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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MidtermPodcast Disaster

This is a rather roundabout way to do things, but after much screaming, here is our midterm podcast project thing.


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Time Makes You Bolder: A Glimpse

When I started making this list, I tried limit it to songs that are really important to me for whatever reason. I wanted to tell the story of my life as soundtrack. However, I ended up with 58 tracks and hadn’t even made it halfway through my life so I had to stop and think again. I suppose the list would be shorter if I were still 21. Alas.

Music has surrounded me for my entire life. My mom had a fantastic record collection and was a big fan of turning it up loud. I have very vivid memories of stomping out of my bedroom in the wee hours of the morning to say “Mommmmmmm turn the stereo down, I’m trying to sleeeeep.” Even now, I will be flipping stations and one of the songs from my childhood will be on and I’m immediately 4 years old again, all chubby cheeks and tousled hair. One such song is Goodbye Stranger from Supertramp. It’s off the wildly successful album Breakfast In America and every time I hear it, I’m about 5 years old, in the backseat of my mom’s gigantic green Thunderbird, and we’re coming home from somewhere. It’s late and I’m trying to sleep, but the radio is turned up so I can’t. I don’t mind.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and MTV is very much a part of my DNA. Before MTV, most people didn’t think music could also be visual, but in many ways it is. I’m not a synesthete, which is kind of a bummer because that sounds like a cool thing to be, but I do “see” music when I’m listening. Sometimes it’s abstract ideas of shapes and color, but other times, I get a really strong vision for a video. MTV’s influence on me cannot be overstated.

Back in 1995, the movie Batman Forever was about to be released and U2 had written a song for the Zooropa sessions a few years prior that would fit in nicely with director Joel Schumacher’s vision for the film. I was still a huge U2 superfan at the time, so I managed to get a hold of an early release and I immediately thought that the video for this track should be animated. LO AND BEHOLD, not two weeks later, the video was released and there it was, in all its comic book glory.

1995 isn’t going to go down as the greatest year of my life, and it’s one I would gladly forget if I could. But however bad things got, there was still music. As Morrissey sings in the song “Rubber Ring: “and don’t forget the songs/ that made you cry/ and the songs that saved your life…” there are more than a few songs that I credit with keeping me here on earth.

Nobody does mopey better than the Smiths and the closest Morrissey ever gets to offing himself is in the song “Asleep.” He says “sing me to sleep/ sing me to sleep/ I’m tired and I/ I want to go to bed/” and later he wails “Don’t try to wake me in the morning/ ’cause I will be gone.” He asks the listener not to feel bad for him because he’s glad to go, and knows there is another world. Well, he thinks so, anyway. The idea that it’s okay to feel like this is like catnip to a moody teenager.

Before I was a moody teenager, I was what they now call a “tween,” and the best thing to happen to tweens in my boring Ohio town was the Friday-night dance party in the Methodist Church fellowship hall. It was called The Belfry, it cost $2 to get in, and it was the literal best thing ever. From 7th through 10th grade, the place was full of sweaty tweenagers dancing and flirting and HAVING DRAMA. It was GLORIOUS. Every time I hear Salt ‘n’ Pepa singing “Push It,” I am immediately transported back to that sweaty church hall, smelling like Love’s Baby Soft and Rave hairspray, dancing with my friends and not caring about anything else in the world. It’s been over two and a half decades since my last appearance at The Belfry, but I still get my dance on when Salt ‘n’ Pepa tell me to.

Lots of teenage romance at The Belfry, but not really any of my own. I was solidly on Team Dork until well into my high school years. But every now and again, there would be a boy or two who didn’t find me scary and we’d date for awhile. I started listening to Rush because of a boy and while he didn’t last, the three dorky guys from Canada have been with me for years now. When my husband and I were first dating, Rush put out a new album and, like a good girlfriend, I went with What’s-His-Name to stand in line at the record store so we could buy it at the midnight release. Then we went to a “pre-ticket” party thing where we had to endure lip-syncing contests, air guitar, air drum, and a room full of dudes dorkier than I’d ever been in order to get tickets. 10th row center was worth it, and even moreso when I turned to What’s-His-Name and said “they’re going to open with Dreamline.” He disagreed and thought they’d open with something off this new album and we bet $50 on it. I’m still waiting to collect my $50.

You can’t really dance to Rush. I’ve tried. I don’t have any real dance moves anyway – most of the time I look like I’m about to fall down. It’s fine. Anyway, after we all outgrew The Belfry, we found another place that did “Alternative Night” on Wednesdays in the summertime. My friends and I would get all goth-ed out in our ripped tights and babydoll dresses and scary boots and we’d go pogo and mosh and stomp around to the likes of The Clash, Joy Division, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Jane’s Addiction. Our parents didn’t get it, but then again, they weren’t meant to. We were free, man.

Eventually, I grew up, What’s-His-Name and I got married, and we did all kinds of adult-type things like buy cars and a house and have a kid. I still don’t think I’m ready for parenthood, but she’s ten years old now, so by the time I’m ready for her, she’ll be in college. When she was tiny, and didn’t speak English, she would spend hours screeching at me for being an inadequate human. To calm her down, I’d sing Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 jam, “Crazy.” Whether it was the song itself or my incredibly terrible singing, she would calm down and put me lower on the priority kill list that I know she has stashed somewhere.

I’m getting older now, and my hearing is starting to go at an alarming rate. I’ve worn hearing aids for the last ten years and I HATE THEM but the alternative is almost total deafness, which is not the most super-fun thing in the world. The upside is that I appreciate bass players a lot more than I used to, and speaker technology has improved quite a bit so I can turn it up as loud as I need to. People complain, but I don’t care. If it’s too loud, you’re too old.

This is in no way an exhaustive musical biography. A complete list would be pages and pages long, each song with a story or a smile to go with it. Someday, I’ll write my life story and book technology will probably be advanced enough that I can attach a soundtrack to it so you can listen along with me as we go. Until then, I have over 30,000 tracks in my iTunes library. These are just a few of them.

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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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The songs we sing in the shower tell us far more about ourselves than those we discuss in public. For example, the guy at the tattoo shop who is blasting Slayer? I can almost guarantee you that he knows all the words to The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” Your next-door neighbor who will not stop with the Nine Inch Nails at all hours of the night? That guy has at least one, if not two Enya CDs. I know a guy who professes to be an opera lover and gets very snooty about other genres of music, but he knows all the words to “Miracles” from Insane Clown Posse. I have Phish stickers on my car, but am I belting out Corey Hart’s “Never Surrender” when it comes on the radio? You bet I am.

I used to believe very strongly in the idea of a “guilty pleasure.” According to Wikipedia, a guilty pleasure is “something, such as a film, a television program, or a piece of music that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.” The important part of that definition is the word “feeling.” If you feel something isn’t worthy of your time, yet you devote time to it anyway, that’s what makes it a guilty pleasure. A guilty pleasure song is the aural equivalent of a Hot Pocket. You know it’s terrible, but you’re doing it anyway, and it is delicious.

A two-second Google search for “guilty pleasure music” turned up a slew of results, from a Spotify playlist courtesy of The Quietus to one made up of “summer songs” from Entertainment Weekly (which, one could argue, is a guilty pleasure in and of itself).

I’ve changed my mind, however, about the “guilty” part of guilty pleasures. I’m not sure when I made that shift from sheepishly mumbling along to Haddaway’s “What Is Love” into the full-tilt car-boogie dance routine I do now, but I just don’t care what people think anymore. I’m enthusiastic in my consumption of popular culture and you should be, too!

My favorite [former] “guilty pleasure” song of all time is “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. I am completely sincere about my love for this song, ask anyone. It’s a fun, dance-y pop song that is all about how ol’ Rick is going to be the Best! Boyfriend! Ever! He’s never gonna give you up, let you down, run around or desert you! Lyrics aside, the song itself is pure 80s bubblegum fluff. From the electronic drums to the smooth synth, this song tells you right up front that we are going to dance! Awkwardly!

There is a reason why this became one of the greatest memes on the internet. It’s not that it’s the best song ever written (that’s a debate for another day), it’s because this is a goofy, silly, song that sounds just as goofy and silly as the lyrics would lead you to believe. Back when RickRolling was all the rage, people would click, see the video pop up, and groan. But a sizeable number of folks would give it a listen, and maybe those folks found themselves humming it off and on throughout the rest of the day. Those people are my people.

That’s how, sometimes, a guilty pleasure becomes a genuine pleasure. Everyone has one, and the ones who say they don’t are either lying, trying to sleep with you, or both. I’ve told you mine, what’s yours?


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To The Mother of the Kids Down The Street

Yeah, I saw you this morning when you were walking your kids to school. You don’t have to pass right by my house, but you chose to. It’s unfortunate that I was walking my kid to the bus stop at the same time. Or perhaps it was deliberate, I don’t know and to be quite honest, I don’t really care.

Did I stop to speak to you? No.

Did I even look in your direction? No.



Your kids and my kid tried that whole friendship thing. Over the course of two years I watched as things would ebb and flow between them, and I stayed out of it for the most part. Kids will be kids, and a large part of growing up is learning to navigate the social flow. As an only child, my daughter struggles with it a little bit. Your kids have each other to pummel and negotiate with.

The first time, Jillian came home from the playground in tears because your son wouldn’t leave her alone. I didn’t press for details but I did gather that she’d asked him to stop and he would not, and it progressed to him hitting her. Maybe it was in jest, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I asked you to talk with your son about putting hands on my daughter and that bit of business stopped.

The second time (and a few times thereafter), she came home in tears because your daughter said she didn’t want to be friends anymore. I didn’t get involved because that is normal little-girl behavior and it tends to work itself out. A few days later, they were palling around the neighborhood as if nothing had happened.

Then we have the incident from a couple of weeks ago. Jillian comes home from the playground in tears (AGAIN), and when I asked what happened, I got a garbled mess of what sounds like an attempt at bullying and ended with “[Your kid] hit me.”

That’s when I stepped in. I told Jillian in no uncertain terms that if ANY of your children EVER hit her again, she has my permission and my blessing and my support to give it back as good as she gets. I’ve even told her where on the body she should aim.

After I calmed her down and cheered her up, I sent you a note saying that while I understand kids mess around, if yours can’t control themselves around my kid, then we’re going to have to have a talk. I know you’ve said that I think I’m better than everyone else, and that’s mostly true. I might not be better than everyone else, but I’m miles ahead of you because I’m not raising a bully. Or two, as the case may be.

And that’s why I didn’t even look in your direction this morning.

It’s not that I’m ignoring you, it’s that you simply don’t exist.

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