Friday, April 27, 2007

...just watch what you say

Disturbing news reported today:

A high school student in Cary, Illinois was arrested for writing a violent essay as part of a school assignment.

A high school teacher in Woodburn, Indiana was stripped of her position as a journalism instructor and forced to transfer to another school to serve as an English teacher after failing to report a "controversial" editorial written by a student on homosexuality for the student newspaper.

This kind of garbage should seem commonplace to me by now, and maybe I wouldn't bat an eye if I read it yesterday when I was sapped of all physical and mental energy. But I can't help feeling more than a little peeved. Reminds me of this classic joint by Ice-T, from '89:

"Freedom of Speech"

Freedom of Speech, that's some motherfuckin' bullshit
You say the wrong thing, they'll lock your ass up quick
The FCC says "Profanity - No Airplay"?
They can suck my dick while I take a shit all day
Think I give a fuck about some silly bitch named Gore?
Yo PMRC, here we go, raw
Yo Tip, what's the matter? You ain't gettin' no dick?
You're bitchin' about rock'n'roll, that's censorship, dumb bitch
The Constitution says we all got a right to speak
Say what we want Tip, your argument is weak
Censor records, TV, school books too
And who decides what's right to hear? You?
Hey PMRC, you stupid fuckin' assholes
The sticker on the record is what makes 'em sell gold
Can't you see, you alcoholic idiots
The more you try to suppress us, the larger we get

[You have the right to remain silent]
Fuck that right! I want the right to talk
I want the right to speak, I want the right to walk
Where I wanna, yell and I'm gonna
Tell and rebel every time I'm on a
Microphone on the stage cold illin'
The knowledge I drop will be heard by millions
We ain't the problems, we ain't the villains
It's the suckers deprivin' the truth from our children
You can't hide the fact, Jack
There's violence in the streets every day, any fool can recognise that
But you try to lie and lie
And say America's some motherfuckin' apple pie
Yo, you gotta be high to believe that
You're gonna change the world by a sticker on a record sleeve
Cos once you take away my right to speak
Everybody in the world's up shit creek

Let me tell you about down south
Where a motherfucker might as well not even have a mouth
Columbus, Georgia, said they'd lock me up
If I got on the stage in my show and said "Fuck"
So I thought for a minute and said "No,
I wasn't even gonna do a damned show"
Cos for me to change my words from my rhymes
Is never gonna happen cos there's no sell outs on mine
But I vowed to get those motherfuckers one day
They even arrested Bobby Brown and Cool J
Yo, they got their's comin', cos I'm mad and I'm gunnin'
Homeboys, and there's no runnin'
I'm gonna tell you how I feel about you
No bull, no lies, no slack, just straight fact
Columbus, Georgia, you can suck my dick
You ain't nothin' but a piece of fuckin' shit on the damned map

Freedom of Speech, let 'em take it from me
Next they'll take it from you, then what you gonna do?
Let 'em censor books, let 'em censor art
PMRC, this is where the witch hunt starts
You'll censor what we see, we read, we hear, we learn
The books will burn
You better think it out
We should be able to say anything, our lungs were meant to shout
Say what we feel, yell out what's real
Even though it may not bring mass appeal
Your opinion is yours, my opinion is mine
If you don't like what I'm sayin'? Fine
But don't close it, always keep an open mind
A man who fails to listen is blind
We only got one right left in the world today
Let me have it or throw The Constitution away

[Outro (Jello Biafra)]

What they're trying to do with radio, with this, uh, McCarron-Walter
Act and a lot of other ways, is start by saying that they're
protecting the public from wicked rock bands, or girlie magazines, or
whatever. But, if you follow the chain of dominoes that falls down,
what they're really trying to do is shut off our access to information

If they can't do it by law they know there's other ways to do it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Josh Homme does my bidding (or why I like QOTSA more now than ever)

If you know me well, you've probably heard my proposal for extending days by 12 or even 24 hours. Because, you know, we sleep for 8 hours (if we're lucky), and we work for 8 hours (if we're working for the 'the man'). That leaves only 8 hours to do our regular chores, keeps lines of communication open with our loved ones, pursue our hobbies, etc.

I started by asking for 48 hour days, then dropped it down to 36. It seems Josh Homme, frontman for Queens of the Stone Age, has been working on this request too. In a Billboard article that ran last week, he said, "I'm talking to this one guy about adding four more hours to each day, but he's not real positive about it." Damn! Could we at least get two hours? Two would be better than nothing.

And then, jumping over to a Pitchfork interview (also from last week, 4/13/07), Josh expresses my same assessment on this current age of overload:

"'s an age of disinformation, where it's not like it's being kept from you, it's more like it's being piled on top of you [emphasis mine]. And so I think every time you go to make a personal decision, it's like more information comes to light. I think it's not really bad, it's more gluttony rad. It's sort of like indecision. And I think while we're all deciding, everyone samples a little bit of everything. And I'd like to play that party."

I complain about this sort of thing at work all the time -- there's just too much information being generated and it's impossible to take in everything we should! Just from my own day job office alone, there are new articles being generated every day that could completely take over my reading time if I let them. The only difference here is that, while Josh wants to "play that party," I kind of wish more people in the world would take vacations and shut the hell up for a few months at a time. And stop pumping out so many new members of the species and actually take the time to look around and figure out what kind of world we are really, truly capable of sustaining before we all suffocate on our own hot air.

Yes, I know, I'm part of the problem too... so I guess I should just shut up myself, join Josh at the party, and wait patiently for the suffocation to take over with a big smile on my face. Which is fine, just as long as it happens after June 16 so I have a chance to hear the new QOTSA album, Era Vulgaris, and use it as my end-times soundtrack.

P.S. -- head over to to hear "3's and 7's" from the new album. It fucking rules!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reissue rants

I'm hearing these strange French voices in my ear as I listen to a compilation of French psychedelic pop (no, you thought it was going to be Pakistani pop, didn't you?) and it's just totally groovy! That time machine is running again...

There's usually a price of admission for that time machine, and I'm finding that it's a bit steep for me these days. So naturally, I'm going to bitch about it. And the first target of my ire is Best Buy.

Why Best Buy, you ask? They sell lots of fine electronics at reasonable prices, and have great sales on CDs since they sell them as loss leaders. Well, let's call this a case of sour grapes. I bought a fine LCD monitor for my desktop computer there, and a keyboard that types really quietly, and a mouse, all for under $300. Earned some points in there rewards program that translate into discount coupons, too. Big scam, I know. The kind of thing I regularly rant about, like when I tell my mother that coupons are just a way to con you into buying shit you wouldn't have bothered buying otherwise. So I'm ranting against Best Buy because I fell for the rewards program scam, AND because of the big tease they pulled with the Sly & The Family Stone box set.

Sly's limited edition The Collection box came out last week, and was briefly advertised on Best Buy's website at the unbelievable price of $9.99. The saga has been chronicled in posts to the Smile Shop message board. Basically, it was first advertised online, in advance of its release date, at the sale price of $39.99. Then, suddenly the price dropped to $9.99. This was unbelievable mostly because the set contains seven full CDs with bonus tracks. It's a set that could easily fetch $70.00, so even $39.99 was a great price. Not long after the thirty dollar price drop, the set quickly "sold out" at the $39.99 price, leaving the rest of us to look for copies in physical stores for $49.99. This was all happening on Easter weekend, mind you, so people like myself who were too busy making nice with relatives and stuffing our faces with the flesh of baby animals were completely oblivious to the big online snafu at Best Buy.

In retrospect, I'm fully confident that the weekend I spent breaking bread with the fabulous girlfriend's fabulous family was far more enjoyable than embarking on a sterile treasure hunt inside of a big-box money-sucking machine ever could be. But still, why the torture? It seems awfully fishy that the price dropped so drastically and then the set sold out. I couldn't even find the box in the local Best Buy I walked into, and in the end I decided that my old versions of the albums collected in the box were just fine, thank you very much. Besides, ever since I tweaked the EQ settings on my Winamp, everything I listen to on my PC sounds like a unique remaster.

And though this isn't exactly news anymore, we can expect to see some new reissues by Elvis Costello. I mean, this is going to be the fourth label to manhandle Costello's first 11 albums: the originals were on Columbia, then Rykodisc added bonus tracks in the '90s, then Rhino added fully-stocked bonus discs to each album in the early '00s, and now... Universal gets their shot at creating the 'definitive' versions of these albums. No word yet on whether the full bonus discs from the Rhino versions will be preserved, or if the single-disc Ryko editions will serve as the new old standard for nostalgia, or something completely different. Hopefully Elvis and Universal learned from the mistake the Beach Boys made in the mid '90s -- when you take away bonus tracks and strip your albums back down to basics after giving fans a taste of the bounties of your archives, fans will be pissed off and accuse you of being a greedy, idiotic nincompoop.

And I still haven't heard Neil Young's 'raw' version of his Living With War album, which mirrors a trend in recent years of albums being re-released within a year of their original release date with bonus tracks, bonus DVDs, or other such promises of aural and/or visual revelation. Given that Neil has also released two archival live discs in the past year devoted to classic performances he put on in the '70s, and is about to release his long-promised Archives box set, I'm just a little overwhelmed.

The pace at which new and archival music is released and re-released has gotten to the point where, if I'm going to keep up with my favorite artists, and with artists who potentially could be my or somebody else's favorites, I'm going to have to listen and research full time and get paid so I can put some food in my mouth and keep a roof over my head. Any takers?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Essex Green promotes time travel

"In my book..."

I'm fed up with that overused phrase! Few people who say it have written a book, and odds are if someone who says it has written a book, the thought following the phrase appears nowhere in the actual book.

But, in my BLOG...

(I don't like "blog" either -- it sounds like something you might pull out of your cold, sickly nose...)

Yes, in my blog, there are no clumps of mucus, hardened or otherwise. But there are some thoughts on a couple of bands I saw last night at 12 Galaxies in the Mission District with my friends Alan and Julian. Mind you, I was a bit inebriated at the time of said musical presentation, so this is hardly a real review, nor had I intended on even writing one. But it was such a fun time that the feeling is worth preserving.

The main attraction at 12 Galaxies was Kelley Stoltz. More on him later. It was The Essex Green who made the most splashing impression.

Three drunk music geeks watching The Essex Green sounds a little like this:

Alan: "The keyboard player is kind of cute."

MF: "Oh look, she's wearing a hippie skirt!"

Julian: "It looks like she's going out with the guy playing the Ric."

MF (to Alan): "Do you think he'd get pissed if you bought her a drink?"

MF: "Look at that sport coat and that shaggy hair and beard. Kinda looks like Barry Gibb."

Julian: "She's a flautist too!"

MF: "Maybe we'll hear 'Bungle In The Jungle' tonight!"

And so on and so forth on the outer appearances of the band. The music wasn't all that bad, if you like '60s folk-pop with the occasional heavy guitar rocker. They were channeling everything from the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas and Jefferson Airplane to It's A Beautiful Day to early new wave-punk sounds. If this band wasn't so tightly controlled and polished in their presentation, one could easily mistake them for a Bay area throwback band working to keep the Summer of Love alive. But they didn't have that loose, free, easygoing vibe that you get from San Francisco bands. As their myspace profile indicates, they're from Brooklyn, New York. A ha!

After waxing sarcastic on the Essex's "Revolver period" and puzzling over the fact that their lead guitarist wasn't given a star position on stage in spite of his being probably the best musician in the whole band, there was a seemingly interminable wait before Kelley Stoltz took the stage. By this time, I was starting to lose my ability to maintain clear memories. It was just too late for this headliner, "in my blog."

I remember Mr. Stoltz and his band opening with a new song that sounded to me like something the Modern Lovers would play, or as Alan and Julian heard it, "the Velvet Underground meets the Monkees." Same thing, pretty much. There were at least two between-song monologues on Don Ho, whose death was reported earlier in the day, and lots of bubbles blown from the stage. Not very tiny ones either, I might add. I had had enough of those before I got to the venue anyway, so it was all good.

Even better than either The Essex Green or Kelley was an awesome rockabilly band that played in between sets on the upstairs stage of the venue. Their sound was perfect -- the singer had that punctuating vocal "whoop!" down perfectly, the stand-up bass was thumping, there was just the right amount of twang in the guitar... the music this band played made me feel like I was being transported back to 1959. Sadly, I cannot remember the band's name, nor were they listed on the 12 Galaxies website or anywhere else I looked. I'd really like to know who they were, since I'd like to see them again and would gladly pay to see them headline. Anyone know?? Not me, too many margaritas...

As I was walking out of the venue, I passed by a blond in a stylish black and white checkered dress (at least that's what I think it was) who looked like she could have been Paris Hilton's twin. It was a sad reminder that it wasn't 1959, 1967, or even 1978. Nope, it's 2007, a time where there's no one prevailing or conferred style of hip for music, art, film, TV, or any of the arts and entertainment we enjoy. EVERYTHING is worthwhile to somebody, and we all know it thanks to the the increased speed at which information is exchanged in the 21st century. It just makes the kinds of hipster scenes we can find, like at last nights show at 12 Galaxies, seem all the more absurd. Of course, everybody else in the place could have been thinking the same thing, but if we knew that, we'd have a little bit less to laugh about now, wouldn't we?

Monday, April 9, 2007

From the archives: Juliana Hatfield

[Note: The following feature originally appeared in the November 18, 1997 issue of the University of Rhode Island's daily campus newspaper, the Good Five Cent Cigar. At the time, I was serving as Entertainment Editor, and scoring this interview was one of the major highlights of my time there. It had been sitting in a box for the better part of a decade, and now it lives on in all its reborn digital glory. A few very minor edits were made, but other than that, this is the whole article as it appeared in newsprint. Enjoy!]

The long haul of a musician can appear frustrating to listeners who are busy consuming each new hyped-up tune and band. However, a musician's perception of time can run a little differently.

It's been two years since Juliana Hatfield's last release, Only Everything, and a lot has happened since then. Bands have broken up, new ones have occupied the spotlight and some people may have actually changed their music buying habits. But Juliana continues to rock on.

Hatfield is currently on tour in support of her new EP, Please Do Not Disturb, which is due in stores on November 25. Her performance at the Met Cafe in Providence last Saturday was her third live appearance in the city since her 1995 tour with Jeff Buckley. In between live performances, she has been hard at work perfecting her next full-length length album, to be titled God's Foot.

Despite the lack of releases, Hatfield has continued to write more and more new material. She has perhaps written enough songs to fill up two CDs to capacity. Yet she is intent on making sure God's Foot turns out right.

"There was a time when it was finished and it was gonna come out, but I decided that I wanted to do more work on it. Right now the release date is still unknown," said Hatfield in an interview before Saturday night's show. She was able to offer a general description of some of the elements at work in the album's creation.

"I'm just experimenting a little bit with different instruments. Like there's some strings and weird keyboards and there's a flute somewhere, but it's nothing too bizarre or crazy." Hatfield's drummer, Todd Philips, added that "it's a lot like Smile in a way," referring to the legendary unreleased Beach Boys album. "There's so much different stuff going on. It's not like the rock record, it's not a pop record, but there's a focus throughout," said Philips.

So with diligent effort being put into an album that is being created for an artist's satisfaction and not a record company's release schedule, it could be as long as another year before it comes out. That's where Please Do Not Disturb comes in. Hatfield calls it "sort of a pre-album... it seems like [the songs] all fit together somehow. I didn't think they would fit on the album."

The six songs that make up the EP each seem to express a lack or a loss of something different. The opener, "Sellout," is a typical Hatfield rocker that tries to show "what can happen if you stray too far from yourself," as Hatfield stated in a press release.

"Trying Not To Think About It" is a light acoustic tune expressing Hatfield's feelings on the drowning of her friend and former touring partner Jeff Buckley.

In "As If Your Life Depended On It," Hatfield reveals she has "no one to go home to," as the lyric goes, with a cello mourning beneath the verses.

"Give Me Some Of That" could possibly be the most aggressively noisy track Hatfield has released, which is right in tune with the song's lyrics of pure envy ("give me some of that / you're so young / you don't even know / what you have").

Hatfield hopes her new EP "will bring joy to people's lives, to a handful of people who really care. It's not meant for mass consumption, it's not meant for even radio. It's just meant for... the die-hard fans and for music lovers who are lust curious and interested in hearing the development of my music." However, she doesn't go so far as to call it a "thank you" to the fans. "It's self-serving," she says. "I'm just fulfilling the need to have people hear my music... I did it for myself, but I'm glad that people who want it can get it."

The Show

Hatfield took the stage at the Met with her band following sets by opening bands Fuzzy and The John Street Porch Band.

Starting off the her set with "I Got No Idols" from 1993's Become What You Are, Hatfield delivered the goods with a great amount of enthusiasm and confidence, markedly more so than at previous appearances in Providence. "My Sister" received the expected boisterous response from the audience.

Only Everything was well represented, with slightly re-arranged versions of "Outsider" and "My Darling," along with more straight-ahead renditions of "Live On Tomorrow" and "Fleur De Lys."

A few songs from Hatfield's work-in-progress God's Foot were also included in the set, as well as "Sellout," "Trying Not To Think About It" and "Get Off," from Please Do Not Disturb.

Though she rarely performs material from her years with the Blake Babies, she ended with "Take Your Head Off My Shoulder," from the 1989 album Earwig, before returning for the obligatory encore.

The past and the future

So why is it so rare that Hatfield revisits the past on stage?

"That stuff is so old, you know. I don't wanna sing it anymore," Hatfield said. "I feel funny singing it. It's... way different from the person that I am now."

To have songs that one doesn't feel comfortable singing is a sure sign of the amount of time that has passed since that first record hit the stores. It's been 10 years, in fact, since the Blake Babies released their debut, Nicely Nicely. So how does it feel?

Hatfield said, "it just feels like not that much time has passed... I feel like I'm just beginning... I've made a statement, I'm not finished making it yet. It's gonna change a lot over the next ten years. I haven't finished what I set out to do, that's for sure."

As a further testimony to her confidence, Hatfield had this to say when asked if she had any regrets: "I have no regrets and I'm proud of everything I've ever done."

Monday, April 2, 2007

A tribute to a man who fed an addiction

(A scan of an actual 45 from Will Auger's jukebox that managed to survive my rough handling as a child.)

On Sunday, April 1, 2007, Will Auger died in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Though his age is not given in this obituary, he had to have been in his mid to late 50s.

Most people don't know this, but Will was a very important person in my early development. Many people gave me records as a child when it became clear that I loved music. But it was Will who cemented my love of the 45 RPM record.

Will was an old friend of my father's. He sustained an injury in the Vietnam War that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He was perhaps the first paraplegic I ever knew. After the war, he opened up a bar in Warwick, Rhode Island, called (what else?) Will's Place. My father would stop at Will's bar on the way home from work to visit his old friend during my early years. Knowing that I liked music, Will would recycle the played-out hit records in his bar's jukebox by giving them to my father during his occasional visits. My father would then come home with these 45s and give them to me. It was one of my greatest joys to receive these records as a young child who could barely talk.

Though I was so young then, I can still remember specific records that Will gave to me. For instance, there was Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell," which I believe was my earliest exposure to Floyd. And there was my favorite Police single, "Spirits In The Material World." Dr. Hook was still kind of popular when Will gave me the 45 of "When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman." "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard was another big favorite, one that I still enjoy to this day, and one that I have sung at the local karaoke bar as recently as last September. My parents claim that one of my biggest favorites was a record by Peabo Bryson, though I must have had it before my brain was developed enough to file this memory away because I cannot remember ever hearing a Peabo Bryson song until his hit duet with Roberta Flack, "Tonight I Celebrate My Love." By the time that one came out, my brain could remember these kinds of moments. I had already finished kindergarten and was bold enough to ask my parents to buy me my favorite hit records when I heard them on the radio.

Usually my father would bring home stacks of 45s, but one night he walked in the door with only one. I was already learning how to be greedy at this point, and pouted with disappointment when all I got was "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes. Boo! Not a bad record, I did enjoy it. But 3 or 4 others to go with it was what I had been expecting, and there's no pleasing a 4 year old who knows what he wants.

AND -- where's that Dexy's Midnight Runners 45 I was promised??? Still waiting!

One of the funniest memories I have attached to a record from Will's jukebox was the time he sent my father home with a Rod Stewart 45 containing a b-side called "Ain't Love A Bitch." My mother freaked at the idea of me reading a swear word on a record, as I had been using records as my way of learning to read before I started kindergarten. So she put scotch tape over the title!

All these years, Will has never left my mind. I wonder if he realized just what he did by giving me all those records, if he knew that he was feeding an addiction that, as I would tell my mother, kept me from the evils of drugs and alcohol. That was always a sure point to win an argument with my mother whenever she'd complain that I spent too much time or money on music. "Would you rather I be spending my time and money smoking cigarettes or shooting up heroin?" Case closed.

Rest in peace, Will, and thanks for the music!

KISS on crack!

I don't usually go out of my way to check out tribute bands. When I was in college, I did happen to see a Doors tribute band called Riders On The Storm, and a Pink Floyd tribute band known as the Machine. The latter in particular drew some pretty big crowds when they played clubs and such around New England. So we're talkin' ten years ago, at least, since I've seen a rock n' roll tribute band.

But on Saturday, I broke the fast and actually saw a KISS tribute band called Destroyer. With so much original music happening daily in San Francisco, it didn't seem to make much sense. That's a common theme of mine, "does this decision make sense?" I've seen the real KISS before, in full make-up, when they toured behind Psycho Circus with Ted Nugent. So I knew what the KISS experience was all about. Yet I had to see Destroyer because the guy from my web design class who talked them up has turned me on to some good tunes lately. If he said this show was as close to experiencing the real KISS in a small club as one was likely to see, I had to trust his judgment.

Turns out he was right!

They had the light-up KISS sign and the logo on the drum head, full leather costumes and make-up... "Gene Simmons" even spat blood and breathed fire. He was the most impressive of the bunch, vocalizing and laying down the bass just like the real deal. "Peter" and "Ace" were good too, though "Paul Stanley" could have shed a few pounds and tightened his pants a bit. My camera failed to catch it, but he was showing us his butt-crack for several minutes before relieving us with a quick tug up on his trousers. His vocals could have used a little fine-tuning as well. But no complaints about "Gene," "Ace" or "Peter." It really did feel like seeing KISS in a small club before they hit the big time.

For comparison purposes, here's some undated video of Destroyer at an unknown venue performing "Shock Me":

And here's the real KISS performing the same song at an arena in Houston, Texas, in 1977:

Not bad, eh?