Freaky Thank You Friday!

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So in the last week, I was nominated for two awards by Jamie and Ramona.  Thank you both!  It’s nice to be recognized by the folks who visit and read and listen to my slightly crazy jukebox.  I’m gonna be a bad girl and not nominate any other bloggers for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award and the Blog Award for Unusual Excellence.  Not because I don’t think any of my fellow bloggers are very inspiring or unusually excellent; they’re all fantastic.  I just know that some of my faves have either received these awards or don’t accept them.  I might change my mind by the end of this post, but please don’t hold your breath.

In honor of their kindness, I am dedicating today’s Freak Friday post to Jamie and Ramona.  (Visit their blogs if you haven’t already, because you won’t be sorry.)  And who is their freak for the day?  One of my all-time favorite freaks, of course: Syd Barrett.

Syd was one of the founders of Pink Floyd.  He sang, played guitar, and wrote songs.  He also did a lot of acid and other psychedelic drugs.  It was the height of the psychedelic period, after all.  Everyone who was anyone was altering their minds a la Timothy Leary.  Unfortunately, Syd altered his mind permanently, and he went certifiably nuts.

To be fair, Syd was never officially diagnosed, but many have speculated that his emotional and mental problems were triggered in part by his heavy use of psychedelics.  He began behaving erratically, and left Pink Floyd in 1968.  He had a brief solo career, releasing The Madcap Laughs and Barrett in 1970.  And then he just retreated from the public eye in the early 70s.  He would make the occasional appearance on stage for a friend.  He moved back to Oxford, and painted.  He lived a quiet life until he passed away in 2006 at the age of 60.

I’m not a big fan of psychedelia for the most part, probably because I don’t do the genre-related drugs, but Syd Barrett was different.  Syd had something special going on in his head.  It always makes me sad that his fascinatingly weird music doesn’t get more attention, and that his career was cut short by illness and/or drugs.  He was a freak, all right, but he was my kind of freak, happily surreal and nonsensical.

As part of my award acceptance, Jamie would like to know seven random facts about me, and Ramona would like me to answer some questions.  I am again going to be a little bad and combine the two.  So Jamie, you’re getting a bonus fact, because Ramona lists eight questions for me to answer.

  1. What is one thing you haven’t done yet, but you would like to do?  I’d like to attend Wimbledon.  I love tennis, I love England.  Why not combine the two?
  2. If you could have any super power ability, what would it be?  The power to make people see what dumbasses they really are.
  3. What is your favorite TV show and why?  Depends on my mood, really.  But I’ll say M*A*S*H.  I can watch that show pretty much endlessly, and it never gets old.
  4. What is the song that isn’t on your I-pod, but when it comes on the radio, you turn it up and know all the words? I have 5,317 songs on my iPod.  Anything I’m gonna turn up on the radio is already there.
  5. What is the one book you recommend most to your friends? A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.  It is the single best novel about faith that I have ever read.  Come to think of it, it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read, period.  Second place, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.  That book changed my life, literally.
  6. Are you doing what you love? Not for money.
  7. What to do you do when you need to find peace or serenity?  I put on some music.  If I need real peace and serenity, I make it the Beatles or John Lennon solo.
  8. If you could trade places with one person for one month, who would it be?  The Dalai Lama.  I would like to know what true peace and enlightenment feels like.

“While You See A Chance”

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I first heard this song in a music video played between the movies on OnTV when I was a kid.  I didn’t know who Steve Winwood was, and the video made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but the song stuck with me. (I went with a different clip, because the official video really does suck, but you can watch it here if you like.  The video I’m posting has some really beautiful images with it, and it’s the full album version, not the single edit.)  Again, it’s real meaning was kind of lost on me at that tender age, but something pulled me in.

The funky synths and keyboard are part of it.  Winwood is a fantastic keyboard player, so his mastery of early 80s synthesizers isn’t really a surprise.  He brings warmth and emotional depth to a type of music that tends to be cold and plastic.  But the lyrics are what really sell me on this one.  It’s an affirmation, a triumph over fear and insecurity.  “Stand up on a clear blue morning, until you see what can be alone in a cold day dawning.  Are you still free?  Can you be?”  That’s the real question of life, isn’t it?  Can you be free?  Most of the time, the answer to that is no.  We have families and jobs and bills to pay.  Responsibility is generally considered the antidote to freedom.  But there is freedom in those, too.  The knowledge that you aren’t alone, that you have security, that you have prosperity.  Being free from all obligations isn’t the kind of freedom this song is about, anyway.

This is about having the courage to take a chance.  The freedom to choose your own life.  The freedom to be who you are without fear or regret.  The freedom that comes from not lying to yourself anymore.  “When there’s no one left to leave, even you don’t quite believe you, that’s when nothing can deceive you.”  We all struggle with this.  For me, it’s the fight to not be afraid anymore.  I’m a fearful person, always have been.  I worry, I fret, I procrastinate.  I’m doing it right now.  I’ll probably do it some more tomorrow.  That’s just part of who I am.  And I have constantly struggled with the fear that I am not good enough, that I will fail.  Yeah, yeah, the only failure is in not trying, yadda, yadda, yadda.  But I’ve been standing on the edge of the cliff for so long, I’m not sure I’m ever gonna jump.  I need to be pushed.  I’ve gotten close a couple of times recently.  I’m teetering, but I’m still balanced on the edge, flailing my arms, terrified that I’ll suddenly be without the nice safe rut I’ve been in for years.  It won’t take much to make me fall.

“And that old gray wind is blowing, and there’s nothing left worth knowing, and it’s time you should be going.

“We’re Not Gonna Take It”

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A while back I posted this when I was in a really bad mood after receiving my pizza very, very late from a certain national chain (it was kinda cold, too).  I declined to name the chain because even though I don’t have a ton of followers, I really don’t want to encourage any endorsement/boycott of any goods.  That’s not the goal of this little blog.  But after reading this over at Dangerous Minds today (and I really need to update my links so that they’re on the regular list), I’m breaking my silence.  In honor of Madame Weebles’ great feature ( sample here):  Fuck you, Papa John’s!

Yeah, I used to like Papa John’s.  It was okay for what it was (and the price), and the garlic sauce and pepperoncini were pretty awesome.  And yeah, I knew the man himself was something of a Republican wingnut, donating and campaigning for The Money Grubbing Capitalist Whore that lost the election last week.  But I can ignore that stuff sometimes (it takes a lot of mental gymnastics, though).  Now that I know how he treats his employees, and that he’s going to use the Affordable Health Care act to justify both raising prices and treating his employees even worse, I’m officially done.  You suck like a Hoover, John Schnatter.  Or maybe a Dyson, since they apparently never lose suction (I wouldn’t know; I can’t pay $600 dollars for a vacuum).  I was lukewarm in my decision not to buy your pizza anymore; there was a chance I might go back someday.  Not anymore, boyo.  I don’t spend a ton of money on pizza, but you ain’t gettin’ any more of it from me.  And I’m going to actively send EVERYONE I KNOW to other pizza establishments.  You are now the Wal-Mart of pizza chains for me.

You know, this song just gets better with age.  I always liked the video, partly because it featured Neidermeyer from Animal House, but the song was never on my playlist before.  It’s growing on me more and more, though.  It’s kind of simplistic, but the best slogans always are.  Twisted Sister was not exactly a talent-filled powerhouse band, but they had a couple of decent hooks.  The bad make-up and idiotic outfits turned off a lot of people (me included), and scared the piss out of the PMRC.  Secretly though, I think it was this song that scared the establishment more.  This is encouraging people to throw off the yoke of conformity and fake morality.  This is what’s really dangerous about rock music.  Not the sex or drugs, but the fact that you can–and should–think for yourself.  And that you shouldn’t do what the authorities tell you to do just because they’re in charge.  “Your life is trite and jaded, boring and confiscated.  If that’s your best, your best won’t do.”

I’m not gonna take it anymore.  At least not from Papa John’s.

Liz Phair

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Liz Phair burst onto the music scene in 1993 with the still utterly extraordinary Exile in Guyville.  Released on the indie label Matador Records, it’s an 18 track lo-fi classic.  While it isn’t a song-for-song reply, early reviews and interviews made much of the similarity between Phair’s debut and the Rolling Stones’ classic Exile on Main Street (similar title, 18 tracks, and one of their masterpieces).  Personally, I’ve always seen as a response to the earlier album.  The Stones’ album is the quintessential Rock & Roll guy’s album, full of sex and drugs, and it was recorded under such a cloud of debauchery that I think wisps of it still float over France today.

Exile in Guyville is more interior, more emotional, more stereotypically feminine.  It is a woman’s response to the cavalier attitude that guys have been copping with her for years.  This is the answer to all the psychic damage done by the sexist attitudes of rock music and the guys who think it’s cool to treat women like objects because that’s what Mick Jagger does.

Liz Phair was kind of fearless back then.  She hasn’t changed much, although her music is a little more slick and well-produced these days.  The songs on Guyville had a brash, profane intimacy to them.  She was angry/happy/sad/sexy/stupid/bored, and she wasn’t afraid to tell anyone about it.  Phair herself has said that most of these songs aren’t based on her personal experiences, but that doesn’t make them any less authentic.  She might not be singing about herself on “Fuck and Run,” but she’s felt that way.  There’s a brilliant empathy on this album that makes the emotions resonate and reverberate to your bones.

It’s hard to deny feelings this strong.  And we’ve all been there, knowing we made a mistake, knowing we’re not gonna get whatever it is we want.  The Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.”  Liz Phair is here to remind us that sometimes we don’t even get that.  Sometimes, it’s fuck and run.  That might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for her.

It shouldn’t work for anyone.

This Day in Rock History

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I was paying a visit to my favorite rock history trivia site today, looking for a little inspiration for today’s post.  Among the interesting tidbits was the information that today is Neil Young’s birthday (Happy Birthday!), the Velvet Underground made its debut, and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones was struck by a car and had both his legs broken.  Then of course there was the information that on this day in 1966, the Grateful Dead played a Hell’s Angels dance in San Francisco.  I’m not sure if I should be more surprised at the fact that the Hell’s Angels held “dances” or that they listened to the Grateful Dead.

Also on this date in 1971, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album landed in record stores.  For convenience’s sake, it is often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso (the nearest word to the symbols they used to represent themselves on the cover).  But this album had no official title.  Jimmy Page insisted it be released without one; I don’t remember his reasoning, but I do remember he was the one that wanted it that way.  It is one of the most remarkable albums of their career, featuring some of their finest acoustic work alongside some of the hardest rock songs they ever wrote.  Most people remember it for “Stairway to Heaven,” and I freely admit to loving that song, even if it is a cliché.  But it’s not my favorite from that album.

This song seems like a dream, both gentle and strange.  The kind of dream that when you wake up, you feel weirdly at peace, but you have no idea why.  The images you can recall are fleeting at best, blurred and surreal, everything open to interpretation.  That’s the kind of dream I like best.

Veteran’s Day

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Today is Veteran’s Day.  It used to be called Armistice Day, but then people started to forget that it was a holiday meant to celebrate the end of WWI.  I guess it’s hard to celebrate the end of one war when so many others have followed.

I watch ESPN quite a bit, not because I really need to see all of Lebron’s highlights, but because it makes nice background noise to doing just about anything else.  They’ve been celebrating Veteran’s Day all week.  Paying “tribute” to the military by going to bases and holding college basketball games.  They also say that we all need to thank our troops and veterans for their service; after all, we couldn’t watch 24 hours of sports every day without their sacrifices.  That might be true, but I’m not very good with being told how I’m supposed to feel or act.  Not by idiots like Skip Bayless, anyway.

I understand logically what a huge thing it is to serve in the military.  It is an immense and incredible sacrifice, and I appreciate that there are men and women willing to make that sacrifice so that I and my loved ones do not have to.  In that respect, I am grateful.  But what I really feel for our current troops is more akin to guilt.  I don’t want to thank them.  I want to walk up each and every one of them, shake their hands and look them in the eyes, and say, “I am so sorry that you were sent far from home to get shot at and blown up for no good goddamn reason.”  Because that’s what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amount to: a lot of fighting and killing and destruction for nothing.  I’m sure someone will want to tell me it’s for freedom, or about liberating oppressed people.  Or that it’s because of 9/11.  Or any other of the specious reasons pundits and war mongers have been using ever since The Shrub ordered the invasion of a sovereign nation that WAS NOT CURRENTLY ATTACKING US.  I’m gonna stop there because the whole thing makes me so angry I could spit.  Hundreds of thousands of innocent and not so innocent people have died because the United States seemed to think it was a good idea to start a war on an idea.  You can’t fight an idea.

This is starting to get away from me, so I’ll just cut to the song.  Yeah, I know I’ve posted quite a few Springsteen tunes, but this one pretty much sums up the futility of what’s been done to our troops for the last 11 years.  The look on Springsteen’s face pretty much sums up how I feel when I think about these things: hopeless.

Thank a veteran.  Apologize to a veteran.  But remember that they’re people, not icons.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

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First off, these guys should get some kind of award for best band name.  It’s just that awesome.

The friend who invited me out to see Steel Pulse a couple of weeks ago is the same one who introduced me to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (hereafter to be called MFATGG, because that’s just too many words to keep typing out).  MFATGG is a cover band, but not your ordinary cover band.  They play speeded up, fuzzed out punky versions of classic pop-rock tunes.  They’re a cover band who decided to make every song they play their own, whether the song likes it or not.

One one level, you think the novelty would wear off after a while, and I don’t really think I could listen to them for hours on end.  The songs don’t all sound exactly the same, but there is a definite formula.  But these guys are clearly having the time of their lives (two of their albums are titled Have a Ball and Have Another Ball). It’s hard to get tired of that, or be annoyed by it.  Because they could have easily been the most annoying group I ever heard.  Their love of the music shows through, even as they metaphorically skewer everyone from The Beatles and Beach Boys to Dean Martin and Judy Garland.  No one is safe from the MFATGG treatment.  Why would you want to be, anyway?

One of the best ones I think they’ve done is Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.”  Barry Manilow is the closest thing I have to a guilty pleasure.  He’s just so. . . corny.  But MFATGG takes the corn and turns up the volume, and somehow makes it sound even more earnest.  That’s no mean feat.

MFATGG’s collected works is available on itunes, and there are lots of their songs posted on YouTube.  Their website plays music from their newest EP, Sing in Japanese.  Feel free to indulge.  I’ve found my limit is about four songs in a row.