Music

Gettin’ Old, Gettin’ Grey

So I was reading Steven Hyden’s AC/DC buyer’s guide and one thing stuck out at me in his review of High Voltage:

Bon Scott was pushing 30 when this LP was released; he was willing his denim-covered ass out of the pub and down the road to immortality

I never knew that.  I knew he’d been around for a while when they hired him, but I didn’t know he was that… old.

OK so thirty is not old, but it’s pretty old for a rock and roller.  I was trying to think of rock and roller who “made it” after the age of thirty.   Here’s what I came up with:

Ian Hunter

Ian started fronting Mott the Hoople in 1969 at the age of thirty, but they weren’t a commercial success until 1972 after David Bowie basically rescued them by offering them All the Young Dudes.  So he was about 32 or 33 when he finally made it.  His biggest solo hit after leaving Mott the Hoople was probably Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Ronnie James Dio

Let’s be real.  Ronnie had lots of things work against him.  Lack of conventional good looks, age, short stature and a receding hairline when he joined Rainbow at age 32.  I should say allegedly at age 32, because even that age is subject to some dispute.  But the voice could not be denied.  My personal choice for greatest heavy metal voice ever.  As a bonus, watch him talk to the crowd here- just seems like the coolest guy

Meat Puppets

In a case similar to Ian Hunter’s, the Meat Puppets were more or less pulled into fame by Nirvana covering a couple of their songs and bringing them on stage to play with them during Nirvana’s Unplugged appearance.

They only had one big hit, but were pretty influential for 90s grunge bands

Sharon Jones

Sharon isn’t a rocker, per se, but Soul music is pretty close to rock and roll.  And she’s not exactly a household name, but I’m going to add her here.  At any rate, after decades making sporadic appearances as a backup singer, she’s finally made it

 

Why do I have bad taste?

Way, way back I was hanging with some friends at my seldom-seen co-blogger’s house and his older brother had some tapes sitting on a shelf.  One tape in particular caught my eye.  W.A.S.P.’s Inside the Electric Circus.

I made to listen to it when one of my friends asked me a question that gets to the very heart of who I am as a person.

Why do you like everything bad?

I don’t know why I like everything bad.  It’s something I’ve puzzled over for years.  Decades really.  Embedded in the question was a plea- please don’t subject me to any more crap.

My friends have all experienced it.  I become obsessed with things that no one else gets or likes.  I’ve made them listen to the cheesiest punk rock, the dumbest possible rap songs, watch terrible movies- in one of the more terrible things I did to my friends I made them sit through two John Waters movies in a row.  Why?

I don’t know.  It’s not because I’m trying to be mean to my friends.  It’s that I really like some things that, for whatever reason, society doesn’t see that same value in.

Let’s talk for a second about what’s bad.  By bad I don’t mean I don’t like it.  90% of all arguments could be averted if instead of people saying “____ sucks” they said something more like “It’s just not something I’m into”, because that’s what they really mean.  Also, by bad I’m not making a moral judgement, i.e. saying something is bad for society, or even sillier, bad for the children, because for the most part moral judgements aren’t interesting to me if they involve the finished product.  If, for instance, a child molester makes a song that I like, say this one:

that’s moral problem, because if I buy his record I am possibly giving material support to a bad person.  If, however, someone writes a song encouraging people to join the Church of Satan, I don’t know, I just don’t care.  It would have to be something truly egregious for me to care.

When I say bad, I mean something just didn’t come out right.  I don’t think W.A.S.P. set out to write a song that cheesy.  It’s not even a song that’s bad to listen to.  It just didn’t succeed in some important way, in this case, it sounds like they were trying to be menacing and it’s just not that menacing.

But I’ll admit that badness is subjective.  For instance, Dio holding a sword like he’s swinging a baseball bat should make me think this is a bad video

But I can’t say that.  It’s an awesome video.  Because Dio was a strange little man with an amazing voice and I can totally see him being a dirty barbarian swordsman.  On the other hand, that dude from Def Leppard swinging a comically huge sword?  I’m not even sure what they’re going for here:

Then again, maybe something can’t fail at a metric that I can’t establish.

Maybe one explanation is that I learn from failure.  Something that doesn’t work has moving parts that I can pick apart and understand.  On the other hand, something too perfect is impossible to learn from.  What would you learn from something like this?

I’d learn- give up, writing perfect pop songs is way too hard.  Really, that’s it.  There’s nothing to pick apart in this song, because everything works.  Really.  There’s nothing I would add or take away from it.

That’s not to say that I like it all that much, or listen to it in the car, because it’s just not relevant to my life.  It’s not my thing.

And maybe more to the point, there’s nothing to take away from the song because it’s a perfect whole.  There’s not any one thing that sticks out.  Contrast that with, say Mamma Mia

It’s not a bad song by any means, but not all of it works to the same degree.  I like the guitar lick that Bjorn does.  I like pause when they sing just one look and I hear a bell ring.  Little things.  I can take something away from listening to the song that maybe I can use in my own life.

To be continued

Self-Referencing

How soon is too soon?

My ears perked up at a line in this song when came on the radio this morning

 

I gave you bass

 

This is the All About That Bass girl.  I was just talking about that girl a month ago!  She has one hit and is already self referencing!

I don’t know what to think about this.  Maybe she just doesn’t have a ton of ideas, but more likely this is intentional.  From a brand new singer that’s either guts or some amazing hubris.  Either way I admire it.

I don’t know have any particular thoughts on artists that self-reference.  Sometimes it’s a fun way of rewarding your audience for paying attention.  Like when the Beatles did it, it was cute.  I suppose it could be sometimes just lazy recycling of old ideas.  Then again, you don’t have to self-reference to do that

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.

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.