Thoughts on being an artist

I’ve always thought that artists are people who need a serenity prayer more than most.  I say this because I’ve seen artists beat themselves up, usually for things they can’t help.

I’m not a snob and I look for wisdom and inspiration where I can find it.  I really like what Danny “Roadkill” Thompson of Sloppy Seconds has to say at about the 1 minute mark.

I hope people don’t label us from what they hear, I want people to make up their own mind.  When we first started out, the first shows we did, I’ll admit we were kind of put off as a novelty act Bill (?) booked us and we heard through the grape vine that one of the reasons that he booked us at the Vogue for our first show ever was because he had to see a 500 pound guitar player on stage, that was the biggest thing he wanted to see, he couldn’t believe it.  And then, since that show we got others and we used to do some really wild things on stage, like B.A. would wear dresses a lot, and we’d destroy a lot of stuff, cause a lot of shit and make messes.  We were really cocky when we first started, cockier than we should have been I guess.  We thought fuck those other bands are no worse than, no better than we are, they’re just as bad as we are so what the fuck?

 I just want  people to make up their own minds.  We’ve become a good band.  We are a good band, and if you come and see us, you’re gonna like us.  You know, unless you’ve got an attitude problem, you’re gonna like us.

 I like everything about what he says here, because it accurately summarizes several important things for an artist.

one of the reasons that he booked us at the Vogue for our first show ever was because he had to see a 500 pound guitar player on stage

I don’t know Danny personally, so I don’t know how he feels deep inside about being a “500 pound guitar player” but stating it flat out here in a matter-of-fact way is perfect.  What do you say to that?  “Fuck you, I don’t like you cause you’re fat”?  I’ve always thought that personal acceptance is the most radical thing anyone can do in their personal life, because it frees you.  Which isn’t to say that we have to like everything about ourselves, I know I don’t, but when you can say “yeah, this is how it is” it means you don’t have to take every insult personally.

Because in the end, what does it matter?  I have an ex-girlfriend who used to say “what’s the big deal about someone saying you’re pretty?  It’s not like I did anything to have this face.”  I didn’t do anything for some of the gifts I have.  Genetics is just another word for dumb luck.  And in the same way, I didn’t do anything for some of my “faults.”

We were really cocky when we first started, cockier than we should have been I guess.  We thought fuck those other bands are no worse than, no better than we are, they’re just as bad as we are so what the fuck?

There’s a lot of ways to look at this.  You’ll never do anything if you don’t try is one.  I like to think of this as a restatement of my belief that everyone is special, but no one is that special.  Or maybe, only a few people are that special.  But even the most awesome people started off as lame imitators of the people who came before them.  So go for it.  What’s the worst that can happen?

And maybe someday you can get to where you can say this confidently, like Danny:

We’ve become a good band.  We are a good band, and if you come and see us, you’re gonna like us.  You know, unless you’ve got an attitude problem, you’re gonna like us.

Society insists on a lot of false modesty.  And I get it, having everyone running around thinking that they’re the best would get old.  But having to pretend that you’re not that good at something when it’s obvious that you are is stupid.  And if you’re a genius, you shouldn’t have to play that down.

….

In the end I guess no one really has an accurate assessment of their own talent, but we can try.  I’ve never personally been all that scared to try something.  (some of my former bandmates would suggest I’m not scared enough)  But every now and then I struggle with doubt about what I’m doing.  It’s part of the deal.  Just thought this was a nice way of putting it and wanted to share.

Underground Greats: J Church

I learned a lot listening to J Church.  That a song doesn’t have to be a certain length or really be anything more than an idea.  Sometimes a dumb idea can work if you believe it will.  That writing a good song usually involves telling a story.  That you don’t have to be a great singer for a song to be good.  I also totally ripped off his guitar playing style.

J Church was formed by Lance Hahn and Gardner Maxam, with Lance being the only consistent member until his death in 2007.  The two had previously played in a band called Cringer, that started in Hawaii, moved to LA and then San Francisco.  J Church was based in San Francisco, and 0named after a San Francisco Muni line, before they would move to Austin, TX, where they would remain for the rest of their time.

I don’t know what in particular I liked so much about Lance Hahn’s songs, maybe it was just that they were bookish and emotional, but not emotional in the same way every time.  Sometimes they were sad, like having friends move away:

Sometimes they were exhuberent

He was always doing something different

I don’t know if there was ever a real difference in my mind between Cringer and J Church, except that I managed to collect every Cringer record*, but didn’t even try to buy every J Church record.  Lance was incredibly prolific.

Both bands were, like most underground punk bands in that era, a very political band.  Probably the best known song by them was Bomb:

I’ve never known how to feel about this song.  It’s a brilliant portrait of the human tragedy of terrorism.  But I feel like it’s just a bit too sympathetic.

So what do you when you can’t take it no more?
Conceal a time bomb in the heart of a department store

Well, no I don’t do that.  I once read his explanation of the song, but I can’t remember it now, and it’s probably not anywhere on the internet.  It’s funny to think back to how much information I used to have to store in my head.  And how much was passed around word-of-mouth.  At any rate, I can’t remember whether I agreed with his explanation of the song or whether I thought he was just making excuses for giving people a line like:

The bomb is in a briefcase aimed against the bourgeois state

to sing along to.  I strongly suspect he was just making excuses.

This song is a great example of my long held belief that the people most able to accurately skewer liberal phoniness is other liberals

You should have known when you met him at the party,
He was the kind of guy that would have an extra copy,
Of ‘The Hundredth Monkey’ sitting so prominently,
On his bookshelf made of milkcrates,
Made of milkcrates, made of milkcrates

Hahahaha, still makes giggle.

I liked My Favorite Place because it made me realize that as a songwriter, even the dumbest hook could work if you sold it:

1+1!

2+2!

3+3!

4+4!

What the?  Seriously.

Lance’s guitar style was also hugely influential for me.  He’s just basically playing scales, but sometimes that’s all you need.  I definitely play more major scales than blues scale solos and that’s on account of Lance.

And if you stick around for the last tune on this record, you get Nighttime- a sweet little acoustic song about a paraplegic friend.  I think.

Everything that’s old, is new again

I’ve always liked that line.

I got to meet Lance Hahn once, in Japan.  J Church was playing at my friend’s club.  I had a chance to talk to him, being the only American at that small club made that fairly easy.  He was a really nice guy.  I should have told him how much I admired his music, having been a fan for at least ten years by that time, but really we just made small talk.  I bought a t-shirt.

I was wearing that same shirt a few years later waiting in line to use the restroom at a club in San Diego and a guy walks buy and says

“Oh J Church, they were great, Lance Hahn RIP man”

“What?”

“You didn’t know?”

“Nah man.  Fuck, that ruins my night”

He walked away.  I kind of felt bad about that later, cause this guy probably wasn’t trying to ruin my night, but it was irrevocably ruined.  I hate to end this post on a bummer, but I miss Lance.

 

*At one point I had all of them except for one- a split 7″ with some random band whose name I can’t remember.  I finally saw it listed in a catalog for some random record seller in the Midwest.  I put $3 in the mail and waited.  I waited so long that I had completely forgot about it when it arrived in the mail, one year later.    When I moved to Japan I got rid of all my records, if anyone still has all my Cringer records, it’s my brother, but I doubt he has held onto them.

Random Thoughts

I finished Walking Dead Season 4 so I can go back to a normal life.  I have to wait until my son goes to be to watch it, and the show makes it hard for me to sleep so last week I was a wreck.  Totally sleep deprived.  Glad that’s over!

That being said, Season 4 was much better than 2 + 3 and I found myself not hating it.  Most of the more annoying characters are dead now, so there’s that.  The plot of the show still often rests on the characters making bad decisions, but that’s one of the only ways that zombie themed things move forward, so I’m able to accept some degree of that.

I am still working on my reevaluating Green Day project.  Last week I listened to Kerplunk.

It’s pretty good.  Much better than the previous one, but still not really something that I’m all that into.  On the plus side, the guitars are much more Sex Pistols-y and there are much fewer solos.  On the down side, it’s still about pining after girls.  I’m too old to even think about pining after girls.  Other than that I don’t have too much to say about that one.  The country song they do is just corny.  I don’t know why we thought that kind of thing was funny back then.

Which means this week I’m listening to Dookie.  This is the only album that they put out that I have ever listened to end to end, so it’s a little more fun- remembering songs I used to listen to.  I had forgotten about this one-

This is probably my favorite from that album.  It’s a sad tale of a man who can’t leave an abusive woman, rendered in the best Ramones I wanna be well style.  Pairing a sad story with a happy sounding song is something I’ve done a lot of.  Maybe this is where I got the idea from.

I hate Walking Dead but I can’t not watch it

Sometimes I wonder what addicts feel like.  I realized the other day that it must be something like this.

It’s that time of year again.  Netflix has added last season’s Walking Dead.  I don’t have cable, so I have to wait a full year to watch the show, which is fine.  BECAUSE I HATE IT.

I shouldn’t say that.  Some parts of it I like.  I like Glenn and Maggie, and her sister and her dad are OK.  I like Darryl.  Bob and Michonne are pretty cool.  I liked Andrea but she’s dead.  Merle was also awesome, and sort of redeemed himself at the end, but he too, is dead.

I kind of like the suspense at times, even though I get all wound up and can’t sleep.  But that’s really about it.  The rest of the show I kind of hate.

So why keep watching?  Because the show is full of annoying people, and I’m waiting for them to get eaten.  The show’s actually been fairly good about obliging my desire to see annoying people become zombie food.  The most annoying people on the show in order of annoyingness and their current status:

Lori Grimes- Died in childbirth

The Governor- still alive

Shane Walsh- got bitten, became a zombie, shot by Carl Grimes

Dale Horvath- got bitten, shot by Darryl before he could turn

Carol Peletier- still alive

Rick Grimes- still alive

Randall- killed by Shane

Two random dummies that have, against all odds, survived to be found by Rick and Carol locked in the bathroom of a house- one gets eaten, the other disappears

I only just added Carol to the show this week after she did something really stupid and got banished from the group.  Before that I liked her- she had really grown a lot.  But that’s part of the problem with the show.  Anyone who ends up in a leadership role starts behaving like an ass.  The Governor is a bloodthirsty sociopath, but he keeps his zombiefied daughter chained up in a closet because he loves her?  Yeah, right.  Rick is a thinly veiled advertisement for autocracy, until those times when he inexplicably decides that he just can’t do it anymore.   Bullying everyone into following his bad advice is just too much of a burden.

So I’m watching just in the hopes that the three on the list come to a bad end.  Does that sound like a healthy reason to watch a TV show?  It’s not, I know.  But every night I put my son to bed and watch a few more.

Update- YAY The Governor is dead!  Boo, Herschel died too

Reevaluating Green Day

So I challenged myself to re-evaluate a band that I’ve on-again, off-again liked for two decades- Green Day.  They’ve never been close to my favorites, but I do have a history of liking them.  It goes something like this-

High School- Dookie comes out.   Dookie was their major label debut (a big deal, for better or worse, for a punk band).  I hadn’t heard of them before.  I liked it a lot and listened to it frequently.

6 months later- everyone is listening to it.  I stop listening to it.  Yes, I know.

Several years- I ignore most of what they do, or in the case of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), I actively don’t like them.

Several more years- I’m in Japan and mostly ignoring American music

Return to USA- some of their new hits are on the radio- Boulevard of Broken Dreams, When September Ends, Jesus of Suburbia.  They’ve changed a lot- they’re not Rock Star Green Day, not Pop Punk Green Day, but I actually like these songs.

Today- after putting out a album trilogy that I can’t remember hearing a single from, and then Billie Joe throwing a fit at the I-Heart Radio music festival and heading to rehab and finally, worst of all- nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame- it looks like Green Day is officially done as a relevant act.

They had a great run.  But I never really gave them a chance until really late in their career, after having dumped them unceremoniously way back in high school.  I’m trying to rectify that by listening to their albums, in chronological order, one per week until I’m done.  Regular readers of the blog know that I will occasionally set myself up with a task like this and then flake out.  So, fair warning, I might get tired of this and not complete it.  But I did listen to their first album 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours.

The CD actually included three of their first records, so I don’t know if it counts as an album, but I’d always heard it called one.

I don’t remember ever having listened to it and after listening to it for the first time, I didn’t like it.  Maybe it’s not fair to say I didn’t like it.  I just no longer have the tools to evaluate this kind of music, being that I’m old and songs about “why doesn’t this girl like me?” are not interesting to me.

That and the influence of Hüsker Dü is just way too strong on this album.  If Bob Mould had snuck into the studio and replaced Billie Joe’s vocals with his own, I wouldn’t have known the difference.  Sadly, I’m not really a fan of Hüsker Dü, so this just really doesn’t work for me on multiple levels.

But like I said, this isn’t an album directed at tired, old rockers with families and 40 hour a week jobs.  This album is for the kids.  If the kids liked it, then it must have been good.  But I probably won’t listen to it again.  Maybe next week’s Kerplunk will be better.

The weirdest trolls on the internet

are the scientific racists.  These people are fucking weird creepers.

I’m not going to link to anything they’ve written because frankly I’d rather not be on their radar.

My first encounter with one of them was on a random news site, on a subject that was only tangentially related to race.  I can’t remember what the comment was, but for whatever reason this guy responded to me with links to Nicholas Wade’s recent book.  Look Nicholas up if you want to, but it’s waste of time if you ask me.  This commenter linked to an article published by TIME magazine.  Yes, the TIME magazine you see in airport bookstores.  Mr Wade’s article was a lot of stuff about science that frankly I don’t understand.  But what stuck out to me was a passage about how English (i.e. from England) are smarter because during a time of peace between 1200 and 1800, noble people had lots of children.  Nobles had, according to Wade, better smarts and that’s how they held onto their money.

Again, I’m not a scientist, nor a trained historian (or am I?  I majored in Classical Studies… does that count?).  At any rate, I pointed out to scientific racist troll that err, I don’t think 1200 to 1800 was a very peaceful time in English history (if there was one, before, say, 1945) and that at any rate that’s a pretty arbitrary time period to choose from (why not 100 BC to 900 AD?  Why not 2003 to 2005? *snickers*) and finally that hereditary nobles tend to hold onto their wealth because they make the rules, not because they’re particularly bright.  This troll didn’t like this an accused me of ignoring all the emerging science and being like people who refused to believe the Earth revolved around the sun.  The conversation ended about there.

Being as I’m a naturally curious person and enjoy peeking into the minds of loony people I started reading up on Nicholas Wade and his book.  It’s a book you can find prominently sitting on the shelf at your local Barnes & Noble (I checked- there are multiple copies and it was cover forward on the shelf), there are reviews all over the place.  And the same loony commenters were commenting on the articles in droves.  So much that at least one reviewer commented on the recent surge in traffic and comments.  The same people were mobbing review pages to accuse the author of various mistakes, heresies, and basically to defend Mr Wade.

I bring this up because I ran into one today*.  I don’t know if I’ve run into this person before because they all seem to have the same hectoring style.  I was just making a point about how it’s not a bad thing for people who want to discuss hot-button issues related to race, in this case Affirmative Action to establish that they aren’t racist.  And in my opinion, all that entails is a willingness to listen to people with opposing views and to lay some groundwork on how they came to their opinion to establish that they’re not racist.  In practice it can be messy, but I don’t think there’s anything controversial about what I said.  Regardless, this guy kept steering me towards a discussion about Affirmative Action, which frankly I didn’t want to have.  For the record, I support Affirmative Action in the broad sense, but it’s not a program I’m totally wedded to either.

At any rate, I didn’t think I was saying anything controversial- if you want someone to listen to, you should assure them you’re not someone they would rather not listen to.  But this person kept trying to present “evidence” to me about how Affirmative Action was a waste of time because non-white people are naturally not that bright.  I cut him off at that point.

There’s no particular reason why I bring this up except that I’ve run into a few of these people and all of them have been really weird.  I grew up in a place where casual racism was just part of the landscape so I’m pretty much resigned myself to the fact that some people are just like that.  But it seems like some people maybe grew up in the city, and have to go to extraordinary lengths to justify their racism, maybe to distinguish themselves from rural people I don’t know.  Several of these people have written four and five paragraph comments on various points of how we can determine intelligence based on a variety of factors, usually something to do with the geographic area they came from.  Besides the obvious fact that racism is fucking dumb, I have a few questions that never seem to get answered:

  • Just for kicks, let’s accept that natural selection favors people with certain physical characteristics in certain geographical areas.  Say, hairy people in cold areas.  Where in the world would dumb people have an advantage?  Where would intelligent people be at a disadvantage?
  • I’ve heard the argument that “well, people evolve so far, but their natural surroundings make it so they don’t have to evolve any further”.  OK, let’s accept that too.  Humans are not natural.  Duh.  They don’t act on instinct, they think about stuff.  If tribe A is made of stupid people and the tribe B is made of really smart people, and those tribes go to war… which tribe would you put your money on?  If there is intra-tribal conflict, who do you put your money on?
  • “But, but, continent A has special challenges that others don’t have.”  Really?  Then the smartest people on earth should be from Australia, a continent that is famously hostile to human life.  I have yet to hear a scientific racist make this suggestion.

But let’s be real.  If, as scientific racists’ claim that Asian people, followed by white people are the smartest, really we should recognize that Mexicans are the smartest people on earth**.  WAIT!  HEAR ME OUT!  Mexicans are a mix of Native American (people originally from Asia) and Spanish (white people with funny mustaches).  Their combined intelligences make Mexicans the smartest!  So there!

 

*I actually started this post a few days ago.  So not actually today

**Full disclosure- I am half Mexican.  Ahem.

What’s on Pop Radio right now?

This song is kind of nuts.

I’m not sure I like it so much- the hook isn’t exactly a real good one to sing along, probably because it’s too hard.  But wow.  It’s amazing that it works, because these kind of group songs usually end up tragically unbalanced.

I heard about Bang Bang and when I heard who was singing the song, but before I heard the song itself, this song came to mind-

This Lady Marmalade remake doesn’t even approach balance, and it’s a shame because Lil Kim’s verse is solid, and Pink is pretty good as well.  But if I had to break down the impact each singer has by percentage I would say it’s something like:

Mya- 2%

Pink 10%

Lil Kim 20%

Christina Aguilera- 1000%

I get it that everyone’s supposed to get a part, but even before it’s Christina’s turn she’s in the video lurking there in the back, just waiting to jump out and stomp on the rest of the group.  And when it gets to her part it’s like the volume jumps up several notches.  It must have been in her contract that all the levels would be set before anyone recorded, and she just went in and sang like three times louder than everyone else.  I’m not mocking her performance on the song, but if I were any of the other three, I’d be considering requesting that my tracks be deleted before the song was released.

But anyway, Bang Bang actually works- maybe the producer told everyone to go into the recording studio and hold nothing back.  Because the producer doesn’t hold anything back either- the arrangement is over the top too.

I’ve been following Jessie J’s career since she came out with Price Tag.  I knew she could sing, but she takes it to another level on this song.  She’s got some crazy charisma too- B.o.B. called her “colorful”- she’s someone who’s not afraid to look a little bit silly.  I’m looking forward to see what she does next.  Maybe she’ll be my new Kesha (hehe remember what I said in my last post about entertainers not being able to relax, because someone else will come along and take their place?)

I admit it, this song is kind of cute

Boy are some people upset with this song

Probably the usual gang of internet dummies, but people are getting way too uptight about this one.  Yeah, it’s not a great work of art, but it’s funny and kind of catchy.  But I tend to like most things Nicki does- the way she jumps back and forth between a brainless pop voice and her rapid-fire rap delivery on this song is particularly awesome.    I thought Noah Berlatsky had a good take on it- maybe the video isn’t made for men, it’s directed at women who like big butts.  I don’t know if that’s true, but Nicki is definitely trolling men with this.  The kitchen scene with the banana that she tosses aside and then the lap dance with Drake being left bummed out both point to the idea that she’s toying with mens’ expectations.