It came to my attention earlier this evening that it has been ten years since Elliott Smith committed suicide. The topic has been covered extensively today, so I'm certain that my little story won't add a whole lot to the discussion. But I'm doing it anyway. I probably first heard Elliot Smith around 1996, in the basement of my guitar player, Matt's, house.
This was a period when I was soaking up a whole lot of new music. I was in a punk band with Matt and a bunch of good natured (but highly opinionated) music nerds. They were quite a bit older than I was, and they knew their stuff. They took me under their wings and tried to course-correct me from my 90's metal and classic rock leanings. It so happened that I had an open mind back then, so the arrangement worked nicely. Which is important, because Elliot Smith was decidedly not rocking. Matt played me something off of Either/Or, while he raved and raved about the vocal arrangements and the quality of the harmonies. And while it didn't exactly speak to me, I couldn't say that the arrangements weren't impressive. Heck, just watching Matt I was impressed; the guy seemed to be positively jealous of Smith's talents. It's funny how you remember a moment like that, when you hear something impressive for the first time... A year or two later, I moved in with another guitar player, a guy named Greg. Like Matt, Greg was smart and passionate, and he suffered no fools when it came to music. But he was a heck of a guy: he shared his unbelievably massive record collection without a second thought, and he took the time to expose me to all kinds of books and music. I learned a lot from him.
On the other hand, living with Greg could be a challenge. He was prone to bouts of depression. And I should have been more sensitive to that reality, except that his depression was consistently triggered by a compulsive desire to be with women who were mean, crazy and (more than a few times) lesbians. It was hard to watch a guy be such a ninja of self-sabatoge. The one and only thing that made it tolerable was that Greg also had a passion for awesomely sad music. And for weeks on end, certain records would serve as the soundtracks to his various heartbreaks. His house was where I first heard Belle and Sebastian. It was where I first heard Nick Drake. And it was where I fist heard Elliot Smith's X/O.
X/O was in heavy rotation in Greg's house for months. Like four or five months. Perhaps half a year. And around month two, I grew to hate the record. I mean absolutely-fucking-detest it. If Greg wanted to take it personally that some girl wouldn't change her entire sexual preference just because he *liked* her, that was fine, but why did he have to drive everyone in the house into depression with that fucking album??
A funny thing happened, though.
A few years later I moved out of that house and gave a go at living alone. And for about a year or more, I spent nearly all of my free time throwing myself into destructive relationships. It's hard to explain why, so let's just say I was lonely.
The details beyond that aren't important, but I guess I'd be a total hypocrite if I didn't mention that the girl who left me most screwed up happened to be an individual who was living through a crisis of sexual orientation.
Ironic, huh? Suffice it to say, this was a sad, humiliating time. I was angry at myself a whole lot back then, completely full of disdain for my dumb decision making. I was too embarrassed to even tell my friends what was going on, which only made me feel more isolated and discouraged. And that's when I downloaded "Waltz # 2". I've written about this before....more than once, I think. But "Waltz # 2" was always a masterpiece for me, even during those days in Greg's house when I couldn't stand to hear it one more time. The lyrics ooze with exactly the kind of defeated resignation I was living with -- that place when depression isn't yet behind you and acceptance seems unbearable, so you park yourself in a stubborn stasis, consciously planting boobie traps of self-defeat all around you. Because...well, because it seems obvious at the time that you just aren't good enough for anything else. Beyond the lyrics, there was the music, rooted in that plodding 3/4 time; it felt so much less like a waltz and more like the lost, lumbering pace with which I remember myself moving through that time....quite fitting, because I swear to God, my memories of that period mostly take place in slow motion.
It was a song I could sink into and wallow within. But it also brought me tremendous comfort. It was satisfying through every single listen, precisely because I had refused to share with anyone what was happening to me. I needed that song; as adolescent as it sounds, it was my confessional.
"Waltz # 2" is still a lovely work of art, and a magnificent capsule of pain. To this day, it receives my full attention each time, and I remain in awe that Smith was able to articulate all of that torment in the way that he did. It's unfortunate that my entire appreciation of Elliot Smith basically boils down to one song...I know for certain that I have a tendency to look down on music fans who can't make a better effort than to learn just one song by an artist.
This blog....right. There's a LOT going on these days, so I guess I've been away for a while. Truth be told, I had at least two solid posts in draft form these past several weeks. And I worked and worked on them until I decided to give up. This is, like, a metaphor for something about my life or something, but...ah fuck it.
As I try to get over myself, here's a random thought and a new discovery for this weekend: The Decemberists are one of those bands that is just too easy to hate for ALL of the wrong reasons.
Yes, they're incredibly popular with elitist aging hipsters. Unfortunately, that won't cut it.
Yes, they have despicable fashion sense. But then again, that still hasn't led me to renounce Dokken.
And, yes, I've hated "The Rake's Song" since the very first time I heard it. But it has also been so long since I've heard it last that I couldn't even remember the title of the song, which album it was on, or even what in year it came out. (Plus, my research verified that "This is Why We Fight" is, in fact, still an excellent track).
The point is, I've needed to give the Decemberists a fair shake for a long time. I simply haven't felt like it. THIS has changed my mind. There are about a dozen songs on here that I have always really, REALLY loved. And two or three that I kind of sort of thought that I was alone in loving. Damn. I love/hate realizing that I'm wrong. Enjoy!
One year ago today, I walked out of my job -- and my career as I knew it. I've already written on the topic before, so I won't rehash any of that. But suffice it to say that one year later, it has proven to be one of the pivotal decisions of my adult life. You learn a lot from walking away from any long term relationship and going it alone. And here is what I've learned: Money isn't everything. However, having a budget is critical. And if you wait until you're already poor to set a budget, you're going to spend a lot of time angry at your former self, who used to waste so much cash.
a back splash is one of the easiest home improvement projects out
there. You will still fuck it up, get discouraged, and leave it halfway
If you don't take a shower and get dressed within the first 90 minutes you're awake, you probably won't get much done at all. Put some pants on and face the day. The clients don't come to you. Learn to cook. Most of it isn't actually that hard. And your buddies will treat you very differently after they taste your oven roasted buffalo wings. I promise.
Also: make your own salsa. $4.00 16 oz jars are for suckers. SUCKERS. Even if you can watch porn all day long, you really shouldn't. You will see things you wish you hadn't seen, and it will raise very troubling questions about who we are as human beings.
If you have extra cash lying around, pre-pay your rent or mortgage. This could some day be the difference between being poor and being broke. Washington, D.C. has some first rate public pools. If you want to find out what kind of shape you're in, swim laps in an Olympic sized pool for an hour.
If you swim laps in an Olympic sized pool for an hour, three times a week, you will lose that beer weight.
If you stop drinking every day, you will lose that beer weight.
If you eat nothing but almonds all day, you will lose that beer weight.
you swim, eat nothing but almonds all day, and cut back on your
drinking for a couple of months, you will get drunker than an intern the
first time you meet your alcoholic former coworkers for happy hour.
You'll black out on the way home, you'll throw up, and you'll feel
awful for months about everything you put your wife through that
night. Be a
professional and eat a proper lunch.
Freelancers get paid last.
Read books every day. Fiction, non-fiction, trashy rock and roll biographies....it doesn't matter. It'll make you smarter.
Christmas without money sucks. Especially if your brothers make an unannounced decision that this will be the year they're going to resume gift-giving after a several-year break. You'll feel like a shitty brother, a shittier uncle and kind of a loser. It turns out that LinkedIn is actually an incredibly valuable tool. Not sure when that changed. Take skin cancer seriously. But don't be afraid to get a little sun. People will notice and comment on how much better you look. If you drink seven cups of coffee each morning, you're basically just drinking to maintain. We call this "chasing the black dragon."
pot at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning sounds like a fun idea. But in
reality, at some point it will penetrate the fog in your mind that every
single person you know is working, being productive, and contributing
to society at that moment, and you will freak out. But at least you'll never do it again.
Getting a massage or a pedicure at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning, on the other hand, will make you feel like a king. You will silently mock your friends who are working, being productive and contributing to society at that moment. (Too bad you can't really afford it).
You know that chronically unemployed/underemployed friend you have? Watch him closely. Make damned sure you don't turn into him. If he calls you in the middle of the day, don't answer the phone. Call him back later and explain to him that you were working. This is important.
Don't be afriad to take a job or two that might be "beneath" you. Chances are, you have some extra time, and you've gotten a little lax on your fundamentals.
If you have a day off, go to a museum you've never been to. Just try it.
Selling your porn on eBay feels a little weird.
If you have a chance to do something ridiculous and spontaneous, do it. That night your band drove up to NYC on a few hours notice to play an unpaid show in front of four people will stand out as a very happy memory of a unique moment in time. As the four of you huddle over 1:00 AM burritos at the all-night place off St. Mark's, you will be exceptionally glad that you left your job.
Do a pro bono job at some point. Even if you really need some money. You'll find out real fast if you love what you do.
If you have all day to sit around and look at your junk, sooner or later you're going to convince yourself that something is wrong with it. You'll make an appointment and your doctor will tell you everything is ok...but she probably won't ever look at you the same again.
Make friends with other freelancers. This may just save your ass.
Tattoo removal doesn't hurt as much as everyone says it does. But it is expensive, and it takes months.
Learn about taxes. Things change when you work for yourself.
Don't play XBOX during working hours. Ever.
Make time to see your friends. They're going to try and buy you drinks and dinner and it'll make you feel weird. Just accept the offer, and return the favor when you're in the position to do so.
Don't be a slob. If you're home all day, you should be able to get at least some house keeping done. Remember: money isn't everything.
Self-dubbed as "America's Biggest Metal Party of the Year," Maryland Deathfest is an 11-year tradition on which I'd somehow always missed out. Despite its taking place a mere 45 miles from my home, I just never got around to it. At first, I merely flirted with the idea of attending this year. Then I saw the line-up: Bolt Thrower The Obsessed Pentagram Pig Destroyer Carcass The Melvins ...and about 50 other bands I was either vaguely familiar with, or not at all. With the exception of Pig Destroyer, I'd never seen any of these bands. This would have to be my year. Unfortunately, my monetary situation was going to force some difficult decisions: even with a three-day pass coming in at a tidy $160 (far, far less, by the way, than the cheapest Rolling Stones tickets I could find....fuck you, Keith), I was going to have to settle for a one-day $60 ticket.
And to complicate matters, the festival line-up had most of the bands I wanted to see spread across each of the three days. Bolt Thrower would perform on Thursday night. Pig Destroyer and Carcass would perform on Friday. The Obsessed and the Melvins had Saturday. And Germantown, MD's beloved Bobby Liebling would perform with Pentagram on Sunday. I was not going to see everyone I wanted to see. And so, after performing some comparative analysis, I put my money down for Saturday. I'd catch local celebrity, Scott Weinrich, perform with the Obsessed. I'd see the Melvins for the very first time. (Aside, of course, from that one time I intruded on Buzz Osborne in a bathroom on a fearfully drunken evening in Seattle). And I'd keep an open mind about seeing Down...less to see Phil Anselmo and more to finally see Pepper Keenan. And, so, at around 2:00 on Saturday, I departed for Baltimore. The day went a little something like this: 2:50 PM: I arrive in Baltimore, and make the questionable decision to park in Fells Point, treat myself to lunch there, and then walk roughly a mile to the festival site. Because I'm cheap and didn't want to pay for parking. 3:00 PM: I decide to grab a beer and a bite at the Heavy Seas Alehouse. The house-smoked pastrami sandwich, coupled with a Powder Monkey Pale Ale are wonderful, and the siren song of the bartenders dark eyes and enormous bosoms tempt me to enjoy another round. Summoning all of my will power in the name of metal, I push away from the bar and begin my festival crusade. Sort of. 3:45 - 4:15 PM: I'm in zoned parking, and I have a strong suspicion I'm going to get ticketed, so I spend nearly half an hour looking for a new space. I continue to cling to the idea of parking in Fells Point -- which is actually even stupider than it sounds. (I thought I might grab a late night hot dog at Stuggy's on my way home...as though I couldn't have just driven to the fucking place at the end of the night). Meanwhile, even the "safe" streets I park on don't inspire a lot of confidence. 4:45 PM: I complete my dumbass walk down East Baltimore Street and arrive. Despite the festival being well underway by this time, the line to enter is otherworldly. As it turns out, some impromptu rule had been set on this day, banning all clothing featuring studs and spikes. The line I was witnessing was for re-entry after everyone went back to dump their jackets in the car. Total mess. (Personally, I marched right in after an aggressive pat down at the will call desk). 4:50 PM: I take in a bit of the end of Weedeater's set, but I'm too overwhelmed by everything to stand still. I make a round through the merch vendors, and I'm reminded once again just how deep the metal community runs, and how much of an outsider I really am to it. So much merch. So many bands. 5:00 PM: As the crowd disperses following Weedeater's set, I see a familiar face in the crowd. It's my guitar player's ex. I haven't seen her in nearly ten years, and for good reason, given the nature of their breakup. Despite the massive amount of negative PR surrounding this individual, I call out to her. She doesn't recognize me (because I've gotten old as fuck). I reintroduce myself and we have a long conversation about the old days and gossiping about old friends. A friend of hers' shows up, and I use this as my opportunity to make my exit. I wonder around feeling deeply conflicted over the fact that I'm not supposed to like this person, but also relieved that we had a pleasant adult conversation.
5:45 PM: The Obsessed takes the stage. The Maryland crowd gives a fantastic reception to Weinrich, but I'm finding myself compulsively staring into the alley next to the stage, which serves as a make-shift backstage/VIP area. This is where I first see Buzz Osborne during the day, and I find myself instantly very starstruck.
Betcha didn't know I'm an awesome photographer. I call this one "Where's Buzzo?"
5:46 PM: I begin to inhale a constant stream of second hand marijuana smoke. Unfortunately, I'm past the point of the fabled "contact high," so I pretty much just enjoy it for its earthy aroma, and the pleasure of watching security make a true team effort to look the other way as much as possible.
6:12 PM: Local metal legend, the Chicken Man, is spotted in the pit. Curious observation: the Caucasian security guys think this is a hoot (so to speak). The African American security guards aren't the least bit impressed...or amused. 6:20 PM: The only three guys in Baltimore taller than I position themselves directly in front of me. The sun is blaring down from just above the stage, blinding everyone trying to take in the show. I give up....it's time for water in the shade.
Nice head, dude. Apparently Washington Wizard, Jan Veseley likes doom metal.
6:42 PM: A girl certainly young enough to be my daughter corners me to comment on my Samhain shirt and talk at length about her love for Glenn Danzig. Her date looks on uncomfortably from a distance as she pulls up her sleeve to show me her tattoo of the Unholy Passion banshee. "She's my spirit animal," she tells me. "Only without the 80's bush."
I excuse myself to see the end of the Obsessed's set.
6:50 PM: I go around the corner to watch the beginning of Broken Hope's set. Highly interesting until the vocals kick in. Then it just becomes ridiculous. (Sorry). African American security guards continue to be all business. Baltimore City cops, on the other hand, are taking pictures of the freaks with their iPhones, and leering at the chicks. I feel safe....
7:11 PM: Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest tattoo. Ever.
"To be the man, you gotta beat the man."
7:35 PM: Grab a beer and get in place during sound check for the Melvins. It becomes clear that this is going to hurt.
7:45 PM: The Melvins slay the fuck out of everything in their path for more than an hour. No one is chatting in the "VIP alley." They're all perched on the fence and the windowsills to get a better view. At this moment, the festival reaches an entirely different level. A solid 20-25 people - film crews, road crews, wives and girlfriends, buddies, other musician -- are jamming themselves on the side and the rear of the stage to watch up close. It is absolutely incredible. I wish I could write more about this....
Scorched. Earth. Melvins.
8:35 PM: The Melvins break. The entire crowd -- all of them -- make a break for the bathrooms at the same time. Apparently, I'm not the only one who was afraid to move for the past hour. The floor of the Sonar is covered with a thin grey film that flows forth from the men's room.
It is best not to discuss this any further. 8:40 PM: I head to stage two to check out Ihshan. Oh, hell no. 8:42 PM: I head to stage three to check out Revenge. Also, hell no. Kill time looking at merch and having a beer.
9:30 PM: My back hurts. My knees hurt. My ears hurt. I kind of want to go home, but feel obliged to stick it out for Down. To kill some time, I order an Italian sausage from a vendor. At the first bite, it is very clear that it isn't thoroughly cooked. I stare at the sausage in the dark. I'm hungry, but I know that not only is this a high risk manuaver, but also that it kills my dream of hitting up Stuggy's at the end of the night....I eat the damned thing anyway, all the while knowing that (1) I cannot possibly poop in the Sonar men's room; and (2) it is a mile walk back to my car; and (3) it is a 45-mile drive back to D.C. I've got to hope that everything in my GI tract stays where it should for the next two hours. 9:50 PM: Here comes Down. I give them three songs and two speeches by Phil Anselmo. And I'm fucking done. Anselmo is a hero to many and he carries the flag for metal. But he's an idiot. 10:35 PM: I begin a long walk back to my car. These streets didn't look so great when I came down during the day, but they're positively frightening at night. I start planning for what I should do if the car is (a) stolen, or (b) broken into when I reach it. Thankfully, the car is as it should be and I hop in. I allow myself the pleasure of sneaking out a fart and immediately realize that I'm very much on borrowed time. 10:36 PM: I begin the drive home. Windows are down. Ears are ringing. Have to say: I'm very happy.
Good grief. Has it really been almost two years since I've done a ticket post? To think this was supposed to be the basis of this blog...
++++++ Among the silliest cliches that music enthusiasts routinely drag out is the belief that one band or another "should have been bigger." The irony of this statement is that more often than not, the artist in question has - for all intents and purposes - made it big already. Maybe they didn't make it to superstar status. But by the time that band's music reached your ears, they'd likely been signed to a decent major or independent label. They'd probably toured and amassed a litany of road stories. At one point or another they'd met, hung out with, or shared a stage with someone impressive. They'd definitely been interviewed, seen themselves on TV, and heard themselves on the radio. And at least one -- if not all -- of them at some point got laid when they didn't necessarily deserve to. Still, even with all of that behind them, sometimes you feel like a certain band deserved to do a bit better. For me, that band is Catherine Wheel. If you recall, the late 90's were awash in a heck of a lot of terrible "indie" music. The genre had its champions, for sure. But for every Beck or Weezer or Breeders, you'd have to sort through ten or more Tonics or Better Than Ezras or Crackers...bands that all wrote catchy enough songs (I guess), but would have likely been interchangeably made into hair metal bands ten years earlier, grunge bands five years earlier, or garage bands five years later. Amongst all of that underwhelming radio rock, its easy to forget the 90's bands that sacrificed a little more airplay for the benefit of more artistic approach to things. Pavement (rightfully) is the poster child for this community, but I could make a case for Catherine Wheel being right there with them. Catherine Wheel wasn't particularly avant garde. Quite the opposite: they were a straight-ahead, melodic rock band. But they also had an uncommon literary streak; their lyrics tended to be deeply introspective and intellectual, often melancholy, but never bound by the nerdiness or self-pity that so often defines bands working towards being "smart" or "sensitive". That ability alone makes them stand out among their peers. I suspect that it was their frequent return to themes of passion, romance and yearning that kept Catherine Wheel relatable. So often, the band's soaring choruses (enhanced by singer Rob Dickinson's fantastic pipes) were abstract. But they also were often instantly familiar to me in a way that didn't need a lot of explanation. Choruses to songs like "Heal" (It's how high you are/And the time it takes to heal"), or "Fripp" ("I need so much to sleep/You shine me on/Too much is not enough") were deeply evocative to me, without any need to be narrative. This is only half the story, however. Catherine Wheel also boasted a pretty excellent repertoire of straight-up pop songs. To this day I can't help myself but to grin when my iPhone randomly digs up "Delicious", "Satellite", or "Show Me Mary". And I respect the band so much for their ability to put the intellectual stuff on the shelf once in a while for the sake of supporting a great hook. There is always a flip side, however. And the flip side to Catherine Wheel is that their output could be dreadfully unsteady. A friend burned me a stack of their CD's one summer, and I vividly remember becoming less and less excited about the band as I delved deeper and deeper into their catalog. In fact, Catherine Wheel sometimes came across self-indulgent and a bit lost within themselves. Songs could meander. Hooks could get lost or just goabsent. Their videos even suggest that Dickinson might have had something of a rock star complex. And that's all a shame, because each and every one of their albums offers about three excellent tracks for every clunker. About this show..... I went to this concert by myself, which wasn't uncommon in those days. And what I recall most - for better or for worse -- was my shock in seeing that the concert was kind of a sausage-hang. I certainly don't want to give anyone the impression that I went to shows back then solely to pick up girls, but let's just say that given the fact that Rob Dickinson is not only a blood relative to heavy metal royalty, but is also, well, totally adorable, I expected there to be a LOT more women there. And there were not. I recall that the band played "Fripp"...and I recall this because "Fripp" has something of a legend behind it among the band's biggest fans. (I can't speak very much to what that legend is, but suffice it to say that several of their concerts were defined over the years by whether or not they played the track). I also remember that at or near the end of the set, the band played my favorite track at that moment in time: the afore-mentioned "Heal". During the quiet breakdown at the end of the song, I also recall that Dickinson turned away from the crowd and affixed a pulsating heart-shaped LED ornament on his chest. It was a cute effect -- honestly, a touching moment to which my words can't quite do justice, no matter how many times I attempt to rewrite that sentence. I leave you with a sampling of my favorite Catherine Wheel tracks. I intended to only use one, but got a little carried away as I remembered just how much I used to love this band. I hope you enjoy. Judy Staring at the Sun
By now it is quite old news that Jeff Hanneman passed away last week. And even though I knew at the time that I should have written something, I have to admit that I was challenged to do so. To get this out of the way, I've never really been a big Slayer fan. It's not that there's anything wrong with them, but they just didn't move me the way they seem to move every other metal fan.
For years, I gave it a try. It just didn't work. (This, and the goddamed hipster fascination with Slayer is just so irritating that I don't even want to like them anymore....which is a terrible reason to stop trying, but whatever). Then, this afternoon I came across Alex Skolnick's outstanding tribute to Hanneman on PremierGuitar.com. I happen to like Skolnick an awful lot. Even if I'm not a fan of his band, I think the guy is smart as hell, and his tribute proves as much.
In fact, Skolnick effectively addresses the fact that Hanneman's style was possibly one of the primary obstacles to my having an appetite for the band. And then he gives a brief analysis of why I may have been wrong all this time:
"...his frenzied, turbulent solos were also an important part of the
package. They weren’t about showing off. They served a greater artistic
purpose—to sonically channel the qualities of Slayer’s lyrical content.
They were sometimes abrasive, sometimes jarring, and at times
disturbing. They had less in common with typical rock-guitar virtuosos
than they did with the sonic collages of avant-garde improvisers such as
Derek Bailey and John Zorn, the latter of whom is a self-professed
Slayer fan who has cited the band as an inspiration."
This is probably the single greatest argument I've ever heard for reconsidering Slayer. And, so, that's what I'm going to do.
Rest in peace, Jeff Hanneman.
More good stuff below, courtesy of MetalInjection.com
That doesn't mean that there's no such thing as bad taste. And it also doesn't mean that people with ordinarily good (or even excellent) taste aren't capable of enjoying what should otherwise be considered fantastic crap.
It all comes down to how one chooses to disclose the frequent contradictions of their true tastes over the years. Too shameful and you'll be considered a drama queen and a snob. Too honest, and no one will ever believe that you're even capable of recognizing the finer things in art and music.
(Consider for a moment the mortification you might feel if your music snob friends learned that not only are Savage Garden, Bad Company and Trixter all on your iTunes, but that they all boast abnormally high play counts).
I say that apologizing for your tastes over the years accomplishes nothing, and only sells through a less interesting story of how you arrived at the tastes that you embrace today.
And so, witness the shitty (and not so shitty) concerts that I saw over a roughly 10 year span between 87 and 97. These stubs tumbled out of a photo album that I found when I was moving a couple of months ago. Most were in D.C. but there are a few from other areas, and a couple of sporting events and other assorted ticketed disasters in here as well.
I figured it would be better to go public and share them than to have someone find them after I'm dead and I can't fully explain myself.
...Which might indicate that I'm a little more embarrassed about my lousy taste than I want to admit.