Monday, April 6, 2009

Unemployment Will Do That to You

Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I lost my job and have been focusing my energies primarily on that.

Promise to come up with something substantive here; in the meantime enjoy some Nollywood movie previews!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Q And Not U, Where Are You?

I was thinking about Q And Not U, as I sometimes do whenever I hear their songs come up on random. While I was in high school, they were probably my favorite active band of the time, and I was lucky enough to catch them in all of their incarnations. In later years, after they broke up, I underwent a bit of revisionism in my thinking. Listening to Different Damage and especially Power for me is a vastly different experience for me than listening to No Kill No Beep Beep. They aren't terrible albums, but they lack the energy and the frenetic desperation of their first album.

Interestingly, it seems as though the band has attempted some sort of historical revisionism. Their old website is nowhere to be found, and neither is heldlikesound, the 'zine maintained by their drummer John Davis. Most interesting though was their attempt to expunge or at least move on from the legacy of their original bass player, Matt Borlik. This can be seen in their refusal to play most of their No Kill material, and their reticence to discuss his contribution in later interviews or his exit. It's even difficult to find photos of them from this early period.

Anyway, long and short of this post is I wanted to know if anyone had any live recordings or footage of Q And Not U prior to Borlik's departure. I recall that WMUC Third Rail Radio had an archive performance of them from like 2000 (along with one from the Get Up Kids, LOL), but I lost that many years ago. Feel free to let me know in the comments section.

In the meantime, this article is a pretty cool live recap of the band over the course of their seven years.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Riffz and (no) Dunkzzz, Wk. 4/5

As time goes on and I continue to write here it's becoming more and more apparent that Riffz and Dunkz is going to be one of those things that just happens when it happens, kind of like Achewood. Anyway, just Riffs this week with an extra-long installment today Fugazi for those of you who might be interested.

The Riffs

Following his departure from Deep Purple in the late 1970s, Robert Plant couldofbeen David Coverdale formed Whitesnake from the remainder of his backing band, incidentally also known as The White Snake Band (see what he did there?). For most of the late 70s and early 1980s they were essentially an English Doobie Brothers, playing blues rock and boogie and getting pretty big in Japan and eventually England. But popularity in the US remained elusive, until that is Coverdale teamed up with John Sykes and jumped on the coke and hooker fueled hair metal bandwagon.

"Here I Go Again" really could be one the of the defining moments of hair metal. It has all the elements you need: mysterious and solitary anti-hero, a slow-build synthesizer intro, the usage of the phrase "lonely street of dreams", a guitar solo straight out of the Kansas City Guitar Center branch, Tawny Kitaen.

Is it stupid? Yes, of course it's stupid. But in its stupidity there's something so uninhibited and fun about it that you can't help but like it. And it's certainly better than the paint by numbers power ballad "Is This Love" and the beer-shit awfulness of "In the Still of the Night."

OK, this is unfair. But I don't think I'm the only one who felt a twinge of schadenfreude when Chinese Democracy finally hit and all of the Guns and Roses apologists were finally forced to admit that it was not the Howard Hughes hair metal triumph it was supposed to be. The fact is that Axl Rose, for all intents and purposes, was a great front man but he was nothing without the forces of the other Roses, specifically Izzy Stradlin.

The building up of Axl Rose throughout the 90s might be one of the more ridiculous myth making endeavors ever, fueled no doubt in large part by writers and editors eager to plumb the depths of their own misplaced nostalgia. That's all well and good, but the cult of Axl reached obnoxiously stupid heights, perhaps culminating in Spin's really, really labored 1999 cover feature, "What the World Needs Now is Axl Rose" (message from 2009: it doesn't). Rock stars and fans are a naturally symbiotic relationship, but the lesson of Axl may be that when we enter into that relationship with a pretty well known fuck-up, we can't not expect to be burned (see the above).

Saying bad things about Fugazi, especially if you are from D.C. (like myself), is tantamount to self-exile from the musical community down there. It happened to Pussy Galore, it happened to Jason Cherkis, and it happened to Michael Little. The flurry of angry letters to the editors of the City Paper after that last article was mind-boggling, indicative of the band's vaunted status as the elder statesmen of D.C. post-punk. Well, maybe this is my act of self-exile. It should be clear that musically, Fugazi were truly a great band, capable of incredible moments of tension and release. For any one who needs further indication of this, simply check out Jem Cohen's superb doc, Instrument.

The downside to the Fugazi legend though is the way that they allowed people to perceive them as being morally superior to other bands and figures within the punk community. In large part, this is the fault of Mackaye, who has been seen as some sort of figurehead ever since he was 17 and has had to probably qualify thousands of stupid comments since then. Regardless, the band's strict anti-corporate stance and their willingness to stand have garnered them fans and admiration the world over. But at the same time, it's impossible to see the band on anything approaching human terms. They're caricatures of themselves, of punk ethics taken to such a degree that one can't find a single fault or touch of humanity in them. Ian Mackaye's seeming lack of humor about himself and his band's mission no doubt played a huge role in the making of the legend.

By following the straight and narrow and battling the corporate ogre, by doing everything right, by singing a song that demonizes someone so weak and insecure that he finds himself the instigator of violence (which is such an easy move for a band commonly described as "challenging"), the band essentially insulated themselves from any form of criticism but gave them a vantage point from which to criticize not only those in power (who, let's be honest, couldn't give a flying fuck anyway) but also to their peers (who did in fact care. A lot.).

The result of this king making power is the creation of a scene that is fundamentally self-absorbed and desperately afraid of not falling in line with the Fugazi playbook. Dischord rarely if ever releases records from bands outside the area, and band's from D.C. are doomed to a very short shelf-life primarily because they are such a product of their environment that it seems they can only make their impact there. Nobody takes D.C. seriously anymore as a scene because, a few notable examples aside (Nation of Ulysses/Make Up, Shudder to Think, Lungfish, and a few others) if you've heard one Dischord band, you've heard them all. It's the same message, the same set of tools, and the same presentation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nation of Ulysses Proposal

So, just to show that I'm not one to sling shit without expecting anything in return, I've c/p'd the bulk of my 33 1/3 proposal for The Nation of Ulysses' Plays Pretty for Baby (leaving out unnecessary personal information). I definitely went in a much more "traditional proposal" route than I probably should have, but given that Plays Pretty for Baby is more quietly influential than a no-brainer, I wanted to make sure they understood where I was coming from and why the record deserved to be written about.

I'm still waiting for feedback from series editor David Barker, but in the meantime I'd love to hear what some people who read it have to say about it, constructive or otherwise. Also, check out some scans of the band's hysterically funny and ridiculous "organ of propoganda," Ulysses Speaks!

EDIT: Guy mus be clairvoyant. David Barker's response:
Hi Nick
Good to hear from you - thanks for getting in touch.
I enjoyed reading your proposal: it was well written, nicely organised, and made a compelling argument for the importance of the album. I thought it lacked a couple of things, though. First, I thought you could have spent longer outlining how you'd structure the book, how you'd break it down over the course of 30,000 words. Second - and this is much more nebulous and subjective - it didn't quite have a *spark* that most of the best proposals had. Really hard to describe that, and it may be that it just didn't hit me from quite the right angle. It was a very competitive process, this time around, as I'm sure you can tell!
Anyhow, I hope that's at least vaguely helpful, and doesn't seem too harsh.
Very best wishes,
Very helpful and not at all harsh, David. Thanks.


The Nation of Ulysses can probably do a better job of explaining why their 1992 record, Plays Pretty for Baby, deserves to be a part of the 33 1/3 series better than I ever could. The opener, “N-Sub Ulysses,” begins with crowd noise, an obvious nod to the NoU’s predilection for canned “live” records of the 1950s and 1960s (A motif that would carry on through to The Make *Up). A speaker then intones ominously, introducing the band as though he were introducing the members of a secret society, “To you, the bold and foolish lambs . . .” Suddenly, the band launches into a lurching garage punk drone, equal parts The Gun Club, Black Flag, Ornette Coleman, and the Guess Who. Over all of this, lead singer Ian Svenonius steps up to the microphone and belts out perhaps the most virulent act of musical and generational patricide ever committed to tape.

I’m not talking ‘bout a Beatles song, written a hundred years before I was born…

It’s a brush off far more sinister and violent than the Who’s (failed) promise to “Die before I get old” and more convincing than the Sex Pistol’s cry of “No Future!” It’s a lot funnier too. The Nation of Ulysses arrived seemingly fully formed on their 1991 debut Thirteen Point Plan to Destroy America, hitching MC5 inspired garage rock to an abstract idea of soul, youth rebellion, political insurrection, fashion, and insomnia. By Plays Pretty for Baby, their sound and mission were almost bursting at the seams, overloaded with ideas, critiques, cryptic jokes, and righteousness.

True, the Nation of Ulysses was never as popular as their contemporaries in Fugazi. Nor were they as long lasting. Shortly after the release of Plays Pretty for Baby, guitarist Steve Kroner left the band, and shortly thereafter the band disbanded, with the bulk of the group (Svenonius, drummer James Canty, and bassist Steve Gamboa) regrouping first as Cupid Car Club and then as the longer lasting and equally influential Make *Up. Tim Green moved to San Francisco and formed metal revivalists The Fucking Champs.

So how is it that a record released by a relatively unknown punk band that broke up right after its release deserves to be written about? For one, Plays Pretty for Baby has gone on to influence dozens of punk, hardcore and post-hardcore bands. Swedish punk rockers Refused essentially lifted the NoU’s feverish agenda entirely, leaving in the fiery political attacks and the stylish Soviet propaganda inspired liner notes but leaving out the NoU’s well-developed sense of humor and subversive play that held the whole thing together. Other bands took the group’s fashionable presentation as inspiration, leading many bands to adopt matching suits/uniforms, a trend that would see its moment in the spotlight when bands like The White Stripes and The Hives broke through to the mainstream. The fact that these bands play propulsive and sometimes noisy garage rock is no accident either.

What ultimately makes Plays Pretty for Baby an interesting and worthwhile record though is the profusion of ideas that run through it. It works on so many different levels that one can never grow tired of listening. On one level, the record is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the early 1990s indie scene. The often hysterically funny youth revolt jive talk in both their lyrics and liner notes can be seen as a poke in the eye of hardcore and punk’s (especially the D.C. punk scene) often overly sanctimonious peachiness. On another level the record is a fiery protest record, with both barrels aimed at a politically bankrupt society. The song “The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken By Storm” isn’t so much a metaphor for rebellion so much as a blue print. Yet on another level the record is a Situationist critique on political radicalism itself, turning their efforts at subversion into a cryptic spectacle of abandon. As their liner notes point out:
Political Objectives/Target Audiences: Wreck society through direct action by destroying its institutions and the men who serve it, and by relying on the people's forces to spread the doctrines of "P-Power" and "Ragnarok." To consolidate the New Nation, while never forgetting the need for constant purging, as the nation shall resemble a self-cleaning oven.
On the one hand, the band was dead serious. On the other they’re laughing all the way to their graves.

Additionally, The Nation of Ulysses articulated the idea of a rock band as something more than just a band while simultaneously lampooning the idea. The Clash presented their band as a romantic group of outsider ruffians and early Scritti Politti dabbled with the concept of band as collective, but the NoU took these ideas to their logical conclusion by declaring themselves a sovereign political entity and even going so far as to announce their succession from the United States of America. As Svenonius noted in an early interview, “The Nation of Ulysses is basically about a shout of secession. We don't want to be involved with the United States and the structure that exists. We've introduced a whole new form of currency that takes its form in garbage.” This sense of band as a nation, diametrically opposed to the United States, in many ways provided a tangible spiritual connection to the black culture they celebrated, from Parliament/Funkadelic to the Black Panthers as well as a tongue in cheek critique of rock bands as rebellious figures. What could be more rebellious (or more ridiculous) than a sovereign nation that supports Latin American guerrilla movements such as the Shining Path and declared American youth to be an oppressed class?

Finally, the music kicks ass. Plays Pretty for Baby takes inspiration from the 1980s hardcore of Black Flag and Flipper, the jagged garage rock of the Monks, and the caustic post-punk of the Birthday Party and the Fall. Injected into this heady brew is a jolt of soul, doo-wop, and free jazz. The band sounds as though they could come apart at any moment and yet songs like “The Hickey Underworld” and “A Comment on Ritual” reveals a band capable of some serious dynamics. Their co-option of jazz, not just as a genre but as a culture as well, makes Plays Pretty for Baby especially unique. Finally, there’s Ian Svenonius, whose absolutely unreal vocals veer from a sneer to a caustic shriek, sounding like an unholy marriage of Prince and Iggy Pop.

My approach for this book would be journalistic, similar in style to Chris Ott’s book on Unknown Pleasures and Michael Fornier’s work on Double Nickels on the Dime. For a band that created an often confusing and contradictory legend for itself, I think it would be enlightening and entertaining to read about the formation and early years of the NoU. How did their surroundings in Washington, D.C. influence them? What musical, political, social, and philosophical influences went into the pot of ideas that produced such a quixotic and exciting platform? I’d also like to focus on the album itself. How did the band approach following up Thirteen Point Program to Destroy America, itself a highly regarded album that did much to raise the band’s profile (Sassy anyone)? Sonically, Plays Pretty for Baby sounds much heavier and noisier and the rhythms are much looser than Thirteen Point Program, much more indebted to free jazz. The lyrics are more abstract, as are the liner notes. It removes the strict hardcore vibe that often permeated the songs on the first record, creating a more ominous and foreboding atmosphere. Was this an attempt to purposely alienate fans that liked the more traditional fair found on the first record? Or was it a natural progression, honing in closer to the true sound of Ulysses.
I hope to interview members of the band, specifically Ian Svenonius and James Canty, for this project. I also hope to interview other figures from this era as well, such as Dischord Records owner Ian Mackaye and other prominent figures in the D.C. scene from this era. I would hope that they would be able to provide me with insight into the band and the record and will aid in my attempt to tell the story of Plays Pretty for Baby. Additionally, I intend to utilize other sources, such as Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins’ Dance of Days and fanzine back issues (including the NoU’s own Ulysses Speaks!) to place the band in the specific context of Washington, D.C. in 1992 and the American indie scene.

It is my belief that this is a record a lot punk and indie fans, as well as casual readers, will want to read about. It is a record whose whirling dervish intensity and stylistic approach has been imitated many times over by bands like Refused, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Hives, Swing Kids, Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, and a litany of other garage, hardcore, post-hardcore, emo, and agit-punk bands. The legend of Ulysses continues online on message boards and in comments left under live footage of the band on YouTube. As the band themselves purported, “Schoolyards now more than ever chime with the chant: "Ulysses, Ulysses, little flower, beloved by all the youth.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Potential 33 1/3 Shortlist Proposals

So 33 1/3 just released their shortlist of potential books in their ongoing book series focusing on culturally significant records. That faint grinding noise you hear is the wailing and gnashing of teeth from over 400 dejected writers, bloggers, and grad students, myself included. The list that remains is, as you can imagine, a pretty interesting cross section of musical tastes. Now, I recognize that the 33 1/3 Series is all about bringing a fresh perspective on records that are infamous, influential, and important, but there are a few records that made the list that, for some, may call into question the intent of the series (as well as the general well-being of those who proposed them).

Most of the people who submitted are trying to be good sports in the comments section and say how excited they are about titles that did make it, all while valiantly defending against the few malcontents who grouse on about how their proposal didn't make it but a proposal for Garth Brooks' Chris Gaines project or Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak, a record released just a few weeks ago, did make it. "33 1/3 isn't about just a straight retelling of the facts it's about the authors interpretation, maaaaahhhn..." Well, yes and no. 33 1/3 certainly places a premium on creativity and unconventionality, but at the end of the day it's about the album, not your precious little creative nonfiction project.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about what we could potentially see from 33 1/3 more "radical" shortlist nominees. And for those of you who are crying "foul" and demand to see my proposal I'll be posting it separately in the next few days.

Britney Spears - Blackout

Tracing Britney's roots back over several generations, our intrepid author links Ms. Spear's Louisiana roots to her great, great, great, great-grandfather, Butterford DuBois Spears, the illegitimate child of a wealthy white planter and his black mistress. Through groundbreaking genealogy research and scholarship, the author pieces together the fragments of Butterford's life to create a picaresque tale that in many ways parallels Ms. Spear's life. From obscure poverty to the heights of 19th century Louisiana society, Butterford became one of the most influential men in New Orleans until a series of professional and personal misfortunes caused him to become a reviled figure. Returning to the relative anonymity of his sugar plantation "Croisement" (French for "Crossroads"), Butterford reinvented himself as a prolific inventor and solidified his comeback when he gained a patent for an early form of mechanical shears. Drawing parallels to Ms. Spear's own life, the author investigates questions of celebrity, the cost of fame, and the legacy of family in our contemporary society.

The second proposal is actually a no-holds-barred tell-all account by Kevin Federline.

Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak

Utilizing 808s and Heartbreak as a launching pad, the author weaves a classic story of inter-galactic romantic longing that will not be soon forgotten. Set aboard the International Space Station, it's the story of Dr. Jim Jacobson, a brilliant pilot and physisist who, at 3 years, 6 months, and 17 days is the longest serving crew member at the ISS. Physically and emotionally isolated, he is incapable of forging a meaningful connection with most of his crew. When new crew member Vanessa Lane arrives and takes a liking to the fumbling, awkward Dr. Jacobson, his emotional walls begin to crumble and he soon forges a connection with Vanessa. But when a new arrival, the dashing chemist Dr. Rick Vanworder, begins a flirtatious friendship with Vanessa, Dr. Jacobson must decide whether it is better to love and be hurt than to never love at all.

Slint - Spiderland

Finally digging up the truth to one of indie-rock's most cryptic and influential records, the author discovers that all those rumours about the band having a collective nervous breakdown during the recording were simply the result of some childish meddling on the part of David Pajo and Will Oldham.

The Hold Steady - Seperation Sunday



M.I.A. - Kala

It's 2057 and the small island nation of Sri Lanka has been at peace for over thirty years following the final defeat of the Tamil Tiger Liberation Front, which had been agitating for a seperate Tamil state since the 1970s. Brutally repressed since the cessation of hostilities, the Tamils live in urban squalor and enjoy the status of second-class citizens in Sri Lankan society. Into this world, a young Tamil man named Erambu discovers a beat up cassette tape in a refuse pile. The tape, though scratched and inaudible in parts, bears the music of a long forgotten musician, whose message of political radicalism and Tamil pride was surpressed years ago. The tape is a revelation to the fatherless Erambu, who begins to disperse clandestine copies of the tape throughout the Tamil community. Pretty soon there is an explosion of Tamil activity and Erambu finds himself at the center of a revived Tamil Tiger organization. Utilizing the music of M.I.A. as a vehicle for the possibility of radical change, the author explores ideas of national and ethnic identity and the glamourization of poverty and resistance.

Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music

This book will simply be the author typing the letter "R" for 90 pages, with some variation on pages 49, 62, and 77, respectively.

Girl Talk - Night Ripper

Taking inspiration from Girl Talk's own stylistic cut and paste technique, the author will utilize a variety of stylistic approaches, often on the same page, to analyze the cultural weight of Night Ripper. Jumping from first-person narrative to investigative journalism to memoir to second person flashback, the author turns his study of Night Ripper into a piece of meta-writing that calls into question issues of ownership, inspiration and the quickest way to a dance party.

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

A surprising inclusion perhaps given the album's relative short-lived existence, but like 808s and Heartbreak, its forceful appearance on the pop culture radar demands analysis. Here, the author links Vampire Weekend to a long tradition of racial and cultural pirates, from Black Beard to the Beastie Boys. He argues that though their ransacking of disparate musical styles such as reggea, afrobeat, and highlife may have seemed an innocent by-product of our quickly globalizing world, Vampire Weekend are actually at the center of a vast tradition of exploitation of oppressed peoples by white males. (Please Note: This paper is based on a presentation delivered at the 2008 Atlantic History Conference at Duke University).

Lil' Wayne - Da Drought 3

This book, written by the artist in question, will simply be drunken boasts and slurred metaphores delivered over backing tracks from a variety of superstar producers. It's release date will be continually delayed.

Well, there you have it. If you ask me, it's gonna be a good year for 33 1/3, particularly if they can ever get Lil' Wayne to complete his book.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Riffs and Dunks, wk. 3!

Good things come to those who wait, don't ya know?

The Dunks

Julius Erving, Dr. J to you, is often seen as the bridge between the old style of play and what we have come to know as modern basketball. Other people had dunked but none had done it with the grace and athleticism that he brought. Surviving the 1976 NBA-ABA Merger, he found a natural home in Philly where he continued to play until 1986, retiring while still at the top. As far as legacies go, the "Rock the Baby" dunk, as well as his infamous 1980 behind the backboard layup against the Lakers, is pretty much unimpeachable.

It's kind of a punk move there with the pointing at the end, but this dunk, a sort of brutalized take on MJ's majestic 1988 slam dunk competition winner kind of warrants it. Dude apparently has possibly fathered 19 kids, all of them 6'9" and 220lbs.

My high school history teacher was Georgetown grad who had a few classes with Iverson during his tenure there. Apparently he spent a lot of time sleeping in the back.

The Riffs

Did we really need an NME-approved hair metal band to make it ok for us to dust off those Pretty Boy Floyd LPs and let 'er rip? In 2003, the idea of a hair-metal revival appeared to gain a lot of traction, especially over in Britain where it seems they missed the first go round. But here in the U.S., where Brett Michael's hair extensions control VH1's programming department and people still get misty eyed over Use Yr Illusion, it seemed a bit strange that hair metal was being repackaged so as to be culturally acceptable to US audiences. Poison still sell out concerts and hipsters spent most of the late 90s and early aughts trying to pretend they really loved Cinderella the first time about. The Darkness were such a strange pop-cultural blip that burned out faster than anyone expected that I become concerned anytime I hear that song of theirs any place outside of a light beer commercial.

Just the idea that the Stones had this shelved for so long because they thought the Who outdid them is pretty great. Obviously, the Who destroyed the Stones, who were dealing with Brian Jones' increasing slide into drug induced stupidity.

I'm not badass enough for this song to be played at my funeral but I wish I was.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Are you bummed that now that W. is back in Texas you'll be devoid of the classic "What Me Worry" facial expressions you've come to know and love? Well, never worry friend, Joe Biden is here to satiate your need to laugh at our leaders. Like W., the guy has got a flair for great facial expressions and completely off the wall malapropisms. Unlike W though, the guy is pretty bright, foot in mouth disease aside. In any case, the warped geniuses at Hipinion are already hard at work. I am proud to present. . . BIDEN TIME

A little fire in the background...

And finally. . .

When the world needed a hero...


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Beyond Dischord: DIY Punk, Pop, and Ska - The Max Levine Ensemble

If there was one band that did more to encourage the really small scene within a scene, it would probably have to be The Max Levine Ensemble. Formed by David "Spoonboy" Combs and a number of friends while still a student at JDS, and named in honor of, who else, Max Levine, TMLE became a guiding force, setting up shows, touring, and releasing records at a furious clip.

Though nominally a ska band at their inception for a JDS talent show, by the time their third record How to Build an Intergalactic Spaceship came out in 2003 they had shed the horn and skanking for a sound that hewed closer to the scratchy low-fi pop of bands like The Bananas, Carrie Nations, and other Plan-It-X bands (in fact, TMLE loved Plan-It-X so much that David moved to Bloomington for a time, where as I understand it he lived in a big house and used to steal internet from the Indiana University library and released a solo record).

Now, when I was a younger and much more idealistic young man (this was before I became a jaded and antagonistic rock psued, a development I blame entirely on this man.), I was able to more identify with posi-political lyrics of songs like "Fuck You I'm Not P.C." (which is actually a song calling for more Political Correctness) and "Democracy." I can still enjoy them for what they were for me, which is a portrait of what I was into at 16 or so (dissent, dissent by dancing, dancing by dissent) and I tip my cap to Spoonboy, who is still out there making music with TMLE and on his own, always on his own terms.

You'll find below a link for the following: Chach, Cops, and Donuts (which is a compilation of their first two records: ... Chach Rules!, ... Go to Jail, and a bunch of toss offs and rarities), How to Build an Intergalactic Time Machine, and Ok Smartypants.

The Max Levine Ensemble

For those of you not sure if you want to pull the trigger, peep these YouTube links.

TMLE "Ghost Song"

TMLE live at Fort Reno 2006

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where is Riffs and Dunks?

Well, I will tell you friend. I didn't do it this week. Sorry.

It will return next Friday. Promise.

Additionally, there will be another installment of "Beyond Dischord" sometime later this week and who knows? Maybe some more great in depth analysis of... well, you know. Exactly. In the meantime, please enjoy this footage of Arnold Schwarzenegger gallivanting in Brazil circa 1981.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Five Years of TMI - Or, Facebook Turns Five

Given the low-key nature of the site, I'm not surprised by the relative lack of fanfare accompanying the fifth anniversary of Facebook's launch. A couple article's have noted the date, including ones from Gawker, CNN, and a host of other blogs and papers.

With the wider world crowing on and on about the death of print media and a bright, shiny future of digital content (all on demand, of course) at our fingertips, I'm interested to see where Facebook will fit into all of this.

Five years ago, it would have been impossible to tell that Mark Zuckerberg's soon-to-be monument to our generation's solipsism would have such a global effect. I joined Facebook shortly after gaining acceptance to a school in Boston, where the original spark was laid after Zuckerberg opened up his pet project to other area schools. When I arrived on campus, the Office of Admssions was still handing out a book with picture of all the incoming students with their pictures and home town info, the archaic wall-painting to Facebook's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. It made for a nice place mat. I don't think they even printed the book the following year.

Other sites like MySpace and Friendster all provided similar services to Facebook. But where those sites prided themselves on their inclusivity, Facebook was all about its exclusivity. For the first year and a half, you couldn't even join if you didn't have a valid college email address, meaning that Facebook was generally free of the unsavory characters you find on MySpace. They also had a much cleaner interface, meaning that you were looking at content, not ads. Since then, Facebook has done an admirable job of balancing the look of its website while meeting its user's needs by incorporating the innovations of other websites - the global market place of Amazon, the snarky, collegiate tone of The Onion, the user-generated content of blogs. In essence, Facebook is quickly becoming one-stop shopping for pretty much anything anyone could want.

More ink has been spilled in the past five years on the voyueristic nature of Facebook than any other online entity. But the fact is that Facebook didn't change human nature so that we stalk our exes, friends, ex-friends, bosses, family members, and long-lost kindergarten playmates online. It used to be you had to sneak into her room to see who it was she had been seeing since dumping you. Now, the Facebook NewsFeed does the dirty work for you. All of this has indeed radically changed the way my generation socializes. We tailor our profiles now as a resume of cool, rather than an accurate reflection of who we really are. The bands we like, the books we read, the movies we watch, and the litany of quips, quotes, and witicisms that make up our profiles are symptomatic of our generation's tendancy to overachieve. In the process, we all begin to look desperate and gasping for some sort of approval.

I'm not begrudging Facebook. I'm still on it, though I rarely pay attention to its goings on. Now that I'm out of college, for me the NewsFeed is less about gossip and more about keeping in touch with people. But I see the way Facebook's ability to create a rich online life for oneself has effected kids who are only a couple years younger than me. Kid's who joined while still in high school or younger who seem to live and die by what they learn from Facebook. In this sense, Facebook has taken on characteristics closer to that of an online "burn book" and when taken to its (il)logical conclusion, creates situations like Lori Drew.

As more and more people join Facebook, and traditional print media (allegedy) goes the way of the dodo, I suspect we will see it play a larger roll not only in journalism but in our daily lives as well. Is it that far off that rolled into our Facebook NewFeed we will have the top headlines from three major media outlets as well as our favorite independent blogs? Probably not. I doubt that print media will go anywhere soon, there's far too many people who enjoy the idea of having a physical product rather than little bits of binary posted on a screen. Additionally, I don't believe that low-cost indies like HuffPo or Talking Points Memo will have the overhead to provide in depth international coverage anytime soon. Whatever the case, I am willing to bet that Facebook will somehow be involved in the process of how we get and process our news; it already processes the way we interact.


On a completely seperate and far more sad note, Lux Interior of the great band The Cramps died last night from a heart condition. While I can't count myself as a super fan, I was always appreciative of their distinct approach to rock 'n roll and count an early adolescent viewing of their perfomance from Urgh! A Music War (which really needs to see a DVD release) to be pretty impressive.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Riffzzz and Dunkzzz, Wk. 2

I'm a bit pressed for time this week, so I apologize that I'm not doing my standard 4 entries for each. But duty calls and that duty pays $13 an hour whereas this duty barely provides any validation whatsoever.

The Riffzzz

I will never understand the appeal of Aerosmith, including the Aerosmith that existed prior to 1985 when they still hated each other and were stoned most of the time. Their music is a big gaping yawp of mediocrity. Ted Nugent also occupied this well-populated no-man's land of 1970s AOR schlock but he at least had the decency to dress it up in some crazy proto-Straight Edge wild man act. So, I can only infer that weed was just far more plentiful and potent back then, because being high is the only way I can begin to speculate that enjoying Aerosmith is possible. Which might explain why half the cast of characters in "Dazed and Confused" had such a hard-on for them (take it to the 2-minute mark).

Nowadays, Aerosmith ride a wave of prestige simply because Rick Rubin and Run-DMC had the generosity to include them in what would have been a hit anyway. Even so, I suppose I should be grateful for one thing Aerosmith has done.

Black Flag is always a tricky scenario. "Damaged" and "My War" are all classic, as are their early singles "Nervous Breakdown" and "Jealous Again" and without their herculean touring efforts indie bands would still be relegated to big cities on the coast. But by 1984, lawsuits, shitty gigs with even shittier pay, and the sparks resulting from Henry Rollins and Greg Ginn's monumental egos all converged to turn Black Flag the band into Black Flag the pyschotrauma. The band had always been outsiders, but after kicking Chuck Dukowski out of the band (who, it turned out, happened to be the calm center holding it together), the sense of outsiderdom inflated into a parody of themselves. Self-debasing humor had always made Black Flag approachable but by 1985 Henry Rollins only seemed interested in how antagonistic he could be (very) and Greg Ginn was only interested in how slow they could play (again, very).

People used to make fun of me for liking Steely Dan, saying that the only people who liked Steely Dan are tweekers and dad's, but more and more I'm finding that the tide is turning in my favor. That whole crypto lyricism masquerading as genius? Steely Dan were there years before Stephen Malkmus even graduated from UVA. Jazz inflected to a fault, the Dan pretty much stopped touring in the late 1970s since no one could ever get their compositions just so in a live setting. This is from their earlier, more pop-rock phase, but nonetheless features some great guitar playing from session player extraordinaire Elliot Randall (though this version features Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Denny Dias, who would stick with the Dan through the mid 1970s). Also a rare sighting of their long forgotten singer David Palmer, who Robert Christgau once famously declared "fit in like a cheerleader at a crap game". ALSO: dig on the Bill Cosby intro.

The Dunkzzz

Like Daryl Dawkins before him, Shaq is a big dude with a penchant for breaking shit. He's also, at this point, such a fixture of American pop culture that it's useless trying to talk smack about the guy. Yeah, he's not great from the field but he's working on it. Dude has got a rap career and a thirty foot bed, so step off.

Similar to Shaq, Barkley has become such a ubiquitous figure in sports thanks to his second wind as slow on the uptake commentator that I sometimes forget that ol' Chuck even played. Nothing special here just a two handed jam with some serious authority. I figured I owed him a break since we saw him get taken by Jordan last week.

I always thought Rodman was a punk, even if he had a crappy childhood.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beyond Dischord: DIY Punk, Pop and Ska from DC - The Bowlcuts

Being from Washington, D.C., I often get asked by people what the scene is really like down there. Obviously, institutions like Dischord, Fugazi, Fort Reno and dc space draw huge interest and the assumption is that D.C. is literally teeming with angular punk bands who release a record or two and then break up.

The reality of this is far less glamorous. Though a few bands, such as Black Eyes and Q And Not U, put out quality records and played fairly often while I was in high school, it was nevertheless difficult to not think that Dischord's halcyon days had passed them by. Even so, a new generation of kid's were picking up guitars and forming bands, though for the most part no one in the older, more politically radical Dischord scene seemed to notice (though Hugh McElroy from Black Eyes was always a friendly face in the crowd.).

For these kids, some as young as 14, ska became a rallying point and DC Ska was its online base of operations (the DC Ska that exists now seems to be a reboot of the old one, and as such doesn't have the same content, which is a shame). A ton of bands, such as the Nothing Squad (who's break up was the stuff of many ridiculous message board flame wars), the Nackles, the Konami Code, thrillHOUSE, Plan Nine USA, Brent's Life Sucks, Ready Steady Go, the Gamma Rays, Die Cheerleader Die, the Alphabet Bombers, etc, etc. Later, most of these bands would go on to form the nucleus for a far too self-serious Screamo/Hardcore scene in DC, with bands like Rue the Day, the Bear and the Butterfly, Mass Movement of the Moth, and others rising from the ashes.

For the next few weeks, I'm going to be digging through my box of crudely made CD-R releases and posting some of the best examples of these bands for any one who wants it. If anyone from the bands I post has a problem with this, please let me know and I'll pull the mediafire links.

This episode - The Bowlcuts (and yes, I was at the advertised show)

The Bowlcuts were sort of an anomaly when compared to their contemporaries in other bands. Most kids either came from the MD suburbs and went to public school or were from DC and went to either Georgetown Day, Wilson, or Field. The Bowlcuts (with the exception of their original drummer, Tommy Long) went to the incredibly well-to-do (and super snooty) St. Albans School and Landon School for Boys. If you cut them, they would bleed blue. They were also not nearly as politically engaged as other bands were, instead sticking to what they knew best: being a teenager and being lovesick. With a minimum of cajoling, they'd even play your prom (God, why, why can I not find any photos of Visi Prom 2003?).

Though the Bowlcuts played pop-punk, it would be a disservice to say that they followed in the harsh-sugary path of So-Cal bands like Pennywise, NOFX, blink-182, and Bad Religion. Rather, the Bowlcuts sound was more informed by girl-groups, the Dictators, the Ramones, the Misfits, Screaching Weasel, and the Queers, as well as mid-70s UK pub rock. That a couple of 16 year-olds were able to distill these influences into their sound and not sound at all like 16 year-olds is still impressive several years after their dissolution.

I saw the Bowlcuts probably ten times, and they never failed to disappoint. They were known for their impossibly skinny jeans and their predilection for standing with their legs spread as far apart as humanly possible. Owen Baker, rather than sing in a nasal whine as so many do in this style, sang in a deep voice with shades of Weezer's River Cuomo and Glenn Danzig. Their first record, Step Out is pretty impressive for a a debut, and features a couple gems like the rollicking, sub-minute "Natalie R." (would love it if someone else posted some footage) to the pure pop of "Judy, Judy." Though there is still some apprehension throughout the record (Tommy Rossi's vocals are kind of all over the place), it's never the less a pretty strong debut.

The Bowlcuts - Step Out! (Self-Released, 2002)

Their second record, I Don't Wanna Talk About It takes the strengths of the their debut and runs with it. The guitar playing is much, much tighter this time around and the vocals from both Tommy and Owen are much more confident. Also, I'm not sure if he appears on the record but at this point they began to play with Nick Popovici (who also plays with The Max Levine Ensemble and apparently ska stalwarts the Pietasters) and is a much, much stronger hitter than Tommy Long. Songs like "Harlequin," "Tiger Lily," and "Walking After You" are all great, great pop songs with strong hooks, while "I Don't Wanna Go Home" and "I Don't Wanna Try" resurrect the bratty bop of the Ramones (that's Bepstein and Spoonboy of TMLE in the video. Can you tell how incestuous this whole scene was?).

The Bowlcuts - I Don't Wanna Talk About It (Self Released, 2002)

The Bowlcuts went on to release (I think) one more EP called "Welcome to Eadsville." It further polished their sound but I never liked it as much as the first two because Owen made the decision to start singing in a really uncomfortable sounding high voice. I think there's also a demo CD of later stuff they did with keyboards that my ex-girlfriend has. As far as I know (and what Facebook tells me), Owen is living in DC after having finished school in Boston, Tommy Rossi is also back in DC after some time in Boston, while their bass player Jonathan was, last I heard, at Columbia.

I definitely have some photos of the band kicking around, I'll work on scanning and uploading them so we can all have a good laugh.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh Shit, It's Riffzzz and Dunkzzz Wk. 1!

We get this rolling with a bang here on Oh Shit History's first week of the sickest riffzzz and the most devastating dunkzzz (yes, I do spell these words with three zzz's). Let's just jump right it. YES!


In terms of sheer brilliance and technical clout, Michael Jordan still goes unmatched in my opinion. I've been completely disinterested in watching full NBA games for almost five years now (with the exception of the Golden State Warriors 2007 playoff run) but there was a time when I would obsessively watch the Bulls simply to watch MJ do ridiculous things with a basketball. This is a man who can be forgiven for Space Jam and forgiven for what he did to the Wizards front office simply because of what he could do with a basket ball

This is one of his less remarkable dunks (trust me, he will be appearing here often), but it's still pretty sick. You can almost hear Barkley just go "Fuck it."

Spud Webb is 5'7". Manute Bol is 7'7". In this video, Spud Webb takes it to the hole over Manute Bol. Jesus Fucking Christ.

Remember in NBA Jam when you would get your power up all the way and then you'd go in for a dunk and the fucking backboard would come crashing down? Remember how cool that was? And remember how your friend told you that it could really happen and you were all like nah man, you're full of it. And then he made you watch Darryl Dawkins destroy not one, but two backboards? And all of a sudden it was as though you found out the sky was purple and chocolate tasted like poop.

1994 stands the year that I may have given up on the NBA, and if not the NBA, then at least the New York Knicks. It was a truly magical season, up until game seven of the NBA Finals. Most blame John Starks. I blame Pat Riley (seriously how do you NOT bench someone who is going 2 for 18???) Since then it's been a long, long slide into mediocrity and horrific management that seems to have somehow been excacerbated by Patrick Ewing's retirement. The Knicks have become shorthand for "expensive joke" in my mind, but hey, let's remember the good times.

What's that France? You like basketball too? Oh well, how nice. What's that? Frederic Weis is 7'2". Hmmm... Vince Carter does not seem to care. Nope, not one bit.


Before they snagged the coat tails of the nacsent pop metal explosion here in America and held on for dear life, Scorpions were actually a sort of pyschedilic rock collective, kind of how Lemmy from Motorhead did time in prog-rock would be's Hawkwind. In any case, we leave the noodling for aesthetes and focus our attention on their crowning achievement, the caveman simple "Rock You Like a Hurrican." The riff is great fuzzed out power chords, not exactly rocket science. Some resemblance to the building block riff from "Smoke On the Water". Scorpions in a lot of ways were what Quiet Riot could have been had Quiet Riot, you know, had some song writing chops (great covers versions though). A recent viewing of some VH1 horray for metal list indicates that they are still touring. Keep on rocking Klaus and Co.

It's played in the waiting room to hell.

No one did more to replace actual chops with technical wankery and faux classical playing then Eddie Van Halen, and "Eruption" is his temple to all things hammered-on. I can only speculate that the rest of the band allowed him ten minutes to jerk his whammy bar around so they could all indulge in hookers, blow, and non-brown M&Ms backstage. That scene in "Waynes World" where Wayne begins to play "Stairway to Heaven" only to be stopped mid-strum by his employee friend and shown the sign reading "NO STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN" got it only half right. It should have read "NO ERUPTION."

There's no arguing the fact that J. Mascis is an amazing guitarist. He's also an asshole. "Our Band Could Be Your Life" did more to advance the pyschodrama that was Dinosaur Jr then any one could have imagined, even leading to their completely unexpected reunion (seriously, unless Murph was really hurting for some cash. . .). Don't get me wrong, I like Dinosaur Jr but I'm not passionate about them. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that I didn't graduate from Amherst or UMASS in 1991, but it also has to do with the fact that I always found the whole Mascis' detachment masquerading as genius so fucking stupid. But the guy did (allegedly) throw it in Uma Thurman, and fellas, if this guy can get laid, then it goes without saying that hope spring eternal. So let's give credit where credit is due. Their cover of "Just Like Heaven" is pretty riffy, featuring all the usual Mascis tricks (new wave shimmer next to garbage truck distortion.) and Barlow hilariously shouting NO throughout the chorus.


Tune in next week for more objective criticism of badass riffzzz and sickass dunkzzz

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Wha'Happened indeed!

See this is always the way with blogs and myself. Start one up, lose interest. It's a vicious cycle, to be sure.

So, dear reader(s), where have I been for the past five months you ask? Well there was the move to Somerville, the market tanking, Obama,the job search, the lady's birthday, trivia, the market tanking some more, Sarah Palin, a few bikes, Obama, temping, leaving the messenger industry, some more job search, birthdays, karaoke nights, sleeping, eating, OBAMA, sickness, health, RockBand, real band practice, my birthday, dinner parties, and an assortment of other things that you won't find to interesting (mostly involving a busted washing machine and a disinterested landlord).

But I'm back (sort of). I promise I'm going to do a better job keeping up this blog.

One interesting thing that I've done recently is I've submmitted a proposal for 33 1/3. They do open calls every year and a half or so, where at least 50 to 100 people submit proposals for records that were either released either a) less than ten years ago (Animal Collective, the Hold Steady, Girl Talk, etc, etc), b) by the Talking Heads sometime between 1977 and 1983, or c) in such a small quantity that there is legitimate debate as to whether this artist really exsisted. Thrown in there are some actually deserving artists that deserve to be written about. Here's an excerpt from mine of The Nation of Ulysses' Plays Pretty for Baby:

What ultimately makes Plays Pretty for Baby an interesting and worthwhile record though is the profusion of ideas that run through it. It works on so many different levels that one can never grow tired of listening. On one level, the record is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the early 1990s indie scene. The often hysterically funny youth revolt jive talk in both their lyrics and liner notes can be seen as a poke in the eye of hardcore and punk’s (especially the D.C. punk scene) often overly sanctimonious peachiness. On another level the record is a fiery protest record, with both barrels aimed at a politically bankrupt society. The song “The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken By Storm” isn’t so much a metaphor for rebellion so much as a blue print. Yet on another level the record is a Situationist critique on political radicalism itself, turning their efforts at subversion into a cryptic spectacle of abandon. As their liner notes point out:

Political Objectives/Target Audiences: Wreck society through direct action by destroying its institutions and the men who serve it, and by relying on the people's forces to spread the doctrines of "P-Power" and "Ragnarok." To consolidate the New Nation, while never forgetting the need for constant purging, as the nation shall resemble a self-cleaning oven.

On the one hand, the band was dead serious. On the other they’re laughing all the way to their graves.

Additionally, The Nation of Ulysses articulated the idea of a rock band as something more than just a band while simultaneously lampooning the idea. The Clash presented their band as a romantic group of outsider ruffians and early Scritti Politti dabbled with the concept of band as collective, but the NoU took these ideas to their logical conclusion by declaring themselves a sovereign political entity and even going so far as to announce their succession from the United States of America. As Svenonius noted in an early interview, “The Nation of Ulysses is basically about a shout of secession. We don't want to be involved with the United States and the structure that exists. We've introduced a whole new form of currency that takes its form in garbage.” This sense of band as a nation, diametrically opposed to the United States, in many ways provided a tangible spiritual connection to the black culture they celebrated, from Parliament/Funkadelic to the Black Panthers as well as a tongue in cheek critique of rock bands as rebellious figures. What could be more rebellious (or more ridiculous) than a sovereign nation that supports Latin American guerrilla movements such as the Shining Path and declared American youth to be an oppressed class?

Do I think it has a chance in hell of making it? Maybe, I don't know. Two people in the comments section have noted that they'd buy it (Bill Fox notwithstanding), with another noting that there needs to be more punk rock repped. I'm debating making some sort of comment, but I think I'll withhold. I think it could sell alot of books, especially if marketed through Dischord, where there is a built in audience for stuff they've released over the years. In anycase, I think it would be an interesting and fun experience.

Oh and if you have any comments about my proposal, I'd love to hear them.

Other than that, I'm back to my day job: fearlessly dicking around on the internet and occasionally doing some research for a certain academic.