Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie's in space

Two questions. If David Bowie can die, what hope is there for the rest of us? And how can I find words to pay tribute to a guy who made at least 13 records and at least 200 songs that mean the world to me?
I'm thinking about the bands and solo artists who put out one great record after another in the 1970s that also mean a great deal to me (Bowie put out great stuff before and after the '70s, but the '70s were his most creatively explosive period) -- Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Brian Eno, Joni Mitchell, CAN, Marvin Gaye, Roxy Music, Curtis Mayfield, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Kraftwerk, Neu, Fela Kuti, Chic, Van Morrison, Faust, T. Rex, Big Star, Black Sabbath, Harry Nilsson, just to name a few (and I haven't even mentioned the great bands who only put out a few records or who were just getting started or who ran out of gas in the middle of the decade or who dominated the '60s and put out a few great records in the '70s or the people I'll be hitting myself for forgetting) -- and I'm astounded that I can hear and see all these people in Bowie's songs and sounds and looks as they bounce around, refract, distort, and filter through the carnival rides, lenses, funhouse mirrors, and processors in Bowie's one-of-a-kind head until they come out sounding like Bowie and only Bowie. He had all the contradictory elements you need to be a great artist: theatricality and sincerity, privacy and exhibitionism, originality and theft, human frailty and alien otherness, etc. I could keep going on about this but I'm starting to sound like a blabbering idiot. ("Starting to?" some of you are saying.)
I am so glad I got to see Bowie live on his last tour, especially considering that tour ended earlier than planned due to cancellations caused by Bowie's heart surgery, some nerve problems in his shoulder, and an accident that killed a member of the lighting crew. The tickets were a little out of our price range, but my wife and I said, "It's David Bowie!" and bought them anyway. Wikipedia tells me that show was April 27, 2004. Bowie was not a nostalgic artist, but the set list was primarily a greatest hits-style encapsulation of a career, with a band that consisted of a mix of Bowie veterans like Mike Garson and Earl Slick and younger session musicians like Gail Ann Dorsey and Sterling Campbell. Bowie was so good, and I'm not just saying that with the rose-tinted glasses of 12-year-old memories. He was one of the best singers and performers I've been lucky enough to see, and the show had the odd effect of humanizing him instead of turning him into even more of the alien superhero rock god I had mythologized. I was shocked and delighted at how many goofy, corny jokes Bowie told during the stage banter portion of the show, and how he would crack himself up with these silly jokes while his band rolled their eyes and grinned. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing the joy he took in goofy puns and vaudeville-style old-fashioned jokes in between scorching everyone's faces off with some of the best rock songs ever written. I also loved seeing the pleasure and joy he took in watching his band perform, especially when bassist Gail Ann Dorsey took the Freddie Mercury parts on "Under Pressure." This guy loved musicians.
Just picking two of my favorite Bowie songs, "Station to Station" and "Teenage Wildlife." Holy fuck. There are undiscovered countries in those songs. You can go back to those songs over and over again and never exhaust them.
Even Bowie's death is inspiring. Here's a guy who finds out he's dying of cancer, so he makes an album with a group of younger jazz musicians he's never recorded with before, and he keeps his illness a secret even though the shit-rats at TMZ have at least three trash-parasites stationed in every famous person's underwear drawer. I'm glad I got to share 38 years on the often-disappointing planet of Earth with David Bowie, and I'm going to keep playing his wonderful, beautiful, scary, fantastic records until I'm a lifeless tube of meat.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

2015: The Ride: The Drink: The Flavorless Paste aka My Year as a Human, My Favorite Music of the Year, and Some Shameless Self-Promo

Hey blog reader(s),
2015 is over, so I thought I'd take the opportunity on what Neil DeGrasse Tyson would consider an arbitrary date to overshare about me, present a list of my favorite records and live shows of the past year, and pimp my rock band.
I had a weird year that was better for me mentally than almost any year since I was nine years old (excepting 1997 and late 1999/early 2000, the two other post-fourth grade years where I wasn't hit with at least one bout of depression) but also touched by tragedy. My group of friends lost a wonderful person to cancer in May, a person who should have lived to be a hilarious old woman, and we all miss her and will continue to miss her for the rest of our go-cart ride around this globally-warmed fucked-up orb where Donald Trump still walks among us. I also lost a cousin to cancer that same month, but my father never told me so I just found out two weeks ago (not from him). In case you were wondering if my family was still a jacked-up mess, the Magic 8-Ball says it is decidedly so. In happier circle of life news, my sister had twins, a boy and girl, in September, and they're as cute as (or even cuter than) tiny people can possibly be, even though I think all humans should cool it on the having babies thing for at least 30 or 40 years because WE'RE DOOMED! WE'RE ALL DOOMED!!!!!!!! but I am excited to see them in person on a trip planned for the spring, and I'm psyched to have a niece and nephew at one fell swoop (maybe the fell swoop thing is not the best choice of phrase since it originated from birds of prey diving down for the kill).
I was amazed and thankful I spent a whole year without much depression (I had lots of melancholia and genuine sadness, but none of the full-on emptiness and lack of emotion and couch-stuck wasted days and wrung-out towel for a psyche that swallow up a few months of most years), and I attribute a lot of that to a years-in-the-making concerted effort to live in the present. Sounds obvious and platitudinous, but I think I'm mostly there now. I wasted too much time rehashing and being bitter about the past and thinking about getting through the present to get to some imagined better time in the future, and I mostly don't bother with that shit now. Fuck the past, the future doesn't exist, yeah I know these sound like bumper stickers but in practice this attitude really works for me sentence fragment the end. I also decided to devote less psychic real estate to my parents' problems and messes and all the messiness and weirdness of the last 13 years in my family's existence and focus on fixing my own problems and messes. And I decided to skip most parties this year except for a handful of important ones because large social gatherings make me nervous and antsy and self-conscious and weird and I never have much fun and no one's paying me to attend, so I treated myself right and went out when I felt like it and stayed home when I felt like it. My friends are cool. I think they understand. I still like all of them. I also quit Facebook, which is really working out great, even though I still log in on my wife's account, but I've been doing that less and less. I am happier not being on there as much. Also, listening to albums in their entirety away from a computer, reading more books, and watching less TV are all good decisions I made for myself this year. It's working, man. I think the key to life is don't do shit you don't wanna do if you don't have to do it. Do shit you wanna do if you can. Try not to screw anybody up when not doing and doing these things. I don't do new year's resolutions, but the next step on the be-less-messed-up train is an effort to slow down my boozing and get rid of my beer gut that taunts me in the mirror daily and be more healthy even though exercise is boring as fuck and completely stupid compared to things like rock and roll and delicious food.
Enough of this self-help bullshit, let's switch to music.

My favorite records of 2015 in a sort-of arbitrary order based on when I put them on the computer (which doesn't mean I didn't buy them because I did, sucker)
Ricked Wicky - I Sell the Circus
Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again
Bjork - Vulnicura
Death Grips - Jenny Death
Built To Spill - Untethered Moon
Robert Pollard - Faulty Superheroes
Metz - II
Faith No More - Sol Invictus
Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated At Last
Damaged Bug - Cold Hot Plumbs
Mini Mansions - The Great Pretenders
Mint Mile - In Season & Ripe
Ricked Wicky - King Heavy Metal
Field Music - Music for Drifters
Destroyer - Poison Season
Yo La Tengo - Stuff Like That There
Ricked Wicky - Swimmer to a Liquid Armchair (3 records in a year, all good!) 
Battles - La Di Da Di
Le Butcherettes - A Raw Youth
Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Goin Down...
Big Grams - Big Grams EP
Eleanor Friedberger - "False Alphabet City" single
Circus Devils - Stomping Grounds
Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect
Express Rising - Fixed Rope
Le Butcherettes - Shave the Pride/We No Owe 7"
Erykah Badu - But You Caint Use My Phone
Oneida - Positions EP
Starflyer 59 & Mike Adams at His Honest Weight - Like a Baby/Tasteful Nudes split 7"

Records of 2015 I also enjoyed, just not as much as the above 
Zu - Cortar Todo
Trickfinger - Trickfinger
Wilco - Star Wars
Neil Young & Promise of the Real - The Monsanto Years
Rolo Tomassi - Grievances
Mac DeMarco - Another One (yeah, yeah, everyone hates him now, he's the latest indie scarlet letter, but I like the dirtbag low-rent Steely Dan vibe)
My favorite reissues, re-releases, compilations, box sets, and soundtracks of 2015 (again, it's heavily dominated by the Numero Group)
David Bowie - Five Years 1969-1973
Scharpling & Wurster - The Best of the Best Show
Universal Togetherness Band - Universal Togetherness Band
Various - Ultra-High Frequencies: The Chicago Party
The Notations - Still Here: 1967-1973
Various - Lows in the Mid Sixties Volume 54: Kosmic City Part 2
Various - Ork Records: Complete Singles
Various - Saved & Sanctified: Songs of the Jade Label
Bedhead - Live 1998
White Eyes - White Eyes
Melvins - The Bulls & The Bees/Electroretard
Arthur Russell - Corn
Universal Togetherness Band - My Sentiment/Missing You 7"
The Scientists - The Scientists
The Scientists - Blood Red River
Royal Jesters - English Oldies
Mark Lanegan - Houston: Publishing Demos 2002 
Various - Small Town Country, Vol. 1
Unwound - Empire
Unwound - Peel Sessions
The Edge of Daybreak - Eyes of Love
Elyse Weinberg - Greasepaint Smile
Various - Ork Records: New York, New York
The Feelies - The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness/My Little Red Book 7"
Guided By Voices - Suitcase 4: Captain Kangaroo Won the War
Neil Young & The Bluenotes - Bluenote Cafe
Ty Segall - Ty Rex
The Shades - Santa Claus Is Coming to Town/Prancer's Got Some Red Spots 7"
Various - Entertainment soundtrack 
Ennio Morricone/Various - The Hateful Eight soundtrack 

I haven't listened to this all the way through yet because it was a free online-only release and it slipped my mind, but I liked what I heard way back in January
Death Grips - Fashion Week 

Favorite live shows (national)
Thee Oh Sees
The Waco Brothers

Favorite live shows (local) (I didn't get out much this year, my apologies to anyone I've forgotten)
Rhett and Dean
Boss Eye
The John-Pauls
Rabbit Fist
Abigail und Hansel
Mitch Fraizer & The Radiation

The band I play drums for, The Early Stages, put out our second 7-inch this year. We got a nice review from Byron Coley in Wire magazine, a pretty good review in Maximum Rocknroll, and some airplay on Jon Solomon's radio show on WPRB in New Jersey, the Expressway to Yr Skull podcast, and a few other podcasts and websites. Otherwise, zilch. I feel good about the music on this single, and I feel pretty good about my band, even though we can't get arrested in this town or most other places. You can buy/stream/hear this thing and our previous 7-inch at and