Category Archives: Music

Karaoke Dreams

I am not a singer. Not in any socially-acceptable way, that is. Whatever musical talent I have is localized in my hands, and even that is questionable. I sing the way I used to play oboe: LOUDLY, and with more enthusiasm than skill!

But I really, really, really love to sing, and whenever we play the three wishes game, one of my wishes is always “to be able to sing better.” Now, maybe with some time and training I could improve, but I will never be asked to sing by anyone with functioning ears. There’s a difference between enjoying something and being subjected to it, after all.

In my car, I’m a superstar, and these are some of my karaoke jams:

1. Only The Lonely – The Motels

2. Never Surrender – Corey Hart (could this be any more Canadian?)

3. Come Sail Away – Styx

4. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper

5. No Myth – Michael Penn (I might be the only person who likes this song)

6. Father Figure – George Michael

I’ll sing anything, and god knows my brain is about 84% song lyrics, but I rarely sing in front of other people, except Jillian. She has the misfortune of being related to me and since I am her principal chauffeur, not only does she have to listen to whatever I want to listen to, but she has to hear me sing it, too.

Poor kid.

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Some Things Stick

Sunday, February 29, 2004
Happy Leap Day! i just had to post today, even though i don’t have much to say. eh.

last thursday we went to happy hour at Houlihan’s (it being the closest thing to a local bar) and we were playing the trivia game. as usual, i was kicking major ass. i looked over to my left and noticed the guy sitting next to me. i had to look again. and again. and then i had to ask Freddie if he would look at the guy.

the guy was a dead ringer for Bono. hilarious. hair, earrings, everything. it made me laugh. he was playing trivia too. and his nickname?



so we’re all playing and goofing off and stuff and Billy Squier comes on the music. FakeBono and his friend start arguing about whether Billy Squier was in Band-Aid or not. FakeBono says no, the friend says yes. so they tap me and ask me. heh.

Me: no, Billy Squier wasn’t in Band-Aid.
Friend: but didn’t he sing a christmas song?
FakeBono: [singing]: but tonight thank god it’s them, instead of you….
Me: yeah. he did that ‘christmas is the time to say i love you.’
Friend: oh. RIGHT!
FakeBono: [to friend]: see! i was right! [to me]: you know how i know that?
Me: because you look like Bono? unhealthy fixation, perhaps?

turns out that FakeBono is in a U2 tribute band called Unforgettable Fire. ACK!

unfortunately, i didn’t get a chance to talk to FakeBono much more because that’s about when Freddie decided we needed to leave so he could watch The Apprentice. heh.

I almost NEVER go back and read my own writing because so much of it is uniformly terrible. This, however… this is an interesting snapshot into how my brain worked back then and it’s amazing to me how far my writing has come since then. I’ve been a first-person observer for so long that I am having trouble transitioning to straight academic writing, but the one thing I know I DO have is a clear voice and a pretty good command of the English language. Even when – especially when – I make up my own words. This post right here is a good illustration of how much I’ve improved, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. I’m glad I finally embraced the use of capital letters – is there anything more annoying than some pretentious asshole blogger who thinks she’s worthy of this kind of conceit? e.e. cummings and bell hooks can get away with it because they are fuckin’ geniuses. I’m more of a special-ed genius.

It blows my mind that 2004 was 12 years ago. I have problems wrapping my head around that sometimes because it doesn’t feel like more than a decade has passed since I wrote this little blog snippet.

We were pretty close to being Actual Adults by then. I was 29, Freddie was 30, and we were living in our very last apartment before buying our first house later that year. We both had like, real office-type jobs (he’s still with the same company whereas I have had at least 5 other jobs since the one I held then because I am bad at adulting, we’ve come to find). We weren’t planning to have kids, ever (oh, how the universe LAUGHED AT US), but we had a cat. Our decorating style had progressed from “post-college desperation” to “we went to Value City!” We were, as the song goes, movin’ on up.

I remember this particular day SO clearly. We met friends at Houlihan’s after work, which we did most Thursdays. They had trivia at the bar (it used to be called NTN but now it’s BuzzTime) and because I am full of random facts and useless knowledge, I was in the lead. Over the years, I’ve found that this really pisses people off. My handle is “Piglet” and every now and again, I’ll see dudes peer around the bar, all “who is this Piglet? Fuck, man. I want to beat this dude at least once!” They always, always, assume that a guy is at the top of the scoreboard because ladybrains? Get the fuck out of here! No way a LADY can beat a dude at trivia! But I can, and I often do. There was at least one guy across the bar, looking around and muttering when I was tapped on the shoulder by FakeBono. To my credit, I neither laughed nor spit my beer out (I was likely drinking Bass or something else boring… the switch to craft beer happened later).

This incident makes me laugh every time I think about it. I’d like to bump into FakeBono again, because I have so many questions that have occurred to me over the years. The tribute band is still together and still playing, according to their website, so maybe I will get a chance to do that and let them know that I think of them every time I hear Billy Squier’s “Christmas Is A Time To Say I Love You.”

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I Just Want To Tell You How I’m Feeling

Good luck.

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Do They Know It’s Bullshit?

Well, kids – the holiday season is upon us once again. This is the time of year when we’re meant to look around us and give thanks for our blessings and to treat our fellow man with good cheer and wish for peace on earth and all that noise. I have to say, though – it’s all bullshit.

Why? Because if people really felt that way, they’d act like that all year ’round. And most of the people I see around me don’t. I suppose if I’m being honest I’m not a huge fan of peace on earth and goodwill to man, either. I generally distrust and dislike humans on a general level, but the ones I love – I really really really love them. They know who they are.

But, you know, we do try, and charitable giving tends to peak this time of year. It’s as if Thanksgiving creeps up on us and we all go, “oh shit, there are hungry people out there! I’d better give them the expired can of beets from the back of my pantry! Oh, and there’s that irritating Salvation Army bell-ringer. I think I have 35 cents and some pocket lint to stuff in the bucket. There, I’ve done a good thing so I’m a Good Person! All set for another year!” And then we go punch someone in the neck for walking too slow in the mall. Those bargains aren’t going to buy themselves, you know.

It’s all rather pointless, don’t you think? Not to ring my own bell, but I give an awful lot of cash to various causes all throughout the year. I’ve automated a lot of my donations so I don’t even have to think about it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or if it’s the epitome of slacktivism. I’m not sure I care, actually, as long as the sweet tax deductions roll in.

Celebrities are no different. Whenever there’s a big catastrophe somewhere, you’ll see stories about how So-And-So Famous Movie Star gave $50K to the Red Cross to help with the relief effort. This is almost always someone who is paid something like $20 million dollars to make yet another shitty movie full of explosions and they want to be canonized or knighted or fellated for having given up $50K of it. Fuck that. I hate those people.

Sometimes, though, the famous actually put forth a little effort. That’s when things get interesting.
The mid-80s were a fertile time for the Celebrity Charity Song. MTV wasn’t just a cable channel by then – it was an incredibly powerful cultural force. The visibility it offered was unparalleled and hasn’t been matched since its demise. If you were a musician and you wanted people to see your work, you were on MTV. How else would I know about a band called “Helloween?” It was around this time that MTV figured out it could be a force for good. Sort of.

Between 1983 and 1985, the country of Ethiopia suffered a terrible famine. It wasn’t the first famine to happen there, nor would it be the last, but it happened at a time when communication was truly beginning to go global and people outside of Africa were being confronted with harrowing images of stick-thin babies, their huge eyes imploring us to help them, do something.


Our Bob was born in 1951 and raised outside of Dublin, Ireland. He had your basic hardscrabble childhood, and spent some time in Canada as a music journalist before returning to Ireland in 1975 to front the Boomtown Rats. The band ended up being known more for their frontman’s mouthy punk attitude than for anything else (except maybe that one song that you’ve heard of), and they didn’t enjoy nearly as much success as another band from Dublin which you may have heard of: U2.

Like his counterparts in U2, Bob got into social activism relatively early. He did a gig for Amnesty International in 1981, but it was when he was exposed to images from the famine in Ethiopia that he had the ultimate “a ha!” moment. He sat down with Midge Ure (of Ultravox) and together they hammered out what would end up being both the best and worst Christmas song of all time: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Bob asked, cajoled, and threatened most of the UK pop world to get together with him and produce this record. In the end, he had about 40 different musicians there from all over the UK, and also Kool & The Gang, who happened to be in town and were therefore invited along. The music starts out appropriately Christmassy, with chimes and bells and Paul Young taking the first line the most amazingly tone-deaf lyrics of all time. Remember Paul Young? I bet you don’t. But Come Back And Stay! We’ll figure it out!

Now, I love this song more than I really ought to, given that I don’t even celebrate Christmas and that I know damn well that it does, in fact, snow in Africa. A large part of the varied populations of Africa don’t even celebrate Christmas, so to treat an entire fucking continent like a monolith is absolutely asinine. Not everyone in Africa was affected by the famine. Not everyone in Africa was starving. There are two references to Africa being this massive, arid desert, which is just completely untrue.

In short, the lyrics of this song are complete shit. They’re really, really, really bad and even “Sir Bob” (he was made an honorary knight for his humanitarian efforts but isn’t technically allowed to use the title “Sir,” yet the nickname stuck) has said that he is responsible for two of the worst songs ever, the other being “We Are The World.” Bob gets it.

The lyrics weren’t the point, though – it was all about the money raised. They had originally hoped to raise £70,000 but within a year of its release, the song had generated over £8,000,000. It had succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

I think, on the whole, the intentions behind this and other songs of its kind are good. Even the most terrible of the genre managed to raise quite a bit of cash for their chosen causes. Would it be easier all around if the famous people involved would just write a fat check and not go through all of this “let’s make a song” malarkey? Sure. But had Band Aid not been formed, and had they not written and performed this, the best and worst of all songs, my life would have been missing something important.

So this year, when you hear Bono doing that whole Bono thing with the line: “tonight thank God it’s them, instead of YOU” take a look around you and do just that. Then maybe open up your wallet or set up an auto-pay donation and try to “feed the world” all year long, not just to “let them know it’s Christmastime again.”

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A Great Deal of Noise

November 25, 1985 isn’t going to go down in history for anything terribly exciting. It was a Monday, and I was 10 years old. Rocky IV was the most popular movie at the time, and if you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing right now and go watch it before you talk to me any more. It’s the best sports movie of all time (yes, including Rudy), and I refuse to argue about it.

But I digress. And I will continue to do so, but I have a point, I promise.

In the show Doctor Who, there is an episode titled “Let’s Kill Hitler.” In it, the main characters discuss the idea of using the TARDIS to go back in time and kill Hitler before he can completely fuck everything up. It turns out that messing with the timeline isn’t as easy as you’d think. There are some things that are simply fixed points in time and therefore cannot be changed, however much we’d want to.

November 25th, 1985 is a similar fixed point in time. Had that day not happened exactly as it did, I really doubt I’d be sitting here at my laptop now, in 2016, writing about it. A quick internet search doesn’t turn up much for that day, but for me… it is THE DAY.

It is the day of my very first saxophone lesson.

I was in 5th grade, and I’d never played an instrument before. I wasn’t a natural musician – I have very little natural rhythm, and I have been asked, more than once, to just not ever sing in public, ever. My parents aren’t particularly musical, either. My dad can whistle, but there wasn’t much musical creation in our household.

ENTER THE SAXOPHONE. I didn’t even know how to put it together, so that was the bulk of Lesson One. I was sent home with a book and an instrument in a case that was nearly as big as I was, and told to give it a half-hour every day. So I did. I made terrible noises. Horrible, awful, “who is stomping on a duck” kinds of noises. My mom asked me to “please, for the love of God, practice before I get home from work, please.”

About three weeks after that first lesson, I performed in public for the first time, because when you don’t know how terrible you are, you don’t care. It was Grandparents’ Day at my school and with Christmas coming up, I thought a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells would hit the spot. It did! It was loud and awful but everyone applauded and that’s when I knew what I was going to do. I was going to be on stage, making music. I spent the remainder of fifth grade going to my lessons and practicing until my face hurt.

In 6th grade, we all started band. Up to then, everyone had been taking weekly lessons and learning on their own. Now we were going to get it together and REALLY make some noise. If you’ve ever had to sit through a first-year band situation, you know. We were objectively terrible, but that’s by design, right? I was First Chair saxophone, a position I grew to love. We played horrible music, badly. One notable tune we played was John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the USA” arranged for a beginner band. It’s a square song already, and this band full of small-town white kids had no swing whatsoever. It’s been 30 years, and I can still hear it in my head.

The next year, when I moved up to 7th grade, I was met with some competition. 7th and 8th grade band was mixed together and there was an 8th-grader who was miles ahead of me, musically speaking. How I envied her! I practiced SO HARD that year and never even got close to her natural talents, and that is when I started to branch out.

I acquired a flute – my sister, who had played flute in high school was off to college and needed money for books, so she sold it to me for all of my babysitting money. I bought a book and taught myself how to make even more horrible noises! I was now a multi-instrumentalist! Still not the best musician, but I put in so much work that year. If the flute section needed an understudy (with roughly 22 flutes vs our three saxophones, they did NOT), I could have stepped in and played any of their parts, no problem.

In 8th grade, I was back to first chair. It was the last time I’d sit there. By this point, I was a technically proficient musician. I wasn’t a genius, and I wasn’t truly gifted with it – my skills were the result of practice and practice and more practice. I was very, very good, but there was something missing that kept me from being great. I was never very emotionally connected to it. The very best musicians feel the music they’re playing, and they make you feel it, too. I was never good at that part of it, because ew, gross, feelings! Yuck!

And then… high school marching band. My one and only true love. If I could have stayed in high school for another 4 years just to be in marching band, I would have done it. There are few things in life I love with the intensity of the love I have for marching band. So much work. Such ugly uniforms (our uniforms redefined the words “tragic” and “uncomfortable”). SO MUCH FUN. I learned so much in marching band, and decided to be a band director so I could be in marching band FOREVER AND EVER. My career path was decided!

For concert season, I was asked to switch to oboe. Since there was no way I’d be First Chair saxophone anytime soon, I agreed and set about learning that. Horrible noises ensued, et cetera, and my band director asked me to go to an EXTRA band camp over that summer between my freshman and sophomore years so I could get more practice in on the oboe and be ready for concert season, and that’s what I did. I met a friend there and we are still friends to this day because band bonds are unbreakable.

By the time I graduated high school, I was a pretty talented multi-instrumentalist. I played saxophone in marching band, saxophone and flute in jazz band, and oboe in the wind ensemble. My grades were good enough in my other classes that I spent a good 90% of my senior year in the band room and nobody seemed to notice or care. I won all the awards that were available to me, including the John Philip Sousa Award, which is kind of a big deal.

I thought college would be more of the same – go to class, go to band, football games on Saturdays, be awesome, repeat. And for the first year, it kind of was. I did not pass my oboe audition but I was admitted as a saxophone major, and I did fairly well under an immense workload and a considerable amount of pressure. I fell asleep in a practice room under a piano more than once.

Then… well, then we entered what I like to think of as the Dark Times. A lot of things happened between 1993 and 1996, few of them good. I left school for awhile and then went back, but it wasn’t the same. Whatever spark that had been driving me was completely snuffed out and music, once my joy and my comfort and my “thing” was now a source of pain and frustration. I quit playing.

I’d get the horn out from time to time – in 1998, What’s-His-Name and I were in an impromptu klezmer band at our synagogue. That was fun, for awhile. But the idea of getting my horn out and playing would cause me to have panic attacks. Being on stage, once my Entire Reason For Living, was literally the last thing I wanted. My horn sat in the closet and gathered dust. The last time I played music in public was in 1999, when I played flute for a Mother’s Day thing at our synagogue.

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time trying to get The Jillian to practice. She plays piano and cello now, so “go practice!” is a refrain heard every day at my house. I still have my saxophones (three of them), my flute, and a clarinet I bought in a drunken eBay binge about 12 years ago, but I don’t play any of them. I got the flute out a couple of months ago to show Jillian, and I played for her a bit, but… whoa, man. It’s definitely not like riding a bike.

The saxophones are in the closet under the stairs. I guarantee they all need some maintenance before any of them are playable, and I toy with the idea of taking them in to my local music shop and getting them into workable condition. I hesitate, though. “I don’t have time,” I tell myself. “I physically can’t do that anymore,” I say. “My favorite neckstrap broke and none of the replacements were ever comfortable,” I hedge.

Those are just excuses, though. The truth is that I am afraid. Of what? I’m not really sure. Maybe someday I’ll get out a horn, clean it up, and see if I can do something with it. I know my hands still know what to do, but I’m not sure my brain and my heart are up for it. We’ll see. Someday.


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Follow The Beat Of Your Heart

You wouldn’t think that a bunch of old-school punks owe their souls to disco, but we do. Disco was the first mainstream genre of music to incorporate electronic elements, and it paved the way for the fully-electronic genre we know today as EDM. From groovy platform heels to chunky Doc Martens, EDM has been a part of the scene for nearly 50 years, and it’s as hot now as it has ever been.

Because Rick Astley didn’t return my five emails, three phone calls (to his management office, because I’m not THAT good at stalking anymore), my Facebook messages or my Twitter DMs, I turned to an old friend to talk about what he’s up to. James Masters and I didn’t quite go to high school together (he graduated a bit before I did) but we tended to end up at the same parties and now, through the magic of social media, we are probably better friends now than we were back then. Funny how technology makes the world churn. James is an Air Force Veteran and single father of three amazing daughters. He took time out of his morning to chat with me.

What did you listen to when you were a wee kid? Were your parents into music at all?

My parents combined, listened to the Beatles, Queen, Steely Dan, Elton John, E.L.O., Motown, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane/Starship and pretty much what their generation listened to. I loved it all, followed what was on the radio…until I heard punk. Then that lead into other alternative music. Like The Cure, which incorporated synthesisers, that in turn got me into electro sounds like Depeche Mode. That evolved and mutated into industrial groups. Then in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I got into listening to what was electro-dance and industrial, evolve into techno, then trance, house and what is now modern EDM. That honestly…is now evolving back to it’s roots.

How would you describe your sound? Who are your major influences/inspirations?

My sound actually is affected by what I mentioned, but more heavily related to current EDM styles. A bit of everything I have heard plays a role in what sound I create. I try to infuse it all, to appeal to a wider range of ears. The whole purpose, is to bring people together through music, through a musical journey that soothes the mind, while beating with one’s heart. The beats, are always in relation to tribal rhythms, that literally are a reflection of the human heart and pulse.

This interview took place on November 9, 2016 following an incredibly contentious Presidential election that did not go the way many people expected it to. There was a lot of anger and pain on social media that morning.

So do you think the current political climate is a good thing for artists such as yourself?

I can say only this for sure…that it is an inspiration, in terms of touching base with very raw emotions. Especially when thinking about my kids’ future, because of it. Today…despite my disappointment, I am trying to be positive, and use the situation as motivation to succeed…for my kids. In case Canada becomes a necessary option. 😉

Ha! Tell me a little about your proces: do you play any instruments or do you create everything electronically?

I listen to a lot of music, and DJ at home quite a bit too. I’m buying new music weekly, to keep up with it all changing so fast. Then I take my life experiences, and apply it to both sampling, (which I legally pay for, so I can sell my own music with it in there) as well as also playing a keyboard. It’s kind of like being a symphony conductor I guess. Taking a bunch of pieces, that individually reflect both the feelings of others, and how it connects with me. Then putting all these pieces together, in a way that it is now something new, and conveys a message and feelings, telling what musical story I am trying to. Which just flows through me I guess.

I know you are a visual artist as well – is there a visual component to your music (meaning, do you create both at the same time) or does one follow the other?

Sometimes one precedes the other. Sometimes they work together. Right now…with the song I am trying to finish, the visual side is following the musical portion.


You said you DJ here and there – do you actively look for gigs or do gigs find you?

I don’t actively look for them, but have been sought out a few times. I mostly make mixes now, and put them out on DJ websites. Honestly, it’s more for fun at the moment. I do it mostly for production value.

Who would you say is your target audience? Are you looking to please people who are already into EDM or do you consciously (or unconsciously) tweak your sound to maybe appeal to people who aren’t into EDM as much?

I think it’s mostly the EDM crowd. Those have been the people who like it the most. Fortunately, through the internet, I have made some international fans and listeners, and linked up with other and larger artists. I would though…like to cross musical borders. So yes, I do tweak it to appeal to other audiences. But I do recall talking to people, going back 20 years, that used to go to Metropolis/Trilogy [Both of these are former dance clubs in Cleveland]. They would tell me that they were mostly rock fans, but really dug the then-techno scene. Electronic music has come a long way, and has paid a lot of dues. Right now…EDM/Dance Music festivals are the biggest international money makers. Every year, the city of Miami shuts down the city center and has the Ultra Music Festival. A record label for EDM brings in the best DJs and electronic acts, featuring what will be that year’s best and featured club hits. And that’s just Miami.

As most of you know, the Madchester scene in the 1980s/90s is my favorite thing in the world. The best we could do Stateside is the rise of Chicago House and the subsequent morphing into acid house, techno, and rave. EDM has since swung back to being less about the gadgetry and more about the dancing and is arguably one of the most popular genres of music in the world. When in doubt, dance.

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Wrong Place, Wrong Time

I often say I was born at least 5 years too late and in the wrong damn country.

If I ever get access to a time machine (or if The Doctor lands the TARDIS on my front lawn) the first thing I’m going to do is go back to the mid-80s/early 90s music scene in Manchester, England. I think it’s safe to say that probably 15 of my top 20 favorite bands are British, and at least half of that 15 are either influces of or a direct result of the Madchester scene that sprouted in the late 1980s. The fictionalized “docudrama” 24 Hour Party People tells the story of the rise and fall of Madchester.

TV Personality Tony Wilson and erstwhile actor Alan Erasmus started Factory Records in Alan’s Manchester apartment in 1978. They originally hosted a dance club with that name, showcasing bands such as Joy Division and the Durutti Column. Eventually, they decided to put out a compilation of the bands playing the club and a record label was born. After a bumpy start (various band breakups and the death of Ian Curtis caused Joy Division to morph into New Order, among other things), a partnership was formed between Wilson and members of New Order and together they opened the Hacienda. The name was taken from a slogan from the radical group Situationist International, which Greil Marcus discusses in his book Lipstick Traces. Even though Situationist International had been long-dead by the time the Hacienda opened, the echoes of their philosophy continued to inform and instruct art and artists around the world.

Peter Hook (founding Joy Division/New Order bassist) wrote a book about his experiences as an owner of the club, called “The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club” which details the rise and fall of a club with seemingly few rules. It was known for its very low cover charges and for charging far less at the bar than other nearby pubs. However, by the mid-1980s, the Hacienda crowd had largely abandoned alcohol and discovered the drug Ecstasy (also known as MDMA). DJ Dave Haslam writes:

The surge in Ecstasy use in the late 1980s is wholly attributable to the associations the drug gained with the dance music scene. A new wave of dance music was emerging, with its roots in various twisted, dancefloor-friendly digitally-produced records made in New York, Chicago and Detroit. Techno house and MDMA would both have survived without each other, but their marriage was mutually beneficial; together they gave birth to rave culture.

The Hacienda became Manchester’s home for blissed out ravers, which gave rise to the “baggy” scene-within-a-scene. “Baggy” was a combination of psychedelic trip-rock and acid house music, featuring dance beats with rock guitars over top. The look of the mini-scene emphasized baggy jeans (hence the name) and colorful tie-dyed tops. Although “baggy” started in Manchester, popularizing bands such as Inspiral Carpets, the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, and James, it spread throughout the UK and that’s how we ended up with EMF. I’m not at all ashamed to say that I saw EMF in concert three times and danced my ass off every time.

On the other hand, James is the only band I’ve ever crossed an ocean for.

Eventually, mismanagement and rising violence caused The Hacienda to close. The final live performance there was Spiritualized in June of 1997. The building where this legendary club stood is now a block of apartments called, fittingly: The Hacienda. When I visited there in 2013, I dragged What’s-His-Name down to Whitworth street on a bright and busy sunny day and as I stood there, hand pressed to the wall, I could almost hear the music, still.

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The Professor

I never had much time for drummers back when I was a regular musician. They’re so loud and irritating, always bashing sticks into things or tapping out beats on any available surface. The only time I really appreciated the drum was in jazz band, when they’d use brushes instead of sticks, making for a much more pleasant backdrop to the real instruments, like saxophone.

Then I started losing my hearing. For a musician, this is basically the universe’s way of saying, “hahaha choose another career path, asshole. We already have a Beethoven.” So, while losing my hearing wasn’t the only reason why I abandoned music, it was and is a factor in why I don’t really play anymore.

I do still listen, though. The volume in my car and in my house is usually jacked up to the sky, but my hearing is no excuse for that, really. I was raised that way and if the music is too loud, it’s your fault, not mine. Get some earmuffs.

Losing the top third (more or less) of my hearing range has given me a much better appreciation for the work that drummers do. Along with the bass, the drums are the backbone of the band; they’re the creators of the framework that allows the more melodic instruments to do their thing. And there is nobody on earth better at this than Neil Peart of Rush. We can argue about who is a better drummer alllll day long, and you can give me examples and justifications until your voice is completely gone and you start to cry and hate life and contemplate ways to kill me and make it look like an accident, and you’ll still be wrong. Nobody on earth does it like The Professor does.

Take, for example, the isolated drum track to one of Rush’s best-known songs, Tom Sawyer:

Now, I’ve spent a great deal of time and money going to concerts, but I never got to see Keith Moon or John Bonham play live. I’m not THAT old. Many people argue that either or both of them are the “greatest” drummers ever, but I disagree. Both of these guys created and honed their own style (especially in Bonham’s case, which can be summed up as “1/16th behind the beat at all times because why not, also Jack Daniels”), and Neil Peart was influenced by both of them, but he has also looked to swing and jazz drummers to create a style that’s all his own. The Tom Sawyer track owes quite a bit to Led Zeppelin and Bonham, but the timing is absolutely impeccable. Peart is not only on the beat, he IS the beat.

Peart’s drumming took Rush to a completely different level, musically. They might have stayed a reasonably-competent, hard-rockin’ bar band, playing bars and clubs in the suburbs of Toronto – if not for the wildly uncontrolled diabetes of original drummer John Rutsey (not to mention the euphemistic “musical differences” that really meant “John has a drinking problem”). All apologies to the late Mr Rutsey, but the world is a better place because of the addition of Neil Peart to Rush.

I don’t think Rutsey, on his very best day, would have been able to tackle something like “The Trees.” This track starts in 6/8 time, spends a couple of measures in 3/4, then goes to 4/4, back to 6/8 (in 2 this time), pops to 2/4 for one measure (why the hell not), back to 4/4, then to 5/4 to give the other guys something to do. One more time to 3/4 and it ends in 4/4. There aren’t many rock drummers out there messing with the time signatures so flawlessly. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. My favorite jazz track is Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” which is in 5/4 and that is a pain in the ass to pay attention to, much less play. Sometimes you see it arranged in 4/4 to make it “easier” and you can tell because it just seems wrong. Playing in an odd time signature is no joke and not always the easiest thing to do.

And then there’s this:

YYZ is an instrumental track that showcases Neil Peart’s drums. His legendary kit is put to good use here, showing not only his drum skills but also the early days of his ever-growing collection of doodads which he uses to make all sorts of fantastic noises.

I’ve seen Rush in concert quite a few times now. I’m nowhere near being a super-fan, but I have a deep love and appreciation for The Gods of The North. The three of them are all virtuoso musicians and Neil Peart is the base on which they build. I can’t imagine what Rush would be, or rock & roll would be, had he not auditioned for Geddy and Alex way back in 1974. If there is a God, then Rush is proof that she is listening.

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A Good Time Was Had By All

Grown-up Adult Me and Childish Idiot Me are frequently at odds with one another. Adult Me will say things like “you really should stay home this weekend! Look at all the laundry that has piled up over the week! You have reading to do for your classes! Be responsible!” Childish Idiot Me says things like “but the friends are coming to visit the other friends and we should all be together! I want to go see the friends!” Adult Me says “but they’re all going to see some guy (Dean Ween) who is half of a band you are barely even aware of (Ween). You’ll be bored!” Idiot Me replies, “maybe, but there will be beer there so how bad can it be?”

Last weekend, Idiot Me won the argument (with a little help from my friends), and sometime on Saturday afternoon, I found myself in Asbury Park. My friend Heater had opened her home to friends who were coming into town from near and far, and when I got there brunch was about to happen.

Luckily, there was a grapefruit IPA available! Pairing the right beer with one’s meals is very important, especially if you’re making a day of it. The plan was to hang out at the house for a bit and then head down to the beach for the Asbury Park Indian Summer festival. It was the last big beach bash of the season and the Dean Ween Band was slated to headline a day of music.

I am not terribly familiar with Dean Ween or much of his music. I have vague memories of when Ween’s “Push th’ Little Daisies” came out but that was 1993 which was a rather tumultuous time in my world so I never really noticed or bothered much with Ween. The only exception is their song “Roses Are Free” which is covered regularly by Phish.

(The early 90s were even stranger than this video would have you think)

As it turns out, Ween has been around for awhile. School friends Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) and Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) met in typing class and started playing music together in 1984. Over the past 28 years, the duo (who are sometimes as large as a sextet) have sailed the seas of sound from the Prince-inspired “LMLYP” to a rejected Pizza Hut jingle called “Where’d The Cheese Go?

Along the way, they managed to gather one of the stronger cult followings in alternative rock. Fans of Ween aren’t quite so noticeable as Juggalos, but they are similar to that group in that they wholeheartedly embrace whatever weirdness the band chooses to produce.

The Dean Ween Group, however, isn’t really quite as “out-there” as I was expecting it to be. I had this image of it being even MORE weird and strange than I already believed Ween to be, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the Dean Ween Group tunes they played on the beach were more classic rock than crazy. I say this because, in my experience, side projects of weird bands tend to be extra strange (look at what Wayne Coyne gets up to when he’s not in The Flaming Lips, for example).

Since I was so unfamiliar with their music (and maaaaaybe a little drunk), the band initially wasn’t holding my interest very well. I’m sure the few [read: many] beers consumed over the course of the day had something to do with it, even if the beers DID help my dancing skills. At one point, Idiot Me decided it might be fun to go stick my feet in the waves crashing around us but Idiot Me misjudged it a bit and ended up wet to the knees. Whoops! I found out later from the other friends that I fell down quite a bit over the course of the evening, but that’s within normal limits for Grown-up Adult Me, who is bad at gravity.

I did try, though. One tune that caught my ear is a new one, called “Mercedes Benz.” A classic rocker with some funk elements had everyone up and grooving in the sand, which is surprisingly difficult to boogie in. The band was joined by local legend Billy Hector for a fantastic rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” which made my soul happy, not least because it was a song I recognized and by that point in the evening, Idiot Me was looking for things to hold on to, literally.

I’ve been to hundreds of shows, but only rarely do I go see a band I don’t know anything about. For me, the music is always the thing. For some, it’s the atmosphere. For others, it’s the scene. Once in awhile, you go to a show because your friends are going and you have a blast regardless of what’s going on up there on the stage. It helps when the band is good, and the Dean Ween Group is definitely that. They have an album coming out on October 21, and I think I’m going to pick it up. Then, if the Dean Ween Group are playing somewhere nearby, you might just find me there.

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Radical Reinvention: U2 Gets Over Themselves

By the end of 1989, U2 was the biggest band in the world. I was a huge fan, and had been ever since I was 7 years old and heard the October album for the first time (it helps to have a cool aunt). They had just completed a world tour documented by the movie and album Rattle and Hum, which spawned from the massively successful 1987 offering, The Joshua Tree. They were everywhere, all the time, and it was starting to be exhausting for both band and fans. They felt they’d done everything they could, musically, so the band threw themselves a New Year’s Eve party during which Bono told fans “It’s no big deal, it’s just — we have to go away and…and dream it all up again.

And so they did.

Achtung Baby is an album born of conflict and hope. U2 spent some time recording at the Hansa studios in Berlin between the fall of the Berlin wall and the official reunification of Germany in 1990. David Bowie had created some of his best work there and the band were hoping to be energized by the city that inspired both Bowie and Iggy Pop. However, while the country around them was making up, U2 were on the verge of breaking up. Despite long studio days, the band couldn’t decide on a musical direction and tensions were running high. Eventually, they found their way and the result is something that had never been heard before.

The opening track, Zoo Station, starts with a chainsaw of guitar that is answered with a crash of drums. Dark and electric, it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Bono’s vocals, usually loud and proud, were reduced to a highly-processed, breathy whisper-growl. This was not the U2 we had come to know, and they were determined to make that clear. U2, it seemed, had learned to dance.

The Fly was released as the first single in October 1991 ahead of the album proper, which arrived in stores on November 18th of that year. If ever there were a way to say “hey, things have changed around here,” this was it. With the lines “every artist is a cannibal/ every poet is a thief/ all kill their inspiration/ and sing about the grief” Bono was telling us what he and the band had done: they had killed the “old” U2. Gone were the cowboy hats and weird bolo ties and The Edge’s ponytail and heart-on-sleeve earnestness. In their place, we got shiny black leather, glitter, and the plastic fantastic feeling of having taken a sip from the wrong glass in the nightclub of your fever dreams. If the U2 of the 80s was a wholesome glass of milk, the U2 of the 90s was shaping up to be a glass of absinthe. “Forget everything you think you know about us,” it says. “This is something else entirely.”

Achtung Baby is, in many ways, an adult record. It is missing the big, youthful, in-your-face, capital letters DRAMA of their earliest work and it moves away from the “let’s all save the world” feeling of The Joshua Tree/Rattle & Hum. Achtung Baby has already seen the world and is equal parts amused by it (Even Better Than The Real Thing) and completely wearied by it (Love Is Blindness). It could be the soundtrack to a relationship breakup, even.

For example, Until The End of The World is the story of Jesus’ betrayal told from the point of view of Judas. They’re at a party, and “everybody havin’ a good time/ except you/ you were talking about the end of the world.” The song illustrates and underlines the fundamental incompatibility of two people who used to love each other. This theme is drawn out over the course of the album, and veers to a cold accusation in Acrobat (“and you must be/ an acrobat/ to talk like this/ and act like that”) from a resigned sort of acceptance in One (“we’re one/ but we’re not the same”). It’s the story of a band breaking up with itself.

25 years later, the musical landscape is very different but I think Achtung Baby has aged gracefully. U2 may not be the biggest or the best band in the world anymore, but they’re still together and still making music that is equal parts interesting and baffling. There have been a few missteps along the way (their most recent album comes to mind), and they’re not my favorite band anymore (we broke up, but that’s a post for another day), but U2, and this album in particular, are as much a part of me as my left thumb.

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