Sunday, July 31, 2011

A song for every year of my life #7: 1983

The Fall - "Smile"
About five or six years ago, I saw The Fall play a show. Mark E. Smith's foot was in a cast, and he sat in a chair for the show's duration. He looked like he didn't want to be there, his contempt for everyone in the room (including his bandmates) was palpable, and the band played for less than 45 minutes. It was still one of the best shows I've ever seen. This song makes a lot of other songs sound stupid and tiny.

Alternate choice: The Style Council - "Long Hot Summer"
Not a lot of people think The Style Council were as good as (or better than) Paul Weller's previous band, The Jam, but I do and so does Robert Wyatt, so there. I also think this video is hilarious in its homophobe-baiting and simultaneous parody/embodiment of what would come to be known as the "1980s."

Friday, July 29, 2011

A song for every year of my life #6: 1982

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - "Scorpio"
Webster's Dictionary defines robofunkonomics (n.) as the "one true religion." Show no shame. Shake it, baby. Scorpio.

Alternate choice: Michael Jackson - "Billie Jean"
Though the non-robotic material that comprised the rest of Michael Jackson's body shuffled off this mortal coil two summers ago, this song will live forever.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A song for every year of my life #5: 1981

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - "Watch Your Step"
Elvis Costello's backing band The Attractions existed for almost twenty years, though to call them a backing band is an insult. Besides having one of the five greatest rhythm sections in the history of popular music (my hyperbole here is only mild), The Attractions were probably just as responsible for Mr. Costello's success as the songs he wrote for them to play. Just listen to the difference between the Attractions-backed "Watching the Detectives" on the U.S. version of Costello's first album, My Aim Is True, and the other songs on the record, recorded with Clover. It's a great record, and Clover was a competent, skilled, and subtle backing group, but "Watching the Detectives" has that indescribable voodoo chemistry that can't be learned or forced. By the time of 1981's Trust, they'd been killing it for almost four years.

Alternate choice: Siouxsie & The Banshees - "Monitor"
This song melts my face off. They never bettered it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A song for every year of my life #4: 1980

1980: Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - "Run Paint Run Run" from the album Doc at the Radar Station
Painter, poet, bandleader, songwriter, singer, musician, charlatan, genius, lightning rod, short man with big ideas, Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart.
A song title from each Beefheart album:
On Tomorrow
She's Too Much For My Mirror
Lick My Decals Off, Baby
25th Century Quaker
My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains
There Ain't No Santa Claus On The Evenin' Stage
Party Of Special Things To Do
Upon The My-O-My
Tropical Hot Dog Night
Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee
Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat

Two paintings, "Whalebone Farmhouse" and "Crepe and Black Lamps" (both 1986):

Alternate choice: X - "The Unheard Music"
One of my missions in life is to hear all the unheard music.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A song for every year of my life #3: 1979

Wire's "The 15th" in two versions. The first, the studio version from the album 154, is gentler, almost pretty, but its angular metallic riff sits at a distance from the listener. You have to follow it. It won't follow you. Every time I hear it, I visualize a mesh screen covering the sound, creating a grid in which each square is a long, straight tunnel. I don't know how to describe where the tunnel leads.
The live version from a German television program is more aggressive and direct. The grid is gone, the tempo slower. Their control and confidence is almost frightening in its simplicity and ease. It's the kind of ease that comes after much work. They play with purpose and without antecedents. Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, even other punk and postpunk bands. They don't have anything to do with this song. Nor does any band that followed.
What I can't understand is how both of these versions sound so close to each other while sounding nothing like each other at all. The basic elements that give me so much pleasure are the same in each, but the places they take me aren't even on the same map.

Alternate choice: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Sedan Delivery"
We know that welfare mothers make better lovers, but is it better to burn out or fade away? Is there a third option? This song is spooky. The verses trip over themselves in a punk rock hurry to get to that narcotic drift of a chorus. Then, the guitar lays you down and tucks you in too far from home in an achy, melancholic daze. Like "The 15th," you'll be digging these tunnels the rest of your life without seeing daylight.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


My wife and I went to Houston today with two friends to go to some museums and get the hell out of town for a day. We walked or drove past the following businesses:
Leapin' Leotards
Uncle Funky's Daughter
The Institute of Eyelash Arts and Sciences
Rock and Roll It
Dr. Gleem
Mr. Hoagies
The Funeral Museum

Leapin' Leotards and Uncle Funky's Daughter can be found in the same strip mall. A second location of Uncle Funky's Daughter is also in that strip mall.

On an unrelated note, please listen to Frank Sinatra's spoken introduction to the following song. Leapin' leotards, it's something else.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A song for every year of my life #2: 1978

In 1978, I'm still a year away from my first memories. I'm a baby, turning into a toddler, a word I've never liked. Toddler. Say it out loud. It makes an unpleasant sound. What was it like to be a baby? I'll never know. I might as well have been a robot, for all I can remember. These are the robots. Kraftwerk's "The Model." I do remember the 1980s prejudice against synthesizers by the rednecks in my hometown. Guitars were for real men, synths were for gay European pussies. Both are electric machines that make sounds pleasing to my ears. I only know a few gay Europeans, but they are good men. Those rednecks in my hometown are silly little people. I am not a robot, but I play one at work.
Also released in 1978:
Nick Lowe "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass"
Johnny Thunders "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory"
Devo "Mongoloid"
Neil Young "Goin' Back"
Wire "Heartbeat"

Alternate choice: Van Halen - "Atomic Punk"
Atomic punk, but not punk rock. The rednecks and I can agree on a few things. Classic Coke is better than New Coke. Gary Cherone = Crystal Pepsi? Try to imagine the Tea Party Jimmy Buffett, Sammy Hagar, singing this song. Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain. 5150 taught me that. David Lee Roth: "The only people who put water in Jack Daniels is The Clash, baby." "The only reason rock critics like Elvis Costello is because they look like him." Rock the Casbah, Dave. I'm not angry anymore.

A song for every year of my life #1: 1977

Those of you who know me personally and are friends with me on Facebook know that I've been participating in the daily song challenges going around that site like an infectious but benign disease. I need structure and daily tasks to keep me occupied during the obnoxious, terrifying limbo that is the job search, and these song challenges fit part of that bill. Now that I've finished the challenges, I need something else to do. I turned 34 last week, and this non-milestone birthday sparked an idea for my own personal, expanded version of the Facebook meme. I'm going to pick one song a year for every year I've been alive on this planet and write about it on the blog. Past lives and my time on other planets will be ignored for now. The songs I pick will not necessarily be my favorite songs of those particular years or a fitting representation of prevailing trends of the time period or even songs I listened to that year. These are just songs I love that happened to be released while I was alive.
I was born in a particularly vibrant musical year. 1977 was a great year for punk rock, pop, disco, hard rock, and what would become post-punk and new wave. Lumbering dinosaurs were getting their asses kicked by a new breed of artists that continue to influence my life in all kinds of positive ways. I didn't know any of this at the time. I was just a sleeping, eating, shitting, suckling, squirming, involuntarily moving fat little baby. I wouldn't discover this music that means so much to me until I was in high school, with the exception of the new wavers and ex-punks with mainstream radio hits in the 1980s. 1977 was the year for debut albums by The Sex Pistols, Wire, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, etc. I'm going to bypass those guys, though, and pick some wealthy, coke-addled, enormously popular classic rockers. Classic rock is the music I grew up with, the music I heard first. Fleetwood Mac's Rumours came out in 1977. "Dreams" is a song that stops me cold every time I hear it. If it's playing and I'm talking to you, my mind will wander over to the song and I will no longer be able to hear what you're telling me. Several months ago, two friends of mine played in a Fleetwood Mac cover band that came together for one night only, performed Rumours, and then broke up. They were so good I almost cried. After the show, I ate several donuts. It was a good night.

Alternate Choice: Richard Hell and The Voidoids - "Liars Beware"
This particular performance is from a 1980 film, but its studio incarnation appeared on a 1977 album. Robert Quine is dead now, but his guitar playing isn't, which is the opposite situation of most guitarists.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Operation: Make Brain Good, or R. Stevie Moore More More, How Do You Like It?

"Baby, you cry too much/I'm tired of the sound/You're such a baby" -- The Afghan Whigs, "Uptown Again"

To signify a shift in subject matter from how depressed I am and how much the world sucks, here is my progress report for the week. I'm still lousy at staying up too late and sleeping in too much, but I've been exercising more, eating less garbage late at night, and drinking less. All these things have me feeling a lot better after just a week. I feel a change coming on. For the first time in my life, I'm tired of certain behaviors I've engaged in for years. I don't enjoy getting drunk anymore. I don't enjoy stuffing my face with garbage at night. I used to love these things until last month, but I stopped getting a buzz from the path to gastronomic and alcoholic excess. I'm bored with myself when I do these things.
Fortunately, I'm still as committed to musical excess as I've ever been, so when two friends sent me two emails each urging me to see R. Stevie Moore, I decided to do a little investigating into the man. I'd read about him and heard a few songs on WFMU, but I was pretty unfamiliar with his work. I knew he was an eccentric guy who had recorded hundreds of albums in his bedroom and distributed and sold them on his own, but that was about it. I listened to several of his songs on YouTube after my friends' emails and knew I had to see the show. I'm a sucker for obstinate and eclectic bedroom geniuses, Neil Young and Prince being perhaps the most famous and successful examples. Robert Pollard, Dan Bejar, Gary Wilson, Captain Beefheart, Daniel Johnston, Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Judee Sill, Roy Harper, Tim Buckley, Alex Chilton. I'm lumping a lot of disparate talents together, but I think you can see some sort of vague aesthetic forming there. R. Stevie Moore fits this bill. Defiantly independent, Moore has self-released 400+ records of staggering variety, including early Zappa and Beefheart-esque avant-rock, Beach Boys sunshine falsetto pop, dreamy indie rock, Beatles covers, riff-based garage rock, psych, metal, country ballads, disco, and new wave.
Moore has never toured before, but a Kickstarter benefit gave him the financial freedom to tour the U.S. and Europe and record a new album. On the tour, he's backed by Brooklyn indie rock band Tropical Ooze. Though half the band's sartorial choices can only be described as sweaty 1970s head-injured pedophile dressed by drunken pirate gypsy blind mothers aka the last decade of indie-hipster sartorial puke, their musical skills are thankfully much sharper. They opened the show by themselves and were a likable blend of garage/psych/noise/pop with some serious freakout guitar chops. Sweetening the night for me, the next two acts on the bill were another obstinate bedroom genius, Jad Fair (formerly of Half Japanese) accompanied by a full band, and Pong, a band featuring a former coworker and all-around good guy and another friendly acquaintance of mine. I'd seen Jad Fair play a few songs by himself before a Yo La Tengo show, so the opportunity to see him play a full set with his band was welcome. I don't know how to write well about music, so I can only say his set was a magical, beautiful thing. Pong also delivered the fun. I used to see them play a lot when I worked with the aforementioned good guy, but a few years had passed since I last saw them. Some of them had more hair, others had less hair. One of them grew a giant beard. I really enjoyed myself. Finally, R. Stevie Moore played. Things started out a little shaky. The first four songs were good, but the mix was muddy and the band's chemistry was off. The performance was awkward. "Great," I started thinking to myself. "My friends see the amazing shows and I get the off night. That's the patented Dr. Mystery luck, baby." The band soon exited the stage and Moore played two songs by himself. Again, the mix was weird and the songs didn't quite come together. Then, the band came back and everything clicked. The following seven or eight or ten songs became one of the best live experiences of recent or ancient memory. Holy shit, what a show.
But I'm not here to write a mediocre concert review. I want to talk about something I saw there. The usual mix of indie hipsters, record geeks, reclusive weirdos, punks, and freakazoids (an obese guy with a V shaved in the back of his head who kept talking to his wrist, a middle-aged guy with a Captain Hook beard and women's shoes a few sizes too small, which had caused the heels to blow out, etc., a Mexican teenager with the underage XX on his hands who kept making out with a woman old enough to be his grandmother and bragging about his fighting skills, etc.), the crowd also contained a father and his young son and daughter. I kept my eye on them throughout the show. The father was, clearly, a cool dad (lowercase), not a Cool Dad. He had somehow managed to infect his children, caught in an era in which something that happened yesterday afternoon is already old and lame, with Jad Fair mania. He was thin, maybe 5'7", short hair, khaki shorts, nice leather shoes, button-up shirt that was neither rock and roll nor un-rock and roll. I'm guessing the daughter was 12 and the son 10. The boy was taller than his sister, but he had a mouthful of metal and stuck close to dad's side while she kept a few paces back and looked like she was just settling in to the nightmare of puberty. The boy had a naive, dreamy expression and kept gazing wonderingly at the drums and guitars and a pretty woman in a mini-skirt toward the front of the stage. The girl's face had lost the dreamy kid look. She had an openness in her face that junior high hadn't destroyed yet, and she probably still had another year before she'd be too embarrassed to go to a rock show with her dad and little brother, but you could see a little cynicism creeping into her eyes. She'd probably begun to realize that most adults were full of shit, that most of them were still stupid children, and she'd probably had a boy say something mean to her by this point in her life. When Jad Fair started to play, father, son, and daughter all grinned wide and nodded their heads and tapped their feet. It was cute and sweet, and it made me happy and sad. Jad Fair announced that the next song was about "different colors of dresses." The girl grinned wide, giggled, and smiled at her dad and brother. She started tapping out the drum beat on the wall. If I were a 12-year-old boy, I'd have a big crush on her. She's the kind of girl who would've crushed my heart a couple years later by telling me she just wanted to be friends, but we still would've traded mixtapes and probably smoked weed together for the first time in 11th grade. The brother and sister both have smart eyes and are probably readers. They're not rocking out for dad's benefit,either. These kids are genuinely psyched to be at the show. As the night wears on, the kids start to get tired but they don't want to show it. The boy continues to nod his head and tap his feet, but his heart isn't in it anymore. It's tough being a 10-year-old rock lover. You want to stay up late, but your body wants to go to bed at midnight. Dad's oblivious, which made me like him even more. Sometimes, you have to purposely ignore your children's pain to keep them from becoming narcissists. The girl rests her head on the wall. As she grows more tired, she scoots closer and closer to her dad and brother. She looks back at the crowd a few times and her face registers a complex disappointment in her own fatigue (so un-rock and roll) and in her dad for keeping them out so late. As R. Stevie Moore begins playing, Dad, still grinning widely, takes his kids to the bar for a beer and a couple of ice waters. The girl's face is grumpy now, reverting back to the child from the teenager. Some future significant other is going to see that face when the honeymoon period is over. I lose sight of them after that. After a good night's sleep, those kids are going to ignore the latter half of the show and remember the first half in the fond, partially revisionist dream-haze of the music obsessive. They got the fever. These kids are hooked.

P.S. Speaking of the fever, check this shit out. I just had multiple rockgasms. If that sentence turned you on and/or disgusted you, you're welcome.