Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Top Fifteen Albums that Defined My High School Experience – or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love My Musical (Over) Obsessions

My membership in the highly prestigious Madison Institute of Musicologists (MIM) has offered many privileges through the years. This is the group who is responsible for the Top Ten Albums of the Year lists (and the aforementioned Top Ten night). Recently, a gauntlet was thrown down: list the Top Fifteen Albums That Define Your High School Experience. This was a wonderful exercise, that I fully enjoyed. Below is my recap. Enjoy.

A prelude: The moment when Jimmy Page goes up a note during the solo of Whole Lotta Love on Led Zeppelin II was as if I had discovered the Holy Grail, and that nobody had ever found that moment before (well, Porter had). This was the moment my entire high school musical experience was based on. I’m sure there are millions of people with this identical understanding.

Importantly, if I had been born a few years earlier and only had tapes, then the REPEAT button would not been invented on CD players yet, and thus my high school experience would have been completely, irrevocably different.

15. Oasis, Definitely Maybe – Spring of my Senior Year. “I live my life in the city, there ain’t no easy way out” - at that moment I became an Anglophile of the First Degree. By fall of 95’ it was Stone Roses, Joy Division, Smiths, etc. Thank you Noel Gallagher.

14. Mazzy Star, So Tonight That I Might See – I had my first paranormal experience to this album, which leaves an impression on you. No, really – still makes the hair stand on my neck when I hear it.

13. Bruce Springsteen, Born In The USABobby Jean felt nostalgic to me then, imagine what it feels like to me now.

12. Alice In Chains, DirtEvery post-adolescent Michigan boy contemplates suicide at some point, and this is what it sounds like. Just kidding. Kind of.

11. The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers – My first Stones album. Sway was the moment that became a lifelong love affair.

10. REM, Automatic for the People – When I first heard Nightswimming, I knew there was a world somewhere so different, that would suit me if I could only get there. I wanted (want) to live inside that song.

9. Pink Floyd, The Wall – Wow, talk about obsession. I burned with this record for months at a time. “I got a strong urge to fly, but I got nowhere to fly to” – still one of my favorite lyrics ever written.

8. Bob Dylan, Bootleg Series Vol 1-3 – I bought this from Gautama Swami outside of Records & Tapes on Court St. It was the first Dylan “record” (it’s a box set technically) that I had ever owned, and I found all the magic right there. Such an odd, back door-way into Uncle Bob. I had lifelong friendships forged over this.

7. The Doors, Self-Titled – There is a direct line between hearing The End for the first time and my everyday life today as an artist. Something shifted in me utterly.

6. Counting Crows, August and Everything After – My first real break up album. I found myself alone on the beach at dawn listening to It’s Raining In Baltimore on my Discman with tears running down my face in La Jolla, CA. Honestly, it doesn’t get much more poetic than that for a heartbroken 17 year old.

5. Guns N Roses, Use Your Illusion I & II – The Last Great American Rock N Roll Band legitimately changed my life, and I bet I’ve listened to Estranged over 5,000 times – which means I’ve heard it about 195,000 times less than Pete.

Side Note - Brian Coulliard skipped school to watch the premiere of Don’t Cry and then came to Homeroom to break down the entire video, as the whole class sat around him in rapt attention. Easily the most culturally significant album release of my lifetime.

4. Pearl Jam, Ten – This record dominated my high school experience. If I listen to Release I can still feel the glow of my stereo lights in the dark. Side Note – I almost selected Vs. as it was the first album I ever skipped school to buy.

3. U2, Achtung Baby – Simple - it means more to me than any other record ever, with lyrics that I lived on. Nobody should listen to Love Is Blindness on repeat for weeks trying to understand heartache. Or maybe they should.

2. The Verve, A Storm In HeavenI had never heard of them before I wandered over to the second stage at Lollapalooza and had my life altered in the most literal way possible. Second time I saw them at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit - they opened with A New Decade, and Richard Ashcroft ran to the edge of the stage and screamed COME ON!!! in my face. My life would never be the same. Today, I still listen to A Storm In Heaven regularly. I know this might sound strange, but I have listened more to this than any other album ever.

1. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti – How do I accurately describe the impact this had on me? OK, how about this: I played Kashmir continuously on repeat for over 3 months – day and night, without stopping or pausing, for over 100 days straight. The Zeppelin Rule began there.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Polaroid of the Week: The Legacy of Jamie Livingston

Jamie Livingston was a man who shot a polaroid a day from 1979 until his death in 1997. His legacy of photos has been made available online, and the overall effect is staggering. His final days are documented in heart-rending detail - truly touching and moving stuff. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

From Accidental Mysteries:

I DO NOT KNOW JAMIE LIVINGSTON. I WISH I HAD KNOWN HIM. When I discovered his site I was super excited. On the last day of March 1979 he began a project he called “Photo of the Day.” Then, I noticed that the project ended in 1997. I thought that perhaps the project ended, things happen. But as I dug into his luscious and wonderful images, I noticed that the last photograph was dated October 21, 1997. With a little more research, backing up from that date, I noticed that Jamie had contracted cancer. His last day on earth was his last photograph.

Check out his web site yourself, and follow the project here. And think about each day we have on this earth. Jamie Livingston, thanks for your visual diary. Farewell.

Music Video of the Week: Neon Bible

One of my favorite bands in the world, Arcade Fire, have a new album coming out soon. I love both of their records for completely different reasons - the childlike euphoria of Funeral (their first album), and the dark majesty that is Neon Bible (their second record). Both are 5 stars, and must buys for any music fan. Both albums relate strongly to distinct periods of my life - I feel very, very close to both albums.

The Arcade Fire are truly a unique group, featuring 9 band members and are renowned for their incredible live performances. The lead singer (and main songwriter) Win Butler has a vocal style best described as heroic. When his voice rises on Intervention, heroic is the only appropriate term to describe what you are hearing.

Here is their superb video for the title track of their second album.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Great Moments In Sports Exhibit Is Awesome

The Great Moments in Sports Exhibition is great. It is a collection of posters commemorating different epic or humorous events. Check them out here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Favorite Films of All Time: Trainspotting

Danny Boyle's junkie classic Trainspotting came out in 1996, and it really holds up well today. It was the first film I ever went to by myself, and I totally fell for it. It is THE Britpop film, with a soundtrack featuring Iggy Pop, Blur, and Lou Reed. Brilliant.

Here is one of the greatest scenes in film history: the Perfect Day sequence.


Typefaces as Dogs? Why Not

OK, I have seen it all. What type of dog is Helvetica anyway?

From GQ:

Proving that there is such a thing as a design joke, Austrian firm Grafisches Büro created these images pairing dog breeds to physically similar typefaces. Maybe we've been on something of a type kick lately, but that bull terrier? Totally Bodoni.

Rest In Piece Alex Chilton UPDATED

When I was a young man I got into Alex Chilton and Big Star the same way alot of other people got into him - through the song Alex Chilton by The Replacements. I was curious - who was this guy that Paul Westerburg was so entranced by? My old friend Ray Cronk got me into Big Star at that point, and I totally fell in love with Chilton's haunting melodies and absolutely beautiful reverb-y production, particularly on my favorite Big Star record, Sister Lovers. One summer I got way, way too into Holocaust (which is a great song, but not one anyone should get too into) but it is Night Time that I love the most, one of my favorite songs of all time.

From Rolling Stone:

Alex Chilton, who died Thursday of a heart attack at 59, was one of the all-time great rock & roll songwriters, and the ultimate indie cult hero. He also had one of the strangest careers in American music. At the age of 16, he sang a huge pop hit that’s enjoyed radio rotation ever since, the Box Top’s “The Letter.” But he left the middle of the road for one head-scratching move after another: the Memphis guitar band Big Star, a string of sloppy garage-punk records with titles such as Like Flies On Sherbert and Dusted In Memphis, then an embrace of New Orleans R&B and lounge standards. He famously dropped out in the 1980s to wash dishes in New Orleans. In the 2000s, he toured with the Box Tops and Big Star, never talking to journalists or revealing anything about his private life. The only time I ever attempted to interview him, backstage after a solo show, he just snickered, “I have to rest my voice” — a strange claim, since he was smoking a dubious hand-rolled cigarette the size of his head. But he said everything he had to say in his music.

Everybody has a different favorite Alex Chilton. But mine will always be Big Star. They made three albums in the 1970s: #1 Record (the “catchy pop” one), Radio City (the “twisted Beatle obsessions” one) and Sister Lovers (the “late-night emotional breakdown” one). Chilton’s high, bittersweet voice was full of pain and yearning, even when the chiming Rickenbacker guitars were pure teenage kicks. He sang the acoustic ballad “Thirteen,” probably the most obscure oddity to make Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (it came in at Number 396), along with other gems like “September Gurls,” “Life Is White,” and “Night Time.” He could take a song as dark and fearful as “Blue Moon” and made it sound romantic, crooning, “If demons come, while you’re under… / I’ll be the blue moon in the dark.”

So another big influence of my younger days falls away. Goodnight Mr. Chilton, you were one of the best.

UPDATE: Paul Westerberg weighs in here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Stop Making Sense Is A Quarter Century Old

Stop Making Sense
Stop Making Sense, the concert film by Talking Heads directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) is a quarter century old. It's one of the greatest rock films ever made, a document of one of the great American bands of the Eighties. Watching it makes me think that Talking Heads are one band that should reform - they are all still alive, and are all in good health. Let's hope they decide to reform - I will be first in line to buy reunion tour tickets.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ressurection for Detroit's MCS?

My favorite landmark in the world (now that Tiger Stadium is gone) is the Michigan Central Station. It is a symbol of all that was good about Detroit. Recently The New York Times did a piece considering the future of the icon. Hopefully, it can survive.

From The New York Times:

Now Detroit has become embroiled in an urgent debate over how to save what is perhaps its most iconic ruin — and in the process, some insist, give the demoralized city a much needed boost.

“People compare it to Roman ruins,” said Karen Nagher, the executive director of Preservation Wayne, an organization that seeks to protect architecture and neighborhoods around Detroit. “Some people just want it left alone. But I’d love to see that building with windows in and lights on again.”

Since the City Council voted last year to demolish the depot, the building has been granted a reprieve of sorts thanks to more urgent issues confronting the city, including a $400 million budget deficit and a lawsuit to halt the tear down (citing the station’s historic landmark status). Further, several council members, elected since the vote, do not share the previous Council’s enthusiasm for land clearing.

“I don’t want to bulldoze it, then find out later there could have been a viable use for it,” said Charles Pugh, a newly elected member who took over as Council president in January.

Now preservationists, business owners, state leaders and community activists are taking what feels like a last stab at saving the 97-year-old building before it goes the way of New York’s Pennsylvania Station or, more locally, Tiger Stadium and countless other pieces of old Detroit that have fallen to the wrecking ball in recent years.

I was there last summer and shot some pics - you can see them here.

Read the entire New York Times article here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Village Studios Exhibit Opening Tonight

Village Studios and Gallery in West Greenville is hosting a show featuring work by faculty members of the Anderson University Art Department.

Join us for the opening reception during the First Friday Gallery Crawl:
Friday, March 5, 2010
Pendleton Street Arts District
1278 Pendleton Street
Greenville SC

Featuring: Jo Carol Mitchell-Rogers, Jane Dorn, Tim Speaker, Nathan Cox, Kim Dick, Peter Kanaris, and Susan Wooten.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Epic Post: Where I'm From

Recently I read an interview with the captain of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team, Tory Jackson. Jackson is from my hometown, and I was pretty surprised to read how the national sports media sees my hometown of Saginaw, MI.


Simon and Garfunkel sang it took them four days to hitchhike from Saginaw in their hit song “America.” The song was off their album Bookends, written in either 1967 or 1968 by Simon. The part about leaving Saginaw to see a different America could hold today, but for different reasons. Back then the urge to leave a city like Saginaw could have been chalked up to a common theme at the time. Young folks escaping an unglamorous, maybe even stifling life –at least in their eyes — working in the automobile or lumber industry. In other words, rebelling against the life of your father. A return home, at least for some, would be inevitable when it was discovered that life away from home wasn’t always better. And that last part is where the comparison would not hold today — because almost everything these days is better for a young person if they can get out of Saginaw. It’s a city of roughly 55,000 suffering a 20% unemployment rate. Tory Jackson had a better chance than most of his peers to get out for two reasons — family and basketball.

Drugs, death, and murder,” says Jackson, “that’s what happens in Saginaw. Young people like me get killed all the time there. It’s just the way it is.” And in case you think Jackson is overstating the situation, the numbers actually suggest he might be downplaying it (if that’s even possible).

Since 2003, Saginaw has been ranked the #1 most violent city in America by the FBI. Number one out of 850 communities with populations over 40,000 based on violent crimes per person...Six years running. That’s a streak any city would want to run from. Raised in America’s most violent city…Tory J. Jackson is the American Dream.

The article got me thinking about my own background, my own history. It's strange to think that I am here living in a city recently named "Best City In America to Live", considering where I am from. It is a relief though, to be here, though I miss home terribly, and over romanticize Saginaw. So many Springsteen songs touch on my formative experiences there, and the influence of the Nasty (aka Saginaw) show up in my work all the time. I am extremely proud of being from there.

So this reminiscent post will wrap up with some lyrics by the Boss, from the song that most expresses how I feel about Saginaw today, My City of Ruins. Or simply watch it below.

PS - read the excellent Tory Jackson interview here.

There's a blood red circle
on the cold dark ground
and the rain is falling down
The church doors blown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone

My city of ruins
My city of ruins

Now the sweet veils of mercy
drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
like scattered leaves
The boarded up windows
The hustlers and thieves
While my brother's down on his knees

My city of ruins
My city of ruins

Come on rise up!
Come on rise up!

Now there's tears on the pillow
darling where we slept
and you took my heart when you left
without your sweet kiss
my soul is lost, my friend
Now tell me how do I begin again?

My city's in ruins
My city's in ruins

Now with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands
I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands

Come on rise up!
Come on rise up!
Rise up

Monday, March 1, 2010

Top Ten Blur Songs

It's been awhile, but I'm finally back with a new Top Ten List. This one is for Blur, great stalwarts of the 1990's Britpop Wars.

From Wikipedia:

The release of the album's lead single "Country House" played a part in Blur's public rivalry with Manchester band Oasis termed "The Battle of Britpop". Partly due to increasing antagonisms between the groups, Blur and Oasis ultimately decided to release their new singles on the same day, an event the NME called "The British Heavyweight Championship". The debate over which band would top the British singles chart became a media phenomenon, and Albarn appeared on the News at Ten. At the end of the week, "Country House" ultimately outsold Oasis' "Roll With It" by 274,000 copies to 216,000, becoming Blur's first number one single. The Great Escape was released in September 1995 to rapturous reviews, and entered the UK charts at number one. The NME hailed it as "spectacularly accomplished, sumptuous, heart-stopping and inspirational". However, opinion quickly changed and Blur found themselves largely out of favour with the media once again. Following the worldwide success of Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? (which went quadruple platinum in America), the media quipped that "[Blur] wound up winning the battle but losing the war." Blur became perceived as an "inauthentic middle class pop band" in comparison to the "working class heroes" Oasis, which Albarn said made him feel "stupid and confused".

I always was on the side of Oasis in these battles, but to be fair, Blur was (is?) a great band too. The Britpop Wars were one of the most fascinating periods in rock history, and it was great to be able to have been a part of it. When I finally hit the British shores in the summer of 1999 (to attend the University of Cambridge) I came prepared to pick up loads of import discs. It was as if I finally got a chance to be a part of the culture that I felt most attached to.

I preferred Blur's softer, more "English" side - English in the way that the Kinks, the Jam, the Smiths, the Stone Roses, etc. were quite English.

So, without further ado, here is my Top Ten Blur Songs.

10. Tracy Jacks
9. Parklife
8. Coffee & TV (awesome video)
7. To The End
6. This Is A Low (killer live version
5. She's So High
4. No Distance Left To Run (one of the greatest break up songs of all time)
3. Beetlebum
2. The Universal (amazing Kubrick inspired video)
1. Tender

Music Video of the Week: Waiting Room


Fugazi was always one of those bands that had ultraloyal, over the top fans, who were way, way obsessesd. When I went to gradschool, my buddy RyNy was heavy into them, and got me into them too.

I know that Waiting Room is kind of a poser song, but it still rocks, and this live clip shows the best audience ever in the history of audiences.