Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Last Genuine Rock Star -or- Actually Quite a Good Pianist

Bonnie Prince Billy played apparantly on the Conan O'Brien show a couple a nights ago. I think we can all agree that Bonnie Prince Billy is pretty great. Some people might think he's a little bit depressing, but you know what they can all go do.

But somehow, in this performance, which you can see on youtube, Will Oldham, despite his best running in place jerky ass dancing, is overshadowed, for me, by his poorly lit and slouchy piano player: Andrew WK. I have had a love hate relationship with Andy ever since I first heard him way way back when "Party Hard" came out in 2001. By now though, I've realized, that it is impossible to hate him, as it is impossible to hate a human being so emblematic of love as he is.

You can listen to an Andrew WK song and, especially if you don't speak English or as a rule don't pay attention to lyrics in pop songs (shame on you), come away with the idea that Andy and his music are violent and negative. The pulse, the screaming, the volume, all of this could easily give the listener the wrong idea about Andy and the emotions, the intent of his music. The truth of the matter is that as far as I know, Andy has never released a negative song, a song expressing anything other than happiness and the joy of living.

"Party Hard", "We Want Fun", "I Love Music", et cetera, may sound like they mean to speak to the opposite of what their actual subject matter is, but if you actually listen to the music (which Andy loves, can't you tell) the answer is right there. Music is about transcedence, community and communion, or, in more simple terms, music is about fun. And fun, in its purest sense, doesn't hurt anybody: it is a pure good. So how can anyone front on that?

Now, how does this fit in with him playing piano on national TV with the Oldham brothers? I honestly can't make heads of tails of it. Oldham's music isn't fun: it seems to clash with WK's very nature. But you'd have to be an idiot to believe that WK's life has been all parties, wonderful fulfilling sex, and rocking out, as his songs might lead you to believe. Andrew WK has seen the other side, and as a result his piano playing blends perfectly with Bonnie Billy's mood.

Though I may never be able to listen to more than two of WK's songs in a row without developing a splitting headache, I feel like performances like this one, the fact that he performed half of a huge world tour from a wheelchair after breaking his foot on stage, and the quality of his fucking heart (the heart of a lion or that of an angel?) will manage to keep him relevant, keep him working, and someday, I hope, he'll create an album that I'll be able to listen to straight through.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy: "Strange Form of Life" from Pitchfork w/ video

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tiny Leaders of Today -or- Why I Hate People

I went to a concert in Hoboken, New Jersey, last night where three bands, The Tiny Leaders of Today, Coyote, and Man Man, played. I had never been to Hoboken before, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I was able to see of it. My friends and I even got free samples of frozen custard while walking the twelve or so blocks from the PATH station to Maxwell's, where the concert took place.

Doors weren't open until 9, and we got there at like, maybe 9:30 ish. As you can imagine, it was a late show. I mean, a late show is a standard thing to have on a Friday night, but this particular show featured a band of which two-thirds was comprised of eleven year old kids. To their credit, they didn't seem at all phased by the late hour of their performance.

The Tiny Leaders of Today were a pretty great band. They had their own songs which, though I don't know any titles, featured lines like "Baghdad, Brooklyn, Boise, Buffalo/Riot, riot, riot on the radio," and "Disco bomb [my friend Craig thought they were saying mom - who can be sure] has got it going on," which are better than most of the shit you hear people saying in music these days. They were entertaining, they had a good proto-punk wecan'tplayourinstruments kind of vibe, which suited them fine.

What bothered me was the fact that I was going to go home and write about them. As much as they probably think that that's cool and that's what they're going for by being in a rock band, it is kind of scary to me how much influence random computerized people can have these days in shaping what happens to people who are trying to make music. And bands like the Tiny Leaders of Today are especially vulnerable because, first off, they're eleven, and secondly, because they are essentially a novelty act. It will be so easy for the ruthless hype-mongers to say, "hey look at these kids! they sound like the Thermals! i love the Thermals! these kids are great!" only to realize a little later that they've sort of fucked with these kids lives. Basically, I hope these kids are ready to deal with some adult size bullshit.

Coyote sucked. I don't want to explain it.

More important than Coyote and how much I didn't like them was the fact that after their set this group of three guys showed up next to me in the crowd and started talking way way too loudly about stupid shit and yelling at Man Man as they set up.

Every single time it never fails it never fails. Why is it, when I go to a concert, especially a concert on the weekend in the New York area, I find myself holding in the anger I feel towards much of the rest of the audience rather than feeling the anticipation, excitement, and joy that's supposed to be the whole point of this thing called live music? C'mon man. Funk Dat!

I realize I'm becoming an old man, and sort of have been an old man for a few years now, but drunk/drug addled people at rock concerts have really begun to make me hate people. In my mind there is some sort of social contract, the kind you feel when you walk into a symphony or opera, I suppose, with rock concerts. Of course, there isn't actually any sort of social contract with rock concerts, which is one reason I like them, but still. I can't help but feel offended every single time I go to a concert and see people who are there solely to a) socialize (christ! could you find a worse place to try to have a conversation?!) b) get drunk (it's cheaper and a hell of a lot less annoying to buy a 30 pack of Coors Light, take it back to your apartment and throw it down your mouth there rather than scream like a fool and fall over on me in a crowded room while I'm trying to listen to something) c) be hip.

Funk Dat.

Man Man was good nay great, I got to utilize my basketball skills by boxing out some tripped out idiot who was trying to push to front of the stage and having no success, and the guys who were being assholes in between sets turned out to just be big fans who were a little drunk and loud and harmless.

I guess that isn't as much of a concert review as it is me bitching about what going to concerts has become in this country, but really, by the time Man Man's set ended I had pretty much forgotten about being mad. Take that as a compliment, Man Man.

Also, on my way back to the train I got to see a guy get pissed for no reason and tear down a banner in front of the frozen custard place that had given us free food on the way into town. Assholes, as it turns out, are all around us. I just sometimes tend to forget that.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Get Lonely -or- Die Trying

Sometimes when I listen to Mountain Goats records I feel like deep down there actually is a great deal of similarity between the songcraft of John Darnielle and that of Wesley Willis. Now, even though I'm as big a fan of the late-great-homeless-punchintheface-casio-beats wizard as the next guy, most of the time I like to think that there's something more going on with Mountain Goats songs.

But there is something undeniably cut and pastey about Darnielle's approach to his songs that I can't shake. He, of course, would be cut and pasting from some of the strangest and most compelling source material imaginable if he were to do such a thing, but with certain songs, or, to be more accurate, at certain moments of certain songs, he seems to have just searched through a database of emotion enducing images, and pulled up the one most appropriate for the occasion.

The guy has a formula. He'll never write a rambling, Dylan style 11 minute opus. And he'll probably keep the narrative verse, pathos invoking commentary chorus, narrative verse, pathos invoking commentary chorus, extra narrational contextualizing middle eight, narrative verse, pathos invoking commentary chorus (one must look no further than "Wild Sage" for a good example) structure going for as long as he can make it work. And, I suppose, this makes deconstructing the patterning of his songs a little boring.

This, however, this, this is the only bad thing, ever, that I have had to ever say about John Darnielle. Get Lonely is a great record, as are all of his other records, the man is a genius and singlehandedly rescued the simile as a pop-lyrical device. There are moments listening to his albums where you feel like your skull just might crack because you've finally heard the truth and it isn't quite what you expected. If, however, you listen to enough of his less stellar songs with a cynical enough ear, you begin to hear similarities that cast a shade of doubt over the rest of his catalog.

"Was 'Jenny' actually that good?" "When I cried while screaming along to 'This Year' alone in my room, did I mean it or was it all a trick?"

The trick, I'll way-juh, is just the fact that John Darnielle has the ability to flick that switch. Yes, sometimes he's just drawing from his archive of heartbreakingly beautiful images, but its his archive, and he created it, so why not. And "Woke Up New" is as good as anything he's ever written, so why start criticizing now?

If anyone was still concerned that Tallahasee and The Sunset Tree were flukes, Get Lonely is there to prove them wrong. The guy will probably be writing songs about what it's like to get your first social security check when the time comes, writing about the gradual death of his peers, writing even more incisively about mortality as an old man, and I can't fucking wait. That's gonna be awesome.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Are You Ready for Some Football -or- Are You Ready To Be Excluded Therefrom

Last night marked the official (as if anyone actually watches the preseason) debut of Monday Night Football on ESPN. For those who don't pay attention to sports this may come as another "who cares", as, admittedly, my last post was. But c'mon, see past the end of your scrawny self. Monday Night Football is one of the most important television shows of all time, and it just got moved off of network TV. This is a sea change in progress.

It's difficult for me to believe that NASCAR is actually as popular as many say it is, seeing as I personally have only ever met a handful of people who give the minorest shit about the sport. Football, however, is different. A truly populist pastime unconfined to the southern ghetto, as NASCAR is seen as having been, the NFL is probably the most American institution in existance, and that includes America. Middle class males in the United States, in general, have nothing going on in their lives for the five months spanning Autumn and early Winter other than football. The rest of the year, as much as this seems cliched, a message forcefed to the public by the NFL's marketing strategies, is a vast cultural wasteland for most of these people.

Baseball has been corrupted by scandal, Basketball, again, is unfortunately still only a hugely popular ghetto sport, and Hockey airs on OLN. Football is the last greatest American dream.

I have often marvelled at the passion for Soccer that incites European fans to riot on a weekly basis all over the continent and bemoaned the fact that, because of the structures of the organizations that govern professional sports in this country, that sort of passion is rarely seen in our sports culture. Sure, people call in to sports talk radio and foam at the mouth, sure people tip over cars when their NBA team wins a championship, but American sports really just don't have the history, the regional division and the deepseated hatred inbedded in them required to create such spectacles of football hooligany as the Europeans are expert at creating.

But we were well on our way to creating that sort of history. Football was well on its way to becoming America's true national sport. Why do you think it isn't in the Olympics? No one wants to play us. With the extremely minor exception of the CFL, this is our sport, and you can't have it. You probably can't even understand it, unless, that is, you extrapolate from rugby. The NFL has become so ubiquitous, so successful, and so worthy of veneration by its teams' fans not only because of the decrease in ethics within baseball or the marketing of basketball, but because of the genius of its own organizations.

Look who has won the last few Super Bowls. Pittsburg, New England, New England, Tampa, New England, Baltimore, St. Louis. Do you see a New York or a Los Angeles, or christ, even a Chicago in there? Hell no! These are real cities. And I hope New York and LA don't win another Super Bowl for the rest of the century, because the NFL isn't about those cities and doesn't relate to most of the people who live in them. The entire city of Cleveland would immolate themselves if it would help the Browns make the playoffs this year (they won't). The NFL is middle America at its best, and that is why its fans, and I, have come to love it.

Which brings me back to my point. Most of the people the NFL truly is meant to appeal to can no longer watch Monday Night Football because they don't have cable. In my mind, this is one of the largest injustices wreaked upon the American public in recent memory, and I would've liked to have seen some consumer advocacy groups lobby against the decision. Disney, as a man I once almost worked for pointed out to me once, has almost total control over what sports most people can and will watch on TV these days, and this is just as big of a deal, if not a bigger one, than all of these battles being fought over the record industry.

Someone needs to look out for the rights of America's god-fearing football fans. This is an open cry for help.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

ALCS -or- Bust

As a child I was never a strong supporter of my local sports franchises. The Red Wings were less than stellar in the early nineties, the Pistons were, admittedly, great, and I suppose I liked them quite a bit, the Lions were, despite Barry's best efforts, in the shitter, and the Tigers were the Tigers. What a lot of people have left out of the commentary on this season's Tigers team, I think, is the fact that, like the 1992 team, which went 75 and 82, finishing second to last in the American League East, and the 2003 team, which went 43 and 119, this year's team is still, quintessentially, archtypically, a Tigers team.

Just, as much, exactly as much, as the 2003 team was. They were fucking terrible. The ace of their staff, as you may already know, was 25 year old Mike Maroth, who went on to lose more games that season than any pitcher in over 20 years. Our lineup was anchored by the immortal Bobby Higginson, who boasted an extremely impressive arm from right field and batted .230 with 14 home runs in 130 games.

But these guys were amazing. Maroth was in his first full year out of triple a, and he was expected to head a pitching squad at the major league level. The guy did an incredible job. He went out, everyday and lost. And he didn't complain too much, he didn't ask for anything he wasn't getting, he was happy to be playing in Detroit, and, fuck, he didn't have any help on offense, that's for damn sure. It's hard to find a better rags to riches story in recent baseball memory, really. If he hadn't been hurt for so long this year, he could have won 21 games. The guy is a pro, and a Tiger if there ever was one.

As for Higginson, Christ, the guy was such a great punching bag. If there were to be an effigy of the 2003 Tigers for the city to collectively burn after this season, an idea which may very well come to pass, it would be in the laughably common image of Robert Higginson. Never an all-star, he was still the face of the ball club. He, like Maroth, represented the soul of the team: longsuffring, quiet, patient, static. Of course, Dmitri Young got the credit for anything that happened postively on the offensive end of the ball that year, which wasn't much, Higginson was the guy that took the heat, which, on a team that comes within games of losing a record-breaking number of games, is really what matters.

Those guys ought to be the heroes of this year's team, and the heroes of anyone who admires or supports this team, because it is upon the corpses of those such as Carlos Pena, Gay Knotts, and, as of very recently, Dmitri Young, that this team has been built. What I would really, really, love to see, come October, is Mike Maroth hoisting the World Series MVP trophy and proclaiming to the gathered masses of Detroiters, huddling under streetlights around radios at Michigan and Trumbull in the shadow of the old and useless Tigers Stadium, "I dedicate this achievement to me, Mike Maroth, 2003."

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