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.]

*

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

We are GROOT

Okay, so my posts are a little off the start of this week due to our visit down to Anahiem to go to Disneyland for the long weekend. It was fun, the weather was much warmer and brighter, and I may have even gotten a bit of a tan out of it! That said, It is kind of strange to be walking around the area known for its cheery, poppy, family-friendly atmosphere and hearing the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the same time. A bit of a mental disconnect, but a pleasant one!

So while I get myself back up to speed, here’s some more tunage from that very weird and absolutely hilarious movie.

PS. We did in fact see Groot at California Adventure! 🙂

PSS. Yes, I actually remember these songs when they were new. I am that old. Turning 47 next Monday!

Time Keeps on Slippin’ Into the Future

I know, this time of year I always start writing one of my patented nostalgic ‘this time of year I…’ posts.  This one’s probably no different.  Maybe a little bit meta this time around.

Given that thirty years ago, we were going from 1987 into 1988 — two classic years of college rock containing some of my all-time favorite albums — I got to thinking not so much about the music of the time or what I was going through at the time (for once!) but the passage of time itself.

About this time thirty years ago, I was working my meager internship/job at WCAT, then an AM-only radio station, slogging through my junior year.  The station had a listen-at-work playlist, with Red Sox and local color on the weekends.  Kinda sorta current music, maybe a few years behind with a few recent lighter tracks dropped in.  Which meant that I still had a bit of a connection to the pop charts.  The fourth-quarter wave of new releases had quieted down to a trickle, as expected.  I spent most of December listening to the music I’d purchased so far, listened to the students on WAMH play their last shows for the semester, checked out some of the year-end countdowns.  I was still making the radio tapes but hadn’t yet started making the mixtapes in earnest yet (that wouldn’t happen for another few months).

I was listening primarily to my favorite releases from the last few months: Music for the Masses, Strangeways Here We Come, Happy?, Floodland, The Lion and the Cobra, Bête Noire, Savage, Earth Sun Moon.  I’d read Rolling Stone and Spin and watch 120 Minutes for release news, but for the most part I had no idea what else was coming out.

As far as I knew, I wasn’t going to expect anything too exciting.  I didn’t have too much access to more intensive music journals at the time.  I’d heard that Morrissey was working on a solo album, that The Cure were going on tour, but that was pretty much it.  So I went into 1988 in my usual teenage way, being the moody bastard and plugging away at my writing and all that.

I had no idea, probably not until maybe halfway through the year, that 1988 would end up being one of my favorite-ever years of college rock.  I knew then and I know now that part of this was due to the music being there at the same time as a cherished time with close friends.  But part of it was also me letting myself get totally immersed in the sound, even more so than ever before.

Years later, the same thing happens.  I never quite know if the upcoming year is going to be stellar, merely okay, or just plain dull until we’ve gotten almost halfway into it.  And whatever I happen to be doing in my life does play a part in it as well.  [I think of 2012 as a more recent example, which had a bevy of excellent releases, plus I was headlong into the Big Honkin’ Trilogy Revision Project for most of that year.  And 2006 is on the other end of the spectrum, as I had a lot going on in my life and I hardly remember any of its album drops.]

I’m looking forward to 2018, to be honest.  Despite what’s going on in the big wide world, I’m in a much more positive place emotionally and mentally, and I’ve got some exciting creative plans that I’m looking forward to.  I’m not about to put high expectations on whatever music comes my way next year, but if it ends up being stellar, I’m not going to complain!

 

I used to write songs…?

cat piano

I should remember how this one goes…G, G, G…something something?

When I was a teenager and still figuring out how to write fiction, I was also writing all kinds of lyrics.  My lyrics and poetry were interchangeable at the time, especially around 1988 onward, because I was essentially trying to mimic my favorite alternative rock songwriters of the time: Robert Smith, Morrissey and Marr, Andrew Eldritch, Martin Gore, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis, and so on.

A lot of the songs were rather simple but fun, influenced by the sounds I was hearing on college radio at the time.  I even had a band back then — my buddies Chris and Nathan got together occasionally as The Flying Bohemians.   Some of them are kind of embarrassing to listen to now, but some of them I’m still kind of impressed with.  My songwriting improved considerably once I headed off to college, and for a few years, up until about 1994, I had a handful of pretty cool songs I was proud of.  Unfortunately I had absolutely no way to lay them down other than as acoustic demos on my boombox, so they didn’t sound nearly as good on tape as they did in my head.

For a good few years afterwards my songwriting kind of dried up, for various reasons.  A lot of mental and emotional baggage I had to sort through, where the writing became less lyrical and became more poetic.  It wasn’t until around 2001 that when I started jamming again with Bruce and Eric, my friends from my candle job.  I kicked out maybe a dozen new songs that were even better.

Then…nothing?

I think the last true song that I’ve written was less a complete track than a possible idea that I could eventually stitch together one of these days — and an instrumental at that, based on a sample I made of the rhythmic click-clack, click-clack of the District Line as it left Earls Court station in London.  I’ve been too busy with my self-publishing career to take my songwriting seriously.

That’s not to say I haven’t completely given it up.  Over the course of the year I’ve been making it a point to pick up one of my guitars and just noodle around on it a little bit, even if it is to learn the chords to a pop song.  And if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll use my phone and record a few minutes of a riff that I’ve come up with.  [For the record, the software I’m using is the free version of Hi-Q mp3 Voice Recorder.  It’s lo-fi, but it does a fine job of picking up sounds, even if they’re unplugged.]

What I’d love to do is get back into the habit of writing songs again.  I remember how to do it, and I know enough not to try to pump a well that’s long past dry, so to speak — I’m no longer trying to write out my direst emotions into a Cure pastiche like I used to.  And I really don’t want to write message songs or protest songs, either.

I think what I need to do is remember how to latch onto a melody.  I mean latch onto it, play a riff and think ‘yeah, I can do something with this.’  That’s how I write my novels now; it only goes to show that my writing process would evolve accordingly.  I latch onto musical phrases all the time when I’m listening to whatever I’m listening to.  Thing is, I haven’t been acting on it.  Like I said — my writing career kind of took precedence for a good number of years there, so I didn’t have the time or the spoons to do it then.

I’m thinking that’ll be one of my possible resolutions for 2018; to remember how to write songs, and see if I can lay a few of them down.

Coming Soon: The Best of 2017

radiohead lift

Thom Yorke is waiting anxiously for my end of year lists

Yep, it’s that time of the year again, where I’m juggling the Day Job, Christmas present purchasing (and wrapping, and mailing), whatever writing project I happen to be working on, posting my year-end review at the writing blog, creating my Best of Year compilation, and posting my Best of Year lists here.

As usual, I’ll hold up until the last week or so of this month before I post those last two, because I like giving December releases a chance at impressing me.  (Like the new U2 album, for instance.)  I will say 2017 has been quite an interesting year musically; it seemed like Nearly Every Single Band Jonc Loves put out an album this year!  And lots of solid career retrospectives.  There were also a lot of new finds that blew my mind as well.  I’m not sure if I can call it a banner year, but it certainly was quite enjoyable tunage-wise.

If anything, listening to music was definitely a highly-welcomed and much-needed escape from the ups and downs of Real Life.  And I’m pretty sure you know what my biggest headache was; the Day Job was the least of my stresses.  I won’t say I’m a pessimist in general, though I know all too often I let myself fall down that rabbit hole.  I kept a distant eye on what was going on, and I had my tunes to keep me sane and slightly distracted so I could stay positive.  And for that I’m eternally grateful.

More to come!