Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Time. I'm Losin' My Mind, This Time: Sixy

My boy Adam Best once wrote that bloggers should never waste post space to mention that they've been out of the loop or on the sidelines, etc. I'm going against his advice right now to report that I've been out of commission for the entire month of November because I decided to get back in the restaurant business, which has been an adventure that is reaching upwards of 300 hours and one day off for November. It's apropos of something, though, that on this, the last day of the month, I'm squeezing some time out of my day to share with you a few of the songs that recently clogged my brain like a backed-up dish drain.

If this is your first time checking out this feature, note the following: I have no idea how these songs wind up in my head, and I do not allow myself to include tunes I've heard or been reminded about in any way. I also am lucky enough to have at least one song a week stuck in my head that doesn't suck. We'll start with it.

5. "Love Potion Number 9" by The Searchers

I was raised on oldies, so I love this tune. In fact, I don't think I've ever gotten tired of it. Also, I like to envision myself as one that would kiss "everything in sight," meaning hot ladies and not cops.

4. "Almost Paradise" by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson

I don't really have an opinion on this undying trend of remaking movies, and that's because I haven't seen a single one of them. I feel like I heard they remade Footloose, but I'm not for sure. What I do know is this: This song freaking blows. It's not nails on a chalkboard; it's meat tenderizer to the nose. Kill me. Now.

3. Queensryche's "Jet City Woman"

I can't say for sure that I've ever had any use whatsoever for Queensryche. I mean, I adored "Silent Lucidity," but before that song's release, I don't think I'd ever heard of them. I wound up buying a copy of Empire, because that's the kind of wasting-money-on-mediocre-music retard I was in high school, and so now that I mention it, I do have a use for Queensryche: You guys owe me 10 bucks. "Jet City Woman" is flippin' terrible, though. Just terrible.

2. "Daisy Bell" by Harry Dacre

Dude, I got no idea...

1. "Cool Night" by Paul Davis

Again. No idea. They just get there. But, if you're into big pimpin', you should totally use this song to get in good with the ladies. Like, text snippets of it as voice notes to all the gals in your top five list. It's guaranteed to work. It's universally understood that Paul Davis is synonymous with dripping-hot sex.

Anyway, I have no idea what week it was that I was tortured by these cuts, but there they are. Come back again soon for some more self-inflicted torture.
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Untimely Reviews: Demetri Martin's "This is a Book"

I'm pretty excited for this particular review since the subject actually came out this year. Granted, it was in April, but that beats the untimeliness of my Dylan review. It's all in the feature's title, though, right?

Anyway, once I was done reading the Bob Dylan biography, I moved on to a book with a pretty awesome title: This is a Book by Demetri Martin. Now, before I tell you about how awesome I think Demetri Martin is, and how I enjoyed the shit out of his book, allow me to drop two non-noteworthy tidbits: I’d guess that less than 10 percent of my library is hard-bound. Maybe less than five. I just don’t ever not wait for paperback. Chronicles, however, was a gift, and given to me new, so it was in its original pressing, and obviously hard-bound. Second, the fam’ and I were in Durango in June, and there are two stores I can almost never not spend any money in: Southwest Sound and my favorite tome slinger of all time: Maria’s Book Shop.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk Martin.

Just under three years ago, I was in Wellington, KS for a job training and this was right around the time that Martin’s show, “Important Things with Demetri Martin” had aired on Comedy Central. I was sitting in my hotel room with this beefcake and he was driving the channel changer.

“This show sucks,” he said.

For the record, I'm not sure if that clip is from an actual episode of "Important Things" or if it's from an evening of standup; I just found it on the 'Tubes. Either way, my work-training partner (Editor's Note: Yes, all three of those breadfasts were his, and yes he ate every last bite.) might as well have insulted my cooking. I happened to think Martin’s show was stellar, even though I knew it wouldn’t last, as it was too off-the-beaten-path and not raunchy enough (Note: I’m looking at you, Daniel Tosh, Nick Swardson.) for today’s C.C. viewing audience. If you cut all that away, though, it was pretty darn funny at its core.

When I first heard about his book, it came courtesy of this episode of the Sklarbro Country podcast on which Martin was the guest, and as a side note, if you’re not following the Sklar brothers on Twitter you’re missing out on some quality humor. Regardless, a month later, scouring the shelves of Maria’s with that urge to buy something, I came across This is a Book.

Naturally, I didn’t get moving on it until I’d finished Chronicles, but I mowed through it in three shifts. For the record, an interesting approach to book writing makes it a fast read on its own, but the content of each page is so damn funny that it’s hard to put it down. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I grabbed my wife half a dozen times to read passages to her. It was that enjoyable, and at its root, not that different from the show, which is probably why I liked it so much.

Some highlights:

There’s a chapter called “Hotline” early in the book, and it plays out a scenario in which you need to get out of a public situation, but need the assistance of a phone call to do so. You’ve seen this: Girls will have a best friend call their cell phone at a precise time on a blind-date evening, a parachute if you will that allows them to bail if things aren’t going well. Heck, I’ve been on a date and done it myself, but for a different reason: the restaurant we’d selected was just really not going to cut it. Our appetizer was terrible, the server was a jerk, and nothing entrée-wise appealed. The simple solution was to shoot a friend a text and ask for a phony emergency call, so as to avoid the awkwardness of having an everything-about-our-17-minutes-in-here-has-totally-blown conversation.

The “Hotline” chapter is only two pages long, but it’s freaking hilarious, as is the book’s eighth section, “How I Felt,” which does a remarkable job of using the color-as-a-metaphor tool that writers often employ, i.e. “green with envy.” Martin has, shall we say, a more colorful approach to the technique.

“I quickly became purple with punches to the face and, on and off, even more purple with DJ lights that were still rotating. Things got worse when Violet’s boyfriend pushed me into a candle. I turned orange with fire and then gray with smoke. Thankfully, I quickly became pink with fruit punch after Carl threw some on me to put out the fire.”

There’s a chapter called “Statistics” in which we get such gems as “99.99% of all castles in America are located in fish tanks.” Or, “America is the leading exporter of the phrase ‘Oh no he didn’t.’” Or, “Per capita, just about everyone has no idea what a ‘capita’ is.”

A chapter titled “Who I Am” cracked me up from start to finish.

“I am a man…I am also a former baby and a future skeleton…I am ‘brother’ and I am ‘son’ and I am ‘father’ (but just according to one person, who does not have any proof but still won’t seem to let it go)…People have known me by many titles. In high school, I was ‘Student’ and ‘Key Club Vice President’ and ‘Queer Bait.’ In college I was ‘Pledge’ and then ‘Disappointed’ and then ‘Transfer Student’ after that…I have been called many things, like ‘Hey You’ and ‘Get out of the Way!’ and ‘Look Out!’ And then, some time later, ‘Plaintiff.’”

There are awesome chapters like “Some Drawings” and “Palindromes for Specific Occasions” and “Honors & Awards (for Which I Would Qualify).” There’s the hilarious “Charts & Graphs” and the clever “Frustrating Uses of Etc.,” and those are only some highlights of the first two parts of the book.

Part three starts off with one of my favorite stories about a guy who buys a fruit stand only to see it smashed by a car. There’s a witty chapter about the power of personalized checks, one called “Epigrams, Fragments & Light Verse,” and another collection of drawings. In the final part, Martin gives us the epic “Confessions of a White Guy with Dreadlocks,” the gut-busting “Zing!” that features this example:


Woman Sitting Next to Me on Airplane: So, what do you do?

Me: Oh, I get paid to make boring small talk with strangers on airplanes.

--And then sat in hostile silence for next 5 hours of flight.

Finally, we get another chapter with statistics in it, and one called “The Word Awards,” featuring hits like, “The Ensemble Award for the Least Frequently Used Combination of Words went to I was wrong, which was presented by last year’s winner I have a drinking problem.”

I seriously cannot remember the last time a book made me laugh that hard. I was even embarrassed at times because I was beginning to think guests at the bar were suspicious of the state of my mental health. For real, though, I had the same laughs all over again reviewing it for this post. And if you don’t believe me, peep the quotes on the back cover. They include Conan O’Brien, Will Ferrell, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chuck Klosterman, who said, “This book is so funny I forgot to laugh. I know that sounds like a childish criticism, but I mean it literally: This book is so funny, I forgot a whole bunch of things -– who I am, what I stand for, large chunks of my childhood, my sense of equilibrium, how to fall asleep, and when I’m supposed to laugh at things.”

So get yourself a copy, or if you know me, borrow mine, and if you like that Klosterman quote, check in next week for a review of one of his books. (Hint: No, it’s not the new one.) And if you're still unsure, follow Martin on Twitter. You know: baby steps.
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

This Time. I'm Losin' My Mind, This Time: Sink-Oh

Welcome back for another installment of the feature that makes you want to stick your head in a blender.

If you're new to the action, what follows are (mostly) terrible tracks that, for reasons unexplained, got stuck in my head last week. I'm kind enough to pass the deliciousness on to you, so enjoy.

One day you'll thank (read: stab) me.

We get things underway this week with an obviously unterrible track. I suppose it's nearly never a bad thing to have one of these guys' songs in your head.

5. "Don't Let Me Down" by The Beatles

This just in: The Beatles were awesome.

Our next ditty is a number by another band I really like. This track, however, drives me insane:

4. Groove Collective "Nature of a Freak"

Declassified is a really fun album, but in my opinion, "Nature of a Freak" should've been omitted. It's obnoxious, repetitive, and frankly, it's stupid. Fortunately for this feature, it's got all of the prerequisites checked for a splitting headache if and when it embeds itself in your cranium. See what I did there? Moving on...

3. "Gone Gone Gone" by Bad Company

I'm a little ashamed to admit that I used to be a pretty huge Bad Company fan. I liked the old stuff, and even the Brian Howe-era nonsense that produced hits like "No Smoke Without a Fire" and the title track from their second release, Holy Water. Matter of fact, I saw them live for the tour in support of the latter, which featured Damn Yankees as the opener, which is a little ironic considering that Howe used to sing for the Nuge', who was the axman for the Yankees, which was an outfit featuring a dude from Styx and a dude from Night Ranger.

And if you think that was a bad idea, consider that former Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers was busy doing The Firm for this Bad Co. era. Well, at least until they replaced Howe with Robert Hart, and ultimately ditched him to bring Rodgers back into the fold for another go. While all of that is more information than you ever wanted to know about Bad Company and bad, mildly incestual classic-rock side projects, it does tickle the all-too-common curiosity of musicians who never seem to be able to grasp that their heyday has passed.

Anyway, old-school Bad Company was pretty cool when I was new to classic-rock radio. The notion of recording a song called "Feel Like Makin' Love" was ballsy for the first 40 times I heard it, and nothing shy of gut-wrenching every time after. I'm not going to sit here and knock the library of original-outfit Bad Co., but I will say that many of their hits are pretty freaking awful. "Gone Gone Gone" is right up there with the rest of them.

2. The Steve Miller Band with (not to mention the most original band name ever) "Rock'n Me"

The CRR arsenal of Steve Miller Band cuts should be lit on fire. Really. I mean, we've all giggled about stoner implications in "The Joker." We've tripped out on the eerie synth work in "Fly Like an Eagle." We've clapped, like fools, along with "Take the Money and Run," and we've air drummed to "Swingtown." I say burn 'em all except for "Abracadabra." That's right. I said it.

1. New Edition's "Cool It Now"

God, the '80s were atrocious. I don't know why bands groups like New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe, et al, rose to such fame, but they did, and songs like this one are left rustling in the leaf pile, only to blow around every now and again and afix themselves to the screen door of your brain on a fall day.

If I could borrow a line from that David Spade show, just shoot me.

Those're the hits for this week. Come back again in seven or so days for another installment of rancid.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Untimely Reviews: Bob Dylan's "Chronicles, Volume One"

I took a part-time job a number of months ago. It’s a job in which I clock in at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and then punch out around 3 a.m. I sometimes stand, but mostly sit just inside the entrance of a bar. You could call the position bouncing, but that doesn’t really fit my stature or the ambience of the joint. Door guy is more fitting. I card everyone coming in, and at the end of the shift I empty some trash cans and flip some stools upside down atop tables. In the interim, it’s my job to make sure people don’t get out of line, but the clientele doesn’t typically involve any scenarios in which I’d have to escort someone out of the building. This is a good thing because of said stature, but also because it has afforded me the opportunity to do something I almost never get to do: read books.

In the early summer months, I hammered out a little Bob Dylan project, and it would’ve been awesome if I’d had this door-guy job while that was in-progress, but the positive side is that it gave me some distance from Dylan and his body of work. But we start with Chronicles, Volume One.

This book was a Christmas gift five or six years ago, and like so many in my library it sat there. I’d like to say that I thought it would be boring, that I was avoiding it because I knew that Dylan tunes weren’t going to come piping out of the pages as I turned them. That’s only partially true; the larger aspect is that I just don’t make enough time to read. I could not have been more wrong.

Had I made the connection that a great song writer could easily translate to a great book writer, I would’ve broadcasted its awesomeness much sooner. What I’m saying is that if you have not read this book, you must. It’s smooth and insightful and I can only hope that the sequel(s) that were rumored to be following this first volume is just as good, if not better.

I found it bizarre that Dylan chose to focus on only a few portions of his career as a musician, but it also left me hopeful that other sections would get some attention in future volumes. Regarding the portions that did get notoriety, it came as little surprise that they are some of the less-famous slices of his timeline. What Dylan and his family endured throughout his rise to fame and afterwards left me speechless and spooked.

But most of all, I was impressed by his diction, vocabulary, and honesty. Let’s look at a few key passages.

“Sometimes you just want to do things your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty curtain. It’s not like you see songs approaching and invite them in. It’s not that easy. You want to write songs that are bigger than life. You want to say something about strange things that have happened to you, strange things you have seen.”

“You have to show people a side of themselves that they don’t know is there.”

“It seemed like I’d been pulling an empty wagon for a long time and now I was beginning to fill it up and would have to pull harder. I felt like I was coming out of the back pasture. I was changing in other ways, too. Things that used to affect me, didn’t affect me anymore. I wasn’t too concerned about people, their motives. I didn’t feel the need to examine every stranger that approached.”

“The term “protest singer” didn’t exist any more than the term ‘singer-songwriter.’ You were a performer or you weren’t, that was about it -– a folksinger or not one.”

These lines come from the second chapter which spans roughly one-third of the book, and tracks Dylan’s efforts to find his way into the New York scene and how he developed his songwriting styles and inspirations.

Once Dylan had recorded upwards of a dozen albums, tasted success, and been inundated with notoriety, things changed.

“Early on, Woodstock had been very hospitable to us…At one time the place had been a quiet refuge, but now, no more. Roadmaps to our homestead must have been posted in all fifty states for gangs of dropouts and druggies. Moochers showed up from as far away as California on pilgrimages. Goons were breaking into our place all hours of the night. At first, it was merely the nomadic homeless making illegal entry…but then rogue radicals…began to arrive…creeps thumping their boots across our roof…gate-crashers, spooks, trespassers, demagogues were all disrupting my home life…”

Chapter four is the second marathon of the book, and it spans one of my favorite segments of Dylan’s career: his first of two recording projects with Daniel Lanois.

“I showed up in New Orleans in early spring, moved into a large rented house near Audubon Park, a comfortable place…You could work slow here. They were waiting at the studio, but I didn’t feel like jumping into anything…I brought a lot of the songs with me, I was pretty sure they would hold up well.

The first thing you notice about New Orleans are the burying grounds…a cold proposition, one of the best things there are here…ghosts of women and men who have sinned and who’ve died and are now ling in tombs. The past doesn’t pass away so quickly here. You could be dead for a long time…Night can swallow you up, yet none of it touches you. Around any corner, there’s a promise of something daring and ideal and things are just getting going…You can’t see it, but you know it’s here.

There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There’s a thousand different angles at any moment…No action seems inappropriate here. The city is one very long poem…

Everything in New Orleans is a good idea…In New Orleans you could almost see other dimensions. There’s only one day at a time here, then it’s tonight and then tomorrow will be today again. Chronic melancholia hanging from the trees. You never get tired of it. After a while you start to feel like a ghost from one of the tombs, like you’re in a wax museum below crimson clouds…

Somebody puts something in front of you here and you might as well drink it. Great place to be intimate or do nothing. A place to come and hope you’ll get smart…A great place to record…”

When working on the Dylan project, I was blown away by Oh Mercy, that first record Lanois produced with Dylan, and the track that stuck out the most was “Man in the Long Black Coat.” Its power and movement jarred the headphones off of my head, and the strength of it grew with each listen. Therefore, I was pleased to read the following:

“I wasn’t sure that we had recorded any historical tunes like what he had wanted, but I was thinking that we might have gotten close with these last two. ‘Man in the Long Black Coat’ was the real facts. In some kind of weird way, I thought of it as my ‘I Walk the Line,’ a song I’d always considered to be up there at the top, one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time, a song that makes an attack on your most vulnerable spots, sharp words from a master.”

And at the end of the marathon, we get another fantastic bit:

“Danny asked me who I’d been listening to recently, and I told him Ice-T. He was surprised, but he shouldn’t have been. A few years earlier, Kurtis Blow, a rapper from Brooklyn who had a hit out called “The Breaks,” had asked me to be on one of his records and he familiarized me with that stuff, Ice-T, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run-D.M.C. These guys definitely weren’t standing around bullshitting. They were beating drums, tearing it up, hurling horses over cliffs. They were all poets and knew what was going on.”

A personal favorite of mine that came as a surprise:

“Mostly what I did growing up was bide my time. I always knew there was a bigger world out there but the one I was in at the time was all right, too. With not much media to speak of, it was basically life as you saw it. The things I did growing up were the things I thought everybody did -– march in parades, have bike races, play ice hockey. (Not everyone was expected to play football or basketball or even baseball, but you had to know how to skate and play ice hockey.)”

Dylan cites important musicians throughout his book, none bigger than Woody Guthrie, and near the end of Guthrie’s life, Dylan teaches himself the Guthrie catalog, inspired by some sort of mystic transcendentalism.

“One thing for sure, Woody Guthrie had never seen nor heard of me, but it felt like he was saying, ‘I’ll be going away, but I’m leaving this job in your hands. I know I can count on you.’”

They do of course meet up and have a seemingly instant connection, a bond forged out of mutual respect, and in fact, a hospitalized Guthrie offers Dylan boxes of unpublished songs, but when Dylan makes the distant, frozen trek to the Guthrie abode, he is unable to obtain them from the family. They later fall into the hands of Billy Bragg and Wilco.

Anyway, fantastic book. If you’re a giant Dylan fan –- and let’s face it, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be -– then you should get after Chronicles. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Get your copy here.
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