Monthly Archives: November 2007

Virgin Megastore of Despair

Late October from MySpace. We’re getting closer to real time… I have to say, the Springsteen is not holding up as well to repeated listenings. Lots of good songs, but it doesn’t quite add up to an album. It does retain the quality I most like though, of being like a greatest hits album because it covers so many Springsteen eras and moods, but composed entirely of new songs. KT Tunstall is still good clean fun, and Rilo Killey remains excellent. Neil Young is Neil Young, and needs no further justification. Like God and Popeye.

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This afternoon I spent a few hours at the Virgin Megastore downtown bopping around from listening station to listening station. This is something I do about once a month to check out the new releases, hoping, of course, to find something good. In particular, I’m always hoping to find new bands making exciting, interesting music.


I’m not going to lie to you. It looks pretty grim.

Outside of dance music, which is not my scene, and hip hop, which is mostly not my scene and has also been mostly ghastly for a few years now, I was faced with album after album of slightly bleary emo and slightly bleary pop punk and slightly bleary indie darlings and slightly bleary overly-orchestral metal. The few standouts came from stalwarts, which gave me a fine burst of age-pride, but left me concerned for the future of our youths.

The new Foo Fighters album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace seems to be in good working order. Sliding even further up the age scale, Mick Jones was showing up the kids with his new project Carbon/Silicon which brings to mind welcome echoes of his Big Audio Dynamite days and even of the Clash. I ended up going older still, walking out the door with the new albums from Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.

Neil Young is sometimes really off, like during 1979-1989, or when he made that weird “Let’s Roll” song shortly after 9/11. Even when he’s off, he’s pretty compelling. But when he’s on, as he is throughout Chrome Dreams II, he’s irresistible. The plaintive haunting voice is entirely authentic throughout, buoyed by rich acoustic music and welcome occasional trips into seething guitar that puts one in mind of Crazy Horse in full glory.


As for Springsteen, his album, Magic, is. He’s playing with the E-Street Band, which leaves him both more rocking and more relaxed than on Devils and Dust. The overall impression is of a master, thirty years on, able to draw on moods and themes from throughout his career and turn them into elegiac vignettes that are musically polished without losing the quality of being heartfelt. I’m especially gratified with the surging “Radio Nowhere” which echoes my own concerns about the musical wasteland: This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?… I want a thousand guitars/I want pounding drums/I want a million different voices/Speaking in tongues


It does look grim, but it is not entirely forlorn.

Putting little KT Tunstall in a miniskirt and boots on the cover of Drastic Fantastic as she hoists her guitar aloft seems like a dirty trick. On the other hand, it’s one to which I am entirely susceptible. Actually listening to it, though, filled me with delight that she’s grown more fully into the voice in evidence on her debut album. By the time I got to track six, “Hopeless” I just hung up the headphones and added the CD to my stack because she was too darned good to ignore.

Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight was an equally delightful surprise. I don’t really know them that well so I pictured them as being part of that indie vein that sounds vaguely like everything else in that indie vein. You know, all the Deathcabs and Postal Services and Iron and Wines and what have you. In fact, Rilo Kiley sound like themselves. And it is good.

I Oughta Be in Pictures

Continuing the great job of porting over content, from MySpace on 10/21. That film project I mention here now has a final script, a great crew, and a tight shooting schedule that commences next week. And besides being a co-writer, I also have a small non-speaking role. Yaaay!

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When I was ten years old I wanted to make movies.

My friend Steven and I wrote scripts, loose leaf on ruled paper, which I bound together with those little bendable brass thumbtack things that you fit through the holes in the margins. My efforts were pretty derivative- I didn’t see a problem with repeating the plot of Jaws verbatim (albeit condensed to ten pages) nor did the fact that George Lucas had already done a spaceship navigating an asteroid field prevent me from thinking that it was a nifty idea for a scene.

Nevertheless, we had heart. We even went so far as to paint backdrops, figure out which of our toys and models could serve as props, and sign up our friends as actors. Our efforts really fell apart over the lack of a camera to shoot anything with. This was pre-digital video days, so we would have been talking a Super-Eight at a minimum, and nobody’s parents were interested in springing for that. Small death of a small dream.

Flash forward ten or so years. A college sophomore, I was having one of those “what will I do when I grow up” crises. I now recognize that any twenty year old who is worried about choosing a life path already should be slapped silly and sent out to play, but at the time it seemed quite serious. I took out a sheet of paper (loose leaf again, no thumbtack bindies this time) and went through the Berkeley catalog, listing out all the majors that interested me besides the one I was actually pursuing. The one that most interested me was Film Theory. But no, that was all so impractical, back to Political Science for me.

Jump cut another ten plus years, to 2005. In the pit of misery at a ten hour a day, 6.5 days a week finance job with a dotcom I asked myself, “If I could do anything in the world right now, what would it be?” The first answer to flash through my mind was that I would go to film school. I actually ended up using my post-IPO proceeds from that job to take six months off and finish the novel I’d been working on for the last few years. Not by any means a bad investment of time or money, but I did notice that the desire to make movies had kept itself alive over a twenty-five year period.

And fade in now, two years later. Call me a slow learner, or, I think more accurately, a slow believer. A few weeks ago I went to the orientation for the latest round of Scary Cow, a local filmmaking collective. Last week I went to the pitch session for the projects in this round and met the various team leaders. And today I met in a diner (itself a very cinematic setting) with members of one of the teams and went over ideas for the script and the production schedule.

Roughly twenty-seven years from conception to production, but over the next few months I will finally be involved in making movies. Yaay!

The Song of My Soul

This is ported over my MySpace blog from mid-October. But I figure, if we all still have souls, it remains relevant. If some of us have become soulless since then, perhaps even more so!

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I was talking to one of my new roommates the other night and he mentioned finding the song of your soul. You know, that moment where, in the midst of the shambles of ill-made choices and fears and doubts and life in general, you stumble across that thing that you really groove to. The light breaks through the darkness, however briefly, bringing you back to who you really are and what you really want.

The song of his soul was awakened in this case by an episode of a prison drama narrated with show tunes, but that’s beside the point. I knew instantly knew what he meant. This weekend I was lucky enough to have a moment where I stumbled across the song of my soul.

On Saturday I went to Lit Crawl, the closing event of the annual Litquake festival. The basic idea is that over the course of three hours, readings occur in thirty-five venues across an eight-block strip of the Mission District. You drift from one to another, like a pub-crawl except that you imbibe words along the way. I found myself having an attack of the heebie-jeebies while drifting. Not reading anywhere myself brought up fears of being a literary failure. A friend who was supposed to go with me had flaked at the last minute, and going around by myself brought up feelings of being a lonesome loser (it really may be time to start dating again soon). Being jostled in sweaty, crowded bars made me feel like I was being jostled in sweaty, crowded bars.

In the midst of this charming bouquet of emotions, I squeezed myself into a corner near the stage in Amnesia for “The Beat on the Page”, a reading by local music writers. As Katy St. Clair read her tale on being propositioned by 81 year-old country/bluegrass legend Charlie Louvin (it’s on her MySpace blog, I recommend checking it out), my cares began to fall away. By the time Wendy Farina (excellent musician and writer and also an eminently MySpacable personage) took the stage to perform her piece about a fifty-year-old woman who has just joined a punk band as a drummer and acquired Jimi Hendrix as a dream music spirit guide, my soul was positively humming.

These were my people. This is what makes my muse beat her little wings and wake me up at inconvenient hours to start writing. This is the song of my soul. And when I hear it I don’t want to be anyone else, anywhere else than me, right here, right now.

I know you know what I mean, because you have a song too. And so, my tens of readers, I invite you to write in and tell me about the song of your soul…

My Long Hair is More Punk Than Your Mohawk

Ever since I started growing my hair out again three years ago I’ve experienced repeated versions of the following:

I’ll be hanging out with people of a punkish persuasion and someone will start in on a story about how somebody or something annoyed them because it was, “fucking hippie.” Whereupon they’ll pause, look in my direction, and parenthetically insert, “no offense.” I’m really not easily given to offense, but in point of fact this comment always does annoy me, for at least three reasons.

First off, as I keep trying to impress upon people, the hair aesthetic I’m going for is more grunge than hippie. Do you recall the average hair-length of a member of Soundgarden in 1991? Two feet, minimum. Go back and check out Eddie Vedder from that same vintage. Not to mention shoulder length supper-shaggy Kurt Cobain. Never even mind Alice in Chains, the Melvins or that dude from Tad. Hair, hair everywhere. And what about all the other things in our collective cultural unconscious that long hair could signify? There’s the country western long hair. Founding Father long hair. Pre-Delilah Samson. I could go on. Hippie my ass!

Second, the third generation baby-punks who often come up with this comment are displaying an appalling lack of historical knowledge. Punks, real original punks, were perfectly capable of having long hair. Have these kids ever even seen a picture of Joey Ramone, for Pete’s sake? How about the New York Dolls or the Heartbreakers? Iggy Pop’s hair has been the same length since 1969 for crying out loud!

Third, and this is the critical point, punk as a philosophy is antithetical to having to look any particular way. After its initial outburst in the late 70s the machine ate it up and spit it back out at us as a style. It was pretty gristly, so it took a while, but the machine is patient. And so, since the mid-80s at least, there’s been a very standard punk uniform that hasn’t changed at all. This is so un-punk as to be alarming. What’s more DIY and non-conformist- me having to have a mohwak or dyed or spiked hair to listen to a certain kind of music, or me having long hair because I damn well feel like it? Having piercings and tattoos as a sign of group allegiance or being the only un-tattooed un-pierced person under the age of forty in all of San Francisco?

To invert the Sex Pistols’ lyric: We don’t care about long hair. It’s our choice, it’s what we want to do. My long hair is more punk than your mohwak! Bollocks to all of you! And I’ll listen to Donovan any time I fucking want, too!

Ahem.

Thankful

I’ve been using the occasion of Thanksgiving to reflect on things that I’m thankful for. Granted, the genocidal origin of the festivities is troubling and the joy of large family gatherings (and indeed the entire holiday season) is highly suspect, but since they’ve gone to all the trouble of setting up a theme for the holiday, I say we might as well use it. Call me a traditionalist.

So here, in no discernible order, are ten things I’m thankful for:

  1. Physical Graffiti– I was listening to this album just before leaving town for Thanksgiving, and man, there is not a single out of place note. Even really good albums generally can’t get by without one unfortunate dud slipping in along the way (that “Lily and the Jack of Hearts” crap on Blood on the Tracks, for instance), so the fact that Led Zeppelin pulled off a near-perfect double album is truly a wonderment.

  1. The Beach- Although I work just across from it in San Francisco, I don’t get there nearly often enough. Yesterday I went to the beach near my parent’s house in Moss Landing, and it was perfect. The sky was overcast and the smooth bay reflected back shades of gray, green steel blue and purple-black. It was one of those moments when you find yourself stunned with admiration for this wild world we’ve been turned loose in the midst of.

  1. God- Speaking of the wild world we’ve been turned loose in the midst of, how about a shout-out to the Blessed Lady who caused it to be brought forth? Love ya, Babe!

  1. Ainu and Salaam- I just spent four days with my boys, two of the best cats ever made, Ainu and Salaam. The guest bed at my parents’ house is none too comfortable, but sleeping with two curled up little furrbies makes it worthwhile.

  1. Friends- I have some great ones. In the past few days alone I’ve had occasion to feel blessed that my life includes Caille, Chris (no, I am not referring to myself, I mean the girl one), Corinne, Eric, Glen, Helen, Jason, Jim, Jodie, Karen, Laura and Steve, to name just a few.

  1. Do-wop- In terms of electronic communications media, being at my parents’ house is kind of like being in Poland in the pre post-Communist era. As a result, there isn’t a lot to do in the evenings besides watching PBS. Which aired a great show last night of classic do-wop groups in concert. I am not aware that any product of human civilization in the past fifty years has topped the perfection of “Earth Angel”.

  1. Big breakfasts that include pancakes- I’ve had a lot of them in the last four days, and let me tell you, they were good.

  1. My family- Okay, they drive me batty. One could argue that they made me batty, but you have to concede the larger point that they made me. And are still there for me when I need them. Even if there’s a lot of newspaper reading and not much talking along the way.

  1. The hip-width to waist-width aspect ratio of the human female- I find this to be utterly delightful. I know that my appreciation has been handed to me by evolution and is in fact a kind of sucker-punch of reproductive biology, but this does not diminish my delight.

  1. Being sober this holiday season- Every item on this list, the fact that I’m writing a Blog about it, and that there are hundreds (okay, tens) of people reading it has all been made possible by this. 11 months and 9 days, yo!

And there’s my list. I feel like it just got me geared up enough that I could rattle off another ten and another ten after that. But let’s pause here, and I’d love to hear what you are thankful for…

37 and counting…

Note: I posted this on the MySpace blog after my birthday in September. But I figure I’m even more 37 now than I was then, so it still has relevance.

I’ve always been anniversary milestone minded. You know, “It was a year ago today that Svetlana and I…” and so forth. Since I don’t actually know anybody named Svetlana that example was purely for illustrative purposes, but you get the point. This past Friday I turned 37, so besides being mildly in shock that my life is now 10% over (hey, who are you to say that I won’t live to 370?) I’ve taken the opportunity to review what I was doing around the time of my birthday 20, 10, 5 and one years ago.

20 years ago: September 1987. I was a senior in high school in Castroville, California. I had never had a drink. Or kissed a girl. I’ve since sworn off one of those, but I retain high hopes for the other. Speaking of the second, I was meeting or about to meet my first girlfriend, Genelle. Which was very sweet. Everything was sweet and innocent then, but also limited. I was subject to teenage depression, so worried about not being popular, and I yearned to get out of the minimum-security prison of high school and move on to somewhere, anywhere, where life was happening. Flash forward to…

10 years ago: September 1997. I wanted life. I got it! I had just gotten married in San Diego, California. We got married on a boat in the harbor, which was great. We got married to each other, which was, in retrospect, a little ill advised. She and I had been together for five years, having met at Berkeley, lived in Japan and traveled all over Asia together before settling in San Diego for graduate school. There was a lot of love, but I think fundamentally we just didn’t fit each other. For my part I was too young and had too many parts of my life shut down to really understand that. I was supposed to be writing and creating but instead I had just finished graduate school in business and was working for an international trading company. In a big, white, conservative, relentlessly pleasant city, which was not at all suitable for an expatriate Northern Californian like myself.

5 years ago: September 2002. Finally in San Francisco, where I had wanted to live my whole life! And separated from my wife for about six months, on our way to divorce. Our life together had gotten progressively harder since moving to San Francisco in 1999, and she finally had the sense to tell me she was leaving and move out. Six months later I was about to start post-separation dating. This was really my first dating in a decade. Or ever, when you consider that I never dated in high school, and barely did in college. I won’t out the young lady involved except to say that she is the coolest damn lawyer ever, and it was a great reminder that life could go on and be fun post decade-long relationship. I had returned to writing and had begun the first notes on the novel that is now, seven drafts later, out seeking a literary agent. Finally, I had started working a few months before at PlanetOut, which was extremely welcome after spending a year unemployed in the midst of the dot-bust. I stayed there for almost four years, which was great because gay people rule! So says this token straight boy…

1 year ago: September 2006. I had just started working at the Exploratorium, which was great because geeky science education people rule! The non-profit world also had a lot more human work schedule than PlanetOut had in its post-IPO frenzy. I was working on getting my writing published in various venues while drafting a query letter for the novel to send out to literary agents. On the relationship front, I had taken a break from dating, which I’m still in today; except that now I think it’s just about at an end. Most important of all, I was nearing the end of three years of bottoming out on drinking and other things that had made my life increasingly unmanageable.

And there you have it. My life now is actually a lot like it was a year ago, except that having bottomed out and surrendered everything is easier. I’m very grateful to be here now and excited to see what 37 will bring.

20 Reasons Why the 2000s Might Not Totally Suck

So far the 2000s have been pretty sucky. (We also need to face up to the subsidiary fact that nobody has come up with a name for this decade yet. My favorite suggestion is “the naughts”, but this doesn’t seem to have caught on.) The political and military carnage of post-9/11 existence is the most obvious symptom of our collective malaise, but the decade hasn’t been great shakes in musical terms either. I expect this to perk up in 2009 (see my November 14th entry). In the meantime, even in a musical night there are always dots of light. Here are 20 reasons why the 2000s might not totally suck:


Begin de Cycle

1. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (U2, 2000)

As the French will tell you, you can’t properly begin a new cycle until you have put the fin to the old one. This album finds U2 in a turn of mood and music that perfectly captures the pivot point between the old and the new. We’re all stuck in a moment we can’t get out of, and this album just might encourage us to get ourselves together.


Calling out to idiot America

2. One Beat (Sleater Kinney, 2002)

3. American Idiot (Green Day, 2004)

The problem with politically themed music (or art of any kind) is that it can get so caught up in its ideology that it forgets its artistry. Sleater Kinney never fall into this trap on One Beat, producing a record that rocks without pause and cries out in the wilderness to remind us, just a few months after 9/11 and well before the press or the political opposition came to life again, that dissent is not treason. If the ladies from Olympia produced a political-musical John the Baptist, it cleared the way for the Jesus that is American Idiot, a masterwork the is political without getting didactic, punk without getting repetitive and a rock opera that actually works as a coherent story. Let’s repeat that- Green Day tried to make a political punk rock opera and pulled it off. Wow.


Muses (Throwing and otherwise)

4. Sunny Border Blue (Kristin Hersh, 2001)

5. Beautysleep (Tanya Donelly, 2002)

6. Title TK (the Breeders, 2002)

As someone on the leeward side of thirty, I find it heartwarming that thirtysomething musical veterans made three of the best albums of the decade so far. Half-sisters Tanya Donelly and Kristin Hersh helped form the rock underground of the Eighties (see, that decade has a name, and it doesn’t even deserve one!) and inspired the alternative rock outburst of the Nineties by co-founding the Throwing Muses. Kim Deal meanwhile did the same, in even more influential fashion, with the Pixies in the Eighties and the Breeders in the Nineties. More than fifteen years after starting out all three of them are still going strong, as evidenced by this marvelous trio of emotionally poignant, musically searing, lyrically sophisticated albums.


There’s still life in the old beast!

7. Elephant (the White Stripes, 2003)

8. Chain Gang of Love (the Raveonettes, 2003)

9. the Konks (the Konks, 2005)

10. Carnavas (Silversun Pickups 2006)

If the previous three deserve praise for keeping moving past the age of thirty, how about a round of applause for Rock and Roll itself for still being capable of making dangerous noise past the age of fifty? During every musical trough some opining occurs that maybe, this time, Rock is dead. Even a quick listen to these four records shows that that’s a bunch of bullshit. The White Stripes and the Raveonettes get there through roots revivalism, the Silversun Pickups surf a wave of feedback and distortion, and the Konks, well, there are no words to properly describe what the Konks do, but it’s best to hide the children while they’re doing it.


Genre lives!

11. Dying in Stereo (Northern State, 2002)

12. Straight to Hell (Hank Williams III, 2006)

13. Losin’ It (Vancougar, 2007)

Three white girls from Long Island putting out a totally fresh feminist hip hop album? The grandson of the great Hank Williams producing honky-tonk music with a punk rock attitude? An all-female pop-punk quartet from Vancouver making a record in four days that is better than anything else you’re going to hear this year? These three albums remind you that, in loving and inventive hands, surprising things can still happen in even the most formulaic of musical genres.


Promising new voices

14. Chutes Too Narrow (the Shins, 2003)

15. So Jealous (Tegan and Sara, 2004)

16. Martha Wainwright (Martha Wainwright, 2005)

Each of these albums represents a truly unique voice, in both the sonic and the lyrical sense, coming in to its own. Without sounding like each other, all three abound with lyrical sophistication, clever turns of phrase, a surprising emotional vulnerability and an unnerving ability to slip in the knife and twist it just when you thought you were in the middle of a safe pop melody. I hope that long and interesting careers lay ahead of them.


There must be some kind of way out of here

17. 18 (Moby, 2002)

18. Reveille (Deerhoof, 2002)

19. You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (Death From Above 1979, 2004)

20. College Dropout (Kanye West, 2005)

Despite signs of life, the 2000s as a whole has been stuck in a musical rut. Sooner or later something will come along that will get us out of it. (In 2009? Ibid.) Could it be in the form of electronica and rock meeting, a la Moby? Or through Deerhoof playing the exploded pieces of a power-pop song in asynchronous tightness? With heavy metal as dance music as brought to us by Death From Above 1979? By Kanye West shaking hip hop out of its stagnant gangster subroutine through multi-genre sampling and rhymes that are actually about something? Whether or not these four albums contain glimmers of what the future might sound like, they at least show that the spirit of searching and innovation remains alive.