Monday, June 30, 2014


A friend posted a question recently asking about the first book that made you love reading. I don't remember one book I couldn't read, and then four.

I desperately wanted to be able to read before I could. I remember checking one book out of the library. It was a picture book, with pictures of a barn and horse and rooster, and I was willing myself so hard to understand the words and I couldn't.

I have told this story before, but I had not gone to kindergarten, and it seemed like every other child in my first grade class had. It was not standard yet then, but it was common. We were divided into different reading groups based on skill, and I was in the lowest, with ditto sheets folded into books where no word was longer than three letters. (There was a tin man and a pig.)

But I was determined to read, and I had this plan that I would work my way up, through all of the groups, and so I would get all of the books and be able to read all of the stories in all of the books, and then suddenly I was moved up to the highest group, with the Green Feet book.

I'm not sure how that happened. It don't remember any struggles or flashes; suddenly I could read, and I wanted to read everything. That's where the four came in.

I have a sort of a desire for completion. What happened may have happened because I saw a cartoon of The Practical Princess, by Jay Williams, on TV, but suddenly I not only saw that we had that book in the school library, but I also found The Light Princess and The Princess and the Goblins by George MacDonald, and The Plain Princess by Phyllis McGinley, and I had to check them all out right then. This was an issue because the school library had a checkout limit of three books, but I told the librarian I was doing a project on princesses. Okay, the project was a reading marathon, but she went for it.

There were other developments in my growth as a reader than I can point to. My friend Jennie introduced me to Madeline L'Engle, Jane Austen, and Neville Shute. (I think I was already of Jane Eyre, but she nonetheless gave me a copy of it which I still have.) My friend Karen introduced me to the Anne of Green Gables series as well as Sweet Valley High, and if I have a greater appreciation for L. M. Montgomery now than I do for Francine Pascal, it doesn't take away from the place that Pascal filled.

I am still pretty much that girl who wants to read all the stories. (I did read extra chapters in college textbooks. Sometimes the professor really had a point in not assigning them, but I had to find out the hard way.) I am not ruling out that some day I will purchase the entire Keys to Reading series that my grade school used, so I can read the books I missed. For now, I'm not exactly short on reading material.

It makes sense, though, that when I am thinking about something and want to know more about it, my first thought is to find books on the subject. Possibly, I will find lots of books. I want all the knowledge, and so I want all the books.

At the same time, it bothers me recently seeing discussions about reading programs that actually made children dislike reading. What a horrible thing to do to a child.

I believe the discussion started with the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign. One reason the series was originally canceled was a decision to concentrate on fundamentals of reading. The "Reading Rainbow" series was emphasizing a love for reading, not the skills. I won't deny the skills are important, but the love seems to help those skills come along.

Books are the closest things we have to time machines and teleportation devices. The can fill us with empathy and spark passion. They need to be something we are sharing, but it seems that we are slacking off. I'll pick that thread back up tomorrow.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Artist Review: Nina Simone

I have used "Band Review" for solo artists but this time it didn't feel right. There are a few things different about this review anyway, so we'll just go with it.

I worried about covering Burden of Sanity yesterday, because I had just written about Mental Health Awareness Month, and I wasn't sure if that band name might bother some who do have mental health issues. It was also the week that I wrote about Black History Month, though, and I really wanted to cover some black artists, and I was looking for anyone of color in my lists only not rap, because I wanted to like them and I often don't with the rap. And then I saw them, and their first track was "MLK", and I had just listened to Nina Simone's "Why" (The King of Love is Dead)", and it felt right.

I really had never known much about Nina Simone, but I had read somewhere the story of her writing "Mississippi Goddam", and it stuck with me.

I am not sure I have the story right. I thought I had read it was after she heard of the death of Medgar Evers, and then I couldn't find that account, and when I found another account it said it was after the church bombing in Birmingham. Still, what I remembered reading was that she went into her garage to try and build a gun, and when her husband found her he pointed out that her weapon was her music. Then she wrote the song.

I related to that. I try and hone my writing, and I want to use it for good, and whatever obstacles there are in the way of that, I am more likely to succeed at writing something powerful than building a gun. So as there was buzz going around about the Zoe Saldana movie, Simone got more in my mind, and yes, I needed to spend some time on her.

Coming to her via that route, I thought of her as so political and activist that it was surprising when I started listening. There are so many standards, and gentler fair, and even "Mississippi Goddam" does not sound as angry musically if you don't listen to the lyrics.

As I read more about her, it made more sense. She started out as an aspiring classical pianist. Denied a scholarship because of her race, she begin playing in clubs, making her a singer and getting her into other musical styles. There is such a strong musical foundation there, but there is also a good foundation, based on being held back early by prejudice and due to the time period she was going to see, to become political.

So she can call "Mississippi Goddam" a show tune, and it does fit that form, but it also references blues, and gives a pretty full picture of what was going on. And by calling it a show tune without a show, and putting that spoken into the song, she is both pulling in the audience, but pointing out the song's orphan state, there is that separation, and confirming that the story is not over. And she can pull from Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry, and she can include classical, jazz, blues, and gospel, because she had the talent and she paid her dues.

She also paid financially for that. A Jet interview from 1986 says that her political songs got her boycotted, and she didn't regret that phase, but also at that point she wasn't being as political. You can argue about whether that's a legitimate choice, or whether that time period called for the same level of activism, but I admire her awareness. I admire that she understood what her art meant, and made conscious choices about what she was going to do with it.

I knew going in that I would not be able to go through everything three times. I could spend a lot of time listening and still just scratch the surface, and there is a lot of history, both musical and otherwise, to give it all context.

Also, there is no Twitter and Facebook account to link to. She is gone. You can find videos on Youtube and lots of songs on Spotify, but ultimately we are looking back here. So doing that, I listen and hear strength and warmth and determination. It was worth the time.

I didn't think I had anything special planned for my 150th artist reviewed, but I did.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Band Review: Burden of Sanity

Burden of Sanity is a hard rock/alternative metal quartet based in Miami.

They list several influences where they names are familiar - like A Perfect Circle and Deftones, but I don't really know the music, so I can't say how accurate that is. However, especially in regards to the guitars, they remind me a lot of the '90s.

So I hear a little bit of Cypress Hill on "Feel This" and "Dreamland" reminds me a little of Foo Fighters as in "Everlong" and a little bit of Metallica in "Master of Puppets", and I thought something reminded me of "Glamour Boys" from Living Colour.

None of this is to call Burden of Sanity derivative, but if you like '90s rock, and don't mind if it leans a little toward metal, you should check this band out; they are right in your wheelhouse.

Burden of Sanity currently has a 7-track album available, Decimate, along with a video for "Ease the Pain".

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Black History Month 2014

Here we are again, not really anywhere near February. However, last year I did not get started until June, so finishing in June is an improvement. This was probably my most ambitious reading month yet, and in light of many fairly recent events, I am still digesting what I want to say about everything, and what order to say it in, so this is just a brief bit on each of the books and movies.

The Quest of the Silver Fleece, W. E. B. Du Bois

Last year's Slavery By Another Name mentioned Du Bois researching a report of those practices in the South, and then the report was rejected so he turned it into a novel. This is that novel.

As it started my first thought was that this was the purplest prose ever, and maybe he was better at non-fiction, but it kind of grew on me. Then I begin to worry about who would go to jail and would they ever get out of the mine. As it turns out, the novel did not focus a lot on debt peonage, but more debt as a way of keeping labor attached, political machinations as Reconstruction got dumped for better relationships with the South, and even a lynching.

It ended up being more human than I expected, with a compassion for even some very flawed individuals, and some hope.

Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves, Art T. Burton

I read this because of an article about Bass Reeves that mentioned it, and the article was really fascinating. The book was a little more dry, so there were frustrating things about it. There was still a lot of information that was completely new to me. I had not realized how deadly being a marshal was, though it makes a lot of sense. I think his long career and retirement was only possible due to his being an unusually good shot. I did not know about the Lighthorsemen set up for maintaining law in Indian Country either. And, although I had read John Hope Franklin's autobiography, I do not remember anything about his Chickasaw blood, but it was in here.

Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson

In many ways it just reinforced what I already understood, but it also clarified. I knew it was political machination to find a black conservative to replace Marshall, I did not realize how egregious it was. I did not doubt she was telling the truth, but I did not - as a young college student - have as much of an understanding of the dynamics of sexual harassment. So that there could be people who truly never saw that side of Thomas is something I understand better now.

I did not know about how much corroborating evidence there was supporting Hill that was squashed, but I can't say I am surprised because I remember thinking at the time that it wasn't that they didn't believe her, they just didn't want to have to deal with it. However, the other thing that I see now, and that makes more sense now, is that when someone is saying what you don't want said, how vicious you can get.

To Keep The Waters Troubled: The Life of Ida B. Wells, Linda O McMurray

I remember reading a newspaper article about Ida B. Wells in high school and just becoming enamored of her. Not only did this teach me more about her life, it explained why she had become somewhat unknown despite having once been very prominent, and how her daughter's fight for recognition led to a book and a stamp in the '70s, and it would appear to be this shift that led to a 1989 "American Experience" episode that I realize now led to the article that I read.

Countee Cullen: Collected Poems, edited by Major Jackson

These are really excellent poems. He pulls from a more classical tradition than Langston Hughes, so it's a different feeling. With Hughes I felt like I was hearing the rhythms of a specific time and place, and that does not happen with Cullen. However, there is still humanity. It works on a different level, but it does work.

The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks, art by Caanan White

I found another relevant comic book. I should probably call it a graphic novel, not due to a lack of respect for the term comic book, but there are parts where it is really graphic. It is easy to forget how much warfare changed in WWI with the use of chemical weapons and other killing technology, and this makes you feel it. I don't even know how accurate it is - I don't know if you would really see someone's intestines unspooling that way - but the horror of war is there, and so the horror of the treatment and disrespect the soldiers get because of racism despite their service is felt.

Spies of Mississippi (2014) directed by Dawn Porter, Trilogy Films

This is based on a book, which I will probably get to eventually. It is a chilling example of how badly people will ignore decency for some horrible reasons. I will give two examples.

One is the story of Clyde Kennard, who was well on his way to integrating a university based on his good academic and war record. Phony evidence was planted on him to get him to jail for robbery. He wasn't released until a few months before he died from cancer.

Also, this bothered me so much I transcribed it from a news reel of the time that I believe was meant to be reassuring:

"The Jackson Police Department operates with the best demonstration deterrent of any city in the country. In addition to Thompson's Tank, armor-plated and equipped with nine machine gun positions, the arsenal includes cage trucks for transporting masses of arrested violators, searchlight trucks, each of which can light three city blocks in case of night riots, police dog teams, trained to trail, search a building, or disperse a mob or crowd, mounted police for controlling parades or pedestrian traffic, and compounds and detention facilities to hold and house 10000 prisoners.

Along with these ironclad police facilities are new ironclad state laws, outlawing picketing, economic boycotting and demonstrating. Other laws to control the printing and distribution of certain types of information, and laws to dampen complaints to federal authorities."

Black Indians: An American Story (2001), directed by Chip Richie, Rich-Heape Films

And getting back to John Hope Franklin, there are a lot of times when someone has both black and Indian blood, and it is not known, or hidden, and so for many of the people they talk to in the film it becomes about being free to embrace all of their heritage. It was touching, and it puts some other things into context for me.

There have been some additional things that don't relate directly, but felt like they might be relevant, so I also watched Erasing Hate, a 2011 MSNBC film about a former skinhead getting his facial tattoos removed, and I am reading How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev. It does pertain to race, but it looks like there are better books on the subject. And, because I finally got around to reading about Bass Reeves, I am going to read about Chang Apana.

That may not sound like it makes sense, but while I was doing some of my reading, I really wanted to bring in Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan. I thought it was because I was going to be drawing something with a lot of rats, which I actually have not gotten around to drawing yet. However, it reminded me about some important things about press and journalism that were relevant as the biographies sorted through newspaper accounts, and it will come up again. So things work out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mental Health Awareness Month 2014

I have never observed this before, but apparently May has been Mental Health Awareness month since 1949.

I saw something about it last month, and it was really very similar to the first Black History month I observed. Someone mentioned it, I remembered things I wanted to read that were pertinent, and decided to put it together.

One book was The Day the Voices Stopped by Ken Steele. It was in the big reading list. It has been a fairly recent addition, but once I found out about it, I needed to read it. Knowing people who have voices, it was exciting to know that they could stop.

I had also been seeing a lot of buzz lately about the film Home:

Finally, ages ago I had read an interview with Linda Carroll about her book Her Mother's Daughter: A Memoir of the Mother I Never Knew and of My Daughter, Courtney Love. The interview was in Psychology Today, probably from when the book came out in 2006.

They were good choices. Yes, not only was there hope in The Day the Voices Stopped, but there was also so much more understanding of what it was like, and therefore so much that resonated in what other people say about their own experiences. This is what she meant!

It was frustrating to see how bad some of Steele's experiences were, when some of them could have been made better so easily. Often it was just a matter of what hospital he ended up at.

One thing that held him back was his family's refusal to seek treatment because of the stigma on mental health, and knowing that everything would be blamed on the parents. That also ended up being a factor in Carroll's book, with the added complication of adoption with its own stigma.

I do think there are a lot of things that we do better today, but Home was completely modern and while it again had a lot of hope, there were still things that were heartbreaking. As one member in group therapy describes a date, and the joke that cut him to the core but he had to pretend it didn't, it really hurt. At the same time, horrible treatment on a group outing is painful, but turns into a scene of mutual support and cake.

It has also led to more reading, because Carroll references the Summer Hill school, and now I need to know what that is all about. However, I have also been able to tell someone who wants to be a counselor but struggles in school that it is possible, because Carroll's experience bears that out.

I am able to better understand what some people say about their voices, and know that there is a possibility of those voices leaving some day. I have seen some examples of effective organizing, with Steele's work. I have learned about some experiences outside of my own.

And there's a lot more to know, so I could be back here next year, and I might end up not getting it done in May, but it was valuable. I'm glad I did it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Innovation week

Last week was Innovation week at work. My sister who works at a different company just got an innovation award, so I started to think it might be larger-scale than I thought.

Searches do show other hits for Innovation week, but they are for different time periods. It does not look like there is a national or global agreement on when to focus on innovation. That is interesting, because one of the focuses of the guest speaker was collaboration.

He talked about coming into a company that had been having problems, and one thing that they did was physically rearrange the space to make conversations and sharing easier, and they felt it was successful.

That was interesting, but I know that I have been at other companies that had similar initiatives, and they spent a lot of money and time on changing the space, but I don't think it changed the culture.

There were a couple of things I was thinking about with this. One is my great love for telecommuting. While it is certainly convenient for me, I always remember that one presentation on the environment. He was so hung up on video conferencing instead of travel, because no car is really efficient enough. At the time I thought it was overkill, but the more I read, the more I see his point. I have managed to commute before, and by using public transportation I was not as bad as I could have been, but more people telecommuting is better for the planet.

If telecommuting is bad for a healthy business, that is something to be considered, because we need to balance different needs. However, my other though was comic book creators. Their work is extremely collaborative, and they are almost never in the same room. They share emails, scans, and chats across countries and continents.

Of course, that is a somewhat specific form of collaboration, that is not necessarily going to lead to innovation; there are some things about the output that can be assumed. There will be pages with words and pictures telling a story, usually - it's surprising sometimes what can change. And even with the basic formula, it can frequently happen that the normal and expected story turn is not taken, and yes, there is innovation in that.

I don't really have any answers there. Some of my personal development goals for the year may be focused around exploring that topic further. I want us to be able to adapt and do things better. That is needed. I also want to be friendly to the planet, which is also needed. And as much as I like downtown Portland, there are a lot of benefits to working from home.

So, just some things that I have started thinking about, and I will not stop.

Related posts:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Band Review: The Amplifires

The Amplifires are a female-fronted alternative rock band operating out of Matlock in the UK. I mention that because as I was looking for more information I seem to have found three others of the same name, based in Finland, Florida, and Sydney Australia. So just to be clear, this is the English band.

The female fronted part stands out. The guitars are strong and vigorous, but vocals are more reedy and delicate, reminding me a little of Judy Collins. It creates an unusual contrast.

Sometimes it is jarring, as on a cover of the Ramones' "Pet Sematary", though that may merely be due to familiarity with the original. "Fire On The Moon" works much better, combining blues and rock with adrenaline. With that and "Next Time" you get a better idea of the band's actual potential.

There is a generous helping of recordings on Reverbnation. Sadly, the sound quality is often not great, which sets the band at a disadvantage, but it looks like they are doing some new recordings, so that may be rectified soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Band Review: Counter Eclipse

Counter Eclipse is a two-man urban/pop ensemble. Their sound is mainly hip hop, with a bit more emphasis on the techno side, and somewhat of an island flavor.

They do periodically branch out, as you can hear on "Changes", which references "The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, and on "Girlfriend".

Their Full Spectrum EP, with seven tracks, can be listened to via Soundcloud or Reverbnation. Youtube videos are not of the music so much, though one does show a recording session, but of the two members, Dbl Edge and Slickums, often just giving opinions on various topics, but also spoofing a nature documentary.

I found them a little more enjoyable than similar groups for the ways that they do differentiate, as there is not quite the same feeling of sameness. The music can be easily checked out via the internet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rock and Roll Saves

We don't save rock and roll; rock and roll saves us.

To be fair, the video kind of shows this too. The band plays together before vanquishing the demon, or they probably wouldn't have been able to do it. They were having enough issues with mere acolytes of the demon before.

I know there are issues with the music industry, which has a perpetual cycle of trying to commodify everything that is cool and innovative and pure for profit. There's nothing new there. It also isn't really new that as artists gain fame and opportunities it can lead to personal conflicts and substance abuse and all sorts of soul-killing practices. That's familiar ground.

I also know that the art is constantly reborn. No matter what is currently popular and who is getting paid, somewhere in some garage a guitar gets picked up, a kid in study hall writes lyrics, and someone will hear a song that sounds exactly how they feel.

I've reviewed 146 bands since I started doing this. (I don't have anything special planned for 150, but I'm getting some good ideas for 200.) Three have been just one guitar and a drum kit, two have had violins as part of the regular line-up, and many have been in the blessed configuration of vocals and drums with lead, rhythm, and bass guitar.

You know what I have learned from studying Emo? That I don't really care for hardcore; I prefer things more melodic, and sung instead of shouted or growled. However, I have also learned that based on the anger that it was representing, and the desire to break with the establishment, it was a completely legitimate way to go. You don't have to love all rock, but there will be something that speaks to you if you just listen for it. There will be many that speak to you.

Rock is versatile. We can speed it up as punk or make it thick like sludge or heavy like metal. Songs can be personal or political, yet with some bands you have to wonder if they ever think about anything other than sex. Rock shouts in anger and wails in pain and rock exults in triumph.

Rock gives us a voice. It is an outlet for the things we need to stay, and a relief for when we hear our feelings from someone else. Rock lets us know that we are not alone. Rock is dancing and dreaming,  fighting authority and surrendering to love. And when a band has been apart for a few years, rock is a way to reconnect.

There are things we could do to improve the environment for rock. If people pay for music not only because they appreciate it and have integrity, but also because they have disposable income, that would be good. If education were funded and designed not just to create good workers, but fulfilled citizens, part of which included music being taught in schools, and if life necessities were not prohibitively expensive, that would help. Those things are really about saving musicians though, along with everyone else.

I suppose there is a risk, in a world where we are suffering less because we care about each other, that there might be less inspiration for new music, but I think just being human provides enough angst. There will still be reasons to sing, and singing will still help.

I recently read Marc Mohan's review of We Are The Best!, about three girls in 1980s Stockholm forming a punk band. I haven't see it yet, but I am sold on it, because of this.

When a downtrodden Bobo complains 'Say one good thing about my life,' Klara instantly replies 'You're in the world's greatest band.'

And in that moment for those kids, it's absolutely true.

Yes. Over and over again. All over the world.

We don't save rock. Rock saves us.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wrapping up "The Youngblood Chronicles"

This feels like an amazing culmination here. From about a year ago when I reviewed the Fall Out Boy concert, and even in that post I said that I had other things to say that would detract from the review, and they started a lot of the thoughts about music videos in general, which is why they are where we are finishing, but all of these things I have been meaning to write are now written. Today and tomorrow's posts get everything covered.

(This doesn't mean that I don't have other things to write about, but it's more of a moving forward thing than a catching up thing now.)

The first thing that I should get out of the way is that I do not like The Youngblood Chronicles. As I finish writing this up, I will probably never watch any of the videos again, though I will listen to Save Rock And Roll often. That does not mean that I can't review the series and give credit where credit is due.

My dislike is mainly for the gore. I don't love the use of the religious imagery in a non-religious context, because that's something I take very seriously. That being said, for the story that these videos are telling, it makes sense.

To some extent the gore does as well. I think there are scenes where it is overdone and becomes a distraction, but they are creating a nightmare, which suits the story, and they do a pretty effective job. Even the cinematography has a lurid feel to it.

At times I was frustrated with the editing, because often things jump around where you can't get a clear look at what is happening. I said yesterday that Big Sean's assistance got him dismembered, but I'm not sure that's correct. I know he got an axe in the back, and then he was lying on the ground and 2 Chainz's girlfriends had sharp implements and something about his body looked weird, so that was the impression I got, but I'm not really sure. However, how clearly do you see or comprehend anything while you're in a fever dream after being drugged and tortured?

I will say that I think it was a mistake to arm Andy and Pete with instrument-like weapons for "Death Valley" and "Rat A Tat", if for no other reason than that the crossbow drum looks silly and is impossible to take seriously.

Another good reason is that I think it would make the scene in "Save Rock And Roll" where they are given their instruments even more powerful. It is powerful anyway, because they are all together, and they immediately start playing, and that is a healing scene. I suspect the other scene may have been for the contrast, but just regular weapons from the girl would have been better.

There is another clarity issue that does not seem to be so much editing (though the ending is rather abrupt) as some indecision about what story to tell.

For most of the videos, the briefcase is truly acting as a MacGuffin - you don't know what it is, only that it is wanted by different parties. That's not enough, though, because capturing Patrick and briefcase is not enough, they need to get the rest of the band, and mess with them.

(I will say that capturing Patrick first and subjecting him to the mutilation and the awake surgery and all of that before they even start torturing the others makes sense, because without that it would be really hard to accept Patrick, who is so sweet and good, as the killer of Joe and Pete.)

Eventually the destruction of musicians and instruments is not just about Fall Out Boy, but a larger movement against music, so you could just want to take away anything the musicians have and value, but then it allows you access to the demon Xibalba (I only know this from Wikipedia - I'm not sure how you could simply deduce it), with the proper ritual, and okay, why did the band have the briefcase in the first place and smile when they opened it?

I accept that Xibalba would immediately kill one of his followers, because demonic cults never are the good times that you think they are going to be. I accept that as the music begin to play that even Courtney began to feel some grace. I question the instruments destroying some of the cult members and transforming others. Usually you can be instruments of grace or instruments of destruction, but you would not do both at once. That probably could have been handled better. Again, this may be where a desire for more cool special effects and blood weakened the overall effect.

I also question the blood that splashes Elton John. One possible explanation could be that he is taking it so that the band members don't have to, interceding for them, but they are already so blood-covered at this stage that it seems pointless.

I do not question that after they have been playing the instruments together, united, that when mayhem breaks out again they are not afraid, despite several songs worth of them freaking out. They have rediscovered their source of power, and re-strengthened their bonds; of course they can take it.

I think maybe part of the problem with the storytelling is that they were asking the wrong question. It's not whether rock and roll can be saved, but is there still a place for them in it? Can they be in it together? What will it take? That's a more complicated question, and you don't get a succinct album title out of it, but I think they found their answer anyway, because ultimately the four of them playing together is what makes it work. Two albums, two tours, and an updated label later, it seems to be paying off. They can totally find the same obstacles, or different ones, but so far, so good.

And I'm glad! I love the album and the concert and I love Fall Out Boy. I remain so amazed by Patrick Stump's voice, and Pete said something about what a genius Patrick is with melodies, and I think that there is a synergy going on there. What his voice can do influences what his mind can imagine, and then his mind teaches his voice new things. That could go on for a long time. They are all skilled and talented, and together they are powerful.

But they won't save rock and roll. That's where I finish tomorrow.

The Wikipedia Article:

Some Fall Out Boy posts:

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Youngblood Chronicles, Parts 1-4

Wrapping up two months of blogging about music videos with two weeks on Fall Out Boy, I guess that makes this the Fall Out Boy fortnight. We get to be a little bit silly today. I like to be a little lighter every now and then on principle, but it also fits with my thoughts for a couple of these videos.

All the previous songs and videos written about last week were things that had been done long before I saw or heard them. For me, it went as follows.

  • Wow, I love this band!
  • They're on hiatus?
  • Oh, they're back!
 So it was exciting, and when they released their first song I went to listen to it, and it was really disappointing. Other people said it was a remix, which explained why it sounded so clubby, The video barely even showed them, but the thought that stuck with me was three people destroyed albums and instruments while the band was confined in a van was that maybe you have to destroy the past to move forward. Or have 2 Chainz destroy your past for you. I wasn't sure I agreed with the sentiment, but I could see how it would make sense in the context of their reunion. Certainly the pyre did go with the song subtitle "Light Em Up", and it's nice to see a flamethrower used correctly.

"My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)" was released February 4th, 2013. The next release was "The Phoenix", on March 24th, 2013. I mocked this one in my head a lot.

It's just that they get taken down so easily. Pete sees that Patrick's hand has been removed from his body, and all he does is go up on a roof and send a falcon flying? This is not effective leadership!

What I did not understand at the time was that it was part of a series, so they could not get everything resolved in a single video. That being said, I still think they could have put up a little bit better resistance, but okay, all members of the band are now in captivity, leading to their being drugged and seduced and eating human organs, possibly removed from Patrick (though he is still functioning) in "Young Volcanoes".

So the warning that I should put here is that while only "Young Volcanoes" is marked explicit, the series overall has a lot of unpleasantness, which I will talk about more tomorrow, but I was not loving the videos. It was not turning me against the band, but honestly, I wasn't focusing on it too much. There were two things that were turning points.

One was the concert. It was such a good show, and if the club mix of "My Songs Know..." was not great, the live performance was amazing. I had only bought the Save Rock And Roll CD a couple of days before the concert, so there had not been this constant listening. When I did listen after that, I knew how powerful the songs were. The concert was June 18th.

Then, on July 1st, the fourth video "Alone Together" came out. That is my favorite song from the album. There were irreverent thoughts about this video too. One thing I had felt as I was reading about the band was that I wanted there to be a round of Fall Out babies, and so when Joe is tortured by little girls, are children his fear? That could be a problem. Is Pete's big weakness seduction? It seemed reasonable, but since once she undid the straitjacket he went on the attack, probably not. And why are all the torturers female and the prisoners male? What are you trying to say exactly?

However, as Pete nearly escapes, he releases another prisoner, Big Sean, and while Pete is recaptured Big Sean gets away and watches as they are placed in the van. And I thought, maybe that's going to be the answer, because they helped someone else.

The thing is, Save Rock And Roll has a lot of collaboration, and that has felt like a big trend in music; everyone teaming up with everyone else.

I don't really love that trend. I can see how it would be fun sometimes, but for me it has seemed more like a way of diluting rock than saving it. Perhaps that is because the pairings often lead to making something either more techno or more hip-hop, which I usually do not love. Let's just add more country while we're at it! It could be an answer, but one I had doubts about.

At the same time, during the concert the montage they showed during "Save Rock And Roll" really moved me. In a way that was more about our history and influences, but if you feel connected to past musicians surely you can feel connected to your contemporaries, and there can be good collaborations from that. And Save Rock And Roll is a good album and that song is a good song, and it is a collaboration.

Also, then they did PAX AM Days, which was a completely different direction. And of course, there were more videos coming.

The next one did not go down as I had thought it might. The 2 Chainz thing was not a rescue, but Big Sean did still show up and be helpful, though that got him dismembered. It is a bloody series, that I only finished watching recently.

I didn't deliberately avoid it, and I actually did see that "Where Did the Party Go" was released and watched it then. However, I overreact to band members dying in videos, and certainly I did not have time to write another 400 pages, so I waited until I could, and watched Part 11 first, then the rest, so it could be a little less devastating when things happen like Andy getting his throat slit.

Having seen the whole series now, I can comment on that tomorrow.

Related posts:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Band Review: Spirit Lake

At some point after Mt. Saint Helens erupted, there was a song that played on local radio dedicated to Harry Truman, the old man who lived at Spirit Lake Lodge and refused to evacuate. When I hear Spirit Lake, even though there was a whole lake and other references, that's the first thing that I think of.

Because I remember that song as kind of country-flavored, there was sort of a feeling that the band Spirit Lake might be, and the cover of their 2012 album, Uncle Walker's Amber Restorative, made me think about pulling out the old-timey rankings again.

There are some more old-fashioned aspects to the band, musically, but there is also such a strong influence from '70s rock that they don't really feel that old-timey at all. They do feel very Portland. That may be partly because their most recent release title, The Biggening, feels like it could be a Jedediah Springfield reference, or it could be because I know of them due to recommendations from Tara Dublin, who has been, and should again be, in Portland radio. Also, it could be because the band actually is from Portland.  

It's got a bit more funk than most - check out the intro on "One More Lie" - but I think the overall feeling is classic rock with some Northwest flavor.

Music can be purchased via CD Baby and Bandcamp, and the best source for performance information appears to be ReverbNation.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Band Review: Spirit In The Room

Spirit In The Room is a four-man band currently located in Los Angeles. I checked them out based on the recommendation of Joe Trohman.

They list their genre as Lizard Rock, which I am not sure is actually a thing. They remind me of noise rock in some ways, with some unusual sounds distorted away from the typical melodic. I can see where they might work as a head band.

There actually is a drug reference in "Vicious Eyes", but I base it more on the hypnotic thrust of the music as it chants and pulses. You could listen to it with a lava lamp.

Their EP Holy Phobia, Pt. 1, as well as a single, "Satanic Mechanic (Hispanic)" are available on Spotify, but you can find additional tracks on Soundcloud, as well as purchasing through Amazon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Look at all this pain

When I say that My Chemical Romance will reunite in five years it's kind of a hope and kind of a joke, but it's also a Fall Out Boy reference. That should make more sense after this post.

My Fall Out Boy familiarity started with "Dance, Dance" and "Sugar We're Goin' Down". The next video was "This Ain't A Scene; It's an Arms Race" and it was not nearly as random as it seemed. Once I saw "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me", the vampires made sense, and I recognized the priest at the funeral, and then later on I started to get the references to other videos.

Even without understanding those references, there were some things that came through. Starting with the collapsing mock-ups of people at the dance, it starts with a feeling that everything is fake, and then leads to things superficial and shameful and not so fun. The image that stuck with me most was the photographer getting Pete to expose more and more, and there's this sense of disgust. Female objectification happens more, but it doesn't make me feel any better about male objectification.

One thing I have learned in preparing to write this is that there were many videos that I still had not seen, but the ones I found then were "Dead On Arrival", "Thnks fr th Mmrs", "The Take Over, the Breaks Over", "I Don't Care",  and "America's Suitehearts".

"Dead On Arrival" reminded me of the early video for "I'm Not Okay", and "America's Suitehearts" made me feel like there was an acid trip behind it (probably just the color scheme), but the rest went along with that feeling of fame not being so fun. There is abuse, there are imposters, there is obnoxious behavior associated with out-of-control musicians, but also there is the knowledge that they could be replaced by monkeys (chimps, actually - there is a monkey, but only running the clapperboard).

Having seen all the videos now, the only real difference between the videos from Take This to Your Grave and From Under the Cork Tree is quality. The concepts might be a little better on the second album, but the real jump is in film quality and execution. After that the themes change and it gets darker.

"I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)" is the exception, being for a charity, and maybe that's the good part of fame. They aren't in the video much, but when they are, they look really happy. The other videos that were new to me, with sinking ships, loneliness, death, and literally being put out as trash, speak to a certain amount of disillusionment. Even in "America's Suitehearts" on additional viewing (and yes, reading about it on Wikipedia) you can see themes of media and celebrity and corruption.

I don't want to give the impression that the band was just whining and feeling sorry for themselves. They were finding some clever concepts, getting friends involved, and their playing style looks really fun. It's just that when "Arms Race" changes to Pete waking up from a dream, and it is back to crummy hotel rooms and cramped vans, that's a happy ending.

So I guess for me, their "Alpha Dog" is like MCR's "Kids From Yesterday", where you have a clip video saying there's been some good times, but we're out of here. We need to be out of here. And when MCR after having one album about death, and then one album about a dystopian future where they all die, and somehow they don't end up finishing the album about a support group for parents of dead children, but there is the song about faking your death and walking away, yeah, sometimes you need a break.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong between personalities, which may be especially true of artistic, sensitive personalities, and life on the road has its highs and lows, but I have been thinking more lately about how awful fans can be sometimes.

I don't get it, because if I really thought that one band member had sold out the others, or cheated and betrayed someone who helped them, I think I would stop following them, and not be back the next day as if I had never said anything ugly. I do think sometimes identities get mixed up, and fans can get a sense of ownership that can turn pretty ugly.

I suppose the logical thing to say would be that if you love a band, don't treat the members like garbage, but I'm a pretty big advocate of not treating people like garbage in general. Maybe the lesson is to remember that musicians are people.

Anyway, Fall Out Boy took a break, and then they came back. There are interesting things about that, for both the music and the videos, as well. That's where we are heading next week.

Related posts:

Fall Out Boy video chronology, pre-hiatus

Take This To Your Grave
"Dead On Arrival"
"Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy"

From Under The Cork Tree
"Sugar, We're Goin Down"
"Dance, Dance"
"A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More Touch Me"

Infinity On High
"This Ain't a Scene; It's an Arms Race"
"The Carpal Tunnel of Love"
"Thnks fr th Mmrs"
"The Take Over, the Breaks Over"
"I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)"

Live in Phoenix
"Beat It"

Folie à Deux
"I Don't Care"
"America's Suitehearts"
"Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet"
"What a Catch Donnie"

Believers Never Die - Greatest Hits
"Alpha Dog"