Wednesday, December 10, 2008

30 - How I Got Here

I turned 30 this year...and I can't believe that's actually true. Thirty! Fuck, it still sounds intense spelled out. I can't say it's passed by quickly, because it feels like I've been alive a long time. All the requisite good times, bad times, strange times and the few even-keeled times add up. Over the next few days, I'll write about the times that stand out and the music that brings them rushing back. Some of them are just moments, flickers in my mind that last only a second(but bring a big smile). Others leave me shaking me head, wondering what I was thinking. Some are obvious. Others are the kind of quirky, funny little moments that appear inexplicably vivid against otherwise hazy times. Some of them weigh on me(and I've tried to shake them off, rattling them like Marley's chains), while others remind me why it's great to be alive. For better or for worse, this is how I've spent the last three decades.


1978, 0 years old

"The Pilgrim - Chapter 33" Kris Kristofferson

I was alive for 25 days in 1978. Christmas shopping for a three-week old must have been incredibly easy; just buy more baby stuff. Later in life, I would appreciate being born just far enough from Christmas to not get screwed over for birthday presents..

My parents named me after Kris Kristofferson(I suspect weed was involved in this decision, since neither are huge fans), and their liberal swapping of "K" for "Ch" left a profound mark on how I see myself. You see, there are plenty of Christophers, and there are some people named Kris(most of them have vaginas), but I have yet to meet another Kristopher, in person. Thanks to Google, I at least know they exist; in fact I know there is another Kris Teehan - I've seen her MySpace page.

My shortened-name's neutral-sex status has led to some amusing moments: chatting online, I was called a cunt. Before a meeting, a co-worker I'd never met saw my name on the attendee list. Leaning over he whispered in a conspirator's tone, "...hey, what do you think this new Kris chick looks like?"

"Blond, blue eyes," I replied.

People often, after meeting me, revert to the boring "Ch" spelling. This is unaccpetable. To help people remember me, I say "Kris, Kris with a K." In my imagination I speak this with the same cadence as Sean Connery or Daniel Craig saying "The name's Bond...James Bond."

I like my name. It's unique, but recognizable. It almost fits in - kind of like me. All my life, I never fit in anywhere. I realize everyone, everywhere says this but I don't mean I was a loner(though I often was) or an outcast(only by choice). I fit in with the nerds, even though my grades weren't that great, I didn't read Tolkien, couldn't accurately answer Star Trek trivia questions and to this day never really enjoyed math. I fit in with the metal kids, but they were one year older and I was too chicken to drink, do drugs, or fuck(okay the fucking part was not voluntary). Not nerdy enough for the nerds, too nerdy for everyone else. In college I was the Journalism major who also did Computer Science. I explained the web to the writers, and wrote the copy for my CS classes' websites. Even at my current job, I know just enough to make shallow conversation, hoping I won't be dragged over to the deep end. I can only wade so long and still be respected.

Maybe its the strange(ly spelled) first name that causes so many people(especially teachers) to call me exclusively by my last name. From grade school to my current office, I've always had at least one person in my life who speaks my name like they're calling me off the bench. It's strangely flattering and a little annoying, especially since I can't imagine calling anyone exclusively by their last name. I tried it out once, and immediately stopped because I sounded like a prick.

Anyway, I never really listened to my namesake until a couple years ago, which is a shame - besides writing "Me And Bobbi McGee" and some country standards made famous by other singers, Kristofferson made some great albums, my favorite being The Silver Tongued Devil And I. It's a great country record, full of outcasts, love and regret. A line from "The Pilgrim - Chapter 33" stuck in my mind:

Hes a walkin contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Takin evry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

The first time I heard this line I reflected on the last ten or so years, and thought: well that pretty much covers it. I've made a lot of mistakes, done things that made no sense, and made such a mess of my life at times that it's all become muddled in my own personal mythology. Even I can't sort out the truth from the exaggerations anymore. I'm no Dennis Hopper or Johnny Cash, but it wasn't all cookies and milk either. In the end, though, it's come out OK; I made it home(this requires stretching the meaning of the song a bit -- just a bit -- but hell, interpretation is for the consumers, not the artists, right?).

It all had to start somewhere, with something, and I started off named after that old guy from the Blade movies.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Death Magnetic", Metallica

  • Artist: Metallica
  • Album Title: Death Magnetic
  • Record Label: Warner Brothers
  • Release Date: 9/12/2008
  • Rating: 8.5
  • Bands Web Site:
  • Sound: Metal
  • Similar Artists: Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax

The old Metallica is back on Death Magnetic, their first album in five years. It's heavier and faster than anything from 90s(aka Hard Rock) Metallica. The complicated(or to the non-technical music fans among us, long) songs and Kirk Hammett face-melting guitar solos are back. It's everything fans and critics asked for; a cliche return to form. Which is fine, since we are a cliche loving culture. So much in fact, we'll lie to ourselves to make the cliche fit: the band's last album, 2003's St. Anger, was also(at least initially) hailed as a comeback album, with the band finally turning away from the bluesy-riffs and southern rock influences of the two semen albums, Load and Reload, to a rawer, realer sound. It took a few months to realize raw apparently meant a curious lack of guitar-fireworks(no solos!?!) and a curious abundance of cowbell(later revealed to be a very tinny-sounding snare drum). In short, it was Metallica's worst album. So of course, they won a Grammy for it1.

Anger sucking didn't matter though; all that mattered was nothing on Anger sounded like "Enter Sandman", "Fuel", or "Hero Of The Day". This was important because the consensus(at least among long-time fans and critics) was that Metallica needed to shun the "mainstream" metal sound of their nineties albums(the sound that made them the biggest band in the world). 

Why was it so important(to some people) that Metallica make music the way they did when Ronald Reagan was President? Because, if James, Kirk, Lars, and the bass player from Suicidal Tendencies make thrash metal again, it will mean a)fans can find them "authentic" because their songs will be too long, loud and fast for the general public and b) they can be forgiven or Napster. Ever since the band famously sued Napster, they've had a huge image problem. Which I think is hilarious, since in retrospect, Metallica was completely right.


Some people will never forgive Metallica for suing Napster2, and by some people, I mean college students. I have no research or data to back this up, but this is undeniably true: no one is more self-entitled than white college students. In it's heyday, Napster took up 40% of the bandwidth of University of Southern California. That's almost half of a university's traffic, used to download "Enter Sandman" and the theme from Ducktales, and the student body saw no problem with that.

Metallica, however, saw people downloading their entire discography(at the time, about two decades worth of work) for free, and freaked. Now, I agree suing your fanbase is a public relations disaster, but Metallica didn't do that. They sued Napster. Sure, they got some Napster users banned3, but they didn't sue them.

The prevailing argument at the time was Metallica were ungrateful, spoiled, greedy rock stars after more money from the same fans that made them rich. Which is, of course, completely ridiculous. Not the spoiled part, and maybe not even the greedy part -- I'm not rich(yet), but I imagine money can be addicting -- but the "same fans" part. Anyone downloading Master Of Puppets from their dorm room in 2000 sure as hell didn't buy it 1986(unless you were a way more metal eight-year old than I was). I'll bet most of these people bought the Black album, Load and that's probably it(maybe a Godsmack record too, but you can hardly blame Lars Ulrich for that). Sorry quad-dwellers of the early twenty-first century, I can't buy into the notion that buying an album or two means you "deserve" the rest of the bands catalog for free.

Ulrich, seeking to get the band's point of view out, did a skit with Marlon Wayans(who else to better sway public opinion?) at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. Wayans played a Napster-using college student, telling the un-hip Ulrich that he was just "sharing" Metallica's "I Disappear"4. Ulrich agrees to this definition of sharing, and has Metallica's road crew make off with all of Wayan's belongings, leaving him almost nude in an empty room. I thought it a crude, but effective, argument.

Later in the show, the creator of Napster, Shawn Fanning, appeared wearing a Metallica t-shirt and said, "I borrowed this shirt from a friend. Maybe, if I like it, I'll buy one of my own." Which would have been a perfect analogy for Napster, if Fanning had developed the ability to clone t-shirts.

The only real people who had a right to be pissed off were old-school, die-hard, and otherwise hyphenated Metallica fans. The Napster debacle showed them what they had long suspected, or already believed, since 1991: Metallica were no longer just like them. Metallica's appeal in the eighties was that they were "real" metal, not a bunch of posers like Ratt, Motely Crue, or Poison. They didn't parade around with strippers, sing about rock star indulgences, or wear make-up; they sang about dark, evil things and looked just like the fans(ugly)5

"We're just four fans who got together and started playing," frontman James Hetfield famously said on Behind The Music. "This could be you!"

That sentiment was a lot more believable before the band cut their hair and tracks for Tom Cruise movies. Before, there was no real separation between the band and the fans;in the cold light of Napster, the seperation was all too apparent. But it wasn't Metallica's fault. All of them were rich now, and all of them(save Jason Newstead) had burgeoning families. Metallica committed the cardinal sin of "authentic" rock acts by not pretending they didn't care about their bank accounts. Money mattered, and that infuriated people.

Of course, Metallica wasn't putting out songs about chartered yachts, private jets and model wives(all of which they possess). St. Anger may have been the closest thing we'll ever see to an emo-tallica album, but it's not like there were rants about kids, broken hearts or celebrity-angst. Mostly it was about alcoholism, something any metal fan should be able to get behind.

The band was still rich, though, and popular. To the underground, "true" fans -- and the bandwagoners tagging along for the Napster backlash -- that was sin enough. To please these people, a band should struggle in eternal poverty, turning down any chance to get rich doing what they love. Which, to me, sounds like a pretty shitty deal. I understand, though; a band that was "theirs" was now the worlds. It's as if your best friend won the lottery: now you can't hang out with him without noticing all of his stuff is a lot nicer than yours, shallow people cling to him all the time, and lots of women aspire to fuck him. And then, while cruising in his sports car getting blown by a supermodel, he starts complaining about money. You probably won't relate to him as much anymore, and I get that.

College students, however, had no such excuse. They just wanted a lot of music for free. Which sounds a bit...what's the word?



There was a new album I was supposed to talk about, wasn't there? Funny how things turn out.

I'll admit, I was very hesitant to listen to Death Magnetic. All of my preceding apologizing aside, I haven't been captivated by a Metallica album since 1991(just because I think they were right, doesn't mean I loved the music). I only have singles off of Load, Unload, and St. Anger; every earlier album I own in full. I wanted Magnetic to remind me of the band I worshiped in high school, instead of making me realize I'm approaching 30 and the rock gods of my youth are mere mortals. That's some heavy shit to put on a record.

The early buzz got my hopes up, though, and then the early positive reviews persuaded me to finally give the album a spin, and while I can never love a band with the pure adulation I had for Metallica when I was fourteen, for ten fast, furious, glorious songs I was a head-banging, metal-head teenager again.

Metallica; nuff said.


1It would have been so easy to make a Jethro Tull joke there...or here. Restraint is what keeps me from being a complete hack.

2Why Dr. Dre, who also sued Napster, escapes criticism is beyond me.

3When this happened, I was working for an Internet start-up. All of us had Napster, which we mostly used to annoy one another by downloading excruciatingly bad songs(I think "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd won when it prompted Steve to tear out Mike's speaker cords). Everyone but me downloaded Metallica songs, and everyone but me condemned the band for suing Napster. I was the only one banned.

4One of the same co-workers who laughed at me for getting banned grudgingly admitted Metallica's performance at the 200 MVAs was really good(he was a fan up until the Black album). I considered this a small affirmation of my pro-Metallica stance.

5And yet each one has a gorgeous wife; that's the power of rock.

Friday, October 31, 2008

ACL Day Three

By day three, we had heard many bands complain about the sun, the heat and the early(for rock stars) start times. Hearing this while holding a dollar can of Diet Coke, eating a six dollar chicken wrap, and having paid hundreds of dollars for a three-day festival pass, I didn't really give a shit. Hell, I wish my workday could start at one in the afternoon. I realize the time the band goes on isn't the literal start to their "work" day, but I don't have an entourage to help me get to the office, so I still don't give a shit. And believe me, I could use an entourage and some roadies, bringing me coffee to help with a hangover, telling me how awesome my code is, doing the boring coding1 for me, and telling my boss I need at least a two hour lunch break and a vodka-cranberry or I'm not coming back.

Despite my general lack of rock star empathy, however, if there was one band I did feel sorry for, it was The Kills. The indie-duo, and their extremely danceable2 blues/garage rock, are best after sundown. Part of the reason they were a must see for Leslie and I was morbid curiosity: we wondered if they would make it through their set or spontaneously combust like a pair of vampires.

During their set, in front of me danced a white girl with dreadlocks. Her hair reminded
me of the pancaked-squirrel roadkill I had seen in the hotel parking
lot. Initially, they seemed - relatively - fine. Guitarist Jamie Hince said, "We've never played in the sun before, this is a novelty."

Maybe they weren't as averse to daytime as we had thought. Things quickly devolved, however, as the sun and heat got to them:

"We are going to publish the number of our agent on our website, so you can call him from the hours of four AM to five AM to complain about this fucking heat."

I wondered, what did their agent tell them ACL was going to be like?

To their credit, Hince and the other half of The Kills, singer Allison Mosshart, didn't mail it in. Mosshart, withering like the Wicked Witch in her nightclub garb under the Austin sun, retreated to the back of the stage("Sorry guys, I'm not built for the sun, I'll be back here"), but wandered back to the front of the stage after a bottle of water and a failed attempt to take her burning boots off. Hince, in between tuning and adjusting the drum machine3, did his half-moonwalk, full-on-sexy shuffle while playing his catchy, abrasive guitar licks. Mosshart, seemingly moments away from dying of heat exhaustion, still delivered with her smoky-sweet vocals. It was my favorite show of the festival. Later, Leslie said she had trouble enjoying the show because the Kills were obviously not having fun. Considering Hince's last words, I can't blame her:

"Come see us when it's dark, this is fucking bullshit."


The day before Leslie and I thought we had found the infamous Barton Springs. Little more than a spot in the river were we could cool off our feet and - if we felt adventurous - maybe swim, we were not impressed. Certainly pleasant, but not what the festival guide had promised.

On the third day, thankfully, we had found the real Barton Springs. Essentially it's a swimming pool constructed in the middle of and fed by the river. A sign said "Bottom surface is natural and may be slippery." It should be shortened to "Bottom is slippery".

Taking a dip in the cool, not freezing water was just the break we needed after baking in the festival fields for three days. The Springs was an oasis of sorts, full of hipsters and their ilk swimming, sunbathing and jumping off the lone diving board. It was a cartoonish version of paradise.

Close to dozing off in the grass, I saw a father wading with his baby. When lowered near the surface, the baby excitedly smacked the water with his tiny hands as if it was the most extraordinary thing he had ever touched. As his father lifted him up, his arms would slow to a stop, only to furiously start up again like hummingbird wings when close to the water.


Okkervil River started out a little weak. They seemed a little out of tune - and were there sound problems, or was Will Sheff smacking his head into the microphone? Maybe the band was as distracted as I was, wondering what the score of the Redskins/Cowboys game was.

Texas takes football seriously, so it was no surprise that there was a tent showing the game(the day before they showed the Longhorns game). I was tempted, but decided I was here for music, not football. When else would I have the chance to hear all of these great bands?

Still - and maybe I bit hypocritically - there I was, furiously reloading the box score on my iPhone. Below an orange stage banner that read 'AT&T - Blue Room' the EDGE network struggled to let me know if the Redskins were holding onto their slim lead. Frustrated, I finally put the phone down and hoped Okkervil River could keep my mind off all the various ways the Skins could still lose. They killed "John Allyn Smith Sails", and as they segued into the song's send-up of "Sloop John B", I did briefly escape the need to know what was happening in Texas Stadium. That's no small feat.

Walking towards the bathrooms after River finished their set with a rousing rendition of "Kicks", I called my family back in Maryland to see what had happened. Last update I got, the Skins were ahead 26-24 with under two minutes to play.

"We won! It's over!" my father answered.

"Awesome!" I replied. "Now I'm going to be surrounded by sad Cowboys fans! This is the best weekend ever!"

Right after hanging up with my Dad, I overheard one such fan on her cellphone:

"They LOST? How could they lose? But...oh well...we'll beat them in Washington."

No darling, no you won't.


A disc in Jack White's back is in the wrong place. His doctor told him that this morning, and now he is telling us this - for the third time in as many songs. If it bothered him, it didn't show in the least. He, Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence, and Patrick Keeler4 were great as usual, from the opening song to the set-closing, transcendent extended take on "Blue Veins".

In the middle of the set, a slightly older man(late thirties, early forties) asked me something I will never forget:

"Hey, hey man - what does 4:20 mean to you? I mean, if I say 4:20, what do you think of?"

Blinking, I looked at him and his(very attractive) girlfriend, trying to determine if he was serious.

"He seriously doesn't know," she said. "I told him ask anyone - ANYONE - here and they would know."

"Oh...well, it's a marijuana reference. You know, pot?" I said.

"Really? Where does that come from?" he asked.

"I don't really know," I said.

"Well, I've been smoking pot for twenty years and I've never heard of it!" he said5. "Well - what's your name? - oh, well Kris, should we get you high for that?"

I declined.

As usual, after finishing their show all four Raconteurs huddled and bowed. I wondered, would they do this if they weren't a "super group"? The show of solidarity, is it a reminder that they are a "real" group and not just a collaboration?

I still wonder.


Leaving early, but fully satisfied with our ACL experience, Leslie and I walked to Lamberts, a restaurant Leslie had read about. The great thing about traveling with Leslie is she has great, extraordinary taste when it comes to food, and Lambert's was no exception. The chips and queso that started the meal off would have been enough; the chips were warm, crisp and the queso was rich and creamy. The Mexican Coke tasted extra, extra sweet after three days of festival Diet Cokes, and the southern-style mac and cheese was the definition of decadence, baked and served in a bowl. And then, the ribs came. Damn, I wish I was eating at Lamberts right now.

Anyway, while digging into our meals, Leslie and I talked about the festival highlights(in between praising the food). Somehow we got onto Jack White: which of his bands is better(I say it's a toss up), his relationship with Meg White, and her drumming ability. Then, the guy seated one table to my right leaned over to me and said:

"Hey, did I just hear you guys talking about The White Stripes?"

"Uh, yeah."

"I thought so. Did you notice Jack White is sitting right behind us?"

I looked over my shoulder. Fuck. Me.

It was Jack White, Meg White, and the back of some mysterious strangers head. Less than twenty feet away. I briefly wondered if Meg had overheard Leslie and I talking about whether or not she was a good drummer, and if she and Jack got along anymore. I hoped not(even though, for the record Meg, I came down on your side on both issues).

A little starstruck, we tried to continue eating. We played it pretty cool the rest of our meal, only glancing over fifty or so times. Leslie had it harder than I did; my back was to their table while Leslie had to act as if she didn't notice the table of rock stars in her field of vision. When Meg, Jack and company got up and left, Leslie and I stared directly at each other - the epitome of not-caring New Yorkers6. The second they were out the door, we laughed at our ridiculousness.

And with that, the festival was really over.


1I know, I know - isn't all coding boring? Still a geek, folks.

2"Sour Cherry" almost - almost - made me forget I was sitting at work, get up and dance.

3Leslie and I have a continuing discussion/debate about whether the Kills should add a human drummer. I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Not sure how this applies to a drum machine, but seems to make sense.

4Yes, I had to look up the two other members.

Do you suppose he's just smoked so much, he forgot?

6Fine, I don't yet qualify as a New Yorker - how many years does it take?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Wrecking Ball", Dead Confederate

  • Artist: Dead Confederate
  • Album Title: Wrecking Ball
  • Record Label: Razor & Tie
  • Release Date: 9/16/2008
  • Rating: 8.5
  • Bands Web Site:
  • Sound: Indie Rock(Grunge mixed with Psychedelia and Alt-Country)
  • Similar Artists: No one really at the moment.

Being a whiny, white North American male I can easily relate to Dead Confederate and whatever demons they are trying to exorcise on their debut album Wrecking Ball. Many, many shitty bands have aped the earnest anguish of early grunge1, but no one has taken the "authentic" sound of the early nineties and mixed it so innovatively with something new; in this case the southern gothic of alt-country and the spacey indulgences of psychedelia.

Lead singer Handy Morris's wail waxes from restrained to completely, insanely unhinged - most effectively on "The Rat", the album's best song. Behind Morris's most even performance the band mixes a mesh of grunge minor chords with sparse spans of delicate guitar needling - all building into a psychedelic soundscapeof pain and desperation. The best songs on Wrecking Ball mirror "The Rat", blending equal(or nearly equal) parts Seattle and Stoner rock. It's a dark, sinister, cutting, innovative and interesting sound. Take "Goner", with its spacey-sounding verse that drives into a pounding, crashing chorus.  Or the haunting dirge "It Was A Rose": the band creates a void and then fills it with epic bursts of sound, ending in an ear-splitting guitar solo. To rob a line from another one of this year's best releases, there are many shades of black - of anger, despair, sadness - and Dead Confederate knows this. Instead of one-note scream fests, the band makes atmospheric songs that illuminate all the subtle shades of angst, and then knock you over. This is not a mopey, dumpy sound. You won't listen to this shoulders slumped, gazing dead-eyed into the world - you will feel alive, angry with passion and grit. No one better fuck with you while "Start Me Laughing" is playing.

Not all of the songs on Wrecking Ball have that level of intensity(though most do); the longer, more Pink Floyd style songs "The News Underneath" and "Flesh Colored Canvas"3 might grate on some. Let's face it, most of us want pop music and anything over five minutes - no matter how good - is asking to be skipped. Confederate slowly builds each song but keeps things interesting for almost twenty hypnotic minutes.

It will be interesting to see where Confederate goes from here. Will their next album expand on the grunge aspect, or will they dig deeper into their southern-rooted sound? Either way, I can't wait to find out.

1Most people will think of Staind. I won't debate their shittiness, but come one, you know you have at least "Outside" and "Been A While" floating around somewhere.

2When I write "soundscape", I really feel like a pretentious jackass.

3Most likely biggest fan, Hannibal Lecter.


Buy from eMusic.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ACL Day Two

The makers of Amstel Light should be both very delighted and disappointed. Delighted that I love their commercial with people partying in Amsterdam, dancing in the streets and enjoying a bar-band show, but disappointed that the reason I'm happy when the commercial comes on is because I love the addictive song that accompanies all the young beautiful people wherever they go. And now that I know it's The Fratelis' "Chelsea Dagger", I'm going to download that song, play the fuck out of it for the next month or so, and never be anymore likely to buy Amstel Light than I was before I saw the commercial1.

The Fratelis, the first band we see on day two of ACL, really gets the crowd going with "Chelsea Dagger": people are actually kinda sorta dancing(or at least rhythmically bouncing). Some of them are drinking Heineken Light(at least it's a European beer). The Fratelis play some pretty good, hooky pop tunes. I'm constantly reminded these days, though, that just making catchy songs isn't enough - everyone has to be transcendent. Any band that seems like it will only be good for an album(or god forbid just a single) or two isn't worth anything. I'm not sure why to enjoy these songs 10 years from now The Fratelis will have to be considered - at the very least - a very good rock band, but I'll bet it has something to do with Radiohead. But I like JET, so what do I know.


The sun beat down like a death ray, with Leslie and I in the killzone. We watched Back Door Slam(a power-trio in the Cream tradition, according to the festival guide) finish up a pretty good version of "Outside Woman Blues". I wanted to be enthusiastic for Slam, with their old-school blues-rock approach that I usually eat up, but the heat was sapping what little energy I could muster for their mostly mundane performance. I felt bad Leslie was missing Band of Heathens for this, and felt worse when we could hear them from the BMI stage as we left the festival, heading for Barton Springs. They sounded much more interesting than Slam.

Interestingly, Leslie thought I had recommended both Band of Heathens and The Heartless Bastards to her. I'm not sure what this says about me, but it can't be good.


Leslie and I have no sense of direction; luckily Leslie has the sense to ask for directions.

We were headed in the exact opposite direction of Barton Springs(where there was a pool we wanted to use to cool off). It was hyped by the festival organizers and from what we'd heard, it was an actual swimming hole - it was right in the river. After some more helpful locals got us pointed in the right direction, we found it. We thought.

Walking along the river, we saw a few festival attendees taking a dip in the river. It didn't seem that special. The river itself was pretty narrow, the water clear but the bottom a dubious collection of rocks, pebbles and slime. Plus, neither of us had brought a bathing suit. We dipped our feet, remarked at the slight disappointment Barton Springs was, and made our way back to the festival.

The next day, we would find the real Barton Springs.


Erykah Badu loves to talk; about her many nicknames2, the curious name of her last album(apparently World War III has already happened - I'm guessing we won?), and the possibility of a black President(which gets huge applause). My favorite part of her ramblings, though, was when she advocated overthrowing the United States government.

OK, that's the kind of gross simplification many public figures complain about, but tell me, how else would you interpret someone who told you we needed a whole new system? But that's not the best part of Badu's talk. The best part was when she likened the electing of the President to putting a new manager in a bowling alley, except you see we don't need a bowling alley, we need a skating rink. And what miracle-working manager is going to pull that kind of transformation off? Fucking bowling alleys.

Her music was great.


After Badu finishes her set, we stay put because Bright Eyes Conor Oberst will be playing at the same stage in a bit and we want to be fairly close for that. Well, Leslie stays put while I wander off to the food tents, because I have to eat every two hours, it seems. I did have a morning run, which in vacation rationality erases the following: two cokes, two beef-wursts with mustard, one tray of New York style potatoes, one beer, and the eggs, sausage and cheese Tex-Mex monstrosity I had for breakfast. Apparently, it takes four Vacation Calories to equal one normal calorie, and I ran a marathon on the Clarion Inn treadmill. True story.

I'd never seen Oberst, and if you haven't and don't care for him, you should stay away. Because his hipster good-looks and earnest vulnerability will crush whatever hatred you have of him. For the length of his set, you will become what you hate most - a doe-eyed Bright Eyes Conor Oberst fan, swaying to the beat, singing the choruses, and contemplating the vast, mysterious nature of life.

His set was mostly song-for-song from his last self-titled album(which is very good), but he and the Mystic Valley Band did a fantastic cover of "Kodachrome", a song I love because it was the first time I heard anything remotely resembling a bad word on the radio. Well that and "I'm Your Venus" by The Shocking Blue, because it sounded like she was singing 'I'm Your Penis'. And Penis, I don't have to tell you, is exactly the kind of word you want to hear when you're eleven years old and riding in a car with your parents.


We walked towards The Black Keys after Oberst's set; unfortunately they were on the other end of the festival grounds. It would be packed by the time we got there. Smoke drifted from the food court over ponds and pools of people; people mixed in a chaotic current flowing towards the stages, tents and bathrooms. These throngs with their poles and flags silhouetted against the evening sky resembled a post-apocalyptic army marching through the hot, flat wastelands of Texas. Should I be prepared to fend off cannibals?

Arriving at the outskirts of the Black Keys crowd, we could barely hear the band. I had heard the Keys were awesome live, so this situation was unacceptable. Leslie and I poked and prodded for openings in the crowd, slipping in between people to seize even the tiniest piece of show-gazing real estate. We kept our eyes open for anyone leaving, shuffling, or otherwise giving us an opportunity to move up. In no time at all, we were close enough to hear the band in full force. It was well worth it.

After the Keys, we stayed for a bit of Allison Krauss and Robert Plant. They did a slow, acoustic version of "Black Dog" that I only recognized by the lyrics at first, then the tune came into focus. It was pretty good. We considered Beck, but the crowd seemed to cover half of the festival grounds. We could barely see Beck on the stage screens we were so far away, but from what I could tell, he looked like a rock n' roll scarecrow(really fucking cool).

We left to find some food.


1I have no real Amstel Light opinion, if I'm in the mood for a light beer and it's on tap, hell I might buy it.

2My favorite being "Analog Girl In A Digital World", because it's the most bullshit way of saying your "old-school" I've ever heard.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"The 59 Sound" - The Gaslight Anthem, Review

  • Artist: The Gaslight Anthem
  • Album Title: The '59 Sound
  • Record Label: Side One Dummy
  • Release Date: 8/25/2008
  • Rating: 9.0
  • Bands Web Site:
  • Sound: Punk Rock, Garage Rock, Pop
  • Similar Artists: Against Me!, Dropkick Murphys, The Replacements, Bruce Springsteen

Drunkenly walking home across the Pulaski Bridge to Brooklyn one night last
week, "Great Expectations" from the Gaslight Anthem's new album The '59 Sound came on my iPod and I was swept up in the band's wickedly sweet sound: a mix of punk energy with New Jersey, blue-jeans-and-bars classic rock. Perfect for an inebriated streetlamp lit walk back home. Along with lead singer Brian Fallon I belted out the chorus 'I saw daylights/Last night/and I dreamed about my first wife/Everybody leaves and I'd expect the same from you', no doubt startling a couple of my fellow late-night pedestrians, but I couldn't help it - I felt like the song was about me. Music is always better when it feels personal; with that in mind, I may be swept up in the honeymoon stage of love with The '59 Sound, so take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt(but just a grain, the band is really good).

The best songs from the tight, 12 song affair are energizing; full of head-bobbing riffs and dramatic melodies. It's a sweaty bar-basement show where you shout out the choruses2 as the band rips through their set. Fallon's soulful, often heartbreaking vocals sets the band apart from their peers(imagine the Hold Steady fronted by a 1980s Paul Westerberg). Fallon's lyrics drip with earnest('And Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand/I always kinda sorta wished I looked like Elvis/And in my head there's all these classic cars and outlaw cowboy bands/I always kinda sorta wished I was someone else' from "High Lonesome") and tell a unique story you can still relate to. I may have never been a Jersey boy wishing he was Johnny Cash or Elvis, but everyone has wished they were someone else at some point.

When a band has a winning formula, there is a danger of all the songs sounding the same. Luckily, Gaslight Anthem avoids that(like on a great AC/DC album) - you'll never find yourself thinking 'this song rocks, but which one is it?'(like on a good AC/DC album)3. In fact, there are so many good songs I had a hard time deciding which ones in particular to write about; '59 Sound could be a greatest hits album all by itself. Next Saturday night, download this album, grab a beer, a buddy, and enjoy.


1This is the sound I think Brandon Flowers was going for, and largely failed to get, on Sam's Town. Guess you need a band from Jersey to channel the Boss.

2You will be singing: 'Don't wait too long to come home/My have the years of our youth passed on/Don't wait too long to come home/I'll leave the front light on' from "Miles Davis & The Cool" and 'Can I get a witness pretty baby/I still love Tom Petty songs/And driving old men crazy' from "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues".

3Yes, these are the only two kinds of AC/DC albums.


Buy from eMusic, iTunes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

ACL Day One

"Haven't you heard 'Keep Austin Weird'?" Veronica, of the Austin Clarion Inn, asked with an uneasy smile.

Honestly, I had not: this was my first time in Austin, for my first Austin City Limits festival. In fact, Leslie and I were so unfamiliar with the bohemian Austin spirit that we were shocked to find the small problem with our hotel room that had Veronica nervously pondering her computer: all the furniture had been piled on-top of the unmade beds.

After traveling all day it almost made sense in my disorientated, just-get-to-a-bed state. Yeah, it's one of these arrange the furniture and make up the bed rooms. Of course.

It was bad enough to be in a smoking room(another mysterious Clarion mistake), but this? At least Veronica was friendly. She quickly found us another room(still smoking). As she handed us the room "keys", I noticed the little plastic card had an ad for Domino's Pizza on it. Ha! I was in Austin; I was here to enjoy genuine Texas food! Why would I eat something I could get back in New York? She handed me a separate key for the hotel's "fitness center". The treadmill was also something I could do back in New York, but considering all the barbecue I expected to eat over the next few days, I thought it was best to at least have the option of keeping that habit up.


The next day Leslie and I almost took the bus in the opposite direction of downtown Austin. Thankfully before taking a ride to only God knows where, we realized we needed exact change for the bus. One dollar. So we went back to the Exxon station(I had just been there in a futile attempt to find sunblock, which I had to find soon or it would be short, red and painful festival for me), bought some bottled water, and upon our return were turned around by some helpful locals.

One dollar for the bus? I liked Austin already. Fellow festival-goers rode awkwardly with blankets, backpacks, and outstretched maps. Being totally unprepared, I had no such encumbrances. The locals sat looking bored and used to the annual invasions of their city(in addition to ACL, South By Southwest is held in Austin). Passing the state capitol building, we eavesdropped on a conversation between a local and couple with folding-chairs and wide-rimmed hats for any useful festival information. There wasn't any.


Before walking to the festival pickup point downtown, we had breakfast at a "funky" coffee house. Funky means the waitresses have tattoos and local art hangs on the walls. This seems to be the minimum requirement for any establishment to be "funky" or "quirky" regardless of where you are in the country. Conformity doesn't only come in Starbucks green and brown.

We had to pay at the register before sitting. I ordered some french toast, a side of bacon and the very inviting freshly-squeezed orange juice. Maybe the oranges are from just across the border, I thought, from the orange groves Conor Oberst sings about on "Cape Canaveral". The ones he saw in Mexico while recording his last album; a song he would probably perform when we saw him on day two. How fitting. Before handing us our table marker, the nice girl behind the counter poured my orange juice from a carton.

Sipping my freshly-poured orange juice, I talked with Leslie about who we were excited to see the first day. I was only hyper-familiar with one band on the docket, Vampire Weekend(who I like, though I find it interesting Peter Gabriel managed to somehow split himself into four Columbia students). I was really looking forward to The Mars Volta, because I'd only heard of them, but never actually heard them. I had a sound in my head; a heavy, terribly chaotic but beautiful sound that I imagined was theirs. I was a little uneasy, because the sound I end up hearing almost never matches what I imagine, but I was eager to see how closely reality matched what I had culled from reading about the band.


I still didn't feel like I was in Austin. We had redeemed our tickets for wristbands(which we would have to wear during the entire three-day festival, which I thought odd), and were on the bus to the festival grounds. I imagined it would feel strange to be in Austin, a place I'd never been, so far away from home. Outside, the city could have been a summer day in any American town. The only clue I had was the Texas license plates and the slightly higher proportion of cowboy boots to all other forms of footwear.

At the grounds, it finally hit me. The huge, sweeping fields were filled with people walking around with banners and flags flying from long poles sticking out of their backpacks, looking like hipster-samurais. The cheering mixed with thundering bass-lines from the nearby stages came from all sides. I was in Austin, finally. At the first stage, watching a Brooklyn band called Yeasayer, the joy and excitement culminated in the defining existential crisis of concert-goers: do we really just stand here?

In the dry, Texas heat listening to Yeasayer's unique brand of wandering, spacey indie rock, excited, anxious, I really just stand here? Should I try to dance? This is a festival, shouldn't I be a little more festive? Freak-out at every good part, jump up and down flailing my arms like a maniac or something?

No. I'm white(like most here), so I'll just stand, swaying and bobbing slightly(like most here).


Watching Vampire Weekend, I was getting a little pissed off. Not at the band, but at their fans. They weren't belligerent, stuck-up, or graham-cracker boring and they weren't talking mindlessly through the set. No, they were throwing up the horns.

For. Vampire. Weekend.

The demonic sign of heavy fucking metal, for Vampire Weekend, makers of hyper-literate ivy-league dance pop. Look people, that's not fucking Slayer up there. I don't see Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax or even Billy Fucking Idol. What the fuck is wrong with the world that people are calling on Satan during "Oxford Comma"?

A frequent offender was an attractive woman dancing on top of a security fence during most of VW's set. The guard nearest her didn't mind, in fact, he was obviously enjoying the view. She was dressed like a neo-hippie: a hippie's wardrobe but modern hygiene. Enticing, but then two other security guards came over and made her get down. Behind me, I heard another woman say 'Thank GAWD!'

The men were silent.


M. Ward was my favorite show of day one, and not just because he played away from the sun under the tent at the WaMu Memorial stage. In his arresting acoustic opener, Ward handled his guitar like a lover, holding it low, leaning over it attentively - almost drunkenly - as he played. Later in the set he switched to a black electric guitar with silver accents, and as he and his band thundered through some great country-rock songs, Ward and the guitar became an iconic image in my mind of what a rock musician should look and sound like.


It was dark by the time the Mars Volta came on, and they were everything I expected. Within five minutes I could see why their hardcore fans love them(super-technical virtuoso musicianship, extraordinary stage presence, and a mind-blowing hard, loud sound) and why so many other people hate them(musical indulgences that would make even Led Zeppelin say, hey, that's a little much. Seriously, I was there for thirty minutes and they got through maybe two and a half songs).

We left early because Leslie wasn't feeling too well. Back at the hotel, I ordered Domino's, and wondered what day two would bring.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst

  • Artist: Conor Oberst
  • Album Title: Conor Oberst
  • Record Label: Ramseur
  • Release Date: 8/5/2008
  • Rating: 8.0
  • Bands Web Site:
  • Sound: Indie Rock, Country Rock, Singer-Songwriter
  • Similar Artists: Colin Meloy, Jenny Lews, Bob Dylan

"Hey, have you heard the new Conor Oberst?

"There's a new Bright Eyes?"

"No, it's just Conor Oberst."

"...Bright Eyes basically is just Conor Oberst; I don't understand."

"The album is 'Conor Oberst' by Conor Oberst; he didn't go by 'Bright Eyes' for this album."

"Is that some sort of statement?"

"I have no idea. I guess it would be like if Bono released an album called 'Paul Hewson' as Paul Hewson. And if he did that, I would take it as him trying to be less of a pretentious douchebag, though I'm not sure that's what Oberst is doing."

"It's frightening you know Bono's real name. So is Oberst being less of a douchebag?"

"Well, I'm not exactly sure he is a douchebag to begin with. He does some pretty fucking annoying things on his records, but maybe he's just too earnest. I mean, who puts an interview of themselves on their own record? Even if its fake."

"And has background voices."

"Yeah. And Cassedega? The fucking thing won a Grammy...for best record packaging, with all that hidden shit. I mean it was a decent enough record, but I didn't feel like I could relate to it. In fact, I haven't really liked a Bright Eyes album since I'm Wide Awake It's Morning."

"Because you live in New York City?"

"Because it wasn't just about fucking Conor Oberst! And that's what I like about this album, it has a bunch of songs that are him singing about shit that has nothing to do with him or anyone he knows. He went to Mexico and wrote some songs about all kinds of shit. It doesn't make me feel like I need to search for some deeper hipster-ironic meaning in every fucking song."

"Are any of the songs about Mexico?"

"I have no fucking idea, really, but they have some beautiful lyrics. Like on 'Cape Canaveral', he sings 'Like the citrus glow off the old orange grove/Or the red rocket blaze over Cape Canaveral/It’s been a nightmare to me'. It's beautiful, and stays close to his folk-rock center instead of drifting to the fringes of his sound. It's uncomfortable sounding by his fringe..."

"I'll have to buy the record, because you can't sing for shit dude."

"There's a reason I'm talking to you about this record instead of making my own. Anyway, he also rocks a lot more on this album than he usually does. Country-rock songs, some real rollicking numbers like 'Sauslito', 'I Don't Wanna Die(In The Hospital)', 'Moab' and 'Souled Out!!!'. Electric guitar solos, crashing drums, he goes all out. 'I Don't Wanna Die' is my favorite song, it has a furious pace, and it's just fun. He actually laughs on one track, it sounds like he's having fun. Not as much navel gazing. And I don't know exactly who is in The Mystic Valley Band, but they play the hell out of their instruments."

"The Mystic Valley Band?"

"Yeah, he dubbed his backing band the Mystic Valley Band."

"'Dubbed'? Did they have a say in this? Can you just go around dubbing things?"

"...that's not the point."

"Whatever, sounds a little douchey to me. I don't go around naming my friends."

"I have a theory that people who go around saying exactly what they think and doing exactly what they want get labeld douchebags by people who can't stand the fact that someone isn't polite enough to play along with all of society's bullshit."

"...that sounds like something a douchebag would say."

"Fuck you, just buy the record."

Download from eMusic, iTunes.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

That's Not What I Meant

I've been going home a lot lately. Travelling means bringing things; which in turn means forgetting said things. I've lost some weight this year, so my jeans ride a little too low without a belt. Unfortunately, I've left belts at a friend's house in Baltimore, my parents' place, and at friends' in the city. Which left me beltless the other day at the office, my jeans threatening to fall right off my Irish ass(which is an oxymoron), and led to the following exchange:

    Lady Co-worker: You should buy some belts.

    Me(without thinking): Yeah, I keep leaving my belts at other people's places.

    Lady Co-worker: ...

So, now I'm the office man-whore. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Music Review: The Avett Brothers, Gleam II

Artist: The Avett Brothers
Album Title: The Gleam II (EP)
Record Label: Ramseur
Release Date: 7.22.2008
Rating: 8.5
Bands Web Site:
Sound: Alternative Country, Progressive Folk (Warm acoustic sounding)
Similar Artists: Wilco, The Jayhawks

I would like to thank The Avett Brothers for providing the perfect antidote for the late summer blues. Listening to "The Gleam II"1 is a cathartic experience; the warm acoustic songs about family, love, death and regret help you sort things out - or at least come to terms with them. Your head nods along with a beautiful melody and thoughts about letting the past go("Tear Down This House"), family loves and rivalry('there was nothing worth sharing/like the love that let us/share our name', from "Murder In The City") or just laments about how messed up love is ('and Cupids arrow is backwards and bent/when it flies for me', from "Black, Blue") form in your head. Or maybe that part is just me. Though, if you've managed to spend time on this planet and you can't relate to regret, loves lost and family drama you're either very blessed or the living damned.

Of course the Brother's 2006 breakthrough "Emotionalism" explored similar ground(in fact, so have all their records). Somehow, though, "Gleam II" still sounds fresh, with the open sound of the banjo, the plucking acoustic guitar and heartfelt worn vocals. It manages to be simple, but not monotonous and boring. Towards the end of the EP, the songs do seem to run into each other's sameness - and then an electric version of "The Greatest Sum" drops. At first, after seven songs sounding of hollowed wood and strings, the electric guitar and banging drum-fills are jarring - but the classic-rock skinning adds another layer of impact and drama to the song. I hope this is a sign of things to come on their upcoming Rick Rubin produced album(apparently the bearded guru was a fan of "Emotionalism", which I guess means it can't be regarded as overlooked anymore).

1When I hear the word "Gleam", I can't help but think of Marty Schottenheimer's famous 'there's a gleam, gentlemen, there's a gleam' speech. This is why I'll never be a true romantic.

Buy It On eMusic
Buy It On iTunes

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Decision

I'm visiting my parents, taking a shower when I notice that there are two variations of the same brand of men's body wash sitting next to the shampoo: Revitalizing Cool, and Invigorating Clean. Apparently my brothers have minor but important differences in their choice of body washes, and now I'm left with a choice. A big choice. The consequences could reverberate the rest of the day.

Do I want to be revitalized or invigorated? I assume both products get you clean, so does that mean one gives a bonus aura of "cool"? What do I want to say later in the day when someone asks how I am? Will I be telling a beautiful woman at a bar that I'm invigorated, maybe wishing I could be saying that I was revitalized...and cool, baby.

And there's more. The invigorating brand says it's "50% more value", yet it's clearly only a third bigger than the other bottle at most. Can I dock points from a brand for lying? Will using it influence me to lie? Will they be invigorating lies?

The decision was impossible, so I did the only logical thing: I used both. So, I was invigoratingly revitalized clean and cool. That's four adjectives to start the day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Another Late Arrival

There is one thing I do enjoy about getting into New York late: catching a glimpse of the trains leaving the city. Not the MTA subway cars, but real trains. Trains with two stories of windows glowing blue across the side, making the machine look like a deep-sea creature swimming through the darkness just over and beneath the edge of the turnpike.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Party

A party, on Monday night. Interesting.

My roommate's former co-workers, from...two jobs ago? All involved with some billionaire. They are good looking, interesting, long-legged and broad-shouldered. They have accents, money, PhDs, knowledge and opinions on wine, European travel and soccer. A date in Paris is discussed with the same semi-enthused tone I use to talk about a good deli around the corner.

"Come on out, hang out!" they say.

And talk about what exactly? That I want to buy Madden 09? My trip back to my hometown in Maryland? The suburbs? Outside there is a professional chef(handling the grill while I cook plain chicken, rice and beans), an heiress, a doctor, another chef, and two diplomats. Diplomats! Asking if I'm an American! Is that bad? I'm almost embarrassed to put on pre-season Monday Night Football. Almost. Is there a better way to tell them I'm irrevocably American? Quickly, I switch to the Olympics...even though Family Guy is on! Keep it at the Olympics(Giants/Browns was at halftime).

A guest wants to play Wii Sports. OK, that I can handle. What will she pick? Tennis? Golf? She picks...bowling! Impossibly tall, sophisticated French woman picks the game of beer guts and ash trays.

She is good, but tipsy. I'm sober, and a little better. She's drunkenly fake-angry at her loss. Maybe there's a little real anger. Now, she could be a friend back home. A fellow regular guy at the dive bar...

Until her attractive, Latin fiance comes to take her home. They are all so different from me. Yet, we'll always have Wii Bowling.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Good Start

This is how I would like to start every morning: trying to use the sink that's full of my roommate's dirty dishes(from a Monday night party) and accidentally splashing water so it looks like I pissed myself, followed by delayed trains, and then finally getting to work to find someone else has logged into your machine and locked it.


Late Arrival

Arriving in New York late last night, I noticed how long the tunnel from the Port Authority to the seven train is. Completely devoid of people, the lines of the floor tiles stretch out towards infinity, scaling the people at the far end into specks. The next morning, throngs of commuters will crowd around on all sides, making the tunnel just more walking on the way to work. Late at night, though, it can breathe.

The cackle of an annoyingly loud woman is more grating when you've been stuck in a Greyhound bus for four hours. Especially when you had to tell the guy next you, hey dude, I'm sure you've got a nice ass, but I still don't want half of it in my seat. The cavities that form in your head from lack of sleep fill up with her banal, stupid laughter. People shouldn't be this happy right before Monday.

Everything seems amplified, but in a bad way. An old woman singing for meal money on a mostly empty train is the most depressing thing in the world at two in the morning.

The one exception seems to be borderline women, who become more - not less - fuckable.

I need some sleep.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ramblings, Death Cab, and Guilt

Skip to thoughts on Death Cab.

I am lost.

No, I'm not lost. I'm directionless. Searching for meaning. Fulfillment. But where? From what?

Work? Why don't I feel fulfillment from work? Whenever I try to build my identity(yes, that's the word - knowing yourself is important, I've heard) through work I feel foolish. Isn't it common knowledge that most work is bullshit? Who will remember you for the extra time you put in the office? Is that what you want your family and friends to think of? Yes, I do remember hearing this message - mostly from Hollywood millionaires pretending to be middle-class men who should be content with their place in life. Lost family men who've betrayed their families by missing a Little League game or a piano recital(don't kids do anything interesting? fuck, no wonder pretend Dads and Moms don't want to show up to this shit). Men doing their dream jobs telling us to be content without our dream jobs.

Perhaps if your work is your dream(and therefore important to you), it's OK. From Children's Magician to CEO, I bet both know themselves pretty good through their work. It's part of who they are. Is my job part of who I am?

Maybe there is a problem with my assumptions(which are always dangerous); maybe when you go looking for work that is meaningful you actually rob it of any chance of giving you fulfillment. You can't get by on the "idea' of important work, because you've abstracted it too much. It should just come naturally; what you would be doing anyway.

And if that's true, then what would be important, fulfilling work to me would be reading, writing, watching movies, and doing whatever comes next...

...that's not a fucking job! That doesn't sound like doing anything, let alone an occupation. It's just hanging out.

So yeah, I won't find fulfillment -- at least not total, zen level fulfillment -- through work. At least not yet. That doesn't mean I can't find a certain kind of satisfaction. Hard work can be it's own reward, if you don't take it too seriously. That lesson only took twenty-nine years to learn...

...I'll bet women respond to men who don't do this kind of over-thinking; men who just get things done without wondering what does it all mean?

Is that what the red-head1 was trying to tell me?

"I'm attracted to a guy who is in control..."

I could tell from the tone of her voice what she meant. I could take that tone and march it around New York and it would match frequencies with the vibes those men put out, buzzing in attraction. And even if one was a children's clown, they would be in control. More control than I'm in, that's for sure.

Like I said, I'm directionless. Each morning I start being tossed about by myself, wondering where I'll bounce myself to next. I have no control over myself - and what else should I be controlling? Maybe this lack of control is why I listened to that damn Death Cab for Cutie album more than once...

I'll admit, I don't particularly care for the last Death Cab album(or the band itself, for that matter). Sure, "I Will Possess Your Heart" is a decent song but I prefer the radio edit version, not the rambling, pointlessly long album cut. I tried, believe me I tried to like them but after a while the lead singer's whiny chirp of a voice grates on my nerves. See, I don't even know his name! Yet I feel compelled to have an opinion about his band, or face losing my music credibility. So I listened to that last album(something to do with stairs), and I listened, and I kept listening even though I strongly disliked what I was hearing. And then, for the last track, someone reads the fucking credits. That's the soundtrack to a hipster circle jerk. Who the fuck thought anyone would want to listen to the album credits? If I like your band, I'll read the fucking liner notes, OK? Christ people, have some faith.

ANYWAY, control, do I right a rudderless ship? Stop making obvious metaphorical writing choices? Couldn't hurt.

I'm reading more, listening to more music, trying to find out what I like, what I am like and in the end, trying to become someone I would like to meet, hang out with, shoot the shit, invite to a party, and possibly meet up for a late night fuck. Who knows?

And it feels a little wrong. Hasn't Judd Apatow and Zach Braff saturated the market with this crap? Isn't this whiny-white-male-disillusioned-and-lost bullshit been done to death? It's so out. And, unfortunately for me, manic pixie dream girls don't really exist. They're just manic.

Well, even if it's out of fashion, it's still where I am. And it's probably why I liked "Definitely, Maybe"2, watch How I Met Your Mother, and listen to Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over"3 late at night like it's a profound act.

Still, I feel a little guilty that if I had a vagina I'd have much less shit in popular culture to identify with.

Could I identify with "Stay Positive", the latest from Hold Steady? Are Craig Finn's lyrics gender-crossing? He does sing about Boys and Girls in America, after all, not just boys. And it would be really easy to say "Here's One For The Cutters" should resonate with women(thought it feels dirty). Still, they are heavily classic-rock influenced, not the most popular genre of music among women(I actually had one girl tell me she wouldn't date a man who listened to Lynrd Skynrd). But that's all based on stupid stereotypes. I'm the only person I know who cut themselves and I didn't even listen to Bruce Springsteen until a girl got me into him.

You know what, to hell with feeling ashamed of what I like.

1The red-head isn't actually red-headed, technically. But my mind plays tricks on my eyes.

2My man-crush on Ryan Reynolds is also a factor.

3In a true sign of being able to bullshit, I know that Crowded House is supposed to be an underrated 80s band with a worthy catalog that goes way beyond this one hit single. And I'll say that. But this is still the only song of theirs I've heard.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shall We Play A Game?

I saw WarGames last night on the big screen, and it was a treat. A solitary one, too, since I couldn't find anyone to go with. Hell, it was hard to find someone at work who had heard of the damn movie(which is celebrating it's 25th anniversary, making me old).

When I arrived at the theater, the audience was mostly mid-thirty-somethings with wedding rings, beer bellies, bald spots and - sigh - children. Though the kids were a little endearing; like watching a geek-torch passing.

There was a small technical hiccup in about three-quarters through(which prompted the expected Joshua jokes), but I didn't mind since that gave me an unexpected bathroom break.

Seeing the old-school computer hardware -- floppy disks, modems, green terminal text -- was interesting. I can only imagine how fantastic this all seemed in 1983.

In a behind-the-scenes feature that aired before the movie, Mathew Broderick revealed that for the two small scenes where he plays Galaga in a *gasp* arcade(a true relic of the times), the producers of the movie bought him a Galaga machine and put it in his trailer. He also had to learn how to type(no one had computers then). Galaga got a lot more of his attention then typing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hot Hot Heat

I hate sweating. The sticky, slick slimy feeling of your shirt clinging wetly all over; like being pawed at by a moist-palmed pervert. And that little trickle down a leg or the small of your back, it's a sudden jolt of ickiness. A reminder of how disgustingly flesh and bone you are.

It's been remarkably hot lately. My room nearly reached 100 degrees Sunday and yesterday. My apartment has AC, it just doesn't reach my room. I have a large, towering ineffectual fan instead. If you want to move hot air around, I can't recommend it enough. At least today is a little cooler.

I've been good with the exercising, and up until a brotherly visit last week, good with the eating. I'm back on track now, though, so hopefully my goals can still be reached this summer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Something Useful For A Change

Music is personal. Tastes vary wildly from person to person. My Desert Island All Time Top Five Records probably includes some music you'd gladly use for a signal fire. Listening habits, however -- especially with the advent of the iPod -- seem to be very similar. Stop me if you have the usual playlists: by genre, by artist, maybe a work out or happy mix, and if you tire of those -- and who doesn't -- bam, you just hit Shuffle. And skip, skip, and skip. Why does that same Madonna/Radiohead/Kanye song always come up on shuffle? Is Apple fucking with you? Who knows.

There is a better way, at least if your goal is to get a fresher mix of your favorite songs, new songs, and stuff you haven't heard in a while. And it's (relatively) simple: iTunes Smart Playlists.

The main foundation for my playlists are taken from this fantastic article by Andy Budd, iTunes Smart Playlists. I highly recommend the article; it's useful and easy to implement. The basic idea is to create several "feeder" Smart Playlists: favorites, new songs, songs not played often, and a mix of songs that haven't been played in a couple weeks. All of these are combined into one "Master" playlist. The only real difference is that I try to rate all my music - leaving audiobooks, podcasts, and videos unrated so they won't show up - and as such my "feeder" playlists have a rating condition. Usually "rating greater than three" or "rating equals x", while in Budd's system, only the favorites playlist is rated. Budd's system will work fine, however, for anyone who is not as anal as me when it comes to rating their tracks.

My ":Master Mix" playlist is limited to eight hours of music, the maximum amount of music I imagine I would need for a workday.

Budd also uses his master playlist to make several genre centered playlists. I also do this, but I set up the same feeder system for each genre, instead of having it feed from the master list(since mine is "only" eight hours).

I name my genre playlists after radio stations around Laurel, Maryland, where I grew up.

My radio playlists are:
  • : Radio (Alternative 99.1 HFS)
  • : Radio (Classic Rock 94.7)
  • : Radio (Indie 102.7)
  • : Radio (Oldies 100.3)
  • : Radio (98 Rock)
  • : Radio (Hot 99.5)
  • : Radio (95.5 The People Station)
This adds a personal touch, rather than just the same old boring "Alternative", "Classic Rock" title playlists. I add the ": Radio" prefix to keep them near the top of the Playlists menu on my iPod or iPhone. Of course it should be noted that no "Indie 102.7" ever existed, but I needed to call the Indie radio playlist something.

All of these playlists use two feeder playlists: "Genre Feed" and "Genre New". "Genre Feed" looks for songs in the genre that have not been played in four weeks, have a rating over three, and selects two hours at random. "Genre New" looks for songs in the "New Music" playlist that match the genre, and limits the selection to one hour of music(the rating, and other considerations are already handled by the "New Music" playlist).

The ": Radio" playlists combine these two feeder lists, limited to one hour of music, selected at random. Since the "feeder" is twice as big as the "new" playlist, you should get a 2-1 ratio of "old favorites" to "new music". This can be tinkered with to your liking, providing you have enough "new" music to fill up the "Genre New" playlist.

This kind of set-up is perfect for a limited storage device like the iPhone. 8GB is not nearly enough for a sizable music library, so instead, my iPhone syncs the above Radio playlists and my Mix playlists. After listening to some music while I'm out and about, I re-sync it, and the playlists get re-populated with fresh content.

Still, I love having access to my entire library, because sometimes you just want to listen to The Replacement's entire catalog or you need to hear one of the more obscure selections in your collection. For that, I still use my video iPod with 160GB of storage.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Reoccuring Dream

A Reoccurring Dream: I'm a little boy, at the age when first memories begin to form...the youngest I ever was. Not yet fully aware of myself. I'm sitting in front of a television. A commercial comes on - for what, it doesn't matter - starring another little boy. He's blonde. He's handsome. I know because my babysitter says so.

A little boy thought: I'm blonde! So I am handsome!

I run to the bathroom to look at myself. I see the boy in the mirror.

A little boy thought: I don't look like the boy on TV...

...I must not be handsome.

My first memory; my first disappointment.

There is an element of this dream in every day that's happened since.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Couple Of Random Thoughts

  1. I now we all love our iPods/Zens/whatevers to death, and we can't imagine daily commutes - or life - without them. I count myself among the countless hordes you can identify by spotting those white earbuds, or a pair of noise canceling headphones when I'm feeling really pretentious. But you will never, ever spot me wearing those while ordering my coffee, lunch, or anything else for that matter. You won't see me doing what the prick in front of me did today: taking one bud out, and then draping it over his ear. Hole-lee FUCK, people. Look, this is not an ATM or an online order; there is an actual human being behind the counter who deserves your attention when they are trying to take your order. Especially since you will be the first person to bitch if anything is wrong. Plus - and I know this may come as a shock - your music will wait for you. It will not gleefully ignore the pause command and go on playing while wishing a fuck you at you, robbing you of your favorite song. Come one people, we are trying to have a civilization here!
  2. We have two elevators at work. Sitting in the lobby one day, I noticed the "5" above the second elevator door was burnt out. Watching the descent, the car goes to "6", disappears for a few seconds, then goes to "4". During those few seconds, I like to pretend the car is in the Twilight Zone.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

July Update

So far so good with the running. Getting up early, running, then heading to work knowing I don't have to hop on the treadmill before eating some lunch. Of course, getting up is still a bitch.

Eating is going pretty good too. I'm fixing a lot of meals at home, then saving half for lunch the next day. The extra tupperware cleaning is annoying, but it saves a lot of money.

Just have to keep it up.

Monday, July 07, 2008

NetFlix Has Me...

In an official act of singlehood, I finally signed up for a NetFlix account. I know I'm very, very late to the party. Technically, I had one when I was married - but it was really my ex-wife's account. I had little input on the movies arriving in those neat red envelopes.

Now, though, I'm in total control. Already my queue has hit triple digits, filled with movies I've missed the last couple of years, classics I've neglected to see, and favorites I want to see again(but for some reason do not own).

My first arrivals came Saturday: 3:10 to Yuma, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, and Season One, Disc One of LOST. Yes, LOST. I never boarded the LOST train(or in this case, plane) when it first aired, but now I'm all aboard. Those first four episodes hooked me.

NetFlix should definitely help with my goal of staying single the entire summer, keeping me locked away in my apartment, basking in the glow of the TV while manipulating my queue and rating movies in hopes of getting some good suggestions from the NetFlix robots. I already can't wait for the rest of the first season of LOST(though I'm told after this, it gets really weird until picking up again in the fourth season).

I also watched American Psycho for the first time over the weekend, and I have to say, now I understand why some people just couldn't see Christian Bale as Batman. After all, Patrick Bateman is pure evil. Not exactly superhero material. Like Bruce Wayne, though, Bateman is a mentally disturbed member of the upper class, alienated from everything around him. Though he doesn't imagine demonic cat-eating ATMs or daydream about dismembering hookers with chainsaws, Wayne is still very unhinged. And for some reason, I can imagine Wayne going on at length about his favorite artists and albums(though I doubt Huey Lewis and the News is in big rotation in the Batmobile; more likely he rocks out to something dark and elegant - like Led Zeppelin1).

1He definitely does NOT listen to anything Goth.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I've decided July will be dedicated to my fitness and health. I've been pretty good about the gym since February, going five to six times a week. I've lost almost 20 pounds(while being asked if I was remembering to eat...believe me, I would never forget that, I love food too much).

Going into July, though, I find myself plateauing. So, I'm going to start seeing a personal trainer on Sundays, and I'll be eating better(during the week...I still cave to some cravings during the weekend. Like pizza. Hmmm, pizza...). A food journal is in order.

My goal is to drop to 10 percent or below in body fat. Last time I checked, I was in the 11-13 percent range, but I'll get a definitive measurement Sunday at my first session. After that, I'll have a new weight program that I'll be doing three times a week.

In a sort of addendum to the fitness goals for the month, I'm going to try and get up at seven at least three days a week to go running outside, instead of doing the treadmill at lunch. For one thing, I'll feel like I'm using more of the day, and for another, I'll be freeing up my lunch time for other things. I've done this twice so far this week. Getting up at seven can be hard, but once I get running, I feel great.

I'll be posting about how all of this goes.