Friday, June 22, 2007

You are what you read?

Of late I have been cruising through Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mix Tape and getting misty-eyed at the notion of infatuation, geek fetish, and indie rock all colliding into one romantic endeavor. It has made me think about all of my mix-making and I must say, my forays into this realm have been impressively lame.

Like a lot of people, the first time I began recording music onto cassettes was off of the radio. My first radio (and I do mean radio rather than stereo) was a one speaker boombox with a tape deck which I received for Christmas as a 5-year-old living in Germany. When not listening to Walt Disney and Hans Christian Anderson stories on tape, the radio was permanently tuned to the one Armed Forces Radio station we could pick up on base. The two ubiquitous songs at the time were "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers and Joan Jett's cover of "I Love Rock 'n Roll." The year was 1982 and those were definitely groovy days in Stuttgart. Admittedly I wasn't recording anything back then however I wanted to provide some context as to how bad ass I was at that age with my cords, Catholic Jewfro, and ghetto blaster.

So fast forward a couple of years and I am back stateside with my first bedroom I didn't have to share and the world's oldest Panasonic "hi-fi" with both AM and FM as well as a single tape deck. This miracle of 1970's solid state engineering, which currently resides in perfect working order in my parents' garage, is what my mother describes as "the only thing your father had before he had me." By the time we left Germany dad had upgraded to a 100W Pioneer monstrosity and thus the old Panasonic was handed down to me...I was in Heaven.

This was before I hit my growth spurt so the stereo was bigger than me. It had a big black tuning knob and I had to memorize where my favorite radio stations fell on the dial. The capacitors were so far out of spec that 105.1 FM, for example, usually lined up at about 103.7. But the tape deck was even worse. Resistant to change and not wanting to be bothered to do its job, it fought back like a prize fighter whenever you tried to manipulate it. The deck itself required a ton of force to get the cassette to stay seated. You had to slam your tape in there otherwise it would spit back out like Ravage ejecting from Soundwave's chest. And for whatever reason, the rewind and fast forward buttons did not stay down on their own (whether by design or default) which meant you had to stand in front of the damn thing holding a button down if you wanted to hear something again or skip something lame. Like the deck, the buttons required maximum force and I vividly recall crossing my middle finger on top of my index finger, hooking them onto one of the buttons, and practically hanging my entire body weight on the stereo in order to engage the damn thing. But I loved it.

This was when I first began taping the radio. I spent a lot time back then watching MTV and listening to the radio. At some point I had this revelation that if I recorded the radio, I could listen to the songs I like when their videos weren't on. So I stole some of my dad's blank cassettes and started recording whatever station it was I listened to in St. Louis at the time. At first I would just keep it handy and run over to the stereo and hit record when something I liked came on. Unfortunately I wasn't too quick on the draw so I had these tapes with "Jump" from the guitar solo on or the second verse of Scandal's "The Warrior." I was a pretty uptight kid so only having a portion of a song drove me nuts. I switched up my game and would just leave the tape recording for 45 straight minutes. This didn't work out too well either because it seemed like I never had anything but commercials and DJ chatter. I eventually gave up for a few years.

High school was when I graduated from making radio tapes to making dubs. My first CD player was a Christmas gift in 8th grade and to this day it is the only "stereo" I have in my home. It is a Panasonic CD player boombox with a single tape deck and (at last) a digital radio tuner. As soon as I got it I began buying my first CD's and dubbing them onto tapes I could listen to in my yellow Sony Sports Walkman. I was so anal retentive; I would only put one album on a cassette no matter the length. The stereo has a program function where you can program whatever tracks you wanted to play from a CD. Want to listen to "Love & Affection" four times in a row? No problem. I would put in a blank cassette and begin programming CD tracks, in order, until I got as close to 45 minutes as possible without going over. I would record that, flip the tape, program the remainder of the album, and finish it off. Many albums are barely (if even) over 45 minutes so I had all of these tapes with only one or two songs on side B (man, I miss "sides"). I never put anything else on those tapes. My dubs had to be clean. It was weird and unromantic and in retrospect, I fucked up.

Technology had to catch up with me and when I at last had access to a R/W CD drive, I began burning "mix tapes" sourced from my collection. And that was key, My Collection. If I am going to make a mix then it should be, no matter the theme, culled from my personal library (with some exceptions of course depending upon the occasion). My CD collection is a big part of my material existence, those things I own which in fact own me. It is something I take great pride in and, sadly, enjoy just staring at from time to time. It is not huge. My collection is substantive, but not yet significant. I enjoy Substance, but I crave Significance. I am not sure what it will one day take to qualify it as being significant but I do know that I am not yet there. I guess it's about the journey...whatever. One thing I do take solace in is that I believe I have achieved a healthy equilibrium between quality and quantity. There are enough to impress the sort of people who are impressed by that sort of thing, and yet not a lot of regrettable missteps from the past. I never participated in any of those Columbia House scams, never collected monthly CMJ compilations, and never plundered the back stacks at a college radio station.

So now I am tight. I have all the tools I need to make the mixes that score my roadtrips, make tolerable my workouts, please my friends, impress my acquaintances, and maybe someday dupe some poor unsuspecting girl into falling in love with me...or completely creep her the fuck out.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Separation Sunday

I have been sitting in the office all day, sitting on my hands. I have to be here but I don't actually have much to do. Today, this entire weekend actually, is important at work and it involves a lot of convoluted organizing with constant phone calls and running between floors of the building. There are other people here doing the actual heavy lifting, but my job is to simply hold it all together and extinguish the flames when things begin combusting spontaneously.

One the one hand it kind of sucks. Last night I was in the wedding of one of my best friends and was unable to achieve the proper level of drunkenness appropriate for the occasion. Since the wedding was outside of Philly I had to "control myself" knowing that I would be on the road by 6am to drive the three hours straight back to the office from which I departed Friday afternoon. And it is a bright sunny day which means that right now while I scratch myself under the florescent gleam of my office's drop ceiling, all of the Pretty Young Things in my building are crammed around the tiny pool putting on a show for the buff, trucker-hatted contingent of our happy little residence. Not that I sunbathe but I am sure I could have found plenty of time to ogle during the twenty or thirty necessary trips to my mailbox.

On the other hand my comrades have it far worse. They are presently grunting in front of their computer terminals while I engage in pointless typing exercises on my blog. I also sneaked out to pick up a copy of Rob Sheffield's Love Is A Mix Tape to read between bouts of web surfing. Life could be better but it could also be worse...I can't wait to go home.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Getting Used To Disappointment

"I guess I'll never have any grandchildren."

This is my mother's latest mantra. It is hard to say when this phrase began repeating itself regularly but it is now something that my sister and I hear at least once a week. Usually relayed to her friends (whose children seem to continually shit out offspring) or generally muttered to the heavens in a tone of resigned defeat, I suppose this statement is my signal to "stop dicking around, and settle down."

I had it good for a while. In the beginning (right after college), I was far too surly and self-absorbed to make for decent father material. Having landed a job just a few miles from my parents' house, I moved back in "temporarily" in order to save money to spend on useless consumables. Being the lazy house guest that I was my parents decided to kick me out after having overstayed my welcome by about two years. Given my constant freeloading presence, my lack of progeny was the last thing on my mother's mind during that time.

Then for a couple of years my sister was busy with school and training for a pretty significant career change. As a woman of Midwestern Catholic descent, it is a genetic imperative that my mother have some large overarching "issue" to fret about. Sis's Praxis scores and resume-building fit the bill nicely and I cruised well below the radar. Unfortunately that is all done now which leaves a dangerous "worry vacuum " to be filled by something, or someone, else.

My other countermeasure --my parents' 5-year-old neighbor (and my arch nemesis) -- was doing a good job for a while of squelching the baby talk but even that has turned on me. He used to simply keep my mother occupied with babysitting and little play dates but for whatever reason that does not appear to be quite enough anymore. Of late she has taken to giving the impression that he is going to usurp my spot as the Chosen Child by relaying all of the "cute" things that he does now (which are all just a clever manipulation on his part, trust me). The unspoken suggestion being that were I to simply hurry up and give her some grandchildren then this would all be a non-issue and we could get on with our happy lives.

It's hard to blame her. When you have retired and are approaching 60 it must be natural to want grandkids to occupy the rest of your days, I mean, it's what her parents got. So I am not entirely unsympathetic and try, in my own way, to assure her that things will ultimately work out but I really only seem to make matters worse:

"Mom, relax. The law of averages suggests that my having kids is an eventuality."
"What are you talking about?"
"The fact that techonology is not infallable."
"Are you drunk?"
"Eventually the contraceptive device that I, and whatever woman is goodly enough to perform sex acts with me, are using is going to fail and then 'presto', you're a grandma."
"I'm going to church. Get out."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Today is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. My grandfather was there. Not at the Normandy landing but soon thereafter in the Ardennes, in the Battle of the Bulge. That part of his life is always sepia-toned to me. It doesn't seem like a real aspect of this real person's history but rather something on film or in pictures -- something iconic of which I can only appreciate and not relate.

My grandfather is lucky enough to not only have survived the war but to return home as part of The Greatest Generation. How cool is that? His generation got to win the the war, build the Federal Highway System, invent the suburbs...essentially lay the foundation for the modern America we live in today. My generation, it seems, will leave behind a legacy of slack and disaffection (if you believe Douglas Coupland). I guess I don't fare too well in comparison to everything grandpa did.

But in some ways, they did have it easier. When thinking about D-Day it occurs to me that his generation probably fought in the last truly righteous war. The last example of classical western warfare. The last time one could effectively point a finger to Good and Bad. We have had our chances (Sierre Leone, Rwanda, Darfur) but instead chose to wade into far murkier waters (Iraq, Bosnia, Iraq) to relive the mistakes of our fathers rather than the glory of our grandfathers. Times are certainly different now.

Here's a nod to my grandfather and his brethren, and here's hoping that things will one day be a little simpler again.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Why don't you love me?

I take it rather personally when touring bands that I like do not come to town. "What did I do? I thought we were friends." This is the nation's capital which just so happens to be home to two of the finest music venues in the country. So where is the love? I think it is safe to say the no band on tour would ever not play New York, Boston, or Chicago. Why the hell isn't DC on that list?

I bring this up only because I have felt slapped around a bit over the past few months. It all started with The Police. I don't like reunion tours (except for The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, the first Page and Plant tour, the inevitable GBV reunion, and the day when Uncle Tupelo reunites to play my 35th birthday party) but I am a huge fan of Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers' playing...and Sting's acting. I would love, love, love to see them live just once even if it cost me $75, a trip to the Verizon Center, and some stylistic bastardization of one of their hits. But alas, they are not coming to DC. Yeah they are headlining the Virgin Festival but I don't do festivals and I don't (necessarily) do Balm'r -- I'm high maintenance like that.

The insults later continued when Crowded House decided to reunite (even cooler than The Police reunion) but not come any closer than Philly. Come on, Neil! I buy all of your solo stuff and even have the last Finn Brothers album. Help a brutha out, I can't be driving to Philly on a school night. Anyway, the list goes on with Fountains of Wayne and Dino Jr as other notables but I don't whine much more than I already have.

The point is that I am left to wonder if DC somehow mistreated these bands in the past and now I am paying for it. To exposit upon this theory I present to you the most poorly attended shows I have ever seen in The District.

Signs Point To Yes @ The Velvet Lounge
crowd: 0
I didn't count as an attendee because I was in the band. This is one of the reason why I quit playing indie rock.

The Pernice Brothers @ The Black Cat
crowd: 75
This was when they were touring in support of World Won't End which I consider to be their best album. Why so few people were there, I have no clue but I was not at all surprised when the next time through the are they played IOTA instead.

Josh Rouse @ The Black Cat
crowd: 76
I believe this stop was in support of 1972. It felt oddly similar to the previously listed show.

Grant Lee Phillips, Kristin Hersch, and John Doe @ 9:30 Club
crowd: 120
Paradoxically, this show was dead for both inexplicable and patently understandable reasons. Those not there missed out on a duet where Grant and surprise guest Bob Mould performed "Fuzzy" and "If I Can't Change Your Mind." Awesome.

Life Lessons

Following my experiences at Wolf Trap last night, please allow me to share a list of what I have learned from Huey Lewis:

1. Back To The Future is one of the fucking greatest movies of all time -- which therefore implies that Robert Zemeckis may be an idiot savant.

2. I am vindicated, so put your 20-sided dice in the air and wave 'em round like you just don't care. Why? Because it is in fact, hip to be square.

3. I very much enjoy watching young girls get drunk and dance.

4. White people cannot dance (except for Gene Kelly and maybe Donnie Wahlberg).

5. Sports still holds up.

6. I will someday be in a band called The Pinheads.

7. People who disagree with item #1 have no soul.

8. Indie rock kids who cannot appreciate the skill of a polished studio musician have no class.

9. I do not care what anyone says, a DeLorean would have been an AWESOME stage prop.

10. "Last night, Darth Vader came down from planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn't take Lorraine out that he'd melt my brain."

On a wildly divergent yet ultimately related topic, I am so glad to have partaken in bachelor party festivities that did not involve any strippers. Perhaps I am maturing (getting old) but I no longer have any interest in the last link of the sex industry food chain -- 1. Prostitution, 2. Cable Porn, 3. Internet Porn, 4. Stripping. Call me prude but I think my dollar bills are far better spent on beer and internet jukeboxes.