More Scenes From Touring

If you want a good many laughs, and a view into temporary insanity, I can’t recommend Henry Rollins Get in the Van enough.  Although the early 80’s hardcore scene is far crazier than anything I have ever witnessed, there is something in the dark fatalistic humor of the book that captures touring better than anything I have ever seen or read.  I know I have mentioned it before, but I am thinking about it on my way to Oklahoma city. 

When you tour it is like living in dog years.  Time slows to a crawl.  I am not trying to romanticize touring, quite the opposite.   There may be some that love every moment of it, but to me my passion for music makes it something that I tolerate.  I am not saying that there aren’t great moments, nor am I complaining.  It simply is a mountain that needs to be climbed to reach the golden city of music.  It is mostly my ability to disconnect,  to float away into books and records, that allows me to keep climbing. 

I am an introvert by nature.  Being in a crowd, even if I am having a great time, diminishes my energy instead of restoring it.  I purposely need to retreat into an autistic cave of solitude at times to make it through the day.  (Hat pulled down over eyes and headphones on.)

But lord I love being creative, playing with great musicians, and diving into the world of music.  I can never hear enough of the stuff.  I live with headphones on.  I could play a two hour set and the first thing I want to do after is listen to a record.  I love the world of recorded sound.  I have ever since I was a kid.  While some friends obsessed over sports stats, I was up in my room reading music magazines and listening to albums. 

When some people tell me that I am bold to follow my dreams, I thank them, but I know the truth:  My passion for music borders on obsession, and I have no other choice.  It isn’t much different than an alcoholic slithering over to a bar as soon as it is open.  Reason and courage play no part.  I give into my addiction and follow it down the rabbit hole. 

Passionless Voices and The Death of Sex in Music

“It’s a miracle that I’ve lived this amount of time without having destroyed a person. But I still have a little bit of time.” – Maurice Sendak

I got a bunch of iTunes gift cards yesterday for Christmas.  I was combing the indie rock websites Louder than War and Pitchfork hoping to discover the great new indie band.  Fucking hell it was frustrating.  It just seemed like style after style with no substance, or great music with an incredibly dodgy singer.  Everything just seemed like an elaborate rouse with an empty center, kind of like most Christopher Nolan movies.  Especially if you compare the indie scene to the great post punk indie scene of the early 80’s, it just seems like children playing with toys.  (And I was too young to enjoy that scene when it was happening so you can’t peg me with nostalgia.)  Too many musicians that figured out how to make cool sounds, without understanding how to organize those sounds for maximum impact.

I kept thinking about this Camille Paglia article about Lady Gaga called:

Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex

Now of course I realize that Gaga isn’t indie.  But these two paragraphs really struck me and also make me feel like you could insert any number of indie bands in place of Gaga’s name:

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”. Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion. 

Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions.

Although there is a lot of new music that sounds somewhat emotional, it is that fiery passion, that ability to do something visceral to connect, that seems missing.  One of the reasons most of my best albums of 2014 were older artists, some of them my Dad’s age or older, is that those artists have a strong personality that cuts through any musical style that they might be attempting.  They have something to say and aren’t afraid to say it.  Not only that, but their singing voices are the voices of those that aren’t afraid to communicate passionately and directly.

My Dad and I were talking last night about why there is no strong social movements like there was in the 60’s.  He even commented that he felt music was one of, if not THE, leading force in changing peoples’ consciousness so that they got involved at a political level.

Now I think that one reason that strong passionate music is not on the airwaves, whether that be mainstream or indie music, is that radio DJs are now exponentially more constricted than they were in the past.  Unless it is public radio there are very few radio stations that are driven by restrictive playlists.  There are music lovers that like me will sift through music for hours to find something inspiring.  However, a great deal of people are only going to be made aware of something if they hear it in some fashion.

On top of this, again, I think you have too many singers that cannot use their voices to communicate true passion.  Autotune is obviously partially to blame, as it robs singers of their personalities in order to make singing more perfect.  (I do like when Autotune is deliberately used to make something sound like it is emotionally distant as on Kanye West’s 808 and Heartbreak or Laurie Anderson’s Homeland.)  But too many singers now, those that sing with their natural voices, seem to have thin reedy voices that by their very nature do not sound passionate in anyway.  Even the ones seem like they are trying to sing passionately seem more like they are imitating it than actually feeling it.  Music is a highly emotional art form.  If you don’t convey what you want with any real passion, can you really complain when nobody gives a fuck about what you have to say, in a way where they actually might be moved to do something different in their lives?

Anyway, I need to go take a musical shower with some records that don’t make me feel like I’m listening to someone on Xanax…

All I Ask For In Music

I absolutely love music.  It is not only my job, but also my hobby and religion.  Anyone that travels with me will tell you that I wear headphones around the clock.  Occasionally this is self preservation, a way to disconnect,  but mostly I just can’t listen to enough albums. 

As long as music seems authentic, I’m a fan.  I don’t care if it is Richard Wagner or Slade.  I love trashy garage rock and sophisticated jazz.  I like Frank Sinatra and Jeff “Stinky” Turner.  I love Motown love songs and Lou Reed’s Edgar Allen Poe influenced album The Raven.  In pop music I am a fan of singers first.   I need to connect in some way with the singer.  I need to feel they are singing with their soul and not just copping someone else’s bit off of the radio. 

Sometimes people think I am a music snob, because I’ll slag off this or that, but I really am open to so many different kinds of music.  I am just passionate about this stuff.  Even if civilization broke down people would still be singing something and banging out rhythms,  even if it was just on a trash can.  You can tell so much about someone just by the way they sing. 

I am reading John Lydon’s new biography, Anger is an Energy, and he is talking about how these TV shows like American Idol and X Factor are ruining singing by making it too much about singing correctly.  He says they are basically making pop stars out of cruise ship singers.  Singing really should be about nothing more than communicating some kind of strong emotion. 

I can’t listen to most of modern radio.  Autotune, unless it is used as an effect to purposely make a voice sound robotic, is killing music.  It takes some of the humanity out of people’s voices.  Life isn’t perfect.  Pain and sadness and even happiness are complicated.  Sometimes a great a singer like Sam Cooke can convey how you are feeling, and sometimes it is James McMurtry with his dry monotone delivery.  Paul Westerberg hits bum notes sometimes, but he always gets the emotion of something dead on.  There are no rules. 

I love intellectual music, but music doesn’t need to be intellectual.  It just needs to be emotional.  So much of what is out there is just vanilla emotions.  There is no pain or sadness or joy.  There is just the imitation of life, sometimes with convenient product placements in tow.  It is the song as lifestyle brand. 

Music should open doors, not close them.  As soon as music becomes too tribal, I am out.  “I am driving my truck and waving the flag because that is what a real American does.”  Fuck you!  “Look at all these things I own that you don’t.”  And fuck you too! 

Tell me how you feel and what you think.  Be complicated.  Don’t parrot someone else’s emotions or thoughts.  Be yourself.  When I plug in my headphones, that is all I ask. 

Misplaced Passion

Reading Henry Rollins’s Get In the Van in our tour van.  I feel like I am looking in one of those endless mirrors where you see a reflection of a reflection and so on.  Not that I am experiencing any of the insanity that was part of those times, but perhaps reading a book about touring in a van while touring in a van wasn’t the best move. 

I have been obsessed with Black Flag though lately.  Once I dive into something I want to know everything there is to know about it.  I can’t help myself.  I dive into a world until I exhaust it and then I move on for awhile.  That is why on this blog you will see a bunch of posts about a topic and then a week later I’ll move onto a new set of topics. 

This blog is sort of a catalog of my obsessions.  I only hope that there are enough people that share my obsessions and/or I can find an angle that makes them interesting to others for a few minutes. 

There is so much great art out there.  How could anyone be bored?  Jail or lines are the only places I have ever found boring.  If you give me my ipod and access to books the days just melt away for me.  I feel sorry for people that have no passions or have passion and no outlet for it. 

I think in the modern world there is a lot of misplaced passion.  We are told by the television to have passion for money or items or religion. 

Past the pub that wrecks your body
And the church – all they want is your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb

Rock N Roll

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I have been listening to the new album by The Shondes.  It is called The Garden.  I have read online that the band is very political.  Despite being largely Jewish, maybe all Jewish, but it’s hard to tell, they have taken a stance of condemning the occupation of Palestine.  I find that commendable.  That is just one example.  However, listening to the bands lyrics I find it hard to get a sense of any overtly political themes.  The title track could be read as a political anthem, but more in the metaphoric sense.  Most of the lyrics seem more centered on human relationships.  I haven’t listened to the lyrics closely enough yet to be definitive on this, and often lyrics can have double meanings, but this definitely isn’t Neil Young’s Living with War. 

The album, however, despite any limitations you could argue it has, feels revolutionary.  By that I mean the sense that it makes you want to go out and do something important.  It does this by simply being full of exuberance and passion.  Even when they are singing something that could double for a typical pop song it seems infused with an energy that feels as if they mean something deeper.  They are not leaving anything on the field.

If I’m going to be honest there are limitations to this album in the musical sense.  The guitar and bass are somewhat bar band like.  The lyrics will not be mistaken for literature any time soon.  None of this seems to matter to me, again because of the passion that it is infused with.

When I listen to this record I want to go stand in a protest line, dance in a circle with reckless abandon, and take on the world.  I think you get what I am laying down.  It sounds like freedom and rebellion.  Yet there is nothing musically discordant or subversive.  The songs are all major and minor key pop rock songs with hooks.  This sense of freedom is again achieved through the pure reckless energy of the performances.  That and big choruses that are sung balls still achieve more than all the studio trickery in the world.

It makes me think of the 1960’s.  If our parents and the history books are to be believed there was a brief moment in time when anything seemed possible.  It might have been fleeting and it might have been doomed from the start, but there seems like there was a moment.  The music from this time seems infused with this sense of energy, passion, and possibility.  I’m not talking about just the political music.  Listen to Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops sing Standing in the Shadows of Love.  It sounds like a fucking jet plane is about to take off.

I love music of all kinds.  I just got the new Grimes record and I really love it.  It’s arty, cinematic, and emotional.  It does not make me want to go outside and burn Ted Cruz in effigy, however.  There is a place for both kinds of music I think.  I like music that fills me with Technicolor dreams and I like music that makes me want to engage with the world.  I think there are too many bands in Grimes arena, that are far less talented, that create music that is not good for much other than shopping and sleeping in.  The term Rock N Roll used to stand for something.  It used to make people uncomfortable.  It used to make people dance whether they wanted to or not, like they were in some kind backwoods church and the spirit had taken over.  I wish more bands would try to remember this.  Too often emotion and passion is replaced by being clever.  If you can be witty and passionate you have the total package.  Don’t be afraid to look a fool going for the jugular.  Yes, you may fail and look silly.  But you also just might wake up in the world you want to live in.