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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Was There Music Playing When You Lost Your Virginity?

Today's Vibes:

Motorhead - On Parole
George Clinton - Hey Man, Smell My Finger
Mos Def - The New Danger
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
High On Fire - Blessed Black Wings
The Mooney Suzuki - Electric Sweat
3 Legged Dogg - Frozen Summer advance promo

Naturally, the act of sex doesn't produce those screaming bottlerockets, flowery fireworks and post-mod late sixties swings that you heard on the t.v. show Love, American Style. Was it really that yummy, that splendiferous, that wowie zowie sensation when you lost your virginity?

Likely not, despite the fact that I'm sure many of us imagine doing the horizontal mambo for the first time--particularly we delusional males--that it can only be done to the fuckerific belly-slap tempo of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" or "Panama" by Van Halen, or if we're the deep-down-and-dirty type, Prince's "When Doves Cry."

When I think of proper music to lose your virginity to, Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" from the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack is the closest vibe to capturing that uncertain loss of innocence that Jennifer Jason Leigh experiences in a cold dugout during the movie. This soothing and mostly unpretentious eighties pop classic still has a steady sex groove beneath the sugary synthesizers and Jackson Browne's waxing vocals that produces both security and tension. When I hear that song, I just picture poor Jennifer's cherry popping with a California retail slob looking to notch another of his many victims at "The Point." The fright she endures both by lying about her age and coming of age in the same act is as honest a first sexual encounter as Hollywood has produced.

In other words, for the first time each and every one of us had sex, it was likely awkward, was it not? Hopefully your experience was good or filled with the least amount of anxiety as possible. Myself, I had an experienced girl take me very lovingly, and I'm secure enough in my manhood to say I lasted less than a minute in my debut. I think most guys are lying outta their sacs if they say they went 15 minutes on their first shot. You know who you are...

What I'm trying to remember is if there was music on at the time. I had a lot of sex in my bedroom when I lived with my parents, so music was not only a part of the mood, it was pragmatic; after all, yeah, my parents knew what I was doing, why should I let them hear it? Bad enough my stepfather caught me bare-assed once in the middle of it. Today, we jokingly sing "Blue Moon" in laughter over that incident.

My girlfriend at the time loved Billy Idol, so much she threatened to fuck him on sight if she ever met him. So it's likely I had Billy Idol on just to encourage her to want to lay me. Or maybe it was Pink Floyd; I mean, who hasn't screwed to Pink Floyd at least one time in his or her life? The grand poobah moment was having sex to my all-time favorite song "Whole Lotta Rosie" by AC/DC, and I was much more capable then. Kinda appropriate, don'tcha think?

So anyway, do I have any takers out there who want to discuss this?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pivotal Albums: Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come

Today' Vibes:

Black Flag - Slip it In
Clutch - Blast Tyrant
Clutch - Robot Hive/Exodus
Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come
The Michael Landau Group - Live
Cinderella - Long Cold Winter
Unsane - Visqueen advance promo
Alabama Thunderpussy - Open Fire advance promo

I was watching the DVD Refused Are Fucking Dead the other night and it dawned on me how this band actually changed the tide a little bit in the underground, particularly with this album.

Refused were a Swedish punk act that helped show America how to rediscover a proper angst in caustic-sounding music, since the nineties had basically starched things out over here unless you really dug hard into the outer fringes. Refused's final show was in the basement of some house in Virginia and it was cut short by the police, who pulled the plugs on the amps and sent everyone out. By then, Refused had volunteered to disband after that show because they'd felt that the state of punk rock was so dead that they had no place in it.

The Shape of Punk to Come, upon listening to it nearly a decade after it was released is a bit of a revelation. One, it's one of the few albums that could pliably be called a punk rock epic. Never mind the length of the album or some of the songs...this album is filled with vitality, anger and a huge pedigree of art that is an amazing combination, and it sculpts and sculpts as the thing roars along.

Most people know the song "New Noise" as the video still creeps onto certain metal shows, and just the build-up to this song gets you pumped, even before Dennis Lyxzen bellows "Can I scream?" to the loud din at his back. What a rush... Other songs like "Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull," "Liberation Frequency" and "Protest Song '68" just blitz from all sides and still with a masterful display of showmanship.

The album becomes a stark, shattering reality that it lived up to its namesake. If you look at where hardcore, metalcore, grind, screamo and even emo punk have come these days, it can all be trailed to three bands: Botch, Amen and Refused. Indeed, this was the shape of the punk to come...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Efficiency in Music Means Shorter Albums

Today's Vibes:

Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come
Brian Setzer - 13
Enuff Z'nuff - Strength
Deftones - Around the Fur
Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist
Sun Records: The Definitive Hits Vol. 1
Night Kills the Day - The Study of Man
Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound - Ekranoplan advance promo
Brazzaville - East L.A. Breeze advance promo

The other day I interviewed Fu Manchu's Scott Hill and he's as laid-back as the feelgood fuzz tones of the Fu would indicate, so much that he was very forgiving of me dropping my cordless twice en route to my speakerphone, then losing him altogether when the upstairs speakerphone petered out. Thank God for the second one!

One of the dominant themes of the conversation was how Fu Manchu takes a "get in and get out" approach to their songs, particularly on their newest album We Must Obey. This blunt and direct methodology trims the fat, you might say, gets right into meat and gristle of Fu Manchu's powerful riffs, and as aggressive as the new album is, it clocks in around 40 minutes, much of it being absorbed by the last song "Sensei vs. Sensei." Even their cover of The Cars' "Moving in Stereo" is lean and blunt, which, when I questioned Scott about whether or not they tried to duplicate the sexual tension of The Cars' version or if they just simply adopted a plug and play motif, Scott mentioned it was the latter.

We got to talking about how albums in the underground are starting to get shorter, about an average mean of 32 minutes. Forty minutes seems to be an absolute cutoff for many albums in underground rock, punk and even metal. Honestly, a lot of the greatest rock and punk albums throughout history are great because of their short duration. I used to ask a lot of bands that were recording shorter albums lately if they were taking a leave 'em wanting more approach and they unanimously confirmed it.

It was the eighties that started the bloating effect of sardine-packing an album to give its listeners more music for their money, which we all rememmber was frequently as high as $18 for a 45-minute CD. Perhaps Queensryche's Empire is a fine example of a lengthy album that makes full use of its capacity; it's hardly a boring album if not Queensryche's most commercial endeavor. However, I think many of us can agree that a lot of 60-70-minute platters overstay their welcome by tediously cramming them with contract-obligating filler material. It's why this generation has embraced MP3 and IPods and it's why being a diehard album purist makes you behind-the-times.

So the question I pose to you is, do you think an album should be on the lower-end of time and filled with really good to above-average songs, or is there a give-me- more-bang-for-my-hard-earned-buck thought that dwells inside your mind?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Celebrity Crushes

Today's Vibes:

Fu Manchu - King of the Road
Fu Manchu - We Must Obey advance promo
PJ Harvey - Rid of Me
PJ Harvey - Uh Huh Her
PJ Harvey - To Give You My Love
PJ Harvey - Is This Desire
Trail of Tears - Existentia advance promo
Static-X - Cannibal advance promo
Skinny Puppy - Mythmaker

So I came up with an oddball concept because while I was sick with the stomach virus, I ended up watching an entire DVD set of the seventies educational show The Electric Company, which had Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman at the beginning of his career. I was a real junkie for The Electric Company as a kid and you might've thought it odd that here is this 36-year old man laying in bed watching marathons of this reading show, but somehow it still sticks and entertains no matter what your age, and Easy Reader (one of Freeman's best-known characters) is still the coolest, perhaps even cooler than The Fonz...

At any rate, once I saw June Angela, who played Julie, the Asian girl from The Short Circus on The Electric Company, I realized that she was my first-ever celebrity crush and I smiled at that warm memory, then smiled even greater when I got better and looked her up on the web to find that June is a regular Broadway singer and has her own album out and she had a long stint with Yul Brynner on The King and I on Broadway as well. I wrote June an email and mentioned what the show meant to me and I saluted the entire cast for their guts on that show and how they broke race and gender barriers in a time when it was hardly seen.

Anyway, getting to the point, I don't think there's a single one of us immune to having some sort of celebrity crush--if not many--throughout life. After all, they're celebrities and we secretly aspire as regular folk to dwell in the seemingly unreachable stratosphere where these personalities dwell. Sometimes we fantasize about these individuals in a sexual manner, but frequently the "crush" is innocent, naive, primarily harmless.

When The Dukes of Hazzard ran, I was totally ga-ga for Catherine Bach. I even have an autographed picture of Catherine after I wrote a silly letter professing my love and asking if she got to drive her jeep Dixie all the time, not just on the show. Whether it was Catherine herself who signed that glossy photo or merely her press agent slogging through Catherine's fan mail, I still have that photo as a private treasure and it'll remain one of my favorite keepsakes. Below is the poster of Catherine that hung on my wall for a good 2-3 years:

Over the years, I've had interesting crushes on certain celebrities, though the older I've gotten and the more opportunities I've had to interview famous or semi-famous people, the less I feel inclined to entertain celebrity crushes or fantasies. I think it helps developing a deeper and stronger relationship maritally, but there are many celebrity women out there I think are beautiful, though most of the ones on the radar I don't really go nuts over. If there's one genuine crush I'd have at this stage in life, it would easily be--and if you really know me, this comes as no shock--Angelina Jolie.

I'd say that initially I was thunderstruck by Angelina's beauty that was underscored by her athleticism. However, I'm more fascinated by her humanity than her regal-like stature on a physical level. I think her philanthropic endeavors makes Angelina a model person who has done something valuable with her prestige and if it was a different universe, I'd love her madly because of that, and then her amazing femininity. I wish her and Brad all the luck in the world, truly. For once, I hope a celebrity coupling is the real deal.

I even had a brief crush on Wendy O. Williams for the same reasons as Angelina: there was substance beneath the facade, yet the facade is still a huge turn-on.

Some of the other crushes I've had over the course of time might surprise you, or it might not:

Heather Thomas
Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2)
Doro Pesch
Wendy O. Williams
Asia Carrere
Tori Amos

And while not really a crush, I find Ziyi Zhang utterly irresistible...

So about you guys? Who's driven you wild celebrity-wise? Linda, I remember a couple of yours, hee hee...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Albums That Heal

First off, I think I'm going to start a new little thing that one of the other bloggers does, and that's give a brief little playlist of the day, which I'll call The Day's Vibes. So, here we go...

Pelican - Austrailasia
Heart - Dreamboat Annie
Lenny Kravitz - Mama Said
Type O Negative - Dead Again advance promo
Pixies - Doolittle
Fu Schnickens - Don't Take it Personal
Chimaira - Resurrection advance promo
Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound - Ekranoplan advance promo (and my rage CD of the week)

So I'm quite inspired by the responses my last post generated. I love the thoughtfulness and poetic statements that were given, and I think we all share the bond of music being therapy, so I was wondering what some of the albums are that you heal with when you need them the most? Let's see what I can come up with...

Beatles - Sgt. Peppers - I think I was just leveled and reduced to weakness when I heard this all the way through. There's often a debate amongst some Beatles fans about its greatness, but I think this album is beautiful from start to finish and its diversity is one of the most unique listens one will ever get in this lifetime. I always fuel off of this album.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mothers Milk - I think of good times in college with my friends and the sheer adrenaline of this album is maybe surpassed by Uplift Mofo Party Plan but the Chilis have never sounded this jacked since and I was fortunate to catch them on this tour, the greatest live spectacle I've ever seen.

Chicago - III - It dawned on me when I was driving 4.5 hours to interview Ill Nino in Norfolk, VA that this is my absolute favorite album...I kept thinking, when I die, I don't want that awful funeral music, I want this played during the viewings so people know who the hell I was. There's some awkward moments here and there, but overall, this just speaks to me every which way and it reminds me of my childhood and my mommy, who played this and Janis Joplin and The Temps and The Supremes and I just often want to crawl underneath the blankie, soak up the music and never come out

Candlebox - Happy Pills - Almost nobody got this album and it's hard for me to explain why this album just talks to me like a longtime friend, but it does...I take absolute solace in the empathy of this album

Peter Murphy - Cascade - Certainly the Bauhaus albums and Deep were Murphy's finest work, but this album is frequently gorgeous, often soothing and also quite joyous...whatever Peter tapped into on this album, he was out of his blue period and loving life and I still find it infectious today.

The Cure - Disintegration - There are other albums I like more than this one, but it is The Cure's definitive body of work and there's smidges of positivity beneath the gloom and depression, but most of all, this album just showers you like no album I've ever heard...I'm always feeling soaked after listening to this album and I know I've heard it an easy 100 times...that's powerful stuff.

Bad Brains - Rock For Light - I Against I devastated me, but Rock For Light made me want to live and I realized what a color-blind world we live in and how the Bad Brains lifted the shade a few inches, and how can you not love the aggressive songs interspliced by the mind-raping reggae jams? Just amazing.

Isis - In the Absence of Truth - This is a newcomer to my healing list, but when my uncle passed away last summer, this promo was sitting in my hands almost as if by fate...I had it three months before it was released and it was almost as if fate intended it to be with me. This became my drug and it still is.

Pelican - The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw - Similar to Isis in style, but my jaw hit the floor when I discovered how Pelican exudes even more passion in their sludgy yet expressionistic instrumentals...some albums move you upon first listen...this is one of them.

Six Feet Under soundtrack - The first soundtrack was compiled by the chief writer of the show, one I ache because it's gone, and he selected songs that inspired his writing...I felt the majority of those eclectic tracks from PJ Harvey, Zero 7, Shuggie Otis, The Dining Rooms, Peggy Lee, The Classics IV and Orlando Cachaito Lopez and I frequently dive into it for comfort.

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon - Well, of course, this is one of the most likeable rock albums in history, and I can't say while it's a therapy album for me, but you'll remember my lava post and how this one made the cut...sometimes I think that "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" can take the pain away quicker, but overall, this album just lifts me high

There's plenty others out there that I'm not thinking of right yet, but hopefully that'll get you all tinkering in your minds as well. Are you all up for a Random Shelf Review next? Peace...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What does music mean to you?

I posted this question at my MySpace page, and I'll do it here and hope you'll all chime in with your thoughts on this simple little question.

I'm so very much concerned about the state of music today, namely the fact that most people treat it as a commodity instead of a gift that should be used for life fulfillment and appreciation. The music that matters out there is music generated by human beings with a pulse, one that usually pumps proudly. Whether it's good music or not is in the ear of the beholder, but what offends me most is that Paris Hilton can release an album merely off of her name and I won't be surprised if we discover she's become the next Milli Vanilli. Somewhere in some lonely corner of America, a starving artist who possibly laid those tracks down is struggling through her pittance while Paris gets whatever money her record label agreed to. I find it vulgar, offensive and a sheer cash-in, and the record label (you can figure out who it is; I usually have a little bit of respect for them, but not in this case) is largely to blame.

When no one cares about Paris anymore (after all, she's not Madonna nor the icon she purports herself to be), this album will land in bargain bins galore, next to N-Sync and the other prefab poser crap that generates immediate money but has no long-term staying power. By then, some new Christina Aguilera will be flopping her tits out to the nipple line and fooling the hell out of America that they're listening to real music. It's painful, man.

I know, the regular Joes would say to just get over it, do your thing, you don't have to listen to whatever you don't want to, and actually, they're right. But I feel for the artists out there who really make a difference and yeah, they may have their followings, or they may have that one shot at glory and either capitalize or fizzle out, but the thing is, if they're doing something of worth, why must it take a backseat to something tweaked and remixed inside a computer?

Music is one of the reasons I haven't checked out of this life. Pure music is just so energizing, so riveting, so life-sustaining that I can't deal without it. I'm chemically dependent upon music, and not just metal and punk, though I love them dearly. I can't get enough of Brian Setzer lately, and how can you not love those old fifties rock 'n roll blasts? Chuck Berry, baby... Before Kool and the Gang went pop, they were one of the most lethal funk ensembles this side of James Brown and his JBs. What a rush... Patsy Cline, the woman's vocals just ooze empathy; it's like her pain is your own and you want to buy her a drink and drown your sorrows together, the same for Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald. And goddamn those wicked drum beats of Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers, what fuel... Even electronic music, when done by artists and not money-conscious programmers, has a vibe unto itself... New Order, Depeche Mode, Chemical Brothers, Future Sound of London, Thievery Corporation... Rap had such an amazing amount of credibility before it cashed in.

Anyway, you get the picture. I simply cannot live a rational existence without my music, and the older I get, the more I crave it, and the more diversity I seek out...I'm buying Ravi Shankar's otherwordly sitar compositions and I'm buying the Celtic jigs of The Chieftains and I'm drowning in Mozart, who was the headbanger of his day. I'm taking the train to Kalamazoo with Glenn Miller and then jetting to Africa for the soulful percussion of the late Bobatunde Olatunji. This is the music that matters in life, not from someone who got rewarded by America for getting caught sucking cock in her father's hotel...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Music in the 90s Re-Evaluated

Before I begin, I know there's a lot of Fu Manchu fans out there, and I just wanted to let you know I have the advance promo of the new album "We Must Obey." I've played it all week, and it's red-hot! I'll do a separate blog piece on it for you guys if you so desire....

I often used to refer to the nineties as a dead zone for modern rock and particularly metal. I won't be boring and drag on about how Kurt Cobain single-handedly destroyed heavy metal. It's common knowledge, however, there's an underscored fact missing from the equation here... Despite the fact that Pantera, Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica all continued to keep the metal flag going in the United States, as an art form it was nearly extinct here except in the underground. What we all missed (including myself) was that metal was flourishing in other parts of the world, namely Europe, Japan and South America. Because the United States has a Roman-like pomposity about itself where we at-large consider ourselves the pulse of the world, we forget that legions of fans exist in other sections of the world. More on that in a bit...

Let's talk a little bit about what happened in the nineties. Okay, so one summer day, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" changed the world. By then, everyone had grown tired of the excessive eighties, no matter what genre you're referring to, be it metal, pop, new wave, what-have-you... It was all over, said-with, done because America lost its feelgood vibes in the midst of the first Bush administration that forced us into a war-like atmosphere. The sounds of Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails became the frontline of protest, while grunge began its fuck-it-all deconstruction of rock. It was The Melvins, Sonic Youth and The Pixies, not Nirvana, that changed the course of American rock. Yes, it's true. Kurt Cobain idolized The Melvins so much he hung in their basement before there ever was a Nirvana, and he admitted that The Pixies and Sonic Youth were two of his core inspirations. I was listening to The Pixies' Surfer Rosa on the way home tonight and it was more clear than when I reviewed a Pixies DVD a couple months back that this is one of the most important bands the modern American rock scene has ever birthed.

I think it's The Pixies' daring androgyous post-punk fury that makes them great. They're masculine and effeminine in a roughhouse, spit-on-your-shoe kind of manner that is full of grit as it is teemed with sexual angst, and though The Pixies started in 1986, it's their early nineties output that really helped set the course of rock music in this country. Unfortunately, it's taken until today's pop punk and alt rock scenes to realize that not only The Buzzcocks are to be credited for the new cycle, but in their own way--particularly in punk that matters today--it's The Pixies who really show that the nineties had more to offer than the confused apathy of Pearl Jam.

Then we have The Melvins, who, if you really listen carefully, you'll note that they deserve the majority of the credit for re-ushering the sludge rock that Pentagram and Black Sabbath made famous into a new era that was soon subdivided between punk, doom and stoner rock. It's The Melvins who not only created Nirvana, but also Crowbar and Cathedral and as the nineties wore on, bands of great significance in the underground such as Clutch, Kyuss and Fu Manchu. The Melvins can also be traced in the hypnotic sonic crush of Isis, Neurosis, Red Sparowes and Pelican, and the cycle has grown stronger in the early 2000s with Wolfmother and underground up-and-comers like Totimoshi, Mouth of the Architect, The Autumn Project and Priestess. Of course, The Melvins themselves put out a career-defining album last year with A Senile Animal.

And then there's one of the most underrated contemporary rock bands of all-time, Faith No More. I remember seeing them and Soundgarden open for Voivod, the second greatest show I've been witness to, and I told my friends that Faith No More was destined for greatness and that they would all be owning a copy of The Real Thing within days of the concert. I got laughed at the entire ride, but I was proven right. Faith No More displayed why they were far ahead of their time, especially as openers with everything to prove. As I predicted, my friends saw the light. As excellent as Soundgarden was (and filled with a memorable story I'll save for another day), and as supremely as Voivod regaled the club, Faith No More had such sheer hunger that it woke many music fans out of their grunge narcolepsy, particularly when the pivotal Angel Dust came out.

If there's a band I still lament its passing, it's Faith No More. By the time they put out (my personal favorite) King For a Day, Fool For a Lifetime, this band had established itself as one of metal and hard rock's undeniable genius groups, and their farewell shot, the equally great Album of the Year. Perhaps Faith No More was too singular and isolated for the expressionistic visions of vocalist Mike Patton, who is really on a tear with Fantomas these days, but in a quiet way--particularly amongst the real heads of the music scene--the influence FNM bestowed upon the metal revival is pretty special.

Like them or hate them, Korn should at least be given thanks for making metal cool again. Yes, Pantera and Metallica had the huger fanbases (no thanks to the jughead straights who once ridiculed these bands), but that first Korn album is pretty devastating for its time, and okay, so the short-lived and frequently ridiculed nu-metal scene is largely blamed on Korn, but hey, those vibrating bass strings of Fieldy are some of the most menacing licks ever put down. Perhaps Korn was once trapped by its own infrastructure to the point of being derivitive off of the same riff lines, however, I can't help but say that their last album See You On the Other Side is as visionary for this band as was Life is Peachy. Even better, I was graciously given tickets by their label to see Korn last year and I was floored by their production and precision. Besides, there are still a few renegade bands of the nu-metal era that are still worthy such as The Deftones, Static-X, Society 1 and Sevendust. If you really want to blame someone, you know who to give it to, right up their chocolate starfishes...

Korn given the South Park treatment

I remember the mid-nineties being an era where I started tuning out to the mainstream and most things rock because Soundgarden was about as good as it got, in my opinion then. I was taking this time to seek my roots of music such as jazz, the blues, classical music, international, and I came to terms with bands I once ridiculed in my thrash years as redneck bands like Rush and Led Zeppelin. I got myself on the right course, all the way adoring The Red Hot Chili Peppers (despite initially pissing me off with the downtoned Blood Sugar Sex Magic after the intensely fun Mother's Milk album). I remember U2 sort of struggling to change with the times, yet Achtung Baby was one of their finest efforts and I still have a soft spot for Zooropa despite its inert problems. Pop I can still only play the first half of. Perhaps it was better than much of what was offered on the surface of music in the nineties (sorry, I just will never come to dig Counting Crows), so much the majority of that music is a blur and horribly forgettable. When Live is the most I can remember of that mid-nineties wormhole in mainstream rock...

In the very early nineties, I had converted to the alternative scene when I saw metal dying out from commercialism. I always needed to rebel, and while I was still clinging to the Bad Brains, GBH, Expoited, Dead Kennedys and some metal that refused to die like Helloween and King Diamond, I was enamored with Depeche Mode, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Peter Murphy, Young Fresh Fellows, Sisters of Mercy, Lush, Julianna Hatfield, PJ Harvey, Kitchens of Distinction, Violent Femmes, The Ocean Blue, The Cramps and so on... Of course, in the midst of this dizzying array of eccentric and personally fulfilling music, came one of the most important sounds the decade saw: Jane's Addiction.

I'm a little sad to see what's happened in the aftermath of what this incredible quartet gave, more so that Dave Navarro could've been one of the real legends of guitar without him knowing he's a legend. I'm sad he became a prefab pop idol and reality t.v. facade because when I think of the psychedlic webs he could weave and how indispensable both Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual were to the rock world, it's a damn shame. I thought Navarro gave the Red Hot Chili Peppers amazing vitality on One Hot Minute, yet there was apparently the wrong chemistry internally. Even when Jane's Addiction put out the rather strong Strays album a few years back, it was too much too late, a welcome wave back from the band, but ultimately nothing that could stand in the shadow of "Three Days" from Ritual. Still, the omnipresence of what Jane's Addiction left in the nineties is subliminally felt, and it's not from Lollapalooza.

In the nineties, rap was trying to maintain the course that it set for itself in the eighties. I think the culture shock in rap had vanished in the nineties, so much that Public Enemy was losing some of its intense rage that made them the greatest rap act of all-time, and it was starting to lose some of its fun, despite the awesome quick-lipped delivery of the Fu Schnickens and the greasy chill of Coolio. Dr. Dre was a huge talent, yet him and his proteges Snoop and Eminem are the catalysts for why rap has become a sellout commodity now, and why it's the dominant music genre today. Okay, so the Leaders of the New School and NWA gave us some west coast building block rappers who also altered the course, perhaps none more so than Ice Cube. I'm not sure if it's his music or doing a stupendous job in Boyz in the Hood that turned the tide, since gangsta rap was already hot with Ice-T and Above the Law, yet this point of no return where fly guys and fly girls were out and gumby gold was in set the tone of excessiveness that has unfortunately hurt the genre's cred, even though it's inflated the bank considerably.

Let's wrap this lengthy overview up by making a return point that not only have I found that a hell of a lot went on in the nineties in America that I used to disregard (why I ignored The Black Crowes, I'll never know, but I've since remedied that and I do believe I grossly underestimated Phish along the lines, and in the past couple of years I've had an Oasis and Blur epiphany), but overseas, metal flourished as never before. It's amazing to see bands like In Flames and At the Gates or any of the Swedish and Scandinavian metal acts that kept the blood boiling for metal started in the early nineties. Even black metal acts like Emperor swirled in dark underbellies for quite a long time, and now they're all being given their due. It's incredible when you sit down and realize that there's plenty of substance to the adage never judge a book by its cover, or maybe for the sake of this discussion, an album cover...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wendy O. Williams

The past two nights I've been watching a Wendy O. Williams DVD and a lot of thoughts come to mind. For a quick refresher in case you're either vaguely familiar or altogether unfamiliar about this underground punk legend, Wendy O. Williams gets credit for multiple things: one, she is considered the first rocker with a true mohawk, which she adopted in the early days of her band The Plasmatics, which lasted for a number of years until Wendy went solo and more metal in the process. Wendy was famous for her dangerous stage performances that involved actual cars being blown up onstage, Wendy taking a chainsaw to a guitar or a sledgehammer to a television during the set, and more peek-a-boo near nudity that made even the Burlesque years seem conservative. In her music videos, Wendy performed her own stunts as she would sing and writhe atop a speeding bus or in the case of the "It's My Life" video, Wendy climbs out of a moving convertible onto the rungs of a plane ladder just as the car plummets into a canyon, detonating on the way.

As you can infer, Wendy O. Williams lived life on the edge, which comes across as hedonistic or at the very least a severe case of the ID. However, Wendy explained over the course of time that her onstage antics and her over-the-top theatrics represented a loathing of the norm, a spit in the eye to conformity. Her smashing up the t.v. or igniting a car onstage was a blatant rejection of materialism, as she has gone on record as saying. To her, a car, television or any inanimate object is useless in the grand scheme of life, so why put so much emphasis on it as greedy consumers? When Wendy shaved her head into a mohawk, her statement was issued towards fashion and high society, a climate that decreed women needed to look like anorexic models in order to be considered beautiful. Wendy's outrageous stage apparel, which often was nothing more than a french cut bikini bottom sometimes with leather chaps and duck tape covering her bare nipples. In one instance, Wendy was arrested for indecency as she wore nothing but whipped cream.

Perhaps what galls me about Wendy O. Williams is that she repeatedly paid for her shock rock tactics, particularly when she was reportedly molested by arresting officers who were caught on camera beating the shit out of Wendy. Even further, I recall being a teen in the eighties and most of us called Wendy O. Williams a skank because of her onstage reputation and her gravelly voice, yet I had a quiet little thing for Wendy for a brief time. Her sexuality was worn (or rather undressed) before her audiences and yet, there's still a small degree of prim and properness when you see Wendy's right breast start to tumble out during a gig, to which she fights like hell to cover it with her forearm, knowing she still has to deliver the chainsaw bit. Briefly uncovered during the finale, she bravely smothers herself through the song's end and then scampers off the stage in embarassment. I find this duality fascinating. For all of her liberated spirit behind the mike or in front of a video camera, Wendy O. Williams had a bashful side to her despite. It's rather funny because in a way, Wendy helped inspire the dominatrix phenomenon in the late eighties and nineties with her powerful persona that included hoisting men onto her shoulders while singing in less than what you'd see on the beach.

It's sad that Wendy chose to commit suicide in 1998, considering she'd found a second life in animal rehabilitation. Noted as one of the few celebrity vegans of her day, Wendy grew her own organic food and was very outspoken against animal cruelty. On the DVD, more than a few people who met Wendy spoke of her kindness and I'm intrigued by that as well. Perhaps Wendy was given a raw deal, or maybe her raw antics set to the soundtracks of "A Pig is a Pig," "Butcher Baby," "Bump and Grind" and "Fuck and Roll" put her on a course that validated her title of "The Queen of Shock Rock" strictly to the point of no return.

I had a few of Wendy's albums back in the day, but the one I was obsessed with is Maggots: The Album. Maybe I was so impressed by the way the album made thrash sound operatic, or more likely I was even more impressed by the far-out horror concept story between the songs that was outlandish, but the message beneath is what makes it a masterpiece: the fact that mankind is doomed to annihilate itself the more it destroys nature. I think of the band Cattle Decapitation and my interview with singer Travis Ryan, and how both he and Wendy O. Williams were in harmony that human cruelty towards nature will spell its eventual demise. That's what I loved about Maggots: The Album, aside from the fact that its precision velocity was so breathtaking.

Lots of rumors had Wendy and Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmeister linked romantically, though the only real confirmation of their union exists in a joint speed metal cover of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man." Even Lemmy, as did Gene Simmons when he produced Wendy's first solo album W.O.W. said that Wendy was the real deal, there was nothing pretentious about her, that she was a punk in the truest sense of the word. I suppose her final words are as punk as it gets, depending on how you look at it...

"The act of taking my own life is not something I am doing without a lot of thought. I don't believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have. For me much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm. Love always, Wendy."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Portrait of Obsession: Scrat and Ice Age: The Meltdown

You know, to this day there's still something compelling about watching Wile E. Coyote fall flat down a fissure or have his kabillion Acme traps blow up in his face (much of the time literally) in pursuit of that smart-assed Road Runner. Looney Tunes got a lot of mileage out of that basic concept, sheer obsession. Why does Wile E. keep chasing something he's never going to truly get? Moreover, where does he have the money to order all of that Acme junk when he could've easily ordered takeout dinner to the desert if he's that damned hungry?

Looney Tunes explored the same theme with Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog, only with more shtick as the two adversaries were portrayed as 9-5ers who clobbered one another as Ralph kept trying to steal sheep as part of his salary. The best of friends off the clock, this twisted examination of obsession in the realm of animated media is just plain hilarious.

Since Warner Brothers has only seen fit to take a real shot at the Looney Tunes gang in a couple of decent feature films and a couple of so-so shorts, a new animated character has stepped up in Wile E. Coyote's rocket shoes to hilariously portray the self-destructive folly of obsession: Scrat the squirrel from the Ice Age movies.

In the recent sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown, most people have laughed at his chop-socky skirmish with the piranha in his ceaseless pursuit of an elusive acorn, surely a funny moment of this pretty good sequel. To me, after Scrat's falls into chasms, freezing water, wrestlings with a baby condor and all of the amusing backfires and miscues that cause him problems through the two films and their special feature shorts comes to a poignant culmination during the dream sequence where he thinks he's been sent to heaven, where he's surrounded by acorns galore. You think he's triumphed and found the end to his maniacal quest, but then, the ravenous little rodent spies a giant acorn floating in the clouds, which causes him to pitch his newly won treasures aside in pursuit of the bigger one. The bigger one represents greed, envy and desire, everything that drives mankind to a compulsive end.

Instantly Scrat is dragged out of heaven as a penalty for his avarice, and this is the scene I laughed the hardest at. Dream or not, he's so close, yet so far, and it's a subliminal statement about mankind's haunting cupidity to chase, hunt, pursue and consume, often to the point of losing sight of what's real. As Sid the sloth revives Scrat after a near fatality, all Scrat sees is himself being ripped away from his acorn, and whether it was reality or not, he turns on Sid for the sloth's troubles. The reaction is so utterly human it's scary.

In Ice Age: The Meltdown, Scrat is so bent on that stupid little walnut that he fails to see that the icy tundra he and the other principle characters, Manny, Diego and Sid dwell in is disintegrating all around them due to a climate change (a subliminal commentary on our global warming concerns of today). While Manny the mammoth and his oddball little extended family of a saber tooth tiger and a sloth have their pack extended even further with the addition of a female mammoth, Ellie, and her two opossum "brothers" Crash and Eddie, it's interesting to see them attempt to survive a drastic conversion to the world while that silly Scrat keeps on chasing his acorn, impervious to the life-alterations going on around him. Considering that Ellie thinks she too is an opossum when Manny (at this point thinking he's the last of his species) and his crew stumble upon them, this quest for evolution is realized after a series of spectacular and funny misadventures (would you expect any less for an animated film?), and it all underscores why Scrat's tunnel-visioned pursuit is ultimately pointless in comparison. Is his obsession driven by the need to survive? Perhaps, but that acorn is a focal point of how one little thing can drive a sane mind mad. Super Genius or not, Wile E. Coyote is ultimately one super moron when you look at the bigger picture.

Isn't it ironic that a creature with the simplist of needs becomes the very portrait of obsession to remind us that there's more at stake than the chase of one meager object that for them, promises such gratification, yet the elusiveness of it is so telling of why some things are better just left alone. As a friend of mine said once, sometimes it's good to not get what you want...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Football and the Fan Psyche

If you're into football, perhaps you're partying because your team is in the playoffs, or perhaps you're quietly stewing over what could've been (or should've been for those of you with your own biased brand of justice), or some of you may be considering jumping ship to a hot team in order to feel like you're a part of the playoff action, or maybe you just don't give a rat's ass.

At this time of year I tend to reflect on what football means to a proportionately large demographic in America. I too love the sport and I happen to be a Steelers fan, so it's a quiet time in my household, yet I live in Maryland, so it's Ravens-crazy around here since the number two-ranked team in the NFL has everyone fluffing their proverbial feathers as if they've already won the Super Bowl. I salute the fact that Baltimore is getting behind their team, even if many of them are bandwagoners who had nothing to say last year in support of the Ravens. I suppose that's not a unique phenomenon--I can't even imagine what the fan base in Arizona is like every year! If I hadn't invested so much time in the eighties watching the mutt years the Steelers had with Bubby Brister and Mark Malone after the Baltimore Colts stole out of town for Indianapolis, then I might've made the Ravens my number one team. As it is, I commit partial treason by making them my second favorite team (since I've yet to make a break from this town) and the Green Bay Packers my third. People around here can't understand my logic, but I've always had that sense of weirdness about me and I make no apologies for it. The problem is that no one wants to hear it when I wish the Ravens luck in the playoffs if the Steelers happen to be eliminated, thus I say fuck 'em all and I root for the Ravens privately during the playoffs.

Still, my primary loyalty goes with Pittsburgh because I just couldn't do what everyone else in Baltimore did, ditch whatever team they were coasting with during the non-NFL years here, and worse, ditch the Baltimore Stallions, who happened to had won the CFL Grey Cup in only their second year as a franchise the same year the Cleveland Browns relocated here to become the Ravens. I was so gung-ho for those Stallions, and I really embraced the CFL. I even got so furious that I thought the first Grey Cup the Stallions went to was rigged in British Columbia since the mounties were already en route towards the BC Lions' bench with the cup despite the Stallions holding a marginal lead. A blown call by the Canadian refs (that sucker was out-of-bounds, sorry), and that's what football is all about, that feeling of elation and subsequent aggravation when strange fate changes the tide. It makes you hungry for your team and the feel-good vibes that you somewhat associate with that often elusive spirit of victory that isn't yours personally, but it's chemically felt through an intrinsic need to win in your own life.

This is also, however, where I feel football brings out the worst in people. Maybe I've gotten too old to bicker, yell, tease, argue and bullshit with other people over football. I used to once; in fact, I had a hilarious shouting match with Bob Vinyl in 1995 when the Steelers (or rather, Neil O'Donnell) threw away the Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys, and I mean literally threw it away. I kept accusing O'Donnell of being paid off by Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones, considering O'Donnell pulled an instant Benedict Arnold and quit the team instantly after losing the Super Bowl, only to be handed a gratuitous and undeserved multi-million dollar contract with the New York Jets. I screamed in argument with a smile on my face as I baited Bob Vinyl, who was a Cowboys fan, that Jerry Jones bought the Super Bowl. It was so funny, but in retrospect, also very stupid. Later, when I destroyed a t.v. remote when the Steelers were getting trounced by the Jacksonville Jaguars, despite the fact that they came back and won, I was irritated because I'd put my previously bad week into the arms of a football game, hoping it would be alleviated with a win. The win came late and at the expense of a destroyed remote and again, it's all very stupid. We're all like that. Football comes once a week, so when the win comes, we're so joyous; when the loss comes, we're in the dregs of despair. In Baltimore, you can literally gauge how the Ravens are doing by the mood of the city. The people here are so damned fickle that they can't always rise above it if the Ravens are struggling. On the other hand, when the Ravens are a powerhouse as they are now, this place is fortified with positivity.

Still, when I listen to people razz the bejesus out of one another when their team beats another person's team, it's as if the two are actual combatants who have been affected positively on one side, negatively on the other. What glory is there really, that you made it a full three hours eating Doritos and hot wings as your favorite team beat another team? Very studly. What did you actually contribute to that win or loss? Were you there on that field? Did you score the touchdown or make the game-saving tackle at your own five yard line with two seconds to spare? Did you shank that field goal attempt or did you register a career-high four sacks on the opposing teams quarterback? Are you the mastermind on the sidelines brilliantly calling a good game? So many armchair coaches seem to think so.

Hell no, you didn't! By what right really do you have to get in the face of someone who likes another team other than yours that either won righteously or lost (in your opinion unjustly)? The whole bickering amongst one another is a Neanderthal-esque sport unto itself and all it does is drag us down in intelligence points, but then, hey, where's the fun, right? Down deep, people need to hate. They need to have something to focus their personal anger and frustrations upon, which means if you're wearing a jersey of a fan's rival team, you're automatic scum and you're the enemy. Inside, mankind has no choice but to find hatred in something and sports is where they fuel it. If we ever get past our hatred of each other by race and religion, that'll evolve us lightyears, but put on a flourescent jersey that doesn't jive with the ones our favorite team wears, then it's right on back to the hate game.

This is why I practically watch all of my football games alone, or at least with Steeler fans or fans who have enough class to just enjoy the game and not cast insults across the living room as I've been witness to far too often. I've had family tear itself apart over an insult regarding basketball and the feud has carried for over two decades. That's goddamned embarassing, as far as I'm concerned. And when other members of that family forget such a thing happened but pushes someone who doesn't play the trash talk game like myself to the point of absolute annoyance, then that's where football ceases to be fun anymore. Family and friendship isn't worth squabbling over sports, and it shouldn't be between total strangers. Interesting that you could go into another state as a visitor with no sports agenda and somehow it all comes together. In fact, people will sometimes embrace that stranger from out of town. I've seen it in Pittsburgh, Philly and yes, my hometown of Baltimore. Go up to people in Baltimore without any sports ties, and marvel at how most people will be friendly to you. Come back a week later in a Steelers jersey, they'll spit on your shoes and tell their kids to do exactly the same. I've seen it done.

The way things should be like at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I'm not saying it's always civil since I've only been once, but I wore my Jerome Bettis jersey when I went to Canton and rubbed elbows with fans from all around the country and we all nodded to each other--even a couple of Ravens fans to Steeler fans, God forbid, but yeah, it actually happened without the spit--and we all rubbed the busts of our idols and smiled, and we all congregated before a highlights screen and clapped, "ooohhhhed" and "aahhhhhed" together at the archival footage of the Packers from the sixties, the Raiders from the eighties, the Colts of the fifties, the 49ers of the nineties, and so on, because we just enjoyed the sport of football, no matter who was wearing what jersey....

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Paul Gilbert - Get Out of My Yard review

So after my own saga in the dirges of plague, my wife fell ill with something totally different and had to be hospitalized. Another trying week, but she is home and slowly mending. Our motto and commitment to each other is to not get sick the rest of the year since we're doing it in fine style to open the year with! Of course, there are just so many people coming down with serious illnesses and my prayers go to each and every one of them. This widespread illness almost scales us back to the Dark Ages...

But anyway, on to happier things. Hope you all are well yourselves...

Paul Gilbert
Get Out of My Yard
Shrapnel Records
3.5 out of 4
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

It used to be the only guitar rock albums you cared about were by Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson. Of course, one of the biggest complaints over time was that the guitar rock album became all flash and little substance. “Satch Boogie” from Satriani’s Surfing With the Alien being one of the coolest modern guitar rock songs, and Vai’s “The Audience is Listening” from Passion and Warfare being another, both are nonetheless looked back upon as gimmicky by many audiences. So why now this large influx of guitar, bass and synth master instrumental albums when a fair amount of people dismiss them as hour-long slabs of slick musical masturbation?

Well, you’re not really going to shit all over Billy Sheehan, Marty Friedman, Derek Sherinian or Dave Weiner’s instrumental discs, are you? And surely Phil Travers, Tommy Bolin and Rory Gallagher are full of the good stuff as far as guitar rock goes. If you’re reading this, then I probably need not sugarcoat it further, because if Eddie Van Halen suddenly launched an all-instrumental solo disc, I defy any of you to tell me you won’t be licking your chops over the prospect. Paul Gilbert, the former Racer-X and Mr. Big shredder, is a devout Eddie Van Halen fan, in case the song “Three E’s for Edward” doesn’t clue you in, and for further proof, there’s an abstract, distorted tinkering with Van Halen’s “Eruption” out the gate with Gilbert’s 1:38 opener “Get Out of My Yard.”

Still, Get Out of My Yard the album is chock full of varying rock and metal instrumentals for Gilbert to recreate in, be it the Vai-esque funk factory that is “Radiator” and “Rusty Old Boat” or the chugging engine that Gilbert himself feels is as close to a Racer-X song, “The Curse of Castle Dragon.” When you add on the southern boogie tinges on “Straight Through the Telephone Pole” that also hearkens some Rory Gallagher, and the alt-rock psychedelia of The Blue Aeroplanes on “The Echo Song,” Paul Gilbert has put forth the extra effort to make this more than just a listenable guitar album.

In short, what Gilbert does astutely on Get Out of My Yard is that he creates songs with groove, songs with drive, and on occasion, songs with emotion as on the cerulean “Marine Layer.” In other words, there’s some humanity breathing inside a construct normally considered by admirers as superhuman. If anything, guitar rock albums have gotten less self-effacing and far more entertaining, and Paul Gilbert exemplifies that it’s the layers beneath, not the icing on the cake that is most important.