Sunday, July 27, 2008

We Gotta Start This One Off

Now it's so competitive,
The sleeplessness and sedatives.
I know it sounds repetitive.
Every show can't be a benefit...

[bitchin' guitar solo]

Yeah, there's a new Hold Steady album. Yeah, I'm pretty happy.

Look, I won't do a real review here, not yet—what I really want to do is some sort of lengthy, pretentious survey of all four records. But for now I'll just say that when it was over I immediately hit "Play" again. I never do that. Even stuff I really love I have to give a rest after each listen or it just doesn't sound right. Familiarity breeds contempt, musically speaking. But I'm on about my fourth time through Stay Positive, and it's still working. I'll just say that after the Hold Steady followed up the bracing shock of Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday with the lovable-but-spotty Boys and Girls in America, I felt that we couldn't be quite sure—but now there's no doubt that we're in the presence of Greatness. Fist-pumping, lighters-in-the-air, ten-thousand-hands-clapping-in-unison-type Greatness. It's difficult for the cynic in me—how can anybody still sing about teenagers and drugs and cars and Bad Boys in Love With Good Girls Gone Bad and keep a straight face? How can Craig Finn be this smart and still believe all his own Transcendent Power Of Rock and Roll bullshit? Then I remember—oh, yeah! It's all true.

Just a taste: "Let me know when you're ready" is rhymed with "John Cassavetes." And, of course, with "hold steady." Hell, yes.

This was the possibly only thing that could make me stop listening to the Mountain Goats, about whom I didn't even know until this year, except as yet another band with a silly animal-based name. But John Darnielle got there first (unless you count the Monkees.) He's been using that name for over a decade. And lately I've been feeling like the eleven-year-old finding out about Bruce Lee. I feel like I felt after Separation Sunday! And it might seem like a jarring shift—these bands superficially don't sound much alike. But I realize that it makes sense—Finn and John Darnielle may be the two best narrative songwriters in America. (Prove me wrong, Will Sheff! You're in the game, but we'll see how this new one turns out.) Both are drawn to the seamy and the hopeless the way their characters are drawn to opiates and fortified wines. And, of course, they've each got a voice that would peel paint.

Of course, Finn the Catholic badly wants his characters redeemed—he wants to redeem them personally! Darnielle's people are clearly going straight to hell and you can't stop them. But it's easy to imagine a Hold Steady version of the downtrodden-teen-lust anthem "This Year," or the thunderous blues of "See America Right." They totally should do that! But will probably cover "Born in the U.S.A." or "Piano Man," instead. Fair enough.

[Note: I had to change that profile photo. It always seems like it'd be delightfully whimsical to do "mock-thoughtful," but the irony doesn't necessarily translate and it's kind of a lame joke anyway. Like having a moustache that's meant to be funny. This one's a compromise. Not pretty. Not unflattering. Not funny at all.]

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Heir to the Glimmering World

Okay, The National are on board. They're selling official tie-in merchandise, which is pretty cool. Though obviously not too many people who'd understand the shirt are swing voters.
My sister actually told me they were using that song for endorsement purposes at the show she saw a few weeks back, though it's not as if the lyric is really applicable. It's sort of anxious and desperate, like most of their songs. (Though that "great white hope" thing takes on wonderful new comic meaning, doesn't it?) And "the English are waiting?" For what, like, a trans-Atlantic high-level diplomatic summit?

And Atrios made the connection some weeks back--maybe he got the idea from the band, but it'd be cool if it were the other way around. It's the best kind of endorsement, too: the highly qualified kind. Okay, you're the man. Don't blow it.

Best part, of course, is the half-hearted Photoshop job they did at Pitchfork. Obama's eight feet tall! He'll crush you!

Pulp Fiction

Clearly, I’ve turned the Song of the Day into a hollow mockery of its name. And of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you absolutely knew that would happen sooner rather than later. Makes me think of something I read a while back, in Robert Stone’s memoir, Prime Green. (Sort of disappointing book, actually. From a guy who produces such harrowing, blood-drenched novels, it was a pretty laid-back, jokey affair. Stone just finds his own life vastly amusing, which I guess is healthy.) Anyway, Stone devotes a good chapter or two to his memories of his friend, the late countercultural icon, Ken Kesey, which is all very entertaining, even though I’ve never read anything Kesey wrote or much cared to. But in particular, Stone quotes a bit of self-justifying doggerel that Kesey used to recite: Of promising more than what I can deliver / I have a bad habit, it is true. / But I have to promise more than I deliver / To be able to deliver what I do.

Yes, Ken, exactly. You speak for us both. (Except I would never recite epigrammatic rhyming verse to my friends, you hippie hack!)

But anyway, here’s the next song in line. Not a Song of the Day. Just…a Song, I guess.

Some Words About a Random Song


Uh, is that title even a word? I dunno, but it's poetic justice that this is the song to come up for the post immediately following my enthusiastic Anglo-bashing. Which anybody who knows me had to find laughable anyway, since they know that I don't just own Coldplay albums, I own Travis albums. As well as the complete works of Morrissey.

And of course, it goes absolutely without saying that I own Different Class, surely one of the most English albums this side of the Village Green Preservation Society. Along with Oasis' Definitely Maybe and Blur's Parklife, it makes up one third of the Holy Trinity of Nineties Britpop. Though of the three, it's probably the least well-known in this country, since Oasis had their Arena Rock swagger and their tabloid headlines, and Blur, well, Blur had "Girls and Boys." Just try to get that shit out of your head.

So here you've got the opening blast off of the defining record of one of the quintessential Englishmen, Jarvis Cocker, who would soon become a hero to millions through his instantly-legendary public mocking of Michael Jackson. Like any British rock singer worth your time, Jarvis is just as useful as a character as he is for anything he's actually sung. Equal parts brainy misfit, swoony romantic, and leering seducer, and thinner and gawkier than seems physically possible. If he didn't exist, we'd have had to invent him.

Conveniently, this song is something of a call to arms, or manifesto—a wannabe generational anthem for all the "mis-shapes, mistakes, and misfits" who are destined to rise up and overthrow the ignorant, musclebound louts who are running things. Say what you like, the man knows his audience. "What's the point in being rich?" Cocker muses, over the jaunty music-hall verse, "if you can't think what to do with it? / 'Cause you're so bleeding thick?" Then the chorus—a little bit intense, a little bit scary. This guy's pretty witty, but is he really in control of his actions? "We want your homes, we want your lives / We want the things you won't allow us…" Yeah! I'm with the skinny guy!

…and I checked—"mis-shapes" is indeed a legitimate noun, though the OED calls it "obsolete." Shoulda known that overeducated maniac would've done his homework.

Friday, July 04, 2008


In honor of our nation's independence:

Reasons To Hate the British

Chris Martin!

Margaret Thatcher!

Colin Firth!



I'm happy to relate, also, that my adopted town puts on its fireworks display at Fort Meigs, built by General William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812. (Yeah, the future president who died of a cold! We love that guy around here!) So, the entire celebration is centered on a site devoted to the kicking of limey ass. Warms this patriotic heart.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's adorable when they try to be clever.

This got forwarded to me by an alert reader, who gets email, as we all do, from some retrograde relatives. You know who I'm talking about, right? Old, white uncle-and-grandpa-type dudes, watchin' them some Glenn Beck and packin' heat.
Heh. Cute, huh?

But, as I chuckled, I realized--hey, I get it--but a lot of things in this joke might seem weird, complicated, or just entirely opaque to younger readers. So I'm taking it on myself to be the younger generation's link with history, much as Senator McCain has done for people like me.

Here, in a nutshell, is what's going on:
Those are our two major-party presidential candidates. Sure, you knew that, right? And they're side-by-side, so you're meant to be comparing them in some way, that much is clear. But what, exactly, is the deal? Well, see how Senator McCain--that's the crusty old white guy, kids!--is wearing some sort of odd clothing? Well, that's his uniform. Senator McCain served in the United States Navy a very, very long time ago when he was a young man. (See how that photo's in black and white? Weird!) Anyway, he was in a war and some really terrible things happened to him, and he handled it pretty well, and has thus been trading on it ever since, although it has nothing much to do with any real job he's ever held. And that's not the point of the joke, anyway--the point is that he's wearing a uniform, which makes him seem rugged and manly, and older folks are into that, especially guys. And anyway, the real point is about the other dude, Senator Obama. He looks pretty cool, huh? Well, yeah, but the joke is that he's wearing some kind of Robe Thingy in that picture, which must be the Native Garb of some crazy foreign country or other, where people, like, jump around and throw spears. This is supposed to make you chuckle, first of all, because it's so much less rugged and manly than the Jumpsuit Thingy that McCain's got, but more importantly because it draws attention to the fact that Senator Obama's father came from the continent of Africa. Wait, you're saying. What's that got to do with it? Well, kids, what's funny is that being partly from Africa makes you black--see how he doesn't quite match the other guy? That's not just the color film! He really does look different! Isn't that hilarious?

No, seriously. Some people think that's funny, the kinda folks who don't spell so good. (Where it says "if your still thinking," I'm pretty sure they meant to write "you're." Now that's comedy.) Back in the twentieth century, people thought that was a kinda big deal--they thought folks from Africa were, like, all wild n' crazy, and had lots of sex and committed crimes and stuff. If you were "black" you couldn't even be president, because not enough people would like you. Weird, but true. Luckily, people are smarter these days.

Anyway, here are the two senators currently, just to clarify things: