Monthly Archives: November 2009

Makin’ Lights

30 November 2009

CONVERSION NOTICE: This is one of 250+ blogs that originally appeared on MySpace. I’ve done my best to represent it with as much historical accuracy as possible, but there are limitations. Read about it in the FAQ.

Current Mood: busy busy

A very merry unbirthday to you all.  Hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend.  I did!  Got to relax and visit lots of friends in what was probably the least traditional Thanksgiving of my life so far.

Before I forget, Morrissey on Wednesday, bitches!  I’ll see you all there, I’m sure.  He comes by so rarely these days, you know.  Who knows when we’ll get another chance!  In other news, due to an unfortunate ticket mishap, I will most likely miss the Cranberries on Saturday… unless I come across some reasonable prices and soon.  Fiddlesticks!

The Popscene show was fun as usual.  We stuck to the Smiths and we stuck to the hits, mainly to keep it accessible and efficient.  Rest assured though that we’ve been extra busy learning new songs, and we should have plenty of surprises for the next show (Red Devil Lounge on January 8th).  At this moment, we’re just six songs away from knowing all 72 Smiths songs.  Holy shitake, that’s amazing, is it not?  Anyway, yes the show was fun.  Lots of friends showed up.  Not my luckiest night though.  Ten seconds into “How Soon Is Now?” I broke a string… normally I’d stop the song, but that’s not one that you stop once it starts, you know?  Luckily we got through it relatively unscathed.  Then while cleaning up, my main gitter (that black 335) fell over or was knocked over.  After assessing the damage at home, it’s got a new ding on the side, and a tuner was yanked halfway off the headstock.  Tuner’s shot and its screw holes are stripped.  So that’ll be $65 in parts and ??? in labor to get it fixed, damn it.  At least it’s got more character now, right?  That’s what I’m trying to tell myself.  And for the hat trick, I went to load in my car as I left the club only to find my car with a flat tire!  Thank God for AAA and real men.  Could I have changed that flat?  Of course, but why am I paying for AAA?  Let them come out and do in five minutes what it would have taken me a half hour to do… at 3am… in the cold Thanksgiving night… alone in a back alley… after wearing myself out at a show.

The good news there was that Big-O replaced it free, aside from the cost of my time the next afternoon.  While I was out driving that next day, I caught my self weaving in and out of traffic a lot around the city.  I had to wonder, do I really drive that fast?  I don’t generally care if I’m zooming along at top speed, I’m just concerned about makin’ lights.  (I gotta make those lights, son!)  It drives me nuts to miss a light because someone else is not paying attention.  For some reason, the city was full of the clueless this weekend.  And while I’m rambling about city driving, I saw a guy on a Van Ness island asking for spare change/food… and talking on a cell phone!  I mean, was someone making a political statement here?  Was this like performance art?  Or was it real?  Because I think it was real.  I thought it was pretty shameful, but am I just out of touch?  I guess maybe a cell phone really is considered a bare necessity these days?

And now, a dedication to a friend who just moved to Oakland this weekend…

So I finally finished Goddard’s Mozipedia — all 500+ pages of it — and I am happy to report that it was well worth the effort.  It took me August through most of November, but I learned a ton.  I really enjoyed the tidbits on songs that never were.  Some of my other favorite entries were the ones covering Mozzer’s more controversial viewpoints, and in fact my favorites were the entries on vegetarianism and Margaret Thatcher.  If you read only a few entries, I recommend those.  I wish I could reproduce them here for you.  Powerful stuff, I thought.  My only criticism of this massive textbook is that it’s a little heavy on the actors/movies/television influences, all good stuff to know, but not always so interesting to read about (speaking personally).

And finally, a question I’m afraid to ask: is MySpace dying?  I continue to prefer it to all those other sites.  I like the flexibility, and I like the robust music infrastructure.  But I can’t deny that in recent months I’ve noticed a rapid and growing lack of activity among my friends here, while Facebook seems to become more popular.  I don’t see the appeal of having to rebuild everything for yourself over there when it’s already in place here.  What happens when the next big site comes along and FB dies (remember Friendster anyone)?  Then off to a new site?  Rebuild your whole network again?  All these competing social networking sites just seem to dilute the value.  If a site came along that could “talk” to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. so you’d have a one-stop-shop, now that would be valuable.  Then you wouldn’t have to maintain statuses on several sites, etc.  I know, I know, one world currency, communism, etc.  Whatever.  I’m just saying… too many cooks spoil the broth.

“Lord, I confess I am not what I ought to be, but I thank you, Lord, that I’m not what I used to be.”
— Maxie Dunnan

The Lost Weekend

22 November 2009

CONVERSION NOTICE: This is one of 250+ blogs that originally appeared on MySpace. I’ve done my best to represent it with as much historical accuracy as possible, but there are limitations. Read about it in the FAQ.

Current Mood: sick sick

I’d been feeling… I’ll say “weird” since the middle of the week.  Flushed, but with no detectable fever.  I made it through work most of the week, but then Thursday night it started to worsen, and by Friday morning, I was in no shape to go into the office.  I had to stay home.  Frankly, I didn’t feel up to doing much of anything this weekend, and that included leaving the house.  I’m feeling a bit better today, so I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get back to work tomorrow.  I got the flu shot this year, which as I recall can help prevent or lessen the impact of the flu.  I don’t know what a “mild” flu feels like, since whenever I’ve had a flu in the past, it kicked my ass unequivocally.  But this weekend I had a headache, a stiff neck, moderate fatigue, and a mild fever… with virtually no congestion, sore throat, or cough.  That certainly sounds like a mild version of flu symptoms more than it does a cold, right?  So maybe I did have a mild flu.  A mild swine flu even.  A piglet flu.

But as I said, I was in no shape to lift a finger.  That’s one of the shitty things about being home sick.  You’ve got all that free time to do stuff around the house you’ve been meaning to do, but no energy to actually do any of it.  I haven’t even shaved in days, and I think I have the closest thing I’ve ever had to a beard right now.  So anyway, I ate oatmeal and watched movies.  Whatever happened to be on, really.  This included The Fog (1980), Dead-Alive, all three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, that Brothers Grimm one, The Pathfinder, and parts of both Troy and Mr. And Mrs. Smith.  Others too that I think I’m forgetting.  I also dusted off and reconnected my old Playstation for about a half hour.  When I finally had the energy to do more than sit, I worked on learning a couple new songs.  And here I am with the energy to type again — lucky you!

Moving on… a general comment to Hollywood: please stop pissing all over my childhood. I understand there is a Clash Of The Titans remake in the works. Never mind the Karate Kid mess of the fact that a golden G.I. Joe opportunity was wasted. I’ve even heard stirrings of a Rocky Horror remake. I’m sure there are countless others in the works too that I don’t even know about. Trying to be more level-headed about it, to be fair, the Clash remake looks like it might not be terrible. I’ll try to approach it with an open mind. (Assuming they do something about that soundtrack.)

Speaking of me being old and crotchety, surely you’ve heard the kids these days say “redonkulous” as an extreme version of “ridiculous.” Well I heard the word “milkdonkulous” on TV last week. And while I know this means that “redonkulous” has jumped the proverbial shark, and the last thing I want to do is be duped by somebody’s lame marketing campaign (least of all the dairy industry), I’d be lying if I said I didn’t secretly love this word “milkdonkulous.” I can’t say why, but it just speaks to me. I’ll do my best to use it judiciously.

I think it’s time that I just face the fact that I’m completely fascinated by the English language.  I don’t think that’s a new thing for me exactly, but it’s only been a couple years that I could put a name to it.  I realize that I keep ongoing lists of words, phrases, idioms, and quotations that I like.  I find myself admiring (and even envying) writers whenever they’re able to perfectly capture and convey an idea so clearly.  I’m constantly looking up new words, linguistic concepts (like the retronym)and even the typographical symbols that we so rarely see anymore (like the tombstone or the preposterous asterism).  I’m even interested in syntax and grammar.  Somewhere along the line, this all became a small hobby of mine, and though it’s exceedingly nerdy, I’d argue it’s not much different (though way more useful) than crossword puzzles and sudoku.  I don’t really enjoy those types of puzzles, but I love researching language.  Alright?  So sign me up for ΛΛΛ.

That’s had me thinking recently… did I choose the wrong path?  That whole “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” thing, you know.  I guess knowing what I know now, if I had it to do over again, I would have probably majored in English and music.  Assuming I had the balls not to go the safe route.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved CogSci in school, and I feel it was all very valuable.  But looking at what “work” I truly enjoy these days?  It’s language and music.  But then, it’s my nature to build the safety net first.  Have a backup plan.  That’s why I had the band after I finished school and had a steady job.  I skipped the whole garage band thing, for better or worse.  I made sure I could support my hobbies, rather than rely on my hobbies to support me.  The safe route has its pros and cons I guess.  And then who knows where I’d be now?  Maybe not nearly as happy.  What about you?  Knowing what you know now, would you have done things a little differently?

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Coming up this Thursday is This Charming Band’s fifth Thanksgiving Popscene appearance on their Smiths tributary “Meat Is Murder” night, and it also loosely marks our fourth anniversary as a band.  My, how the years fly by (especially evident at Popscene where the crowd stays young and beautiful, but the band gets older every year).  Hope to see you there friends!  And while you’re pondering what to eat on Thanksgiving before the show, and what the future might hold for us all… consider this article.

“It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.”
— Oscar Wilde

… in which I pass judgment on The Beatles.

6 November 2009

CONVERSION NOTICE: This is one of 250+ blogs that originally appeared on MySpace. I’ve done my best to represent it with as much historical accuracy as possible, but there are limitations. Read about it in the FAQ.

Current Mood: happy relieved

I have now listened to all of their studio albums — most of them for the first time — in all of their 2009 remastered glory, alongside each of the period-correct singles and b-sides culled from the “Past Masters” volumes.  And I think I’m ready to rule on the matter.  (I’m sure Paul and Ringo are anxiously awaiting my opinion.)  Again, I took this on as an academic exercise to fill a glaring deficiency in my pop music education.  The Beatles are of course one of those bands that you just are supposed to know about.  And I knew something about them, but this was me really going in with both feet.  A crash course in their music, with only a limited knowledge of the stories behind it (most of which were filled in for me ad hoc by Nick and Colin).  So after two months of listening critically and strictly chronologically, each album at least twice before moving on to the next, what do I think of the music?  In a word: excellent.  By anyone’s standards, the amount of quality work they put out in a relatively short period of time is remarkable.  Unquestionably more hit than miss, and clearly a massive influence on literally thousands of bands.  Not many can claim that!  To be fair though, The Beatles weren’t as important as Elvis, and neither of them were as good as The Smiths, but I digress.  🙂

What did I like?
Most of all, and maybe most obviously, I appreciated their strong pop melodies and arrangements.  More often than not, the songs are full of memorable hooks, in fact some of the most memorable in pop history.  Interspersed in there too are many moving ballads, some of them quite famous of course.  Now, I didn’t always buy the emotion in Paul’s or John’s voice, and the lyrics didn’t always hit the same emotional depth for me that I get out of a lot of other music… but really, how often am I that moved by bubblegum music from that era?  (I mean, it happens… but it’s not usually the first place I look.)  They also had a lot of inventive stuff going on that sounds fresh even today, and I would assume they were the first ones doing some of those things.  How much of that was studio trickery (where credit might be more due to George Martin?), I’ll leave to the experts.  The record collector in me loved the big album concepts and album art in the later part of their career, and I can imagine it was a lot of fun being in that band and putting those together.  Finally, historically speaking, it was really interesting to hear the influence on other bands that is clear in these recordings.  For example, The White Album was a major part of the sound of The Smiths’ Strangeways, Here We Come.  And there are more blatant lifts, such as the “Sexy Sadie” connection with Radiohead’s “Karma Police” (pointed out to me by Colin), and stylistically as in… well all of Oasis’ music (listen to “Hey Bulldog” and tell me it doesn’t sound like an Oasis song).  I’m sure there must be websites dedicated to documenting these influences and “borrowings,” and these are just some obvious examples.  The more subtle impact of The Beatles on virtually every band that followed them must be immeasurable.

What didn’t I like?
In those first few albums, the original compositions were wonderful, but there were so many covers.  And to my ears, they were, almost without exception, dreadful.  Not least because I’m quite familiar with most of the original songs, and so The Beatles’ versions had much to live up to with me.  Some were more excruciating than others.  One exception I can think of though is “Twist And Shout” which is probably more famous than the original.  I also was turned off by their penchant for what I would call “silly” songs.  Little tunes throughout many of their albums that sound like inside jokes or just the band fucking about in the studio.  Maybe they’re just jokes I don’t get because I’m not from that place and time?  Not my thing, anyway.  And that ties in with the fair amount of filler on a few of their albums.  Not that most bands aren’t guilty of that from time to time, but for the greats (in which I assume The Beatles should be included), I expect more.  For instance, I can’t think of a single filler song that Led Zeppelin ever recorded, let alone The Smiths.  All just a matter of opinion of course.  Similar, but not exactly filler, were the occasional psychedelic songs that seemed to go on too long and just waste time.  And then in their later albums, there were a lot of songs that were trying hard to sound soulful and bluesy and were just not pulling it off.  Sorry Fab Four, blues and grit maybe not your forte.  OK, last bit of poison to spit here: almost the entire Let It Be album.  Yikes!  With the exception of a couple of good ballads and the fantastic “Across The Universe,” I think I view this as their worst album.  But in fairness, I think I get it, I guess they were falling apart at the time, not to mention recording it all in front of a television crew.  Poor guys…

Some Lists…
With the sheer volume of material we’re talking about here, any attempts to rank or list anything is going to be problematic.  But just to get something on the board here…

Top Three Albums
1) Revolver (edgy, rockin’, experimental, dark; me gusta)
2) Abbey Road (the most consistently good; apparently their real “last album”)
3) Rubber Soul (Revolver lite; similar but not as edgy)
Honorable Mention: Help! (another great one which I liked especially for its folky darkness which at times reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel)

Top Ten Songs
I was surprised at the songs that jumped out at me.  Some of them I don’t think I’d heard before.  Probably not your average hits.  Of course there are loads of good ones, too many to cover.  Presented here in no particular order.
1) I Saw Her Standing There
2) Across The Universe
3) I’m So Tired
4) Tell Me Why (bubblegum, but I love it)
5) Happiness Is A Warm Gun (proto-glam?)
6) While My Guitar Gently Weeps (epic!)
7) Helter Skelter (maybe their ballsiest number)
8) I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (not lyrically, but musically proto-Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, with some Cream)
9) Norwegian Wood
10) For No One (one of their more touching lyrics)
Honorable Mention: I’ve Just Seen A Face, Girl, Taxman, most of the medley at the end of Abbey Road, Something, Here There And Everywhere, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, You Can’t Do That, And Your Bird Can Sing, No Reply, Julia, Come Together, Mother Nature’s Son, Revolution, Don’t Let Me Down, and yes… Yellow Submarine.

Top Three Surprise Learnings
1) Just how many songs I knew!  It was literally an endless slew of “oh yeah, they did this one too!”  Lots of childhood memories of hearing this stuff in mom’s car.
2) The breadth of styles they covered in their catalog!  Bubblegum pop to folk ballads to wall of sound torch songs to blues to country to psychedelic freakouts.  And still it always sounds like them.
3) The same old boring hits that I’ve heard a million times in my life, possibly due to the remastering job, sounded new and fresh to me.  Amazingly rich and lush production.

Open Questions
So I listened to the stereo boxed set, but what about this mono boxed set?  The completist in me has urges, particularly because I know there are significant differences like different intros, guitar solos, etc.  But I don’t like this band enough to need every version of every song.  I don’t need it.  It would be an inexcusable and irresponsible waste of money.  (This is what I’m telling myself.)  Besides, I dislike mono so much.  I so prefer stereo versions where I can hear every instrument more clearly, and where I can have the experience of being immersed and surrounded by the band, rather than a one-dimensional wall of sound blaring at me from one direction.  Stereo feels so much more alive and “real” to me.  Thoughts?

I haven’t done the analysis, but based on the songs I liked in the list above, anyone know if I’m leaning more towards Paul or John… vocally or writing-wise?

Once I bought a compilation of John Lennon’s solo work (I think at Lala’s behest).  There were some gems on there, but overall I wasn’t blown away.  On the subject of pop music education, do I need to delve into their solo work too?  I can’t think of much that Ringo has done?  George had “My Sweet Lord” and “I Got My Mind Set On You.”  Paul did a ton of stuff, right?  Off the top of my head, there was that Christmas song, the James Bond song (“Live And Let Die”), a couple collaborations with Michael Jackson, and that “Vanilla Sky” song wasn’t bad.  That was probably a sacrilegious summary of their combined post-Beatles catalog, huh?  Well… do I need to know/hear more?  Or can I skip it?

Final Word
I expect my opinion on this stuff will change some over time.  When I first heard The Smiths, I knew I liked it, but it was so different… I didn’t fully understand what I was hearing.  It took me some time to get my head around it and really fall in love with it.  I don’t anticipate the same experience here, and I don’t expect I’m ever going to be a huge Beatles fan… but maybe with more listening, I will come to appreciate them more?  50,000,000 Beatles fans can’t be wrong, right?  Anyway, it’s all been very educational.  And now I can go back to listening to other artists again.  Thank you, and goodnight.

“Half of what I say is meaning less…”