Friday, July 27, 2012

My Grubby Halo, A Vapour Trail In The Empty Air

So I've been dating this girl for a couple of weeks now. She's smart, quiet, cute and mildly adventurous to boot.

She also has a pair of opalescent butterfly wings with an 8-foot span growing out of her back. It's nice being able to fly to the top of the U.S. Steel building on a date, but it makes cuddling awkward.

(I'm cutting this short because I just realized that butterfly wings on a chick would make it impossible to wear a bra. And that did my suspension of disbelief right in.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

If You See What I See, Bury Me

I just learned of the existence of a TV show called Repo Games. When did failure become a game show? Doesn't anyone else realize how horrible this is? Am I the only one who has realized it's time to grow up?

I'm never watching a thing on television that doesn't have Craig Ferguson in it from now on.

Why can't I get Sleigh Bells' 'Road To Hell' out of my head?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Look At You, Lookin' At You Babe

I present to you the greatest Wikipedia article ever.

Apparently they come in 3" size. I want some of those for use at work. Actually any size will do.

Hope you like googly eyes, bossman. You're gonna be seeing a lot of'em soon.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Power Passion Plays The Double Hand

Two cassettes (mix tapes, as it were) by my father from the years he spent in Florida.

New Wave - Masters of Rock'N'Roll Vol. V

Side A
1. My Best Friend's Girl - The Cars
2. Don't Stand So Close To Me - The Police
3. I'll Be With You Tonight - Cheap Trick
4. Do The Dark - Blondie
5. Skateaway - Dire Straits
6. Bye, Bye Love - The Cars
7. The Tide Is High - Blondie*
8. De Do Do Do - The Police
9. Voices - Cheap Trick
10. Rapture - Blondie

Side B
1. Dream Police - Cheap Trick
2. Good Times Roll - The Cars
3. Dreaming - Blondie
4. Little Paradise - Pat Benatar
5. The House Is Rockin' - Cheap Trick
6. Just What I Needed - The Cars
7. Union City Blue - Blondie
8. I Know What I Want - Cheap Trick
9. Atomic - Blondie
10. You're All I've Got Tonight - The Cars
11. Driven To Tears/When The World Is Running Down - The Police**

Future Legends Of Rock'N'Roll Vol I

Side A
1. Snortin' Whiskey - Pat Travers
2. Heartbreaker - Pat Benatar
3. The Stroke - Billy Squier*
4. Tom Sawyer - Rush
5. You Better Run - Pat Benatar
6. Sultans Of Swing - Dire Straits
7. I Need A Lover - Pat Benatar
8. Keep On Loving you - REO Speedwagon
9. In The Heat Of The Night - Pat Benatar
10. Is This Love? - Pat Travers
11. In The Air Tonight - Phil Collins

Side B
1. Tough Guys - REO Speedwagon
2. Treat Me Right - Pat Benatar
3. In The Dark - Billy Squier
4. I Missed Again - Phil Collins
5. Limelight - Rush
6. Take It On The Run - REO Speedwagon
7. Down To The Waterline - Dire Straits
8. You Know What I Like - Billy Squier
9. Don't Let Him Go - REO Speedwagon
10. Vital Signs - Rush
11. Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Pat Benatar
12. Crash & Burn - Pat Travers

* Two songs that I despise. 'The Tide Is High' has precisely two ingredients; Debbie Harry and a boxcar full of pure cane sugar, and 'The Stroke' is kind of a pointless hit. Squier did much better. I generally replace these with 'Walk Like Me' or 'T-Birds' for Blondie, and 'My Kinda Lover' for Billy Squier.

** These are really separate songs, but like 'Heartbreaker' and 'Living Loving Maid' by Led Zeppelin, there's not enough time to snatch the needle off the record between songs. Even so, I think they work better together (same for 'Heartbreaker' and 'Living Loving Maid').

These tapes were a large part of the soundtrack to my youth, and spent a good deal of time in the tape deck in my '98 Dodge Stratus that I wore out going back and forth to State College in, driving to watch trains, and to go hang out with my friends, whether at Primanti's or the shed. I was hoping to recreate these on my Zune (who else still has one, anyway?) but realized that I'm a few songs short at the moment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Down To Junior's Farm Where I Wanna Lay Low

A look into my room in college days. This is my last apartment in State College, with Brian, Scott, and Tim.


Looking at some other pictures from about this time (not to be published as they are...silly) Robotech would later be moved to replace the Athearn poster at upper right, its old location filled by the Ramones; and missing right now is the Molly Hatchett cardboard banner/ribbon roll thingy. Some of the micro posters were just stuff I found online and printed out.


Out of view to the left are Pat Benatar, Jimi Hendrix, and Audrey Hepburn. Interesting combination. The little Born In The USA micro poster is one of a handful of CD inserts I had enlarged (slightly) for just such a purpose. I had about ten or so of those.

Why did I take such shitty pictures of my decor? I should have done better. I also shouldn't have missed the areas over the closet or the desk. It's hard now to remember what I had in those spots. I miss having a blank slate for a room.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chaska Nebraska Alaska Opelika

I can't stand country music under modern circumstances. But I love the old stuff. I'm warning you now, however, that I'm not really a fan of Johnny Cash. If he's the oldest country artist you like, prepare to be either disappointed or enlightened by what follows (quite a lot of what, actually).

I've Been Everywhere - Hank Snow

A clever YouTuber has found images for just about every location mentioned in the song, with quite a lot of railroad presence, which I like. Also interesting is the pre-WWII photo of Pittsburgh, with the old Point bridges in place. A very good traveling song that me and my friends have enjoyed on trips here and there.

As I was looking for this, I found an interesting version of the Wabash Cannonball, also by Hank Snow. Interestingly, the steam freight scenes are filmed on the Nickel Plate Road (properly known as the New York, Chicago & St. Louis), a midwestern competitor of the Wabash!

Great treatment of this fine old (and often altered) song from Hank.

Waterloo - Stonewall Jackson

Another classic from 1959.

Amos Moses - Jerry Reed

Sit down on'em, Amos! Make it count, son! The late, great Jerry Reed rolled out this swamp-cajun-country fusion number in 1970, and is one of the coolest pieces of country music I've ever heard. Also check out his tracks When You're Hot, You're Hot and Eastbound & Down.

There Ain't No Easy Run - Dave Dudley

My all-time favorite from the king of truck-driver music. I also recommend Six Days On The Road, Girl On The Billboard and Give Me Forty Acres. Great, great stuff.

Sudbury Saturday Night - Stompin' Tom Connors

Oh, man, where do I start? The greatest Canadian country musician of all time too much? Classic songs that few in the US have heard, he's so Canadian. He refused his Juno music awards because he was tired of other winners making their fame in the US instead of at home like he did. Moon Man Newfie, The Ketchup Song, and Bud The Spud all helped introduce me to this legend of the Great White North.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Can't Sleep Cause My Bed's On Fire

What (briefly) kept me from sleeping, Saturday night, from left:
  • My personal vinyl collection, from my latest VLP. 
  • Lapdesk, about two inches too short to actually sit over my massive lap (something about that sentence seems not quite right). 
  • Pajamas. Only the running-shorts-used-for-sleeping-instead-of-running are visible; there's also a badly pilling Seven Springs Resort t-shirt that used to be my father's under there. Somewhere.
  • A cassette case holding my dad's old mixtapes, hidden near the back of the pile.
  • My record player.
  • On top of the record player is the very wireless mouse I'm using right now.
  • To the right of the record player, half-hidden, lurks the very (overworked) netbook I furiously type upon to create this very post.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Grain Of Sand Is All I Ever Wanted To Be

Vinyl playlist commences now!

First up is a band called Gamma, with their 1979 album Gamma 1. This is a hard rock album under the direction of Ronnie Montrose, whose first major band was the eponymous Montrose. Ronnie had broken up Montrose two years earlier, and in 1978 he issued the solo album Open Fire before forming Gamma.

Leading off Side One is a rousing glam-tinged rocker called 'Thunder and Lightning'. Pretty standard stuff for late-70's AOR, it's nonetheless well-performed and -produced (as most of the album would prove to be). Continuing this theme is the Clint Ballard Jr.-penned, Hollies-released 'I'm Alive'. Even with Gamma's sound, this track is a classic, and Gamma's rendition is worth holding on to. 'Razor King' comes next, with a darker and edgier (pun intended) ballad about a street gang thug who fights the law, and well, the law wins. Long and moody but well-paced, it fits well. Finishing up the side is 'No Tears', which I think is a breakup song. Despite its upbeat mood and tempo, it's about leavin' when the lovin' runs out. 'Run With The Pack' by Bad Company would find good company in this last track.

Opening side two is 'Solar Heat'. Spooky wind to begin and end, and a neat instrumental in between, with all of the titular warmth. But before the wind dies down, we're shifted - and hard - into the fast and subtly menacing 'Ready For Action'. Thumping and aggressively paced, it's a great rock-out moment. This gives way to the introspective and dark 'Wish I Was'. If you need a sad song, this will do the trick. Last but not least is the rollicking and aggressive 'Fight To The Finish' (it's all there in the title).

Overall, the album is a pretty good artifact of late-70's AOR arena rock. Good, if typical guitar work makes this a good listening experience. I would slip some of the brighter gems into the mix, for further listening. I'm skeptical as to how the album would hold up under repeated listens, given its common sound. I still recommend Gamma 1 to fans of Styx, Bad Company, Peter Frampton, and the like.

Next is a 1978 LP called Rose Royce III: Strikes Again! I'd expected a hair metal band from the cover. Boy was I wrong. Rose Royce turned out to be a soul/funk group I'd never heard of. Not a bad sound, at first impression. The lead track is a party and dance song called 'Get Up Off Your Fat'. I'm not even kidding. It still made me smile, and it's got a classic beat, eve as it shifts into 'Do It, Do It' without a break. Also danceable. 'I'm In Love And I Love The Feeling' has a very light, mildly romantic feel to it. 'First Come, First Serve' is a funky breakdown, but not much else. 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore' finishes up Side One, and was the hit single from the album. A breakup song, some moody strings in the background and a soulfully down mood make for a real classic.

Flipping over, we next hear 'Angel In The Sky' and 'Help', two soulful pieces of slow pop. The difference being that, according to the liner notes I overlooked when I freeloaded the disc from Dave's, that 'Angel In The Sky' was sung by Gwen Dickey, while 'Help' could either be Kenny Copeland or Kenji Brown. 'Let Me The First To Know' keeps the easygoing soul sound and pace, with more of a romantic lyric this time. For a rousing finish, the band rolls out on 'That's What's Wrong With Me', a loud party track to wake up the neighbors with (with which to wake up the neighbors). Really good vibe, good beat, and some awesome guitar work from the aforementioned Kenji Brown.

Turns out that this band was a frequent vehicle for the songwriting of legendary Motown producer Norman Whitfield, and the album was issued on Whitfield's own label, created after leaving Motown's employ. If the name Rose Royce sounded familiar to you, they performed 'Car Wash' and 'I Wanna Get Next To You' from the 1976 movie Car Wash. Not a bad album for fans of disco, 70's soul, and R&B in general.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Love Is The Coal That Makes This Train Roll

Had a one-man vinyl listening party a couple of weeks ago and I'd wanted to post the results, but didn't find the time. Too much other stuff going on. SO!

I started off with a couple of singles I'd picked up recently at Dave's Music Mine on the Southside. Great little music store. I go there quite frequently. On rare occasions, they'll leave some records outside after closing time as a giveaway, but I don't believe they do that anymore. A few things I've gotten from them came from those boxes.

First off was Summertime Blues, by The Who. I saw this and had to have it. Phenomenal song for a cover, and it's on Decca, so it's mainly a collectible. But the magic continued onto the B-side. That's a song called Heaven And Hell, and it was penned by the late, great John Entwistle. After hearing his song My Wife from the album Who's Next, I had long been curious to hear more of his material. It's a straightforward but nonetheless excellent Mod-era track that deserves to be remembered.

Also playing was Love Rollercoaster by the Ohio Players. Seventies disco/funk at a very classic point. Highly enjoyable (also pronounced "AAAAAAAARGH!") as was the B-side, It's All Over. A classic soul/funk breakup song, It's All Over is just as good as its A-side, like, legit.

Now for the big one. The Black Keys. Brothers. Two discs of vinylicious hard blues-rock, the Akron duo get high marks on every category in my opinion. Everlasting Light is the perfect lead song, a light-but-stompin' love song with Dan Auerbach doing an atypical but fitting falsetto vocal. I had to listen close to make sure it was him, since it was so unexpected, but dang, it fits so well. Side A is all hits: Everlasting Light, Next Girl, Tighten Up and Howlin' For You (the latter two being the singles issued for this release), Sides B and C are slower but still interesting, and Side D wraps it up nicely. Holy crap I cannot get over how almost perfect side A is.

The Brothers package also comes with a poster (helpfully labeled as such, like the rest of the packaging) with lyrics on the back, and a copy on CD. Nice touch; I'm told that copies of their older albums one a single slice of vinyl come with a coupon for a free MP3 download, which is also good.

Last up, since I was heading out that evening, was Blow By Blow, by Jeff Beck. I was surprised to discover two Stevie Wonder covers on side B (Cause We've Ended As Lovers and Thelonius) as well as a Beatles cover on side A. It's an instrumental jam album, primarily, but it's good stuff. Mid-70's mildly-to-heavily arty rock, with a prog or jazz feel to it. It's well worth checking out. Listening to this album also answered a longstanding rock question for me: what the hell was the song WRRK would play every time someone asked for Jeff Beck?

About thirty seconds into Freeway Jam, I realized that I was listening to it. I remembered the riff, but it doesn't start right at the beginning of the song. It took a moment for the lightbulb to come on. Man, that brought back some memories.

A very productive Saturday, indeed. I'd like to do so again this Saturday, but we'll see how things go.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gimme Shelter

If I were to hypothetically hire Roger McGuinn to assassinate Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, would I be killing two Stones with one Byrd?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Turn Yourself Around, You're Not Invited

One of these things is not like the others. Can you guess which one?

What Was The Hipster? - Mark Greif

Watch Out Portland, Pittsburgh's Lookin' Hip - Bill Toland

Cities and Ambition - Paul Graham

Will The Last Hipster Please Turn Out The Lights? - Zev Borow

Look At This Fucking Hipster - Joe Mande

Recently a friend and I had a discussion on the second aticle in line and how in the hell trendy types like hipsters would end up in of all places, Pittsburgh. (That article is not the correct answer, by the way; it's the next one in line, by Paul Graham.) After all, it's a recovering mill town far from tradtional centers of 'cool'. But our odd article out may have a clue as to why hipsters live where they do (Williamsburg neighborhood of NYC, Silver Lake of LA, etc.)and help us answer the question - are hipsters really here?

Graham often reminds his readers of the case of the Milanese Leonardo. Theorizing that if genetics meant that a person of equal artistic ability to da Vinci grew up and painted in Milan, surely he would have produced something for future generations to take note of. And yet no such person exists. Florence was the city at the center of the art world in the 1500s, and any budding artist would have been a fool to go anywhere else to learn.

So the hypothesis is, as with Graham's voluminous insisghts into tech startups, that for a particular field or pursuit, there is a hub city, or ground zero. That means that people interested in said field would be best served to move there, to live where there is a core of people involved in said pursuit. Silicon Valley is a garden for internet startups for a number of factors better explained by Graham. After all, he created one himself.

As an aside, Paul Graham's essays make for some compelling and fascinating reading. I strongly recommend checking them out.

But hipsterism is a fashion, right? Can't that happen anywhere? True, and there are parts of any city that could seem to cater to any fashion you can think of. But there is something different about hipsterism that should be explained before we go any further. According to Mark Greif (number one on the list, and for good reason) the hipster was, at first, a neo-bohemian creature born of nineties rejection of consumerism, morphed from 1999 to 2003 into a whiteness-celebrating urban redneck (keywords: porn-stache, trucker hats, motorcycle jeans, 'wifebeater' undershirts) with a twee and precious reverse side, and then into a slightly childish and pastoralist 'green' phase (keywords; outdated technology, green, sustainable, organic, recycle) until about 2009. (And I'm not even going to get into facial hair.)

The material culture of hipsters is whatever is waiting to be made cool again, with them at the forefront. A key trend in hipsterism is the possession of, or pretension to have, a priori knowledge of what's the new thing, what to claim you were doing or liking before anyone else (or in some cases, how obscure it is). Subtle advertising and grassroots-level endorsements (and the fact that until hipsters decided they liked it the brewing company was in a death spiral) drew hipsters to PBR. Local music and vinyl collections - both are obscure and highly niche parts of the music business that have been close to the hipster's interst and aesthetic.

So what we have is a culture and mindset walking backwards into the future, while pretending to walk towards now out of it. Where the hell is someone like this going to live?

To answer that question, recall that the activation energy for hipsters was the reactions of the neo-bohemians to their customers (often new money types that didn't look it), and that the neo-bohemians were also artists in their spare time. So this activation energy consists of some kind of artistic/craft/design movement. But is everyone in such a movement always a producer? No. There has to be a consumer for such an idiom and aesthetic to take off. And the consumers of the hipster period did something unusual. They asserted that their consumption of the idiom gave them the same interesting and creative vibe that the original creators possessed. In this sense the average hipster resembles the 'moochers' of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, feeling that they are owed a part of this cool thing without contributing anything of value. Hipsters are largely hangers-on. (So for every year that hipsterism persists, we get hangers-on to hanger-on-ism, as it were. Not to mention that hipsters are certainly overwhelmingly leftist, a la the aforementioned moochers.)

So we've got an interest (however self-absorbed) in an offbeat, often underground creative scene that likes the material culture of the past, but not so much its politics. Well, Williamsburg was a fairly natural deposit of old-city aesthetic until they moved in and isn't far from the arty East Village, not to mention the NYC obsession with art-as-brand (art-as-stuff is a Paris thing nowadays); similar for Silver Lake, but substitute Cali progressive attitudes, a preference for better living, and good weather for any single neighborhood. Webcomic author Jeph Jacques once remarked that the crowd at his local bowling alley was '50% Massachusetts hipster, 50% Massachusetts redneck'. (Given the white hipster, I wonder if a Venn diagram would have been more appropriate.) Massachusetts progressivism isn't so different from California's; and to boot, a nigh-upon foreclosed manufacturing culture that had disappeared or given up was an acceptable background.

Two possibilities emerge. The message these cities and neighborhoods seem to send to hipsters is to look like you're not trying (whether you are or not). Or, hipsters are the people with a natural predilection to invert the larger message of their environment. NYC still respects big money, so the hipsters subvert it by acting and dressing in the inverse fashion from their perception of it.

And what about Pittsburgh? Is the Steel City 'cool/not cool/wait, what?' enough to support the hipster? Well, yes. Yes it does. I should know, as I could easily be described as a hipster. Bloomfield is rumored to be a big hipster enclave in the city, even though (because?) it's Pittsburgh's 'Little Italy'; and Shadyside, though expensive, has the organic old neighborhood feel. (Also an American Apparel. Thanks a lot, Dov Charney.) The South Side hosts hipster tastes to a lesser extent, but the rent is somewhat cheaper than other parts of the city. A lot of bros from Duke and Pitt hang out down there, but there are the few hipster-friendly hangouts. I actually frequent Dee's Cafe, and last time I was there I was thanked by a fairly obvious hipster for playing 'Float On' by Modest Mouse, while listening to two other hipsters discuss whether Jack's was still a good South Side bar, which happens to be my other favorite place to drink down there. (Dee's wins these days for a better jukebox and always having an open seat at the bar.)