Thursday, November 29, 2012

David Bazan plays Control — The Social, Orlando, FL 11/28/2012

One of my favorite songwriters/musicians/performers played in Orlando last night. I've seen David Bazan perform with his former band, Pedro The Lion, acoustic solo, electric solo (opening for Spoon), with his electronic-influenced band Headphones, and with his new backing band as a solo act.

He's one who likes to vary melodies and do slight variations on arrangements from time to time. But for the re-release of the Pedro The Lion vinyls (remastered), he decided to launch a tour where he'd play through one entire album, Control. Why that album? He's also known for taking questions during shows, and he answered this one for us: that was the only album he could stand playing all the songs off of.

One of his main "turns" (and a talking point in interviews / press releases) is Bazan's fallout from hardcore Christianity into agnosticism. He's open with it, he wrote an entire album about it, and he dismisses earlier songs he'd written for being closeminded and dogmatic.

Anyway, here's what they played last night.


Indian Summer


Gas and Matches
Cold Beer and Cigarettes
Foregone Conclusions
How I Remember
Eating Paper
When They Really Get To Know You They Will Run


Second Best
Priests And Paramedics

And for a close-up look at the gear used on this tour, someone at a different show posted this:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Road Trip 2012 — An Introduction

Buried somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain between “Write The Great American Novel” and “Write The Great American Concept Album” has been “Take The Great American Road Trip.” Jack Kerouac. Steinbeck. Che Guevara motorcycling around Latin America. Fievel Goes West. Uhh, Nabokov. (Though he wasn't 'native' American, Lolita does have quite a bit of road trippin'.)

(The second result for a Google Image Search of "road trip.")

I spent this past (and my last) academic year in Italy. When it came time to leave, I realized it would take me a while to find a job. And I realized that all my friends and family were spread out across the USA. And that I hadn't seen them for at least one year (in some cases many more). I moved back in with my parents in Melbourne, FL where I grew up, and I started thinking about heading north.

While applying to jobs, I began checking in with friends and noticed that many of them formed a giant hook across the eastern US. From Melbourne on the east coast of central Florida, up to Tallahassee in the panhandle, Atlanta at the top of Georgia, Nashville above that, Cincinnati to the northeast in southern Ohio, Chicago to the northwest, Amherst eastward into northern Ohio, then northeast to upstate New York, down to New York City, and finally in Baltimore. Each location was just about a day's drive (all fewer than 9 hours) from the next. The only black hole was the southeastern USA, from Baltimore down to Florida.

I tend to think of myself as an easy and lightweight traveler. Many times in Europe I would board a plane with just a backpack for a week's vacation somewhere (to save money, but also to simply travel light, to not have to worry about moving a lot of stuff). I would stay at cheap, crowded hostels. So I'm not generally concerned with where I roost, or about the facilities I'll have access to, or stuff like that.

Since I'm unemployed I'm immensely flexible. I wouldn't have to plan for myself (I can go wherever whenever), but I'd have to plan around my hosts' schedules. Coincidentally, things decided to work themselves out during the month of September, which buffers the dreadful summer heat and the worrisome winter chills. (Florida driver here: I've only driven in icy conditions once, briefly.) I would stay with my friends (who are in various stages of university or professional development) on weekends and with family during weekdays.

But because of various factors (one being home football games in Tallahassee, which I'd like to avoid if possible because of the intense crowds and general chaos in the city), I ultimately decided to reverse the hook — head straight from Florida up to Baltimore, knocking out the longest stretch first, when I'd be fresh and invigorated at the start of the road trip. Thus (bookended by "Melbourne, FL — Incalculable Amount Of Time"):

Baltimore, MD — Weekend
Upstate, NY — Week
New York City, NY — Long Weekend
Amherst, OH — Week/end
Chicago, IL — Extended Week
Cincinnati, OH — Weekend
Nashville — Extended Week
Atlanta, GA — Variable
Tallahassee, FL — Variable

Here's the map:

(If you view this zoomed out it kind of looks like a giant "thumbs down" ...)

So I'm about 90% planned out, but allowing for a little leeway. Weekends are prized times for visits, but unfortunately there are a heck of a lot more weekdays than there are weekend days (let's work on that, America; I know we can do better).

And I haven't planned anything outside of the dates and cities. I'm not searching out landmarks or events, not getting tickets for things, not really worrying about What To Do When I'm There. I'd prefer, actually, to simply see my friends, see what they do on a regular basis, and feel things out. It's always easy to ask locals questions — Is there a good diner around here? Anything fun to do in these parts? And I recently got my first smartphone with GPS (which works even when I lose cell phone reception, yay!), so I'm set on directions.

Not sure how much I'll be able to blog, but I'll try. (Social media aside: So far I've barely been able to have the patience to take the time to Instagram all the photos I'm snapping. I don't like uploading right after I snap one because I'm usually on the move. So I batch upload like 20 at a time, and deciding on crops and filters and captions ain't easy, son.) I'm sort of treating this as a vacation, but I still plan on continuing to apply to jobs.

Is there any one thing I should do during the trip? Yell something from the window of my car? Ask people what they love about living in America? I don't know. Maybe I'll find out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why You Should Always Write in Google Documents: Mostly Lost Thoughts On Gangster Rap

Progression leading up to this post: 

  • My brother sends me a link to listen to.
  • I listen, then search out other rap, which gets me listening to Biggie Smalls again.
  • I remember a (great) list my brother made for Kanye West's guest spots and searched around to find a list of Biggie's guest spots.
  • I found a list of The Ten Most Underrated Notorious B.I.G. Guest Appearances.
  • I listened to all of those, very slowly (still on a DSL connection at home here), searching out rappers I didn't know.
  • I realized this link should be shared, but I wanted to dish on it and also make a YouTube playlist of the countdown for easy listening (linguistic juxtaposition between 'rap' and 'easy listening music' intended) purposes.
  • I lost the drive to make a playlist after I lost more than half my blog post here (see below).

Hip-hop has a ton to offer, which always makes me cringe when someone says or writes "I listen to all music. Everything. Except for rap." I also cringe if they say/write that about other genres of music, since each has something to offer. I just cringe more when it's rap.

I grew up in the Will Smith era. I watched Fresh Prince religiously. I listened Willenium. I watched The Wild, Wild West. So this was rap to me for a while. A long while.

Other rap was always around me though. Coolio, for example, had a massive crossover hit with "Gangsta's Paradise." A friend of mine in junior high school was more or less obsessed with Eminem. Some other non-friend skinny white kids in junior high walked around in XXL-sized Wu-Tang Clan t-shirts. I had never heard a single one of the group's songs, but I dismissed it all outright as 'kids trying to be cool'. I was mostly listening to rock at that time — classic rock, grunge.

Fast-forward about 10 years. In college, in the midst of listening to indie rock on a daily basis, I slowly became introduced to all kinds of hip-hop. There was some mingling with indie rock and rap — Gorillaz is a good example. OutKast's "Hey Ya," which was basically playing every day for a good year there. The Streets was very hip (I still dig it, more than 10 years after Mike Skinner started). But once I started listening the floodgates were opened. Jurassic 5, Jay-Z, Kanye early on. Luda, OutKast. Then Brandon (my brother) gave me all of Biggie's recordings and it was pretty much over. I dumped them all in MP3 format onto a CD and listened to it on shuffle in my car, for weeks, maybe months.

Gangster rap is a hard sale. It's still hard to consciously reconcile my progressive liberalism and my 'not caring much about money' with what are pretty obviously gangster rap's basic tenets — getting cash, toting guns, using women as objects, embracing homophobia, reinforcing macho masculine stereotypes. (Other tenets — cursing a bunch, non-violent drug use — I have no qualms about.) Biggie is listed as one of the best rappers in general, but in specific he was in gangster rap and he hits on all the things I just listed in just about every song he did. Still, there's something in his songs that just isn't elsewhere.

I liked 300. I liked Shoot 'Em Up. But not for the machismo so much as the over-the-top style. They were movies that were just this much short of utter ridiculousness. A kind of surreal take on macho behavior. But maybe I was reading too much into it because I've gathered that most people liked those kind of movies (and Fight Club and Tarantino movies, and others) for different reasons — for the violence, for the machismo, for the reinforcing male stereotypes (being 'strong', hating on women, etc.). I find it hard to defend Frank Miller's art as being more sensitive than it is macho, though, especially after reading through the Sin City series. I enjoyed that movie and those comic books for the same artistic reasons I mentioned above, but it's very difficult for me to determine the artist's intent behind those pieces of art. For most art I don't care about artist's intent, but for these things for some reason I feel like if other people are enjoying them for different reasons than I...

Wow, I just lost several hundred (thousands of?) words and maybe an hour's time of writing on this post when I hit the backspace key and my browser navigated back a page instead of my writing cursor moving back a space to delete a letter. And Blogger did not auto-save my writing (despite a sleek redesign they made since I last wrote here) and so now I'm really not liking Blogger very much and I think I'll compose everything I write in Google Documents from now on.

Suffice to say it was all brilliant and I was just closing out the post with this quote:

"If I wasn't in the rap game, I'd probably have a key [kilo] knee-deep in the crack game. Because the the streets is a short stop. Either you're slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot." —Biggie


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lull before the storm

I'm not terribly interested in climbing any corporate ladders. Right now, I'm in a perfect place. Almost too perfect. I'm finishing up more years of college than I'd care to admit, and I'm doing it in Italy in an internship where I run every aspect of a small library. It's great.

What's not great is balancing my passions out with my work. The American dream is that anyone can make it as anything in the land of freedom and opportunity. And when I consider that many other countries in the world are stricken with poverty, their citizens stuck in systems of life and labor they despise, I feel incredibly lucky that I've had the experiences I've had. The opportunities. But there's always been this idea that Americans can do more, can do it better. And there's an incredible pressure to succeed, especially in the digital age when "anyone can post a video to YouTube and become famous." Thus, if you're not succeeding, it's a problem with you, not a problem with the world.

This sends a lot of my generation into a worrying spiral. My closest friends are talented in a variety of ways. Through art, writing, music, acting, teaching, they put most of their energies into their creative outlets and hope for more in return. As Americans, many of us are told from day one that we're special, that we're great drawers (pictures on the fridge), great achievers (gold stars), etc. (I fear I'm getting a little bit into the waters where I'm complaining that leading a healthy life in America, where you're generally not shot or tortured based on your political, philosophical, or religious ideas, among other things, is quite hard. In that sense, no, it's not hard. We can live quiet, peaceful lives for the most part.)

For me, I got to learn in advance from older siblings and friends who paved the way for me. I knew high school band was fun but I knew I would not make a career as a French hornist (perish the thought; though I did believe I would keep playing horn after high school... and I don't). I didn't dare major in music in college. The first year of college I simply took the classes in whatever departments that looked the most interesting to me, which I highly advocate to any incoming college freshmen. I transferred my musical energies into guitar, almost always through a band, recorded some stuff (but never paid to do it), and played live shows (but never got paid to do it... with some rare exceptions). This was a fine compromise for me because if I sat down to write a song it usually took me about a week of writing bits of different songs to finish one. Then I'd always be embarassed about the lyrics or the mundane riffs. So I couldn't imagine having to write songs on a schedule. If I didn't like my songs, there was no need to fix the broken elements. I'd just write new ones, better ones. (And then those would get stale...)

I'd always fancied myself a writer too. My English teachers tended to put me on a pedestal that I found it hard to climb down from. I read voraciously. But I didn't naturally write stories. I didn't naturally think of others' points of views, just my own. The one short story we were forced to write in high school... mine was highly autobiographical and very stiff and I tend to cringe any time I think of it and I pray there are no extant copies anywhere. But I think there are because I think we had to make copies for everyone. Jeez. My writing energies in college were funneled into this very blog (which went through a number of changes in moods and layouts as the years progressed — it was originally called the generic "Modern College Life" — a grand title for the writing I would create that would perfectly capture the American college experience — and I added "[Post]" after I finished undergrad and before I started grad school... I suppose it's due for another title change after August...) and then into my work at my university's student newspaper. I got to write about music and events and films and it was generally fun.

Many years later now, I've found that my blogging and my hundreds of pieces on bands and films and college life and whatever else has given me an eye for narratives. I can sculpt scenes. I can bring out the highlights and leave some pieces lingering, just enough pieces lingering at the end so I wonder "What happens next?" I'd always wanted to write a novel, maybe just one novel, but a novel. Maybe not the Great American Novel, which I've found, like the American Dream, is a complete sham. I'd started and failed at NaNoWriMo three times. And then I found myself with this blessed year away from any environment I've ever known and with more time than I could figure out what to do with. I found I needed removal from what I was considering to be able to write effectively about it, and now that I'm here I've started a novel that I've been thinking about writing and it has momentum and I know where it's going and I just chip away a little bit each day at the huge block of marble until I find the elephant within. Hopefully it will be done some day and it won't be stiff and I won't cringe when I think of it.

Luckily, for me, writing and playing music is something I can do on my own in my own time. For other friends who feel the need to act or make films or spread their gospel through live and recorded music, they'll generally need other people to do that. I do wonder what it'll be like when I get back to America after a year and I have to find and put energies into a new, "real" job in a "real" career. I sort of loathe "professional development" and "networking" (both in the sense of connecting with people in the field only for business opportunities and also in the sense of I have no clear idea of how networks work and stuff; you know, computers), and now, mid-year-abroad, I can sort of lean back and do what I want for a few months before I have to start putting on my suit of armor and going out to fight the dragon. Hopefully I have a flame-retardant suit somewhere around here...

Which is to say that while I've luckily stuck a balance between work and passion now, where a good amount of my passion is in parts of my work (dealing with getting people to the information they need), much of my passion is invested in things that will have to grow and then I'll expect them to "go somewhere" and then that'll get messy unless they do go somewhere or unless I lose that attitude and keep doing them for myself and not for others. However, we only write and sing and paint and snap pictures and cook food and do whatever performance artists do to connect with others, so there's the central paradox right there.

So. Let me know if you have the solution to any of this.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

My Old Cell Phone Number

I was the first in my family to get a cell phone and as soon as I got it (in 2003), I gave the number to everyone, wrote it in every form, wrote it down everywhere and said it to everyone. I never thought I'd have to get rid of it. When the time came to move to Europe for a year, I had the option of paying a nominal fee to maintain my cell phone number for a year, or ditching it. I decided that I'd ditch it.

For the most part, I've liked not having a cell phone in Italy. I actually do have one, but I never use it. It's pay-as-I-go. In America, I was all over the text messaging and whatsuch, and I realize now what an interruption that is on a daily basis.

Anyway, tonight I received a text from my old cell phone number. I was, quite honestly, shocked. I didn't know what was going on. Figuring it was some kind of joke or mistake, I made a joke back via text. During the following text exchange (I text via Google Voice now), I finally figured out what went wrong...

+[MYOLDNUMBER]: Who is this 1:51 PM
Me: Allow me to re-introduce myself: My name is HOV. H to the O-V. I used to move snowflakes by the O.Z. 2:39 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: Who is this this u jay-z bitter 2:40 PM
Me: I'm not a biter, I'm a writer for myself and others. 2:45 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: What's ur name maybe I could report u 2:46 PM
Me: What's my name? Snoop Doggy Dogg. 2:50 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: My daddy is bruce lee 2:51 PM
Me: Do you think your wu-tang sword can defeat me? 2:54 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: Shaboy. Shapoopy 2:55 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: Osama bin laden 2:56 PM
Me: In-slum-national, underground, thunder pounds when I stomp the ground, like a million elephants and silverback orangutans - you can't stop a train. 3:01 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: Who is this 3:05 PM
Me: Hey man. I just realized some old stuff of mine was getting forwarded to your number. It used to be my old cell number. Sorry. I turned all that shit off. 3:06 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: Well please delete my number nowplease and thank u 3:08 PM
Me: Yeah I just deleted everything I think. You're welcome. Sorry again! Happy new year! 3:09 PM
+ [MYOLDNUMBER]: I don't no u so I'm not going to say nothing back to u so bye and don't text m back thank u very much 3:10 PM

So what I finally figured out was that I still had my Google Voice number (which is a physical USA phone number) forwarding notifications to my old cell phone number. I'd deleted my cell phone number, but apparently someone else had gotten it through T-Mobile. I remember trying to fiddle with Gvoice before, but it won't let me delete the cell phone number. It says I need one "real" phone number to keep my account active (which I use for texting and receiving voicemail), so I can't delete the number. And I can't use a European number.

I was glad that the new recipient of my phone number had a sense of humor and played along... but I was kind of disappointed that they wouldn't wish me a happy new year. (This exchange took place on 1/1/2012.) But, I mean, I was the one who was sending information to that number without knowing it, so yeah, we're just random strangers. But, c'mon. Happy new year!