Category Archives: Articles

NEVER SAY GOODBYE

New Jersey rockers/fossils Bon Jovi have announced plans for a summer tour in support of their newest album, Crush (Island). Don’t doubt it: their jaunt across America will be a success. After 35 weeks on the Billboard Hot 200, Crush is holding at 70, and its second single “Thank You for Loving Me” is storming the charts.

The question is, who let these guys back in?

Didn’t we bury them in the early 90s, after sagging album sales proved that “Bad Medicine” was not, in fact, what we needed? Did we not accept a newly shorn Jon Bon Jovi as an actor simply because it was a lesser evil than his band? Richie Sambora? Isn’t he dead? How have these lousy longhairs clawed their way back into the public consciousness? It’s like throwing a party, and noticing about halfway through the night that the guys you tried so hard to avoid inviting have come over anyway, and are standing by your keg drinking.

I laughed out loud when I first heard the band’s rockin’ lead-off single, the imaginatively titled “It’s My Life.” From Bon Jovi’s braying vocal to the muddled, Hysteria-esque production, it was the 80s, remixed. The obligatory synth-drum track in the background was an obvious (and cheap) attempt at updating a tired idea. In my head, the boys rocked along with a mullet-headed DJ, spinning the wheels of steel in Z.Cavariccis and a Hyper-Color t-shirt.

Inexplicably, “It’s My Life” was a hit.

Who was buying this? I asked around. No one I knew was happy to hear of Bon Jovi’s return. And yet, the re-emergence continued. Appearances on VH-1. Concert specials. All of this exposure was only serving to illustrate that the members of Bon Jovi who aren’t named Bon Jovi or Sambora would easily be confused with those employees of Aerosmith not named Tyler or Perry. The rub: aging white men in leather vests and bad weaves. Amazingly, Crush peaked at #9 on the Billboard charts.

Taken at face value, Slippery When Wet is a great album. You drum on your steering wheel when K-Billy FM plays “Livin’ On A Prayer” as part of its Big Hair Weekend. “Never Say Goodbye” brings you back to that night at the union hall, when there was no use talkin’ ’cause there was nothin’ to say. But check it: I’ve listened to Crush. It’s terrible. Danger Kitty performing “Love Rocket” at a bris is better than this shit. Every rock cliché, every sappy lyrical couplet (“It’s my life/it’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever”)—it’s all here.

If Bon Jovi needed a quick payday, why didn’t they just release a Christmastime greatest-hits box and get it over with? That would’ve been better than Crush, a collection of weak rockers and sleep-inducing ballads that somehow manages to sound amateurish and sad all at once. You know that feeling of pity you get watching some middle-aged fat guys rock out the songs of their youth at a summer street festival? It’s my sincere hope that it’s this notion of pity that accounts for Bon Jovi’s resurgence. You don’t really want to watch those fat guys, sweating as they roll though an out of key take on “Livin’ After Midnight.” But you order another beer, because like a car accident, there’s a perverse pleasure in watching the carnage unfold.

JTL

Napster R.I.P.

Napster is soon to be made irrelevant, forced to give up the things that made it great. Specifically, its price (free) and its user base (lots and lots). This makes me sad. Not for the usual reasons of being cheap and lazy. Although I do feel that the record companies owe me for my years of accumulating hundreds of CDs and hundreds, maybe thousands, of records. But because I probably will have a hard time finding the stuff I really used Napster for.

Scott Rosenberg, in Salon, makes an interesting point about the whole Napster fiasco that the major news outlets don’t seem to know about or care about:

Napster presently serves as an astonishingly rich swap meet for out-of-print music, live recordings and other obscurities that simply can’t be purchased. If the music industry succeeds in shutting down Napster, will it make any effort to provide alternative access to such material — for free or for payment? Or will it just continue, despite the advent of the Internet and digital copying, to act as if nothing has changed from the old disc-in-a-box distribution system, with its inherent limits on how much music could be kept “in print”?

This is the primary reason I use Napster — to download rare and out of print stuff such as Weezer b-sides and live Elliott Smith covers of Neil Young songs. The record companies are never going to give me that kind of service, especially not for free. So I’m going to have to seek out this stuff with tools such as audiogalaxy, gnutella, or any of the other file sharing services that are popping up all over the place.

I don’t have a problem using an ftp client, even on sites that enforce upload ratios, but I get angry at the fact that these others services aren’t simple enough to achieve the critical mass necessary for me to be able to find the obscure stuff I don’t already own on CD or vinyl. A lot of rock snobs are not as techie as I am, and my musical taste doesn’t follow the trends of most techies. For example, I’ve never given two shits for Portishead, Air, or any of the other crap that most computer geeks drool over.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to download popular songs I like but would be embarrassed to buy (see Britney Spears discussions). But the real reason Napster ruled was because it made it so I no longer had to spend twenty bucks on a rare single on ebay just for the otherwise unreleased b-side. Wilco’s split single with some other band on some little label contained demo recordings of “Someone Else’s Song” and the unreleased “Childlike and Evergreen.” I needed it. But now, you can find both of those tracks through Napster. Get them while you can.

Put the Needle on the Record

What is it about other people’s record collections that cause one to be so covetous? I take a look at my homies’ vinyl and think, “Damn, Oak Ridge Boys. Cool.” Shit, I’ve got every single Bruce Springsteen album from the ’70s and almost all the Neil Young from the same period, not to mention about two hundred other great records and several hundred pieces of shit that I don’t even listen to, many that I have never listened to, so why should I be so bent when I see that a friend has two copies of The Village People-Live and Sleazy and he won’t give me one? (Better yet, why the fuck won’t he? But that’s not the point.)

Does my envy simmer because at some time in the future, when I’m sitting around my apartment drunk by myself I’ll want to listen to some track from his 10cc-Greatest Hits that I can’t even remember exists when I’m sober? Not likely, but that’s the way I usually think. In fact, that’s why I own a copy of that stupid album: Every time I decide to give it away or put it in the trash or smash it against the turntable stand, I give it one last listen. And fuck if there isn’t always that one song that makes me want to keep it.

Maybe this attitude is brought on by the fact that I want to burn a mix CD right now, but I don’t have a copy of an old Conway Twitty song that’s probably on three out of five K-Tel country collections, any of which could be purchased at your finer neighborhood Value Village. But see, that’s the problem, I didn’t buy that 50 cent record when I had the chance, someone else did (that bastard friend of mine), and now I can’t make the CD because the whole fucking thing revolves around that one lynchpin song. Yeah, I can ask him to borrow it, but that’s a whole other mess. What if he’s on vacation? Or what if he can’t find it? Or what if the damn record is stored in some parental basement somewhere, as fully 35% of all records must be?

Funny thing is that all the songs you keep—on the Toto albums, the Culture Club, the awful Queen records that hold about as much interest as a Freddy Mercury moustache ride—they never are the right ones. So you buy more and more records until you’ve got a whole collection of garbage that takes up as much space as all the rest of your personal belongings and weighs at least as much as your car.

Ever try helping one of your friends move? Notice the uneasiness everyone has about moving anything in the room that has his record collection in it? “No way, dude, I’m not going near the records.” I’d rather help move a sofa or a fucking refrigerator than help move goddamn records. It’s usually worth it to move yourself, just to get out of helping someone with a big record collection relocate.

On a related tangent, ever see the stupid behavior that results when a friend is moving and he gives away some of his record collection? Yeah, it’s always total crap. What, you think someone’s just going to unhand a nice mint copy of Like A Virgin? No way. He will, however, almost be willing to pay you to make off with his studio Peter Frampton albums and pretty much anything released on Arista in the 1980s. But you don’t need a bribe. No, you will be more than willing to slug one of your best friends in the nose as the two of you fight over a copy of a live Thin Lizzy album, making good entertainment for the friend who’s trying to relieve himself of his plastic burden. It’s a momentary distraction from the fact that no matter how asinine his friends will behave in dividing up his lousy records, there’s always two or three stinkers that they all already have. An extra, scratched and unplayable copy of Thriller, with devil horns gouged into the album sleeve above M.J.’s head or something similar, a Paula Abdul or Judas Priest that would play just fine if you could stomach more than 15 seconds of the music.

Ever come across the record in someone else’s give-aways that you yourself dumped years ago? And discover that it’s the same damn copy of It’s Hard that you used to own, because it’s got your initials marked in that special place where you mark all your albums? And further realize that you absolutely have to have it back because your life has not been complete since you gave up the ability to listen to “Athena”?

If you get it, if you’re into records, I think you can see where I’m going with all this by now. Records are great. They are one of my favorite things on earth. We all know that they are better than CDs for all the reasons that Neil used to howl about and a hundred more, not the least of which is the tactile sensation of handling one and the care that must go into owning one, but especially the beauty in the design of the album covers, done on a scale to which no crummy little jewel box will ever compare. And though CDs may have a small size and weight advantage, a durability advantage, a portability advantage over records, all these were the same advantages of cassettes, never enough to cause anyone to wax nostalgic over metal oxide. Part of the joy of records is certainly the insanity of being a record owner, all the strange behavior that we exhibit that we just don’t for any other form of recorded music. It’s a great feeling to be a record junkie, even if we freely buy CDs and tapes or even listen to mp3s.

But it’s time to face the reality that records are no longer really sufficient for keeping the bulk of our music collections. Unfortunately, that in itself is probably one of the things that makes records so precious, their inherent stupidity and eternal obsolescence. And just because I’ve now gone digital and forego listening to my stereo for my computer (let’s hope that this computer thing turns out better for me than Trans for Neil), surely I’m not going to get rid of my records just yet. At least not until I’ve ripped them all into mp3s and probably not even after that. We still need records, just like we still need burgers, cigarettes, Bacardi, weed, and an occasional blow job. But humans need more than just vices, we need an occasional blast of rationality and good, clean living. Where music is concerned, we need Napster. Internet-based digital music is like health food—it makes it possible for us to live to be a hundred years old without giving up booze.

So when Napster finally joins Tupac in that great musical oblivion, I sure as hell hope that someone else picks up the slack. If we could depend on its existence, it could help us weed out the Tony Orlando and the Larry Gatlin and the half-dozen Sugar Hill label 12-inches that would only be cool if you decided to start your own retro-rap act. Sure, you’ll still have to keep that moldy old Beatles album that besides being worthless would certainly ruin your needle after only half of “Here Comes the Sun”, simply because you’ve got be able to show that you own an original Fab Four slab. And that’s the point: Digital music is made for the record owner, it gets us off the hook but it doesn’t keep us from continuing to engage in the less socially destructive behavior that we know and love.

Having access to stuff that we don’t really need on the Internet as a sort of musical security blanket will make it possible for us to all live better and have more space in our lives for things like significant others, pets, perhaps even children. And even if you’re not planning on becoming a family man, God knows I’m not, Napster can help continue to fill the space absented by that discarded Perry Como LP, hopefully replaced by something more Johnny Cash or even Orbison-esque. Something better. Something more useful and worth owning. Because Napster allows us to discover, develop a liking for, and even—get this you evil fucking corporate music industry retards—buy more music. Take one look at my music collection and you’ll see just what a sicko I am. I have no choice but to continue to acquire more, even if I have to pay for it, which I routinely do out of either convenience or stupidity (at this point in time, I’m not sure which).

Someday, when the broadband gets wide and wireless enough and the memory gets small and fast enough, our mp3 files will truly become as transparent as our records are opaque, and it will no longer be a pain in the ass to have a great and sufficiently broad collection of music. Until then, I’m still going to be caging my pals records with an eye out for the Twit.

Pedal Steel Transmission at Schubas

In 1996, I stood in the front row of Detroit’s St Andrews Hall and watched Polvo unleash hell. The North Carolina quartet was at the height of its considerable indie-rock power, and proved it with a blistering reset of Gary Numan’s “Cars.” It was the perfect cover song, mixing the black lipstick’d histrionics of Numan’s signature tune with Polvo’s gull wave bridge of Silvertone fury. “Cars” remained, but Ash Bowie and Co. had ripped out the circuit board and jury-rigged the mainframe, re-programming the original’s dirty vibe into a distorted lockgroove. It was a real Rock and Roll moment, and somewhere, AC/DC stood up and cheered.

Last Friday, it was time to root for the cool kids again, as The Pedal Steel Transmission took the stage at Schubas. Like the name suggests, the Chicago quartet is built around its pedal steel guitar. But this isn’t Gene Autrey, beans out of a can, or yodeling. It’s more like a pedal steel guitar with its collar up and a knife in its teeth. Warriors, come out and play…and they did. The Pedal Steel Transmission is cosmic American music, like Gram Parsons, The Band, Sixteen Horsepower, or Afghan Whigs (r.i.p.) before them. But this country music is made in The Big City. The high-lonesome, Neil Young soul is present and accounted for, but it’s ghost-riding on a dark back road called Rock and Roll. Churning, LOUD guitar clashes with the pedal steel, and both hit up the rhythm section for a fix of Polvo-esque groove. Cowboys in leather jackets? Maybe. But it’s more like rough riders listening to Fugazi and Stereolab around the fire. When The Pedal Steel Transmission really got on their horse about midway through the set Friday night, it was like Lou Reed in a cowboy hat, and somewhere Adam Duritz cried into his beer.

Rock and Roll ain’t noise pollution.

JTL

Kiss touring without Peter Criss

So Kiss is touring without Peter Criss (update: new link), and the new drummer is going to be wearing the makeup and costume of “the Cat.” Why should I care? Why does this seem so blasphemous to me? Peter Criss has deteriorated into an awful drummer who can barely lift his sticks anymore. And as my wife said last night as I was ranting about the audacity of Gene and Paul allowing some imposter to pose as the Cat, “People should fucking retire before they get disgusting.” She was referring to the entire band in general, and her words made me stop and realize that maybe I shouldn’t get so worked up over Kiss. Why should I care? Why does this seem so blasphemous?

I’ll tell you why. Because Peter Criss was my favorite Kiss member back when I was seven in the glory days of the Kiss Army, and this whole reunion tour is all about recapturing those wild times when men wore clown makeup (scary clown makeup) and platform shoes. Without Peter Criss, it’s all just a sham — demon Gene swindling thirty-somethings out of their money. But then again, maybe they all should have retired long ago, because if you’ve seen any of them lately without the makeup, they’re pretty fucking disgusting.

Slurping blow off of prostitutes’ tits

When Liam and Noel aren’t busy slurping really good blow off of prostitutes’ tits, they’re leading on the British press about whether or not Oasis has broken up. Last year’s ‘Standing on the Shoulder of Giants’ was a nice, fuzzed out attempt at rocking out. With the addition of Gem Archer on 2nd guitar, Noel finally had somebody with as big of balls as him on stage with which to duel. Liam doesn’t count because he’s the younger brother with the spinning hat, licking a LSD-laced lollipop as he sneers Noel’s lyrics into the mic. ‘Shoulder’ and its subsequent world tour proved that Oasis can be more than a (bad) Beatles cover band. It proved that Noel is an equal opportunity ripoff artist, who is as equally enamored with T.Rex, Free, and Thin Lizzy as he is with Les Beatles and Paul Weller. Even if the record was a critical failure (especially in the UK, where blowhards proclaimed Oasis dead, despite 3 sellout nights of 70,000+ at Reading…), for fans of good old pint-swilling rock and roll, the Gallaghers proved they can still come with these thangs. If the boys want to fight, you better let ’em.

Nowadays, the boys’re laying low. Liam, who seems to base his loutish behavior on an early 80s template of Sean Penn, was recently accused of, and subsequently acquitted of, charges that he tried to give an British Airways stewardess an unwanted rogering. Good ol’ Liam. God love ‘im! Meanwhile, Noel is hanging around with the aforementioned Weller, no doubt wearing skinny pants and pounding back Carlings, envisioning new Oasis material (through a haze of hash, blow, and stale perfume, but envisioning nonetheless…)

If you ask me, I’d like to see the boys next come out of the blocks with an album that continues the Rawk of ‘Shoulder’. And if Noel’s appreciation of Gem Archer’s guitar and songwriting isn’t just shite, he might think of letting some of the other humps write a song or two. And no, Liam’s “Little James” from ‘Shoulder’ doesn’t count, as it seemingly was done using the “Write Songs The Noel Gallagher Way” manual that he sent away for out of the back of Melody Maker.

And anyway I’m pissed the fuck off at Liam. Who kicks Patsy Kensit out of their bed? Honestly…

JTL

At the Drive-In vs. Oasis

Jeff, you should check out At the Drive-In. They are a wild bunch from Texas that kick it out Detroit-style. They have a real MC5 attitude and great hair. I don’t know what the Gallaghers are up to these days besides getting divorced. I reckon they’re sitting around listening to Abbey Road, which would be a great influence for their next record if they can’t get off the Beatles’ tips, and who can what with the fab four hitting #1 30 odd years after their demise. Judas Priest that’s a long time. Have you heard “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants?” It came out a little over a year ago I guess. Maybe longer, I don’t recall.

Britney vs. Madonna

If Britney manages to have as long and successful of a career as Madonna, I will renounce Ms. Ciccone as my Supreme Woman and no longer think about her when I masturbate. Yeah, that would be harder than quitting smoking was, seeing as it’s a 16+ year-old habit, but I won’t have to do it. No way, no how. Britney Spears is just a little talentless pandering hotbox. Madonna was a bitch (and yes, I’m using that in the complimentary way) and a rebel and Britney, well, she’s a corporate brand. In ten years she’ll be fat and married to some burnt out former child actor (Macauley Culkin perhaps?). They’ll have a house in Orange county and a decent income from investments and periodically she’ll appear on Entertainment Tonight talking about her cause du jour— freeing caged apes or some shit like that. Why are we even wasting our time thinking about her? Is the world that devoid of good new artists that we have to actually pay attention to her? I know we can’t just wallow in the early 70s forever (or can we?) but isn’t somebody doing something more interesting than B.S. (nice initials)? What are Liam and Noel up to?

Hot Burritos!

Now, thanks to Jeff, I have just invested twenty five hard earned dollars in “Hot Burritos!: The Flying Burrito Bros. Anthology 1969-1972.” Anyone who has not heard this music should set aside a weekend and take it in. Forty three songs spanning three years of music from the architect of alt.country. This is where Gram stretches his theory on cosmic american music. Some of the songs venture so far from Nashville that they really can’t be considered country. It really was a new style of music. More on this to come…

Phil

The Credibility of Britney Spears

Goodnight, Irene. I can’t believe you guys. Do you think this will all seem rediculous in five years? Or will this be where the credibility of Britney Spears will be hammered out? I am as big a fan of pop music (especially that created by Nords—Dancing Queen is my favorite song after all…) but really, folks, this just doesn’t ring my bell. Why? What am I missing? I find Britney Spears to be utterly annoying. That little Rock in Rio freak out of hers just added fuel to the fire. Had we heard some little hussie in the mall bitchin’ like that in the mall we would have sneered and shaken our heads because we hate those people. We sure wouldn’t be high-fiving and pointing to it as proof of her coolness. These are the girls we hated in highschool. Is that why you love them now? What is the psychology behind it? And don’t say it’s the music, Jake, because you really did defend Britney Spears like a teenage girl in the LOST LETTER. I think there’s something deeper. Dig it up and smell it.

Phil