The kids are alright…right?

Michael Goldberg’s Insider One March 2 opening article talks about media marketing and the manipulation of youth culture. Am I being optimistic or naïve, or are the kids smarter than that? Actually, isn’t the piece really just talking bout the zombies of the teenage population who are no more programmable than their Gen X and now Gen Y counterparts? Surely he doesn’t mean all teens.

The piece is a fictional account of how Viacom honcho, Sumner Redstone, pays consultants to observe “typical” teenagers and then makes programming recommendations based on their behavior. Goldberg cites MTV’s Jackass as a prime example of this kind of research’s output. He also mentions groups like Backtsreet Boys and Incubus as examples of “product” that can be marketed to different demographics within the teenage ranks: BSB for the mall-walking, cutie pies and Incubus for the aggressive, angst-ridden tough guys. But this is no different than the type of marketing directed at older age groups. I mean, since when is it OK for 30-year-old men to wear orange cords and ride scooters? Since Gen-Xers hit the wall, Old Navy opened up and the Razor scooter became the dotcom-preferred mode of transportation in the city. Believe me, it’s all about the marketing.

But, are the kids really more susceptible to marketing ploys than anyone else? Can their opinions be that easily molded? Last fall I was outside the Metro in Chicago as an all-ages early show let out. Hundreds of youngsters streamed into the street. As I was there to hand fliers for a friend’s band, I ended up talking to some of the kids and asked them who it was they were there to see. Surely it was one of the groups I’ve seen on MTV. Judging by the staple punk wardrobe (docs, safety pins, plaid, pants cut off just below the knees, etc.) I knew it wasn’t J-Lo or any of the other unlistenable “R&B” groups that dominate the 3:00 to 7:00pm slots on MTV. The place was devoid of neon or high-soled platform shoes, so it was a good bet that Carson Daley and his ilk were not to be found. Who were they there to see? It must have been one of the ultra-marketed major label touring acts that pitch for Burger King or Sprite? Right? It was the Get Up Kids, a melodic EMO band who’s signed to Indie stalwart Vagrant Records. As far as I can tell, the only exposure this group has had is the occasional mention in SPIN and a one-time appearance on MTV’s never-watched (anymore) 120 Minutes.

Now, the Get Up Kids have a substantial following and certainly have the pop sensibilities to become MTV darlings, but they’re not yet. And the kids love ’em. Why? Perhaps it’s because the tunes are catchy and the energy from their live shows will sweep up the coolest of punks into a bona fide ass shakin’.

So, it seems the kids aren’t as dopey as Sumner and Goldberg think. Maybe they actually just like the music they like and that’s that. Maybe it’s all about good music getting to kids and shaking them to their scuffed docs. Maybe I’m just remembering how much my dad hated NWA and I want to stand up for the kids as not being so easily manipulated by marketing. But then again, NWA was marketed to the suburbs and white kids and there are even allegations that the heated disputes on wax and in the videos between NWA members was all a ruse to drum up sales for solo products (See the Feb. 28th posting by Jake Brown regarding NWA). After all, four top 10 albums are better than one and I started drinking malt liquor because I wanted to be like Cube. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pop in my copy of Straight Outta Compton and run down to the Gap to get some baggy Khakis.

You can see the Get Up Kids touring with Weezer now. Check out their website

Call Me Mr Blackwell

Just Call Me Mr Blackwell: THE FASHION UNDERGROUND at Transit, 3/01/01

Transit is the kind of shadowy, bleeding-edge club where you have a nice time dancing one night, only to discover it’s a meatpacking plant the next. Pillars of smoke-filled light lead you through a dark hallway into a circular main room that looks like a crack-laced Thunderdome taking place inside the parlor at Monticello. I kept waiting for blood to come out of the sprinkler system.

On Thursdays, Transit is taken over by FORM – Fashion Or Music. A short runway extends into the club’s main dancefloor, and resident DJ Jernell Geronimo spins fashion-centric house and triphop. For last night’s Fashion Underground event, Geronimo’s selections ranged from Daft Punk’s latest to a nice remix of Sneaker Pimps’ “Spin Spin Sugar” from a few years ago that sounded great. Of course, when the club features a 25,000-watt sound system and state-of-the-art lighting reminiscent of space ships with expensive production design, my left shoe would sound good on the turntable.

After about an hour of carousing, dancing, and the downing of prohibitively expensive cocktails, Transit got the show on the road. A troupe of male and female models trotted out collections from five different Chicago fashion collectives, including Jesus Rodriguez, Supreme Parlor of Funk 2000, and Narcisse Designs. It wasn’t exactly Land’s End Outlet material.

In such a proto-urban space as Transit, with its shady location under the EL tracks and uncomfortable, haughty furniture, it was no surprise that the fashion wasn’t any different. The first collection on display was like a third grader’s Betsy Johnson paper mache project gone horribly 80s. Unkempt strips of multi-colored fabric formed rag-tag hoop dresses underneath black vinyl bustiers that would make Rosanna Arquette’s character in “Crash” shudder violently. In fact, the majority of the night’s clothing had a decidedly post-modern feel – post-modern retrofitted to 1986. Looking like rejects from Scandal’s video for “The Warrior,” models traipsed up and down the runway in get-ups that would not look out of place in a “Steel Dawn” road show. Post-apocalyptic? Maybe. But only if Gordon Gartrell is the leader of the New States of America in a bizarro new-wave future imagined by David Cronenberg and George Miller. In Narcisse Designs’ urban chic beta test, voluminous amounts of eye shadow and fetishistic, insect-inspired fashion somehow suggest what we’ll all look like in 2020. I hope I die before I get old.

As an overall music/culture experience, Transit’s FORM Thursdays aren’t a bad idea. Despite their inherent pretension, it’s still kind of cool to cock your head to one side and say “yeah, I went to a fashion show last night.” Unfortunately, I’m never going to understand the whole concept. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the swirling, flesh-colored bondage nightmares I witnessed on last night’s runway are going to trickle down to the local Greatland Target. When a designer’s line reminds me of a textile Pontiac Aztec, is that a good thing?


I love the Lucksmiths

I love the Lucksmiths and you should too.

I’m not sure if I can explain it because I don’t really like a lot of pretty sounding stuff. I used to. I used to be all into British pop and Paul was even my favorite Beatle at one time. But not anymore. Now I like dirty, noisy, passionate stuff that was played by a bunch of delinquent teenagers. Or stuff that sounds like that. I barely ever break out those Smiths albums that I worshipped in high school.

So it’s odd that I would fall for the Lucksmiths. Maybe it’s because I saw them live before I heard their albums. So I had a chance to see them do what they do before I got a chance to scoff at their pretty melodies and clever lyrics (far, far too clever to be considered hip, by my definition). But to see a three-piece playing in a coffee house so quietly that I had to strain to hear them was truly a refreshing concert experience after having my ear drums blown out by dozens of garage bands in smoky, obnoxious bars.

Their set up is unique, and I’m a sucker for that. The lead singer stands in front of a microphone and a snare drum with a tambourine duct taped to a hi hat, and plays with brushes. The other two play unaffected bass and guitar. Softly. Simple as that.

And they blew me away. Somehow, the clever lyrics didn’t seem too clever; they’re young and Australian after all. The songs were so nicely written and well-crafted that I had to set aside my cynicism and just listen (for once in my life). Lines such as, “She’s the opposite of coffee/ the last thing I need first thing in the morning,” jumped out and stuck with me for weeks.

While musically they could hardly be more dissimilar, they remind me of the young Who for some reason. It might just be because the guitar player has a big honker and writes all of the songs. And that the lead singer has those freaky, penetrating eyes. But they’ve got a kind of serious but self-deprecating attitude that wins you over. Call it Maximum Lullaby.

And now they’ve got a new album out called Why Doesn’t That Surprise Me, and it’s as pretty and soft and clever as ever. They do some interesting things with instrumentation this time around with songs that include strings, melodica, banjo, electric piano, horns, etc. It sometimes sounds lush but not overproduced or cheesy. It’s good and it’s worth hearing, but I’ve got a personal fixation with Happy Secret which I think everyone should own. You can download a song from an ep called “T-Shirt Weather” from their label’s website. It’s fairly representative of what the Lucksmiths are all about. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Paris is a millionaire stock broker

Just picked up the March issue of The Source. Damn, why did I stop reading this rag after being a subscriber back in the day? Oh, that’s right, because rap started to, and continues to, suck. But The Source doesn’t. Yeah, you get more typos than your average Corporate BS Magazine, but fuck that. It’s all about Communication, which ain’t about spelling and grammar, but about Voice and Opinion. The Source has both. Plus, they seem pretty down with the idea that rap has changed and not for the better. Seems like the editorial slant is to get back what made rap vital in the first place: Voice and Opinion.

Anyway, this is a good issue, but with a very uncool piece about Detroit. Rehashed shit, this is, with nothing new under the Cold Grey Motor City Sky. Knowing what I know about the ‘zine biz, I can tell you that this piece sat on someone’s desk for a while before some advertiser pulled out and they needed to fill some pages quick.

But there is a pretty great Where Are They Now piece on Paris. Yeah, dude is a millionaire stock broker. No shit. They play it all off like he’s no sell out, but it’s weird. Read the damn thing and see how you feel yourself. Can you go from Armed Insurrection to MSNBC-junkie and still be down with a 10 Point System? To judge Paris “Guilty ‘fore proven innocent” is wrong, but I still feel betrayed by a brother who promised to put a cap in my ass just because I’m White.

Are There Any More Real Revolutionaries?

Sarah Vowell should be banned from radio

I am ready to open this can of worms. It’s an ugly can with a torn label. When I open this can it won’t open cleanly. The lid will still be attached and the jagged edges will surely cut the shit out of hand and the worms will twist in their muck and my blood, but here it goes.

Sarah Vowell should be banned from radio.

I know, she’s is a great writer and a great interviewer and all around cool chick, but radio is a medium of sound and the sound of her voice is killing me. Radio personalities should have a smooth voice. Listen to any classic rock DJ, they are the best voices in radio. The soundwaves that flow from their mouths are smooth and long and rounded with deep, deep valleys of bass. Sarah Vowell’s are sharp, jagged and harsh like a bent up cheese grater. The insides of my ears actually get chapped if I listen to her with headphones.

Now, I acknowledge her talent and don’t wish her ill will, I just want her off the airwaves. She is a witty and insightful writer and should certainly pursue that medium for her excellent music reporting. But please, don’t give her a microphone. Just as the old joke goes—That lady has a face made for radio—Sarah Vowell has a voice made for magazines.




I went to get a key made and it was nothing like it should have been. Ain’t that a bitch?

In my head, locksmiths occupy the same category as cobblers and blacksmiths: old-timey professions that, while still relevant, conjure vibrant mental imagery of their vocational heyday. A cobbler will always work by hand, at night, and have an elfin beard. A blacksmith will be a mountain of man with a hearty laugh, and know why an anvil has that curious shape. And a locksmith? Well…

As I walked to the hardware store with my key in hand, I entertained sun-dappled, soft-focus visions of a friendly, crotchety old locksmith – the kind with a screwed down eye, bands on the arms of his crisp, high-collared white shirt, and silver-rimmed round glasses. He would very carefully pull them out of his pocket, wrap the stems around his ears, and say, “now young man, what can we do for you?” Then he’d offer me some homemade licorice.

The hardware was just off a busy corner where three streets met. As I walked up to the door, I thought it was probably a pretty good location for business. I commended my fantasy locksmith for keeping his business running all these years since 1945, what with all the changes to the neighborhood. 1945 was, of course, when he started the shop with his partner, a Polish-Catholic from Chicago’s south side who everyone called “Ponzi.” The two had met, naturally, while my main man the locksmith was in the Merchant Marine during the war. I pushed my way inside the shop.

Luckily, the merciless electronic door buzzer was set to stun. But instead of a friendly hello from Dot, the locksmith’s corn-fed wife of fifty years (his high school sweetheart!) who worked the front desk, I received wary, surly looks from two sullen young women leaning on the modern cash register counter. I thought to ask these Hustler “Beaver Hunt” candidates where the key-making counter was, but one look at their shifty eyes and I decided to trust my wits. I swear, the blonde had a shiv. Besides, they seemed rather put out that I had interrupted their conversation about which member of Slipknot was the hottest (don’t they wear masks? Oh, well…). As I left the girls behind, I silently wished them luck in their porn careers.

The store had that same lived-in, sad appearance that you see behind Middle-Eastern hostages when they broadcast their kidnappers’ ransom demands. Burnished tin tile had been (badly) painted over, and the walls had been given a coating of drywall, probably at the same time the new shelving units were bolted in. By this time, my image of the friendly old locksmith was clouding over. I pictured him in a scene out of a John Mellencamp song, signing over his beloved shop to The Man, because without Ponzi’s help (he’d passed away earlier that year), the locksmith would never be able to stay afloat. Ugh. I found the key counter, but it was unmanned. The plastic sign said, “Counter closed. See front counter for assistance.” I figured the Slipknot debate had probably moved on to the topic of Wes Borland’s cool black contact lenses, and instead banked on finding someone roving the aisles, perhaps even my elusive old-timey locksmith.

After a minute, I discovered an older man gingerly placing florescent tubes on a shelf towards the rear of the store. From the down the aisle, he could have passed for my locksmith hero, with his white hair, glasses, and blue hardware vest, with its pockets chock full o’ pens, nails, and various bric-a-brac. I smiled and continued toward him. As I began a hearty greeting, he emitted a great “FUCK! Shit Damn!” He had dropped one of the florescents, and there was glass and white dust all over the floor. He didn’t realize it, but with that shattered lighting tube had gone the last visage of the patient, friendly locksmith I had been hoping for. That locksmith’s image in my head had gone from idyllic, to worried, to its presently degenerated state, which had the locksmith being shackled in his own locks by a band of thieves in the back room. Watch out for the broomstick. Despite all of this, I did still need a duplicate key, so I took my chances with the light dropper.

“Excuse me, sir?”

His head snapped up – I think I heard his neck crack. “What do you need?” He went back to sweeping the light fragments into a pile after a one-second appraisal of me.

“I need this key duplicated.”

“Ah, one of the girls at the front can help you.” Irritated.

I took my chances. “Actually, the girl up there has a line, and I’m sort of in a-”

“All right hold on a second. I’ll be right there.” More irritated.

So after a few minutes, in which I had figured out how to use the key machine by looking at it, he showed up, stepped behind the counter, and asked in an oddly cordial tone what he could help me with. Which was an interesting question, given that I had already told him, and the fact that we were standing at a key duplication counter. But I gave him the key, and he ran it through the machine. In a minute, my new key and I were heading up front to pay, after a gruff thank you from my man. I figured he probably had to get back to pistol-whipping the real locksmith in the back.

Next time I get a key made, I won’t be so naïve. And I’ll bring a camera to get those Beaver Hunt shots.


When the fat guy plays the didgeridoo

For me, the phrase “when the fat lady sings” does not signify anymore. For me, the universal sign that it’s over is now “when the fat guy plays the didgeridoo.” This implies no slight to the aboriginal wind instrument, elegant in it’s simplicity and able to be created from almost any available material, nor towards anyone with the oral and pulmonary dexterity to play one. It’s just the image that I’m stuck on since I saw DJ Polywog and her band at Justice League in San Francisco California. She was the evening’s entertainment at the New Media Underground Festival, which is sort of like a poetry reading, but for computer programmers and web animators where everybody gets to drink beer.

So, after some stimulating demonstrations of what Flash is capable of, including a demonstration by couple of kids who wrote a program to allow raw Midi data (from, in this case, a sampler) to manipulate animations while the music is playing (allowing you to actually see the music, man) and many full sail IPAs, I was in a pleasantly dreamy state of drunkenness, both from the ale and from the possibilities. Plus, I’d heard things about DJ Polywog, or at least I’d seen her picture in Rolling Stone back when I still read Rolling Stone, she was the festival dj for Lollapalooza and a bunch of other bullshit.

But back in that singing fat lady time, I didn’t think much of it when the band started to set up, a couple of turntables, an upright bass, a guitar, and a didgeridoo attached to the aforementioned fat guy but then, the image did not signify. The guy from New York I’d been talking to decided to call it a night.

I was leaning back on the bar next to the cash register, perfect view of the dance floor, if there was anybody dancing, just waiting for things to get started. That’s when I smelled it. Weed. I spun around. The smoker stared back at me. Either this was the Notorious B.I.G. hiding in plain sight after faking his own death, or it was someone with a very striking resemblance and a well defined respect for the deceased rapper’s personal style and attitude, puffing on a blunt the size of a Monte Cristo cigar, blowing out thick clouds of ganja and clearly not giving a shit about anyone who knew it.

Like me, for instance.

I turned back to the stage where the fat guy was blowing a mean, mournful retort from his tube that blended in to the synth track coming from the turntable. Biggie started heading in my direction, but I didn’t look. He stepped up to the bar right next to where I was standing. He ordered a drink from the bartender. I don’t remember the bartender mentioning the uniform non-smoking policy for all restaurants and bars in the state of California, but it could be that it just slipped his mind. I honestly have to say it slipped mine until just now. As the bartender reached into the speed racks for the bottle of Stoli, Biggie turned to me, took another deep draw on the massive blunt, turned in my direction, and blew a cloud of smoke the size of a beach ball right at me, paid for his drink, and returned to his posse. It was then I knew it was time to start the long walk back to my hotel.

As for DJ Polywog, I’d recommend following Biggie Jr.’s implicit advice and get really high before you see her show. There really isn’t that much else to say about it. Just make sure you’re out of there by the time the fat guy plays the didgeridoo.


Recently on GloNo, the point was made that Steely Dan was arguably the best Drug Rock band of the 70s. While I won’t dispute the point, it raised another question in my mind: what happened to Drug Rock? What a long, strange trip it’s been…

Where are the blacklit rooms, adorned with florescent wall posters of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin? What happened to that guy who lived at the end of the block in his divorced parents’ vacant house – Doug, was it? – who always had the really good weed? The guy who drove the brown Nova with the bitchin’ Realistics in the back, and was always hanging around in the back of the school parking lot behind the tennis courts? Don’t tell me Doug didn’t pass the torch of knowledge to his younger brother, cousin, or nephew. Say it ain’t so! Don’t tell me that today’s American youth have no Wooderson-esque drug mentor, willing to provide his own ganja-laced Afterschool Special?

I DIDN’T learn it from you, alright?! I DIDN’T learn it from watching YOU!!

Yes, the days of the teardrop window’d conversion van are over. Whether your Drug Rock heroes are Steely Dan, Jimi, Led Zeppelin, or even Syd Barrett, the sad truth is that their legacies were beat up and left for dead by the excesses of the 1980s. She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie: Cocaine. Studio 54 begat disco, which begat New Wave, which begat the sharp angles and jarring colors of 80s pop culture. There wasn’t any room in this world of pink satin and skinny ties for the medium cool of a good bong hit. Do you think Bud Fox would’ve still jumped Darryl Hannah’s bones if he’d lured her with kind bud? Hell no! Greed is good. But not when you’re out in the forest preserve, passing the dutchie from the left-hand side. 70s Drug Rock was about those sublime moments of introspection, when you can see the inside of your mouth while realizing exactly why that side of the moon was dark. But the extended musical freakouts of 70s AOR didn’t jibe with the angular, hyperactive pop of the ensuing decade, and by the late 1980s gatefold LPs, concept albums, and 21-minute drum solos were only a memory.

But inevitably, the Sheen wore off of the 80s. The stock market had crashed, Republicans weren’t running the show, and Aqua Net was out of style. Across America, distortion was ringing, heralding the return of the guitar. But Drug Rock wouldn’t be resurrected by feedback. No, the only one who could ever save the Drug Rock vibe was…Dusty Springfield.

In 1991, “Cypress Hill” dropped with the unforgettable pairing of Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and B-Real slurring “hits from the bong…”. Cypress Hill was all about the Mother Nature, and wanted everyone to know it. The album’s production was on par with 70s-style noodling, as well. Hazy beats combined with wacko sound effects and B-Real’s smirking, loopy delivery to create a new kind of Drug Rock that got all the kids hooked. The West Coast continued its dominance the following year with Dr Dre’s “The Chronic.” If “Cypress Hill” had brought back Drug Rock production, then the hilarious skits, thematic flow, and Parliament-style G-funk of “The Chronic” really got the 70s weed vibe back onto the high road. Listening to “Chronic” was like imagining Cheech & Chong fronting Parliament at a one-night only gig on the Mothership. Maybe now it was endo, but Snoop Doggy Dogg’s laid back drawl let everybody know it was the same vibe: a day not wasted is a wasted day. Tanqueray and chronic? Yeah, I’m fucked up now…

Unfortunately for weed (and music in general), the popular emergence of the G-Funk style did nothing to raise the bar of creativity. Legions of imitators followed Dre’s seminal work, and even Cypress Hill ran into trouble following up the grand tradition of its first release. Sure, everyone was smoking tons of weed, but the beats just weren’t that tight, and the music suffered.

Even more unfortunate is the state of Drug Rock today. A particularly disturbing side effect begotten in part by New Drug Rock pioneers such as Dre or Cypress Hill has been the formulation of the rap-rock movement, currently in vogue on Modern Rock stations and in undegraduate dorms throughout America. Groups like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, and Incubus seem more enamored of the 70s approach to formulaic guitar-based music than any vaunted Drug Rock history. In fact, their link to the demon weed is tenuous at best. Lots of lip service is paid to the drug, but the dynamics of, say, “Pretzel Logic” or “Aja” are a lot easier to zone out to than the he-said she-said bullshit of the Bizkit. The shit’s just too aggressive, man.

So maybe Steely Dan did deserve that Grammy, if only to please an older, paunchier Doug, who shed a lonely tear into his TV dinner as he thought back to the days of hanging out in the back of the school parking lot, polishing his Nova and listening to “Barracuda” as he separated the seeds from the stems…


Rock and roll can change your life.