Neil Young's "Ordinary People" and the Beauty of Coincidence

A conclusion that I’ve drawn recently is that I am honestly thankful for coincidence. Whether it be stumbling across a book you’ve been searching for in a thrift store or passing by an old friend out of the blue, coincidence can often be a blessing. A few weeks back I found myself challenged by depression, eventually finding myself deep in a discussion with my father that wove its way in and out of the flaws of socialism, the challenges of a corporate mentality, and ultimately my struggles with thoughts of a sustainable future. It was a tough week.

But as chance had it I happened to come across a CD that day, one I was very much looking forward to: Neil Young’s Chrome Dreams II — an album that serves itself up as a sequel to the unrealized Chrome Dreams about three decades too late. Nonetheless I was drawn to it as I have been equally drawn to Neil's last handful of albums. But as coincidence would have it, I found myself curiously interested in listening to the adventurous 18 minute “Ordinary People” for a second time that first time through, before I had even made my way through the remainder of the album’s other nine songs.

And a few days later, after about two more hours of time devoted to the track I received an email, of the type that had become lackluster in my every day — a forwarded “must read”-type, this time from my father. While I typically neglect to do much more than scan these sorts of emails (always on the look out for the next great “hang in there, fella” cat pic!) I found myself reading away as if it were a daily ritual. And for whatever reason this email shed light on something that had previously been on the tip of my thoughts for a number of days without me even realizing it: Neil Young’s “Ordinary People” isn’t just a story about a people beaten down yet struggling to survive, but rather the equivalent of a modern day parable about strength, will, and the necessity of “takin’ it one day at a time.” Coincidence is a beautiful thing.

The track, originally meant for release on Young’s 1988 This Note’s For You finds itself as the only track on II to feature the collective Blue Note Horns in turn with a makeshift band of historical Young collaborators. In doing so, the track succeeds where 2002′s Are You Passionate (sort of) failed, with its abstract collection of misguided Crazy Horse/Booker T. & the MGs contributions. Even for its length, its rolling verse after verse of visually inspiring description, “Ordinary People” seems a shortened version of what the track could have been if only it weren’t for the burden of the rest of the album. Rob Mitchum describes the track overtly, concluding that, “Obviously, a song with a runtime that impressive necessitates the use of terms like ‘sprawling’ and ‘epic,’ and it is pretty impressive, its twenty verses providing a stack of snapshots of life for drug dealers, assembly line workers, and the homeless between zealous horn and guitar solos.” To push the thought once more – as coincidence may have it, the track (despite its occasionally unfashionable references) and its subsequent themes not only found me at a time of confusion, but offered itself as guidance in much a similar way to that chance email I happened to read.
A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, ‘Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.’ The Lord led the holy man to two doors. He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man’s mouth water. The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. 
The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, ‘You have seen Hell.’ They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, ‘I don’t understand.’ ‘It is simple,’ said the Lord. ‘It requires but one skill. You see they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves.
Now, for a moment, remove the story from the context of holy men, God, or whatever else may affect your willingness to consider what it has to say; simply think of this: by helping one another we shall all be rewarded. Easy enough. And after reading the email my father sent me I found a bit of pleasure in its simple message, though it was more than a little preachy in its delivery, and it went against our previous discussion on the evils of socialism… but all the same it offered guidance.

Neil Young has never been unnecessarily cryptic in his message, whether it be a story faulting globalization, his take on the country’s political climate, or the evils of drug abuse — historically he has been fairly up front about what it is he is singing about. “Ordinary People” reveals itself in much the same manner, and as it turns each new layer back I still find it amusing — the coincidence between his (sometimes cynical) “fightin’ for the people” message of the song and that of the email parable.

Neil Young “Ordinary People” Lyrics:
Two out of work models and a fashion slave try to dance away the Michelob night. The bartender poured himself another drink, while two drunks were watchin’ the fight. The champ went down, then he got up again, and then he went out like a light. Fightin’ for the people. But his timing wasn’t right, the high rolling people. Takin’ limos in the neon light. The Las Vegas people, they came to see a Las Vegas fight. Fightin’ for the people. 
There’s a man in the window with a big cigar, says everything’s for sale. Yeah, the house and the boat and the railroad car, the owner’s gotta go to jail. He acquired these things from a life of crime, now he’s selling them to make bail. He was rippin’ off the people. Sellin’ guns to the underground, livin’ off the people. Skimmin’ the top when there’s no one around, tryin’ to help the people. Lose their ass for a piece of ground, the patch of ground people. 
He was dealing antiques in a hardware store but he sure had a lot to hide. He had a back room full of the guns of war and a ton of ammunition besides. Well, he walked with a cane, kept a bolt on the door with five pit bulls inside. Just a warning to the people. In case they try and break in at night, protection for the people. Selling safety in the darkest night, tryin’ to help the people. Get the drugs to the street all right, tryin’ to help the people. 
Well, it’s hard to say where a man goes wrong, might be here and it might be there. What starts out weak might get too strong, if you can’t tell foul from fair. But it’s hard to judge from an angry throng of hands stretched into the air. The vigilante people. Takin’ law into their own hands, conscientious people. Crackin’ down on the drug lord and his bands, government people. Confiscatin’ all the dealers’ land, the patch of ground people. 
And then a new Rolls-Royce, a company car they went racin’ down the street. Each one was tryin’ to make it to the gate before employees manned the fleet. The trucks full of products for the modern home were set to roll out into the street of ordinary people. Tryin’ to make their way to work, the downtown people, some are saints and some are jerks (that’s me). Everyday people, stopping for a drink on their way to work. Alcoholic people – yeah yeah, takin’ it one day at a time. 
Down on the assembly line, they keep puttin’ the same things out. The people today, they just ain’t buyin’, nobody can figure it out. They try like hell to build a quality end, they’re workin’ hard without a doubt. Ordinary people. But the dollar’s what it’s all about, Lee Iacocca people. But the customers are walking out, the nose to the stone people. Yeah, they look but they just don’t buy. The patch of ground people. 
In a dusty town the clock struck high noon, two men stood face to face. One wore black and one wore white, but of fear there wasn’t a trace. A hundred years later two hot rods drag through the very same place. And a half a million people moved in to pick up the pace, a factory full of people. Makin’ parts to go to outer space, a train load of people. They were aimin’ for another place, out of town people. 
Down at the factory, they’re puttin’ new windows in. The vandals made a mess of things and the homeless just walked right in. Well, they worked here once, and they live here now, but they might work here again. The ordinary people. They’re just livin’ in a dream, hard workin’ people. Just don’t know what it means to give up, people. Just like they used to be, patch of ground people. 
Out on the railroad track, they’re cleanin’ ol’ number nine. They’re scrubbin’ the boiler down, she really is lookin’ fine. Times’ll be different soon, they’re gonna bring her back on line. Ordinary people. They’re gonna bring the good things back, hard working people. Put the business back on track, every day people. I got faith in the regular kind, patch of ground people – yeah, yeah.

It’s not so much that “Ordinary People” strictly depicts a world where people survive by offering others their spoon, of sorts, but rather it offers an outlook suggesting there can be betterment if only one is given a positive outlook and a sense of humanity in the face of our every day obstacles.

When it comes down to it, I identify with those people, those "patch of ground people" in Young’s song. Those ordinary people who have searched for relief through substance, or those who are trying to find fulfillment in a mentally cluttered environment — with those people I can identify. But with the song, like my father’s email, the undertones (or overtones, for that matter) didn’t matter as much as the key conclusions drawn in the process. As I ultimately question myself and my daily conclusions, which often lead me to a pessimistic view, I believe Young, like my father, would suggest our world a place worth living in. Right now and most certainly in the future. Is a world where you feel you have to struggle just to survive each day worth living in? Without diverting from my point any further, I think Young would say "yes," as knowing that you’ve struggled through yesterday and survived can grant one the mental capacity to not only approach another, but make that day count. And if some good can come of that, you are the better for it – and coincidentally, so am I.

Like I said, coincidence is a beautiful thing.

Henry Rollins at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Just as I put off recalling the three hours in which I basked in Henry Rollins’ stories in form of a review for well over a week, it took me roughly ten years to finally nut up and risk seeing my idol in person. However easy it is for me to become wrapped up in pretty much anything Henry Rollins involves himself in, I have — for the longest time — been more than nervous to actually attempt removing Rollins from whatever pedestal I placed him on back when I was in junior high. Last week though, I gave it a try. And was it worth it? Did he present himself as the intellectually striving music geek that I loved in my youth or did he simply repeat politically based rants in some mildly fluent presentation? Henry said at one point during the evening that in general he is either “on or off.” While performing at First Avenue on this night, a venue that rarely sees a stand up or spoken word act, he was most definitely on.

Opening with a refreshingly personable story, describing one of Black Flag’s stops at the 7th St. Entry (First Avenue’s adjacent sister club), Rollins quickly rolled through tale after tale of personal experiences – something that I was actually quite apprehensive of prior to the show’s opening. How could ol’ Hank actually expand on his experiences in a way I’ve never heard before, or escape from actually repeat stories I’ve already heard before?, I thought.

Ever the current newsophile, Rollins discussed everything from an appearance on Fox News, to Sean Hannity, to global warming, to Larry Craig’s recent run in with the airport security here in Minneapolis, to the utter lunacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Comic Con, to a run in with Exorcist-star Linda Blair and everything in between.

But it was what originally drew me to his spoken word shows in the first place that paced his three hour rant-fest, allowing it to refrain from getting old: It was the detailed account of his time spent with the Ruts, in a position of fan boy-turned-reality, when he was asked to performed as a part of a one-off benefit show for guitarist Paul Fox. Detailing his account of first being asked and recoiling his excitement by assessing the situation and offering the caveat “we’re not going to give it 98% or 99%, we’re going to give this 100% or I’m not the guy you’re looking for,” to the stages of meeting the band and taking in the realization that they are all in pain over their fallen brother – it was heartwarming and surreal.

Recalling the night’s historic event, which was graced by Tthe UK Subs and a somewhat secret set from the Damned, he concluded that he knew he was right in taking pictures of the entire event, through every stage of the process, as he suspected that his new friends might not have too much time left with their ill brother. And less than a week after Rollins explained this story to his First Avenue audience, his fear came true as guitarist Paul Fox succumb to lung cancer.

But it wasn’t entirely a night based in harsh realities, there was some fun, too. Rollins spoke of his experiences where he further traveled the Middle East (around the time of Saddam’s hanging) where he met and stayed with a lovely family who took him in with open arms, his surprisingly good time spent in Beirut and his subsequent trip flying from that destination straight through to San Francisco to see the great Nick Cave in one of his rare American dates this past year with Grinderman.

Rollins was funny, hitting dead on with his Iggy Pop impression and explaining a brilliant anecdote surrounding Christopher Walken’s appearance on his Independent Film Channel program, aptly titled The Henry Rollins Show.

A few years back I was given the opportunity to take a course in college that was was solely based on the life, mythology, and historical context of the existence of Jesus Christ. And given my ever increasing confusion surrounding religion in general – I decided that, as we were all assigned a final project consisting of a lengthy paper and a 10 to 15 minute presentation, I would attempt to do what historians and cynics have failed to do since the beginning of Christianity – refute the gospels through their blazing proof of inconsistencies.

It was a tough sell.

That being said, even after running through it a number of times I was eventually cut off dead in my tracks after roughly twenty six minutes, I found myself entirely caught up in my experience of researching and attempting to explain what I had found. Even if a stretch, I’d like to relate this to Henry’s performance. He is ever the enthusiastic when it comes to life and relating his findings and experiences with his audience through the medium of his stand up show. On this night he related his experience of travel to many people’s media-slanted outlooks and how people in other countries are viewed. He related his own fears to relationships, both his and ours as an audience. He related his loves and joys to those of everyone around the world – whether it be music, or books, or sex. But he also related his ideas on a variety issues that many in the thinking-public, myself included, are at fault for overlooking.

One such thought was his analysis of the Iraqi people’s reaction to the ridiculous dissolving of the their army by Paul Bremer. To paraphrase – “How would you like it, if you made your living by working in the armed forces (no matter what your feelings towards your boss, whomever they may be) and as an American were told by a French dignitary that you no longer had a job? You might not want to see anyone who is French for a while. You might not want to see anyone eating a croissant for a while. You hear someone say, bon voyage? You might want to kick their ass. And that’s what many Iraqi might be thinking in terms of this takeover.” Plain and simple, Henry really has his moments.

A hilarious rant on how mother nature (with wild animals leading the way) should declare a jihad on human kind, Rollins eventually concluded, neither with a story recalling his worldly adventures nor a run in with a pseudo celebrity… but rather a plea. A plea to support those who serve the country only to return home with a life hardly worth living. A plea to help those who are being abandoned by the broken system called democracy that they were fighting for. He closed by asking for support for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and after making his plea to the audience Rollins left the stage with a quick bow – leaving an impact far greater than could have been anticipated.

And while leaving the venue, slowly wading through the crowd of satisfied fans, I thought for a moment – “how cool would that be to meet Henry, if only briefly, for a moment, shaking hands and smiling before heading to my truck and driving home.” Then I thought of the story he told, about how he in his ever-fan boy mindset can’t seem to allow him to honestly engage in meaningful conversation with his idols due to the pedestals he has placed them on. “Maybe in another ten years,” I thought. "Maybe in another ten years.”

Rage Against the Machine at Alpine Valley Music Theatre (East Troy, WI)

Performing to at least 35,000 attendees, Rage Against the Machine played its only scheduled Midwest date of the year last Friday at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. The day was hardly a gem on its own accord, offering anywhere between a slight drizzle to a heavy downpour, all to the disdain of the crowd who gathered under and around the outdoor amphitheater. But not only did the show go on, but it went off without a hitch.

The Coup found themselves playing to a relatively empty audience to open the show. MC Boots Riley entered the stage behind a full band, and a sound alien to fans of the group’s studio releases: hard rock. While last year’s release, Pick a Bigger Weapon, played as one of the year’s best hip hop albums, the large capacity outdoor environment dwarfed the group’s new sound — one that fell on many deaf ears. Somehow the group’s presence at the concert went un-promoted and the audience, full of Ozzfest-seasoned concert goers, obliged as such – only acknowledging the band to boo them.

The unfortunate circumstances failed to put a damper on the group’s enthusiasm as Riley and crew continued to trudge through key tracks such as “We Are the Ones” and “My Favorite Mutiny.” While the Coup was musical “on” its sound seemed a tad false on the occasion as it lacked the tremendous rhythms and beats which its albums focused on with such skill. Instead, the Coup almost pandered to a rap-rock crowd while forgetting that its crowd was far more rock than rap on this particular evening.

Queens of the Stone Age followed after an extended intermission, playing an hour long set heavy with songs from its recent Era Vulgaris album and the ever-popular Songs for the Deaf. On the way to the event, discussion between my friend and I focused on the question of how bassist Michael Shuman would fill the spot within the group that many still associate with Nick Oliveri. Answer: the young musician offered ear-shattering vocals and gave his bass an increasingly furious thrashing. Without a doubt he filled the role better than we could have imagined.

Crushing through many of the band’s standards including “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and a jam-fused “Burn the Witch,” singer Josh Homme used his platform to raise the bar on the evening’s stage banter a few notches. First getting the entire crowd to clap in (semi) unison, Homme then hyped their stage-mates, “Y’know, there’s a band we’ve been waiting to hear for a few years.” As the crowd screamed and cheered he continued, “And I just go with the flow.” The band then slammed into its hugely popular 2003 single. As Queens of the Stone Age’s heavy smoke and light show faded out with its hard hitting “Songs for the Dead,” tension began building and fans began to clamor in anticipation of the headliners.

The long wait was finally halted as Tom Morello’s mother, Mary, came out to the stage – a sight familiar to those who had seen the band before in person or on video. “I’d like to introduce the best fucking band in the universe: Rage Against the Machine.” Morello then escorted his mother to the side of the stage as the crowd went crazy to the opening sounds of “Testify.” What happened from there cannot be defined as orgasmic, nor can it be defined as amazing, breathtaking, or mind blowing… it was simply legendary. “Bulls on Parade” upped the energy of “Testify,” and the entire crowd thrashed about in unison as Morello swirled about on stage, again – the things legends are made of.

As the encore reached its peak with the chorus of “Killing in the Name” the entire grounds were lit up revealing the hillside covered in music fans. For a moment (despite previous mud-sliding and drunken debauchery) the crowd was unified by the strength radiated from the stage. It was simply beautiful. With only a few minutes of soapboxing during “Wake Up” (which received a mixed reaction from the crowd) Zach de la Rocha showed no signs of rust after a nearly half-decade absence. Throughout this show, as I can only he has done with recent festival spots, he reinforced not only his presence in the history of music, but made damn sure that the lively Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk would not be remembered last for their roles in Audioslave. And if for only that fact, that is reason enough to praise the band’s reintroduction into both our lives and our culture.

Turbo Fruits "Turbo Fruits" Review

It is not considerably hard to categorize Turbo Fruits as something similar to last year’s sensation Be Your Own PET, especially so considering their sounds are both vibrantly based in a lighter, southern-whipped style of punk, and both self-titled releases come from bands that include drummer John Eatherly and guitarist Jonas Stein. Prefix Magazine‘s Eric Fitzgerald documents the band as “a mixture of surf rock and Bad Brains,” but unlike BYOP (who name check Bad Brains in their debut album), Turbo Fruits play something of a (slightly more) harnessed attempt at recklessness.

To suggest the group’s sound can be attributed to Bad Brains would be an inept comparison, Stein sounding nothing like HR and playing far more rhythmically than Dr. Know. True, the bands are in the same family, but they have far different personalities. Bassist Max Peebles and Eatherly act more along the lines of John Entwistle/Keith Moon, especially so during tracks such as “Know Too Much,” than the punks they are made to sound. It’s alarmingly simple to qualify the act, as it was was with BYOP, with the formula of ____ rock + punk = band name, but the band’s debut album offers so much more than that. Turbo Fruits' energy is almost the equivalent to that of early ’90s Seattle acts, one that helped introduce punk to a new generation.

The greatest attribute that be can said about the band is Stein’s phenomenal debut as a vocalist, sounding much too gritty to give substance to Fitzgerald’s “surf rock” comments. If Mudhoney’s Mark Arm were dead I might conclude that — based on not merely sound alone — Jonas Stein was Arm reincarnate. And as the album races by, that connection becomes far more apparent: Turbo Fruits sounding more similar to Five Dollar Bob’s Mock Cooter Stew than it does I Against I. And why not? It’s about time grunge got a face lift.

Ben Harper "Glory & Consequence"

Context: Though his last few releases have been hit or miss Ben Harper’s 1997 album The Will To Live carries itself as a strong set, one which introduced Harper to a wider audience as it was his first ever charting release. One of the most touching and inspiring songs on the album is “Glory & Consequence;” in it Harper battles his own insecurities and confronts his fears – something that I’ve found great solace in over the years. One of the most difficult things that a person has to confront is losing love and without any reservation, I associate this song with those feelings. Mere months after graduating high school, I found myself in a new country, deep in a stranglehold of love. I look back, having recently found myself feeling those emotions again and again found reprieve in Harper’s words, “I would rather me be lonely and you have someone to hold / I’m not as scared of dying as I am of growing old.“

Result: Something deep beneath the surface of Harper’s lyrics is a sound that comforts me and that sentiment is no more truthful than with this song. “Glory and Consequence” is a song that I first heard driving around one night knowing that things were souring with my girlfriend and it consoled me, helping me understand that the feelings I had were normal and it was alright to let go. Now I find myself letting go again and the soundtrack, it seems, hasn’t changed.

[This article was first published by Music is Art.]

Klaxons at 7th St. Entry (Minneapolis, MN)

It’s not often that a band plays its set exclusively for one particular person at a show. One person crammed in amongst the rest of an over-sold audience. One person amongst many in the humid, low-ceiling showcase of The Entry. That and it’s hard to honestly believe that the now mythical band from the UK, Klaxons, touted as rock’s missing link by its native media outlets, was playing song after song just for me. Seems strange and somewhat unbelievable, but believe it. I was there.

True. It could be said that as the band has essentially released a mere handful of EPs, much of which were included in the release of this year’s Myths of a Near Future, it would be rather likely to hear most every song on the night’s wish list. Those people would be wrong in this case, because in between planets aligning, tides rising and babies being born—the band played for me.

Shortly following the exhausting two-hour session from local hype machine DJ SovietPanda, the band tapped into the set that utilized much of one of this year’s most energetic releases.

And so it began, “Atlantis to Interzone,” “Totem on the Timeline,” “Golden Skans,” “Two Receivers,” “Gravitys Rainbow” and “It’s Not Over Yet” were all covered, amongst a selection of others. The songs that previously overwhelmed the band’s latest release, however, such as the new rave archetype “Atlantis,” failed to capture the entire crowd in the same fashion as some of the album’s non-singles. Further dividing thought as to what characterizes the band’s strengths was the performance of “It’s Not Over Yet,” with its synth-welding exterior, which seemed to overtake the crowd in a way that the band’s singles never did. Shutting down the set with “Four Horsemen of 2012,” the mighty Klaxons shed its swank exterior and broke a smile, uniting the sweaty 18-plus crowd that had knitted itself closely around the small stage throughout the course of the show.

Whether or not a band is actually playing for one person or a rolling meadow full of festival attendees is somewhat meaningless. Because while singing the memorized lyrics and mumbling the way through those only known phonetically, no one in the world can argue that the band is not playing for you. And for a band that has attracted such a vast audience of listeners across the Atlantic to play in front of some 200 fans, there can be no better show than the show they play exclusively for you. Or, in this case, me.

[This article first appeared on How Was The Show.]

Aesop Rock Interview

Aspiring MCs could prosper from modeling themselves after the likes of New York-based producer/MC Aesop Rock, though doing so would most definitely have negative effects on the global market for gold and platinum grillz. The Boston University graduate recently released the latest in Nike’s Original Run series, titled All Day, which follows last year's releases in the series by the Crystal Method and LCD Soundsystem. (These online exclusives focus purely on assisting runners in their daily training, all coming in at around forty five minutes each.) In maintaining his healthy work ethic, Aesop Rock is also finalizing his upcoming album entitled None Shall Pass, from which the title track was recently released as apart of the Def Jux/Adult Swim Definitive Swim compilation.

Much of hip hop’s modern releases seem very upfront and quick to the punch whereas All Day takes a few minutes before even properly introducing itself. How did you approach the Nike mix knowing that you’d have to dictate the pace so it could maintain consistency over the better part of an hour?

Aesop Rock: Thanks. The assignment was forty five minutes, and they gave me a very slim outline of how they wanted it to move: a seven to eight minute warm up, thirty minute run, seven to eight minute cool down. In my head, the thing just had to remain entertaining. I needed to make it change as and grow over time so that just as somebody became used to a certain element it would fade on to the next. It’s interesting to approach a song like this because usually you’re designing something that will get heard over a three to five minute period. Where on a four minute song you have a ten second intro, now you have a four to five minute song, your intro grows, your build up grows, it’s a whole different way of listening.

Whereas Nike had previously approached electronic-based artists like the Crystal Method and LCD Soundsystem for the series, do you feel that it was a logical move for the brand to shift towards hip hop and in particular an artist such as yourself?

Logical? I don’t know if choosing me is ever logical for anybody ever but I know they were looking to branch out from dance music into hip hop and rock. My name was thrown in the hat with a bunch of others and I guess the good people over there liked what I do. I think they eventually want to cover all genres, or many.

What was the idea behind your collaborations with guitarist Allyson Baker and DJ Big Wiz on All Day?

Allyson is three things: a badass guitar player, an avid runner, and my wife. I was going to her left and right with questions on how to approach this music for a “runner,” is this working, is it not, etc. She always had great input, which soon grew into her playing on the song. I was given so little time to do the whole project, so any riffs she could come up with or we could come up with together we’d lay it down and move along. As for Wiz, I told him “hey I got forty five minutes of music here, let’s get busy.” I basically wanted it to come off like he was just scratching in his room, like he just had free range to get open. Whereas I usually create these songs and we go through them to choreograph sections where scratching may be good, this time I just really wanted him to treat it like he was freestyling, just go with the beat. So we got together a bunch of sounds and one at a time recorded a ton of cuts.

What was the process for writing the material for the mix – did you write individual songs and just blend them together or did you approach All Day as one extended track?

I made about seven separate sections, maybe eight. The first and last were designed as the most chilled out parts, as to serve their functions as “warm up” and “cool down.” The middle sections were all about moving forward, driving, and slowly changing sounds, a soundscape (lame term) that kind of grows and evolves as you move forward.

There are a fair amount of solid instrumental pieces within All Day but how did you even begin to approach this piece lyrically?

I did all of the music first. I knew I would go back an add lyrics after, but I wanted it to be primarily instrumental. I used the vocal sections almost like one would use a horn or instrument that kind of meanders in and meanders out. They were there to wake up the listener, to be something that says “hey look where you are now, this scenery is different since last I spoke.” The actual lyrics would play off the vibe of the particular section they were on. I wanted things that tried to keep the visual aspect of the music alive, anything that pushed the music into a clear, painted image.

Continuing that subject – could you explain the lyrics behind the track “None Shall Pass,” your contribution to the recent Def Jux/Adult Swim mix?

“None Shall Pass” is a good track to lead into the album of the same name. Much of the album’s overall concept has to do with growing. Hitting a point in your life in which the people around you, your peers, view you as an adult, and you become way more responsible for your actions than you were as a child. You hit a point where “acting” dumb is no longer viewed as funny, you hit all these areas in which your contemporaries will look at you and judge you. The song is about being responsible for your actions, and recognizing that a day will come when your neighbor will decide whether or not you are an asshole.

What has been your favorite part of the sessions for the new album?

It has been a long process. I’m not sure what my favorite part is, I mean most of the stuff I do revolves around me and Blockhead. I guess just knowing that I am still walking through this adventure in the music industry with my best homie is always fun. These days I take more time to step back and acknowledge that. There were a couple times on this one where we actually kind of stopped and took time to say “hey man, damn we been doing this together for a bit now. That’s pretty cool.” I guess I don’t have a favorite moment, but recognizing things like that is always good and helps keep me grounded during some of the worse times.

Type O Negative at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Type O Negative is the type of band that people—often, young adults who were furiously trying to find an identity—listened to when they wanted a taste for a gothic lifestyle without necessarily giving it the old college try. The band is fairly accessible, its landmark 1993 release Bloody Kisses went platinum and its 1996 follow-up October Rust went gold, and since then, one has really never had to struggle to find anything new about the band or its music. Contrast that to the likes of even the most popular of underground gothic acts such as Christian Death or the somewhat obscure Sopor Aeternus, and it’s easy to see what has allowed Type O to reach the level of popularity that it has. The band plays a somewhat generic, toned down sound. A sound that is honestly easy for any hard-rock fan to enjoy. That being said, Type O Negative is one of my favorite bands and its ability to deliver heart stopping music with tongue firmly planted in cheek never ceases to amaze.

Rousing the crowd before a performance can have both positive and negative effects—either the audience is going to roll with the punches or get rowdy and pissed off. With that said, after three full loops of “The Chicken Dance” theme, even I was beginning to become a bit suspicious and impatient. After all, Celtic Frost had just wrapped up its set, one as deeply covered with satanic imagery as the band members in corpse paint were.

As fans grew increasingly impatient, the stage crew continued to test the “applause,” “you suck,” “booooooo” and “laughter” signs on the stage. It was like a twisted version of The Merv Griffin Show (much to the displeasure of one roadie who happened to take the brunt of the joke as every time he walked on stage the “boooooo” sign mysteriously lit up). At last, the lights dimmed… and… finally,… the parodic anthem “Kazakhstan” from the recent Borat film began to play, accompanying the floor lights which came back on.

Believe it or not, the band actually took the stage at some point during the night and played an excellent show. Its previous tour brought the act to town accompanying Cradle of Filth at the now defunct Quest and it came at a time when singer Peter Steele’s back was in terrible shape. Apparently no longer an issue, Steele and the rest of the band played a far more complete set this time around and the high energy of the crowd was a direct reflection of that—though some still weren’t over that whole “Chicken Dance” incident.

The band’s recent release, Dead Again, debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at #27, further proof of the band’s ongoing accessibility. Criticizing your idols is never an easy task, but if nothing worse can be said than “they’re too popular,” “too accessible” or “easy to enjoy” it might be time to stop looking for flaws and start enjoying the music again. Thankfully, on this night I was able to do just that.

[This article first appeared on How Was The Show.]

Social Distortion "Live at The Roxy"

The album that had the greatest influence on the way I listen to music is Social Distortion’s 1998 live album Live at The Roxy. It isn’t entirely important for its musical influence, as I'd already been a fan of the band for a number of years and was quite familiar with the songs before purchasing the disc, but rather because it drove home the importance of music’s context. Since first hearing the group and taking time to study its history, I've come to appreciate it as one of the greatest punk bands of all time. Not because of an edgy sound that spits acid in your eye all the while telling your mother where to get off, but because of that same question of context. The group did live poor, they struggled and slummed, and in the end came out as champions of a scene that many didn’t survive. Junkies, prostitution, violence—if a band and its music can survive a scene bearing these obstacles only to release a career-capping live record some twenty years later, proof is given to hope and the music carried within gains an unmatched power.

The album also has a storyline that laments on Social Distortion’s historical heartache, and with a packed house of people who lived it alongside them, who actually remembered “[w]hen that parking lot was a 7-11” and getting in fights with the local high school jocks, there's a feeling of history that one feels without ever experiencing a second of that life. This album changed the way I listen to music not in that it expanded my sense of what music could sound like, but rather in the sense of what music I hold dear to me. The songs that changed my life aren’t ideally artistic, nor are they musically superior to much of what passes through my ears; they are however honest and critical of the world around them and many of which you can find on Live at The Roxy.

[This article was first published by Nerd Litter.]

Reverend Horton Heat at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

One of the best parts about going to a Reverend Horton Heat show is just sitting back and seeing the crowd. Skinheads, greasers, played the show in support of no new material, with no publicity surrounding a new DVD or compilation, but rather the Reverend Horton Heat played because it’s the band’s job. Unlike many groups who have the luxury of taking time off the road to write and record new music, Jim Heath, Jimbo Wallace and Paul Simmons live the life of working musicians and play countless shows each year to support that fact. This show being one of them.

Gear-heads and hipsters alike all seem to come together when the Rev comes to town. Add in the diverse fans of the eclectic Chicago-based Celtic-punkers The Tossers and retro-chic Murder by Death and the crowd alone is more interesting than most opening bands.

The mood was energetic as The Tossers hit the stage and front man Tony Duggins laid into his mandolin. A few rowdy fans began jumping around and singing in unison, setting the tempo for the show.

The band, made up of traditional instrumentalists, included bassist Dan Shaw, guitarist Mike Pawula and the drummer known as Bones as well as Rebecca Manthe on fiddle and Aaron Duggins on the tin whistle. Though general comparisons can be made to any Celt-punk group along the lines of Flogging Molly, The Tossers offered a soulful approach to the genre as Tony Duggins’ voice seemed to speak for his entire ancestry.

There was an unmistakable Irish tension on stage that kept the chemistry lively. As Tony Duggins slurred his way through a variety of anecdotes before and after the songs, the band seemed to gaze at him as if to say, “This is our living, please don’t fuck it up.” Rebecca Manthe seemed like an older sister looking after her drunken brothers. Aaron Duggins would continually blow the smoke from his cigarette at her and lean his mic over to her, taunting a background vocal retort out of her while she banged away at her fiddle.

And so began the setting for an amazing show.

As The Tossers’ fans faded to the back, a new crowd, brandishing Murder by Death T-shirts, made its way towards the body of the stage.

A stunning Sarah Balliet made her way out on stage and, with a flower in her hair, took residence by her keyboard. Murder by Death lead singer Adam Turla, bassist Matt Armstrong and drummer Dagan Thogerson accompanied her. As the songs moved forward, Balliet would abruptly transition between her keyboard and electric cello, which added an amazing depth to the band’s sound. It was as though Rasputina had grown guitars (and a male singer). While Turla kept the crowd at ease with his deep muffled tone, Balliet stole the show on this night with her vivacious thrusts and musicianship. Watching her play allowed me to reminisce of the Led Zeppelin DVD The Song Remains the Same where Robert Plant would tantalize the crowd with his on stage sexuality.

Then, as quickly as the set started, it was over and giving way for what would be a Texas-grown gospel revival led by Jim Heath, otherwise known as the Reverend Horton Heat.

As The Tossers and Murder by Death are to making one want to go home and write songs about their lives, Reverend Horton Heat is to making one want to be a rock star. But not just a rock star, a rock and roll star.

Starting with Sub Pop during grunge’s heyday the group was never given its full due or respect as it wasn’t categorized in a generally appealing genre. Nonetheless, over time the group built a truly loyal fan base out of its updated rockabilly sound that would later serve as the blueprints for groups such as Tiger Army and The Horrorpops.

Over the course of the evening, the group began taking requests from the crowd, something I hadn’t personally seen them do before. This allowed fans a taste for such favorites as “Galaxie 500” and “It’s Martini Time,” both of which got the entire crowd dancing around the floor at First Avenue like overmedicated school children.

The important thing to consider though was that while the band played a number of expected songs and hit its usual stage spots, which included the ever-entertaining bass-surf, the band still was not a parody of itself. They could have easily slipped into Reverend Horton Heat playing its greatest hits-mode, but by managing which songs were and weren’t played (see: me screaming my request for “Couch Surfin’”) there still seemed a sense of spontaneity which doesn’t typically travel with a traveling band. At this point in time it’s almost irrelevant as to whether the band is touring in support of new music or not, fans will gather. But if the band were to release a new album, those same fans would have shown up with a few new lyrics memorized and willing to raise hell on an entirely new level.

Given that this show in the main room was absolutely packed, it will be most interesting to see what goes down as the Reverend returns with Murder By Death in August for a pair of shows; this time at The Entry.

[This article first appeared on How Was the Show.]

Paul Revere & the Raiders

A year or so ago I began attempting to rip some of my father’s music for him so that he could relive some old memories while spending his days and nights on his Mac. My conquest was short lived as I only made it a few 45s into the project before realizing the unfortunate reality that my father and I have don’t have much in common in terms of our musical tastes. Though there was really nothing wrong with his collection, taking time to listen to it and edit mp3s meant that I had less time to discover modern music, much of which I would wager to say I might enjoy a little more than one of Stevie Wonder’s top five musical crimes perpetuated in the 80’s and 90’s.

There were a few 45s that stood out however, one of them being Paul Revere & The Raiders’ Him or Me – What’s it Gonna Be?/Legend of Paul Revere (1967). The group, which I’m still only vaguely familiar with, put out a textbook definition of what a single should be. Him or Me – What’s it Gonna Be?, the A-side, is a gritty early-era garage rock track which provided evidence of the band’s confidence, confidence which was further showcased in the group’s first greatest hits album, released in the same year. The B-side showcases the band’s story, literally. The lighthearted song follows the band’s beginnings in Idaho to its appearance on The Dick Clark Show. Wouldn’t it be a lot more interesting if more modern acts released musical biographies? Well, maybe not.

Before esteemed BBC radio DJ John Peel passed in 2004 he was known to have had an estimated collection comprised of some 26,000 vinyl LPs, 40,000 singles and 40,000 CDs. Of these albums Peel was known to have had a wooden box containing 142 singles which he was to have valued more than all others (via). Among these singles was one Him or Me – What’s it Gonna Be?/Legend of Paul Revere by Paul Revere & The Raiders.

What’s most shocking about the 45 isn’t that I enjoyed it, or that it’s acclaimed as one of Peel’s few key treasures, but rather that it might mean that my father actually (even if only for a lone 45) at some point in his life had decent taste in music.

(This article first appeared on Circa 45.)

Gauchos Interview

All Victor Jorge wanted to do is show his fellow Argentineans how good his children were at playing heavy metal. But when the television producers of a video-clip show rejected the submissions he sent in, Jorge didn't know what else to do. So he put his kids on YouTube.

Three-and-a-half million viewings later, Jorge's kids--better known as Los Gauchos--have become an Internet sensation. Online, these sweet-faced cherubs have been melting faces with their furious rock, blanketing YouTube with their covers of Sepultura, Iron Maiden, and Cradle of Filth. And now they're moving offline as well, recently performing at Cosquin Rock 2007, one of Argentina's outdoor festivals, which had more than 20,000 attendees over the span of three days.

Record labels have begun courting Los Gauchos, who are working on original music. Their popularity has grown so widespread, they've even attracted the attention of the Argentinean government, which is supplying the band with sound equipment. We checked in with Martin, the Pokemon-loving 10-year-old singer-guitarist; Agustin, the 11-year-old drummer; and Emilio, the group's 14-year-old elder statesmen to see how their newfound fame has changed their lives. (Their dad helped with some answers, too.)

What's it like being famous?

It's really incredible when you know that millions of people know you from a site that has so many videos, and you are being watched and that they value what we have done without equipment, without teachers, without help, everything from home, amateur and without money. Only the drums and one guitar are ours--the rest is borrowed. And, well, aside from that it's a very big responsibility. In a sense we are representing our city, Salta.

When did you first realize people were watching you play?

Well, we noticed after a week and we were not expecting to be watched so much, especially in a site filled with so many videos of different things.

In these clips... are you guys really playing next to a set of bunk beds?

Yes, that's our bedroom. But now we have started to go out and play. The next videos are live, where we play in Cosquin Rock, a festival of 20,000 people. It's probably the largest festival in Argentina.

Is that your sister in the video for Iron Maiden? Are you grooming her to be your lead singer?

Well she's my niece, not my sister, but in any case we would really like that she sing with us. Although now she is too young, but we hope that she will like heavy metal. She's four years old.

Why is your band called Gauchos?

Our band never had a name. What happened was that since our YouTube name was "gauchosalta," people started calling us Los Gauchos, so we asked them to give our band a name. Our official name now is Gauchos de Acero (Gauchos of Steel).

Are any record labels showing interest?

Many people that have called us to record an album, so now we're composing songs--we want to record our own songs. Also, it's complicated because we live 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) from Buenos Aires and if we record an album, we'd have to go and promote it and we have school.

This year, we'll see what we'll do. Remember, this band has only been around for five months--before we would only play for fun. We're very surprised by all this. The first thing we want to do after Cosquin is get an agent so we have help when we have to play or go on tour because of our age and school. Also we want to buy some semi-professional equipment, 100 watts give or take, and during that be recording.

How many instruments can each of you play?

Emilio: I play guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.

Martin: I also play guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.

Agustin: I play drums and vocals.

When did you first learn to play your instruments?

Emilio learned when he was 12 years old. Well, that's when he started getting into this music thing, and then, well, the others joined. Martin and Agustin both started two years ago. But as a band, about 6 months.

How often do you practice?

We didn't practice for two months because we didn't have our own equipment. We couldn't buy them until now. When we have the equipment, we practice every night.

A question for Martin: Which do you like more: heavy metal or Pokemon?

I like them both equally. And I like them both very much.

Who are your favorite bands?

Our favorite bands are Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Horcas, King Diamond, Almafuerte, Metallica.

Which band would you most like to play with?

We'd love to play with Sepultura—that would be a dream come true. Sepultura introduced us to heavy metal.

How does it feel to be seen three million times?

It's really good. We know we can't mess up. We have to take this serious but always have fun, too. But from now on, we have a very big responsibility.

This is probably a dumb question, but what do you want to do when you grow up?


[This article was first published by Esquire.]

Mastodon and Converge at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

2006 was an amazing year for the night’s three bands: Priestess broke out of its Québécois-hard rock niche and found a welcoming fan base internationally; longtime hardcore mainstays Converge took their sound and expanded its audience based on the heels of their acclaimed album No Heroes, an album which found praise from the likes of Pitchfork Media, Revolver and Drowned in Sound; and in 2006 an underground band from Atlanta released an album that many thought would be metal’s Nevermind, Mastodon’s Blood Mountain. Though it didn’t capture the same level of success as Nirvana found with its breakthrough release, it still helped broaden the band’s reach, resulting in a #32 debut position on the Billboard 200, a Grammy nomination and countless mentions on critics’ year end lists. To say the least, the night would be a good one for hard music.

Priestess took the stage to open the all-ages show with its powerful brand of hard rock with songs such as “Lay Down,” “Talk to Her” and the set closer, “I Am the Night, Colour Me Black.” All but one of the band’s songs came from the band’s album Hello Master, which had previously garnered the band the honor of Montreal’s Heaviest Act by the Montreal Mirror. Priestess took a while to warm the audience but slowly gained the crowd’s attention with its classic metal look and sound: tight jeans, extended riffs and drum solo interlude all intact.

There were a few in attendance who knew the band’s songs and sang along, headbanged or pumped fists, but the majority of the crowd was inactive during the band’s half-hour set. As lead singer Mikey Heppner mentioned the bill’s other acts, it became apparent that most weren’t in attendance to see Priestess. After the band blazed with the closer “I Am the Night,” the wait for Converge came to an end and the crowd began rumbling itself into a frenzy for what was to come.

The stage unveiled Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou playing alone as the crowd focused itself into the center of the floor and began to boil. The band eventually joined Ballou on the stage and began slaughtering their instruments as vocalist Jacob Bannon delivered a set of throaty, blood-curdling growls. Predominately playing songs from No Heroes, Jane Doe and You Fail Me, the crowd stayed energetic as Bannon spun around the stage, whipping his arms and legs around his body throughout the entire set.

As the crowd adjusted to the ever-fanatical show it became apparent why Converge, a band with its roots in ‘80s hardcore, had a place in what most would consider a metal gig. Throughout the night the pit’s inhabitants ranged from latino chic-sters to long-haired metalheads to aging emo-kids, and there within lies the sensibility of the band’s presence; as fans outgrow groups such as My Chemical Romance or Taking Back Sunday the natural progression is to gravitate towards a harder music, which leads one to suggest that Converge has recently succeeded amongst modern punk and metal bands due to this fanbase in transition. And if it takes a band like Converge to get emo kids to stop listening to the mainstream drivel with which they have all too often become associated, then so be it.

As the set came to an abrupt end the crowd again grew dense with anticipation, this time for the show’s headlining act, Mastodon.

Fans boomed in time with the heavy guitars, voicing the band’s lyrics as best they could and began squeezing toward the stage, edging inches closer to the now-celebrities that they had been waiting the entire night to see. Mastodon played a select few tracks from non-Blood Mountain albums, but eventually raised the musicianship of the evening with its performance of tracks from the band’s highest selling album, Leviathan. That being said it was the performance of some of the group’s latest songs that saw the greatest feedback from the crowd. As “The Wolf is Loose” picked up a pit began taking shape, with heads shaking out of control and hundreds of people swaying in motion. Other memorable tracks performed include “Circle Cysquatch” and “Colony of Birchmen,” but none received any greater of an unexpected reaction than “Bladecatcher.”

The track which finds itself as the most experimental on Blood Mountain takes shape with multiple time changes and direction shifts throughout, and it almost appeared as though the crowd didn’t know how to react to the Patton-esque song. “Bladebatcher” begins with an obscenely fast paced guitar jaunt and slowly peels away its own layers to reveal a mid-tempo rock jam before again diverting to the outer limits of musical exploration. The song that best proves characteristic of the set, however, may be “This Mortal Soil.” Roughly five minutes long, the song provides a driving progressive hook and utilizes the vocals of both bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds. It has a brief introduction that reveals itself slowly, easing itself into the song rather than violently forcing itself on the listener. Therein lies the allure of Mastodon: one moment they play a track that could easily find itself in heavy rotation on modern rock radio, and the next they drive even their own fan base to cringe.

To the fans that insist on fist-pumping to each word of the song, to the fans who had seen Mastodon on MTV2 only to be taken back by Converge, and to the fans who beat their chests alongside the drummer, I say well done. Well done not simply because you have made sure that mainstream outlets have taken notice of these groups, but well done because now many more that had previously lived in the outskirts of pop music may be heard.

[This article first appeared on How Was The Show.]

Remembering Bam Bam Bigelow

Though never achieving the super-stardom of The Undertaker, Ultimate Warrior, or Hulk Hogan, Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow represented something of superhero status for a generation of young wrestling fan — a generation of fan including myself. And as we grew up and moved away from our childhood heroes, Bam Bam, with his tattooed head and cartwheels, was never forgotten. Scott Bigelow was found dead last week in his home in Hudson, Florida. He was forty five. Though his death is far from the first amongst high profile professional wrestlers, it signifies something important for myself (and perhaps for many others).

He was cartoonish in the fact that his character was over the top, but he could easily represent an entire age of wrestler which I watched religiously on Saturday mornings as a child. That being said, it was shocking to revisit Bam Bam later in his career as a member of the independent company Extreme Championship Wrestling, a promotion that I became a fan of in my teens which flourished with an abundance of violence, irreverence, and flaming table & barbed wire matches. His acrobatics weren’t what they once were, but nevertheless he served a key role in the company and won the hearts of many new fans through the promotion.

Bam Bam’s life was important to me in that it represented a piece of my personal childhood fading away. And even if only a trivial part, I’m sure such sentiment is shared by millions.