Monday, December 23, 2013

A Great Christmas Song That's Not Actually A Christmas Song

Similar to the "Christmas movies that aren't really Christmas movies" post, we have "Snow" by the Trashcan Sinatras.  It's not really a song about Christmas - more about nostalgia or longing more than anything - but it seems I enjoy it most when I listen to it around Christmas time.  For sure, it doesn't really work past January at the latest.  But this song is a pleasant contrast to hustle and bustle of the season, which is often reflected in seasonal music as well.  I recommend turning off all your lights except your Christmas lights and listening to it with your favorite beverage in hand.  I'll have a scotch, please. . . .

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Ghost Of Christmas Blog Entries Past

In 2011, after I wondered when it was appropriate to kick out the Christmas jamz, I posted the lyrics to quite possibly the most patronizing, ethnocentric song of all time - that I still like for some reason. I also showcased a lovely a capella version of "Silent Night" sung by Leslie Donovan, and I took care of all your Christmas needs by assembling the "Parental Advisory Christmas" playlist - you're welcome!  Santa (and Prancer) left a voicemail of gratitude for the healthy snacks my son left out for him - thank YOU, Santa.  You're the man.

In 2012, I received another voicemail, this time from a complete dumbass who wanted me to fix their computer.  I showcased Fred Marshall's great bass work on the greatest Christmas album of all time, and I linked to a Guardian article about one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time.  I threw in a couple Creekdogs Christmas covers - "Spotlight On Christmas" and "While Roving On A Winter's Night".  (While we're at it, check out the Creekdogs cover of "Merry Christmas From the Family".)  I asked my mom and dad to pick out and read their favorite account of Christ's birth, and this is how it sounds.  It gets me almost every time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sonic Firsts: First Concert

December 11th,   1985.  Clowes Hall, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana.  Although I had seen plenty of music at all ages venues/happenings like Muncie’s “No Bar & Grill”, REM was the first real concert I had ever been to.  I say “real concert” because REM was an actual national act, actually touring to support to an actual LP (“Fables of the Reconstruction”) that was released and distributed by an actual national label.  Oh – and they had an honest-to-God light show, which somehow made them more of a big deal to me.  I liked REM a bunch; but even more than REM, I was there to see their opening act:  The Minutemen.

The Minutemen were an acquired taste for me, but I did eventually take to them in a big way and I haven’t stopped listening to them ever since.  Their songs were short bursts of frenzied energy, brilliance and originality that had absolutely no pretension whatsoever.  Each piece stood out as a lean piece of commentary, introspection, humor or some combination thereof.  Bassist Mike Watt was the reason I started playing bass, and he continues to be the bassist and dude that I want to be when I grow up.  I was jazzed up about the show, practically skipping into Clowes Hall with my brother Joe and the Snyder brothers, assuming everybody had the same affection for the Minutemen that I did.* 

I was so wrong.  We stood on the main floor near the back under the balcony, which was sparsely populated (although REM had a large dedicated following, they had not yet reached stadium rock status) save for a handful of frat bros here and there.  The bros in the row of seats behind us sat for most of the show, taking swigs out of a flask disguised as a pair of binoculars.  They only stood up from time to time to shout things like “YOU SUCK” and “GET SOME LESSONS”.  The clapping for the Minutemen between songs was sparse and scattered throughout the massive theater.  At one point, Mike Watt – very much resembling Fidel Castro in his olive drab fatigues – in a moment of excitement, threw his hat into the crowd.  They returned it to him real hard.  That seemed to succinctly sum up that crowd’s feeling on the Minutemen.

The theater went dark when REM was to take stage.  The sound of a locomotive was blasted through the darkness, louder than I had ever heard.  The bros behind me began cheering wildly.  REM had not even taken the stage and already the anticipation was notched up to fever pitch.  Eventually, the opening notes for “Gravity’s Pull” sounded; the lights came up and everyone pushed toward the stage.  The show was on.
It was amazing.  REM’s energy was high.  Michael Stipe was like a whirling dervish, a danger to himself and the people nearest the stage.  It was loud and theatrical; lights and the occasional sound effect between songs made it feel more like a performance than a rock show.  The crowd – though relatively small – was loud and enthusiastic.  If memory serves me correctly, REM did three encores to an appreciative audience.

At some point, all four of us left the show to go to the toilet and cop a smoke.  There, in the vestibule of the auditorium, freshly showered and unnoticed by anyone milling about, was D. Boon and George Hurley – 2/3 of the Minutemen.  I couldn’t believe it.  We continued to the toilets as though we hadn’t seen them, and tried to remain cool as we discussed in the bathroom whether or not we should go up and talk to them.  My buddy Matt Snyder had no fear in that regard. He marched out and initiated a conversation with D. and George.  In retrospect, it shouldn’t have come as any sort of surprise that both men were accessible, friendly and fun to talk to.  Like their music, D. and George were ego free.  Even though I felt like a goof asking for it, both men were happy to give us autographs.  They borrowed a Sharpie from a merch table and signed my sweatshirt.  When D. asked Matt if he could write “U.S. out of El Salvador” on his army parka, Matt told him that it was his dad’s parka, and that his dad would not appreciate the sentiment.  D. and George had a great laugh about that.  They were really nice guys.

That night, I went home with an REM concert shirt and autographs from two dudes I greatly admired.  Both bands were phenomenal and provided an excellent musical contrast that was uncommon back then.  REM would go on to achieve the success they very much deserved.  For the Minutemen, it was their second to last show ever:  D. Boon died in a car accident in Arizona on December 22nd.  It was the first “celebrity”** death I ever felt personally.
* - In fact, this blog takes it's name from a Minutemen song.
** - I reckon D. Boon would hate that label.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sonic Firsts: Media Edition*

First vinyl record:  "Here and There" by Elton John.  It was a hand-me-down from one of my siblings.  I played it on a red (with a red and white striped lid) record player designed for kids to use.  Favorite track was "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding".  I loved the build up of that tune.  Not sure how old I was when this album came into my possession - probably about 9 years old.

First vinyl record I ever purchased with my own money:  "Bad Moon Rising" by Sonic Youth.  Purchased at the legendary A1 Records in Anderson, Indiana, way back when A1 was still operating out of the bottom of an apartment building near my school.  Everything you purchased from that place smelt of incense.  Favorite track was either "Intro" or "Death Valley '69".  Purchased in 7th grade, I believe.

First Compact Disk I ever purchased with my own money:  "All Mod Cons" by the Jam.  After first hearing live versions of "All Mod Cons",  "To Be Someone (Didn't We Have A Nice Time)", "In The Crowd" and "It's Too Bad" off the Jam's excellent "Dig The New Breed" album, I felt somewhat let down by "All Mod Cons".  It felt forced and sanitized; it lacked the energy of many of their other albums.  I appreciated the blue collar tone of some of the songs, but I never actually bought into it.  Favorite track was "In The Crowd".  I don't remember how old I was when I purchased this, but it was sometime in high school.

First MP3 I ever downloaded:  "Pale Blue" by the Byrds.  Downloaded via iTunes.  I love the Byrds; but this is kind of a crappy song, actually.  I downloaded three tunes that day; I can't remember what the other two were.  However, I know for a fact this was the first of the three that I downloaded.  I loved the novelty of downloading tunes.  I also recognized how, since iTunes had my credit card number, downloading could be a very bad thing:  it was almost too easy to acquire music.  If I wasn't careful, I knew my credit card would take a beating.  Purchased in 2002 if memory serves.

First pirated album/mp3 I ever downloaded:  Can't recall for sure, but I do know that it was via Napster and when I was living in Louisville, Kentucky.

* - To the best of my memory, these are my firsts.  I'll post corrections if I find out I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

80s New Wave Artists: What Do They Look Like Now?

I ran across this fun little article in my Internet wanderings today.  I learned several things:

  • Despite their best efforts, even New Wave stars age.
  • Like the rest of us, some age more gracefully than others.
  • Many of them aged more or less like I would've expected them to.  A general rule of thumb is the more dated a tune sounds, the crappier the artist aged (b/c they followed trends so closely).
  • Tanning beds and plastic surgery are the enemy of aging gracefully.
  • It's important to dress your age.  If "youth is a feeling, not an age", dress your age anyway.
Here is a small sample of some who didn't age so gracefully - because let's face it:  that's what these articles are made for.  It's the same mentality that drives people to go to their class reunions.  You want to see if these folks look crappier than you do.
Adam Ant
Kate Bush

Limahl (Kajagoogoo)

Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)

Billy Idol

Some guy from Soft Cell

Nina Hagen

Pete Burns of Dead or Alive

And here are some folks who look great:

Brian Ferry (Roxy Music)

Some guy from Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Human League

Terry Nunn (Berlin)

Morrisey and Johnny Marr (The Smiths)

Thomas Dolby
I was shocked at how great Terry Nunn, the Frankie Goes To Hollywood guy, and the Bananarama women looked.  Holy Mary!  I was stunned at how poorly Pete Burns, Chrissie Hynde and Kate Bush* have aged. But maybe they're all real nice people, God love 'em.  (Remember:  if you throw the phrase "God love 'em" at the end of any judgement call, your exempted from judgement yourself.)

* - I think there was a time when this photo of Kate Bush drove men so crazy that it was handed out on moving in day on every college campus in the U.S.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Off Topic: Best Christmas Movies That Aren't Actually Christmas Movies

Around December each year, I get a craving for a handful of movies that will put me in the Christmas spirit. The interesting thing is that they aren't actually Christmas movies.  I guess because they have memorable Christmas scenes in them, or perhaps because they may have been released in the Christmas season (too lazy to go to and check), I always think of them as Christmas movies.  So at some point, I'll probably load them into the ol' Netflix queue to get meself into the spirit.