Fly-By: brb, busy doing a bajillion different things.

Right now I have a hell of a lot on my plate, so I’m going to take the rest of the week off so I can get caught up and give myself a little bit of breathing room. I may take next week off as well.  We shall see.

In the meantime, please enjoy this new Beatles video for “Glass Onion”, which will be on the new White Album box set out this Friday.  And yes, of course I pre-ordered it ages ago!

Thirty-three (and a third?) Years On: 1985

This past weekend I was falling down the YouTube rabbit hole and stumbled up on one of my favorite Phil Collins songs, “Take Me Home”, from his third solo album No Jacket Required.  One of the wild realizations that occurred to me was that, a little over thirty-three years later, I have visited at least half of the locations in this video, and currently live in one of them.  More to the point, I don’t think the fourteen-year-old me would ever have imagined that ever happening.  Visiting Hollywood, various parts of central and greater London, and living in Greater London was something I’d have wanted to do as a teen but had no idea if it would ever happen.  I just thought of it as a fun pipe dream.

I’ve been thinking about that year lately, actually.  On IHeart80s Radio, they’ve been playing full episodes of American Top 40 (with Casey Kasem hosting), and now and again I find myself listening in, because that was the era I listened to it almost religiously every weekend.  Most of my radio mixtapes from that era came from those shows. That year’s chart-topping sound was an amazing mix of rock, R&B, soul, pop, and everything in between.

It was right at the end of my sucktastic years in junior high and my freshman year in high school, where I hoped my life (social and academic) would be so much better. It would take some time before I finally grew out of the small-town groupthink that I was so desperately trying to fit into and move on to bigger and better things, but for the time being I let myself get more immersed in my radio listening and mixtape-making. I still went to the school dances and hung out with my buddies, but I was there for the tunage, not for the girls. [Okay, that’s a half-truth. I was desperate, but at the same time I knew I was in no good frame of mind to have a girlfriend when I was an overly emotional twit with an overactive and underused imagination. That’s about when I buried myself in my burgeoning writing habit as well.]

I’ll be honest, I was getting sick of all the social drama. So I immersed myself in all the music that I could. If I happened to have money from an allowance (or saved up from my leftover lunch money) I’d head downtown to buy a few cassettes. I’d pick up cheap records at flea markets with my dad. I’d make copies of albums my sisters bought. Anything to buy the new albums that were being played on the radio.

It was definitely a strange time when I didn’t quite know who I was or what I wanted to do, just that I didn’t want to be what I presently was. Listening to the radio was the escape. It was the soundtrack to my writing (my other escape). Music gave me a connection to my classmates in a way that other things like sports and whatever else couldn’t. Even then I was known as the weird kid who knew every song on the charts and a lot of deep cuts on albums. Where the popular kids might not have given me the time of day, they’d ask me about some album or some band and if the album was worth picking up.

In a way, I’m kind of glad that I’ve kept that part of me all these years. I no longer use music purely as a social escape (at least not as much as I did then, of course), but I’m still a Subject Matter Expert for some of my friends. And in this internet day and age, it’s a shared interest that’s brought me all sorts of new friends and acquaintances that I might not have met in a different setting.

And here I am, writing this at home in San Francisco, one of the locations in the “Take Me Home” video I loved so much.

Living in the Eighties

In addition to writing my Thirty Years On series here and listening to my share of 1988 all over again, I’ve been listening to Sirius XM’s 1st Wave station the last few days.  This comes to absolutely no surprise to any of you, of course.  I’m an Eighties kid.  I spent that entire decade in front of the radio making mixtapes, in front of the tube glued to MTV, and Killing Music By Home Taping.

This means I remember a lot of the weird, wonderful and horrible things that went on in the world then.  In a way I’m kind of happy that I’m able to wax nostalgic — not to say ‘it was so much better then’ (it was definitely different, sure, but I wouldn’t say better) but to be able to see the parallels between then and now.

The reign of a useless, mindless, comic relief President (I say, despite stomach churning); the shadow of Russia and the Cold War looming just over our shoulders; the big and small wars taking place in various corners of the world; the groups of whacked-out conspiracy theorists, the fervent believers of pseudo-religions, and the willingly passive followers of evangelism; the instability of unregulated banking; the sexism of the Alpha Male; the terrorist attacks and the plane crashes; the Young Republicans and their drive to Win At Any Cost; American uberpatriotism and self-assigned exceptionalism; the classic situations of jock versus nerd and all its permutations; and of course the punks and nonconformists who were just plain fucking tired of getting broadsided with all of this and refused to play those games anymore.

I try to be positive about it all, to be honest.  There are days where I need to turn off the internet and take a dandelion break, or pull out my journal and bleed out some of my anxiety or frustration.  I don’t become blissfully ignorant about it all, at least not like I did when I was a teenager more interested in music than what went on in the world.  I merely look at it from a different perspective.

I get frustrated that this is all happening again — sometimes with freakish accuracy — but I’ve lived through it already, so I kind of know what’s coming and what to expect.  Because of this I’m not as pessimistic.  It’s all aggravating, yes.  It truly does piss me off that so many get hit with the shrapnel.  But somehow, at some point, it *will* get better if we *make* it get better.

We did it before, we can do it again.

Perfect Albums Meme

Name an album, in any genre, that you think is 100% perfect – where you don’t skip 1 track. – @MOBOAwards

Of course I fell prey to this meme.  Here’s an obviously partial list:

The La’s, The La’s — Singer/leader Lee Mavers might think this masterpiece of his is incomplete and nowhere near what he was hearing in his head, but to me it’s a perfect album.  A mix of the blossoming alternative rock sound of the late 80s-early 90s, Liverpudlian guitar folk, and just a pinch of psychedelia for flavor, and it became an album that I will always think of as my favorite albums of the 90s, tied with…

Failure, Fantastic Planet — On a completely different plane of existence, it’s an incredible record filled with amazing songwriting and production.  It’s loud, it’s devastating, and it leaves me breathless every time I listen to it.

The Beatles, Revolver — Of course, I could list almost any other Beatles release here, but their 1966 album remains my favorite of theirs because it’s the moment where they changed from lovable mop-tops writing songs about love to adults writing about life.  Just after their folky Rubber Soul and just before their psychedelic Sgt Pepper.

Global Communication, 76:14 — If you need to own just one ambient album, let it be this one.  It’s a lovely album to get lost in and let your mind wander.  Where a lot of ambient instrumental albums can sometimes meander into navel-gazing boredom, this album keeps your attention all the way through.

Massive Attack, Mezzanine — “Teardrop” is right up there as one of my favorite songs of all time, and the album it’s from is equally excellent.  A great example of trip-hop moodiness and clever sonic creativity — especially with this album, which uses quiet and empty spaces as part of its soundscape.

Depeche Mode, Violator — Another album that signifies a band’s change.  This is where they went from their classic synth-and-sample sound they’d been known for, to a full-band sound complete with guitar.  Martin Gore’s songwriting evolved at amazing speed here; “Enjoy the Silence” remains one of his crowning achievements to this day.

Beck, Sea Change — Before this album, he’d been known as that “Loser” guy who wrote weird and goofy Mad-Lib-style lyrics with the occasional foray into odd but listenable folk rock, but this album was where he proved just how serious of an artist he really is.  It’s haunting, sometimes heartbreaking, and extremely personal, but it’s also an absolutely gorgeous album.

UNKLE, Psyence Fiction — A very fitting title for this record, it’s a mix of hip-hop, trip-hop, alternative rock, rap, and more, all with a science fictional subtext.  James Lavelle has always been an amazing musician/producer who creates chilly and cavernous soundscapes, and this is a perfect example of it.

Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls — Ever have one of those albums where you kinda like a few songs on it, then once you finally sit down and listen to it all the way through and realize just how freaking amazing it is?  Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are brilliant songwriters, but they’re also brilliant at crafting a perfect vocal duet.

And one more I forgot to mention that I thought of today:

Tears for Fears, Songs from the Big Chair — It’s their most famous album (I still hear “Head Over Heels” on the radio to this day), but it’s also one of my favorite albums of the 80s.  Poppy, jazzy, and even a little experimental, every single one of its tracks has a certain amazing quality to it.  [Listen, for example, to the Gershwin-esque “The Working Hour” with its slow build and blistering sax solos.]

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I could of course come up with so many more albums to add to this list, but I’ll hold myself back.  For now!

Dialing it back — just a little bit

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Quite possibly my favorite scene from a Prince movie…

One of my many resolutions for this year was to dial back the music purchasing.  And let’s be brutally honest here — I purchase a LOT of music.  Other guys with midlife crises buy sports cars or hang in their mancaves, I obsess over discographies and release dates.  Go figure.

Anyway, I’ve realized that while I do like to surround myself with a lot of tunage, I really have to dial it back.  Not the listening part of it, no — just the buying.  I came to this realization when I started going through my purchases over the last five or six years just to give them a listen, and noticed that a sizeable amount of these albums didn’t stick with me.  They were good albums and I liked them at the time…but five years on, I don’t remember this or that album at all.  Which is fine if I was still a cd purchaser, but you can’t sell mp3s back to Amoeba, can you?  I’m stuck with these puppies.

So…maybe I should figure out a way to dial that back.

As I’m an Amazon Prime member and thus an Amazon Music user, I have my own perfect streaming service.  (Many of you know that I’m not an avid user of services like Spotify…I have weird and quite varying tastes and I break algorithms easily.)  I can use it to listen to albums multiple times to see if it sticks with me before I buy it.  Which is what I’ve been doing the last few weeks.  I’ll give the albums at least three or four listens before I decide to buy it now.  I’ve successfully weeded out a few titles like that already, so this will save considerable money (and hard drive space) for me.

I’m quite curious to see how this will affect my overall purchasing over the year!