Saturday, January 30, 2010

Connecting the Lost Dots

Another Loss From This Week.

Rhino and Tower Records are long gone. And now, J.D. Salinger and Miramax are gone. And, believe it or not, they're all connected.

If you hang around Los Angeles long enough, you start identifying places not by what's there, but by what used to be there. (This gets confusing for new arrivals, but always elicits knowing nods from people who've lived here a while.)

This week, Miramax closed their doors for good (in both New York and L.A.).

To be fair, Miramax had basically been dead for at least 8 months, so this wasn't unexpected news. But it's still a bit shocking. (And some would argue that Miramax was lucky to have survived the past 4 years without Bob and Harvey Weinstein, or that it was bad form for Disney to have kept the Weinsteins from using the name of the company they founded and famously named for their parents Miriam and Max.)

Let me back up a second and connect this to music.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I thought of Tower Records on Sunset and Rhino Records on Westwood as Temples. I'd visit them and browse through the aisles, feeling like I was a teenager again -- so much great music all in one place.

Rhino Records (the store) had the cool factor -- their selection wasn't great, but the clerks were amazing oracles of musical wisdom and they held parking lot sales the first weekend of every month (where you could choose from thousands of albums for $2 or under) -- and the cachet of being connected Rhino Records (the label), the greatest record company in recent memory.

But Tower had the history (John Lennon did a radio commercial for them in the 70s just because he thought they were cool; Elton John used to have them open up after hours so he could buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of music) and an insanely wide selection. Tower also had comically high prices -- $19 for a single CD was the norm rather than the exception even when places like Best Buy sold the same CD for $12 or less.

A few years ago, I had some meetings with people at Miramax, which was located in a funky office building with a cool fountain outside (and friendly valet parkers who offered to buy my 16-year-old Honda every time I was there). They were almost directly across the street from the House of Blues and just a few blocks from Tower Records. So I'd often pop into Tower either before or after going to Miramax.

At that point, I probably hadn't been to Tower in at least 5 or 10 years. When online music retailers started gaining traction, there suddenly wasn't as much demand for a physical store that would stock more than 30 different Paul McCartney albums. Plus, Tower prices stubbornly stayed high, even as other online and physical stores were slowly bringing down the cost of CDs.

Tower, expanded too fast and opened too many stores even as the market for CD sales was plummeting, announced they were going to close all their stores -- including their Sunset Boulevard store (and the one in New York where I bought the XTC/Three Wise Men Christmas single) and liquidating their stock. Since their selection was never the problem, the chance to pick through the store at a reasonable price was intriguing.

So after a meeting at Miramax, I headed over to Tower, which had a huge banner boasting of savings of 20-30% off (and more). I had a little money burning a hole in my pocket and I wanted to buy something -- maybe just as a way of reminding me how I used to view Tower as a Temple when I first moved here. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)


Even at 30% off, the $19 CDs were still more expensive than at Best Buy. So I left without buying anything. (I can't find the exact quote, but a commenter on the Lefsetz Letter criticized Tower's liquidation at the time, saying "They can't even go out of business well... no wonder they're f*cking going out of business!")

Over the next few weeks, the stock at Tower was gradually picked clean. They increased discounts slowly and I went back again a few weeks later after another trip to Miramax. And I wandered around, looking for something to buy. Because even at 50-60% off, that meant CDs were still around $10 (or more with tax). And by then, most of the popular stuff was long gone.

And after 45 minutes, the only thing I found that I even half-wanted was We Are Scientists With Love or Squalor.

So now, to honor the passing of Miramax, I offer up another song from that We Are Scientists album I bought at Tower Records going-out-of-business sale: "This Scene is Dead." (EMI disabled embedding on YouTube for this, so click here to watch.)

And I vow in the future to always refer to the House of Blues as being "across the street from where Miramax used to be."

Friday, January 29, 2010

RIP J.D. Salinger

Tenuous Rock 'n' Roll Connection to Current Events

J.D. Salinger died this week at the age of 91.

So rather than talk about Mark David Chapman or Spinner's list of 10 Songs Inspired by J.D. Salinger (or Mog's 5 Videos Inspired by J.D. Salinger), I offer this little gem from We Are Scientist's great 2005 album With Love and Squalor.

Yes, it's a tenuous rock 'n' roll connection to current events, but don't you think that everyone, even J.D. Salinger, understands how terrifying it can be to be chased by a guy in a bear suit?

H/t to JB's fine The Hits Keep On Coming blog for pointing out that Tom Nawrocki, who formerly wrote the great One Poor Correspondent blog, is back blogging over at Debris Slide. In an odd, roundabout way, that inspired this entry. And welcome back, Tom!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grand, Yes. Funk? Maybe Not.

Coming to Your Town to Help You Party It Down.

I used to hear Grand Funk Railroad (later just Grand Funk) all the time on the radio. In the 70s, they were huge, filling arenas all around the country, having massive hits, working with producers like Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa, and selling more than 25 million albums.

Their music is big, dumb rock 'n' roll: infectious, loud, and more than a little goofy.

In other words, it's hard to take them too seriously, but it's also hard not to love them.

And their song "Bad Time" is the first song I remember associating with a crush. We were maybe 8 or 9 and Linda had long brown hair, dark green eyes, and pigtails. She liked to play kickball and wore Keds sneakers every day (except for Wedenesdays, when she'd always wear brown leather shoes). One day she told me she liked me, then ran away. By the time I could tell her I liked her too, she'd already moved on to a guy named Larry who was the class Dodgeball star. This made me sad even though I wasn't quite sure why (and really didn't know what it meant to "like" someone anyway).

And then I heard this song on the radio. I'd heard it before, but I'd never really listened to it. And at the age of 8 or 9, I listened and nodded wisely (well, as wisely as you can nod at 8 or 9) and thought "yeah, this is exactly how I feel."

Anyone who loves vinyl will tell you how much better it sounds. It's warmer, deeper, and you feel like you can crawl inside the grooves of the record.

But people who love vinyl rarely tell you how precarious it is. You need to treat records right so they don't get warped. You need to clean them so you don't gather dust on the needle (and you need to make sure you have a good needle to begin with).

Still, sometimes, even though you care for records well, they still sound bad.

Now, thanks to YouTube, you can hear that for yourself. Among the many odd sub-genres on YouTube is a huge collection of people filming vinyl records playing. (I don't know why this is, certainly the craptastic camcorder microphone and sound negates any sound advantage the vinyl offers.) And that's where I found this video of Grand Funk:

The 45 is gold vinyl, which is pretty cool. But it sounds horrible. Watch the record spin around a few times and you'll notice the whole was cut off-center. So the record isn't quite centered and the tone arm is moving back and forth to compensate. Meanwhile, the platter is spinning at a constant 45 revolutions per minute, but since the record isn't centered, part of it spins a little too fast and the rest spins a little too slow.

This does no favors for Grand Funk Railroad, a band from Roger Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan whose name was a pun on the "Grand Trunk Railroad" spur that ran through town (and in no way an indication of any actual funk going on in their music) or to the single best use of cowbell ever in rock 'n' roll (Will Ferrell, Conan, Beck, and the guy from ZZ Top notwithstanding).

Here's a cleaner and clearer version of the song:

What does this have to do with Linda?

Shortly after my "Bad Time" revelation, my family moved. I didn't go to school with Linda anymore and might have forgotten her altogether by now. Except that I did see her exactly once more.

I was on the street in New York City after college, visiting a friend who'd moved there. And suddenly, there was Linda, walking towards me, wearing a Grand Funk "We're an American Band" t-shirt. Although she'd certainly changed in the 15 years that had passed, I recognized her immediately. Unfortunately, she didn't remember me at all (she also didn't remember Larry, which made me feel better -- and childish for feeling better).

I nearly told her she was my first crush. I thought about telling her I always thought of her when I heard "Bad Time." I almost pointed out that "We're an American Band" is an ode to female groupies who screw around and how ironic it was for her to wear that shirt. But I did none of those things. Because she really had no idea who I was. And we were both in a hurry.

So we parted, each scurrying off to a different part of Manhattan, no longer joined tenuously by a song, each marching to the beat of our own cowbell.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Go Here, Watch & Listen to This, Read That

More from the digital world of hunter/gathering.

Peter's Power Pop reminded me of the fabulous Mitch Friedman (a New York-based singer/songwriter who manages to corral both Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory from XTC to play on his records) and his very, very meta "This is A Song":

Swedesplease points out that this song from the Most is "perfectly crafted pop circa 1968" and the Jean-Luc Godard-influenced video could easily have come from 1968 (except for those shots of the cell phone):

And finally, Then Play Long (home of long, fascinating essays about each #1 British album of the rock era in order) draws the curtain down on the 60s (and the Beatles) with a meditation on Abbey Road. Give it a read.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jane Loves Keith

Life, Death, and the Drums

Jane loved the Who.

She had all their albums. She'd seen them live twice. Once I caught a glimpse of a tattoo she had that said "Maximum R&B."

But it was the 70s and the Who were in serious decline. They'd followed the brilliance of their late-60s mod singles with the genius (and pomposity) of Tommy, the incoherence of Lifehouse -- which still somehow birthed the amazing Who's Next -- and the insane power (and borderline incoherence) of Quadrophenia.

And then came the slide. Everyone was fighting with everyone else. Pete Townsend's hearing was shot. Roger Daltry thought he was a movie star. John Entwistle was spending money like it was going out of style. And Keith Moon was drinking. A lot.

The Who By Numbers was aptly named and contained the insufferably awful "Squeeze Box." Solo albums by various members started appearing and Keith Moon seemed more alcohol- and drug-fueled rampages with Ringo, Harry Nilsson, and others than in making music. He'd collapsed drunk onstage during a show. He'd gained a lot of weight. He had trouble breathing, could barely play his drum parts correctly, and was openly talking about who should replace him in the band if "anything happens."

Jane camped out in front of a local record store in the center of town so she could be the first one to buy Who Are You the day it was released. (She could have saved herself the trouble, slept in comfort in her own bed, and arrived at any time that morning -- by 1978 there was no sense of urgency or mad rush to buy a new Who album drenched in synths.) Jane talked about going to Los Angeles where her cousin lived (and knew all the places Keith liked to drink). She didn't think it was unreasonable that she and Keith would someday marry; after all, she was almost 18 and he was barely 31. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

And then...

Keith Moon started taking a prescription drug to lessen the effects of alcohol withdrawal. The maximum dosage was 3 pills over the course of 24 hours. He was told to take one whenever he felt the urge to drink, so one night in September he took 32 pills. And died.

Jane came into school the next day wearing a black armband.

When the Who toured the next year with the drummer from the Small Faces, Jane didn't even bother to get tickets. "It's not really the Who," she said. When festival-seating crowds in Cincinnati stampeded and killed 11 fans, Jane took it as a sign that the band was cursed and shouldn't carry on without Keith.

I didn't know her that well, so I never talked to her about this. Until 20 years later, when I ran into her on a visit back to my hometown. We both found ourselves inside a Starbucks located at the exact spot where a great record store once stood.

She remembered the black armband, but told me she wasn't so much mourning for the band. "I'd started drinking at parties," she said. "And when I got drunk, Keith's drumming seemed mystical, like he was an out-of-control shaman sent from the other side. And I wanted to be out of control, to get beyond our suburban lives, to be like Keith. Until he died. And after that I didn't have a drop to drink for 5 years."

She admitted her cousin in Los Angeles had never seen Keith Moon. And her "tattoo"? Stenciled in semi-permanent marker that took three weeks to completely wash/scrape off. When I teased her about her boasts that she'd someday marry Keith Moon, she just smiled. Because she did get married -- to a drummer. A solid, dependable guy who worked in a bank and played in a cover band on weekends. "He may not be known all around the world," she said, "but he's healthy and alive and dependable."

We spent maybe a half-hour together. We talked about people we knew and the ways the town had changed. By the time we finished our drinks, we ran out of things to say and exchanged information with vague plans to keep in touch. We both got up to leave and heard the familiar opening of an old Who song on the sound system. But not one of their great songs. Not even one of their good songs.

Standing in that Starbucks, in the spot where I'd spent hours flipping through used records when I was younger, I winced at the intro to "Squeeze Box."

I looked over at Jane and we both said (at exactly the same time) "I always hated this song." Long Live Rock, indeed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just Because He Can

[Originally, this was just the embedded clip from Conan O'Brien with the obscenely expensive car disguised as a mouse while a Rolling Stones song played. But the embedding doesn't work anymore, so follow this link to get the story and the clip. Thanks.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The "We'll Fix it in Post" Post

I'm not a huge fan of remixes.

Why stretch a perfectly good 3-minute pop song out to 8 or 9 minutes with a bunch of extraneous beats and sound effects?

Don't get me wrong -- I lived through the 1980s, so I've heard my share of dance mixes, extended mixes, remixes, and DJ Scratch mixes.

For the most part, they leave me cold.

But every once in a while, you hear something that is so much better than the original that it's hard to listen to the original again.

I was done with U2 by the time "Desire" was on the radio. To me, it sounded too much like every other U2 song and not interesting enough that I'd want to here it again. But then a radio station started playing this:

And that was something I wanted to hear again and again. The sirens, the wailing female vocalist, the newscasters talking authoritatively about something you can't quite understand, the way the band phases in and out and Bono keeps getting pushed into the background -- for me all these things are what make the song. So I did what I'd done so many times before. I hunted the record down. I think it's the only record I'd ever bought specifically to get a remix of a song.

Another radio station I used to love (which sadly switched to ranchero music years ago) used to play a "mashup of the day" every afternoon.

And while I like both Green Day and Oasis, I absolutely love this:

By the way, in case you haven't heard, it's rained an insane amount in Southern California in the past three days. We've been socked with three storms in a row and a fourth is coming. (And maybe a fifth.)

So we've had periods of heavy rain that's overpowered the storm drains and flooded streets and buildings. We've had tornadoes. There've been rainbows and astonishing clouds pushed across the sky by fierce winds.

An amazing mixture, awesome and beautiful, tiptoeing up to the edge of being too much and then boldly striding right over that edge.

But don't worry -- this is Hollywood; we'll fix it in post.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Mono Post

It's hard when your core beliefs are shattered.

I grew up thinking that stereo was just always inherently better than mono. And it makes sense if you think about it. If you could have two channels, why would you want to settle for one? It just makes sense that two is better than one and therefore stereo is twice as good as mono.

But I've come to the conclusion that this belief (which I never really questioned before) is ridiculous.

A few months ago when the Beatles remasters came out, I read a lot comparing the mono remasters to the stereo versions. Until about 1967 in the U.S. and 1968 in the U.K., most records sold were mono. The stereo versions were considered novelties. So while the bands would labor for days or weeks on getting exactly the right mono mix, it was often a junior engineer who would jimmy up a stereo mix in an hour or two. And a lot of those stereo mixes involved a lot of artificial separation (to emphasize that there were two separate channels) -- sometimes putting all the vocals on one side and all the instruments on the other. Needless to say, that's a crappy way to listen to music.

Then a funny thing happened to bands that had been around since the mid-60s: their early albums stopped being available in mono. So the public had to buy the stereo versions -- even though those were the versions whose mixes were tossed off with minimal involvement of the creative team that made the record.

This hit me like a ton of bricks when I recently heard a mono version of the Hollies' Greatest Hits. I own this record on vinyl (in stereo) and I love it. The harmonies are wonderful, the songs are great, and it just makes you smile from start to finish. And then I heard the mono mix of the same album.

It's like night and day.

In mono, the drums are sharp and visceral. The vocals are clearer and more natural. The guitars really chime. It's like being in a church that has perfect acoustics.

In stereo (and my vinyl copy had a sticker boasting of scientific stereo separation that was identical to hearing music live), everything feels smooshed together. The drums, guitars, and vocals get mashed together and the attempts to create spread and space just make the music sound muddy. It's like being in a clown car with 20 trombonists all playing in different keys at different tempos.

But even with the inferior sound, I still loved that album. Because the songs were great and even when they were poorly mixed they were still pretty great.

And it makes me wonder how many old records there are whose great mono mixes were discarded and the inferior stereo mixes (without any remixing or remastering to compensate) were put on CD and foisted on an unsuspecting public (or put on MP3 and compressed down to the point where the sound really suffered). All because we believe inherently that two channels has to be better than one.

But think about how ridiculous that is. Does that mean that anything recorded on 256 tracks is 64 times better than something recorded on only four tracks? So the latest Jonas Brothers album is 64 times better than Sgt. Pepper? Is the teenage girl with Pro Tools (or Garage Band) better than Carly Simon just because of technology?

Of course not.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter how many tracks you have or how many channels you master for. What matters is the quality of the songs and the quality of the performances.

And that's why inferior mixes of amazing songs still sound better than amazing mixes of inferior songs.

Still... I wish I would have had the mono version of that Hollies album for all these years.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thoughts of the French Girl Far Away

I'll Pay Your Way By Hovercraft

It's a cold, rainy, day in Paris.

The French Girl sits drinking coffee and sketching in a notebook. Her iPod plays songs about France in a playlist made by an admirer whose name she can't remember.

As she sketches, she thinks of the world's great museums. But she doesn't want to have her work displayed there. No, the French Girl wants to rob them.

If asked, she'd tell us she'll build an underground bunker beneath a small shack in a tree-lined suburb. She'll house the stolen artworks there and invite her favorite paramours to see the beauty she has hidden.

You see, the French Girl has big dreams.

In an alternate universe, Peter Blegvad would be a huge star playing arenas throughout the known world. Sadly, in our world few people know about him and his records are mostly out of print in the U.S. Needless to say, the French Girl has loaded her iPod with his songs.

She doesn't know about the Figgs, though. She doesn't care that they've toured and recorded with Graham Parker or that their own albums are filled with crunchy, infectious power-pop. In that alternate universe, her tarot-card reader would urge her to go to an all-day festival, where she'd sweat through six mediocre bands until the Figgs came on. She'd love their energy, but turn in indignation and leave immediately when she thought they were mocking her homeland.

Then, she'd go rob another museum.

The French Girl finishes her drink, closes her sketchbook, and puts her pencils away. She runs a hand through her long hair, brushing it out of her face, and leaves the cafe. She rushes off somewhere (because that's what she does).

And you watch her without talking to her (because, sadly, that's what you do). Even in Paris.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Opening Lines

It's All About the First Impression.

A reader emailed me to ask about my favorite opening line for a song.

It depends on my mood. Sometimes I love lines like "I was born in a crossfire hurricane." Sometimes I'm in the mood for Robyn Hitchcock's intricate wordplay.

But, right now, off the top of my head, here's my list of Top 11 Opening Lines I love. (Tomorrow the list would be different and I might even be able to limit it to 10.)

11. The Nerves -- "Hanging on the Telephone"
I'm in the phone booth, it's one o'clock uh huh.
Yes, kids, before cell phones there used to be phone booths. Just ask Superman. (And, yeah, this song existed even before Blondie covered it.) It's the "uh huh" that gets me.

10. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "I Need to Know"
Well the talk on the street says you might go solo.
Slick Hollywood posturing and powerful music covering up a broken heart.

9. Badfinger "Day After Day"
I remember finding out about you...
My second-favorite Badfinger song. (And a pretty great George Harrison slide-guitar solo, too.)

8. XTC "Dear Madam Barnum"
I put on a fake smile and start the evening show...
Best romance-as-circus-act metaphor ever.

7. Immaculate Machine "Broken Ship"
We are sailing on a broken ship and only one of us can survive.
Stripped-down instrumentation, simple sparse lyrics, and an emotional vocal that tries desperately to be hopeful despite the pervading sense of doom. (Plus, how can you resist a song that includes the line "cello, play us off"?)

6. Warren Zevon "Werewolves of London"
I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walking down the streets of Soho in the rain.
I know I've had days like that... and I'm pretty sure you have, too.

5. Paul Simon "Kodachrome"
When I think back on all the crap I learned in High School it's a wonder I can think at all...

4. Joe Jackson "Is She Really Going Out with Him?"
Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street...
Just. Freaking. Perfect.
There isn't a guy alive who hasn't had this thought.

3. Graham Parker "You Can't Be Too Strong"
Did they tear it out with talons of steel?
Haunting song that explores a controversial issue from a point of view that's usually ignored.

2. John Lennon "God"
God is a concept by which we measure our pain...
The "dream is over" song... still beautiful and visceral 40 years later.

1. Billy Bragg "Life with the Lions"
I hate the asshole I become everytime I'm with you.
It's funny because it's true. And I know we've all been there.

So... there's my list. Tell me the ones you think I should've included.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Waiting

Or, Why I Hate Rochester

She wanted me to come visit her.

So I did. I plopped down two weeks of pay for the plane ticket and went to see her over the three-day weekend.

In the days before cell phones and Skype, we talked twice a week that summer. We wrote actual letters. She proclaimed her love over and over. Said she couldn't live without me.

And I had a bad feeling, but I went. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

It was a horrible weekend.

She ignored me, was distant, and pretended not to know what I was talking about when I asked her what was wrong.

I kept thinking I shouldn't have come. I should have listened to the bad feeling.

I told her I was going to go back to the airport. Fly standby and go home.

Suddenly, she was all weepy. Crying and kissing me and telling me she couldn't live without me. Begging me to be patient with her.

And things almost seemed normal until I left.

Then she wasn't around when I called. She wouldn't call me back.

And I was stuck in another state doing a stupid summer job I hated, earning next to no money and living in a crappy sublet apartment with almost no furniture, a great stereo, and two crates full of records.

I met a girl I liked. She flirted with me shamelessly, but I didn't do anything. I had a girlfriend. Right?

And so I waited. I wrote her letters. I tried to call. I tried not to pay attention to the sinking feeling.

Two weeks later she finally called me back. When I asked what was wrong, she said "I thought we broke up two weeks ago."

As my world collapsed beneath my feet, I thought exactly three things:

1) It would have been nice for you to f*cking tell me.

2) Tom Petty was wrong. The Waiting wasn't the hardest part. Not by a long shot.

And 3) I am never going back to Rochester.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seriously, Who Leaves a Diary Underneath a Tree?

Now with 75% less snark!

Over at The Song in My Head Today, Holly described the band Bread as having been spawned like a retrovirus from a particularly sappy song by the Association. (She also proposed a draconian punishment for the members of Bread for having foisted "Make it with You" on the public. And, although the word "craptastic" appears nowhere in her post, I suspect it was in the back of her head.)

Ordinarily, I'd agree with her.

But not today.

Today, I'm remembering all the people who lived in my hall freshmen year in college. Most of us were really into music -- some of it was what you might suspect, but some of us were into really weird and obscure stuff (like my Badfinger obsession and my roommmate's Richard Harris obsession). We had a couple Springsteen fantatics, a dulcimer playing folkie who loved Blondie and the Grateful Dead, a Tom Petty disciple, a girl who loved the Ramones, and several Talking Heads freaks.

And then there was Edie. For reasons none of us understood, she loved Bread. And she'd play the Best of Bread album over and over and over.

Now, understand that none of us really were cool. We were mostly too suburban and tame, but we were at college and we all thought we knew everything. So while we could tolerate James Taylor's Greatest Hits and a fair amount of Fleetwood Mac, almost all of us disdained Bread. It was... um... too whitebread for us (even though most of us would be described as too whitebread for 90% of the non-academic world).

But Edie didn't care. She loved Bread. And so she'd regularly play that damn album and we'd hear this or this or this wafting down the hallway. I distinctly remember being up at 3 in the morning out in the hallway with four or five people discussing just exactly what kind of person would leave a diary underneath a tree anyway. (Was it buried? Did David Gates dig it up before he read it?)

There were a lot of romances on my freshman hall. Most fizzled in a few weeks, but some lasted all through the year and into the next one. Edie started going out with Tim (another guy on our hall) and they seemed like a perfect match. She was pre-med, he was in engineering, they were both smart as hell, and (perhaps most importantly) he liked Bread. Some of us thought that Tim and Edie were dull, but the truth is that they were far less neurotic than 90% of us (and far nicer than 95% of us). Looking back, I wonder if being nice and not being neurotic passes for dull when you're 18 and desperate for adventure.

Edie also gave me one of the nicest gifts I'd ever gotten that Christmas -- a very cool copy of a Rolling Stone book about misheard lyrics (I guess even then I was a music freak). And I always thought well of her -- except for the whole Bread thing.

I lost touch with Tim and Edie after freshman year (we didn't run in the same circles and they were both so loaded down with coursework I'm amazed they had time for anything). But I wondered what happened to them.

Then, last year my friend Eric* was on a tour of major league baseball stadiums and wound up in Minneapolis. Where he ran into Tim and Edie. Who are still together after all these years and living in the Mid-West. I don't know if they still listen to Bread, but the thought of them still being happy together just filled me with joy. Enough to fight off the urge to mock Bread.

For now.

* I thought of embellishing the story and claiming it was me instead of Eric who ran into Tim & Edie. But I knew I would have asked them about Bread almost immediately. Eric, however, is far more polite.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vague (My New Year's Resolutions)

I've still got 357 days to make these come true.

New Year's Resolutions are generally like novelty records. They're fun for a few listens (maybe they're even brilliant for a few listens), but then I get tired of them and don't ever want to hear or think about them for a very long time. And that's why I usually don't make any New Year's Resolutions.

But there are exceptions to every rule... and this is (to use a phrase I've never really understood) the exception that proves the rule.

So, 8 days ago, I vowed to do the following this year:

1. Be French.
2. Form a band whose name is a bilingual pun.
3. Arrange 80s hits in a hip, lounge-y, bossanova style.
4. Recruit a bunch of young female singers who may not speak English well enough to understand the songs (and weren't alive back when they were hits) and have them sing in a breathy, come-hither fashion that makes the songs all sound sleepy, slinky, and sexy.
5. Overcome the fact that someone already did this.

Gmail subscribers click here. Click here for the original.

Gmail subscribers click here. Click here for the original.

Gmail subscribers click here. Click here for the original.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You Can Dream Yourself to Cleveland

I was making great time...

...until the car caught fire.

I was trying to make it to Cleveland. And from there sleep and a good days drive into Massachusetts.

But I was also trying to save money, so I was on a small deserted highway a few miles from the turnpike (because I didn't want to pay tolls).

I saw smoke coming from under the hood, but there was no good place to pull over, so I thought I'd crest the small hill first.

When smoke started pouring in through the steering column, I figured it was time to pull over. And when the flames licked out at my legs, I knew things were getting serious.

I thought I could put the fire out. Maybe blow it out.

But when the windshield started to melt, I gave up on that idea. I was having an out-of-body experience. Shocking. And surreal.

I should've gotten my bags out of the back, but I was afraid the gas tank would explode. (It eventually did, but minutes later.)

And as I was trying to process what was happening right in front of me, a guy with a cell phone pulled up and called 911 (and this was back before everyone had cell phones). We stood and watched flames engulf the car. And waited. And saw the gas tank explode.

The fire truck came a few minutes after that. They put the fire out quickly, but everything inside the car was gone. I knew the car used to have windows and tires, but I couldn't see any sign of them.

I finally realized I wasn't going anywhere near Cleveland. My plans flickered in the night, then vanished in the smoke. It was all like a dream, like the darkest dream in the world.

I wanna be Robyn Hitchcock in a future life.

Not just because I want to have floppy silver hair and be a cult hero traveling the world with a guitar and a bunch of stories.

Not just because I want to have everyone in my band switch instruments and record an off-kilter, we-can't-really-play-these-new-instruments version of "Rock 'n' Roll Toilet" as a CD bonus track.

And not just because I want to throw myself a huge party when I turn 50 and recreate a concert that's still whispered about decades later.

Among the many, many reasons I wanna be Robyn Hitchcock is so that I can call up my favorite band and convince them to get back together and make their first record in ten years. Which they will insist that I produce. So I'll come to town a week earlier than I need to finish my album and bang out their record in five wonderful days.

Oddly enough, I believe this might just be possible. Because everyone has to believe in something.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

It's A Planet Full of Traffic Lights and Traffic Light Abuse

Histories of insanity intruding on the sane.

It started with a girl. A girl with a really cool old Fiat convertible.

And it ended with my worst New Year's Eve ever.

I dated Fiat Girl briefly in High School after her ex-boyfriend wrecked her car and then dumped her. We'd go out for spicy Thai chicken and talk every night. I always made sure I had really cool music playing in the background before I'd get on the phone.

When New Year's Eve rolled around, she announced that we were going to a party. And I was driving (because her cool Fiat was still in the shop).

So I picked her up and we drove out to a far-off suburb, up a mountain lane, and deep into the woods.

The only person I knew was Fiat Girl. She knew everyone.

She knew the people snorting coke in the living room. She knew the guys playing pool in the basement. She knew the couple having sex in the hot tub. She knew the sexual history of the party's host and the fetishes of everyone on the dance floor. And she knew what each guest was drinking.

By 10:00, Fiat Girl was having a loud drunken argument about Star Trek with a guy sporting a green Mohawk. I walked to the kitchen and realized I was the only person at the party who was anywhere close to sober.

I wandered around the house, looking at framed newspaper clippings of crimes from the 1950s and trying to figure out why I wasn't having any fun and why the enormously high level of ambient stupidity didn't amuse me at all.

I hunted around but Fiat Girl was nowhere to be found. I ate spicy Thai chicken without her. The ball dropped, but I still couldn't find her. I wanted to go, but I couldn't just leave her there.

Then two of the guests lit off firecrackers in the kitchen and the smoke alarm went off. They didn't realize it was wired to a remote alarm system.

Ten minutes later, two firetrucks and a police car showed up. It was 3am and the cop told us all to go home.

But I still couldn't locate Fiat Girl. So I asked everyone as they were leaving. And finally one of the guests admitted that Fiat Girl had left hours earlier with Mohawk Guy.

She called me two days later and said she got her Fiat out of the shop. I didn't bother to put on any cool music. When I asked her about the party, she said it was all my fault and hung up on me.

Mohawk Guy dumped her a few days later and she called me a few times and told me I shouldn't take her actions so seriously. She wanted to get back together. But I saw no reason to celebrate; that party was over... I'd already gone home.