Tuesday, July 29, 2008

John Lennon Never Got To Make His Metal Music Machine

A couple of years ago my then-girlfriend bought me an Oliver Stone DVD box set which was a really great gift. I had loved Platoon and still think that JFK is one of the best films ever made. So having those to go off of I was very excited at the notion of owning all the Stone movies available on DVD at the time.

Unfortunately I have come to find that Platoon and JFK are the exception for a guy whose movies I’ve come to find almost as disagreeable as the man himself.

But I found myself trying to swallow that in my attempt to watch The Doors tonight. And as much as I don’t like the director, I despise the subject. I think that Jim Morrison was a lousy singer and that his poetry was even worse. I could care less about the rest of the band because nothing could get me past Morrison mumbling the pretentious garbage that has since turned him into some “Great American Poet.” But I was interested in seeing how Oliver Stone would portray the story of the band because that’s what I’m interested in. The story of music.

In case you didn’t know, the film is nothing but the type of jerk-off Morrison would pen himself had he not died in a fucking bath tub (I can only imagine how iconic Oliver Stone made this look). But I didn’t finish it. I got about ten minutes in before I had enough—I couldn’t stand the treatment of this guy as some sort of visionary when I just find him to be a pretentious shit.

And immediately I thought of Neil Young. “It’s better to burn out than to fade away." Damn fucking right Neil! If Jim Morrison wasted away to become nothing more than some fat bloated asshole then that would certainly hold weight on his legend. People would see him the same way I see him. A hack. And it works when you think about others who were taken before their time. It’s not just Jim Morrison, but artists that I respect. People who were great, but because of death, they are billed as something more than they really were.

Kurt Cobain was a great song-writer. I think that the Unplugged concert was fucking brilliant and the studio albums are all solid records. But his death has spawned this legend of a tortured poet who was too pure for the rock star status that he gained. I don’t buy it. I think that Nevermind was a great record that came at the perfect time for critical and commercial acclaim. Rolling Stone puts it as number 17 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and that’s bogus. Insert Zen Arcade or Let It Be to the same circumstances and it’d be the same story. But having Kurt as a fallen hero of rock n’ roll and all things pure and he becomes a thing of legend and it's reflected in the way people today talk about Nirvana.

I can’t help but look at the fact that the guy abandoned his daughter (alone with Courtney, no less) and the fans that found hope in his words. I hate to sound insensitive to what killed Kurt Cobain, but that’s what I see. And the embrace of him in the aftermath seems to me unfounded. I see Kurt living today and I don’t see anybody holding him on the same pedestal. He’d be right there with Eddie Vedder.

And I feel the same rules apply to John Lennon. I love The Beatles, of course, but why is it that Lennon is held in the position he's in compared to the rest of them? All the avant-garde experimentation on Revolver was McCartney. The crafting of Sgt. Pepper was George Martin. And his best solo work was under the influence of Yoko Ono and Phil Spector (“Instant Karma!” That song is a fucking masterpiece).

Lennon was the outspoken personality that McCartney never was. And while Paul got comfortable riding lazy pop, Lennon, for the most part was staying fresh thanks to the people around him. But I don’t think that would’ve lasted either. Double Fantasy, the last record, is no good, but people hold onto “Imagine” as the representation of John being taken from us too early even though it came out in 71. Death wipes the slate clean. He was taken from the world far too soon. So those “bed-ins” are seen as romantically poetic. Not, well, completely stupid. Everything we remember about John Lennon is what was beautiful and pure.

In High Fidelity Jack Black calls out for the “top five musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s. Go. Sub-question: is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins, is it better to burn out or fade away?” And that’s the thing about burning out. We never saw Nirvana fighting to stay relevant. John Lennon never made the garbage McCartney made. In my mind it’s because Kurt died in 1994 and Lennon didn’t live to see the 80’s and 90's. But for most people, the fact that they're gone is because they were somehow too pure, too good. And so the legend goes.

Both Kurt Cobain and John Lennon are song-writers that I respect. Their images, though, for me have been tainted. I have a hard time embracing them as the fallen heroes they’ve been built into since they died. Tragically. And so it goes, it's better to burn out because we’d rather never see them fade away.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem - I'm On Fire

They reference this song on "High Lonesome" on the new album. This is cool to see.

Also the video to the single "The '59 Sound" is on their myspace. I got goosebumps.

And I met Craig Finn Monday night after a fantastic Hold Steady show. He liked my name. And why it's my name.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Jenna Fischer and I are gonna build something this summer (maybe a fabulous circulation)

As of 2 pm today I am on summer vacation. I have spent the last week working on the final paper for my Rhetoric class. It was on sports blogging, particularly Deadspin, and what the notion of sports fans writing about their experiences achieves on a grand scale. I’ve gotta say, the idea of arguing for the journalistic merit of posting pictures of Ben Roethlisberger drinking like a champion (it humanizes him, makes him seem, you know, normal) still makes me giddy.

Plus, I think that I am the only person in the history of academia to quote someone saying “cockpumper.” Or “So long, ya fetus-faced windbag.”

All jokes aside, my paper was excellent (this topic was my teacher’s idea, by the way, based on previous work I did). I talked about the way fans are given a voice and how the commentary of the blogger is something that no paid journalist could write. Because they are not fans. They get paid. And I think I’ll be revisiting the topic for my Senior Thesis.

So on my way to turn the paper in I listened to Constructive Summer, the first track off the new Hold Steady record Stay Positive. Twice. So I am “gonna build something this summer.”

Earlier this week, this became my desktop background:

Having Jenna Fischer, Pam from The Office, and her butt in all its 1280 by 800 pixels of glory acts as a metaphorical framework for this, my final summer of college. You see, normally my desktop is cluttered with handfuls of unused open windows and what-nots. Now, Pam in all her magnificence gives me the proper motivation to keep only the essentials and enjoying sitting around and looking at butts. Deep eh? It works on a grand scale.

Plus, now I have something to break the ice with Ms. Fischer before she becomes Mrs. Crisp. Now, instead of “Hey, my name is Tim! On TV your boyfriend is Jim. Some call that coincidence, I call it fate, baby.” I can say, “Hey, I look at your naked ass while writing in my blog. Would you like to go to Vegas? I have an Oldsmobile.”

But while I wait around to woo the future bearer of my children, I plan on taking advantage of this time off. Sunday I will be attending the final day of the Pitchfork Festival to see Dinosaur Jr. and Spoon before jetting over to see my friend Ian Reynold’s record release show. I am going to publicly declare right now that I will limit myself to six Elliott Smith jokes.

And I’ll hang out in the city before making my way up to Madison with my friends Adam, Mark, and Sammy to see The Hold Steady and The Loved Ones! The last time I saw The Hold Steady was October 2006 at the Metro. One of the best things that I have ever witnessed. Without a doubt. And seeing The Loved Ones will be awesome, especially with the fact that Franz Nicolay and Tad Kubler had appearances on the band’s fantastic release Build and Burn.

The notion of singing along to the line “Me and my friends are like, ‘double whiskey, coke, no ice’” is enough. It will be an experience.

In other news, I spent part of the $28 I got back on my $90 rhetoric book to buy the vinyl re-issue of White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground. Before I get into that though, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the fact that I paid over $60 to use a book for four weeks.

Fucking college.

But, listening to that record today made me want to drive out to a dessert and scream “I get it!” You see, I have always kind of shrugged off The Velvets and Lou Reed. Even though I read Please Kill Me. Even though I am eternally bound to Lou because of the fact that I apparently called him “Blue Reed” when I was a little boy (damnit I ruled). Even though my cousin has made every effort to assert the fact that he is a completely cool dude. Never really got it though. Now I get it. Oh, do I get it.

2016: The Distant Future

The great city of Chicago is one of the finalists to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. And if you’re in or around the city you’ve certainly heard the opposing sides to whether or not they should come:

“A considerable boost to the economy.”

“Yes, but do we really want the city infested with a bunch of non-English speaking foreigners who can’t drive as well as us.”

“Ah, a very good point. I mean, I’m happy to eat their food, but I don’t necessarily want them in my city.”

“I know! We’ll build a fence and keep them out!”

But I think the greater piece of this debate is being largely ignored:

The Olympics suck.

All this bullshit about national pride and love of the competition is all well and dandy, but do you honestly enjoy watching people run around a track or seeing who can throw a shotput farthest?

There is plenty of merit to the tradition that the Olympics represent. Jesse Owens gold medals in Germany during 1936 is one of the most socially symbolic moments of sport. Hell, I remember watching Kerri Strug. What she did was one of the most unbelievably brave things I’ve ever seen.

Did that change what I thought about gymnastics? Were they suddenly interesting to me? No.

I watch one Olympic event when they’re on. Hockey. Because I actually had the chance to see it. It was on NBC and I have never had Versus, so it’s exciting to actually watch hockey. And I don’t even root for America in Olympic hockey. I root for whatever the team most of the Rangers are playing for. In 2006 it was Sweden. And they won! Shit was I proud to be a Swede on that day!

If the college kids were still what made up the Olympic basketball team I would watch that. I like college basketball. But now it’s the NBA, and if I may borrow from Will Leitch’s God Save The Fan, do you think the notion of “playing for America” really makes a difference to LeBron James? Not a fucking chance.

I have no vested interest in the Summer Olympic events and couldn’t care less if America wins. Chicago or no Chicago, I won’t be watching.

And the economic boost that may or may not come (they sure helped Montreal in the 70’s), what becomes of it? Money into public housing? Actually making an effort to do something about the fact that Chicago is one of the most racially, socially, and economically segregated cities in the country? I am somehow a skeptic. I don’t foresee and of that economic boost being sent down to the people now living in Bloomington that got booted out of Cabrini Green.

I love Chicago. Unconditionally. And I want to live there. Come 2016, I don’t want to deal with all the bullshit surrounding something that I don’t care about. I don’t want the athletes. I don’t want the fans. And I don’t want anyone infringing on my right to eat dogs.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stepping Out Into The Night: The Gaslight Anthem

During the school year we have keggers at our house. It’s a blast. And it pays for the utilities. My main responsibility for each party (aside from getting the drunkest of the inhabitants, a duty I've bestowed upon myself) is to make the playlist. And I’m good at it.

I enjoy the process for several reasons. First of all, I am selfish. Other people suck at picking music and I rule. That song “Bullying The Jukebox” by the Bouncing Souls is pretty telling: “Well I walked into the bar and I put in twenty bucks because I know people taste in music sucks.” I also enjoy shitting on people who ask me to play !!! or Daft Punk.

But the main reason is the enjoyment I find in people liking the songs I picked. People dance. Sing along. Drink. To my songs. Okay, not my songs, but the songs that I picked. It’s still a great feeling. As close as I will ever come to people cheering for me.

And I understand what works and what doesn’t. I pay attention to what people are enjoying and what they aren’t. So I’ve developed this art pretty well. The playlist at this point is really just different variations of a set formula.

The longest standing piece of this formula is playing Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” followed by “Born To Run.” And my friends and I go crazy every time. The light always goes out for “Dancing in the Dark” and when “Born To Run” comes on there are about 10 of us that go nuts and sing along. Every. Single. Time.

The regulars know that when “Dancing” begins to fade out, I run to the PA and turn it up as loud as my straight edge roommate will let me before Max Weinberg’s drum roll kicks off “Born To Run.”

Now it may seem like something that gets tired after awhile. But it continues to be the highlight of the parties. It has never once been anything short of incredible. Because for all of us, arm in arm, screaming the words in each other’s faces, these ten minutes are our safe-haven from the outside world. Nothing out there can get in the way of our sharing this moment. Not a goddamn thing.

And that’s what’s made Bruce Springsteen legendary. His songs are about believing in the promised land, about the weekend—stepping out into the night. The moments that transcend whatever is hanging on your conscience.

And Brian Fallon, the lead singer of the New Jersey band The Gaslight Anthem, understands the feeling that a Springsteen song can bring. The Gaslight song “Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts” paints an unbelievably similar portrait to the one of me and my friends singing along to “Born To Run”:

We are the boys from Little Eden
We are the hardest Saturday nights
Drank from the fountains of the fireworks
Sweat and bone for a better life

We like our choruses sung together
We like our arms in our brothers' arms
Call every girl we ever met Maria
But I only love Virginia's heart

And we sing with our heroes thirty-three rounds per minute
We're never going home until the sun says we're finished
And I'll love you forever if I ever love at all
Wild hearts, blue jeans, & white t-shirts
With wild hearts, blue jeans, & white t-shirts

It’s my life, right now. This song is about the life that I live. It’s hopeful. It’s tragic. It’s growing up. I don’t know where I am. One year from today I’m supposed to be in the real world. What that means, I’m not sure. But I know what it means to be here right now.

“So tonight I'll call you from a fourth-street payphone, but I'll sleep on the beach if I ain't got a ride. Someday I'll buy you that house on Cookman, we could sleep on the beach all night. Sleep on the beach if we ain't got a ride. Sleep on the beach all night”

For Fallon, for me, for my friends, our American dream, our hope is within choruses. Our escape, our better life comes from the heroes we sing with.

The '59 Sound, the second Gaslight Anthem LP, is out August 19th. Mine’s on pre-order. Blue vinyl. The title-track, and first single, is up on their myspace.

I Could’a Been A Contender” (second song on the first album Sink or Swim. The song that first caught me.)

I’da Called You Woody, Joe” (a tribute to St. Joe Strummer. “And I never got to tell him so I just wrote it down, I wrapped a couple chords around it and I let it come out”)

“Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts” (from the EP Señor and the Queen)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Debbie Harry vs. Chrissie Hynde vs. Pat Benatar

For the final match-up of this little experimentation called Fight Week (yeah, I’m in college, the weekend begins on Friday) we have three 80’s queens: Debbie Harry of Blondie, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, and Pat Benatar of Pat Benatar.

History: Blondie was one of the key components to the New York punk scene of the late 70’s. With the MTV era, and "punk" turning into "new wave," Blondie embraced the video era allowing them to rise to a stardom unparalleled by their peers at CBGB’s. Chrissie Hynde also drifted through the punk scene (she was in The Damned before they were The Damned! And apparently wanted to call the band Mike Cunt’s Honorable Discharge) before starting The Pretenders. Pretenders and Pretenders II are punk rock classics and the band would continue to score plenty of pop hits. Pat Benatar was one of MTV and New Wave’s first stars. Her early albums charted very well, and songs like “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” stand as 80’s favorites.

Why they fight: One of the classic 80’s questions (I'm told) is "Who was hotter? Debbie Harry or Pat Benatar?" I always thought that answer to the question was Chrissie Hynde, but because of the impacts Harry and Benatar brought to new wave fashion and the MTV-generation, Chrissie is always left out of the conversation. I still don’t understand. She was way hotter. Rush Limbaugh agrees.

Who wins: Well, as objective as I’ve tried to be here, I don’t see anyway around the fact that Pat Benatar is the first to go. Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry are quick to single out Pat for her lack of punk credibility. “She’d probably have been doing disco if she was five younger,” Debby says to Chrissie. “Yeah, but Blondie did that disco song…what the fuck was that?” But the point is well made. Pat Benatar does not hold up with these two. Seeing as though Chrissie Hynde has about three feet on Pat—she stomps her out. And so there are two, and I have to question Debbie’s chances here. That first Pretenders album is so tough, and Blondie, despite their early surroundings, was never anywhere near the Pretenders. I’ve got my money on Chrissie. Hell, I’d have my money on Chrissie vs. Ray Davies. And so comes the onslaught. I’d make a “Brass in Pocket” reference, but we already saw brass knuckles make their way into a fight this week. While it’s not a completely one-sided affair, it’s hard for Deb to get any licks in with that wing span Hynde has. Debbie Harry has no chance. Chrissie Hynde wins and while the “Debbie or Pat?” debate will continue as long as VH1 airs I Love The 80’s, there’s no debating who kicks the shit out of both of them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Stooges vs. MC5

: Much like yesterday’s battle of Minneapolis, The Stooges and MC5 had quite similar uprisings in their native Detroit. Both bands are seen as largely responsible for the rise of punk rock. The MC5 came first, releasing their brutal Kick Out the Jams in 1969. That same year, The Stooges released their self-titled debut, following up with Fun House [the namesake of Das Fun Haus, my house at ISU] the next year. Both gained notoriety for their no-holds-barred live shows, though the MC5 separated themselves through their left-wing politics (members of the White Panther Party, performers at the Chicago protest of the Democratic National Convention, and saying “brothers and sisters” a lot). The only thing The Stooges ever protested was John Cale’s refusal to record the amps on full power, performing a studio sit-in which produced the track “We Will Fall.”

Why they fight: The bands often played together and The Stooges helped the MC5 get signed to Elektra. There is no logical reason for them to fight—other than the sheer enjoyment of being able to see eight crazy mothers beat the shit out of each other. So, without any further ado: representing The Stooges are Iggy Pop, Scott and Ron Asheton, and saxophonist Steve MacKay. For the MC5 we have Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson, Michael Davis, and current MC5 singer Handsome Dick Manitoba in place of the dearly departed Robin Tyner.

Who wins: In the tradition of late 60’s Detroit: ANYTHING GOES. Bats. Chains. Blades. Meet in the alley. Kick the shit out of each motherfuckers! And MacKay goes down with a bottle to the face. Michael Davis gets squashed in between the Asheton brothers. And Handsome Dick goes down after Iggy hits him with a right hand covered in peanut butter. Chunky peanut butter. The Ashetons look to size up Wayne Kramer while Iggy takes on Thompson. Kramer begins berating the brothers about how the situation is a metaphorical representation of the imbalance in the marketplace. “This is Detroit motherfucker!” screams Scott, “we don’t care about equal distribution.” And down goes Kramer! Down goes Kramer! “Alright boys now take out this guy for me,” Iggy yells as he’s doing all those crazy double-jointed Iggy moves to avoid Thompson. “You know if you ask me, Scott and Ron, I think that you’re a bit blinded,” Thompson tells them. “Brothers, don’t you see that Iggy Pop is the bourgeoisie. You are the proletariat. It may be The Stooges now, but don’t you know that people still say Iggy & The Stooges. Sure, he’ll call you up after he’s run out of ways to turn your legend into profit, but what happens when David Bowie shows up again?” The Ashetons seem to be listening. Iggy is nervous, though he remains silent. “What you’ve got to ask yourself,” Thomspon says, “is do you wanna continue to be Iggy’s dogs?” There is silence. Contemplation. Tension. Until Ron knocks out Thompson. “Yes,” he says, standing over Thompson. “It’s fun.”

For the final fight of the week, Debbie Harrie vs. Pat Benatar vs. Chrissie Hynde. It's what they call a Triple Threat Match.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Replacements vs. Hüsker Dü

In our next battle we decide once and for all who the kings of Minneapolis were in the 1980’s (shut up, Prince, don’t make me bitch slap you). On the card for the night: Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson of The Replacements vs. Bob Mould and Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü.

Playing the role of Mills Lane tonight will be the Twin Cities current favorite son, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady.

History: Both bands were born in response to the American punk rock movement. The ‘Mats gained a reputation for a fast, sloppy sound that could be topped only by their now legendary drinking habits. The Hüskers were at one point the fastest band in America—as their sound developed they separated themselves from their peers on a combination of Mould’s driving guitar and the contrasting songwriting of Bob and Grant. The Replacements slowly cleaned up their sound committing to the perfect compromise of clean and sloppy on Let It Be before signing to Warner Bros. and releasing, among other things, my namesake. Hüsker Dü hit their peak around the same time, releasing Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, and Flip Your Wig in a span of two years before also signing with Warner.

Why they fight: Circumstance alone would suggest at least a rivalry: they start at about the same time, rise, sign to major labels—obviously there was going to be conflict. And we have some colorful characters here, especially earlier on when Bob Stinson was in the mix. The ‘Mats had the song Something To Dü on Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash: “Delivering noise/Real tough boys/What else have I got/Half-priced drugs/Stolen guitars/What else is new/It's somethin to dü” plus the last line of the song: “breaking the Mould.” And while Hart and Mould downplayed the tension between the two bands in All Over But The Shouting, they also didn’t shy away from taking a couple shots at the ‘Mats. So some bitterness is still there. And now they’re going to battle it out. My original vision of this fight was beneath a 494 bridge, but I thought we’d settle this on the skyway.

Who wins: Now I know that Paul is drinking O’Douls these days, but I’ve decided to take some creative license and have Paul and Tommy showing up completely shit faced. The fight begins as the two hoodrats throw their whiskey bottles at Mould and Hart who quickly avoid the shots and begin their attack. They come out swinging on all cylinders. Faster than their days on SST. And The Replacements can do nothing. It quickly comes to the attention of Craig Finn and the rest of the crowd that Paul and Tommy are simply too drunk to fight. All they can do is sing bits and pieces of random bubble gum hits and REM songs ala The Shit Hits The Fans. No one is really sure what to do. Bob Stinson is calling down from heaven for the other members of the band to intervene but Chris Mars is too busy painting a portrait of Greg Norton (that mustache!) and Slim Dunlap is just sitting there with his characteristic sense of complete apathy. The beating continues until Mould and Hart stop out of courtesy. They walk away from the experience confused as Paul and Tommy set themselves up. Grinning. Spitting blood. Looking like they just had the time of their lives.

On the card for tomorrow we have Stevie Wonder vs. Ray Charles…

Aw geez. No.

Let’s do The Stooges vs. The MC5. Street fight. Anything goes.

I’m pretty sure I’ve punched my ticket to hell with that one.