Math Tests

I have been in a high speed wobble between parent teacher conferences, kids in crisis, new animals and a pretty important test this Saturday. This time, I think I got it because it’s English, but it is three hours so I’ve been trying to fit in studying whenever I have free time which has been rare. So enjoy this one from last summer and expect some serious posts coming from me soon!

More White Stripes brother….they truly do rock and I hope they get back together because I missed them last time they were in Maine

I am getting closer to getting a real job in my field and one thing I have to do is pass a test early Saturday morning to become highly qualified in middle school mathematics. I have never taken a math course at the college level, majored in History and got my Masters in Teaching Social Studies to grades seven through twelve. Thus, on paper, I am inept at math and this becomes reality as I slog through the Cliff’s Notes study guide I broke down and bought.

I mean, I’ve tutored in this subject for years and thought I knew it well because I‘m often telling other teachers little tips on math stuff. I may be able to teach remedial math to students and adults alike, but my actual grasp of formulas, tangents and so on is weak. I’m freaking out.

Hopefully this isn’t me at the test.

I am supposed to be also finishing up my Female Artists part 2 right now which I’m also not doing because I keep starting to write then going back to studying math and realizing more that I don’t know. It’s my own fault for waiting so long to study. See, my whole academic life, I really did not do a bunch of studying. Sure, for big history finals and the like, I’d copy my notes over once and read them a bunch of times. Most of the time, it worked.

In grad school, I never took tests and have a pretty good track record with projects/papers because I like to write and to see a final product that took a lot of organization and time to complete. Math is not like this, at least math the middle school level. It’s knowing what all of the formulas are, how to identify curves in graphs and what discrete math mathematics actually means. It’s discrete goddammit, aren’t we not supposed to know what it means?

Now if this song was just about adding 46 and 2, I could certainly handle that. However, it’s actually about a theory Carl Jung had about the human genome chain. It is currently at 44 autosomes and  2 sex chromosomes with our evolution, by Jung’s ideas, moving to 46 and 2 to get out of what he perceived as humans disharmonious state. The cool part of this song for me is how the unbelievable drummer Danny Carey will be playing in a 7/8 beat while the rest of the band is in 4/4 and then bringing it back all together on the downbeat. This is math I can get into.  The song also talks about Jung’s “shadow” theory, the “shadow” being the part of ourselves we fear and hate. Can my “shadow” take my test for me?

Best case scenario, I pass this test and become highly qualified in a subject I’m probably not standard qualified in as of right now. Worst case, I fail miserably and have to take the test again. Of further significance would be the realization that I do need to study for subjects that I am not so familiar with and am a moron for again procrastinating. I could tell how the extreme heat and working outside has sapped me of my strength and required literal hours of watering my vegetables, how I am very close to getting a new job through networking, how my band played two gigs last weekend after weeks of a show every week, and on and on.

It’s all bullshit because the Elder J is busier than I am and way better at time management. I have what he always loves to call “hubris” or tragic pride in thinking I can get everything done I need to and well. I can’t and I just may end up feeling like this song. Wish me luck!

I can just take it again and put hours of time in and really learn this stuff so it will probably be a good life lesson if I do fail. I prefer lessons I choose to take but who doesn’t?

On the Radio (Flashback): Time Bomb

In the mid 1990s I used to work about 45 minutes away from home at a gas station–much to the chagrin of my parents who couldn’t understand why the hell I had to drive 45 minutes to pump gas when there were perfectly good places to pump gas in our home town.  The long and the short of it was: (1) I didn’t want to be caught pumping gas by someone I actually knew and (2) there was a girl involved (the place was owned by her father).

As with most things, the law of unintended consequences had a powerful showing here.This was the glorious year of the Ford LTD Stationwagon.  First of all, since I was young and driving a lot not only did I get into my first fender-bender, run out of gas during a snowstorm and receive my first, second and third traffic citations, but I also got to listen to the radio constantly at a time when alt-rock was king. During many of my long drives into the cold, I heard songs by the band Rancid.

I can’t listen to this song without getting happy now. What the living hell was wrong with me?

As I mentioned a few months back when I was going through my obsessive phase with Palma Violets, I was dismissive of almost everything in second-wave punk for no good reason. Although I grudgingly acknowledged the quality of Green Day (and who didn’t? the radio played us all into submission), Rancid–with its snarling vocals and stripped down sound–seemed easy to mock and easier to dismiss. And yet, when I listen to it now, it seems so much more transgressive, immediate, and authentic (again, whatever that means) than a lot of the other schmaltz I thought was good. (“Wonderwall? What the fuck?)

I think that a good deal of my suspicion of punk’s second sailing has to do with poorly held and even more poorly defined ideas of authenticity and originality. At 16, I thought that such words had meaning and had no concept of things like appropriation, homage, and metamorphosis. Even worse, when it came to a band like Rancid, I was too fucking ignorant to know that two of the members were old-timers from Operation Ivy who had enough cache and real DIY punk character to make the members of Green Day blush. Hell, Rancid never even signed with a mainstream label.

So, I guess the lesson here is that if you’re worried that someone else is a poseur, you should probably check into their bona fides and, even before that, do the whole monkey in the mirror thing and make sure you’re not a complete fake. I’m trying to make amends for this and many other asshole moments in my youth.  Just today I downloaded the album.  My kids are going to be rocking out with safety pins this afternoon.

And what do you think of all this, my brother?

Addicted to Flapper Birds and the breakdown of human communication

 I discovered I could play the iPhone  game Flappy Bird on my laptop at the precise time I heard this song on the Palladia channel from that awesome show Live from Daryl’s House. I have always loved this song and honestly had no idea who Todd Rundgren was, but now I do and this version kills it. I would also like to not work and bang on my drum all day, just switch the drums with picking on the bass. The steel guitar flourishes and multiple forms of percussion turn an 80’s pop song into a Hawaiian camp fire tune and it’s even cooler because the steel guitar actually originated on those same islands. Thank you Daryl Hall, the culture of Hawaii and the polar vortex for giving me a day off from school today. 

I don’t have an iPhone and I’m addicted to an iPhone app. I don’t even own an iPod because the one I had cracked and was on it’s last legs anyway. My brother has referred to my lack of new technology as evidence of me being a “Luddite”,  but I seriously think the obsession society has with phones/instant access to unlimited information is destroying person to person to communication as well as the art of conversation. I defend my non-conforming ways by saying I don’t want to be one of these people in public places with their nose persistently two inches from a phone with nary a look around to real people. That and the fact that the NSA uses all of these devices to build individual profiles and companies buy our stolen data so they can target specific ads to our perceived tastes, but I digress.

If I didn’t go to dive bars more often than not, I’d lose it with all the people standing around staring at their phones and not each other. It can’t be good for you and I don’t only mean the lack of human contact.  Watch, in twenty years, all of these heavy iPhone users will have cross eyes or something. 

I played the game on a bus ride to a field trip of outdoor winter team-building activities with my class. It’s been a rough week for everyone and this trip was meant to bring us together, as well as to build our community and team ethic. Although our group has suffered a few losses, we are definitely coming together. One of them was talking about this new game everyone was playing and I asked to take a try. I have a pretty easy relationship with my students so they handed it over and I kept it for a solid twenty five minutes, the whole length of the bus ride! I was hooked, this game is incredibly amusing and everyone, including my co-teacher who is my opposite in every way, thought it was a riot that I was so transfixed by such a mindless game.

I’m not a huge Punk rock fan.  But when I was trying to break it down for myself why I like this stupid game so much,  it occurred to me that it was mostly that I’m pretty stressed right now and like hip hop music, it takes my mind of what I’m stressing about. Hip Hop has substance and a beat though. This game is just straight dumb dumb and clearly some type of digital sedative to me.

I was hooked on this game bad for a short time. I competed against the kids at the beginning and end of the day, briefly holding the highest score in the classroom.  The background animation reminds me of Super Mario Brothers on the NES and SNES which is basically the core of video games I’ve ever played. I don’t play any video games play often and barring the occasional Call of Duty zombie mode foray with an old friend from high school, it is only Sega Genesis or one of the aforementioned consoles. Video games can be a welcome distraction and this is why I’m so enamored with this game. Life is not always easy and you can’t be on point all the time so why not take five to ten minutes to keep a bird afloat betwixt two green sewer pipes at various heights?

Grouplove is kind of like this game for me  but with quite a bit more going on here. The music is very simple and unrefined yet cool and very catchy, kind of like a less morose version of the Pixies. Their drummer Ryan Rabin is the son of one of the drummers from Yes which gives him major points with me. Lastly, I find the flannel plus leather pants look on the female singer pretty hot.

I guess it’s not a real addiction because I just now found out I can do it on my laptop and I run about five minute intervals in between doing school work, shoveling in this storm and other household tasks. I do think our modern population is too dependent on SmartPhones and you can see the effects in the teenagers now.  They don’t express themselves verbally or in writing well most of the time, they’d rather text than call someone and are completely lost if their state issued laptops are un-available for whatever reason. Even teachers prefer to email even when your classroom is twenty steps away.  I think that if things continue as they are, the next generation will be on the road to completely losing the art of person to person conversation. I like teaching because my only real skill is communication so I’m not even sure I’d want to teach in that context. This isn’t Flappy Birds fault, but it isn’t helping either.

I think the breakdown of real human communication is far more dangerous than a stepping razor. Reggae has never been the same without Peter Tosh, my personal favorite reggae artist, but more on that in the very near future.

I get the most joy in life from communication in the real world. My only real skills are of the people variety, barring any minor knowledge of landscaping or bar tending.  Whether it’s teaching youngsters, playing out with my band, or even just shooting the shit with my friends, this is what makes life fun for me. If that ends, I don’t think I want to be around to see it. I do love Flappy birds but my enthusiasm is waning with it as these things do. There is hope I think, but it’s going to take an electromagnetic pulse to temporarily end all telecommunications for us to realize it.

On The Radio (Flashback): Big Head Todd and the Monsters

Mmmmm. Music.

Mmmmm. Music.

So, the other day I was walking from my office past one of our departmental secretaries when I reached into the candy bowl on her desk and withdrew a little dark chocolate. As I walked away and the cacao-infused treat melted in my mouth, I looked at the wrapper, read the word “bittersweet” and, BOOM, I was suddenly not walking but in some time shift driving the Ford LTD to a band rehearsal with a twelve-string, a fender Blues DeVille amp, and a telecaster in the trunk. The radio was tuned to the local rock station and a track hauntingly hung in the air.

For a moment, I didn’t smell the chocolate I was infusing with saliva, but I felt the cold bite of a Maine winter combined with the slightly acrid, styrofoam character of an old engine burning oil mixed in with the sweet synthetic syrup of antifreeze. Even as I was walking in 95 degree heat, 35 years old, and a college professor smelling more of coffee than smoke, I was also 16 and late to be nowhere.

At first, I thought this song was by Matthew Sweet. Maybe it was the bitterSweet thing or that both bands were minor players on the early alt-rock stage.

My brother and I have both written before about the tactile, olfactory and auditory nature of memory–and especially the way that music can invoke those other aspects of the past as well. I have been especially inspired of late by the similar work of the blog Mixed Tape Masterpiece, but even I was surprised by the sequence of memories that ensued from that one word which transformed from taste, to idea, to song and again to smells of a different type.

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Blissfully ignorant: Enjoying Music You Don’t Understand

I like music I can't understand better?

I like music I can’t understand better?

Over the past few years I have found myself, at first against my will, listening to music in languages I did not understand, mostly Spanish. Over time I started to understand the different sounds, for example Salsa vs. Bachata vs. Merengue and my wife would always translate the lyrics, whether I asked or not. Then a strange thing happened, I would listen to music in Spanish or Portuguese alone, without my spouse and translator around. In fact, when she is present now I am resistant to hearing what the lyrics mean, at least at first.

The reason for this is because not understanding the words allows me to listen differently. It allows me to listen to vocals as if they are instruments and turn off the analytic side of listening. It makes me to listen more actively and abstractly. I become more acutely aware of tone and subtle things I would have missed otherwise.

Here is a fairly new song that I like by Enrique Iglesias. It is Bachata, a dance a struggle with but a genre I really like, and I enjoy the mixture of vocals. My wife has told me what the song is about already, but I will not spoil the fun for y’all.

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Wu Tang’s “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers” is 20!

Something we missed over the weekend, the seminal album Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers was released on November 9th, 1993. This not only means that this album has been influencing artists and fans for more than half my life, but it also means that I am getting old, fast. I wasn’t listening to the Wu Tang Clan in 1993, but I should have been. My brother might have been ( but we all know he’s the cooler one).

Here’s a clip from Grantland.com where Method Man talks about it:

(Here’s a link where the Grantland staff talks about their favorite Wu Tang members. Who does one root for? RZA is a genius; Method Man is so very telegenic; Ghostface Killah is hysterical. Personally, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard always cracked me up.)

My brother and I both got wicked stirred up about Wu Tang earlier this year. He wrote a great review of the first album and its influence on his life and I tried to match him by talking about my late conversion to hip-hop and love of this album. Yeah, it may be a bit of a stereotype, but today I’ll be the one with two toddlers in the back of a blue Toyota Prius letting the bass rumble when I listen to this song:

Written Elsewhere: An interview with Sigur Ros’ drummer ahead of the band’s first Miami show

Check out this interview with a drummer from one of the most unique bands in music today (Sigur Ros). I haven’t talked enough about how much I like this band, but maybe now I’ll get around to it. (And I owe the band a debt of gratitude, along with The Dirty Three they provided the soundtrack that made my dissertation possible…)

Independent Ethos

One of the concerts of this year we’re most looking forward to is Sigur Rós’ overdue visit to Miami. It’s scheduled to cap the Icelandic band’s current U.S. tour, which kicked off on Sept. 14 in Detroit. Last Friday, I suddenly learned I had the chance to chat for 10 minutes with the band’s longtime drummer/percussionist Orri Páll Dýrason, thanks to Live Nation and the “Miami New Times” pushing their agent for an interview.

The group was in Philadelphia and Dýrason was about to head in to rehearsal. I had many questions, but could only go superficial with such limited time— a bit sacrilegious for a band I have been following from the start, but it was a nice opportunity, so pardon if this post jumps from one topic to another. There is a link to a more cohesive piece at the bottom of this post, which gets into much…

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Sounds and Silence: Listening (Alone)

My brother recently posted about many of the advantages of playing music on a record player instead of one of the many other forms available. Among those he listed that you have probably heard before is that vinyl records provide a superior sound quality to ever other form. Now, that may sound pretentious and it may remind you of many a record store denizen who looks down his nose at the kids buying Lady Gaga CDs, but the fact is that analog recordings are superior in many ways as long as the playback device is of high enough quality to allow the listener to tell the difference.

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Spring Sunday Morning: A Quick One

It’s too bad Ray wasn’t from Maine originally because then I could say he was our greatest musical export ever. Granted, there a few other really good bands to come out of my beloved home state, but Ray is just awesome in everyway from his blue eyed soulful voice to the super tasty production. This a Sunday morning staple for me right now.

It has been a crazy couple of months. Between things with the band getting way more busy, my new job, my old jobs, fixing the old homestead up for spring and trying to expand my social scene, I am pretty scattered right now. Granted, I have a pension for procrastination which is infamous and a continual point of contention with my brother so I am trying harder to write stuff more regularly amongst the chaos of my life. I know the Elder J is also  incredibly busy so he doesn’t notice my slackery as much which actually works against me because the guilt I feel when he give me shit actually forces me to write more.  I am sure he is not sitting around waiting for me to post stuff as he tries to move his growing family into a new home and all the other crazy stuff in his life, but I thought of this song anyway.

Love the Kinks and this song is so classic of that sound in the mid 60’s. I someday want to write a series of posts of why bands like The Kinks never got as big as the Beatles when they could of or a good one too would be how come Ten Years After never even approached the greatness of Led Zeppelin. More on that later.

I had my first day off in roughly two weeks yesterday and I spent much of it mowing my lawn and clearing out beds for my vegetables which I need to plant next weekend. I woke up painfully early after going out and seeing my lead guitar player’s sister play a songwriter’s round gig at a way too classy for me bar in the largest city of my homestate in Portland, Maine. The music was sick and the beer was expensive but good so I really relished the first sip of the West Coast IPA I ordered as soon as I could get to the bar.

Like five minutes later, in walks a school superviser and his wife in a completely out there coincidence. I guess all of our principals hang out at this specific spot so I did what I thought was necessary and got them a round. It turned into a great networking scene and I ended up being out later than I expected yet still woke up on teacher time at roughly 5:30 am. I realize I was blowing off steam from two weeks of stress, but it felt pretty whack.

Probably self explanatory.

Our first big show of the season is next Saturday afternoon. I am pretty excited since it is an afternoon show to raise money for breast cancer. It’s a bike run that has a bunch of motorcyclists pay to ride between a few different locations before meeting up at the end to eat food, have a beer, and watch our band play some tunes. A bunch of people who would never come to a show at night because of familial obligations, puritanical values or an early bed time. It will hopefully raise some more money for a good cause while introducing a bunch of my friends and acquaintances to my band. The whole biker thing is not new to us as a band, I just hope it doesn’t scare anyone who is not so familiar like my teen age cousins. Lastly, I think we can all support breasts and the saving of them.

I could not stop singing this song yesterday and the Saturday before in unison with a dude I met at my old job of banquet serving/bartending whose name is Levon and he is from South Carolina. This guy was quite a bit older than me but busted ass carrying trays while telling me some hilarous stories about living down south.

Chicago is actually an incredibly good band which is why we will end out this post with a double shot. I always saw them as this cheeey band but now I can’t really see why I would ever think this. Ok some of it is a little sharp in the cheese department, but come on, this jam right here is gold. The piano make me think of Carole King and the horn section is like funky Phil Spector production. I guess they are only behind the Beach Boys in American bands in most charting singles and albums which is a brand new fact for me. They still tour and apparently are not bad. The former lead singer/guitarist Terry Kath shot himself in the head accidentily in 1978 playing Russian Roulette with a semi automatic pistol. The man can wail but seriously, what is the thought process there? Clearly he did not grow up around firearms.

This  is the late Terry Kath tearing it apart on an extended solo which sounds like it’s got a bunch of wah-wah pedal on it which is never a bad thing for me, as much as it annoys so many others. I have to attend an adult chorus concert tonight, do you think I have any chance of hearing this bad boy getting performed?

So now it is Sunday morning and I am going to finish writing this, maybe do a little fishing before attending my mother’s adult chorus concert at three and then being home in time for band practice at six which will hopefully end by nine so I can see the new Game of Thrones episode or at least finish watching the episode from last week that I still haven’t finished. Wore me out just writing that sentence but I ultimately feel blessed that I have so many things going on that I am interested in and passionate about. I know a lot of people who waste a lot of their time from my outsider’s perspective and one day we all figure out that time is finite and you better spend it well. So on that note, spend a solid few minutes listening to this amazing cover of a an amazing song and contemplate.

Obviously really into Ray right now, again. He’s the man.

On the Radio: Caribou

A few weeks back I had to get up earlier than early to take my mother to the airport. It was another typically fast and emotional visit. As I have intimated before, my mother and I don’t always seem to communicate in ‘real time’. This is symptomatic less of her than of my rather typically closed approach to relationships: I think I am being laconic; I am observed as being distant and unfeeling.

Man or Band? It doesn't matter. D. V. Smith is Caribou

Man or Band? It doesn’t matter. D. V. Snaith is Caribou

On the way back from the airport, swooning a bit from the early hour and senseless thoughts on the fragility of self and the passage of time, I turned the local jazz radio station up to an uncomfortable volume and rolled all the windows down. (Not a cool sight: remember, I am the one in the rapidly aging blue Prius.) Yet, much to my surprise, the local jazz station straight-out gremlins over night and becomes an Indie-Rock madhouse.

Now the thing about Indie-Rock is that it is mostly described by what it is not: mainstream, major label fare. Beyond the boundaries of delivery device and popularity, it can be anything. So, an overnight, red-eye into the belly of the beast will, in all likelihood, be a mixture of depression, delight and digression. For every moment of wonder, there is another Pavement wannabe or Velvet Underground worshiping poseur.

After languishing through some local act falling somewhere between Stevie-Ray Vaughn and the post-breakdown side of Daniel Johnston (seriously if you don’t know Daniel Johnston and want to be Austin-hip, check out the fine documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston) this track came on:

I love everything about this song from the name (“Every time she turns about Its Her Birthday) to the fantastic rhythms, free-jazz inspired horns, and especially, as anyone who has read this blog before can imagine, the indirect and almost incoherent lyrics:

Spinning round you weigh me down
Gravel hands of green and brown

In your cells both red and white
On the sun that gives us light
In your cells both white and red
From the mouth our kids get fed

Now, what I also love about this track is that there is an essential compatability of sound and lyric-sense–both are fluid, mixed and, for lack of better descriptive, cloudy. The music is somewhere between jazz, rock, and ambient while the lyrics are slightly post-modern and impressionistic. Both, and especially together, invite interpretation and contemplation.

Of course, before it was dawn, I had downloaded the whole album Up in Flames by Caribou who used to be called Manitoba. Caribou, I discovered, is not a band but a man masquerading as one with all the skill of an Aphex Twin blended with a Beck unsullied by mainstream success. The album? One of the most interesting and challenging compilations I have heard in a while. The music is thick and layered, like a sonic parfait doing battle with a milkshake. The lyrics are exceptionally oblique and always wrapped up or buried beneath steppes of rhythm and sluiced by horns.

I thought I had heard of the band Caribou before and bad the mistake of dismissing it as some Train wannabe or fringely progressive one-off. I am so glad I was wrong.  Before that morning, the only musical Caribou I knew about was this one I have heard my brother singing to many times before:

I can’t say that I understand what is going on in Caribou’s music or lyrics; I can say that I will try to. I can also say I am thankful to the randomness of the universe for giving me this song at that time. It took me away from myself and the monotonous road. It took me away from that marginal and displaced feeling in between the end of someone’s visit and the resumption of ‘normal life’. And, whatever normal life is, it saved me from that for a bit too.

Hungry for some more Caribou, my brother?