Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Short Story

This is the first time I've put any of my fiction writing up here, so comment and let me know what you think.

I boarded the bus outside of a post office in the small town near school. The air outside had been cold, and I had no gloves. I carried my bag over the snow-draped paths, dragging it where the snow was too deep. The bus was warm, filled with a thick air like breathing through wool. Stumbling down the aisle, I bumped a few passengers here and there with my backpack before finding a seat near the middle, not too far back but certainly not in the front. I stretched my legs down the aisle (I like aisle seats; windows are always cold) and rested my head against the seat, waiting for the bus to move.

It was late, but I didn’t mind. I sat and allowed the contents of the bus to wash over me: I heard sounds, people talking, dulled cars outside the window, more talking. I was a sponge on the rocks, eating what passes (I should have been a sponge). The bus lurched, finally, but I continued to listen. Eventually the sponge found something it couldn’t digest, a bit of stone floating in the current, an inquisitive fish. A conversation, just behind me, was already in progress; I sat and chewed on it.

The bus continued to move. Its drone undulated in my ears, a consonant vibrato rising and falling like a sitar’s drone. Behind me they played out an endless discordant solo for two voices, minimal yet piercing, shaking with the subtle madness of a string held to wood, scratched by an untaught finger. It cried of connections cut and spliced, arranged out of key. I soaked and soaked, the deep bass of the engine mixing my meal as I ate. Though I chewed hungrily, I could not swallow the unrelenting tinkering of the dual strings, and I spat.

The window was too near, and I felt its chill against my arm, urging my skin to rise and meet. The landscape is nearly white, flecked by the grays of horses and pale yellow of dead wheat. As I watched, the horses and the wheat and the cars stood flat and without depth against the filthy window of my moaning coach. And not without considerable disappointed, I thought myself this window, attached to this tonedeaf instrument, flecked with the world’s dirt, its mud, its roadkill. I looked on, a gray-eyed onlooker on a clouded real. My habitat was carpeted and cushioned and cramped, room for one only, and I lost my vision to the crush of this world’s wheels over gray snow.

The bus finally stopped, and its muteness stunned me. Making myself thin, I stepped into the aisle and out of the vehicle. I looked back once; my instrument sat mute and voiceless, unseen to eyes of brown or blue, and I walked. I’m sorry if my bag hit you. It was an accident.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Kanye West Debacle (and the Larger Issues at Stake)

I know I’ve been neglecting the blog for the past few weeks, but I’ve been busy as hell. I’m gonna try to update more frequently from now on.

Ok, so I’ve got beef. As you likely gathered from the post title, it’s with Kanye West. I know everyone’s riding the Kanye hate-train right now, and I want to get in on the fun.

So here’s the situation. Taylor Swift wins the VMA for best female video or whatever. Two sentences into her acceptance speech, Kanye runs onstage and interrupts her, since, obviously, no one was thinking of how amazing Kanye West is at the time. He grabs the mike, stammers some bullshit about how he’s happy for Taylor Swift, but you know, Beyonce’s video was just the shit.

Alright, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. Pretty much everyone even vaguely in tune to music culture at this point knows that Kanye’s a self-important douche. There’s a staggering amount of evidence pointing in this direction, including his belief that he would be a major player in the modern Bible. This isn’t exactly news at this point, so what’s the big deal, right?

It’s actually kind of strange that we’re all so amazed at what he did to Taylor Swift. This is just the latest attention grab for a musician who sees himself slowly but surely fading from the public limelight, whose product has been declining in quality since 2005’s “Late Registration.” Many musicians take this transition hard, and even the best have their head-shake moments (check Pete Townshend’s last 20 years of pretentious crap for proof).

Unfortunately, Kanye is something of a different case, due in part to the changing nature of today’s music industry. The vast network of labels, producers, and musicians, along with evolving technology, have allowed artists to musically intermingle in ways that would have been thought ridiculous two decades ago. As a result, Kanye West has been involved in some way with an incredibly vast amount of material released in the past ten years. He’s shoved his puffy cheeks into virtually every major hip-hop act from the past ten years, and even before that, to a lesser extent. And, to be honest, a decent amount of this material is pretty damn good. He’s a valued and respected producer in hip-hop circles, and his record sales are perennially ridiculous.

All talent notwithstanding, though, Kanye seems to have formed a somewhat distorted vision of himself as the speaker of a generation of musicians and music listeners. While he’s certainly popular, he fails to realize the undisputable truth about the music listening public: that it will either turn on, devour, or simply forget almost any musician, no matter how popular or talented. This has happened time and again, and few artists are immune; Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson have withstood the public fury better than most, and Kanye is definitely none of the above.
The more important issue here, though, is that the public seems to have a soft spot for this man. It buys his albums, attends his concerts, and most importantly, forgives him every time he does something like this. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, I’ll admit. I love The Who, despite Pete Townshend’s alienating his fellow musicians, for just one example of many. The bottom line is that people seem to love Kanye’s music despite his rampant dickery. This seems to say that, at least in this case, people care more about the music than they do about the musician.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ll always love the music of some artists who are not exactly paragons of good personality, but at the same time, I think I would rush to defend any musician who I truly respected if he did something like Kanye has done. I guess I just want it both ways.

Anyways, the point I guess I’m getting at here is that we should at least try to stop giving people like Kanye such an attentive audience. Sure, listen to his music (if it gets any better; “808s and Heartbreak” was flat-out terrible). But at least try to ignore his cries for attention. At least that way, maybe he’ll get past this self-loving midlife crisis and stop annoying us all.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The 5 Bands With the Most Insufferable Fanbases

It’s obvious that everyone has their own unique taste in music, and everyone likes different bands for different reasons. However, there are a few bands around that, for some reason, inspire the most annoying people who absolutely worship them either for stupid reasons or in ridiculously annoying ways. These are the five bands that I think suffer from this more than any others.

5. Tool
Okay, I’m going to be honest. I fucking love Tool. They were one of the most musically and thematically interesting bands to come out of the grunge-metal underground scene in the 90’s, and for the most part, they’ve only gotten better over the years. All criticisms aside, Tool features some extremely talented musicians, most notably drummer Danny Carey, who is without doubt the best drummer in rock, and is probably in the top ten in the world. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan, though sometimes annoyingly pretentious, remains an excellent frontman and voice for one of the best live acts in music today.

However, I must be honest and say that Tool attracts some of the more annoying fans of the bands I consistently follow. From my experience, the cultlike fanbase is composed largely of rednecks, nerdy quasi-goths, and wannabe spirituals. Even more annoying than these living stereotypes are their frequently vocal opinions. If you enjoy Tool’s music, you probably know that one of their central messages is the idea that people should think for themselves. While this is all well and good, Tool’s fans somehow exclude the band themselves from this mantra. Toolheads constantly watch the band’s every move, a practice which has lead to fans practicing religions that were made up by the band in order to fuck with said fans (Google “Lachrymology”). Even more annoying is the near-Messianic image some fans have bestowed upon Keenan, who eats that shit like candy and turns it into new ways to fuck with people. Now, I enjoy the fact that Keenan has a sense of humor, but his fans should probably realize at some point that he’s kind of an asshole. That doesn’t mean you can’t like him or his band; just take them for what they are.

4. Metallica
I had a hard time deciding who to put in this spot, but I eventually settled on Metallica, if only for the fact that I don’t really like them. I admit that I find Metallica to be one of the most colossally overrated bands of the past thirty years, and that fact might taint my view of their fans. I don’t think I’m completely unjustified in that belief, though. Mostly, I dislike Metallica for spawning hundreds of terrible thrash metal acts, such as…oh, fuck it. I hate thrash metal.

Metallica fans love to talk about the band in two ways: how “fucking awesome” their music supposedly is, and how incredibly influential they are. Both of these claims are flawed, and here’s why. First, Metallica didn’t write good songs. They wrote songs for people to call “fucking awesome” while swinging their greasy hair in my face. Usually this involves writing a decent riff and repeating it under inane lyrics about riding the lightning. I can’t think of other examples because I don’t want to go listen to their music again. Metallica fans are utterly convinced that the band members are the most talented people in the history of nerdy pale guys, and they are wrong.

Secondly, on the issue of perceived influence: Metallica fans love to tout how the band supposedly created a whole new genre, and how they have remained relevant for so many years. This is probably the more annoying claim. These people need to realize that influence doesn’t matter if the music wasn’t any good to begin with. Besides, this idea is simply wrong. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and other such bands did it first, and did it way fucking better.
Also, the band members are douchebags. Fact.

3. Pink Floyd
Again, I gotta be honest. I like Pink Floyd’s music a lot. Most of their catalogue, especially “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and “Dark Side of the Moon,” is shockingly creative, and has the musical quality to back it up. That’s really all I’ll say, because I don’t like any other aspect of the band itself.
The group members have proven themselves time and again to be self-absorbed, whiny pricks. Except for Richard Wright; he was mostly cool. Actually, I’m really just speaking of Roger Waters and Brian Gilmour. Songwriting skills aside, neither of these individuals are nearly as talented as they think they are. In fact, they both think they’re so fucking good that they’re too good for each other. The near-constant feud between these two is annoying as hell, and I’m sick of hearing about it.

What about the fans, you ask? Well, the main problem is that their fans are mostly just like the band itself. Creepy, passive, and self-absorbed to the extreme, Pink Floyd’s fanbase is a suicide cult waiting to happen. They also suffer from Tool syndrome; that is, waiting with bated breath for the band’s next move, constantly praying for a reunion tour and whimpering at every failed attempt. That’s the other thing. I’m so tired of hearing about Pink Floyd reunions. They did it for Live 8, and it sucked. I’m sure they’ll do it again, and it’ll still suck. Waters and Gilmour have become washed up yacht clubbers, and no amount of moaning from their fans will change that.

2. The Grateful Dead
Far be it from me to deny the coolness of the 60’s-era San Francisco jam movement, but I don’t really like the Grateful Dead. Actually, they have some really good songs. They just couldn’t play them live. I’m serious. I hate the Grateful Dead’s live sound. It’s boring. I can kind of see where it might be fun to take a shitload of acid and get sweaty with a bunch of dirty hippies…wait. No, I can’t. That sounds terrible. I can’t stand hippies.

That’s what bothers me most about this band and their fanbase. The only way to enjoy their music is apparently to do what I just described. That is not a good statement about any band. These people are so convinced in how good the Dead are that they really don’t see how bland and uninteresting the music actually is in a live setting. They have no edge, no surprise, no energy. They’re one of the few bands that I just really don’t understand. I don’t get why everyone on the planet thought (and still think) they were the best thing since sliced bread. It just makes no sense to me, and I guess that’s why their fans annoy me so much. Maybe I’m just missing something, some delightful bounce to the music that makes them fun to listen to in a crowded room for four hours. I doubt it, though.

1. Nirvana
You probably knew this was coming at some point, but here it is anyways. I’m in the middle of the road on Nirvana. I don’t hate them, but I don’t really like them either. I certainly don’t understand the worship they get from again grunge fanatics and poser high school kids. Anyways, my problem with their fans is similar to my problem with Metallica fans. Nirvana fans love to preach about how Nirvana gave a voice to a generation, redefined music, yadda yadda yadda. I call bullshit.

Now, I don’t deny that Nirvana was a very important band in the grunge movement. Their muddy sound and dispassionate lyrics paved the way for dozens of post-grunge bands the world over. However, they’re definitely not the best band from the start of the grunge movement. Soundgarden was more musically complex. Alice in Chains was darker and more brutal than Nirvana could have ever hoped to be. Pearl Jam was so much better than Nirvana that it’s hardly worth talking about, not to mention far more relevant and genuine.

More important, though, is how Nirvana’s fans have betrayed the memory of their angsty hero, Kurt Cobain. Supposedly, Cobain’s reasons for committing suicide centered on his revelation that he had become what he started out hating. His initial rebellion against the social expectations of youth crumbled when the entire fucking country started agreeing with him. As pretentious as his motives may have been, worse still is how his fans have continued to emulate Cobain to this day. Through their efforts, a mediocre songwriter has become the subject of fevered rumor, the emblem of mainstream “rebellion.” Nirvana’s fans just don’t seem to understand that rebellion isn’t cool if everyone thinks it is.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why the New Harry Potter Isn't As Good as Everyone Thinks

In the months leading up to the release of the newest installment in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” my desire to see the movie went through considerable fluctuation. I’ll admit that the initial release seemed exciting; I’ve been enjoying the movies since “The Prisoner of Azkaban” changed the series from childish junior-high fantasy to dark, horror-suspense action. The acting has never been superb, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the territory. However, when the release of the newest film was pushed back several months, I found myself caring less and less about the series as a whole. It’s been so long since I read the books that I feel the studios are losing a portion of their audience to boredom.

Nonetheless, going into the theater to finally see the movie had me excited again. Social hype and positive reviews galore set up what I expected to be at least another good, if not excellent Potter film. Let me just say that I both expected and wanted this movie to succeed, regardless of my continuing annoyance with the series’ increasingly obnoxious fanbase.

The movie didn’t exactly start on the right foot; an awkward scene of two average-looking teens flirting in a train station isn’t exactly how I would have set up suspense for the impending takeover by the world’s most dangerous villain. Nevertheless, I gave the movie a chance.

I sat through about an hour and a half of the film before I started to realize that this pointless drivel was not going to end any time soon. I was particularly struck by the overall disingenuous portrayal of the film’s favorite subject: awkward teen romance. One scene in particular drove this point home for me, when everyone’s favorite ginger kid tries out for the Quidditch team. I discovered several things in this scene and the following few. First of all, the decidedly average-looking Lavender is every teenage male’s fantasy: a fawning, physically aggressive moron who wants nothing more than to suck Ron’s face off. Second, it turns out that Ron is kind of a douche. I know the movie wants us to think that he doesn’t see Hermione’s affection for him, but I’m not buying it. No guy is that stupid. Most guys go out of their way to convince themselves that any female who gives them the slightest amount of attention is trying to seduce them, and I refuse to believe that Ron is that stupid. I mean, he’s pretty stupid, but I’m trying to give the guy credit here. And last but not least, I discovered that Hermione is yet another high school driven stereotype, the girl who breaks into exaggerated sobs whenever her ginger of choice glances at other females. Bear with me, because this all has a point, which I will soon relate.

Another matter to discuss is how incredibly boring the villains of this movie are. Say nothing of Lord Voldemort (he never shows up), but let’s examine the next most obvious one: Draco Malfoy. For the first time in the series, my disgust with his character had nothing to do with the acting, but instead with the writing behind it. Throughout the movie, I counted exactly two things that Malfoy actually succeeded in doing: pulling sheets off closets and brooding. That’s it. He does nothing else. Yeah, he breaks Harry’s nose, but what happens because of that? Nothing. He’s supposed to kill Dumbledore, but it turns out that he’s even better at whining than he is at looking depressed, so he complains to the old headmaster for a while before the much more interesting Snape shows up to cover his inept ass. As for the old potions master, he’s almost completely irrelevant to the plot of the movie, despite the fact that it’s named after him. I fault the writers here for giving no weight to their best asset, which is Alan Rickman’s considerable talent.

Whatever. In the end, none of this matters. Dumbledore’s murder scene contains exactly zero tension, and off the balcony he goes. Despite the fact that an evil witch can’t shut the hell up and starts breaking all kinds of shit in Hogwarts, no one has noticed the presence of the villains, so no one tries to stop them. This is where I was most disappointed with the film. If you’ll remember (like I didn’t; I had to be reminded), there is a massive battle scene at the end of the sixth book that is mysteriously absent from the film version. How odd; the filmmakers seem to have found a way to completely ignore the literary progression, and have skipped from buildup and gone straight to resolution. Amazing, isn’t it? One minute, the greatest wizard in the world is falling off a tower, and the next, the sun is shining and Harry is looking forward to his next meeting with Ginny.

I guess the point of all this is that the movie removes everything that is good about the Harry Potter franchise and replaces it with everything that is bad. Essentially, then, “The Half-Blood Prince” takes Harry Potter where no story should ever go: into the “Twilight” realm. Magical action and dark suspense have been replaced by teenage awkwardness and forced romantic conflicts, and no one seems to have noticed.

See, the great thing about the Harry Potter series is that it manages to create a beautifully magical realm that is almost entirely separate from our own. The books are interesting because, while teenage romance factors into the stories, it always takes something of a backseat to the intricately woven good-vs.-evil plotline. Want to know why? Because high school problems are boring. Awkwardness isn’t funny in these stories; it’s just awkward. Maybe I’ve grown out of these movies, but I really think that the hype created by shitty, boring romances like “Twilight” has seeped into the Potter franchise, and I’m disappointed by that. The fact that two movies are being made out of the final book doesn’t dissuade me from this conclusion, either. I can only hope that the filmmakers ignore the misplaced hype and get back to what made J.K. Rowling’s fantasies great to begin with.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009: Part 6 (Sunday, Final)

Sunday morning found us awake early, baking in the early Tennessee sun for one last time. We took the opportunity to take down our tent and canopy, as we were planning to leave the festival grounds right after the last set that night. An hour later, we gathered enough energy to make the trek to Centeroo one last time. Our schedules diverged a bit today, as Ben wanted to see Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, while I was more interested in Dillinger Escape Plan. I figured, they added a ton of energy to Nine Inch Nails’ performance of “Wish” the previous night, so they would probably put on a pretty decent show on their own. Unfortunately, it turns out the Dillinger’s music falls into the same trap as much of today’s hardcore/metal scene. Jerky phrasing and overemphasized screams ruined what could have been a decent metal band. While the band’s instrumental ability is not to be underestimated, their songwriting leaves much to be desired, focusing on confusing riffs and arrhythmic time signatures instead of melodic, traceable song construction. I couldn’t take it for more than a few songs, and soon stepped back to grab some shade while I waited for the next act.

After Ted Leo had finished, we met up and headed over to What Stage to catch rising hip-hop vocalist Erykah Badu. Her latest album, “New Amerykah, Pt 1: 4th World War,” garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews, and I wanted to see if her voice translated to the live setting. I should feel lucky to say this, but this turned out to be the first really frustrating show of the festival. Badu set herself up for failure early by delaying her scheduled set time by over thirty minutes, and then sending out a backing band to play the same funk rhythm over and over again for almost another ten. The fact that artists can get away with being so late is one of the only things I hate about live music. By the time she showed up, I was almost willing to forgive, but her actual show fared no better. Both her attitude and her music were annoyingly pretentious and preachy, and her sound was thin at best. The only part of the set I actually enjoyed was at the end, when her DJ played her offstage with Lil’ Wayne’s “A Milli.” I’m not kidding. I was so pissed at this point that I felt the need to rant, so I did, as Ben will confirm. The only thing that kept me going was the promise of a few good shows before the end of the festival.

We grabbed some much-needed barbque fare from the What Stage area and waited for the last show I was eagerly anticipating, Snoop Dogg. Now, regardless of your feelings about hip-hop, Snoop is the shit. He just is. I can’t think of a more gangster person in the world, much less one who makes good music and doesn’t come off as washed up. The show started almost on time, and we weren’t disappointed. As simple as his show was, Snoop provided the musical and comic relief that I desperately needed after the dual frustrations of Dillinger and Erykah Badu.

I then headed over to That Tent to catch the last few minutes of Coheed & Cambria. I was actually pretty excited for this, as I like a few of their songs, and I’ve always enjoyed appreciated their instrumental ability. It didn’t really matter that they’re essentially a less talented, more poppy version or Rush, because I like Rush. I got there in time to catch fan favorite “Welcome Home,” which rocked considerably harder than I expected. However, the intensity was short-lived, as the band soon moved into less familiar territory, and I was quickly put off by their insistence on playing five-minute guitar solos without structure or melody. The show ended soon enough, and eventually it was time for us to head back to What Stage for Phish’s closing set.

Now, I knew going into the set that I didn’t really like Phish, regardless of their immense hippie/Deadhead following. I’ve just never been able to get into their music. I did expect to be able to get through the entire set, though. The deep fatigue and jam-induced boredom soon had us itching to get out of the festival grounds, and we left with well over two hours left in Phish’s set. We stopped only to grab a waffle ice cream sandwich, which turned out to be a highlight of the day. Seriously, these things are amazing. They go beyond just waffle and ice cream; there’s something transcendental about them that I can’t quite describe, a combination of flavor and texture that leads to an almost religious experience. I can’t accurately describe it in words, but I’d imagine that the face of God provides a similar experience. They were an excellent way to end the festival, and I felt energized as we navigated our way out of the campgrounds and onto the road home.

That’s it for the Bonnaroo review. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it, and I’d love to have feedback on any part of it. New, more random posts will soon follow.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009: Part 5 (Saturday Nighttime)

As much as I’d like to say that I’m a huge Springsteen fan, I can’t really claim to know more than six or seven songs, despite his relatively huge catalogue. Mostly, I was excited to see the man onstage, where his crowd-pleasing prowess surpasses legend. Though his set started twenty minutes late and we were past uncomfortable from standing so long, I was not disappointed. The Boss took the stage to massive roars from the crowd, launching headlong into “Badlands.” Though I didn’t know the song, I knew for sure that this man is no joke. The first truly poignant moment came when Bruce stepped to the microphone to sing the chorus line, and the crowd simply took over for him. The look on his face was priceless; it betrayed even his surprise from the crowd’s enthusiasm, and the pure honesty of his expression made me realize that despite his superstardom, the Boss is a real person, without the pretentiousness that so often affects aging rockstars. The show continued with an amusing rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the epic tale of “Outlaw Pete,” and a truly inspiring performance of “Born to Run,” which again had the entire crowd singing with an excitement that I’ve rarely witnessed at any concert.

Unfortunately, I felt pressed to leave the show a couple songs early in order to head over to Which Stage, where industrial legends Nine Inch Nails were set to play at 1am. Now, I feel it’s necessary to preface this by admitting that I am biased in favor of NIN, as they have been my favorite band for a while now. I was lucky enough to start the show about twenty feet from the stage barrier, pressed into a crowd that was wild beyond any previous concert experience I’d had. This would be the third time I had seen Nine Inch Nails, the first being in Columbus on their now-legendary Lights in the Sky tour, and the second being on the Wave Goodbye tour in Denver. I was unsure if anything could surpass the Columbus show; it was incredible both musically and visually, as the light setup was a true marvel of performance technology, and the setlist was nothing short of perfect.

Despite comments suggesting otherwise, it seemed that Trent Reznor and company came admirably well-prepared for their late night set, which was to be their last in the US (until recently). The band kicked off the show on an unconventional note, opening with “Home” from their 2005 release “With Teeth.” The band then drove into slightly more expected numbers like “Terrible Lie” and “March of the Pigs.” However, the Reznor still managed to surprise the crowd with deeper cuts like the remix of “Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)” and “The Becoming,” the latter of which was a stunner for me, it being my favorite (and rarely played) Nine Inch Nails track. The show included and appearance from metal outfit Dillinger Escape Plan for “Wish,” which rocked both my and the crowd’s shit to new levels. The set concluded after about 3.5 hours with Reznor’s introspective ballad “Hurt,” which served as a fitting end to both the frighteningly intense show and a very, very long day.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009: Part 4 (Saturday Daytime)

This segment will be divided into two parts, for length purposes.

By Saturday, the last trace of cool air from the rainstorm had dissipated, leaving our tent baking under the glaring sun. The heat had us out and sweating in the open air by 9 o’clock, forcing a frustratingly early start to what would be a very, very long day. The fact that the first act we wanted to see didn’t start until 5pm didn’t help, either. We ended up walking around Centeroo, taking whatever shade we could find, until we found something worthwhile to do.

As it turned out, this occurred sooner rather than later, as we were pleasantly surprised by an act playing around noon. Reports earlier in the festival had indicated that Ilo and the Coral Reefer Allstars would be joined by Jimmy Buffett, whose music I’ve always enjoyed, despite my almost all-encompassing dislike for country music. It always seemed like he took himself much less seriously than many other artists of the genre, while still managing to tell interesting stories colored with a wide palate of emotion, ranging from tales of drunken loneliness to choruses of cheeseburgers. The set with the Coral Reefer Allstars was good afternoon entertainment, especially since we were able to enjoy most of it from a shady vantage.

Five o’clock found us waiting by Which Stage for Gov’t Mule, who I’ve seen once before at Red Rocks in Colorado. I’ve always felt like I didn’t get a great taste of the band from that show, despite the excellent venue. They played that gig with moe., who I find to be overzealous imitators of everything that is wrong with Phish. Musical dynamics escape those fellows, and I had trouble focusing for more than, say, three minutes. This could be excused with any other band, but moe.’s songs tend more on the half-hour side of things, so you’ll excuse me for tuning out. Regardless, Mule didn’t impress me much then, and I wanted to give them another chance. The daytime venue didn’t help, but the show felt better, for some reason. The memorable moment came when Mule broke out Radiohead’s “Creep.” Unsurprisingly, this roused the crowd out of a midday stupor, lending some much needed energy to the afternoon. Unfortunately, this only went to support my theory that for all their musical talent (which is substantial), Gov’t Mule is only excellent when they are covering other great songs. To be sure, they’ve proven themselves adept at making good songs great, especially when they go outside the confines of southern rock. It’s just a shame that their original songwriting leaves so much to be desired.

Anyways, after the Mule set, we wandered over to What Stage for some much needed relaxation time, stopping to grab some barbeque fare along the way. We camped out by the main venue while Wilco set the stage for the evening with their brand of alt-country rock, which proved to be even better then when we caught them at Bonnaroo 2007. The music brought excellent closure to the daylight hours, and as the sun disappeared, I felt like a kind of peace had descended over the festival. I applaud Wilco for truly recharging the day as we waited for the great Bruce Springsteen to take the stage.

Nighttime review coming soon.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009: Part 3 (Friday)

Fortunately, the remaining cloud cover from yesterday’s storm afforded the two of us an extra hour or two of sleep on Friday morning, though the cool weather didn’t last long. By noon, the oppressive heat that always comes with the Bonnaroo experience was upon us. Combined with the ridiculous amount of mud left over from Thursday, the environment felt especially hostile. However, the schedule went easy on us for the day, as we were able to stay at Which Stage for most of the daylight hours.

Though the little shade available was quickly occupied by sweaty hippies, we took comfort in the thought that the day’s music was sure to be excellent. Our schedule kicked off with Animal Collective, a band whose music I was not especially familiar with, but whom I was eagerly anticipating. While I didn’t quite understand the mass appeal garnered by their 2007 release “Strawberry Jam,” I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed their latest effort, “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” The album’s uniquely electronica-infused experimental rock sound caught me rocking to the beat more than I’d care to admit. Plus, Animal Collective’s fans had previously convinced me that the band was capable of a massively entertaining live show.

However, I was quickly disappointed, startlingly so for the hype the show was getting beforehand. The bright Tennessee sun left the band high and dry on a bland stage setup, combined with an altogether uninteresting setlist. Ben and I agreed that this was likely due to the venue, which didn’t seem to jive with AC’s groove. A smaller, closed-air venue probably would have lent itself better, as the band was left without the lightshow for which they are famous. The music itself lacked bounce, and I think the crowd agreed; the many dancing at the start of the set quickly dwindled to a dedicated few, by which point I had lost interest completely.

Following Animal Collective was indie-rock outfit Yeah Yeah Yeahs, another band with whom I was not very familiar going in. I feared another Animal Collective-style disappointment, but my worries were soon dissuaded as the band proceeded to rock a strong set despite the glaring sun. The crowd seemed very in tune to the band, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took advantage, entertaining at the level that I would expect of a band playing a large-stage set at the nation’s largest music festival.

However, I should probably note that about 20 minutes into their set, I was hit with a massive head rush that sent me reeling through the crowd to a more spacious area. After stumbling through annoyed Rooers, I threw myself at the ground and waited until I could actually see clearly. Following this, I proceeded to waste 30 bucks on pizza, a poorly-wrapped burrito, a coke, and a frozen lemonade. Let’s just say that the heat did a temporary but effective number on me.

The refreshments did, however, help me make it to the first set that I had really been anticipating. Brooklyn-based rock stylists TV on the Radio have intrigued me since I first heard their latest release, the critically-lauded “Dear Science.” For a long time, I wasn’t sure what to do with this band. “Halfway Home,” opener for the album, stunned me with its sonic depth and instrumental grace, but many other songs left me wondering where to go. The band’s intense focus on diverse melody and quirky vocals lead me to think that they were just another indie/alt-rock group taking their moment before being forgotten in the blend. Then Ben introduced me to “Wolf Like Me,” a track off the previous album, “Return to Cookie Mountain.” The song changed my outlook completely, especially the live recordings; their sound was so monumentally huge that they simply had to be the real deal.

I therefore went into their Bonnaroo set with high expectations, and I was not disappointed in the slightest. TVotR started off on the mellow side, building to that epic sound that I had so far only experienced through Youtube videos. By the time the tandem of “Halfway Home” and “Wolf Like Me” rolled around, I was already convinced: this band rocks in a deep, complex, and evolving way. The grandiose “Staring at the Sun” was the first truly poignant moment of the festival, and when TVotR finished, I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle for the day.

It turned out that there was plenty left to experience. We chilled to the music of David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, who put on a solid, entertaining set. Deciding to skip the Beastie Boys, whom I’ve never really enjoyed much, we headed over to This Tent for Public Enemy, who put on a shocker by playing through their legendary album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” cover to cover. Chuck D and Flavor Flav still put out the goods, it seems, and the show was sick, to be sure.

The night concluded with a massively attended performance by mashup artist Girl Talk, who I also saw at Bonnaroo 2007. This year, his crowd was much bigger, his set much longer, and his mashups even crazier. He warned the spectators not to crush each other, apparently a common occurrence at his shows. If a DJ causes that kind of trouble, you know something’s up.

So, despite a slow start, Friday was definitely a fulfilling day. The euphoria from TVotR’s set continued through the night, and by the time we stumbled back to the campsite, we were fully ready for the weekend’s delights.

Part 4 coming soon, check back.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009: Part 2 (Thursday)


The first morning at the Bonnaroo campground was deceptively cool. We were able to sleep past 10 AM, leading us to believe that our improvised canopy would keep the tent cool as the sun punished us over the course of the weekend. This would later prove false, but getting one full night’s sleep early on was essential to our survival.

Thursday is usually a pretty chill day at Bonnaroo, as Centeroo doesn’t open until noon and there’s not much music going on for the rest of the day. However, as soon as we ventured out of our campground, we found ourselves staring a massive rain cloud in the face. The storm caught us out in the open, dumping torrential rain on us for about ten minutes. Even though the storm passed quickly over us, it was enough to dismantle many of the campgrounds around ours, though our shelter stayed put reasonably well, considering the amount of duct tape used to keep it up.

After making the trek to repair the shelter and back to Centeroo, we spent the remainder of the day trudging through mud that would stick around for most of the festival. However, we were able to catch a couple acts here and there, the first of which was MURS, a relatively underground rapper who put on a surprisingly good show for the stylistic simplicity of his music. His stage antics were enough to keep a good-sized crowd under the Other Tent for the full hour of his set, though the consistent rain couldn’t have hurt.

Two hours and a couple slices of Spicy Pie found us back at the Other Tent for the last big act of the night, West-Coast hip-hop duo People Under the Stairs. I was especially excited for PUtS, as I’ve always thought of them as one of the better underground hip-hop acts to find relative prominence in the increasingly muddled rap scene.

Let me just say that I really wanted this to be a good set, for my own enjoyment as well as for the success of PUtS. This was probably the biggest crowd they’ve ever pulled, and it was a huge chance for them. However, about two songs in, it became clear that the larger venue did not suit their style. They came out with about as much energy as a Willie Nelson show, with none of the character. The crowd started to thin about ten minutes in, the two of us included. In a smaller, more private setting, I can see PUtS kicking way more ass, especially if more devoted fans were present. The Bonnaroo crowd simply didn’t stick with them, and their stage presence suffered because of it.

So, the last show of the night was disappointing, but by that time we were both ready to get of the rain and mud and take one last shot at a decent night’s sleep before the festival really kicked into gear on Friday.

Check back for part 3 soon.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bonnaroo 2009: Part 1 (The Drive)

I know you’d expect that a drive to Tennessee, going through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky would be mostly uninteresting, and you’d mostly be right. However, it’s amazing how shit just kind of happens when you’re staring into nothingness for hours at a time.

As much as I hate to admit it, eastern Colorado is fairly boring. However, it serves a vital purpose on drives like this: preparation for the barren, forgotten wasteland that is the majority of Kansas. Let me preface this by saying that Kansas is a truly, truly terrible piece of America, and that you should probably avoid it at all costs. However, we managed to stave off boredom for a few minutes here and there by pondering the various pieces of rightist propaganda that scatter the highway, featuring such gems as “Pornography Destroys Families” and the ever-classic “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.” Boredom also lead us to pursue what was billed as the world’s largest prairie dog, among other unsavory bits of perverted nature. The prairie dog turned out to be all-too wooden, but the rattlesnakes, mangy foxes, and six-legged cows turned out to be terrifyingly real. Seriously, the place was surreal; it’s a wonder PETA hasn’t shat on that relic of forgotten Americana.

Interstate 70 eventually brought us headlong into a giant, tornado-spawning thunderstorm that only the Midwest could have produced. The night hours, punctuated by near-continuous lightning, was made infinitely more intense by Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral,” our chosen soundtrack for the evening. I wasn’t driving, but hallucinating a tornado from the passenger seat while listening to “Eraser” (a singularly creepy track, even for NIN) was disturbing enough for me.

An uneventful morning preceded an uneventful afternoon, in which we became lost in the mire of St. Louis highway construction, though we somehow found the correct road eventually. By early evening, we found ourselves in Nashville rush-hour traffic, made worse by the woman ahead of us who repeatedly extended her flabby arm in a vain attempt to solicit passing truck horns. Believe it or not, this waving chunk of flesh was actually amusing for a few minutes, likely due to the hours of nothingness we had endured already.

We found ourselves at the Bonnaroo site not long after 8 PM, though a long wait delayed our entrance to the campground, which was unreasonably far from the main venue area. However, our amazingly well-constructed shelter soon brought repose after the long drive, and the knowledge that we had actually made it halfway across the country comforted us in preparation for what would turn out to be a miserable morning the next day.

Part 2 coming soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Comments on Yesterday's RIAA Ruling

Yesterday, a jury ruled that a Minnesota single mother was guilty of violating copyright laws following a lawsuit from the RIAA that claimed she illegally downloaded 24 songs in 2007. I just had a few thoughts about this.

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. The presiding judge commanded that Jammie Thomas pay the sum of $1.92 million to the RIAA for damages on those 24 "stolen" songs. There's very little I can say here that that sentence doesn't say for itself. Remember that this woman is a single mother of two children living on a very modest income. Consider also that it's likely that her children downloaded the songs. $1.92 million. The fact is that the RIAA knows full well that it won't get that money; Thomas simply has no means of paying it, even if every cent of her income for the rest of her natural life went to the RIAA. Therefore, consider the message that the RIAA is sending here: Do not fuck with the recording industry, or you will be fucked. Painfully.

However, there is much more being implied here. It's important to think about the state of music in today's world, the environment in which this travesty was created. Consider these offhand examples:

Radiohead releases "In Rainbows" through a variable-pricing scheme in which the listener chooses how much to pay.

Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) releases "Ghosts I-IV" independently through a staggered pricing scheme. Months later, Reznor releases another full-length album completely free of charge in a variety of formats.

Girl Talk releases "Feed the Animals" independently, and most listeners receive it for free.

The point is that music, and the technology used to distribute it, is evolving at an unprecedented pace. The music industry is simply failing to keep up. Not only this, but they have actively chosen to turn a blind eye to the obvious path of the industry in favor of a constant struggle for control that they cannot hope to win.

The underlying message of the Jammie Thomas ruling, then, is that the music industry is becoming increasingly and obviously desperate. Last Christmas, record sales were down a staggering 21% from a year before. This simple statistic shows that the industry as it currently exists is failing, dying a slow death brought on by the revelation of freely shared music through the advent of widely-available internet access.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the RIAA seems to be thinking the same thing. With massively popular artists like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Girl Talk going outside the previously established lines, the industry sees its demise approaching. Unfortunately, it is too late to capitalize on the growth of filesharing technology, so the record labels are left with no choice but to pursue petty copyright cases until it is finally put out of its misery.

So, in light of this, I encourage any readers I have to load the shotgun and fire. Take what you want from the vast pool of freely available music; you're cheating yourself not to. Eventually, this dying industry will be forced to change radically or finally suffocate. It's fucked, and everyone knows it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Bit of Sport-Related Confusion

So, I initially thought that I’d inaugurate this blog with some kind of review of this year’s Bonnaroo festival, from which I returned two days ago. However, this morning, I came upon a bit of startling news from the sports world (yes, I’ll probably write about sports from time to time). Said news involves troubled Cleveland Browns receiver Donte Stallworth.
For those who don’t know, Stallworth recently plead guilty to charges of manslaughter for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk. He was clearly at fault, and there is no excuse for what he did; a man is dead because Stallworth made a colossal mistake, one that hundreds make yearly, albeit usually with less serious consequences.

The court system handed Stallworth a 30-day prison sentence, along with two years of house arrest and eight of probation. Undoubtedly, Stallworth got off on the light side; he could have served 15 years in prison, as many others certainly do for the same crime. The presiding judge likely thought that Stallworth’s obvious and apparently heartfelt remorse, along with a private settlement he made to the victim’s family, deserved a certain amount of leniency. In this case, I agree; the man clearly knows what he did wrong, and while I think the judge went a little on the light side, I do not think a 15-year sentence would have been appropriate.

More confusing to me is the second piece of Stallworth’s punishment, an indefinite suspension handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Read again: indefinite suspension. This means that Goodell could change his mind and reinstate Stallworth tomorrow, but it could also mean that he never touches a football again.

Have no doubt, friends: Stallworth’s career will never be the same again. I have my doubts as to whether or not he will ever play again. This places him in the same category as Michael Vick and Pacman Jones, to a lesser extent. Think about Vick’s current situation: he is in house arrest, out of prison, but utterly and completely broke, having filed for chapter 11 weeks ago. Some think that he will find a place in the NFL again, but I have my doubts. I seriously doubt that he will ever be an effective quarterback ever again.

What concerns me about this comparison is the arbitrary nature of Roger Goodell’s decisions. The man has complete disciplinary power in the league, and he has made questionable decisions before. He wants to send a message that resonates with fans, but by being so harsh on Stallworth, he has called his legitimacy into question. Stallworth owned up to his mistake, and while he deserves punishment, Goodell is not the man to hand it down. Vick was suspended after making plea agreements with the courts, and throughout the judiciary process, his ‘remorse’ was little more than regret at being caught. Make no mistake: Michael Vick is a first-class douchebag, or at least was before bankruptcy ruined him. In light of this, it is unfair that the two men receive identical punishments from the league. Personally, I think it’s time that the disciplinary process in the NFL receives an overhaul: one man should not have this kind of power over an entire league of players, especially an inconsistent, unfair individual like Goodell. These issues will continue to arise until the system is fixed, and though plenty of responsibility sits with the players, the message the league attempts to send time and again has lost its value. In the end, I have faith fans will figure out that Goodell is a terrible commissioner, and the sport will begin restoring its once admirable image.

Holy shit, that was a long post. My bad. Music stuff coming soon.

First Post

Hey, I'm Colin, and this is my likely ill-advised new blog. Giving in to social pressures is fun sometimes, see? I have no real idea what I'm going to write about, but it will probably involve music and worthless, poorly-formed opinions about random bullshit. Thanks for reading.