22 May 2008

How Can You Not Love Metal?

One night about a week ago, I came across VH1's show The 40 Greatest Metal Songs. Yes, I was intrigued. Growing up, I wouldn't have ever really considered myself a metal fan. Perhaps I saw some difference between the sub-genres of metal. I always felt that the music I listened to was hair metal. Some of my favorites during the time: Cinderella, Extreme, Ratt, Guns n' Roses, Trixter, Slaughter, Skid Row, and Motley Crue. Although I favored the ballads, I wasn't afraid to rock out to the heavier songs. When I saw this show (and I absolutely adore these types of shows, who doesn't?), I wondered if any of my favorites would be on the Top 40. I started watching around the top 30's...and so I'm going to list the Top 20. Perhaps some of your favorites are on here too.

20. I Wanna Rock- Twisted Sister
19. Man In The Box- Alice In Chains
18. Slave To The Grind- Skid Row
17. Live Wire- Motley Crue
16. Walk- Pantera
15. Bulls On Parade- Rage Against The Machine
14. Toxicity- System Of A Down
13. Rainbow In The Dark- DIO
12. Bring The Noise- Anthrax and Public Enemy
11. Peace Sells- Megadeth

10. Ace of Spades- Motorhead
9. Crazy Train- Ozzy Osbourne
8. Reign In Blood- Slayer
7. Number Of The Beast- Iron Maiden
6. Detroit Rock City- KISS
5. You Got Another Thing Coming- Judas Priest
4. Back in Black- AC/DC
3. Master Of Puppets- Metallica
2. Welcome To The Jungle- Guns N' Roses

1. Iron Man- Black Sabbath

An interesting list. I found myself thinking of all sorts of questions while I watched. Throughout some of the interviews, I heard various genres mentioned: pop metal, hair metal, heavy metal, glam band, thrash metal. I had no idea there were so many different forms- as well as I was curious about where the line is drawn. There are certainly some on this list that I didn't consider to be "heavy metal" but rather the aforementioned loves of my adolescent life.

I also started thinking about how masculinity is constructed within this subculture. I know this is not intuitive, because the issue of gender is so "in-your-face"- such as the clothes, the make-up, the groupies...There are constant contradictions in how we define gender, in particular for men. Certainly, I started to also think about sexuality- specifically in watching Judas Priest perform.

As I reminded myself of some of my favorites, I also started to think about some additional folks that I'd like to interview for my book project. There is one individual who is at the top of my list- that I hope to be able to contact. Any suggestions, please post. Marc Metcalf. The nerd, the teacher. What a performance.

13 May 2008

Top Ten Rock Shows...

Last week, I heard Benji Hughes' upcoming release A Love Extreme (Part 1 and 2), and I found myself drawn to the song "I Went With Some Friends To See The Flaming Lips." Not only does the song drop the name of various Charlotte folks and talk about driving to see The Flaming Lips in concert, but it also made me start thinking about my favorite shows. What would make the list of the "greatest" shows?

"I went with some friends to see The Flaming Lips, It was the greatest show that I ever saw. We had been planning the trip for a couple of months and I just couldn't wait to get it on..." -Benji Hughes

After a couple of drinks, I posed the question (a la High Fidelity)to Tim about his top ten rock shows of all time. Now, we don't sit around categorizing our top ten all throughout our days, but rather this question served as a distraction from the Bike Week (Harley, that is) clientele at our favorite watering hole.

Case in point. A conversation ensued about the breasts of a mermaid mannequin in the establishment. One of the men in the group commented about how the mannequin looked like Heather (names changed to protect the exploited), but without the tits. A woman sitting with him remarked, "Those are breasts!" At which point, he answered back, "Those might be breasts in Detroit, but they are tits in Myrtle Beach!" Classic. So, yes, a distraction was necessary.

Of course, the question provoked all types of additional questions- Is it your best memory of a show? Is it the best technical show? And onwards...Then we asked one of the bartenders who could have compiled his own list- and rather quickly. He is from Dublin, so his list seemed (in retrospect) more well rounded and historical than mine.

Here we go...(in chronological order)

1. Dinosaur Jr. in Chicago, Illinois at Metro (1993)

This was my first trip to Chicago and I was astounded to find out when I opened up the paper that one of my favorite bands was playing in town- and I was able to get tickets. It was loud. It was incredible.

2. Jawbreaker in Chapel Hill, North Carolina at Cats Cradle (Approx. 1996)

If I'm not mistaken, this may have been Jawbreaker's final tour before they called it quits. A big group of us from college piled into the car and spent the weekend in Chapel Hill with some folks from the band, Unfound Logic. I remember meeting a pig named Earl.

3. The Flaming Lips in Athens, Georgia at 40 Watt (Approx. 2000)

After the release of The Soft Bulletin in 1999, I fell in love with The Flaming Lips. When I found out they were playing in Athens, Georgia and on a week night, I knew that no matter what I had to attend. I left work at 5:00pm, arrived in Athens around 8:30pm, watched the show, left around 2:00am, drove back to Charlotte, arrived at 5:00am- then had to work the next morning at 8:00am. After all of this, I didn't regret it at all.

I went to the show solo. I have only attended a handful of shows alone, but this was a perfect show to be alone. I had been told by a friend to arrive early at the show and secure a set of headphones. I didn't really understand why or what the headphones were for- but I followed this suggestion. Having arrived early, I also found a place very close to the front.

And then it started...the gong, the confetti, the blood on Wayne's face, the puppets. It is one of those moments where you have no idea what you've been missing until the moment starts- and then you almost wish you could go back in time to remember what it felt like before you had this experience. On my drive home, I recaptured all the scenes in my mind. For at least a month after the show, I was finding confetti in my pockets, bag, and shoes. It was a great way to remind me as the show that had passed.

I've seen The Flaming Lips at least 2 additional times since my first introduction and I still get excited talking about each and every show. Benji was right.

4. Bright Eyes in Austin, Texas as SXSW (2000)

After talking about my experience with The Lips, I arrive at this show...and I find myself at a loss for which I would consider higher on my list (hence my use of a chronological order). This wasn't about seeing Bright Eyes, as I had seen them a few times prior to this date, but it was an incredible memory of a show mostly because of my co-conspirators, Parker and Greg...who I joined for a road trip from Atlanta to Austin over the course of a weekend to SXSW. I would get into a detailed version of this show and experience, but one already exists online. You can find it at my pal, Parker Johnson's old website for Bright Eyes. Scroll down to the bottom of this page. Keep in mind, I wrote this many, many, many years ago.

5. Tristeza in Austin, Texas at SXSW (2000)

This show also took place during the magical road trip to Austin with Parker and Greg. This show speaks to me about my experience of hearing "indie" instrumental music live for the first time. This was the first show Parker, Greg, and I attended. We literally drove into Austin, pulled up to the club, and within 30 minutes Tristeza began to play. The club wasn't too crowded and we stood close to the front of the stage. Within the first song, I was hooked. I was so hooked, we saw Tristeza again the next day.

6. U2 in Charlotte, North Carolina at Charlotte Coliseum (2001)

I'm not the hugest U2 fan, not saying I haven't been at one point in time. That being said, my mother is the biggest U2 fan. She has been having an one-sided affair with Bono for the last 20 years. Seriously. She made me a picture slideshow for my 16th birthday and it included pictures of Bono. No kidding. When I found out that U2 was putting out a new album, as well as touring to promote their new image- I knew that taking my mother would be the perfect gift. I think it was also close to her birthday.

Since at the time I was running a promotional company and writing a self-published zine, I figured I would take my chances at getting free passes to the concert. I sent a request to Interscope. I waited. Two days before the concert, I was phoned and informed that my tickets would be overnighted to my home. One ticket and one photo pass (for my mother- the photographer, which she really is). And it really happened. My mother got to enter in with the photographers that night. She got to stand in the middle of the heart-shaped stage and take photographs. She told me later that apparently they were informed that if they tried to touch any members of the band, they'd immediately be thrown out. I think it was a toss up for my mother as Bono stood within a couple of feet of her.

7.Superchunk in Charlotte, North Carolina at The Casbah in Tremont Music Hall (approx. 2002)

Superchunk has always been a favorite of mine. What I remember the most from this show was taking a full sip of a PBR tall boy when they started playing the song "Slack Motherfucker" and then proceeding to spray the rest of the crowd with beer. Yes, I had a lack of control. This was one of the first songs I loved by Superchunk. And it was fabulous. Sorry to those folks standing around me.

8. Vic Chesnutt in Charlotte, North Carolina at The Evening Muse (approx. 2003)

You may wonder why some dates say approx.? I can't exactly remember the year of these shows. One of the wonders of the internet is that generally you can find pictures/blogs/postings about a show, no matter the year...and so I've been able to piece together lost memories of dates with a bit of internet research, but not all of them.

So, Chesnutt. I remember a friend making me a mix for Christmas one year. Track one was "Little Vacation" and it was my first exposure to Chesnutt. That still stands as one of my favorite songs. So, of course I jumped at the opportunity to see him play in a venue as small as the Evening Muse. I don't think it sold out that quickly, which was a surprise to me. I probably had the second ticket available. I do remember my friend Brian going with us to the show.
And I remember the quietness. It was the quietness of adoration.

9. Sparklehorse in Charleston, South Carolina at The Music Farm (2007)

I ache now to remember the first Sparklehorse song I heard. I can't remember, but I know that the first song that resonated with me was "Heart of Darkness." Everytime I hear it, all 1 minute and 52 seconds of it, I feel every moment of it. I think when I first heard it, it must have been in 1996. And from that year on, I bought every album. And I never really considered the fact that I might get a chance to see them perform. Then in 2007, it happened. The 11 year wait was well worth it.

"As the sun burned down the west, there's one thing we still got, one last dance in this parking lot, oh yeah, i got a heart of darkness..." -Sparklehorse

10. The Port Huron Statement in Raleigh, North Carolina at The Pour House (2008)

This one was really a toss up- between this show and the last Sticky show at The Klondike. And to be honest, I almost found myself confused at which was which. Many of the same people were there. The same last sentiment was there. It was a last waltz and well worth the drive.

08 May 2008

Jazz and Ken Burns

Jazz always felt unattainable to me, at least what I was under the impression was "real" jazz. During college, I became acquainted with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Glenn Miller. But I always felt as if I was missing out on something. I didn't know anything about Miles Davis, John Coltrane, or Thelonious Monk. I'm not sure why I never got into these musicians or their style of jazz, but I do know that when I listened to it- it felt well, "all over the place" to me. I couldn't follow it. I couldn't find the melody.

Since my research focus has narrowed on music, I felt that I needed to explore this uncharted territory- much like my recent experiences with Bob Dylan- I needed the exposure. I rented Ken Burns' 10-disc documentary on jazz. After falling in love with Burns' similar series on baseball, I knew that if anyone could teach me about jazz in a way that resonated for me- it'd be Ken Burns. He uses still photographs, videos, interviews, and quotes to piece together the history, the motion, all while connecting it to larger social structures in America. It is often in these series that people are quoted as saying, "this is America." And that is how it feels, it feels patriotic, it feels free, it feels like what we would all like to believe we have. That doesn't mean that Burns glosses over the fact that white and black musicians were not allowed to play on the same stage until pretty recently or that certain musicians were not accepted by mainstream white consumers, unless of course they had assimiliated to some extent or that after a black musican played for an all-white audience, they would find themselves driving to the edges of town just to find a place to sleep and eat.

I'm a horrible person to watch a documentary with, particularly one on music. I have to pause to make notes and commentary. I have roughly 4-5 pages of notes jotted down with ideas for further research. Throughout the series, there were a couple of thoughts that left lasting impressions on me.

One, I discovered how much I already knew about jazz. At least- to Ken Burns. Much of the series focused on earlier jazz (pre-1960), though the last two episodes do start to explore the more modern territory. This might be my only complaint about the documentary. Although I did know many of the musicians that were featured (those mentioned earlier), it was interesting to find out their life story. Where they came from, how they made "it". That being said, I would have also liked to find out this same information about some of the more contemporary musicans. Burns did touch on this, but it was the difference between a 15-20 minutes detailing of their life story (Holiday, Fitzgerald) in comparison to 1-2 minutes (Coltrane).

Two, Seeing as how I had always felt that modern or improvisational jazz was "all over the place." I learned that it wasn't really. Learning about the history of jazz allowed me to see the full picture. I could see how Joe Oliver influenced Louis Armstrong who influenced Ella Fitzgerald...and onward. Not just focusing on who influenced who, but rather the development of the music is what I able to understand. As society changed, so did jazz. As society became more fragmented and modern, so did jazz. And when I heard Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and Miles Davis this time- I understood. It didn't sound so different from Armstrong, but rather felt like a building upon...an addition that reflected the diversity and choices available to the modern man and woman. And just like that, I understood jazz.

Three, Despite the fact that I needed to take this journey through the history of jazz (and like i mentioned, it ended too early), I still come back to Louis Armstrong. Armstrong is the one who you realize by the end of the series- it was all about. It always has been about. He is that story, like a classic Olympic week story, the story that Americans love. You know, the story about the kid who had nothing. He worked hard and then, had everything, but you'd never know it. He wasn't ostentatious. He didn't act like a celebrity. He was kind, generous, and never for the sake of public relations changed his opinion on what he believed. He never compromised. And even when he told he was sick and dying by his doctors- that he shouldn't perform, he still did. He felt he owed it to his audience. He had to be helped onto the stage. It is all of these things that makes Armstrong such an icon in the eyes of Americans. He is America to us. When I watched the final episode of the series, Burns covered Armstrong's death and I found myself crying. During the interview where Arvell Shaw talks about Armstrong's death, he fights through the tears and words to try to answer the question- but what comes clear is the complete admiration and love for Armstrong that so many people had. And how jazz changed America.

Now, go listen to Louis Armstrong's West End Blues.

06 May 2008

The Top Five of April...(barely)

If you can't tell from the top five for April, it has been an awkward month.

1. Temptation by Charlie Parker

I may have mentioned in an earlier blog, but I have been watching the Ken Burns' documentary on the history of Jazz. I plan to write an entire blog about his series, but I have to acknowledge one of the folks I learned about while watching this 10-part series. Most of my knowledge about Charlie Parker simply came from the David Dondero song where he sings, "There was this line by Charlie Parker, probably worth remembering, "if you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn, chances are you'll never be re-born."" I knew right then. I like this Charlie Parker.

This song in particular evokes certain scenes in my mind. Scenes of a smoky ballroom, secret, coy glances across a room, shaky hands, and nervous laughs. I'm pretty sure that most jazz makes me think of these scenes. I'm also pretty sure that had this song been called "Family Dinner," it wouldn't have evoked the same feelings. There is a warmness to the sound of Parker playing. Something I have grown to love.

2. The Night They Drove Old Dixie down by The Band

I first became interested in The Band, not surprisingly from reading Down The Highway about Bob Dylan. I often make notes while reading a book. These notes generally inform my next few months of investigation. Notes about additional movies to watch or albums to purchase or books to read. The movie The Last Waltz was on this list.

Coincidentally, the night I watched this movie was the night before some friends from the band The Port Huron Statement would be playing their "last waltz", so to speak. I'll probably write about the film at another time (since I'm on summer break now, there will be plenty of time). Regardless, while watching this movie, I not only fell head over heels for Levon Helm- but I also realized that I had always loved The Band. I just hadn't been formally introduced to them. In the weeks that followed and after tracking down an album- I also fell head over heels for this particular song, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

Now, I'm a huge fan of sing alongs. Not like children sing alongs. Rather, I'm imagining the crowded auditorium, where all members of the band and all other feasible bands in the room are crowded on stage, crowded around the microphone, singing, smiling, playing...and the audience is also singing, dancing, and smiling. I suppose I love the community feel of it. Experiencing it all together, in the moment. And I don't even like crowds. But there is something about this song that gives me the impression that it'd make a kick-ass sing-along, particularly at a karaoke bar. And there is even the line about, "and all the people were singing..."

3. Hot Legs by Rod Stewart

I think as soon as I was able to talk, I knew of this Rod Stewart. My mom was a huge Rod fan. And all these years later, I find myself having pseudo-sober conversations about how underrated Rod Stewart is. I'm not sure this current generation (and I'm speaking about the folks I teach mostly- so between the age of 18 to 22...) "gets" Stewart. They only know him for his soft rock. They aren't familiar with The Faces and they certainly haven't picked up a copy of the Blondes Have More Fun album, which even made me blush upon listening.

That being said, I couldn't resist putting this picture of Stewart up on the site. Rod would be proud. I remember seeing Rod in concert (that is why I can call him Rod and you can't) with my mom. We had the worst seats, but it was an excellent performance. He kicked soccer balls out into the crowd. Despite his skills, there was no way a ball was going to make it to us. I've grown increasingly interested in researching the life course of musicians- why they make certain decisions at certain points in their career..and I think someone like Rod Stewart would be fascinating to use as a case study. Including his decision to wear those tight pants.

4. Nashville Moon by Magnolia Electric Co.

I remember the first time I ever played Jason Molina for my mom. I played her the album from Songs: Ohia entitled The Lioness. I use to play this album over and over again in the kitchen, where my computer and record player were set up. My mom and I would sit in there talking, drinking coffee, and preparing dinner to the soundtrack of the song, "Baby Take a Look." And it was then and there she fell in love. Her love of Molina even inspired a trip to New York for CMJ where he was performing. A side note: It was also during this trip that my mother finally had the opportunity to meet Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. Oh, it opened up a whole new world for her.

I continued to follow Molina's career. And he came back into my life in a very significant way. Discovering that he was playing a show right outside of Charleston, South Carolina meant I'd get the chance to see him perform again. This trip ended up turning into an opportunity to also interview Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses for the book. So, my memories of Molina have altered and changed- it isn't just my mother and CMJ, now there is the Village Tavern with Ben, his dad and the rest of the horses. There is even a vague memory of Molina sitting next to me on a couch, wearing a hat that made him look very Paul Simon circa 1975 (Still Crazy After All These Years).

Of course this song feels even more significant, particularly because of the subject, title...And I feel like I wouldn't be doing you justice, if I didn't quote some of the lyrics...

"How far is that Nashville moon
That depends
Where did she leave you
And how many miles 'til my mistakes catch up
That depends
Which ones you're counting
And that depends
What you're forgetting again
Does it matter whose side I'm on
Or does that depend"

5. Try Again by Big Star

I'll be honest. I had a hard time this month. These first four weren't difficult, but I had no idea what song should take the last slot. And I'm still not sure I've made the right choice- but one afternoon driving home, I put the Ipod on shuffle- this song came up. It spoke to me. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps there is something about the sentiment of not only being hurt over and over again, but the idea of trying again. Persistence.