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Archive for the ‘Memoirs’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: Y&T-“Mean Streak” (1983).

In the early 1980s Y&T had a couple of albums that made it onto my radar.   This one, Mean Streak, had this song which I liked enough. It’s got some cool riffs and Dave Meniketti’s raspy but distinctive voice.

I remember liking this song, even though I really had no idea what was going on in the lyrics.  The chorus where everyone sings “mean streak” behind his lyrics was certainly the catchy selling point.   But this is hard rock more than metal and is not really my thing.

I may have bought this album, but I know I have the follow up In Rock We Trust, which was more poppy (and they were more pretty).  I had forgotten all about “Lipstick and Leather” yet another cheesy pop metal song about, well, lipstick and leather.

People who were fans of Y&T (like Posehn) were die-hards, but even listening now I see why I never really got into them, even if I liked them for a bit.  Maybe it was a California thing.

[READ: January 2019] Forever Nerdy

S. got this for me for Christmas after we saw Posehn on a late night show and he talked about his nerdy obsessions, including Rush.  It seemed like an obvious fit.  And it totally was.

Posehn is a few years older than me, but if he had lived in my town we would have totally been friends (except I would have never talked to him because he was older).  Anyhow, we had more or less the same obsessions and the same nerdy outlook.  Although I was never really picked on like he was so perhaps I was a little cooler than he was.  Although I never smoked or drank when I was in high school so maybe he was cooler than me.

Things to know about before reading this–Posehn is a vulgar dude–there’s not much kid friendly is in this book.  Also this book isn’t really an autobiography exactly. I mean it is in that he wrote it and its about him, but if you were dying to find out fascinating stories about his crazy life, this book isn’t really it. I t’s more about the things he was obsessed with–in true nerdy fandom.

Although, Brian, what nerd doesn’t have an index in his own book? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS–Humanities Theatre Waterloo ON (January 24, 1997).

Just as I was finishing up all of the newest live Rheostatics recordings, Daron posted a dozen or so more.

This is a pretty awesome soundboard recorded show just following the Rheos tour with The Tragically Hip and about 4 months after the release of The Blue Hysteria. One of the best versions of A Mid Winter Night’s Dream I’ve ever heard. As you can see on the DAT it used to be called Winter’s Tale. People From Earth opened the show. NB both First Rock Concert and RBC are incomplete recordings.

People from Earth opened.

After listening to all of those new recordings, it’s fun to go back to 1997 before they had broken up, while they were touring The Blue Hysteria.  It’s also a little surreal to not really hear the crowd (because this is a soundboard).

This recording is 90 minutes (which means either they were playing shorter shows back then or a lot of it was cut off (which seem more likely).

Martin sounds great, playing a rather slow and hushed version of “California Dreamline.”  I like the way the washes of guitar noise segue in to the acoustic guitar of “Claire.”  Throughout the show I couldn’t help noticing how young Tim sounds (far more so than the other guys).

After a trippy “Digital Beach,” they segue into “Earth/Monstrous Hummingbirds.”  It’s one of their weirder songs with lots of different parts.  It sounds great–certainly a peak time for this kind of song.

There’s a fun boppy version of “Introducing Happiness”–Tim seems to be having a lot of fun with the song.

Dave Bidini says that last night, Martin talked the longest on stage ever in his life before introducing this next song.  “You probably read about it on the internet or something.”  Martin says, “I enjoyed it so much I can’t do it tonight.”  He says that the recording of “Motorino” features the host of channel 47 show Jump cut for young Italian Canadians.  That’s Felicia.  She spoke (rapidly) in Italian for the record.

It’s interesting that this is the first song they’re playing off of the new album and they don’t mention it as such.

“Four Little Songs” is still new so they don;t get too crazy with it, although Martin has fun singing his part.   Dave would like to dedicate his fourth little song to our backdrop the newest member of the Rheostatics.  It’s the angry chickadee or two fish kissing.  Dave asks Tim, “who would win in a fight?  Angry Chickadee or Monstrous Hummingbird?”  Tim: “How big is monstrous?”  Martin: “Like Mothra.”

After not playing anything from Blue Hysteria, the play six new songs in a row.  Martin introduces “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” as a song “about trying to help someone that you’re in love with….stop killing themselves.  Sorry.”  It’s wonderfully intense and the harmonies are outstanding.  The sound of the guitar taking off half way through is tremendous and Martin hitting those falsetto notes gives me goose bumps.

“Fat” “is as song about having a best friend” (Dave says). It opens with a great slinky bass and Martin saying more drama on the lights–get rid of those white ones.   More great backing vocals from Martin.  It’s followed by Tim’s delicate “An Offer.”  Tim;s voice seems to be much higher than in 2017.

The band loves talking about playing in Kitchener (they are still doing it in 2017).  In 1982/1983 they played there at the Kent Hotel which was a strip joint.

“A Midwinter Nights Dream” is an absolutely stunning flawless performance.  The crowd is great, the band is on fire and it sounds amazing.  This has become one of my favorite Rheos songs and I love hearing it live (even if Dave doesn’t know what it’s called).

This song “Bad Time to Be Poor” is getting played on rock n’ roll radio (but it’s not its commercial radio).   We get invited to radio stations named after animals: The Bear, The Lizard, The Fox, The Marmot (that’s in St. John).  Now we’re getting a lot of guys dressed in denim coming to our shows.  So we’re broadening our horizons.   If someone sparks up a joint, don’t blame the song, blame commercial radio.

There is a rocking and fun “Dope Fiends” to end the set.

They come back for the encore and this recording cuts off the opening of “My First Rock Concert.”  But Dave has fun explaining a lyric.  When his friend was “on his back” it was a popular dance of the time called the worm.  Then they talk about people swan diving to them when they get famous.

The recording ends with “Record Body Count.”  It ends early, but has a nice fade at least.

This is, indeed a great show.

[READ: December 2018] Let’s Start a Riot

I just have to look at Bruce McCulloch on the cover of this book and it makes me laugh.  McCulloch has played some of my favorite characters on Kids in the Hall (although I could never pick a favorite).  But he is especially good at being an asshole.   A very funny asshole.

And what better sums up Bruce than this:

Ever feel like you were once young and cool and then you woke up in the middle of your life, emptying the dishwasher?

What could this book be about (and how did I not even hear of it when it came out?).  Well the answer to the first question is in the subtitle.  There’s no answer for the second one.  But there is an introduction to the book by Paul Feig (which has nothing to do with either of these questions).

Bruce says he always dreamed of writing a book.  “One day.  When I was old.  Luckily, and unluckily, that day had come.”  When he told his family his wife and children Roscoe and Heidi (five and seven, he thinks), they wonder what he’ll write about.  He tells them that he will write about how he was once a young angry punk who crawled out of a crappy family, had this silly show on TV then somehow became a happy man with a pretty good family.  “Why would anyone want to read that?” Heidi asks. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEBO BAND-“Ney Ney Weleba” (Field Recordings, May 16, 2012).

This is yet another Field Recording [Debo Band: Ethiopian Funk On A Muggy Afternoon] filmed during SXSW at the patio of Joe’s Crab Shack.

I was not familiar with Debo Band.  They are led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by magnetic singer Bruck Tesfaye.  The group infuses its dance-friendly songs with the Ethiopian pop and funk music of the 1960s and ’70s.

Compared to a dark club full of dancing fans, a muggy Austin afternoon with the sun peeking out over our isolated spot at Joe’s Crab Shack isn’t the ideal setting for a Debo Band performance. But once the group began digging into “Ney Ney Weleba” — a classic song by Alemayehu Eshete — it didn’t take long to get caught up in Debo Band’s deep, infectious groove.

This is a bizarre song to write about because there are just so many elements and so many things going on.  Lead accordion, violin, horns and lyrics in Amharic.  But with guitar, bass and drums and a rocking beat.

This vibrant 11-member group collects its influences like trading cards: It finds common ground in jazz, classic soul, psychedelic rock and New Orleans party bands, playing with song forms, manipulating rhythms and finding space for improvisation.

Plus, the fact that the band is signed to Sub Pop — a label more known for indie-rock and pop — represents something of a statement. Debo Band is a rock group first and foremost, and one that can bring joyful intensity to listeners who might not otherwise naturally gravitate to this music. It’s a winning cross-cultural stew of sounds that grabs you instantly, and ought to have you bobbing along and sweaty in no time.

The whole song lurches along with a really fun beat, and then there’s a trumpet solo and a very psychedelic echoing guitar solo.  It ends with a rocking jam from the two saxes and then a re-visitation of the opening.

I have no idea what the song is about but I like it.

[READ: November 2008] “It All Gets Quite Tricky”

I thought I had read everything that David Foster Wallace had published in Harper’s but as I was going through back issues, I found this little thing.  It’s basically correspondence between Wallace and some students.

These letters were written about in the David Foster Wallace Reader.

Anne Fadiman’s Afterword about the State Fair (which these letters reference) in the book is my favorite because she talks about using the essay in her classes. She focuses on just one section (the one about food) and asks them to really parse out its structure and content.  She also says that one student got to write to DFW each semester and that he would answer their questions for him.  His letters always ended with, “Tally Ho, David Wallace.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JORJA SMITH-Tiny Desk Concert #753 (June 11, 2018).

I’s never heard of Jorja Smith before.  But the blurb really sets the scene for the R&B that followed.

It’s a good thing the weather was gloomy the day Jorja Smith rolled in for her Tiny Desk concert. Even though the skies threatened rain and thunder, the overcast light lingering in our dimmed office space allowed the teardrop pendant lights, hung from the ceiling by her lighting team, to cast the desk in a warm, honey-hued glow. And while the nimble guitar strings and double-time drums of her supporting band was enough to dizzy the focus in the room, it was the U.K. singer’s slow, silky cadence that anchored the performance in tranquility.

Smith sings three songs.

“On My Mind” starts out wonderfully with slick trippy drum beat (lots of double-time rim shots) and a great funky bassline.  The keys add nice touches on top of the songs.  But when Jorja sings, she sounds just like a soulful British pop singer, which I just don’t like all that much.  There’s some interesting and at the same time cheesy-sounding electric guitar that accents the ends of the verses.   In other words, there’s a lot to like but overall I just don’t.

It is followed by “Teenage Fantasy” (a ballad to love lost written when she was 16).  It’s a lot poppy and less funky.

When she closed her eyes to deliver the rap verse of “Blue Lights,” the anti-injustice song that first positioned her as a SoundCloud darling in 2016, a hush fell over the room in awe of her precision.

She ends with “Blue Lights” a more R&B poppy song.  Again I like the drums but don’t like the R&B keening.

After she finished, but before retreating to the comfort of Supreme sweats, Smith and her band bestowed the Tiny Desk with a blue lava lamp signed by every member. Keep an eye out for that Easter egg in future episodes.

[READ: February 4, 2018] “The Education of Mr. Bumby”

This was a previously unpublished sketch included in a new edition a A Movable Feast, which I’ve never read.

I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway, and this excerpt (even if it is a sketch) didn’t appeal to me much.

This is non-fiction.  The narrator and his son Bumby spent much time in cafes.  I know that Hemingway is known for his brevity so this long sentence was quite surprising.

Touton had a great part in the formative years of Bumby’s life and when there would be too many people at the Closerie des Lilas for us to work well or I thought he needed a change of scene I would wheel him in his carriage or later we would walk to the café on the Place Saint Michel where he would study the people and the busy life of that part of Paris where I did my writing over a café crème. Everyone had their private cafés there where they never invited anyone and would go to work or to read or to receive their mail. They had other cafés where they would meet their mistresses and almost everyone had another café, a neutral café, where they might invite you to meet their mistress and there were regular, convenient, cheap dining places where everyone might eat on neutral ground. It was nothing like the organization of the Montparnasse quarter centered about the Dôme, Rotonde, Select, and later the Coupole or the Dingo bar which you read about in the books of early Paris.  As Bumby grew to be a bigger boy he spoke excellent French and, while he was trained to keep absolutely quiet and only study and observe while I worked, when he saw that I was finished he would confide in me something that he had learned from Touton.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
Yorktown
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
Non-Stop
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COURTNEY BARNETT AND KURT VILE-Tiny Desk Concert #682 (December 8, 2017).

Kurt and Courtney were the unexpected hit pairing of 2017.  Enough has been said about how they don’t exactly seem like they should fit but how well they do.

I’ve said that I wish the album rocked a bit harder, but really it’s live that this duo is terrific.  We saw them a few months back and it was a lot of fun.

But this Tiny Desk Concert is twice as fun because of how unserious they are.  As the blurb says:

Put your love of perfection outside the office door and come in for some office fun. This collaboration between Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile and Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett is more about newfound friends poking jabs, goofing around and having fun with words than reaching any new musical heights. It’s a much welcome injection of humor in the world of rock music and if you’ve heard their collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice, you’ll find this Tiny Desk performance musically even more casual. It’s akin to hearing friends play after a few afternoon beers, which is kind of what happened. (We actually had to page folks in the building hoping for some brew and were quite surprised at what the NPR staff had stashed in the fridge.)

They start with their hit “Over Everything.” It sounds great even if they are very casual about it.  There’s lot of laughing between them, and their harmonies sound fantastic.  After the song Kurt pops open a beer (clearly his second).

Courtney apologies for all the tuning they’ll have to do.  “Good thing I don’t have all 12 strings.”

I love the sentiments and melodies of “Continental Breakfast”

Then Bob says, “Thanks to everyone who donated beer to make this concert possible.”  Courtney: “Yea, that happened very quickly.  Everyone has one beer hidden in their desk here.”

Kurt takes off his denim jacket and says, “Don’t mind my muscle shirt–I was working out.”

Kurt and Courtney tend to bring out the adolescence in one another, inspiring Kurt to pick out a song he wrote when he was roughly fourteen called “Blue Cheese” about, well, I’m not sure. But lines like, “I didn’t mean to cough on her/Forgot to add the fabric softener,” just make me laugh; and in 2017, in a deeply serious political landscape, I find that quite refreshing.

They joke their way through “Blue Cheese,” as you must.  He plays a harmonica solo and admits, “that was terrible.”  When it’s over he says, “I wrote that song when I was 12.”

The final song “Let It Go,” has Courtney on lead while Kurt sings some nice high backing vocals.

The whole show is light-hearted and fun, but they never make a mockery of the music.  It’s just a casual good time.

[READ: November 1, 2017] Spinning

This is a memoir about competitive ice skating.  But it is much more than that.

Interestingly, I found the intensity of the ice skating competitions to be a perfectly satisfying and compelling story in and of itself.  So at first, when Walden began adding other things from her life, I wasn’t sure if these (rather important) aspects of her life could be shoehorned into a story about ice skating.

But it soon became apparent that the skating, which was such a big part of her life, was in fact, a rather small part of her life.

Of course, the fact that Walden is 21 and stopped skating when she was 18 shows just how big a part of her life the skating was. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANIMAL MASKS-EP (2017).

Animal Masks is a band based out of Somerville, NJ (almost my home town).  They have an EP out (buy or stream on bandcamp), and it’s a great four song collection that melds a 70’s glam rock feel with a kind of 80s pop punk.

They are a trio and have the thick, meaty sound that trios do so well.  The disc doesn’t give a lot of details, but the band consists of Dave DeCastro, Dan Zachary and Ronny Day (not sure who does what).

The last three songs of the Ep have more of the punk edge–the songs are faster and shorter (“Tear It Down” is just over 2 minutes), but they are in no way hardcore.  There’s a distinct  major label Hüsker Dü vibe to these latter songs.

“Sad Day” has some nice harmonies in unexpected places and I love the gritty minor key guitars.  The chord progression in the bridge is also a nicely unexpected change up for an otherwise simple melody.  It’s a sweet touch to get a fuzzy wah wah sound in the second half of the (not at all flashy) guitar solo as well.  The “Ohhs” at the end of the song are pure Mould/Hart/Norton.

“Tear It Down” is a bit more upbeat (surprisingly given the “when everything falls apart, it’s time to tear it down” lyrics).  I love the thumping drums (and the screamed harmonies) in the chorus.  “Used By the Universe” is a bit muddier than the other songs–I can’t tell if it’s the same singer on all the songs–he’s harder to hear on this track.  He sounds a bit deeper, gruffer on this one.  There’s some great bass lines in this song, and once again, the drum has some great fills.

The glam comes to the fore on the first song, “For Real.”  The singer’s voice sounds a bit less snarly and the guitars are wah-wahed and echoey in a way they aren’t on the other three.  There appears to be some other kind of interesting overdub sound floating behind the guitars, which is a nice addition.  The song is slower, but I really like the way the drum plays a fast four beats in the middle of the chorus.

One thing that tickles me about this song is that the main body of the song has a chorus of “is it always… now or never” the “for real” of the title doesn’t come until after four minutes (the song is just under 5) with a coda that repeats “are you for real.”

I wish the recording was a little crisper, but that’s probably personal preference.  I definitely wish the drums were mixed differently–they sound kind of flat–which is a shame because the drumming is outstanding.  All of this just speaks to how great they probably sound live.

[READ: October 30, 2016] Cool Japan Guide

After enjoying Diary of a Tokyo Teen, I saw that Tuttle Publishing also put out this book. I got it out for Clark but wound up reading it before he did.

Abby Denson is a cartoonist (the other subtitle is A Comic Book Writer’s Personal Tour of Japan).  She and her husband (Matt Loux–who did the Salt Water Taffy stories) love Japan and Japanese culture and they travel there a lot.  So this is her personal guide book to visiting the wild world of Japan.

While it has some of the same features as Tokyo Teen, this book is far more of a guide book for travelers than a personal memoir of one girl’s travels. The book opens with a pronunciation guide (very helpful) and each chapter has a list of useful phrases and expressions all introduced by the very helpful Kitty Sweet Tooth.

Denson is quite thorough in this book.  Starting from before you leave–getting a passport, making reservations, getting rail passes, everything.  Even what to expect in each of the seasons.  Upon arrival there’s all kinds of fun things to see immediately–train stamps (you get a stamp for every station you go to) vending machines (and how to understand them) and even what kind of (apparently delicious) food you can buy on a train in the country. (more…)

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