Thursday, April 21, 2005

when i grow up i will rant like a big dog


This is one of those times where I wish I had one of those fancy mp3 blogs that all you people no doubt are rushing to check these days, finding out the last word on what songs you might've missed or would've missed if it weren't for a helpful soul out there in front of his (statistically, yes) machine with an axe to grind. 'Cause people, there's some wood that needs a-choppin'.

I love public radio. I'll come out and say it, I'm one of those. This American Life, Yes. Morning Edition, sure. I've even enjoyed Garrison Keillor and his Lake Woebegone tales. And, since I'm here in LA, I enjoy Morning Becomes Eclectic, KROQ for people in european sports sedans (which I do not own. I am a poseur). Nic Harcourt runs a nice program, one that's available online and--judging by KCRW's recent moves sponsoring shows in SF and NY, he's doing fairly well.

HOWEVER, I have discovered a simple formula for garnering KCRW airplay, or being dubbed "Eclectic," as it were. Pick a song from the '80s, any will do, the more romantic and pleasantly kitschy, the better. I joked about this with my girlfriend not long ago as we heard someone breaking down (up? apart?) Cameo's "Word Up" into sultry acoustic vamp. I think this started with Frente's "Bizarre Love Triangle" from like 1994. Take a wispy female voice, mix it up with a masculine (to a point, it was the '80s) voiced song, add acoustic guitars, and stir.

If I had the means, and one day I may, I would post one of those two songs, along with the song that incited this post, which was someone mewling through a cover of "Melt With You." Quick, everyone! Grab yourself a copy of "Question of Lust" or "Come on Eileen" and slow that sucker down. There's probably only a chord or two in each song, it won't take long. Public radio superstardom awaits! *

But, of course, now they're playing Wilco's "Box Full of Letters." I'm back, Nic. I'm back. Just keep the covers in check, all right?


*[No, it turns out, not quite. Although the Cameo cover was wreaked upon me by a to-this-point unknown source, many of the ever-loving 80s covers I've been hearing on KCRW are from the above link, a project from France cleverly dubbed Nouvelle Vague. Seems the whole honking CD is rife with covers, from the Cure's "A Forest" to "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (both of which I have heard on that station). While I'm comforted that this isn't a larger movement of artists mining this ground for radio gold, it still is a poor reflection on the radio station that these songs are apparently like crack for aging alt-rock children of the '80s. Thanks, Nouvelle Vague. I hope hell is keeping a room extra hot for you.]

Saturday, April 09, 2005

For those about to rock

Hello again.
Come sit beside me at the tea circle. No no, don't sit next to That Guy, he hogs all the wee cakes and his breath smells of porridge. Sit next to me. There. More sugar? Yes.

Sorry begin that way, but I'll be making my second consecutive book review post shortly and I guess I felt the need to diffuse the feeling of this being some sort of klatsch or salon. Am I spelling klatch correctly? Please discuss, and for god sake's don't bogart the Earl Gray.

This week, with improved though still as yet not perfect health, I started and finished Chuck Klosterman's "Fargo Rock City," a book that judging by its jacket praise and epilogue became some sort of phenomenon while I was passed out under the coffee table during the early '00s. Nevermind that. I think I remember hearing about this book, but its premise didn't really speak to me. "Heavy metal--no wait, LOVING heavy metal--in a small town, and the effects thereof." Great. Now, if this wasn't clear in my last post (or any post prior), I have been playfully (or not) accused of being an elitist. Many times. I used to argue but now, well, I don't. I have smug little tastes, I'm proud of them, and walking hand in hand with those tastes is a disdain for what's "bad," which in this case will be heavy metal. I do not appreciate Warrent, Winger, Ratt, Poison or any other band from that era, ironically or otherwise. When, as the revisionist vision of critical history goes, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana leaned into those high school bleachers during the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video and effectively performed their chorus on the collective graves of hair metal bands, I danced (or, more appropriately, moshed) on into the night, ringing bells and cackling at their destruction. Metal to me was mindless, stupid, and the soundtrack for every pickup truck date rape I could envision when I was in high school. It was the music of a certain kind of 'cool kid,' at least in Lancaster, California, the defense budget-bloated desert where I went to high school. More to the point, Jon Bon Jovi was having no problems getting laid in 1988. I was, unfortunately, so needless to say his music said nothing to me.

But, there was another side to that story, one that ol' Chuck reminded me of. When I was 15, I listened to Metallica. I listened to Megadeth. I listened to Anthrax, Queensryche, and, yeah, selected tracks from "Appetite for Destruction" (though I never owned it, which I think is what allowed me to distance myself from these heavy metal years so easily. In fact the only 'metal' album I owned was Metallica's "Kill 'Em All," which I eventually sold, presumably a result of my hormones calming down) The rest were all borrowed tapes and mixtapes.

So, sure, I grew out of heavy metal and apparently drifted from there to my high-minded tastes of today. But that was the unexpected treat in Fargo Rock City. I only picked it up because I thought Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs was such a funny, enjoyable read. But here I find that this guy actually had similar tastes as I did when we were about the same age at around the same time. The difference being in some ways didn't move on from it, well, ever. Whether it was the North Dakota setting or not, Klosterman spends a good amount of time explaining his enjoyment of the genre in college and--though confined to two albums--even now. Guns 'N Roses can still be listened to in his household, where they cause me to cringe--if not giggle--when I hear them against my will now.

This did not make me appreciate heavy metal more. I want to get that out right now. The book doesn't really try to convince anyone of anything, but it is a pretty long deconstruction of metal, metal bands and what that all might have been about at that time in our culture. The book doesn't have as much of a memoir to it as I expected--structurally it's similar to Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs in that Klosterman spends much of his time talking in a very witty, high minded manner about very very lowbrow, trashy things. This in and of itself might seem pretentious if the guy wasn't such a damn good writer.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, but most of all I enjoyed being taken back to that time in my life where I knew who King Diamond, Randy Rhodes, Blackie Lawless and Sebastian Bach were. I like to think that I had 'standards' in my metal period--Metallica and Megadeth were welcome. Guns n Roses, sort of, but they honestly had gotten too popular for me to really like. Warrent, Skid Row and Winger were right out, I sussed them out as shit pretty instantaneously. Motley Crue--the object of Klosterman's affection through most of the book--I enjoyed as, maybe, a freshman (reveling in the oddly hysterical karate-themed video of "Too Young to Fall in Love"), but right around when "Home Sweet Home" became a cultural phenomenon (read: Was inescapable on MTV), I figured out their stupidity too (though I enjoyed the later single "Wild Side" with head-bobbing abandon). I eventually moved away from all of it--I don't know if it was simply aging out of it as I alluded to before or if better music just came along. Most likely 13-16 year olds just want something aggressive, whether it's Van Halen, Ratt, Nirvana or Sum 41. I remember just looking for whatever was fastest and loudest at the time.

But regardless, those bands lead you to where you need to go. Granted, my older brother gets most of the credit for introducing me to the great rock of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and AC/DC, but I had to listen to Soundgarden's "Badmotorfinger" before I could appreciate "Houses for the Holy." Guess which one I listen to more often now?

In short, thanks Chuck Klosterman. I will now raise my fingers in a secret 'devil' salute your way, with "Supernaut" played a bit louder than it needs to be.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

a fighting, choking lullaby

Greetings, friends.
It's been awhile, I know, but if its any consolation, while I was away I was thinking of you constantly. Okay, that's an utter lie, but the fact is I was thinking about the fact I still have this space out in the world, and no matter how many times I checked it from time to time, I hadn't posted anything new without my knowledge. So to speak.

In any case, here I am now, slowly recovering from a wicked bout with a stubborn and still present sore throat/cough combo. While I was out of comission I took some time to read a little Chuck Palahniuk (and yes I had to look that up to spell it correctly), who for awhile occupied a space slightly below Dave Eggars among those authors that self-respecting indie-minded snobs really need to read in their late twenties.

In my (and perhaps his) defense, I purchase it in my late twenties, but didn't read it until my early thirties. This seems significant.

At any rate, I liked Fight Club, and I like a lot of people who had pointed at me with their hairstyles askew and said "You really need to read Choke/Lullaby/Survivor." So, Lullaby it was when I sifted through a charity booksale at work. I hate to say it, but his book did not inspire me to read more, wander the U.S. and break down our consumerist systems with withering satirical pranks, or even move to Portland (though that has its merits).

It was an interesting read, granted, with its tale of a cynical journalist who stumbles upon a children's song whose reading results in instant crib death. There are a few familiar elements: Nihilistic youths, clever scams undermining upper-crust restaurants, talk of thinning the herd, etc., but nothing particularly engaged me. I was there, watching the words run by me, but I really didn't give a damn what happened. Chuck has his style, among which are plenty of self-referential callbacks to earlier dialogue (which also popped up in Fight Club), and those can either be amusing or, rather quickly, tedious. Dead text that doesn't really add anything to the story or, most distressingly, add much to the mood. At least for me, that is. Also problematic is the fact none of the characters, even the main one, the journalist, is particularly fleshed out beyond a certain type. Yes, the lead is a weak man with anger issues, yes the woman he teams with is a somewhat bloodlessly ambitious status-whore. But I never got a sense of who these people were, other than dark and sometimes amusing Palahniuk characters.

Maybe if I'd stumbled upon the book at 25 or 27, and I had a full complement of facial ornaments dangling from my flesh, it would've struck me differently, but when it comes to subversive satire, I'm thinking George Saunders does it a lot better.