Why do I have bad taste? II

So there’s another reason why I have bad taste.  It’s that I don’t think the ability to do creative things should be limited to the technically talented.  And if I’m being consistent, that means I have to find imperfect things and enjoy them.  And I pride myself on being consistent sometimes.

Partly too I grew up somewhere that forced me and my friends to make a lot of my own fun.  Basically, I am part hick and so I don’t have the refined taste that others do.

Also, things that are done by people with limited skills and limited means often can push the limit in ways that talented people who are being paid lots of money really can’t make Pink Flamingos- someone will talk them out of it well before any checks are signed.

Although those Jackass! dudes tried.  I take it back, someone might be able to make Pink Flamingos, but it would be hard to find any talented person to want to act in it.

Basically, I don’t take things too seriously, even my own taste.

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

Random Thoughts

I just got back from Washington DC.  I had never been there before.  In fact, as far as America goes, I had never been more than about two day’s  drive east of California.  So previously some part of Wyoming or Colorado was the farthest east I had ever been.

I went there for work so I didn’t really have much time for sight-seeing.  I did take a walk down to the National Mall after work with a friend of mine.  I didn’t include pictures in this post because the ones I take weren’t very good and anyway you know what the monuments look like.

My main goal was to visit the Lincoln Memorial, since I wanted to pay my respects to one of our greatest presidents.  People told me it was better at night.  I’m not sure if that’s true since that’s the only way I’ve seen it, but it was impressive.  A nice tribute to the man who saved our nation.

I also walked through the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Korean War Memorial as well.  The WWII Memorial I wasn’t so big on.  It’s nice that there is one, but visually, I don’t know what it’s supposed to convey.  Maybe that’s how it should be.  I personally only know (knew) two men who were a part of WWII.

My grandfather experienced it as mostly a fun vacation in the South Pacific- he was a 17 year old airplane mechanic and never saw any fighting.  And at the time it was probably better than hanging around Los Angeles.  He’s still alive today and loves to talk about it.

My wife’s grandfather, on the other hand, was a medic in the Japanese Army that invaded China.  He spent his whole life in a small Japanese village in a house built by his father that until recently didn’t even have flush toilets.  He liked to talk about how he saw a river there that was so big that he couldn’t see the other side.  He didn’t talk to me much about all the suffering and death he saw as a medic, but before he died my wife recorded him talking about his various experiences there.  It was terrifying and sad.

My other grandfather also fought it in the war (in Europe), but died before I was born.  My wife’s other grandfather just barely missed becoming a kamkaze pilot- at that point in the war they were just throwing young men into planes and pointing them towards certain death.

But on the other hand- we beat the Nazis.  So that kind of makes it worth it.

The Vietnam Memorial was really heartbreaking.  Descending into the memorial, with the wall getting taller and the names piling up it was overwhelming.  What a waste of life.

Same with the Korean War.  We hardly even talk about it or learn about it in school, but America lost over 36,000 soldiers.  The total cost in lives was well over a million.  For what?  A proxy war between the US and China, with Mao flooding the Korean peninsula with troops, in part to shore up his position as ruler of China.  What a horrible thought to be so unconcerned about human life.

What was it all worth?  What was the point?

UPDATE- also, the Washington Monument is cool, but I don’t get how it represents the actual man.  I don’t know much about him, I’m just saying.

Random Thoughts

I was listening to some old recordings today and there was a song on there that I hadn’t thought about in years.  Literally five or six years.  I think we had worked on it for a bit, made a recording of it at practice and never played it live.  It was a good song, I may use it again.  But I can’t remember how to play it and the recording is really rough and I can only make out some of the words.  I think the lyrics are written down somewhere, and maybe the chords are.  If not I wonder if I can figure it out.

It’s kind of funny to think that I could totally forget a song like that, but it does happen.  I was jamming with a former bandmate a while back and he started playing a song I wrote.  He said “you remember this one?”  I didn’t.  I’ll have to look that one up too.

I took my son to see Book of Life yesterday.

It was a cute movie but one thing I particularly liked about it was how little suspense there is in the resolution of the love triangle between the main characters, Maria, Jaoquin and Manolo.  It’s obvious from the start that Maria favors Manolo, because she likes his music and he very obviously agrees with her on killing animals, going so far as to refuse to kill the bull at the end of a bullfight.  (Manolo comes from a family of bullfighters).

Jaoquin, on the other hand, tries for the big romantic gesture, which is usually what gets the girl.  In this case it doesn’t work.  Kids’ movies are full of stale cliches, but I thought it was nice that for once a movie portrayed something close to real life.

While we’re on the subject, the movie makes mention of Cinco de Mayo but never mentions the occasion that Mexicans more often celebrate- Dies y Seis de Septiembre.  Mexico has two independence days, but most consider independence from Spain a bigger deal than independence from France.  I’ve long suspected that the reason Americans latched onto the former is that it’s easier to pronounce.  It may also be easier to make puns on, though some enterprising business surely could have Dies y Sales de Septiembre.

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.