Monday, December 28, 2009

Cry Uncle

The other day, my friend and I were comparing holiday loot when he decided to show me the mug he received from his young nephews. The mug says "#1 Uncle" on the side. You might think that's a nice gesture, being the big ol' soft-hearted pansy that you are. But it got me thinking: So my friend's the number one uncle, huhn? Well, doesn't the number one uncle deserve more than just a coffee mug testifying to his superlative status? Wouldn't something like - oh, I don't know - a new Mercedes Benz be a bit more fitting???

After all, he beat out ALL THE OTHER UNCLES!!! He's number one, for pete's sake! I've never actually done the math, but believe you me, there are a lot of freakin' uncles out there; it's no small feat to place first. You think you could do it? I think that such an accomplishment at least deserves a snazzy luxury vehicle with comfy leather seats designed to warm the buttocks on chilly winter mornings. It's the least one could do in recognition of my friend's ability to successfully exist and be a male sibling to someone who sired several small children.

Ok, so maybe the "Benz" is a little out of the kids' holiday-buying budget. I understand that! But STILL… a little effort would have been nice. I'd bet dollars to donuts they didn't even go to the dealer and check the prices or see if they could pay in installments. Barring that, did they maybe consider rewarding their uncle's efforts with a less costly alternative, like, say, a night with a high-priced call girl? Nope! Right to the mug! BANG! FIVE DOLLARS! NUMBER ONE UNCLE MUG, PLEASE! Real nice, kids. Real f***ing nice.

Secondly, I don't even remember anyone holding a competition for "#1 Uncle," do you? I'm an uncle, did I even place? How come no one ever gets a "#56 Uncle" mug? I still think that's pretty respectable, considering the amount of fierce competition out there. I suppose it's another testament to the toxic "winner take all" mentality fostered by our capitalist society. The #1 uncle gets all the babes and the mugs, while number 56 has to drink his coffee out of a cheap paper cup which can barely protect his digits from its scalding hot contents. It's almost like American Greetings is telling me, "Tough luck, ass munch. Maybe next time you won't be such a douche to your nephews. Enjoy your finger burns."

The whole thing got me so depressed that yesterday I actually went to the Hallmark Store to take matters into my own hands. That's right; I wanted to buy a "#1 uncle" mug for myself. (The Benz is a bit out of my price range too.) I'm not proud of myself, but it had to be done. The fact is, I'm not going to let anyone deny me the personal validation that can only come from an engraving on the side of a white ceramic cup. So I tried to purchase the mug, and in an effort to be stealthy I slipped it between a stuffed Woodstock doll and a little man made out of metal wire (I'm actually not sure if he was playing piano or dancing the Watusi with an oversized platypus).

Unfortunately, the clerk was not fooled by my clumsy tactics and chastised me severely: "That'll be 28 dollars and… hey, waitaminnit… What the hell do you think you're doing buddy? You think you're number one uncle material? That's your FRIEND! You're number 45,678,992! Now get the HELL OUT OF MY STORE before I beat you over the head with that little man playing the piano - er, either that, or cleaning out a pool filter with a misshapen golf club, one or the other."

Needless to say, I scurried from the premises, dropping my blue and tan "casino money" bank in the process. On the bright side, I DID finally learn my ranking in the great pantheon of uncles - 45,678,992! Hmmmm. That's pretty weak, I have to say. Well, maybe with a little hard work and dedication - or a couple of extra Milky Ways for the nephews around Halloween time - I could boost that number to 45,632,724 in no time at all.

Ah, screw that. Truth be told, isn't this whole "#1" thing contrary to the vaunted self-esteem movement that's running rampant in this country? Isn't everyone supposed to be praised, whether they achieve "#1" status or not? I say no more "#1" mugs for uncles, aunts, moms, dads, grandmothers or grandfathers. I don't care if you're Bill Huxtable meets Bill Bixby on "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." From now on, the mugs should reflect our true cultural ethos - I wanna see mugs printed with stuff like: "Good Try, Grandma"; "Nice Mothering, Mom!"; "Above Average Job, Grandpa"; and "Thanks for Not Showing Up Drunk, Hitting on the Neighbor's Wife, and Falling Down Ass-backwards in the Snow Like Last Year, Uncle!" (You might need tiny font for that last one.)

Okay, so maybe that's not such a good idea. What do you expect from the guy who's number 45,678,992, anyway? Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top Band Names That Sound Like Crossword Puzzle Clues

Hey everyone! Nite Owl here. If you live in the Northeast (like I do) you may have been hit with a buttload of snow this weekend. As a result, you probably spent about 20 + hours scraping and shoveling. In my case, that means scraping up whatever measley bit of food is left in my house and then shoveling it in my face while I look out the window and wait for the snow to melt.

Either way, the end result is I'm completely exhausted - much too exhasuted to pen a witty, incisive blog this week. Or any other week, for that matter. But don't you worry; I've got you covered! I've invited Gerry Schramm, Renaissance man, to be our special guest blogger! Woo-hoo! (That's Renaissance the hotel, not the era, by the way. Don't ask; you don't want to know.) Some of you may by familiar with Gerry from his short stories on the now legendary "Topless Review," as well as his work as the writer or co-writer of awesome online strips "Blood Culture" and "Cockroach Comix." (The rest of you may know him from hanging around the Renaissance Hotel parking lot.)

Take it away, Gerry...


Let's face it, folks. Some band names suck. Some of them suck so bad that they make no sense at all and only make sense if they were crossword puzzle clues. That's why Nite Owlz All Night Blog Spot is proud to present:

Top Band Names That Sound Like Crossword Puzzle Clues

* Of Montreal

* Therapy?

* Death Cab For Cutie

* Minus the Bear

* Her and Him

* Jane's Addiction

* Panic! At the Disco

* Creed

* When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water

* Supertramp

* The Postal Service

* Pixies

* Funeral for a Friend

* The Carpenters

* White Stripes


Visit Gerry here:

or here:

or here:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Years: The Lost Years

I think when this decade is finally over, you won't hear people talking about it very much, because no self-respecting individual wants to say, "Hey, remeber back in the NAUGHTIES when we...?" It sounds stupid, and you'd probably get your ass kicked for saying it. (Other names for the decade haven't really "stuck" either.)

The only viable alternative is to say, "Hey, remember at the turn of the century when...?" but that's too damn wordy, especially in the age of obnoxious, incessant texting. (Maybe we can condense it to "TOTC"?) Plus, it makes you sound like you're about 110 years old, wear a red and white striped jacket, sport a handlebar mustache and ride a tricycle with a front wheel that's 30 times bigger than the ones in the back.

No, it's clear there will be nary a word uttered about this decade, because it never found a suitable (let alone catchy) monkier. People still talk about the roaring 20's, the fabulous 50's, or the swinging 60's, but no one really refers to the (19)00's or (19)10's much, a phenomenon which I believe has more to do with nomenclature than actual passage of time.

So, if you did something really amazing and revolutionary this decade, you're pretty much screwed. No one's gonna want to talk about it because no one wants to say (for example), "Boy, the NAUGHTIES were incredible - remember how that panel of top scientists cured cancer, AIDS, SARS, and heart disease all in one week??? MAN! What a decade!!!"

Nope, doesn't matter. Hell, they could invent a better type of silly string in the 2020's and it would get talked about more, simply because it's easier to say "Those Toy-filled Twenties!!!!" than "The Age of Medical Advancement and Disease Vanquishment." SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!!!!!!!! Save it for the history books, daddy-o!!!!! Pass the silly string!

Ah, it's just as well, I suppose. Looking at the world around me, I think the less said about the "naughties," the better.

(Footnote: Have you ever considered the fact you will probably never get to live in a decade which is numerically 10 years before the one you're born in? So, if you're born in the 70's, you'll most likely never get to live in "the 60's" (of the next century, of course). If you're born in the 80's, you probably won't get to live in "the 70's." Never thought about it, did ya? Kind of a bummer, huhn? Whaddayamean, "NO"???")

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dumb Luck

It kind of bothers me that the people who work in casinos wish everyone "good luck." They can't really mean it, at least not every time, because if EVERYONE had good luck, then the casinos would obviously go bankrupt. Nevermind the fact it's a statistical, if not a logical, impossibility for everyone to have good luck.

Think about it; if everyone had "good luck," wouldn't we have to redefine what is lucky? After all, the norm for what is an ordinary amount of "luck" will have shifted. Soon, it won't be enough for everyone to hit the lottery... the people with "good luck" will have to hit it TEN times!

The casinos should be a little more forthcoming with their patrons. Next time I'm in Atlantic City I want the staff to say, "Hey, try not to lose so much money you end up working the streets later just to get cab fare home, ass-wipe - you know, like last time."

I think I could respect them for that.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Demo "Run" Available for Free Download

Here's a link to a free download of Glenn Page Music's latest pop confection, "Run"...

Free Download of New Demo, "Run" by Glenn Page Music
(The download button is a couple of inches to the right of the profile pic.)

The words and music are by Glenn Page; the performance/production is by our good friends over at (No, that's not Glenn singing on there!)

Please feel free to listen, download, put it on your ipod, play it at your sister, play it at your dog, pipe it into major league baseball stadiums, hum it at the DMV, whistle it while having sex, and play it on the kazoo while tobagganing down the Swiss Alps at 250 mph. Wheeeeeeee!

Or, you could just ignore the link, click off of this page, and get back to looking at videos of Lady Gaga dressed like a mummy on crack. Now, which would you rather do, honestly?

Wait, don't answer that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why'd the Owl Cross the Road?

The other day in the city I got hit by a car. For some reason, I thought the flashing red hand at the crosswalk was the universal "high five" symbol for crossing the road successfully. "YO! High FIIIIVE MAN! You're crossing the STREET!!! WAY TO GO BABY!!!!"

I wasn't sure why it was flashing red, of course, but then I figured I was being alerted to dangerous sidewalk congestion in the area. "Emergency! Get off the curb NOW!!!! You're blocking other pedestrians!"

After all, pedestrians have HANDS don't they?  "LOOK OUT FOR THE PEDESTRIANS!" If someone wanted to warn me about high-speed vehicles, wouldn't they flash an image of a red CAR instead of a red HAND? You would think, wouldn't you?

Anyway, lesson learned on that one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coffee Grinds, Part One

You know what it's like when you're drinking a nice, hot, soothing cup of java and then suddenly you get a big old mouthful of greasy, nasty coffee grinds? And you know what it's like when you end up spitting the coffee out all over the place because you're completely revolted? And then the coffee gets on your boss' shiny 5000 dollar Armani suit, and he gets so mad that he tosses you out of a plate glass window from 30 stories up, causing your body to tumble like one of those oh-so-obvious movie mannequins, but it's not a mannequin, it's really you, and you end up smashing headlong into the hood of a taxi cab driven by someone who just made a pithy comment about things falling from the sky, and then the taxi's horn starts blaring endlessly as horrified onlookers scream and scramble at the sight of your crumpled, useless, heap? You know what that's like?

Yeah, you know how much that sucks.

Well, that's what this new ongoing entry is all about (the coffee grinds part, not the smashing into a cab part); this is all the nasty sludge, coffee residue and left-over stuff that we found at the bottom of the NiteOwlz pots after a long day of brewing up the finest blogs anywhere on the web. In other words, these are some of the random odds and ends that we couldn't fit anywhere else and so we deicided to dump them here.

We know that many of you are accustomed to the finest "coffee" we have to offer, but who knows? SOMEONE might enjoy this stuff. After all, aren't there people who drink coffee out of a civet's ass? Hey, one man's nasty, oily grinds is another man's delicious cup of wild-animal feces.

So, here it is: part one of the stuff we scraped off the bottom of the cup... YUM!

• Why don't they make saliva-flavored gum? Then it would never run out of flavor.

• Whenever my friends think I'm daydreaming they say, "Hello, Earth to NiteOwl, HELLO??? EARTH TO NITEOWL!" I never answer though, because I know they don't work for NASA.

• Sometimes the operator asks me for the "correct spelling" of my name. Huhn? Did someone tell her I have a history of misspelling my own name? Just for kicks I like to put the phone down and yell, "Hey BOB! How do you spell my name again?"

• When people get "drawn and quartered," I'll bet the percentages don't usually work out.

• Why does the trouble-shooting guide seem to have only two categories of suggestions: (a) so-obvious-you'd-have-to-be-an-utter-moron-not-to-think-of-it-yourself, and (b) PHD  in engineering from Starfleet Academy.

• News Flash: Satirical newspaper makes headline out of mundane activity that's kind of silly but people do it everyday without thinking.

• Lesson learned: Never use an electric razor on a beard made of bees.

• Have you ever been at a rock concert and everyone's bopping their heads like they're REALLY into the music? And then a second later you think, "I can't be the only one here who realizes this band really sucks, can I?"

• Commericalitis: A rare disease often portrayed on medical dramas, this dreaded affliction causes inpatients to suddenly manifest new and disturbing symptoms that signal an impending commercial break.

• I had a really bad nightmare: I dreamt my dream-catcher was trying to kill me.

*A little piece of your soul dies the first time you see an ice cream truck filling up in a gas station. That's when you first realize they actually run on gas, not fairy dust and flower petals thrown into the tank by elves. For me, that moment was last week.

*Enough with "Cheers." If you're not British, I don't wanna hear it; it doesn't confer an aura of class upon you. In fact, it only makes you sound like a pretentious "arse." Sort of like the word "confer."

• It's weird to think that the entire animal kingdom is completely and utterly oblivious to the way they've been used as characters in thousands and thousands of cartoons.

• Speaking of which, do you think real ducks would be pissed if they knew about Donald Duck and Daffy Duck? I'll bet real ducks aren't all assholes, and many of them probably have perfect diction. For a duck, that is.

*Facebook, circa 2017: A frightening, bleak, post-apocalyptic future where all the good quizzes and "gifts" have been done... leaving only stuff like, "Which Pauly Shore Movie Are You?"; "How Well Do you Know 1930's Lace Doilies?" (CanYou Beat NiteOwl's Score of 0.0???); and "NiteOwl sent you some coasters with Paul Stanley's face on them. Click here to see!"

*I'm getting tired of the media trying to promote corporate product by telling me someone has "made a comeback" before they're actually, you know, MADE a comeback.

• The universe is completely indifferent to our pain and suffering. On the other hand, reality TV producers are not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mom's Blazing Sandwiches of Death

The flyer for the over-priced lunch café I go to in the city has an entry for "old-fashioned tuna sandwich." It's served on "cracked whole wheat wrap" and has slivers of organic carrots in it.

Uh, WHAT???!!? Old-fashioned??? Yeah, because back in the day, mom ALWAYS used "cracked wheat" when she made our fat-globule-enriched tuna on bleached-white slabs-o-death. Forget cracked wheat, I think the people who made this menu were on actual crack.

We didn't have any of this pansy "wrap" stuff back then! Krist, before 1988 or so "rap" was just a type of music made by those nice boys in Aerosmith. No, if you wanted tuna the "old fashioned" way, it was served up HARDCORE SYTLE with tons of artery-busting mayo and sugar-spiking Wonder Bread, baby!

Type 2? HA HA HA! We laughed in the FACE of Type 2! We didn't know what the f*ck it was, but we sure as hell laughed in its face! We were kids, dammit, and we took it like men.

Oh sure, mom gave us carrots from time to time, but she was never so sadistic as to put 'em in our freakin' TUNA, for crying out loud. We'd have probably kicked her ass, or something. And none of that "pieces of celery" stuff either, although I know some poor bastards whose moms DID try to smuggle that crunchy crap into their otherwise blissful mercury-enhanced fish parts.

And in ye olden days, did we have to pay mom 10 dollars and 25 cents per sandwich? Or 11 dollars and 20 cents if you wanted the "sandwich and small bottle of water" combo deal? Hmmmm. Strangely, that magical part of my youth seems to have receded into the mists of yesteryear. Maybe that's because we didn't have (pseudo-healthy) spring water either! Nope, we drank it straight up: right from the tap. (That's why they call it "tap" water by the way; drink enough of it, and they'll be playing "taps" for you.)

I think the lesson here is quite simple: The good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems, YAAY-YAAAAAAAAAY-YAAAAAAAAY!!!!!! You learn stick ball as a formal education! Doo-deee-dooo-dee-doooo-dee-dooooo…

Woops! Sorry, I was channeling my inner Piano Man for a second there. Well, it doesn't matter because that's not really the lesson to be learned here at all. I suppose, more accurately, the lesson to be learned is this: Yesterday sucked; today sucks; and you can't escape the satanic corporations which will eventually grind us all into a fine-white powder and make calcium-fortified bread with our bones.

But mom did make one hell of a kick-ass sandwich, didn't she? Love ya mom!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Real Cut-Up: Practical Jokes for Halloween, #1

Well, it's almost that time of year again: the time when creepy creatures of every kind crawl out of the woodwork and threaten to eat your brain and DEVOUR YOUR SOUL!!!! Yes, that's right; I'm talking about Thanksgiving dinner with your in-laws.
HA HA! No, everyone knows I'm talking about Halloween, of course. And this year, I've got an extra-special treat for you paganistic cats; here's an asphyxiatingly hilarious prank you can play the next time you're being chased through the woods by a chainsaw-wielding maniac on Halloween night. This one's a real knee-slapper, folks.

First, of course, you need to wait for a homicidal maniac with a chainsaw to come after you, which is trickier than it sounds, believe it or not. Hence, you might want to go camping near a graveyard or an abandoned asylum just to help accelerate the process. For good measure, maybe bang some pots and pans and yell stuff like "HEY YEAH, I THINK I JUST ACCIDENTALLY DUG UP SOMEONE'S MURDERED FAMILY, BUT I'M NOT SURE." More often than not, I've found this usually does the trick.

Once you've attracted said maniac's full attention, start running away screaming at the top of your lungs like you're really scared he's going to get you. Let this go on for about 30 minutes or so, so he can work up a good sweat lugging that big ol' power tool around.

Now here's the tricky part: When the killer's about 10 feet behind you (give or take), turn and run right towards the chainsaw. Then, when you're about a foot or two away, lunge directly onto the churning chainsaw's teeth at top speed. You want this part to be extra effective, so make sure you get right in there and get your guts cut up pretty good. (Note: This is also a good time to flail your arms, whip your tongue around wildly, and make lots of "killed by a chainsaw" noises like "BLEHBUDDDEY-BLAH-DEEEEH-BLLEEEEEHH-DEEHHBLLLUB!!!!" If it helps, practice beforehand by making silly noises for a small infant.)

The great thing about this gag is that now you've successfully turned the tables and your would-be vicious mutilator will never see it coming! HA HA HA! Of course, you'll be completely eviscerated within 4-6 seconds of doing this, but trust me, the look of complete surprise on the serial killer's face right before you see the glowing tunnel of light is PRICELESS.

Okay, well, have fun with this prank and be sure to write in and let me know how it goes. (For safety reasons, always wear bright, reflective clothes so you're clearly visible to passing motorists.) I'll be back in a few weeks with some fun holiday pranks, like telling your 5 year old daughter that Santa committed suicide because she only got a B+ in Kindergarten. Good times!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Andy J. Gallagher, Helicopter Dolphin Submarine (Waga Waga Records)

A lot of people incorrectly think that rock and punk rock are about mindless bluster or aggressive noise. However, the best rock, like the best music in general, often has an emotional subtext simmering crucible-like just beneath the surface. This tension between the artist's passions and the music that can barely contain them serves to bring an added depth and urgency to the apparent chaos.

If you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about, check out Andy J. Gallagher's latest, "Helicopter Dolphin Submarine." On this, his full-length solo debut, Gallagher (formerly of The Shopkeeper Appeared) harnesses volatile emotions like anger, regret and longing to fuel and add moments of sublime beauty to 12 seriously cracking rock/mod-punk tunes. More specifically, Gallagher seems to be ruminating over a recent breakup, and this palpable sense of loss informs the vast majority of the album, taking his songs to an even higher level.

Roman Jugg (formerly of the Damned) is seated in the producer's chair for HDS, and while the tunes are all Gallagher's, I assume Jugg is at least partially responsible for the feeling of "windswept anarchy" that propels much of the album forward. That feeling is so pronounced, in fact, that it often threatens to consume the listener whole. Of course, many of Jugg's rollicking proclivities were hinted at during his tenure with the Damned, but 80's production values presumably held him in check. Here, he's finally let "off the chain" and it's quite the revelation.

Gallagher and Jugg work well together: Nifty tracks like "Something Else", "Faster and Faster", and "Another Craze" gallop along at a breakneck pace with reverb-drenched guitars and riffs that oscillate like a demented ambulance siren. The arrangements are tight and punchy, and most of the songs are super-short, leaving the listener feeling like he just got out of the rumble seat: breathless and ready for more.

Gallagher's singing has that boozy, loose quality that’s somewhere between pugnacious swagger and wounded heartbreak. To put it another way, listening to this disc feels like the aural equivalent of a bloke having a row with his girlfriend, then blowing off steam by throwing on his leather jacket, riding down to the pub at 100 mph, and getting into a friendly punchup with his mates. Later, he buys them all a round while he gets misty and tells them a thing or two about life.

If the pub metaphor isn't cutting it for you, here's a partial list of the influences that crop up on HDS: The Buzzcocks, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, The Kinks, The Ramones, The Beatles, Bauhaus, The Clash and The Damned. Gallagher draws upon these artists (and many more) to create a unique sound that feels like the best parts of classic rock, 70's glam rock, britpop and punk distilled down to their rawest, most potent elements.

That said, the finest moments on HDS are probably the more subdued ones. Don't get me wrong, the faster songs are absolutely smashing, but things REALLY kick into high-gear (ironically) when Gallagher slows things down for tracks like "The Brightest Star" and "Helicopter, Dolphin, Submarine." On the prayer-like "Star", Gallagher, over music reminiscent of Rod Stewart's early-70's/acoustic phase, looks to the night sky and dreams of an ex-lover. It's definitely one of the album's highlights, and the solemnity of the track is made even more poignant by its stark contrast with the off-the-rails rock that comes before it.

Even better than "Star", though, is the title track, which mines similar lyrical territory. "Helicopter, Dolphin, Submarine" starts off with a languid intro that channels the Manic Street Preachers at their most dreamy, then moves into an aching verse melody with some lovely falsetto notes. Finally, the chorus hits and electric guitars flood the scene as Gallagher sings accusingly, "You don't need me, and you probably never did."

Cleverly, the percussion evokes memories of the Beach Boys, which matches the "west coast" imagery perfectly. Overall, the song has a rather spacious, cinematic feel; you can almost see the sun setting on the Pacific coast along with the protagonist's love affair.

Above all else, I need to point out that this album is extremely hooky; Gallagher is an excellent songwriter with a keen sense of melody. As a result, you'll probably be crooning these tunes for days on end. Of course, this does have potential drawbacks; it's bad enough to be walking around singing "Weirdo, weirdo," at the top of your lungs ("Another Craze"), but you're really taking your life into your own hands if you get "Something Else" stuck in your noggin. That's because the catchiest lyric from this ditty is, "Go f*ck yourself," which I, unfortunately, have been singing on the crowded streets of New York for five days straight. It's amazing I haven't been killed yet.

However, listening to an album as good as "Helicopter, Dolphin, Submarine" makes me think it might be worth the risk.

**** (four out of five stars)

Notable Tracks: "Helicopter, Dolphin, Submarine"; "Brightest Star"; "Something Else"; "Another Craze"; "The Rocks"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Worst Strip Club Names of All Time






























Thursday, August 20, 2009

Roxy Music: Where Are You When We Need You?

Oh man! Is the new Roxy Music album ever going to happen? If I do the Strand while standing on my head will Ferry, MacKay and Manzanera finally get it together for a new CD? I know we were promised this bad boy about 5 years ago, and while part of me is overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of new Roxy Music songs, there's a part of me that says they should just leave history alone. Inevitably, the former part of me always wins out. After all, a good Roxy album (I doubt they would release it if it wasn't at least good) is better than no Roxy album at all. But what's that you say? You don't know who Roxy Music are and couldn't care less? Well, turn off the Rob Thomas and let me bend your ear for a moment so I can tell you why you should care…

I live in the U.S. and in my experience most people here either know very little about Roxy Music (and its lead singer/chief songwriter Bryan Ferry) or nothing at all. Sadly, many people only regard them as "that poofy band that sang that poofy 'Avalon' song." Only the last part of that assessment is true; they did sing "Avalon," but, to paraphrase one of their better-known numbers, they were much more than that.

In its infancy, Roxy Music was one of the most important rock/pop bands on earth, creating and/or pioneering all sorts of trends and sensibilities, while simultaneously drawing upon the previously-established conventions of Western popular music. Here is a partial list of the reasons why Roxy Music mattered so much then and continues to influence and inspire so many people today. This is true even if you've never heard them, other than "that poofy 'Avalon' song."

(I'd like to stress here that I owe an enormous debt to Paul Stump. Many of the ideas presented here are distilled versions of arguments he makes in his extensive book about the band, "Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural Biography of Roxy Music". I'd also like to point out that some of these arguments for the band's importance are closely related, but I feel they are worth itemizing separately.)

1) Roxy Music was the first band to successfully use a "pop art" approach to rock/popular music.

Obviously rock and pop music are forms of popular entertainment. However, what Roxy Music did is actually bring the "pop art" sensibility (pioneered by people like Richard Hamilton) to rock music, applying an almost collage-like approach to their early music and lyrics. In fact, the use of the word "pastiche" probably shot up 100 percent after the debut album came out in 1972. Roxy used elements of 50's rock here, a snatch of classical music there, and "futuristic" tape effects (provided by Brian Eno) elsewhere. Beyond that, they also took their cues from the world of fashion and cinema, which, at the time, was anathema to all "serious rock fans." On the first few albums, these various sounds and visions were all woven together into a unique and completely new kind of rock tapestry.

2) Roxy Music was the first rock/pop band to successfully use irony on an ongoing basis, and anticipated the overall tenor of pop culture heading into the 21st century. (Yup!)

It was not unheard of for a rock band to evoke other genres or quote other styles (sometimes quite ironically) before Roxy Music. However, what Roxy Music did was really elevate irony to a new high. On the early records, you were never quite sure how much of the heartbreak, for example, was earnest and how much of it was a big campy put-on. The truth seemed to lie somewhere in the middle, and that was almost definitely the point; Roxy Music blended the romantic sincerity of a bygone era with the knowing self-awareness of the post-modern era. Elements of irony, tribute, reverence, camp and parody were all being seamlessly juxtaposed in a way that had never been done before. And it's never been done quite as well since.

3) Roxy Music was the first band to successfully combine "high art" with "low art" while deliberately blurring those distinctions.

Reflective of an increasingly ambiguous consumer-driven culture, Roxy created music that drew upon "high art" influences while clearly designed to be "poppy" and accessible at the same time. The lines were never clearly delineated, and this free-floating blend of high and low culture seems deliberate. This, along with their pop-art approach in general, made Roxy Music the first rock band to tap into the "post-modern" attitude as it is commonly understood (i.e., the deeper meaning of symbols and signifiers like music and language are not inherent or set; they are culturally relative and in flux). This mixing of high and low gave Roxy a populist appeal that still exuded a high-class air: anyone could enjoy Roxy Music, while fans got to feel like members of an exclusive club. (See also #5 and #7.)

4) Roxy introduced the world to Brian Eno.

While I will always be a bigger fan of Bryan Ferry than Brian Eno, I'm sure there are people who could stuff a couple of books writing about the importance of Brian Eno. For now, suffice it to say that Eno was a key player on the first two Roxy albums. He later went on to pioneer "ambient" music; release a boat load of experimental solo works; collaborate with David Bowie on the legendary "Low" album; and produce a bunch of famous artists, including U2, Talking Heads and Devo. Roxy Music is where it all began for Eno.

5) Roxy Music immeasurably influenced punk and new wave (and probably a lot of goth and alternative bands as well).

Roxy Music may have had a classically trained musician in Andy Mackay, but they were by no means prog-rock. In fact, their approach was decidedly NON-musical, with more of an art school background. They weren't interested in wanking or being virtuosos, they wanted to make clever noise. In this sense, they were really an "art band" with pop ambitions (and some glam rock trappings). This potent blend of dark cacophony and intellectual, artsy leanings helped lead the way for many and created a template which later bands, both amateur and pro, strove to emulate. For example, ask trail-blazers like Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, producer Nile Rodgers of Chic, or Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols who their biggest influences are, and Roxy Music always comes up. Roxy's influence stretched right into the 80's, (often unseen, and often poorly imitated) and it continues to this day, with artists like Moby, Scissor Sisters and Franz Ferdinand still citing the band as an important spiritual forerunner.

6) Roxy Music was the first band to run with the concept of "band as brand."

There is a big difference between marketing yourself successfully and knowingly turning yourself into a brand. Lots of bands have marketed themselves by promoting their albums and selling tons of merchandise. Similarly, there have always been "pre-fabricated" bands that are ruthlessly marketed by shrewd business people. However, I maintain that before Roxy Music, there was always a clear separation, even if it was only conceptual, between the band and the marketing of the band. What Roxy (and specifically Ferry) did flawlessly was MERGE the concept of band WITH brand, by which the name comes to represent a specific product that resonates with a certain type of consumer. This is not to say that Roxy Music flooded the market with Brian Eno buttons or Bryan Ferry hair mousse. What I am getting at is the band's ability to tap into the psychology of branding; they employed a flurry of symbols culled from Hollywood and Madison Avenue (as well as art and literature) and then created an inexorable link between the band and the abstract concepts these symbols represent. We now know that successful branding can actually trigger the same parts of the brain used for fervent religious belief; I would argue that Roxy expertly exploited this fact. As Bryan Ferry said, "Roxy Music was, above all, a state of mind."

7) Roxy Music bridged the gap between the romantic worldview and the emerging post-modern one.

While Ferry was continuously obsessed with creating the Roxy Music "brand" (thereby raising the ire of earnest, dyed-in-the-wool, rocker purists everywhere), he was also interested in repositioning the attendant cultural symbols in new and bizarre ways. As a result, Roxy's albums served, by virtue of their existence, as meditations on the nature of artifice, surface, meaning and depth. Their songs forced us to question what role, if any, Romanticism has in a world that was becoming too smart for its own good. They created a kind of reflexive rock and roll which commented on the history of pop music as well as the various signifiers employed. This might seem commonplace today, but it was quite revolutionary back in the early 70's. In this respect, Roxy Music was arguably the first rock band to successfully anticipate the savvy attitude which has practically become de rigueur for the intelligent, 21st century individual: self-aware, detached skepticism with a loose commitment to relative "truths." (It is worth noting that Bryan Ferry is still ahead of the curve, having already returned to the more "timeless" and "honest" expression of decades like the 30's, for example. His album of standards by people like Cole Porter pre-dated Rod Stewart's hokey hack job on the same concept by a solid three years.)

8) Roxy Music rocked balls.

Many people dispute this, especially after hearing a track like "Avalon," but the record is clear: when they wanted to, Roxy could rock like possessed lunatics on acid. For proof, check out songs like "Remake/Remodel," "Editions of You"(especially the solo), "The Thrill of It All," or the first two minutes of "Mother of Pearl." Plus, it should be noted that even the mellower songs (e.g., "Stronger through the Years") never lapse into pina-colada-ish yacht rock territory; Roxy was usually too creepy, sinister or just plain weird to fully go that route, even when they wanted to. From my perspective, that's a good thing.

Ok, now you have eight dyn-o-mite reasons why Roxy Music is one of the most important rock bands to leap out of the 20th century (as dubious as that honor might be) and we've only just scratched the surface - no pun intended. However, some of you may be a bit apprehensive; perhaps all this talk of post-modernism has you thinking that Roxy Music made impenetrable math rock for PhD's, or even worse, sprawling, over-ambitious concept albums drawn from Celtic mythology.

Well, breathe easy my friends, because nothing could be further from the truth. As I already discussed, Roxy Music was nothing if not accessible, and Bryan Ferry's limited musical training prevented him from writing anything TOO complex. As a result, most of the songs are pretty straightforward with five or six chords tops; the listener doesn't have to wend around for hours trying to "appreciate" intricate melodic lines set to 11/4 time signatures. It's all four on the floor and hooks out the ass, baby!!! Well, usually.

Still, the question lingers like a haunting refrain: will any of us live long enough to see a new Roxy Music album? I certainly hope so. Promisingly, there is some evidence that Ferry is burrowed away right now working on new material. Of course, it must be daunting to have to compete with your own legacy, and I'm sure the band members realize this. My personal feeling is the boys should forget about living up to their glorious past and just focus on making solid, well-written songs. Most likely, they aren't going to come up with something revolutionary at this stage of the game (although I wouldn't rule it out), so their best bet is to create an album that alludes to various moments in their career while simultaneously demonstrating the sophistication of their craft. In other words, they may have lost some of the creative spark that drove the early years, but they've surely gained something in terms of expertise, so let's see more of that. *

And, if for some reason a new album doesn't materialize, I will still be content with what we have: five legendary albums (and three pretty damn good ones) from a seminal band who heralded a new age in popular music and society at large, even if most people still don't realize it.

*For the record, Ferry seems to vacillate between extremes: he either takes eons (or would that bed "Eno's"?) refining and perfecting his albums, or he bangs them out quickly to preserve the loose, spontaneous feel. He says he prefers the latter method, but tends to fall back into the former when left to his own devices. Perhaps the new Roxy album could be a mix of both? They could record a couple of tracks like lightning, and then let Ferry agonize for a few months over the next one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Remake, Remodel: Becoming Roxy Music, by Michael Bracewell, 2008.
Roxy Music: Both Ends Burning, by Jonathon Rigby, 2008
The Thrill of It All: The Story of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music by David Buckley, 2005.
Unknown Pleasures: A Cultural Biography of Roxy Music, by Paul Stump. 1999.
Roxy Music, by Johnny Rogan, 1982.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Cy Curnin, Solar Minimum (

"New wave" bands sometimes get a bad rap, but anyone who put his or her wine cooler down for 5 minutes back in the 80's knows there was a lot more to The Fixx than skinny dudes running from barking Dobermans in a white tunnel while singing "One Thing Leads to Another." No, these guys had some heavy-duty stuff on their collective brows, from nuclear annihilation to self-alienation to the struggle to find inner peace - and they did it all while dodging models in red dresses falling through the skylight.

More than 25 years later, the Fixx are still at it, and while they may not be as prolific as they once were or enjoy the same level of chart success they once did, they have defied the naysayers and remained true to their artistic vision of funky rock songs as the ongoing soundtrack to man's search for enlightenment and serenity in a seriously f'ed up cosmos.

Meanwhile, Cy Curnin, lead singer and chief lyricist for the band, has vented some of his excess creative steam by releasing a series of superb solo albums over the last few years. His latest, "Solar Minimum," could be his most intimate and personal to date. Whereas early Fixx songs always grabbed the listener by the scruff and tried to whip him into shape, the songs on "Solar Minimum" seduce the brain with gentle piano chords, lilting strings, and conversational melodies that unfold at their own pace.

While such an approach results in an album less immediately accessible than, say, "Reach the Beach," the overall experience may be more gratifying as a whole. Tracks like "Other Side of the Story," "Sail," and "Better Luck Next Time" find Curnin in uber-reflective mode, a modern-day troubadour on an endless mystical search for the meaning of "Life" (with a capital "L").

Curnin has always been an emotive singer, but on "Solar Minimum" he ups the ante by serving up some of his most haunting vocals to date. On the aforementioned "Story" he starts things off by exploring his affecting lower register (and when I say low, I mean he's like subterranean, baby), before harmonizing with his own "Fixx-like" persona by song's end. Likewise, on the moody, minor-keyed "Simply Complicated," he's so overcome with emotion that words begin to fail him and he lapses into a mournful "LO, LO, LO, LO" chorus. You can almost picture the French Café and guys in berets nearby.

Other highlights include "It Finds You," with its decidedly funky, Fixx-ish vibe, "My Sweet Life," on which words of regret ultimately give way to reggae-tinged gospel, and "The Weight," a confessional piece of prose set to Curnin's tender piano figures.

Listening to me describe "Solar Minimum" you might think you're in for a whole bunch of hokey emotional bombast. Quite the contrary, Curnin's production is so restrained and the delivery so sincere that the overall effect is never anything short of pretty damn moving. And while this isn't a Fixx album proper, Fixx-o-philes will be pleased to know that a couple of Cy's bandmates pop in for a visit, with a certain surname-hyphenated guitarist lending a little electric muscle to tunes like "In the Palm of Our Hands."

In short, if you're looking for a CD with 12 carbon-copies of "One Thing," then pass this by and simply pick up a Rhino "Just Can't Get Enough" 80's comp instead. However, if you're looking for a richly rewarding and thoughtful work by an artist trying to lend aural comfort to his fellow "travelers," then you might want to check out Cy Curnin's latest. It's called "Solar Minimum," but Curnin definitely gave "the max" on this one.

*** ½ (three-and-a-half out of five stars)

Notable Tracks: "The Other Side of the Story," "My Sweet Life," "Simply Complicated," "Better Luck Next Time," "Sail"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: The Damned, So Who's Paranoid? (English Channel)

Hey there music fans! This month, in honor of my being a big ol' lazy-ass, I'll be taking a break and turning over the reviewing reins to our special guest critic, the editor of "Real Punk!!!" magazine, Dickie "Mashpit" (???) Moroney. Take it away, Dickie!

Ever since Green Day single-handedly invented punk rock way, WAY back in 1994 (thereby giving skateboarders something to listen to at the mall and obliterating boring, corporate rock bands like The Pixies and The Dead Milkmen), it really ruffles my hoodie when some new, loser no-talents come along and try to mess with the seminal templates put forth by the great-granddaddies of punk: Offspring, AFI, Good Charlotte, and the all-mighty Blink-182. For example, take these jokers, THE DAMNED, and what I believe to be their first album, "So Who's Paranoid?"

OY! Where to start? First of all, let's take the name, "The Damned." Yeah, real original guys. It kinda makes me wanna ask these fakes, "Hey you posables, haven't you ever heard of "Damn YANKEES? Or the "DamnWELLS?" Sheeesh, maybe they should have checked allmusic guide before trying to steal some of Ted Nugent's muted thunder. But don't be fooled! There's nothing on this CD that sounds ANYTHING like "High Enough" by Damn Yankees (who, I believe, invented heavy metal and strip clubs, according to Wikipedia).

No, instead of something cool like that, or anything approaching PURE punk rock like the kind Bowling for Soup do so well it's like they just pulled it out of their collective asses, we get an hour or so of some wretched PUNK-GOTH-PSYCHEDELIA-ROCK bullcrap I can barely listen to, let alone describe, but god help me, I'll try.

First off, what is with the singer? Instead of singing in a nasally, super-cool-cause-it's-slightly-flat voice, this guy - Dave Vivian Vance or something - is actually SINGING at times! Yeah, you heard me right; he's doing a weird croony thing and singing melodies that actually sound inventive and different from one song to the next. I mean, what the F**K??? I don't know about you folks, but I'm not happy if my punk songs don't all have identical, interchangeable, shouty vocals, especially in the "we-must-get-this-song-played-on-corporate-radio-at-all-costs-so-screw-musical-integrity" chorus.

Not only that, but this "Dave" guy doesn't randomly scream from time to time like he's literally trying to tear his vocal cords in two and generate some artificial punk "intensity." Oh sure, he shouts, but he only does it when - get this - he has a reason to! This lame-o actually has a theatrical/campy goth vibe, like someone who's watched too many b-grade horror films. And when I say "horror films," I mean the old black and white crap with people like Boris Carlott, Peter Cushion, and Dick Chaney Jr.; I'm not talking about the totally rad new stuff like "Hostel 2" or "Turistas."

Anyway, I could almost bear the gothic thing D.V.'s got going, but the dude goes about it all wrong. Instead of sounding all super-serious and overly-important when he sings (like he might off himself or the listener at any moment), this tool actually has a sense of humor about what he's doing, like he's in on the joke. WHAT??? NONONO! That's ALL WRONG!!! If you're gonna go dark, you gotta make sure you're dangerously close to lapsing into unintentional self-parody at any second.

I could swear this "Dave" fellow thinks that punk rock is about crafting your own eclectic style, rather than following the iron-clad rules laid down by cool trailblazers like Fall Out Boy. Damn, at least Fall Out Boy have a wide assortment of bad-ass t-shirts and backpack pins down at Hot Topic, which means they must be good.

However, even worse than the singing on "So, Who's Paranoid?" is the horrendous music underneath it. For the most part, this stuff is like hooky garage rock and tripped-out psychedelia performed with raucous punk energy and delivered with a slightly dark edge. I know, SOUNDS TERRIBLE RIGHT??? GAKKK!!! Who wants to listen to clever chord patterns when Green Day has just re-released "Dookie" (renamed "21st Century Breakdown") for the 8th time in a row??? Who wants songs stuck in their head for days on end??? Man, I've got to clear out any extra cerebral space ASAP so I have room for the 75 or so rocking new tunes the record companies want me to download this week. Now you know why these "Damned" guys ain't on a major label, like all great punk bands.

Seriously, track after annoying track on this CD just reeks of tunefulness and cool, fuzzed-out guitar riffs. Not only that, but there's all kinds of weird sounds that should never be on a "punk" album (according to my friends), like rock organs and bells and handclaps and Brighton-gay-men's choirs, and HELL, if I didn't know better, I'd swear these guys are trying to expand their musical palette by even listening to classical from time to time!!! I think they need to put away anything from the "Romantic" period and spend a little more time listening to My Chemical Romance, if you know what I mean.

So, there you have it: "So Who's Paranoid" by this week's flash-in-the-pan punk band "The Damned" is a total misfire. Hummable and catchy, yes, but, COME ON! There's literally not ONE song on here that, with a little bit of tweaking to the arrangement, could be turned into a full-blown top 40 hit for Pink. And that's just not punk rock, man.

And what's with the guy in the red beret? What a winker.

Zero Stars!


Nite Owl note: Despite what our guest reviewer thinks, my own personal ranking of "So Who's Paranoid" by punk legends the Damned is:

**** (four out of five stars)

Notable Tracks: "Under the Wheels," "Dr. Woofenstein," "Shallow Diamonds," "Danger to Yourself," "Perfect Sunday"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Faux News Flash: Desperate for Inspiration, Bruce Springsteen Attempts to Burn Down Recently Revitalized Asbury Park When No One's Looking

(Asbury Park, New Jersey) Citing a depressing dearth of metaphor-inspiring abandoned buildings, as well as the staggering failure of his latest CD, "Sunrise over the Sand," rock mega-star Bruce Springsteen claimed he was driven to desperation this past weekend when he attempted to burn down the newly rejuvenated Asbury Park boardwalk and convention hall.

"Man, y'all don't understand. I need inspiration! I just can't sing about burgeoning businesses and artists making an economic comeback on their own terms," croaked Mr. Springsteen as he was taken into custody near the Stone Pony Rock Club, where he was found brandishing a full can of gasoline and a Zippo brand lighter at 3:48 am Sunday morning. "I mean, first there was Obama giving us all hope for the future, and now we've got nice, clean storefronts on this formerly run-down and desolate strip of Ocean Avenue? Man, that's just freakin' depressing."

According to sources, Springsteen, who has made billions of dollars using Asbury Park's poverty-stricken streets as a creative springboard for writing hundreds of infectious, hummable, rock-and-roll tunes, had been recently overheard bemoaning the infusion of cash into the long-suffering shore town. In a recent interview published in Cigar Aficionado magazine, Springsteen stated, "I can write about the way Christine and Danny's once-promising relationship has decayed and faded like the walls of the [recently demolished] Palace Amusements. Or I can compare a down-on-her-luck stripper to an old, beat-up tilt-a-whirl.

"But Jesus, what am I supposed to say about that upscale sushi joint on the corner?" Springsteen continued. "I guess I could write about their inability to provide a decent wasabi paste, or their failure to bring the cocktails in a timely fashion… er, not that I would know about that, of course. Heh."

When pressed further, Springsteen, whose songs have propelled him to god-like icon status while arguably fomenting learned helplessness and a fatalistic mentality in the working class by romanticizing their plight, ennobling questionable life choices, and mythologizing shitty economic circumstances, went on to say, "I guess I could write about how garish everything is now and how it all lacks integrity… ah, let's face it, I'm gonna bitch no matter what this place looks like."

Adding to Springsteen's growing dismay in the last few months was the resounding flop of his latest single, "Yacht Town." Moreover, a close friend revealed that "The Boss" was angered when someone pointed out that "My Lucky Day" sounds a bit too much like the chorus to [80's rock band] The Cutting Crew's ill-fated second single, "One for the Mockingbird."

Springsteen was released on 5 million dollars bail early Tuesday afternoon. In a surprising turn of events, the songwriter was reportedly in good spirits, having quickly penned 53 songs for a planned triple-CD about the injustices of the Asbury Park penal system, which, for two nights straight, denied him access to his favorite brand of red wine and forced him to use a pillow with a thread count of less than 500.

No date has been set for Springsteen's trial. When questioned about his immediate plans, the Jersey rocker smiled and whispered in his trademark gruff voice, "I've got this new album of prison songs I need to record. And while Asbury Park is doing ok right now, I think we can all agree that the U.S. economy at large is still pretty much f---ed. People are out of work, down on their luck, and struggling just to get by. So things are definitely looking up."

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Death of Music, Part 7: "Nothing Songs"

As an amateur songwriter, I can honestly say I've written some bad tunes in my day. You know, the kind of song that's so ripe that fish wrapped in newspaper say, "WHOA, what the hell's that smell?" However, one thing I can honestly say I steadfastly resist at all costs is writing the "nothing song."

For those of you who don't know what I mean by the term "nothing song," I mean something that's even worse than bad: a nebulous ball of chords and notes with no compelling reason to exist, other than (usually) financial gain. The nothing song, as I define it, isn't bad OR good; it's just… THERE.

You've definitely heard nothing songs even if you think you haven't. Nothing songs can be competent, tuneful, pleasant, and even catchy. They often go down pretty easy. However, they also tend to be depressingly generic and nondescript. They tend to follow in the wake of hundreds (if not thousands) of songs with a similar sound before them. Simply stated, a nothing song is inoffensive enough, but you have to ask yourself while listening, "Did this REALLY need to be written? Is this adding anything important or significant to the already billions and billions of songs out there?"

And they don't have to be love ballads or soft rock songs, either. Even songs with loud, angry guitars or surly, wailing vocals can qualify for nothing-hood by virtue of their inconsequential nature.

I know what a lot of you are thinking: "You're talking about POP songs man! It's supposed to be disposable fun! Lighten up!" To which I reply, with a derisive snort, "PURE BUNK!" (Heh.) There are plenty of disposable "pop" (or "rock") songs which are fun and catchy as well as smart, unique and innovative. Just because something is classified as a "pop song" doesn't mean it gets a free pass to be non-inspiring, derivative dross.

And seriously folks, I honestly don't think my standards are THAT high. When I hear a song, all I want is some sort of sign - however muted - that the artists involved might have actually gotten worked up or cared about the notes they were laying down, and that they didn't bolt from the studio 5 seconds later and make a beeline for the bank deposit window.

This is why a nothing song can truly be worse, in a sense, than a flat-out BAD song. At least with (some) bad songs you get the distinct impression that someone really cared about what they were doing. At least with (some) bad songs you feel the passion and effort that went into making it, however atrocious the final result may be. And sometimes, amidst all the utter awfulness of a bad song, you can still catch glimmers of inspiration and creativity that nearly carry the tune and save it from outright suckiness.

Not so with a nothing song! Nothing songs are far, far more insidious than that. They usually have no personality, charm or vitality to speak of, because they tend to be homogenized within an inch of their commercialized lives. Any and all impurities are methodically distilled out of them, and they have no real spice or spark propelling them along. Hell, they have no real reason for being at all!!! And, more often than not, the producers of nothing songs try to hide the nothing status behind immaculate production, tried-and-true chord changes or a clear, powerful singing voice. But don't be fooled! These songs are sheer black holes of sound, sucking up precious vibrations in the air.

Basically, the goal of the nothing song is to be as innocuous and inoffensive as possible while simultaneously appealing to as many people as it can reach. The end result of this delicate balancing act is usually a reasonable, but ultimately unsatisfying, aural concoction which most people describe in terms like "not bad," "is what it is," "gets the job done," or "pleasant enough." Think about it. Do those sound like good reasons for any song to exist?

I personally respect my pop and rock music more than that, and so should you.

Friday, April 24, 2009

New Song: Love Is a Spider

Hey folks... if you get a chance, check out the new song over on called "Love Is a Spider." This one was written about a year ago but recorded last week. The melody and chords have a somewhat exotic feel to them, or at least I think they do, and that's why the lyrics turned out sort of dark and noir-ish. Or are they? Maybe I'm just imagining things. Either way... stop on by and let us know what you think.

Thanks for listening...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Misunderstood Monkees

Recently, a petition to induct the Monkees into the Rock and Roll "Hall of Fame" has been making the rounds on the internet. Why is such a document necessary? Well, I would hazard to guess that pretentious, self-proclaimed arbiters of taste like Rolling Stone editor-in-chief and Hall co-founder Jann Wenner (who appears to have the Hall of Fame by the short hairs and who, I suspect, still listens to "Born to Run" alone in his living room with the lights off) have made it their life-long mission to keep Mike, Micky, Peter and Davy out.

As far as I can tell, members of the "rock intelligentsia" (snicker) have a mad-on for the Monkees because, oh, I don't know, they didn't wear enough denim. Or, who knows? Maybe it's because the Monkees were actually involved in the creation of some tuneful, catchy, well-loved music back in the 60's. (Gasp! Choke!) In light of all this, my brother and I just had an extended conversation about the Monkees, and together we arrived at a very simple, but profound, conclusion:

The Monkees were freakin' awesome.

"But," I already hear some of you sputtering in feeble protest, "The Monkees aren't COOL! They weren't even a REAL band maaaaan! They didn't play their own instruments or write their own songs, and they didn't sing about "real" things like Bob Dylan! Plus, they were just a watered-down version of the BEATLES!"


In my experience, the people who make these types of pronouncements are either a) self-important musicians or wanna-be musicians who take themselves WAY too seriously, b) rock snobs and "rock journalists" who buy into a dubious dichotomy of what constitutes "real" and "fake" music, or c) people who don't know much about music to begin with and just accept the received "wisdom" about the Monkees.

Well, I hate to break it to these people, but the truth is this: most secure, well-rounded musicians and music-lovers are neither threatened by nor upset at the existence of a band like the Monkees. On the contrary, many of these musicians actually LIKE them quite a bit. For example, it's well known that The Beatles took the Monkees in stride, and even claimed to be fans of the television show. The Beatles, of course, were so amazing that it makes sense that they wouldn't be threatened by the Monkees. However, I also suspect they were wise enough to appreciate the band members' respective talents for what they were and smart enough to appreciate the amazing confluence of quality singing, songwriting, musicianship and production on The Monkees' records.

Let's take look at the most common myths about the Monkees one-by-one.


* Myth #1: The Monkees weren't talented (other than Mike Nesmith).

This one started with the initial backlash against the group, when it was first revealed they didn't play the instruments on their first two albums (and only played fitfully on albums thereafter). However, no one other than the most recalcitrant of individuals still clings to this myth. In fact, the individual Monkees brought a wide array of talents to the table, from acting to singing to songwriting and musicianship. In hindsight, it's clear that the show's producers considered these factors when the "band" was chosen, even if they wanted to wield ultimate control over how those talents would be utilized.

Mike was a talented songwriter and producer, as well as an idiosyncratic vocalist with a dry sense of humor. And yes, he did later sell the concept for a 24 hour video channel to Time Warner, thereby becoming instrumental in the genesis of MTV. Micky was a former child actor and a gifted singer (it runs in his family) with a unique voice that alternated between warm and raucous depending on the needs of the song. He was also an amateur guitar player (he only learned to play drums for the show) who showed occasional spurts of songwriting inspiration. Peter was an accomplished instrumentalist (he played eight instruments) who wrote, among other things, the closing theme for the show. Davy, like Micky, was also an experienced actor who brought a Broadway and music hall flavor to the proceedings.

Oddly, many detractors will concede some of the aforementioned talents to the Monkees while still slagging them for not being as talented as their albums would suggest. In their minds, since the Monkees weren't the genius masterminds who single-handedly brought all those wonderful pop confections to life, they should be regarded as no-talent hacks. Sorry, but it's not an either/or proposition.

* Myth #2: The Monkees weren't a band.

The original marketing of the Monkees, while I can find no instances of outright lying, did seem to blur the lines regarding who played what and just how "real" the band was. People like Micky Dolenz have always maintained that "The Monkees" was, first and foremost, a show ABOUT a band, but there are still some (shades of) gray areas surrounding the way the band was marketed initially. However, what IS clear is this: while the Monkees may not have totally been the band they represented, they WERE undeniably the lead vocalists on everything, and they eventually did become a fully functioning, touring band. People with lesser qualifications are dubbed "bands" every day of the week, and people who do nothing more than sing are often hailed as full-fledged "artists" (and rightfully so).

But these types of arguments are fruitless when wielded against the eternal guardians of the most holy rock canon. The bone of contention for people like Jann Wenner (I'm guessing) is the misrepresentation of the Monkees in the media, and an alleged attempt to dupe the music-buying public. Nevermind that people like me were able to recognize the Monkees weren't all they appeared to be when I was a wee lad of 8 years old. Maybe Jann's a little slower on the uptake.

Still, even if we allow that the Monkees weren't really a "band" in the normal sense of the word, I believe they represented (and represent) something much more important, which I will return to in a moment.

* Myth #3: The Monkees only sang bubble gum pop, or Beatles rip-offs.

Well, I don't really have a problem with (good) bubble gum pop, per se, but even if I did, the Monkees weren't really a bubble gum band. Unlike some bands, the songwriters, musicians and producers working on the Monkees' material were just too damn talented and diverse to be easily dismissed as "bubble gum." Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carole King, Harry Nilsson, Neil Diamond, Mike Nesmith, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, John Stewart, Jeff Barry - all these writers and many others were arguably at the top of their game when they submitted songs for The Monkees, and the quality of songcraft on display is undeniable.

Any arguments based on the "cynical intentions" of Don Kirshner (or anyone else) is either trumped or deemed irrelevant when one looks at the sheer caliber of talent the Monkees had at their disposal. After all, who cares about the "co-opting" of rock and roll (which was seldom as pure as it seemed, anyway) when the songs are this damn good?

Likewise, the criticism that the Monkees were just a watered-down version of the Beatles holds very little banana puree upon closer inspection. Yes, "Hard Day's Night" was the original inspiration for the TV show. However, if you actually take the time to listen to the Monkees, you would have a tough time (for the most part) finding any direct similarities between the two bands, other than some superficial parallels that lots of 60's bands shared.

Ok, so maybe the riff on "Pleasant Valley Sunday" sounds like a distant cousin to "I Want to Tell You." And yeah, lots of Davy's tunes sound like they were cut from the same music-hall cloth Paul was using at the time. But overall, there is a lot of stylistic diversity in the Monkees music, and very little of it mirrors the Beatles, who were all over the map themselves by 1966. This makes complete sense when you consider the wide range of songwriters the Monkees employed. Not only were their songwriters inspired by The Beatles, but by lots of other 60's bands, such as The Rolling Stones, Love, and the Dave Clark 5. The Monkees' writers also brought unique styles of their own to the table, many of which pre-dated the Beatles.

By way of comparison, think about how much the average Nickelback song sounds like a watered-down version of Pearl Jam, Creed or Fuel. Now think about how much the "average" Monkees song sounds like the "average" Beatles track. When weighed against the blatant mimicking some bands do, the Monkees aren't even in the same universe as their mop-topped forefathers.

Sure, most of the Monkees' songs don't have the "artistic gravitas" or experimentation of the Beatles' best songs. However, keep in mind that the Monkees songs (at least in the beginning) were not meant to be profound statements of artistic intent. They were meant to be aural moments of pure rock/pop bliss. And to that extent, they succeeded. Not only that, but there really is something to be said for the "art" of crafting a perfect pop song.


Okay, now that the most common arguments against the Monkees have been dispatched, let me return to my earlier point about what the Monkees represented to me, and probably to a lot of other people as well.

Beyond the superficial pleasure of just listening to a bunch of good songs, the Monkees were inspirational role models for many aspiring musicians. The way this worked was on two levels: On one level, you could relate to the fictional characters on TV because they were always struggling to make it "big" like the Beatles. Plus, if you knew the story of the real actors, you could identify with the struggle they felt to prove themselves creatively.

On another level, the Monkees (on the TV show) WERE the idealized band they longed to be, who just cranked out one great song after another. Yes, it was designed behind the scenes by expert songwriters, producers and sessionmen. But so what? That almost makes it better. All dreams are illusions or fantasies, so why wouldn't a budding musician watching the show want to hear and aspire to a great one? Who wouldn't want to sing/play/write something on par with Carole King (mainly because it IS Carole King) and then be able to switch gears and toss out 10 equally great, but diverse, follow up songs?

Not to get too philosophical about it, but the Monkees represented the tension between the artist who struggles to be more than he already is, and the idealized fantasy of what he hopes to become. And, from time to time, the Monkees actually DID become a great band, showing glimpses of genius and inspiration, even though the carefully constructed fantasy was (of course) always slightly out of reach. And that's not too far off from any of us, really. We all have an idea of how great we'd like to be, even if we seldom hit those heights.

So, you may ask, why not just induct the recognition-worthy individuals behind the scenes (like Boyce and Hart, for example) on a case-by-case basis, rather than induct "The Monkees" collectively? Simply put, the Monkees - Mike, Micky, Peter and David - were the living embodiment of the inspirational fantasy I described above, as well as the voices on some of the most well-crafted and enduring songs of the 60's. * If nothing else, the naysayers have to admit they were the stars of a beloved show that brought rock music into many children's lives for the first time, and into many people's living rooms week after week for two years.

If that alone doesn't qualify them for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then I'll be a monkey's uncle.

*For further listening, I recommend the following songs (beyond the obvious hits):
The Girl That I Knew Somewhere
Sometime in the Morning
While I Cry
Shades of Gray
You Just May Be the One
Tapioca Tundra
Porpoise Song
Love Is Only Sleeping
You Told Me
Zor and Zam
Early Morning Blues and Greens
Daily Nightly
I'll Be Back Upon My Feet
The Door into Summer
Sweet Young Thing


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to Be a Bad-Ass Magician, Part One*

So, you want to be a bad-ass magician (or “illusionist” as the kewl kids like to say) but you don’t have a 10-year contract on the Vegas strip or a cold, steely stare that seems to pierce the souls of ordinary men and expose their deepest, darkest secrets to the harsh light of day? Well, fret not! I’m here to show you how you can easily bemuse and baffle your friends and family, all without having to get rip-roaring drunk and then falling into your cousin’s swimming pool, which seems to be the approach you favor most when it comes to bemusing and baffling people.

Let’s get started immediately on some amazing tricks you can do right at home or in the workplace!

Our first astounding illusion is the ever-amazing and oh-so-popular “Elevator Summoning Trick!” What’s that you say, you never heard of it? Well, we can’t just jump right to making Mount Rushmore disappear, ya know. That’s advanced stuff. Gonna be at least a week or so before we get to that level. We gotta start with SOMETHING a little less mystifying.

Anyway, the way THIS trick works is quite simple. But first, let me describe the illusion: While standing in an elevator lobby packed with innocent bystanders (soon to be your unwitting and unwilling audience), you will appear to make one of many elevator doors fly open by sheer will alone. You know, because you’re so bad-ass and a magician and stuff. Then, while the crowd stands there gasping and select members of the opposite sex doff their clothes with lightning-fast urgency (don’t forget, bad-ass and all that), you will stride unfazed into the open elevator, turn and cross your arms swami-style, and then proceed to be whisked away to your sanctum sanctorum in the sky. Or your boring desk job, whatever the case may be.

So how is this confounding bit of astonishing mysticism accomplished?


The secret to the stunning “Elevator Summoning Trick” is simple law of averages. Stand in front of enough elevators long enough and you’re bound to be right once in a while. Heck, even monkeys could type out the Complete Works of William Shakespeare if they had enough time, and most magicians are at LEAST as smart as the average monkey.

So, while the crowd is still waiting for the little elevator lights, all you have to do is pick an elevator… any elevator… and go into your shtick. But you want to be believable, so really lay it on thick… start grunting, groaning and hyperventilating like you’re literally giving birth to the Buddha child out your tukus. Augment the “summoning” effect by motioning toward the elevator doors with both arms outstretched and facing upward. Also, be sure to scream like a possessed banshee; you want it to seem like every muscle and sinew is literally being rent right from the bone. Come on! You want to be a magician don’t you? Half the effect lies in the theatrics.

Now, whenever the correct elevator door flies open you get to stand there all high-and-mighty like you knew it all along, and yeah, Criss Angel can eat your shorts and all that good stuff. It might also help the overall effect if you pipe in some Korn-like music to blare through the lobby at the precise moment the doors open and maybe run up and put your mouth on the elevator’s dirty security-cam for good measure. YES! Now you are a magician.

Oh, right. What do we do about the other seven or eight times when the elevator that you’re “summoning” DOESN’T fly open? Ok, well, this is where it gets a little tricky, so to speak. The long and short of it is you’re going to have to kill anyone and everyone who witnesses an unsuccessful attempt. That way, no one can go blabbing your “magician’s secret” and ruin all the fun for the next potential audience.

Consequently, you’ll need to keep a small concealed weapon like a revolver or a long blade on you at all times (magicians should know how to keep things up their sleeves anyway), and wait until you guess the wrong door to pull it out. Fortunately, that will only be about 80 to 90 percent of the time, if you get really good at guessing. As the incorrect doors slide open somewhere behind you, slowly turn to the by-now-mesmerized crowd, give them a big, toothy, sh*t-eating grin and bellow, “SURPRISE!!!!!” at the top of your lungs before dispatching every last one of them quickly and efficiently.

Be sure not to leave any DNA, then wash up silently and throw all the heavy duty trash bags in a nearby dumpster. Sadly, these are much less honorable times we live in, and you can’t trust most people to not blow a good magic trick by posting it on YouTube or something. Trust me, it’s better this way. Best of all, after you’ve made short work of each “failed audience” you’ll be ready for yet another (hopefully) more successful performance!!!

And there you have it: the secret to the amazing “Elevator Summoning Trick” revealed. I know, I know, it seems too simple to be true, but that’s all there is to it!

What’s that? You’re gonna wuss out on me NOW? Show a little dedication to your craft, buddy…

* A tip of the magician’s hat to Al Jaffee for additional inspiration on this one.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Keep off the Void

Sometimes when I’m out and about in public places (like parks) I’ll see large, abstract, modern sculptures that seem ideal for people like me to climb on and take pictures by. Naturally, I do so every chance I get, laughing and giggling and having the time of my life while engaging in such tomfoolery.

That’s when I like to imagine the artist as a tortured soul who was desperately trying to represent the existential emptiness that is mankind’s existence, spiraling ever downward into an icy, unforgiving abyss. I also envision the artist visiting the park to show his peers the culmination of 8 years of sweat, toil, and careful aesthetic deliberation only to find an uncultured boob like me using “Pain: A Study in Marble” as my own personal jungle gym. He then chases me from the park as I shriek like a giddy schoolgirl the whole way home.

The last laugh’s probably on me though, because I think it’s more likely the artist was simply trying to create an abstract representation of coitus, and I’ve been unknowingly pressing my face against a large man’s marble ass cheek the whole time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: April Smith and the Great Picture Show, “Live from the Penthouse” (April Smith Music)

Let me preface this review by mentioning I just finished reading “Why We Hate Us” by Dick Meyer. Meyer’s objective is to detail the various reasons Americans seem to be mired in a culture of self-loathing, isolation, and detachment. His main culprits are the usual suspects: media, the breakdown of communities, government betrayal, intellectual trends like relativism and postmodernism, the “me” decade, consumerism, materialism, vanity, and suburban sprawl. The book is rather lightweight, but it’s a brisk, entertaining read.

What does any of this have to do with April Smith though? Well, two of the qualities Meyer extols in his book are authenticity and the pursuit of excellence. He argues that years of exposure to hipster irony and “phony” people (who are either too afraid or too jaded to commit to anything), has created a widespread thirst for authenticity and excellence. Simply put, people are tired of the attitude that it’s “not cool to care about anything.” It’s not that people need to be super-serious or crave constant earnestness; they just want to hear something “real” which has the guts to say what it feels and truly aspires to greatness.

I’m here to tell you that April Smith’s music is the real deal, folks.

On “Live from the Penthouse,” April and her bandmates are not afraid to embrace trends and styles from earlier in the 20th century (most of the tunes on “LFTP” have a vaguely 30’s and 40’s jazz or blues vibe about them) but – and here’s the amazing part – there is not a single “wink wink, nudge nudge” moment on the whole disc. That is, the retro stylings are merely incorporated into the seamless fabric of the music. There is no attempt by Smith or her cronies to distance themselves from what they are doing by using quotes or acting like it’s all a clever put-on.

Similarly, they don’t carry on (at least not audibly) like jazz-o-philes who intend to slay us with their killer chops and reverent recreation of a bygone era, nor do they want to force “important music” on us, or anything cloying like that. The music simply is what it is, no more and no less. And the music on this disc is damn good enough to stand on its own merits without additional layers of subtext. Ironically, this approach makes “Live from the Penthouse” sound less dated than some CD’s that came out last week: Smith’s sound is both timeless AND cutting edge.

If you doubt me, throw this disc into your player and cue up “Beloved,” a piano-backed torch song on which Ms. Smith professes her devotion to a recently deceased lover, telling him she’ll “gladly settle” for his ghost if she can’t “have the real thing.” Sounds goofy right? On paper it probably IS goofy to anyone who hasn’t seen “The Notebook” 16 times (including twice on opening night). But I’ll be DAMNED if Smith and her band SELL this song.

“Beloved” is very tastefully done, never going over the top or trying to force emotion out of the listener. Smith’s voice – tender, aching AND powerful throughout – ascends to the highest notes of her register like she’s literally trying to reach into the ether and pull her lost lover back to earth. In fact, “Beloved” is one of those songs that’s SO intense in the raw emotion being conveyed that I found it nearly uncomfortable to listen to. And yeah, that’s a compliment, folks.

Most singers/musicians/songwriters could never pull off a song like “Beloved.” Given the basic premise, they’d probably opt for maudlin bombast or possibly clever self-awareness and still come off badly. April Smith inhabits every note of the song without fear, imbuing each word with just the right amount of passion and emotional nuance. It’s the kind of performance that stems from excellence, and the kind of artistic bravery borne of authenticity. Yes, “Beloved” is just a song, but it’s a damn great song, and April Smith accords her composition the respect it deserves.

However, lest you think “Live from the Penthouse” is all moody paeans to ghost lovers in the sky, let me assure you there are quite a few jaunty numbers here as well, like the playful “Wow and Flutter” and the sea-shanty-ish sing-along “Colors.” The latter boasts an ebullient kazoo solo (!) and casts April Smith in the role of modern-day, morale-boosting Andrew Sister. It is quite refreshing to hear, in 2009 no less, someone who writes a (non-ironic) song dedicated to U.S. troops while at the same time eschewing mawkish sentimentality and/or bitter, protesting lyrics.

That is not to say Ms. Smith doesn’t have a political viewpoint – I think it’s safe to assume she does – but any politics one might glean from a track like “Colors” are made all the more potent by Smith’s artistic decision to take the high road and “play it straight.” Imagine if such a song were written and performed by, say, Nellie McKay. Do you honestly think McKay could resist the temptation to throw in a couple of lines about the horrors of war (as if we don’t already know them), or knowingly wink at the audience while she delivers her “faithful ode”? I could be wrong, but my guess is no. Smith gives herself, and her audience, much more credit than that.

It’s also important to note that while Smith does play characters in her songs, she never lapses into caricature or sounds affected. While there are some sultry tones here and there, Smith never resorts to pussycat growls or high-pitched “Betty Boop” vocals (for example) in a dubious attempt to sound sexy or to “send up” someone’s antiquated idea of female sexuality. Instead, Smith simply uses her god-given vocal prowess to sing the living hell out of everything she writes.

The vocals on LFTP are so good, in fact, that one hopes Smith’s vocal chops don’t one day end up overshadowing her formidable songwriting skill. I say this because some of Smith’s tunes are so well-crafted they damn-near qualify for “standard” status. (“Bright White Jackets” from her debut CD is a prime example.) You might think that’s hyperbole, but pound for pound, ounce for ounce, there is no discernible difference in quality between some of Smith’s tunes and many of the “timeless classics” I’ve heard over the years. Am I an uncultured slob, or is April Smith just THAT good? Maybe both.

Yeah, April Smith and the Great Picture Show are the real deal folks. And much like obscenity, I may not be able to fully define “real,” but I know it when I hear it. “Live from the Penthouse” is so good, it’s obscene.

**** (4 out of 5 stars)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Don't Dis the One-Hit Wonder!

I have to be honest; I’ve never quite understood the mentality that disses a one-hit wonder. You know what I mean by one-hit wonder: a band or artist primarily defined by one well-known, often irritating (and usually chart-topping) song. For some odd reason, these musicians - some of whom are actually quite talented - are the object of ridicule, derision, scorn, spontaneous street pantsings, and, from time to time, unprovoked drive-by’s with acid-filled super-soakers.

But seriously, what’s the point of making fun of a one-hit wonder? That’s one more hit than most of us will ever have. Krist, at least the one-hit wonders have accomplished SOMETHING with their lives, even if it’s just giving dads everywhere an excuse to get drunk and wipe out on the dance floor at weddings. I have literally heard guys who live in the subterraneous cavern below their mom’s basement mock on one-hit wonders for being “losers,” right before they enter their 348th straight hour of playing Guitar Hero: Pretending Aerosmith Is Still Relevant Edition.

Isn’t mocking on a one-hit wonder sort of like saying, “Awww, dude, you only had hot, sweaty, all-night sex with Halle Berry ONCE??? You’re so LAME!!!” You might as well tell a lottery winner, “What, you only hit the 100,000 dollar New Jersey Powerball once in 1986? How come you haven’t won the lottery since then? Are you some kind of LOSER?!!!” Or, why don’t you just tell the doctor who ends up curing cancer, “Yeah, that’s nice. Now let’s get cracking on AIDS, big brain!!!” (Ok, that last one might be stretching the analogy a bit.)

My point is simple: If your greatest accomplishment in life is knowing when to pull the nachos out of the 7-11microwave before they burn, or remembering the names of every actor to ever play Doctor Who (and the years they played him), then you should probably think twice before razzing the guy who got a pretty sweet payday for singing “Rock Me Amadeus.” (Besides, that guy’s dead. Hasn’t he got enough problems without worrying about you?)

Heck, even if you’re amazingly successful in your field, you should back off the one-hit wonder. All you’re doing by mocking these pop culture punchlines is revealing your own insecurities and petty jealousies. Look, we all KNOW you’d give biker Satanists handwritten directions to your mom’s nursing home if you could somehow be the guy who sang “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” so don’t even try to deny it! What’s that? You’re denying it??!?. You f&#%ing liar.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we as a culture shouldn’t strive for rapturous strokes of transcendent artistic achievement and BLAH BLAH BLAH all that happy horse pucky. I’m just saying we should appreciate the one-hit wonder for what it is and be brave enough to admit that we kinda dug A-ha’s “Take on Me” long before it became all ironic and hipster cool to do so. Also, we shouldn’t assume that a band has no musical value just because their record company made them put out one cheesy single way in the day. In other words, respect the one-hit wonder!

Except for “Break My Stride,” of course. That song blows.

*Note: I reject the definition that classifies legendary rock bands or famous cult bands as one-hit wonders based on their failure to crack the top 40 charts more than once. A true one-hit wonder’s song should almost be “bigger” than they are. For example, Right Said Fred is a one-hit wonder. Jimi Hendrix is not.