Oak & Acorn 5: New Coat of Paint

6 Birthday

 

 

 

Last spring, I was painting my daughter Abigail’s room a couple of shades of green. It was part of a general sprucing up of her room that would also include some moving around of furniture, a new TV and, eventually, a new desk.

I’ve painted a lot of rooms in this house since we moved in fifteen years ago. Every room and hallway at least once, and this room three times. Sand beige with blue trim in 1999. A kind of shocking pink with white trim when Abby moved into it in 2007 or so, and now green. It occurred to me that this could very well be the last time I’ll paint this room. Abby goes off to high school in September of this year.

I can remember painting her baby room in 2000, the room across the hallway we now use as a guest room. When I was painting her room, I didn’t know that her name was Abby, and I didn’t know that she was a girl. Our obstetrician knew she was a girl, but we had asked her not to tell us. I was painting the room yellow, a neutral color, with blue trim.

DDThe baby was due in a few weeks, so we already had a lot of baby toys and a crib (yet to be assembled) and furniture and clothes. We had things that I didn’t even know what they were yet, like a Diaper Genie and a BabyBjorn. We had a musical mobile for the crib and a music maker that hung on a doorknob.

I wasn’t terrified, but I wasn’t calm either. We were having a child, and I kept telling myself, This is happening, you’re moving on, this is a thing people do, and it’s going to be okay. Though really, who knew? Maybe everything wouldn’t turn out okay and this was but a quiet prelude to unimaginable horror. My experience with children — anybody’s children — was very limited. Until then (and I was thirty-seven years old) I had never really even held any babies, due to a superstitious fear that the child might choose that one specific moment to break down or malfunction somehow and I would be guilty of the mishap by association. Continue reading

Who Will Dream Of Me When I Am Gone?

Dream 3

 

 

 

He hates this big-chain, budget haircut place, but he can’t think of anywhere else to go and wouldn’t want to pay any more than fifteen bucks for a haircut anyway. The staff here is young kids. Girls, some of them maybe not out of high school, accessorized with random facial piercings, rooster tails of day-glo hair, and bored expressions. This must be the bottom of the ladder in the haircut game.

He used to get his haircut at a place called Presidio’s, by the train station. A real barber’s kind of place, two chairs, combs in a big vial of blue liquid, a copy of the Daily News on a table by the front window. No waiting. He can’t remember ever talking to the barber, who could have been Presidio, in the seven, eight years he went there. One day he showed up for a haircut and the windows were papered over, a For Sale or Lease sign in the window. Continue reading

Music Isn’t Getting Worse, You’re Getting Older: Top 10 Comps and Reissues of 2013

boy-with-headphones-hi

 

 

Christ, what was I doing all year when I was supposed to be listening to popular music? Every night, my mom would put a plate in front of me at dinner and say, “Don’t even think of leaving this table until you’ve finished your popular music songs, young man.” And every night, as soon as she turned her back, I’d be scraping those songs off my plate to the dog waiting patiently beneath the table.

What did I like this year? I liked reading the work of Dan Chaon and Dana Spiotta. I liked sitting on deserted beaches and feeling the sun set behind me. I liked watching my kids do really well in school. The records released in 2013 that I played all year included Tomorrow’s Harvest from Boards of Canada, mbv from My Bloody Valentine, and Open by The Necks. Those and the movie soundtracks to The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers. Spring Breakers was probably the best movie I saw all year. Oh, and I finally pulled Underworld by Don DeLillo out of my “to read” pile (where it had rested comfortably for 15 years) and finished it. It was well worth the effort. For some reason, I’ve been listening to an old Neil Young boot a lot, a Bottom Line show in 1974 that includes live renditions of “Ambulance Blues,” “On The Beach,” and “Motion Pictures.”

When I finally got around to compiling my favorite 15 tracks of 2013 (as always, based on the number of plays each track had accrued in my iTunes player), I found that my system had broken down. The songs I liked most were either so long they defied large numbers of plays (Open, by the Necks, consists of one track clocking in at 68:00) or were buried interchangeably within vast ambient soundscapes (what’s the best song on Tomorrow’s Harvest?). In the past, I used to crib outliers out of the competition, but this year I just threw the whole system out. And then I threw 2013 out, too. No one has ever come to this space looking to take the pulse of the current music scene. (If you were, you should check out my friend Duncan’s essential Lazer Guided Melody and specifically his 2013 Top Ten, here and here.)

At any rate, enough with the present and future of music. Let’s draw up the comfy quilt of reflection and look ever backward into the reassuring past. Here are my favorite compilations and reissues released in 2013. YouTube clips are featured below the title, an assortment of album tracks can be found in the Spotify playlist at the bottom.

 

Primal Scream, Jesus And Mary Chain, Josef K, Stone Roses, Aztec CameraScared To Get Happy:
A Story of Indie-Pop 1980-1989

The Lost And The Lonely: The Higsons

If CDs are hopelessly archaic in this era of Spotify and Bandcamp and retro cassette-only exclusives, what are we to make of this 5-CD hardback-bound set released on London’s Cherry Red Records label? Just holding the thing in my hands makes me feel all 1994. I’ve been listening to this overview of ’80s indie British guitar-pop since it arrived in July. The best box sets take a story you think you know very well and tell it in a completely different way. I bought records fanatically all through the ’80s and early ’90s (including stacks of Rough Trade, Creation, and Factory imports) and most of what’s here is a revelation to me. For every band I remember well (The Wedding Present, Inspiral Carpets, That Petrol Emotion, Primal Scream, The Primitives, The Boo Radleys) there are three I never heard of (June Brides, Hepburns, Rosemary’s Children, Boy Hairdressers, Bachelor Pad). For all but a few of these bands, getting to London was the dream, America an impossibility. All in all, 134 songs from 134 bands, representing every Anglo scene (twee-pop, pub rock, folk pop, reggae pop, paisley underground, post-post-punk) ever worthy of its own 8-page photocopied, folded, and stapled  ‘zine.

New Morning, Nashville Skyline, John Wesley HardingBob Dylan: Another Self Portrait
The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969-71)

This is a promotional clip because NOBODY hates YouTube like Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.

The critical outrage and controversy that greeted the 1970 release of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait seems preposterous today. A person with no knowledge of Dylan at all might identify Self Portrait as the work of an amiable country/folk artist, heavy on covers of traditional folk/blues standards, with some instrumentals and live cuts thrown in. If your knowledge of Bob Dylan was expanded to include his Wikipedia entry, you might recognize Self Portrait as the sound of a man backpedaling away from a rabid fanbase obsessively parsing his every phrase (and the contents of his trash cans) for cosmic significance. You might see Self Portrait as the work of a man who has learned the hard way that being the “voice of a generation” is a bum gig, and who’s media-savvy enough to do a little hype-deflating damage control. All of which is not to say that Self Portrait isn’t consistently charming in its emphasis on melody and tradition over lyric content. Maybe it was the Gordon Lightfoot and Paul Simon covers that made everyone mad. There’s nothing on Self Portrait that’s nearly as weird as the studio chatter, botched takes, stoner musing, and sawmill accompaniment collected on another “self portrait” of the era, Neil Young’s long-deleted Bizarro World Journey Through The Past. I’m no Dylanophile. Until this year, the only cut on Self Portrait I was familiar with was “Wigwam,” which is used to great effect on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Dylan first started to grow on me when my sister bought me the first officially sanctioned volumes (5 LPs in a box set) of the Dylan Bootleg Series for Christmas in 1985. I like the records most people like (Highway 61 Revisited, Blood On The Tracks), dislike the ones most people hate (Desire, Knocked Out Loaded), and I have a special affinity for 1989′s Oh Mercy. At any rate, leave it to Bob to have two hours of utterly beguiling outtakes and alternate versions of Self Portrait-era songs sitting around in a can somewhere for forty years. There isn’t anything here that isn’t at least as good as the best of Bob’s post-Benzedrine years. Continue reading

Big Hat, No Cattle

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The ranchers in South Dakota have lost their cattle.

A freak October blizzard roamed across the state earlier this week, depositing up to five feet of snow across the Black Hills, catching tens of thousands of cows stranded in pastures where they died of exposure.

This is a tragedy, make no mistake about it. These ranchers borrow huge amounts from the bank in anticipation of bringing those cattle to market and recouping their investment. Now, those cattle are gone, their corpses piled up three and four high in ditches. I’m not sure what role insurance plays in this transaction, but, given the article’s aura of gloom and doom, we can assume that people are gonna get hurt.

I read this story in the New York Times on Tuesday, 10/16. A few fractions of an inch above this story was another story, about the end of the Government Shutdown.

Now, I know, I know. No one wants to hear about the government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate anymore, about how one political party, possessed of one portion of one house of Congress and loser of the popular vote in Senate and presidential races in recent years, sought to emancipate the American people from health care reform and a federal debt that has been declining as a share of gross domestic product since 2009. Continue reading

Goodbye, Maxwell’s!

Feelies, Maxwell's, Night Clubs, Hoboken

 

 

I guess it was 1994 or so, and some guy was crowding right behind me into the single bathroom stall at Maxwell’s nightclub in Hoboken. People always complained about the filthy bathroom at CBGBs, but at least no one was serving food at CBs. At Maxwell’s, the bathroom facilities always consisted of one overworked toilet and a urinal with a trash can liner taped over it because it was out of order. This at a venue that combined a 200-person-capacity live music space AND a restaurant, with two bar areas.

“Little personal space here,” I said wearily.

“Don’t worry,” the guy behind me said. “I won’t tell anyone how small your dick is.”

I looked over my shoulder at my stall-mate. “Mojo!” I said. “What’s up? Pleased to meet ya.”

“Is it okay if we don’t shake hands?” Mojo said. “I’m gonna pee on your leg, if you don’t hurry up there.”

The Hoboken View From the Roof of 8th and Garden St.

The Hoboken View From the Roof of 8th and Garden St.

Mojo Nixon had just completed a perfunctory sound check on the tiny stage in the back room. It had been some years since Mojo’s late-80s MTV heyday, and there were probably 40 patrons in the bar, a half hour before showtime. Nobody really cared who was stuffing Martha’s muffin, anymore. I didn’t have a ticket to the show, but I rarely had a ticket to any show at Maxwell’s. Usually I’d wander over from my apartment at 8th and Garden, walk into the front bar, and listen in to the first few songs being played on stage. If I liked what I heard, I might push through the swinging doors that divided front and back areas, hand $8 to a girl sitting on a stool behind a cigar box filled with cash, get my wrist stamped, and see the show. Such was the case with Mojo Nixon, who may or may not have been there with his band the Toadliquors. I can’t remember. Continue reading

Energex Systems and the Magic of the Capitalist Marketplace

Energex Systems, Orthosonix, LawsuitLately I’ve been receiving a lot of big yellow envelopes in the mail, sent by the law firm McCarter and English. M&E are representing my interests in a class-action suit, Dow et al v. Fagan, et al.

One such envelope arrived in my mailbox several months ago bearing happy news. Thomas Fagan, the former CFO of Energex Systems, a biotechnology device manufacturer based in Allendale NJ, had been ordered by a NJ state grand jury to pay $10.2 million in investor restitution to the nearly 800 investors he had defrauded via the sale of unregistered securities. I am one of those defrauded investors.

My own investment was a small one, the minimum allowable for an initial investment at a time when Energex Systems (then called Orthosonix) was little more than a glimmer in Thomas Fagan’s ambitious eye. I’d written a check to Fagan in 1999, before my wife and I had kids, when we sometimes had some money lying around. Doing the math, I can see that many investors contributed a lot more money than I did. Continue reading

Topics for Further Discussion: The Last Time

 

Huey Newton, Black Panther Party, American politics, revolution, Bicentennial MinuteThe last Bicentennial Minute was broadcast on CBS-TV on December 31, 1976 at 8:57 PM EST. It was narrated by black activist Huey Newton, who asked Americans to “fight the oppressors of our modern slave state, down to the last bullet and bomb, just like George fucking Washington.”

The last $1 Video Rewind Fee was paid by Steven Blakely at a Blockbuster Video in Scobeyville, New York on November 2, 2000. The video was a VHS copy of Turner & Hooch (Touchstone, 1989).

The last validated instance of one person interjecting “That’s what she said!” into a conversation and eliciting a laugh occurred on February 12, 1997 in a Steak & Ale franchise in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The statement that precipitated the witty rejoinder was “This piece o’ meat ain’t worth no $8.95!”

The last sports contest played at New York’s Polo Grounds was a wrestling match that pitted former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras against an American brown bear. The three-round match, which was televised on ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports on July 22, 1964, was won by the bear on points, 22-13.

The last unicorn died of dehydration in a sumptuously appointed third-floor bedroom in the Neverland estate of recording artist Michael Jackson on June 12, 1992. The animal’s existence was known to four people on Earth (Mr. Jackson, the child actor Macauley Culkin, and the animal’s two full-time caretakers, Wanda Jefferson and her daughter, Duchess.) The animal died as a result of Mr. Jackson’s decision to terminate the employment of two-thirds of his estate’s staff on June 6, 1992, based on the advice of his astrologer. Continue reading

Learn a Hot New Dance Step in Minutes: Top 15 Songs of 2012

 

 

Top 15 Songs of 2012

 

This summer, I spent a lot of time driving my daughter and her friends to summer camp. The trip took about thirty minutes.

On day one, I had a CD in the player. I know I picked something simple and bouncy and upbeat to appeal to the kids, but I can’t remember what it was. It might have been the Cars or the Dandy Warhols.

And, oh good lord, you’d have thought I had passed out frosty refreshing bottles of vinegar laced with ant poison. The kids were absolutely stricken with loathing. I think my daughter apologized for my very existence. It was like everyone’s puppy died.

Needless to say, we switched right on over to 92.3 hot hit radio and those kids were just pleased as punch. All of them (two twelve-year-olds, a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old) sang right along with every song. They were little divas and knew every line, especially the ones with lewd content. They expressed great interest in the half-hourly “Dirty on the 30″ scandal-sheet gossip update and knew every celebrity referenced therein. (I had to switch away from that feature about twice a week when the content would cross the PG-13 threshold.)

As the summer progressed, I came to enjoy my 30-minute daily exposure to pure, unadulterated pop-hit, Top-10 radio. I grew to enjoy that song about the girl giving her number to a guy in a club (even though it might be crazy) and that other song about the guy hoping to get his whistle blown. Yes, the songs are fairly simple and assembled from a limited toolbox of melodic effects and beats. But they’re catchy anyway and derive much of their energy from the sheer over-the-top enthusiasm the vocal performers bring to the songs. I guess I enjoyed more than anything else the kids’ uninhibited joy in hearing them.

Those songs aren’t here (with one exception) because I didn’t buy them and put them on my iPod. I didn’t need to; I heard them every morning in the car. But the experience served as a handy reminder of how narrow and regimented my supposedly eclectic listening habits are. Music doesn’t necessarily have to be comprised of one dour recluse pushing a piano off a ledge and boom-miking the result. When it comes to music, the kids are usually right. That’s what I remembered this year.

Anyway, here’s the list. Most of the songs have YouTube links. The Spotify playlist is at the bottom (minus the Windy and Carl song, which isn’t on Spotify. Click the YouTube link for that one.). As in previous years, placement on the list is governed strictly by the number of plays it got on my iPod. If it got a lot, it’s here; if it didn’t, it’s not.

 

Chromatics Italians Do It BetterKill For Love / Chromatics

The last time I bought sunglasses, a few years ago, I was in a Sunglass Hut in the Monmouth Mall, looking at Ray-Bans. Most sunglasses look stupid on my head, so I had to search awhile before I finally found a pair of aviators that I liked. I turned to the clerk in the store, put the sunglasses on, and said, “What do you think?” She was probably eighteen years old. She smirked at me and said, “They’re very ’80s.” “Honey,” I replied, “That was my decade.”

Death Dreams, First ContactFirst Contact / PS I Love You

I have this thing about the last song on a record. Sometimes otherwise terrific artists just put too much thought into songs. You’re listening to that second track on a record and you can tell you’re listening to the 12th take of a song that sounded much better on the first take. And there’s some weird production touches on it, too. And then along comes the tenth song on a ten-track record and all that mannered preciousness drops out. The last song on the record is often the longest track and it’s sometimes a shambolic mess. That one’s the keeper. PS I Love You is Paul Saulnier. He seems to have been around a long time without putting much out. I’ve had a song of his from a Rocket Girl Records comp, “I Want You,” on various iPods for a decade. And now there’s this one. Continue reading

Top 10 Things That Need to Go the Fuck Away: 2012 Edition

 

Yay! It’s that time of year again. Time to take stock of the year behind us. Time to celebrate the best and brightest our culture and society have had to offer in the most recent calendar year.

Yeah, but fuck that. Here’s 10 things that have to go, in no particular order.

Bruce Springsteen, E Street BandBruce Springsteen

Springsteen is to middle-class white people as Jay-Z is to inner-city black people. He’s the reason the revolution never happened.  He is the conduit by which legitimate rage and fear and despair was channeled into T-shirt sales. He is the soothing balm slathered on the guilty consciences of David Brooks and Chris Christie and Barack Obama. He is, as Leon Wieseltier described him in the New Republic, “the least dangerous man in America.” I’m no revolutionary, and I believe that stupid people generally get what they deserve, but bad songs are bad songs. Springsteen didn’t always write bad songs. He started writing bad songs right about the time that goopy Southern drawl appeared in his voice and he started doing that gospel shouting thing from the top of Roy Bittan’s piano. Somewhere between 1988 and 1992. (Some would date Springsteen’s sell-by date to 1984-85, but that doesn’t allow for Tunnel Of Love.)

Anyway, listen to “Racing in the Street.” Then listen to “Shackled and Drawn.” Both are protest songs, of a sort. The first is written and performed by someone recognizable as a real person. The second is written and performed by a well-meaning fathead who clips song ideas from the pages of a copy of Mother Jones on the waiting room table in his therapist’s office. Springsteen is reputed to be a big fan of Elvis Presley. He is said, by those close to him, to have learned much from watching Presley’s decline and fall. He has, to his great credit, never become Elvis Presley. Instead, he’s become Colonel Parker, anthemizing his fans’ grievances and re-packaging them in $75 Super Deluxe Editions.

Hungry Hungry Hippos, Hasbro, MovieHungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie

This is a real thing. Hasbro has entered into a partnership with a film production company called Emmett/Furia to develop Hungry Hungry Hippos into a feature movie, along the lines of Battleship. There was a time in this country when smart people cynically sold stupid things to stupid people. Harry Cohn, Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn. Whip-smart, unscrupulous Jews who got their start selling tin-plated utensils and tomato seeds from the backs of wagons. That golden age is over now. Today’s Hollywood executives grew up with GameBoy and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles and PC caches full of porn jpegs. They’re not selling Hungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie to people because they have nothing but contempt for the hapless consumers who make them rich. They’re selling Hungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie to consumers because they genuinely believe Hungry Hungry Hippos is a good thing. Continue reading