Monday, May 25, 2015

The Honeymooning Phase

Hi, everybody!  I'm back.

Good lord, getting married is time consuming.  When I last posted here, I had some strange idea that I might take a few weeks off to get settled and then start doing double duty here on my beloved-but-neglected old blog: the same music stuff as ever, but also plenty of content about being a newlywed.  I think I may have even teased an events-in-reverse blog series about the wedding somewhere along the way.  Ambition is a good thing.

On the other hand, realism is a good thing as well.  We are three days shy of five months out from our beautiful wedding as I type this, and I just now am starting to feel as though I'm maybe starting to catch up with the scope and grandeur of my - and our - new life.  This is in no way meant to sound burdensome; it has been my absolute privilege to take this time to fully intertwine my life with Rhea's.

It's a funny thing: because Rhea and I dated so long before tying the knot, I got to hear a lot of advice along the lines of "it won't really be any different."  Which turned out to be complete and utter horseshit: everything is different.  Everything is better.  And everything has to be relearned, or at least substantially tweaked to work as a duet.  That, dear readers, is what I have been doing instead of posting here, and I wouldn't dream of apologizing for a second of my absence.  It has been the most important work of my life thus far, and also the most rewarding.

None of this is to say that I haven't missed hanging out here, though: in fact, we have had so many music and/or new-life related adventures in the last five months that should have been documented here; suffice to say, new material shouldn't be a problem.  Off the top of my head, I've not blogged about the wedding itself, finding the best fucking record store on the planet in the process of getting married, several brilliant new albums, a Record Store Day that included Leatherface and D Generation stuff, amongst others, that I'm still super-stoked about a month later, and god knows what else.

It's a lot to catch up on, and I'm looking forward to doing just that over the course of the next few weeks here on my now-less-dusty old blog.

Talk to you soon!

Merged life, merged record collection.  That's all of 'em, hers and mine...except for the new stuff and on-deck old stuff that lives under the turntable,,,and the bag of Stiff Little Fingers first pressings I grabbed for $7 a pop yesterday...it never ends, and that's the great part.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not Quite the Wedding Blog, Part II: The Shower Essay

Yeah, I know that I promised this on Monday and it's now Friday.  Welcome, dear friends, to Wedding Preparation Time: four days pass like one?  Sounds about right.  Tomorrow, we head on up to our venue to finalize our menu...and then, once we're done there, probably eat at Cracker Barrel, which Alanis Morissette assures me is at least somewhat ironic.  (An aside: the smart, progressive down-stater in me cannot believe that I've now eaten several meals at a fucking Cracker Barrel.  The fat 'Murican in me doesn't care and loves his dumplings.  Ah, duality, how you kill me sometimes.)

Anyway, here's the essay I wrote for Rhea's shower.  Which, naturally, has nothing to do with Cracker Barrel.  #ShittiestIntroEver, as the kids might tag it.

* * * * *

            Signs that a friendship is about to swerve across several lanes and left-exit onto the Something More Expressway come in different shapes and forms for everybody.  For me, ours was delivered inadvertently by a shriveled ex-member of the Rolling Stones.  Let me explain:

            By the time we met Bill Wyman at a book signing at the Borders in White Plains, Rhea and I had known each other for a little while, having worked together and become increasingly closer friends.  For me, the journey started in December of 2001: broken hearted from a relationship that had recently tanked and feeling like I was spinning my wheels, I took a job with Borders for the holiday season.  I never meant it to be anything serious; I just wanted to put a few bucks in my bank account and get off the couch I’d been fermenting on for the past couple of months.  Once there, I met some interesting folks, made friends, and decided to stick around a bit longer and see where it all took me.  Chief among those friends was the girl who, on my second or third night of employment, came in in the vintage Aerosmith t-shirt.  I remember standing behind the cash register, talking to her about the shirt and the album/tour it came from (not one of Aerosmith’s most appreciated periods; the kind of thing only real fans would even know much about), and realizing that I might have just met someone who was the exact same flavor of nerd as me.  That’s always a great moment in life, by the way.

            That conversation led to many more, first at work, then “hey, do you want to come to the bar tonight?”, then “hey, do you want to go to this concert with me?”, and finally, “hey, do you want to cut out of work early to GO AND MEET A ROLLING STONE?”.  Yes, yes, and yes, and so we did.  Did I mention that the man was shriveled?  Remember the California Raisins?  Like that, only not made of clay.  Nice guy, though; we chatted, he signed, we stood at the front of the store and had someone take the first picture of “us” (whether we knew it or not at the time), and then looked at each other.  I don’t remember who said what, but the conversation went like this:
           
             “Are you ready to be done with tonight yet?”
            “No.”
            “Want to go to the Pipers Kilt?”
            “Absolutely.”
           
And off we went to our favorite bar to discuss, dissect, dream and bond even further.  That was the night I was sure I’d know this woman for a long time to come.  I don’t know that I was exactly in love yet (or, perhaps more honestly, that I was admitting it yet), but I did know that Rhea was going to be something much more important to my life that just the cool chick I met while working in the record store.  There was work to be done on both sides between that moment and when we made that swerve-and-exit I mentioned back at the beginning: ghosts to be faced down and dispatched, debris in the general vicinity of the heart that needed housekeeping, that sort of thing.  But looking back on that night all these years later, while writing this for our shower/wedding: God, I was so right that night…and what an amazing journey this has been ever since.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Not Quite the Wedding Blog, Part I: The Intro and the Shower

Rhea and I are getting married six weeks from today.  I've alluded to the wedding before in these virtual pages, but I think this is the first time I've laid it down in concrete.  Six weeks and four hours to be exact, but who's really counting?

So why is this the first you're really hearing of it, dear readers?  A fine question: initially, I had intended to blog my little heart out about all the trials and triumphs of wedding planning in real time, all leading up to the big day itself.  It was a great, if obvious, idea, but logistically it just didn't pan out for two major reasons: (1) wedding planning is kind of all-encompassing and time-devouring, and (2) nothing raises emotions like a wedding.

Let me expand a bit.  Reason 1 is fairly self-explanatory: after a full day of wedding planning, I want nothing more to put on some great album and pass out halfway through.  The drain is no joke: a couple of weeks ago, I passed out mid-way through side one of Iron Maiden's Killers blasting on my headphones, waking up only with the kerchunk of the needle hitting the run-out groove.  Don't try that at home.  Reason 2 is a bit more complicated: in no way do I mean my wedding blog to be a venue for spleen venting or dirt dishing, but when you are dealing with a large group of diverse individuals, it's hard to know exactly who might not get a particular joke.  Inadvertently stepping on someone's toes isn't something I even remotely wish to run the risk of: this is supposed to be about joy at the end of the day, and nothing else.

So here's what we're gonna do about all of that: the Big Wedding Blog has not been cancelled, but merely postponed.  Sometime after the dust has cleared from the big event - think late January or so - I'm going to start the Big Wedding Blog, and do it How I Met Your Mother-style: start from the big day and work my way back to the beginning.  I'm thinking twice-a-week as a schedule for it, and I may spin it off from this blog into its own entity.  Watch this space for details.

In the meantime, I think that some as-it-happens writing is in order as well, so that's what this little series will be about.  Right now, it's about an hour before Rhea's wedding shower begins.  It's going to be one amazing afternoon: Kristina, my sister-in-law-to-be, has done an astounding job putting this together, and I'm beyond psyched to stroll in at the end and see the look on Rhea's face.  Right now, I'm at work (nothing weird there - I generally work on Sundays) for a few hours before it's time for me to pack it up here and make my grand entrance there.  I'm actually grateful to be here - gives me something to do while I'm pacing in my cage waiting for my moment - and also grateful that it's slow enough that I'm able to be writing this at the same time.

Apart from being amazing, it should also be an interesting event: lots of people from different parts of our lives will be there, and it's always neat to see who makes friends with whom once everybody gets thrown into a social blender.  The results of that will probably be fodder for the eventual Big Wedding Blog moreso than this, but if there are any really good stories to share, I promise a preview.

Speaking of exclusive content, I wrote a brief essay for the shower about the moment I knew that Rhea and I would be a big part of each others' lives.  I'll post it here either tonight or tomorrow, once the shower guests have had their moment with it.  'Tis good stuff, I think.

Back to pacing, then...

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Night with Phil Collins

Last night, between work and bed, I watched Genesis: Together and Apart, a recent BBC documentary about the veteran prog-rock titans.  Why?  Because I'm a sucker for rock-docs, that's why.  I'm completely indifferent to Genesis as a band, but sometimes the documentaries whose twists and turns I can't predict are the most fun to watch.  Sometimes, it's a gamble that doesn't pay off: I remember watching a VH1 original movie on the Monkees about a decade-ish ago that was so badly acted that it managed to make the real Monkees (and there's a phrase you're unlikely to ever hear again, at least on this blog) seem like geniuses by comparison.  But the Genesis flick was good: well told enough to keep even an non-fan interested for an entertaining ninety minutes.  I'd recommend it.

Music documentaries always rise and fall on how interesting the subjects are, and that goes doubly for one like this that is entirely comprised of interviews with the band members.  It goes without saying that Peter Gabriel is articulate and interesting; while I may not have much interest in Genesis as a whole, Gabriel's first five studio solo albums are must-haves in my book, regardless of the fact that I've tried and failed repeatedly to get more interested in his Genesis work.  I'll probably give The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway yet another chance sometime soon now that I've just watched this movie; that's an album I've always wanted to like the rest of as much as I do the title track.  We shall see.

The rest of the principal members are an interesting lot: guitarist Mike Rutherford comes across as calm and affable, while keyboardist Tony Banks seems like someone you really, really wouldn't want to spend too much real-life time with.  I found myself puzzled, about halfway through the film, as to why Banks spent so long in a band whose output he doesn't really seem to like very much - and talk about a guy who's pissed that he never had much of a solo career.  Holy bitterness, Prog-Man!

Which leaves us with Phil Collins, whom I found in many ways to be the most interesting interview subject in the film.  He comes across as good-natured and sincere, a gentleman who's got a real handle on all the places his career has taken him, and what was good and bad about it all.  His perspective is sharp, and his demeanor likable and engaging; by the time the movie ended, I still wanted to hear more of what he had to say.  It left me with one inevitable question: why on earth do people hate this guy so much?

I'm not talking about his music, which is as open to subjective like/dislike as anyone's.  I'm talking about Collins himself, whom has been the brunt of a stunning amount of internet vitriol in the past few years.  Look, I know it's Wikipedia and all, but read this anyway and ask yourself one serious question: what, exactly, did Collins do to piss in the world's collective corn flakes?  Because some of this stuff is far beyond simply not liking "Sussudio".

And I don't like "Sussudio".  But I do very much like "In the Air Tonight", as most sensible rock fans should.  In fact, I like it so much that I apparently grabbed a sub-$1 vinyl copy of Face Value, the album from whence that great song hails at some point.  I spun it while getting ready for work this morning - no time like the present, right? - and it's a good album.  No, strike that - it's a very good album.  I'll probably never love it the way I do the Ramones or Replacements or whatever else is a little more in my wheelhouse as they say, but it is a record full of artistry, passion, and a number of well written songs, none of which are lowest-common-denominator pabulum.  I'm glad I own it, and I'll likely enjoy hearing it again sometime.

So what's the problem?  His later stuff wasn't as good?  Well, whose is, really?  No, the problem is a bit deeper and darker than that: we hate Phil Collins with such vehemence because we once loved him so much that he became ubiquitous.  And this is what we do as a culture: elevate to eventually devour whole.  British musician comes up with a very identifiable pop sound that captures a mass imagination for a spell and makes him a superstar in the process?  Well, fuck that guy - we'll take him down a notch or ten!  But why, really?  Is that song that millions of people bought copies of a few years back now shit to them simply because THE INTERNET SAYS SO.  Good lord, people: I hope you treat your friends better than your pop stars.

You know what?  I like to be a friend to the bullied whenever I'm able, so I'll stand up right now and tell you that Phil Collins is alright by me.  I, Will, do solemnly swear that I like "In the Air Tonight" - and, really all of Face Value.  And "Turn it On Again".  And wait - he played drums on Peter Gabriel's third album and Robert Plant's The Principle of Moments?  Because those are both desert island albums for me.  I trust you get the drift.

***
Addendum:  In that Wikipedia article, there is a bit about Jimmy Page blaming the crap-ness of Led Zeppelin's Live Aid set on Collins.  Really, Jimmy?  It wasn't your heroin-addled slop-fest playing that ruined that one, but Phil Collins' drumming?  Oooookaaaay then, because the video evidence suggests otherwise, there, Jim.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Yet Again

Wow, is it bitching season again already in Classic Rawk-Land?  My, this year has gone quickly.  It's a bit of a yearly tradition here on the blog for me to run down the list of nominees and provide commentary.  In the past, I've also shared my thoughts on the hall, all of which you can find using this handy link if you're so inclined.  But time is money, and I get that, so here's the Cliffs Notes: I enjoy the gossip and, in an evil sort of way, the endless whining aspect of the R&RHOF, but I have no deep emotional investment in the choices of Mr. Wenner et al.  My personal R&RHOF lives in the record crates and hard drive I can see from where I'm typing this, and so should yours.

Right, then - on with the show!  You wanted the best?  Well, you got this instead:

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Wait a minute - the fuck?  Joan Jett wasn't already in the Hall of Fame?  I'm not being cute or simply cussing for effect here; I could have sworn she was.  Good lord; Joan Jett is rock 'n' roll, and this is a total no-brainer.

Lou Reed: Lou's already in as a member of the Velvet Underground.  On the other hand, he's also a lot more dead than he was the last time Annual Classic Rawk Bitching Season was upon us, so here he is as a solo artist.  And why not?  He made some great solo records and, as the equally late Joe Strummer once put it while he was still here, death is a star.

Green Day: Eventually?  Sure.  Before the Replacements, Husker Du or the Descendents?  Sorry, wrong timing.  I think Billie Joe himself might even agree with that.

Nine Inch Nails: Absolutely, and I say that as someone who admires Trent Reznor more than I actually listen to him.  He pioneered a unique sound that has been massively influential and perennially popular.

Kraftwerk: Okay, here's a good lesson for the squadrons of inter-tube whiners: On a personal level, I find Kraftwerk's music almost immeasurably dull.  But in the bigger world that isn't curated by my tastes alone, I'm aware that their influence has been vast.  In?  Absolutely; I don't have to enjoy their music to acknowledge their importance.

The Marvelettes, The Spinners, and War: All made some fine music, but all seem a bit second-tier for something called a hall of fame.  There is a difference between "made a few good records" and "had a large influence and/or enduring popularity", and I do not mean that insultingly.  Either is more than most accomplish, but it's the latter alone that should propel an artist into a hall of fame.

Bill Withers: It's easy to forget just how omnipresent Withers still is until you take a minute to stop and think about it.  He absolutely should be in.

Sting: As a solo artist?  Really?  Is this year's TV broadcast sponsored by Sominex and/or ZZZQuil?  Good god, no.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: **EDITED!**  In the original version of this post, I argued against Vaughan's induction.  My darling fiancee Rhea, who is much more into the whole blues-rock scene than I will likely ever be, really convinced me that I had severely underestimated the reverence that still exists for him, and I'm not too proud to admit when I'm really wrong about something.  He's not my cup of tea - honestly, I need my blues-rock music to be an 80/20 percent split in favor of the rock half of the equation - but he's very much worthy of induction.  (And lest ye gentle readers think I'm just that likely to roll over when a beautiful woman tells me I'm wrong, consider this: she also attempted - admittedly, with far less verve but still - to convince me that I was wrong about Sting as well.  Fuck that noise.)

The Smiths: Really, I shouldn't even comment on this one, given that five seconds of Morrissey is ten seconds too much for me; for whatever reason, I've an aversion to his vocals and persona that's almost blinding.  Still, I can't be a hypocrite: they have certainly had the large influence and/or enduring popularity I mentioned above.  So yes...but also yuck.

Chic, N.W.A., and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band are all returning from last year, and you can read my detailed thoughts from then, which haven't changed, right here.  In short: Chic should already be in, N.W.A. have a great shot and are deserving, and Butterfield isn't hall of fame material.

And that about does it until next year, dear fans of complaint.  See you then!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

U2: Songs of Innocence...and Stupid Outrage

So, yeah, about this free U2 album that I’m supposed to hate the mere existence of…

Seriously, internet: this is your idea of an important problem?  Juxtaposition is a funny thing sometimes: in my Facebook feed for the last few days, the pros and cons of free U2 often sit side by side with a series of photos and interviews of Tibetans conducted by the Humans of New York page.  If you’ve ever heard the phrase “first-world problems” and felt a little unsure as to its meaning, looking at these two things side by side will have you up to speed in less time than it takes to, say, download a U2 album from iTunes.  Unfortunately there’s not much I can do to help the Tibetan people, but music and tech?  Right up my alley.  Let’s do this.

For the record, I’m fairly U2-neutral.  As a kid, I liked their stuff through The Joshua Tree well enough that I’ve never divested myself of the CDs, although I don’t really remember the last time I actually listened to any of ‘em, either.  After that, it was diminishing returns – liked some of Rattle and Hum, some of Achtung Baby, and not much of anything else with one major exception.  All That You Can’t Leave Behind connected with me very viscerally during a particularly dark, tough time in my life, and while I’m not always in the mood to hear it now I’m also grateful that it was – and is – around.  I’m no fanboy, but they’re alright, y’know?

Flash to now: I, along with half a billion other people, am now the proud owner of Songs of Innocence, whether I like it or not.  Conceptually, I like it just fine: to me, this is no different than when I worked in a store that sold music and was never shy about taking home free promo discs.  9 out of 10 of ‘em were garbage, sure, but that tenth always made it all worthwhile.  Specifically, I think the U2 album is okay.   After one listen it didn’t bowl me over with its outrageous brilliance, but it was enjoyable enough that I’ll probably give it another spin or two.  One spot of constructive criticism right off the bat, though: if you’re gonna call a song “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” – and you should, what a great title – it needs to kick a little harder than this one does.

But wait a minute: why am I pretty much okay with all of this?  THE INTERWEBS SAYS I SHOULD BE ALL ANGRY BECAUSE PRIVACY.  And where, you ask, does the internet say this?  On Facebook, that’s where.  Really, folks?  REALLY?  You’re going to go on Facebook, which makes absolutely no bones about the fact that you surrender all of your rights to privacy and content ownership the second you click that “sign up” button, and complain that Apple and/or Bono has mercilessly invaded the sanctity of your digital home by giving you a free album?  Come on, people – y’all need to try a bit harder than that.

Speaking of trying a bit harder, I’d like to point out here that Songs of Innocence did not automatically download onto any of my Apple products.  Why?  Because I have automatic syncing and automatic downloading disabled on them, as you should as well if you’re actually concerned with security and privacy.  It’s not a hard thing to do at all: a quick google for instructions and about two minutes of your time and you’ll be good to go.  But hey, I get it – this is a time for mindless complaining, not practical solutions.  Gotcha.

You know who’s really smart in all of this?  U2, or at least their management, because they actually managed to get paid for an album in this era when that’s a near-impossibility.  Sure, Songs of Innocence was free for you the end-user, but it wasn’t free for Apple.  Essentially, the tech giant bought you a copy of the album, which means that U2 got paid a hell of a lot more than they would have had they flogged their album in a more traditional manner; let’s not forget that their last album, the lifeless No Line on the Horizon, was quite the flop by normal U2 sales standards.  Good on them for realizing that the old way of selling albums is dead.  In fact, I hope this sparks a bit of a trend: I’d love to see some artists who probably need the money a lot more than U2 have their work purchased and distributed in this sort of manner.  For all that “music wants to be free” as the pirates will tell you – and I’m certainly not innocent of acquiring music that way, and neither are you most likely – the musicians still need to be compensated, so that they can continue to create with a roof over their heads and paid-for gear in their hands.

Then there’s the funny side of this: did you know that lots of young people have no idea who U2 even are?  I love this; given that hubris is such an active ingredient in everything U2 and Bono do, there is an extremely amusing lesson to be learned for them at the link I’ve embedded above.

Or maybe not.  Maybe this is how they’ve introduced themselves.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Robin Williams

I feel the same way every other sane person who's heard the awful details of Mr. Williams' passing does: sad.  True, unique genius is an astonishingly rare thing, and he was certainly both blessed and burdened with in it equal proportion.  I'd love to have had a fraction of his life and talent, but I'd never in a million years want to stare down the bill that came due for it all.

It's neither a secret nor a new idea that comedy, like any other public display of creativity, is often rooted in dark places.  There's probably a trace amount of what killed Robin Williams in my compulsion to write, as there is in whatever has driven the musicians I've discussed on this blog to put their ideas to vinyl, and so on for all the other artsy types making their way around this bright green globe  That's a scary thought for every last one of us.  Given that reality, it is truly remarkable that the overwhelming majority of us have fond a way to walk in the light, no matter how many shadows vie to obscure it.

There's nothing you can do for Robin Williams now - he fought hard against a formidable foe and lost.  Death demands contemplation and bereavement, but it also requires you to up the ante of your commitment to the living.  I'd imagine that the audience for my blog is largely comprised of the creative types for whom Mr. Williams' death - and the reasons for it - hit home hard.  So I need to ask you all an important personal question: are you alright?  If you're not, then speak up right now, as loud as you can.  If you are, then go ask your friends the same question...and listen closely to whatever response they offer.  No one's asking you to have all the answers - there are professionals for that - but sometimes attentive listening is enough, or at least a good first step.

*  *  *

ETA: Rush Limbaugh - and those who will undoubtedly follow in his tasteless, pathetic footsteps in an attempt to politicize this - can fuck off right now.  This is a human issue, you myopic imbecile, one completely separate from the sad, divisive spectator sport you and yours have turned American politics into.