Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In Praise of Green Day

Summer 1994. I had just gotten my first apartment (paying $400 a month to live in a two-bedroom townhouse in Park Merced near San Francisco State University), I was working at a record store, I thought I had it all. And then I got my first heartache. My first serious girlfriend broke up with me in a sort of shitty way, but then there aren't ever good ways to break up with someone. I was devastated. Even though we had only been together for only about four months, I was madly in love with her, and had no idea that our relationship would end. She was a quirky indie girl who looked like Bjork. Her ex was the comic book artist Adrian Tomine, whom she left for me, who wrote a strip
about it.

It was my first serious relationship and serious breakup, and I did not know how to handle it. I had invested so much into the relationship and it suddenly went up in smoke. I shared things with her that I never told anyone else. She had talked about getting married and having kids. It seemed so unfair. I talked about it endlessly for months. I called her for weeks on end trying to understand why she broke up with me. I didn't understand the impermanence of young love, and the fact that things fade. Or that the more that I acted like a pathetic weirdo, the worse off I was. I did understand that wallowing in my misery was a losing proposition, and I knew that the gloomy, downer grunge music I had been listening to was not the right thing to help me get over my heartache. Luckily, I discovered Green Day about that time.

Green Day and Jawbreaker were the first local punk bands I listened to, and the first local scene I felt a part of. By 1994 I had been listening to punk for about six years, but always as an outsider, listening to bands from L.A. or DC that had broken up already. The East Bay pop punk scene was going strong in 1994, and I got to be a part of it. I saw Green Day at Slims that year, right after their major label debut Dookie had been released, but before it had sold millions of copies and gotten endless play on MTV and the radio. I liked Dookie well enough, but my favorite Green Day album was and still is their debut CD, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, which collected their first album and two early EPs. Green Day were three high school drop outs who made pop punk songs about crushes, and that early album perfectly captures teenage romantic angst. The album opener "At the Library" is a brilliant song about trying to talk to a cute girl at the library:

Then there was "Don't Leave Me," an impassioned plea to an ex:

My favorite song was "Going to Pasalaqua," which showed a songwriting maturity that was leagues ahead of anything else anyone in the East Bay scene was doing.

What I loved about Green Day was that they were fun and positive and happy, while wallowing just a little in being screwed up. Compare that to the Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana, the two other bands I was really into at the time. Their music was intense, it was emotional, and it was mostly based on feeling depressed and miserable. That's not what I needed when I was depressed and miserable. I was also 19, I was living in San Francisco, and I knew that the world was my oyster if I would only try to grab it.

My interest in Green Day waned pretty quickly. By 1995's Insomniac, I was over them. I won't accuse them of selling out, because they've taken their sound to millions of people, had their music adapted to a Broadway musical, and taken their poppy sound much further than I ever thought possible. I may not love their post-Dookie output, but I can't begrudge a band whose music has meant so much to millions of young people. I sold all their CDs ten years ago when I was purging my collection, so now I listen to them on Spotify from time to time.

 I managed to get over my ex by the end of 1994, and soon had another girlfriend (who also broke my heart). I've never found my ex girlfriend online to see how she's doing. I'm sure she's doing well, and I hope she doesn't cringe too much when she thinks of me.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Castle and Joey Bada$$ Reviews

I reviewed Castle's new album Gasface this week on RapReviews. It's pretty good, and has the virtue of being one of the few rap albums I've actually been able to pay money for.

I also reviewed the new Joey Bada$$ mixtape.  Makes me wish I was in New York.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Peeps Review

I reviewed Australian rapper Peeps' latest EP at RapReviews last week.  Wasn't really my jam, but it's available for free if you want to check it out.

Run the Jewels has a video for "36" Chain," that is buddy cop meets grind house. It made me better appreciate the brilliance of the album. The whole thing is meant to be ridiculously aggressive, like a Tarantino movie put to wax.  In an effort to get their kidnapped squirrel, they beat up a hipster, tear a homemaker's eye out, kill a grandma, and blow away an entire surprise party.

I also found the first three Black Sabbath records for super cheap, so I've been enjoying them. My daughter, not so much.

That got me in the mood to revisit some doom/stoner metal, so I listened to Sleep's hour-long "Dopesmoker," which is pretty amazing.

And Noothgrush, a crust/doom band who I guess are still playing. This video was from a show last month at Gilman, which is like three miles from my house.

Of course, none of this works for a six-month old. With her I've been listening to old show tunes and dance music.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Half Time

Given that the year is a little over half done, it seems like a good time to look back on the albums released so far in 2013.

The Good

There are several albums that have been in heavy rotation at my house, including:

James Blake, Overgrown
Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap
Disclosure, Settle
Rhye, Woman
Run the Jewels, S/T
Savages, Silence Yourself
Tree, Sunday School II

I've enjoyed but had a harder time getting into:

Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Deerhunter, Monomania
Laura Mvula, Sing to the Moon
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, We the Common
Wavves, Afraid of Heights

And I conciously avoided the new Jay Z album, since it has been years since Jay has had anything interesting enough to say to fill an album, the new Kanye, which has lyrics as terrible as the beats are great, and the new My Bloody Valentine, because I'm not shelling out twenty-six bucks to hear them do the same thing they were doing 22 years ago.

Burzum and faux edginess

Vlag Vikernes, the man behind Burzum, was arrested and (subsequently released)in France on terrorism suspicions. He's already served time in jail for murdering a member of the metal band Mayhem and burning three churches. I saw him interviewed in the documentary "Lords of Chaos" on Norwegian black metal, and he came off as a charismatic psychopath. His website has all manner of vile screeds about how the jews are taking over and pagans need to fight back, and how immigrants and Jews were responsible for a recent train crash in France. Vile, horrendous stuff. I'm not even gonna link to his site because it is so hateful, fucked up, and wrong.

Vice ran an article by Zachary Lipez about people wearing Burzum and Skrewdriver shirts "ironically."  I've definitely seen Haight street crusties with Burzum shirts and patches. The excuse is that Burzum's music is amazing, and his music isn't overtly political. I'm not a fan of black metal, so I can't speak to Vikernes's musical genius, but the conversation around him makes me miss the uber-PC days of my youth. Back when I was tangentially involved in the punk scene, from 1993-2001, racist music was verbotten. Stores couldn't stock white power bands, musicians with racists pasts wouldn't get reviewed in Maximum Rock N' Roll, and basically being on the record as a racist would make you a pariah. There were no ironic Skrewdriver shirts back then, and while people whispered about how good musically their first record was, they wouldn't admit that in polite company. Even dubious "apolitical" oi bands like Combat 84 were looked upon with derision and suspicion. And that's the way it should be. To co-opt the title of a straight edge comp, some ideas are poisonous. In my mind racism, and especially the violent, conspiracy theory racism of Vikernes, should be as taboo as incest and cannibalism (I'd add murder, but that hardly seems very taboo anymore). It's just as damaging to the human race. I'm not proposing that anyone who ever expresses any un-PC ideas be publicly shamed and ridiculed, but I don't think racism should be considered an acceptable or excusable point of view.

And racism definitely should not be considered "edgy," unless by edgy you mean you are on the edge of being a total and complete asshole. Flirting with neo-nazi ideology isn't edgy. It's not challenging the existing social order and stodgy, hypocritical bourgeois values. Racism caters to the existing status quo, and is as old and played out as the religions that Vikernes is raging against. Making gross generalizations and stereotypes about an entire group of people is the kind of thing the counter-culture should be completely against. You know what would be really edgy? Treating all people with love, respect, and kindness, and trying to see people as individuals and not stereotypes.

As I wrote in my earlier post/rant on asshole art, I think you can and should engage with art by people who have different opinions than you, to a point. Burzum crossed that line years ago. If Vikernes was just a right-wing windbag who made music about Norse gods, I wouldn't have a problem with people listening to him. I think you can enjoy Ted Nugent's music without being a total gun-loving conservative. But the fact that Vikernes has translated his twisted views into action, and encourages other people to do the same, taints everything he does. There are thousands of black metal bands. Go listen to one of them. Stop pretending that flirting with a neo-nazism is edgy or counter-cultural.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Remz, Run the Jewels, and keeping it mellow

I reviewed Run the Jewels last week at RapReviews. It's the El-P/Killer Mike collaboration. It's aggressive, noisy, and a lot of fun. El-P is the loosest he's been on record since his Company Flow days. The two rappers seem to be invigorating one another, and it's great to hear.

I also reviewed an EP by Remz, an Australian rapper. It's aggressive battle rap, done well enough but not really my jam.

I haven't listened to the new Kanye. I'm interested, and from what I hear the production is interesting. I am not a fan of Kanye's rapping, and his oversized ego makes it hard for me to love him. I'm outright ignoring the new Jay-Z album. I think he jumped the shark a few records back, although he does usually manage a good single or two.

I'm more excited about the new Colleen album, The Weighing of the Heart. Colleen is Cecile Schott, a French musician who has released several albums of ambient acoustic music. This is the first one I've really listened to, and it seems to combine the mellow introspection of ambient music with the warmth of folk music. Kind of like a female Hauschka. I'm into it.

Blog Archive