Monday, February 24, 2003
A WORD ABOUT LAST NIGHT'S GRAMMYS (second draft):
Ehh, it wasn't excruciating. Your typical industry backpat with the predictable victors (it looked like Norah Jones was the only person who didn't think Norah Jones would sweep - not a slur on her, really: she seems like a lovely girl, and Come Away With Me is an unfailingly pleasant CD, though it says something that I hear it at least twice a day [it's piped through the overhead play system at work] and I can't tell you what a single song on it sounds like apart from "Don't Know Why." I'm a little disappointed to discover that she didn't write the Song of the Year, too, if only because now, whenever I hear it, I'm going to have the image of the songwriter - a guy who looks like the product of a Wes Anderson/Todd Solondz genetic splice - in my head instead of the modest comeliness of Ravi's kid), and a bit too slickly run if you ask me: don't they realize, now that two-thirds of the commercial television programming schedule is made up of car crashes both symbolic and literal, that the main reason a lot of us check out any live TV event is the secret hope that something horrible, obscene or simply bizarre (Soy Bomb, come home, all is forgiven) will accidentally happen?
But no matter. There were some redeeming features, although with several days between me and the event, most of them are growing fuzzier and more indistinct - did Sheryl Crow really scream "Fuck the Army!" before taking off her top and leaping into an acoustic version of "Kick Out the Jams" Sunday night? Did Kid Rock catch a glimpse of Celia Cruz and turn to stone? Did Dylan convert to Druidism and renounce going electric? Ah, my mind is playing tricks on me, as the philosopher said...
Of course, the most important stuff about the event has more to do with what didn't happen than what did. By now, you've surely heard the rumor that the august body that controls the Grammys stated in no uncertain terms that anything having to do with the impending unfriendliness in Iraq was verboten. (That means the bravest moment of the night was Fred Durst's halting, mealy-mouthed pro-peace adlib. Not quite the act of blows-against-the-empire sedition that rock 'n roll is supposed to pull off as easily as an underage groupie's leopard-skin underclothes, but good for him anyway - better an earnest buffoon than a thuggish one. I guess.) But how about the fact that not a word was mentioned on behalf of the dead and injured fans of Great White, a band with an actual Grammy nomination to its name? (One more, I'm pretty sure, than the subject of the night's big tribute - but I'll come to that in a minute.) Oh, you say that doesn't bother you, that an aging and fattening hairband and what remains (quite literally) of their fanbase don't really amount to the flatulence brought on by devouring a hill of beans in this crazy world? That, tragic as the incident was, it bears no relevance to what goes on in the platter-spinning world of 2003 and would only harsh whatever mellow the rest of the show established? Okay, fine. What about how, in the memorial montage that immediately preceded the big musical climax of the evening, they inadvertently spelled John Entwistle's name with a superflous 'h'? Now you're offended, right?
Okay, whatever. It's taken me almost a week to finish this damned post - time constraints and unbearable fits of anxiety have conspired to make it so - and in that time, the only thing that really stands out in the memory was the rousing, moving moment when a small group of gentlemen, each one legendary in his own right, stood in a line on stage and paid impassioned homage to a fallen fellow traveller. I mean, Timberlake just nailed the rhythmic complexity of "Stayin' Alive" with his human beatbox routine, didn't he?
I'm kidding, yes, but only just - to be brutally and wimpily honest, 'N Sync's tribute to the Bee Gees' Maurice Gibb was probably the second-best musical moment of the evening for me. Most of the rest of the acts seemed to suffer from bad-monitor syndrome or sheer nerves or unnecessary appendages (like saddling Coldplay with a full orchestra). This, however, was just right - froth meeting froth on its own terms and rising to the same level together. Maybe not a great rock 'n' roll moment but surely a great rock 'n' roll awards show moment.
So, does that make the highlight of the evening, the guitar-slinging quartet of (from right) Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and some schmatte-wearin' Silvio Dante lookalike trading lines and licks on the Clash's "London Calling" in honor of the recently-deceased (at least now his bones will have a chance to catch up with his teeth) Joe Strummer, a great rock 'n' roll moment? Yeah, I think so, though maybe not quite for the intended reasons. I haven't heard or seen the performance outside of the context of the show, where, frankly, the rousingly familiar strains of those stomping opening chords and the frisson of seeing some familiar faces belting out those exciting, if slightly confusing (if the sun's moving in, then why would the ice age be coming?), apocalyrics would have been tonic to this showbiz-sated soul at the end of three hours' manicured energy and Teleprompted excitement even if, in reality, this was just a slightly noisier version of the same, a sop to the aging punks and self-satisfied hipsters who spend the whole evening bitching about what a sad, industry-sponsored joke this all is, even though they tune in every single year without fail instead of heading out to a club or somewhere else where, even on a Sunday night, the action really is. Strummer's dead now; he's safe to lionize in the usual manner (one more dead punk and we'll be able to do a decent-sized series of postage stamps - Gob On These!), and the axe-carrying pallbearers on stage moved onto Respectable Street ages ago. (Never woulda thunk it five years ago, but Miami Steve was the coolest guy up there - the Sopranos connection helped, natch, but also his commandeering a weekly hunk of syndicated radio time to play his favorite garage rock records - the Ramones finally get the regular-rotation play they've always deserved! - and, not least, the actual performance he gave that night; he alone decided to affect a sneering Brit-punk voice [more Rotten than Strummer, but no matter] and he cut loose near the end with a rubbery, feral solo that moved right up to second place on my list of all-time great Grammy moments.)
Not that the other three were slouches, mind you. (And if they were, there's no way they could slouch as well as Little Steven - all those years of sidling up to el Jefe's microphone to contort and emote have given him the roundest shoulders in the biz.) Grohl was mostly just there, like he was the 104th caller in some radio station promotion, awed to be in the presence of the big boys even after this many years in the bidness - the goofy everyrocker schtick may get old soon, but it still plays well. Elvis Costello seemed in better and more robust voice than I expected, given his penchant for overemoting like a brute when the tempo gets into the red, so maybe new gal-pal Diana Krall taught him something about breath control and projection to go along with whatever it is she did that led him to make that mildly (if inscrutably) lecherous comment while co-presenting the Album of the Year award a few minutes later. And then there was Bruce. His performance here was of particular interest because he volunteered - indeed, leapt at the chance and probably nearly tore his designer working-man's dungarees in the process - to take Strummer's place when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame indicts - er, inducts the Clash next month, so this could be considered a public rehearsal. And the funny thing? I had never really noticed before, but despite the predictable initial scoffing that greeted the selection from certain corners (my own included), the guy from Asbury Park and the yob from - ehh - Yobland (trying to get this damn thing done at last - no time for geographical-origin research) wind up having more in common than we thought. Similar passions? A matching set of public ideals? The same U.S. label? Well, yeah, all that, but look at the important stuff - the way each man stands at the microphone, the way that guitar slung around each man's neck is there as a percussive prop as much as anything, the way every vocal utterance seems to be pulled up from their feet and yanked out with a fair amount of pain. Give Bruce some anti-vitamins, damage his dental work, shave the sides of his head and throw him in some second-hand combat gear and he'd almost be a dead ringer (sorry) for Joe. Is that not enough for you? Okay, um, Bruce's early stuff was Dylan-influenced, and Dylan was influenced by Woody Guthrie, and, ah, Strummer's real first name was Woody... Springsteen co-wrote a hit record with/for the NYC punk chick who once banged Joe's bass player... one was born in the USA while the other was bored with the USA... okay, you got me. This all seemed much more airtight when I thought of it two goddamned weeks ago.
But, all that aside, you couldn't miss the eerie significance of the chosen song. It may only have been chosen because it's such a simple stomping rouser (or was it a rousing stomper? Where am I?), but, in an evening where precious little of consequence to the outside world was even alluded to outside of guitar straps and singers with the intelligence quotient of same, "London Calling" actually registered as a protest song, a howl against the seemingly inevitable cataclysms that await us over the next few months... or it did, at least, until I thought about the words a little more and recognized them as almost resigned ("London is drowning and I live by the river"), a short hop, skip and a jump away from apathetic if one even bothered to move. Which made it even more apropos. Can't escape the feeling that every gesture right now is a hollow one and that attempting to accomplish anything amounts to nothing more than sand castles at the foot of the tsunami. That goes for awards shows, but then, it always did - when this total negation winds up sucking up songs you loved performed by singers who once spoke to you, well, that's when you start gearing up for the End Times and accepting the cessation of all things good and bad with an all-encompassing indifference.
That's probably why my favorite Grammy moment of all time was the one two years ago when Steely Dan won Album of the Year for Two Against Nature. The camera dutifully panned to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen when their names were announced, and as they got up from their seats, they sighed.
Sunday, February 23, 2003
2. / 3. An added 100 MB of MP3 rental property up at TIRC Central means further opportunities to flog the works of the two bands I've proselytized for more than any other in recent years. Why these two? What possible thread connects the Australian pop mavens and the dark-horse Mancunian candidates of several decades running, other than a smallish but rabid cult following, a certain conceptual purity (continued refinement of the pop song to remove all extraneous/excessive components in one case, continued abuse of the decaying carcass of rock 'n' roll to remove certain extraneous/excessive components and re-attach others solely at the bandleader's discretion), the fact that the leaders of both bands apparently pledge no particular allegiance to fellow (read: former) band members (read: hired hands and/or ex-ladyfriends), that both bands have been the subject of officially-unreleased tribute songs by bands signed to Matador who have each been suspected of stealing the best elements of their sound from the artists they saluted, that both Grant McLennan and Mark E. Smith are on record as having yelled at Nick Cave, that each band's mid-eighties work for Beggars Banquet, idiosyncratic as ever but more accessible all the same, should by rights have made them pop gods and instead barely made them pop selectmen, that many have drawn inspiration from their respective songwriting skills while no one's ever drawn inspiration from their respective fashion senses, and that neither band has released a studio album not worth owning (granted, the Fall came close with last year's Are You Are Missing Winner, but still...)?
I do, however, know that, while my affection for one has largely been displaced by my love for the other (in the mood for inchoate expressions of romantic melancholy more frequently than semi-coherent dyspeptic rants these days, I guess), my overall fanboy ardor for these two very dissimilar post-punk mavericks remains undiminished. And with that in mind, I've laid on a readily-available-but-still-semi-obscure nugget from each.
"Woman Across The Way" comes from the limited edition bonus disc packaged with the new (and typically excellent) 'tweens offering, Bright Yellow Bright Orange, a disc that has been cleverly labeled as containing "4 never-before-released songs!", in an obvious effort to ferret out the more dangerously obsessive elements of their fanbase, the type that would look at the track listing and cry out in wounded horror, "Lies! All lies! 'Woman Across the Way' and 'The Locust Girls' were issued as the 'b-sides' to the 'Going Blind' single back in September, 2000! J'accuse, Jetset! J'accuse! " Thank God I know better than to dwell on such minutiae. (They misspelled "Send Me a Lullabye" on the sleeve, too. Bastards.) Anyway, this is a nice, subtle acoustic Robert Forster number with a violin part that dives for (their late-eighties multi-instrumentalist/comparative sex symbol) Amanda Brown's memory.
"Rowche Rumble," a blast of pharmaceutical vitriol written and waxed back when the boys from Brisbane were still pledging their troth to Lee Remick and their local librarian, appears here in the live version from 1979's Totale's Turns (It's Now or Never) and, more recently, Totally Wired: The Rough Trade Collection. It's a brilliant performance - the two-chord crunch that underpins the song clangs out with more jagged authority than the previous year's 45 version, and Marquis Smith squeals, tuts and insults the gig's promoter in his finest hectoring-dockworker style. If that line in "Lie Dream of a Casino Soul" is indeed that he's the "Mick Jagger of right now" (as with most of Smith's perverse verse, no one's entirely sure), then this song was their "Mother's Little Helper." I just hope their erratic releases and even-more-erratic live performances of recent years don't portend a full-on collapse into Steel Wheels-esque pointlessness. What a drag it is getting old-ah.
4. A fellow poster on one of the 'net's more lively and contentious music-related message boards reminded me of this goodie from the Ones' first album. Peter Perrett never got his due, I think, for his influence on the homely, semi-conversational cadence favored by (mostly British) pop bands of the post-C86 variety. Which can be a boon or an irritant, depending on who's wielding that blunt instrument, but you must admit, there's no better voice in which to sing lyrics like "Why do I go through these deep emotional tantrums?" (Consider what Morrissey would have done with the line and I think you'll concur.)
5. I need a ruling, please - is this cutting satirical number about a Brit with an all-encompassing obsession with all things Yank, even though he's "never really been" to America, intentionally ironic because it lifts the guitar part from "Conduit For Sale!" and the keyboard refrain from "Forklift," two of Pavement's most obvious cops from the Fall? Or is a British band stealing riffs from an American band stealing riffs from a British band just another example of the limits of the Transatlantic imagination along the lines of NBC adapting the BBC's Coupling, the most blatant Friends ripoff imaginable, for a replacement series to fill the timeslot left behind by, um, Friends? Oh well, good song, anyway.
Friday, February 21, 2003
1. Wallpaper For the Soul is one of those kitschy pop albums that Chicago's Minty Fresh label has always specialized in (which made them, for about twelve months in the late nineties, one of my favorite domestic labels - if you take your pop slick but skewed, The Cardigans' Life, The Aluminum Group's Plano, and Kahimi Karie's self-titled US debut are hard to beat on that score). Maybe it's my advancing years, or perhaps that they're just not as adept at catching that weird tickle that distingushes the abovementioned titles from the grist-of-the-mill standards of the form, an aspect that would turn their lounge/MOR/disco stew into something more diverting than decorative (but then, given the title, maybe they were only after decoration to begin with), but most of it slips by pleasantly without much traction, dis- or otherwise. But it's got its charms for sure, not least of which being the appearance (as on this track) of Eric Matthews, a favorite of mine (track down the album he did in conjunction with Richard Davies as Cardinal, then snap up his solo albums, It's Heavy in Here and The Lateness of the Hour, if you can find them) - a better arranger than songwriter he may be (don't bother studying his lyric sheets too closely, in other words), but his skill with orchestral-pop miniatures is up there with Brian Wilson (the day before he bought the sandbox). It's been six years since Lateness - please, please, somebody sign this man. This'll do in the interim.
Thursday, February 20, 2003
1. Tahiti 80 - "Open Book"
2. Go-Betweens - "Woman Across The Way"
3. The Fall - "Rowche Rumble (live)"
4. The Only Ones - "No Peace For The Wicked"
5. Beatnik Filmstars - "Buffalo Bill Haircut"
6. Joe Pernice - "Pipe Bomb"
7. Eric Dolphy - "Out to Lunch"
8. Brilliant Corners - "How Embarrassing To Dance Like That"
9. Nick Drake - "Northern Sky"
10. Captain Beefheart - "Blabber 'n Smoke"
11. Mekons - "Lost Highway"
12. Chrome - "Blood on the Moon"
13. Fire Engines - "Meat Whiplash"
14. Acid Mothers Temple and The Melting Paraiso UFO - "Space Age Ballad"
15. A-440 - "Torture"
16. Beach Boys - "George Fell Into His French Horn"
17. Elf Power - "Everlasting Scream"
18. Oneida - "Double Lock Your Mind"
19. The Chills - "Bee Bah Bee Bah Bee Boe"
20. Onion Radio News - "Horribly Awkward Encounter..."
21. Onion Radio News - "Snickering Researchers..."
22. Flaming Lips - "Drug Machine in Heaven"
23. Felt - "I Didn't Mean To Hurt You"
24. Delta 5 - "Make Up"
25. God is My Co-Pilot - "Totally Wired"
26. Moving Parts - "Manic Incarnation"
27. The Cars - "Shoo Be Doo"
28. Roger Miller - "The Fun World Reductions"
29. GreenHornes - "The Way It's Meant To Be"
30. Loud Family - "Idiot Son"
31. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Thirsty Dog"
32. OOIOO - "Right Hand Ponk"
33. Rocket from the Tombs - "Amphetamine"
34. Colin Newman - "Life on Deck"
35. Swell Maps - "...uh..."
36. Naked City - "The Blade"
- "What you don't know about _______ could fill a book," they told me. Well, by gum, they're absolutely right! Several of them, in fact! Starting next month, Schumann and Shyster are scheduled to begin publishing my series of personall anti-reference books, kicking off with What I Don't Know About Music, followed in short order by What I Don't Know About Movies With Subtitles, What I Don't Know About Satisfying a Woman, and What I Don't Know About the Publishing Industry, which for some reason will be the last in the series.
- (from "Film's Lost Filmers"):
S.W. Poltroon (1872 - 1926), director: Between Edison and Griffith came the man who may have been cinema's very first auteur. A former photographer and painter of still lives, Poltroon seized upon the new medium with great fervor while taking somewhat of a narrow view of its potential. His best-known features - Man Standing Still (1903), Rigor Mortis (1904), The Unadorned Wall (1904), and his magnum opus, Two Men Standing Still (1906), were met with decidely less enthusiasm than expected by audiences, though his famed "baby carriage sitting in one place" shot from 1905's The Idle Pram came to be much imitated, though not by other filmmakers.
- (from "Errata-Ca: Corrections, Clarifications and Retractions from the Ombudsman at Moist Satin Magazine"):
In Ringo Levio's article "Mademoiselle's Eager Uvula" (July), a line was printed which read "My torpid battering ram d'amour pounded against her warm, fleshy resistance, until finally her pliant entryway burst open in a viscous flood of liquid acquiescence." This is a typographical error. The sentence should read, "My darting pit viper of affection smashed frustratingly against the dark bastion of her chastity, at length bashing through the gated folds into the limpid corridors of her weeping love compartment." We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Two illustrations were accidentally transposed during the layout stage of last month's issue. The photos captioned "Erica enjoys the sweetest of all possible paddlings" and "Like an ant, Fernando discovered that he could lift twenty times his own weight - the hard way" should accompany the pieces "Courtesan Smorgasbord" and "Fortnight of the Amputease," respectively, and not the other way around.
The "masked supplicant" being "soundly rogered by a succession of feral he-beasts and homunculi" and "roughly penetrated with a variety of makeshift dildos fashioned from sundry junkyard items" was not former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, as noted in the piece "New Federal Tariff Proposal Inspires Catcalls, Rimjobs" last issue. It should be explained that one of our freelancers holds a day job as a stringer for AP and occasionally gets his assignments mixed up. On a similar note, we advise any U.S. News and World Report readers who may be reading this to disregard any recent dispatches attributed to "Lord Roderick Spooge."
- (from "Day of the Locust Meets Night of the Lepus: The Decline and Fall of the Hollywood Empire"):
17 JANUARY: Embarrassment reigns when it is discovered that Fox's Accounts Deceivable and MGM/UA's I.O.U. One Murder are, after extensive rewrites, major recasting and reshoots following poorly-received test screenings, exactly the same film. Despite the studios' best efforts (including ad slogans like "See It Again...With A Different Title!" and "When I Snap My Fingers, You Will Forget You Ever Saw Accounts Deceivable" respectively), both pictures are pulled from distribution within the week.
22 FEBRUARY: The Sundance Film Festival is evacuated and quarantined by authorities after 300 are hospitalized from an outbreak of "bad buzz."
18 MARCH: Pluckin' the Duck, the surprisingly heartwarming and tender story of a group of teens who decide to lose their virginity to various waterfowl, is released. Almost immediately, Minimax is beseiged by picketers from the National Parks Service, who demand the reinstatement of the letter "G" to the film's title, stating, "This is not a subject to be belittled by folksy contractualizing," and by NAMGLA, The North American Man-Goose Love Association, an organization founded both to complain about being misrepresented in the media and to publicize their projected theme restaurant, Honkers. Despite - or because of - the adverse publicity (or vice versa, or perhaps both), the film debuts at number one, unseating the reigning champ, Ron Shelton's hard-hitting docufantasy about America's pastime (baseball) and Nazi Germany's pastime (genocidal race hatred), Designated Hitler.
Sunday, February 16, 2003
5. Sticking it to the Man (if by "it" you mean an old butter knife, "the Man" a relatively benign corporation that actually treats its employees fairly well, and "sticking" waving it half-heartedly and surreptitiously while its back is momentarily turned). I never imagined I'd find myself, at this age, working retail - not after years of working a series of rather cool, interesting jobs that were the seeming antithesis of the service industry (though in every case, I still had to deal with the banalities and frustrations of repetitive human interaction on a regular basis, the kind of enervating to-and-fro brought on by the inability to make yourself properly understood to just about anyone [and vice-versa] that can lead a person to grab the nearest tourist by the neck and fling them sadistically about, apache-dancer style - but in those days, at least, I rarely had to wear a nametag). But, thanks to an unbelievable chain of events which transpired during annus horribilis 2001, I found myself unemployed, displaced (w/ wife and child) from our fair-sized, reasonably-priced apartment to my mother-in-law's house, and repeatedly informed that the skills I had worked so hard to obtain and hone over the previous few years were, thanks to the dot-com implosion and the post-9/11 economic environment, no longer in the slightest demand. Even the local temp agencies were utterly unsympathetic to my plight (though, to be fair, my proclivity for opening every conversation with them by bawling, "Where's my jizz-ob, bitch?" may have wound up working against me in the long run).
I don't want to make too much of this - a lot of people out there have had a much worse run of things for a much longer time than I've had - but it might provide a little context for the sense of discombobulation I felt when I finally found new employment at the local branch of a large book/music/coffee chain (so as not to defame them unduly, let's call it, umm, "Boundaries"), thanks to the largesse of an old friend, and realized that, in the space of six months, I had gone from pulling down nearly 40K at a web company in Cambridge to selling calendars in the middle of a suburban mall for $6.75 an hour. It was a brief sojourn in the land of the month-bearing wall-hanging floggers, but it was sufficiently humiliating. Not so much the work itself (I'm the sort of person that can take idiotic satisfaction in giving a customer 41 cents change - look, one quarter, one dime, one nickel, one penny! Thank God I never wound up giving anyone $36.41 back; my delight would surely have led to hospitalization), but the mere circumstances of it. I was Boundaries' bastard son, not part of the store proper but a lonely satellite thereof, cast out in the most vulnerable place possible, shifting awkwardly on a hard-backed high chair right in the line of consumer pedestrian fire, set adrift like a Captain Bligh that hadn't even gotten the chance to be a proper tyrant or wear the cool hat. I was "the kiosk guy," and don't think I didn't catch the undertone of condescension in the voices of my "fellow" employees when they said that phrase. Of course, once I saw the folks that worked the annum-hawking shifts opposite mine (the near-mute high school girl who responded to my friendly entreaties with a dry-mouthed expression somewhere between shyness and paralysis, the fortyish space cadet who always seemed to be reading the same dog-eared and much abused fantasy novel and responded to my friendly entreaties by telling me more about her personal life [insofar as people who read fantasy novels have personal lives] than I would have dared/cared to know about some members of my own family, the sweet-natured fiftyish matron who responded to my friendly entreaties in no way that I can recall, and thus should be given a pass from appearing in this parenthetical aside) and it was quite clear why. This was, even for retail, the dregs. The detail no footsoldier in the bookselling platoon in their right mind or possessing a functioning left brain wanted. For the kiosk guy was out in the open, vulnerable to the visible behind-the-hand chuckles of the girls from the photography place directly across from him, vulnerable to the smirks on the faces of his former work colleagues and high school alumni as they silently appraised ol' big hair's apparent position in life, vulnerable to the relentless Christmas music being piped over the mall PA system until mid-January (did Leonard Cohen really do a Yuletide album or was there something wrong with the mall stereo's pitch control that day?), vulnerable to the repeated patronage of some patcholi-scented layabout and trying really hard not to roll his eyes as he explains to him, No, we don't have the new High Times calendar. We sold our last two copies last week. To you. Please don't cry, you're getting THC on the register. By the end of my tour of duty, just after we'd sold the last of our marked-down-to-a-dollar stock, I was stiff-necked, aching-backed consumer-servitudinal indignity incarnate.
But the powers that be in charge of human relations at Boundaries store #447 (not its real number) evidently saw something they liked in their faithful/faceless servant, as they extended their hand and welcomed me aboard the main vessel (whereas all of my fellow Kioskians were long gone by then), where, in exchange for my silence, they plied me with food, drink and merchandise at one-third off retail. Over time, I was even allowed passage into the inner sanctum, that shadowy realm where deals that affect others' shifts are decided, where cash reconciliation is carried out daily under cover of fluorescents, where receipts are neatly filed in an arcane and mysterious manner known only to the office manager. I had well and truly become one of the elite, having clawed my way mercilessly to rest on the Kilimanjaran perch of Multimedia Supervisor. And yet... and yet I couldn't forget the shame, the debasement, the paper cuts administered to me in my previous life. My will may have been bruised and scarred, but by God, it was not yet broken. Thus began my acts of rebellion, the details of which would later become legendary, that is if anybody had noticed them and they weren't so obviously the work of an inveterate pussy.
Oh sure, I'd like to say that I took my stand against my corporate overlords at Boundaries by slipping gelignite into the smoothie machines, picking off customers with semi-automatics the moment they set off the gate alarm whether they're leaving or entering the store when it happens, by putting the Tom of Finland anthology in with the childrens' board books and misfiling the G.G. Allin discs under "Easy Listening." But no, my blows against the chain-bookstore empire are nothing if not limp-wristed. Slipping a Belle and Sebastian CD into the overhead CD player even though it's not on our "Required Overhead Play" list? Check. Opening new-release CDs a full week before their street dates just so I can listen to them while I count drawer money? Right on. Re-writing the display blurbs in the CD waterfalls under the assumption that no one ever reads the damn things to begin with? (Actual example: "Twice as good as Matchbox Ten, almost three times as good as Matchbox Seven, Matchbox Twenty once again defends its title as the best band in America with that particular name.") Putting Shut Up You Fucking Baby! and the Caligula DVD on prominent display near the front of the store? Oh, wait, I was supposed to do that - some of my corporate overlords seem to have a more perverse sense of humor than I do sometimes...
My latest misdemeanor-level offense? Why, quietly sabotaging the semi-annual Non-Returnables Sale to my own ends. Recalling, perhaps, the Every-Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?-2001-Calendar-Must-Go! desperation-fest that gripped us the first week of February the previous year, the regular unloading of the compact discs that even our warehouse won't take back to smash with a hammer filled me with a particular excitement. Bear in mind that, as someone carrying a lifelong cash deficiency along with a particularly male packrat/collector vibe, getting as much as possible for as little as possible was always a constant goal (and one that, as far as music goes, I've been able to sustain despite all my reversals of or simple lack of fortune - the drying up of the promo stream that coincided with my departure from the staff of a cheapjack rock fanzine dovetailed nicely with the rise of Napster, and the downfall of that and other file-sharing services happened to sync up with my snagging a job that allowed for a decent stream of promotional discs, the bonus CDs that come with copies of your better British rock mags once they go off sale, and first crack at the inventory of clearance sales like this one. Sometimes I wonder if I squandered the one wish that I'm allowed in life just so I can own an inexpensive second-hand copy of Blodwyn Pig's Greatest Hits and suchlike. Usually I know better than to wonder about such things). But there was no way I was going to save a little when I could save a lot, so I, in flagrant violation of some minor statute in the Employee Handbook, grabbed half a dozen discs from the stack to be stickered "50% Off" and hid them behind a stack of unsorted paperwork in the multimedia cage (sloppiness pays off once again!) and waited, patiently waited, while all their brethren on the wire speedtable - those unloved local acts, that raft of comedic klezmer albums, the first or second of Vanilla Ice's two or three unsuccessful comeback attempts, that fucking Barry Williams CD - saw their loveless isolation increase as their prices fell. For my part, I felt the occasional spike of adrenaline every time I looked up at that corner where those discs were hidden - that curious admixture of low-level pangs of guilt and something resembling a scaled-down version of a sense of adventure. If discovered... well... my manager might wag his finger slightly at me and the GM might tut-tut a little. Okay, it wasn't "The Tell-Tale Heart" - you take what you can get. Even so, you should have seen the cat-like stealth with which I finally retrieved the purloined CDs on the day when the price tags for the Non-Returnables finally went from "75% Off" to that big, welcoming "$1" sticker. The way I artfully hid the stack from my manager's sight when I arrived on the sales floor and found that, for reasons unknown other than the universe's innate sense of dramatic tension, he decided he wanted to chat with me about nothing in particular. The transcendent (to a height of about four inches) sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally eluded his scrutiny and plucked the discs from an empty space in the Self-Help section, watched over by the visage of that Hank Kingsley-looking motherfucker who used to show up on Oprah a lot. And that I found a few more titles worth salvaging on the wire speedtable that afternoon - well, friends, that was just an extra curlicue atop the icing on that particular cake.
And the CDs I liberated from oblivion that day for the price of one George and a little silver Jackson a piece? Look upon this list, ye mighty, and despair, or at least make a mild, impressed snort:
John Cale, Sabotage (live)
Gigolo Aunts, Where I Find My Heaven: The Singles Album
Motörhead, The Chase Is Better Than The Catch: The Singles, A&B's (2 discs)
Joe Pernice, Big Tobacco
Pulp, Countdown - 1992-1983 (2 discs)
The Sea and Cake, Two Gentlemen EP
Shriekback, The Y Records Years (2 discs)
T. Rex, Electric Warrior (remastered with eight bonus tracks)
Teenage Fanclub, A Catholic Education
Texas is the Reason, Do You Know Who You Are?
Total original combined sticker price (incl. 5% Massachusetts sales tax): $186.79
Total cost to me (ditto): $11.55
Which is pretty much all I ever intended to tell you in the first place. Just to gloat slightly about a bunch of above-average rock and/or roll CDs I snagged at a ridiculously low price. That I felt the need to pump it up into a completely disproportional tale of entirely exaggerated intrigue gives you some idea of the life I live. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to wait to hear if I need to drive through the worst snowstorm in seven years on a damned federal holiday to go to my place of employ, where I'm sure to be so bored waiting for a run of customers that never arrives that I'll spend the better part of the afternoon in the R&B section, sorting the Luther Vandross CDs by girth.
Saturday, February 15, 2003
4. The Office (BBC America). Yes, you may believe the hype - this British import is indeed the funniest show on TV (at least until Curb Your Enthusiasm starts back up this fall). Like most British comedy series, it helps to have a working knowledge of U.K. pop culture to get some of the jokes (or maybe I should amend that to "most good British comedy series" - I don't think you need a tutorial on the finer points of post-Falklands England to know why the discarded Kleenex is sticking to the girl's face on Men Behaving Badly), but the meat of the show - the soul-deadening existence too many of us live for a third of our weekday underneath vitamin-leaching fluorescents - is universal enough to make any Westerner wince. (Those of you who couldn't make it through Office Space for reasons other than the gangsta rap on the soundtrack will want to give this a wide berth.) I haven't seen a sitcom so pitch-perfect since the glory days of The Larry Sanders Show, and for that I bow to Ricky Gervais, who co-created and co-writes the show in addition to portraying David Brent, the stunningly inept grinning goon of a lower-middle-manager who is the blinkered sun at the center of this show's universe. Every sneaky glance into the camera (the show is structured as a mock documentary - hmmm, one of these days somebody should come up with a clever compression of that phrase), awkward attempt at bonding with his staff and ham-fisted management homily ("You don't have to be mad to work here, in fact we ask you to complete a medical questionnaire to ensure that you are not") is perfectly, painfully executed (in this day and age, a successful comedy should inspire as many cringes as chuckles). No matter where you've found yourself disdainfully employed, you will recognize this character - the back-slapping bastard who fancies himself a regular bloke and the life of the office but can't quite get the look of desperation out of his beady little eyes.
Oh, Jesus. Maybe I am that character.
Friday, February 14, 2003
1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Nocturama. Not the strongest Cave drawing ever - mellowing with age is fine, and stepping back from the almost laceratingly personal songwriting he perfected on The Boatman's Call is more than understandable too, but let's hope he can somehow reverse the scary drift into generic balladry that that's brought on - but I've put it on more often than I ever have No More Shall We Part already, if only for the breathless, quarter-hour-long classic-Bad-Seeds-style raveup, "Babe, I'm On Fire," that closes the album (Blixa Bargeld in particular seems to be letting out every bit of guitar abuse he's been holding in - between the Seeds and the nigh-ambient modern-day Einstürzende Neubauten - for the past five years), and, even better, the full-length video that accompanies it on the bonus DVD included with the initial run of the disc. Given that this gaggle of gloommeisters usually look as if they couldn't crack a smile if longshoremen attached pulleys to their cheeks and tugged, it's an almighty revelation - a goofy, silly, ticklish onslaught of lowbrow, light-black-humored hilarity as the Seeds portray almost all the characters named in the forty or so verses of the song (The fucked-up Rastafarian, the dribbling libertarian, the sweet little Goth with the ears of cloth, the cross-over country singer, the hump-backed bell ringer, the swinger, the flinger, the outraged right-winger, the Chinese contortionist, the backyard abortionist, the poor Pakistani with his lamb Bhirriani, etc. etc. etc.) in turn. And if anyone could have predicted the former-self-mocking moment when Cave plays the "drug-addled wreck with the needle in his neck," a moment that's less Nelson Algren than Tom Green, well, that person can just get a 900 number, put on the phony Caribbean patois and start advertising right now. So that's a solid half-hour of sustainable, even surprising entertainment (and another half hour that may yet grow on me) - better than most can expect in this age of lowered expectations, life- and otherwise. I'll take it gladly.
2. Chunklet #17. Half the magazine pillories virtually every known rock act in existence (is one of your favorites not mentioned in "Pay Not To Play," their centerpiece/offer to pay bands to either break up or not reform? Must have been an oversight) and virtually every kind of rock fan in existence; the other half pays homage to the comic brilliance of Mr. Show, Dave Attell, Patton Oswalt, Robert Smigel, Janeane Garafolo, and Fred Armisen. That, the fact that the latter, an indie-rock drummer, is now a featured player on Saturday Night Live, and the evidence as seen on the back cover that the most interesting release (and the only one I can name) from SubPop this past year was David Cross' 2-CD(!) stand-up comedy release, Shut Up You Fucking Baby!, proves it: comedy is the new rock 'n' roll. Again. And not a moment too soon. Just please, no raised lighters at the Yuk Yuk Hut.
3. Anticipating something good for a change. The Go-Betweens' eighth album, Bright Yellow Bright Orange, will be released in four days. Which excites me. Which means the terrorists will probably set off a jigger of skin-melting chemicals in my neighborhood late Monday.
(more later [said that already, didn't I?]...)
Monday, February 10, 2003
CONCERT CANCELLATION REPORT
ANNOUNCER: And now it’s time for Radium Crass’ nightly Concert Cancellation Report, sponsored by SassMart. I’m Flan O’McVonDeLeSmith, assistant erotic macramé editor for the El Mocambo Weekly Paragraph. Okay, big list tonight, let’s get started…
The Unsightly Crenellations’ 6 PM show at the Deviated Septum has been called due to equine encephalitis.
Guh, originally slated to appear as part of the local stop of the widely-acknowledged PetulanceFest 2000 tour, which has already been postponed for three years owing to Acetylene Puffball lead singer Acetylene Puffball-Herlihy’s near-fatal charlie horse, followed by his fatal charlie horse, has pulled out of the date because, as ocarinist Ked Thalamus explained, “We forgot where our instruments are,” unquote. Refunds are available at point of purchase. That’s Point-of-Purchase, Delaware, “the Park and Ride capital of Middle America which somehow showed up one day in Delaware.”
Donny Osmond’s Acid-Klezmer Electro-Zydeco Experience never existed in the first place. Sorry.
Page 16 of That English-Spanish Rhyming Dictionary You Have On The Floor Of Your Bedroom, an offshoot of Puerco Rico and the Morbidly Obese Latinos in spite of having no members in common, scheduled to perform for three straight evenings spread out over three non-consecutive months at various classified locations unknown even to the band, have postponed their scheduled kidnapping and eventual martyrdom at the callused but still somehow feminine hands of the New, Improved Symbolist Libation Army (now with matching shirts) until all parties involved can agree on the airdate for the long-rumored live pay-per-view disemboweling. I forgot where I was just then.
More cancellations and maybe a self-administered headrub right after this…
ANOTHER ANNOUNCER, RELATED ONLY BY MARRIAGE TO THE FIRST: This weekend at SassMart, your one-stop shop for the finest hand-crafted emotional distancing mechanisms, our annual international sarcasm sale! Inverted air commas straight from the U.K. - now only $8.50 per pair (limit ten per customer)! From France, an assortment of slightly used scowls and sneers - grab the grab bag at $17.00 each (not responsible for any deadening of olfactory receptors or human sensibilities caused by use of this product)! Slightly scary unblinking Sicilian ridicule! Curiously amusing Luxembourgian condescension! And even obscene Icelandic emoticons meant to signify some kind of pet belittlement! They're all here, for two days only, at SassMart, located right near that place with the weird guy always hanging around in front, you know the one I mean! Remember, you can't spell "smartass" without "SassMart"! (SassMart, your one-stop shop for snideness and irony for two decades, except for a two-week period in late 2001.)
FIRST ANNOUNCER, SEVERAL MOMENTS LATER: Look at Bob’s Cyst, set to appear at Leeno’s Bungalow of Near-Blues this evening, has had its performance called off by the management after it was discovered that it wasn’t actually a band at all, just a guy named Bob with truly perverse exhibitionistic tendencies.
And finally, Corpserape, the mutilation-metal octet whose latest release, I Fuck Your Spleen (The Christmas Album), has rocketed to #76 on the Metal Completist magazine “Other Albums Released This Month” chart, has called off all remaining dates on their North American tour when carcass-slapping percussionist Balthrrecck “the Goat-Sodomizer” Vlifrat’s kitty-cat got sick. MPEGs of Vlifrat sniffling inconsolably are available at their website, www.freewebsitesfortheinept.com/corpserape3725/home.nsf/
bd623225dfd5f50086256b80000cdd6f!OpenDocument/ ohshitcloseitquickbeforemysupervisorgetshere.htm. Warning: pop-up windows actually pop up and may cause permanent ocular damage or facial abrasions.
And that's it for tonight's Concert Cancellation Report. This is Flan O’McVonDeLeSmith reminding you to pick me up in front of the taco place at the mall after work. Don't forget this time, it's friggin' freezing outside.
Sunday, February 09, 2003
1. The Pooh Sticks - "Bad Morning Girl"
2. Halo Of Flies - "Garbage Rock"
3. Steely Dan - "Jack of Speed"
4. Chevy Heston - "Nancy Seduces the Couples"
5. Photek - "Axiom"
6. Statuesque - "Three Quarter Moon"
7. Lucky Sperms - "Tomorrow Never Knows/Glass Onion"
8. Wipers - "D-7"
9. The Adverts - "Safety In Numbers"
10. Velvet Underground - "Velvet Underground Ad"
11. Rutles - "It's Looking Good"
12. Shellac - "Jailbreak '95"
13. Alexander "Skip" Spence - "Lawrence of Euphoria"
14. Curtis Mayfield - "Move On Up"
15. Saccharine Trust - "Belonging to October"
16. Dredd Foole and the Din - "Not The Same"
17. Suicide - "Beggin' For Miracles"
18. Theoretical Girls - "Keyboard Etude"
19. Sproton Layer - "Jam From Outer Space"
20. Elvis Costello - "Psycho (Live at the Palomino Club, 1979)"
21. The Who - "Tattoo"
22. Faust - "So Far"
23. Greg Oblivian - "Bad Man"
24. The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience - "Jabberwocky"
25. Dream Syndicate - "Tell Me When It's Over"
Now, I can delude myself and mewl about what a gloriously eclectic list that is (and that's just an eighth or so of the whole), but let's be frank - this is just your standard, everyday, self-conscious hipster lineup: a little classic R&B/soul to break up the wave of ivory that is the remainder of the list, only the hippest and cleverest classic rock artistes (the 'Oo, the Dan, Skip Spence), oh-my-god-so-cool cover versions and pastiches, a tiny touch of electronica or whatever new term has been coined for it since 1998, some old-school punk (from when it meant something, man), bootleg selections from most of the more well-known artists up there, and a whole lotta indie-bred one-moreobscuremanship (not Mission of Burma/Sonic Youth/Minutemen [though they're all represented on the full playlist], but MoB/SY/Mm offshoots and antecedents; arcane choices from the Flying Nun and SST catalogues; and a few bands/artists that even I've barely heard of). Is this the scowling face of community-college rock at its you're-too-hip-baby worst? Should I perform some kind of act of penance for deciding to remove that Donnas song I liked once I started hearing it on the radio and seeing them perform it on SNL (or was my job, at that point, done)? Am I revealing a ever-deepening vein, an ever-hardening artery of out-of-touchedness by even concerning myself with such things (the twenty-and-under-somethings being sure to look upon my 33-year-old tastes with undisguised, heavily-pierced contempt)? Should I be concerned that I'm not sure whether the Lucky Sperms track I downloaded from corndogs.org and uploaded to TIRC before listening to it may or may not have been transferred from 7" to MP3 at the wrong speed? Or should I just relax, admit that I love all this stuff despite all my contortions, and consider putting that Rick Springfield song I heard backing up the funniest sequence in Wet Hot American Summer that I couldn't remove from my consciousness for almost a week afterwards up there next to my fave Go-Betweens, Fall and Spacemen 3 hep-spasms, since, hell, nobody listens to the station (or reads this blog) but me anyway and I'm just indulging in these kinds of thoughts to avoid contemplating the forthcoming decimation on life on earth as we know it and subsequent descent into the deepest, most abysmal horrors imaginable?
Yeah, thought as much.
Now Playing: The Theoretical Girls, "Keyboard Etude" into the Wipers, "D-7" (how many times d'ya think Cobain listened to this before starting a band? At least twice, I'll wager).
* A joke, by the way - Ms. Coulter may be kinda hot for a brain-damaged demagogue, but I still wouldn't touch her with someone else's ten-foot, spiked, curare-tipped pee-pee.