Monday, March 31, 2008

What is "Weekly Christmas"?

One of the cool things about working in college radio during the mid 90's was the fact that no matter how small your station was (and we didn't get much smaller than the station I ran) you got treated very well by the record companies. In many ways the 90's were a great time to be around music because even the major labels had a need to seem hip and indie. Every label had a college radio promo guy or girl and these people spent their days dealing with those of us in college radio who for lack of a better word, were music snobs. We had a tremendous influence on the shape of new music simply with our play lists. Since I was close enough to LA to count it only added to my cache and for a short while my opinion genuinely seemed to matter (this would translate into a short career as a promo guy myself...but more on that later)

Anyway, the best thing was that every week there were packages of records that would be sent to the station for us to listen to. My friend Scott called it "Weekly Christmas". Every Tuesday I would travel to the mail room and pick up a huge bag of packages. We would tear through to see what was new for the week. Some packages were more valued than others. For some reason, packages from ISLAND RECORDS always held personal favor with me. It seemed there was always something good in those packages. That's how I found dEUS.

I can't say I really listened to the whole album very much. I was really only enamoured with a couple of songs on it. But the ones I liked I really liked. dEUS had that beat poet, jazz dissonance thing going for them which made their songs jump out at you. The record was also very dark both lyrically and musically. Crunching guitars meshed with violins and a scream/shout singing style that was just short of hard to listen to. Then the band would find a groove and all of sudden it all made sense. I may have played "Suds and Soda" about three dozen times on my show in a six month period of time. I absolutely loved that song probably because it reminded my a bit of CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN whom I also love. I have not heard anything else since their debut record back in 1994 but I understand they are still around. So a couple of tracks from a gift of "Weekly Christmas"!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Like a well worn sweater...

There are some bands that just don't change. They just don't have it in their DNA. They have a formula that brought them success and they simply cannot break away from it. They may play a bit with some new instruments are try a new producer to shake the mix up but they still end of sounding the same every time. This is not always a bad thing. After all, many bands have made a career in this variations on a theme approach. A prime example are THE COUNTING CROWS. This was one of those American Bands of the 90's (along with Blind Melon, Live and Toad The Wet Sprocket) that made a name for themselves with a heart on their sleeve lyrical sensibility married to a folk rock approach that owed a lot to Neil Young. Counting Crows are still around and are set to release a new record and based on the first few leaked tracks, it is very much their formula. They have taken a Jekyll and Hyde tactic this time around with a rock side and a country side but really it's all just their songs. Simple, plaintive and comforting. I admit I missed them and I'm glad to have them back. Now if I could just find my favorite sweater from college I'll be set...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Has This Ever Happened To You?

So I intended to take the easy way out today and post some U2 or Sinead O'Connor (or even, Lord help me, a Cranberries song) in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
But then a funny thing happened around 2:00am in the morning about three days ago. What I describe here happens to me all the time. It's a by-product of spending most of my adolescence and adulthood immersed in music. What I want to know is if I am the only one afflicted by this condition.

It starts out with a slight nagging sensation. Sometimes its a piece of a song lyric. Maybe a guitar line or a drum beat. On those truly difficult cases its a bass line. It just gets stuck in my head. I start repeating it over and over. I can't place it yet. I try to seek out the next line in my head. I hum the tune (or at least the portion rattling around my cranium at that particular instant) endlessly searching for the connective tissue that will point me in the right direction. By midday I descend into a kind of manic state. Will I ever figure out what song it is? Was it something I heard recently or is my subconscious jarring my musical interest in a long lost gem? Will I ever figure it out or will it just dissipate as quickly as it came?

Normally, in the best cases, I figure it out in a day. Maybe two at the worst. I have yet to be totally stumped by my brain but this latest incarnation of this game almost drove me insane. Mind you, I suffer these melodic torture treatments silently. After all, those are the rules. Sharing only makes others endure my suffering. If I share the odds on someone knowing the song are slim at best. Certainly someone with a limited musical selection would be useless in cases such as these because the tune is often some toss off album track. Rarely is it obvious.

Then the miraculous happens. A light clicks on and the sound in my head grows. The next line or piece falls into place. I connect the sound to a picture (usually album artwork but sometimes a singer standing on stage). I am filled with a rush of accomplishment. I have a concrete clue to work from. Then its into the racks of Cd's. I pay no attention to other albums (to do so can be fatal, it causes the brain to shift to other treasures. I have no time for the live bootleg recording of a 1987 REM concert...I'm on a mission Damnit!) Then there it is, nestled in corner of a shelf. The CD that contains the song that has haunted me. I have found it!!!! HALLELUJAH!! PRAISE THE LORD!!! THE NIGHTMARE IS OVER AND I CAN SLEEP AGAIN.

(all that for a song from a anonymous New Zealand band called THE CHILLS...and it wasn't even the single.)

(mp3) The Chills -- Background Affair (from Soft Bomb)

one more for good measure

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why History Matters

So HBO is running a mini-series about the life and work of John Adams. Adams was an influential founding father of the United States serving as a member of the Continental Congress then later as the Vice President under George Washington and the 2nd President of the United States. While not as celebrated as Washington, Jefferson or Franklin, Adams clearly had a tremendous impact on the shape of this country. It reminds me of why I enjoyed teaching US History so much for the nine years that I did it. People often asked me why I taught history. It's boring and slow and has little impact on my life. My response was always the same. History, particularly US history, is full of important men and women facing tough moral and ethical questions and their choices impacted the course and shape of our nation for all time. Imagine what the United States would have been like if Lincoln had not been President to guide the US through the Civil War. Imagine what might have been had Franklin Roosevelt not met the Great Depression head on with a plan of action. What would our future be if Kennedy had not stood in front of the Berlin Wall and challenged the Soviet Union? Where would this country be if George Bush hadn't taken us into war? (okay so that's not a great example of leadership but will move on...)

The point is that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not study the past are robbing themselves of the collective wisdom of those who came before them. To do either is foolish.

(mp3) The Bell -- I Am History (courtesy of Discodust)
(mp3) Propellerheads -- History Repeating (courtesy of Lost In Your Inbox)
(mp3) The Good, The Bad and The Queen -- History Song (courtesy of Twelve Major Chords)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Notes From The Hill

A few thoughts upon my return from lobbying the state Congress on behalf of education.

1) I don't believe I actually saw a single Congressman today. They were all out to lunch when we got to their offices and were unavailable. Glad to see my tax dollars are hard at work paying for a good meal. I'd hate to see anyone starve.

2) State Capital Buildings are like museums. Until you get upstairs then they look more like insurance offices. Very bland with outdated magazines all over the place.

3) True Story: A legislative aide for one of the Republicans we visited actually referred to Governor Arnold as "The Govenator" (To be fair it was slip of the tongue for which she was highly embarrassed, but it was still funny)

4) Educators (especially those in administration) love to thank each other. Seriously I counted 45 thank yous in one speech. If the speeches were to be believed approx. 4000 people worked on a day and half conference held in one location and catered by the hotel staff. This took tremendous amounts of planning and I would like to take a moment to thank myself for attending.

5) A friend of mine referred to our lobbying efforts as "ball-washing" and "ass-grabbing". Just about sums it up for me.

6) Since I heard this about 800 times it bears repeating, California is the 8th largest economy in the world and is 46th in education spending. Do these numbers add up to anything but a load of crap?

7) People who speak in public (myself included) strive for one of two avenues for their speaking; get people laughing or get them yelling in support. Wouldn't it be nice if people just spoke like normal people into mics so we could actually understand what they are saying for a change?

8) Two guys hiked from Vacaville to Sacramento to protest these education cuts and got more press time then a collection of over 500 school administrators. So I guess it's true that actions speak louder than words.

9) When Republicans speak of supporting public education and then one of their leaders chooses to honor a women who, while sitting on city council, decided to home school her four children, doesn't that send mixed messages?

10) A final story: At a reception on the first evening my friend Garrett and I were sitting on the patio drinking a beer and we noticed two older gentlemen sitting at another table. They leaned over and politely introduced themselves as retired school administrators who had served collectively over 75 years in public education. I asked them why they were here and one replied that he still believed in the cause after all these years. I turn to my friend and we both have the same thought...will that be us in 30 years and is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Look Ma I'm A Lobbyist

I've always had a passing interest in government and politics. While in college, I started out as a Political Science major with the intent of working in government is some capacity. Now as an educator I have been sent to our state capital with the intent of speaking with various congressmen on the perils facing our schools if they go through with their proposed budget cuts. I won't bore with the gory details (but if you live in California you should definitely worry about how this will affect the overall quality of your children's education), but I do find it interesting dealing with politicians.
By and large, politicians are not the slimy, used car salesmen that they are made out to be. Sure, there are some of those type in operation, but most are simply party men and women who have been conditioned to say little of importance and try to do their best to avoid saying something stupid. So this leads to stagnation and a dearth of new ideas. What it also leads to is deadlock and lack of compromise on a number of issues so real people get hurt due to all this inaction. So here I am, ready to go to battle tomorrow armed only with my conviction that what I believe is right and facing the daunting task of talking with little or no hope of it meaning anything...STAY TUNED!!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Random Sloan Post

As referenced on numerous other postings, I have a slight thing for the power pop groups (see previous posts on THE POSIES and MAGNAPOP) so it was just a matter of time when I got back into SLOAN. Sloan was supposed to be Canada's answer to WEEZER right down to the shaggy hair and geek chic glasses. But where Weezer fell apart after their first record and have never seemed to reconcile their poppier tendencies with their desire to emulate KISS (at least musically), Sloan have just continued to mine the three chord, three minute pop song. Their first album, "Smeared", is by far my favorite. This is because the band was still playing with their sound a bit and you can hear the variance in sound (a little fuzz and distortion added that is missing on the later records). Lyrically, the songs tend to be the tried and true unrequited or lost love, which makes them classical in pop music stature. Enjoy!!

Their first single and probably their most recognizable song. Just enough of a smirk in the lyrics to match the power of the guitars.

This song has a kind of anthemic quality to it from the guitar intro to the bass only accompaniment in the verses.

(mp3) Sloan -- Coax Me (courtesy of Nellies Life)
This was off the second record and is more akin to their overall sound.