Sunday, May 31, 2015

If That's What They Call Normal, Then I'd Rather be Insane

The thing that I am ripped on for most, by an extremely wide margin, is my love for ska music.

I've accepted that pretty much nobody that I meet in my everyday life has the same level of appreciation or understanding of what ska truly is. It bugs me, because I like to think that I have a lot of knowledge on the subject and the music has proved to be something hugely influential in my life. It made me a better musician. It instilled anti-racist and anti-sexist ideas in me at a pretty young age. It showed me what a class war is and what it means to be a part of it.

I don't want to act like I like I had some atypical introduction to ska music for a white kid and was listening to Jackie Mittoo as a 13 year-old. I discovered through the usual avenue of 90's punk bands and third wave ska. But when I started taking bass lessons in 9th grade, I found out that my teacher, a friend of dad's, had been in one of Toronto's first reggae bands in the 60's and had a level of ska and reggae cred that I could never even dream of reaching. So while I was bringing in Catch-22 and Big D records to learn from, he would also supplement each lesson by teaching the deepest reggae and first wave ska cuts that you can imagine.

This was huge because it expanded my understanding of the genre extremely rapidly. You have a much deeper appreciation for ska music when you understand the nearly 40 year history that preceded kids from California wearing Hawaiian shirts and fedoras.

Hell, I even played in a first wave band while I was in high school.

So something that angers me is when people poke fun at me about ska music with their basic understanding of it being kids in high school covering "Beer" and "The Impression That I Get". That is not what ska is. That is not what ska means to me.

On that note, I offer up this mini documentary narrated by Tim Armstrong. which I think does a good job of hitting the important parts of the second wave of ska and how it influenced later music (though I would cut out the Aquabats and Sublime parts):

You think I don't know that Reel Big Fish ruined this shit? I don't need to hear about it every time my musical preference comes up.

Friday, May 29, 2015

You're Too Loud!

It seems like every summer I get into a "corny" or "bad" pop-rock band from the 80's. Like in 2012 when I got heavy into The Outfield. I wish I could think of more recent examples, but rest assured that I really love a whole bunch of power-pop from the 80's and am often judged for it.

This summer, that band is Huey Lewis and the News.

I've had a copy of Fore! for(e) a while, but it was mainly just something that I would throw on while playing MLB The Show, because I don't like to cry while playing video games, which nulls all of my other records. I wasn't really into it, but I will admit that the vocal hooks are pretty huge.

Then the other day, The AV Club posted an article about "The Power of Love" 's place in Back to the Future. I really got what the article was saying and it made me think "Hey, that song is pretty catchy, is it good?" I followed that by looking up a video I had just remembered, coincidentally also from the AV Club, which was The Hold Steady (a band I really like) covering "The Power of Love" for the AV Undercover series.

The cover isn't anything spectacular, but I really like the way that they discuss Huey Lewis before it, specifically everyone wondering "Is he secretly cool?"

They give some interesting proof that he might be, which I will paraphrase and augment with my own points below:

1. Huey Lewis legitimately learned how to play harmonica while hitchhiking across the United States. This sounds like the type of thing that a 20-something douchebag would do now, but he did it in the early 60's and also...

2. He played harmonica with the Rolling Stones. I couldn't find anything about this anywhere, but The Hold Steady mention in the above video and I assume they have some inside industry knowledge that I am not privy to, playing only in an unsuccessful Canadian punk band.

3. Cooler than that, in my opinion, is that his first band, Clover, was the backing band for Elvis Costello on his debut album My Aim is True, which happens to be my favourite. Did you know that? I did not.

4. While Clover relocated to the United Kingdom in the late 70's, they become part of the "pub rock" scene, which was popular at the time. As a result of this, Huey Lewis played harmonica on Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous. This is becoming less of a gray area, because Elvis Costello and Thin Lizzy are both undeniably good and cool.

After reading about him and watching the above videos, everything about Huey Lewis and the News just seemed to click for me. I got a hold of their best-selling album Sports and a greatest hits collection and really found myself enjoying the songs. I guess something that I really appreciate about the band is that they came right at the beginning of image starting to dominate music, a time when a band full of mid-thirties quasi-dad-rockers playing pop-rock-funk-new wave could still be cool. Combine a blues pub rock band, a new wave band and the guitar/saxophone player from Sly and the Family Stone, and apparently you get the News. They just seem fun. As The Hold Steady say in the video, it seems like when Huey Lewis and the News get onstage, everybody is ready to party and have a good time

Huey, to me, seems like that friend of your parents who, rather than settling down and starting a family, kept playing in a band. He is under-dressed when your parents have parties, starts drinking earlier and is the only one who swears in front of you.

I guess it just happens to be that his band put out two of the biggest albums of the 80's.

I'm also a sucker for big bands. I fucking love that every Motown track has a huge band on it, which in turn makes the songs sound big. Or Bruce Springsteen, how much does the E-Street Band add over a traditional two guitars, bass and drums outfit? Come to think of it, Huey Lewis and the News is almost a corny 80's version of 70's Bruce, just with less good lyrics. I don't mean to say that his lyrics are bad, because they are actually better than you would think, but c'mon, it's The Boss.

What I was trying to get at in the last paragraph is that I appreciate that everyone in the News plays their instrument. I know that sounds dumb, but bear with me. The News was assembled by combining Clover and another San Francisco band Soundhole. They're almost like a collection of session musicians, but not quite. I guess that I've just grown accustomed to the punk ethos of starting a band no matter if you play an instrument or not, but the fact that everyone in The News is good at their instrument and plays one instrument in particular adds a lot to the music. The basslines are good (dude, I fucking love the bass playing in Huey Lewis and the News) are good because he's only concerned with writing bass, not with anything else in the band.

I hope that this video will maybe illustrate some of what I'm trying to say:

First of all, can everyone please note how good of a live singer Huey Lewis is? Also, how tight the band is.

And man, what a fucking good song.

That video, being from 1987, represents Huey Lewis and the News when they were at the height of their popularity as it probably comes the Fore! world tour. Look how big the set up and band is. Fucking 11 members. They also clearly know exactly how to market themselves. They make themselves seem like everyman, working, lifer musicians by having Huey come out in a plaid shirt, but they're anything but. They are huge pop stars touring on an album that went to number 1 in four countries and sold 5 million copies. That images works for them though and I fucking love it.

The inverse is that they actually are like that and titled their biggest album Sports because they love sports, which would be just tremendous.

Like The Hold Steady, I have a sneaking suspicion that Huey Lewis might actually be a cool guy and lifer musician, which I always appreciate. Look at this article, again from the AV Club, sorry for going overboard on links from them, where he speaks about the importance of live music versus recorded music at sporting events. Not only do wholeheartedly agree with what he's saying and get funny feelings in my chest at him describing the organic sounds of a baseball game, but "live bands are culturally valuable in that they connect a team to a local music community in a real way"? That's just a great statement.

He just seems to come off as really humble most of the time, which I suppose is something that is always attractive in pop starts.

I can't believe how much I have come to like Huey Lewis and the News in the lasts three days. Who would have thought?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

I Get Your Words Stuck In My Head

I am currently living on my own in Guelph. This is not the first time that I've lived on my own, but it's the first time that I've lived on my own in almost four years, so it's not that I'm completely new to it, but I do have to shake off the rust a little bit. Something else that I've had to become used to is the amount of anxiety that I experience while I'm living on my own. I can't go hang out upstairs to forget about what I'm supposed to be doing for a little bit. I have to remember to feed myself and take care of myself. These aren't life-altering problems, but they are things that haven't exactly been at the front of my mind for awhile.

I find it pretty easy to get wrapped up in useless stuff while I live on my own. I definitely go off into my own little world and focus on my own specific interests, rather than the sort of communal ones that you kind of adopt while living with the same people for a long period of time. I know that there is nothing wrong with this.

But a side effect of this is that since I'm on my own, I also start to second guess my interests. Why do I like the things I like? Should I like the things I like? Is what I like COOL?!?!?!

I know that these are thoughts that I lot of people have. I've been pretty good at sticking to my guns and liking what I like, rather than trying to force other shit that people think is cool, but self-doubt can be infectious.

I was listening to Wide Awake Bored by Treble Charger. I know that this is not a "cool" album. Hell, I know that this isn't even really a "good" album. But three summers ago, I kind of had a moment with it and as a result, I've got a sentimental spot for it. I'm also about to watch a wrestling pay-per-view. Yes, I am well aware how uncool professional wrestling is.

You know what? I really don't give a fuck. I'm going to blare Treble Charger and I'm going to watch wrestling and I'm going to enjoy the hell out of it.

It's hard to remember and even harder to put into practice, but liking what YOU like, instead of what other people expect you to like is fucking crucial. Even if you like lame stuff, what actually matters is whether you think it is lame or not. Fuck it dawg, life's a risk.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Not Like This

Today I took a GoTrain from Toronto to Guelph, as I had been visiting my girlfriend over the last three days and had also gotten the chance to see Iron Chic and Spraynard. Once I got off the train I started walking toward Planet Bean to get some coffee, since it was already 7:30 pm and I hadn't had one all day. My crippling caffeine addiction gives me headaches and makes me groggy when  I don't have it. This has been a poor endorsement for the effects of coffee.

Along the way, a couple who looked like they're in their mid-thirties passed me and one of them, a blonde woman, stopped me.

She said "Hi, I'm Sarah. You don't know me. I have a relationship with God and sometimes he tells me things. He is telling me that you feel lost. Do you feel that way?"

When she stopped me to introduce herself, I assumed that she was involved with Guelph's art community and knew of me through the university, whether that be through profs or events, or something I had organized with KW|AG. I also recently gotten emails from about jobs, since they fished my resume off of linkedin or something similar. Maybe she was stopping me to talk about where she works or art or something? Nope.

The "I have a relationship with God" bomb was pretty funny and I hope that I didn't smirk or give her too much of a look when she said it. I guess I did kind of look like shit, having just gotten off a train ride, having no coffee, greasy, not-washed-in-a-few-days hair and a ratty Jays hat, so she was obviously just assuming that my less than ideal hair situation meant I needed Yahweh in my life in a bad way.

"I do not feel lost whatsoever." I responded.

I think it was funny that she got me at that moment. I looked tired (re: like shit), but felt amazing. I just spent the most time with my girlfriend I had in awhile! Long distance-ish relationships can be tough, have I said that before? I got to bands I really like! I had all-you-can-eat sushi today! I watched My Neighbor Totoro for the first time on Tuesday! I straightened out my thesis in a big way on Monday! All things considered, everything was pretty on track.

She walked away after my response and to top it all off, I got a goddamn free coffee from Planet Bean for going there so much.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Don't Even Say It

I first found out about Superchunk when the band Hi-Fi Handgrenades (who had the rhythm section of the Suicide Machines!) included a cover of "Detroit Has a Skyline" on their album Carry On. I thought it was a great closing song and was pretty surprised to find out that it was a cover. I was even more surprised to find out I had eight albums-worth of an indie rock band who right up my alley to digest.

I pursued them with varying degrees of interest until Majesty Shredding came out in 2010, which really sold me on the band and served as the catalyst to me diving into the deep end of their discography. They're poppy as hell, they have tons of riffs and great lyrics, which is basically my ideal rock band. And to boot, their singer has a high, nasally voice, which I am always a sucker for.

Also, isn't this just the best thing?

I bring this up because Mac McCaughan, the frontman of Superchunk, put out his debut solo album earlier this week and I am all in on it. It's a lot less "rock" and more "pop" than Superchunk. There are tons of synths on every song and it really reminds me of the type of rock/pop/new wave crossover that happened a lot in the 80's. Like how Don Henley used them for "Boys of Summer" or how they're all over "Don't You (Forget About Me)" too. This ties right into my (almost problematic) nostalgia for 80's coming-of-age movies, as it seems like these songs could fit into any of those.

The Merge Records site does a way better job of describing all of this than I do. Also, you can listen to the record there!

I know that this is going to be a big time summer album for me this year. It just fits, y'know?

Monday, May 4, 2015

The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

My curly hair has been on of my main identifiers for as long as I've been alive.

It's funny, because when I had curls I hated them. I thought they were a pain to deal with and I hated how long it would take for me to grow my hair long. Having really curly hair would cause my hair to tangle really easily, so it would dread really fast and I would also comb out dozens of knots every day, which didn't do wonders for my paranoia about going bald.

Maybe not "hated them", but I really did hate how difficult they would make dealing with styling my hair. I knew that I needed long hair, but the process of combing out knots and trying various ways to ensure less knots seemed like an endless struggle. I would bemoan having curls and would generally get the same response every time: You're so lucky to have curly hair. This was always from people with straight hair.

But this is just another example of people wanting what they can't have. People with straight hair want curls because it's more distinctive. People with curls want straight hair because it's easier to deal with. All of this adds up to the least significant argument in history, because it's just hair.

Since I cut off my long, quasi-crust hair last summer (I preferred thinking of it as "trash hair"), I started styling it with pomade and I guess that putting a ton of thick styling product into my hair every day for the better part of a year straightened out all of my curls, because I don't have them anymore.

It's funny because I do miss them. I don't really miss how they looked though, it's more this weird feeling of missing something that used to be a big part of you. Like I said, my curls were a pretty distinctive characteristic of mine, so having lost them, I lost something distinctive about me. I'm not about to start putting hot curlers into my hair every morning, so it is a little weird to look into the mirror every morning and see straight hair draping off of my scalp.

I guess what I'm saying is that things change and you have no control over them. I guess I'm also saying that you can find broad statements about existence like that in even inconsequential little things like a twenty-something's hair going straight. Lastly, I'm also saying that it feels dumb to type all of this shit about hair out, but I was driven to do it at some point and it's important to follow through on things like that, because you never know when one small idea will snowball into a huge great one.

Also, my curls sure did cover up my receding hairline a lot better. Goddamn.