Gimme That “Rock n’ Roll” Time Religion

February 17, 2009 at 12:45 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t remember a time when religion, and in my case Christianity, was not a part of my life. From the age of 5 to 18 me and my family attended church just about every Sunday (morning and night), some Wednesdays, and, for a while at least, on Tuesday nights for AWANA. But, like a lot of kids growing up in a religious setting, I was not at the time terribly excited by the faith that had been imparted to me. The concept of God was fairly appealing to me. However, I found the people at church pretty odd and was never at all comfortable around them. There were some kids my age there, but we just seemed to inhabit two totally different and incompatible worlds. And, I kid you not, there were seriously three major things that made us so different from each other and thus prevented us from ever connecting: 1) movies  2) music  3) profanity. You see, my parents, though they took their faith very seriously and still do, never really put a whole lot of prohibitions on my brother and I. I’ve watched R rated movies since the 6th grade, listened to “devilish” rock music since stumbling upon my Aunt Terry’s shoebox full of cassettes at our summer camp in 1986, and  I never-ever got scolded for my foul mouth.  I liked 1, 2, and 3 and I still do. My truest self has never considered such things in themselves wrong. There’re a ton of R rated movies that have changed the course of my life for the better, and plenty of PG rated family films  that made no impact on me whatsoever, other than their provision of mindless entertainment. I’ve  always had an obsession with rock music, which I will take with me to the grave and, God willing, into the New Heaven and New Earth, or New Jerusalem, or whatever you want to call it. Then there’s the whole swearing thing. Call me lewd, rude, what-have-you, but sometimes “shit” just feels like a more honest response to dropping a 20 pound typewriter on your bare feet than exclaiming, say, “poodily poop.” Plus, vile language has been an inseparable part of the Stover family, and I’m assuming this goes way back into our history. So, far be it from me to challenge this. Now, without sounding like a conceited turd, I have to tell you, because of these three things my life was much more interesting and fun then that of the other church youngins’. Ya see, most, if not all, of them could only watch movies on television, since the filth was edited from them. I don’t think any of them were allowed to listen to rock music period; probably not even Christian rock, though at the time I didn’t even know that existed. And I’m sure that, had I ever sworn in front of them or even made a fart joke (gay jokes were fine), they would have told their parents immediately, thus getting myself and my own parents chastised. Looking back on it all, I think perhaps the reason why I never felt connected to church growing up was because movies, rock music, and words like “dick”  were openly frowned upon. 

Now, to bring the topic of this blog entry back into focus, during the summer before my senior year of  high school I came under the odd conviction that secular rock music was not something Christians should listen to. I cannot for the life of me remember what sparked this. I think I was having a lot of problems with my girlfriend at the time and thought that I had to sacrifice my one ‘idol’ in life in order for God to fix her and I’s relationship. Or maybe I actually paid attention to some anti-rock sermon. I’m really not sure. Anyways, it led to me destroying all of my “secular” cds (and boy, did I have some good ones), then replacing them entirely with Christian music. I couldn’t stand most of the Christian music I had heard up to that point. However, a couple dear friends of mine (neither of whom were against non-Christian music) introduced me to a subculture that was totally unbeknownst to me before: namely, Christian Rock. Now, much of what I heard was pretty terrible and I didn’t deny this. See, a majority of the bands were simply sanitized sound-a-likes. Instead of Blink 182, there was Relient K. Same sound, same topics to some extent (granted Relient K’s relationship songs brought Jesus into them)…the only difference was that Relient K didn’t make any dildo jokes or name their albums “Take Your Pants Off and Jacket.” Some Christian book & music stores even had charts that said things like “If you like Outkast, then you’ll LOOOOOOOOOVE Steven Curtis Chapman,” or some other absurdly inaccurate “sinner and saint” comparison. I don’t think this trend in Christian pop/rock has changed much. To be honest, I think one reason Contemporary Christian music has become so lucrative of an industry is because they’ve directly marketed themselves to and provided an alternative for kids who want to listen to Staind but their parents, or conscience, prevents it. Regardless, during my senior year of high school I did manage to find a lot of “Christian Rockers” who were actually quite good. The majority, if not all of them, were not part of the much more mainstream Contemporary Christian Music scene. They were bands who played in bars, school gyms, Christian festivals such as Cornerstone and Creation, and non-Christian festivals such as Warped Tour and even Ozzfest. They were on small labels, had limited distribution and promotion, and, most importantly, had at least SOME relationship with their fans that wasn’t just a “we make CDs, you buy CDs” type thing. And though a lot of these bands have disbanded and faded away into obscurity, many of them are still at it and doing quite well. As much as I regret throwing away my secular CDs back in 1997, I do think that there is a direct connection between the obsession I developed with under-the radar Christian rock in high school and my ongoing obsession with indie-rock that began in college. That being said, I’d like to share with you some of those bands/artists that I was into. You should also check out them out on Amazon, where you could buy there CDs for as little as 1 cent. Have fun.

Five Iron Frenzy

miniaturegolf I don’t care if ska ended up sucking (and I don’t think it sucks nearly as bad as people claim), Five Iron Frenzy is hands down the most courageous band that ever worked under the umbrella of Contemporary Christian Music. And even if they did work under that umbrella, it was never to simply protect the people underneath from the rain of “the world” but, rather,  to shake it, poke holes in it, dangle it off cliffs,  and, in the end, leave the umbrella behind and construct a different one altogether. Formed in Boulder, Colorado and led by the goofy, incredibly outspoken genius Reese Roper, FIF wrote catchy-as-hell ska ditties where they spoke out against everything from homophobia (check out the song “Mr. Fahrenheit,” an apology note to Freddy Mercury, from 1999’s All The Hype That Money Can Buy) to manifest destiny (as heard in the opener “Old West” from 1997’s Upbeats and Beatdowns), and a whole lot in between. The first time I ever heard them was at a life performance of theirs in the basement of John Baptst High School in Bangor, Maine. There were about 40 people in attendance, and I think myself and the youth group kids I attended it with were the only ones without our entire faces pierced. This remains one of the most exciting concert experiences I’ve had. 

Here’s a youtube recording of their track “Giants”, which tackles corporate greed and, to a great extent, foreshadows the inevitable outcome of unfettered globalization.

Silage

images-5 Silage, while not nearly as lyrically subversive as Five Iron Frenzy, put out what remains one of my all-time favorite albums (the self-titled one pictured to the right). I like Silage for no other reason than they knew how to craft a good pop-song. Now, there songs were so all-over-the board that I don’t think they would have survived too long on Top 40 radio (though they did receive some brief MTV play). Another reason why I liked them was the fact that they were fairly overtly Christian, but neither preachy nor obnoxious; truly an impressive, and rare, feat. I did see them perform at Creationfest in 1998. My dad took my friend Mike and I to it for a graduation present, and we somehow ended up hitching a ride to it with the Passadumkeage Church youth group, led by the too-cool Rick Snell. Mike and I went to see Silage and, I kid you not, the entire crowd was jumping in the air for the entire show. It was totally unbridled and youthful and I’d love to be there right now.

Here’s the video for my favorite Silage song, “Watusi”

 

Danielson Family

Danielson Famile (1998) “Sometimes in the church people will say, ‘Oh, they were just offended by the name of Jesus,’ or something. But it’s actually…it’s much more the delivery that’s offensive… I wish there was a real Christian music industry, or a real Christian music scene…I wish there was one. Because then what they would be doing is they would be selling CDs for $8, they would be, you know, giving full artistic license, encouraging creativity; they would be really doing the things Christ did and continues to do.”

The above is a quote from a conversation Daniel Smith, frontman of Danielson Family, had with the great studio engineer/producer Steve Albini. Early in their career, the Danielson Family tried eagerly to make it in the whole Christian music scene. They put on nurses uniforms, dressed as trees, and sang songs about boyfriends who swear a lot. It was different and wild and received zero interest from that very scene. They did, however, win the interest of SPIN, Rolling Stone, Jeff Buckley, and eventually Steve Albini. Albini, who produced Nirvana’s In Utero and countless other classics, helped push them onto the front stage of the whole indie-rock scene and they have been a favorite ever since. Daniel Smith has since started a very successful indie-label, Sounds Familyre, brought indie poster-boy Sufjan Stevens into the limelight, and the Danielson Family is still playing strong. Good for them. Man, I love that quote above. I think it’s great to see a very openly Christian artist like Daniel Smith admit that he is as annoyed with CCM as the rest of us. Yet, he offers something of a corrective for those artists who want to write songs about their faith and live in a way that is conducive to that. The other part of the quote I like is his mention of an industry that gives “full artistic license” and “encourages creativity” in the name of Christ. And anyone who has listened to and seen the Danielson Family perform has definitely heard and seen plenty of creativity. I love how they dress up in ridiculous outfits, bang out ridiculous songs on whatever weirdo instrument happens to be lying around, and fill their audience with joy. The Danielson Family remind me of the ragtag bunch of Jesus-followers in the musical Godspell. In that musical Jesus and his people run around the slums, painting their faces and singing at the top of their lungs. I think if Jesus were walking around today he’d do the same thing, and would probably get a real kick out of the Danielson Family. Roger Ebert has a great quote that speaks along these lines in his review of Godspell. He said, “The movie characters, like the stage characters, are given little watercolor designs on their faces by Jesus. A girl gets a little yellow flower, a boy gets a tiny red star, and so on…It occurred to me, about an hour into the film, that maybe young people will pick up on this. Tattoos were big in the ’70s–little butterflies and stars–so why not face-paint zigzags and pinwheels and flowers? Anything to brighten up this miserable world…”

Here’s a video for their lovely tune “Did I Step On Your Trumpet”:

Also, I’d highly recommend that you Netflix the documentary on this great band, titled “Danielson: A Family Movie [or,  Make a Joyful Noise HERE].” Seeing the family’s way awesome dad alone makes it worth renting (seriously, if there is a hipper, more lovable father on earth, other than my own, I’ve not yet met him). Here’s a preview of it:

 

Moving on, there was a slew of great bands in the late 90s that apparently listened to a whole lot of My Bloody Valentine. I like to call them “Shoegazers for Christ.” No, that’s about as CCM sounding as you can get so let’s leave that be. On second thought, it’s kind of funny. Anyways, here they are:

Starflyer 59  

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This was, and continues to be, basically the solo project of the remarkably prolific multi-instrumentalist Jason Martin, who is also a part time truck driver. He plays all, I mean ALL, of the instruments on his albums. I have not seen them live, but hear very positive things about them. He’s had some excellent musicians play with him at these shows, such as Richard Swift, David Bazan, and others. I remember 6 or 7 years ago being genuinely pissed when I found out Jason Martin is a smoker. Then I took up smoking for a year and totally understood the appeal. Anyways, here’s the rather Bergmanesque  video of Starflyer 59’s totally fab “No New Kinda Story.”

Morella’s Forest

images-6

These Ohio-based shoegazers made two or three ultra-rad records then disappeared off the face of the earth. Their videos weren’t half-bad, either, about as 1996 as you can get: lots of pink, blue, and yellow with weird words popping up on the screen for no good reason and plenty of good ol’ fashioned senselessness. So enjoy their definitely-not-a-hit but still awesome video for “Here” (and no, that’s not the girl from The Cranberries):

Velour 100

This was SUCH a talented bunch. They had that sort of ethereal Cocteau Twins tone that just makes me giddy and a little high. What’s most amazing about Velour 100 is that if they were around today they’d be like a anti-CCM supergroup. Seriously, here’s some of the people who were in it: Rosie Thomas, David Bazan, Trey Many, led by the angel-voiced Amon Krist (daughter of Detroit-folkster Jan Krist). Apparently after Velour 100 disbanded Amon joined the Detroit Art Institute. Rosie Thomas, David Bazan, and Trey Many have all done incredibly well on their own with promises of more great music to come. There’s no good video footage of the band, so here’s a link to their Myspace. Check out the song “Shine” and I promise you’ll become a fan. 

David Bazan a.k.a Pedro the Lion

I cannot emphasize how much I love this fellow and his music. I’ve met him several times and, I tell you, the words “genuine” and “truthful” aren’t nearly potent enough to describe him. Actually, I’d just assume not say anything about him at all. Just watch:

If you got this far, God bless you. I mean it. This is the most fun I’ve had writing anything in years. I hope there is something here that you connected with.

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People Who Say Funny Things

January 13, 2009 at 10:52 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been on quite a stand-up comedy kick lately. I’ve always had an appreciation for stand-up comics (especially that wacky, nutty funster Joey Gladstone from Full House). I have fond memories of watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious a lot as an 8th grader with my brother and friends of mine with whom I don’t remember hanging out with ever again after 8th grade. Anyways, as my brother pointed out in a recent blog post of his, Delirious is perhaps the most homophobic hour of comedy you will ever see in your life. But, to be honest, you don’t come away from it thinking, “By gum, that Eddie Murphy sure hates homos.” Instead, you just watch with amazement and think to yourself, “Wow…you could say that stuff back then and have people reward such comments with guffaws?” But aside from his sodomy jokes including Mr. T and Ricky Ricardo (which, I’m not gonna lie, are pretty funny) Delirious is still one of the funniest 60 minutes I’ve ever seen. I remember just LAUGHING and LAUGHING until my sides hurt. Eddie Murphy is a funny, funny man. His delivery is perfect, his impressions are perfect, and when he tells a zinger he doesn’t just make you laugh but gives you a tickle like you wouldn’t believe. Each and every day I make it a point to think of that part in Delirious when Eddie does his impression of Elvis movies. I can’t possibly describe to you just how funny it is, so just watch it.

Wooh! Now THERE’S an LOL. I love it, I LOVE it. I think I kind of wandered away from watching stand-up comedy for a while because the funny stuff is usually the dirtiest. But, I guess I just don’t care anymore. Whose to say that just because something is a bit ribald that it’s evil? I’m pretty sure that the Pope, if he were to hear Eddie Murphy singing, “We’re gonna win this race” would be unable to hold back his holy laughter. Thus, in no way do I feel it sinful to share with you a few funny, funny people and comedic moments that I think you should laugh with.

Gilbert Gottfried

I first saw him back when he hosted this show on USA called Up All Night. This show consisted of edited-for-TV showings of great movies such as Midnight Cowboy, terrible movies that were enjoyable such as The Toxic Avenger, and terrible movies that were just plain terrible such as Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama. Gottfried  (when his colleague Rhonda Shear wasn’t hosting) would interrupt the movies with commentary, granted it wasn’t so much commentary as it was Gilbert simply saying pretty nasty stuff with his signature loud, horrendously obnoxious but somehow lovable voice. The commercials for this show were almost entirely advertising phone sex numbers. Here’s an old advertisement for Up All Night.

Gilbert has also appeared on The Cosby Show, Saturday Night Live, Problem Child, Married with Children, and Aladdin. His popularity dropped a bit until, as we all know, his uproariously funny performance at Hugh Heffner’s Comedy Roast. After being told that it was in fact too soon to tell a 9/11 joke, Gilbert instead settled for an utterly  perverse stab at the famous Aristocrats joke. He has since been a fixture of the Comedy Roasts and even put out a video. As funny as his roasts have been, he’s still got plenty of other funnies from years past that are too often overlooked. Perhaps my favorite is an old Andrew Dice Clay impression he did. People say that the best comedy is self-directed. Gilbert Gottfried has fortunately proven that some of the best comedy is in fact totally directed at others. Here we go. Prepare yourself for a tickle; this is seriously one of the funniest things I’ve seen in my life:

I’d give one of my testicles to see him impersonate Dane Cook. Speaking of testicles, I’d like to highlight another funny person……

Dan Mintz

I just saw Dan Mintz for the first time about a week ago on Comedy Central. He was roommates with Dmitri Martin, who is also a very funny man. Dan Mintz delivery is so deadpan, and so awkward that I’m amazed he ends up being so funny. But he’s hilarious. I think you’ll gradually be hearing of him more and more as the year goes on. 

This clip has my favorite of his bits…it’s the one about a guitar:

I was going to talk about a few more comedians, like Flight of The Conchords and  Zach Galifianakis, but…that would be totally unnecessary. Instead, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE comment about some of your favorite comedians, whether they be ones we’ve heard about or SHOULD hear about.

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Definitely Not A Fan…

December 22, 2008 at 5:10 am (Uncategorized)

To continue, while there are several indie fashions that I applaud and wish I were attractive enough to pull off in a way appealing to the opposite sex, there’s still a few that I just don’t get.  I realize that some of the people reading this may wear the things I’m about to highlight. If this is the case and I end up hurting your feelings then, rather than apologize, I’d just like to remind you that:

1) I am balding

2) I wear tan pants with a lot of pen marks on them every other day

3) I still don’t know how to tuck in shirts properly

4) I am not a handsome man

 

That being said, I offer you a list of silly indie wear that I think is dumb looking

ewempire15-1  Boots over pants: Listen, lady readers, I know you wear these. It hurts me to say this but…I think you could all do better. Listen, if you like to wear your boots over your pants then…whatever. Be yourself, I guess. I just think that there is a far better self  awaiting you around the corner that, well, maybe doesn’t pull their boots up to their dungaree knees. So I vote that you all use your God-given freedoms to band together, organize, and collectively jettison this look and move on to the next exciting fashion! But seriously, this is your chance to shatter the biggest glass ceiling ever. Fight the power! Please do not kill me. 

 

 

 

 

 

emo_hair2Hair that looks like this:

What the hell, guys? Look at yourselves! It’s not so much the style that bothers me, but that horrible “I’m mysterious and melancholy” look on the faces of those who don this dippy doo. And the fact that, when I enter a coffee shop, I know full well that every other person will look like this ding-dong that you see to the left, facial expression and all. Nothing makes me happier than people who are perfectly pleased with their hair cut for no other reason than they think it looks decent. Bruce Springsteen is a shining example of this. Isn’t that right, Bruce?

       images-3“That’s right, Justin. My hair ain’t fancy, but it does what it needs to do.”

Does what it needs to ‘do’. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! I see what you did right there with that pun, Boss. 

You see kids, Bruce and I both know that ‘indie’ stands for ‘independence.’ I think if 3/4ths of you have the same exact haircut then that independence is questionable. 

 

 

skinnyjeansGirl pants on guys

Listen, bros…I guess I can see why you all think these look cool. They are a vast improvement over parachute pants. I guess I just worry that you are perhaps…hurting your ‘goods’??? Bunchin’ up the batch a bit too much? How do any of you walk around without shrieking high pitched squeals of pain? When I was in 6th grade, fat as a fart, and taking Shotokan karate I just remember SQUEEZING into my too-tight Gi pants and nearly crying. I can’t imagine this was at all healthy for my testicles. Come on guys, the children…think of the children. 

For more info on the enormous health risk of girl pants on your…balls, please click here.

 

Alright, I can’t think of any indie fashions that I dislike too much aside from the ones mentioned herein. Take care, you hipsters!

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Indie Fashions That I Really Do Enjoy

December 9, 2008 at 1:09 am (Uncategorized)

A dear friend of mine today told me that he was getting so sick of the whole “indie subculture” that he almost doesn’t want to listen to its music anymore. There is a part of me that can empathize with him. For instance, below is an example of a type of conversation that I have almost daily.

Leonora the Hipster: Hey, have you heard of the band Silly Sheep and the Shepherds?

J-Dong (that’s me): Uh, no?

Leonora the Hipster: Are you serious? And I thought you knew good music.

 

Now, I would rather converse about music with a Leonora type than listen to some Dave Matthews or OAR fan’s monologue about, I don’t know, some 37 minute bass solo they heard at a festival. But yeah, I totally understand why some people are just sick of indie kids. Regardless, I admit that a lot of them wear cool clothing. A lot of them also wear plenty of dippy shit. So here’s some of my favorite indie fashions. My next posting will have some of my least favorites. Oh, and this is all in totally random order, by the way.

I Like These

The Scarfhats-0063

You know, I do like this whole scarf thing. Especially knitted scarves, those look very nice indeed. There are many reasons why I get happy when I’m in a place where a lot of scarves are being worn. One, winter is my favorite season. I think people look much cuter and funnier during the winter because they get “bundled up.” I’ve always liked to get bundled up and I think it’s endearing that humans need to do this. As a child I always found it funny to watch my dad put on a sweater, a huge jacket, puffy wool socks, enormous boots, gloves that resembled the Powerglove for the original Nintendo (only his were blue, not gray), a funny looking knit hat with a floppy ball atop of it, and then he’d spend about 3 minutes wrapping a huge scarf around his neck and head. So hipsters, wear the hell out of those scarves. The only thing that bothers me is when I see somebody with a scarf on who looks miserable. I see this a lot, too. Listen, ace, you should be happy. Why?  Because your neck is warm. There are a lot of cold necks out there who would love to be engulfed by your silly scarf. 

 

 

 

limmens3Striped Shirts

These I also enjoy. You can do a lot with them. You can wear them under t-shirts (more to be said about that later), wear them under a sweater that doesn’t match at all but somehow works, or just wear them as is. Striped pants are hideous, so don’t wear those. I think a lot of people, back in their youngling days, were truly fascinated by the zebra creature. I also recall from my youth laughing at a lot of commercials wherein a businessman sits on a white bench without knowing it’s still wet with paint, realizes this, is a tad disgruntled but then, wearing his now striped suit, does that “well, what can you do” gesture with his hands” before chewing whatever gum that the commercial advertised. 

 

 

 

 

 

4jleto

  The  Jordan Catalano “Long Sleeve Under T-       shirt” Thing

  Having once been a high schooler who dressed horribly and had no friends, I was pleasantly surprised one morning during symphonic band practice when the super-fly Kristin Sereyko told me I looked nice. And what was I wearing? The very outfit that I saw Jordan Catalano wear on My So Called Life the evening before. And you know what? I still see people dressed like this all the time. Best of all, it takes no effort whatsoever to put on. Stephen Malkmus, when not wearing a rain coat (ie. “Carrot Rope”), often donned this super cool combo. I would recommend that you also wear brown old man pants and blue Chuck Taylors when you do so. 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of “Carrot Rope”, let’s take a break and watch it:

 

ajragdollgreenwhite1   Rag Dolls Socks on Da’ Ladies

  This was once more of a goth and punk look, and even a “fetish” thing. But lately I’ve seen a lot of ladies wearing these at bars and the other day at a pizza place. So apparently it’s coming to the fore, and I tell you what, this guy isn’t complaining. Every time I see a lovely lady wearing rag doll socks, regardless of the socks’ color, I immediately pretend that I am no longer in Grand Rapids, MI, but instead in Wonderland or Oz. There’s this magic trick store on Division St. where I live that have racks and racks and racks of these for sale.  I also saw an advertisement for some roller derby event that had cartoons of women skating around, wearing these. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alright, my next post will share which indie fashions I hope die horrible deaths. I love you. 

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Paying Attention to Juliana Hatfield

December 8, 2008 at 8:20 pm (Uncategorized)

I have a terrible, short attention span. Seriously, it’s bad. But I’ve grown to like it. I think I just get bored with things quickly and as a result have to always be moving on to whatever I find more interesting. And you know what? That’s OK. Instead of concentrating on one thing at a time, I have an odd ability to concentrate on many things at a time. Sure, I’m probably still much less intelligent than those people who actually have good attention spans and an ability to focus. But I do have a fairly unquenchable curiosity in all kinds of stuff. Basically, my mind gets more excited about breadth than depth. Rather than read one book closely and carefully, I’d rather sit down for an hour with, say, three totally unrelated books or magazines while watching a movie, listening to music, or surfing the net. Fortunately, I think this has helped my songwriting a great deal. When you write a song you’re basically trying to crunch a whole bunch of interesting ideas into a three to four minutes of melodies. So, this blog’s going to be filled with my musings on the many things that I’m intrigued by and, hopefully, how they relate to songwriting, performance, music, etc.  Those things will mostly be movies, CDs, bands, books, YouTube clips, and funny things that my friends & family say and do because, to be honest, that’s all I really care about. So hear we go.

Let’s start with books. I like books. They are the hardest things on earth to pay attention to, I think. I can pay pretty close attention to music books, political ones, and short stories. This week I’ve been reading When I Grow Up, which is a memoir by singer/songwriter/guitarist extraordinaire Juliana Hatfield. You may (or may not) remember her from Blake Babies and The Lemonheads. I became obsessed with her about two years ago after buying her CD Only Everything at a “Disc-Go-Round” for $.99.  My brother listened to her long before I did, but back then I never really gave her a shot because I was too busy trying to  prove to my friends that I really liked gangsta rap. I think I always knew she was talented. But the minute I heard Only Everything I was hooked. She has now become one of my top 5 favorite solo artists. I’d say….number 5. I think. Let’s see, let me make a quick list:

          1) Sufjan Stevens

          2) Evan Dando (aka Lemonheads)

          3) Tom Waits

          4) David Bazan (formerly Pedro the Lion)

          5) Juliana Hatfield

You’ve probably heard at least one of her songs. Such as:

My Sister:

or

Spin the Bottle

and one  of my personal favorites:

Universal Heartbeat

 

Yep, she’s number 5. That sounds about right. I love her because her guitar sounds like it’s taking an angry shit. Seriously, and I mean that in the best possible way. That is perhaps the biggest compliment I have ever given to a guitarist. Her solos are all grunty and raunchy and totally proud of what they’ve accomplished. To be honest, I don’t think she’s the greatest lyricist on earth. But she’s always got very creative concepts undergirding her songs. Like, she’s got that one early-90s hit song “My Sister” about an older sibling who takes her to great rock concerts but  is never very nice. And there’s another song about playing spin the bottle with famous people. Oh, and there’s a lesser known one off of Made in China (one of her best albums) where she talks about how she doesn’t like god very much but would gladly take money from him if he’s feeling generous. Anyways, her memoir came out about 2 weeks ago. Thus far it’s received some strong, well-deserved reviews. It’s seriously one of the most entertaining and helpful books on being a musician I’ve read in some time. Like her songs, Juliana shares some often embarrassingly personal information but with such honesty and sincerity that you can’t help but listen. For instance, she talks about how she often pees in cups when backstage at her concerts. Apparently this is a practice common to just about every indie musician at one point or another. According to her, most venues take horrible care of performers and don’t even offer them (or even have) dressing rooms. So peeing into cups is the only option. Aside from that, Miss (that’s right, MISS) Hatfield mostly talks about how depressive and bitchy she is, which is why most of her songs have such an angry edge.  From what I gather, she likes people well enough but finds them immediately annoying. She feels terrible about this, and much of the book is her apologizing for being such a turd to her friends, family, and fans. I am pretty sure that if I ever meet her I’ll be incredibly nervous and immediately assume that she thinks I’m an obnoxious sack of shit.

In the way of autobiography, there’s a good deal in here about the early days of her music career (Berklee, Blake Babies) and how she never planned on being anything other than a rock star of some sort. She also talks about her two or three years of mainstream fame. From around 1993-1995 she was a favorite on MTV (ie. “120 Minutes”), received constant critical acclaim, performed on The Tonight Show, palled around with all kinds of famous people, was basically a fashion model, and even signed fairly hefty deal with Atlantic Records. I always wondered if she made a lot of money during that time. Turns out Atlantic wrote her a check for $400,000 dollars. She says that “to some degree I’m still living off that publishing advance.”

What I like best about this book is that it gives such thoroughly practical advice to struggling singers/songwriters/performers.  For instance, she advises that you bring a lot of Cliff Bars and peanuts with you when touring because most venues don’t pay a lick of attention to your riders. She says they’ll sometimes buy you supper if you complain about their failure to provide a lick of food, but even that can take a while to get and are usually pretty piddly, so it’s good to have plenty of high-protein snacks to keep you from starving. She also suggests that you hire your own personal sound engineer to tour with you, especially one who is really good at making crappy sound equipment sound listenable. I guess even some of the more renowned venues have barely-working sound systems that the club owners usually don’t have a half clue in hell how to use.

Much to my disappointment, the very first page of the book dispels the myth that musicians get a lot of free beer. As she explains on page 1, “Some club owners and promoters opt to give the band drink tickets, good for complimentary beverages, instead of setting up a spread backstage. A long strip of those little generic ‘admit one’ tear-off tickets is given to the tour manager, who then distributes them to his charges. Usually we’d get about four tickets each…” I had always assumed that you could have 97 beers if you wanted to, based on the fact that I’ve never once seen a concert with a sober band. Next Thursday will be my first ever concert at a bar and, I must say, my high hopes of getting unlimited free beer have been crushed by my 5th favorite singer.  

Interestingly enough, Juliana doesn’t give a whole lot of advice regarding songwriting itself. That’s really not a bad thing, though. Songwriters are usually pretty lousy at articulating the craft of songwriting, as my blog will continually demonstrate. I guess Jimi Hendrix, when asked how he wrote songs, would go off about how animated cats would whisper lyrics into his ear and he’d immediately write them down. I would be entirely grateful if this happened to me but, I’ll be damned, it hasn’t yet. There is one particular page of When I Grow Up wherein Juliana talks about her craft and, seriously, it’s as poetic as it is helpful. Here’re the goods:

“Some songs are more consciously, diligently crafted, with hours and hours of dutiful, disciplined effort and will and sustained concentration and toil, like the metal a blacksmith pounds in to the shapes he has envisioned and then mapped out. But other songs–the dream songs, the phantoms of the netherworlds–are like woodland sprites that jump out from behind a tree and dare you to try to catch them as they giggle and run away, disappearing among the thick camouflage of the forest. They tease, but they don’t want to get caught. There’s a reason that the word ‘capture’ is used when describing what a writer is doing when he tries to get down on paper what he experiences. We writers are all hunters on a never-ending hunt. Hunting for the right words and chords and melodies.” 

Hunters. I like that. Thanks, Juliana.

Anyways, I think you should buy her book. I know the economy is in stellar shape thanks to our incredibly capable president, so you have absolutely no excuse to not purchase it at your local bookstore.

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December 8, 2008 at 7:45 pm (Uncategorized)

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