Friday, March 30, 2007

The Underneath (Music Geek Night part 1)

Time yet again for a post (actually two) about an amazing night at a Robyn Hitchcock show for little ol' me. Now, you know I usually try to not let my blog become one of those boring "here's what I did today" diary type blogs, because I really can't stand those. People might not dig what I write, but at least it's not going to be because it is nothing more than just a daily accounting of my daily life. If I'm going to be hated I want it to be for being a shitty writer, not a boring one.

My thought and ideas, sure. But not just recaps of my day I hope. Unless your name is Anne Frank nobody is interested in your diary.

Well sometimes I just can't help it after I've had such a fun night out. It seems to usually involve going out to a show by one of my favorite musicians. Like here, here and here. Most of you who might read this blog on any type of regular basis pretty much know that I'm a major music geek and that my favorite things are Robyn Hitchcock, Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy and that REM holds an important and special place in my life and that my favorite new band to pop up in the last five years is The Dresden Dolls.

Knowing that, you'll see why Tuesday night was so damn cool for me.

So I head down to the Knitting Factory in Tribeca, rushing out the door because the show is listed at 8:00 and I wanted to see at least a little of the opener and at the time I left it meant I wouldn't get there until about 8:30. Turns out I rushed for no reason though. Seems that The Knitting Factory, without specifying it, puts on their listings and tickets the door opening time and not the show start time like everybody else. So I'm at the venue at 8:30 thinking that Robyn would be going on about 9:00 or 9:15 and find out that it won't be until 10:15. So that sucked. I also find out that because I did will call for my ticket I don't actually get a ticket stub to add to my collection, just a stamp on my hand. Kind of hard to put that in my ticket box.

I grab a Boddingtons at the bar and head into the band space to check it out since I haven't been there before. Good space in general. Nice and small, the way I like my music venues. But also really warm already and it is not even close to being full yet. I chat up with a couple of guys hanging out there for a while before the opener starts. When Johanna Kunin took the stage I watched for a while but her music was a little too mellow for the room temperature. So I took a walk to the outer bar and kind of hung out by the entrance. I started talking to a guy named Phil who was trying to unload an extra ticket he had, which is why he was hanging out by the door.

By this time Peter Buck had been walking around hanging out for a while looking like just any regular concert-going guy at a bar, just like he had at the show in November at Maxwell's, with no air of a guy who plays lead guitar for one of the biggest bands in the world and was just inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

So I'm talking to this guy Phil about music, he's a middle-aged music geek from Jersey and we hit it off really easily. I know I've said it before, but the great thing about not living in Boston anymore is that this kind of thing is actually possible in, well, everyplace else in the world pretty much. People in clubs will actually talk to each other and make friendly conversation. But I digress.

While I'm chatting with Phil I notice a black dude walk in with the wildest head of hair I've seen for a while. It's not really an afro because it's too straight. It's more like a black guy with a Robert Smith 'do, which was just great. He walked in with a woman that looked familiar and she told him to find the guest list and he walked toward the box office and I told him I thought it might be at the will call table (I was wrong). He started to scream toward his friend that he found out where the list was but she had walked back outside.

"Oh, she's going to go smoke, I have to wait for her," he said to me.
I said, "She looks a lot like Amanda Palmer."
"That is Amanda Palmer."
"Really, the Amanda Palmer."
"No Shit?"

Amanda Palmer is the leader of The Dresden Dolls.

So when she came back in I started talking to her for a while and told her how much I love her music and that I saw her perform live several times while I was living in Boston and other such complimentary things. I was starting to tell her that the only thing I liked about living in Boston was discovering her music while I was there (that's where The Dresden Dolls are from) and I said, "I really hated living in Boston, but..."

She cut me off with, "I know doesn't it suck?"

I was so happy to find out that she hates it there too. A great musician, songwriter and a kindred spirit as well. We talked for a little while longer, about her upcoming tour this summer with Cindy Lauper, Erasure and Debbie Harry and that my wife and I would be seeing it at Radio City. I also told her that I had been out there turning people on to her music as much as I could, that my wife would be bummed that she decided not to come tonight because she was a big fan too, and we had a nice little conversation about our shared love of Robyn Hitchcock. That was the reason we were both there after all. Except I wasn't on the guest list.

She went to go get her ticket, gave me the warmest handshake and told me she would try to catch me again later.

In the meantime, Robyn walked past on his way in to the venue (Amanda pointed it out to me in a genuine fan-geek style, she was just as giddy as anybody in the place) as did Scott McCaughey (he remembered me as Gary's friend he met last time) and Phil had sold his extra ticket so we went and got a beer together. He didn't know who The Dresden Dolls were, so I told him why I was so psyched to meet her and tried to describe their music to him. That's hard to do.

Phil and I made our way back in to the performance space and it was packed to the gills and hot. We stood toward the back for the show. It's a small place and I'm tall, so why try to work in to the thick crowd and the heat?

The show was great of course. I've done enough gushing over Robyn shows in the past so I don't need to give a review here. I will say that the highlights for me were finally getting a live performance of Belltown Ramble (brings back Seattle memories), a great acoustic version of Balloon Man, an incredible cover of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd's See Emily Play and the best rockin' version of The Underneath I've ever heard.

I was in heaven. I would be even more so after the show.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm Sorry, Were You Talking?

OK, so sorry I haven't posted yet this week, I've been working out in Newark and while that sounds close to New York and is accessible by PATH train, it still takes a really long time to get there and back. So I know I'm late in posting the link to this weeks Roundtable, forgive me Sereena, but better late than never.

Anyhoo, Sereena is taking on the topic this week of what makes what you have to say so important. And why the hell should we listen? Well.....why?

Go over to Metaphor Voodoo and let Sereena X know why you should be listened to. But be warned, she'll take no long-winded rants. You get cut off at 50 words.

And check back in the late afternoon and I'll hopefully have a new proper post up. It will be yet another exciting adventure of me at a Robyn Hitchcock show on Tuesday night. And there will be surprise guest appearances...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Not Punching Me Would Be A Start

Atul over at Things I've Noticed is hosting this week's Roundtable and he's talking about respect. Not the kick-ass Otis Redding song, but actual respect. I think I've heard of that. Not sure what it feels like, but it sounds like a familiar concept.

Anyway, Atul is wondering who you respect. Well, he's more interested, I think, in the type of person you respect, not in any actual specific name. So you don't have to admit to your love and admiration of Ann Coulter. Because, you know, that would just be embarrassing for both of us.

So go on over and let Atul know what traits you like in people.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Put Another Twenty In The Jukebox

Do you know how you can absolutely love and hate something all at the same time? I imagine it is what heroin addicts feel toward their smack. I know for sure it's how I felt about cigarettes before I finally got that demon off my back. It's also how a lot of people feel about their parents.

I have a new one on my list. The modern jukebox.

I loved in back in the 80s and 90s when jukeboxes in bars went to the kind that had whole CDs instead of just singles. It was a great way to be able to hear your favorite song off of an album even if it wasn't the "hit" from it. So most would have, say, REM's Green and U2's Joshua Tree because Stand and With Or Without You were hits, but one could choose to play World Leader Pretend and One Tree Hill instead. It was a great time for jukebox history. Sure, they were a little more expensive but it was worth a little more for the choice. And it wasn't that much more, you could still get something like 20 songs or more for five bucks.

But there's a new sheriff in town, so to speak, in the world of bar music. I speak, of course, about the internet-connected jukebox.

I have seen them in the last few bars that I've hung out at here in Manhattan, from dives like Rudy's in Hell's Kitchen to nicer bars like Crossroads on the Upper West Side. They are clearly taking over. And I'm conflicted. I love it so much and I hate it so much.

First of all, as a music lover how could you not love that you can find a ton of songs to choose from when you are hanging in a bar? Especially when you are someone who listens to stuff other than what gets played on the radio (does radio still exist?). Being able to subject my fellow bar patrons to Billy Bragg singing "I've got a socialism of the heart" just makes me really happy. Looking around to see who digs it and who just doesn't get it is a great way to silently judge people.

And sometimes you are just in the mood to tap your feet to California Stars while you are having a cocktail, and when one of those machines is in the bar you're hanging at you know you can whenever you want.

But there are oh so many downsides.

The big thing is that it gets expensive. Now five bucks will get you 13 credits, which doesn't sound too awful on the surface. But there is a catch. A single credit will get you one play of a song that is loaded on the machine itself. And it looks at first like they have a lot of CDs to choose from, even if it might be more mainstream, ordinary stuff. But on closer look your choices are much more limited. When you choose an album you find out that only a couple (sometimes only one) songs are available, and often the one you wanted is not among them. The answer of course is to go to the on-line section of the juke and search for that song. But guess what? The searchable songs cost two credits each to hear.

Ah, there's the rub. Dammit, you have your heart set on a song and then you find out it's double the price. You really want to hear it though, so you say "fuck it" and order it up. Next thing you know, every song you want to hear is something you have to pay double for and your five dollars has turned into a paltry seven songs. That really cuts into the beer money.

And even with the searchable database of over 100,000 songs that they advertise on the machine, you can still (at last check a while back) only find a grand total of one Robyn Hitchcock song, Jewels For Sophia. And absolutely no Dresden Dolls songs.

So even a jukebox hooked up to the web of the wide world still suffers from musical ignorance.

There is also the downside that, in a mirror of the way I like to spread the musical genius of the artist I'm into, there can always be that guy in the bar who is trying to relive the glory days of when he was captain of his 80s high school football team and loading the machine with the likes of Every Rose Has Its Thorn and You Don't Know What You Got (Till Its Gone). Not only that, but he is also choosing the "play now" feature, which moves your song to the front of the queue for yet another credit. That is really damn annoying. Even more annoying when he gets all emotional and stands up to air the guitar solos that he finds "deep".

Of course the worst thing about these new machines is that the bars themselves tend to take a character hit. A lot of what gave a bar its personality was the jukebox. Every bar was different according to what the owner put in his jukebox. Each place had its own distinct personality based partially, some places even mostly, on the jukebox. It's one of the many things that make local bars better places to hang out than a TGI Fridays or a Bennigan's. We lose that one, what's next?

I was hanging out at my old college a couple of weeks ago and stopped at one of my old haunting grounds called the Jackson Street Pub. They still have their CD jukebox and it's still cheap. And they apparently haven't changed it since I graduated, so I guess its character would be "Deni's college years" of the early to mid-90s. This may or may not be what you'd like in a bar, but it was great for me. It was a big Nirvana, REM, Pearl Jam and No Rain night at the Pub. And Freebird. It was so much fun.

And I wouldn't have picked a lot of those songs if my choices were less limited. That kind of delicious time warp that happens to certain bars will become less and less common.

So I really hate the new jukes.

But that doesn't stop me from throwing too much money in them when I'm around one.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shut It

RW wants to know why you don't just shut your damn pie hole. Seriously, why don't you? You just seem to be full of opinions.

Head on over to Chasing Vincenzo and let him know why you think you have something important to say. You can tell him it's because you're my friend. That's a great reason.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rapid Heart Movement

The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, as a concept, is a wholly stupid idea. Taking something as subjective as music and trying to measure it by the same standards as baseball and football players is just ridiculous. It's bad enough that Billboard tracks sales of records instead of just letting them stand on their merits. That anybody buys an album because of how much it sold is so foreign to me. Radiohead debuts at number one every time they out out a new disc, but that doesn't stop me from thinking they suck hard and are one of the most pedestrian and overly-pretentious bands of the last decade. That they will be in the R & R HOF someday and Robyn Hitchcock won't is all the proof I need that it is a joke. And also pointless. So pointless, in fact, that they put the actual museum for it in Cleveland.

That being said, I have to admit I was interested and excited about REM being inducted last night. For the first time they were airing the induction ceremony live on VH1 Classic. I didn't even know there was such a thing as VH1 Classic until I heard about this. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found out that we actually have it, buried in with the other gazillion pointless stations that come with digital cable. So I stayed up last night watching the ceremony waiting for them to get to Michael Stipe and company. The good thing about it is that when they do the inductions you get treated to a performance of a few songs from the artists being honored or maybe a few of their songs being performed by another band if it someone who is dead or a band that refuses to reunite for the occasion. Or in the case of the Sex Pistols refusing to even accept being inducted, which was just brilliant last year. That was my favorite Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame moment ever, them being told to fuck off by the Sex Pistols.

So I wanted to see REM perform last night because original drummer Bill Berry was going to be with them in one of only a handful of times he's performed with them since leaving ten years ago. No way I could miss it. I had to endure the crappiest band ever Velvet Revolver butchering Van Halen before it got there, but I finally got my payoff.

They were inducted by Eddie Vedder, who feted them in a really sweet, albeit clumsy, speech. He said something about REM not only being able to hit the emotions that were already in your heart but also putting some there that didn't exist before. I really understood what he meant.

REM has been in the soundtrack of my life for so very long. I met the girl who would become my wife because of an REM concert. They got inducted last night less than a week after the 18th anniversary of that night and one week before our third wedding anniversary. And it was happening just a few blocks from where we live.

But their music has been more then just something that coincidentally coincided with my personal life. REM is more than any other group responsible for my lifelong love, some would say obsession, with music and even, dare I say such a gooberistic and melodramatic thing, my musical awakening.

I grew up in Stone Mountain, GA, a short 60 miles from Athens. So I became aware of them a lot sooner than if I had grown up somewhere else in the country. I think I was about 14 or 15 when I first heard them. Up to that age in my life I liked music but I had no real love of anything. I know people my age that grew up with parents who introduced them to things like Highway 61 Revisited, Sgt. Pepper, Joni Mitchell's Clouds, Velvet Underground and Nico, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Who or even Tom Waits. My mom listened to the Four Seasons and Air Supply. The first record either of my parents ever got me was my dad's birthday gift of Bobby Vinton's Greatest Hits. My second one was my mother giving me Disco Duck. You could see why I didn't think I liked music very much.

This all changed after hearing REM. Though I did discover U2 (the first band I truly loved) before them, it wasn't until hearing REM that I really started to discover my passion for music. They were responsible for leading me directly to both Robyn Hitchcock and Billy Bragg, two singer-songwriters who would go on to surpass REM as my favorites. But they didn't just lead me to other great music directly. They showed me that there was more to find out there beyond the shitty pop they played on Z-93 in Atlanta, which as a kid I thought was the only radio station that existed since it was all that got listened to in my house.

After REM happened for me I never heard music the same way again. And I actively sought out new and interesting stuff as much as I could, spending hours upon hours in local record stores in search of anything that "spoke" to me. If I hadn't heard them in my teen years, I don't know if I would have ever become as curious about music.

I also don't know if I'd be alive.

I had a rough time in my teen years, like a lot of people. On top of having to deal with being a social outcast in high school, we also moved right before my senior year. Because my life wasn't difficult enough in high school without having to be a new kid on top of it. I guess my mother didn't think high school sucked enough for me so she had to give it a nice twist for my last year. And we moved to a suburban hell called Lake Zurich, IL that I considered the worst place on planet Earth until I lived in Boston. Luckily for me the great album Document came out close to the beginning of the school year. It was the perfect soundtrack for my life that year, with its beautiful raw energy. Peter Buck's most wailing guitar work, a driving rhythm anchored by Bill Berry's ferocious drumming and the most intense Stipe has ever been vocally. It was the perfect soundtrack for my senior year. And I listened to it almost every day. I had to.

Suicidal teenager is probably one way to describe me at 17. Coming home from another day of being knocked up against the lockers by the idiot football player tying to prove how tough he is by picking on a geek, having my hair made fun of by the cheerleader bimbo who sat behind me in Consumer Econ and being challenged to fights by some jackass named John Knox because he didn't like the way I dressed or my political leanings (I wore a peace sign button on my jacket). Or it was because he had a small dick, I forget which. And then I had to go home to an emotionally and physically abusive mother who liked to tell me that I would get along better in school if I tried to "fit in". There were so many days I just wanted it to end. And I really thought about ending it so many times.

But I would put on my headphones, slap Document in the CD player and crank the volume as high as I could handle. The opening riffs of Finest Worksong would come on and fill me with its energy. By the time I got to It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) nothing seemed so bad anymore. And by the ending of Oddfellows Local 151 the day would usually be washed away and I could breathe again. On some days, especially when my mother was in a particularly raging mood about her life and decided to take it out on her children again, it took more than one listening. Sometimes three or four.

But it always worked. And I believe it's why I survived my teen years.

I've always said that if I ever got the chance to meet anybody in REM I would thank them for saving my life. Without Document I really think there is a good chance I would have been one of those 17 year-olds who gets found in the bathtub with slit wrists or hanging in the garage.

Even though they are not my favorite band anymore and I've really not liked their last few albums, no band could ever hold the special place in my heart that they do. Hell, I wouldn't even have the phrase "favorite band" in my vocabulary if it weren't for them. Or a wife.

And keeping me from killing myself was pretty good too.

Thank you Bill, Peter, Mike and Michael.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I've been thinking about whores a lot lately. No no, not the walking the streets in Queens working for your next rock and having a HBO crew follow you around for an "after dark" documentary kind of whore. I'm talking about the anything for a buck as long as it benefits me no matter who else in the world it might hurt kind of whore.

I wrote about this a little over a month ago and I never really got any comments beyond Joe defending the practice of watching out for Number One, so I thought I'd touch on the subject again for my first Roundtable.

I love calling people whores. I do it all the time. One little word can pretty much sum-up a person. Like, it is the perfect description for both Paris Hilton and Donald Trump, right? Even more so if you use "media" as a prefix. If I tell you I think someone is a whore, you get very clearly how I feel about someone. It's one of those beautiful descriptive terms. Like ass-hole.

Side to actual whores: I mean no disrespect comparing your straight-forward service for cash business to bottom feeders like Donald Trump. There just isn't a better replacement word for my point.

Anyway, my point is that the whole world, and especially America, seems to be filled with whores. People just seem so willing to sell their soul for an easy buck, even if it contributes to the pain, oppression, maiming and death of others. "As long as I get mine, fuck everybody else" is the prevailing attitude of the world.

The example that comes to mind most often for me is people who do commercials or promotion for nefarious and just plain old evil companies. And it drives me nuts. Not just because I spent several years studying theatre and never really considered using what I learned to sell diet soda or car insurance. I mean, I think that still makes one a whore for doing it, but there is an argument to be made for an actor trying to make a living. But there is the kind of whoring that is on a whole different level than that.

When someone helps promote a company that causes human suffering because they are getting paid a lot, that's something I find unforgivable. Nobody seems to have a place where they draw the line anymore. Well, there might be one place. Nazis and the Holocaust. Whenever I'm talking to someone (i.e. an actor) about what they would or wouldn't do, and I get to the question of whether or not they would do (or would have done in the 30s and 40s) a commercial promoting the Nazi party or for the extermination of Jews, they say "well, of course not."

I usually like to broaden that question out to whether or not they would have made a commercial for a product that they know was the direct result of, say, forced labor in concentration camps. You know, would you accept money to promote widgets that were made in slave camps where people were forced to work 18 hour days and people were killed on a regular basis? Again, that gets treated as a preposterous question, no decent person would do such a thing.

But then ask that same person if they would make a commercial for the De Beers company, the world's biggest (almost only) diamond company. You usually get a different answer. But why? The actions of the De Beers are directly responsible for the maiming, torturing and killing of thousands of people in African countries that produce diamonds, one of the most notable being Sierra Leone. And many of the people who had limbs chopped off so they wouldn't steal the diamonds from the mines were children. Many were also enslaved to work the mines.

The irony that shadows of hands were symbol of De Beers for so many years is lost on many people.

And I think the two actors that played the parts of the hands in those ads are just as guilty of crimes against humanity as Leni Riefenstahl. Leni didn't actually kill any Jews herself, but she sure did a heck of a job of promoting the Nazi agenda with her propaganda films. Is she off the hook for just "taking a gig"?

To me, the biggest whore in the Whore Hall of Fame is Michael Jordan. The man has no shame or soul whatsoever. He certainly doesn't have the "need the money" excuse that so many actors tend to use. At one point he was the most recognizable person in the world, and a prime example of elite athleticism. And what does an elite athlete encourage kids around the world to do? Eat McDonald's and drink Coke. I would guess that he didn't get to be the best basketball player in the world by doing that. Oh, and he had his name put on a really expensive shoe that was largely made by child laborers working in substandard conditions for up to 16 hours a day for very low wages.

The kids who made the shoe may have not been getting much, but Michael made sure to get his. It has been said that while Jordan was playing he was paid more money each year by Nike than they paid their entire Vietnamese and Indonesian workforces combined.

Of course there are examples everywhere, not just in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Doctors and scientists who work for the tobacco industry or do infomercials for "health products" they know to be worthless come to mind. Like I said, we seem to be surrounded by whores.

So what are your thoughts? Do you think I have a point, or do you think that anything anybody does to make a buck is OK? Where would you draw the line? Outta sight, outta mind, or do people need to think more about the effect of their actions on others even if they don't get to see it first hand?

But even more importantly, who are the people that you think are the biggest whores?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Let's Hear It For The Beige

I'm off to Chicago for the weekend and will not be on the tubes of the internets at all while I'm gone. The Beige One does not have his Roundtable up yet (come on Jose! It's almost 4:00am PST ya lazy bum), so I have no idea what it is about.

But when he does post a topic it will be here. And I'm sure it will be as enlightening and intense as Kevin Bacon's "time to dance" speech from Footloose.

See y'all after the weekend.