Monday, July 13, 2009

Zen Arcade

Today (as far as my fairly extensive research can tell) marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my favorite album of all time, Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü. This record marks a turning point for rock music that may have defined it for the past quarter century. Sure, maybe some band would have stepped in and done what Hüsker Dü did, but it wasn't another band that did it. This is the moment where the seething anger and discomfort and unplaceable angst of hardcore punk met the pop songwriting and drug soaked psychedelia of the mid sixties. When you listen to Zen Arcade, you listen to one of several benchmarks in the creation of alternative rock, but one that absolutely creates its ethical and aesthetic basis.

Let's start from the beginning. Rock and roll started as rebellion. Kids danced and smoked marijuana to early rock tunes. Motion pictures were made decrying its evils. But by the end of the fifties, much of rock's stigma had been taken away by white artists singing about holding hands or even less threatening sounding euphemisms. And so, rock and roll became mindless pablum. There, however, remained something of a threat (see the FBI's investigation of the lyrics of "Louie Louie" for instance). Bands, most of whom tended to stay just below the mainstream radar, made penetrating music that challenged the listener's concept of what music was supposed to mean and who could make it. The work of these musicians finally seemed to culminate in the late 70s when punk bands like the Ramones and the Clash and Sex Pistols made more significant moves into the mainstream conciousness, but most audiences thought of this as little more than an obnoxious, anti-disco fad.

However, there were kids all over the US who heard the Ramones and found something in their simplicity and unforgiving speed. It was a chance meeting of two of these kids in a record store in Minnesota that made music history.

Bob Mould and Grant Hart met when Mould was away at MacCalester College. Hart worked at a record store where Mould often shopped. A friendship bloomed around their mutual love of the Beatles and the Ramones. Eventually Hart and Mould would smoke pot together and listen to records. This relationship led to the formation of a cover band with Greg Norton on bass, and some other guy on electric keyboard. After an impromptu session of shouting random foreign language phrases, the band came up with the name Hüsker Dü, Norwegian/Danish for "do you remember." The umlauts were later added for a more metallic effect. The keyboard player was very shortly thereafter dropped, and the band finally solidified.

A single and live LP followed. They were signed by the Minutemen's New Alliance records, and then Black Flag's SST. There first official output for SST was an EP/mini-album titled Metal Circus. On this record's seven tracks, the band began to incorporate a little more melody into their songwriting. But halfway into mixing the album, the power went out in the studio and much of the material was lost.

More determined than ever, the band set to writing new material throughout a summer in Minneapolis. According to drummer/vocalist Grant Hart, the acid in MPLS was particularly good that summer. Ideas began to gel, and songs began to formulate. It was time to record the tracks for Spot and SST.

And so, in a period of about a week and a half, the entire, sprawling double LP was recorded and mixed at SST's studios in Hermosa Beach, CA. All but two of the songs were recorded in one take.

The record was delayed so that it could be released simultaneously with SST's other equally ambitions double LP, the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime. The wait, I can only assume, was worth it.

The result of tight rehearsal, quick recording, and masterful writing, Zen Arcade represents the absolute pinnacle of what hardcore was possible of and clears a path for new exploration that would later become alternative rock. It's music is poppy, but maintains a level of aggression that can speak to the ostracized teenager to whom the story of the album seems dedicated.

Oh yeah, this shit is a concept album. A kid recognizes a world at home beyond his control and understanding, so he runs away. He experiments with drugs, sex, and organized religion. He witnesses death and destruction and all the horrors of the human condition only to come back home and maybe wake up from some sort of dream.

Basically this album is perfect. While certainly the ultimate product of early 80s hardcore, more than most records of that era, it stands the test of time. More than any record before or since, it captures the spirit of the tortured youth in this country. And as long as the country produces young people, they will be tortured. And as long as those things are true, this country will need Zen Arcade and records like it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More Stand Up

This video is my least favorite of mine.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Some Thoughts on Last Night's Fake Problems Show

As per the request of the gentleman at the helm of one of my favorite blogs, I am expanding upon some thoughts I tweeted from the Fake Problems show on July 2 the year of our lord 2009 at Cambridge, MA's The Middle East. This will mostly be a review of the show with some special attention spent on the mongoloids behind me.

I went, as often I do due to my lack of punk rock friends, to this show alone. I sort of walked through the sparse crowd and decided to stand at the front corner of the stage.

The first band was a very young looking local band called Quixote. It took me a while to warm up to them. For the first couple of songs I was sort of fixated on the fact that the only one who looked like he was into it was the drummer. But the longer their set went on, the more I got into the groove of their music. My first thought was "Fake Problems on Valium." That turned out to be less than fair because with the exception of the guitarist and keyboard player, everyone was into it by the end. The songs seemed to be well written and were driven by danceable drum beats and a folkishly punk rest of the band. The guitarist, however, was distractingly not into it.

Next, another local band, Movers and Shakers took the stage. They played some seriously awesome sort of rootsy, sort of country, sort of punk rock and roll tunes. Their songs weren't super energetic, but the band was totally into it. A good point of comparison would be if Chuck Ragan sang for Lucero maybe. I didn't get too good a read on the other singer's voice. A little higher pitched, but not immediately placeable. The one drawback for these guys was that their keyboard was set up right in front of me and I couldn't see for shit.

Here's when the morons behind me made their presence known. There was a sort of crusty looking kid with dreds standing next to me during movers and shakers, and I have this sort of unfair visceral reaction against dreds. So there's one point against him from the get go. His friends show up, and start taking a whole hell of a lot of pictures. Like, way too many considering there isn't a band on stage. They're just taking pictures of each other in a dark club. One of the friends reached around hella far to give the dredded kid bunny ears in one of the pictures.

Then another two kids, recent transplants from Florida as I soon extrapolated, came over. "Hey, I'm about to take a picture of that kid," says the dredded kid's female friend from behind me. "Give him bunny ears."

"Sure, I don't give a FUCK!" shouts one of the Floridians in response.

At this point I try to shut off because I can tell a total retard-fest is about to start behind me, but here are a few delicious tidbits I picked up. Keep in mind, these are real things, real people said.

"Yeah me and this kid got kicked out of Orlando because we got too drunk."

"I'm like, 'yeah, fuck it! I'll smoke a blunt'"

"Yeah, he once smoked crack."

"I'm like, 'yeah, fuck it! I'll do meth.'"

It was soon after that gem of a fact came out that the gentleman who repeatedly made reference to the miniscule amount of fucks he gave had recently turned 21. And here's the kicker. This is the type of behavior that makes me wish I could carry a concealed weapon. The date of his birth was June 19. "Holy shit, that's my birthday too! We need to be friends now, if only birthday friends." UGH! I mean really, these were the types of people who were lifestyle punks which I, personally, think is kind of stupid, but whatever, beside the point. Anyway, if you're a lifestyle punk, you don't say the same sort of vapid shit that the high school cheerleaders say to each other in the cafeteria or else you're a hypocrite. Though this is punk rock, I guess that comes with the territory.

Anyway, back to the show. Kiss Kiss took a half an hour to set up, putting in my head the idea that I would possibly have to choose between missing the bus and missing Fake Problems. As a result, I didn't pay attention to them short of feeling a little bad when I could tell they saw that I was looking at them really angrily.

Fake Problems took the stage at pretty much exactly 12:15, roared through a just plain old amazing fucking set. Though Casey Lee was absent due to a family emergency, which eliminated the lead parts on songs. It affected my enjoyment, but only a little bit as the rest of the band really kicked up the energy level by a lot. They ended their set proper with "Heart BPM" off this year's It's Great to be Alive which is really a pretty fucking perfect song. They left stage for all of like 30 seconds, and played a real sweaty rendition of my favorite one song into the next of just about all time "Astronaut" into "Crest on the Chest." It was truly truly fucking awesome.

And I made my bus, so Kiss Kiss is forgiven.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Some thoughts on Dante Stallworth.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Dante Stallworth killed a man. At best, he is guilty of manslaughter, and legally, he is guilty of homicide. If you drink and get behind the wheel of a car, you made a premeditated decision to put other people's lives in danger. If the victim's family decided it was better not to pursue a harsher sentence for Mr. Stallworth, then that's their prerogative. But the NFL has to step up and show some back bone on this one.
Public opinion of the NFL is in a weird place. Many high-profile players have gotten in legal trouble for all kinds of offenses (Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress, and Ray Lewis to name some more salient examples), and Roger Goodell keeps talking about having less tolerance for these kinds of things. So why let a man who admitted to killing someone play again?
I, for one, would probably have been happier to know that Stallworth was sentenced to more than a month in jail for what is legally defined as murder, but it is obviously not my place to say, and I obviously don't know all the facts of the case. But the NFL has to take serious disciplinary action against Stallworth to try and salvage whatever little bit of responsibility is possible.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Rant that I Hope to Never Have to Repeat

So I'm watching Sportscenter right now, and I'm sure no one reading this cares either way, but they're telling the story of Charismatic, a thoroughbred horse that nearly won the triple crown, that's stuck at a farm in Japan. Peta is afraid that the horse will be killed at a slaughterhouse there. You bet it will be! That's what happens to horses. I'm sorry, but if you have a problem with horses being killed, then stop supporting the sport of horse racing! Also, stop eating meat. Nearly all thoroughbred horses are killed, and every piece of meat you eat was killed in a similar matter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ATTN: CT Readers

Connecticut is awful. It's so grey and boring and stupid and crappy looking. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't pee on Connecticut.