Two tangentially-related tunes that came out when I was 21
One of the only things that Bluesky has over Mastodon is that it’s a better home for hashtag games and “what’s your favorite?” style threads. A recent one asked everybody to name a perfect album from when they were 21, presumably for identity theft purposes, but also for fun.
It turns out that a surprising number of pretty great albums came out when I was 21 years old. One of them was Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys. I always think of that one as being one long uninterrupted song, plus “So Whatcha Want,” so it’s kind of hard to pick a stand-out. All of the tracks blend with the interstitials and samples, and I never remember individual titles.
Hard to pick a stand-out, but not impossible: “Stand Together” picks up from Peter Sichel’s comfortable study (“Mmm, it does go well with the fish.” “Delicious again, Peter.”) and builds up energy to carry through the final third of the album. I vividly remember driving through Marin County with this playing as loud as my car’s cheap stereo could handle.
That wasn’t when I was 21, though. I wasn’t cool enough to appreciate the Beastie Boys until Hello Nasty came out. In 1992, I was still heavily invested in my favorite bands from college, including the Indigo Girls. That was the year Rites of Passage came out, and the big hit from that one was “Galileo.”
I always thought they were a little underrated, even though the truth was probably more that they’ve always been exactly as successful as they wanted to be, making folk-pop songs about reincarnation. In any case, it was nice to see them have another song get as much attention as “Closer to Fine” did.
In honor of Shane MacGowan’s passing, some thoughts about what a huge impact the Pogues had on me
Shane MacGowan died on November 30, and the Pogues were such a huge part of my twenties that I feel like I have to mark the occasion somehow.1It’s overdue, since I probably should’ve written something when Philip Chevron passed in 2013.
I discovered the band from Peace & Love when I was in school in Athens, GA. I don’t think I’d been looking for any particular song; I just thought the cover was intriguing, and it took me a minute to realize how it’d been edited. It’s probably the most accessible of their albums, even though it feels a little tame. There’s a lot of the spirit of the band (or at least how I think of it) in “Young Ned of the Hill,” beautifully cursing Oliver Cromwell to rot in hell; and especially “Boat Train,” a barely intelligible account of getting shitfaced drunk.
Which would’ve fit in fine with Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, my favorite in college. It still seems like as close to a mission statement for the Pogues as you’re ever going to see. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was about as far from punk as you could get, but still appreciated getting the opportunity to scream along and howl at the world with a rage I hadn’t earned yet. The remastered and expanded version is especially nice, because it includes an EP2That was weirdly difficult to find back in Athens in the early 1990s, incidentally that has “Rainy Night in Soho,” one of the loveliest songs MacGowan ever wrote.3The only version that’s easily available now is so over-produced it kind of ruins it, though. It’s worth looking up the original if you’re a fan of the song.
Two tangentially-related tunes to listen to while waiting for Silicon Valley to collapse
I don’t know about y’all, but I was already pretty disillusioned with Silicon Valley several years ago, when I was working as an app developer in San Francisco. I was shuffling between BART and MUNI trains with a bunch of hoodie-wearing maniacs pacing back and forth like caged tigers who couldn’t wait one more second to get to their open-office-plan desks and start disrupting shit.
And that was before I really appreciated the incredible magnitude of egomania that was running rampant among the guys making way over my pay grade, who acted like bypassing governmental regulations and selling people stuff they don’t really need were revolutionary ideas.
In fact, neither moving fast nor breaking things were all that novel. Look at Fiona Apple! Maybe no other public figure besides Sonic the Hedgehog understood what it meant to move as Fast As You Can.
Corny dad-level analogies aside, every time I hear a Fiona Apple song, I think “this is brilliant; why don’t I listen to Fiona Apple all the damn time?” And then I listen to a bunch and I remember why. She’s brilliant, but I don’t feel like I have brain chemistry balanced enough to mainline too much of it at once without going into a depressive episode.
I need to break it up with a song like “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue, which I try to listen to at least once a month to keep my spirits up. If I go too long without hearing it, the never gonna get it never gonna get it starts to pick away at my brain until it’s satiated. I can’t say I’m that familiar with the rest of their music1Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent, but this song is a bona fide classic.
(One thing I’ve never understood about this video: they’ve got four of the most beautiful women working in music, with some of the most iconic costumes from the history of music videos, so why the hell do they keep cutting away from them? I understand that at this time, having quick flashes of silhouetted dancers against a solid color background was required by Music Video Law, but they could’ve just done a couple and left more time for the stars. And I tell you what: if I’d gone to the trouble of putting on a tight dress and a wig, and they told me they were going to cut away to some guy dancing in a gimp suit, I would’ve been out the door!)
And now it’s time for a breakdown!
Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent
Two tangentially-related tunes to make you think of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and alternate realities
Back during my college years in Athens, a friend introduced me to the band Poi Dog Pondering, and I quickly became a big fan. They’re not so much my thing anymore — listening to them in the 2020s makes me appreciate just how much they were a product of the 1990s — but a few of their songs are still favorites, and seeing them at the Georgia Theater is still one of my all-time top concerts.
This week it seems appropriate to recall one of the best songs from their album Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea, which is called “Thanksgiving.” It’s about the priceless moments that can result from bad choices, which is a recurring theme with all the multiverse stories going on these days with the Marvels and the Daniels and so on.
In college I was also introduced to the Pixies by seeing the video for “Here Comes Your Man” on 120 Minutes, buying a copy of Doolittle, and then being incensed that I’d been promised a fun college pop record and instead gotten a CD full of some guy screaming. It makes me wonder whether my life would’ve been different if I hadn’t needed to mature into an appreciation of the Pixies, but instead had understood them immediately and gone to their concert in Athens when I’d had the chance.
Probably not, although I did find out a few years ago that before I met my fiancé, we’d both been at the same Pixies concert, which makes me think that our paths were probably fated to cross at some point.
I think in all possible universes, though, my favorite Pixies song would still be “Levitate Me,” from their first EP, Come on Pilgrim. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody who celebrates!
In honor of Dolly Parton’s new album of covers, an atypically mean-spirited list of my least favorite songs
Everybody loves Dolly Parton; how could you not? This week, she released a new album of covers called Rockstar, and even if you don’t care about the music, just the description of it and how it came to be is so charming and wholesome and fully in the spirit of Dolly.
A while ago, she politely declined an invitation to be admitted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, pointing out that most of her music was country, not rock. 1Gracious but absurd! “9 to 5” alone is one of the most memorable pop songs of all time! Eventually, she accepted, and then she called a ton of famous musicians to collaborate on “real” rock songs, which became this record.
What I love most about that account2Which I read on the album’s description on its Apple Music page is that I’m not 100% sure that it’s absolutely true, but as with all things Dolly Parton, it 100% doesn’t matter.
Two tangentially-related tunes we need to keep out of the hands of Zack Snyder
Today’s two tunes have something very obvious in common: I listened to them a lot during college.
“Superman” was the last song on Lifes Rich Pageant, which is REM’s best album. Anyone living in Athens in the 80s or 90s was required to be at least a passing fan of REM, but I stayed true until around Automatic for the People, which is when they lost me. Their take used Superman as metaphor, unlike:
“Superman’s Song,” which was a minor hit from Crash Test Dummies’ first album The Ghosts That Haunt Me, before they hit it pretty big with God Shuffled His Feet. They were always dancing along the razor’s edge between “interesting college radio” and “absolutely insufferable and twee,” even back in 1990s when that was The Style. I approved of this song mostly because it mentioned Solomon Grundy in the chorus.
Solomon Grundy is the best villain and never got as nearly as much radio airtime as he deserves. If you don’t recognize the title of this blog post, by the way, it’s a reference to the best thing Cartoon Network ever did.
One thing that is driving me crazy about “By Design” is that the sample of horns that gets repeated throughout sounds frustratingly familiar, like I’m this close to recognizing it from a different song, but I can never quite place it. Even if it’s not directly sampled from another song, though, it feels very much like the kind of stuff I was listening to in the early 2000s, when it felt like I was starting to discover new music again after a long hiatus.
That was around the time I got into the Beastie Boys, since I was a latecomer and only started being interested around the time of Hello Nasty1Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.. Money Mark started collaborating with the Beastie Boys starting with Check Your Head2Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet. That was enough to get me to check out his solo album Push the Button, which is still pretty solid.
My favorite track from that record is the instrumental “Destroyer,” and to this day I don’t know how he got that drum sound3I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!.
Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.
Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet
I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!
Two tangentially-related tunes spending Halloween night hiding under the covers
This Tuesday lands on Halloween, so that calls for a pair of spine-tingling spooky songs raised from the very depths of… well, Van Nuys.
That’s the hometown of The Ghastly Ones, a surf guitar band that made A Haunting We Will Go-Go, which starts with a brilliant opening track assuring the listener not to be alarmed if they find themselves transformed into an evil space robot or some other monster. It instantly became a lifelong favorite just for the correct pronunciation of “robot.”
And also because of “Ghastly Stomp,” which is kind of but not exactly a surf guitar cover of “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” the theme to Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I still love how much they commit to the bit, making the whole thing feel like an artifact from the 1960s, as if the vinyl release had surf rock on one side and spooky haunted house sfx on the other.
Two tangentially-related tunes in honor of my new commute
This week’s two-fer is an entry in the “this blog is a public diary” category: I got a new job, about a month ago. It’s for a company I’ve been a huge fan of pretty much my entire life, and every single person without exception was friendly and personable and welcoming throughout the whole interview process1Which was a huge shock after my experience interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area, and it pulls in aspects of every job that I’ve had to date, and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Over the past few years, I’ve frequently been reminded of just how significantly my life changed when I escaped Telltale the second time. Most significantly in terms of how I think about work: before that point, I kind of assumed that the only interesting thing about me was my job. I’ve worked on some really cool projects, for some companies I’ve liked a lot2And also some other ones!, and since that’s where I was making the most impact, that’s what I primarily focused on.
But really, that’s not good for anybody. Companies get the most long-term benefit from people who are well-rounded, and who can find ways to be productive and creative regardless of who’s paying them. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m happily keeping my job and personal life separate.
But I will say that I was interested enough in the job that I was even willing to start commuting again! I’ve been happily unemployed for most of this year, and I’d been working from home for several years before that. I’d sworn that I’d never take a job again unless I could work remotely. But now, I’m driving to Glendale!3Which is a mercifully short commute by Los Angeles standards.
I’m pretty sure that the first I ever heard of Glendale, California was from the song “Debra” by Beck, where a guy used his Hyundai and the promise of Zankou chicken to start a three-way with a store clerk and her sister (I think her name was Debra). There’s something comforting about the fact that people have been relentlessly mocking the San Fernando Valley since before I was born, while I’m finding that it fits my sensibilities perfectly4And I aspire to own a Hyundai, thank you very much..
And now that I’m pretty regularly commuting in the 21st century on the Ventura Freeway in my electric car, I can’t help but hear “Nation on Wheels,” often known as “The Monorail Song,” but not the one from The Simpsons. Industry! The Lifeblood of America!
Which was a huge shock after my experience interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area
And also some other ones!
Which is a mercifully short commute by Los Angeles standards.
Two tangentially-related tunes for Tuesday, bringing back a series that’s just fun to do.
The other day, I fell down my own rabbit hole, so to speak, when I wanted to remember the name of a song and consulted this very blog you’re reading now! I ended up reading all of my old entries in the Tuesday Tune Two-Fer file — which was supposed to be an indefinitely ongoing series — and essentially got re-acquainted with myself from a couple of years ago, reading stuff I’d forgotten I’d written.
I wondered why I stopped doing them. The obvious reason is that my job got crazy busy, but I think the real reason is that I forgot what this blog is for. I’m happy when people read it and especially happy when they’re entertained by something in it, but mostly it’s for me. For writing practice, sure, but also as a diary that’s just public enough to encourage me to try and keep it interesting.
So I’m going to see how long I can keep it going this time. (Not to ruin the mystique of this blog or anything, but scheduling posts in advance is a huge part of the magic).
First is Three MCs and One DJ by The Beastie Boys from Hello Nasty. Back when I was getting acquainted with Mastodon, I did a little series where I posted one of my favorite music videos every day for a few weeks. It annoyed me that after I wrapped everything up, I realized I’d completely forgotten this one, which is certainly one of the best music videos of all time. (And it would’ve been the best video from the album had “Intergalactic” not existed).
I remember at the time feeling slightly annoyed that this video and the one for “Body Movin'” both used versions of the song that were different from their album version. Now, I’m really, really happy that this video, this extended gag, and this live performance (from the look and sound of it) exist as their own thing. Even if those of us who listened to the album enough to memorize it will never be able to resist adding our own “Bug out to the mic all the time!“
Continuing the theme is It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) by Eurythmics. I’d completely forgotten about this video, which suggests that Dave Stewart would keep Annie Lennox in cryogenic suspension while he went off and lived in a 1980s anime. It’s not my business to judge anybody else’s relationship, but you can kind of understand why they broke up.
Blindsided by the nostalgia bomb delivered by The Chemical Brothers
Several weeks ago, I was feeling down, and an emergency trip to Anaheim wasn’t helping. On the drive back home, I decided to listen to The Chemical Brothers’ album Dig Your Own Hole from start to finish, something I haven’t done since the early 2000s, most likely.
I was completely surprised by how much of a cozy, warm, weighted-blanket comfort record that had become for me. It instantly took me back to the days of working on Monkey 3, going to see The Saint1Forgettable movie, incredible soundtrack at a screening, and weeks of driving around Marin County listening to “Setting Sun” and freaking out. It was such a surprisingly good memory of such a specific time, before reality started creeping in, and I could just be overjoyed with where I’d found myself in life.
And I was surprised that it’d be Dig Your Hole that became such a comforting2Or, since it’s British, homely record, since at the time, I just imagined it was music for wild, drug-fueled raves held in converted ruins and ancient-dungeons-turned-nightclubs all over the UK. The band’s marketing sure leaned into that image, with everything looking like a TV series where Prodigy was in charge of MI6, until I’m assuming they’d sold enough records to be able to take control over their own image, and hire people like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze to make their videos.
I’ve never been to a drug-fueled rave, UK or otherwise, so the images it conjures for me are of Fairfax and San Anselmo, CA, going to lunch at wacky Thai or Casa Mañana, the theater in Corte Madera, Tightwad Tuesday at the theater in Novato, taking the long way to work that went through redwoods, watching The X-Files at my best friends’ apartment, and getting that first spectacular view of San Francisco as you come through what is now called the Robin Williams tunnel. I was very happy to get all those memories back, and I was singing and car-dancing like a maniac all the way up I-5.
My overly emotional experience seeing The Beatles LOVE show by Cirque du Soleil
Before last week, I’d never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, and didn’t know much about it except that it’s got acrobats and dancers in a ton of make-up, and that middle-aged white people absolutely lose their shit over it.
Now that I’ve seen their show LOVE at The Mirage in Las Vegas, I can assert that both of those things are true. I spent an hour and a half surrounded by beautiful people doing the most amazing feats of physicality I’ve ever seen in person, and as a middle-aged white person myself, I was completely wrecked by the end of it.
Actually, that’s underselling it; I was devastated by the whole thing. The show has an intentionally chaotic opening as the performers move across the stage, giving everyone in the audience something different to look at — there’s a penny farthing! A VW Beetle! Hey look, mods! — and the music is ostensibly a remix/medley of “Get Back” and “Glass Onion” that reminds you just how much amazing music the Beatles put out. As I was turning my head to look at trapeze artists overhead, I felt something wet. I reached up to touch my face — like a doomed character in a TV series realizing their nose is bleeding — and I found that I’d already started involuntarily crying.
This was like maybe five minutes into a 90 minute show. I seriously needed to pace myself.