Friday, March 31, 2017

Band Review: Gladwell

The first thing that I should say is that it could have been better to call this a review of okay(K), but it was Gladwell who followed me on Twitter, and that is how I have been thinking of the musician in question. I have included links for both.

In tracks he calls himself a rapper from Chicago. It therefore makes sense to say the music is rap, but the DJ side is a lot funkier and more melodic than many of the rappers that cross my radar.

I still can't deny the power of the hook in "Love Six", which brings you swaying into the beat, but it does it in a pretty mellow manner. There is still some pretty fast rapping on it.

The other thing I appreciate is that while there is a lot of content about trying to approach women, it is done with a shy awkwardness that feels less objectifying than is common.

All of those factors together would be enough to make Gladwell stand out, but it may be more to the point that listening is also fun.

Despite two Soundcloud and two Twitter links, there is not a lot of information. It does not appear that he is doing a lot of self-promotion at this time.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Band Review: Message to the Masses

Message to the Masses is a metal band from Tucson.

Their sound demonstrates a post-hardcore influence; I can imagine Touché Amoré fans enjoying Message to the Masses. Vocally there is a lot of growling, and at times there is an almost industrial feel to the instruments.

They generally do well at keeping that from becoming monotonous, taking breaks for softer vocals or delicate musical accents. "Open Your Eyes" may be the best example, but I was most drawn to "Time to Dance", and the intro to "A New Beginning" is really beautiful.

There are two Youtube links given. One is the band's own channel, but it looks like their video for "Blood and Bones" is only available via the channel for Artery, their label.

Although this is not my favorite genre, I enjoyed listening.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Getting it write

I feel like I am not accomplishing anything lately. My procrastination via Spider Solitaire is back and often when I am trying to be productive I am thwarted in the most unexpected ways.

Despite that, I feel like I must be getting somewhere, because I am being flooded with creative ideas again. That tends to happen when I have gotten some mental obstacles out of the way. I still have a small stack of paperwork clamoring for my attention, but I think I can get them done tonight and tomorrow, and then think about how I want to schedule my writing.

This therefore seems like a good time to reference Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, one of the books from the Long Reading List.

It ended up on the list because a few of the girls I was watching over really related to it. Lia has an eating disorder, similar to her friend Cassie, recently killed by hers. It was not as popular as John Green's books - there were many more people devoted to The Fault in Our Stars, and Looking for Alaska a bit as well  - but Wintergirls had its fans.

I liked that it ended with a ray of hope; Lia was learning to thaw. I didn't love the writing style. There was a lot of stream of consciousness and kind of text-speak -  like this best replicates the mind of a teenage girl who is always connected. The choices make sense, but I am an old fogey who tries to think in complete sentences.

It reminds me that I don't know that I have a potential audience. I was surprised at one point by how many downloads Cara got, but overall the writing I have done so far has not been profitable, at least not financially.

I do know that some people were helped by some books, and I think there is more potential for that. I still think that ultimately it will be the screenplays that become a means of support, and the books will be not widely read but emotionally significant for those who read them. If the first part comes through, then the second part is not terrible.

(For the second part, based on what is currently available I recommend Family Ghosts for grief and Morgan for poor self-esteem. There will be some anger and body issues coming up in Lainie and a not-yet-titled book, and more guilt and family dynamics in the Family series.)

There is a lot of work to be done that will be rather tedious. I need to start sending query letters to agents and publishing houses. The fun part about that is that in addition to being fairly tedious that also tends to involve a great deal of rejection. Looking forward to it!

In addition, I know that there are still a lot of people who prefer hard copies to electronic versions, and I myself fall into that camp. I need to get the print-on-demand option set up. That not only widens the available audience, but allows the possibility of signed copies and giveaways. If I am going to do it, I should do some cleanup and editing at the same time. That possibly can help and definitely will be time-consuming.

Improving my time management in general plus balancing the creative side with the business side will be quite the feat, but my overall feeling is still excitement. My mind keeps taking me to back to Spruce Cove, or up to Jamie and Joanna's hovel of an apartment, or Tubman college.

And sometimes my mind travels to the dystopian future that we are creating every day. Perhaps it is not always optimistic, but I am still invigorated.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Thoughts on Rogue One

There is a lot more to say on the things I have been writing about for the past few days, but it feels like too much. That is at least partially due to new examples arising every time you turn around - like racist reactions to Maxine Waters, for example.

So I am going to take a break and write a little about popular culture. Rogue One is almost out on DVD, so it should be okay to talk about it now.

There were some things I really liked about the movie. Seeing more diverse casting was great, and I thought it struck a good balance. From The Force Awakens we know that post-clone army the Empire will start becoming less white and male, but here they still are. That makes sense, and yet we see enough people outside of the Imperial Forces where the diversity is less surprising. It's not that they couldn't do better, but it looks like they are at least thinking about what has been done, and trying to improve it while still maintaining continuity. It does seem like there could have been some more women volunteering for Rogue One, but these thought patterns are deeply entrenched and I know it.

I did not love Felicity Jones, and I would have liked too. Ben Mendelsohn was great - it's just not a good performance, but Krennic's character was such a believable mix of traits. That's not saying that I like Krennic as a person, or would like working with him - I just recognize him. I would totally hire Ben Mendelsohn.

I think it would have been fine to just recast Tarkin.

One of my favorite things was Donnie Yen's performance. Technically I guess you did have martial arts sequences in Star Wars already with Ray Park, but I try to forget those movies. Mainly, the idea of someone devoted to Jedi ideals, but without the opportunity to train, I can see that happening, and reasonably coming out like Chirrut Imwe. The way the Jedi were spoken about, it makes sense that someone would be trying.

The most annoying thing to me was when Jyn Erso dashed into the battle to grab a child. I know, that sounds like a good thing, but there was a parent immediately there, and then one assumes the child and parent and everyone else there will perish when the city is destroyed, making it a manipulative attempt to show us that Jyn cares without doing anything else to advance the story. It's just like that kid in Titanic. Storytelling time is precious, and you need to use it wisely.

Forest Whitaker is becoming one of my favorite actors, and I liked Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed very much. This gets us into what was hard for me about the movie, though that doesn't mean that the movie didn't work.

"Rebellions are built on hope." It's hard not to think of that as relating today. And let's make it clear, what we need to be rebelling against is hatred and oppression; it needs to be a rebellion of good. We need to be able to oppose in a way where we don't become as nasty as them.

That made it a little horrifying to see the toll that rebellion took on Saw Gerrera. His humanity has become hidden in a way very similar to Darth Vader's - it's impossible to miss. The worst thing is his torture of Bodhi Rook, which is cruel and unnecessary. The message from Galen Erso should be enough. Maybe if there were information missing, then there could be concerns about Bodhi's trustworthiness, but that is a non-factor. And it's stupid, because Rook's ability to recover his mental faculties ends up being very important for everyone and that was in peril.

You can justify that, because showing that torture is cruel, stupid, and unnecessary is something that needs to be said more (especially with a "24" revival), and Gerrera is no longer part of the Rebel Alliance because of his more extreme tactics, only the main rebel alliance is pretty dirty too.

One of the first things we see Cassian Andor do is ruthlessly murder an ally who is about to be a liability, and he is getting orders from his superiors to kill Galen with no one showing any concerns about lying to Jyn or murdering someone who could be trying to help. The volunteers at the end, including Andor, are volunteering to justify the terrible things they have done and to make it worth something. They are more noble than the Dirty Dozen, but it's not everything I was hoping for.

I wanted a reminder that goodness will triumph; that you do not have to play dirty to win. That may have been naive.

Instead, it was a reminder that people who have done rotten things can still find their humanity and sacrifice for the greater good. That could also be naive, but it can also be important. There are good reasons to not give up on people who seem horrible and obtuse.

Rogue One wasn't the movie I wanted, but it may have been the one we deserve.

Anyway, I already wrote the story I wanted. Maybe I need to go back to that.

Monday, March 27, 2017


Some time ago, someone on Facebook asked me why racism was such a hot button issue for me.

I was posting about it a lot at the time. Actually, I had been worried that the question would come, and that it would be kind of an accusation like I was having some Rachel Dolezal-type issues. When the question did come it was respectful, and so it wouldn't have been appropriate to ask "Why isn't it important to you?", but that left me having to answer honestly that I didn't know.

I believed I had become more sensitive to the issue as I was seeing more examples and gaining greater familiarity with root causes, and I did say that, but I also admitted that I didn't know. I have always been bothered by the unjust and the unfair, and I have an overly developed sense of responsibility to take care of everyone and fix things based on my own feelings of unworthiness and insufficiency - those things could play factors. I also watched a lot of "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" which showed me some diversity and equality in their own idealistic public broadcasting way, but other people watched those shows too, and may not have taken away the same things.

I have a better answer now (though it still leaves some questions about me personally): I care about racism because we will not fix any other problems until we fix it.

Racism is used as a way to trick people into voting against their own interests. Racism is used as a way to keep people on the economic bottom from feeling like they are on the bottom, because at least they are still a few rungs up racially. Being able to treat some people worse creates enough of a buffer that environmental problems are allowed to spread to a point where we are not going to be able to easily fix them once they start hitting a larger group. It is a poison infecting our society. All of that feels pretty important.

At one point I thought I was going to do a post about how slavery was America's original sin, but that would be an oversimplification. There is also the treatment of the Native Americans, which predates slavery. You can fold them both into racism, but it starts with colonialism and greed. Almost a century of indentured servants taught the colonizers how to do slavery - how to make their economy more efficient and profitable and secure. Racism became the tool that made it work, even better than religious discrimination.

If greed is really America's original sin, that makes sense, with love of money being the root of all evil. It could lead one to think that attacking greed would be the most useful fight. It sounds logical, and a lot of people are going that way, and they are being horrible about it because they can't let go of the racism and misogyny that have become so intertwined with their identity.

That actually makes a lot of sense too. The greed was never for everyone. Sure, people have dreams of financial security, or the ability to have a little more, and for some that becomes a dream of having more than others and moving up to elite status, but the way it really works is that very few people get the fantastic wealth.

There can be times when comfort is common, but then the fantastically wealthy always want more, which eventually leads to less people being comfortable. Consolidation of wealth leads to greater and greater want, and the whole system falls apart unless there is something that people want even more than financial comfort.  For far too many people - and with far too little awareness of it - that greater desire is white supremacy. There was never any reason to think that Trump was going to make a better economy, or to think he was more honest and ethical than Hillary Clinton. but he sure was good at slandering brown people.

I care deeply about racism because of the pain and suffering it causes. I care deeply about racism because of the healing and goodness it prevents. I care about racism because I am a human being and I care about other human beings. I care because I can imagine better things and our deepest stumbling blocks that get in the way are things that need to be rooted out.

I may not understand why I instinctively felt it before I could intellectually understand it, but hey, I have good instincts.

It doesn't matter. There is reason enough.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Concert Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers

March 15th I was at Moda Center watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their Getaway Tour.

In some ways the show was a testament to the band's longevity. Performing about two songs per album - so performing many favorites but leaving many favorites unheard - reminded us that this is a band with eleven studio albums covering 34 years. That's time to build a lot of fans, and even up in the cheap seats the arena was packed.

Despite that level of history, nothing felt old or nostalgic about the show. The band was vibrant, the crowd was energetic, and the venue was alive.

The funny thing about me being there is that I have never been a fan. I haven't been against them either; I think it was mainly an issue of timing and exposure. However, my friend Karen is a lifelong fan who had never seen them before. (This is also how I ended up at Gogol Bordello.) I had become fond of bass player Flea since seeing The Other F-Word, but otherwise I knew two songs and not much else. (And no points for guessing those two were "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge".)

So speaking as someone who did not have much familiarity but was sitting next to someone who really needed to be there, the show worked on multiple levels. For me, they served up good rock. Having been exposed, I like them.

(And not that kind of exposure. Singer Anthony Kiedis did remove his shirt at one point, but everyone was pretty clothed.)

For a long-time fan, it was much more. Yes, there were some songs missing that she would have liked to hear, but there were also really important points touched. She did not know how much she needed to hear "Scar Tissue" until she heard it played. I know that feeling.

There are two other things I want to mention. One was the sense of camaraderie. Yes, Kiedis and Flea have been together for decades, and drummer Chad Smith came not long after, but there have been many line-up changes.

Even those show loyalty. Chris Warren has only been touring keyboardist since 2007, but he has been a drum technician for them since the '90s. Guitarist Josh Klinghoffer toured with them in 2007, then became part of the band in 2009. Watching Kiedis introduce all of them, and others, it was easy to believe that the band takes good care of their crew and is well cared for in return. There was an easy affection going around. The sweetest moment of that may have been when Flea and Klinghoffer walked toward each other and Klinghoffer briefly rested his head on Flea's shoulder, but there seemed to be general good feelings all around.

(I can't explain why, but Klinghoffer's playing style really appealed to me.)

I also need to mention the show design. In addition to good use of video and live footage, there was an amazing light set-up, described as "history's largest touring kinetic light structure" at

In arena shows it is hard to maintain intimacy. Leif Dixon's video meant that the audience could get close-ups while still balancing with visual material chosen to enhance specific songs. That was important, but I was fascinated with Scott Holthaus' light structure.

With the lights being able to change their color and intensity, as well as being able to go up and down, there was incredible versatility. The lights could create a frame for the stage and floor seating, defining the space. The could create an arching roof like an awning you might see at an outdoor show. They could represent undulating waves or rotating geometric patterns, and they did all of those things and more. I can only imagine some of the technical difficulties of setup and take-down and transportation, but it feels like it's worth it.

I do not doubt in any way that just the four members in a small venue would still have that energy and fun, but all of these elements combined makes a team effort that I can really appreciate.

Congratulations all around!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Concert Review: Trombone Shorty

Trombone Shorty is the stage name of Troy Andrews, one that makes sense when you see pictures of him as a four-year old playing the trombone.

With that early start, he has had a long career already at 31, with a lot of backing and session work. I recently got to see him as himself, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The show was a party, perhaps reflecting his New Orleans jazz roots. The backing band had two saxophones, including one baritone - something that I haven't seen for a while - and they all worked together well. Little details added to the sense of fun, like a pair of red sneakers working their way across the stage (not on Andrews himself) or the laughs between the band members. When they are having a good time, it spreads to the audience.

Speaking of the audience, I was pleased to see that they seemed to recognize and respond to many of the numbers; not all opening bands get that.

A new album, Parking Lot Symphony, will be available on April 28th, but for now a look at Trombone Shorty's own discography will show team-ups with Ledisi, Jeff Beck, and Lenny Kravitz, among others. If you look for him appearing on other people's albums, you will be finding new names for a while.

But as much as he is helpful to other musicians, and able to build a career solely on that, Trombone Shorty is great at center stage. Watch him funk it up if you get a chance.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Feeling low

One of the things that I am not getting to is keeping track of all of Trump's orders and writing out both the worst-case scenario and the ideal. The purpose of that would be to have a grasp of what is going on, but also to not lose sight of good possibilities.

I had been thinking about that since shortly after the inauguration. Then, at Disneyland, I was reminded that Tomorrowland was initially set thirty years in the future, which we have now passed by about thirty years again. It occurred to me that looking at how the future developed over those two three-decade periods could lead to some interesting forecasting for now.

Those were both ideas that seemed valuable, and I am just too tired. I'm too tired for a lot of things right now.

That is not all the fault of the current political situation, but it is hard to keep up with that. It's not just all of the terrible Trump appointments and pronouncements and executive orders, but also things that are happening in Congress and in state legislatures that directly relate, and it is tiring.

I think I remember someone saying that the initial travel ban and things were part of a blitz that was done specifically to overwhelm, but because of that it was done sloppily, where the initial travel ban was easily overturned. That was therefore an opportunity to fight.

As the new travel ban was still similarly sloppy, I can't help but wonder if some of that is deliberate. Maybe you can keep everyone so outraged for the first few months that they eventually get tired of rushing out to protest and make phone calls, and then you can push through the carefully crafted legislation.

That needs two clarifications. One is that I do not doubt the sincerity of Trump's irritation when things get overturned. He is a petty man, and he will not be the one carefully crafting anything.

Two is that even the small victories are not preventing damage from happening, and it is happening to marginalized people first. Some of it is legally sanctioned, like deportations, but some of it is not officially endorsed, like men getting more aggressive with women since the election, or more attacks on mosques and synagogues. Some of it is not obvious, like the hiring freeze preventing the hire of new daycare workers, so members of the military can't get childcare when they need it. The rush that comes with each victory can be deceptive.

Not all of the exhaustion will come from outrage either. I see people boosting their fundraising efforts for Meals On Wheels, trying to keep it going despite a government who literally called cutting it "compassionate". That's great, but if we keep trying to make up for government evil via personal funds and efforts, we are all going to be tapped out pretty quickly. I am convinced that is just the way the Trump administration likes it.

That doesn't even seem to be my issue. My greater tiredness lately has more to do with taking care of my mother, and yet it does matter. If her cognitive disorder was treated the same as a physical disability, and I could be compensated for caring her, that would relieve a lot of worry. There are a lot of ways there could be better support for aging and health and humans.

That contains another conflict that tires me. There is no one else who is in the same position to take care of Mom now, so that should be my primary responsibility, but some of the things happening now are really important, affecting a lot of people. Perhaps they would be more important, but even that assumes that I could do something.

Those are the kind of things that weigh me down, but if there is any solution, it is going to come from us banding together. We need to be working together and loving each other, and there is something really specific that continues to be an obstacle.

I'll try and get to that Monday.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sidetracked by books again

I can point to two different posts where I had specific goals that I was going to get to, and I am still behind.

I was going to start writing about my issues with fat, and then I saw a reference to a book, The Obesity Myth (by Paul Campos), which felt like it would be very relevant. I was supposed to be working on my facist/authoritarian reading and my Black History month reading, but okay, one book won't make much difference to either of those schedules. Then I started reading it.

The Obesity Myth is an excellent book, and it definitely fit in with the reading, but there were also things about how people will ignore facts, and where a fear of contamination goes along with certain issues. It seemed to relate to another book that I always intended to get to, The Panic Virus (by Seth Mnookin).

That is about how autism and vaccinations became associated in people's minds. I knew that there was a flawed study by a person with a financial stake, but I had not known about pre-existing vaccine fears, or some of the parental input. Most of my previous reading on immunizations had focused around flu shots.

Those books do relate to each other, at least in a sociological/psychological sense, but they also relate to some thoughts that I have had politically. And I almost don't want to write this today, because at a later point I believe I am going to go through and point out the flaws with every political label including independent voters, so I could be getting ahead of myself here.

It does go with one of the gardening books. Let me back up.

Some time ago - when vaccination was in the news - I remember someone talking about this mindset of purity. Some people have faith that they will eat the best foods and live the healthiest lifestyle, and that will protect them. They don't need vaccines.

Except that they do. One part of Panic Virus relates how a doctor who supports anti-vax parents tells them not to tell their friends, because we could drop below the necessary herd immunity levels if everyone did it.

If your secret to health or financial success or happiness is something that relies on other people not being able to have it, there are problems. First of all, you may be selfish and evil, which is worth thinking about. In addition, are you sure you can make it work?

At the start of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, Solomon spends a lot of time on how the nutritional value of food has decreased due to soil depletion. The extent to which it has dropped is less in organically grown food, but it's still a problem; how are you going to fix that?

You can worry about mercury in vaccines (though thimerasol was never in the MMR shot and has since been removed from other shots) but you are getting larger amounts in the air and quite possibly in your food. How are you going to fix that?

Speaking of things we have good science on, but that some people still refuse to believe, how are you going to fix global warming? Or bees dying off? Trying to keep your food uncontaminated and nutritious still assumes that the weather and pollinators are cooperating. That is not guaranteed.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this now, because I am running late and I am tired (there will be more on that tomorrow) and I know I will be circling back to it, but I will say this.

The next logical step to thinking "I am better than you" is thinking "I don't need to care about you".

It is always wrong.

Related posts:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Recovering from emo

Here I am still writing about emo, but I ended up adding an eighth day to James Dewees week, so there is still some symmetry.

I already said my interest in emo first came from 2012 when I was new on Twitter and falling headlong for My Chemical Romance. Part of that time was also connecting with a lot of younger people - mainly girls - who were also big MCR fans, or fans of some other band that was everything to them. The word "emo" was flying around a lot back then, even if not always by them.

Five years later, things are very different. I don't know that anyone's musical taste changed, but there are other things on their minds. Kids who obsessed over bands in junior high and high school are now in college, or applying to colleges, or working or engaged. They are accomplishing things. They still love music, but it's different, and it's better. I still worry about the world that is out there for them, and the difficulty of making it out there, but it is better for them to have more in their lives.

In that way it is easy to view emo as a phase that you outgrow. And if it is defined by its self-absorption and moodiness, then it becomes very easy to say that not only are some bands not emo anymore, but it is also remarkably clear that some never were. Genre labels always have some weaknesses; we just keep using them because they're convenient.

I know there are also new kids going through that possessive, obsessive phase. I saw it just today with some people jumping all over just a little thing Frank Iero said, where you could totally understand if he never tweeted anything again. I'm not attracting new young music fans anymore, so it's easy to forget about it, but it's still out there. I suppose it's the circle of life.

The other thing that is important to know, though, is that while it is common to mature out of this phase, it is possible not too.

I suspect at some point I am going to want to do some writing about toxic masculinity and emo aspects of that, and then I may regret that I've already used the title "Terrible emo boys". For now, I want to focus on Chris Carraba.

That's not saying that he's terrible, but if reading about him the first time around was sad, this time around it was really disturbing. I guess that makes it more disturbing that Greenwald is so enamored of Carraba, because people who love his dysfunction are less likely to get him help.

I believe in the role of art in helping to heal, and that you do need to process grief, but at some point it begins to sound like a Dashboard Confessional concert is just wallowing. Is that cathartic? Catharsis implies that you get somewhere. And I know that even though picking at a scab is not the best way to heal a wound, the wound will usually still heal anyway, so there may not be any need for concern, but it looks unhealthy.

(I know that Nothing Feels Good is 14 years old now, so Carraba could be fine. I hope he is.)

It may be a natural part of youth to glamorize misery, but at some point you realize that Romeo and Juliet is less love, more stupidity, and that realization is good for your future. Maybe one album about girls never noticing you can be great, but ideally you will then move on. Then there can be albums about the pain of long distance relationships, or bitter breakups, or the euphoria of it working out, or starting to seriously consider your mortality (especially once you have kids).

It is a big world out there, and it is terrible and beautiful and frightening and amazing.

You're a much more interesting person (and musician) once you see that.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Band Review: Andy Jackson and Death in the Park

Just for the record, there are two Andy Jacksons.

The older one is a recording engineer best known for his work with Pink Floyd, but who also has produced some solo work that reminds me of Pink Floyd. The songs on Signal to Noise are moody, if not quite dark, and carry a weight to them where I can suddenly hear where Pink Floyd might have been among the inspirations for sludge,

I feel pretty confident that the Andy Jackson that James Dewees recommended is the younger one, who has sung for Hot Rod Circuit and has a solo project called Death in the Park. I suspect this based on James Dewees following him and Hot Rod Circuit having toured with The Get Up Kids. (You can get things past me, but not indefinitely.)

Unsurprisingly, Death in the Park is more to my taste, with its earnest aching and more melodic delivery. It is certainly closer to danceable.

I particularly liked "Sway", one of the faster offerings, but Jackson's team-up with Paramore's Hayley Williams, "Fallen", may leave the strongest impression. The way it lingers in the mind makes it a solid choice for closing out the EP.

I was not able to find any links dedicated to Death in the Park, but there is sometimes information on Andy Jackson (the younger one's) Twitter.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Band Review: The Superweaks

I liked The Superweaks on the first listen, which is always appreciated. As it got closer to writing time, I started having concerns that I had no idea what to say.

Profiles mention their loves of clogging and Satan, coffee and hot sauce (depending on where you are looking). They may not take biographies that seriously. I believe when they say they are from Philadelphia. Still. no words were coming together. Their music did not sound as cheeky as their profiles, and I felt like I was missing something. Then I read about the death of bass player Corey Bernard. 2016 release Better Heavens is a tribute to him.

It's not that it's a huge musical departure from their previous work, but it does feel more serious. There is beauty, but given that context I also sense grief. It gives me a reason for why the ending of the final track, "Junkie's Gone to Heaven" felt so haunting when the ending feedback seems to be fading up and out.

I do like the earlier songs, especially "I Don't Want To Be An Anarchist (Anymore)". There is great guitar on "Finals". Still, I believe Better Heavens is a great starting place.

I checked The Weaks out on the recommendation of James Dewees. "I'll See Myself Out" has some keyboards that remind me of him, but some tracks also remind me of Blink-182, circa "First Date". One article described them as "Weezer meets Thin Lizzy". I am not sure I hear the Thin Lizzy part, but with their traditionally short track length and other antecedents one could probably call them emo-adjacent: punk roots, but more mellow and thoughtful. And I am sorry for some of the things they have had to think about recently, but I still appreciate their results.

It looks like they play fairly regular dates and keep that updated on their Facebook page, but there is not currently anything scheduled.

Worth checking out.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Terrible emo boys

I had a fun moment of synergy recently.

I saw a birthday wish to Geoff Rickly, and I thought the name sounded familiar. A quick search revealed he is the lead singer of No Devotion, whom I reviewed in January, but that was not all.

He was also in Thursday - a band featured in Nothing Feels Good - and I had taken down a quote from him because it seemed significant:

"...all the kids who were totally into Marxism and pushing communism were also emotionally abusive to their girlfriends."

That was in chapter 10. There was some exploration of emo misogyny in Chapter 9, but there are some good examples of it in Chapter 11, which is where I wrote "TOOL!" (Okay, I didn't really capitalize it like that, but the exclamation point was there.)

In 11 Greenwald hangs out with a bunch of kids in Long Island as they talk about what the band means to them. There are three specific things that bug me.

p. 180 "Girls don't listen to Dashboard like we do. They like it because it's catchy. I mean, I can sing along to it, bop my head and whatever, but we get the inner meaning, we get how it really relates to us. Like, I don't listen to any female bands-- I turn away from them sometimes because I can't relate to it."

p. 184 "I want him to stay ours. I know it's selfish."

I have seen that possessiveness before. One common manifestation is when fans will hate the significant others of the band members. It happens with actors too.

I also find it ironic that while Greenwald details how passionate they are about music, he mentions that they time their arrival at the concert to be able to miss the opening bands but still be able to move to the front.

But the thing that bothered me the most - and I noticed it the first time but after going through again and getting soured on Greenwald it was even more obvious - is that when the kids tell him they wish they had started a band, he wants to tell them that they did.

No, no, a thousand times no! Sitting around together bummed because no one gets you but the one musician (that other one did before, but he's too big now), and other people don't really get that musician, but you do because you are special - that is not remotely similar to starting a band!

Even the most self-absorbed musicians have to go through getting instruments, learning to play them, learning to play at the same tempo as each other so it is not total dischord (unless you choose that you want it that way), learning how to play enough songs to get gigs, learning how to turn what is in their heads into their own songs, and finding ways to get heard. That is work.

And maybe as that effort gets you out of your own head, you discover that girls also have the intellectual and emotional capacity to appreciate music, and make music that is worth listening to! Maybe you find it in you to give opening bands a chance, like the band you are going to see has.

I can tell you, one of the worst concerts I have ever been to was Dashboard Confessional, and it was because of all the girls singing along. It wasn't because of the beat, because they slowed everything down and killed the beat." (Also on p. 184 "It will be people reciting words that they know as opposed to belting out the words that you feel." I don't think so.)

Here was the other fun coincidence that came out searching on Geoff Rickley. Pharmabro Martin Shkreli was a silent investor in Rickly's label Collect Records, a connection that was later severed when Shkreli became known for gouging sick people and other horrible things.

I'm sure it was disappointing, but it shouldn't really be surprising. Liking music doesn't automatically make you a good person, and there are aspects of emo that can be very self-indulgent.

I've told you about my worst concert, but one of my best was a show with The Hotelier (considered part of a new emo revival), Josh Berwanger (formerly of The Anniversary), and The Get Up Kids. Those are some pretty strong emo roots, but that show was alive with positive energy.

What makes it different? I have some thoughts, but I'm afraid it requires one more post.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Writing books about music

There was one glaring thing about Nothing Feels Good that bothered me even when I first read it, but we'll get to that tomorrow. Otherwise, my main concern was that I still didn't get "emo", for which I blamed myself.

That may not have been completely fair. I had just finished Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation before. I know that I could have gotten more out of it if I had been more familiar with the music, but I still learned a lot.

What really filled in the blanks was reading Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad. Greenwald had mentioned the importance of the alternative/DIY (do it yourself) movement at the time, but only that it was important, not how. Azerrad filled that in beautifully, so reading his book about eighteen months later it was like, "Oh! Now I get it."

One interesting thing about that is Azerrad's inspiration. He was watching a miniseries on the history of rock music and it had a gap somewhere between Talking Heads and Nirvana.

That would be noticeable, but I can totally see it happening. My original theory for why "emo" got used in so many different ways was that none of the main bands got that famous. That theory has some flaws, but the producers of the mini-series might agree.

Azerrad breaks down the time period given and his organization is impeccable. By focusing on specific bands to highlight various aspects and important points, it makes listening for musical context easier anyway, but intellectually the details he includes and how he orders them brings all of the material together.

Initially that just confirmed my belief that I should have gone into Nothing Feels Good knowing more, but little things began to pop up when I started going back through it for music. I wondered if all of the band name dropping was valuable. Even as I choose to continue to go through all of it, no, it is not useful to the extent that Greenwald does it.

Sometimes there were little things that were unclear, like that Rocket from the Crypt was the complete name of a band, and not that it was a band named Rocket on a label called The Crypt. That was mostly an issue of inconsistent capitalization and phrasing. Also, when there are two bands that are both pretty important and definitely distinct, but they have somewhat similar names - like Jawbreaker and Jawbox, for example - it could be good to make a point of that the first time the second one is introduced. These started really becoming an issue in Chapter 6.

Those were still things that you could mark down to the author assuming some knowledge on the part of the reader. I guess that could work, though I don't know that anyone well-versed in emo would feel a strong need to read the book. I think it shows a difference in purpose. Azerrad was writing to fill a gap that he knew existed, and on those terms his book succeeds. I suspect Greenwald was writing to indulge (and appreciate) his interest. That could make it the definitive emo book, though in a "and that's the worst thing about emo" way.

My biggest problem came after watching Another State of Mind, which was also associated with Chapter 6 when Greenwald is profiling Vagrant founder Rich Egan. I need to quote:

"A born pragmatist, Egan still took his inspiration from the purists. 'It sounds unbelievably corny, but when I saw Another State of Mind [the influential documentary about Minor Threat, Dischord Records, and the D.C. DIY scene] ten years after it was made, I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to do." Egan was eighteen, a college student, and working in the mail room at Hollywood's megapowerful Creative Artists Agency. It was the end of the '80s and the decade's Gordan [sic] Gekko money-grab mentality was still in full effect." (p. 74)

It continues with a rather condescending description of how Egan started Vagrant. I believe on the first reading I thought Greenwald was making a leap, with that and the Gordon Gekko reference. There were so many interview subjects who looked down on anything involving making money, and who looked down on Egan and Vagrant that it fit in, but I was taking it with a grain of salt. The real problem is that is that Greenwald's aside on the movie shows he has no idea what it's about.

Another State of Mind (named for a Social Distortion song) is about Social Distortion and Youth Brigade going on tour together. They were following DIY principles. You see them fixing up a bus together and they are doing it on their own, and they have some great fan interactions, sometimes with people who feed them. They also keep having mechanical problems and money problems, and enough time spent tired, cold, and hungry lets resentments build. At least one crew member is gone by the time the bus dies for good, then Youth Brigade splits and Social Distortion loses members and the tour is abandoned. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat is in it. He gives them a place to stay for a bit and takes them shopping for tarps - which is totally DIY - but that is an aside.

I know it is much easier to look up movies (and movie character name spellings) now, but it still seems like there should have been some follow-up questions by a good interviewer: How did the movie influence you? Was there a specific scene? Because it is just as easy to assume that what Egan took from the movie was that music is great and people respond to these small, emotional shows, but it can be really miserable without funding. That may not make him a philanthropist, but it doesn't exactly make him Monty Burns either.

There was a big drop in opinion after that, but this was not the point where I wrote "TOOL!" in my notes. That can wait until tomorrow.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Emo, daily songs, and James Dewees

Today starts James Dewees week. Each song of the day will come from his career, and the Thursday and Friday band reviews will be bands that were mentioned by him (The Superweaks and Andy Jackson, FYI).

When I have given a song week to an individual before, it was for solo artists with long and varied careers. (Specifically, it was David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and they were back to back because that felt right. I am going to have to work out something for Stevie Wonder, but I think I know what it will be.)

I could easily do a week or month of Reggie and the Full Effect songs that I love, but what interests me here is how many bands Dewees has fit into, which includes playing different instruments. I want to spend some time on that versatility.

I originally planned to do that in October, and then there was going to be a My Chemical Romance week ending on Frank Iero's birthday, but with the other bands who were on deck for daily songs and waiting for material for bands I wanted to review, it just didn't work out. Some of that happened in December, some of it is happening now, and some will probably still happen eventually.

I wasn't bothered, because I realized that James Dewees was born on March 13th, which would be on a Monday, and that would be a great lead-in to blogging about emo and finally starting to go through the emo songs. If only I were done.

I first finished Andy Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo December 23rd, 2012. That was the year I got onto Twitter and into My Chemical Romance, at which point the word "emo" was being thrown around a lot. Reading the book was my attempt to understand that, though it didn't help much.

That was not completely Greenwald's fault. Part of what confused me were developments that happened after the book's publication, and there was no way he could have included it. Nonetheless, there are some real weaknesses to the book, and I will be writing about those tomorrow.

At the time I thought it was me - I just didn't know enough about the music. I decided I was going to go through all the bands mentioned in the book, and then I would get it. I blogged about starting to do that in July of 2013. I am still at it.

I admit my efforts have not always been consistent. As it is, I am in the middle of Chapter 10 and have about 110 bands left, plus I need to watch a documentary about the Long Island emo scene. (I am curious about this, because at least based on The MovieLife, Long Island seems a little angrier.)

One issue is that this involves a lot of repeats, and Greenwald throws in a lot of bands that are not emo, but relate in some tangential way. Maybe one of the bands featured really liked a band or reminded people of a band, or bands get mentioned because they were in the music mainstream at the time. Or maybe Jimmy Eat World's crew went to a Slayer concert.

I know that makes it take longer, but I'm going with it anyway, because it does fill things in. I was not listening to contemporary music during the main period, so I don't know this stuff. I realized I had never listened to Pantera before, now I have. I really enjoyed listening to Nelly. I am still not enjoying Eminem, but I am flinching less. None of them are emo.

Even with the emo music, opinions evolve. The first time I listened to The Starting Line, I wrote "Bedroom Talk is so emo", and I don't think I meant it as a compliment. Now I like it.

Anyway, I am going to write about emo this week, and after James Dewees week I will start taking the daily songs from what I have heard so far. If with four and a half chapters left (with the last two being mainly about LiveJournal) I still have 109 bands, then you can only imagine how much music happened in the first nine and a half chapters. I have listened to every one of Deep Elm's Emo Diaries and every Drive-Thru Sampler. I think I can get a good start. Will I have more to say when I have finished? Probably.

Just to tie everything together, one of the emo mysteries for me was the style transition from Richie Cunningham with thick glasses to black leather burial shrouds with eyeliner and dramatic bangs. I did find a Marie Claire history of guyliner that seems to show the key years as 2004 - 2006 (with Nothing Feels Good coming out in 2003). Regardless, I did once ask James Dewees about it, and he said it came from The Get Up Kids keeping makeup around to draw on fake mustaches.

I think it sounds like an oversimplification, but they did influence a lot of bands. Jim Suptic has apologized for that.

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