Category Archives: Music

All the Young Punks

I do try to avoid indulging in “when I was your age” stuff.

A young lady who works at the coffee shop was bopping around as she did her chores, decked out in punk regalia that would have fit right in at a Sex Pistols concert 40 years ago. By young, I mean young enough to be my daughter. She was rocking out to — wait for it — Green Day.

Waiting for one’s tea to steep, it’s hard to resist the temptation to strike up a conversation and say things that would make you seem like a ridiculous old geezer — or worse yet, a creepy middle-age guy trying to make time. So, one keeps one’s mouth shut.

But how would that go?

“You know, I was really into punk when I was your age. I was just unpacking my records and came across my copy of Never Mind the Bollocks on vinyl. Oh, and the Clash? I saw them live. Me and my friends at the college radio station, everybody hated us because of all the punk we played. Do you ever listen to X? Los Angeles and Wild Gift are like the best albums ever. You know, a lot of people slam Green Day, but you can really hear a lot of what influenced them if you listen to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Yes, pathetic. We thought we were so cool back then.

But it is interesting that there are still punks, isn’t it? The rock era may be unique in the enduring nature of  its genres and music. A record from the late 70s might interest a lot of 21-year-olds — but could the same be said in 1970 of music that was popular in 1930?

So, ridiculous old geezers, feel good that your music survives. But please do so quietly.

Echoes

Music often carries a connection to a time in your life; maybe that’s why the death of David Bowie affected people so powerfully.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts recently featured a performance by Natalie Merchant, and it transported me back more than thirty years to a dingy bar in Plattsburgh, NY. The Rook was holding a show by 10,000 Maniacs, who at the time were an obscure indie band known only to college radio DJs and our tiny group of listeners.

rook ad

Ad from Cardinal Points, the SUNY Plattsburgh newspaper, January 20, 1983

The usual suspects attended, a small, ragtag crowd of students that made up the local new wave/post-punk contingent. It was not much of a scene, but as much of a scene as one could have in Plattsburgh, NY in 1983.

Naturally, Natalie Merchant was the center of attention. She was maybe nineteen, and her singing and movement on stage were exotic in a way that left us all deeply smitten. The band was crashing with a guy we knew, and at a post-show party we struggled awkwardly to make small talk. She was wisely having none of it.

So here we are, 33 years later. Look how old we’ve gotten! Personally, I think most people improve with age. Thank goodness.

Sounds Like America

If asked you to name a composer who evokes the American spirit, you’d mention Aaron Copland, but could you come up with another? I could name a bunch — and all of them have worked in Hollywood.

There is a particular style of movie score that’s big and bold and sweeps you away. It sounds like America.

One of those scores is the one James Horner did for Rocketeer.

I have a long history with the movie.

Horner died in a plane crash this week. It’s telling that he escaped to the sky, a very American pursuit, which you can hear in his music. And you can certainly hear it in that title theme to Rocketeer, titled “Takeoff.”

Cover Your Ears

“That kid’s a terrible dancer!”

When I said that to my wife I was just kidding, but only a bit. Many of the little kids wildly dancing around in circles at this month’s Irish 2000 Festival, really were terrible dancers.

But could it be that some of them couldn’t hear the music?

A number of parents had outfitted their little squirts with earmuff style hearing protection to guard their wee ears from the Screaming Orphans up on stage.

I’ve seen this before, but never have I seen so many kids with the colorful protective devices. And they were side-by-side with just as many (or more) young kids without them.

Now, this is not the place for my observations about the parents. It would be wrong to make snap judgements based on their appearance, and I would never suggest that the ear muff crowd looked like insufferably annoying people. That would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, I trust that the ear muff children will grow up enjoying the benefits that come with having better hearing: they will be more attentive in school, get better grades, go to more prestigious universities, earn more money and subsequently be better citizens.

In the end, the ear muff parents will have the last laugh against those fools that allowed their kids to enjoy themselves bare-eared without the encumbrance of those ridiculous looking but extremely practical accessories. The rewards in life will not go to the best dancers, but to the ones with the clearest hearing.

Warming Up

It was great to see Neko Case at The Egg Wednesday night.

I bought the tickets in January, so the waiting seemed interminable, but the payoff was a tremendous show. Our seats were great, too: second row center. It’s nice to be up close, not just because it makes for a more intimate experience, but it’s cool to see what the musicians are doing — and you can their tattoos.

On Neko case’s arms is tattooed the phrase, Scorned for Timber, Beloved of the Sky. Turns out it’s the name of a painting she loves. Thanks again, Google.

I credit Neko Case with teaching me to be respectful of warmup acts.

In 2003 I went to see Wilco in Montreal. As we waited for the band to come on we, stood around in the back of the theatre drinking beer and talking loudly (how typically American), paying no attention to the opening band.

In short order a woman marched forward to admonish us for our boorish behavior. She did so in a very politely Canadian way, saying something like, “Excuse me, but you’re making it very difficult for us to enjoy the show with the noise you’re making.” That always makes it worse, when people scold you politely.

And who was this singer she felt so strongly about? Neko Case. It was several years later that I discovered how much I loved her music — and I still kick myself for completely missing her show.

So now I arrive on time — and in this case enjoyed a set by The Dodos, a San Francisco band that I’m glad I didn’t miss.

Craptacular

I love the Super Bowl, but I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate hate Super Bowl halftime shows. There has never been one that I’ve ever wanted to watch, even if a band that I like is performing.

The halftime show is the crown jewel of the mind numbing excess that threatens to smother the game itself — and nothing would make me happier than to see it eliminated.

And it’s not just about hating the show — even though the music usually sucks.

A normal NFL halftime is twelve minutes long — but you can expect Super Bowl halftime to last upwards of 30 minutes. This is objectionable because all year long players get a short breather between halves; why change this for the most important game of the year?

OK, maybe that’s extreme. Perhaps we should allow some time to accommodate the eating and socializing folks like to do at halftime, so let’s compromise and say 20 minutes. BUT NO MUSIC! Instead, let’s have more analysis. More replays. More heartfelt features. Yes, make halftime more like pregame — which in my opinion can never be too long.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, I love those I’m Going to Disney World commercials as much as I hate halftime. Here’s the first one, with Phil Simms in 1987:

Movie Music

I recently saw The World’s End, the latest of Edgar Wright’s Simon Pegg/Nick Frost movies. Thumbs up!

Something that really caught my attention was a very brief clip of  the 1990 song The Only Rhyme That Bites which samples the opening theme to the 1958 Western, The Big Country. Give it a listen; it’s one of the most spectacular and iconic pieces of movie music ever composed.

Epic movie themes have fallen from favor recently; when’s the last time you heard a film score that was truly memorable? And while people like John Williams and James Horner have done tremendous work in recent years, it seems more and more films use popular music to help tell the story — and in some cases act as a crutch to a lousy story.

Mosh Pit Hero

For much of the weekend it felt that I’d been beaten with a cricket bat. Cricket bat? Yes, cricket bats are funnier than baseball bats. Beaten with baseball bats implies extreme violence; cricket bats say it was jolly good fun.

At Mountain Park in Holyoke, there is a gently sloping hill where you can spread out a blanket or open up your folding chair and enjoy a pretty good view of concerts. But it’s soooo far away up there. These days, I prefer to be as close to the stage as possible. This is fine if you’re seeing The Decemberists, whose fans are mostly thoughtful hipstery artistic folks, but much more hazardous at a Dropkick Murphys concert like last Friday night.

Naturally, the area right in front of the stage opened up into a mosh pit, and I  must admit that I couldn’t resist jumping into the middle of things. Here’s what it looked like:

mosh

To say I got what I deserved would be an understatement. I was knocked on my ass several times, had my sunglasses broken, and I woke up the next morning with bruised ribs and a bump on my head. When in Rome, right?

So, the big question is something I’m asking with greater frequency lately: am I getting too old for this sh*t?

Segue Fever

Thirty years after the spinning my last record as a college radio DJ, I still hear music in terms of what songs go well together. That sort of segue, based either on a musical or thematic link, is what made commercial radio great at progressive rock stations in the 70s — and something that’s mostly disappeared in today’s tightly formatted radio where the DJ has little role in picking music.

Oh, well.

Anyway, I found this song by Lorde, Royals, quite striking — and much more compelling than most of the crap on mainstream radio. And it’s a nice match with The Imagined Village’s take on Hard Times in Old England, featuring Billy Bragg.