They got their biggest ovation when frontman Thurston Moore threw up a peace sign on his way off stage.
I also didn't give a damn about the peace sign.
Do I always hate certain crowd members at rock shows, or am I just a misanthrope? A little of both, I believe. There were two fans who stood out at this show. The first one was a heavyset balding fellow who stood in front of me. I think he was trying to save a place for friends arriving later, but the effect of his efforts was to place him uncomfortably close. And when he began dancing to Sonic Youth, there was far too much ass-to-crotch contact happening. He might have been unaware; he might have been a passive-aggressive sex offender. After holding him off with a forearm to the back through Sonic Youth's entire set, I eventually managed to move away.
Moving away brought me into the path of notable fan #2, a slimmer balding man. This guy was really happy to be there. I know this because he announced it to the crowd every five minutes. Slim Baldy appeared to have come alone, so he tried to make conversation with everyone around him. Everyone was avoiding eye contact well before Pearl Jam took the stage. Here are some things Slim Baldy did during the show:
2. Begged a nearby behemoth for a hit off his joint, repeating, "I'll pay you. I need this." Later, he leaned over to awkwardly thank the behemoth. All I could make out of their one-sided conversation was Slim Baldy saying, "I don't want to be that asshole, you know?"
3. Was that asshole. You know?
4. Tried to lead the crowd in clapping during every other song. Sometimes, he was the only person in the arena clapping. It wasn't enough to simply clap and hope that everyone followed his lead. He had to campaign for the clap, sometimes on a personal basis. It was the rock concert equivalent of door-to-door fighting. His refrain was, "Let's get the clap going! Come on! Get the clap going!" I hope he gets the clap.
5. Dropped a lit cigarette on his own foot.
6. Shouted the lyrics to "Better Man", one second ahead of the crowd and Eddie Vedder.
7. Requested "Rats".
8. Told us it was the best night of his entire life.
9. Took four cell phone calls.
10. Elbowed a teenage girl in the back of the head.
Pearl Jam covered Neil Young's "Fuckin' Up" in their second encore, and dedicated it to George W. Bush and his cabinet. Eddie Vedder also fucked up "Sometimes", the very first song of the night, so badly that they stopped after one verse and moved on to the next song. Since it was the first song, he couldn't even use the two bottles of wine he chugged during the show as an excuse. He also fucked up "Rearview Mirror" and "Whipping", but no one seemed to mind.
Mike McCready Is A Swell Guy
I was in front of Mike McCready for the show, which was a real treat. He raced around, made faces, talked to fans, pointed at other fans, and threw approximately two hundred guitar picks into the crowd. If you made eye contact with McCready, he tossed you a pick. If you missed the pick, he threw you another one. Twice, he tossed heaping handfuls of guitar picks into the crowd, willy-nilly. His haircut and glasses were equal parts ridiculous and magnificent.
McCready played many killer solos, some on songs that usually don't even have solos. "Even Flow" and "Corduroy" stood out for me, but he was on fire the whole night. There were a few occasions where McCready called bassist Jeff Ament over to his side of the stage, but not for any musical reasons - he just thought of something funny, and wanted to tell Ament, even if they were in the middle of a song. The last time that happened, Ament was laughing so hard that he careened into an amplifier.
Jeff Ament's Unorthodox Mic Stand
Jeff Ament provides backing vocals on many songs. His microphone is set up about six feet off the ground, and points straight down, meaning that Ament stands under the microphone and throws his head way back when he has to sing. When Eddie Vedder had to use that microphone later in the show, he made a "What the fuck?" face. Because that is indeed a freakish arrangement. And because Eddie Vedder is at least six inches shorter than Jeff Ament, and thus could not reach the microphone.
Song Distribution By Album
B-Sides and EPs
Is Eddie Drunk?
During the extended middle section of "Rearviewmirror", Eddie stood with the guitar over the back of his head, staggering slightly. "Man is he drunk," I thought. But then they put a spotlight on Eddie, and he used the guitar to angle the light back into the crowd, moving it along the balcony and into the general admission crowd on the floor. It was a cool effect, and I felt bad for doubting Eddie's sobriety. Slim Baldy informed us that Eddie was "doing The Wave", because Slim Baldy doesn't know what The Wave is.
Eddie sang "Last Kiss" from amidst the crowd, thanks to a V-shaped wedge in the middle of the crowd. He might have had some security guys with him as well; I was only tall enough to see the top of his head as he sang.
1. We were a great crowd.
2. San Francisco has been very kind to Pearl Jam
3. The band regrets how much energy their tour uses, and how much carbon it produces. They are making unspecified environmental efforts in an attempt to counter the damage done, including an interview that pre-empted sound check, and may have led to the "Sometimes" fuck-up.
4. Eddie was drinking only Northern California wine, "as you do".
5. Jeff Ament listened to a lot of punk rock growing up, and is the reason the band brought out The Avengers to do a song.
6. Seriously, the crowd was great.
A punk rock duo called The Avengers came out to sing "American In Me" with the band. Sample lyric: " It's the American in me that makes me watch the blood running out of the bullethole in his head." If they were the real Avengers, the Comics Code would have prevented the depiction of a bloody bullethole, the guitarist would have wielded the hammer Mjolnir, and the woman singing would have been able to grow or shrink in size using Pym particles.
How did my own L.A. experience stack up with the adventures of Nate and Warren? We might have hooked a left on 2-1 and Lewis at some point, when trying to drive to a garlic-heavy Cuban restaurant. I can't find the intersection on Google Maps, either in Los Angeles or Long Beach. I didn't see anyone shooting dice, or getting regulated, or even wearing a Rolex.
3. Thievery Corporation, "Transmission Central"
Informed sources tell me that this group is not very popular in Germany. "Good music" apparently refers to the Billboard Top 100 songs of the 1980's. Sierra Nevada beer is also unpopular, while Miller Genuine Draft is a designer import. (Note: Upon consulting my notes, I realize that it was not Thievery Corporation, but rather Groove Armada that was disliked in Deutschland.)
Uruguayan officials living in Germany think American beer is disgusting, however.
4. Prince, "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?"
This one is sung in the latter-period Prince trademark ultra-falsetto. Is Prince the anti-Stephen Merritt? When did Prince first begin singing in the ultra-falsetto? In an earlier stage in his career, would Prince have simply given this to Apollonia, or Sheila E. to sing?
5. Unicorns, "Jellybones"
"Jellybones" defies the odds in the Unicorns catalog, as this is not a song about dying, or fear of death, or ghosts. However, the singer does eventually check himself into the emergency room. Why? Because he has jellybones.
6. Ratatat, "Pico"
This could be theme music for an 8-bit original NES game. It makes me think of the World Cup soccer theme music, crossed with the crazy electric guitar from Virtua Tennis. This song ends with this sample:
"Oh, OK, baby, you gave me the business on that one. You dig what I'm saying. OK, that's real nice, though. You be spending how we get it. I got you, though, baby. I got you."
7. Willie Nelson, "Walking"
I have two copies of this album "Phases and Stages" on my hard drive. I don't know why. This means "Walking" was statistically, almost twice as likely to come up as a Johnny Cash song of equivalent value.
8. Guided by Voices, "Echos Myron"
Is "echoes" misspelled, or is there an additional meaning here? I feel like the lead singer of GBV must write so many songs. He doesn't bother to flesh them out to regular song length, of 3-4 minutes. 2:13 is enough. 2:13 is kind of long for a GBV song. No need to repeat the chorus.
Danger Mouse seemingly shares the same attitude, if St. Elsewhere is any indication.
9. Gorillaz, "Dracula"
It's from the first album, so Danger Mouse is not involved here. As such, this song is 4:41. This is at least the third song that clocked in at 4:41 so far. I'm getting a little creeped out. (Note: While "Pico" was indeed 4:41, "Transmission Central" actually clocked in at 4:14. This is one reason why numerology is suspect.)
10. Depeche Mode, "World in my Eyes"
If I approached a girl and told her, "Let my body do the moving, and let my hands do the soothing", would I get hit? How hard? Punch in the face or knee to the groin?
"All the islands in the ocean, all the heavens in the motion" = Not a strong lyric.
While I'm doing liveblogging, I sometimes lack inspiration. I find myself typing out lyrics to spark an idea, to make fun of a rhyme, just to keep the typing going. Which is why long, over-produced songs are both a chore and a relief. When David Gahan repeats, "Let me show you the world in my eyes" over and over, it gets tedious, but also allows me a lot of time to write without really arriving at a point.
Violator was one of the first tapes I ever had. "World in my Eyes" might be the worst song on that album, if I might praise with faint damnation.
11. Pavement, "Stare"
This is from a special edition of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. If it were me, I'd have called the album, Crooked Rain. The main thing I took away from this special edition is the alternate version of "Range Life", where Stephen Malkmus sounds like he hasn't quite figured out the lyrics. There is no verse making fun of Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, as in the original. (Malkmus, on Smashing Pumpkins - I don't understand what they mean/And I could really give a fuck.) Instead, there's a quick rhyme about how drug use is unfulfilling.
12. Woody Allen, "Vegas"
For the record, this is not a remake of an Evelyn Waugh novel.
13. Magnetic Fields, "A Pretty Girl Is Like"
a. A pretty girl is like a minstrel show. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, you go.
b. A pretty girl is like a violent crime. If you do it wrong, you could do time.
c. A melody is like a pretty girl. Who cares if it's the dumbest in the world?
Ultimately, a pretty girl is like...a pretty girl. This is an identity, or maybe a syllogism.
14. Built to Spill, "Don't Try"
I like this song. At one time, Built to Spill featured a Brett Nelson and a Brett Netson.
15. Beach Boys, "Surfin' Safari"
I heard that Brian Wilson wrote this song after hearing the Beatles do "Please Mr. Postman". After that, it was all about raising the bar on one another.
16. Daniel Johnston, "Strange Boy"
Someone talks for about three minutes about how they met Daniel Johnston, and then Daniel plays a song on piano.
(on trying to give Daniel a job) "Later, I found out the reason he wanted that job is so he could eat lots of pizza."
(on his sense of humor) "He had a special ability to make me laugh, which is not that common."
(on the song we're about to hear) "It was up-tempo, and I liked that. It had a good little story, and I could relate to what that song is about. Maybe that's why I like it. Everybody wants to fall in love."
(from the song) "I am a strange boy. I come from West Virginia. I've seen a lot of heart in the avant-garde. I am in love with you."
17. Cam'ron, "Welcome to Purple Haze"
This is a skit about crack addicts and the Diplomats. Why do so many hip-hop skits suck so bad? And if so, why do rappers keep filling their albums with them? An interminable 1:15 was "Welcome to Purple Haze".
18. Matmos, "Y.T.T.E."
At least twice during this nine-minute song, I thought I was being alerted that I had a text message. With about forty seconds remaining, the song began to sound very country. I found it hard to concentrate on this wordless, melody-free song.
19. Missy Elliott, "Bonus 2"
I like that Meli was a Miss Elliott before she got married. Once, there may have been a time she roamed around, bemoaning the existence of one-minute men, getting her freak on, and hanging out with Timbaland.
20. Ben Kweller, "In Other Words"
"Butterflies are passive-aggressive and put their problems on the shelf. but they're beautiful." This lyric makes me think Ben would get along well with Adam Duritz.
21. Marvin Gaye, "Save the Children"
22. Dios, "50 Cents"
"Put me in your wallet like a two-dollar bill". My friend Boback once had a two dollar bill that he carried around for a week. There was a situation where he ended up having to pay cash, and the two was the only bill on him. Since he didn't want to lose the precious bill, Boback was in a conundrum. Zack offered to give Boback two singles in exchange for the two, and Boback was relieved. The two would be safe.
Then Zack handed the two dollar bill to the cashier to pay for himself, and Boback looked like he was about to cry.
23. Bill Cosby, "T.V. Football"
A brief routine about how you're not allowed to touch certain body parts on a televised game. Conclusion: Cosby gets hit in the nards, but grabs his head instead of his nards.
When I was very young, my sister and I were obsessed with MTV. Besides our parents' Michael Jackson and Huey Lewis records, this was our main source for rock n' roll. Every week, Megan and I would painstakingly type out the week's Top 20 Videos, as determined by MTV, on my father's computer. It usually took us the whole week to get all twenty listed, since Megan and I were five and four, respectively, but we'd post-date the list so it appeared to have been finished on time. This lasted for maybe three months.
As a result, I have a nostalgic affection for the music of the 80's, just like everyone else in the entire world. However, my general affection for Soft Cell and Big Country is dwarfed by my profound affection for videos I saw on MTV in that intense, formative period of my life. I might know most of the words to "Tanted Love", but I know precisely when John Waite slams down the pay phone in the video for "Missing You".
Which brings us to "Maneater". "Maneater" was not a new song at the time we were doing our obsessive nerd lists. However, two years after its release, the video was still in heavy rotation. The song was popular, there's a panther wandering around in the video, and maybe MTV didn't have many videos yet.
I loved "Maneater". I had a real weakness for songs with heavy saxophone parts back then, which explains my fervent love for mid-80's Glenn Frey. (The heavy saxophone also explains why the song has only one verse, but is still four-and-a-half minutes long.) I walked around the house a lot, singing "Maneater". And I did so not realizing I was singing the wrong lyrics.
At the chorus, when Hall sings, "Watch out boys, she'll chew you up", I thought he said, "Watch out boys, she'll cheer you up." A subtle but important difference. Because of my speech impediment, no one corrected me. When you can't say the letter "r" correctly, "cheer" and "chew" sound exactly the same. And thus I was probably 14 when I finally realized, "Wait, he's saying 'chew'! Of course! That panther could have eaten them all!"
I also thought Hall was singing, "Bottom to bottom" when he sang, "Mind over matter", but I can't blame that on my enunciation troubles.
I put Winamp on Shuffle on Thursday night. Here is a running diary of this momentous event.
(* indicates I had never heard the song before tonight)
1. Modest Mouse, "Satin in a Coffin"
Enjoyed. Was distracted with idea to do liveblog of Winamp shuffle. Now I am going back and filling in my thoughts from when this was playing before. I'm actually all the way down at the Clash song right now. Anyway, the idea was to blog, in real time, my Winamp shuffle. And, like my real blog, my liveblog now has deceptive, dishonest post-dating.
2. Beatles, "Octopus's Garden"
Skipped after one verse.
3. *Jacques Brel, "L'Aventure"
This sounds like a number from a musical. I do not know what this song is about. Presumably, un aventure. There is a great flute part as well.
4. Guided By Voices, "Ex-Supermodel"
Why is there a constant heavy snoring sound? Am I imagining the snoring? I thought maybe some website was opening a video pop-up ad or perhaps my computer had caught the deadly Pink Slip Virus. This song is only 1:06 long.
5. Modern Lovers, "Pablo Picasso"
Some people try to pick up girls and get called asshole. That never happened to Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole. Not like you.
"Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley is the best song of the year so far. Gnarls Barkley is Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse. Individually, I'd been listening to them a lot recently. Cee-Lo used to be in the Goodie Mob, and he has a solo album I like called Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine. Some songs even feature a vocoder-free Timbaland!
Danger Mouse did The Grey Album, where he mashed up Jay-Z and the beatles. He also recently released an album called The Mouse and the Mask, a collaboration with rapper MF Doom and Adult Swim. Cee-Lo also appears on that album.
The song is quite popular in England, but I've only recently noticed it completely crossing over to America. Here's what made me believe this song is achieving full saturation.
I was at 7-11 earlier this evening. The Latino clerk was listening to "Crazy". As I handed him my money, I acknowledged the music. "Good song."
"I know!" he exclaimed. Then the stoned Asian guy behind me concurred. "Great song." The panhandler at the door was quietly humming the chorus when I walked past. This song is unstoppable. Get on board now.
I have been listening to songs that aren't Christian rock. Two of them are covers.
1. "We Will Become Silhouettes", by the Postal Service, covered by the Shins:
The Shins did this song for the single of "Such Great Heights", released by the Postal Service. The single contains the Postal Service version of "Such Great Heights", a non-album PS track, Iron and Wine's cover of "Such Great Heights", and the Shins cover.
This is a great concept for a single, and one I wish more bands embraced. Instead of four alternate versions of the lead song, include a cover version by a totally different band. Or, add another cover of a different song, at a time when most people haven't even heard your original version.
Anyway, the Shins do a stripped-down countrified version of "We Will Become Silhouettes", replacing the electronic sounds of the original with acoustic guitars. It ends up being two minutes shorter. Some of that time savings comes from not over-enunciating every word, but it's also a more vibrant rendition. The Shins' treatment seems a little more appropriate to a song about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.
You can hear this at how each vocalist delivers the lyric, "And I'm screaming at the top of my lungs/Pretending the echoes belong to someone I used to know". The Shins: Voices go higher, and stress the "screaming at the top of my lungs" part. Postal Service: Earnest enunciation, same as the rest of the song.
Ultimately, I like Postal Service songs better when someone besides Ben Gibbard is singing them, but especially if that someone is in the Shins.
Incidentally, the two versions of "Such Great Heights" both later became TV commercials, so you know they're good.
2. "Know Your Onion", by the Shins, covered by Of Montreal:
This one is on an EP of covers put out by Of Montreal. I don't have as much to say about this one, because it's not nearly as different from the original version. Of Montreal adds more background parts, with a keyboard and assorted other effects dropping into the mix in places where the Shins leave it to one guitar and slight percussion.
One advantage to this cover is you can more easily understand and hence appreciate the lyrics. The Shins switch to a falsetto for the "What kind of life you dream of? You're allergic to love" part, while Of Montreal has a backup singer do it, singing in a not-so-high voice. In summary, if you like the original, or like Of Montreal, you will probably enjoy this cover quite a bit.
Now it is up to the Postal Service to complete this circle of covers by recording a song by Of Montreal. I can't begin to speculate on what they might choose (I would like to hear them do "Oslo in the Summertime"), but I predict that if it ever exists, the Postal Service cover will feature a drum machine, a synthesizer, and a lot of earnest over-enunciation.
I went to see The Go! Team last week at Great American Music Hall. I've been a big fan of this band since first hearing their album last fall, though I take issue with the punctuation of their name. A few months ago, I said this, as part of an endorsement of the song, "Huddle Formation":
The Go! Team is what you'd get if you recruited a band to jam on covers of 80's TV adventure show theme songs, and fronted the group with a British woman named "Ninja", who rapped, sang, and led cheers. When I saw a clip of a live performance of this song, I was blown away by how many people were on stage. Two drummers, a guitarist, a bassist, a melodica player, a dancing lead singer, and three teenagers in track suits shouting cheers and doing cartwheels. I highly recommend their entire album, but this track has the sweetest melodica part.
There were no teenagers in track suits, but there was plenty of energy, plenty of dancing, and plenty of melodica. The six band members didn't limit themselves to the aforementioned instruments, switching off often to harmonica, keyboard, glockenspiel, sleigh bells, tambourine, recorder, banjo, and various percussion instruments whose names I don't know. (Note: When you can't identify an instrument on stage, that is either an extremely positive or extremely negative sign for the subsequent musical experience.)
My concert buddy for the evening was Mo. (NorCal Mo, in case there's any confusion.) We both had heard good things about the opening band, Swedish folkrockpsych band, Dungen, though Mo warned that they "always seemed tired" when they played live. Dungen seemed relatively awake during this performance, but we weren't excited enough to sit where we could actually see them. Mo snuck forward to look over the balcony during a few of their extended jam sessions. Though I liked their songs (I recommend "Du E för Fin för Mig" - at least the first six minutes of it) - their Swedish hippie jam band sound seemed to make them an odd pairing for The Go! Team.
Mo and I moved to the floor once the Go! Team began setting up. It was a well-attended show, though not overhwelmingly crowded, and our spot was ideal - but for one glaring exception. Far be it for me to be the moral arbiter of appropriate concert behavior, but I believe there is a certain etiquette to dancing at a concert.
1. Hold ≤ 1 drink in your hands.
2. Do not try to sing along to a song you don't actually know while doing your spastic dancing.
3. Don't try to "freak" your special lady. Especially don't freak a woman who is not your special lady.
4. Face the stage.
5. That means, don't go sideways, facing the wall.
6. Seriously, dude, what are you doing?
One concertgoer was violating all of these rules at once. He also smelled bad. I held my position like Bonzi Wells, boxing out and throwing elbows as needed. Not-so-tiny dancer disappeared and/or passed out after about the fifth song, and we snuck further forward.
I don't have very complicated thoughts about the Go! Team's show. Their show was immensely entertaining. They danced, swtiched instruments, played around with samples, and convinced the audience to do stupid cheers during every third song. These cheers primarily involved chanting, "Go!", "Team!", "Do it!", and "Alright!"
Ninja, the lead singer, reminded me of a girl screwing around and doing funny dancing at a wedding, only you can tell she actually really knows how to dance. She busted out moves at will. Some of my friends would have been especially thrilled with her propensity toward high kicks.
The highlight came when the drummer, Chi, came out to sing her lone song, "Hold Yr Terror Close". Now, most of the band's songs are gloriously meaningless, with lyrics seemingly derived from hopscotch chants or rhymes about skateboarding. But "Hold Yr Terror Close" is a heartbreakingly vulnerable song, eschewing the band's normal 80's drama-Frank Cannon-personal-theme-song sound in favor of simple piano and vocals.
Another moving moment came during the countrified harmonica and banjo of "Everybody's a V.I.P. To Someone", after Ninja insisted that everyone in the crowd did indeed have someone for whom they were very important. It was also nice to have a brief respite from frantic dancing. I was initially self-conscious to dance in front of Mo, as it was the first show I'd attended with her. Only later did I remember she took these photos. There is no way I could have danced more embarrassingly than that, no matter how hard The Go! Team was rocking.
In summary: The Go! Team puts on a great show, British smorgasbord hip-hop and Swedish folk make an odd pairing, don't dance sideways like a jackass, there are indeed situations where playing the recorder can be awesome, strangers are easy to like, and yearning to be you is what hurts most.
This Easter, I attended a brunch (titled "Christ Is Reborn Muthafuckas") which featured a screening of the Jewison-Lloyd Webber classic Jesus Christ Superstar. As always, the film spoke deeply to me.
When Jesus and Pontius Pilate have their confrontation, it's not a passion play; it's a passion-aggression play:
"Not one of you cares if I come or go."
"To keep you happy, I guess I'll flog Jesus."
"One of you will betray me. One of you will deny me. And, you know, that's fine. Nothing I can do about it now. Just go to sleep guys. See if I care."
"Go ask Herod how Jesus gets punished. I wash my hands off this whole thing."
According to IMDB, the actor who played King Herod, Josh Mostel, went on to star in Billy Madison, as a wrestler-turned-elementary-school-principal. More interesting is the career path of Paul Thomas, who played Peter, looking very much like a lion. JCS may have been his final job in legitimate films, as his later credits include Furburgers, The Erotic Adventures of Candy, and Swedish Erotica, Parts 1-4, 8, 11-18, 22, 25, 28-29, and 40-43.
Maybe Mary Magdalene wasn't the one Judas should have been worried about. Of course, the end sequence (which Louise described as "the Power Exchange portion of the movie") where Jesus is flogged by muscular, half-naked men, while King Herod squirms ecstatically, might have influenced Peter's later career choices.
Jesus gets really upset when the temple is turned into a bazaar early in the film. We see people selling things ranging from guns and grenades to disturbingly-green vegetables, but Christ doesn't freak out and start overturning the tables until just after someone is seen buying...a cash register. This might have been a reference to ridding the temple of "money-changers", but I think He thought it was just too meta for Him to deal with.
I used to be fascinated by the idea of bazaars growing up, possibly at the same time I was voraciously reading the Bible (age 7 or 8). (In retrospect, the Bible's focus on begetting foreshadowed my later fondess for the Lord of the Rings series and its emphasis on elven genealogy.) There was a stretch of two weeks or so when I tried to work the word "bazaar" into casual conversation:
"Mom, I was sowta thinking we could go down to the bazaaw today."
"You know, the mawket with all the goods. And gwocewies."
"Do you mean Safeway?"
If I was in Jesus Christ Superstar, I would want to play one of the priests. I'm not particular. I know Caiaphas, the low-voiced priest, is the glamour priest role, but I would also be willing to play the lispy-voiced priest. Ideally, I'd do my makeup, half as Caiaphas, half as the effeminate priest, and simply turn to the appropriate profile for each verse. In my mind, that constitutes a more permanent solution to our problem.
Cassie has a Weezer CD, one which combines Pinkerton and the self-titled "Blue" album. (RIAA, please do not arrest Cassie.) The quirk of this CD is that the songs ended up on the CD in reverse order, from "Butterfly" to "My Name is Jonas".
What I like about Cassie's CD is the different story you get listening to the music combined, and in reverse. Rivers Cuomo drops out of Harvard, his left leg shortens, he falls out of love with a lesbian and gets really interested in sex again. The Peter Criss posters remain in the garage in this reverse combo record, but Rivers keeps his head in the sand, so the half-Japanese girl takes bacon back to the grocery store where she got it. And, best of all, Rivers urges listeners to hold a pair of knitting needles in their hands, slowly walk towards him, and knit together the unraveled threads of a sweater.
At its core, "Mr. Jones" is a song about ambition. At various places in the song, Adam Duritz proclaims his desire to be:
b) A lion
c) Bob Dylan
In comparison, the character of Mr. Jones has almost laughably modest ambitions. His only wish is to be "just a little bit more funky". One assumes that Mr. Jones wants to be a little more funky than he already is, rather than just a little more funky than Duritz, or else his ambitions are totally pathetic. Later, Duritz theorizes that you attain maximum funkiness when everybody loves you. So, we must conclude that either Mr. Jones has abandoned all hope of becoming a "big big star", or Mr. Jones is already extremely funky and the love for him is near-universal.
[Math note: There is a possibility that F(x), where x = funkiness, and y = belovedness, is an exponential, asymptotic function, in which case Mr. Jones has a slightly more logical attitude.]
Colors Are Meaningful, Symbols Are Symbolic
The key section of "Mr. Jones" is the second verse. It can be a challenging passage for the lyrical close reader. For one, Duritz's color symbology is difficult to follow. He announces plans to paint himself blue, red, black, and gray, but in the same breath admits that all of the colors are meaningful. Very very meaningful, in fact. What is that meaning? Duritz says he "felt so symbolic yesterday". Symbolic of what? Perhaps Mr. Jones is privy to this undisclosed system of allusions, colors, and symbols, or maybe it's something you pick up from stumbling through the barrio of North Berkeley.
There is a notable non sequitur here, about how, if Duritz knew Picasso, he would buy himself a gray guitar. I know Adam Duritz means that as a homage, but to me, bringing a gray guitar to go hang out with Picasso seems similar to wearing a band's t-shirt to their own show. It's just not cool to do that. Rejected lyrics for this section included:
"If I knew Matisse, I would buy myself a gray cigar."
"If I knew Ann Geddes, I would buy an aodrable gray animal costume for a baby."
"If I knew Jackson Pollack, I wouldn't have Mr. Jones pass me the bottle. I'd have him hide it so Pollack couldn't get to it."
Some of those lyrics are catchier than others.
Upon reflection, the second verse really reads as if it was written by a non-native English speaker. If I had to write a poem in Spanish, I might produce something similar. The subject matter is very familiar from introductory Spanish classes - Adam Duritz lists his colores favoritos. Even when Duritz wants to really emphasize an adjective, he does what I would do, and merely adds an extra "muy" - the colors are "very, very meaningful". If there was a line about what Duritz ate for lunch, this verse could pretty much have been one of my essays for Ms. Costa's class in 9th grade.
Who Is She Looking At?
She's looking at you? No, no, she's looking at me?
Guys, she's not looking at either of you.
You're Very Well Read. It's Well Known.
Bob Dylan has his own Mr. Jones; he is the addressee in "Ballad of a Thin Man". We know Adam Duritz wants to be Bob Dylan almost as much as he wants to be a lion, which might account for the song's title.
Based solely on "Ballad of a Thin Man", what would Dylan have to say about this song? Would he find poetry in Duritz's struggle to believe, in order to be someone who believes, or would that idea still make no sense? Would Dylan appreciate the color symbology? Or would he realize that, amidst all the lines about "passing as cats" and flamenco dancing, there really is a compelling narrative about self-delusion and rock n' roll dreams, but Duritz sort of misses the thread. Something is happening, but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Duritz?
There's new music from former-roommate and current-expatriate The John Francis. Though he's out of the country, the internet knows no borders, and there are no trade restrictions on musical gold. New downloadloadables are on the front page, along with recommendations for live music, burritos, and sunsets. I like Ballad of the extra-Marital Private Investigator, and not just because it was recorded in my old house. As I post this recommendation, I'm listening to it for the third time in a row, back-to-back-to-back like a Lakers dynasty. The guitarwork is excellent, The John Francis is in fine voice, and I was only mildly disappointed to realize I'd misheard "fallacious" as "fellatious", because "fellatious" is not a word.
To truly appreciate this work, you should picture TJF singing from a church pew, bearded and wearing a knit cap, with an unattended mug of milk boiling over as it sits directly above a gas burner in the kitchen.
In The Non-Francis area of local music news, math-metal-dub rockers and one-time Sean Keane stage-sharers We be the Echo are at the Hemlock Tavern this Saturday, at 9:30 in the PM. The show is only $6, and that includes all the peanuts you can eat. Hell, hide some peanuts in your bag, take them home, and then place them all around your apartment, within an arm's length of anywhere you might want to snack while listening to your free TJF downloads. I feel like if he weren't busy in England eating shepherd's pie and kabobs, that's how The John Francis himself would do things.
Note: Many of these thoughts about songs of my youth have been prompted by my newfound passion for karaoke. Karaoke forces one to confront the lyrics to these songs, lyrics that have mostly resided in one's subconscious for years. Sometimes one realizes that one has been mis-hearing and mis-singing certain lines for years. Sometimes one realizes one has never realized the insipidness of certain lines. Of course, most of the time, one simply rocks the fuck out.
Back in my journalist days with the Valley View Middle School newspaper, The Prowler, we had an advice column named after the Arrested Development song "Mr. Wendal". (In case you doubt my hip-hop credentials here, one of our issues featured a Digable Planets shout-out in the form of our cover headline: "Youth Educators: Cool Like Dat".) The advice column used to be called "Mr. Sandman, Bring Me Advice", during my seventh grade year. It was reasonably clever and cute for middle school. For our winter issues, we changed it to "Mr. Snowman", mainly for the purposes of a cute graphic, presumably drawn by Long-Hai.
In eighth grade, our old advice columnist had graduated, so the new writer renamed the column, "Mr. Windal", dropping the "bring me advice" tagline. In doing so, the name of the column lost all meaning. Also, the name was spelled wrong. I think the column used actual letters, perhaps from students who thought they were asking advice of an old bum. However, if the counsel of a man with no money, no clothes, and no place was good enough for multiple-Grammy award-winning rapper Speech, surely it was good enough for Prowler readers.
Speech makes a bold claim in "Mr. Wendal" - that the plight of African-Americans can be traced to spending too much time and money on/in big colleges, and not enough time talking to the homeless. According to Wikipedia, "[Speech] attended Clark Atlanta University and the Art Institute of Atlanta". Perhaps he didn't consider it money well spent. After all, look at the quality of the poem he wrote after meeting Mr. Wendal for the first time:
Serve God only
Know that if you do beautiful heaven awaits
You just can't learn that kind of wordplay in school. It's not clear whether Arrested Development chose the (terrible) album title 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... before or after meeting Mr. Wendal, but they did pick the (even more terrible) album title Zingalamaduni afterward.
Arrested Development the band has been overwhelmed on Wikipedia by the TV show of the same name. They tried to sue the creators over the title of the show, but did not succeed, and the show made fun of them for trying. Ironically, the show might have been better off if forced to choose a less-clever title, as long as the replacement title had fewer syllables. Lead vocalist Speech has also been overwhelmed on Wikipedia by the act of communicating via vocal cords. He doesn't even get a disambiguation page. I was unable to determine whether Speech is considering suing the larynx.
Speech asks whether our society is civilized, but does so in a manner akin to a lovesick middle schooler trying to suss out his crush's romantic feelings. "Are we really civilized? [Check] Yes or no", Speech queries. A few lines earlier, he gives an example of Mr. Wendal's behavior that Speech considers to be truly "civilized": Eating food out of the trash.
Speech envies Mr. Wendal's status as a man apart from 1992's "quick to diss society". I feel that the rise in information technology has made 2006 an "instantaneous diss society", as evidenced in many flame wars on this very site. It might comfort Speech to learn that my critique of "Mr. Wendal" is roughly thirteen-and-a-half years late, proving that there are still some "slow to diss" segments of society.
Speech tells us that Mr. Wendal is "A man. A human, in flesh. but not by law." "Not by law" is where Speech loses me. I think Mr. Wendal is a human by law as well. Perhaps a legal expert could weigh in. Then again, I spent all my money on a big college and came out confused, so what do I know?
Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" came out in 1989, on the Loc-ed After Dark album. It was co-written by Marvin "Young MC" Young, which I didn’t know until my always-intensive musical research. The song was also produced by the Dust Brothers, at the very beginning of their career, even before Paul's Boutique. As famous and acclaimed as Paul's Boutique is, Loc had by far the bigger hit with his album.
The song is backed by a reworked sample of the guitar riff from Foreigner's "Hot Blooded", famous for its role in the karaoke episode of "Beauty and the Geek" (thanks Christine!). Some might argue that the marriage of hot-blooded upstate New York hard rock and laid-back California rap music is the key feature of the song. However, though one could certainly contrast Lou Gramm's claims of having "a fever of one hundred and three" with Loc's repeated stressing of the funky medina's coldness, I am more intrigued with what the song says about the medina and sexual anxiety. Despite all the hype about funky cold medina-as-love-potion, how effective is it, really?
Loc is first introduced to the medina via an enthusiastic sales pitch from a brother in a club. The fly brother claims the medina is "better than any alcohol/ Or aphrodisiac" in terms of attracting chicks. Loc seems enthused, but careful listeners will note the song’s early allusion to Mick Jagger and "Satisfaction", a song that deals with the deceptive nature of advertising, particularly as it relates to sex. Indeed, a little medina in your glass will induce sexual desire, but with a twist. It's like wishing on a dead monkey's paw, with less horrific consequences.
First, Loc uses the medina on his pet dog, and unsurprisingly, the dog is overcome with desire and humps...Loc's leg. One might cite this as proof of the medina's powers, though one might also ask why Loc fed the dog precious medina in the first place. Perhaps Loc was testing the safety of the medina, like a medieval king feeding a sample of his dinner to a servant to check for poison. Maybe Loc doesn't care about his pet; if chocolate is toxic for dogs, you never know what funky cold medina might do. It's not clear why medina is necessary to make this dog hump someone's leg, or why leg-humping is a desirable result in the first place.
The dog references leave the song a bit dated, as Loc claims the funky cold medina has attracted all the dogs in the neighborhood, including beer spokesman Spuds Mackenzie and "Alex from Stroh's". Until I read these lyrics, I had forgotten the ad campaign with Alex, the dog that could retrieve and open beers. I'd also forgotten that Stroh's beer ever existed (the brand was purchased by Pabst ten years ago). Incidentally, since Alex, Spuds, and Loc's dog are all male, one must conclude that funky cold medina makes dogs gay as well as horny.
Speaking of medina-related gay sex, Tone Loc's second experiment comes at a bar with a woman named Sheena. Loc adds medina to Sheena's drink, which seems distressingly similar to using roofies. The night is headed toward stupefied romance when Loc discovers that Sheena is actually a transvestite. As Loc is quick to point out, and vehemently, he does not "fool around with no Oscar Meyer wiener". It's the Eighties, and he's down with the ladies.
To be completely fair to Sheena, I should note that Tone Loc was the one that drugged her, not vice versa. Subconsciously, maybe he was secretly craving the Oscar Meyer wiener. I wonder if inadvertantly picking up transvestites is actually a common mistake for musicians, and only Tone Loc and Ray Davies are brave enough to admit it.
In the final verse, Loc presents the scariest funky cold medina scenario of all. After appearing on Love Connection, Loc slips medina to a woman for the first time. Her reaction is different, as she begins discussing wedding plans, which to Loc is more horrifying than going all the way with Sheena. If one considers the song to be an ascending progression of sexual anxieties, it is clear that Loc's fear of getting engaged trumps his concerns about both bestiality and his own hidden homoerotic inclinations.
Ultimately, one can read "Funky Cold Medina" as a metaphor for fame. Chart-topping rap success will give the same false, intoxicating power as the magic potion that is medina. There is a dark flip side to it, and the results are not always what you anticipate. Even with ample funky cold medina in your pocket, or Loc-ed After Dark #1 on the Billboard charts, you're never far away from an ill-advised romp with a transvestite, or a role as a rapping monitor lizard in FernGully: The Last Rain Forest.
You know what I'm saying? That medina's a monster y'all
At the time of the release of the untitled, or "Black" album, no one would have dreamed that "The Unforgiven" would have been eclisped in popularity and fame by the other slow song, "Nothing Else Matters". In 1991, you'd have been scoffed at if you claimed that "Nothing Else Matters" was the more timeless work. Yet, in 2006, I would argue that "N.E.M." has far more prominent cultural status, and not just because society has forgotten the video and the weird old dude's Sisyphean labor of cutting out blocks of clay. No, the real reason is amateur guitar players, and their affinity for the opening instrumental part of "N.E.M." I know at least three people who can play virtually nothing else on acoustic guitar, aside from the beginning part of "Nothing Else Matters".
Some quick lyrical analysis reveals that this song is about being controlled, punished, disgraced and ultimately broken by other people. In the end, James Hetfield takes revenge on everyone that incorrectly labeled him in the past. Now, the dubbee has become the dubber! You labeled him? He'll label you, bitches!
My friend Garrick has pointed out one unique element to the composition: "You don't hear the word 'dub' in very many songs". I would add that, if you do hear "dub", it will usually be describing the echo-heavy drum-and-bass reggae sound of a remix. Modern music listeners might be confused by Hetfield's terminology here. To clarify, being dubbed "Unforgiven" can be considered analogous to getting served, though with much less breakdancing.
This is not Metallica's only lexical anachronism, however. They also use "thee", the objective case of the word "thou". Sticklers for consistency in usage might argue that the song's angry, shouted denoument would more properly read, "Thou labeled me/ I'll label thee/ So I dub thee unforgiven".
Karaoke note: Lyrics to "Unforgiven" include transcriptions of the song's unique Hetfieldian phrasing. Example: "That never to this day-ay/His will they'd take away-ay-ay".
Finally, I would like to examine the "surprise ending" at the end of the second verse. After detailing the struggles and despair of an "old man", we learn "That old man here is me". Careful listeners should not be surprised. The whole verse is the equivalent of a self-conscious James Hetfield embarrassedly talking to a therapist.
Hetfield: Well, I'm fine. But I have this friend - I'll dub him "the old man". Anyway, everyone's dedicating their lives to running all of his. And I try -- I mean, the old man tries -- to please them all, but they're just battling him constantly. And --
Therapist: James, can I ask you something? This friend of yours, the old man -- James, this old man here...is he you?
Hetfield: I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Maybe it would be more clear if you phrased it in Middle English.
Therapist: James, this old man here...is he thou?
Hetfield: Yes! (Breaks down sobbing)
My opinion should not be considered the definitive take on this song. After the jump, see what internet commenter "lyricstudent" had to say about "The Unforgiven", on Songmeanings.net:
11. "Fond Farewell", Elliott Smith: When From a Basement on a Hill finally came out, I expected the album reviews to be more ghoulish, sifting through the lyrics of the songs to read it as a premonition of his death. This one's lyrics actually say, "A little less than a happy high/A little less than a suicide". Thankfully, most critics seemed to shun posthumous psychoanalysis, and no one said, "This song serves as a 'Fond Farewell' to Mr. Smith and his legacy", though you could really do worse for your last great song.
I have an old live recording of him doing "Fond Farewell", back in 2001, with slightly different lyrics. Elliott is wavering, and sounds tired and upset, which some might blame on drugs. I think he's actually frustrated by the two fans who keep yelling out the same request over and over. "Clementine!" "I Figured You Out!" "Clementine!" It's enough to make you want to stab yourself in the chest, I tell you.
12. "Queen Bitch", David Bowie:
The Life Aquatic exposed me to this one. It's one of the only times I have enjoyed Wes Anderson's bizarre fetish for having his characters walk in formation for no reason, because it allowed this song to play in its entirety. This song is kind of like a Velvet Underground parody/homage/upgrade. I didn't know what Bowie was singing in the chorus for a good while. Then I read the lyrics, and I'm still not completely sure what the queen bitch is supposed to wearing - "satin and tat"? "Bibberty bobberty hat"? I am fairly sure this is the oldest song on my list.
13. "Extraordinary Machine", Fiona Apple:
I could do without the bridge where Fiona Apple is singing so high the lyrics are almost unintelligible, but the rest of the song sounds like it was unearthed from a musical from an imaginary time in a past that never existed.
At this point in my list, I am struck by the amount of stuff I like here that's actually sincere, not self-mocking. Could this be the dawning of the New Sincerity Movement?
14. "Papa Was a Rodeo", Magnetic Fields:
It's a gay cowboy love ballad with a surprise ending. Magnetic Fields specialize in songs that manage to be simultaneously funny, sincere, heartbreaking, and sarcastic. This song has lines like, "I see that kiss-me pucker forming/ But maybe you should plug it with a beer"; "Home was anywhere with diesel gas/ Love was a trucker's hand", and "After all these years wrestling gators/ I still feel like crying when I think of what you said to me". Yet, the whole ridiculous premise ends up still being a moving, tender song, helped no doubt by Stephen Merritt's singular vocals.
This is the music that I listened to most this year, not necessarily stuff that was released within the previous calendar year. Some of it is fairly old, in fact. Because my music listening has moved predominantly to mp3s rather than full-length CDs, I'm doing it by song and not album. It's so much easier to skip the second half of Of Montreal's album when it's a matter of one mouse click, rather than having to walk to the stereo, get the new CD, replace the old CD - man, I ain't got time for that! There's important stuff happening at this desk that I don't want to miss!
In no particular order and without further ado:
1. "We're Both So Sorry", Mirah:
The song starts out strangely, with an autoharp strum, and halfway through the first verse, there's still almost no accompaniment. But then the horns come in briefly, and by the time we get to the first "I'm sorry 'bout so much, baby, but I know you'll understand", you're hooked. Or at least I am. Then, the second verse features Mirah singing, while another track of Mirah (I think it's also her) whispers the lyrics simultaneously, and it's really spooky. And then the verse ends with this slow-building crazy drum part, which carries into the next verse, and Mirah's voice gets higher, and the horns come back in, and it's all very dramatic and great.
2. "The New", Interpol:
My favorite parts:
1) The introductory guitar part
2) The crazy, screaming guitar at the end
3) "Baby, my heart's been breaking"
3. "Shine a Light", Wolf Parade:
This was the song I listened to the most from the album I listened to the most. My favorite part comes after the second chorus, when everything is really driving hard - drums, keyboards, guitars - and the backup singer starts in, and he's not even singing actual words, just this excited, "Uh uh oh OH" and it's really exciting. If I still swam competitively, I think this would be an excellent song to play before races to get adrenaline flowing. Except, come to think of it, I never especially did that while I was a high school swimmer. We did play AC/DC's "Big Balls" a lot, and sometimes when we were doing deck changes, Paskey would put on "Free Fallin'", but instead of "I'm free fallin'", we'd sing "I'm free ballin'".
This song is not about balls at all, unless I'm missing some Quebecois euphemism.
4. "Rebellion (Lies)", Arcade Fire:
Wolf Parade, Unicorns, and Arcade Fire are all from Montreal, and all have a disproportionate number of songs about ghosts. Wolf Parda has "Same Ghost every Night", "Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts", The Unicorns have "Ghost Mountain", "Haunted House", "Sea Ghost", and "Tuff Ghost", and that's not even considering all their songs not wanting to die or being ready to die. Is Montreal haunted? Haunted by terrible band names?
I would a sucker for any song that opens with a line about how "sleeping is giving in", even if it rocked significantly softer than this one does.
5. "Gold Digger", Kanye West:
You have a dilemma, as a white listener of hip-hop, regarding songs that have the word "nigger" in them. I don't like to say the word, I don't even like to type the word, but I still like to sing along. So, here are some options.
Here's a song from a few months ago that I co-wrote with Allen Haim about Bill O'Reilly and his love of Middle Eastern food. Tyler Roscoe also contributed to the work. You can download a live, work-in-progress version of the song from the Brainwash Cafe, last November right here
Bill O'Reilly Falafel Blues
Bill O'Reilly's got a vibrator
He'll use it now or he'll use it later
You know he's got some diverse talents
He'll put you in a lot of positions that are fair and balanced
On his show, Bill O'Reilly's mighty tough
But off the air, O'Reilly's sensual
Drunk dialing for phone sex, it's never just a bluff
Unless you hang up, it's consensual
Bill O'Reilly's got a vibrator
Often a premature ejaculator
He always holds a bottle of lube in his talons
To ensure that his orgasm arrives, fair and balanced
Now Bill O'Reilly, he runs a no-spin zone
And maybe liberals think he's awful
But no matter your politics, if you're answering the phone
Bill wants to rub you with falafel
Bill O'Reilly's got a vibrator
He'll suck on the tip like a Now & Later
He paid two million to an offscreen talent
To make sure the scales of justice remain, fair and balanced
Now some folks like legs and O'Reilly, he likes breasts
Though some allege that he's an ass man
In Bill O'Reilly's mind, you're always half-dressed
And never sue him for harassment
Bill O'Reilly's a worse boss than Darth Vader
He'll clench his fingers, but he's not using The Force
Got weirder sexual quirks than Woody Allen's
But that's to keep things fair and balanced, of course
Go on the Factor, you better have your facts straight
O'Reilly's gonna have rebuttal
He'll lick his lips and then he'll end the whole debate
Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up!
Bill O'Reilly's got a vibrator
He's also got a telestrator
His fascist views can be compared to Stalin's
But all the same, he wants to keep things
No doubt about it
Fair and bala-a-a-a-a-a-anced
Modest Mouse first came to my attention as part of the wonderfully extensive collection of mp3s in the office of Berkeley's finest intentionally humorous publication, The Heuristic Squelch. The legendary Stephen Handley had included a Modest Mouse folder in the Indie Rock directory (other categories included "(not so) idm" [less intellectual electronica] and "(not so) hip hop" [MC Hammer, Young MC, etc.]), though I think, at the time, it only contained "Out of Gas."
At first, I really wasn't a fan. The lead singer's voice is really a lot like salt and vinegar potato chips. It's harsh and mostly irritating at first, but once your senses adjust, you realize the wonderfulness of it, and when you do realize that, you just want more and more of it. Most singers wouldn't get away with screeching lines like, "I'm gonna go to Alaska, I'm gonna get off scot fucking free!", but somehow, when the Modest Mouse guy does, it just sounds right
That happened to me when I heard "Heart Cooks Brain" on a Matador Records sampler. I instantly repeated the track, then repeated it again. I liked the strained yells at the beginning of the song, the extremely catchy riff, but also the way the voice merged into a sweet falsetto during the verses. And, as an English major, of course, I loved the metaphors.
During the song, the brain-heart relationship is repeatedly analogized. First the brain is a burger, and the heart is the coal, cooking said burger. Later, the brain is a cliff, and the heart becomes a bitter buffalo. My favorite analogy comes when Modest Mouse compares the brain to a weak heart, while the heart itself is the "long stairs." Such poetic chutzpah, Modest Mouse!
Anyway, "Heart Cooks Brain" made me discover the glory of Modest Mouse, and led to my later embracing of "Third Planet," "Bankrupt on Selling," and especially "Custom Concern," all of which interested parties should seek out at their local record stores and/or mp3-acquisition-type-internet places.
I get most of my music in an unconventional manner these days. I don't listen to the radio, aside from when I'm in my car. We no longer have cable television in the house, but even when we did, I never watched MTV. My computer is primitive, slow, and mute, so even acquiring songs from the ether of the Internet is currently a no-go.
So, I burn a lot of music from my friends and roommates, specifically Gene, Mike, and Khurram. Which is great in that I'm exposed to a large sampling of music, much of which I would not have heard elsewhere. I doubt I would have ever found myself with Autechre's Tri Repetae in heavy rotation without the influence of Gene. And it is unlikely that I would be slowly sifting through a stack of jam bands' CDs (Medeski, Martin, and Wood; String Cheese Incident) had Mike not given them to me (The debate over MMW's excessive "whiteness" can take place elsewhere).
The point is, music I listen to is not very determined by when something is released, or is on the radio. When I was trying to compile a "Best/Favorite Albums of the Year" list, I found out that much of the music I've discovered and listened to this year was not actually released in 2002. White Blood Cells came out in 2001. So did Oh, Inverted World, by The Shins, Rockin' the Suburbs by Ben Folds, and Powderfinger's Odyssey Number Five. That being said, here is my list of the Top Five Albums of 2002, four of which I actually purchased, with money and everything. So what if it's June of 2003?
I bought this album at the same time as Endtroducing, during the summer. Before that time, I had been woefully unexposed to Mr. Shadow. Though I like Endtroducing better, The Private Press was in my CD player a whole lot. "Six Days" is the best song. There's also a version of that track, not on the album, which features Mos Def - well worth checking out.
If you see the movie "Scratch", there are some great scenes with DJ Shadow going through huge stacks of vinyl in this crowded storeroom which is floor-to-bottom records, all different genres, that have been accumulating over the years. "The Private Press" has that same feeling of having different styles and music together, along with random sounds and spoken word Bible recitation. It's like music created the same way as sedimentary rock, with layers and time, but less sand and more funk.
This album feeds my jones for hip hop where all the guys in a group yell out the rhyme together, and all sing together on the chorus. And as much as I love the music of the LBC, it's nice to hear hip hop that is actually about social issues, rather than Dr. Dre pretending to be a gangster or Eminem discussing TRL. And it has a lyric about the "verbal Herman Munster."
I heard a girl once say, "I want to have sex with this album. Not have sex while listening to this album, but somehow manage to make love to the actual music itself." I don't actually want to fuck the music here, but I can understand the sentiment. Beck sings really well on this album, and it's full of slow, pretty songs about heartbreak and breakups, but not breakdancing. This is non-dancing Beck, a Beck waking up the night after a long cocaine binge, wondering where he was, what he's been doing, and what kind of stuff Winona Ryder stole from him while he was unconscious. So Beck has cleaned up, replaced turntables with more strings, and reached back to the past for a few old unrecorded songs like "It's All in Your Mind" and made a very melodic, lovely album.
This album is great, eminently listenable, but I like Beck better when he's being funny as well as beautiful and poignant. He seems to shift, album to album, from wacky to somber, wacky to somber, with a string going Odelay-Mutations-Midnite Vultures-Sea Change. I just wonder if tender songs about lost love are necessarily incompatible with singing in falsetto about picking up girls at JC Penney.
Art that is funny always get less critical respect than art that is serious. You see that at the Academy Awards, where there hasn't been a comedic performance awarded since Cuba Gooding Jr. in "Jerry Maguire," and even that Oscar was mostly given because he's the first minority character ever to appear in a Cameron Crowe film. So "Sea Change" is great, go out and listen to it/burn it/download it, but don't diss Beck's previous lesbian-scream-inducing work in the process.
There's a fascinating story behind the making of this album, involving the record company refusing to release the album and the keyboard player getting fired. Other people can probably give you a good lowdown on that aspect of the album - I didn't know anything about Wilco before I got the album, so it didn't really matter to me if Jay Bennett was going to be touring to support the CD. I liked that this album is very catchy and listenable, but at the same time doesn't really sound like other music out there. Much like Garth Brooks, this album is a little bit rock and a little bit country. Except this is better than Garth Brooks.
I enjoy country music for twangy guitars and lyrics about heartbreak and killing men just to watch them die. I don't much like country music that is covers of previously-recorded pop songs, or sounds like a Nashville version of Matchbox Twenty, or involves putting boots up Bin Laden's ass. Wilco's brand of country is the kind I like.
I like "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" the best, particularly the section where he finally says the title line ("Still I'd be lying if I said it wasn't easy/ I am trying to break your heart"). The song, and particularly the double negatives in that verse remind me of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," which Ben Harper has dubbed the best song of all time. This song also sounds fuzzy and distorted, which makes "Jesus, Etc." has strings, but in a country music fiddling sort of way, not in a "String Tribute to Uncle Tupelo" sort of way. "Pot Kettle Black" is good. I think "Heavy Metal Drummer" is catchy, but there are a lot of people who really fucking go nuts for that song, so keep that in mind if you're casually listening to the album or just picking tracks out to download.
This album has songs about robots learning to love, karate-kicking Japanese girls battling killer robots, and a man meeting a time-traveling version of himself. ("Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," "One More Robot," and "All We Have Is Now," respectively) There are songs a lot of songs about death, good and evil, and all kinds of weighty subjects that are often both uplifting and poignant at the same time. Listening to "Do You Realize?" it's hard not to get caught up in singing along with the cheerful melody, even when the lyrics warn that "everyone you know someday will die."
But mostly, I come back to the robot songs. Even though robots are a little bit played out now, they're still excellent and underused subjects for neo-psychedelic alternative rock anthems. In fact, though the brave and black-belted Yoshimi is the album's namesake, her lovesick robot opponent is perhaps the most sympathetic character, losing on purpose so as not to destroy his human love.
What happened to robots, anyway? Former Daily Cal writer Tag Savage theorized that "pirates are the new robots...The late 1990s thing of robots is starting to give way to a millennial thing of pirates. Expect pirates in whatever the Beastie Boys release next. The hippest kids know that the pirate thing is already pass�, and they are already moving on, on to something like cowboys." I don't think it will be cowboys myself, but maybe astronauts? Clowns? Firemen? Whatever the new cultural flashpoint is, I'm sure the Flaming Lips will be there to meet it with fuzzy guitars and high harmony vocal stylings.
In 1981, Paul McCartney contributed a composition of his called "Girlfriend" for Michael Jackson's album "Off the Wall." Were that the McCartney-Jackson collaboration could have ended there. For in 1982, the two joined forces again for the Jackson-penned sausage-fight-love-ballad "The Girl Is Mine." Millions of innocent unprepared listeners just trying to get from "Baby Be Mine" to "Thriller" were subjected to Michael and Paul talking smack about their romantic prowess.
The song begins with a slow, pseudo-funky beat that probably would have been rejected by even Tito or LaToya Jackson. "The Girl Is Mine" may be the only song from "Thriller" that never has, never will be sampled by even the most desperate hip-hop producer. Michael then croons the vaguest lyrics imaginable about this mysterious woman:
Every night she walks right in my dreams
Since I met her from the start
I'm so proud I am the only one
Who is special in her heart
This is doggerel, Michael Jackson! Anyway, throughout the entire song it's striking how little there is in the lyrics about the "girl" in dispute between Jackson and McCartney. Maybe that's because even Michael Jackson can't imagine some hypothetical woman that Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson could possibly be fighting over. Jackson continues to the defiant chorus:
The girl is mine
The doggone girl is mine
I know she's mine
Because the doggone girl is mine
A logic chain worthy of Descartes: I know she's mine, ergo, the girl is mine.
McCartney fires back a salvo, stating emphatically that the girl is his:
I don't understand the way you think
Saying that she's yours not mine
Sending roses and your silly dreams
Really just a waste of time
Again, no description of the mythical Linda McCartney-Diana Ross lady hybrid that might charm the Jackson-McCartney duo. McCartney reiterates that the doggone girl is his, adding "Don't waste your time." It pains me to hear adult males using words like "doggone." It's like watching a Mafia movie on television and hearing words like "fairy godmother" dubbed in to cover up the profanity, only in this case, the dubbing was done pre-emptively by the original artist. Nobody says "doggone" except to self-consciously point out how they don't swear, like a girl who mentions the first time you ever hang out with her how she's got TMJ, and thus can't give blowjobs, only you weren't even talking about jaw problems or oral sex, not at all, but she's still awkwardly pointing it out and you feel really uncomfortable. Listening to "The Girl Is Mine" makes you feel like that. Bad.
More awkward rhyming ensues:
I love you more than he
But I love you endlessly
"More than he" rhymes with "endlessly." Goddammit, Michael Jackson. Couldn't Michael Jackson's crazy abusive father had made him read a little bit of poetry, in between practicing the choreography with Tito and Jermaine? And it goes on:
Don't build your hopes to be let down
'Cause I really feel it's time
I know she'll tell you I'm the one for her
'Cause she said I blow her mind
Then the real snappy give-and-take begins. Paul tells Michael that he doesn't want to fight over this "girl." Michael responds that he's a lover, not a fighter. Paul, rather outlandishly claims that the girl has told him that he is her forever lover, then desperately adds, "you know, don't you remember?" Michael zings him back: "Well, after loving me, she said she couldn't love another," which would have rhymed with "forever lover," sort of, except for Paul's babbling at the end of his line. Paul, clearly lost, demands, "Is that what she said?" to which Michael responds, "Yes, she said it, you keep dreaming."
Paul is stunned. He can only howl, "I don't believe it!" and start doing a low harmony part, effectively leaving the argument of Michael Jackson to carry the day. The only comparable time Paul has been outsmarted so badly, intellectually whipped so thoroughly, is when Michael Jackson outbid him for the Beatles song catalog. This is the other awful legacy of "The Girl Is Mine": Michael Jackson bought the rights to the song catalog, and soon "Revolution" was in a Nike commercial.
In a way, "The Girl Is Mine" was the end of the line for both performers. Though the two reunited for the top Ten hit "Say Say Say" in 1983, there still remains a foul aftertaste of "Girl Is Mine" in your ears when you listen to "Say Say Say," kind of like drinking tequila for the first time after you got really sick drinking cheap tequila a few months ago, and even though this new tequila seems OK, you still sort of shudder involuntarily when it touches your throat.
Michael Jackson saw diminishing returns with each subsequent album after "Thriller". Plus, bought a bunch of girafees, hung out with the Culkin family, and completed two sham marriages. And pretty much lost his mind. Paul McCartney's wife died, and he married a new, younger, one-legged wife. He also released an album called "Flaming Pie" whose standout tune contained the lyric, "I go back so far/ I'm in front of me." Maybe there was an accelerant effect, a catalytic lyrical reaction upon exposure of McCartney's already-unstable lyrical mind to Michael Jackson's poetic influence. The lyrics to McCartney's "Freedom" are really worse than anyone could have expected, even those who already hated "Rocky Raccoon" and "Honey Pie."
For a Occidentalist pro-McCartney perspective, refer to Fred Lee.