It’s been a week…

I mean, aside from being busy writing the third act of Queen Ophelia and working on a major fix-up of Theadia and not having much time to focus on blogging this week, you might say I’ve been a little…irritated at a certain political party these last few days. A party that blocked a major voting rights bill last night and has been spending the last several weeks sending out anti-trans and anti-mask and anti-knowledge bills left and right for who the fuck knows what reasons. I could say they’re a party in their death throes as the shittiest of the members of that party have set fire to their own house with everyone still inside (and blamed someone else for it) just to prove a point, but…

I’m fine. Frustrated and angry and irritated as fuck, but I’m fine.

And hoping something changes soon.

Fly-by: long weekend respite

Apologies for the lack of content here again! We enjoyed an extended weekend here and did all sorts of walking, then we caught up on a few streaming shows we really enjoy, and I just…well, didn’t even think about writing all weekend! I’m allowed that every now and again, yeah?

In the meantime, here’s an REM song that’s been in my head this morning. I’m thinking I should probably do an overview of the band, partly thanks to a very humorous tweet by Julia Serano the other day, but also because I’ve always been a fan. More of an IRS-era fan than a WBR-era fan, but I suppose I can expand on that in the overview. Heh.

Fly-By: Happy Holidays

Taking this week off from the music blog because why not? I felt like relaxing on the days leading up to Christmas. The shopping is done, the boxes are put away, and the nog is mixed in with my morning coffee. Life is good.

In the meantime, here’s the London Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. We went to see San Francisco Ballet’s performance on the 12th — we go every single year (and streamed it from their site when there were none due to Covid) — and I’ve come to love this work from one of my favorite composers.

Happy holidays! See you next week for the year-end mixtape and best-of lists!

Everybody Had a Hard Year

It’s been a long year of confusion, change, loss, frustration, wonder, perseverance, and pretty much everything in between. Living in a pandemic will do that to a person. I’ve tried to keep a positive and open mind during it all, even when I’d log onto the news sites and social media and see people making terrible decisions based on fear, ignorance, greed or outright hate. I sometimes have to remind myself that this is part of life, and it’s happened before and will happen again in the future. I dearly hope not as a constant onslaught, of course. As long as I remain true to my own wishes, desires and hopes, with minimal distractions.

Here’s to hoping that 2022 goes in the right directions, at least.

No Longer Riding On the Merry-Go-Round

This past weekend was the twice-postponed Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park, and we managed to get through all three days with somewhat reasonable weather enjoyed, lots of local food eaten and around a dozen bands seen. We walked around thirteen miles over those days total (we live less than a mile away so we walked home at the end of the day), so it was probably for the best that we took Monday off to rest.

And, we seem to have both come to the conclusion that that was probably our last music festival.

Why, you say? Well, a few reasons. We admit we’re getting on in years (I am the ripe old age of 50, after all) and it’s just getting too exhausting. Then there are the crowds. We’ll also admit that though most of the festival goers are chill and fine and don’t bother us in the least, there are those who are just the most irritating people imaginable. These are usually the college/post-college kids who stand/sit either behind us or in front of us and proceed to entirely ignore the band we’d been wanting to see, talking super loud about getting wasted in the SOMA Tent before leaving three songs later. Or the vapers and the pot smokers that decide that smoking right beside and upwind of us is totes fine. Or the frat bros. Or the “I have no concept of walking around others” people, which I swear is a California thing. [And then there was the woman behind me at The HU show that, I kid you not, said “I would enjoy them better if they sang in English.” This is a band that sings in Mongolian, mind you.] [I could go on, but I’m veering very close to Get Off My Lawn territory here, so I’ll stop.]

Anyhoo — we’re calling it, at least for now. We’ve finally accepted that both of us can only people for so long before it gets irritating and exhausting and we need to back away. And getting from one stage to another while trying to navigate shifting crowds is starting to wear on us.

Am I bummed out about this? Maybe, but not really all that much. Before we went to our first Outside Lands in 2012, the last festival I’d gone to was Curiosa in 2004. And even then I’d bailed near the end of The Cure because I had a long-ass drive home. Anyway, I’ve made my peace with it. We find we prefer streaming the festivals these days. It’s a lot more fun and so much cheaper.

That’s not to say we’ll never go to rock shows again. We’ll be seeing Motion City Soundtrack in Berkeley in February — interestingly, the very same band we saw live just a few months before the pandemic kicked in — and one of these days I’d like to see a band at the Fillmore or the Independent, both places I can easily get to via public transportation. (And of course we’ll still be going to see the symphony and the opera.)

I just don’t think I can handle another year of super large crowds and losing energy before the sun goes down.

Rain

The Bay Area is finally getting some precipitation! It’s kind of making me nervous about some of our plans over the next couple of weeks, but I can’t really complain all that much considering that it’s been very DRY these last few years. I remember when we first moved out here the winter months were always wet — when we moved out of our old place in October of 2009 the ground floor had suffered a bit of flooding from bad drainage — but after a few years it lessened. Here’s to hoping that we can turn that around in the future, yeah?

Thirty Years On: 1991, Part II

This one’s a long one, kids, even if it is just two months’ worth of music! We’re rolling off right to the end of my sophomore year and already things are changing. I think around this time I’d finally trunked my Infamous War Novel (for the time being, anyway) and started playing around with different story ideas. I’d written a short fun script for a film class, I’d shot the first of a few 8mm films (all of them terrible, btw) and a bizarre home video with a few of my dorm friends (probably my best work at the time, btw), and I’d gotten so much better at guitar and bass playing. And somewhere between all this, I had this crazy little idea about writing a Gen-X novel entitled Two Thousand. Things were indeed changing. Maybe for the better…?

Lenny Kravitz, Mama Said, released 2 April 1991. I remember buying this cassette at Planet Records in Kenmore Square on spec — I’d heard maybe two songs off it — and I was absolutely blown away by how brilliant it was. While his debut Let Love Rule leaned more on the funk and hippie rock, he decided to go full-out Flower Child on this second record. The funk was still there, but the psychedelia was a lot more up front. It’s still my favorite of all his records.

Massive Attack, Blue Lines, released 8 April 1991. When “Unfinished Sympathy” hit the alternative airwaves early that summer, the resounding response was whoa, what is this?? Most people I knew equated techno and electronica with clubs and hi-NRG dance beats, but they’d never heard this kind: moody and atmospheric with much darker tones and lyrics…yet still irresistibly danceable. The Bristol UK trip-hop scene had arrived. [Also, this video was indeed the one that inspired one for the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”.]

The Crash Test Dummies, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, released 9 April 1991. A few years before their unexpected hit with “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, these Canadians dropped a curiously odd yet heartfelt album of sad folk and clever humor, and had a minor hit with “Superman’s Song”. It’s a lovely record that often gets forgotten.

School of Fish, School of Fish, released 9 April 1991. “3 Strange Days” ended up being the theme song of my first summer away from my hometown. The semester was over, the summer months had begun, and I knew almost no one in town. My college friends had all gone home, and considering this was pre-internet, it wasn’t as if I could chat with anyone else without incurring a ridiculously high phone bill. Strange days indeed, but it also gave me a lot of time to get my shit together. This album, of course, was one of my soundtracks for it.

Fishbone, The Reality of My Surroundings, released 23 April 1991. If I was going to go it alone, I was gonna need some music that I could crank the f*** up when things got tense, and “Sunless Saturday” was the heaviest song on my playlist. The whole album is a wonder of senseless fun, inner city turmoil, pain and injustice, and everything in between. It was Fishbone’s heaviest album to date (both sound and message) and it still blows me away.

Inspiral Carpets, The Beast Inside, 7 May 1991. The Carpets’ second album dispenses with the sixties-influenced pop and leans a lot heavier on the chunky grooves and jams. This is by far one of my favorite Britpop records because of it, by proving they weren’t just a scene or a passing fad with a grindy Farfisa organ.

This Mortal Coil, Blood, released 13 May 1991. The third and final TMC record doesn’t quite capture the reverb-heavy cathedral-like mood of their previous records — the 4AD label had already started expanding past its original signature style — but it still contains some absolutely lovely and tender covers and originals, including Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly’s take on Chris Bell’s “You and Your Sister”.

Curve, Frozen EP, released 13 May 1991. Not that long before the brilliant single “Fait Accompli” and debut album Doppelganger, Curve dropped three solid EPs (later to be collected on 1992’s Pubic Fruit) and the single “Coast Is Clear” that introduced many Americans to their strange yet alluring mix of sultry vocals, rumbling percussion and imposing walls of guitar.

EMF, Schubert Dip, released 14 May 1991. Like Jesus Jones, their hit single (in this case, “Unbelievable”) eclipsed everything else from the record it came from, but this truly is a fun, irresistible and addictive record. It was also the album of the summer, with several singles hitting the WFNX playlist and getting several repeated plays during a weekend trip to Maine with a few high school friends.

The Wonder Stuff, Never Loved Elvis, released 27 May 1991. This third album brought the band in a new direction, toning down the nutty humor of Eight Legged Grove Machine and the too-serious pop of Hup and letting them return to their more folksy roots. This record almost sounds like a Waterboys record, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Electronic, Electronic, released 28 May 1991. The idea of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr recording together sounded like a brilliant plan: two Mancunians with a deep love for guitars and dance music. It takes the best of each musician — Sumner’s gift for melody and Marr’s ability to write amazing riffs — and turns out a bright and powerful summer record.

The Smashing Pumpkins, Gish, released 28 May 1991. Long before their forays into White Album-like excess, weird goth chic, multi-album navel-gazing themes and several drug-related dramas, this band put out a supremely mind-blowing album of grunge-meets-psychedelia.

*

Stay tuned for the summer!

Mixtape: Listen in Silence…The Singles II

This one reminds me of Silver Lake Cemetery. In that short summer between graduating high school and entering college, I got a job at my home town’s Public Works department and spent the entire season mowing the several local cemeteries. Silver Lake had always been my favorite because it was the biggest and most varied in landscape and we could take our time with it. We could easily find a quiet spot and hide for an hour if we wanted. It gave me a lot of time to think. I went through cases of AA batteries listening to my Walkman that summer.

I really love this one a lot; I played this one to the point of nearly wearing it out. It’s full of songs then getting airplay on 120 Minutes, WMDK, records picked up at Al Bum’s and Main Street Music, with a few oddities thrown in. I’d started it with the two first tracks on each side, requested from a friend’s music collection, and I built it up from there. The idea was for the first side to be upbeat and/or energetic, with the flipside being downbeat and/or moody. It wasn’t the last complete mixtape of my hometown teen years — the first Untitled gets that honor a few months later, which I’ll post here at a later time — but it does have that feeling of finality, which was deliberate, especially with that Smiths/Joy Division double-punch at the end. I was more than ready to escape this place and head out into the real world.

[Side notes: The Procol Harum song does stick out a bit, but the reason it’s there is because it was used prominently in the movie New York Stories which my friends and I had gone to see that summer. The GnR song sticks out a bit too, and that was because it had originally been added more as an add to my collection rather than an integral part of the mixtape, but it does kind of fit moodwise. The two Love and Rockets songs are in fact the very same song, played in completely different styles, fitting in perfectly with my upbeat/downbeat theme.]

Listen in Silence…The Singles II, created June 1989

Side A
1. That Petrol Emotion, “Creeping to the Cross”
2. Siouxsie & the Banshees, “The Killing Jar”
3. The Cure, “Babble”
4. The Smiths, “The Queen is Dead”
5. Soul Asylum, “Sometime to Return”
6. Love and Rockets, “Motorcycle”
7. The Cure, “Fascination Street [Extended Remix]”
8. Voice of the Beehive, “Beat of Love”
9. The Smiths, “Shoplifters of the World”
10. Camouflage, “That Smiling Face”

Side B:
1. Guns n’ Roses, “Patience”
2. Talk Talk, “Life’s What You Make It”
3. REM, “The One I Love”
4. Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”
5. Julian Cope, “Charlotte Anne”
6. Ultra Vivid Scene, “Mercy Seat”
7. Love and Rockets, “I Feel Speed”
8. The Cure, “Plainsong”
9. The Smiths, “Reel Around the Fountain”
10. Joy Division, “Atmosphere”