Friday, August 31, 2007

885 mmmm: Up Above My Head

Up above my head, Up above my head
I can hear music in the air, I hear music in the air
Up above my head, Up above my head
I can hear music in the air, I hear music in the air
Up above my head I hear music in the air, oh Lord.
And I really do believe I really do believe
There's a heaven somewhere

Stop the presses. End all the discussion. The # 1 most memorable musical moment is at hand – and guess what, I think you’ll agree with me. And it happens daily. A little patience, please.

August 1965 – My cousin (soon to become to my stepmother, but that’s a long story for another time) pulls up in her cherry red convertible on a radiant, carefree, cloudless summer day with the radio blasting. The song – “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits. I am instantly smitten… with the song, jackass, not my cousin. It’s the first time I remember falling head over heels with a song at initial impact. Thus begins a life-long love affair from which I’ve never strayed.

October 1971 – A suitably scattershot, monotoned dj takes the Sunday underground midnight shift at top 40 kingpin WIBG with the promise to “blow your mind” with an epic celebration of rock’s history. I’m 14, it’s a school night, I’ve got the fading-in, fading-out transistor radio under my pillow with the volume low so my parents don’t come in and make me turn if off. The song begins “Long, long time ago” and it’s “American Pie” and I’m breathless with excitement at this magical, mystic (yes, now I know, but back then that’s exactly what I thought) nine minute tribute to rock’s golden days. I thought it was the greatest song I had ever heard and no else would ever hear it. Two weeks later it was omnipresent…

December 2002 – I’m working a little Christmas retail at my friend Pat’s cd store (Main Street Music in Manayunk – get thee down there and support your local, independent cd store before it’s too late) and, in a scene that’s almost Groundhog Day-ish, he says “I got one for ya, jackass”. And he plays “Wendy” by Jesse Malin. He’s right, it’s so me – ringing guitars, brilliant hooks, soaring chorus, witty pop culture references (Tom Waits, sixties Kinks and Jack Kerouac). I can’t believe a song this good exists and I didn’t know about it. Now I do… and it becomes my personal mission statement to make sure every one I’ve ever met hears this song.

mp3 - Jesse Malin - "Wendy"

March 2006 – Another friend (in truth, someone I’ve only known through an internet message board) and I agree to swap best of 2005 mixes. I send mine out promptly in January, his doesn’t arrive until March. His mix contains mostly bands and artists I’m not familiar with and this knocks me for a loop for two reasons – first, one song’s better than the next and two, as is the case with most music obsessives, I think I know everything. One song in particular – “Anjalee” by Lucero – sets my hair on fire with its inital blast of serrated buzzsaw guitar and lead singer's commitment to throat devastation - this is a song and band to love. Now shut up and play that guitar.
Lucero, coming to a town near you (11/1 at The Troc for those in Philly)… believe the hype. Thanks Peter.
mp3 - Lucero - "Anjalee"

Last Friday – The wife and kid are asleep, I decide to troll the mp3 blogs for some new tunes, because this Dionysian task never ends. My foraging pays off as I download “Cigarette” by young Canadian singer Jeremy Fisher. Gadzooks!! Imagine "Julio"-era Paul Simon fronting the Violent Femmes with songs co-written by Brill Building Neil Diamond. And then I download four more of his songs, and they’re all terrific. I immediately burn them (and some other discoveries) to disc and begin spreading the word. And I know I’m not alone as Michael nails the giddy rush of a new crush.

And no, I won’t bore you with every instance of discovery, for I don’t have the time and you don’t have the stamina, but I guarantee that every one who reads this has had similar epiphanies. That’s why the “next great song” is the # 1 musical moment – because whether it’s a dusty old relic or a song written tomorrow, that initial buzz that hits like a lightning strike, it never fails to amaze.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

885 MMMM: Radio, Radio

“Turn it up, little bit higher, radio!” - Van Morrison

“Radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetize the way that you feel” – Elvis Costello

“It’s a thin line between love and hate” – The Persuaders

I discovered the cruel divide between art and commerce in 1976, at age eight. A friend had acquired “Beth,” the sap-rock masterwork, on a 45 rpm record. After listening to Peter Criss’s plaintive croon a few times, we flipped the single over and, suddenly, spontaneously, I burst into flames. The power. The glory. The utter rock and roll fury. I knew this was something that must be shared with the world, so I ran to the phone and dialed WEIC, the local top 40 radio station. “Request line!” answered the exuberant DJ. “Can you play ‘Detroit Rock City’ by KISS?” I asked. “No,” he said. “Why not?” I practically cried, panic overtaking me. “Because it’s not a hit,” the killjoy replied.

It was as if he had said “Because ice cream is not delicious.”

I could not fathom that his response was either true or germane to my request. Radio existed to play great songs. It’s where I had heard “Proud Mary” and “Brown Sugar.” It’s where I learned about putting the lime in the coconut, that Leroy Brown was the baddest man in the whole damn town, and that trains to Georgia departed well past my bedtime. The only possible explanation for “Detroit Rock City” not being a hit was that radio stations weren’t playing it. It was like the chicken eating the egg.

Despite that act of betrayal, my faith in radio could not be shaken. It was the altar at which I huddled for an entire day in 1979 hoping to hear Gary Numan’s “Cars” just once (when it finally came on, the experience was only made better by the wait). It was the beacon to which I ran after school on the day “Dancing in the Dark” was released, to hear Bruce Springsteen’s new single every hour on the hour for eight hours straight. There was also the nighttime jock in Kansas City who redeemed his failure to play my “Radio Free Europe” request (“Detroit Rock City” all over again) by spinning “So. Central Rain” just a few months later.

And it’s this capacity for greatness that gives radio the ability to let me down so completely. In 1994 and 1995, KLZR in Lawrence, Kansas was so brilliant that it failed to cultivate an audience (see the Advanced Theory blog for an explanation), and changed format, leaving me adrift. In 2005, a lot of stations played “My Humps,” leaving me afraid for the future. And now, everywhere you turn, it’s the same dumbed-down playlist designed to attract people who hate silence more than they love music.

But when radio kills, it still thrills. There are seven quadrillion ways to discover new music now, but the undisputed best is still to be on the highway as something unexpected and spectacular comes over the airwaves, as you beg the DJ to back announce the title so you can pull over at the nearest CD shop. Jarvis Cocker owes at least one sale of his new album to this experience.

It’s this belief that there’s magic in the ether that causes me to turn on the radio immediately upon arrival in another city. WXRT in Chicago. KEXP in Seattle. WXPN in Philadelphia. KBCO in Denver. KCOU, 100 watts of sheer rebellion, in Columbia, Mo. It keeps me from being lonely late at night. Can’t be alone when the radio’s on. I got the power of the AM, got the power of the FM, got the rockin’ modern neon sound, got the radio ON.

The Modern Lovers, "Roadrunner"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

... But The Little Girls Understand

The Format played a sold out show at The Trocadero in Philadelphia last Thursday night that could have easily doubled as a casting call for High School Musical. The average age of the adoring crowd was somewhere between Hannah Montana and Avril Lavigne. So what was I doing there? The Format happen to be a great band that specialize in musically sophisticated, lyrically adolescent three minute "teenage symphonies from god". And my love for that kinda stuff is embedded deep down in my marrow.

Their stage entrance was greeted with teenybop squeals of delight that gave notice that this would be one highly interactive show between the band and their congregation. Starting off with the title track from last year's much beloved Dog Problems, the awestruck group of little girls (and boys) sang every song like a swooning, lovesick choir. This process would be repeated for each song - early cheer at the recognition of the first note followed by a mass audible sigh, then sing your heart out. The only song to esacpe this nubile harmony fest was a soulful, all hands on deck cover of Van Morrison's "Caravan" that lead singer Nate Ruess handled admirably.
When introducing "Snails", lead singer Ruess said it was a song about "taking it slow" and that we should look around and hug the person next to you. Jail time would surely have beckoned if my concert partner and I had honored that request. But other than that bit of awkwardness, the night was chock full of XTC meets Queen on Broadway melodies with the great risk/reward of romance's dangers looming at every turn.
And, for the first time ever (for me anyway, Michael is way savvier), here's two songs the band didn't play during the show. If you like them, get yourself to an independent record store and buy Dog Problems today.
Turn it up, turn it up, a little bit higher... the radio.
Turn it up, that's enough, so you know... it's got soul.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Joy of Discovery

One minute, a song doesn’t exist. The next, it rules your world.

A week ago, I had never heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowehere.” Now, a few dozen listens later, I know it inside-out and can’t believe I survived nearly four decades without it. Likewise, until a couple of days ago, I was completely unaware of Canadian singer-songwriter Jeremy Fisher, whose Goodbye Blue Monday album (already out north of the border) is due for stateside release on September 18. But thanks to a care package from Trip, I’m now fully intoxicated by his heady, infectious brew of low-key guitar pop. Please welcome Mr. Fisher as he makes his Teenage Kicks debut.

Listen to Jeremy Fisher - "Scar That Never Heals"

Listen to Jeremy Fisher - "Cigarette"

Buy Goodbye Blue Monday

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I have no beef with technology. Some of my favorite music – from Kraftwerk to Public Enemy to Moby – has been made inside the whirring pneumatics of machines. But there’s little I love more than the empathy and telepathy involved when musicians play with and off each other. The Bill Evans Trio. James Brown and the Famous Flames. The Hold Steady. That music lives and breathes, and there’s always the chance that it will run off the rails or rise through the stratosphere because it’s a warm, organic collaboration between men, and not a cold, controlled concoction of machines. It provides thrills without chills.

Apparently, I just wasn’t made for these times.

In the lead review in this week’s Rolling Stone, David Fricke takes on the new album by Ben Harper (of whom I’m no particular fan), and opens with a pair of sentences that seem astounding and disorienting to me:

On paper, it reads like a self-conscious exercise in antique cool and classic-rock righteousness. Singer-guitarist-songwriter Ben Harper and his band the Innocent Criminals recorded the eleven songs on Lifeline, Harper’s eighth studio album, live in a Paris studio, straight to analog tape, in seven days flat.

I understand studio craft, overdubs and the relentless pursuit of perfection. Some of my favorite records have resulted from a rare and meticulous precision. But I’ve always admired the spirit that allows a band to plug in, face each other, and go for broke. At some point, I guess, playing live and without a net became “self-conscious.” I remember when we called it “authentic.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Heard Rock and Roll Future . . .

. . . well, about fifteen minutes into the future, and it kicks ass. Go here to hear what the fuss is about.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Memorable Springsteen (Part Two)

Springsteen After Study Hall (May 25, 1974)

I was a budding music obsessive lost in the alcohol-stoked wilderness of high school. My high school – Archbishop John Carroll (Radnor,PA) – was to host Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert in our school theater. Two fellow students (hi Jack, hi Maura) were organizing the show and needed to sell (I believe) 300 tickets at the princely sum of $4.00 apiece to break even. Despite daily homeroom announcements and constant prodding by a dozen or so music fanatics (where was the internet when we needed it?), ticket sales stalled significantly south of the magic 300 number. I did turn my ticket in for the refund, though – that was probably the cost of a case of Schlitz.

Time and Newsweek Covers (October 27, 1975)

In a marketing coup that may have ultimately backfired, Springsteen is accorded an honor heretofore reserved for world leaders and tragedies. To put this in perspective, on 10/29/75 Springsteen plays the Sacramento (CA) Memorial Auditorium and the Sacramento Union newspaper reported only 600 of the 2,500 tickets were sold. It would be like The Hold Steady getting simultaneous Time and Newsweek covers – it just couldn’t happen. But it did.

The Kid Sees Bruce (December 27, 1975)

By December 1975, Bruce mania had enveloped Philadelphia and four Tower shows sold out instantly. I’ll never forget the thunderous, deafening applause that greeted the band as they strutted onstage. They knew… this was their time. From the opening “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”, through a pie-eyed, exuberant “Quarter to Three” (a song I didn’t know at the time) and ending with a cathartic rock-throne claiming “Twist and Shout”, I knew I was done. I’ve been trying to recapture the explosive magic of this show ever since.

The Camp Out - Scooter Proves It All Night (October 1980)

My brother and I probably camped out more than two dozen times in an effort to get not just concert tickets, but great concert tickets. Before the internet, eBay, ticketbastard and Live Nation, it used to be pretty simple to get great seats – you just had to work for them. And one nasty little October night my little bro’ slept encased in garbage bags (it was the closest we could come to rain gear) and never budged from the old EFC office stoop at 18th & Lombard. While I shuttled between the line, my car, my friend’s apartment, and a dive bar or two, there were literally “Tear drops on the city, bad Scooter searching for his groove”. Which leads to…

Playing Is The Best Thing To Do (December 9, 1980)

Besides finishing with their own heartfelt, revival tent tribute, a jaw-dropping “Twist and Shout”, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band did the only thing they could do following John Lennon’s death… they played rock and roll. And my brother and I... we believed in the healing power of music. Jay Cocks captured the moment better than I ever could in the 12/22/80 issue of Time magazine.

Springsteen could probably have let Lennon's death pass unremarked, and few in the audience at his Philadelphia concert last Tuesday would have been troubled. But instead of ripping right into the first song, Springsteen simply said, "If it wasn't for John Lennon, a lot of us would be some place much different tonight. It's a hard world that asks you to live with a lot of things that are unlivable. And it's hard to come out here and play tonight, but there's nothing else to do."
Then Bruce and the E Street Band tore into Springsteen's own anthem, "Born to Run", making it clear that playing was the best thing to do. Guitarist Steve Van Zandt let the tears roll down his face, and organist Danny Federici hit the board so hard he broke a key. By the second verse, the song turned into a challenge the audience was happy to accept: "I wanna know love is wild, I wanna know love is real," Springsteen yelled and they yelled back. By the end, it sounded like redemption, John Lennon knew that sound too. He could use it like a chord change because he had been chasing it most of his life.

Where Do All The Hippies Meet? (April 13, 1984)

Such was the excitement surrounding Springsteen during Born in the USA mania that even shows by Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers quickly sold out based solely on the hope that Springsteen might surface. Well one night we gambled and won. Word spread quickly that Springsteen was in the house at Ripley’s– a dingy club located in the heart of South St. (you probably know it as the site of the recently closed Tower Records). Hearts fluttered and anticipation gave way to imminent euphoria as Clarence and the band were half-way through an instrumental version of “Fire”, and then he stopped and did the "lean on the little guy" routine. In a flash Springsteen materialized and the two of them just stood stone-like at midnight like world conquerors and basked in the unfettered din of a spastic, hyper-ventilating audience. “Like Romeo and Juliet. Samson and Delilah” sang Springsteen and the apoplectic crowd heaved and surged like a 40 foot wave. It truly seemed like the floor would buckle. Next they obliterated Fogerty’s “Rockin All Over the World” – and for ten minutes time stopped.

Bruce Springsteen Releases The Rising (July 30, 2002)

Less than a year after the unfathomable, Springsteen addressed 9/11 and its aftermath with some of the most emotional, devastating songs of his career. Yes, there were a couple of duds and failed experiments (“Let’s Be Friends” or “Worlds Apart”, anyone?), but the best of The Rising (the title cut, “My City of Ruins”, Lonesome Day”, “You’re Missing”) spoke eloquently to questions with no answers, bore a beam of light through the muck, and was quite frankly, the right record, by the right guy, at the right time. A staggering achievement.

“He’s The Boss And I’m The Employee” (October 13, 2004)

So spoke Eddie Vedder before he and Bruce Springsteen launched into “Better Man”, their third roof-shaking duet following “No Surrender” and “Darkness on The Edge of Town” during the final 2004 Vote For Change concert. To say that Vedder was Springsteen’s equal that night on Bruce’s home turf would be possibly selling Vedder short. I’m not a big Pearl Jam fan, but Eddie Vedder is a Rock Star. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two higher-wattage performers share a stage. Now I’ve gotta see Pearl Jam.

Monday, August 20, 2007

We are uncool

Here's a pretty standard phone conversation between Trip and me (I'm the young guy at the typewriter):

Friday, August 17, 2007

Honey, I corrupted the kid

You're Valerie Bertinelli. Your ex-husband, an addict in recovery, comes to you and says he'd like to take your sixteen year old son out of school this fall. To play rock and roll shows. With this man:

Now, it's possible that this guy may not be the best role model for a teenage boy. He is prone to, how shall I say, excess. He's also not so good with what we might call "coherent thought." And, if you'll recall, your ex-husband kind of hates this guy and has spent the past twenty-some years slagging him in public.

So, Val, whaddya say?

You say, what the heck, the kid's alright. And that's the story of how Wolfgang became the bass player in the reconfigured (if not really reunited) Van Halen.

Young Wolfie, of course, replaces founding member Michael Anthony (who is on the outs with Ed and Alex) in the band. And it raises an interesting point of trivia. The kid was born six years after David Lee Roth last played with Van Halen. Has any other major band ever staged a "reunion" featuring a key member who had not yet been born when the band broke up? If you can think of an example, please leave us a comment.

He's Back

Magic arrives on October 2.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Memorable Springsteen

Both of your intrepid reporters here at Teenage Kicks are big fans of The Boss, and if you don’t like him, well, we probably don’t like you (it’s only a guideline, we make exceptions; hi, Hook!). So we’ve decided to list some memorable moments in the man’s career, from both a general and a personal perspective. I’ll post a few now. Trip will add more upon his return from vacation.

Springsteen plays “Mary Queen of Arkansas” for John Hammond, May 3, 1972. Hammond, a famed, almost mythical, producer and record executive, had already been responsible for helping to launch the careers of Benny Goodman, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin on the day that a young Bruce Springsteen came to audition for Columbia Records, an acoustic guitar in hand. Springsteen proceeded to play four songs that would form the backbone of his debut album. The rest, as they say . . .

“Mary Queen of Arkansas”

I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” May 22, 1974. Heather already nailed this one cold.

Thunder Rolls, World Music Theater, Chicago, September 2, 1992. This was during Springsteen’s wilderness period, after he moved to California and shelved the E Street Band in favor of a unit featuring guitarist Shane Fontayne, a man of many mannerisms. Playing a rare show in an outdoor amphitheater, in support of the underrated Lucky Town and the regrettable Human Touch, Springsteen came out and floored me with a blistering set that reached to the very last row. The show’s centerpiece was a pile-driving “Light of Day” that included a classic stagey Springsteen moment, where the band stopped mid-song and the Boss stood motionless for what seemed like an eternity as the crowd whipped itself into a fury of building anticipation, until the man slowly came out of the pose and led the band to a rousing climax. But the real give-you-chills moment came during the encore. As Springsteen played the opening notes to “Thunder Road,” actual thunder rolled in from the western sky to the uproarious delight of the masses. After “Born to Run,” the show came to a close with an elegant reading of “My Beautiful Reward.” Despite the crowd’s pleas for another encore, the house lights came up, and we began to file out, only to be stopped in our tracks as Bruce and the band rushed back out and bashed their way through “Working on the Highway.” The single best arena rock show I’ve seen.

The Reunion, Kemper Arena, Kansas City, April 9, 2000. Believe it or not, this was the first time I saw Bruce with his brothers in arms, and it came just at the right time. After struggling all spring with a mystery illness and a career crisis, I needed someone to take a knife and cut some pain from my heart. And fortunately for me, I scored a pair of floor seats, about a dozen rows back, when the reunited, reinvigorated E Street Band came to my town on my 32nd birthday and led a full-fledged rock and roll revival. It was a show full of joy, friendship and history, and it included some of my more obscure favorites (“Downbound Train,” “Murder, Inc.”), and closed with the sublime “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “Is anyone out there alive tonight?” he asked. For the first time in a while, I could give an enthusiastic “yes.” Three months later, I had a new career, and eight months after that, the missus and I had a child. All because of a rock show. (I kid, I kid; it was only partly because of a rock show).

“My City of Ruins,” America: A Tribute to Heroes, September 21, 2001. I had been shuffling around aimlessly for ten days wondering what to make of the new world when Springsteen opened this television special with a song I had never heard before. Supported by his own acoustic guitar and harmonica, and the voices of Patti Scialfa, Steve Van Zandt, and a choir, Bruce said “this is a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters” and began to sing a gorgeous song full of striking imagery that seemed like it must have been written for the occasion (later I learned that it had been written before and modified slightly). In the midst of all the confusion and fear, he implored us to “rise up” with a clarity that had been missing in the attack’s aftermath. Rise up, we have work to do. Rise up, there is life to be lived. Rise up and show the world a better way. It was simultaneously chilling and stirring, and to hear it today takes me back to that very moment, while filling with anger toward leaders who have failed to live up to the goodness and decency of the America reflected in the song . A version with the full E Street Band was featured on The Rising, but this simple, elegant take remains definitive.

“My City of Ruins”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Letter to the Editors

The following missive (in hardcopy form, with CD) was received over the weekend by the editors of Teenage Kicks.


I’ve asked myself to write some liner notes to explain the significance of this artifact, and I’ve graciously accepted my offer. I feel the need to explain a bit, because on Thursday, August 2, I finally committed the musical and aural distractions found on “Thru the Past circa 9/1/83” to CD; the next day, I made a cover with a photo of the A-side of the weathered Maxell UD XL II C90 and a headline declaring “THE BEST MIX TAPE I EVER MADE.” The very next day, one of the co-conspirators at the Teenage Kicks blog [] posted an entry titled “The Greatest Mix Tape Ever Made.” I’ve included the timeline of these events so said co-conspirator won’t think I was ripping off his title. Great minds, as they say.

The tape that I have humbly deemed “The Best Mix Tape I Ever Made” was recorded on the eve of my 28th birthday. I assume there was a gathering planned to mark that insignificant occasion, and some of the selections on the A-side of the tape somewhat self-consciously address the passage of time, most obviously [perhaps embarrassingly so] the first song, the Animals’ "When I Was Young” [take a bow, Hilton Valentine] and the second track, which contains the line “I feel I’m getting old.” But the rest of the tape, I will not so humbly declare, charges through four decades of rip-roaring, hair-raising popular music. I will not give any hints about the rest of the songs preserved on the magnetic tape sound recording [though only a few of them are from the decade of its creation]. My theory of tape mixology embraces the element of surprise — if, for instance, you make a jaw-dropping segue from Barry and the Remains to Richard Hell and the Voidoids [and, no, that does not happen on this artifact], one doesn’t want said segue to be spoiled by its listing on the cassette insert. [And, dear reader, this tape is crammed with jaw-dropping segues.] The experience of listening to a mix tape for this first time should be a leap into the unknown, a peeling away of layers of delight. [And a mix tapist should never include more than one song per artist per tape; and, if that rule is broken — as it is on this very tape! — those songs sound never be heard consecutively.]

I have mix tapes heaped in various boxes and teetering on shelves [I have no idea how many there are; who would want to count the countless?]. I often listen to them late at night, when the new CDs and mp3s and Internet streams have run their course. I slip a tape into an ugly Sony boombox and delve into the inspired [and insipid] mash-ups, always enjoying a bemused delight when a song whose artist I cannot identify comes on [others would never have this who-the-heck? disconnect, as they compulsively label the results of their labors]. I’ve spent a lot of time with year-end compilations from the ’90s, radio grabs of live shows from the ’70s and ’80s, and random then-new comps that got played in rusting Pintos and Corollas and Encores and on an Aiwa walkman. But this tape, “Thru the Past circa 9/1/83,” is my Basement Tape, my High Fidelity special, my GREATEST MIX TAPE EVER MADE. Every time I have played it — countless times — I have resolved to dub copies and foist them on those who I think would care to listen. But copying tapes is time-consuming, and blanks cost $20 each now that they have become virtually obsolete. So I finally dragged the ugly Sony boombox next to the hard drive [full disclosure: the ugly Sony boombox is usually about eight feet from the hard drive], ran the mini-to-mini wire from the headphone jack to the audio input, and turned the splendor on the magnetic tape sound recording into 1s and 0s. The result runs for 46 minutes and 50 seconds [C90 — yeah, right]. [And the result also includes an unplanned contribution from 2007: a Windows “alert” that occurred during the transfer.]

Enough ruminations, dear reader. At this point I encourage you to become a dear listener and delve into this virtual tape. I have not made this CD a two-disc set and included the B-side [labeled “9/1/83 — 5 star mix”] because, as heard in 2007, it is merely a 3 star mix [and leads off with a song by an artist I cannot identify]. The A-side, though, deserves 10 stars.

Perhaps one night I will return to the basement and make “The Best Mix Tape [or At Least A-side] I Ever Made In the 21st Century.” In the meantime, I’ll just slip this tape into the ugly Sony boombox one more time.

Jack A. Sery
August 7, 2007


Friday, August 10, 2007

Eruption (for violin)

Random Three for a Friday

At the gym this morning, the iPod pulled up three songs that sounded so good together that I feel compelled to share them with you.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Anabolics Anonymous

Trip, you ignorant slut.

I know that you used the word “alleged” only because you didn’t see it with your own two eyes, but Bonds isn’t simply “alleged” to have used steroids. It has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt. It’s been proven by the mountains of documents and testimony disclosed in Game of Shadows, by the rapid expansion of Anabolic Barry’s hat size, by the associates serving prison time, and by the fact that at an age when virtually every other player in history has gone into decline, Bonds morphed into the greatest hitter ever to stride the earth. No, he never failed a steroid test. But O.J. never failed a murder test, either. Our prisons are full of people convicted on considerably less than the sea of facts that implicates Bonds. The evidence doesn’t allow for any inference other than that the guy began juicing around the turn of the century. None.

Further, I don’t know where this notion that steroids weren’t “illegal” comes from. They weren’t specifically prohibited by Major League Baseball, but neither was sorcery or bionics. But to possess and use them was a federal crime. Does anyone believe that the juicers didn’t understand that what they were doing was wrong? When you’re trafficking in the black market and taking pains to cover your tracks, it’s impossible to claim straight-faced that you did nothing wrong.

And though he’s not without fault, when exactly did Bud Selig become the Jesus of Baseball, put on earth to bear the weight of everyone’s sins? Has he often been an ineffectual commissioner? Sure. But so? Does that make Anabolic Barry less culpable? Lax policing might explain why someone would be willing to commit a crime, but it doesn’t excuse the offense.

You love the game. I used to. I don’t understand how anyone who cares about baseball can shrug off what Bonds and McGwire (and others) did. The game changes. I get that. Strike zones shrink, ballparks shrink, pitcher’s mounds shrink. Training regimens improve and nutrition advances. You can’t hold those things against Bonds any more than you can hold segregation against Ruth. You play when you play, under the rules then in place. But fans have to be able to trust that, at some level, it’s fair play. And Bonds made a mockery of that trust and the game itself. He was already an all-time great, a three-time MVP, and a first-ballot hall of famer when he turned 36, an age at which he should have begun to diminish as a player. Instead, he hit 49 home runs that year, topping a career best established at age 29. The next season, one more year removed from his prime, he tallied 73 homers – more than anyone else in history and 50% more than his career best. Then, despite being walked nearly 200 times a year over the next three seasons (no one else has ever been walked more than 170 times in a season), he averaged 45 home runs a year. He was so dominant – at age 40 – that he warped the fabric of the game.

Without drugs, those numbers would have been astonishing. With drugs, they’re simply grotesque. Bonds holds the record now, but it’s a hollow achievement, not worthy of adoration. And it’s also not worthy of the considerable attention I’ve given it today.

Barry Bonds Hit 756 Home Runs

Barry Bonds is a dick. I need to acknowledge that immediately. But did he cheat? Were the substances Bonds is alleged (and I use alleged because I have no first hand knowledge of Bond’s private habits, yet I firmly believe Bonds used “performance-enhancing substances”) to have used when laying waste to major league pitching illegal when he used them? If not, then what’s your beef? Like just about every professional athlete, Bonds tried to gain a competitive edge whenever possible.

You want to find fault? Then take a look at Bud Selig, who’s the one man who could have outlawed the use of these substances before being pressured by Congress to do so. But Mr. Selig (and I’m sure the TV networks) were quite happy to see the great 1998 home run dance between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they rejuvenated a moribund league still reeling from the 1994 strike. Take a look at the baseball owners who built many of the smaller parks that turned into home run bonanzas in the last 20 years.

Barry Bonds is a tremendous, tremendous baseball player who used rule changes (pitchers getting penalized more for throwing inside), at-the-time legal substances, a ridiculous hand-eye coordination, smaller parks, smaller strike zones, expansion (diluted pitching pool) to create the perfect storm for home run nirvana.

I don’t like Barry Bonds even a little bit – he’s surly, arrogant, selfish, deceitful – a punk in every sense of the word. My guess is Pete Rose and Ty Cobb shared many of those characteristics. But the guy has hit 756 home runs. It’s the most in major league history, and steroids or not, that is no small accomplishment. Don’t weep for Hank Aaron – my guess is, like Babe Ruth, his legend will only grow as the home run king who did things the right way.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the all-time greats:

“We didn't use steroids because we didn't have them.” - Buck O'Neill

Blank Veneration

In June 1977, the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" ascended to the top of the UK pop chart, a fact so repellant to many mainstream Brits that some retailers posted a chart with a blank line where the number one single should have been.

That's the approach I'll be taking with the sporting news of the day. For me, this is the list of all-time home run hitters:

1. _____________
2. Henry Aaron 755
3. Babe Ruth 714
4. Willie Mays 660

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hotter than July

When Ichiro Suzuki was new to the big leagues and just discovering the joys of English, some teammates persuaded him to display his burgeoning language skills to a reporter on a late summer visit to my hometown. “Kansas City in August is hotter than two rats &@*$ing in a wool sock,” he said.

No kidding. This morning, I saw a seven-day forecast on a local television station, and the lowest projected high temperature for the coming week is 99 degrees, which we’re expected to hit twice. The remaining days range from 100 to 104, which, combined with our notoriously stifling humidity, will make those rats seem comfy by comparison.

Here are ten songs appropriate for the coming swelter:

1. “Heatwave,” Martha and the Vandellas
2. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” Pink Floyd
3. “I’m on Fire,” Bruce Springsteen
4. “I Melt with You,” Modern English
5. “Gonna Make You Sweat,” C+C Music Factory
6. “Lake of Fire,” Meat Puppets
7. “White Light White Heat,” The Velvet Underground
8. “Hot (I Need to be Loved, Loved, Loved),” James Brown
9. “Hotter than Hell,” KISS
10. “Blister in the Sun,” Violent Femmes

Sunday, August 05, 2007


An almost incomprehensibly great confluence of acts is playing Lollapalooza this weekend in Chicago, and our buddy The Boy from Good Nonsense is there. Check out his recaps from Day One and Day Two, and be sure to check back later for his take on Day Three, and see whether he makes it through a day of Amy Winehouse, the Stooges, Yo La Tengo, My Morning Jacket, TV on the Radio and Pearl Jam without spontaneously combusting.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Greatest Mix Tape Ever Made

If I’ve had the honor of making your acquaintance, I’ve more than likely made you a music mix – whether you wanted it or not. Because us music obsessives not only love our favorite tunes, we desperately need you to love them too. From the bedroom (cassettes) to the basement (cds), there is some wonderful, crack-like high when you’ve created the perfect mix. Bruce Warren’s Daily Dose last week got me thinking about The Greatest Mix Tape Ever Made. At last count, I had made 742 different mix tapes/cd burns (and yes I counted), but one shines brightest.

I should lay out my mix tape ground rules:

1. Only songs that I love – no filling out a theme mix with a less than stellar yet thematically perfect tune.

2. Tape must be started and finished in the same day.

3. Tape must be clearly labeled and titled.

4. All 30, 60 or 90 minutes must be used. This led to some unfortunate endings – you might say premature effectuations – of some great songs. This nasty little habit led to the term “Teek Tape”.

5. No pufdas.

6. No Grateful Dead. No Pink Floyd. Ever.

Some of my favorite mixes include career overviews for cult artists whose complete catalogs might be a little dodgy (Bodeans, Aztec Camera, Ron Sexsmith, Willy DeVille, Saw Doctors, Persuasions), the great lost breakup tape (including The Beat Farmers’ “Goldmine”, Nilsson’s “You’re Breaking My Heart” and Lyle Lovett’s “God Will” – god I’d love to find that one again) and my son’s initial mix entitled Sean’s First Mega Tape (including nuggets like the immortal Baha Men’s “Who Let The Dogs Out”, rehab superstar in training Aaron Carter’s “Life Is A Party” and power pop legend Matthew Sweet’s definitive version of the Scooby-Doo theme song).

Most mixes were merely compilations of current favorite songs anchored by one obscure song and unimaginatively named after that song – “World On Your Shoulders”, “Roll Around Heaven This Way”, “American Music”, “Boys Will Be Boys”, “Continental Kind of Girl”. Where have you gone Asexuals, Michael Hall, Violent Femmes, Gear Daddies and Elliott Murphy?

Many had themes – Soul Shots’ gritty mix of southern fried soul, The Challenge’s under heard personal faves (Northern Pikes, The Silencers, Flophouse and Barking Tribe – on second thought this one may wilt under further scrutiny), Chick-A-Boom’s celebration of cheesy but true blue 70’s AM pop (the title song, “Candida”, “Hot Rod Lincoln”, “Montego Bay”, “Rock Me Gently” – that one gets aired tomorrow), Single To Left’s subtle wordplay provides a collection of indie-type 45s (Lemonheads, Pavement, Superchunk, Sneetches, Green on Red, Mudhoney), while California Stars (Wilco’s title song, Bruce Robison’s “My Brother and Me”, the Mats’ “Hold My Life”) saluted my youngest brother as he departed Brooklyn for Hollywood.

But only one mix tape was begun at 8:30 am on 9/17/88, four short hours after the conclusion of my first date- a rave-up with The Stand at The Rusty Nail, natch, followed by breakfast at the Llanerch, followed by (deleted by censors)- with my soon (six years is soon, isn’t it?) to be wife and current Teenage Kicks t-shirt model.

So why is this the greatest? Two reasons. First, I never got up that early and second, can you believe this mix in some small way may have contributed to a knucklehead like me snagging a babe like her and it didn’t scare her off?

I can’t.

The Greatest Mix Tape Ever Made (aka 9/17/88 8:30 AM)

1. Steve Earle – Fearless Heart
2. Bruce Springsteen – Then She Kissed Me
3. Bruce Springsteen – When You Walk in The Room
4. Reckless Sleepers – If We Never Meet Again
5. Everly Brothers – Thinkin’ ‘Bout You
6. Bodeans – Angels
7. Bodeans – Still The Night
8. Van Morrison – Jackie Wilson Said
9. Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
10. Marshall Crenshaw – The Usual Thing
11. Marshall Crenshaw – Something’s Gonna Happen
12. Willie Nile – Can’t Get You Off of My Mind
13. Robert Palmer – You Are In My System
14. Anita Baker – Giving You The Best That I Got
15. The Beat – Let Me Into Your Life

1. Bruce Springsteen – Tougher Than The Rest
2. Bruce Springsteen – Crush on You
3. Bodeans – What It Feels Like
4. NRBQ – I Like That Girl
5. Joe Jackson – Kinda Kute
6. Moon Martin – Victim of Romance
7. Greg Kihn – Rendezvous
8. Willy DeVille – Storybook Love
9. Mink DeVille – Each Word’s A Beat of My Heart
10. Sam Cooke – Cupid
11. The Persuasions – All I Have to Dream
12. Terence Trent D’Arby – (What A) Wonderful World
13. Frankie Miller – When I’m Away From You
14. Paul Carrack – I Need You
15. The Fools – I Won’t Grow Up

By the way, 19 years later, this mix holds up remarkably well.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

885 MMMM: Feeling Minnesota

As I watched coverage of Wednesday’s horrific tragedy in Minneapolis, I had this strange feeling that I knew the place even though I had never been there. Then it occurred to me: It’s the music. When I submitted my personal ballot for last year’s 885 greatest artists countdown, my top ten included five American acts, four of them from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I’ve seen Minneapolis through Prince’s eyes in Purple Rain, and from The Hold Steady’s point of view in the meticulous, miraculous detail of their songs. I know First Avenue, I know City Center, I know that bridge where the bus won’t stop because there’s just too many kids.

It’s remarkable how many of my most memorable musical moments were authored by Minnesota’s finest. I saw Bob Dylan put on a haunting show on my twenty-sixth birthday, the day after Kurt Cobain’s body was found. I saw the Replacements play a transcendent, spellbinding set just as the band was coming apart at the seams in 1991. And I danced on stage with The Hold Steady on a cold night last winter, feeling my love for rock and roll come crashing back in startling waves of heat.

I know that many grim discoveries will be made in the coming days in a city and state that will be shaken for a long time to come, and music seems trivial right now. But music connects us to people we’ve never met and places we’ve never been. And so as our thoughts turn to the people of the Twin Cities, I’ll think of the Minnesotans who have brought so much to my life, and pray that the people affected by the disaster can find comfort, solace and peace.