Month: February 2014

Things that suck about being in a band: Bad Reviews

This kind of sucks.

Cedar Fire
Stars The back cover of Cedar Fire’s Stars depicts a dot-matrix image of Evel Knievel, and that’s a pretty strong visual representation of what the band sounds like. They’re more or less a meat-and-potatoes rock ’n’ roll band, all power chords and hammy vocal affectations— the kind of band you could hear at any dive bar in America and would feel right at home. That said, they’re still just diluted facsimiles of bands like The Stooges or MC5. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s also nothing particularly memorable, either.

http://therealcedarfire.bandcamp.com/

That’s our review in San Diego Citybeats annual Great Demo Review.

A little background- Citybeat is our alternative weekly and tends strongly towards hipster music- cute indie rock, abrasive indie punk, rap made by rappers who are not black, and, oddly enough, heavy metal.

So it’s not totally surprising that we’re not really what they like.  I’m trying to write hits like I hear on the radio.  I know that’s not cool to admit to, but there it is.  Not cause I want to get rich, but that’s the kind of music I like.   But it’s still not fun getting called lousy, having to talk the rest of the band off the ledge.

I forget where I read this (otherwise I’d credit them), but I was having a discussion about music online and someone made the point of- what if we demanded of food what we routinely demand of musicians- i.e. coming up with something totally unique and new or we don’t like it.  Of course, some food critics probably are like that, but the rest of us are just fine eating something dozens, maybe hundreds of times over our lifetime, without demanding it be brand new.

So yeah, I’m rationalizing here, but I think of our band like a good burrito.  Not a reinvention of the wheel.  I’m too old and not talented enough to make it as a musician, but I love making music and so that’s what I do.

That being said, we’re talking about recording another EP this summer, so I’m going to get on the ball and fine tune some songs.  Maybe do better next year.

Update- added a link to our bandcamp.  The review had a link to our page, so it actually got us a few listens the last couple days, which is nice.  One of the things I told my band was- if I had read this review I would have said- oh a band that likes the MC5 and The Stooges, I’ll check them out regardless of what Citybeat says.  Looks like maybe some people did that.  For the record, I don’t see the resemblance to either band, but to each their own.

Random Thoughts on Dying

I’ve been busy as heck lately and not having much time to collect my thoughts or write anything which is frankly getting to me a bit.

I was talking to my mother after my grandma died and she was saying,  “this makes me think about my own mortality… I guess I’ll be next”.

My response, “I HOPE SO!”

It just kind of came out.  Looking back it was kind of a stupid and insensitive thing to say, but I did have a reason.

That reason is that I make jokes and say inappropriate things when I’m dealing with a subject I find uncomfortable.  If you keep reading I’m sure I’ll do more of that.

No, that’s not really why I said it, though that was part.

I remember we went to a church in Yugoslavia (this was sometime in the 80s so that country still existed).  It had dozens of stone carvings at the top of the columns that surrounded the church.  The guide there pointed to one in a particular.  I can’t remember what it looked like but my mother has told me the story so many times I remember (or “remember”- who can tell?) what he said.

The sculptor who carved it was asked by the bishop what it was supposed to illustrate.  The sculptor replied “Grandfather dies, Father dies, Son dies.”

The bishop was taken aback and said “what did you carve that for?  I wanted something a bit more uplifting.”

The sculptor responded, “Would you want it any other way?”

The feeling of I would die for my child sounds frankly silly until you actually have a child and then it doesn’t sound crazy at all.  Thankfully this kind of choice doesn’t happen much in the real world (you or him, I’m killin’ one of you!), but I’m pretty sure I could do it.  One thing I would know is, I wouldn’t want to live in a world that my son didn’t.  So that’s what I was thinking when I said that and it just came out.  Now that I know what that feeling is, I hope for my Mom’s sake she’s next.  And then I hope I’m next after her. 

And so on forever and ever, Amen*.

At the funeral for my grandmother I felt the worst, obviously for her husband (my step-grandfather?  Do people say that?).  He was having a rough couple years himself and wasn’t always very lucid at times.  He’s gone now too.  I’m kind of happy for him in a way.   Against everyone’s advice he had decided to stay in his house.  I can sort of imagine doing the same, but he must have been lonely.  I don’t know what his last day was like, but I’d like to think he was relieved to let go.

My real grandfather is still alive.  I really hate giving status updates on people’s continued living, but you have to do that when someone is in their 90s.  He’s one of my favorite people in the world and kick myself all the time for not seeing him more.  A few years ago I told my Mom that for my birthday I just want to get lunch with him, so we’ve done that every year and with all the elderly people in my life dying I’m really glad that is going to be soon.

 

*Where did that come from?  I don’t know, I was talking about churches and I think I had a flashback.

And now, a random story about Bing Crosby

I was reading Bing Crosby’s page on a wikipedia today.  Why?  Because that’s how wikipedia works- you start out with something you want to read and end up somewhere totally random.  I don’t know anything about Bing Crosby.  Did he sing White Christmas?  If that’s correct then that’s the only Jeopardy question I could answer in the Bing Crosby column.

One of the last time I remember my grandmother being lucid was Thanksgiving five or six years ago.  She was telling us about how during WWII she was pen-pals with several soldiers.  She was a teenager at the time and that was something people did, apparently to help the war effort if they were too young to work or join the armed forces.  There was one young man in particular that she really liked writing to and he, like my grandmother, was from Los Angeles.

He was sent somewhere in the Pacific and managed to survive the war.  He came back to Los Angeles and my grandmother got to meet him.  A few months later he was hit by a car.

“BY BING CROSBY OF ALL PEOPLE!”

He died.  Bing was, allegedly, drunk driving and his studio covered it up.

So I was looking for that on his wikipedia page and no luck.  I suppose there’s no way to verify that story since everyone involved (even my grandma) is gone from this earth.

Continuing thoughts on cultural appropriation- the 1960s

Here’s where the discussion of rock and roll gets interesting.  Most of the early rock and rollers had been from the South and could plausibly claim to have been personally exposed to the type of music they were borrowing from.  But by the early 60s they had all mostly disappeared, died or were no longer very popular. Then along came the British Invasion.

There’s not much earnestness left in American culture so I listen to things like this and I hear a kind of desire to prove that they’re real bluesmen

But obviously they’re just some kids from the UK.  So were these guys:

I pick out these two bands because they were trying a lot harder to ground their music in authentic American sounds.  I’ve said before I find the whole concept of authenticity in music fairly foolish, but you can understand the position they’re in.  They want to sound as real as possible.  The Animals pulled it off fairly well.  The Stones… well, they’d get much better at American music in few years.

And this is where I don’t know how to feel about the whole idea of cultural appropriation.

I’ve recorded a few of my songs and I’ve put them on the internet, which means possibly somewhere, someone is copying some idea from one of my songs.  Not likely, but stay with me.  I actually don’t care.  I can make more.  If someone gets rich and they direct some interest my way, that would be even better.  But I don’t have an actual career to think about.

Let’s imagine you’re Howlin’ Wolf.  You release this song:

It wasn’t a huge hit, but it’s a great song.  Then some art school kids from England come along and release their clunky* version and it shoots to #1 on the British charts.  Even the audience in this video looks bemused.

Now if you’re Howlin’ Wolf you might be kicking yourself.  Some little punk kids have come along and outdone you.  From what I read Howlin’ Wolf was a smart man and was wise with his money, having a long career free of the hard times that would strike some of his blues contemporaries.  But he would never be in the same tax bracket as the Stones.

Is that fair?  Howlin’ Wolf was gifted with a powerful voice and an imposing figure, but not a face that would ever make him a pop star, even if we totally ignore racism he would have faced in that time period.  So he was probably always at a disadvantage when it came to young, cute guys from England.

I don’t really know the answer.  We all start out young punks and I can imagine being the Rolling Stones and hearing all this amazing, exotic music and thinking I want to do that.  I kind of want to now.

On the other hand, the world didn’t really need the Rolling Stones version of Little Red Rooster.  I like the Animals version of The House of the Rising Sun, so I’ll give that one a pass.

Did the world need the Yardbirds or any of the other British Invasion bands to deliver inferior versions of this?

Or a Yardbirds version of this?

Or the Beatles’ cute, but corny version of this?

Or the Beatles’ fairly uninspired cover of this**?

No, not really.  These songs are much better than those early British Invasion versions.  The best thing the British bands did was start writing their own songs.  .

But I’m not saying the original is always better or that no one should ever do cover versions.  Just that I can understand if some American musicians were upset about having fairly weak versions of their songs becoming better known than the originals.

 

*It’s not that bad, but Mick Jagger really wasn’t ready to be a blues singer at that point.

**Actually, I read Smokey Robinson’s autobiography and he said that at the time Motown was just starting out and that having the Beatles record the song brought them a lot of attention, so insofar as it helped introduce Motown to the world, the answer is yes.

What is a good movie?

Marilyn’s comment got me thinking- I admit to liking a lot of bad movies, but never really define what a good movie is.  I probably do the same with music.  I’m not a huge movie buff or all that knowledgeable about film (that would be my rarely seen co-blogger), but I would guess that a good movie would have to include the following:

  • A plot that has a noticeable arc, is internally logical and has a satisfying ending
  • Is well shot
  • Has characters with depth

That’s pretty much it, right?  I was going to say is original but I don’t actually believe this.

How much I like a movie is independent of these things.  For instance, lots of people cite Shawshank Redemption as a great film that they love.  I agree it’s a great film.  I don’t love it though.  It’s OK.  It just doesn’t speak to me.  But plenty of movies that I love are definitely NOT great films.  Here’s a few I’ve seen recently that I love

  • Starship Troopers- wooden acting, not really clear to most viewers if it’s fascist propaganda or satire*
  • Rock and Roll High School- bad acting, dumb jokes
  • The Harry Potter series- my dad asked me after watching it why Snape went through everything he did.  I don’t know.  It still doesn’t make sense to me.  Also, the only really good actor of the kids in the first few movies was Rupert Grint.  The other two are not that great.

So what are some movies I have seen recently that I liked and also think are great films?  First- recently means “in the last few years” because I don’t watch that many movies.

The Kid

The_Kid_poster

I LOVE Charlie Chaplin movies.  We were on a kick of watching them for months, me and my son.  This is my favorite.  Chaplin was a genius and a brilliant actor and while silent films tended to have some overacting, when the authorities come for Charlies adopted son it looks real.  Chaplin had his own difficult childhood and it seems like he was drawing on that.  I really love this film.

Rango

Rango2011Poster

I watch a lot of kid’s movies and this was one that I would even watch on my own.  I’m not actually sure it is a kid’s movie.  I get sooooo tired of kids movies that try to pander to me with snarky, ironic humor.  I appreciate that in movies made for adults, but in a kid film it just makes me feel like an asshole for laughing.  Also- toilet humor.  I love toilet humor, but in kids films it is rote and not funny half the time.  Rango is pretty sparing with that.  The depictions of the desert are beautiful and the story it tells is engaging and timely.

Land of the Dead

Landofthedead

Yeah, it’s very left-leaning, bordering on heavy-handed.  If you can get past that it’s a great film.  The characters have different motives, and everyone besides Dennis Hopper’s asshole HOA president has different, realistic motivations.  Asia Argento is a badass actress.

Karate Kid

Karate_kid

I don’t care what anyone says, this is a great film.  The best part is the relationship between characters- Daniel and Mr Miyagi, Daniel and his mom, Daniel and Ali.  OK, the crane is the most telegraphed kick ever invented, but when he wins at the end, WOW, it still feels so good.

Some other movies that I haven’t seen in a while but I remember being really good quality films-

The Wild Bunch, Spirited Away (more animation), Pretty in Pink, Duck Soup.  The Shining.  Hmm, drawing a blank now, you see I’m really not a film buff.

I’d probably have a long list if I went with movies I enjoy, but wouldn’t say are good films.

What do you think is a good movie?

*It’s very clearly satire to me.  It’s also AWESOME

Random Thoughts

*You know what I can’t remember seeing?  A woman riding a motorcycle with a man riding behind her.  I’ve seen it in the movies, usually when they want to establish how tough/dangerous a woman is, like in The Ninth Gate.  Motorcycles may be the most gendered motor vehicle.

*The Ninth Gate is a terrible movie but for whatever reason it’s one of my favorites.  I re-watched it a couple weeks ago.  I realize as I get older I don’t really feel like investing the time in watching new movies (cause what if they suck?) so I watch movies I know I like.  Unless there are giant robots or spaceships- then I will gamble with my time.  As a result, I have seen few new movies since around 1999 and even fewer since 2010.

*I’m not watching the Olympics.  I’m not a big sports fan and snow sports are especially foreign to me.  I tried snowboarding a few times but I couldn’t handle the cold.  I skied a few times too.  I’ve never ice skated, rode a bobsled or curled.  I’m from a desert where it snowed once in the last century.  I might watch the summer Olympics.

*I might even be in Japan when the Tokyo Olympics are happening, but frankly I am surprised they were given the nod because Japan has no money and likely will feel compelled to blow a bunch of money on new stadia.  Or maybe they can use the same ones as last time, if that’s not considered lame.  One thing good I can say about Los Angeles is that they managed to put on maybe the only Olympic Games that actually turned a profit by using facilities they already had.  Say what you like about LA- they know how to make $$$.

*Wordpress thinks stadia is a misspelling.  This latin major disagrees.  I knew that degree was good for something- it just gave me a cheap sense of accomplishment.

*My band has a show saturday night.  My son and I were driving in the car listening to the radio when an ad came on- COMING SATURDAY FEBRUARY 15th to ____ (can’t remember) ARENA… WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT FEATURING…”  We were both going “YES!  PRO-WRESTLING OHHHHHH!”  Then I remembered I have a show.  Damn, WWE is in town and I am going to miss it.

Thoughts on cultural appropriation part III

So I wrote out a whole post focusing on the early years of rock and roll but I reread it twice (unusual for me) and decided I wasn’t happy with it.  But along the way I did discover at least one new pertinent idea.

I could never really get behind the idea that Elvis stole his music from black people, for a couple of reasons.  One, let’s be honest, Elvis was a terrible career strategist.  He was not bright enough to do anything that devious.  Two, rock and roll was brand new.  That’s what this song is saying:

ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN!  And also whatever other music people are listening to.  Chuck Berry has something new.

This is important- rock and roll wasn’t something that you could steal because it wasn’t something that even existed yet.  Plus there was a lot more back and forth between white and black musicians in this era than people usually assume.  And the boundaries between musical styles were more fluid as well.  For instance, Chuck Berry was a regular hill-billy and would have made a great country singer, if the country world had been ready for that at the time.

So to add to the list of things that make cultural appropriation controversial is the fact that said culture must have existed for a while.  To go back to punk rock- punk had been around almost 20 years by the time I got interested in it.  There were old fogeys around even then.  There were scene elders.  There were legends.  Some of punk’s greatest names had died while most of us were still small children.  So there needs to be time and a set of older people with the ability to say “don’t do that!”

Rock and roll in 1955 had no one like that.  Maybe Muddy Waters could have said “you stole my sound” but any of the new rockers could have said, more or less correctly “we don’t really sound like you.”

Things get more interesting in the 1960s.  People can complain that it’s not fair that Elvis was the trailblazer- the guy who opened up space for black rock and rollers to have hits.  It’s not fair.  It’s also not his fault.  Blame America in the 1950s if you have to blame someone.

But by the 1960s rock and roll had hit hard times.  It’s incredible to stop and think about the sheer amount of bad luck and bad decisions that hit the first class of rock and rollers.  Let’s make a list!

Elvis– drafted by the army at the peak of his career.  Came home to be managed very poorly by Colonel whathisname and stuck doing shitty movies* for the next decade.  Had an incredible comeback in the late 60s before becoming addicted to drugs and dying in 1977.

Chuck Berry– went to jail for a year and a half near the peak of his career for statutory rape.

Little Richard– found God, never managed to reconcile that with his sexuality

Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and that other guy- died in a plane crash

Jerry Lee Lewis– drummed out of rock and roll for marrying his underage cousin.

Eddie Cochran– died in a car wreck

Gene Vincent– suffered serious injury in that same car wreck, died of alcohol abuse in 1971.

Did I miss anyone?  I don’t think I did.

So by the early 1960 the originators were all either dead or facing some serious career setbacks.  So the next group was going to be coming up with little or no connection to the past and maybe more importantly, half of them weren’t even American. Now we might have some real thieves to point fingers at!

*I actually kind of like Blue Hawaii