Clowns, Gangs, and Bad Taste

We seldom write about politics here at Bums Logic because, after all, we are a blog about music and culture. If you want to read about politics there are no shortage of sites, blogs, feeds, Tweets, photos, videos, podcasts, and hand-outs to catch yourself up with the latest.

In a band with a gang???

However, today I feel compelled to write about a group I never thought I would ever even consider typing words about, let alone think about: The Insane Clown Posse. If you don’t know who these guys are by now, then just click here. These two handsome fellas, Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler), have been performing their unique hybrid of rock and hip hop for close to 20 years now.  Their fans are known as The Juggalo’s, and like other fringe-worthy sub-sects of society they are an oft misunderstood group. In 2011, though, the FBI (yes, that FBI) designated The Juggalo’s as a gang. On September 16, 2017 (I am writing this the day before) The Juggalo’s are marching on The Mall here in Washington, DC to protest this designation. I, for one, am in full support of their march. I simply don’t see how anyone that cares about the first amendment could think otherwise.

From Alice Cooper and Kiss in the 70’s to GWAR in the 80’s to Marylin Manson in the 90’s, artists have been pushing the artistic definitions of taste to extremes to varying degrees of success (and this doesn’t even take into account filmmakers and visual artists). Some do it for profit, others for the art, and a few for both. The great thing about any art form or any artist? You don’t have any obligation to consume the work. If you don’t like it….then you have every right to ignore it.

When the FBI concluded that because certain groups of people who considered themselves Juggalo’s committed crimes and therefor all members of this fan base constitute a “gang” a first amendment line was crossed that, at least in my lifetime, was unprecedented. The FBI essentially said: you are guilty of being a fan of an artist.

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The Adventures of Jackie and The Treehorns

The band Jackie and The Treehorns (disclaimer: I am a member) have released the first episode of their new official comic strip “The Adventures of Jackie and The Treehorns.” Each strip will be based off a song in their catalog. In the debut story the band encounters an alien while on tour. Only this time, it is the band that does the abducting. You can click on the image to view the strip in a web page, which gives you a higher resolution imagery.

RU4REAL

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Official Website

Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Ranking the best Super Bowl halftime shows is a subjective and predictable (and pointless) exercise. But let’s do it anyway. Just as the Super Bowl game on the field has changed over the years and gotten bigger (and sometimes better), so too has the halftime show.

In the early days, when the league and game itself were not as big as they are today, the halftime shows were simple marching-band extensions of regular football games. As the years passed, they added occasional singers like Ella Fitzgerald and such pop celebrities as Carol Channing (twice). The Super Bowl Halftime Show as we know it today was not quite a “thing” yet.

As late as the 1980s, it was still just marching bands and Up With People performing salutes to random themes. (According to one of the great first lines on all of Wikipedia, “Up with People is an education organization whose stated mission is to bridge cultural barriers and create global understanding through service and a musical show.”) One year it was a “Salute to the Stars of the Silver Screen.” Just three years later, the theme was “Salute to the 100th Anniversary of Hollywood” (with George Burns, Mickey Rooney, and Disney characters). Other years they would salute the big-band era and “the 1960s and Motown.” In fact, they would even haphazardly combine tributes, as if some board-room decision had ended in a tie:  the 1990 theme was “Salute to New Orleans and the 40th Anniversary of Peanuts.”

Then Michael Jackson and, 11 years later, Janet Jackson changed how we view the Super Bowl halftime show.

10.) JANET JACKSON (w/ JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)
SB XXXVIII – Feb 1, 2004 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Unfortunately, nothing written about Super Bowl halftime shows is complete without mentioning perhaps the most famous, or infamous, halftime show. Sadly its pop-culture significance will keep it on lists like this forever. Oh, you don’t remember this one? At the end of the performance, Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of Janet’s, uh, wardrobe and revealed most of her bare breast. This was called “nipplegate” even though Miss Jackson made sure her nipple was covered. She showed about the same amount of her body as an average beer commercial by an Official NFL Beer Sponsor. But it was such an outrage to see that for 2 seconds on live TV that all the news and media outlets spent at least a week editorializing on just how awful and classless it was… all while showing a still photo of said exposed breast. This led to several years of only aging male classic rockers performing at the Super Bowl.

9.) DIANA ROSS
SB XXX – Jan 28, 1996 – Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, AZ)
Underrated and possibly forgotten performance, but Diana Ross was up to the task and capably worked through a medley of 10 (ten!) hits. Don’t sleep on the classics.

8.) BRUNO MARS (w/ RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS)
SB XLVIII – Feb 2, 2014 – Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Okay, younger artist with some hits but not quite the household name with some older viewers. By any measure, Bruno Mars nailed his performance. He can sing, he can dance, he can open the show with a drum solo, he brings a horn section, and then he has the Chili Peppers pop out of the stage floor to “givitaway givitaway give it away now.” Exhilarating and professional performance.

7.) ROLLING STONES
SB XL – Feb 5, 2006 – Ford Field (Detroit, MI)
At this point, the Rolling Stones are just game managers. Rock royalty just needs to show up, play a few hits, and fill the stadium with classic riffs. Oh, and do it on a stage shaped like the Stones’ lips/tongue logo.

6.) TOM PETTY & the HEARTBREAKERS
SB XLII – Feb 3, 2008 – University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ)
Sandwiched around Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers solid (if unspectacular) performance of hits was the Patriots-Giants “Helmet Catch” game: a truly great Super Bowl, as well as a huge upset of an undefeated team. We don’t need always need guest rappers or genre-bending collaborations. (Aerosmith-Britney-N’Sync? No thanks.) Petty and his underrated band have been a radio staple for decades. Capable rock bands with good songs are like balanced football teams with good offensive lines.

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The New Classic Rock

Top-Classic-Rock-SongsI grew up in New Jersey in the 70’s and 80’s so you could easily surmise that I was exposed to a shitload of classic rock radio. I recall putting on a “Doors concert” in my first grade class followed by a KISS concert in my second grade class. So yes, I was into music at a very early age (and in hindsight, had some pretty cool teachers).

Both of my older brothers were rock music listeners. They didn’t stray far from the norms of the time: Van Halen, AC/DC, Rush, Aerosmith etc. One of them even ventured off in to some heavier stuff like Sabbath and Priest (who also had some classic rock radio staples) which in turn turned me on to metal bands. It was hard to escape classic rock radio in New Jersey. The question now, looking back is, what exactly is classic rock?

Do we define classic rock as an actual genre of music like we would with blues, reggae, jazz, or soul? Every “genre” of music can have sub genres (which have only grown exponentially in the past 20 years) but I think in my older age I find myself thinking: are The Who really “classic rock” or were they just played on radio stations that, over time, turned bands like The Beatles, The Stones, and Zeppelin into “classic” rock. I don’t think when Mick and Keith first met on that train platform in the early 60’s they said to each other, “hey, mate, let’s form a classic rock band!”

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The Competition Of Music

We were backstage mingling around with our peers and our gear, our stomachs in knots as a result of the anticipation and excitement. We had never done this before. How was it going to play out? Exactly how many people are out there? Do we have any clue what we’re doing?

The auditorium backstage I am speaking of belonged to my middle school. The people “out there” were our classmates. It was the 8th-grade talent show. This was my first gig. It was 1988.

My first band was called High Voltage (don’t laugh, at the time we thought it was “cool” in an AC/DC kinda way). I will say this about us: we were so green that we thought the difference between guitars was how they were tuned. In other words, we didn’t even realize you had to tune your guitars together. This led to a classmates father (who “produced” our demo in our drummers’ basement) to inform us that we sounded like “Sonic Youth.” We were Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Kiss-loving teenagers, we had no fuckin’ clue who this “Sonic Youth” he referred to was (the ultimate irony being that they are now one of my all-time favorite bands). Another thing I will say about High Voltage is that we wrote our own songs, no covers. “Danger In The Night”, “Living In A Nightmare” were a few titles, so you get the gist of what we were shooting for at the time. With lyrics like, “he’s out in the night, looking for a fight, danger in the night, danger in the night” no one was mistaking us for Dylan.

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5 Myths About Playing In A Band

Women in band fighting over man

“I love Jackie!” “No, I love Jackie!!!!”

I have been playing in bands since the day after I bought my first guitar. I took my bar mitzvah money and purchased some cheap-ass imitation Stratocaster the same week a close friend decided he wanted to play drums. We recruited another classmate to play bass, another friend to play guitar, and High Voltage was formed in 1986 (you do the math how old I am now). I have played in 2,673 bands since (minus a few thousand).

Throughout my musical career (I use that term very loosely in that having a career in something usually means you actually make money doing it and, you know, do it full-time, neither of which I do) I have had many great moments, some okay moments, and plenty of that-fucking-sucked moments. If there is one thing you should expect when forming a band it’s that it is never going to be what you expect it to be.

Today, being that it’s been a while since I wrote any sort of “list” for BumsLogic, I have decided to come up with a list of 5 myths about playing in bands. These are mostly based off what people who don’t play in bands think about those of us that do. I shall pre-apologize for my cynicism. My pen name should’ve given that away before you even read this.

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The Anniversary Re-Issue of My Top 10 List

Working in a record store back in 1987, we got the first Beatles CDs shipped to us and excitedly opened the boxes after hours as they would go on sale the next day to coincide with the 20 anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. Obviously I understood the leap to the new format, but was a little surprised at the hype of this “new” release that was really just a reselling of old music everyone already had.

And in true Beatles fashion, of course they predicted all of this and put it on record. In fact the first line of that legendary Sgt. Pepper album is “It was 20 years ago today…” and a tagline was born. The Beatles making it to compact discs in the late 80s wasn’t the first or last “anniversary reissue” but it rang in a new era of nostalgia culture along with what the Box Set craze was doing for what was once known as “The Record Industry.”

As our media and culture and news cycles continued to speed up as technology advanced, so too did our nostalgia rates. The 1990s saw a resurgence (recycling) of the 1960s…. and soon enough we couldn’t wait to re-celebrate the 70s and shout I LOVE THE 80s and by the dawn of the 21st century it seemed we were already “looking back” on a 90s decade that just ended. This hyperwarp eventually ate itself and now we just spend each day, week, and year looking back at the great things that already happened 10, 20, and 25 years ago.

Usually we are nudged into this by some not-so-coincidental reissues… anniversary edition remasters of the classic albums we already know and love. And in the digital age where selling any music, especially hard copy CDs, is next to impossible, it’s a lot easier to (re)sell us stuff everyone knows is good (especially with added goodies and updated artwork or notes). It’s easy to have a hit with a hit.

In the “rock is dead” era, we didn’t need the Strokes or the White Stripes to be saviors of rock, we just exhumed the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin to do it again. It’s almost comical that the recent remastered reissues (expanded 2-disc versions!) of the Zeppelin catalogue rolled out exactly 20 years after the 1994 remasters. Can a shark jump the shark?

Anniversary culture gives us an excuse to tell the world which albums changed our lives and how. We gather in the town square (Facebook/Twitter) and remind our friends that A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory came out 24 years ago. We make our high school buddies feel old by telling them Van Halen’s 1984 is 31 YEARS OLD while websites gather clicks by offering us info on the whereabouts of the woman from the “Hot For Teacher” video. Obviously seminal albums like the Stones Exile on Main St get lavish remastered reissues, and so do lesser-known but still critically acclaimed efforts like Bob Mould’s Workbook, but soon enough there’s a niche within the niche and we’re “celebrating” albums that weren’t so great the first time around. Or maybe the album might be worthy, but we don’t wanna wait for the 20th or 25th anniversaries, so now just “It was 10 years ago today” is good enough.

best_double_albums_3203775bInstead of listing every album that’s had an anniversary reissue, it would be easier to list the ones that haven’t. As for which ones are worthy of buying a second or third time… this brings us from the nostalgia phenomenon to our other favorite rock pastime: Top 10 Lists. From the dawn of the first day spent on that hypothetical desert island, we’ve been making our personal Top 10 lists. Once everyone and their former record-store coworkers had blogs, rock fans everywhere were raging against the tastemakers and righting all the wrongs unjustly handed down by the gatekeepers at Rolling Stone or SPIN or the Grammy voters and anyone else who gets it wrong when trying to tell us what’s good.

It’s a way to make sense of a senseless world in which Bob Marley never won a Grammy and Ziggy Marley’s career is already longer than Bob’s. Continue reading →

Wu Fighters vs. Foo Tang Clan

I can’t be the only who’s noticed the similarities between the cover art for the new Wu-Tang Clan and Foo Fighters albums.

Obviously they’re not identical, but they both utilize the exact same concept: an imaginary “city” made up of famous landmarks from several different real cities. Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways combines the eight cities where they recorded the eight songs, while Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow has an international flavor.

Check it out:

Foo City

Foo City

and…

Wu City.

Wu City

Interview With (A) Neil Young (Fan)

NeilYoungNeil Young has been making the media rounds lately, and since he always has some new album or other new endeavor going on almost every year, I figured instead of interviewing Neil Young, I’d interview a Neil Young fan instead.

Actually, I couldn’t land an interview with Neil Young if I tried, so “Interview With (A) Neil Young (Fan)” isn’t just the next best thing, it’s the only thing.

We were both born in the early 70’s, so we were still mere babies when Neil Young became a star and first embedded himself into the rock’n’roll popular culture consciousness with his solo works and albums with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. As a teenager in the 80’s (probably the commercial and critical low point of his career), what drew you to Neil Young and how did you become such a big fan? Or did it start earlier as a child in the 70’s?

I remember one of my older brothers owning the Live Rust album and him cranking the songs “Sugar Mountain” and “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into The Black)” and just being enamored with the sounds. I had no grasp of who Neil Young was. Like any younger brother I just wanted to emulate whatever my brother did.  A few years later I started playing the guitar and  I heard “Down By The River.” I remember thinking that it was a song unlike any I had ever heard before. It’s unpolished, simplistic nature was just something I was not used to hearing at that time. Matter of fact, I recall the first CD I ever purchased being Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere simply for that song. When I headed off to college I somehow scored the Decade compilation and that pretty much pushed me over the edge.

Your personal Absolute Favorite Neil Young Album, if you were force to name just one?

Wow, now that might be the hardest question you could ever ask a Neil Young fan such as myself. I honestly can’t say that I have a “favorite” album of his since there are so many that I am drawn to. I mean, On The Beach holds a special place in my heart because I love every single song on that record (an album I received in a trade with a close friend. I got On The Beach, he got a Cindy Crawford Playboy). And while Decade is a “compilation” vs. a proper album, it is perhaps the album that turned me from a casual fan into a hardcore one. It would be the album that I would probably tell someone who’s never heard Neil to listen to first. Those being said, I also absolutely love Tonight’s The Night, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Le Noise, and I do own the 63-72 Archives box set which is off the hook awesome.  Might as well toss in Rust Never Sleeps because let’s face it, it’s fuckin’ awesome. Live At Massey Hall used to only be a bootleg but it’s since had a proper release, and is Neil as his intimate, solo, acoustic best!

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BONO IS IN YOUR YARD HOLDING A BOOMBOX OVER HIS HEAD

St. Bono and the boys were so busy rushing this off to Apple Corp to push to you that they didn't even have to make a cover!

St. Bono and the boys were so busy rushing this off to Apple Corp to push to you that they didn’t even have time to make a cover!

First, this isn’t really a first. Thousands of bands release free digital albums all the time. Even in the realm of major commercial artists obviously we had Radiohead “giving away” In Rainbows almost 7 years ago as part of a “pay what you want” thing… and as for selling it to a corporate sponsor for them to give away, Prince had his Twenty Ten CD given away with a newspaper in the U.K. a few years ago. AC/DC, the Eagles, Justin Timberlake, Prince and several others have cut exclusive deals with the likes of Target and WalMart. Jay-Z had an (intrusive) app to deliver his free album (sponsored by Samsung). And Beyonce and others have done the suddenly announced/released “IT’S HERE NOW” album drop.

U2 selling this to Apple for them to then “give” to us is a bit of a hybrid of those previous releases. I guess the main difference is that they actually PUT IT ON YOUR COMPUTER. Lots of major artists give away tracks for free, or offer streaming previews etc… plenty of free tracks that most people can’t be bothered to “go get” (by clicking a mouse several times).

This is Bono coming to your house and standing in your yard holding a boombox over his head.

Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know” he sings as he crawls into your inbox.

The cynical among us will say we’ve already talked about U2 enough, or entirely too much, over the last 25 years or so… and “who cares,” and that any critical discussion about That New Free U2 Album is just falling for Bono’s trick and giving them the publicity they want. OK. Rock bands might not be the most important subject in the world (to you guys) but within the realm of “The Arts” and “Pop Culture,” if we’re going to chronicle every time Justin Beiber pisses in a bucket, then perhaps it’s okay to give 15 minutes of fame to discussing the new U2 album and its method of delivery.

I mean, leave it to U2 to somehow pull off a “surprise album” that’s been years in the hyping.

Doing it this way saves them from any potential embarrassment of it “flopping” and/or the reality that even U2 isn’t gonna sell millions of copies like the old days. By any measure, conventional sales figures of this album would have looked bad by U2 standards even if still in line with rock-bottom expectations of music sales in 2014. So this gets them publicity and they get to look like they gave it away for free…

This is how U2-level artists deal with the new Music (Lack-of) Business, and of course we shed few tears cuz they’re already rich…. and obviously there’s a few levels of artists trying to get their music heard (from the novice garage bands, to the mid-level professional but still anonymous artists on up to the superstar stratosphere). So now even the U2s of the world have to pull stunts just to get heard and “play for free” (even if their new album giveaway was actually subsidized by a large corporation). It’s just funny that even they have to do this shit.

After the first several listens, I’d say there’s some interesting tracks and some more late-career filler with a few pretty good kinda “raw” moments as well… and a few more examples of Bono going for the Big Huge Sweeping Sentiment lyrics… but it’s still too soon to have a strong opinion. (Ultimately it sounds destined for “not-horrific, better than their last one, but still just OK” status.) Continue reading →

On Ice Buckets and Challenges

Thanks to my brother Mark for nominating me for the #ALS #IceBucketChallenge. I’m not making a video, but will be sure to join the masses who have donated. The nature of charity is that you don’t advertise how much you give (but my donation will be in the 10’s of dollars, I can assure you).

Of course, NOT doing an ice bucket video makes me a bit of party pooper in 2014, and that’s okay. If you want to see ice bucket videos, I’m pretty sure you will find some out there. Dave Grohl dressed up as Carrie. Sammy Hagar telling Eddie and Alex Van Halen to go jump in a lake. Eminem on stage during a concert. I’m pretty sure our friend who called out my wife had someone dump pool water over her head while they were standing in the pool. I thought that was just called “Summer.”

The spirit of this ALS viral fundraising phenomenon, the big picture as I see it, is to bring a “less popular” disease to the forefront. Of course (and unfortunately) we have more than enough diseases and famine in the world that we don’t lack options for our charity dollar.

The ice bucket challenge has brought Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)—also referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” and Motor Neurone Disease (MND)—out of the shadows 75 years after Gehrig’s last at-bat for the Yankees. This craze has inspired people all over the world to pour in record numbers of donations (see what I did there?).

The death of Robin Williams was my bucket of ice.

Robin Williams died of perhaps the darkest and most unknowable disease there is: Depression. We don’t know what else was going within him to cause his suicide, and reports that he was also beginning a battle with Parkinson’s only leave us with more questions.

I don’t know what it’s like to experience true Depression. Yes, I’ve been sad, but I’ve always had perspective, and a positive outlook on life and I’m always looking to make a joke. Part of the reason for this happiness is that I grew up watching Robin Williams. From the slapstick insanity of Mork and the furious stand-up routines (that also stood at the forefront of the pop-culture/charity movements of the 1980s with Comic Relief) to the dramatic roles that reminded us “You’re not perfect, sport,” and “Seize the day,” Robin Williams improved our mental state while he either numbed his own, or simply held on tight as it deteriorated.

I don’t mean to throw cold water on something that’s supposed to be fun (sorry). All of this is just my long-winded way of avoiding a big bucket of ice water getting dumped on my head. But just as this viral trend has flooded ALS charities (oops, I did it again) with much-needed support, we need to continue to shine our lights, and cameras, and actions, into the shadows of mental illness and addiction.

As always with this stuff, like with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death… when it’s Cancer or other diseases, there’s usually this tremendous support and compassion… but with Depression, especially when mixed with a history of any type of substance abuse, there’s a stigma, there’s this idea that, “Well, fuck him, he shouldn’t have been such a waste-oid. He did this to himself.” Most substance abuse may start off as choosing to party, choosing to get fucked up, but it too is a disease, no matter if the chicken or the egg is first. Some people turn to substance abuse as a result of Depression. Obviously Depression is a separate animal from Addiction… but they are often treated, or mistreated, similarly.

So I’ll be matching my ALS donation and finding some mental health charities to support as well. And heck, I’m also a big fan of “Music in Schools” charities too! But that’s for another post.

For now, I can only imagine what Robin Williams could have done with a bucket of ice, a camera, and a challenge.

Fantasy Rock Band

Just stare at that chart in all its trivial rock’n’roll glory.

As arbitrary as the chosen musicians and their corresponding “salaries” might be, and countless arguments can be made about who’s missing and who’s under/overpriced, I’m still fascinated by this! [We could make 5 or 10 different salary charts based on this same concept, but as you can see, @MattNorlander made this one, so credit to him and send him any of your complaints.]

A few things are keeping me from making a final decision on a line up. Should I just try to make the salary work under the $25 cap, or also consider how the styles/playing fits together? Just like in sports, perhaps more so, chemistry can be as important as talent. But, this is fantasy. I think it’s safe to assume we are getting each of these guys at their peak, and not current (and in some cases, dead) state. Is it a requirement of this pointless fictional game to spend the full $25? What about getting credit/points for spending less?

My day is shot.

One inherent flaw is the idea of strictly defining the guitarists as either “Lead” or “Rhythm” guitarists. Sure, guys like Keith Richards and Neil Young are more known for riffage than shredding, but that’s not all they can do. Jimmy Page is listed as Rhythm but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of playing Lead. On the flipside, the top Lead Guitarist is Jimi Hendrix, but he’s more than capable of playing a Rhythm role as well. Same for George Harrison (listed as the cheapest “Lead” option, perhaps because we often think of him as a peaceful strum-along type).

So that leads (LEADS, see what I did there?) to more questions: should I pick 2 very versatile guitarists so they each fill both rhythm and lead duties? Or go for a more defined rhythm-lead combo? We’ll play with some lineup options later, but thought it should be noted that the guitar slots are tougher to define than Drums or Bass.

“Frontman” seems easily defined, but there’s some basic flaws with that slot too. Are women eligible? (In fact, there are no women anywhere on this chart, so that’s another general complaint to be launched elsewhere on behalf of Janis Joplin, Kim Gordon, Chrissie Hynde, and Ann & Nancy Wilson.) And are we judging/choosing our Frontman on vocal abilities alone or does stage presence play into it? Again, chemistry comes into play, how will a given Frontman’s voice sound with a given supergroup of musicians? If you choose some hard-rockin metal-leaning musicians, then Axl Rose might be a better choice than, say, Bono or Mick Jagger. But I’d trust Bono and Jagger to actually show up to the gigs and perform on time, and in general I don’t think I’d want Axl Rose in any band I was putting together.

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A List Of TV Shows That You Should Watch

tvI watch way too much TV. Anyone within earshot of me on a daily basis probably thinks that I spend all of my free time watching television shows and then recapping them with friends and co-workers. To some degree this is true. I believe we are (still) in “The Golden Age Of Television” (a term I did not make up but one that critics generally refer to as anything that’s been put on TV since The Sopranos first aired. If you ask me, it started with HBO’s Oz, but I won’t rock the boat on this one). I have nothing against non-TV watchers, I just want you to know that you are missing out on some quality programming these days.

With the rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Go, iTunes, etc. binge watching has replaced good old fashion week-to-week anticipation. Cliffhanger ended the last episode? Don’t want to wait a week (or a year) to see who killed off your favorite character? Simply click the “Next Episode” button and binge away. Netflix even goes as far as releasing every episode of its shows seasons at once. Anticipation be damned!

Online recaps are as abundant as Starbucks and McDonald’s. Noted publications/sites from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone run endless stories, interviews, recaps, discussions, and podcasts about popular television series. The most recent season debut of The Walking Dead drew over 16 million viewers (to put that into perspective, there are around 300 million people in the US. 16+ million of them are watching a show about zombies). I am one of those 16 million viewers and I watch–and have watched–a ton of television series in my day (mostly dramas). Way too much some would say.

You might be very apprehensive when it comes to deciding which series to watch first–since there are so many good choices out there. Even if you missed the initial run of The West Wing you can easily binge through all its seasons online. But should you watch that or catch up on Mad Men? Is True Blood worth diving into? How many seasons behind am I? You hear “everyone” talking about how great these shows are and you’re kinda interested in them but don’t know where to start. I equate it with how I feel when I walk into a really good music store (yes, some do still exist!): I am overwhelmed with having to narrow down my choices in order make a selection. When I sift through 80 Zappa records trying to figure out which one to buy, how do I know which one to begin with?

So lucky for you (I think?) I am here to write you a list of what I feel are excellent television series that you should watch. This is not a list of the “best shows ever” in some arbitrary order (I mean, how could I say The Wire is better than The Sopranos or vice-versa? I can’t!).  I am purposefully not putting numbers in here because I cannot rank them in terms of greatness.

The following list contains my personal favorites when it comes to great television.  I hope that if there is a series on this list you have not watched–or have been tempted to watch–that my brief explanation(s) of the show(s) might intrigue you enough to get started. (Note: I did my best to not include any spoilers.)

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Lefties

I am right-handed. I throw a ball right-handed, when I used to actually use a pen and paper I wrote right-handed, I kick right-handed, punch right-handed, and play drums right-handed. But I play guitar left-handed. It’s odd, I know. When I was 13 years old and just beginning my excursion into learning the instrument the most common advice I received from other players was “practice” and “learn how to play right-handed.” I did the first, never bothered with the second.

At the time I didn’t understand why anyone would actually care if I played lefty or righty. Now I realize why: do you know how hard it is to find a left-handed guitar and/or accessory options? They are out there, of course, and I have obviously been able to purchase quite a few in my day. But walk into most any music store and you will undoubtedly see dozens upon dozens of guitars, 97% of which are right-handed (you might find a few lefties in the mix; usually shitty, low-level Strat and Les Paul knock-offs). You would think, considering some of the all-time great players have been left-handed, we wouldn’t be so ‘discriminated’ against. Is it wrong that I find some pleasurable ironic humor in situations where right-handed players are in my midst without their guitars and they can’t play mine because it’s “backwards”? Call it cosmic payback, musician karma, whatever. Come on, I can at least pick up a righty and throw together some chords. Probably because I have spent my entire playing life surrounded by you backward-ass right-handed players.

Which leads me to the reason I am even writing this post: to celebrate the influence that some of rock and rolls lefties have brought us. I bring you, what I feel is, a list of some of the most-influential guitar players of all time. And guess what? They are all lefties!

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Selling Out: Who’s Buying?

gordon9

We are, in fact, only in it for the money.

This morning I was listening to The Howard Stern Show and he had 60’s icon/songwriter/musician Donovan on for an interview and some impromptu acoustic performances. Since it was Stern it was, of course, a great interview (say what you will about the man, but he is, hands down, the single best interviewer I have ever seen or listened to. Especially when it comes to musicians.). Donovan spouted off stories about his days hanging with The Fab Four, recording his hits with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones as session men (pre-Zep), and then  showed Howard how this one descending chord progression is used in tons of songs you know and love (he went on to play “Dear Prudence”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “House Of the Rising Sun”, and more to prove his point–they all use the same type of progression). Then Howard asked him questions along the lines of, “Does it amaze you that so many people know the lyrics to your songs and sing along? Were you aware that would be the case when you wrote them? How do you know when a song is good?” Donovan’s response was insightful. He told Howard, “the first thing  you need to do is please yourself. The second is impress your peers. The last thing you think about is the fans.”

It reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with some fellow musicians. We were ranting and raving about bands that “make it” vs. ones that don’t (including ours, which is why we were so bitter at the time). Then a sentence was uttered that has stuck with me ever since: you have to start making music for yourself.

Most bands and musicians start out with the goal of “making it.” And by “making it” I mean, in simple terms, being able to make music as your professional career, i.e. get paid to make music. Very few fulfill this dream.  When starting out, most artists are all about pleasing the fans, mainly, because they are trying to get some. But for those that  really hit it big (U2, Metallica, The Stones, etc.) they basically get to dictate their own careers once they do.  After Metallica’s Black Album sold a gazillion copies they essentially earned the right to do whatever the fuck they wanted. You think U2 cares if you think Zooropa sucked?

Growing up, the term “selling out” was one of the biggest insults you could hurl at an artist. This was mostly applied in the hardcore/punk/metal scenes. When Metallica came on in the early 80’s they were underground, dirt-bag metalheads wearing jeans jackets, ripped jeans, and sneakers while playing the fastest, most maniacal music on the planet. Now they play the Grammy’s and get mentioned on Good Morning America. Ozzy Osbourne was the devil incarnate back in 1982–now his music appears in car commercials. Does that mean Metallica and Ozzy have “sold out” or that a.) the powers that be are now people of the age that grew up loving these musicians so they are celebrating that love, b.) in this day and age you do whatever you can to get your music out there, or c.) there is no such thing anymore as “selling out.” (I think Ian MacKaye would disagree with c.).

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Interview With TrampStamp Record’s Mick Longstein

As I enter TrampStamp Record’s downtown New York City office building I am immediately greeted by a man named Bruno. Bruno is well dressed, in his early 30’s, slender, and fit. He’s wearing a $3000 Armani suit. Black. He is wearing Ray Ban aviators inside the building. A little wire is dangling off his ear and down the side of his neck. He leans his head to his left and speaks to his shoulder.

“He’s here.”

Pause.

“Ok.” he says to his shoulder.

“Follow me.”

One awkward elevator ride later I am sitting in the waiting room of a posh multi-million office decorated with hallways of gold records, photos of famous musicians, and one fantastic gold plated door that leads to the office of the man who made all of it possible. That man is none other than the legendary Mick Longstein.

Bruno leads me in.

“How you doin?” Mr. Longstein asks.

“I’m good, how are you Mr. Longstein?”

“Please, please. Call me Mick. This ain’t no Wall Street bank aight?”

Moments later, after some small talk and the usual pleasantries I am finally able to get to the reason I am here: to interview a master of the arts.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did TrampStamp Records get its start?
Mick Longstein: 
When I was about 18 years old a few of my associates and myself took over a little night club in Brooklyn. Well, once we had it up and runnin’ we need somethin’ to, you know, draw the people from the neighborhood in to start spending their hard earned cash..with us. I had a cousin who started a little rock and roll/do wop outfit, The Dick Ritchie Valens Quartet, so we booked ’em to play 7 nights a week, 6 shows a night. Well, a few years later and we got all this cash flowing through the club but, you know, we ain’t gonna play Uncle Sam any of that cut. So we started a, umm, a subsidiary. Yea. That’s it. And we figured, hey, let’s expand our empire into this music business. So we started TrampStamp Records.

Let me get this straight, so TrampStamp Records was originally a front? A place to launder your cash?
ML: Hey buddy, who said anythin’ about laundering money huh? I got no fuckin’ clue what you mean by that. Next question!

Ok. Who was the first artist you signed?
ML: Let me think about that one, cause, you know, my memory ain’t too good no more. You know, it was Blue Lou Boyd & The Chesterfields.

Who had the big hit “Am I Lying?”
ML: Yea, that was a big hit for sure. We made our first million off a that one. I bought my first wife a mink coat with those proceeds.

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Three Crazy Snubs From Grantland’s Best Song of the Millennium Contest

Grantland has posted a “Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium,” formatted as a tournament bracket of course, culling 64 songs for all of us to vote on. I’m still an album guy, so “singles” and playlists are not really my thing. I can admit to being just old enough that I haven’t heard of a good chunk of the songs they picked, and that’s okay, I’m not in tune with all The Big Hits or whatever moves the radio dial these days.

I’m less concerned about what made Grantland’s list than what was snubbed: 3 of the songs that I would probably pick if I had to pick just the 5-10 best songs of the millennium, “Seven Nation Army” (The White Stripes), “Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley), and “Welcome to Jamrock” (Damian Marley). I’m sure narrowing the last 13 or so years down to 64 potential “Best” songs was a daunting task. So much so that they’ve already posted a reaction to the reaction: 20+ more songs they acknowledge shoulda-coulda made the list. Only “Seven Nation Army” made their “songs that just missed the cut” list, “Crazy” and “Jamrock” were snubbed there too.

From Grantland’s Mark Lisanti:

Not to pull back the curtain on our selection process… but “Seven Nation Army” bit the dust because of the dreaded “marching band penalty.” You know: If you can play it at midfield with tubas and French horns and socially awkward people in hats that have that weird strap that hangs down below the nose, it can’t possibly be a good song. It’s a Jock Jam. It’s halftime entertainment.

That’s sound reasoning if you want to vote against it once the tournament starts, but there’s 64 (SIXTY-FOUR!) slots… how do you not include this song ?

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The Russian Incident

“Two and a half years!”

I am sitting with Gringo Starr, former drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns as he sips an espresso, noshes on a fish taco, and tells me his story.

“Two and a half years I spent in that gulag. Because of him.”

The “him” Gringo is referring to is known simply as Jackie. While many have written about him, few actually know the man.

‘Shady, elusive, arrogant, slutty’ are some of the words Mr. Starr uses when describing Jackie. Then he pauses in quiet contemplation and continues.

“But he’s also a genius.”

In what he now calls his “previous life” Gringo Starr was the drummer for Jackie & The Treehorns. A world-renowned rock group with an enigmatic frontman. While on tour in Russia with the group, Starr was arrested for indecent exposure after being caught receiving oral sex in an alley from a fan. He was sentenced to three years in a Russian gulag. While reports vary and rumors have swirled around the music industry and State Department for years, Gringo claims that only he and Jackie know what actually occurred that night.

“It’s simple. He left me. I was backstage with this super hot Ukrainian chick–cause Jackie always had hot international chicks around–and we were getting down. Well, she was going down I mean. Next thing I know, I’m skinning goats for Siberian farmers in the dead cold of a Russian winter.”

The story goes that while Gringo was encouraged by Jackie to partake in his post-show activities, once in the act, Jackie instructed his tour entourage to leave the venue, essentially deserting Gringo in an unknown land which led to his eventual arrest and incarceration.

“I mean, if he wanted me out of the band, he could’ve gone about it another way. That was kinda harsh, no? I hadn’t even finished yet!” says Gringo while inhaling a filterless Camel cigarette.

He continues, “Remember that scene in Almost Famous where the tour bus leaves the rest stop and Jason Lee’s character chases it screaming, ‘oh, it’s okay, it’s easy to leave me. I’m only the lead singer!!!”, well, that is what I felt like. Then I realized, shit, I’m only the drummer!”

“The Russian incident…it was tragic.” says Heshel Treehorn, Jackie’s long time manager.

“But it paved the way for Jackie’s amazing concept album The Russian Incident. It’s a story of one man’s struggles to cope with being a stranger in a strange land. But it’s kind of like Gringo’s sperm that night: it never got released.”

Jackie himself has refused to comment on the incident leaving his fans and the media with only speculation about what really happened that night.

“I’ve called, emailed, faxed, tweeted, and facebook-friended the U.S. State Department about this and they won’t return my calls.” says über Jackie fan Clarice of the band Clarice & The Lotion Baskets.

“I even put in a formal freedom of information request, but they keep telling me they have no ‘Jackie’ in their records. How is that even possible? Who doesn’t know Jackie?”

Gringo and Clarice will soon get a chance to tell their sides of the story in the upcoming Worthy Bros. documentary The Jackie Movie, which is scheduled for a Fall 2013 release.

“I am looking forward to exposing Jackie to the world for whom he really is.” says Gringo.

An interesting choice of words considering his history.

The WHO? Pop-Culture Shock at a Pizza Place

It certainly wasn’t my first old-guy moment. It probably won’t be the worst one I’ll ever have; in fact, it wasn’t so much an old-guy moment as it was a case of pop-culture shock.

On my way home from work on a recent Friday, I stopped into a nearby location of the regional pizza franchise PizzaBoli’s to pick up a couple pies I’d phoned in. The young girl at the counter, dead-eyed and slightly confused, says, “What does your shirt mean? I don’t get it.”

the who logo shirt“You don’t get it? Oh, it says The Who,” and I point out the lettering which is black on a dark background so I thought maybe she didn’t notice it and just saw the target and arrow up.

“What’s that mean? I don’t get it.”

“It’s the band, THE WHO.”

And she’s saying “Oh I never heard of them” while I was already babbling on about how “it’s kinda hard to see the lettering… or… were you confused by the arrow as if it was supposed to be pointing up at me like Who is this guy?”  Like I was trying to let her off the hook for not noticing what it said or something and then I realized that she really had never heard of The Who and probably thought I had on some random shirt of my friend’s band or some other “Never Hearduvums” and so I just had to ask….

“Wait, you’ve never heard of The Who?”
“No… sorry…”

I figured, okay she’s pretty young and so I turned to her PizzaBoli’s Teammate, I wish I’d gotten his name, he was a mousey lookin’ fella, very short reddish hair with a tightly trimmed matching mustache, let’s call him Chet. He certainly wasn’t as old me, but at first glance he had to be at least 30ish, but even if he was only 25 I figured it would balance out the possibly 16-year-old cashier. So I asked him…

“You’ve heard of the The Who, right?” Now I’m kinda point-framing the iconic logo as I leaned over the counter so he could see it. “The classic rock band? The Who?” I asked, certain that he was about to give me the “Oh yea, The Who. What about ’em?”

But he just shook his head sheepishly. “No, sorry…”

“You’ve never heard of THE WHO?”
“I’m really not much of a music guy.”
After a dumbfounded pause, I somehow managed to keep my composure. “Okay, fair enough… uh, you’ve heard of The Beatles, right?”
“Well yea…”
“Of course, The Who aren’t quite The Beatles, but I just thought you’d…”

…and I just trailed off. I knew I couldn’t go all DFENS on ’em like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, though a part of my brain wanted to. And I’m not even that much of a Who fan!

It’s not like I was wearing my Replacements shirt; The Who aren’t exactly something obscure, I mean I got the shirt at fucking Target! And it’s also a pretty iconic logo. I wasn’t asking them to sing or name songs. I could understand the young girl, but the other dude… They did play the Super Bowl a few years ago, they show up at every 121212 Sandy Relief 911 Concert for NY type event, awards shows, wherever they can get out there and have Roger Daltrey show us his Ken-doll plastic, oddly buff orange chest while Pete Townshend does 20,000 windmill moves to the point of self-parody…. Like ’em or not, and I realize they aren’t quite as well-known as the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, but….. WHO THE FUCK HAS NEVER HEARD OF THE WHO?

Meanwhile, The Who aren’t even from my generation, pardon the pun. I was born in 1970, after the Beatles broke up, and month before Jimi Hendrix died (yet somehow I’ve heard of them).  Told ya this wasn’t really an old-guy incident.  Seriously, this isn’t about me being too old.  You can stay on my lawn. If I was 70 and some kids never heard of Frank Sinatra, I would just assume they’re too young… but this felt different. It was just odd… it was actually quite shocking on some level.

I love The Who. I’ve often considered writing something about them, and it sucks that it had to happen like this. Even though I was always much more partial to John Bonham and Mitch Mitchell, drummer Keith Moon was an absolute monster. I actually think Tommy and Quadrophenia are a bit bloated and could be intimidating for most listeners. Go crank up Who’s Next and picture feeling that kind of rock’n’roll power putting that record on for the first time way back in 1971. Those intros to “Baba O’Reilly” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” musta blown people’s minds back then!

Anyway, I wish I’d stayed to check if they’d heard of Hendrix, the Stones, Zeppelin and a couple of others. Maybe next time, because I do like PizzaBoli’s, who I’ve now mentioned by name three times in hopes of getting free pizza when this article goes viral.

So I walk out with my pizzas, and echoing through the shopping center is the familiar sound of the Rolling Stones (in the case, the song “Shattered,”) blasting from a speaker outside the Radio Shack. Yes, the Radio Shack. With Mick Jagger imploring me to look at him, he’s in tatters, I’m not even sure what planet I’m on. The economy’s been in the toilet for like 6 years and somehow Radio Shack is still in business selling little fuses and plugs and batteries and bullshit that nobody needs and I just met two people who never heard of The Who.

What Are You Listening To?

Mixtape

A Random Mixtape

Human curiosity is…curious. I, for one, find myself becoming more and more interested in the methods by which people engage with their music. In the past, purchasing music was somewhat of a ritual: You heard about your favorite artists upcoming album, you saved your money for it, waited for it’s release date, went to your local record store, and bought a physical package that contained the music. Now, one can download and be listening to Michael Jackson’s entire discography within a matter of minutes and share it between multiple devices in an instant. As Det. Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauk once said, “Isn’t technology the bomb?”

Recently, while I was riding the metro into work, I looked around at the various co-zombies on my train. Most everyone was connected to some sort of mobile device and most everyone had headphones on. I wondered: what are all these people listening to? I suppose as a musician myself I am curious about people’s listening habits. That same morning I came into the office and randomly asked some co-workers what song they just finished listening to.
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