Month: March 2014

Band Jargon

Musicians have the sometimes tricky task of explaining ideas to each other, and since few of us are formally trained we don’t always know what the proper word is, or even if there is one.  And if you’re playing in rock and roll you’re often borrowing ideas.  After a while you develop shorthands.  Here’s a few I’ve used over the years-

Gang Vocals–  this is one my friend used to mean- everyone shout the chorus.  The Rolling Stones do this a lot:

Woodchopper– a fast, steady beat on the snare drum and only the snare drum.  Kind of like the drum beat at the beginning of Paint it Black:

I like to suggest this one every now and then just to break things up.

Tuna– guitar tuner, one of my Japanese buddy’s corny puns

Chuck Berry Shuffle– the blues guitar rhythm pattern Chucky Berry used on almost every song- dum da dum da dum dum da dum:

We were trying to figure out what this was called when someone said they heard it referred to this way in a Johnny Thunders documentary, so it stuck.

Widdly Widdly– guitar solo with lots of notes- used mostly ironically

“Dude, enough with the widdly-widdly, I’m trying to think”

Wee-wee– a shrieky guitar solo ala Johnny Thunders

East Bay Ray– to pick/strum in double time, like East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys.

“I can’t think of what to do on this solo, I’ll just East Bay Ray it”

Anyway, those were a few.  I don’t know if other bands talk this way- I like making up ad hoc terms as I tend to do on this blog.

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Band Bickering!

This topic on my mind because I just finished Keith Richard’s excellent memoir Life.  It’s a great read, full of great rock and roll adventure, but what caught my attention was the way he treats Mick Jagger.  Not that it came as a shock.

Life is one of only three rock memoirs I can remember reading- the others being Dave Davies Kink and Motley Crue’s The Dirt.  Kink I read because a bandmate said it was interesting and The Dirt because I saw it at the library and I thought why not?  But I’m generally not that into reading rock memoirs because I’m not all that interested in that sort of life.  I’m sure it’s fun for a while, but I don’t know, I get homesick and tired of being around people.

But the common thread of all three of these books is- man it sucks playing with ____.  Dave hates his brother Ray, who is, according to him, a total dick.  The guys in the Crue take shots at each other throughout the book.  Spoiler- Keith doesn’t like Mick all that much.  He concedes that Mick is a great performer.  He also admits that he works very well together with him musically and that they’re “brothers”.  But not really friends.

Part of me thinks- well I can understand that.  Shit, you start a band with someone when you’re teenager and you get stuck with them for the rest of your life.  Keith can and does work outside the Stones and Mick does at times as well, but they’re really never going to be on the level they are as solo artists.  Keith admits as much.  They are stuck.  Trapped.  Condemned.

Can you imagine having the same job for forty years with someone that you met in elementary school?  Other than my seldom-seen co-blogger I barely talk to anyone I know from high school.  I see people every now and then, but I don’t have to spend half (or more) of every year with them.  I don’t think I could.

I’ve been playing in bands for 15 or so years and at this point, I’ve had a handful of people I’ve played with for more than a year at a time.  One is my current drummer.  We rarely argue about stuff, and when we do, it’s almost always about songs- I want to change something, he doesn’t or he feels something isn’t working and I want to keep at it.  There’s no money on the line, no tour waiting, no media expectations, really nothing besides us wanting to play music.  But we fight about it.  Not as much anymore- we see it coming and just lay off.  But music is what we do for fun.  No one has a mansion in the south of France riding on how well that song comes out.

But I have had some horrible fights with former bandmates- normally right before one or both of us quits the band.  Again, it’s just for fun and we’re fighting, and we can walk away and not lose any money (sadly, I’d save money by not doing music at all).

So I can kind of relate.  But part of me is like, lay off Mick.  He’s brought me a lot of joy in my life.  And can’t you just let it go man?  You’re older than my dad.  And really, did you need to bring up Mick’s lack of endowment?  That’s just mean, and contrary to what the media claimed when the book was released, that had been an open secret for years.

But it was a great read.  What I’ve always liked about Keith is his enthusiasm.  He’s like an average guy who got to meet all his heroes and do some great music.  I imagine if he weren’t in the Stones he’d be a weekend warrior playing dive bars.

*I just remembered that I read Bob Dylan’s book, but I don’t really remember much about it.  I think I bought it at an airport bookstore because I needed something to read.

Underground Greats: X-Ray Spex

Maybe underground is an exaggeration for X-Ray Spex.  They were fairly well known in their day and are considered a seminal ’77 punk band, though not as well known as the Clash, Sex Pistols or the Damned.

They also didn’t last long.  They released only one album Germfree Adolescents before Poly Styrene left to pursue a sporadic and not very noteworthy solo career and to become a Hari Krishna adherent.

I had heard X-Ray Spex referenced in various magazine articles and ordered their tape from the one record store we had in our county (yes, county).  I always wondered about that place because its selection was terrible and I remember hearing that its owner was arrested later for dealing drugs.  I don’t know if his second job was because he wasn’t selling records or if the record store was just a front, but that was the end of that place.  There was at least one more attempt at having a record store in the valley that also ended without much success.  Now there’s a Wal-Mart, but no one buys records in stores in 2014.

So I ordered a cassette copy of Germfree Adolescents and it arrived one year later.  This record of total non-dilligence would later be eclipsed by an indie distributor that took even longer but in that case it was a fairly rare recording I got.  In both cases I had totally forgotten about the order and was pleasantly surprised to hear they had arrived.

X-Ray Spex was unique in a couple of ways.  One was their employing a full time saxophone- the only punk band I can think of that has.

The other was their singer, Poly Styrene

Poly (obviously not her real name) was one punk’s first mixed-race stars and one of its first female singers.  She had a unique style that was at times deliberately frumpy- in early videos she was still in braces and a singing voice that was brilliantly ear-splitting.

X-Ray Spex had more pop elements than their contemporaries and work pretty well as a bridge to the later new wave sounds of the 80s.  Their songs were mostly anti-consumerist and had a science fiction edge to them.

Warrior in Woolworth’s is probably my favorite by them- a song about subversive retail employee:

Some of their songs were borderline gibberish- something that influenced my songwriting

They only put out the one album before breaking up after Poly Styrene left.  They performed a few reunions over the years before Poly Styrene died of cancer in 2011.

GG Allin, Bikini Kill and 90s punk rock

I make the occasional reference to GG Allin in my posts, mainly as a joke.  I’ll be up front- I hated that dude.  He was an embarrassment to punk rock and his fans are mostly idiots.  I’m just throwing that out there in the interest of full disclosure.  I’ve never been comfortable with him or his what he represented.

GG Allin was born Jesus Christ Allin.  That’s a red flag if I ever saw one.  The dude probably never had a chance.  Wikipedia says he was raised in a log cabin in the woods and he became GG because his younger brother Merle couldn’t pronounce Jesus. He was raised by a hyper-religious abusive father who thought his son Jesus would the Messiah.  Basically your textbook how to raise a serial killer upbringing.

His mother eventually left his nutty father, changed his name to Kevin Michael and took her children to Vermont.  He started playing music in high school.

His first band prominent band was The Jabbers:

It’s not a bad song.  I’ve heard several bands cover this song- it’s become a punk standard.  I sang along because I like the song.

By 1993 he had become this man

His show had become basically a carnival geek- performing naked and defecating and vomiting on stage.  Assaulting audience members.  He’d made repeated claims that he would kill himself on stage on Halloween but managed to be in jail every Halloween and unable to make good on his promise.

GG claimed to the ultimate embodiment of what punk stood for, which, in a certain sense, he was.  If punk rock means I can swing my fist without regard to where your nose begins, then he was the greatest.

Of course not every agreed with that.  That’s the problem with freedom- ultimate freedom means survival of the fittest and/or most willing to be an asshole.

I am, however, a fan of Bikini Kill.  If I had to draw dividing lines in 90s punk, there were the GG Allin idiots, the Bikini Kill fans and there was everyone who didn’t care for either band.

Bikini Kill was from Washington and they were explicitly a feminist punk band when such a thing basically didn’t exist yet.  Up until Riot Grrrl here were actually very few women in punk rock, and most of them got burned out and quit early.

A brief rundown of some of the bigger names:

Joan Jett- already a rock star, started doing punk rock in the late 70s before becoming an arena rock singer in the early 80s.  Would later produce Bikini Kill’s album.

Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex- put out one punk album.  Quit to go solo, left punk rock

Patti Smith- all but ignored by early 90s punk teenagers

Siouxsie Sioux- goth singer.

Wendy O Williams- survived by being more fearless than most male punk rockers, eventually moved on to heavy metal

Exene Cervenka- was basically the only woman punk singer still holding it down in the late 80s.

The problem for women who might have wanted to be in punk rock was that except for Exene, they all moved on.  There was no one to look up to.  The Riot Grrrl movement changed all that, and Bikini Kill was the biggest and best band.

But they weren’t without their detractors, obviously.  Punk rock didn’t have a lot of women for several reasons.  One was that punk rock shows often looked like this-

I imagine most women would be intimidated by that sort of concert.  I know I would be.  I’ve been in the occasional mosh pit and every time I was just watching a show minding my own business, being pushed around by the crowd and then suddenly I notice there is no one in front of me, or behind me, and there’s some big crazy dudes running around swinging their arms around.  My thoughts are something like- How the fuck did I get here?  How do I get out?  Oh crap I didn’t ask for this.  Then I’d run in a circle until I saw a break in the crowd and I’d dive back in, hoping I wouldn’t get pushed back in to the pit.

So one of Riot Grrrl’s goals was creating a safe space for women at shows.  That means less fun for those big dudes swinging their arms around.  Some prominent bands started asking people not to mosh.  There were also demands that women not be mistreated or groped at shows.  Give that message to groups of teenage boys and it won’t always be well received.  Bikini Kill allegedly had to deal with a lot of violence directed at them.  I don’t know, I never saw them live.

But again, I liked them a lot.  I heard their first record on a mixtape.  Kathleen had a great, versatile voice.  She could be angry and fierce one moment and then cute and funny the next.

As could their songs

Not everyone in punk rock believes in equality and certainly didn’t in the late 80s.  GG Allin’s songs about raping women were maybe the worst of that era, but there were plenty of other bands with similar themes.  There was Angry Samoans gay-bashing song Homosexual, there was neo-nazi band Skrewdriver.  There was the Mentors’ “rape rock”.   I’m sure plenty of people were listening to this kind of music ironically.  Or because they were taboo.   And some dudes probably were genuine fans.  You can see how they’d not be all that concerned about making women comfortable at shows.

So that was where things were in the early 90s- two competing visions- those who wanted a space to express themselves freely and safely, and those who wanted a space to do whatever they felt like without regards to others.

I wish I had a good example of some fights that went down, but really the scene I was a part of was too small to really devolve into too many factions.   There was the basic understanding that Bikini Kill was mostly for girls and that GG was mostly for gross dudes.  GG claimed millions of followers but there’s really only so many people who want to attend shows where they might get poop thrown at them.  When he died in 1993 is wasn’t suicide and it wasn’t even Halloween.  It was a simple heroin overdose at a party.  That must have taken some of the wind out of the sails of his followers.

In the end Bikini Kill and the idea of not being an asshole all the time won.  I’m sure there are still plenty of dudes making life difficult for women at shows, but there are more women playing punk rock than ever.  And probably most of the boneheads who would have been GG fans decided to listen to Marilyn Manson or Limp Bizkit instead.  In a way GG did is a favor by showing that the idea of just doing whatever you feel like all the time is a dead end.

Pop Stuff

Man I am swamped with life right now and rarely get a chance on the computer.  There’s been all kinds of stuff going on and I’ve had ideas but I rarely have a moment to think.

Ke$ha checks out of rehab and leaves dollar sign behind

Rad!

Kesha is about the only major pop star in recent years that I’ll unashamedly admit to being a fan of.  She’s the only one whose songs I am eagerly waiting to hear, and whose career I actually follow.  Apparently she was in rehab for an eating disorder, which is a big bummer.  She blames her producer for calling her fat, which, if true, then fuck that guy.  I hope Kesha is doing better.

Here’s her singing an old Stones song

Gaga, on the other hand, is getting barfed on

Here’s Lady Gaga Getting Repeatedly Puked On in the Name of Art

Yup.

In a stunt that was debatably art and definitely pop, someone threw up all over Lady Gaga during her set at SXSW Thursday night.

Fortunately (disappointingly?) the gag was all part of the act, a performance by London-based “vomit painter” and friend of Gaga Millie Brown.

Brown, 27, has been described as the Jackson Pollock of puke. She drinks colored soy milk and barfs it up on canvases (or, in some cases, human beings). Brown previously appeared in Gaga’s music video for “Exorcist Interlude.”

The Jackson Pollock of puke.

Actually, that’s not all that hard to imagine. Pretty much anyone can make puke look like a Pollack.  I want to see someone puke out a Rembrandt.  Or better yet, a Calder.

One of these days I’m going to write down my thoughts on the infamous (and awful) GG Allin, but to keep it short, I never thought that any part of that dude’s schtick would ever be adopted by someone both successful and talented.

Don’t Google GG, you’ll be bummed.

The Job Market

I was talking to my wife earlier about how in Japan there are too many dentists, to the extent that many are leaving the field because it doesn’t pay enough.  It reminded me of how back in the 80s a law degree was a virtual guarantee of a well-paying job.  Now the headlines are:

The Jobs Crisis at Our Best Law Schools Is Much, Much Worse Than You Think

The barren job market for law school grads has become a familiar reality by now. But here’s something that tends to get lost in the story: The problem isn’t just about no-name law schools churning out JD’s nobody wants to hire. Even graduates at some of the country’s top programs are struggling. 

At this point, it seems, there are only a small handful of schools that could reasonably be called safe bets.

To which I reply- well, what did you think would happen?

I mean, the job market is a market.  The market set wages based on how many people have a certain skill and how much that skill is needed.  If everyone gets the idea that a law degree is a good idea then lots of people are going to go that route.  And end up flooding the market, driving down wages, leaving a bunch of people with useless degrees and huge debts.  That’s got to be a drag on the economy.

I’m going to guess, but after years of churning out MBAs, that market must be due for a crash.  Once everyone starts heeding the voices saying “get a degree in science or engineering” there will be a glut of those in 5-10 years.

I’m not trying to argue with the market here- there’s no realistic alternative for one.  But maybe there’s a better way to approach when and how we educate people?  At the very least it seems like a waste of resources.

I have a bachelor’s degree from University of California, San Diego, in Classical Studies.  That means I spent four years practicing translating Latin.  I know.  It sounds like the most pointless and least remunerative degree on the list.  The first is wrong, the second is, sadly, not far off.

So what do you do with the ability to read Latin?  As far as I know, nothing.  I can’t even read Latin anymore- that was over ten years ago and I have cracked a Latin book maybe once or twice since then.  As far as my knowledge of Greek and Roman culture- it’s above average, but not amazing.  No one has ever offered to pay me for that either.  If my degree didn’t have UCSD stamped on it I don’t think I’d get too many job interviews.

But that’s the negatives.  The positives include the fact that I learned how to learn.  And how to learn language in particular.  You have to memorize a language’s grammar or you will be lost.  You have to figure how sentences are put together before you try to do it.  And you have to drill vocabulary relentlessly.  My beginning Latin teacher said “rote learning gets a bad rap, but you’re going to need it here.”  He was totally right.  Learning Japanese was relatively easy for me and I was, at one point, employed in a job that had my speaking 90% Japanese.  I don’t think I could have done that without having studied what I did in college.  If I could stand Japanese business culture I’d probably be moving up the ladder, but that’s a whole different story.

My dad asked me a few months ago what I want to do for work.  My answer- “retire”.

I was joking (kind of) but the fact that my dad is still asking me what career I’m going to have shows two things- older people sometimes don’t understand that careers in the same industry may well be a thing of the past.  And that I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with myself.  I actually have a plan, but that too is another story.

If I’m in my mid 30s and don’t know what kind of job I want to have (well I do, I’m just not in a position to make it work right now), how the hell was I supposed to know when I was 20?  No way.

Some thoughts-

The expectation that employees show up at a job interview with specialized knowledge is getting to be too much.  Companies do spend a lot on training already, but maybe expecting someone to show up with a master’s degree is putting too much pressure on someone who may not be ready.  What if companies hired people, then figured out who would make a good addition to, say, their legal department and then steered them that way?  They could study while they work in a limited capacity.  I understand why companies would not want to do this, but I’m just throwing out ideas here.

I’m no expert in anything, but university administration and building stuff seem to be getting more attention than education at a lot of our colleges.  Even worse- advertising.  I am highly skeptical of some of the online universities, one of which is based here and I know a few people who worked the phones.  Not encouraging.  But even at UCSD, ostensibly one of the better universities on the west coast, a lot of classes were just too big.  Some of the TAs I had were good, but they too are just students.  But I drive by there all the time and there are new buildings constantly going up.  I guess some people love to donate if their name will end up on a wing of the University, but not for mundane things like hiring more profs.  Majoring in a pretty obscure subject meant I actually had small classes (often 8-10 students total in my upper-division classes).  I don’t know if a University can break even with that kind of class size, but as a student that was a lot better.

Maybe just have people broader educations, then try the job market?  Or try the job market and then go back to school?

I’m lucky.  I have a good degree, a good job and no debt.  It’s not really my problem until my son gets old enough to go to college.  I hope someone has some answers by then.

Day off!

Took a day off from work

Some of the things I’ve already accomplished-

Took my son to the dentist

Drove my wife to work

Typed up all my songs so I can give them to our bass player

Rode the exercise bike at the complex gym

Took a shower

Called my representative because I saw an internet ad telling me to call him and tell him to change his stance but I called and told his receptionist to stick to his stance.

What’s next?  Day is only half over and I already feel so productive