Peace & Love

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.

Continue reading “Peace & Love”
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    It’s overdue, since I probably should’ve written something when Philip Chevron passed in 2013.
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    That was weirdly difficult to find back in Athens in the early 1990s, incidentally
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    The 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.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Move Fast and Break Down

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!

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    Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Elevator Lady Edition

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!

Hey Now, Dolly

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.

Continue reading “Hey Now, Dolly”
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    Gracious but absurd! “9 to 5” alone is one of the most memorable pop songs of all time!
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    Which I read on the album’s description on its Apple Music page

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Solomon Grundy Want Ironic College Radio Hit, Too!

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.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Moonlighting

Two tangentially-related tunes from artists in other bands

I’ve really been taken by the song and video for “By Design” by mmeadows, from their album Light Moves Around You. I’d heard about it via the Dirty Projectors newsletter, because Kristin Slipp is also in the current incarnation of Dirty Projectors.

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!.

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    Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.
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    Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet
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    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!

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Ghastly Halloween

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.

The other song is an actual cover, but I’ve only seen it on YouTube. It’s The Breeders doing John Carpenter’s theme from Halloween for their late-October concerts back in 2018.

It all calls back to a time when Halloween peaked, when it was all about hot rods and monster make-up and guitars and I wasn’t alive yet but am still somehow nostalgic for it.

I hope everybody has a fun Halloween, and may all your candy be Reese’s cups!

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Gonna Take You Up to Glendale

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!

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    Which was a huge shock after my experience interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area
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    And also some other ones!
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    Which is a mercifully short commute by Los Angeles standards.
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    And I aspire to own a Hyundai, thank you very much.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Here We Go Again Because It’s Been a While

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.

Remembrances of Block Rockin Beats Past

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.

There’s just one unanswered question from those days that still haunts me, though: who is this doin this synthetic type of alpha beta psychedelic funkin’?

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    Forgettable movie, incredible soundtrack
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    Or, since it’s British, homely

Here Come the Sobs

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.

Continue reading “Here Come the Sobs”

A Big Nasty Redhead At My Side

Trying to figure out living in Los Angeles and songs about Los Angeles

This week we moved to Los Angeles, which really isn’t any of the internet’s business1Nothing personal, but you’ve seen the internet and you know how it is, but this blog is the closest thing I have to a long-running journal.

What is more in line with this blog is that I still can’t fully figure out what’s going on with the song “I Love LA” by Randy Newman. I’ve spent the last 40 years2I mean, not constantly. There have been whole decades in there when I haven’t thought about the song at all never being fully sure whether it was sardonic or sincere.

Since I’ve been reminded of the song over the past few weeks, I realized just how different 2022 is from 1983. If there’s anything good to come from the bottom dropping out of the music industry and everything going to streaming — apart from the convenience of having almost every song you can imagine immediately accessible from anywhere all the time — is that it’s near-impossible for a song to be inescapable anymore. And “I Love LA” was inescapable in the early 80s. It played every five minutes on the radio, on music video shows and channels, in department stores, in school announcements before the pledge of allegiance, on police scanners, HAM radios, and loudspeaker broadcasts from the correctional dreadnaughts that hovered over every city center.3I say if people are going to keep telling me that they were born after I graduated high school, I get to make shit up about what the 80s were like.

Disney did provide an eerily accurate recreation in the early 2000s with the first version of California Adventure, which broadcast a constant loop of “I Love LA” and “California Dreamin'” from speakers in every corner of the park. But it’s different hearing a song that’s supposed to be nostalgic in a theme park, versus hearing it played as a Top 40 hit in your doctor’s waiting room. So the next time you hear a musician complaining about how Spotify only pays pennies per thousands of streams, you can nod sympathetically while thinking, “Yeah, but at least now I can go years without hearing ‘What a Feeling’ from ‘Flashdance’.”

Anyway. Back in the early 80s, when the song was truly inescapable, I was convinced that it was sincere and genuine and genuinely cheesy. All the horny shots of bikinis and palm trees and stereotypical LA landmarks were standard operating procedure back then. People made shit like that with no trace of shame or irony.

But then, I started thinking, Newman was kind of a satirist. I say “kind of” because I don’t actually know. “Short People” is the only song of his that I know of before he started writing on behalf of sentient toys, so I don’t know if it could be classified as “satire” or just a goofy novelty song. He exists in some kind of nebulous zone between Roger Miller and Rick Dees.

Either way, the song’s clearly not supposed to be entirely sincere. “Look at that mountain/Look at those trees/Look at that bum over there, he’s down on his knees” qualifies as sardonic for early 80s pop music. But is that it? None of the streets he calls out are all that remarkable or scenic; is that supposed to be part of the joke? When he says “Everybody’s very happy ’cause the sun is shining all the time,” is that supposed to be an indictment? Is “It’s just another perfect day” supposed to be like La La Land‘s use of the same phrase, by which I mean the gentlest of toothless sarcasm? Why do I feel like I can’t unlock the mysteries of this dumb pop song?

Ultimately I suppose that wondering whether an ode to Los Angeles is sincere is missing the point entirely. Sincerity seems to be anathema to this city. For as long as I’ve been alive and watching TV, I’ve seen LA be the butt of jokes from people who would never, ever think of living anywhere else. I suspect that Gary Owens on Laugh-In talking about “beautiful downtown Burbank” was as genuine as Roman Mars on 99% Invisible talking about “beautiful downtown Oakland, California,” but the difference is that Burbank is universally and perpetually understood to be laughably bland, even though much of it is actually pretty nice.

I was trying to think of a song that talked about Los Angeles in an undeniably positive way, and I couldn’t come up with anything. “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow is another song I’ve never been able to read; at first I thought it was an anthem to carefree southern California living, but as they lyrics sunk in, I realized it was kind of a miserable song about deadbeats day-drinking in a nearly empty bar. I guess maybe there always has to be an undercurrent of sarcasm when you’re talking or singing about Los Angeles. If you drain away all the self-awareness, you just end up with something like “Soak Up the Sun.”

I still haven’t fully adjusted to the idea that I no longer live in the Bay Area after living there for over 25 years (which, coincidentally, is half my life). It’s odd to realize that even after so many years, after I started to think of it as “home,” and after making so many friends there, I never really felt like I 100% belonged there. It is an effortlessly gorgeous place, and I’m genuinely looking forward to getting to see it as a tourist instead of a resident again, but I can’t say that it ever felt welcoming. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I almost always got the feeling that the best I could get from people was begrudging acceptance, a feeling of being tolerated. In the few times I’ve been out in Los Angeles so far, I’ve gotten more friendly and welcoming reactions than not. Is it sincere? Probably not, but again, I suspect that that’s missing the point.

It’s still too early for me to tell how I’m going to adjust to living in a city that I hated until a few years ago, when I stopped seeing it as a traffic-clogged obstacle between me and Disneyland, and started seeing more of the things that made people want to live here. Maybe I’ll finally be discovered and enjoy my second career as a media superstar. Maybe I’ll just end up day-drinking in a nearly empty bar on Santa Monica Boulevard (we love it).

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    Nothing personal, but you’ve seen the internet and you know how it is
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    I mean, not constantly. There have been whole decades in there when I haven’t thought about the song at all
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    I say if people are going to keep telling me that they were born after I graduated high school, I get to make shit up about what the 80s were like.