June 28, 2014: A Band Called Death (2013)

I just watched this movie the other day, I may have to do my own write-up, what a movie and what great original music with shots from my college town. Very cool.

The League of Dead Films


Cast and Crew: Mark Covino, Jeff Howlett (Directors); Bobby Hackney, David Hackney, Dannis Hackney

What It’s About: Three brothers in Seventies Detroit form a band called Death and play music that sounds decidedly punk.  It’s not to anyone’s taste at the time, so they move on to other endeavors.  Many years later, passionate record collectors and the band members’ musically talented sons together inspire a revival of interest in the band.  Some similarity in plot to Malik Bendjalloul’s Searching for Sugar Man, released a few months earlier.

Why Watch it Today?: The film was released in theaters on this date last year.  While the first half of the film feels a bit like a documentary program for the History Channel or old-school VH1, the second half packs a powerful story of long-deferred dreams and family loyalty.  Who thought the story of a punk band called “Death” could be so heartwarming?…

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The only constant is Change: Responding to the Elder

The Elder J and I have always loved this song and I obviously stole his copy of the  CD as a young man. As much as we clash  all the time, we are similar in a lot of ways and I hope to draw some helpful conclusions by the end of the this post. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll make things worse or have no effect at all. Hopefully, at least I’ll feel better or maybe understand each other and our lives a shade more.

My brother decided, after a long while of contemplation I’m sure, that he doesn’t want to write for the blog he created. He told me around Christmas but I clearly either didn’t hear him or take him seriously. I want to say “we” created because I wish that was true, but he was the one who had the idea and reading his post the other day is the first I have ever heard of my late Father’s distressful call/e-mail about my depressive behavior following grad school and my first serious break-up. I don’t blame him, it was necessary and having this outlet to write was something I always wanted and certainly would not have done it on my own. It helped me when I needed help and although I continue to procrastinate, I will also continue to write because I enjoy doing this.

You never know how you look through someone else’s eyes and even when you do share a lot on common, intentions and messages can become convoluted to the point where no one is on the same page.

As much as the Elder and I do share in common, we are also incredibly different and a good metaphor for this is the blog we have written together for three years now. He seems to want people to know who he is while I prefer to remain anonymous because I teach at a school where I live and also I don’t want to mention a friend who is then offended by something I wrote. I also don’t care how many people read this, how far our reach is, or how deep the posts are philosophically or otherwise. My favorites to write are amusing ways certain songs relate to my life and maybe to the readers as well as trying to share new music that could further enrich yours and my own musical experience. I agree with my brother that it can seem like a chore with so much going on in our lives and I barely know because he’s always written more and kept up on it better as well as leading a completely different life than I do.

Brother to brother relations are at an all time low right now. I’d like to blame the Elder completely but that wouldn’t be true. We’ve grown apart because of distance in geography, philosophy and general life style. I’m busy with everything from my band to my garden to my teaching to trying to date like an adult as I quickly approach the age of 30 to my multiple activities with many close friends in the area to trying to help the Mother J through a very hard time.  The Elder raises his two kids, runs his wife’s dentist office, teaches at a university, writes both this blog and written work in his field, runs marathons which he trains daily for and tries to help as much as he can with our mom. He ain’t heavy, he’s just my brother, and someday we will heal the wounds between us.

One thing I do agree with him on, at least in the last few weeks, is whenever I tried to sit down and write this post I felt an extreme anger to the point where I had to walk away. I think he said dread but you get the point.  When I was a young man, I had a real problem with controlling my anger and put a lot of holes into doors and walls. I grew out of it, but it scared me how strong it came back while trying to write this. I began it the day the Elder posted about Rachel which coincided with our mom having a pretty serious medical episode that has been pretty encompassing the past few weeks. She is much better but helping her get better has involved a lot of time and patience on my part. Two days after that, a childhood friend from childhood was in a motorcycle accident which killed him a week later after being in a coma. That, also with the typical last days of school which always equal crazy while spending all the free time I had in school where I used to write recruiting and organizing our class of students for next year. This sounds like the it somewhat approaches the level of activity the Elder has been dealing with all along so I understand his position more than ever.

I also find this very relaxing, like hip hop a few months ago. I loved Easy Star All-Stars even if it was considered lame by my peers in college. I need to make better use of my time. I’m busier than I have ever been but I still have time so I need to set a certain time to write on a daily basis which is what the soon to be mentioned retiring teacher does with his blog. It will probably never be what it was when the Elder did it with me, or did it pretty much for me rather, but it will be what it is and the best I can do is continue writing. I never was involved as much as I should have been, but like I keep telling my mom and student, actions speak louder than words. Best thing I can do is write, not feel guilty about what I should have done.

Another thing I’ve been into is that I was appointed to be the band leader for the  retirement party for the longest running teacher at our school, his career clocking in at 41.5 years! That’s 12 plus years longer than I’ve been alive. It took a lot of time the last few months as I had to gather many teachers together who play music with varying skill levels, pick out a set list, practice with the frenzied schedule of everyone, figure out logistics for the venue and generally try to keep my head from twisting off with everything going on. I listened to his retirement speech and the salient points I got out of it were that teaching at any level is one of the last noble ventures, make lots of good friends and find something passionate to do in your free time that connects back to your teaching. Make it part of your life and you will earn the respect of  teachers to students to administrators parents. Judging from the response from the show I put together, I think I’m on this path.

Jerry Garcia plays steel guitar on this and it’s one of the best teacher songs ever. We totally opened with it Saturday night and there was some beautiful saxophone and keyboard work, my first time performing with either one of those instruments. 

I’ve been able to use music in my class all the time, from developing a Great Depression assignment having my students write their own blues songs to actually playing during our structured hobby time on a daily basis. I like my job and where my career seems to be heading, both in teaching and in actually playing with my band which is getting a lot of new and different gigs. Life is good in a lot of ways and I need to keep pushing myself. It’s not as easy without the big brother who was my main motivator for so many years, but everyone has to fly on their own sometime.

I learned this song once to play for a girl I really liked and I never got a chance to show her cause we stopped talking before I got the chance. I include it here because it’s a beautiful song with a powerful message of how living the real and righteous way is to fly. Yeah, I’ve wasted a lot of time in my almost thirty years, but I’m not gonna be depressed about it. I’m going to keep trying to fly.

The Elder was right in that we have spent a lot of time talking about our Father in this blog. The most recent post was one I don’t think should have been shared, but this is not my decision to make. His point seems to be that we remember him in a rosy light a lot and not enough do we remember the bad things about him which could doom us to repeat some of his mistakes. While I agree that the best way to honor our late father is to try to push ourselves to our fullest extent, I don’t agree we need to air our dirty laundry to the world even if this blog is anonymous. What’s done is done and we have to move on. I want to do better in everything in life from my music to my teaching to being a solid family member to writing this blog. I owe to myself more than anyone else. Please keep reading and to the Elder J, I owe you more than you will ever know.

Payback to myself.




The Musical Treasure Trove

So, I have been thinking a bit about re-reruns (prompted, I must admit by a This American Life episode about re-runs). This thinking has dove-tailed with some of my thoughts about the repeatability of the cover song and the tension between one ‘performance’ and another. Part of this thinking is a tortured attempt to try to justify what I am about to do today: repeat one of our posts. What happens when you repeat a repetition?

Like my brother, I have found that the busyness of normal life (whatever that means) has gotten to be a bit overwhelming. The end of the semester has brought me a pile of grading, a CV-length of promised articles, and two children who are growing faster than I can imagine. This has kept me (guiltily) from having the time to write a quality post while also making me wonder whether or not this blog is doing what it should.

See, it has been suggested that the posts are too long and too discursive–and, as readership has ebbed and flowed, I have wondered what the worth is. This contemplation lasts a few minutes because, when it comes down to it, I enjoy writing this blog even if the act is entirely masturbatory.

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Ideal Vacation

I would love to go on a hunting trip somewhere exotic, however, I only want to kill things I will definitely eat so this would be difficult if I went to Africa or somewhere far away. Also, it’s kind of elitest to go on trophy hunts and since my rationale for not golfing or skiing is my aversion to elitism in any form, this would be hypocritical.

I just got back from a pretty sweet little vacation where I saw my brother, his family, shot some shotguns and spent way too much time on airplanes. It got me thinking about a few things, the first being that I should really take more trips. I have a real job now and my finances are better aligned so money is not the problem. Also, I thought that I have taken very few real vacations in my life, like where you go somewhere tropical and just relax for several days and have no responsibilities or agenda.

I remember one family trip to Fort Lauderdale as a youth where we had cockroaches in the hotel and watched TV Land all night. The only other time I can remember was going to Europe with my ex-girlfriend in college where we traveled around England, France and the Netherlands.  I’m not even sure I could handle a tropical vacation even with the stressors we have as adults in this modern era.

I’ve never been down under but I’d sure like to go. Men at Work has quite a few songs that are good on this album and you should check it out if you can. I have two copies on vinyl, which is probably excessive. 

It got me thinking that I should really take a vacation sometime. I could use the relaxation and the geography change, especially in winter here in Maine. One thing my brother and I often talk about it when it comes to vacations is how so many people take them because they think they “deserve it”. Where does this notion come from? Like, how does one draw the conclusion that because they work everyday, they have somehow earned two weeks of zero responsibilities?

Obviously it’s fine to take a vacation and you certainly have the right to spend your time/money anywhere you want, but no one “deserves” anything in a world where slavery still exists, child labor too, extreme poverty and all the other evils of the world stream on CNN news twenty four hours a day. You get what you get and hopefully you earned it.

I think it’s emblematic of our societal self-absorbed consciousness, wherein we perceive all of our lives to so be so difficult that we need a bi-yearly break from jobs. I disagree and the Elder J does too. I mean if you are a soldier, a cop, a doctor in an ER or any other incredibly stressful job, maybe you do deserve a break, But by and large, I think this whole idea that people “deserve” vacations is narcissistic bullshit.

Clearly, I needed to include some hip hop and it’s even better because this dude is from Maine. I mentioned Spose to my brother while in Texas, his funny rhymes and use of the pan flute. Also, it plays into the idea of people thinking they are so important that they deserve a vacation. Lastly, I am awesome.

Ultimately, everyone has a right to their own opinion and so if they think they “deserve” a vacation, so be it. The Elder and I can silently judge them and move on with our lives. Now the point of this post is for me to visualize my own ideal vacation, apart from heading to Texas to see my brother’s family, which was great. I think it’d be have to be a place of mild temperature and weather patterns. It’d have to have some nice scenery I could gaze at and at least one person I don’t see that often in the vicinity of my travel destination. Furthermore, I’d like to bring my bass and have people around with which to play music, preferably vastly different from the music I play in my band.

Les Claypool, of Primus fame and clearly one of my idols, has started this  countryish duo that tours the world’s smaller venues doing Primus songs, originals and oddball covers like this one. I read an interview where he says that his creativity is like a shark and it has to keep swimming or it will die which is why he’s always switching from Primus to other bands. As he said, no one wants a dead shark living in their brain. This is a great defense for why people need vacations!

Also, I would need activities all the time, at least during the day. This is what attracts me about fishing or hunting trips because you have a common goal with whatever group is involved that gives each day structure.  You get up early, have breakfast, go about whatever the goal may be and then you all go back to a central location at night where you eat dinner, relax and recount the day. This would be the perfect time to pull out some instruments and do some picking, maybe even have a cold beer or a cocktail. I’m not sure I could do a tropical vacation because there is too much time where you are supposed to lie around in the sun. I can’t handle that and I know again the Elder J agrees with me here.

Maybe I just need to go up north in Maine for  a week next year because except the instruments, this sounds like trips of my youth “upta camp”. I just need to get a group of people together. Anyway, Keller Williams is a one man band who uses loopers and various pedals to create unique walls of sound. He was a mainstay of my college years both in jamming out to him in the dorm room and going to see his shows of which I must have seen at least seven. I haven’t looked into his career in a while but I hope he’s still blowing people’s minds.

Besides tasty food and the chance of romantic distraction, I think I have described everything in my ideal vacation. So maybe it’s time Brother that we plan a trip like this somewhere before our lives truly are too busy for even the suggestion of such a trip. Not that I won’t keep trying to come south to visit you and your family, but it’d be cool to take a “real” vacation with some people I’d actually want to talk to for days at a time.

Maybe we could get Professor G and one of my friends who you can stand and start looking at locations so maybe by 2015 we can have at least geography nailed down. No, we may not deserve it, but perhaps that is all in the eye of the beholder. Hey, maybe you can even bring your new gun. I leave you with an obvious musical choice and the message that everyone should take a vacation when they think they need to, even if it’s fifteen minutes with flappy bird.

Yeah this song is bad but hey, it ties my post together. These girls are pretty crazy, check out their VH1 special sometime.

Everything (is) Good (On Criticism)

“When the critic has said everything in his power about a literary text, he has still said nothing; for the very existence of literature implies that it cannot be replaced by non-literature.” Tzvetan Todorov
“Fuck y’all, all ya’ll / if ya’ll don’t like me, blow me” Dr. Dre

In The Simpsons Episode 229 (“Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner”), Homer’s ability to speak eloquently and evocatively about food—from his own gluttonous experience—earns him a position as a restaurant critic. His early enthusiastic reviews attract the gratitude of the restaurateurs and the scorn of fellow critics who see his approach as too easy and, I suspect, unsophisticated and popularizing.

Under the spell of the evil critics’ cabal, Homer becomes an all too easily recognizable caricature of a critic who barely deigns to judge his material and whose blistering reviews can be explained only by how elevated and sophisticated his taste has become. Of course, Homer can’t have it both ways—he cannot be the food-loving hero of the people and the gastronomic esthete.  The restaurateurs conspire to poison him.

What does this have to do with music? It flirts with several issues at the center of criticism—issues that make the act of reviewing or judging music, for me, nearly paralyzing. What is the relationship between the critic and the object of criticism? Is it love for the form/genre? Is there a profit/commodification link between the two?

These questions are not restricted to food and music—indeed, anyone who has followed the 20th century crises in literary criticism will recognize some of the same issues. Why does a critic make judgments? Is it to  understand the specific instance of a genre or the genre as a whole? Or, more problematically, how can we tell when the review stops being (primarily) about the object of criticism and instead is really about the critic?

In reverse order. Criticism almost always reveals more about the judge than the judged. And this isn’t a bad thing. For instance, each generation’s reaction to Shakespeare communicates the values, emphases, and historical contexts of that time. On the other hand, a great deal of criticism suffers from personality cults. Too many critics write for the purpose of glorifying the critic by revealing through the sensitivity of the critic’s judgments and the dexterity of his/her writing the superiority of the critic over the creator of the object, other critics, and, of course, the reader.

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Radio XXX, side B, track 11: “Like A Prayer” by Madonna

700 posts before Madonna, a crime against humanity.

(It only took me around 300…)

This is by far Madonna’s best song and one of the greatest songs of the decade. My college band used to cover this (we were all guys) and even though we probably sounded terrible when we did it, everyone loved it–because this is such a great song.

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

Madonna - Like a PrayerOh, Madonna, can you believe it’s taken nearly 700 posts and almost 30 cassette tapes before we got to a song by you?  I know, right?  Well, it’s worth the wait, because of all your songs, this is still my favorite.  Maybe it’s because of the gospel choir in it.  Maybe it’s because it was when you were wearing your hair dark and I reeaally liked it like that, or maybe, just maybe, it’s because this is one of the best songs ever made.

I remember all the fuss around this particular song because Pepsi decided to use this to try to sell some soda (or pop, as I called it back then), except they didn’t think about the fact that your video and stage act for this song involved things like burning crosses and seducing a priest.  And Madonna, shilling for Pepsi?  Really?  Don’t get me wrong, Madonna…

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Radio XXX, side B, track 4: “Stand” by R.E.M.

R.E.M is one of those bands that were ubiquitous for a while (at least in my life) but which no one now really likes. I do hear “Losing my Religion” at times and “Stand”, but R.E.M had several albums with alt-radio hits after “Automatic for the People”. What happened?

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

R.E.M. - StandOh, R.E.M., so great to hear this one again!  I was pretty enamored with this song back in the day, and no mystery why, since it’s all kinds of awesome.  And super fast, too, am I right, R.E.M.?  I’m sitting there singing along to it and it’s over before it even started.  It’s truly a song that leaves you wanting more of it, and probably explains why I taped it off the radio more than once.

But as I was listening to it, it did remind me that when the zombie and/or robot apocalypse comes, I’ll be one of the first to go.  Because I lack some very basic survival skills, R.E.M.  Like facing north.  Or facing west.  I THINK I know where north is right now, maybe kinda.  I’ll tell you that when I was a kid, I had absolutely no concept of directions.  When I was…

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Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On” And “Mercy Mercy Me”***messymandella***


Marvin Gaye, talented and loving still could not keep his talent apart  for his inner demons.

 Most artist with vast degree of artistic ability and  inventiveness soon will become “recreational drug users.”

 However, they  ultimately become addicted  to some substance, or toxic that will deplete their talent and finances.

Some even admit, they have a drug weaknesses in their music.
Nothing wrong with that, but addiction is always closely begging you to “Ride With Death.”

The lure, money and class of women will change and cloud your judgement.  

Marvin Gaye, of course murdered by father, lost his ability to function because of recreational drugs.

Marvin finally crossed that line. 

Numerous addicts have told me,”Once you have crossed that line, you are gone forever.You will spend forever trying to get back to that first time high.”

Marvin’s talent and pleas for an end of violence are still appreciated and I this…

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