Category: blagg

Top Kinks Songs 1972


flickr photo shared by cdrummbks under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

After the ebb of 1971 and Muswell Hillbillies I was not really looking forward to 1972. I knew there wouldn’t be competition for the top spot, but what would follow? In 1972 they released Everybody’s in Show-Biz which was a double album: one disc of original tunes and one of a live performance featuring recent stuff. I am considering both discs for this. That’s more a reflection of how this album is kind of a dud in my mind than anything else. With that, here’s the list:

  1. Celluloid Heroes
  2. Here Comes Yet Another Day
  3. You Don’t Know My Name
  4. Sitting In My Hotel
  5. Motorway
  6. Look A Little On the Sunny Side
  7. Alcohol (Live)
  8. Hot Potatoes
  9. Supersonic Rocket Ship
  10. Brainwashed (Live)

“Celluloid Heroes” is one of those special songs that seems to rise above its pretensions. It captures the melancholy of fame quite nicely. It’s also an optimal balance of Ray Davies’ wit and sentimentality that sometimes can veer into trite and annoying. This song is just lovely.

“Here Comes Yet Another Day” has a road trip feel to it. It’s rambling yet going places. The organ intro belies the hook. It’s an overlooked song (like this album) that is fairly tight and rolling despite the American affectations. I actually like the horns.

We have another country rock jamble in “You Don’t Know My Name”. There’s something about Dave Davies’ voice that really suits this song. The hippie flute interlude is nice and unexpected.

“Sitting In My Hotel” is a straightforward, earnest, rock ballad. Starting with the solo piano, then kicking in the rest. It’s repetitive but comforting despite the melancholy. It’s a very pleasant song, though kind of cliche.

The resonator guitar kicks off “Motorway” kind of like “Powerman”, but not so ominous. Instead of a heavy rock song we get a picking country-esque song about driving on the motorway. It’s pretty cheesy, but also jaunty and pleasant. I can’t hate.

“Look A Little On The Sunny Side” is another throwback to the old English beer hall songs. It’s kind of drunken and OK.

Now we have a live version of “Alcohol” – I wasn’t a huge fan of it on Muswell Hillbillies because the lyrics aren’t great and it’s painfully obvious. The drunken looseness of the live version works though, much more than the studio version.

“Hot Potatoes” is another country rock track that’s laid back about something as mundane as domestic strife and simple meals. It’s repetitive and easy to sing along, so kind of catchy, but not great.

“Supersonic Rocket Ship” is precious, but also doesn’t really work. It remind me of “Apeman” in the novelty factor, (it has steel drums!) but the song doesn’t really go anywhere.

This live version of “Brainwashed” is tight and much faster than the version on Arthur. It’s pretty good.

So that’s 1972. Will things get better with 1973? Could you sense my apathy? We’ll see.

Top Kinks Songs 1971

1971 - 49 - Kinks, The - God's Children - D

We all knew this would happen. I’d hit a year in the Kinks discography where it was more work to endure than a pleasure to listen to. I thought that year might have been 1972, but alas it was 1971. They released two albums that year – the often forgotten soundtrack Percy and the trite Muswell Hillbillies. My parents own both albums. I remember listening to Percy on my own volition. I remember my parents had a fondness for Muswell Hillbillies, perhaps because it was the album that was around when they were courting. When I listened to it for this project I asked my mom what was up with that and she confessed she doesn’t really like it – it’s a dad thing. That explains why I kind of hated it. So anyhow, here’s the list.

  1. God’s Children
  2. Oklahoma U.S.A.
  3. 20th Century Man
  4. Dreams
  5. Muswell Hillbilly
  6. Complicated Life
  7. Moments
  8. The Way Love Used To Be
  9. Have A Cuppa Tea
  10. Lavender Lane

“God’s Children” starts with a really lovely guitar riff and then some soft, sincere vocals. It’s a tender song about our place in the world. You wouldn’t know it was about the hubris of progress and science as told through the story of a penis transplant. This is one of my all time favourite Kinks’ songs and showed up at no. 3 on my original list. This would be the top song regardless of anything else in 1971.

“Oklahoma U.S.A.” is another tender song. Lyrically, Ray Davies tries to put himself in the heart of America, with a tedious melancholy and faded dreams. This is the kind of wistful song Ray Davies is the master of, and it has the right balance of sentiment and kitsch.

I can’t say I actually like “20th Century Man” but I can respect it. It’s a good example of Ray Davies’ song writing that’s too literal and too derivative. The resonator guitar is back and it’s trying to be Delta blues, but it’s just OK until you get to the vaguely medieval sounding bridge, which leads to the rock. This song could stand to miss out on the first half basically.

“Dreams” is a very traditional song of reaching akin to “David Watts” from Percy, but I think it’s a pretty decent example of semi-orchestral early 70s rock production. The song is a gem.

The best thing about “Muswell Hillbillies” is the bright guitar lick in the intro. It’s got that 70s country rock mid-tempo sing along feel that I’m just not a fan of. The lyrics are kind of entertaining in that they evoke the feelings of Tennessee or Kentucky, but in London. Only it’s also hokey and I’d rather just listen to some Buck Owens. The guitars though… really nice.

“Complicated Life” is a sloppy Southern rock dirge with some slide guitar. Lyrically I think Ray Davies does some interesting things, but I also think this is too hokey. I like the sing-along chorus. I also feel drunk listening to it.

Another song from Percy is “Moments”, which is kind of an odd song with a really nice climb going into the chorus-like thing. I don’t know… I appreciate the off-kilter time, the strings, minimal beat, and how it meanders.

“The Way Love Used To Be” is also from Percy. It’s a slow, dark song  that starts almost with a whisper. It’s a good song to look out a window onto a rainy, empty street. Feel lonely. Love is over.

We already know by this point how much the Kinks like traditional music hall music – and this is another song in that vein. It’s cute. It’s not as country as much of Muswell Hillbillies, which is most likely why I don’t mind it. It’s too corny to be higher on the list.

The last song is “Lavender Lane”. This is like what a Mungo Jerry song should aspire to be. That’s definitely damning with faint praise.

That’s the list. “Skin and Bone” barely made it but I was also scraping the bottom of the barrel for this. Even writing this was a chore. 1972 will be easier since there’s just Everybody’s In Show-Biz.

 

Top 10 Kinks Songs 1967

12 - Kinks, The - Waterloo Sunset - D - EP - 1967

Edited: “Pretty Polly” was the b-side to “Wonderboy” and belongs in 1968.

I knew making this list would be difficult and controversial with myself, let alone anybody who might read this. The 1967 output of the Kinks was focused, transitional, and solid. When I listened to the singles and Something Else a few times through to make my initial list of songs to consider I only cut 3 of the 21 songs in consideration; “Mr. Pleasant”, “No Return”, and “Afternoon Tea”. After several more listens I conservatively selected 9 songs that had to be on the list, which caused me to obsess over the ones on the edge of 10. I’m still flip flopping over it in my heart, but this list reflects a mix of emotion, opinion, nostalgia, and respect. It goes:

  1. Waterloo Sunset
  2. Love Me Till The Sun Shines
  3. Autumn Almanac
  4. David Watts
  5. This Is Where I Belong
  6. Two Sisters
  7. Susannah’s Still Alive
  8. Situation Vacant
  9. Death of a Clown
  10. Lazy Old Sun

I strongly considered not putting “Waterloo Sunset” at the top because that’s so obvious. The song is overplayed and used in too many melancholic montages. It’s ubiquitous for a reason though. I’m not one for lyrics, but these stand apart as some of Ray Davies’ best. The guitar line, which plays off the main melody nicely throughout the song, is a lovely counterpoint. The whole thing seems to be stuck in my brain and probably in my DNA for a reason, so I can’t fight it just to be contrarian. Accept it, this is one of the best songs in the canon.

Putting “Love Me Till The Sun Shines” this high might be provocative for a number of reasons; it was originally a b-side to Dave Davies’ solo single “Death of a Clown”, the lyrics are kind of cheesy, it’s mostly still talked about thanks to long tail anoraks. Well, we sometimes resurrect gems. Lyrically this is a realistic and sweet love song. Musically, the guitar riff is one of the best of this year and you can’t ignore it.

“Autumn Almanac” is a perennial favourite of Kinks fans who appreciate a little weirdness but fantastic lyrics. It’s often mentioned along other intellectual efforts of scene making such as “Days” (which was released in 1968). The song is a bit off kilter, which makes it enjoyable.

I often forget that “David Watts” was released in 1967. It seems like it was a punk song because of its snotty aggression. It kicks off the album with the count in, “nice and smooth”. Now it’s been covered to death but we have to remember it was ahead of its time and respect Ray Davies’ effort to call out private school mugs. Weller wishes he had such craftsmanship.

“This Is Where I Belong” is another Dylan-esque song that overcomes the obvious feelings of alienation and awkwardness and resonates as a song a lot of people can relate to. This would have been the big hit for many lesser bands, but because the Kinks had such a robust and stellar catalog this is often overlooked.

The harpsichord is back with “Two Sisters”, which is another observational tale of family and Englishness. Ray Davies provides a portrait of very mundane sibling rivalry (something he was very familiar with), that goes beyond class problems. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but this song speaks to me. The strings, the way the song just meanders and ends with hums, it’s an oddity but lovely.

We have another Dave Davies song with “Susannah’s Still Alive” (it was his second solo single). There arrangement is a bit odd and kind of tinny with a harmonica in the mix and not much bass. The piano run really anchors the song. In some ways it sounds like a vaudevillian rock song.

Half the time when I hear “Situation Vacant” it sounds like it’s an out take from Village Green Preservation Society. If that’s not foreshadowing of things to come, I don’t know what is. The beat, the off key verses that softly resolve into something like a verse, it’s a well constructed song that has a very old time English beer hall feeling. The false ending re-start is also unexpected. This is a really good song that deserves more attention.

I almost didn’t put “Death of a Clown” on the list. I hated this song at times because it’s over the top with the drinking and misery. It’s amusing on one level until you meet people who this song speaks to lyrically. I just can’t take it seriously! (I wonder if my brother still says this is his favourite Kinks song to piss people off. I never believed him.) That said, there is something remarkable about this song. The imagery works. The instrumentation works. The whole thing is quirky but effective and while I wouldn’t say it’s Dave Davies’ best effort, there’s a reason people know the song.

“Lazy Old Sun” starts off lethargically and a bit warped, conveying the feeling of napping out in the sun. It’s kind of dated but I think it really works as a freak out hippy song. It’s fairly contained actually, and I really enjoy it. Probably because of the maracas.

Some of the songs that didn’t quite make the cut but almost did included “Harry Rag”, but it’s a little too novelty compared to some of the other songs. I get it… it’s Cockney rhyming slang! “Tin Soldier Man” is also a good song that didn’t quite stand up. “End Of The Season” is a really nice jazz pop song.

Stay tuned for 1968. It’s going to be difficult to tear apart one of the top albums of my childhood (and my being).

 

Top 10 Kinks Songs 1966

1966 - Kinks, The - Sunny Afternoon - D

Alright, let’s talk about 1966 Kinks. It was a big year for Ray Davies despite Arsenal finishing 14th in the football league: England won the World Cup and the Kinks released Face to Face. (“Sunny Afternoon” was released in early June, just in time for the World Cup in a way…) Ranking the Kinks’ recordings of 1966 was more difficult than 1965 because there were fewer songs, but they were more focused. Let’s try this fool’s errand.

  1. I’m Not Like Everybody Else
  2. Dedicated Follower of Fashion
  3. Sunny Afternoon
  4. Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home
  5. I’ll Remember
  6. Dead End Street
  7. Session Man
  8. Dandy
  9. Party Line
  10. Too Much On My Mind

It seems a little sacrilegious to put a song sung by Dave Davies in at the top spot, but “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” is one of the best songs about alienation ever recorded. It’s an anthem for weird kids who feel disconnected from those around them. It’s such a B-side gem.

The opening chords of “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” are warming and comforting like a velvet jacket. Nothing else sounds like it. This song might have been number one if I were in a different mood. Ray Davies’ lyrics are witty without being too trite. It really sets to mood of the Carnabitian army.

It’s hard not to talk about opening hooks without mentioning the downward chord progression of “Sunny Afternoon.” They set the mood of the malaise of taxes and first world problems. It’s jaunty and dark. There’s definitely a reason it’s captured people’s imaginations. I also like it because he rhymes “car” and “pa”.

“Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home” might be my most left field song on this list, and I really struggled to place it higher. It’s kind of a dirge, but I think it’s got some really interesting stuff going on in rhythm and the structure. The balance between the baroque pop and the bluesy off-key chorus is unique. And the blend of the bass and the guitar… oh my. It’s about their sister who moved to Australia.

“I’ll Remember” is totally a cute pop song, but it’s just so well done. It really captures some feelings of love. The intro with the bass, the drum beat, and the sharp guitar line. It’s a delight.

“Dead End Street” is such a typical Ray Davies observational song about English life. It’s a sign of what’s to come in the next few years. It’s definitely about Muswell Hill.

We have more harpsichord with “Session Man”, a song about Nicky Hopkins. Some of the rhymes are so forced they’re almost charming, but this is a good bit of cynicism about the music industry. It’s also got a good beat.

“Dandy” has to be one of the most trite sounding pop songs Ray Davies ever wrote, which explains why Herman’s Hermits had a hit with it. The lyrics are quite clever and it gets stuck in your head easily.

I don’t know why I love the song “Party Line” other than its cute affectation for outdated technology most people won’t understand today. It’s such an ordinary song in that way, but it’s also got the old R&B beat. The phone ringing in the intro and the man speaking are kind of a novelty, but it just shows how they were really reaching with recording and branching out in new ways.

This list ends with the mellow, sweet ballad of “Too Much On My Mind.” It could have easily been Rolling Stones-esque “Holiday in Waikiki”, or the song about excess “House in the Country”, or even the slow “You’re Looking Fine”. Maybe it’s because I’m older now and I often lose sleep because of matters weighing on my mind? Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for baroque Ray Davies? I don’t know, but I think this song deserve more attention.

So that’s 1966. It’s a good year as far as The Kinks go. (Arsenal would go on to win the double in 66-67, which might foreshadow the heights The Kinks achieved in 1967? That’s probably not true.) It’s only getting harder from here.

Top 10 Kinks Songs 1965

1965 - Kinks, The - Tired Of Waiting - D

It’s been over a year since the first installment of this project, but I’m gonna finish it before the end of the year. I promise! As a refresher: I am listening to the entire Kinks discography year by year to figure out my Top 10 by year, and then hopefully figure out my overall Top 10 and the best year of the Kinks recorded output. Simple (and obsessive), no?

1965 was a more prolific year for the Kinks than 1964 – two albums and two EPs – which made this year a bit more difficult. I listened to Kinda Kinks and The Kinks Kontroversy (and the singles) twice through making notes of songs that stuck out for a re-listen. That list had 29 songs. So I culled it and listened through again marking out the ones that just had to be in the Top 10 somehow, which left 9 standouts and I slid in the one that was on the cusp to round it out. I tried to keep many things in mind when I ranked them: music, lyrics, catchiness, is it iconic, should it be iconic? So here’s my list for 1965:

  1. Tired of Waiting For You
  2. Till The End of The Day
  3. Set Me Free
  4. Come On Now
  5. A Well Respected Man
  6. Something Better Beginning
  7. Where Have All The Good Times Gone
  8. Ring The Bells
  9. World Keeps Going Round
  10. Such A Shame

Unlike 1964, there wasn’t the toss up of hits in 1965. “Tired of Waiting For You” stands out for good reason. It was the hit! The lyrics are classically cynical, but the really hook for me is the rhythm guitar. I just love the tone. It’s hard to ignore.

“Till The End Of The Day” is a stomper, very much like “Your Really Got Me” and the like. It’s in that vein that all my favourite bands tap, but it’s so well recorded and mixed it’s just classic. “Set Me Free” is just behind it with an even crunchier guitar tone, but it’s not as danceable which is why it’s third.

“Come On Now” is Dave Davies first appearance on these lists, and it’s kind of an attempt at a Kinks does Motown (hence the backup singers). The guitar riff and the vocals make this a fun one to dance to and it stands out as a great pop song.

You can’t really dance to “A Well Respected Man”. It foreshadows the future of Ray Davies observational songwriting about English life. (Lots more about that to come in later years.)

“Something Better Beginning” is a great melancholic song, not least because The Honeycombs covered it. I think we’ve all been there in that zone of uncertainty and Ray Davies captures it. It’s just kind of a simple pop song when he’s clearly moving beyond that.

Something about the opening of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” reminds me of when Dylan went electric, only the lyrics aren’t quite so pretentious and Dave Davies has a great guitar tone. This is a good song of nostalgia and I have fond memories of my mom singing it to me.

“Ring The Bells” might be one of the lesser known songs on this list, appearing on The Kinks Kontroversy so it’s kind of a deep cut. I think this is another early song of observation and could have easily been on some later albums. The balance of melancholy and wistfulness is beautiful and this song deserves a spin.

“World Keeps Going Round” is very much a mid-sixties song about the pace of progress. I think it has an interesting beat and Ray Davies captures the mix of uncertainty and fatalism quite will with this song.

“Such A Shame” was on the Kwyet Kinks EP that came out in the fall of 1965. It’s a slow, dark pop song that really embodies Ray Davies’ brand of sad. There’s not much too the song, but I think it’s interesting a little lyrically and I love the guitar tone.

I did leave off a lot of my favourite pop songs, like “Ev’rybody’s Gonna Be Happy” and “Who’ll Be Next In Line”, but this is a tight list and I think some of the lesser known songs were better as pop songs go. Same with the dirge “See My Friends”.

Stay tuned for 1966, which was a lot more difficult song for song.

The Kinks Top 10 – a project.

The Kinks by vagabondMusicCo
The Kinks, a photo by vagabondMusicCo on Flickr.

My friend Mary Carmen shared a link to the 10 best Kinks songs on some website. It’s link bait. Very obvious link bait.

Their list:

  1. Waterloo Sunset
  2. You Really Got Me
  3. Lola
  4. ‘Til the End of the Day
  5. Tired of Waiting For You
  6. Victoria
  7. Sunny Afternoon
  8. A Well Respected Man
  9. 20th Century Man

There are some omissions but all the hits are there. All the hits are there.

So I said I would give you my 10 best, but that seems like it’d be foolish without working. So here’s the project. I am going to name 10 best right now, listen to all the records. Yes… all of the albums and singles… and then get back to you with my refreshed list after studying them all.

Preface this: you know my parents reared me on the Kinks to such a degree I thought the Beatles were some obscure footnote of pop history. No doubt this education has made it easier for me to love 60s garage and beat music. I sort of ascribe to the school of thought that it’s not really worth venturing past Arthur. So of course this initial list will be largely from the 60s.

OK – my list!

  1. All Day and All Of The Night
  2. Days
  3. All Gods Children
  4. You Really Got Me
  5. David Watts
  6. Autumn Almanac
  7. Shangri-La
  8. Do You Remember Walter?
  9. I’m Not Like Everybody Else
  10. Sunny Afternoon

Not on the list every will be “Bald Headed Woman”.

10 is a pretty small number. I will report back. Listening to their first album not, it’s so remarkable.

The long, slow road to normal.



My buddy., originally uploaded by kendrak.

On Friday June 22, 2012 I subbed for an indoor soccer team. I’d been itching to play since my team was taking the season off. It was a fun game until 10 minutes into the second half when I jumped up for a header. The ball sailed 6″ over my head, I landed on my left leg and it popped. I crumpled to the turf in pain and pretty much everybody knew I did something. I was able to walk off the pitch, so I thought I dodged the ACL bullet… after a month of resting, taking it easy, and still having my knee buckle, I got an MRI which showed I tore my ACL.

As my soccer friends say, I’d finally done my ACL. What did it mean? I could walk around and ride my bike, but I couldn’t really dance or play soccer. So I tried PT for a few months on the outside chance it would work… but I had to get the surgery. That was two weeks ago. Two weeks of my knee in a very large, heavy brace. Hobbling around on crutches. Unable to wear real pants. Trapped in my apartment. It’s not fun.

This is me and my new buddy, the STEN machine – which is basically mild electroshock therapy to stimulate my quads. PT is going to be a long slog, but my therapist has been great before and after the surgery. I’m looking forward to getting back on the pitch, but it’ll be a long while.

Biggest thanks goes to the man who’s kept me clean and fed – RoboJoe. Without him, I’d be laying in my own filth.

God, I can’t wait to get off these crutches. I miss walking, cooking, and playing my records.

Really getting out the vote in a really diverse Alameda County



I Voted, originally uploaded by kendrak.

Alameda County is really big. It’s also really diverse with over 40% of the households speaking a language other than English at home. This makes bilingual election material vital to keep democracy open and fair within the county. In 2010 the Asian Law Caucus observed the election and noted problems throughout the Bay Area, including Alameda County. To their credit, Alameda took these issues seriously and made some big changes for this election – they gave more resources to language assistance and made sure all polling locations had signage, sample ballots, and ballots in the five official languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. All ballots were bilingual with English. The main message of the poll worker classes I attended was to be sure we provided at all precincts, to alternate English/Spanish and English/Chinese ballots, and tried to place bilingual poll workers at locations. It was a little confusing for some, particularly people over 60, but I really liked the inclusive spirit. I thought it was great that they also provided the ‘I Voted” stickers in all the languages – a simple reflection of our multicultural county.

Going into Tuesday morning I was excited about the election. Not because I cared about the races (though I love every opportunity I have to not vote for Feinstein), but because I love this exercise of democracy. I’m not religious, but elections are a type of holy day for me. They are fundamental to living in a democracy. This was also a special election day for me because it was my first as a precinct coordinator. Instead of managing one polling location, I roamed around three making sure things were done correctly, smoothly, and everybody could do their jobs effectively. I was moved from my home precinct in North Berkeley to three on the Berkeley/Oakland border in the toney Hills. Instead of the milieu of students, aged Berkeley Hippies clinging on, and young professional families, I got to see the old and the wealthy. It was a little unnerving in some ways. I’m so used to my Berkeley bubble that I never give the hills much thought, and after yesterday I’ll try to go back to that,

It’s not to say that people who live in the Berkeley and Oakland Hills are bad, but there really is a different mentality. They’re in their own bubble, and listening to some of the comments about the bilingual ballots and the signage made me happy to not be in it.

“Why does it even matter? Nobody here speaks… what’s that language? Tag-a-long? Where is that from?” Yeah… a poll worker said that to me. They had been to the same classes (where the languages were explained), and this person is ostensibly educated and of the world (they talked about a week just spent in New York, and other trips abroad), but they jokingly dismissed Filipinos in our county. This person also assumed Vietnamese people just spoke French. It gave me a headache.
I reminded all the poll workers that regulations required that all signs were posted, and we had the ballots on hand just in case. One one precinct took these changes in stride (we have changes every election), the other two seemed to find these changes to be a burden and it definitely rubbed me the wrong way. The obliviousness that perhaps other parts of the county, like Downtown Oakland, Fruitvale, parts of Fremont and Hayward could really benefit from these changes smacked of entitlement. I’ll admit to joking that I would never move south of Lake Merritt, but I know it exists and that there are lots of people there who have the right to vote. The jokes illustrating ignorance and indifference to the immigrant minority populations in the Bay Area registered a mix of entitlement and classism. When one voter talked about giving the “Tới Đầ Bỏ Phiếu” sticker to their “Vietnamese house girl”. Nice gesture.

I think there is room for refinement with the ballots themselves, but posting signage and sample ballots is a pretty small burden. I hope by November everybody is on board with it, and if they can’t cope with that, perhaps it’s time for a new generation of poll workers? It’s not just a fun day out where we see our neighbors, it’s really a day where we serve our community so they can vote. The whole community, not just those who live in our zipcode or socioeconomic strata.

Dates.



Owl 143/365, originally uploaded by kendrak.

Tomorrow is May 23rd. This date is significant because it’s Erika’s birthday. Were she alive today, I would wish her a capy birthday. Sadly, she passed away April 2009.

Today is May 22nd – George Best‘s birthday. He was a genius on the pitch. He passed away November 2005.

I’ve always been good with dates and I don’t know why. Sometime’s it really seems like a waste of grey matter – like remembering Will Clark‘s birthday, the end of Napoleon’s reign, Charlamagne’s death, 30 June 1966, the release date of Automatic for the People.

Personal dates make sense – my parents anniversary, an aunt’s birthday – both are within days of my own birthday. The day I first talked to Joe at Gilman. The last Hi-Fives show. The day of the Potatomen at Gilman I walked to from campus and the chilly, long stumble back to my boarding house. OK, that doesn’t make sense.

I wish I was better, like an elephant, but I’m not exact. For some reason though, numbers stick. (Chris Imlay’s birthday is this week, too!) It’s sort of haunting and comforting, but really depends upon the date.

Nostalgia, the underground, and rock and roll



The Mighty Ceasars, originally uploaded by EPS_Twain.

Today my dad sent me a link from Little Stevie’s Underground Garage entitled “A Crisis of Craft” from last year. In the post Steven Van Zandt rails against the music industry and the apparent death of DIY. It’s quite long and doesn’t really have a succinct point. Here’s one paragraph:

Well when the major record companies abandon development yes, DIY is born. Do it yourself. And the auteur theory works well with DIY anyway so why not? Ok there’s one reason why not. Everybody isn’t a star. Isn’t a songwriter. Isn’t a singer. Isn’t a performer. Isn’t a record producer. But who’s there to tell them? To help? To suggest a different direction? To teach?

My response to my dad was snarky: “Interesting… I will blog more coherent thoughts but I think he comes off a bit as an old dude romanticizing a noble past, which he sort of opted out of by being part of the Springsteen machine. He has valid points, but it really seems like sour grapes and ignoring the real underground.”

Dad, here’s the more.

First of all, I have a real hard time taking anybody who played with Bruce Springsteen, makes money spinning for Sirius/XM seriously when he talks about DIY. It’s clear his definition of DIY and my own do not match. I don’t know if it’s generational or what. Van Zandt’s assessment of “the industry” and DIY really reminds me of the classic Jim Derogatis interview with Stephan Jenkins, where Jenkins proclaims “[Third Eye Blind] has been , if not the most D.I.Y next to Fugazi, then NO.2 or 3.” (That makes me roll with laughter. Actually the whole interview does.)

DIY happens independent of the major labels. In fact, I would posit that when you hook up with a major label machine you can’t really cal yourself DIY. You’re art is even more of a product than before, and it’s really all about money. Reading Van Zandt’s blog, it’s apparent that he has a very romanticized view the the good old days. You know, when he was young and the music he liked was cool. We all suffer from it. Hell, why do you think I keep talking about the Hi-Fives? You know what though? They were way more DIY than anything he on Little Stevie’s show and probably more garage. Ever since the White Stripes, people think anything simple is garage but totally missing the point, and ignoring the long history, of DIY garage music.

Which brings me to the picture – Thee Mighty Ceasars (see them live!). They are one of the more popular Billy Childish bands, coming after The Milkshakes, but before Thee Headcoats. Right now he’s in The Spartan Dreggs, and I think they’re really good. Basically, he’s prolific and he’s become well known doing his thing without the aid of a major label. He is definitely one of my favourite musicians and if he puts a record out there’s a 90% chance I’ll buy it and an 80% chance I’ll like it.

Recently John, from the Hi-Fives, pointed to this interview Childish did with VICE a few years back when he was in The Buff Medways. It’s 26 minutes long, but definitely worth checking out. Childish covers everything from the Beatles to the Nazis, but talks about DIY and amateurism. Childish says at one point, “Professional footballers ruin football. Professional musicians ruin music.” I sort of agree with him. Looking back, some of my favourite songs come from people just making music because they want to, they like to, and it’s not really about the money. True, we need money to survive and to make more records, but it’s nothing like the fat you see at major labels.

Van Zandt’s post my dad sent sort of touches upon this, about the craft of rock and roll, but he fails because he tries to intellectualize it and ignores on of the cornerstones of rock – does it have a good beat and can you dance to it? His frame of reference is coloured by his past of sleeping with majors and growing up in a time when you busted your ass to get noticed by an A&R man from one of the major labels. I know people still have that mindset, but it’s not the same. I grew up obsessing over small indie labels, really indie labels, like Lookout (RIP), and local bands, that I couldn’t really see making it beyond out small world. That’s fine. The world doesn’t need another Green Day and it sure as hell doesn’t need another 200 bands trying to be the next Green Day. Actually, more fitting with this post, the world doesn’t need another White Stripes, or a bunch of imitators trying to be the next indie darlings and butchering Sonics’ songs.

Today, you bands need to give it a go. Write songs. Perform. Record your demos. Let people download them, and be prepared to self release. That’s DIY and that’s how you get label support. People are doing it all the time.

There are lots of people “dedicated to the craft” right now, they are just off Van Zandt’s radar. He needs to get more underground.

Winner: Dealing with victory when the shoe’s on the other foot



Winner, originally uploaded by kendrak.

I play indoor soccer on Mondays. It’s a women’s team. It’s fun. Sometimes it’s frustrating as hell because we always seem to be short players, which means we’re often playing down a person. It’s annoying to be slaughtered on the field when you know there’s really nothing you can do. I will do my best to defend, block shots, make them pass or take long shots, but when we’re missing people and gassed it’s a losing battle.

Tonight we showed up and I knew we would just barely have 7 players (a full side). I saw the other team we were playing: they had at least 12 people ready to go, all in matching uniforms. Teams in matching uniforms tend to freak me out. It’s a whole level of organization that tends to reflect a seriousness that I’m not sure I’m ready for. All the teams I play on are just a color, we just have to make sure our shirts meet the criteria. People in matching uniforms, especially ones that are replica kit (down to the shorts!), they intimidate me. It works. I assume they are way better than me, which is a fair assumption since I’m not that good.

So we start off the game playing tactically sound, passing football. The other team was younger and faster, and they were just going to run us out. If we had subs no doubt we would have been a bit more aggressive, but knowing that we’d all be on the pitch for the full 50 minutes, we had to play smart. When we scored the first goal (off of an amazing header), I was chuffed. This wasn’t going to be a bloodbath!

I realized 5 minutes into the first half that we were actually controlling the game. We were passing pretty well, and making full use of the field. I was playing a stopper which allowed our other defender space to move up. It worked pretty well. Their forwards only scared us a few times, but because we were able to pick the ball off in the midfield. They compensated by lobbing long balls up, which I was able to pass back up. Reading Jonathan Wilson and Michael Cox is good for something after all!

The score at the end of the first half was 1-8. We were winning pretty comfortably. It was sort of shocking, but the team for all their off-pitch organization (matching kits and coaches!), were a mess on the field. It was like bunch ball for adults. They weren’t really marking our forwards, and they played very narrow. They had some good players, but they weren’t working together at all. That’s a problem with a lot of new teams, and for all we know this was the team’s first season in the league. My team, we’ve been around for a while (I joined 2 years ago). It takes time to achieve a balance and rhythm. You need to see how your style fits with the other people on your team. Where do they like to pass? Will they make a run? The finer points. That’s what we had going on. This other team? Not at all.

That’s when I realized the shoe was on the other foot. I’m so used to being much worse than my opponents, that it took me a while (and a score line of 3-12) to recognize that we were slaughtering them. It was a weird feeling. Despite their youth, energy, and waves of subs, we were killing them and controlling the pace of the game. Most of it was in their half. I wanted to pull my foot off the gas, but it was hard. “I’ll ease up a bit… but I still don’t want them to score.” As a defender, it’s all I can do really. But we started easing up. Hell, I went up and played forward! They didn’t score again, but neither did we. It was just a back and forth for the last 10 minutes. We were tired as hell, but they just couldn’t string it together to get a good attack.

The final was 3-14. When the final buzzer went, I was happy to get a drink of water but a little bummed that the other team didn’t shake our hands. I understand the feeling, it sucks losing that much and you just want to get the hell out of there and lick your wounds, but I also think it’s important to go through the motion. Maybe it’s a romantic view of the beautiful game, but I really believe that you should be able to respect your opponent at the end of it all and walk away with no lingering ill will. There are some teams that I have played against that make it really hard. They have bad attitudes and bring out the worst in me, but I know it’s not the whole team and that I’m really not like that. We tried to talk to them, to wish them a good game, but I guess we were jerks for running the score up like that.

While I savored my burrito tonight with the enthusiasm of a wiped out winner, I still feel a little bummed. I have complained about teams that just run up the score and demoralize my side, and I just did it. I know it’s not all my fault, not wanting them to score since it’s all I can do, but we did it as a team. While my team hasn’t had such a cohesive display in a long time (that part was pretty awesome), I wish we knew how to pull back. Or maybe it’s good that we’re not so accustomed to this sort of thing, and that we have no idea of what to do?

I’m pretty sure tonight was a fluke

A view from the other side…


Last night we played a show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. 15 years ago, I used to fantasize about going to some of the awesome pop-punk shows there. Life is pretty crazy like that. I still feel awkward as hell on stage, but people enjoyed themselves which is what really matters.

I just need to make time for music. I really enjoy it. (Thanks for the pic, LBZ!)

Violence inherent in the system? History repeating itself? #occupycal



IMAG0489, originally uploaded by urbangarden.

Right now I’m sitting in Brooklyn, at Larry’s kitchen table, trying to follow what’s been happening today at my Alma Mater and employer, UC Berkeley. Earlier, students tried to set up an encampment outside Sproul Hall, the main administration building. Riot police moved in to break up the tents:

Then there was this sickening scene of UCPD beating students who were just standing there with no provocation:

Both the Daily Cal and Cal TV have been doing a pretty good job covering the protests. #occupycal is also a trending topic on Twitter right now, and major media outlets are paying attention. On a night when Penn State students are demonstrating in support of Joe Paterno, who was fired for failing to do anything about his former defensive coordinator sexually abusing young boys. That’s some perspective.

Here’s some more. Students are being asked to pay more in tuition and fees again. I thought the fee hikes when I was in school (2000-2005) were excessive, but now it’s just ridiculous. Especially when you look at the compensation of the UC top brass. We have more and more executive administrators making very healthy paychecks, when students are being squeeze dry and services are disappearing because staff is being laid off or leaving for greener pastures. (Disclosure: I was laid off and then brought back on part time because of budget constraints. The library I work in went from being open M-F 9-5, to T-F 11-5 due to our decimated budget.) The campus is not a happy place right now. Everybody is uneasy, but that doesn’t excuse or explain the use of force by the police today.

I don’t want to act like there were halcyon days to return to, but I also hope that the campus community can repair these wounds. The administration will have to go a long ways to establish trust with students, faculty (one of whom was arrested today), and staff. We are a public university whose mission is to educate and generate new knowledge for society. Yes, we need to be able to afford it, but we also need to have compassion. Right now, I’m not feeling that.

Be safe tonight Berkeley. I’ll be glued to Twitter.