Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My first day of school, EVER, or how I learned to take the hard knocks & make sure the show goes on

I'll preface this entry by saying, what happened here is the epitome of my life, for better or worse!

The first day of school is scary for anyone, especially the first day of Kindergarten.  I mean, that's where it ALL starts, you're not quite 6-years-old, and you have NO IDEA what to expect!  I mean, all you know, in your little kid's mind, is that it's FUCKING SCARY! 

Anyway, I went to school that early-September day, very timidly (especially for me), and I rolled with it. I did what the teacher said, made a couple of friends, took some bullshit from wise-asses, and basically minded my own business and had a good time.  (I also wondered what the hell was up with the Principal, who was a nun who looked like Ernest Borgnine with a habit, but I digress).

At the very end of the day, around 2:00 or so, we had Gym Class in the field in the back of the school.  We played some game called "Cowboys and Indians", which involved those who were designated as Cowboys to capture the Indians and make them one of their own....or the other way around.  Anyway, it involved a lot of running around and catching people and that sort of thing.

I don't know how it happened, but I remember some girl running toward me, and I did the best I could to get the hell away from her, but....however it happened, we ran smack-dab into each other, and we knocked heads, and fell to the ground, and started crying like any kid would.  At least that's how the story goes.  I was helped up & my tears were wiped when the teacher and his assistant noticed that I had a bruise underneath my eye and on my cheek.  The girl who plowed into me had a similar problem, although, if I remember correctly, not quite as COLORFUL as mine (of course).  He said something like, "Oh....Great!"  I'm sure that the prospect of sending not one, but TWO kids home from their first day of fucking KINDERGARTEN wasn't exactly how he wished to end his day, hahahaha.

So, anyway, I went home with what was turning into quite the deep black and blue shiner to contrast with my baby-blue right eye.  My Mom, ever the good sport, didn't raise too much of a fuss (she'd had seven boys before me, you know), was sympathetic enough, but, clearly, I was ok.  I sat down in front of the tv to watch Woody fucking Woodpecker and eat some Jello or some shit, when my Mom, with a very concerned look, poked her head in from the kitchen, saying something like, "You have to be the RING BEARER in your brother, DAVE's WEDDING with that shiner of yours!" The only thing I could muster up to say was, "UH OH!!!!"

But....what the hell were we to do?  Postpone the wedding because the groom's peckerheaded baby brother, who's supposed to carry the damn wedding rings in a pillow down the aisle, got a black eye on his first day of school?!!  Was some other kid going to be the ring bearer in the wedding?  Hell no!  My brother, Dave, and his bride-to-be, Heidi, had honored me by asking me to be in their wedding, and there was no way I wasn't going to do it! 

So, the wedding day came.  I was suited up in a little tuxedo that was a little bit big for me, and the bridesmaids were CRAZY about me, in my little tux with the darkest shiner in Minnesota History.  I was, believe it or not, really quite shy, as I didn't become girl-crazy until the 2nd or 3rd Grade, hahahahaha.  There was a flower girl in the wedding too, who was about my age, but I don't remember getting along with her as well.  I do remember walking down the aisle with her, carrying a little pillow with the wedding rings, while she took flower petals out of a basket and tossed them on the ground.  I remember thinking, "WHY is she DOING that?!  She's making a MESS!  Someone's gonna yell at her to PICK THAT UP!"  No one did, hahahaha.

I learned a lot from that experience at that tender young age.  From then on, it was always about getting up, dusting off, turning chicken shit into chicken salad, and making it happen.  And we did!  I think that it gave me my "SHOW MUST GO ON" attitude that I've always had about everything I do.  I think it taught me not to be a wuss about things, to take shit as it comes and deal with the hard knocks, come what may.  Why let something relatively minor tarnish the big picture?  Screw that.  Nothing is impossible, really.  There are just different kinds of things that are POSSIBLE that will blow your mind!  Furthermore, taking a hard knock or 12 along the way makes for a great story later on.

Post Script: About six months later, during Gym Class again, I got yet another black eye.  This time, it was because the jerkoff next to me kept raising the plastic fucking hockey stick too high while we were playing floor hockey, and hit me in the eye.  I kept telling him to stop raising his stick so high, but he wouldn't listen.  He didn't even get into trouble!   So, here we go again!  

For some reason, I'd be willing to bet my life is a lot more fun than his is.......

The Old New Me Taken on the Chin by Slim Dunlap @ ARTISTdirect.com

Monday, July 25, 2011

The air I breathe and the wine in my glass, or 5 albums I couldn't imagine my life without (Part 1)

There are things that you see every day that could effect who you are, perhaps forever.  A smile from a stranger, a new pair of boots, a new place to eat pasta....and a song! Everything in life, really, is interconnected, if you think about it, and that's what it's all about.

As usual, I'm obsessed with music, so....I'm starting an ongoing series on my blog about music that shaped who I am to the point where it goes without saying (but, if I didn't say it, nobody would know).  I think that five at a time is enough to be substantive, but not so much as to bore people.  Life's too short, from what I understand, so.....

1. Mother Love Bone (self-titled set, includes their Shine EP and only full-length album, Apple)

I discovered this band when I was still a pretty little kid, with designs on playing music, but still at the beginning of my formative stages, and very, VERY impressionable.  I happened to find their Shine EP in the local music store, after school on a Friday night.  I took a look at it, and there was definitely something different about it; the name, the image, the song titles ("Half Ass Monkey Boy", "Mindshaker Meltdown", "Chloe Dancer", etc.)....and, I only had 7 bucks anyway, so it was the only album I could afford at the time, so I picked it up.  I've been hooked ever since.

What I liked about them from the get-go was the fact that they ROCKED, vaguely in the same way that Guns N' Roses did, with a tight, simple rhythm section, dynamic guitars (if not nearly as much so as Slash and Izzy's guitars), and a frontman with a HUGE, very unique personality.  What was it that made Andrew Wood so unique?  He had an explosive concoction of the cocksure egotist, the hilarious Rock N' Roll stand-up comedian, and the sensitive, nothing-too-sacred, bleeding-out balladeer. Who could ask for more?  This is the guy who, on that first EP, sang, "I'm a Hollywood dreamboy, a pin-up in their eyes, I represent, Mama, All you despise" on one song, and, "This is my kinda' love, It's the kind that moves on, It's the kind that leaves me alone," on another.  The dichotomy wasn't lost on me at all, and....despite the fact that I couldn't directly relate with his lyrics (being a little peckerhead at the time), I knew myself well enough to know that one day I certainly would.  Another thing I've always loved about Wood was, simply, the charisma with which he would sing the simplest word, like, "Baby"  (or "BAY-BAAAAY!!!!!") and sing it loaded with sex and longing and desperation and power and confidence.  Yeah, for my ears, he was spot-on.

After I bought the Shine EP I waited for the much-anticipated debut, full-length album, Apple, to come out....and I waited, and waited, and waited....almost a year.  This was before you could get your Rock N' Roll news at the click of a mouse.  All I had was MTV and the Rock N' Roll ragazines, as I called them, which weren't forthcoming with any news, and I was getting really pissed off.  Then, toward the end of that Summer, there was a review of Apple in Rip Magazine, saying that Andrew Wood had died that past March of a heroin overdose....the night before they were supposed to do a co-interview for the magazine with Kiss, or some kind of  shit.  The review also said that the album was fucking brilliant, essentially.  My little heart was crushed that my Rock N' Roll hero was gone, but never more-so than when I finally picked up the album, and blasted it on my Mom's stereo in the living room without asking.

The album as a whole, probably didn't quite measure up to Gn'R's Appetite for Destruction (which is the "gold standard", probably, to this day) in terms of consistency (some of the harder-edged material could have been better), but....the gems on Apple (including all of the ballads, no less than FIVE) were nothing short of magical, and shimmered like candles in some underground cave.  The songs, for the most part, were fucking real, and made me feel what I thought Wood must have felt like singing them.  Whether he was singing of the love of the stage ("This is Shangrila" and "Stardog Champion") or the love of his girl ("Stargazer" & "Bone China"), I believed every word of what he sang, and the music only accentuated that.

I spent a lot of time singing along, and yes, drumming along, and this album has had a huge effect on me.  If you give it a listen, perhaps it will effect you similarly. I will say this: despite the enormous success Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had with Pearl Jam after Love Bone's demise....for my ears, this music stands the test of time in a much more poignant way.

2. Hanoi Rocks-Two Steps From the Move

Again, growing up, after listening to lots of Prince, Ozzy, Motley Crue, Ratt, Iron Maiden, etc, Guns N' Roses really rocked my little world.  And it was Guns N' Roses who made me interested in a Finnish Glam Rock (not to be confused with "Hair Metal) band called Hanoi Rocks, who had broken up a couple of years before (we all know the story....if not, look it up).

Guns actually released all 5 of the Hanoi albums that hadn't been officially been released in the US, on their own Uzi Suicide label, via Geffen.  So, of course, I went to check out all these albums.  Unfortunately, I could afford only one, and the one that they HAD released over here was the one that caught my eye for some reason, so I grabbed that one, which happened to be Two Steps From the Move.

There are some great sleazy, Rock N' Roll songs on this album.  "Underwater World" is a dark, down and dirty song that seems to be about the New York City subways....the New York Dolls or Alice Cooper would have been proud to have made such a song.  "High School" is a glam-punk rave-up, with VERY, very well worked out, dueling guitar parts, despite its rather hokey lyrics, much like "Futurama" (although I think the lyrics are far better on that one).  "Don't You Ever Leave Me" is a pure glam ballad, and actually, an updated version of a song from the band's first album, complete with vocal harmonies in the chorus that still remind me of the fucking Beach Boys! "I Can't Get It" is a frustrated, whoa-is-me song, that any of us can relate to sometimes ("I sit and count them, shot-by-shot-the little things that I never got!").   And of course, the singles, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and their cover of CCR's "Up Around the Bend" make me smile like that cat that at the canary at any party, and they often do!  A lot of these songs were co-written by Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople, presumably to give them an Arena-Rock facelift for America, and I think it worked!

Even at the time, I could understand why Gn'R had spoken so highly of Hanoi, and why they did them the service of getting their older albums.  Listening via headphones, I could hear a similar Stones-on-steroids, two-guitar interplay between Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide that Slash and Izzy had, with each guitar panned to a speaker, which I still love.  Also, it wasn't lost on my that the term, "Welcome to the Jungle", is in the chorus of "Underwater World" (and I later heard the term "Rocket Queen" in the 3rd verse of the Hanoi song "Don't Follow Me", from their Oriental Beat album)....which has to be more than a mere coincidence.  Their look, too, at least in the early days, certainly was reminiscent of Hanoi, w/ Axl Rose and Izzy Stadlin' in particular.  But, of course, everybody lifts ideas from somewhere, whether consciously or not....at least Gn'R returned the favor, so to speak.

In any case, I sort-of consider this album to be at least somewhat of a prototype of what was to come via Gn'R's debut album, but these are two different bands, though and through.  This album has more of a naivete and a sense of humor, to contrast with the all-out dark intensity that Gn'R gave us a few years later.  It fits right in, though, on the same shelf as Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, and Guns N' Roses.  If you're a fan of any of that music and haven't heard this, you'd be doing yourself a service by picking this up, as well as the rest of their catalog.

Sisters of Mercy-Vision Thing

This album, from the 3rd (or 4th, depending upon your perspective) incarnation of English "Goth Gods" the Sisters of Mercy, came out right on the advent of "Industrial Music", when bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails were seriously gaining world notoriety.  And it fit right into the middle of that.  The guitar riffs were very multi-layered, but extremely simple, and the music was as dark as you'd expect from the Sisters, but not as melodically sophisticated as anything they did before.  The music is at the Sisters' most basic and primal, yet most intensely danceable (due in no small part to their ever-present drum machine-Doktor Avalanche) and, for lack of a better term, COOL! 

That being said, this was by-far Andrew Eldritch's most ambitious, focused, and intelligently-written album, lyrically. The themes touching on greed/corruption (the title track, "More", and "Dr. Jeep") to the inevitably sadomasochistic and who's-screwing-whom nature of relationships ("Ribbons", "I Was Wrong" & "When You Don't See Me") to life's admitted uncertainties ("Something Fast") to putting the pedal to the floor in an El Dorado ("Detonation Blvd").  And, through it all, Eldritch sounds as arrogant as ever (which I like), but also, confident, and as if he might actually be having FUN (which I like even better).  Eldritch is singing, whispering, and screaming on the entire album like Leonard Cohen on Amphetamines and appears to be enjoying every minute of it.

When I was a little kid, I got WAY into this album, because, while it fit in with what was becoming popular at the time (and I was listening to all of that before anyone else was anyway), THIS stuff was, perhaps, a little bit too far out-there for most of America to really understand, so....that probably got me into it THAT much more....and you might still catch me on the subway train singing along with my Ipod, "It's a small world and it smells funny, I'd buy another if it wasn't for the money, take back what I paid, FOR ANOTHER MOTHERFUCKER IN A MOTORCADE!!!"

4. The Jesus Lizard-Liar

The Jesus Lizard was probably my favorite band in the 90's.  The music itself is difficult to describe; it isn't metal, but it's very intense and fucking heavy (but not particularly distorted).  It's not Punk, but it's very-much against-the-grain.  It's not Rock, but it's very primal, and, for my money, VERY Rock N' Roll.

There aren't a lot of vocal melodies, because the vocals aren't sung (by fellow Budweiser enthusiast David Yow) as much as they're...um....expressed....exclaimed....via screams, moans, grunts, and chants, I guess.  That isn't to say they aren't (eventually) catchy, and actually, quite intelligent and informed....even though, most of the time, I never knew (or cared. particularly) what the fuck they were about.  The guitar playing, courtesy of Duane Denison, is a mixture of Surf Rock, Spaghetti Western, and early Punk Rock, but delivered very cleanly, and with a precision that....well, wouldn't make a lot of sense to you the way I'm describing it (or does it?).  The rhythm section is among my favorite of all time, via David Wm. Sims (bass) and Mac McNeilly (drums & one of my favorites, see one of my previous blogs), delivering and extremely intense, pile-driving foundation, that I can only compare to the sound of dropping concrete blocks on your head while building a house over it.  And Steve Albini's production of this album ties it altogether and makes perfect sense out of it, for my ears anyway.

I guess it made sense to other people too.  Nirvana (who did a split 7" single with them when this came out) used Steve Albini to produce their In Utero album, as Bush later did with their Razorblade Suitcase album.  Both of them had very similar sounds to this very Jesus Lizard album, but obviously, the music was way different.  But in many ways, these guys exemplified what was so cool about the 90's, and that was, that you could play music like this and still get a major record deal (which they did a few years later, starting with their Shot album).  How fucking cool is that?

5. Afghan Whigs-Gentleman

This album could have been called "Relationship Hell"....but, never did perpetual heartbreak & emotional blackmail sound so goddamn good.

"What should I tell her?  She's going to ask...."  The opening lyrics of this album say it all, really.  There's inner and outer conflict, deception vs. truth, betrayal vs. loyalty, and above all, uncertainty....what a hell of an introduction!

The entire album rolls that way, as a sort of concept album based on the anatomy of a bad break-up, with a whole lot of arrogance and self-loathing thrown in, smothered with drugs and alcohol, as well as a whole lot of sex (let's hope that the sex is good, but I think that's implied).

The title track states it all explicitly....consider for yourself, the second verse: "We dragged it out so long, this time, Started to make each other sick, But now I've got time for you....and me too!"  How about the third verse?: "Let me in, I'm cold, all messed up but nowhere to go....Unlock the cabinet, I'll take whatever you got!"  It's misery that's pathetic but not so much as to think it's the end of the world, and....give me a drink!  I understand that!

"Be Sweet" has one of the most titillating lyrics I've ever heard: "I got a dick for a brain, And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you, Now I'm ok, but in time I find I'm stuck, 'Cause she wants love, And I still want to fuck..."  Yup, it's anguished and it's terrible, and profoundly full of itself, all wrapped in a killer rhythmic cadence, dripping from a tearful guitar line (and Rick McCollum's guitar lead after the first verse is fucking irresistible).

The album is chock-full of gems along the same lines, from the first single, "Debonair" ("I'm not the man my actions would suggest....tonight I go to Hell for what I've done to you") to "What Jail is Like"  ("If what you're shoveling is company, Then I'd rather be alone, Resentment always goes much further than it was supposed to go") to "My Curse"-sung by Marcy Mays from Scrawl ("Hurt me, Baby, I flinch so when you do, your kisses scourge me...").  This is all saturated with swirling, anguished guitars, and punctuated with impeccably slamming rhythms (drummer Steven Earle plays incredibly on the album, and I was disappointed when he left after the tour for this album). 

Hell, if Ronnie Van Zandt christened himself a "Simple Man", Greg Dulli could have written an answer called, "Complicated Man", but instead, he gave us this entire album, which, since its release, I've basically lived, front-to-back, at least three times!