Sunday, February 22, 2009

Everyone is wasted as a means of getting through.

"Is tomorrow just a day like all the rest." How could you know just what you did? So full of faith yet so full of doubt I ask. Time and time again you said don't be afraid. Jimmy Eat World's "Goodbye Sky Harbour"

Japanther came to New Paltz yesterday.It was fantastic. I haven't seen them since September. It was like being reunited with old friends. They asked about Hidden Power and were kinda bummed when I told them we broke up. Those guys are without a doubt two of the hardest working musicians in music today. They were in Louisiana yesterday morning, got back to the city at 5pm and made it up to New Paltz at 930. They played from 11-1130 then drove back to Brooklyn to play another show at 1am. Insane.

I was talking to Matt about journalism and stuff. It was their first time in New Paltz. He told me about this documentary called Rock My Religion. Basically this conceptual artist, Dan Graham, made a film between 1982-1984 about how rock n' roll is the America religion for the secular era. I'm trying to get my hands on a copy of it. It seems pretty interesting.

Aha! I've found it. You can watch it here.

I get to wallow in some nostalgia tomorrow night. Jimmy Eat World's Clarity tour with my best friend. The last time we saw Jimmy Eat World was with Green Day and Against Me! at Giants Stadium like four years ago. I was standing in the second row and I might have a few tears squeak out during "A Praise Chorus." JEW was definitely one of the band that shaped my love of music. They were one of the first bands I was ever really passionate about. One of the only bands I would wait with bated breath for that Tuesday that a new record would come out and actually spend my meager high school income on when I knew I could get it for free on the internet. I mean say what you want about them. Are they changing music? No. Do they mean a lot to a lot of people? Sure. That's what keeps rock n' roll alive. If there's no one to believe in it, what's the point?

My girlfriend has a Mohawk and lightning bolts shaved into the sides of her head. Also, I hated Spiderman of the Rings but Dan Deacon's new album Bromst is pretty impressive.

Stay celebs.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Soul Rebels

Underground classics is what they used to say before. Now we break the surface quiet like an alligator nose. They hate it, cuz they know if they don't get it, then they may be slow. We still gonna blow like the horn played by Horatio Talib Kweli's "Soul Rebels"

What purpose does music criticism serve? At least book critics write. Music critics aren't always musicians. My friend Mike and I got on the topic yesterday. Mike is a fantastic musician. We had a band together back in high school. He's going to be a lawyer when he grows up. Here's just the good stuff.

Me: I mostly hate GnR (and hair metal in general) because bastards like Chuck Klosterman revel in the nostalgia of it to the point where he actually gave Chinese Democracy a A-. People will take that seriously
Mike: I don't read him; He's a joke.
Me: And then everyone in my journalism classes wants to write like him. I mean, I used to read him a lot but after reading some of it, you start to see right through him.
Mike: Extended pieces on music are pitiful. Keep it to 1,000 words or learn to play an instrument.
Me: His sports pieces are his best works, I think.
Mike: Never read 'em. But I don't know anything about sports.
Me: You have no idea how annoying it is for every asshole who wants to do entertainment journalism to say in class "Well I'm really inspired by Klosterman's style and blahblahblah." He's just a watered down Lester Bangs Severely watered down.

Of course this led to a couple of much bigger topics.

Mike: Idols in criticism are all a farce. Trying to live vicariously through people they wish they could be.
Me: Isn't that how so many things start though? Wanting to be your idols?
Mike: Absolutely, but it doesn't translate well into a different medium. In this case, anyway. Like Hunter S. Thompson. It's funny that people who consider themselves liberal freethinkers enjoy him because he is simply one big self-celebration.
Me: And a gun toting maniac.
Mike: That too.
Me: He is a helluva writer though.
Mike: He is an OK writer, but what he stands for needs to be forgotten.
Me: I don't think it needs to be forgotten entirely.
Mike: Remembered only for the sake of avoidance. See, emulation is good when it's Kevin Shields emulating the Jesus and Mary Chain. But only because Kevin Shields had talent and vision. However, while everyone has the ability to emulate, not everyone has talent and vision. So not only do you get Hunter S. Thompson, but you get the people in our generation who think he's cool, and who try to live that lifestyle, when they are really just selfish suburban idiots who will never accomplish anything. Emulation becomes infinitely reductive, you see, until the very last person has no ideas whatsoever and is as much a spoonfed drone as middle management at Citibank.
Me: I couldn't agree with you more. But I don't think that there is a better system in place for recognizing innovation. Every year albums are praised for bringing back old genres and lost influences. Movies win awards for being adaptations or biopics and true geniuses aren't recognized until after their time. What's the solution to that? How do we stop making copies of copies?
Mike: Human ingenuity. It's like evolution. There is a germ of something new in the midst of everything that is borrowed or stolen. Like the last Animal Collective record. I mean, you can throw "Beach Boys" at that but you'd be grasping for straws. There are no real reference points.
Me: I would only throw "Beach Boys" at a few vocal parts. Not much else.
Mike: The point is that the whole thing put together has no predecessor and that's where innovation comes in. And i wouldn't say geniuses are ALWAYS ignored in their time. The Arcade Fire's records get a lot of hype and i think that's justified.
Me: Yeah. They don't always get ignored but when they are realized they are marginalized by the hype machine.
Mike: Well that's a separate point altogether. I agree with that.
Me: How are you innovating? How is your art evolving then?
Mike: It changes as your life circumstances change. For a long time I didn't have time to listen to a lot of music and yet I still found myself heading in a million different directions. In every change in timbre, or arrangement, there is something new. I've been sampling a lot more lately--am i the first person to sample? No. But I can't name many other records that mix hip hop/soul samples with dreary shoegaze guitar. That doesn't even mean it's necessarily good--there are just so many variables in music that to attribute every potential outcome to a predecessor is impossible. I mean your point is well taken, and it's the basic postmodernist viewpoint that dominates a lot of music criticism (especially Chris Ott, et al) But that's why you have to think like a musician instaed of a critic.
Me: So you're saying the best music critics are musicians? I guess I can get behind that. Although, anytime I've ever been in a band, I tend to appreciate the bands I play with more openly than if I wasn't. But i suppose that's a good thing. Most bands have something good going on even if its not incredibly clear at first listen.
Mike: That's exactly what I'm saying, yes. I mean, to put it impolitely at least book critics are writers and a lot of them have indeed written books themselves. Bob Dylan made this same point when he put out his memoir.
Me: That's why I never review bands I don't like.
Mike: Haha, well i would never take it that far.
Me: I mean, I never review Coldplay because I don't like them. I know I'll write a negative review.
Mike: Yeah, I could get behind that. I think SOMEONE has to do it, because not everyone listens to music within the indie paradigm. But if you don't want to, as a critic, you shouldn't
Me: But i will review the new Deerhunter record because I like them and if they make a bad record I can honestly review it as something that disappointed me
Mike: Yeah, that's a fair distinction.
Me: There is no point in being negative for the sake of being negative.
Mike: It's not the stream of things you would consider transcendent.
Me: Right. That's a main problem I have with Pitchfork.
Mike: Well, I think there is definitely a time and a place for that. That's the function of criticism, lol. But yes, if you mean should Pitchfork be reviewing Coldplay and mainstream rap or whatever. I don't think they should either.
Me: Not only that. They assign more than one writer to review a band over time. The guy who reviews a band's first album doesn't always get to review their second album. I understand trying to get varied opinions but I think that first guy has a bit more clout.

And now the ever-present grading discussion.

Mike: To tell you the truth, I don't respect music criticism in general. It can serve a utilitarian purpose, which listeners need. But as far as, should whatever point system rating some dickhead in chicago gave to an album matter to me? I don't think it should.
Me: I never give albums grades. I refuse.
Mike: Now granted, it's a great guide, and Pitchfork serves that purpose.
Me: True.
Mike: It can be your older friend who knows cool stuff.
Me: But what does 6.8 mean?
Mike: Right, that's my point. It means something different to everyone. Which is why I think the whole thing as an enterprise is flawed, but I know that's a minority opinion especially within my group of friends.
Me: Exactly. I think some music criticism is great. Trend pieces, profiles on scenes and bands even show reviews but album reviews give me a hard time.
Mike: Right, I would agree with that.

And now, the institution of music criticism/writing/journalism. Whatever you want to call it.

Mike: I'm also not a fan of the Lester Bangs experimental type pieces. It's like... write a novel, or join a band.
Me: Oh I love them and he had a band!
Mike: Yeah, and it sucked.
Me: At least he had the balls to do it. You think Chuck Klosterman is gonna go start a hair metal band?
Mike: The thing is, music criticism never ILLUMINATES anything for me. The one time that has ever happened for me, has been Bangs writing about Astral Weeks.
Me: Excellent album.
Mike But still, I would rather listen to Astral Weeks than read Lester Bangs writing about Astral Weeks. I don't know. It just strikes me as so peanut gallery. So little kids wanting to do what the big kids do.
Me: Yeah but some people wouldn't listen to Astral Weeks if Lester Bangs didn't write about it.
Mike: I don't think I'd give him or any critic that much credit. Good music finds its way back to the mainstream anyway.
Me: But that was the case for some people.
Mike: Hell, music itself serves that purpose and word of mouth.
Me: But some failed musicians wanted jobs close to something they like and some writers don't have the cajones to pick up a guitar.
Mike: Then that's their flaw, not their gift. It doesn't take much. Look at the Ramones. You dont even have to care. I don't see why it has to be canonized as a respectable "art form," "music criticism"
Me: I don't think it should be canonized.
Mike: But it is. It's an institution
Me: It's hobby writing.
Mike: Well, as long as you realize that, that's the point I'm trying to make. Pitchfork/sites like it/blogs try to put it into a whole new paradigm and get paid a lot of money/attention for doing it. But most importantly, writing about music will never get you laid as much as playing it.
Me: Most importantly.
Mike: Well you know, it would be pretentious to say that any musician is bereft of that motive somewhere inside him/herself
Me: That's the only reason I try singing.
Mike: Haha. That's the most honest thing you've said so far. And I mean, it doesn't even negate the product. Like i was saying before about what makes things innovative--it's all circumstance. If the Ramones made music today, no one would give a damn but they made music where and when they did, so they mattered.
Me: I would!
Mike: You'd be alone. I'm sorry.
Me: I love the Ramones
Mike: So do I. But I mean, to clarify my point on innovation, I'm saying that they would not matter nearly as much.

The usefulness of music criticism.

Mike: Circumstance. The extramusical stuff, historically. That matters too and that's another place where critics could potentially be useful
Me: Documenting history? Recognizing something new?
Mike: Yes, both of those things. In one sense, as i said, your point is right, everything has SOME precedent, but at the same time, it doesn't matter if anything *IS* new. It matters if it SOUNDS new to the people listening to it at the time, so that they get lost in the experience.
Me: Agreed.
Mike: But again it's very risky because everyone's got their own thing to say, their own backgrounds to take to writing. And as you said sometimes truly great things get ignored--now who would you blame that on? Obviously not the musician
Me: Not at all. Circumstance.
Mike: Right. Which encompasses people too. i.e., critics, fans
Me: Yeah I'm just trying to get out of this with my career intact. Haha.
Mike: I mean like I said, it definitely serves a purpose. I wouldn't know a lot of the music I do without it. But at the same time, a deconstructed community can serve that same purpose and also be more fluid and less institutional.
Me: But there comes a point where you have to question the vaildity of it all.
Mike: Now you're getting it, but I would take that much further. You ALWAYS question the validity of it. That is your STARTING point.
Me: I think the Internet is that deconstructed community.
Mike: To an extent, but even then you have to clarify. Message boards, yes. Blogs that post records, yes. Review sites, not necessarily.
Me: But with so many people telling you their opinions you can truly sort out what is what. You can decide for yourself whats valid and what isn't.
Mike: Precisely.
Me: Things without grading scales.
Mike: But that means you have to approach everything with skepticism, rather than awe/idolization
Me: By doing so you recognize others' awe/idolization and even hatred in an effort to make your own decision.
Mike: Indeed.

I realize I didn't do much talking there. But I agree with a lot of what he said. As I've continued on my path as a Journalism major I've been moving farther and farther from straight music criticism. In the form of album reviews anyway. I have a lot more fun writing literary journalism pieces about other things. I mean I still have some pretty intense feelings towards bands I like and bands I don't. But I mostly don't want to write about bands I don't like. Where's is the merit in ripping a band to shreds? I guess it depends. If Japanther put out a really terrible record, I would be pretty angry and probably write a pretty bad review. In that case I think it's okay. I'm allowed to be angry at my favorite band. But am I allowed to hate The Fray's album when I went into the record knowing I didn't like the band already? That's a gray area. They could pleasantly surprise me.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The answer is right under your nose.

All is well for now but hell is far too close to turn this car around when the only ones making any sense are playing kickball and smoking candy cigarettes. This Is My Suitcase's "Some Grand Romantic Gesture"

I loathe Valentine's Day. Consequently, I had a pretty good one. No reservations. No grand romantic gestures. (Partly because I don't think there is such a thing as a grand romantic gesture if you waited to do it as obvious a day as Valentine's Day) No nothing. Stayed home. Ate store-bought sushi. Played (and won) Trivial Pursuit. Watched a movie. Went to bed. Total cost? About 12 bucks.

My mom and I talked. Both of my parents are born again Christians. Somehow we got on the subject of faith and the Bible on the way home from the grocery store. The grocery store! That's an awfully short trip for such heavy topics. I think that it all started from some mention of my mother's disapproval of "the homosexual lifestyle." Not hatred of the people themselves. Just the lifestyle. Her words not mine. We agreed to never agree with each other on that. But that ultimately led to our faith discussion.

I told her that I do believe in some sort of higher being. I mean that only makes sense right? It had to all start somewhere. Could be God. Could be Allah. Could be Bruce Springsteen. I don't know. But there must be something bigger. I mean people in churches go nuts sometimes. Not in an actually crazy way but more in a "Wow they've got some passion" way. But I've never been jealous of that. I've always had that.

I feel close to god sometimes. Not in big churches. Usually much smaller spaces. And everyone around me is smiling and dancing. Everyone has their hands up. Kids are flying with a little help from their friends and strangers. All the girls' make-up is running but no one is crying. Everyone is singing hard. Everyone knows all the words. I got there clean and I'll leave with a little bit of everyone on me. Whoever is behind that microphone speaks the truth. There is no doubt about that. It's been documented in vinyl grooves scratching along in our bedrooms.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blank Generation

To hold the t.v. to my lips, the air so packed with cash. Then carry it up flights of stairs and drop it in the vacant lot. To lose my train of thought and fall into your arms' tracks and watch beneath the eyelids every passing dot. -Richard Hell and the Voidoids' "Blank Generation"

This is a column I wrote this week for The Oracle.

Blank Generation

A friend of mine said on Monday night that it was completely inappropriate for Barack Obama to be asked a question about Alex Rodriguez’s recent outing as a steroid user during a press conference about the recession. I adamantly disagreed, as did the other two people in the room.

The one non-believer stated that in reality, baseball has nothing to do with the recession. Baseball is just something trivial and we would understand his point if the president was asked a question about “American Idol.”

He obviously does not understand the magnitude of A-Rod’s betrayal.

Click here to continue reading.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Got no car. Got no money.

But I let you down and swollen and small is where you'll find me now with that silver stripping off from my tongue you're tearing out and you'll never hear me talk
- Neutral Milk Hotel's "Where You'll Find Me Now"

Vassar kind of looks like Hogwart's. (Not that I like Harry Potter. I'm not one of those obsessives that can find a reference to that kid wizard (kizard??) in everything. Just making an observation) Big trees, scary buildings, spooky night. It all adds up.

Most importantly, the reason I was there was to see Nodzzz (!) and Wavves (!!). The show was in the basement of one of the buildings. I think it was called the College Center. Whatever it was, it was the biggest building on campus. The basement was a bar and the bartender looks miserable. I guess all old, black bartenders who are working at a college where an arty punk show is happening look that miserable on a weeknight.

The first band that played was Bird Names
. They were a five member kind of psychy, kind of folky, kind of poppy band. They call it intuitive pop. I don't call it that. I call it I-like-that-you-have-a-singing-saw-but-besides-one-song-that-sounded-like-a-spazzy-60s-pop-song-I don't-give-a-shit-you-sound-like-band-practice-by-people-on-drugs. The band looked straight out of episode of Pete & Pete. One of the guitarists looked like he should be in the Melvins and I'm pretty sure that the other one didn't play his guitar. It looked like he just shook while standing on the balls of his feet and strummed furiously while hoping the right sounds came out. The second drummer/singer told us that they would trade prescription pills for merch. Well fucking a. I have nothing against people who want to do drugs. Whatever. Just don't be so fucking obnoxious and by obnoxious I mean don't look stoned out your mind all the time and think that everything that comes out of your mouth is hilarious. It's not cute. All that being said the band had a few good tunes. Artie, the strongest man in the world must be proud to call these kids his neighbors. I'm partly a sucker for chanting songs. Basically anything gang vocal-esque is good in my book. They had a couple of those. The last song was especially good.

Nodzzz took over from there and everyone ventured onto the wooden dancefloor part of the room where Bird Names had previously been sprawled across. Nodzzz is only three guys. No bass. No bullshit. Their record is only 15 minutes long. 'Nuff said. They opened with my favorite song, "Controlled Karaoke." That got everyone doing that awkward kind of bend at the knees bop along move that you do when don't really want to/ can't really jump up and down. Plus enthusiasm isn't always cool to show (duh). Nodzzz also asked for prescription medicine. Mostly amoxicillin though.

The crowd was weird. It was a lot like any of the shows that I might be at at home. I mean none of these kids would look out of place at The Market Hotel. You had some boys with skinny pants, plaid shirts, beards and red Steve Zissou hats and girls who refuse to believe that tights aren't pants. (They aren't. I don't care how long your shirt is. It's not okay.) Did I mention how beautiful people at Vassar are? Well, yeah. I'm convinced that prettier people go to schools that I don't go to.

Nodzzz finished in what seemed like 10 minutes. It very well may have been. Wavves was up next. First thing I noticed was the awful/great rat tail he had going on. Second thing I noticed was how small he was. I mean not in a bad way. I'm just usually surprised because I assume that people I've never met/seen are the same size as me. But I am a giant so that is usually never the case. Plus guys in bands are usually small(er). That's a gross generalization. Wavves played stuff from all their releases. Surfy, No Age-y stuff. Got the crowd doing the whole let's sway til we fall over or the one guy who is jumping up and down smashes our feet. This time I was the guy jumping (and smashing, I suppose).

I realized that people love clapping. Little Wavves kept loosing his guitar cable from his guitar during his little rock out session and everyone jumped in with that: clapclap clap clapclap clap. Seriously. Who doesn't love the anthemic drum beats that allow for that kind of clapping. It was happening all night. For every band!

Woods closed the night out
. They had a sound manipulator guy on the floor and I really like the band they used to be. But I was just kind of underwhelmed by them. Wavves had me so pumped that I couldn't properly enjoy Woods' mellow pop. I also didn't see the need for the sound manipulator guy although I suppose I would notice his absence. He just looked silly on the floor. They closed with a Dead cover. Milkmen that is. Good on 'em.

I love free shows.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tramps like us.

Everybody needs a place to rest. Everybody wants to have a home. Don't make no difference what nobody says, ain't nobody like to be alone. - Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart"

Late nights are especially conducive to writing. Late nights are also especially good times for Paul Baribeau and Ginger Alford covers of Bruce Springsteen. I'm going to continue blaming my recent Boss kick on Kurt Warner and this.

It has occurred to me that Kurt Warner is a living Bruce Springsteen song. A mix between "Born to Run," "Long Time Comin'" and "Glory Days" with a touch of "Queen of the Supermarket." Let's take a look at the facts.

1. Bruce Springsteen writes a bunch of songs about the triumphs and failures of working-class Americans.
2. Kurt Warner was a working class American who was a stock boy at a grocery store after getting cut by the Green Bay Packers.
3. Bruce Springsteen has written a song that takes place in a supermarket.
4. Kurt kept trying and eventually became the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. He won a Super Bowl and a bunch of awards. He hit a rough patch and then made a stunning comeback.
5. He even married his wife before he was rich and famous! And she was a divorcee with two kids! And her parents died in a tornado! Her life was probably also written by Bruce which is why she married Kurt Warner.

This shit belongs on "Born to Run."

Two questions:
Is Bruce Springsteen God?
If he isn't, how did he write Kurt Warner's life?

I am blown away.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Way to go, Kurt.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing, freedom soon will come; then we'll come from the shadows. - Leonard Cohen's "The Partisan."

I never root for the winning team in the Super Bowl. Maybe it's some sort of aversion I have toward winning that comes from being a Jet fan. At least it's not like last year. Still I really thought that Arizona had a shot. I used to really love Kurt Warner. Being 11 years old and thinking that if I could just get a job at a grocery store then I too could become an NFL quarterback fueled many hours of Madden and alleyway football with all the other kids on the block. Whichever team JT was on always won.

So today to celebrate the greatest game on the gridiron, I ate too many chicken wings and listened to John Madden babble about things that everyone could obviously see. It made the extremely pedestrian first three quarters a bit more interesting though. Probably the best part of the game was The Boss at halftime. Now I'm not sure if he meant to slide crotch first into the camera or you just couldn't stop sliding in time but everyone in my suite was glad to have gotten a face full of a working class American hero. He was really hamming it up too. There was even a little planned skit thing with one of the referees and then Steve Van Zandt yelled that it was "Boss Time!" Cue fireworks, screaming fans and more pigskin.

The commercials weren't spectacular this year. I think advertisers really phoned it in. The best commercial involved a koala with a British accent getting punched in the face. Good work Too bad I'll still never use your website.

Oh, this made me pretty happy to read about probably because bowel movements have been on the brain since my roommates have all been trying (only some succeeding) to light their farts on fire. Apparently putting subliminal messages in poetry in bathroom stalls stops people from using as much TP. Good to know. Thanks, Japan.

The Oracle starts back up this week. More long hours and the dreaded orange office.