Friday, October 23, 2009

Eight Hundred Record Reviews

The Flaming Lips, Embryonic

I could use this review as a vehicle for my rap about how the Flaming Lips are really just Phish for hipsters (nonsensical lyrics meet an overweening sense of whimsy, rabid fan followings, silly costumes on stage, too many drugs, records that fail to capture their live sound) but I won't, considering this record actually decimates that reduction by being a) not very whimsical, b) fucking strange, and c) actually important (unlike the most recent Phish record, which is a gigantic yawn). To get it out of the way: yes, it sounds exactly like Can. I mean, honestly, go find a copy of "Tago Mago" and then play this next to it -- it's so clear that Messrs. Coyne and Co. spent a LOT of time recently listening to the way the solid, robotic, polyrhythmic drumming of Jaki Leibzeit nails down the crazy frippery of the rest of the band, and virtually duplicated it across at least half of this record. But that's not a bad thing, really -- if you're gonna pick a band to rip off, definitely pick one that harnesses wild mercury in a live setting, because it's gonna make you at least try to do that yourself. Sure, there's still a lotta bullshit lyrics about turning into a frog or whatever, the band hasn't lost their occasionally vomit-inducing sense of cute, but unlike their last few, this one actually sounds sorta dangerous and weird, which renders it less Nickelodeon and more Adult Swim, if that makes any sense. In other words: they're still a cartoon, but a far more interesting, darker, weirder one with tits. A-, with the possibility of a long-term upgrade/downgrade.

Echo and the Bunnymen, The Fountain

On which the Bunnymen, after years spent churning out slight, disposable, unmemorable Bunnymen-by-numbers, actually discover that they remember how to write magnificent pop songs, and turn out a record that sounds like nothing so much as Echo and the Bunnymen just after their mid-80s prime, updated with some slightly crispy modern production. The guitars jangle and soar like you want 'em to, Ian McCulloch sings in his one-foot-from-the-grave cigarette rasp, and the hooks drill their way into your fucking skull and stay there. "The Fountain" contains one absolutely, staggeringly perfect song, just like their mid-80s highlights did -- I DEFY YOU, mid-80s-rock-fan, not to fall ass-over-teacup in love with "Everlasting Neverendless." It is scientifically impossible: the hook's too strong, the performance too perfect, the guitar playing too crystalline. The album's full of stuff appraching that, too -- "Shroud of Turin," lead-off single "Think I Need It Too," the title track, all amazing. Best of all, they sound alive, like the young, hungry, in-love-with-themselves punks they were in the early 80s, full of their own talent and the power of epic pop music. Dunno what's revitalized the band after years of sounding tired and worn-out and half-drunk, but here's hoping they don't lose that elusive spark too soon. Solid B.

Tokio Hotel, Humanoid

The weirdest record I picked up recently, if only for the fact that it's something engineered solely to appeal to the kids, and as a nearly-40-year-old record geek I firmly, absolutely do not understand WTF is going on here on so many levels. Tokio Hotel look like creepy fratkid B-boy raperock douchebags EXCEPT the lead singer, who looks like fucking Pete Burns from Dead or Alive. Gothy teenage girls love him, as you'd figure, but he seriously looks like he was built from spare parts from dead mid-80s transvestites. The band play music that sounds like a cross between the Jonas Brothers, Depeche Mode and Metallica (seriously) and everything is whipped around with SLATHERINGS of autotune, the way shit is anymore, but so much that you notice it. Oh yeah, did I mention they're from Germany? They'd almost have to be, they're so batshit inexplicable. And yet, I do not hate it, not at all. I find it far more appealing than 80% of generic, faceless indie rock solely on the basis that at least it is not generic or faceless -- it is fuckhead insane and, like, some of the worst, weirdest, wrongest stuff from the 80s condensed into one fucked-up little package, but it is not generic. Also, it is catchy as shit: lead-off single "Automatic" does some of the same stuff the last Jonas record was trying for, i.e. giant hooks and defiantly wussy, emotive vocals, and it digs deep, for sure, and doesn't sound like anything else on grown-up radio at all, though not a million miles off from some of the Disney camp on mescaline. Frankly, not being twelve years old, I'm not supposed to get it, and that's kinda the way it's supposed to be with this stuff. I have to whip this one a C+ on the basis of my inability to snap to, but I bet I listen to it more than I probably should.

Kid Cudi, Man On The Moon

Rap music has been stagnant stagnant stagnant STAGNANT for the last, what, eight years? When's the last time you can remember hearing a rap single and going "Holy shit, what the fucking fuck was that?" Was it maybe Outkast? I know I've had my ear to the ground with under- and over-ground rap, and haven't heard a single thing in years that's made me prick up my ears and go "okay, now this is different." If anything, rap sounds like it's moving backwards, and while love of vintage R&B is my thing, too, it's nice to hear something like this Kid Cudi record, which does sound like nothing else, so much so that rap hardcores are declaring it "not rap." Scratch that, it doesn't sound like nothing else -- it sounds like if you took Kanye's "808 and Heartbreak" and peeled off the autotune. This guy is singing his flow, which is what's causing hip-hop nerds to blanch (probably because most of 'em can't sing). It's nifty, though -- he's not the best singer, but who gives a shit? Just hearing modulating pitch in a flow is, as you'd figure, smooth. Also, he totally gets what's happening in nerdy white-guy electro rock in the way that Grandmaster Flash was digging New Order, and thus has MGMT and their ilk providing intriguing tracks to back up his interesting delivery. The whole thing is great -- and occasionally approaches fantastic pop music, as on "Soundtrack 2 My Life," or the gorgeous "Up Up & Away." When's the last time you called a rap song "gorgeous?" I mean, fuck yeah. It's not perfect by any means, but at last, a surge forward. A-.

Kiss, Sonic Boom and Ace Frehley, Anomaly

Okay, first off, to get this out of the way: fuck you if you don't like Kiss. Okay? You can take your high and mighty platitudes about how this stuff is just juvenile, second-rate, amped-up cartoon bullshit and tell me what rock and roll is supposed to be, if not exactly that. Right? I mean, sure, we can pretend we'd rather be listening to early-70s Van Morrison records (and some days we would), but if you want a distillation of the music of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley -- simple to a man, cartoon bullshit to a song, juvenile DEFIANTLY -- you can look straight to Kiss, who manage to take that, package it up nice and neat in some awesome gift-wrap, and shove it straight up your fat, Chicago-music-critic ass.

Okay, that out of the way, we are talking about Kiss here, so even within the framework of that, removing "Kiss suck anyway" from the equation, there is an extreme variance in quality across their output. So where does Sonic Boom stack up, Gene and Paul's insistance that this stuff is "as good as Rock and Roll Over" aside (very aside -- they've been saying that about every album since "Creatures of the Night" in 1980)?

Good news: Sonic Boom does not suck. It's nowhere near perfect, it occasionally veers into generic mid-80s territory, the band (while finally sounding like an actual band rather than an aggregate of session jerks) can occasionally regress to the lowest common denominator arrangement-wise -- but it does not suck. Best thing: while Paul Stanley is still writing songs that sound like Def Leppard outtakes (which isn't a bad thing, given the Lep's hook-to-dud ratio), Gene Simmons is 100% revitalized and writing at the top of his game. "Russian Roulette," "Nobody's Perfect," "Hot and Cold" and "I'm An Animal" are all on a par with the Demon's mid-70s trashrock classics, not a hint of grunge or death-metal or rap amongst 'em. If only for that, the album would be guaranteed non-suck status, but even though he's still in cheeseball mode, Paul Stanley whips out a few great singles -- "Modern Day Delilah" should charm all but the most cynical curmudgeon -- and even new guy Tommy Thayer manages a great showpiece, "Lightning Strikes," cannily drawing on his predecessor's love of the electrical.

Speaking of Space Ace, he's got a new record out, too, and how does that fare in the Frehley continuum between his magnificent 1978 solo LP and his mediocre 80s comet output? Well, the good news continues: his album doesn't suck, either. The axeman's in far heavier mode than his bubblemetal compatriots-in-arms, though, and he's not holding back any punches. "Foxy and Free," "Outer Space" and the mega-epic guitarbastard asskicker "Genghis Khan" all hit super-hard the way you want 'em to. He even finds another glam-era single to update -- the Sweet's "Fox On The Run," which he actually manages to better, much like he did in '78 with "New York Groove."

I will concede, even being a rabid fan, that neither album is remotely perfect -- but I'm still giving "Sonic Boom" a solid B, and Ace a B-.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Omnibus Blog Post #3: Wal Mart vs. The Music Industry

Let me begin this one with a brief disclaimer: Wal-Mart is evil. I am fully aware of their loathsome, unconscionable business practices. I know that they destroy small towns, suck the soul and life out of rural America, and have killed the idea of a central downtown business district around which a community grows, thrives, and evolves. They're awful. They're cheap and nasty. And they smell.

I offer this disclaimer because I'm about to use words like "smart" and "sharp" to describe a particular segment of Wal-Mart's business, and I don't want the comments to be filled with exhortations about Wal-Mart's suckiness. I know they suck, I promise: they suck. (That said, if anybody here hasn't shopped there for, like, drapes, or towels, or Three Wolf Moon T-Shirts, let them step forward. Nobody? Uh huh.)

That all having been said: their music division is "smart" and "sharp."

When Kiss announced a couple months ago that their latest album, "Sonic Boom," was going to be released exclusively by Wal-Mart, the Usual Suspects amongst my friends objected. "Oh, that's such a sell-out move," they said. Of course I raised the objection that signing in blood to, say, Warner Brothers or Sony was hardly the heart and soul of indie, but there's something so un-rock-and-roll about putting out your record at Wal-Mart. It's like painting a glorious fresco and hanging it at the 7-11 store down the block.

But consider these facts:

- AC/DC put out their latest record as a Wal-Mart exclusive. Fans crowed -- but somehow, miraculously, the album sold better than any AC/DC record had since, like, 1980. I believe, though I'm too lazy to open a new browser window, that it actually set sales records of some kind. It might have even been one of the best sellers this year. Anyway, it sold, which, for a band like AC/DC, is kind of miraculous.

- Journey put out their last record as a Wal-Mart exclusive. They have a lead singer they found on YouTube. He's from the Philippines. Despite the fact that he probably sings a far cry better than Steve Perry does these days, those are two MAJOR strikes against them where fans of the classic lineup are concerned. Yet, against all odds, it sold. It went platinum. It was in the top 20 for, like, SEVERAL MONTHS. When's the last time a Journey record sold more than copies to the band's dentist?

- Across the parking lot, Prince's Target-only album debuted at #2 on the charts, whilst Paul McCartney's Starbucks-only album debuted top 10.

- And of course, THE EAGLES. I need only say that -- "The Eagles." I mean, it's no miracle that their album sold bucketloads -- they're the fucking Eagles, everybody and their mom like the Eagles. But it, too, was a Wal-Mart exclusive.

See, the odd thing about this whole sales glut Wal-Mart exclusive thing is that, SUPPOSEDLY, the whole "baby-boomer-and-70s-music" thing was over. Dead in the water. I think I started thinking it was dead when ELO put out a record in 2000 that I would call "pretty damn good," and it sold, like, ONE COPY or something. Nobody, including me, bought it. But this is ELO we're talking about! Chart-toppers in the 70s, and led by Jeff Lynne, who produced the Beatles and was a Traveling Wilbury, and nobody bought it. According to the record industry, Nobody Was Buying Records By Or For Old People Anymore. It was all about marketing to The Kids, who were the only ones Still Buying Records.

But somehow, weirdly, Wal-Mart figured out that it wasn't true. The problem wasn't that old people and old people music fans weren't buying records. The problem was that they weren't being marketed to properly. Wal-Mart, if nothing else, understands marketing. They correctly gleaned that the Mainstream Record Industry sucked donkey balls when it came to marketing. The Mainstream Record Industry, you see, knows how to sell one thing: pretty people. It knows how to sell them to one group, too: other pretty people. And that's it. When it comes to marketing a band who have fuzzy grey hair and beards and a new lead singer they found on the internet -- they go blank and start shuffling their feat and sweating.

But Wal-Mart figured out a couple things:

1. People who like bands from the 70s still like those bands, for the most part.

2. People who like those bands either don't know or don't really care that they have new lead singers, or other weird young members that look like the original members' illegitimate children. They simply like those bands, full stop.

3. People who like those bands don't really follow them, like on the internet or in Rolling Stone, but they are still open to buying shit by those bands if they happen across them on, say, an endcap in a Wal-Mart store. Or in a Sunday circular. Or whatever.

4. Those people, first and foremost, shop at Wal-Mart.

Somehow those simple, easy-to-understand truths eluded the brilliant businessmen in the Mainstream Record Industry for ages, and someone at Wal-Mart saw an opportunity to metaphorically close another small town down, and leapt on it. And created a brilliant business model for the record industry which goes like this:


Which is brilliant and simple and elegant, if you think about it. I mean, you're at Wal-Mart buying some paint or whatever, and you happen to notice that Foreigner have a new album out. Shit, you love Foreigner, remember how you made out with Susanne White at the dance in 1979? Okay, it's only 9 bucks and it's on the endcap on the way out of the store, why the hell wouldn't you pick it up? Or to upscale the example for you: you're at Starbucks buying a double soy decaf vanilla latte on your way to work, and there's a rack of CD's and you notice that hey! Paul McCartney from the Beatles has a new record out! And again, it's only 9 bucks, low risk investment, why the hell wouldn't you pick it up?

IT'S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU, RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE. It's not on the internet. It's not even in an electronics store. It's where you buy your paint. It's the same business model that worked in the 50s and 60s and 70s -- do you remember the record section of your local grocery store? I sure do! -- but somehow was totally neglected during the subsequent decades.

And here's the thing: if you're in a band, why the hell wouldn't you want to sell records? That's the thing that baffles me when people cry "sellout." It's like -- I'm releasing a record. What's my goal? If my goal isn't "to make that record heard by as many people as I possibly can," why don't I just make it a free download or put it on MySpace or just hand out cassettes to my friends? If that is my goal, why wouldn't I go with the people that can sell as many copies as possible directly to my target audience, whoever that may be?

Finally: the one thing I'm leaving hanging over this discussion is that target market. In reading this article, you're making assumptions all over the place about the people that shop at Wal-Mart. You're thinking they're a) rural, b) probably not educated, c) probably lower-middle-class-to-lower-class, and d) unspokenly, you're thinking they're white trash. And, y'know, you're probably right, in the same way you can make assumptions about who shops at Target, or Starbucks, in the same way you can classify large groups of people based on demographic means. But -- who has ever been the audience for rock and roll music? If you think rock music was invented/played by/for educated intellectuals, you need to go back to your Elvis and Jerry Lee records, 'cause it wasn't never no-how. There has always been a rural contingent to rock and roll, and they don't all listen to Daughtry, either. Heck, some of 'em, it turns out, listen to Journey. Anyway: these bands know their audience, and if their audience is blue-collar, I bet they're just fine with that as long as it keeps 'em in Pop-Tarts, yo.

The very interesting thing is that Miley Cyrus -- a young, pretty person! -- is putting out a Wal-Mart exclusive next. I mean, again, who listens to Miley? Young kids of Wal-Mart shoppers, I suppose, but she cuts across wider demographic lines than that, I'd wager, so it will be interesting to see how that fares. Will people from Upper Middle Class Homes whose kids watch Hanna Montana venture out into the outer-ring suburbs to hit the Wal-Mart? Will they download it from Will they just cross their fingers that it comes to iTunes or the local Virgin Mega-Store or whatever?

The thing about this that interests me is that I am a college-educated, middle-class, white-collar guy who just happens to have a streak of Camaro-driving redneck Bud-swilling blue-collar suburb-dweller inside him who is kind of, like, excited that these bands -- hoary old favorites, all (well, 'cept the Eagles, and even them I'll defend a little bit, at least the first three/four albums) -- are actually managing to make a late-period comeback. I mean, it kind of warms the cockles of the heart that Journey are suddenly huge again, 'cause I was pumping my fist to "Seperate Ways" and the "Escape" album back in 7th grade and I'm so not ashamed to admit it. Or that Kiss are probably going to finally achieve a chart hit this time out the ballpark. Or that Foreigner and AC/DC are suddenly MAJOR PLAYERS again. 'Cause they're old. And I'm getting old. And it's swell that we're not putting these people out to pasture just 'cause of their age.

So anyway: retailers sell music now, and that's just something you're going to have to deal with. It's a new age, a new business model, a new paradigm, the record labels are dying, and music's gotta get out there somehow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Omnibus Blog Post #2: You wanted the best? You got the best!

If you were to ask me which band I loved the most -- like truly loved and was undyingly loyal to all through my entire life, either openly or behind closed doors -- my answer wouldn't be the Beatles or the Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones, all groups I totally love but don't *love*, not in that, ahem, special way. My answer *might* be the Monkees. But if you preceded the question with a couple glasses of Jeremiah Weed and a cigarette, I bet I'd tell you the truth.

The answer, my friends, is Kiss.

You always remember your first, they say, and the two bands I ever loved were Kiss and the Monkees. But while the Monkees were awesome in every possible way, and made me gleefully happy to listen to (and still do), my love of Kiss bordered on obsession. Just like almost every other pre-adolescent boy in America in the 1970s, I had every single one of their albums, including "Double Platinum," even though I already had all the songs elsewhere. I caught 'em on the Paul Lynde Halloween Special and the Mike Douglas Show. At school carnival every year, I got my face painted like whatever member I liked best at the time -- usually Ace Frehley, but sometimes Paul Stanley. I had it, folks, and bad.

Whenever Kiss did anything, it was a major event amongst kids. Like -- when they put out their four solo albums, we all knew our folks would never buy us all four, so everybody got assigned one album to buy and we figured we'd pass 'em around amongst ourselves, like Bart and Milhouse and Martin did with Radioactive Man #1. I got Paul Stanley, which, y'know -- I wanted Ace, and spent most of my time listening to my pal Tom Nynas' copy, spinning "New York Groove" over and over and over again.

Or when they did the "...Meets The Phantom Of The Park" special, I wouldn't let my parents change the channel for an hour BEFORE the show, just in case they decided to air it earlier.

Or when they put out the comic book where the red ink contained some of their VERY OWN BLOOD, and I begged my folks to get it for me but they wouldn't.

Kiss were HUGE, capital H-U-G-E. They were a combination rock band / superheroes, they were demi-gods, cartoon characters writ large. They were absolutely everything to me, and everything I listen to comes from them (well, and the Monkees). They were the proto, the dinosaurs, the first thing, alpha AND omega.

And part of the reason they were so cool to me was that they were the forbidden fruit. My folks, at the time, were heavily involved in the Evangelical movement, and Kiss couldn't have been more against just about everything it stood for. Or at least it seemed like they were -- they were like the cartoon devil, their songs were vague euphemisms for terrible, awful things, and their very name itself was an acronym for Kings (or Knights or something else with a "K" that fit awkwardly) in Satan's Service. So over and over again I heard "Son, KISS are bad news" from my dad. And even for a little kid, forbidden fruit tastes so good.

Sadly, tragically, I eventually was scared out of listening to Kiss. I attended a service by the Peters Brothers, a St. Paul-based ministry who traveled around from church to church with a seminar entitled "Why Knock Rock?" You've heard about this -- they were the ones who espoused the theory of "backmasking," the notion that rock bands were recording demonic messages backwards on their albums. Their seminar was terrifying to my ten-year-old mind -- they convinced me that my very SOUL was IN JEOPARDY, RIGHT NOW, and I'd better go home and smash my DEMONIC ROCK RECORDS and BEG for Christ's forgiveness.

So I did. The last Kiss record I bought was "Dynasty," and then they all went under the hammer. I'm embarassed about it now, because I pride myself on always having been kind of a free-thinker, but man, they made it sound scary. I'm sure I'm not the only 70s kid that worked on. I made puppy-dog eyes at "Unmasked," when it came out, but for a while at least, my Kiss fandom kind of faded away. I eventually came back to rock, a couple years later, but the 80s were in full swing, and I was all about Duran Duran (oddly, another makeup-wearing band). Kiss, the hair metal version, seemed so horribly passe.

But look! Kiss are releasing a new album! And even though the last truly great record they put out probably happened during the early stages of the Reagan presidency (well, except "Unplugged", and hunks of "Revenge," from '92) suddenly everybody who ever liked the band is talking about them again! There's excited, breathless posts on Facebook! The message board I'm a part of has a TWENTY PAGE THREAD devoted to the group! The buzz is palpable. Even cynical, jaded people are pulling out their battered vinyl and rediscovering the joy that is Kiss.

The timing is just right. All of us who used to like the band, or who liked them, fell away, and came back, or who just liked them all the way through, are now old enough to not give a crap about what anybody else thinks about our Kiss fandom. Part of it is nostalgia, sure, and part of it is just love and devotion. And part of it is just a genuine hope that Gene Simmons' rhetoric about "the best album in 30 years" and "a renewed creative spark for the band" isn't just bullshit hyperbole. I mean, it's possible, right? Right?

'Cause that's another thing about Kiss: their music holds up super frighteningly well. I mean, it's just as back-to-basics rock as the Pistols and the Ramones, but it also has a nice dark heavy edge like Zeppelin and none of it really sounds dated -- well, except disco experiment "I Was Made For Loving You," and we all know disco is cool, now, so who cares? If you're thinking about revisiting the group, here's a quick rundown of some essentials:

Destroyer: A genuine hard rock masterpiece. Bob Ezrin's production adds a bombastic sheen to the group's already humongous sound. Highlights: "King of the Nighttime World," "Shout It Out Loud," "Detroit Rock City," and the weepy, awesome Peter Criss-sung ballad, "Beth."

Rock and Roll Over: The best album cover houses, IMO, their best album. The sophisticated sheen is muted, but the songwriting is strong. Highlights: "Calling Dr. Love," "I Want You," and again, a Peter Criss-sung ballad, "Hard Luck Woman."

Self-titled: The first album, pound for pound, song for song, is probably their most important. A sheer rock and roll blast from top to bottom. Highlights: "Strutter," "Firehouse," "Cold Gin," and the awesome "Black Diamond" -- again, sung by Peter Criss.

Alive and Alive II: Neither TRULY live in the strictest sense of the word (both feature extensive re-records/overdubs, and "II" even has a studio side), both absolutely capture the raw, potent quality of the band's music better than the studio slabs. Essential.

Unmasked: The "pop" album. Closer to Cheap Trick than you'd care to admit. The underrated gem of the catalog -- check out how smooth "Shandi" is, or how pop "Tomorrow" is, or what a massive hook "Two Sides Of The Coin" is swinging. It's a great album, maybe my favorite of my recent discoveries.

Gene Simmons solo: Of the four, I've always liked Ace's best. On re-listen, I suddenly note how damn Beatlesque parts of Gene's is. Check out "Man of 1,000 Faces" -- full of lush, full, 60s-influenced harmonies, or the gorgeous, sweet "Mr. Make-Believe," which could live on a Left Banke LP.

So what does Kiss mean to me, really? I could talk all day about how their pure, innocent (yes! innocent!) rock and roll blast hits right to the soul in a way that other, more intellectual bands can't, or how a sense of shared community with other folks my age gives me a sense of place and context within history like I'm sure the Beatles were for the generation before me, or how surprisingly awesome their music is, and how full of twists and turns you wouldn't ever expect. But that's to over-intellectualize something that shouldn't really be intellectualized. Really, Kiss just is rock and roll. They're what I like about rock and roll music. Riffs. Hooks. Melodies. Harmonies. Big things. Explosions. Whatever. EVERYTHING. It's that simple. It's that boiled down.

So, um, yeah, you can bet that just like it's 1978, I'm going to be the first in line (at WAL MART of all places, see Omnibus Blog Post #3, coming later) when "Sonic Boom" comes out. And I want so badly to buy tickets for the show so I can take my lovely then-to-be-wife and daughter. And you can damn well bet I'm not going to tell her they're "bad news." Which probably makes 'em less appealing to her, but heck, the explosions'll get her anyway. Right?

Check these out, and get rid of your preconceived notions about Kiss, yo:

Omnibus Blog Post 1: Heavy vs. Light

I noticed recently that I'm drawn to extremes in music. The stuff I like -- and by that, I mean the stuff I really like, the stuff I'm obsessed about -- is usually either really heavy or really light. On the one hand, we have stuff like Zeppelin, Sabbath, Kiss (see: Omnibus Blog Post 2, coming soon), the Cult, Wolfmother, Jet. On the other, things like the Free Design, yr. various Yacht Rock groups, Joe Raposo, Carpenters, certain Beach Boys albums, whatever. Heavy as an anvil, couldn't possibly be heavy enough, or so light it's in danger of floating away into the stratosphere. Extremes.

I've also noticed recently that nowadays, you can't really get either. Oh, there's a couple (literally just a couple!) of bands doing Really Heavy -- particularly Wolfmother, they're nicely heavy, and really really good. And a couple bands doing Really Light, too (though I'm hard pressed to name 'em -- certainly nobody doing the Carpenters, or something that blissfully airy). But for the most part, everything's straight down the fucking middle. Think of a band like -- I dunno, Modest Mouse. Good band, I suppose, but they're Middle of the Road in every possible way in the old-school use of the term. Straight down the middle. And safe. Very, very safe. Good songwriters, I'm sure, but they're just kind of...the same. All the time. Not fast, not slow, not hard, not light, just THERE.

And that's why I hate everything nowadays, I think. And not just music, but everything. It's not just that people are AFRAID of extremes, though they clearly are -- "we want to," goes the logic, "appeal to a majority of people, and the way to do that is to never go too far in any direction, to play to the widest tastes, to offend nobody." This goes for every artistic media, from movies to television to music to whatever -- and hell, even in politics and conversation and fashion and everything. Can't be too heavy. Too light. Too theatrical. Too big. Too flashy. Too gay. Too whatever.

But it goes beyond simple fear -- it's almost like people are embarrassed of extremes. Like -- okay, let's do this. Imagine you're in a club and a band is getting on stage. They've got makeup on, and are wearing -- I dunno, purple velvet jumpsuits and feather boas. And they light into music that's loud and heavy and they posture all over the stage. What do you think? What's your first reaction? Ten bucks it's to get embarrassed and laugh.

But I mean -- double-you tee eff? That's cool, isn't it? When did we stop desiring that? Are we afraid that expressing an extreme means it'll reveal something about you? Provoke strong emotion? Strength or weakness?

What's weird is even when artists these days GO extreme -- think of, say, Marilyn Manson -- it seems so half-assed in some way. His music wasn't terribly extreme, for one thing -- it was second-rate watered down Nine Inch Nails. And all he was doing was adding more cock and blood to something Alice Cooper had done already. It was a real sort of SAFE extreme. Like climbing up onto a diving board, yelling "Hey, look at me, I'm going OUT THERE!" and then tiptoeing up to the edge and then climbing down.

And the end result is that there's no band that provokes the kind of SLAVERING ADMIRATION AND ADULATION that groups used to, y'know? Like -- can you imagine 30, 40 years down the line being a part of the Modest Mouse Army? The Daughtry Army? I dunno. I just feel like lack of extremes also means lack of enthusiasm. You like. you don't love.

So, y'know, that's my challenge to you, artists. Go balls out. Do something risky, big, splashy, stupid, loud, quiet, long, super-short. Do something that goes to an extreme, and don't feel like you gotta slide it straight down the middle. That's all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Today -- I hate people, but I love music. So I'm gonna post a whole smattering of great bubblegum and teenybop music. This stuff -- remember it was mostly critically reviled in its own era, but in retrospect how much better does "Yummy Yummy Yummy" sound than some of the more "serious" (i.e. ponderous, boring) efforts of the era, huh?

I've decided that there's two kinds of music: "Broccoli Music" and "Ice Cream Music." Me? I like to eat my dessert first. Even if it's not good for you, and rots your teeth.

Not technically bubblegum, but man, does this rock:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: The Jonas Brothers, "Lines, Vines and Trying Times"

There are three utterly fantastic songs on the new Jonas Brothers album. That is not to say the rest of the record is crap, or that there's anything particularly unusual about good songs on a Jonas Brothers album -- their last LP "A Little Bit Longer" was sort of remarkable, and better than this one, and was a better and more convincing try at power-pop than anything that's come out of International Pop Overthrow, possibly ever. It's just to say that there are three songs on the record that oughta knock you out if you're open to such things. They are these: "Paranoid," which is maybe my favorite song this year so far, and has a hook as big as the wide open spaces, "Much Better" which is as good a take on the 80s as anything M83 is doing (seriously), and "Don't Speak" which is called out in the liner notes as the group's try at a Muse song and is better than anything on the last Muse LP, easily and handily.

What is kinda remarkable, though, is that these songs, and most of the other songs on the record, are written by the group. Didn't know that? S'true. There's a couple co-writes from local producer John "Strawberry" Fields, who has become the sound of Teen Pop America, but you can hear an actual *songwriting voice* from these kids, who aren't even out of high school, mostly. You can mock 'em if you want, and you will, but let me know when you come up with something as good as the hook on "Much Better," okay? Good luck on that front.

I mean, though, is this a great record? No, it isn't, but it sure as hell has its strengths. As I mentioned, their last one, "A Little Bit Longer," actually was a great record, filled to bursting with some utterly bubblegum punk-pop and a few magnificent ballads. This one's a try at a more "serious" sound, which for some odd reason means mentioning Neil Diamond a lot in the liner notes (!) and adding a Chicago-ish horn section to most of the songs (!!) and a little bit of misguided funk that brings the record grinding to a halt (!!! -- Common appearance FAIL). I usually hate "serious sound tries" -- especially from bubblegum groups, that's the kind of wrong-thinking that leads to records like "7 And The Ragged Tiger" (sorry, Jess, that's their worst album).

But even though there's a few monumental stumbles, and more than its share of okay-to-awesome filler (I'm quite fond of "What Did I Do To Your Heart" which sounds oddly like a Shania Twain choon by way of Mutt Lange, which is never a bad thing, and the Miley duet on "Before The Storm" is pretty good too) the mere fact that there are three songs on here -- hit singles all of 'em, I betcha ten bucks -- which actually knock me on my ass and make me wanna play 'em multiple times says something. Or other. About the nature of bubblegum music, probably, and how it's usually more important/more interesting/a better gague for where music is going/should go than so-called "indie rock" which is too apt to disappear up its own ass most of the time to do anything interesting. Gimme a good HUGE SINGABLE HOOK ANY GOD DAMN DAY over, y'know, a Modest Mouse song or something. Or something about how "Red Light, Green Light" is better than CSN. I dunno. You know what I'm getting at, I don't wanna spell it out, I'm way to under a sugar-high from listening to this stuff.

It's immaterial, really. What's important is that there are three unbelievably killer songs on this record, and even if you're not a thirteen-year-old girl, you might like 'em. Why the hell not? Closest correlate: the Osmonds, and you'd do well to check THAT stuff out too.

(addendum: I'm pretty sure the ballad "Black Keys" is awesome too. It's a slower burn than the others, but upon second/third listen, its kinda kicking my ass.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek

I have this friend who -- rightfully, I think -- fears and despises all things remade, reinvented and rejiggered. Too often, that path leads to dismal failure. Witness, please, every horror film made in the last, oh, three or four years -- they're all awful, unnecessary remakes of *better films*, lacking the original's style, wit and verve in every sense.

Star Trek itself has been the victim of the reimagining/remaking syndrome over the years, and just about every attempt to retool the creaky old vessel has been met with resounding, painful failure. "Next Generation" started good but ended up in the realm of new-age fol-de-rol. "Deep Space Nine" was nifty, but got bogged down with political metaphor and over-seriousness. The less said about "Voyager" the better, and "Enterprise" was only interesting to the geekiest of fangeeks. That's not even to mention the movies -- there's a few ("Khan," of course, and "Undiscovered Country" surprisingly) that still hold up ten, twenty, thirty years down the line, but the rest seem dated, corny, ironic, and at worst, extremely stupid.

That's because along the way over-intellectualizing nerds missed the point of what the show was actually about. "It's about complex geopolitical metaphor," they'd say, or "it's wonderful how in the future, everybody gets along." As a result, there were far too many flakey plots about Big Wars, or Deanna Troi's feelings or how sad it was that Data couldn't express emotion. Meh. The truth is much simpler: the original Star Trek, though it was most certainly awash with metaphor (usually silly ones -- the "Yangs" and the "Komes?" Oh, Yankees and Communists, I get it!), was about two things: the awesome characters (mostly, though not confined to, Kirk, Spock and McCoy) and whipass, plain-and-simple fun. The latter is what's been sorely missing from every Trek movie since forever -- did you have any fun with "Insurrection?" It was more like dental surgery than anything else.

Which is why J.J. Abrams' new Trek film is such a wonder. Despite the fact that his studio, Paramount, hasn't made a decent movie in two hundred years, and is well known for colossally missing the fucking point just about every effort out of the gate, he's managed to distill Trek down to its basic essence. We get the characters -- mostly, though not confined to, Kirk, Spock and McCoy -- and they are, for the first time since Khan, vital, interesting, alive and REAL. And most importantly, we get pure, unmitigated, smile-all-the-way-through-the-film FUN.

The main reason this film works so well is that Abrams took his god-damn sweet ol' time casting this sucker, making sure every single character was not only adequately represented, they were the best possible actor for the role. Which, thankfully, meant that stunt casting was chucked out the window (did anybody really want to see Matt Damon as Kirk? Me neither) and a youthful, vigorous cast of relative unknowns were put in place, all of which somehow managed to drill straight to the heart of each character.

The movie really belongs to two of 'em -- Chris Pine, who plays Kirk the way you've always wanted to see him, as a rules-are-for-pussies maverick that likes to bed green women, and Heroes' Zachary Quinto, who correctly plays Spock as a man in torment, stuck between his feelings and his people. The film's main arc throws the two, intially, into conflict, then into a sort of forced alliance that evolves into a friendship, and it feels, oddly, real -- we've all been there, no? At work or whatever? That person you hate at first but reluctantly have to admit does a damn good job and eventually becomes your friend? Every beat of this feels right and non-forced, and it's really the heart of the Trek films, that Kirk/Spock fanslash friendship.

Of course, the troika wouldn't be complete without the good Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, and a youthful DeForest Kelley plays him marvelously. Wait -- I mean Lord of the Rings' Karl Urban, who freakin' channels De Kelley from the grave. Seriously. He's not just doing an SNL impression, either -- he clearly gets the character, but he looks and sounds so much like De that you'll positively swoon when, at a crucial moment, he bellows at Spock, "are you out of your Vulcan mind?" in that gritty southern accent. Trixi and I agreed: Star Trek II better have a hell of a lot more Bones in it.

The other actors are damn fine, too -- special mention must be made of Zoe Saldana's Uhura, who is a) properly gorgeous, b) totally strong, and c) is deservedly a larger part of the plot than she ever was in maybe the entire series. Simon Pegg plays Scotty, as has been mentioned elsewhere, as a Scottish Simon Pegg, which is pretty much what you want to see (if you like Simon Pegg, that is -- I love the guy, and he's hilarious here). John Cho's Sulu swordfights, which rules, and Anton Yelchin's youthful Chekov is the boy genius that Walter Koenig's was supposed to be but wasn't. And there's been mixed emotions on the web about Eric Bana's workingman's villain, Nero -- I dug him, and I liked his "Hello, there, hi" greeting to the bridge crew, it felt like a miner who'd gone off his nut, and that's about what he was supposed to be.

And was it fun? Holy crap, yeah. It was more fun than I remember ever having at the Star Trek Cinema, and that includes "Wrath of Khan" which was good and thrilling but such a downer in the end that it didn't really feel like the kind of pure, unmitigated fun the best episodes of the O.G. Series were. This one's no downer -- it's thrilling from the git-go, completely optimistic in the end, and never, ever dull, not even for a moment. Does the plot make sense? I mean, yeah, if you kind of let them doubletalk you about the time-travel-ness and just accept that such things are possible, the rest of it makes a linear kind of three-act sense, if you view it more as a movie about Kirk's ascendancy and Spock's self-actualization than a Plot About Big Ideas.

I mean, and much like "Spiderman" or "Iron Man," there's a lot of setup involved here -- I can't wait for #2, when we'll get to see Actual Captain Kirk and Actual First Officer Spock in their familiar roles and uniforms kicking ass against someone, but for now, the "origin story" actually works because Abrams never lets the film get bogged down in overexplanation or mawkishness or maudlinity or whatever -- and he never lets it get stupid, either. Any fears about how dumb "Baby Kirk" or "Baby Spock" might be can be erased by the young Spock's snide remark to his Vulcan classmates: "I imagine that you have a new batch of insults for me today," or by Cadet Kirk calmly eating an apple during the Kobayashi Maru test (spoiler: he cheats, and beats the system. Big surprise, eh?)

This could have gone so wrong. I mean, so many people worried that it could become "pretty people in space" or "Trek 90210," and it so easily could have, in the wrong hands. This could have been shallow, hollow and extremely stupid, a reboot designed to draw in the teens but completely alienating anybody who actually gave a shit about Trek in the last forty years. But somehow, magically, Abrams has not only pulled it off but has made an actual good movie for people who dig exciting summer popcorn action films, maybe the best one since "Raiders of the Lost Ark," honestly. Let go your fears. Join with me. Become one. Go check it out. You won't regret it for even a moment.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back to where you once belonged

Well, it can finally be officially announced: We are moving back to Minnesota next month.

See, it's like this: when I moved out here, I had stars in my eyes and a head fulla stupid dreams. I had this mental picture of LA life that was a composite of what I'd seen on television and what I knew from my *very, very few* visits out here -- I figured it would consist mostly of sitting around a pool with a tropical drink in my hand and my laptop on my lap, doing very important artistic things while enjoying a life of stress-free, peaceful contemplation. In stunning contrast to my life before I left Minneapolis, which basically was comprised of a shitty job that made me want to bash my own skull in, a lot of drama from mah baby mama, and a lotta cold weather -- a lotta cold weather -- it sounded like something close to heaven.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: I got my heart broken. In a million, billion pieces. It's like -- you're gonna run a long-distance race. You're at the starting line. The guy's got the gun up in the air, he's ready to fire. And then some guy comes rushing out of the crowd and KICKS YOU IN THE NUTS, REALLY HARD. BANG! GO! RUN! It sets you waythehellback, y'know? I can honestly say, with no reservation: the worst pain I've ever felt in my entire life. Bar none.

But in the midst of all that Trixi and I fell in love, and you know the rest of the story. We were two people with our hearts broken in a billion pieces. And as I'm fond of saying it doesn't make it all better -- you still gotta heal on your own terms. You gotta find your own way to peace. It takes time. It ain't magic. But it does help when you do it together. It helps a lot.

So we rebuilt, right? And this next point is an important one to get across to a few people, especially the person who thinks I "blew it, famously" and the one who thinks I'm not quite smart or clever enough to cut it, or the one who thinks Trixi's, like, some dippy airhead, or the dorks from Trixi's last job in Minneapolis -- guess what? We DID fucking make it out here. If I'd stayed, I woulda been a Creative Director at my company, which by the way is the best job I've yet had (holla to my work peeps, esp. Andrew -- keep fightin' the man, brotha!). And if Trixi'd stayed, she woulda had a career either in the costume department of a Major Television Show or as a producer, 'cause she got actual OFFERS to do that stuff, and like twenty go-to people in the industry said that's what she *should* be doing. And I found a band out here made up of three of the most talented people I've ever met, and the kindest too -- if somebody doesn't give a band featuring Patrick Cleary and Cheryl Caddick a record deal in the next few years there is no justice in the world. And we made good, good, GOOD friends out here -- I reconnected with a friend from the "olden days" who is now one of my best friends ever. And our homeys Loren, Prince, Gabe, Donovan, Joanne -- I love them like I love my own family. And props to mah homegirl Ash too -- we'll miss her!

So, look, that's not it, okay? Important point to stress. Not moving because we "couldn't hack LA." Although if I never EVER have to drive on an LA freeway again, it'll be too soon. And yeah, as beautiful as LA is, there's stuff here that drives me batty. Like: the crazy people. There's just lots of 'em. It's like I'm working at Ralph and Jerry's in Dinkytown 24-7, and that'll make sense to the three people (Marcy, Beques, Trevor etc) who read this from that era.

No, we're moving back for other, extremely compelling reasons. Like: my daughter. That's numero frickin' UNO. I miss her. Lots. The original intention, just so nobody thinks I'm the type of guy who just galavants out to Los Angeles without ever considering my own daughter, was to get her mom to move out here with her. That simply is never gonna happen. Plus: originally, it wasn't terribly cost-prohibitive to fly back and forth to see her. Now, with airline ticket prices as high as they are, and with two people to go back and forth -- it IS. LOTS.

Another reason is: money. We go to the local supermarket to get food every night, right? And guess how much that costs, just for two people to get, like, VERY CHEAP FOOD to eat? That's more than 30 bucks a night. Seriously. And I have a house back in Minneapolis, too, which is gonna foreclose if I don't get back to it. It's just sitting there. It ain't gonna sell, not in this market, and so why not frickin' live in it?

AND I got a totally great job at a tremendous company as an ASSOCIATE CREATIVE DIRECTOR. Woo hoo! I'm psyched beyond words.

But of course, the main reason (besides the kiddo!) is our dear friends. We miss you. I didn't know how much I'd miss everybody, but I sure as hell do. Like: I miss my Musical Brothers In Arms like Chris (and Belsum!) and Marc and Jay and Ed and Mykl and Brandon and Mike Grey and all the other people I've dug or hung out with and gotten drunk with. And I miss the Karaoke Crew from the American Legion, one of the best groups of friends I've ever had. And I miss my family, my mom and dad, and my other NEW family that I just met a couple years ago (Gigi, Frank, Brett, Charisse, and everybody else!!).

And I miss the TOWN too! I miss trees! And green! I miss the stupid Crystal Shopping Center, and the Legion in Robbinsdale (my local pub!) and I miss Northeast! And I miss THE DALES! And the warehouse district! And Uptown! I miss the comic book store on 36th and Winnetka and Cheapo records where I can get used vinyl for ACTUAL CHEAP and Down in the Valley! I just miss all that stuff.

I guess it's a combination of practical good sense and homesickness that's drawing us back. Either way: we couldn't be more happy. I'm gonna toss my hat in the air like Mary Tyler Moore. You can have a town, why don't you take it? You're gonna make it after all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bruce Springsteen, "Working On A Dream"

Sometimes I hate record critics.

Seriously: go out and google the reviews of Bruce Springsteen's latest, Working on a Dream. Almost to a one*, the reviews lead with mention of Obama's election, saddling Bruce with the impossible-to-live-up-to title of BAROMETER OF OUR TIMES. And almost to a one, they decide that since the nation's mood is optimistic (Is it? Was it when he recorded the thing? Shit, everybody I know just got laid off!), Bruce has made a happy and therefore "slight" album, since he apparently can only reflect the mood of the nation. And then they dismiss it based entirely upon the expectation that Bruce should only make ominous, elegiac albums.

That's such goddamn lazy, half-assed criticism. First off -- why does Springsteen have to reflect the political tenor of the times? Why is he so damn special/unspecial that he's not allowed to just make a record about what he wants to make a record about, i.e. who he's in love with or what happened to him yesterday or what he had for breakfast, a luxury we afford every other musician ever? Second: why wouldn't you listen to this record on it's own merits rather than stack it up to whatever came before, or whatever you think it's supposed to sound like? And third -- has Springsteen ever been about living up to your expectations? Hasn't he always charted a difficult and rather fuck-you course through rock music, and hasn't that been what's interesting about him to begin with?

RIght now, Springsteen doesn't always wanna be the political John The Baptist, crying in the wilderness. Right now, Springsteen's in love with melodies and harmonies. Right now, Springsteen's enraptured with the great pop albums of the 60s like the Byrds' "5D" and the Beach Boys' "Smile." RIght now, Springsteen's enamored of the sweep and scope of Jimmy Webb's work with Glenn Campbell or the over-the-top pomp and circumstance of Scott Walker's records. And that is the kind of record he's interested in making, and a magnificent job he's doing of it, too. Viewed as a pair with late-2007's astonishing Magic, Working on a Dream is no less than the Revolver to that album's Rubber Soul -- a multi-layered tapestry of sound that works more often than it doesn't and always shocks and surprises.

The album leads off with a gigantic, almost incomprehensibly strange middle-finger -- "Outlaw Pete," an EIGHT-MINUTE try at a western mini-opera a la "Heroes and Villains" off the Beach Boys' Smile. And like that song, "Pete" is bolstered an amazing, spiky string section that evokes the old west while still remaining forcefully modern. I'm not at all sure the song works in toto (the lyrics are funny, which is an odd but kind of wonderful vibe for Springsteen to tackle, and I'm still on the fence about 'em) but as an album kick-off it's kind of wonderfully mystifying.

From there, just like on Revolver it goes every-which-way-but-loose, from Byrdsian pop ("My Lucky Day," the sweetly psychedelic "Life Itself," the very pretty "Surprise, Surprise") to sweeping Beach Boys/ Jim Webb majesty (the frankly amazing "This Life," the tear-jerkingly-gorgeous "Kingdom Of Days") to weirdly-electric blues ("Good Eye") to the kind of Tom Joad folk that people want him to do, over and over again ("The Last Carnival," which ends with a gorgeous, surprising harmony turn, or "The Wrestler," tacked on as a bonus track and not really fitting). It only stumbles a couple times -- I love the melody of "Queen of the Supermarket" and I'm okay with the gentle gibe of it's lyric, but I'm not sure it works as a whole. And the country shuffle of "Tomorrow Never Knows," as pretty as it is, feels a little out of place amongst such staggering works that surround it.

The key, I think, to enjoying this album is to manage expectations by ditching them entirely -- which, to be fair, is how you should listen to every album ever but I know that's not always possible. Listen, though: unlike most of Springsteen's work, this isn't about the grand importance of the lyrics, although he manages some magnificent and poetic turns as always, especially on the rather darkly gorgeous "Life Itself." Instead, it's about something entirely other -- phenomenally pretty melodies, harmonies and arrangements. Like -- do we batter Gene Clark for sounding "too slight" on the first two Byrds records 'cause he's singing sweet songs about love? Do we dog Brian Wilson for being "facile" on "Pet Sounds" for the same reason? We do not, but that's because those writers are about melodies and arrangements more than lyrical depth, and Bruce isn't supposed to be. But, see, now he is about melody, suddenly, and he's doing it better than pretty much anybody else in rock these days. You have to be willing to accept the notion that a songwriter simply cannot do the same thing over and over -- that sometimes they want to do something very, very different, and how cool is that, really, especially if they're doing it well? That's the sign of someone great rather than someone merely good, and the sign of someone really great is that he doesn't seem to give a fuck what you think about him doing something different. He's just gonna do it.

Taken at that level, Working On A Dream is a glorious pop album. It's richly layered; filled with production twists and turns courtesy Brendan O'Brien, who seems to have turned Springsteen into the kind of glorious studio craftsman he's always wanted to be (see: his Spector love on "Born To Run"). Its filled top-to-bottom with the kind of magnificently-written songs that don't even really exist these days. And it rewards repeated listens, each song stacked with hidden details (a harmony part here, an organ line there) that only reveal themselves after you've already digested the stunning melodies. It isn't perfect, but it's highs hit extremely high, and it's lows are merely confusing, overly-ambitious missteps, which are always the best kind of failures, really.

I think, even if I'm the only armchair critic who thinks it, that Working On A Dream represents the second (maybe the third?) in a rather stunning late-career renaissance for a man who's never really made an altogether bad record, and whose career is really a series of highs of various heights. Give the album time to worm its way into you. It will reward your repeated listening, and you will find something to love.

*Including, of course, Chicago's Tweedle Dee of rockcrit, Greg Kot -- honestly, seeing both him and Tweedle Dum (Jim DeRogatis) give the album a negative review filled me with hope, since I almost always have exact opposite taste to these clueless bozos.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Facebook is weird.

So: we're all on Facebook. Isn't it strange? When I say "we all," I mean literally we all -- everybody, except a few of your odd curmudgeon friends, are on there. MySpace was never like this. Did people you've wished you could talk to for twenty years from high school come out of the woodwork to reunite with you on MySpace? Maybe a few of them, sure, but all of them, like is happening on Facebook? Did MySpace allow you to post odd, semi-coherent statements and have people comment on your brilliant wit? It did not, and how cool is that? And Facebook doesn't look like the dashboard of a shitty low-rider car -- it's one size fits all, and its readable and makes sense, and you can keep track of friends you'd lost track of since you were, like, nine years old. It's cool. It really is, I must admit, despite my earlier reservations.

Okay, but Facebook also has created situations that have never, ever existed before. There's no Hints from Heloise to advise you how to navigate 'em, either -- you're out in weird cyber social-freakout-land, and you're on your own, and if you mess up your Facebook etiquette (or whatever!) you feel just as stupid as that time you got really drunk on wine cooler at that high school party and vomited on that girl you had a huge crush on. It really feels that awkward, and since half the people you're interacting with are from High School, it feels even more odd.


- You get friended by someone who, in high school, you had no interaction with other than them occasionally elbowing you in the hallway, calling you "fag" or threatening to beat the shit out of your best friend. What do you do? I mean, you're old now. That was a long, long time ago. Do you forgive and forget? Do you let it go? Do you ignore? What's the right thing to do, there?

- You run across your ex's sisters. You have since (mostly!) made amends for whatever horrors you inflicted upon your ex (in my case, being an immature moron the entire time we were together, and then breaking up with her for no reason at all -- seriously, I could not have sucked more) and you figure "ah, my ex and I are friends, now, and that was ten-plus years ago, so maybe her sisters will want to friend me." And so you try. But then they don't. And now you feel stupid!

- You friend someone you thought you were good friends with, and they don't respond. Or worse yet -- they reject your friendship! Your entire feeling of well-being is suddenly thrown into question.

I'm sure you've run across a few yourself, in your effort to build a friend-list and reunite with people in your life that you've missed. Right? I mean, there needs to be a guidebook.

And what's more -- what is Facebook doing to BLOGGING? It used to be whenever I had a whim to discuss something or pontificate about something, I'd come over to the blog and post a line or two. I'd maybe get three, four, five comments, and think "wow, my post made a difference in people's lives." But now? I can go over to Facebook, post my clever little comment or my YouTube video or my thought about this band or that, and get FORTY comments. But those are all just my friends -- and my gigantic ego wants random strangers to be able to read my "deep thoughts." What will happen? Will blogging get folded into the Facebook Experience? Or what?

I dunno. I'm interested in everybody's thoughts on this. Part of me thinks I should just post this on Facebook but I'm trying to be a gap-bridger, here. DISCUSS.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"It's too bad she won't live! But then again -- who does??"

I think I've said it before, but it is absolutely awesome being engaged to Trixi, the ultimate Hot Chick Geek. Because not only does she like some uber-geeky stuff that I like too that nobody else likes (80s Yes albums (!!!), Doctor Who, Twin Peaks -- stuff you'd be surprised if your S.O. liked one of, let alone the whole batch), she also totally loves my all-time favorite movie, Blade Runner. When we were a-courtin' back a year-some ago, I got a text from Trix apropos of nothing quoting Rutger Hauer's "tears in the rain" quote from the end of the film. My response? "Oh, we have to get married." And then, y'know, I proposed to her. 'Cause come on.

So this weekend, when we found ourselves downtown for no particular reason, it struck me: we're right near the Bradbury Building, which is where genetic scientist J.F. Sebastian lived in the movie. I didn't even have to ask twice -- Trixi was as excited as I was. It's an astonishing building, more astonishing considering it was designed by someone who'd never designed anything before in his life, at the behest of the ghost of his dead brother. I'm not even kidding. It's been lovingly restored, recently, and there's even a plaque up in the lobby talking about its use in Blade Runner, which is cool.

Check it out -- isn't it amazing and complicated and cool??

Last bonus shot: me and Trix at the mod night this weekend, dressed in our mod finery:

I'd tell you all what we did on Sunday night, but then I'd have to shoot you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Belated New Years Blog!

Okay, so -- I promised, and here 'tis. On New Year's Eve, we kind of *inherited* a party -- that is to say, a couple friends of ours found that they had to beg out of hosting a party, so we figured, heck, we're in a borrowed house and the kiddo's off with Grandma for an evening, I think we can maybe host the thing. Problem was: it was *supposed* to be a costume party, with the theme of "rock and roll history." Our friends had this awesome rock-history playlist planned, and everyone was gonna be dressed like their favorite rockstars. Well, when the plans shifted, apparently everybody decided to toss the costumes aside, because we were the only ones dressed like *anything*!

S'alright, though, 'cause our costumes were RAD. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks!

Note attention to detail: the baby powder doubling as cocaine dusting Trixi's nostrils! My gold Pegasus necklace!

Pretty close, eh??

If I could grow a white-man's afro, I WOULD. I swear.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

RIP Brookdale Mall

(Yeah, I promise to blog about the holidays SOON -- some great pics and such, but this is IMPORTANT.)

It was with much trepidation that I received the news of the closing of the Brookdale Center Macy's store in Brooklyn Park, MN. Brookdale has always been the kind of red-headed stepchild of the "Dales" chain (Ridgedale being the tony preppy girl, Southdale the snotty Radcliffe sorority girl, Rosedale the slightly trashy teen looking at a pregnancy test) but man, it is headed for Apache Plaza territory. Stores are dropping off like flies, with only Barnes and Noble, now, still alive and active. That whole area, formerly at least KIND of awesome (you know, a Ground Round, some toy stores, a couple interesting malls) is basically dead as a doornail.

This depresses me, and I don't know why. Sure, I spent a lot of time at Brookdale mall as a kid -- my first job was at the Record Shop on the Sears end of the mall, and my friend Adam and I used to "scope chicks" there a lot. Oh, and I went there with my mom a ton when I was *really* young, and ate at the Brothers Deli that used to sit on the far end of the mall that doesn't exist anymore, or the snack shoppe that was in the central courtyard near Dayton's.

But I dunno, it isn't just that -- its something specific about edifices and buildings and areas and reasons why a place like a mall can go from hot to cold to Dead Alice, and that has to do with the Passage of Time, and thinking about the Passage of Time *always* kind of depresses me, y'know? When Apache Plaza (the "holy crap, if everybody lamenting it had actually *gone* there it wouldn't be gone" dead mall) died, and the area around it with it, I was sad, even though I didn't ever *go* to Apache Plaza. It was like -- it isn't the 70s and 80s anymore, and Things We Used To Need In the 70s -- cheese boxes, toys, interesting clothes, vinyl records -- we don't need anymore. Because We As A People have changed so much past that.

And so malls die, and leave these barren husks behind filled with memories and ghosts and pasts and time, and it makes me sad. I know malls are just MALLS, just these ugly retail boxes, but for those of us in Minnesota, where winter lasts half the year and Indoor Shopping Malls were the weird Logan's Run future that wasn't, they were our Village Square, such as it was, 1970s style, and so I mourn them more than folks would in, say, California, where, y'know, why would you go to a mall when you can BE OUTSIDE?

I found these photos on Dumpy Strip Malls, a new blog I'll be visiting on a regular basis. The author of the site grew up near Brookdale, and I can tell she feels the loss of that mall -- and that area, and that past -- pretty keenly, which is nifty. She's documenting dead and dying malls (well, and some living ones too!) and trying to get complete pictures of who was there and what they looked like, which is a damn neat project.

The courtyard near Dayton's. To the left was a restaurant of some kind. I have a hard time remembering which stores even LIVED at that end -- the memory's been replaced, now, with the shoddy Dollar Store-type establishment that now occupies this section of the mall. I *do* remember that if you turned around, headed left before you got to JC Penneys, and walked to the end of a dark hallway, you'd come to a hobby store. That was my mall tour circa-late-70s-and-80s -- I can tell you where each hobby store lives.

And here's the Dayton's front entrance. I remember sitting on this fountain with my friend Adam, our shopping bags filled with, like, parachute pants from JC Penneys, dressed in our members only jackets (his was light blue, I think mine was probably the less-fashionable tan, or possibly even -- gahhh! -- maroon!) watching blonde girls with feathered hair and short-shorts walking by, and being very very happy.

I have my fingers crossed for Brookdale like I would for a dying relative -- its hooked up to the machine, someone's ready to flip the switch and turn her off forever. Do malls go across the rainbow bridge to Pet Heaven? Maybe someone can finally save this mall -- can we throw a Best Buy in there?? Is there any salvation for it? Can we pray?