Ears of Tin, Hearts of Coal

August 28, 2005... One day last week, I found myself sitting in front of the computer at work with a song on my mind that I couldn't place. I could hear a driving, fuzzy, two-note electric guitar riff in my mind, and chorale singing that didn't fit on top of it, but which I knew somehow was from the same song. I was pretty sure it was something I'd heard for the first time recently, but other than that, I was flummoxed.

Don't you just hate when that happens?

So, I walked home for lunch and dug around on my home computer for the soundtrack of my day. Was it Metric? No. Bullette? No. It couldn't possibly be Sleater-Kinney, could it? I mean, they don't do chorale, do they? No! It was this song, by Sufjan Stevens…

Sufjan Stevens - The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts

"The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" is from Sufjan Stevens' most recent album, Come on Feel the Illinoize, the second installment in his ambitious project to record an album for each of the fifty official American states. I have no deep insights about the lyrics of the song, but note that they do refer to men of steel, of which surely Superman is one, and that Superman lives in Metropolis, which is in Illinois. I'm pretty sure there's something more important than that being said in the song, however.

The first installment in Stevens' "Fifty States" series, Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lake State, also has some nifty music on it. In fact, I've been looking for an excuse to post this Nick Drakeian song from Michigan since January.

Sufjan Stevens - Holland

So, I started surfing around, looking for information about this Sufjan Stevens fellow--although I suppose I could just have asked The Family Objectivist, who is one of the composer's greatest unpaid PR men…

Anyhoo, eventually I stumbled upon a dialogue between Stevens and Stephin Merritt (of Magnetic Fields), in New York Magazine on the Web, in which Stevens comes across as an open-minded, thoughtful and gentle young man, and Merritt as a judgmental, pretentious, old crank. Merritt's comment that OutKast make "innocuous party music for suburban teenagers," in particular, ruffled my feathers. He must have been listening with his prejudices instead of his ears when he jumped to that conclusion, 'cause the tune below is only one of many in the OutKast repertoire with a strong, positive message.

OutKast - Red Velvet

Then again, maybe I was listening with my prejudices instead of my ears all those years ago when a teenaged friend--and devoted fan of the twee--made me a tape of Magnetic Fields … that I listened to once and promptly recorded over.

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Black Hole Days

August 27, 2005... You know how some days everything hurts, and you just want to crawl under a rock and die? Even though you can't put your finger on what it is exactly that is eating you? Or even if you can put your finger on what is eating you, and you know it isn't as bad as all that, but you feel like carp anyway? So you come home from work, eat most of a bag of Random, Deep-Fried Salt Snack and go to bed at 7:30?

No? Well, if you ever do find yourself in that situation, this song may help.

Cream - Badge

Isn't that amazing? Even ugly people with long, greasy hair and festering mutton chops write good songs every now and then.

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Blue Eyeshadow Nights

August 27, 2005... Like, what if you knew that an older, married authority figure you resented had a crush on a bottle-blond teen barista who seemed to have eyes for you? Wouldn't that make you feel good? Wouldn't fantasies of walking into the shop and kissing her in front of the old, grey bastard make you a little giddy?

Anyway, in the absence of any of that, you could always take some of whatever these guys took before writing this song.

Deep Thinkers - Kiss The Sky

What is that, bouzouki? What kind of motherfucker puts samples from Zorba the Greek in a hip-hop song? The kind of motherfucker who deejays for Kansas City duo Deep Thinkers; that's who.

If you dig the trippier end of hip-hop, like the Herbaliser, or jazzy stuff, like A Tribe Called Quest, you might like Deep Thinkers. And yeah, their vocal tracks are good, too.

To stream other songs off Deep Thinkers' debut album, Necks Move, go here. Beware: your regular media player may not function while you're there, but it will come back loud and strong when you leave.

A Tribe Called Quest - Buggin' Out

The Herbaliser - Scratchy Noise

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The Cringe Factor

August 23, 2005... Th'Inbred were a punk rock group from Morgantown, West Virginia, that put out one seven-inch EP and two LPs in the mid-to-late 1980s.

You probably haven't heard of Th'Inbred, but surely you've heard of West Virginia? You know, Coal Miner's Daughter, the Appalachians, serpent handlin' hillbillies and all that? Yes, that West Virginia! Well, Morgantown is none of those things. It is home to the 20,000-student West Virginia University, and is probably the only city of its size in the world that has its own monorail. Still, for many West Virginians, it must be hard to live down the less-than-glamorous stereotypes.

On one of the other hands, Th'Inbred played up those stereotypes. They named their band Th'Inbred, for example, and their first LP A Family Affair, and their second LP Kissing Cousins. Oh, and in case you don't get it yet, dig the logo on the front cover of their seven-inch:

All jokes aside, though, Th'Inbred were crack musicians--particularly Billy Attwell III, the drummer. Lisn to these two tracks from A Family Affair.

Th'Inbred - Exercise 1/Fools Paradise

Ah yes, Th'Inbred were crack musicians, but the lyrics, the lyrics…

Th'Inbred's lyrics are the reason this post is called "The Cringe Factor." You see, as was typical of mid-eighties hardcore bands, Th'Inbred wanted to change the world with their songs. Unfortunately, the lyrics to most of their songs dealt with petty, punk scene quibbles--the kinds of things that are of no relevance to the rest of the world and would have been better left snuggled amidst the lint of their belly buttons. As for the lyrics to Th'Inbred songs that actually looked beyond the walls of Morgantown's seedier watering holes… Well, let's just say their hearts were in the right place.

As they are, I wouldn't dream of playing Th'Inbred records to anyone who wasn't already a confirmed punk fan. I would be too embarrassed. That's "The Cringe Factor."

But, if anyone were ever to re-release these records without the vocal tracks, I think they'd fit in nicely with the other "jazzcore" gems of the era by Nomeansno and Victims Family. That Billy Attwell III--simply "Billy" to his kin--was one hell of a drummer.

*****

Thanks again, second day in a row, to Kill from the Heart, this time for the link to this web page of Th'Inbred mp3s. KFTH also has also posted an interview with Th'Inbred's former bassist, Duff.

Whew! I can't believe I got through a whole post about West Virginia without mentioning Shelby Lee Adams once.

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The Keith Moon of Punk Rock

August 20, 2005... Keith "The Loon" Moon, drummer of the Who, destroyer of hotel rooms, and wearer of fake Hitler mustaches, was an utter charmer. But the most charming thing about the man was that he played his drums like a lead guitar. Sure, keeping a beat was on his agenda, but it wasn't necessarily at the top of his agenda.

Brian Betzger was the Keith Moon of punk rock. I can't say whether he ever destroyed a hotel room or drove a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, but he did play drums on the first full-length release by Boston hardcore band Jerry's Kids--and the record has to be heard to be believed.

Jerry's Kids - I Don't Belong

Brace yourself for this, but "I Don't Belong," the leadoff track on the band's 1983 debut, Is This My World?, isn't even the fastest, most frenetic track on the album. It is, however, fully indicative of the band's sound at the time. The band was fast, but, Betzger, the drummer, was faster. In essence, he played a solo from one end of the album to the other.

Actually, to be fair, there are a couple of slower songs on the album, where Betzger's playing is appropriately less nutzo. "Lost," in particular, is notable for epitomizing the mosh aesthetic… (In the mid-eighties, before the invention and mass marketing of the concept of "the mosh pit," the term "mosh" simply meant a slow, heavy break in an onslaught of otherwise fast music.)

Jerry's Kids - Lost

Betzger left Jerry's Kids soon after the release of Is This My World? to play in the briefly-similar/eventually-boring, Budweiser-guzzling Gang Green. I'm not sure if Betzger is still playing, but I sure hope so.

Jerry's Kids put out one other album, Kill, Kill, Kill, in 1989. I sold my copy almost as soon as I bought it, so I guess it didn't measure up to Is This My World?. Not much does.

I'll end this post by passing on a recommendation from and recommendation for Kill from the Heart, the best source of information by far about 1980s hardcore punk. While Is This My World? is appended on the end of the CD release of Kill, Kill, Kill, you may also be able to find copies of a vinyl reissue of the first album. That'd be the one to go with.

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Gateway Bands

August 19, 2005... D.O.A. were the gateway band for me. I had already been listening to "weird" stuff like XTC, The Police and Midnight Oil for a while when I heard this song, but D.O.A. were really "out there…"

D.O.A. - America the Beautiful

While the protest lyrics drew me in, D.O.A. sounded enough like a mainstream hard rock group to keep me there. Those other, "crazy" bands that played too fast--like Youth Youth Youth, for example--well, I would never have anything to do with them

Youth Youth Youth - Wanderlust

If you didn't catch them the first time around, go back and listen to the lyrics on that one again. Fucker would function nicely as the Canadian national anthem...

Anyway, what brings all this to mind are the various challenges Canada--and indeed the world--are facing currently from the government of the United States of America.

Case in point: U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials have arrested Marc Emery, owner of a Canadian mail-order marijuana seed business, and have charged him with a series of offences related to selling marijuana seeds to customers in the United States. If extradited to the U.S. for trial and convicted, Emery faces life in prison.

Marc has never been quiet about his business. He has a storefront on West Hastings Street in Vancouver, is ubiquitous in the media, and has even run for elected office as leader of the BC Marijuana Party. More than anything, Emery is in the business of agitating for greater civil liberties. So, if he wasn't selling marijuana seeds, he'd be selling something else that was banned, which is exactly what he did with 2 Live Crew records when they were banned many years ago.

In other words, Marc Emery faces life in prison for political protest. It's not like the guy was selling guns through the mail, after all. I mean, I can't say for sure how many people were killed by marijuana in the U.S. last year, but I suspect it was a lot fewer than the 30,000 that were killed by gunfire. In fact, I suspect it was a r0und number, if you get what I mean...

The Canadian police had previously turned a blind eye to Marc's transgressions--possibly because the Canadian government has been discussing the decriminalization of pot and the courts rendering inconsistent verdicts in marijuana cases as a result. Ultimately, though, the ambivalence to enforcing the prohibition on marijuana here is due to the fact that Canadians are less inclined to vilify "the sacred herb" than Americans. Problem is, it appears that Emery was selling seeds to Americans, too, and the American government seems to rate weed as a threat on par with Sadam Hussein's elusive weapons of mass destruction.

I am uncomfortable with American DEA agents enforcing American laws on Canadian soil. If they want to keep marijuana seeds out of the United States, I think they should find a way to do so in the United States. We've got our own laws and law enforcement agencies here, thank you very much... Of course, I recognize that the DEA wouldn't have been able to "transact their business" here without the permission of the Canadian police…

Still, the current U.S. government has found other ways to piss people off recently…

Case in point: having exhausted every legal means to justify the continued charging of duties on imports Canadian softwood lumber, last week the American government decided to ignore the law altogether, and will continue charging duties.

Case in point: according to its own lawyers, the current U.S. government believes that it is consistent with the concept of "western civilization" to detain foreign citizens passing through American airports without charging them, to deny them the right to consult a lawyer, and to refuse them access to necessities like food. Of course, these are just the sorts of behaviours--officially, at least--the American government uses its army to eradicate in other countries…

So, what am I gonna do with my displeasure with the current, rogue American government?

Well, I am not going to continue with plans for a weekend getaway in the U.S. of A. This means that I will not be buying a train ticket from Amtrack; nor will I be paying for a hotel room or eating and drinking stateside. Most of all, I will not be buying a used copy of The Dark Stuff, Nick Kent's out-of-print work of rock biography from the awesome Powell's Books.

Being principled means sticking to one's principles, even when it hurts to do so.

Maybe, if you're in the area, you can buy a copy of the book for yourself. Think of me as you read the description of Syd Barrett slathering a pomade of Vaseline and pills onto his hair, then walking out under the klieg lights, staring off into the middle distance, and playing the occasional desultory chord as the pomade drips down his face. Think of me, too, when you read Roky Erickson's …uh… oblique responses to interview questions about "working in the Kremlin with the two-headed dog."

Then go home and listen to these guys, for whom D.O.A. was apparently a gateway band, too.

Green Day - American Idiot

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Misunderstood Lyrics, Part One

August 7, 2005... Les Savy Fav are responsible for not writing some of the best lyrics I've ever heard.

A friend taped (!) me the first Les Savy Fav record a few years ago but it didn't do anything for me, so I never really looked into what the band was all about. So, when I heard some of their more recent material this year, I had no context.

Their music struck me as pleasantly ethnic and funky, albeit in very ... uh ... miscegenous way, but I absolutely loved Seth Jabour's screaming guitar work. It reminded me of The Edge before he was emasculated and Saint Bono elevated in his place. It also reminded me of Andy Gill (Gang of Four) and Kevin Thompson (Nice Strong Arm), which probably doesn't mean a hell of a lot to most people out there, but… Screaming, echoing guitar? I like.

As for Les Savy Fav's vocals… I didn't have a lyric sheet to work with, so I couldn't be sure, but the singer sounded awfully earnest to me. Perhaps not as vomit-inducingly so as Saint Bono, but still… Listening to Tim Harrington felt a bit like reading Maximumrocknroll: I wanted to get up afterward and wash the ink off my hands.

After repeated listens, though, the lyrics began to sink in, and they didn't mesh with the image of the band my mind had created.

Les Savy Fav - We'll Make a Lover of You

What? "Have we got half enough to go around?/Why don't you get a piece of pasta down?" What is this, a song for a drunk-sick friend? That's not very earnest.

I did what any savvy consumer would do in this day and age: Googled the band's name. It turned out that their official website is a single, solitary page that reads: "The band is too busy partying to update this page." Definitely not earnest!

Eventually, though, my curiosity drove me to the website of their record label, French Kiss Records, for more information, and there I learned the shameful truth.

"We'll Make a Lover of You," is not a song for a drunken friend, but song about love. "Have we got love enough to go around?/Why don’t you get a piece and pass it down?/Even 100,000,000 years from now/The love we make will still be putting out." Earnest! Still cool, though.

Les Savy Fav
Awesome Les Savy Fav photo from Boudist

What is not cool is that there is no web site out there where people can go to look up rock lyrics without being assaulted with popups or having some fucker try to install spyware on their computer. Seriously. Lyrics Depot, Lyrics Freak, Sing 365 … they're all aggressively commercial enterprises. Where's the love of anything but money?

A few months ago, I thought I'd finally found a good rock lyrics web site, SongMeanings. But when I went there most recently, to look up the lyrics to Frank Zappa's "Dirty Love," my anti-virus software warned me that the web site was trying to install a worm virus on my computer. You can't get much lower than that.

The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive hocks shit, too, but at least they don't try to sneak their stinking Nike ads past you. They push them right in your face. What's more, OHHLA.com is interactive: you can submit lyrics if you've got something they've missed…

Frank Zappa - Dirty Love

Anyway, in the end, the lyrics to "Dirty Love" turned out to be exactly what I thought they were, which leads to my final rant of the day: what well-meaning party-pooper managed to convince the free world that sex wasn't dirty?

I want that person's head on a pike.

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Mind-Blowing Work of Art

August 1, 2005... Last night, I watched out my window as the cops set up for a take down. I'd noticed them patrolling the neighbourhood--slowly, deliberately--earlier in the evening, so I knew something was up.

In a way, I wasn't surprised. Since moving here two months ago, I have noticed an inordinate number of taxis cruising through the neighbourhood late at night. I have also noticed people hanging around the churchyard, and in the adjacent park, as well. And, a few weekends ago, I watched a young man in my front yard pick himself a bouquet of flowers, breathe in the aromas, then arch backward and make a series of gurgling, Tasmanian Devil sounds.

Something is definitely up.

It's funny, though, to all outward appearances, this is not skid row. It is Fairfield, the most desirable urban neighbourhood in all of Greater Victoria, which is a small city of approximately 300,000 residents. But is also British Columbia, and BC is "different."

BC is famous for having the poorest area code in all of Canada, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. There are parts of the Downtown Eastside that are poorer even than our poorest Indian reserve, which is pretty fucking poor.

Vancouver's problem, and Victoria's too, is drug addiction.

Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done

Traditionally, heroin has been the hard drug of choice in BC. More recently, though, it has been competing for "market share" with crystal meth. And, judging from the number of people here walking the streets with open sores on their faces, meth is making headway.

When I first moved to BC, two-and-a-half years ago, I moved into a house in Fernwood that, unbeknownst to me, was adjacent to a crystal meth lab and/or dealer. Meth customers would cut through my neighbour's backyard, every day, at all hours, to access their dealer without being seen from the main street. The neighbour's rickety, rotting, old wood fence was no barrier to them. They knocked it over.

One day, I came home to find my street cordoned off with yellow police tape, and an army of officers, some in full body armour and carrying automatic weapons, taking up positions in preparation for an assault on the meth lab next door. A suspect in an armed robbery was holed-up inside, I was told.

I'd lived most of my adult life in a much-bigger city, much of it in or adjacent to "bad neighbourhoods," but I had never seen anything like this--other than on television, of course. And it wasn't the only time I saw it here, either. A few months later, the whole process was repeated. Same house. Different cast of desperate characters.

So, again, the show from my window last night wasn't all that surprising. But it did put me in mind of a great work BC art, Lincoln Clarkes' Heroines, a book of photography of addicted women living and working in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Last night, at two or three in the morning, after the cops packed up and drove away empty-handed, I picked up Clarke's book and looked at again for the first time in a long time.

Is it exploitative? I don't know. What I do know is that the book makes me feel, and, goddammit, I want to feel something when I "consume" art.

Every face in the book hints at a true story far more gripping than any whimsical bit of fantasy J.K. Rowling will ever conjure up. I hesitated over photograph 62, in particular: of a young woman, probably under twenty years of age; unconventionally pretty, with sparkling, saucer-like eyes and full, dark red lips; and, tattooed on her throat, a fist-sized death skull.

Heavy.

Les Savy Fav - Tragic Monsters

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