Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[Christmas Present #5] The Waiting is the Hardest Part

“Damn it, Amazon: SHIP THIS CRAP ALREADY!”

It’s a mantra for many right about now, I’d assume, and your humble blogger is certainly one of them.  Is it partially my fault for being so late to the spending frenzy?  No, not at all!  I ordered this stuff LAST WEEKEND, blast it!  That’s FIVE WHOLE BUSINESS DAYS before Christmas Eve – why aren’t these frigging elves who fill the smiley-face boxes working faster?  They can rest in February, for fuck’s sake!  Bluster!  Screaming! Per-blickety arrggggghhhhhhhhh!

Of course I do know better; the irony is not lost upon me that I (a) worked Christmas Retail in a brick-and-mortar store for nearly a decade, and (b) I sound just a weensy bit like what I always despised in that role.  So it’s time to take a step back, breathe for a minute, realize that (a) Amazon guarantees this stuff will be at my door by Christmas Eve at the latest, and (b) even if it isn’t, so what?  It’ll still be loved, as will I.  Ahh, that’s better.  How about some Holiday music, then, now that we’re all calmed down?  An excellent idea; one of the great things about being a few years removed from retail is that I’ve really begun to enjoy Christmas music again this year.  Hell, I’ve even got some on my iPhone right now.  Here, then, is a personal favorite, presented in two distinct versions – something for every mood, kinda:

Into the Christmas vibe / Cheesy:

Showing your true colors / Snarky:

The smartest among you will, of course, watch both.

And the dumbest among you – by which I mean me – will now go check your email inboxes to see if THAT STUPID SHIPPING NOTICE IS THERE YET.  If you’ll excuse me….

Sunday, December 16, 2012

[Christmas Present #4] We Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute

I’ve no idea how I could even hope to write a funny and/or cute article about the holidays today.  Like everybody else in the world, I am at a complete and utter loss to even put my feelings about what happened two days ago in Newtown, Connecticut into any sort of rational order, let alone try to reconcile it all and come up with some sort of logical conclusion about the tragedy.  If nobody has Facebooked it to you yet, you should take a few seconds out and read this article over at The Onion.  Whether it’s even comedy is debatable, but man…talk about the nail hit squarely on the head.

In last year’s holiday run, I posted about a teacher near where I live who took it upon herself to inform her young pupils that there is no Santa Claus.  In light of what happened on Friday, even debating such a thing seems hopelessly silly; almost quaint, really.  In that post, I posited that there is nothing wrong with letting young children believe in Santa, that he is simply a way for developing minds to personify and understand the spirit of giving and goodwill until they’ve reached a comprehension level where they no longer need the ideas wrapped up in red.  I think that applies here, too.

I’ve seen a fair amount of discussion of the fact that this has happened at the holidays, and what Christmas might possibly mean to the families of Newtown in the wake of this horror.  In some ways, I think that those families need Christmas and Santa now more than ever.  If there is any vestige of innocence left in any of those poor children, it needs to be respected and clung to mightily.  Christmas is normal.  Santa paying a visit on Christmas Eve is normal.  Normalcy is, in whatever quantity it’s even possible to create the illusion of, the best present I could imagine any of these bereaved children receiving this year.  Think of it as a re-affirmation of secular faith, a way to broach the idea that it's still okay to trust other people, and to believe in the values you’ve always held dear.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my Rhea is in graduate school, studying for a dual masters in Early Childhood and Special Education.  As such, I’m sure you can imagine her reaction.  In moments like this, it’s my job in our never-ending dance to be the calm, rational one.  Without a doubt, this is the most difficult that role has ever been for me: how, after all, do you remain rational about a horrifying tragedy that has no sane, lucid explanation?  I think I did an alright job; at the very least, it was the best I could do.  You know the cliché about the man staying stoic and controlled, only to completely lose his shit once he’s safely alone?  I guess it does actually happen like that every so often. Who knew?

In the midst of consoling Rhea – or at least letting her talk out what she needed to about it all – I hit on one thing that I think was completely spot-on, and I’d like to share it with all of you as well.  I told Rhea that there were really two stories here: the one that we’re immediately familiar with, unspeakable in its horror and darkness.  The other story, the one that we must try to keep near the front of our thoughts even as we’re deluged with the terrifying and incomprehensible details of the Newtown massacre, is that more than 99.9 percent of the billions of human beings currently calling Earth their home agree with us that what has happened is unspeakable, unacceptable and unrepeatable.  No matter what our other political and theological differences, we are to a soul united in our abhorrence of what has happened, and our empathy and sorrow for the victims.  If that is not the spirit of Christmas, if it is not the intangible value system made accessible by the character of Santa Claus, then I’ve simply no idea what is.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a half-decent night’s sleep.  With any luck, “a good night” might once again end that wish sooner than later.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Re: Westboro Baptist Church and the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

Cross-posted from my Facebook feed:

I generally regard the Westboro Baptist Church as some sort of particularly depraved meta-parody of religious extremism, being the "fag-enabling" (to use their delightful term for not hating homosexuals) agnostic that I am. But really, you inbred freaks, picketing the funerals of slaughtered kindergarteners is beyond the pale even by your so-low-as-to-be-practically-nonexistent standards.

The rational part of my brain knows that posts like this are giving the bastards exactly what they want: attention. The part of my brain that - like everyone else I know - can't process yesterday's events AT ALL thinks that some things are just too goddamned egregious to let pass without protest.

God - or Man, or Whoever - bless the Human Chain.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

[Christmas Present #3] Your One-Stop Lexicon of Christmas Retail!

Today began the true Christmas Shopping Offensive for your humble author.  Sure, I’ve got a few things stashed away already, but today is when the fun started for real.  Between the life that takes up my time (and occasionally delays a blog post by twelve hours or so) and the way my paychecks and bills have fallen this month, this weekend – defined for my purposes as RIGHT NOW through Sunday night – is going to both begin and (hopefully) end my 2012 FESTIVAL OF SAVINGS, to steal a phrase from one of the 9,208 new emails that has cluttered up my inbox since I last flushed it, oh, about an hour or so ago.

Having spent so many holiday seasons on the employees-only side of the retail counter, going through the endless parade of e-advertising has become something of a pastime for me.  If nothing else, spending a handful of ho-ho-holidays employed by a retailer will set you up with an entirely new dictionary: bottom-line to English, as it were.  For those of you (un-) fortunate enough to not have this sort of experience to lean on, allow me to translate some of the more common templates for you:

XX PERCENT OFF COUPON!  In this case, the nature of the devil is in the details, and the desperation level correlates to the percentage offered.  Under twenty percent, it’s mostly a matter of well, everyone else has coupons so we need to have one, too.  In the twenty-to-thirty range, it’s more we’re not absolutely empty, but some more foot traffic would be helpful.  More than thirty, and it’s Christ, we’re shitting bricks hoping Santa doesn’t bring us a nice, fat Chapter Eleven…now get your sorry, un-spending ass into our store!  Perennial exception: Bed, Bath & Beyond, who pretty much laugh at you if you don’t show up with a wad of expired coupons, no matter the season.

GREAT GIFT IDEAS FOR HIM/HER!  Do you know your significant other so poorly that you need a mass email to suggest a potential Christmas gift for them?  Well, then it’s pretty much over...wait, I mean no it’s not!  Dazzle them with these excellent, generic, gender-stereotyped things they’re sure to love return.  Then break up with them right after New Year’s…and be sure to find someone new to buy the exact same crap for by Valentine’s Day!

GREAT PICKS JUST FOR YOU!  And you alone!  No one else got this exact same email, we swear!  That’s why you should shop with us: we know you, not like those other guys who just want your money.  Fuck Macy’s!

BUY 2, GET 1 FREE!  Because there’s no way you’d ever buy more than one (if that) of these pieces of crap otherwise.  Our buyer is a dolt.  Enjoy!

MAKE SURE TO GIVE YOURSELF A GIFT THIS HOLIDAY SEASON!  Because the spirit of giving is for suckers, especially at the holidays! Also, buy more crap!

THE LOWEST PRICES OF THE SEASON!  Legally mandated to be the truth at the time the advertising is published, although you’ll also notice that they make no guarantees about what next week’s prices might be, should sales be insufficiently brisk.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR FREE SHIPPING!  Spend now, lemmings!


IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR EXPRESS SHIPPING!  You lemmings thought you were done spending?  Stupid lemmings!

IT’S NOT TOO LATE FOR HUMANITY!  The Mayans once disagreed, although they’ve become considerably scarcer since making that prediction.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

[Christmas Present #2] Latke Larry and the Festival of Lights

Years ago, when we were barely dating, I bought Rhea one of these dolls.  A prophet am I.
Ah, Chanukah, that enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in potatoes and onions and then fried.  I never really have gotten to the bottom of its significance as a holiday.  Sure, I’ve digested what Wikipedia has to say on the subject, and I’ve polled those whose backgrounds have had the festival of lights as a “thing” for longer than I have, but mostly I’ve come up a bit short.  The best thing anyone’s ever told me came, as it often does, from my beloved Rhea: “Actually, it’s not really that important a holiday.  Mostly, it’s puffed up to be more than it is because it falls near Christmas.”  I think I’ll go with that – it makes sense to me.

It also falls in perfect line with how I view and celebrate my Very Agnostic Christmases: as a largely secular celebration of family and togetherness that just happens to derive from religious history and tradition.  From that perspective then, I give you a list of things that largely defined last night’s Chanukah Kick-Off, in roughly chronological order:

1)      Latkes.  Celebrated in last year’s Chanukah post, referenced in the first sentence of the post you’re reading right now, and salivated over for every moment in between.  Seriously, folks: I don’t care if you worship Jesus, the Easter Bunny, Satan, Steven Tyler, or the Nor-Easter Bunny; we are talking about shredded potatoes which are mixed with Onions and then fried.  If that doesn’t sound like good times to you, then the terrorists have truly won.

2)      Siblings.  Namely, Rhea and her brother Alan, who between them made the latkes.  They did a great job, and clearly had a great time in the process.  Sometimes, a good in-law like myself just takes Billy Joel’s sage-like advice and leaves a tender moment – or even a tender hour-and-a-half – alone.   Which leads us to:

3)      TruTV.  World’s Most Shocking Chicks Who Got Arrested!  Hillbilly Meth-Head Roundup!  Wipeout!  Just the kind of drivel to pass the time when all around you are cooking, bonding and cleaning and no one really needs your help.  Woulda been perfect if they’d been showing Killer Karaoke – my new most-est favorite-est empty calories on television – but nearly perfect is certainly close enough.

4)      Beer.  An obvious accompaniment to all of the above.  Alan’s much more of a connoisseur of the hops and barley than I am, but I gotta admit that everything I tried last night was delicious.  I’m not a huge fan of beer that doesn’t taste like beer; if I wanted chocolate or coffee, I’d have some, but all of last night’s selections tasted both (a) like beer, and (b) delicious.  Cheers!

5)      In-Laws.  A quick spin around the blogosphere – hell, even around my Facebook feed – reminds me how lucky I am to not only love but also respect and like mine. 

6)      FOOD!  Latkes!  Brisket!  Donuts!  Gelt!  All delicious!  What more could you want?  A gym membership, I suppose, but that’s for after the holidays.

7)      Gifts.  I need to backtrack a bit here: in preparing for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, an accident occurred in which I broke a bunch of my most-used pint glasses.  For the most part, this was really no big deal: you use them, and they eventually wear out or break.  (It’s a lot like life itself, if you think about it.)  That said, there was one – a White Castle Coke glass – which I’d had for a few years and really used more than any of the others.  ‘Twas truly a bummer to see it go.  Yesterday, I received the following from my darling Rhea, wrapped in a towel in a shoebox:

At the end of the day, I may still not understand the true historical significance of Chanukah, or even which of its eight thousand spellings is correct.  But family that I can truly appreciate and enjoy, and a partner who knows what the right present is?  I get all of that – and how precious it truly is – perfectly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

[Christmas Present #1] And So It Begins...Again

One of the truly great things about the holiday season  is that it has its own continuity.  In some ways, it hasn’t actually been around eleven months since my last 31 Holi-Days post; it has simply been “since last season”, a measure of time that isn’t reflected on any calendar, Mayan or otherwise.  So here I am again, ready to pick back up where I left off.  In the intro, I called it a sequel, but really it’s more of a continuation after a gap necessitated by the politics of time.  I mean, you can blog about the holidays in mid-July…and you can also enjoy a nice fall stay at Bellevue as a result of doing so.

In the real world, however, eleven months have passed.  In that time, I have bid unemployment a wonderful farewell, and really come up with a game plan for how I might also bid low-income an equally wonderful farewell by the time next year’s Holiday Series begins here on the blog.  Rhea’s mother’s shoulder, which had been badly broken at the end of last year’s run, is still in the process of healing.  It’s been a long road and shall continue to be one for some time to come, but she can once again move it in ways that were merely a pipe dream around the time of 31 Holi-Days #31.  My grandmother, whose 90th birthday party we attended the same day Rhea’s mom had her accident will be 91 this year.  They don’t necessarily rent out the big room nor hire the Richard Cheese of the senior set for 91, but it’s still a damn good reason to celebrate.  And so on and so forth: life goes on, as has been written and demonstrated long before I set up this little lemonade stand on the side of the Information Super-Highway.

In some ways, it’s hard to even figure out what the holidays might mean in the wake of the devastation left behind not very far from here by Hurricane Sandy.  As corny as this sounds, it’s completely true: I have my family, a roof over my head, power, and no river in my basement – and those are certainly gifts enough for anybody.  To the afflicted, I hope the holidays bring some sense of normalcy this year: as bad as things may get, Santa still flies by like clockwork.

The more things change, the more Christmas/Chanukah/[your holiday of choice here] looks and smells and sounds the same.  We never truly solve the mystery of exactly what’s responsible for December’s magic, and I don’t believe we’re meant to, either.  We may unravel a piece or two of the fabric here and there – for example, I have an update on the enigmatic, unforgettable SHARON that I’ll share at an appropriate moment later in the series – but even then, they are duly replaced by new squares in the tapestry.  This is a very excellent thing; after all, if there were nothing new to discover about the season, there would be no need for this continuation.  And that, says the author, would truly be a drag.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012 Holiday Series Intro: "Christmas Present"

So, yeah: it’s the most wonderful time of the year again.  And just like your average brain-dead Hollywood executive, I’m not at all above rockin’ a sequel to last year’s success.  Just like most sequels, this one will be scaled down a bit from the original; unlike half of most sequels, I promise it will at least have some moments that rival the original.

I’ll pause here for a moment to take a question: “Will, what in the good hell are you talking about?”  Gotcha; let’s backtrack a bit.  Last December, I did a daily series called 31 Holi-Days, in which I posted some sort of seasonal-themed rant/reflection every day throughout the month of December.  The statistics show me that it was the most popular thing I’ve done thus far here at Turned on Its Ear, and my own inner critic tells me that it’s probably the best of my various series as well.  So why not head back to the well?  Honestly, writing last year’s edition was one of the most fun things I’ve done for this blog – and no matter how snarky I may get about it at times, I do truly love the holiday season.

This year’s sequel will be a bit different, mainly in that it will not be a daily feature.  Two reasons for that: first-and-most, I’m far more employed this year than last.  While that will make this a far happier Christmas, it also leaves me with significantly less free time this year.  Secondly, even a math-challenged writerly type like me knows that there are thirty-one days in December.  That’s thirty-one entries I’ve already written on the subject, and I’m fairly certain that strict enforcement of the one-a-day rule for a second straight year would lead to more reruns, topic-wise, than I’d like.  Instead, this year I’m going to set a two-per-week minimum; at the very least, there will be one new post in this series by the end of the evening every Wednesday and every Sunday this month.  Those aren’t strict deadlines: if one week’s posts land on Tuesday and Saturday, so be it.  There may also be more than the minimum promised, should additional inspiration strike; after all, who in the history of Santa Clause [sic] has ever complained about getting more Christmas presents (or, in this case, Christmas Present-s; and yes, you may groan at that sad, shameless pun) than promised?

First entry sometime between now and midnight on Wednesday, then.  In the meantime, why not click right here and either discover or revisit last year’s 31 Holi-Days?

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Big Catch Up

My apologies for the radio silence around these parts recently.  Mostly, I’ve been becoming acclimated to a new job and the new schedule that comes with it.  This is a very good thing, actually, but the one-two combo of getting used to my life becoming more rigidly scheduled once again along with learning a whole new set of professional skills hasn’t left me much time to play here in my little sandbox on the side of the Information Superhighway.  So here’s the plan: in this one Franken-post, we’ll catch up on what’s been going on life-wise since last I visited these pages (was it really just after the Bob Mould concert back in September?  Yikes!), and from there I’ll get back to doing exactly what I used to do around here, once again on a more frequent basis.

The Job: I’m dispatching limousines.  It’s not something I ever contemplated doing before the opportunity fell in my lap, but truth be told it’s a lot of fun.  The job itself is interesting, the people who run the company I work for are absolutely delightful, and knowing that there’s a steady paycheck coming in once again has made me calmer in a way I’d barely thought possible back when I was desperately writing posts like this.  Time-wise, it dovetails beautifully with my plans to begin getting my computer networking certifications and – these last few weeks aside – it should leave me time to begin writing regularly again as well.  It will also put me in the correct frame of mind to accomplish those things: friends, it is truly amazing how much peace of mind knowing that the bills are paid can afford a person.  And it’s even more amazing what you can get done with the rest of your time, having said peace of mind in your back pocket.

The Storm: I don’t really know what I can say about Hurricane Sandy that a million others haven’t already beaten me to.  My family lost power for just under forty hours, and our porch is a few windows worse for the wear.  Compared to what others not very far from here have lost, none of the above is particularly even worth a mention.  My loved ones are all safe, and my roof still lives above my head.  For all of this, I am humbly grateful.  If anyone more deeply affected by the storm is reading this and needs something that I can provide, what’s mine is yours.

The Election: Yeah, I know, it’s all pretty grim.  Here’s my advice: shut off the TV, click off your Facebook, and think for a couple of minutes about your core values.  Then think about the two major candidates for the presidency.  Accept the fact that neither of them is going to be a perfect – or likely even a kind-of-good – fit, and choose the one that will cause you less lost sleep.  For myself, I’ll say the following: many of my friends are gay, female, or just plain not economically advantaged.  I refuse to vote against their rights and/or general well-being, and you may draw your conclusion about whom I will be pulling the lever for from that.  I too wish there were a better choice than either candidate, but as a bunch of economically privileged old farts will be once again singing (for up to $750 a ticket) in the near future, you can’t always get what you want.  Try, then, to keep as much of what you need as you can.  Beyond that, I’ll leave the politics to the political bloggers and move on to truly important topics like…

The Aerosmith album: I really, really want to like it.  Three or four spins in, I just don’t yet.  I’ll do a full review in a few days, when I’ve either (a) convinced myself that it’s pretty good after all, or (b) decided to be honest about it.  The playing is largely fine – far better, in fact, than most of what clogged up their last few albums.  The songs on the other hand are mostly mediocre, and the abundance of recycled lyrics makes me sad and irritated.

The next post on this blog: Before the end of the week, scout’s honor.  To use a timely metaphor, the lights are once again on.

As always, thanks for reading – and thanks for suffering my occasional pauses.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bob Mould: 'Silver Age' (album review); Live in Brooklyn 9/7/2012 (show review)

First off, please allow me to refute a phrase I keep seeing in other reviews of Silver Age: this fantastic album is in no way a “return to form” for Bob Mould.  If anyone really thinks that it is, I beg of them to give his last two, 2008’s District Line and 2009’s Life and Times, another try.  They’re both fine records chock full of the emotionally and melodically engaging material that Mould’s name is practically synonymous with.

What Silver Age does represent is a return to a band feel, reminiscent of Mould’s early ‘90s time fronting Sugar.  The main difference between Mould’s last few albums and this one is the livelier, more off-the-cuff feel of its production and presentation, and that’s entirely the difference between mostly going it alone, as he did on his last few albums, and recording with sympathetic accompaniment, as he does here.  I can’t say enough good things about bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, and the electric charge they’ve brought to this batch of songs.

And what a selection of songs it is.  Every now and then, even an artist as consistent in writing quality as Mould comes up with a batch of new ones that’s juiced with that little something extra.  It’s an intangible quality, well beyond what a critic can describe in words, but as fans we all know it when we hear it.  Delving into Silver Age’s individual tracks is nearly pointless: they’re all top caliber, and they all bounce off one another in that way that only happens on truly special albums.  The lead single, “The Descent”, is a good choice as far as a four-minute sampler for the album goes, but really: if you’ve ever loved any facet of Mould’s career, Silver Age is a sure bet.

His current live show is also a sure bet: opening with the entirety of Sugar’s 1992 debut Copper Blue, surely one of Mould’s absolute career highlights, then offering a good chunk of the new album before settling into a final run of Hüsker Dü classics, his performance at Williamsburg Park in Brooklyn last Friday night was a complete winner.  I haven’t always been sold on Mould playing the Hüsker catalog with other bands, but Narducy and Wurster are absolutely the right men for the job.  The latter in particular was able to incorporate the signature idiosyncrasies of Grant Hart’s drumming into his own, more tutored playing without sacrificing the character and charm of Hart’s original parts.  As for Mould, he’s never seemed so at ease with himself and his songs as he does right now, and it shines through in his performance.

One of the evening’s more memorable moments came courtesy of Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn, who guested on vocals for a rousing version of Hüsker Dü’s classic “Something I Learned Today”.  By any objective standard, Finn’s performance was so-so: his vocal style isn’t a great fit with the song, and he seemed to get a bit lost lyrically here and there.  So why was it great?  Because he was the embodiment of everyone in the audience: the wide “I can’t believe I’m singing a song from Zen Arcade with Bob Mould” grin wasn’t something he could have faked if he tried.  He, like myself and the rest of the assembled crowd, probably grew up with and to Mould’s music, and let’s be honest: if Mould asked me to sing “Something I Learned Today”, I’d probably goof up out of excitement a few times, too.

To grow up with an artist’s music is an amazing, personal thing, and Zen Arcade is certainly one of those albums that a lot of folks somewhere between my and Craig Finn’s age grew up to.  To be able to continue to grow with that same artist’s later work is the mark of true greatness: Silver Age means as much to me right now at thirty-eight as Copper Blue did at eighteen, as Zen Arcade would have meant to me a year or three before that if I’d been cool enough to know about it then.  Really, there is no greater compliment one can offer an artist than that.

Bun E. Carlos vs. Cheap Trick, Round One

And here it is: the beginning of the end.

Honestly, as a fan I’ve been fearing this would happen for a while.  I’m not really sure what Bun E. Carlos’ angle is: he’s “in” Cheap Trick, but hasn’t recorded, played live, nor allegedly spoken to any of the band members in the past two and a half years.  If that’s the case – if that’s all that’s really required to be in the band – then I’m proud to announce that I’ve been the drummer in Cheap Trick since early 2010.  Hell, I’ve probably spent more time with the band than Bun E. has since then.  Oh, sure, they were on stage and I was in the audience, but details schemtails.

Before we delve any further into this debacle, I want to make one thing clear: I have nothing but the utmost respect for what Bun E. Carlos has achieved in his career as a drummer.  At his peak, I believe that there were few better Big Beat drummers in hard rock of any stripe.  He has an immediately identifiable playing style, and that’s something that very few rock musicians can claim.  His peak lasted a good thirty years or so, too.  That’s no small potatoes.

Somewhere around 2006, things started to change.  The band released Rockford that year, by most appraisals their finest work in many a moon…and then proceeded to play less than half the record live.  This was a major change for the group; previously, they’d always enthusiastically spotlighted their new music in performances.  It was also around this time that a large amount of setlist fatigue started to settle in: essentially, the band had two setlists: Headlining show (75 minutes) and opening act (45 minutes), with only a song or two ever varying.  I don’t think there was a single big fan that didn’t get very sick of the “Hello There” into “Big Eyes” opening two-fer in this era.  Most whispers and rumors attributed all of this to Bun E., long known as the band’s resident setlist writer.

Is that just rumor?  To a certain extent, but the proof is in the performances: since Bun E.’s “hiatus”, the band’s performances have grown longer and more varied.  Also more enthusiastic: it has been a wonderful thing to watch Robin Zander become progressively less stoic over the past couple of years.  As a fan, sure, I missed the original lineup.  But Daxx Nielsen’s a fine drummer in his own right, and watching the band rediscover some of the dustier corners of its massive catalog is the sort of thing that makes one happy to be a fan.

I was wondering when the question of who’d be playing on the next album – and the potential legal ramifications of that – would come into play, and apparently the answer to that question is “now.”  First off, I think it’s bad form on Bun E.’s part to try to escalate this over a contribution to a charity album.  Whether he’s got a point or not, there’s no way that a potential lawsuit over a song for a Very Special Christmas album can paint anyone in a sympathetic light.

Secondly, there’s the elephant-in-the-room part:  if Bun E. Carlos hasn’t recorded, toured, or even spoken with the other three members of Cheap Trick in two and a half years, then it’s safe to say that he is not even remotely a “full member of Cheap Trick in all respects.”  I’ve mentioned before that I’ve thought he was a bit delusional about his status in the band, and this pretty well proves it.  He is a grown man, as are his bandmates: either figure out a way to work together, or let the lawyers start hashing out the severance package.  The current state of limbo is frankly ridiculous, and if it ends up effectively ending the band’s time as a recording act then everybody who’s got an interest in this loses.  The band suffers an ignoble end to a largely distinguished career, and the fans miss out on at least one more chapter in the group’s late-period creative renaissance.

The Latest was a fine LP.  Until today, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that it might also be The Last.  Dear everybody involved: stop this game.   Thank you.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Changing Up Is Hard To Do

Ah, the end of the summer.  It’s always a heavy time of year for some reason, and this one’s certainly no exception.  When last we met on these pages, I was fishing around for job openings.  I’m still looking, but I’ve also decided to change tactics a bit.  Sure, the economic climate stinks to high holy hell, but let’s face facts here: even if Obama is reelected and learns how to turn poverty into wine in his second term, it’s unlikely that life will be getting any easier anytime soon for smart folks without degrees.  Time for a new approach, then.

So I’m looking into getting involved in computer/networking certification – probably Cisco, probably CCNA for starters, at least as far as I can glean from what I’ve learned about it all so far.  It seems like a good way to get some professional accreditation in less than the time it would take to get a useful (i.e., not English-Writing Arts) degree, and I’m certainly more than a little interested in the field to boot.  So I’m learning all I can about it, with a goal of getting myself enrolled in classes somewhere sooner than later.  So please excuse one more Turned On Its Ear public grovel: if anyone reading this has some good tips for how to get started down the road to certification, preferably without spending thousands of dollars that I don’t actually have up front, I’m all ears.

So yeah, the fall probably looks something like this: get non-permanent retail job in order to pay for certification classes, take certification classes, and then leave non-permanent retail job in the dust, hopefully very permanently.  (Did I mention that I didn’t mention this blog on any of my recent flurry of applications?)  It’ll be a tough year or so most likely, but it should also mean a greener future filled with, well, greener greenbacks and the sort of fallback skill I’ve always really wanted to have in my back pocket.

Meta-wise, well, Turned On Its Ear updates may remain few and far between for the time being while I get all of my irons in the fire.  If I indeed return to retail – and I’d say it’s probably about an 85% probability right now – they may well pick up exponentially as a coping mechanism, so check back often even if I don’t always reciprocate.  Thursday is Jones Beach’s annual Jimmy Buffett Parking Lot, a longstanding tradition for Rhea and I, and an (ahem) “family obligation” day to any potential employers.  Last year, I toyed with the idea of shooting video-with-commentary of this carnival of aging drunks, but a nasty Island storm put the kibosh on that plan.  I don’t know if I’m in a position to be so ambitious this year, but I also don’t know that I’m not; at the very least, my lovely new iPhone 4S takes half-decent video, so maybe Turned On Its Ear will invade the YouTubes yet.  We shall see.

As for music, I’ve got four words for you: BOB MOULD SILVER AGE.  Out September 4th, or available in the usual shady parts of the inter-nerd right this very minute.  It’s absolutely brilliant, his best in many a moon.  Sugar/Hüsker Dü fans, the line’s right over there…  Also, I might be seeing Dramarama for free in Brooklyn on Saturday night.  A great band, and singer John Easdale’s perceptive, clever songwriting has stood the test of time marvelously; well worth checking out if RSVPs are still available by the time you read this.  Certainly, you can’t argue with the price.

I was going to snarkily end this post with “see you in September”, but I’ve kind of got a hunch I’ll make an appearance around these parts sometime next week.  Either way, thank you for still clicking on this page, even when the life, love, music, and other shenanigans that make up my life get in the way of the writing.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Help Me a Bit Here

Late 30's male, non-smoker, no drugs seeks more permanent employment.  Currently in a freelance situation which, while certainly a good-time kind of thing, isn't exactly providing me with the stability I'm looking for.  I'm good with computers and technology, writing/grammar, customer relations, inventory control, young people and old people (and both at once!), and I'm a very fast, eager learner.  Perhaps more than any of that, I'm very good at dealing with difficult people and uncomfortable situations through a patented* blend of humor, logic, a calm, non-threatening tone and several other secret ingredients.  What else is great about me? Glad you asked: I'm punctual, dependable, completely disinterested in interpersonal office politics, well-organized, good with time management, and well versed in the art and importance of keeping things discussed in confidence to myself.

In terms of employment, I'm a very good date who's currently highly interested in something more.  Westchester County preferred, but certainly open to the idea of commuting to New York City for the right opportunity.  Your picture** gets my resume: wzificsak AT gmail DOT com.

(So, what's in it for you, dear 'Turned On Its Ear' readers?  Well, less time in employment/financial flux means MORE TIME FOR BLOG POSTS!  It's win-win, folks!)

* - not actually patented in the legal sense, but you catch my drift.
** - picture not really required.

Seriously, though, if you know anybody and you happen to pass this along, I'd be much obliged.

Monday, July 16, 2012

D Generation - Brighton Bar 7/6/2012; Bowery Electric 7/7/2012

It’s taken a week for me to write and post this for a reason – sometimes, when you spend a visceral weekend with the music that’s closest to you, it takes a bit longer to process, to sort out its implications, than to simply say “that was awesome” and move on.  Last Friday and Saturday – first at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, New Jersey, then closer to home at the Bowery Electric, I saw D Generation do two brilliant, blistering shows that were hardly classifiable as “reunion gigs”.  The show that they did at Irving Plaza back in September was a reunion gig – a brilliant one, but also a reminder/celebration of times gone by.  This weekend’s shows, by comparison, happened in the present and pointed enthusiastically toward the future.

It can be hard to even express how you’re made to feel by the music closest to you.  D Generation, perhaps more than any other band, soundtracked my twenties: they were loud, smart, great players, and aggressively local, to the point where I have no idea how many times I caught ‘em way back when.  They were bright and colorful in a black-and-white time for music, taking cues from glam, punk, classic hard rock and whatever else, and landing back somewhere near ROCK ‘N’ ROLL in an era dominated by cheap knockoff Cobains standing on stage unmoving, gazing at the floor and screaming perfectly sculpted hymns to their unearned ennui.  Given the timeframe, it was predictable as it was unfortunate that D Generation didn’t make it bigger.  I’m not sure that 2012 will be any more welcoming an era, with its fifteen-minute pop clones and Nickelback/Daughtry adult-contemporary versions of the same sludge I just described, but I am sure that we need D Generation now, just as we did back then.

Fortunately for us, they are once again alive and vital.  They wasted no time underlining that fact on Friday night in Jersey, opening their set with “Apocalypse Kids”, a magnificent new song that was simultaneously thrillingly brand new and an easy fit with the canon.  It was the first of two new songs; the other, “Piece of the Action”, has been stuck in my head for a week now.  The new material was exactly what I wanted: it sounded like D Generation now, in 2012; older, wiser, still connected with the unique fingerprint of their sound but very much aware of the time that has passed and the lessons that have been learned since Through the Darkness, their 1999 finale, was released.  The new songs gave the old ones a fresh context, ushering even the slightest whiff of nostalgia quickly out the door.  What was left was rock at its finest: smart, loud, timeless.

I am eternally grateful to this band for, as I said above, soundtracking my twenties.  I left the two shows last weekend as enthusiastic as one could possibly be to hear what they now might have to say about all of our (relative) adulthoods.  At the very least, I am giddy about the planned fall release of their fourth album in a way I haven’t been about any new music in a very long time.  That’s quite a gift for an aging music nerd to have been given, when you think about it.  Thank you, gentlemen…just thank you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Keeping Up With The Kids: Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe"

A series in which I waste time watching current pop-culture junk on YouTube, and then come home to my blog to express my aging-hipster befuddlement with it all.

Call me crazy, but this teeny-bopper tripe is actually artistically significant in its way.  Not on its own mind you, not one teeny tiny bit, but in the grander scheme of things.  A few years from now, when VH-1 is readying I Love the ‘10s, I think you’ll find that “Call Me Maybe” marks the exact moment when Autotune became more important to pop music than a human-performed vocal.  I’m completely serious about this: click PLAY on the embedded video above, and try to listen past all of the vocal processing in an attempt to hear Carly Rae Jepsen’s actual voice.  Having trouble?  That’s because this was a trick assignment: you can’t hear it because it’s not there.  Seriously: given the amount of humanity to be found underneath the production layers of the thing, this song might as well have been sung by R2D2, or Rob the Robot.

It’s a completely different thing than, say, “Friday”.  Rebecca Black gained notoriety because underneath the Autotune her singing was awful, worse even than my own pitch-challenged warbling after the number of drinks it takes to get me to sing in public.  It was compelling (if that’s the word for it) because what was in the middle of Black’s production Tootsie Pop was remarkably sour.  In Carly Rae Jepsen’s case, there is nothing but air at the Tootsie Pop's center.  I’ve watched this video three times now, and I’m not entirely convinced she truly exists; CGI is pretty good these days, ya know?  The voice is robotic, detached, emanating from deep within the void – that is, if it’s even real at all.  She’s the voice that asks me to “please enter your passcode” every time I check my voice mail, tricked out with processing effects, given a weak, tinny beat, some abysmal rhymes and mailed straight to iTunes, postage due.

The lyrics are dopey, in that way that teenagers always need dopey lyrics like these to exist.  There is something profoundly of-the-moment about the way Jepsen keeps referring to the boy she’s crushing on as being “in my way”, and I’ll make you a deal: if I agree to begrudgingly admit to the accidental genius of that, what’s say you agree to bury the thing in a time capsule and that way, with any luck, none of us will have to hear it again for at least fifty years. Deal?  The music is absolutely nothing to write home about: the blaring synth hook is straight out of 1988 – everything old is new again, after all – and it’s exactly the sort of thing that pushed the strong-minded smart kids towards punk or metal back in the day (or, in the case of your humble, ever-conflicted author, both).  The less strong-minded smart kids got stuck with a pile of Smiths records and a life soundtracked by wimp-city alt-rock, but that’s a tangent for another day.

Which leads us to the end of the video, and the BIG SURPRISE contained therein.  I’d throw a spoiler alert up right about now, but let’s be honest with each other: anybody who’s made it this far into this post has either already seen the video, or never intends to.  So the guy that’s (ahem) in Jepsen’s way gives his number to one of the dudes in her band, making it clear that he’d like said dude to call him definitely.  How of the moment!  How with the legal-marriage-in-the-news zeitgeist!  How convenient a way to simultaneously come off as gay-positive and make a gay joke!  And how on Earth did Katy Perry* not beat her to it?!

There are times when I truly dig getting older, and each time I watched this video for this post was one of them.  If any of you out there want to hit up the Early Bird at Golden Corral later this week, call me maybe.

* If, in fact, Katy Perry has done something like this in one of her videos already, please do not hesitate to get in front of your keyboard…and write your congressman or something.  I made one hard ‘n’ fast rule when embarking on this series: NO KATY FRIGGING PERRY.  And just like the best punk rockers, I mean it maaaan.

Dreaming, I Am

If you’ve never heard Bob Mould’s first solo album, Workbook, you really should.  I hadn’t listened to it in a while – maybe a couple of years, even – and I’m not sure just what compelled me to queue it up just now.  It’s not exactly the world’s happiest record: the single “See a Little Light” (embedded above)  is probably the most upbeat thing on the record.  It is an exceptionally gorgeous LP though, and that’s what brings me back to it even though I’m not feeling particularly dark about anything at the moment.  At the time of its 1989 release, no one saw it coming: the first solo album from the guitarist responsible for Hüsker Dü’s gloriously melodic cacophony was not at all supposed to be a meditative, semi-acoustic outing highlighted by its excellent use of the cello in what would normally be a rhythm guitar role.  All these years later, Mould’s never revisited this sound on a grand scale, either; a song or two here or there, but never an entire album.  I kind of like that: it’s hard to imagine him doing a better job at it than he did on Workbook.  There’s something to be said for getting it right the first time and then moving on to something else.

Speaking of something else: more frequent new content is heading your way in the next couple of weeks: lots of summer concerts and related hijinks planned.  Hold tight, and thanks for reading as always.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Queensryche at Rocklahoma: Rage, then Disorder

It’s always interesting to me to observe how performers, particularly veteran ones, deal with an unresponsive audience.  While I’m sure that there’s no one “right” way to handle such a situation, there is certainly a very wrong one: ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a rousing lack of applause for Queensrÿche frontman Geoff Tate, appearing at this year’s Rocklahoma festival…

Watching that video is bound to raise a few questions for any viewer.  In a post like this, it’s my job as blogger to anticipate at least some of those questions and answer them for you, at least to the best of my ability and/or snark capability.  Without further ado, then:

1)      Queensrÿche are still together?  Indeed they are, although you are almost certainly better off if you lost track of them somewhere in the early-to-mid ‘90s.  Founding guitarist and prolific songwriter Chris DeGarmo left the band in 1997, and they have struggled creatively ever since, bouncing from bad imitation grunge to ham-fisted “return to form” concept records to covers albums to tours featuring cabaret dancers.  Their best album (relatively speaking) since their heyday is the self-explanatorily titled Operation: Mindcrime II, a sequel every bit as disappointing and unnecessary as it sounds.  Their latest, Dedicated to Chaos, was released last year to a nearly unanimous reaction of vitriol and mockery, and it is every bit as bad as the criticism on the intertubes would have you believe.

2)      That all sounds pretty awful.  Were these guys ever any good?  Indeed they were: for a five album-plus-one EP run between 1983 and 1994, they were responsible for some of the most intelligent and challenging music of their era and scene.  For a teenager of the time like me, stuck with metal as pop and sick of the more vapid hairball bands, they were a godsend.  In particular, 1986’s Rage for Order (my personal favorite) and 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime (my pick for their artistic peak) were as good as non-thrash ‘80s metal got, and remain well worth investigating.

3)      So what happened?  With DeGarmo out of the picture, Tate took creative control of the band.  Judging by some of his remarks in interviews, he’s no longer much of a fan of heavy metal as a genre, a shift in musical preference that his recent work under the Queensrÿche banner certainly bears out.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se – all of our tastes grow and evolve as we do – but it does get thorny when your audience wants something you no longer have any interest in giving them.

4)      So why doesn’t he just go solo?  He tried that, releasing a self-titled solo disc a few years back that was as mellow (and decidedly non-metal) as it was uninvolving.  Its failure likely left Tate between a rock and a hard place: his audience was only interested in Queensrÿche's earlier sound, and creative restlessness/ambition doesn’t necessarily keep the bills paid.  So it seems that Tate more or less began selling his solo ideas as Queensrÿche, sandwiching them between the old hits that actually attracted a crowd during live performances.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take the crowd too long to catch on, and the audience for all of this has been steadily dwindling along with, rumor has it, the enthusiasm of his bandmates.

5)      Did the crowd really suck at Rocklahoma?  Wasn’t there, couldn’t tell ya, although most eyewitness reports I’ve stumbled across seem to describe the band’s performance up to the point of Tate’s rant as “lackluster”, or some synonym thereof.  On the one hand, all bands have off nights.  On the other, an audience is frequently only as “good” as the entertainment they are witnessing.  Surely, a thirty-year veteran like Tate has had to convince an indifferent crowd at some other point in his career, and surely he has done so by proving his mettle to an audience, rather than demanding their unbridled enthusiasm simply by showing up on stage.  Insulting the audience as Tate did is a mistake made by newbies with chips on their shoulders; for a man with his experience to do so is downright bizarre at best.

6)      And, lastly, how do I feel about it as a onetime fan?  Not much different than I did before I read about all of this, actually.  Their early music meant a lot to me as a kid, and I still enjoy that era of their work now.  If anything, all it’s done is force me to face facts: in my opinion, they’ve been mostly useless post-DeGarmo, and I need to stop forcing myself to try to like uninspired dreck just because a certain band name is printed on the cover.  So I opened up my music folder, deleted Dedicated to Chaos and a few other lame, latter-day albums that I’ll never actually listen to again anyway – and queued up Rage for Order, which still sounds great to my ears.  Friends, there is too much great music and too little free time available in my life.  If I waste any more than I need to of that time on mediocrity, particularly out of some intertwined sense of nostalgia and obligation, then the joke is well and truly on me.

There has been a bit of an interesting post-script to all of this.  Since word and video of the “you suck” incident went viral, it has been announced that Geoff Tate will spent the rest of the summer pursuing his “solo acoustic performances”.  Meanwhile, the rest of the band have drafted a new singer and will tour under the name Rising West (derived from a lyric on The Warning, Queensrÿche’s first full length album), performing material solely from the early, good years; they will also be recording new material, presumably in the same artistic vein.  I sincerely wish all of them the best of luck: Tate with getting to make the music he really wants to make, and his (former?) bandmates with getting back to where they once belonged.  Few things must really suck more than feeling obligated to perform music that your heart isn’t really in.

Addendum: this guy’s YouTube Video sums up the band’s career arc accurately, hilariously, and in a grand total of two minutes and twenty seconds.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Albums Reevaluated: The Replacements, "Don't Tell a Soul"

[Meta-note: hey, it's a new series all about albums I think are significantly better or worse than their reputations!  Tell your friends!]

I remain mystified as to why I’m supposed to hate this album so much.  As far as I can figure, it comes down to two main “problems”: it actually spawned the Replacements’ one sorta-hit single, and it isn’t quite as good as the three albums that preceded it.  Those are two pretty lousy reasons to cast aside an album as strong as Don’t Tell a Soul, but I’ll be a diligent blogger and indulge them.  In order, then:

1)      OMG!  “I’ll Be You” actually got airplay on MTV and the radio!  The Replacements weren’t my little secret anymore!  Man up and stop crying, little rock snob.  The radio and MTV playlists of 1989 needed a little bit of post-punk Stonesy rock to go with their synths ‘n’ hairballs, and there were few (if any) better-positioned bands to deliver it at the time than the ‘Mats.  Getting them heard in daylight hours was a good thing…and secrets are for little children who don’t know how to share.

2)      But Don’t Tell a Soul is a slickly produced piece of sell-out crap compared to the “holy trilogy” that preceded it.  Slickly produced?  Yep.  Sell-out?  Debatable – and not an exceptionally profitable one even if it was.  Crap?  Not even remotely.  Not as good as Let it Be / Tim / Pleased to Meet Me?  You’ve got me there, but honestly: few rock bands ever go on a run that inspired.  An album that’s 80% as good as three masterpieces is still going to be 90% better than most of the other stuff out there.  (I never claimed to be a mathlete, but you get my point.)

Trying to find a review of Don’t Tell a Soul that doesn’t use the phrase “slickly produced” or a synonym thereof is sort of like trying to find a day that doesn’t end in “y”: a fool’s mission if there ever was one.  But seriously: what was there left for the Replacements to do after Pleased to Meet Me but attempt to move on up?  The indie/rock-snob world was already neatly bundled up and living in Paul Westerberg’s den by 1989.  Critically speaking, he could have released forty minutes of himself gargling Carpenters songs and been hailed as a genius by hipster cognoscenti worldwide.  In fact, he more or less did that a few years prior; I hereby submit to the jury The Shit Hits the Fans, and its continued desirability as a collectible artifact.

So yeah, slick production, sky is falling, video on MTV, yadda yadda.  What about the songs?  It’s funny how nobody ever seems to mention them, likely because doing so would mean admitting that Don’t Tell a Soul doesn’t actually suck.  It is true that there are more ballads/mid-tempo songs here than on any prior ‘Mats disc.  It is also true that these songs are intelligent, clever and insightful – all adjectives generally associated with Westerberg’s songwriting.  They are also evolved, a shade or two more adult than the likes of “Skyway” or “Sixteen Blue”, and I think that quality is at the heart of Don’t Tell a Soul’s undeservedly bad reputation.  It’s the Replacements album that might mean more to you at 37 than it did at 17, and that’s just not likely to fly with rock snobs, a group notoriously touchy about their inability to resist aging.

As for me, I’m fine with my age (it’s one of the two mentioned in the last sentence; you guess which), and this is the Replacements album that gets better and better with time for me.  One could argue that it sort of invented “adult alternative” as a genre, and one could simultaneously argue that it bettered most of its competition in that genre from the word “go”.  Beloved artists like Ryan Adams and Wilco clearly took a page or three (or an entire career, really) from the Don’t Tell a Soul playbook – and if those artists left as many rough edges and as much rock ‘n’ roll in their slickly-produced maturity as the Replacements did, I’d find them as consistently interesting as I find Don’t Tell a Soul.

One final argument: if I were forced at gunpoint to pick one-and-only-one favorite Replacements song, “Darlin’ One” might just be it.  Beat that for a recommendation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Album Review: Joey Ramone, "...Ya Know?"

In some ways, I’ve been dreading this one as much as I’ve been looking forward to it.  I miss Joey immensely, as every Ramones fan does, but I also feel that Don’t Worry About Me, the album he obsessed over and nearly completed before his death, served as a perfect self-penned epitaph.  It was an album chock full of great songs and some of the strongest vocals of Joey’s career, and a decade removed from the sad circumstances of its release it remains a must-own for any serious rock fan.  If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a huge favor: put this review down for a minute, click on over to your favorite music retailer and/or pirate site, and plug that hole in your collection.  You’ll be better off for it, believe me.

As much as I loved the idea of hearing “new” Joey, I was also unconvinced that Don’t Worry About Me really needed a follow-up; if Joey painstakingly designed that one as his musical last will and testament, who are we to argue?  I started to feel a bit better about …Ya Know? once I saw some of the names involved in its creation: Little Steven, Bun E. Carlos, Joan Jett, Ramones producer Ed Stasium – these aren’t people I’d imagine involving themselves in some half-baked grab-bag of leftovers.  I still had my misgivings, but I duly placed my order, and finally got around to spinning the thing today.

Verdict: it’s certainly a grab-bag of leftovers, but it’s a better one than I’d ever imagined.  It’s not a STATEMENT on the order of Don’t Worry About Me, but it is forty-five minutes of songs worth hearing by one of rock music’s most consistently underrated vocalists, spit-n’-polished for release by musicians with a good, honest love for the man and his music.  I can’t at all speak to whether or not Joey would have done anything with this material if he still walked among us, but since he no longer gets a vote I’m very glad to have it.  These songs were clearly not written to sit together as an album, but taken one by one they’re uniformly strong.  The two Ramones remakes, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” and “Life’s a Gas” are winningly stripped-down from that band’s more familiar versions, and the thirteen new songs are all completely charming.  I don’t have any early favorites, but in that good way where the whole thing is far stronger than I’d ever guessed it would be.

…Ya Know? doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the late great man: he loves New York City, he’s a bit on the lovelorn side, and he’s one of the greatest, most unique singers rock ‘n’ roll has ever produced.  What it does do is give us one more unexpected chance to spend the better part of an hour appreciating him, and that’s more than enough.