Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Failure and Success

Lowell George: 20 Million Things

I have one reoccurring dream. In my dream, I am a senior in college, and my final project is due, but I haven't started it yet. When I dreamt this dream again this week, I was on my way across campus to meet with a counselor. I wanted to discuss with her my ambivalence about what I was supposed to be doing. It wasn't just a problem of procrastination: I was risking failure because I wanted to risk failure. What would happen if I failed? What would people think of me -- my friends, my professors, my parents?

I encountered many distractions on my way across campus that made me late for my meeting with my counselor. Another sign of my ambivalence. When we finally met, my counselor played me two songs on her stereo. One was an obscure tune that I recognized as Syd Barrett. The other was a faceless hit song. "Could be Beyonce, could be Nelly Furtado, could be anyone," I said. Somehow I felt my counselor was contrasting these two songs to make a point about success in the field of popular music, or any endeavor.

Then my dream became symbolic. My final project, which would allow me to graduate and begin a professional career, was a box. I had stuffed a dead rat into the box. What would happen when they discovered the dead rat where my project was supposed to be? Would they be disappointed or angry with me? Worse yet, what if no one cared? And why am I still having this dream, twenty years after I finished college?

My wife says the dream is telling me that "you listen to too much arcane music, and procrastinate instead of doing things that you need to do." Her point is amplified by this William Bowers column, where he concludes that engaging in "the eventlessness of (the) computer-crouch" is a way of disengaging oneself from the unpleasantries of the real world.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


You Am I: Six

My little man turned six years old this week.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bandwagon, Esq.

Life Without Buildings: Sorrow

Is there room on board for one more late convert to Life Without Buildings? (It's a band, not a way of life.) Life Without Buildings was a quartet of art school students who formed in Glasgow and released one overlooked album before breaking up five years ago. This year, one of the band's last live shows (performed in Sydney) was released on CD on the Gargleblast label in Europe, and will be issued domestically by Absolutely Kosher in August. Live at the Annandale Hotel is also available on eMusic, and I highly recommend it. You can also purchase the band's studio album, Any Other City, from Absolutely Kosher.

The most extraordinary aspect of the band was certainly its singer, Sue Tompkins. She performs in a combination of speaking and singing, which may not sound appealing to those who are not fans of the Fall or the Hold Steady. But rather than the arch attitude, cryptic references and emotional distance of Mark E. Smith, Tompkins sounds giddy with enthusiasm. Her joy and excitement are both palpable and contagious in the live versions of the songs, and in Tompkins' charming between-song chats with her audience, where she seems intent on demystifying the artifices of live performance, from the set list to the encore.

As I listened to Live at the Annandale Hotel, I realized that Tompkins' lyrical style is more influenced by Gertrude Stein (in its use of repetition, alliteration and homonyms) than the writers favored by Mark E. Smith (who include the gothic horror of Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, the drug-fueled paranoia of Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson, and Russian authors of the 19th century, like Gogol and Dostoevsky). Since Life Without Buildings disbanded, Tompkins has continued solo vocal performances (some of which can be seen on her blog), but her audience now consists of art aficionados rather than rock fans. The song I chose to share today is a ballad. The majority of the songs that Life Without Buildings performed in their Sydney show were more upbeat, but "Sorrow" is a fine demonstration of Tompkins' unique style. You can listen to more songs from the live album here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fat, Forty and F'ed Up

I did something last night that I haven't done in over twenty years: I went to an all-ages hardcore show. In my own little town, no less. To briefly summarize the last two decades of my life: I got a real job, got married, bred, and bought a house in the burbs. So the occasional trip downtown to see a live band has become less and less frequent, and the anticipation is tinged with more and more middle-aged suburban anxiety. "Where do I park? I hope nobody messes with my car. And I hope those goddamn kids don't start slam-dancing."

I was intrigued to learn that an 18 year old recently started booking hardcore shows in a strip mall just five miles from my house. The fact that the shows start before dusk and are over by midnight was even more appealing to an old fart like me. So when I found out that Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up was playing their first show ever in the Atlanta area, I had to check it out.

The openers included Verse (who are from Providence RI) and Down to Nothing (who are from Richmond VA). Both bands play a precise, metallic style of hardcore, with lots of sudden stops and tempo changes. By contrast, Fucked Up played a more "traditional" punk style (steady tempos, major chords, feedback and pick slides). Their brief live set was tight and exciting, but demonstrated none of the experimentation in their recent records. After the show I heard someone in the parking lot say, "With a name like Fucked Up, I expected them to sound more fucked up."

There were well over two hundred kids packed into an otherwise empty storefront, and many of them were shouting along to the three bands' songs. I saw kids wearing shirts for bands that probably broke up before they were born. And I was encouraged to see them buying vinyl at the merch tables (along with the CD's and t-shirts). There was slamming, skanking, and stage diving, just like I remember from the 80's. This old man had a smile on his face, an "X" on the back of his hand, and a familiar ringing in his ears as he drove the few miles home last night.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Strip the Knicker

Birthday Party: Nick the Stripper

Hey, Friday the 13th came on a Friday this month! I saw the Transformers movie last week. It wasn't my idea; call it a family emergency. As the oddobots were battling the deshleppticons in the city, my inner iPod shuffled, and in my mind's ear I heard "Nick the Stripper". Its street-prowling bassline and demented horn stabs would have been so perfect for that noisy, bombastic scene. "Dah dah! DAH dah! Dah dah DAH dah!"

I've got to call Michael Bay before he makes his next blockbuster. I want to be the next soundtrack tastemaker, like Tarantino or Randall Poster, but with an edgy edge.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

There are some words that aren't allowed to be spoken

Muffs: No Action
Gaza Strippers: Lipstick Vogue

It's a tale of transformation and rebirth, familiar and beloved to music fans. After recording his first album with Huey Lewie's band, Elvis Costello dumped the band (and his wife) and formed the Attractions. The new band amplified the volume, tempo, and spite of his songs. In 1978, EC and the Attractions recorded This Year's Model, a classic of nerdy aggression.

Today we have two of those songs, as sung by Kim Shattuck (Muffs) and Rick Didjit (Gaza Strippers). Elvis is now on his third wife and his umpteenth album. I wouldn't want to be held to anything I said thirty years ago, but would you marry someone who once wrote, "Sometimes I think that love is just a tumor; you've got to cut it out"?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Summer is ready when you are

Number One Cup: Just Let Go
Meat Puppets: Swimming Ground
Leaving Trains: Ice Cream Truck

How's your summer? Mine started with a family sailing trip, followed by a bout with the flu. Most recently, my in-laws moved out. They lived with us for almost three months. Cohabitation with the parents of one's spouse has its ups and downs. The kids enjoyed seeing their grandparents every day, and we took advantage of the free babysitting. But we missed our privacy, and it felt so good to get that back.

Last week my father in law took me and my two sons to a secluded lake for some fishing. We caught about a dozen bluegills and two small bass. The lake was surrounded by blackberry bushes, and they were bursting with ripe fruit. These are the things I love about the rural south. That night, I cooked up the fish, with a side of squash from our garden, and fresh blackberries with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Everything was fresh, and everything was free (except the ice cream).

Mrs. der Neathica bought me two Wilco tickets as a Father's Day present. It was an outdoor show, and the forecast was for rain, so my wife stayed home and I took our 11 year old son to Chastain Park for his first rock concert. We laughed our way through the opening set by Low ("Play slower!") It rained all through Wilco's set, and we left before it ended. But sharing a live show with my son was a great way to observe Father's Day.