Thursday, August 31, 2006

i held on tight and closed my eyes

"The Moon," by the Microphones

I haven't been keeping with my usual format of late. You remember, you show up here, I spill whatever's in my head all over your shoes and on your way out the door you get a song for your (and my) trouble. Messy, but effective.

Not sure why, that hasn't been hitting me the same way since my work-imposed hiatus. Maybe I'm finally over this whole 'writing' thing after all, and such a relief will that be. Finally, a life of bricklaying! Plus, I can turn off the little guilt-o-meter that clangs around in my head when I piddle away 45 minutes watching the latest episode of "Project Runway" (and quietly asking myself why i'm doing such a thing when the expression on my face doesn't change the entire time).

Not to say I'm scowling or even staring with this glassy, post-lobotomy look of glee. It's more of a blank, hypnotic trance. Television's always had that power with me, ever since I used to wad myself up on the floor four feet from our big Magnavox until Bugs Bunny burrowed a hole clean through my cortex.

[There is no song cue here, by the way. You're waiting, you're tapping your foot looking for me to tie it all together in a neat bow, but I'm sorry, I'm just throwing this one up because the thing popped in my head this morning and it just wouldn't let go. Sometimes it's like that.]

The whole thing starts with a quiet, seasick acoustic guitar weaving through an an off-kilter, probably out of tune figure for just over a minute before the drums come in, all overdriven and knocking over the furniture. Somewhere deep in the background is Phil Elvrum, lo-fi orch-pop savant (or something like that). He's mumbling, sighing, whispering something and you just want to figure out what. The acoustic guitar--now insistent--along with the groaning horn section dopplering across the song buries almost everything, like he's explaining something to you from the edge of a freeway overpass.

Whatever he's going on about, it sounds important, possibly because some of the most important sounds and thoughts don't always come from the guy holding a megaphone. Sometimes it's the guy who almost sounds like he's talking to himself, shuffling his feet as you walk by and wonder what you just heard.

And then he's done.

Buy "The Glow, Pt. 2" by the Microphones

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

we see the light and find it useful

"Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen

Let me tell you, my children, about the '90s. OK, maybe not. But let me tell you the weird thing about what was going on in mass media back then. Most of it, at least much of it pointed to our collective heads when we were in our early 20s and teens was pretty sure things were bad out there in the world. But it could be changed. MTV was filled with profiles of motivated young people in big cities working to change the world they were living in under a corduroy blazer and unaffected haircut. Underground music tripped and fell into the mainstream, bringing new ideas and thoughts to radio stations and listeners. Movies were filled with strange fantasies of rebellious mavericks inspiring dissent and individuality.

And it meant fuck-all. But that's beside the point.

But one such movie, one such SONG from such a movie, was this one. How many people here have seen "Pump Up the Volume," ? Come on don't be shy, we're all friends here. I don't even want to get into the whole ridiculous plot for those who haven't seen it, the page above will suffice. There was Christian Slater working that Nicholson impression for all its worth, there was a high school 30 miles away from me, there was rabble-rousing words and music that inspired people to destroy appliances and above all an introverted hero who inspired Samantha Mathis to take off her top for no logical reason whatsover. Everything a moody fresh-out-of-highschool Gen Xer needs.

But that soundtrack...

Listening to it now it's sort of this radio-friendly pastiche of pre-grunge alt-rock, engineered in some musty room in the bowels of KROQ. Of course I ran right out and bought it. On tape, bitches.

Sure, there's terrific stuff--a half-time "Wave of Mutilation," Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, and even Richard Hell and the Voidoids for the true believers. But Urban Dance Squad? Liquid Jesus? I think that cancels out the Soundgarden and Descendents. Needless to say, it's not in my collection now--but not because of the above missteps.

It's this song, this one right here. It's not on it.

Sure, you hear it playing over the opening credits and it pretty much launches the "Happy Harry" pirate radio show every scene but what do you get instead? Concrete Blonde, spilling paisley all over the damn thing. Okay, maybe not paisley, but certainly some bright and anthemic poison yellow color, something that takes away all the dread and menace from Leonard Cohen's version. Why? Probably because Leonard Cohen took a look at the movie afterwards and saw it as a seething piece of manipulative post-teen-movie crap and said, "Ok, i'm in the movie, but you can't sell me WITH your movie, got it?"

I think it's something more. I think Concrete Blonde's version with its soaring crescendo is supposed to translate into hope, that everybody does know the dice is loaded and the captain lied but if we...just...sing...togettthherrrr we can make it all right. Everybody knows, but it can change, right guys? Yeah!

Leonard Cohen's version, on the other hand, with its chugging strings and spanish accents, is a dirge. A funeral for hope, activism, and a brighter future. He can't even bother to sing, his voice just rumbles out of your speakers in a lazy croak, like the voice of the devil on your shoulder reminding you to give it all up.

This does not sell popcorn.

But, through the prism of hindsight, Leonard had it figured out. Where's Concrete Blonde now? Where are we now? "Pump Up the Volume's" tagline was "Talk Hard," and we did, I think. Talk just wasn't enough. Everybody knows.

Buy some Leonard Cohen. He even sings most of the time!

Friday, August 18, 2006

bring the rain, bring the thunder

I love the bass guitar.

Every fat-bottomed, thick-stringed, finger-blistering inch of them. An embarrassing number of years ago, I decided that the bass was going to be *my* instrument, the one I was going to at long last pick up and figure out after a childhood, adolesence and college free of any musical fulfillment. As a side note, I'll pretty much always feel like I missed out on a minor part of the music geek's lifecycle growing up and somehow not a) being in a crap garage band or b) hosting a crap college radio show. These are two things that when people meet me they are somewhat surprised I never did. To be honest I am too.

So, I dropped a little over $500 on a pretty hefty Japanese Fender J bass (the fellow in Spiritualized and all my favorite britshoegaze bands seemed to prefer the J--it was that simple) and a SWR "Workingman's 12" cabinet. Big, thundering noise, at my fingertips.

This morning both of these things sit in my closet, ridiculously out of tune, neglected and sad. Lately my cat has been enjoy that lumbering carpeted amp more than I have. Years and years ago I tried to get my head around that thing, I did. I sat and worked on scales and penciled several notes-maps of its long smooth neck. I got high and wrapped myself in headphones, determined to copy some of my favorite songs and players (I came close a few times). I indulged in free-form noise rock experiments with musician friends at parties, sometimes with sloppily magnificent (or magnificently sloppy) results--and yes alcohol was involved.

I followed all the requisite steps, but it never took. I heard the music in my head and what I wanted the guitar to do but I couldn't find where those mystical notes lay, or even how to twist its notes into something reliably complimentary to a melody and the magical guts of what becomes 'music.' My bass never became more than a piece of wood bound by strings, strings that tied together all the instrument's secrets and wouldn't let them go.

So fine. I meant to get lessons and never did and other creative outlets rose up in its place. Frustrated friends in bands told me, "You'll never play bass, you're not flaky enough" (a reflection more on their current bandmate situation than my personality), and part of me actually bought it. "Well, that explains it then!" part of me must've said in relief. Maybe it's just not meant to be, and into the case went the bass, Sam I Am.

I haven't given up--I still have it, after all--even though about 8 years have gone since I first picked up the guitar and the fantastic silver-bearded man at Guitar Showcase in Campbell, California said, "You'll always find work; everyone's looking for a bass player" (see my friend's comment above). I'm still devoted to my instrument of choice and though I'm a little annoyed it didn't find me until I was old enough to have jobs and distractions and collaborators living progressively further away, I'd like to try again. But above all it hurts to realize that I could be eight years into playing right now. Dammit.

(This is the sort of thing that really should introduce a theme, and maybe next week we will embark on a sweeping Salute to The Bass. But for now, this is one of the countless songs that make me wish I had shown a little more tenacity, a lot more discipline.)

'Waste It On,' by Silversun Pickups

Silversun Pickups are a fantastic, post-shoegaze pumpkin bashing trio from my ol' neighborhood that with a little luck you've heard of already. But, as in all big guitar outfits, the bass is not-so-quietly picking up everyone's lunch tab while no one's looking.

Played by the predictably cute Nikki Monninger (seriously, the comely female bass player has joined the ironic t-shirt as a requisite indie rock accessory for some time now--not that there's anything wrong with that), this bassline is probably the most unique, most uncomfortable, most difficult sounding of its kind that I've heard all year. It's all hitches and stops, it paces and stumbles about on a wooden leg on its way around a scale and, above all, carries the whole song on its crooked woolen shoulders. It sounds like it should be in a different time signature, but probably isn't, which is even more interesting. As my drummer friend Marty said when I asked if one of his band's songs were in an odd time he said, "No, it's four but it feels like nine." Seems like a great slogan for a band: "Making four feel link nine since 1996."

And six drum geeks laugh with me.

Stereogum's linked to the Silversun Pickups' video for their considerably more raucous "Well Thought Out Twinkles" (where you can watch Miss Monninger rock the big Fender bass as well). Check that out, check the above song out, and when you're done buy Silversun Pickups' debut album 'Carnavas'. This local trio isn't staying local much longer.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

make with the ha-ha

Took in a comedy show Tuesday night, something I very seldom do and really should do far more often. Well, let me check that, I should see comedy far more often at certain venues and featuring certain people, yes, that's definitely the proper call to action.

Because though laughing in public is very very good, stand-up in its typical form has gotten tired. Just like aspects of any performing art eventually hit a point where they need to get shaken up, taken someplace different, or shelved all together, stand-up needs a jolt, or needs to have many of its favorite toys and go-to moves taken away so it has to relearn what made it so exciting in the first place. Not to mention the crap clubs that you have to pay $15 to enter on the condition you buy two watered down drinks. Then after all that you maybe, MAYBE, have some laughs between the squealing hoots from bachelorette party next to you as they get all worked up about something that happened to them on the way to the club that night? Is it any wonder people started to stay home and the Ha Ha Hole on Route 46 is now a tanning salon?

But the Comedians of Comedy Tour is different. Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn and (in the video's case) Maria Bamford hit rock clubs, places like the 40 Watt in Athens, Warsaw in Brooklyn and, in Tuesday's case, the Troubadour. And there's something about the show that's so much more hysterical than the last time you were taken to a traditional 'Yay Comedy!' club (because it may not have been your idea). Maybe it's because you're standing shoulder to shoulder with someone so you're more engaged, but probably it's the fact that all the comics are amazing and consistently trying something different, challenging themselves and the audience--and by challenging the audience I don't mean skinning a beaver or insulting whatever ethnic group in their line of vision because that's 'edgy.' Just a different, very skewed asthetic, and it happens to be funny as hell.

I wish I could better describe what makes this show so good, but describing comedy is even harder than describing music. It's like doing an intepretive dance to describe a song in a white room with the lights off. You're just going to have to watch the movie, see the show on Comedy Central some night at like 1 a.m. when they've run out of Carlos Mencia to spill on your shoes. Or, better yet, put on something fancy and go see them on tour in September.

This is the part where if I were a better, more service-oriented blogger I would have samples of the above people's work for you to download, treasure and horde. But I can't. I have Patton Oswalt's "222" CD and great as it may be (it's weird to be listening to a CD in the car and be laughing at your dashboard), it also has no track markers--and I'm not posting a 58 minute CD. I won't do it, Petunia. (See my advice above about the tour and the movie and whatnot.) And, for the most part, songs designed to make you laugh suck.


'Polka Dot Tail' by Ween

God bless Ween. Seriously.

If you're never heard them before and think they're just sort of this goofy stoner duo that sing offensive songs like an indie rock version of "Weird Al" well, you're kind of right, but stay with me. Ween doesn't just make fun of songs themselves, they make fun of whole genres. And they play them flawlessly, which makes for this incredible cognitive disconnect. I mean, if they're just fucking around, they shouldn't be able to play so well, right? And if it's all a big goof, why are are their 'serious' pop songs so, well...good?

This song, taken from "The Mollusk" sounds a little like a bloated British prog-psychedlic band performing on the deck of a sinking pirate ship. Everything from the warped seasick vocals to the waterlogged guitar is disorienting, especially the existential lyrics that ask "Have you ever made a flan and squished it in your hand?" Oh no. Nothing really makes sense, especially around 1:06 mark, and if you're not careful it all becomes very, very funny. The really frightening part? That allmusic considers this one of their most 'concise' records. Help me.

Buy "The Mollusk" from InSound

Monday, August 14, 2006

behold the overdog

Weekends are, by definition, too short. If longer than two days, then they'd hardly be simply the 'end' of something--they'd earn a name in their own right. It's an odd coincidence that they ended up falling on a Saturday and Sunday though, isn't it? I mean, I suppose the week could end in the middle all this time--a offputting full-stop during Wednesday and Thursday, giving us a differntly oblong shape to our work week. But then that probably disrupts the whole sabbath-as-end-of-week concept.

These are, with apologies to George Carlin, the kinds of thoughts that come into your head when you sit around the house and your television is broken.

Not that mine is. I've just been trying to avoid it of late. I've always had a pretty solid love-hate relationship with the Big Blue Light, and now I'm finally starting to drift toward the 'hate' side. This is a good thing, especially given the fact that I, like most 30something pop culture-devouring GenXers, am a garbage scow loaded with bad TV trivia. What was the name of one of the restaurant/bar/swinger hangout in "Three's Company?" (The Regal Beagle) Who was the late-night DJ on "WKRP in Cincinnati"? (Venus Flytrap) What was the name of the high school in "White Shadow"? (Carver) Things like this, and if you knew the answers to any of these admittedly softball questions, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Some days I wish I could take an ice cream scoop to my brain and remove all this stuff, which would probably free up precious neurons to work on something to reduce our nation's dependence on fossil fuels.

I don't think I started to kick until the late 90s. I found better things to do than watch the telly until the programming schedule told me to go to sleep. There's words to spill on a page, gatherings to attend, people to call. It's still a struggle--I have my addictions to ending the evening with a little bit of viewing, and I pretty much have to check in with "The Colbert Report" and such every other night or so. It still has me, but I'm fighting.

Thus, the weekend was full of a lot of reading, and going to see the wonderfully weird SloMo Video Festival over in Westwood. 100 one-minute long films played, at some point, in slow motion. Wonderful, inspiring stuff, here and there. Good art, I think, should make you want to go create good art. A few of my favorites was slow motion footage of an intersection and a crowd of people crossing the street and a man in a silver suit and a huge sphere of a mask doing the hula hoop to the tune of the Carpenters "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft." Magnificent, and I wish I could show them too you, but instead you're going to have to keep an eye out for the show in your town (LA folk, you have a second chance--the show's coming to Echo Park on Aug. 24). The films are a little hit and miss (as 100 short films tend to be), but the end result is well worth a night out. It made me want to go film one of those tall, inflated rubber creatures who wave and wiggle with varying degrees of urgency in front of car lots at a very....slow....speed and play some music over it. But what?

'Dulcimers Played by Peter Neff, Strings Played,' by Labradford

My mind raced...first I thought of something beautiful, but apocalyptic. Maybe Godspeed You Black Emperor! or even Earth to get really grim (but that would probably require some start black and white, and I want the carnival colors). But the music has to be somewhat sad becuase despite their bright colors and generally big smiles, there's something a little dark about them. They're reaching for the sky, and not only will they never get there, it doesn't even appear to be their idea. It's that big grinding machine at their feet making them do it.

Thus, Labradford.

Labradford is music made not necessarily for slow motion, but for a slow internal pace. There is no TV in their world, only concepts and images, things that pop into your head that deserves some special attention, like when you drive by the home you used to live in when you were a child. Who lives in there now? Can they see your memories too? Or maybe the nothing that pops into your head when a ladybug crawls across your finger. Languid, thought-provoking stuff.

This song is built on a slow, mourning piano line and some slowly building strings (no dulcimers to speak of--the song's title is part of the minimalist asthetic of Labradford where on the album "E Luxo So" tracks were given the same titles as the album credits). Things are sad, but beautiful. Then at the 2:40 mark, something happens. A screen door opens and shuts with a start and a little fresh air comes into the room. Why did someone leave? Where did they go? Were they unhappy? Did just they have things to do? Ten seconds later the song begins again, right where it left off. Just as if no one left at all. Let's see, where was I?

Buy "E Luxo So" at InSound

Friday, August 11, 2006

are you here for the party?

Cloudy days are generally good. Always have been in my eyes.

I remember when I was a kid I always played basketball better during cloudy days, and to my kid-brain it seemed somehow surprising. Sunny days=sunny disposition and all around good feelings, right? Everything's better when it's sunny (at least if you listen to enough Beach Boys). I was probably 14 or so and certainly took this as a signifier of my own 'depth,' my complicated dark sensibilities that made me, a unique little snowflake, so doubtlessly backward I actually prefer cloudy days to sunny.

As i think about it now, it's far less complicated than that. Sunny days are hotter days. Mild temperatures, mild temperaments. And, when you're outside in the sun, especially playing some kind of sport, the sun is in your eyes and affecting your performance. Depth not required

But still. I remain convinced cloudy days are good--especially when you don't get them very often. I visted Portland earlier this month, a trial run of a trip to decide if we were going to pick up stakes and move to the pacific northwest--land of Powell's, mild temperatures, affordable real estate and yes, all those magnificent, thought provoking cloudy days.

However. There is a big difference between Los Angeles cloudy days--even Greater Cleveland area cloudy days (where I grew up)--and Portland cloudy days. Or at least it seemed as such that weekend.

It snowed. In March. The temperatures, day and night, changed by only five or ten degrees (between 30-40 F, which isn't really a difference). But what really stuck out were the clouds, this heavy, slate-colored sky that said in a booming, stern voice, "THERE IS NO SUN TODAY," followed by a softer but still serious rejoinder, "There was no sun yesterday. There will be no sun tomorrow. There will be no sun next week. Check back with us in May, flesh-creature."

It was windy, cold and damp, and of course it was. In the process I even made a local goth girl angry. The move, at least this year was off.

If any Portlander is reading this you're probably laughing hysterically at me, the sissy-boy Californian who got scared away from your town (and thank god for that, you're also thinking) by a little weather. And I sort of did--that and the fact none of the papers or writerly outlets in the ara felt like acknowledging my existence while move was under consideration. Portland, it seems, is a great place to live if you're a truck driver or machinist, but beyond that...the job market seemss in a bit of trouble.

Maybe we'll try it again one year. I still really like the city, I still really like the people, and I feel a real affinity for the land and all that magnificent green everywhere. It just definitely seemed as if a "Not Now" message was being broadcast in colored halogen lights this spring, and you ignore such messages to your peril.

I mean, seriously. Snow?

'Helpless' (Live), Ryan Adams with Gillian Welch

This Neil Young cover perfectly suits a cloudy day. Or even a sunny one (as we have here now...dammit.)

I am not a Ryan Adams fan. I think he is, for want of a better term, a boob. I think his over-sensitivity to any criticism that occasionally manifests itself thorugh getting into pissing matches on blogs is tiresome. I think he should shut up and stop leaving whiny messages on Jim DeRogotis' voice mail after he dares slag his live show. I DO think he could release one great album a year instead of three 'pretty good ones' (though not necessarily that he should), and so on.

But, I also think he's ridiculously talented. "Heartbreaker" was magnificent, and partly because of his collaboration with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. For one album, to me at least, it all lined up. Nothing before or since has really struck me, and it must've been really nice to see all those folks together live (and at the Exit/In in Nashville, no less, where this is theoretically taken). All Gillian really adds is a backing vocal, a soft sigh in the chorus but it is perfect, I say to you, perfect!

And even though I go either way with covers sometimes (either reinvent it or nail it, there's no middle ground--and some songs shouldn't be covered--but more on that later), this one hits just right. Ryan, for all his glorious faults, flaws and foibles, utterly nails it. And you even get a little bit of his irritatingly self-effacing banter at the end as a bonus.

I hope the clouds come back tomorrow.

Buy 'Heartbreaker' from Insound

Thursday, August 10, 2006

critical mass

I really shouldn't bother with this.

I'm like two days late to the party since this went up, but my favorite (seriously, it is, somehow) indie music pacesetting website went and got me all out of sorts this morning. Lollapalooza was reviewed, or rather assassinated, by our snarky friends, which doesn't really bother me. I wasn't there, Lollapalooza is a far cry from what it was when I was attending it...*shudder*...15 years ago or so, and I'm not in the business of defending massively corporate-sponsored music festivals.

That said...

I just want critical or even eye-witness reports of such an event to give it to me straight, and not serve some axe that's gotta be ground to a razor's edge because of the above facts. Frankly, the lineup was pretty great. Flaming Lips? Gnarls Barkley? Wilco? Sure, there were some clunkers (Chili Peppers, Widespread Panic), as there are for all--yes, ALL--music festivals. But give me the feeling that you're covering this the same way as you would if, say, these bands had been playing the festival that your own publication sponsors. Would the crowd be chastized for being older, having strollers and not bursting into a group hug once they spied their matching wristbands like the True Festival of Communal Good Vibes that is the Pitchfork Festival? Would Wayne Coyne still be judged as "indie rock's carrot top"? Would Wilco be dismissed as playing "Midwestern anthems"? I somehow doubt it.

Let's just say I take issue with his review. Let's say I think he's full of shit when he says Iron & Wine isn't meant for a large venue (I saw them at the Wiltern with Calexico last year and they were incredible). Let's say that I doubt the only suitable adjective for the soloing by Wolfmother and the Raconteurs is "shameful." I'm not big fans of either band, but is this 1977? Are we back to being embarrassed by musicians exhibitiing technical veracity? Should we take away the Arcade Fire's violins? And are we to assume that your positive words for the soon-to-be-departed Sleater Kinney were because they didn't feature any guitar solos?

Let me just say above all that I think the motives behind this slash piece are questionable. You want to hate on an overly sponsored alt-rock fest that's struggling for relevance? Fine. But don't do it at the expense of bands that are championed on your pages, possibly only because they dared play in the same city as you two weeks after your own festival. It seems disingenuine and not just a little petty.

Again, I probably shouldn't have bothered with this. The chorus of P-fork haters who still read the damn thing every day is loud enough already. I guess it's because I read the damn thing that I want it to be better than something like this.

'It's So Easy to Get Bored,' by Helmet

This one's for you, Rob Mitchum. I've read your reviews and liked your stuff, what happened here? Did you really only enjoy three performances over three days?

It's rumored that Page Hamilton was inspired by a nasty and probably difficult to impress critic for this little tune in 1997, and it's the first that came to mind for this case. It's not the usual Helmet song, it's not terribly heavy and there aren't the same start-stop hitches of guitar squalls and silence. In fact given the comparitively midtempo pace it's almost even pretty, about as pop as these guys got. It's from the last Helmet album before they broke up and never played another note (That's right, the last two albums never happened, do you understand me? Never happened.)

Enjoy, Pitchforkers. Hope one day to check out your flawless festival to see what made Lollapalooza seem like such a miserable time for all concerned.

Buy 'Aftertaste' at Insound

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

what the world needs now

Heard a pretty beautiful and odd story from a friend today. I don't want to delve too much into the sociology of Los Angeles here (and as a result wind up sounding like "Crash" or horsehot-filled equivalent), but even those who don't live here realize a lot of what spins our world is our cars. How far we are from somewhere isn't measured in miles or blocks, it's in minutes (blocks and miles can be deceiving, after all). Public transportation is as affected by traffic as a single rider given the sad half-joke of our subway system, so most everyone drives, and most everyone drives almost a half an hour to work every day. I'm one of the lucky ones--I drive about 20 minutes.

Consequently those you see on your commute start to become your friends, almost. Just as if you were in a subway car or on a bus, you see the same car or truck every day at around the same intersection at approximately the same hour. There's the Rust Explorer with the Massachusetts plates. There's the guy with the mint julep colored vespa and matching helmet. They're your partners, your pewmates in the church of Los Angeles, struggling through anothe sermon. Maybe you even see them on the way home as well and after awhile, if they look interesting, you start to wonder.

A friend of mine had such a commute friend during her drive to mid-Wilshire every morning. An 'interesting' looking guy in a green vintage automobile. Every day, somewhere around Sixth Street or LaBrea or wherever, they'd pass, never really acknowledging eachother. But the other person was a reliable reminder of how far the commute has progressed, as much a mile-marker as a Chevron station or a Pioneer Chicken.

Then he was gone.

There's not much mourning, you figure maybe the guy got a new job, lost his old one, whatever. There are more commuters for you to share your ride with and you've still got to get to your same ol' job. But then she saw the car again a few weeks later. In her brother's neighborhood, parked just a few doors down. That's awfully strange. I've lived here seven years and rarely see any I know out on the street randomly. The city is just too big. You can date people here and if things don't work out they literally seem to disappear into vapor. There's seemingly an infinite number of Other Places people can be when you're apart, and to run into this car in her brother's neighborhood--which is only a few blocks from her neighborhood--well, that's just bizarre.

On a whim she leaves a note on the guy's car. Nothing too crazy and certainly nothing she expected to hear a response for but something capitalizing on the weird nature of the moment asking "Hey, what happened to you? I used to see you on the way to work every morning." Then she left her email address.

(My friend is single, but this wasn't really that kind of maneuver. You have to know her. No, seriously, you should, she's great)

Shockingly, the guy gets back to her. Finds her on MySpace and drops her a line. They trade a few emails and come to find out this guy actually LIVES NEXT DOOR TO HER BROTHER. Not just in the next house, literally, behind the door right next to her brother's apartment in a fourplex.


So yeah, you're pretty much supposed to get to know this guy at this point right? This is the invisible hand behind the curtain jerking your strings. This is the universe tilting on its axis and spilling all the pool balls into the corner pocket. Something, whatever you want to believe, has aligned this moment. Maybe it won't matter anyway, but it's too much of a coincidence to ignore.

So they're still in touch, basking in the weird glow of what is A Very Los Angeles moment--made even more so because neither this guy or this girl's brother had much of an idea of who eachother were...and they shared a wall in their homes.

And it's not a romantic bolt-of-lightning thing, the guy's got a girlfriend, but courtesy of the random nature of this meeting they both got an invite to a barbecue in a few weeks. The beautiful thing is the walls of urban living were, for a moment, broken down. Those trapped in the hamster wheel of commuting all know people who sit across from them, whether seperated by 36 inches of air or seven feet divided by two different colors of shaped metal and plastic. And 99.96 times out of 100 we don't know them, we never WILL know them. Even if they sit across from you on the subway and you watch them nod out at the end or beginning of a long day. Most people's friends and family only get to see people at such intimite moments. You might as well go ahead and make nice.

'Face in the Crowd,' by Kathleen Edwards

I tried hard to find a song that could score this weird little story, but this is as close as I could come, Kathleen Edwards covering Tom Petty on one of those Hear Music compilations you fondle while waiting for your 'venti' latte. It's not quite 'Up With People' or a similar song of fact it's a little dark...but it's pretty and Edwards' lazy, lovely voice is the perfect thing to fill in the space between two strangers on a train. Or a boat. Or a bus. Get to know her.

(I recommend 'Failer')

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

did i fall or was i pushed?

I have a confession to make.

When I was a kid, in the backseat of my parents' car, I enjoyed, gestured along with, sang, and loved "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Meatloaf. And Jim Steinmen. Both of them, together, in my head and coming out my mouth with a big 7-year-old smile on my face and a similar such grin on my brother's 12-year-old face.

I was probably wearing shorts with a white stripe along the side (now available in a far less innocent fashion at American Apparell) paired with what was probably a tshirt that didn't quite match and, most likely, a pair of tube socks with those 'sport' stripes along the top (which more than likely also didn't match). Oh yeah, and my maroon Zips that undoubtably made me run faster in the thick and sticky summer air. And listening to Meatloaf. It was the 70s and it was Ohio. Abba did not exist.

I even remember the video, all 642-odd minutes of it. There's Meatloaf, looking like he just stepped out of the pool in a ruffled tuxedo shirt and dark slacks that were nobly fighting to contain his every arrhythmia-tempting pound. Had this concert with Meatloaf been going on long? Did everyone take the stage after him taking a couple laps while being pursuued by a puma? No one's saying, certainly not the faint suggestion of the band behind him that you barely glimpse behind Meatloaf's gargantuan head. We do see, however, his singing partner, all dark shadowy eyes and clown makeup, doing everything in her power to kindly introduce the prepubescent me to the concept of breasts.

The video goes on like this through eight-odd minutes. There's a storyline here: Meatloaf wants to get laid, virginal-clad girl wants some kind of committment in return. That's it. An eight-minute, million-selling salute to a guy trying to cop a feel in what must have been an impressively large car.

This was the sort of thing I loved listening to back then. Not that I knew it, but somewhere in this operatic pomp was the groundwork for my highschool interest in fellow Steinman disciples the Sisters of Mercy (strange but true!). It's indulgent, it's ridiculous and now, under the rubric of misguided yet 253% committed bad art, it's magnificent in its quaint way.

My point? This is where I came from, musically, warts and all. We've all got these hidden treasures in our background--maybe we even enjoy listening to such things now. (To clarify: I do not now enjoy Meatloaf. Let's not get crazy. After all, I was a kid and all the song reasonably has to offer is high comedy, as well as another item under the heading of 'What the Hell Was Wrong in the Seventies?') Guilty pleasures and all that, things that I know friends of mine have on CD, but are kept in a special 'secret' area of the collection, somewhere far from prying eyes.

Which is bullshit.

'Pride and Joy (live, acoustic)' by Stevie Ray Vaughan

If i was the sort to hide these things away, my Stevie Ray Vaughan boxed set (bought solely for this song) would probably be buried in a sock drawer or on the bottom of a bookshelf between dusty copies of "Ask the Dust" and "Bloom County Babylon." It's not Stevie's fault--I'll defend his guitar skills against just about everyone. It's what he begat that is troubling, and what he stands for that is, yes, a little embarrassing.

Did I say a little? Try the "Blues Hammer" scene in "Ghost World." How about the "G3" guitar tour? Every sawdust-floored bar in the middle west with a dartboard and plastic football banners hanging from the ceiling. Yngwie! Mother of God, Yngwie! Every diarrea-fingered slackjawed white dude seated in Guitar Center, wailing away on some lipstick-colored mall 'axe' (he'll address it as such, if you let him), boring the living daylights out of his poor girlfriend in a fringe jacket, every one of those guys is DREAMING his ever-loving BRAINS OUT over sounding like Stevie. Ray. Vaughan. They probably even own scarves.

And I'm sorry. But I'm going to ask you to read all that and STILL download this song. If you can listen to Wolfmother dribble all over the entire Black Sabbath catalogue, you can give this a shot. C'mon, it's acoustic. It'll be okay, trust me. There will be nothing that some lazy rock writer can call 'pyrotechnics' here. And no one else will know.

Taken from a two-song "MTV Unplugged" performance filmed shortly before his death, Stevie bounces through a, well, soulful version of "Pride and Joy" from "Texas Flood" before an audience that was probably wondering when that "Five man acoustical jam" that was promised was going to kick off. I found this performance accidentally one night when I was 19, staying up late with my brother who was already a fan of Stevie's (my brother whose collection eventually gave me an appreciation of not only Meatloaf, but Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and the aforementioned Black Sabbath) nodded his head quietly and smiled. I couldn't believe what I was watching, what was coming out of that guitar and out of that man's lungs...on MTV of all places, the channel I was pretty sure was only reliably worth a damn for 120 minutes a week, tops.

My music collection, up to then filled with Depeche Mode, Ned's Atomic Dustbin and New Order, wasn't prepared to embrace "Texas Flood," but soon after it did. Quietly, at first. But then along came the above classic rock titans of my youth, and you know what? They all get along just fine. No introductions or apologies required.

Monday, August 07, 2006

i don't know why i feel so tongue-tied

Funny thing about vacations: They end.

That's why they're called vacations, after all. Otherwise rolling around the countryside doing whatever and answering to no one would just be "Life." Perhaps your vacation would include volunteering at an animal shelter, or maybe distributing some sort of incendiary leaflet around a place it needs to be seen. It's not that much to ask, I don't think.

Tough goings moving on after a great string of days off like this past week. I can already tell it's going to be a difficult comeback. Today, yes, will be A Long Day. I'm not ready for flourescences, the beiges, the monetizing, the reality of it all. Give me back the trees and the air. Let me have my sandals, after all, can I at least bring those? No? Probably for the best.

A few notable things I learned/relearned over the last 7-10 days:

1) Jon Brion is a genius. Seriously, anyone who saw his weekly residency at Largo knows exactly what I'm talking about. His was a bizarre kind of Jiffy Pop musical alchemy, where "Purple Rain" became a Hank Williams tune, where "Tomorrow Never Knows" becomes a shoegazer anthem, all on the fly--and these are just the things I saw firsthand.

Brion was a one man band in the truest sense, looping himself on keys, drums, guitar, etc until a whole song was built before your eyes...and now it's OVER. Wha? Pllawufh?

At least for now, apparently, courtesy of tendonitus. How there wasn't a parade and/or a free concert in Griffith Park--much less a PARAGRAPH in one of our local rags--to commemorate this event back in April I'll never know. For now, at least, you can get a hint of the wonder of all that is Jon Brion--producer, visionary, maniac--in his interview on Sound Opinions with Jim DeRogotis and Greg Kot (also on iTunes). He doesn't play much, but hearing him crack open his mind with those guys is still a pleasure. I liked best his explanation of the difference between 'performance pieces' and 'songs,' with no judgement. Get well soon, Jon. Please.

2) I can spend upwards of an hour in any given used bookstore, most recently this one. This is not new, but fun to remember. I love the smell of them, the limitless possibilities on all of their shelves, the things I want to read, should read, don't even know I need to read, even each shop's individual quirks. This bookshop, for instance, features used magazine and an entire shelf devoted to the biography of Phish. It is, after all, Flagstaff.

My acquisitions? I was somewhat restrained, this time--"Death and the Penguin" by Andrey Kurkov, "Among the Missing" by Dan Chaon and the CDs of "The Pleasure of My Company" by Steve Martin (for the drive home). Thusfar "Penguin" has grabbed me nicely, as a book with a depressive penguin owned by a Russian obituary writer should, and "Company" ate up the miles and I thought was warmer and better than "Shopgirl." Thoughts?

Also, the worst part about goin to a bookstore is I can't justify going to one for at least a few weeks. Buying cat food right next door to Counterpoint on Franklin yesterday and NOT stopping in to browse went against every part of my collectivist nature, like trying to swim through woodchips. It stung.

3) Camping out in the woods in the middle of the night in a mountain town introduces you to a new kind of silence. Somewhere around midnight I found myself unable to sleep, staring at a canopy of stars in a sky so dense it looked as if there were shapes and mythic figures of darkness forming around the pinholes of light rather than the other way around. Soon the ambient noise that fills the cavern of your head like tinnitus fades and you're left with the sound of nothing all around you, a nothing that makes a moth sound like a helicopter, a pack of coyotes like a car alarm orchestra and your thoughts like megaphone announcements. Beautiful, and a much needed slice of serenity.

Plus, despite all the wonders of crawling inside nature and all its powerful meditative qualities there is no better feeling than a shower and a night's sleep in a crap Motel 6. Is that wrong?

4) Radiohead is our Beatles. Or our Pink Floyd. Or our Creedence. Or whatever band it is that you look at your parents and stare at them with wild-eyed amazement that they were alive at the time that music was created, hearing it for the first time or even--can it be?--seen them in concert. That's who Radiohead is, or will be. Just wait, don't argue with me.

I'm not even going to get into the whys or deconstruct their incredible five-album run of groundbreaking, completely unique music, or even how mindboggling some of that live stuff on YouTube is. I won't even get into the beauty and care that goes into their album packaging and the vein of social consciousness and outrage that is under almost all of their songs these days. I'll just ask that you listen to them talk about what they do, and maybe play a bit--yes, here, again (hey, it's a seven hour drive). If you're a real geek like me go to iTunes and grab the full, hour and a half interview. Drink it all up, they're not going to be around forever.

5) Coffee is better in mountain towns. Why is it LA, for all it's wonders and many joys cannot. figure. out. a. good. cup. of. coffee. Much less a good coffee house. Maybe I'm wrong in my eastsider lifestyle but closest I've come so far is Peet's, and that doesn't count because it's a chain (albeit a smaller one). I think it's because the weather's too good too often. If it rains a lot and/or freezes, coffee becomes that much more of a priority. This is one possible benefit to climate change for our area.

That said, I'll make my own coffee and accept the tradeoff of 78 degrees, sunny and ridiculous in August. You can't have everything.

And now, here comes the music:

'Paranoid Android,' by Brad Mehldau (produced by Jon Brion)

Yes, I'm somewhat lame and don't have Brion's lone solo release, partly because it doesn't come close to capturing what he does live (though it is a nice approximation of Beatleesque pop). This song, although he only is credited as playing 'prepared piano percussion,' sort of does, from Mehldau's strange and wonderful "Largo" (buy it!), which also features guests like Jim Keltner and Critters Buggin's percussion wizard Matt Chamberlain. It doesn't resemble any of Mehldau's other releases thanks to Brion's touch, and that's not a bad thing. Oh yeah, and by the way, don't forget to notice how this pretty much exposes Christopher O'Reilly as the bland, bloodless tribute act that he is.

Speaking of Brion's "touch," when I saw this ensemble play at the Knitting Factory back in 2002 that touch consisted of Brion beating the holy living hell out of the backside of an upright piano. It's a fun thing to picture during this song.

"Cuttooth" by Radiohead

Everything that could be said about Radiohead has pretty much already been said--particularly in the wilds of this medium--but I still had to reach for something isn't all over the place right now for an example, this B-Side from the Knives Out single way back when. You can hear a little bit of "Myxomatosis" in the lyrics here (I think), which is a nice treat, but mostly this is Radiohead doing what they do. An insistent piano line drives the train as the song seems to build and build and build with no real release.

The tanks are rolling into town