Progressive

Not too much to say here right now, except that I’ve just received news that my brother-in-law Rich passed away this morning after a long illness.  I’m doing okay right now, but thought I’d share a few songs that remind me of him.  He was big into prog rock and introduced me to a lot of great stuff that didn’t always make the airwaves.  Thanks to him I came to appreciate the longer pieces that were often derided by rock critics, finding myself fascinated by the musicianship and creativity.

Thanks, Rich…rock on and rest in peace.

London never sleeps, it just sucks the life out of me and the money from my pocket

Warning: May Contain High Amounts of Britpop.

Warning: May Contain High Amounts of Classic Ska and Britpop.

We have returned home, albeit about six hours later than expected, due to missing our connecting flight, the illogical checking through US Customs while in Toronto, and an incredibly frustrating and nonsensical argument at one of the help desks.  But I won’t go into that.  I will mention, however, that we finally got back to the apartment at 1am PT this morning (after waking in London at around 7:30am UTC), so that means we’d been up and awake for…um…20 hours?  Maybe?  Either way, we both decided to stay awake instead of attempting to sleep for six or so hours.  So yeah…not quite loopy (yet), but my inner clock has no idea what time or day it is right now.

That said… As you can see above, our London trip was a success on many levels…many sights seen, a few great friends met up with, many beers and pub food had, and way too many pictures taken.  The above cd stash is courtesy of Sister Ray in Soho and Rough Trade in Notting Hill, two great music stores well worth searching out.  Sister Ray is probably my favorite — it’s not huge, but it’s got an excellent selection, very well kept, and the workers there are quite friendly and knowledgeable.

My main goal for import shopping, as is evident, was cheaply-priced reissues.  I believe the average price for the Catatonia and Specials cds were £12, and the Wedding Present cds were slightly more — translating to about $18 and $20 USD each.  Not bad, considering they’re all two or three cd sets costing about six dollars more before tax on Amazon.  I’m still missing 3 Weddoes titles, but I think I can find those relatively easily on Amazon UK.  Still — it added up rather quickly, so I may have to tighten my belt for a little while!

[Noted, London didn’t so much suck the life out of me as it drained me of energy.  It’s a very walkable city and OH BOY did we walk all over creation!  I shall be posting pictures of our trip eventually over at my Tumblr blog, and may post some music-related pictures here.]

Dancing screaming itching squealing fevered feeling

The-Cure-Kiss-Me-Kiss-Me-Kiss-Me

It was 28 years ago today that The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was released, and of course I’ve got it playing on my PC while I’m writing this up.

The Cure’s release history up to that date in the US was quite scattershot in the mid-80s…multiple labels over the course of four years (Boys Don’t Cry on PVC, Happily Ever After and Pornography on A&M, the 1982-83 singles and The Top on Sire).  It wasn’t until 1985’s much poppier and upbeat The Head on the Door showed a new and invigorated band, and their new label Elektra made sure they didn’t falter.  The 1986 singles compilation Standing on a Beach only served to push their status ever higher, and by the time Kiss Me (or “Kiss Me Cubed” as my friends and I used to call it) came out, America had finally taken notice.

This sprawling yet exciting double album came out at the same time I was asserting my individualism as a teenager.  A new circle of friends, a burgeoning record collection full of newly-found college rock, and a fresh coat of not giving a fuck anymore of what other kids thought of me.  I’d gone to see them with my sister and a friend that August in Worcester, and came back with a concert tee with Robert Smith’s pasty, lipsticked mug on the front and the lyrics to “Hot Hot Hot!!!” on the back.  I practically wore that shirt out in the ensuing months. I certainly got a lot of guff from both kids and teachers, but I didn’t care. This was the new me.  Forget fitting in, time to figure out who I was.

Kiss Me was indeed a sprawling album, but like Standing on a Beach it got a hell of a lot of play on my tape players.  I was a huge Cure fan by that time, and thanks to Elektra buying out the old contracts, their early releases were finally much easier to find.  I listened to them all on heavy rotation whenever and wherever I could.  I even predicted that “Just Like Heaven” would end up being one of their next (and best, and most famous) singles, and I was not proven wrong.

My friends and I would occasionally take road trips down to Amherst and Northampton to hang out at the record stores, and during the fall of 1987 and into 1988 this album would often be playing.  [This was back in the days before most of our parents’ cars had tape decks, so one of us, usually me, would lug along a boombox and have it playing in the back seat.  During one memorable trip when this was playing, the drinking of many sodas that evening came to its expected fruition and I urged they pulled over.  As I’m running into the woods, they pulled away, leaving me completely alone. Returning a few minutes later, they saw me on the side of the road, running after them, and slammed on the breaks, causing my radio to crash to the car’s floor in a thump! loud enough that I heard it from fifty yards away.]  To this day I still think of the winding Daniel Shays Highway and the back roads of Shutesbury when I listen to this album.

Compared to their earlier, darker albums of the early 80s and the intense frailty of Disintegration just a few years later, this album seems is so much more energetic, even a bit psychedelic.  It kind of reminds me of Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times, which had come out almost exactly two months earlier; it’s a beefy double album full of multiple and quite different genres, but it’s also a crowning achievement where nearly all the tracks are memorable, wonderfully produced, and leaves little to no room for boredom.  But also like Prince’s album, Kiss Me was a departure from their earlier albums, where they chose to break down the barriers, both creative and personal, to record something they would be proud of.  I kind of think The Head on the Door was a practice run, Standing on the Beach was the fanbase test, and this was the first official run; it would culminate of course with Disintegration.  It’s of no surprise that this was also the era of one of their best band line-ups, with Simon Gallup on bass, Porl Thompson on guitar, Lol Tolhurst on keyboards and Boris Williams on drums.  This particular quintet remains one of the strongest versions of the band for many older fans, as their sound was amazingly tight and inventive.

 

The Songs That Made Me

You know I can’t let a good music meme pass me by, right?

As quoted from Nancy at Midlife Mixtape:

This week’s Rolling Stone has a cover story called “The Songs That Made Me” in which artists share six or eight songs that had outsize influence in their lives. They’re not always what you’d expect – Marilyn Manson with “Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake? I loved the little window into the artist’s soul, and as a writing prompt you can’t ask for much better. So here are the Songs That Made Me.

I’m quite certain I’ve done this at one point or another on my LiveJournal over the years, so some of you are not going to be the least bit surprised at some of these.

1. The Church, “Under the Milky Way”.

OH HEY BIG SURPRISE THERE.  Heh.  I’ve contemplated as to why this is my all-time favorite song, and I realize it’s because it was one of those songs that hit me right at the perfect moment, at the perfect time.  Spring 1988, when my closest high school friends, nearly all of whom were a year ahead of me, were graduating that next month.  I was torn between excitement that I too would be leaving my small town (albeit a year down the road), frustration that my closest circle of friends was vanishing way too quickly, and determination that I’d try to spend as much time as I could with them before they left.  This song fit the mood perfectly: a sadness for things ending, a wishful thinking for things yet started, and the stasis of waiting in between.

2. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, “All I Ask of Myself Is That I Hold Together”.

Note: This song must be listened to as loud as possible.  Summer 1995, in which I’ve got a day off from my job at the multiplex up on Somerville. Earlier that year I decide that, despite my lingering emotional and financial depression, I’m going to kick my own ass and get this writing thing started already.  I’m switching between WFNX and WBCN on the radio dial during those summer afternoons, windows open, while I hammer away on my girlfriend’s low-end PC (running on Windows 3.1!).  A lot of transcription of old work, but also many words on completely new projects as well.  A consistent writing habit is formed.

3. Led Zeppelin, “How Many More Times”.

Late 1987, In which I hear this song and realize I need to buy myself a bass.  I soon find a very cheap Arbor Stiletto for $50 at the local music store, which stays with me until I finally retire it in early 2012.  I teach myself how to play it by listening to Led Zeppellin’s first album, and expanding to Cocteau Twins, Wire, New Order and Joy Division, and going on from there.

4. Takako Shirai & Crazy Boys, “Cosmic Child”.

The ending theme for the anime OAV Gall Force 2: Destruction.  Late 1993, watching anime because I’m too broke to do anything else.  The anime that changed my writing from feeble attempts at straight fiction to science fiction and fantasy, and the series that partly inspired the Mendaihu Universe in the first place.  I later use the lead singer’s name for a pivotal character as a gesture of thanks. [The video here is a great rip, but I really dislike the English dub. I started it a little before the song to set the scene. Unfortunately the subtitles aren’t coming up…the lyrics to the song are basically a ‘thank you for giving us (spiritual) life’.]

5. Semisonic, “She’s Got My Number”.

Sometime in 2004, in which I get hints from various people that a certain someone might be interested in me.  That certain someone later informs me that one of her favorite bands is Semisonic, and puts this particular song on a mixtape (ok, a mix cd) for me.  Ten happily married years later and I’m pretty sure she was trying to tell me something there.  She knows me better than I know myself sometimes.

6. Gerry Rafferty, “Baker Street”.

Considering I was a little kid in the 70s, that decade is a bit of a jumbled mess for me in terms of music and memory.  However, I distinctly remember hearing this song on the scratchy AM radio during our family roadtrips.  If we had a bag of Bugles in the car, my sisters and I would grab a few and imitate the sax solos.  Decades later in 2014, and I’m winding my way down Baker Street in London, this song firmly stuck in my head.

7. Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show theme song, “This Is It”.

Yeah, I was totally a diehard Looney Tunes fan as a kid.  I’ve finally warmed to Disney to some degree, but I’m still a dedicated WB fan.  To this day, whenever A. and I head to the opera or the symphony, my recognition of the pieces will still often be “Oh, that piece.  The one where Elmer and Bugs…”

8. The Beatles, “Hey Jude”.

It was hard to pin down exactly which Beatles song to put here, but I chose this one.  My mom introduced me to this song when I was first getting into the band.  This is the video I shot while in the middle of the crowd — and let me tell you, turning around and watching a football stadium-sized crowd sing along to the last half was pretty damn epic.

9. Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight”.

Okay, I’ll totally cop to stealing Michael Mann’s ‘music video treatment’ method for Miami Vice when I first started writing seriously in my teens.  My first complete novel (aka the Infamous War Novel) was outlined using a specific playlist, each chapter inspired by music, including this track.  The IWN is rather painful to read now, but on the other hand I’d like to think it was a successful exercise in long-form storytelling for me.

10.  Pretty much any given new release date.

It’s probably no coincidence that I didn’t see this meme until today…New Release Tuesday.  I used to passively follow release dates until late 1996 when I started working at HMV…and I’ve been faithfully keeping track (and purchasing on or near drop date) ever since.  For the record, today’s purchases included the new albums from Hot Chip, Tanlines, The Helio Sequence, Faith No More, and Brandon Flowers!

It’s got nothing to do with your ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ yer know

I have to admit I love the new Blur album, The Magic Whip, which just dropped yesterday.  It’s the first new album since 2003’s Think Tank (and the first with all four members since 1999’s 13!)…and I agree with most of the reviews, it sounds as if they hadn’t missed a beat since those last releases.

I’ve been a Blur fan for years, really.  In the early 90’s I’d pretty much ignored most of the angry grunge that WFNX and WBCN were playing, as I was already enamored of the poppy quirkiness of Madchester and Britpop.  The UK always had a leg up on music for me…they always seemed to write better, catchier, more inventive songs than their American counterparts, always seemed to be a few months ahead of the game musically.  I thought “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an interesting reinterpretation of American punk, but I’d already been sold on the herky-jerky bliss of “There’s No Other Way”.

Blur was definitely there for me in the 90s, during all the ups and downs of that period.  When I found myself broke and directionless post-college, “Chemical World” and “For Tomorrow” and the rest of Modern Life is Rubbish fueled my frustration.  When things got a little better and I was out in Allston writing again, the lively Parklife and “Girls & Boys” popped up.  [There’s also the fact that, whenever I heard “Parklife” in Boston, I immediately started singing “Alewife” instead.  Because I’m a dork.]  And in the early days of my job at HMV Records, I was greeted by the newly rocking version of the band with their self-titled 1997 album — I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “Song 2″ blaring and some stranger “woohoo!”-ing along to it.

They disappeared in 2003 after Think Tank, with most of the members working on their various solo projects (and Damon having a brilliant run with Gorillaz), but I’d still pop one of their albums every now and again.  And yes, I did in fact buy the big box set when it came out in 2012.  And that reunion song, “Under the Westway”?  Damn, that’s a fine single.  Only Blur could capture the sound of post-Britpop malaise as beautifully as they could.

Sure, Blur could be written off as upper-class yobs who couldn’t lift a finger to Oasis (don’t get me started on that manufactured ridiculousness).  They shed their ‘Britpop’ label while all the other bands were still basking in it when the scene began its decline.  But they’ve always written and played incredibly catchy tunes that were always just that slight bit off-kilter.  The Magic Whip is definitely a welcome return, and worth the wait.