Stealing time. Always gambling. I used to wake up with wet eyes; remnants of nights and days spent in places I never wanted to leave. I took to insomnia to escape the dreams that reminded me of places I could never return to. Now I sleep here. When I can.
In the end of the summer/early fall of 2001 I immersed myself with Radiohead. Having just seen them live for the first time at Grant Park in Chicago, I lived and breathed Kid A and the still new to my ears Amnesiac. I was still coming off of a jamband drip thanks to Phish’s first hiatus and had quickly realized that many of the indie bands that filled my hard drive were broken up, never to practice or perform together ever ay in person – so I injected Thom Yorke, the Greenwoods and the rest of the into my veins.
I distinctly remember moving into my third floor apartment (the one I never slept at) on Bernard Court in Madison at 10 o’clock on the Sunday night before classes started. My Honda Accord parked in the alley, doors wide open and blaaaaarrring “Idioteque” at volume levels that I assumed a neighborhood at one of the top party schools in the nation would applaud…when from the stairwell I noticed that the sound had ceased. I came outside and found one of roommates (the one I barely knew) stepping out of my car after turning the radio down and shutting all of my doors.
“We’re all done here, dude.”
If you didn’t already get the idea – Radiohead was my jam. And if my countless hours spent listening didn’t make it so – the IT hours clocked removing malware from campus computers thanks to me illegally downloading every b-side, remix and live performance definitely did.
I loosened the tie and pulled out the needle one day I noticed an electric buzz flowing through the bus on the way to class one morning – a journalistic hypnosis that had the whole bus wide-eyed and drooling. It was either like an electric current or a scene from a movie where a packed educational transportation vehicle full of zombies had their faces buried in the Arts section of the school paper (really whichever image works better for you).
Naturally, there was an abandoned copy of the school newspaper, bent up and seemingly weeks old next to me after half the kids rushed off at Union South. I quickly flipped past the unfinished crossword and ads for drink specials, used books, and legal versions of otherwise illegal stimulants (with every intention of going back to check them out) so I could find out what the hell all of the zombies were drooling about.
As it turned out, a short paragraph informed me that there was a band called The Strokes that had just played one of their first live shows in New York the previous weekend. No. They didn’t have an album out yet. It wasn’t coming out until October. This article was pointing to the fact that they played a show. In New York.
So why did the hip kids belonging to Madison’s zombie army give a shit about this now months before full length release? Well, I would later find out when Is This It hit shelves and quickly found its way into my ‘too big to fit in any pocket’ Sony Discman.
Upon pressing play and hearing the first notes of “Is This It” I was sucked into a sound that mimicked everything that was going around me. College. Highs. Lows. Victories. Defeats. Is This It? was loud, gray, fuzzy, and cocky while also managing to inflect a tremendous amount of uncertainty. It was face paced and modern. Aggressive and abrupt. Loud guitars and lazy vocal phrasing from a voice that sounded just as good when the words were screamed or sung softly. Songs like “Last Night” and the track stripped from the US version of the album post 9/11, “New York City Cops,” invoked attitude and a turned up lip of Billy Idol proportions. Others like “Someday” and “Hard to Explain” hit on the confusion and inexplicable.
Is This It is unforgettable for the feeling that it induced and also for the movement of music that it seemed to launch. Soon after, the world was treated to fantastic debut albums from bands that even if they weren’t trying to top The Strokes first offering, it will forever seem like they were to me. Simply because everything post-Is This It? was offered to me in a comparison. “Have you heard Interpol Turn on the Bright Lights? It’s a darker version of The Strokes. What about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? Similar vibe.” Or even when a friend called me out of the blue the following summer to see if I’d heard of Kings of Leon. When he heard that I hadn’t, he said “Dude, they’re like the southern version of The Strokes. But maybe better.” And while Turn on the Bright Lights and the first couple of Kings of Leon records are phenomenal, they’re no match for the sounds that Julian and Co. produced on record 1.
Because of all that – I will forever be indebted to The Strokes for creating an amazing debut record that paralleled and soundtracked a monumental year of my life. Everything about it made sense. Musically, I prefer their second, Room on Fire, over Is This It? but I’m probably in a vast minority there. I suppose I also owe them a hardy thanks for helping me temporarily shelve my Radiohead addiction- I was slowly turning into an android.
Thanks for reading!
Neutral Milk Hotel is one of those bands that’s usually the answer to the demand – Gimme one band that you’ll never forget the first time you heard them.
In the summer of 2000 I was living in a genre specific world where I maniacally and unabashedly consumed music that carried around a complex – jam rock or whatever term you use to poke fun at it. While some of the best jambands of that era were exploratory and improvisational in form, blending many genres to create a musical melting pot – my shallow focus was managing to confine and partition me off from music of other varieties. I was unknowingly blind to music that was smart and more … thought provoking.
But … some might say that being consumed by bliss and (in some cases) lyrical nonsense was a bonus – it saved me from Limp Bizkit and Korn – shit rock bands that over dominated Milwaukee’s local rock station. I managed to narrowly escape doing it all for the nookie and I believe I owe an incredible debt to Phish for that assist. Their existence prevented me from ever owning a red Yankees cap or frosting my tips. Consider me forever grateful.
The musical discovery that is the focus of this post happened in the middle of Indiana, at a makeshift campground in Noblesville, while traveling the midwest to see the above mentioned. After returning to the campsite with my arms full of new cds – the only 2 that come to memory are String Cheese Incident’s Carnival ’99 and Grisman, Rice, and Garcia’s The Pizza Tapes - I remember being proud to show off my purchases to anyone milling in our group. After showing them off and passing them around, me and everyone hanging around appeared to be pretty stoked. Everyone except …
this fella that quickly had intrigue turn to disappointment which then resolved to disapproval of my entire existence. “DUDE. There is so much better music to be listening to. I mean, the jam scene is cool but … there’s so much more. Are you listening to Neutral Milk Hotel, Sunny Day Real Estate? PAVEMENT? Tell me you dig Pavement?”
Now I wasn’t offended. Maybe I hadn’t heard of any of those bands but I wasn’t a rook when it came to music. I was coming off of a Bob Dylan hangover and I had gotten cavities from over indulging in Elliott Smith and Matthew Sweet. Ben Folds Five was cool and … I had just that past year fell in love with Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True. I had just gotten a little off track. I had just gotten over a bad break up that allowed me to replace my relationship by focusing on traveling and seeing a band that to this day never fails to make me smile.
But on that day – it was if someone had turned the light on. Pressing play on a mixtape that led off with Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2 & 3″ I sat motionless as Jeff Mangum whined an undying love for Jesus Christ. And even though the boomnbox was shitty and the tape was worn out, that voice – full of power, emotion and energy, transformed me. It was 98 degrees, as humid as a Florida August and my feet felt like they had just been pulled from a kiln. [lame alert ->] But the only thing I could feel were the goosebumps the music created.
And as the tape rolled on and I gave mere handshakes to bands that I couldn’t live without now (Built to Spill, Guided By Voices, Pavement) I remember nodding my head and ignoring merely every word not coming through those speakers. I can’t quite recall the way that I felt the rest of the trip … but with 3 shows left on the tour schedule and one more city to hit – I do slightly remember being briefly underwhelmed by Phish those next few nights. We actually ended up (stupid. regret.) selling our tickets for the summer tour closer in Columbus.
Now it might have been the heat of that summer. It might have been the fact that we did 9 shows in a few weeks or it might have been that I wanted to get home to hear more from the bands that would end up becoming part of my life after that day at the campground.
And that’s why I’ll never forget the first time I heard Neutral Milk Hotel.
I was the first kid on my block to get a skateboard. An older kid that lived across the street gave it to me. I think I was around 9. I didn’t know if he thought I was cool and different-hence deserving of something cool that he no longer needed. Or maybe he felt bad for me because I was a pudgy little runt that also had the misfortune of having to wear an eye patch-hence deserving of something cool that he could mentally write off as a good deed (he was kind of a delinquent).
But skateboarding was what I wanted to do. Most of my friends and my brother’s friends were super athletic; they played baseball, basketball, or football and of course all of them were amazing athletes. I loved those activities a lot too, but not nearly as much as they did. For some reason I felt that those sports required years of practice and … talent. And I was too impulsive to want to practice anything and talent wasn’t a think that I had.
But skateboarding was different. And it was a good reason to force my parents to buy me high top Converse All-Stars. You couldn’t have a skateboard without a pair of high top Converse All-Stars. Not in the late 80s anyway.
The board was called “Bone Crusher” and it was bright purple. It had a purple tail bone and black rails. And it was huge in comparison to today’s standards. But I loved it.
Until it sucked.
I must’ve fumbled around on that behemoth for a week before I decided that it wasn’t working. It was too cheap. It was too heavy. It wasn’t named after a pro skater. And all of those important facts made it impossible for anyone to ollie on. (I was convinced that even Natas Kaupas wouldn’t be able to make Bone Crusher airborne). And I mean, really, if a board wasn’t good enough to ollie on, what was it good for.
So, like I always did when I didn’t put enough time and effort into something I wanted to do, I whined until my parents bought me better equipment.
On a Saturday morning my dad took me to a place called Board Stiff. It was on Greenfield Avenue in West Allis, real close to the old Paradise Theater. The place smelled like heaven. Or grip tape and shoe rubber. That toxic but clean scent is something I’ll never forget. We looked around for five minutes and then I found my board. It was the first Tony Hawk deck, made by Powell Peralta. I had seen it in Thrasher and Transworld and knew I wanted it before we even got there. Back then skateboards came in sizes and my 9 year old frame, short and a tad round, definitely needed a mini and not the adult large that we ended up purchasing.
My new deck was nearly as big as the Bone Crusher. But it was a Tony Hawk. And yep, I still couldn’t ollie on it.
But just as this incident – I always – ALWAYS – had to have name brand merchandise. I would settle for nothing else. Air Jordans, Z Cavaricci, Guess, etc, etc, etc. Today it’s nothing new. Beer. Coffee. They may not spend as much on a marketing budget but if the brand has proliferated into my psyche or found a way into my thoughts – I’m going to try whatever the product is at least once.
I’m a brand whore and I really don’t think it’s a bad thing. If products are marketed well and appeal to me – someone has done their job properly.
Moments after sending in samples to be considered for a freelance reviewer for *1st kid on the block music blog* Pitchfork.com and hours after reading a New York Times article about the very same behemoth, I’m pondering music, blogs, music blogs, albums, reviews, and album reviews. After going over many of the album evaluations that I’ve written for this very blog and also for SeizureChicken.com I’m starting to think that they (album reviews) aren’t all that necessary anymore. Hear me out.
I remember that as a college student I would devour album reviews; reading every word David Fricke, Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield, and countless others wrote about their favorite and least favorite recordings. I remember wishing and hoping that someday I would have the same luxuries that they had/have. But then everything exploded. The internet made thousands of reviews by thousands of pretentious writers available at the click of a mouse and it all suddenly became very trite. It seemed that these kids (me included) wanted to take all of the obscure words that they’d learned in lit classes along with synonyms for those same fuckin’ words and cram them all into some discussion about Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights or some regurgitated rehash of Guided By Voices Bee Thousand. And people read them (me included) and then purchased one of the best albums of the 00′s or pulled out Robert Pollard’s finest work and listened in seclusion until somebody broke the door down and told them about Beck’s Sea Change and the double disc reissue of Slanted and Enchanted that had cleaned up sound but was still the best album in anyone’s collection.
Point is, back then words were free and so it seemed was the time to read ALL of them. Maybe it was because I was a jobless student on a major college campus that had all the time in the world to read and reread what was written about an album from a band that might not be that obscure after the review. Or maybe it was because only really quality bands made it through the bullshit and had intelligent schoolboys comparing Animal Collective to Infinite fucking Jest. Thing is, it all made sense.
But now it’s different. No matter how good or bad an album is, the words are wasted . In the end I believe that it only comes down to a summarizing paragraph, a different colored text deeming value like “best new”, or a number. That’s really all people have time for. I mean, really, after you give album that isn’t MIA’s latest a 4.4,Travis Morrison’s a 0.0, or a 3.3 to the latest record from a previously heroic rock band does anybody really have the time to read about an album you compare to refuse, whining babies, or an American Idol reject? On the other side, who has time to read your entire wet dream about a record that gets a 9.3 while you gush and gizz in glittering prose all over the first paragraph?
Tired eyes have also become a chronic problem due to the massive amount of fringe bands getting onto someone’s radar. It seems that somebody is always waiting in the wings to become a tastemaker. It doesn’t matter how good a band really is if there is some niche audience to stroke or some other way that the said band can create a buzz, they will get press. In these cases, the proof is in the pudding. MP3s or streams of tracks are as important or more important than the pithy words that got you to click on the track in the first place. And when it comes to who gets priority it’s a race for the prize or more so a privilege for the proven.
Now I’m sure that thousands of people have griped the same gripe; I’m just venting because I have a space to do so and also because I miss writing and reading music criticism in full. Something has changed and it works with the rapid paced culture that we live in and some/most thrive on but it helps us settle for mediocrity and worse, sometimes not even know that what we are being told is good is mediocre. Is it hard to evaluate when you have SO many things to place value on?
I’d be really interested to see what anyone else has to say. Weigh in if you have an opinion. By the time you read this I’ll already be on hypem….
These are 77 Word Stories.
I don’t like them all that much and they’re mostly drivel.
They’re all written by someone that is selfish and are selfishly written about
what can’t be,
and what never will.
And while the stories may make you smile, cringe, or smirk,
know that they’re actually all written about you.
This one may fall a little short but fuck it -
it’s just the title page.
So many times I’ve been kept from crazy,
head and ashtray overflowing,
by the comfortable whine of a train whistle.
it’s not hard to say why I really do like living, breathing, or preferring to rest my head near a train.
Cable cars, subways, and freights –
I always keep a track near.
No matter how stuck or soul sucked I may feel,
there’s always that handsome bell, whistle, or ding to remind me that I am free.
Your breath and hair.
My knuckles scraped and bloody.
What a pair.
Lunchtime came and went with little more than hair toss in my direction.
Uninterested, you fumbled with the sunglasses that shield the world form the hurt that you only experience when there’s not enough brandy left in the bottle.
You’re a lifeguard.
I’m no swimmer.
And I only started coming to this pool because of the frozen Charleston Chews.
Quickly bored and out of candy, I went back to being a teenager.
I circled about six times – mesmerized by the sign that said you needed socks.
Just passing through it said –
As I made my third pass I thought – well, aren’t we all.
You looked cold.
And younger than the wrinkles that engulfed your hands, neck and face.
I managed to make my way to the trunk – mom kept emergency socks there.
Handling them over – the reflector on your sign squinted my eye as a tear rolled from yours.
Careful, now. You’re libel to soak them socks.
Without reason and without conviction, he walked into the garage and decided that Bob Dylan may not be as good of a songwriter as Bernie Taupin.
Digging deep, mentally flipping through the years and songs, he recounted that he had not once but five times (that he could recall) lost his voice screaming the words to Levon. That was three more times than he had lost his voice to Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You and one of those times, he was sure that hash played a big role. Hash and bug spray.
As he got to the end of the argument that he instigated, from across the fence – the drunken neighbor’s radio played Walk on the Wild Side which immediately brought Lou Reed’s songwriting ability to mind which in turn called up David Bowie’s cover of Waiting for my Man.
The neighbor – passed out, teeth rotting with fruit flies hovering and circling above his head – feeding off the alcohol exiting – made him recall Shane McGowan and Fairy Tale of New York which always reminded him of Tom Waits for one reason or another.
As he continuously devolves, this cycle never ends … But it always begins with Bob Dylan.