Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm Happier Will and Grace Is Off The Air Than Anyone I Know

http://www.popmatters.com/tv/reviews/w/will-and-grace-060525.shtml

I've come down on this same issue for many years now - Will and Grace has not been the progressive becon of light for the gay community, it has been a sad, commercialized, thoroughly unfunny, celeb-guest star obsessed disgrace (no pun intended).

Now, i am not a gay man, but if i were, i think i would be quite offended at the portrayal of what a gay man in New York is. Do i have to be a corporate and label whore, like Will? Or must i be so sterotypical and flamboyant that i confirm all the opinions that middle America has about me anyway - that i'm a squeaky little man who oozes obnoxiousness, like Jack? (I do think that Will's character not being so flamboyant was a good move, but its like making a female character on a TV show who is a tomboy, has short hair, and says that she is a feminist, but at night has dreams of having a man come by and let her spend all her time in the kitchen and pumping out babies. I'm not saying that caring about fashion makes you a bad person, but i don't see why producers would create a seemingly anti-stereotype character, but then throw in yet another stereotype. Sure, i know there are people like Will out there, but if we're trying to break down boundaries here, then i think it would have made more sense to have left out as many potential sterotypes as possible.)

And what about the portrayal of the women in the show? The so called "hag" Grace is just a big sign saying "Hey Ladies! All (or at least many) of the good ones are gay, so just be content with being an old maid!" And Karen is flatly the most annoying character on TV in a long time - and let's not forget that Joey was on during its run.

I did not enjoy or regularly watch the show when it was on, but i've watched enough episodes with friends to have been offended by their sterotyping and, frankly, their exploitation of the gay community. I know there are many people who disagree with me, but i feel strongly about this. To get America to get its head out of its ass and realize that the Declaration of Independence had the right idea when it said that all are created equal, we have a responsibility to project gay men and women as diverse and unique as us straightees. Just like for the first 30 years of TV, all black characters had unfortunate ties to the stereotypes of the times. It wasn't until Bill Cosby came in, and was more white than a picket fence, that a black person on television didn't have to fall into the unfortunate place of comic relief vis a vis a borderline racist performance.

Now, i'm not saying that the proper way to assimilate the diverse gay character into the mainstream press is to make a character as straight as Cosby was white, because i think that Cosby has done a lot of both good and, to his own community especially, bad, but i do think that a brave producer has to do something that the Cosby Show did very well - it was never a show about being black. It was a show about being a family. We have to stop making all shows featuring gay characters to be 'gay shows,' or make the character nothing more than a shop-aholic. Gay people can, and do, interact with straight folks, just as blacks and whites and hispanics and asians all can co-exist, so can the gays and the straights. And there is no reason why we can't make some more characters who are normal! But until TV takes the punchline out of gay relationships, i'm afraid that this is the best we'll ever do. RIP Will and Grace, and may America's ignorance die with you.

Monday, May 15, 2006

No Boss? No Problem!

(A quick note: thanks to great new technology by Napster, i can put links to full mp3s of songs on the Rant! Each user {that's you!} can listen to each song up to 5 times, so enjoy! Just click on the links)

So being from New Jersey, i have to at least somewhat respect Bruce Springsteen. He has done a lot of things in the music industry that he should be proud of, most of all launching the career of one Max Weinberg. Above that, he was the voice of a generation of Garden Staters, who still blast "Rosalita" with pride at every barbeque until they stop breathing.

Today's New Jersey doesn't have such a unified voice, but it still has a host of great musicians who call the Garden State home. But with the way popular music has been lately, there hasn't been on person stepping up to becoming the unifying voice of the region. And let us not forget that for a long time, Bruce became the voice of the USA. Which goes along with what i've always said - win over NJ, win over the world.

So who will be our generation's Springsteen? We don't have one, and frankly, we don't need one. There are three bands currently working in NJ who will do just fine for a Boss replacement, and each covers a unique piece of the Springsteen mythos.

Part 1 : The Hard Working, Socially Conscious, Prolific Bandleader



New Springsteen #1: Ted Leo/Pharmacists

The coincidences are almost too beautiful. Charmismatic lead singer with a dedicated and rock solid backing band. But beyond the easy comparison, we see a much clearer picture.

Leo, a strict Vegan, a Democrat who back in 2003 was wearing a "No War" guitar strap on Conan O'Brien, a man who argues the ethics of every business decision he makes (and some hypotheticals - he took a lot of shit from his fans for saying he'd buy a Hybrid SUV, despite detailing very good reasons why it made sense for him - lots of room for the band and equipment, no emissions, etc) on his website, is a working man's rock and roller. His songs are simple, anthemic and could be described as working class in terms of their bare-bones arrangements.

The Pharmacists' 5th album in 7 years is due later this year, making them as prolific as the Boss/E Street combo. Plus, the Pharms are road warriors, who i will FINALLY get to see in a few months at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Enjoy my favorite track by Teddy and Co, "Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead"

Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead

Part 2: Captivating Live Audiences Everywhere



New Springsteen #2 - The Danielson Famile

Or Danielson, whatever they are going by today. In the E Street heyday, the shows were unique in the fact that they went on forever and featured an intense, energetic show that no one in the audience was likely to forget anytime soon.

Some Danielson live shows have featured leader Daniel Smith in an eight foot tall tree costume. All "Famile" shows have the band in matching uniforms with "hearts on their sleeves and names on their chests" and have at times meant nurse costumes for all.

No one going to a Danielson show is going to forget the show either. The bizare, unique and awesomely high vocals, the gang mentality, the pure showmanship and love of performing the Famile exhibit, even on a video taped live performance, send goosebumps and make you take notice. Part of Springsteen's charm was his insistance on making the live show matter as much as the record. Few artists can say the same today, but the Danielson Famile are one of them. Here's a taste of their unique sound.

Good News for the Pus Pickers

Part 3: Everyman



New Springsteen #3 - The Wrens

What made Bruce so easy to relate to was he was like you: not a beauty but not hideous, wears blue jeans, has a sometimes tumultuos relationship with his country after Republicans misusing his shit - you know, the typical American.

Well, the Wrens are more like you than you know. They all have day jobs. That doesn't stop them from playing all over - hell, they tour Europe over WEEKENDS so they don't get fired. Their songs are nothing that will instantly blow your mind like Radiohead, but they will consistently provide you with great pieces of indie rock.

Don't you hate it when your boss is a dick to you? Well, so do the Wrens. Their first few albums have been hanging around in limbo for years after their label screwed them out of the master recordings. They have tried for years to get them re-released but thus far, nada.

Don't you wish you had a little more scratch to make ends meet? So do the Wrens. They've been limited to only one new album this decade because they aren't so sound financially. Does that stop them, no!

The Wrens, like Bruce, refuse to take this shit lying down. They will continue to make records when they can, play when they can, and keep their dream alive. This is a Sprinsteenian message that could've come off of any of the Boss's classic albums. Doesn't "Can't Get Out of Secaucus" sound like the title of a BORN TO RUN outtake?

Faster Gun

So when someone says Jersey music is dead, throw these names in their face. There are plenty more great Jersey bands, but for now, try these three on for size. You won't be disappointed. We may not have a Boss, but i'm happy with what we've got.

PS - Peep their websites:

Ted Leo/Pharmacists
Danielson
The Wrens

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Because Dan Actually Tries...

...I'll post an email conversation between us based on something i wrote. Besides Matt's Islamic threats, no one ever comments anymore....

Dan:

Hey Brian.

About your rant... it's funny because I feel the opposite about track
info. Definitely nice to see the names of the songs, but I don't
really care about who is who and how long it is and who produced it.
At the same time, I would be among the first to read/enjoy/appreciate
that info if it was there (if not in the CD literature, I'll go online
and find out as much as possible about artists I'm into). I guess I
just don't think it's necesarry to say certain things, and I kind of
prefer the mystery. Knowing too much can somehow take away from it.
Like learning how to play a certain song on guitar can take away some
aspect of the intrigue, you know? But then again, I certainly like to
know if the person whose music I'm listening to is a Bush supporter or
something...

Like Beck being a scientologist.. not that I love Beck (minus Sea
Change) but that made me lose respect for him. How could it not?
Agree?

Brian:

I think your argument is very possible. The best
example that comes to mind, for me, is "Plowed" by
Sponge. When i was in middle school, i fucking LOVED
that shit. LOVED it. Once i actually saw the lyrics
i was like "this is it?" I totally understand the
appeal of mystery and "ignore the man behind the
curtain" aspect of music, but i think as i get older i
see music less as this abstract set of notes and words
and more as a process. A friend once told me that she
could never date another person in her field of work,
because she could never be impressed by someone who
did something for a living that she could do. I have
the opposite approach to music lately. I don't want
to hear Yngwie Malmsteen because i couldn't even come
close to approximating that - not just in skill level,
but in purpose - i don't wanna hear some guy
masturbating all over the fretboard. I see music as
something that i love, and that i am a living part of
(warning, it only gets more surreal and pretentious
from here).

The aforementioned DOG IN THE SAND by Frank Black for
instance. The whole record was recorded live to
2-track tape, no overdubs. So half the fun for me,
after really digging the songs a few times, was to try
and guess what the exact instrumentation was, and who
was playing what. I want to know how, in the
beginning of the song i can clearly hear six
instruments (elec. guitar, acoustic guitar, bass,
drums, electric piano, pedal steel guitar) can at the
end sound like there have been subs (i now hear a
second electric guitar)? Well, consult the liner
notes - they didn't cheat and overdub it, the pedal
steel player switched to lead guitar mid-song.

I like doing that because i can play the guitar, and i
can listen to it and marvel at the complexity of the
arrangement when a guy has to literally stand up and
change instruments. Or listening to a jazz record
with a great saxophone solo - i don't play the sax,
but i know how it works - the reed vibrates, yadda
yadda, but i'm interested in the process of making
music because i love to make music.

I don't know if there is a chef out there who is at a
wedding, tastes the Prime Rib and says "i don't even
care how this is so good, i'm just going to enjoy it."
No way! He's going to pour over every bite and get
the recipe right in his head. That's how i look at
music. I don't just love it because of the songs
(though i do love the songs), i also love the process.


Part of the reason that i respect the punk rock
do-it-yourself movement so much was that the message
was "hey, we're not Led Zeppelin - we don't write
songs about wizards and have smoke machines and have
mystical symbols for everyone in the band - we're
three guys from _____ who feel like there isn't a good
band that has hardcore style drums with slap bass and
acoustic guitar, so we created it." It was about
being individual and empowering people to do it
themselves that fueled that whole scene. And even
though i was far too young to feel that impact when it
happened, that ethos is what drives pretty much
everything i want to do musically.

And yes, that means at times our idols come crashing
down. It does suck that Beck is Scientologist, but
why doesn't it suck that Sufjan Stevens is an
Episocopalian? I mean, it is clear why (the Episcopal
church wasn't founded on a series of sci-fi novels),
but for some people that may be an equal turn off, and
that's ok. Sometimes we need to test what we can
accept as good art because of personal biases. For
instance, how would i react if tomorrow Limp Bizkit
put out a great song? I mean, a "The Oaf" by Big
Wreck great? Could i get past my biases and enjoy the
song? The same thing has to be asked when it comes to
religion, political affiliation, who they are/have
dated, etc.

In closing, i'd rather an artist give me all this info
for me to choose whether or not to delve into. This
is a great tie in to the Bush reference you made.
Even if the news is depressing (global warming, fucked
up war, phone tapping), i want the ability to get that
information if i want to. And if i want to be
ignorant, i can ignore it. There are plenty of albums
i have where the liner notes stay unread. But if i
really love an album, i want to understand not just
the songs, but the process that went into them, even
if i know i am playing with fire and may indeed burn
down the temple of song that i love - for me, it's
worth the risk.

Dan:

First of all, your refernce to "The Oaf" is hilarious. That is a
Great song.

If I really love a song/band there is no way I could not look into
them and find out more and more. I feel that I NEED to know. It's
like saying "Brian, inside this box is a photo of the second shooter
on the grassy knoll.. DO NOT LOOK." Do you want to know the truth or
roll with what you're told? It really does make a difference to me.
Me and you have talked about this before. I am going to need to bring
up Jose again in a second. Let me tell you a quick story, I'm not
sure if I told you before. I was at an open mic and a string broke
right before I was going to play, so I asked this guy who just played
(and whose mailing list I just signed in his presence) to borrow his
guitar.. he said no! I can't get over it. I'm not going to get into
it, but I can't forgive it. The point is that it would be really hard
for me to like this kid's music now (he's actually very talented)
because of how he treated me. Maybe he lent it to someone once and
they dropped it.. whatever. Guitars should be played, not babied.
Cars should be driven, stamps should be mailed, matches should be
burned. I really really wanted to tell him to take me off his list
because I don't share my email with people who don't share their
guitar. Jose is more forgiving, and it doesn't bother him as much. I used
examples of someone's character effecting what you think of their
music (I'm sure I cited Beck) and I said to him what if Blackbird was
"I rape babies in the dead of night"? haha that would change the mood
a little, no?

But I must say that if the music is really really good, then I don't
care who/what the artist is. Can't be a coincidence that we hate Fred
Durst AND Limp Bizkit. I have many guilty pleasures, songs that I
"shouldn't" like (according to my tastes and catalogue) but I do.
Great example is this one Linkin Park song that I think is really
really good. haha don't tell anyone!!

Brian:

I just did.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

5 Non-Musical Ways to Ruin An Album

All aspiring musicians/art directors out there, here are 5 ways to make me dislike your album before hearing a note of it:

1) Not numbering the tracklisting.

When i grab a CD from my shelt and i want to hear "The Humpty Dance," i want to know what track i have to go to instantly, and not count down from the top to find what track i want. This is the most common thing about CDs that drives me nuts.

2) Not having a tracklist/Having a hard to read tracklist on the back of your CD

This is equally stupid for many reasons. 1) In a store setting, if i'm looking for which Ramones album has "Judy is a Punk" on it, i'm going to flip over the CDs and check the back. If you don't put a tracklisting on the back, or put one so unbelievably hard to read, you're going to lose the casual customer. Plus, it's just plain annoying. Your album has plenty of places to be obscure and artsy, but a numbered, easy to read tracklisting is one place to be boring.

3) Have packaging that doesn't easily fit into a CD holder.

I'm cool with jewel casesor digipacks, or even the plain sleeves (super slim, CD slides right out) that some CDs come in, but if you think you're cool (cough Morrissey cough) by releasing out a CD in a sleeve shaped like a 7" picture sleeve, you're just going to piss me off. I bought my CD shelves to hold CDs, and you're not following with the program. This is like if a car company decided to come out with an inferior car that has no place lining up next to other cars because they are so big and guzzle so much gas and were brought over to this country bcause of an action star/governor...

4) Make it difficult for me to remove the disc.

There is a great avant-jazz label called Cryptogramophone that puts out records by Scott Amendola, Nels Cline, etc. and their albums all come in a fold-out digipack, which looks beautiful. The difficulty lies in the fact that the CD itself is not in a nice handy-dandy plastic doohicky that has the raise center w/ the teeth so you can just push the CD down on top of it. It has a sleeve to put the CD in - but you can't get to it from the open edge - only the edge that is attached to the rest of the case - therefore, getting a CD in/out is a pain in the ass, and to me, increases chances of scratching the disc. I've burned copies of my Cryptogramophone discs and leave them in my office so that i don't have to go through the daily grind of a difficult birth just to hear some weird guitar playing. It shouldn't have to come to that.

5) Have Shitty Liner Notes

I know not everyone out there scours liner notes like they're reading a treasure map, but i like to know who played what on what track, who wrote/produced/mixed each track, what the lyrics are, where/when i was recorded, and any other info you're willing to give me. One of my favorite album packaging is Paul McCartney's FLAMING PIE. For each song there is a track length (love it), extensive notes on the writing/recording of them, and a comment from Sir Paul on each track. Ditto for Frank Black and the Catholics' DOG IN THE SAND, which has a breakdown of who plays what on each track, as well as some photos and lyrics.

Follow these simple rules folks and you will quickly become on the road to pleasing Brian with every disc you release. Unless your music sucks.