Songs of the Year—2000 How I learned to stop worrying and love Hip-Hop

Songs of the Year: “Yellow” Coldplay; “The Next Episode” Dr. Dre

Runners-Up: “Get Off”, The Dandy Warhols; “The Real Slim Shady” Eminem

Honorable Mentions: “Boyz N’ the Hood”, Dynamite Hack

The year with big releases by Radiohead and Greenday as well as by tertiary punk bands like Blink-182,  Sum 41 and Good Charlotte saw the charts dominated by acts from the 1980s (U2, Bon Jovi and Madonna) even as other bands released exciting albums ( Bright Eyes’ Fever and Mirrors, The White Stripes’ De Stijl, Coldplay’s Parachute, The Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving, WyClef’s mediocre Ecleftic, The Dandy Warhols’ Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia and Outkast’s Stankonia).

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Songs of the Year 1996

She said it’s cold
It feels like Independence Day
And I can’t break away from this parade
But there’s got to be an opening
Somewhere here in front of me
Through this maze of ugliness and greed
–The Wallflowers

Songs of the Year: “Novocaine for the Soul”, the Eels; “One Headlight”, the Wallflowers

Runners Up: “What I got”; Sublime; “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, Smashing Pumpkins

Honorable Mentions: “Old Apartment”, Barenaked Ladies;  “California Love” Tupac, Dr. Dre

1996 was the year that I dropped the transmission on the Ford LTD station wagon; but it is still filled with memories of music playing in that car. I can see the road I was turning on to when Sublime’s “What I got” was playing on the local radio station for the first time. I can remember where the snow was falling when I first heard the terrible and memorable lyrics “The world is a vampire / sent to drain …”

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Misunderstood: Lyrical Losses

Years ago, a friend and I got over our strange addiction to the movie The Rules of Attraction by acquiring a new drug, by becoming obsessed if only briefly with the movie Napoleon Dynamite, a wan and delicate movie whose humor still gets me to this day and whose repeatability (for me) has been bested only by that greatest comedy of the modern era, Office Space.  Part of what I liked about the movie was the use of music in the prom scene where a few of the corniest songs seem almost profound.

But the song that got me the most was “The Promise” by When in Rome

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Hip Hop Hooray: Enter the Wu Tang

To piggy back on my brother’s post and due to an incredibly strict schedule this week of parent conferences, here is one I put out almost a year ago! WU TANG!

I made a resolution to write more about hip hop this year so I figured I’d start right off on it.

Although the Elder J and I grew up in the great white north, we both have been into very urban hip hop for some time. In fact, I would say that the predominate music choice of most people I know living in Maine between the ages of 18 and 35 is hip hop, and of course country music, which is a very interesting juxtaposition. Nowadays, rap is a lot more innocuous with no one really too hard core in the top 40. I got into rap in what I like to think is the heyday of  gangster rap, the one sub genre of the rap/hip hop category that I like the most. Although I loved Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and the Notorious B.I.G., the group I liked the most is the Wu Tang Clan.

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Apocalypse Playlists: Songs for the End

In the spirit of Halloween and the depressive fog that fall can bring, I am combining two posts my brother and I wrote last year into one massive Apocalyptic post. Enjoy?

As my brother and I texted back and forth during the Walking Dead premiere on Sunday night, we got into a conversation about what would be a good playlist about the apocalypse. Granted, you almost certainly would not be listening to any tunes in the event of a catastrophic world event, instead focusing on any route of survival. So, I leaned more towards songs about the end of the world and ended up having to cut my list down to accommodate the end of the world as we know it.

No, I did not include anything by R.E.M., although I hope my brother does. I don’t think the world is actually going to end in December of this year 2012 because most simply, we don’t have all the information even to know what the whole clock even means. When the Spaniards came to the New World, they burned much of the written record of the Mayans after witnessing a human sacrifice complete with the heart being taken still beating out of the victim’s chest.

I mean come on, what use could the history of a people who are so obviously heathen homicidal maniacs possibly be? (If it’s not obvious, this is sarcasm) It’s really too bad because there is much information we could have used and I don’t think we have a real grasp on who they were as a people so this end of the world thing pertaining to their calendar is probably bullshit.

Unless our sun does burn out or we are hit be some giant celestial object or some massive nuclear war, the end will probably be a very gradual ordeal that no one generation will remember. Rarely does anything huge happen in history quickly. Nevertheless, the end of the world, or conception of it at least, has inspired a lot of good music

1. “The Weight”- The Band

Hard to believe this beloved anthem of the hippie generation is about the end of the world, but it is one of the themes. Robbie Robertson has said it is about that and the impossibility of always being a good person. It may not seem obvious, as it is an upbeat song, but think about it.  Some guy named Luke is waiting on the Judgement Day and the Devil is floating around.  It never occurred to me until I read into it a little.

I always associated this song with Easy Rider and my father, a former motorcycle enthusiast and eternal hippie. It’s interesting also that the song talks a lot about asking other people for help, favors being traded for favors. In an apocalypse style situation, you would have to depend on whoever else was around and I’d imagine the currency system as we know it would go right to shit.  Even now in the rural area I live in, I often trade labor for labor with friends but I think this is a dying thing in the hectic 24/7 over-connected and electronic society we live in. Unfortunately, I think it would take an ending of the world as we know it to get people to work together.

2. “Electric Funeral” Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is one of my top five favorite bands. I really don’t talk about them enough on this blog and how awesome they are. I know Ozzy made himself look like a fool on MTV a few years back and his solo work never did much for me, but Black Sabbath is the real deal. They created heavy rock as we know it, obviously with help from a few other bands, and basically all metal and heavy rock now is Sabbath in some respect.

For coming out in the afterglow of the swinging 60’s and singing about dark scary things in down tuned jams that lurch along, they deserve some type of medal. Nobody sounded like them and I just love that they put this stuff out not caring if anyone even wanted to hear it. This cheery little number is about atomic bombs and the chilly aftermath of nuclear winter. I love the guitars in this and the tempo break near the end. This is a mainstay of their music, the long and slow climb and then a kick up into a faster time with an ill guitar solo. Never gets old for me and I hope that if you haven’t ever tried Sabbath out, that you go ahead and give it a whirl.

3. “Pink Moon” Nick Drake

I never had any idea that this song was about the end of the world and it probably isn’t. I was having difficulty coming up with a different song so I googled “songs about the apocalypse  and this one popped up. Nick Drake is really great if you don’t know him, kind of like Elliott Smith but from way earlier and with less of an output. Exceptionally pretty songs but very morose.  Is this about the end of the world? I think Drake’s world anyway because he did die accidentally through a lethal combination of medications.

The couplet “None of you stand so tall, Pink Moon will get you all” is quite a bit more ominous than the melody would suggest. Is the pink moon a result of nuclear winter like in “Electric Funeral”? Who could be sure but I really dig this song. Great for summer nights at the end of the world.

4. “The End” -The Doors

The classic break-up tune and what a jam it is. I loved this song from the first time I heard it as the jets napalmed the hell out of the jungle in the opening scenes of Apocalypse Now. Although definitely about a break up, this is a great song about the end of the world as well. I think Morrison always wrote lyrics open to interpretation and this is one of the best. Like the Sabbath, it slowly builds through cool jazzy riffs and Morrison’s stoned poetry full of images of despair and Oedipus. I absolutely love the jam at the end, it feels like some type of tribal dance thing and it inspires me to take my clothes off and bang my chest like a chimpanzee. I think that would help in the high stress of an apocalyptic event.

5. “Santa Monica” Everclear

Another song about suicide and certainly the only one I like by this band. But what a song, from the very beginning fuzzy guitar riffs to the ending lines of “Let’s swim out past the breakers and watch the world die” Some thing about that really makes me happy like, ok it’s the end of the world but at least we have each other.

In some respects,  our world is pretty cluttered up right now so maybe we could use some massive cleansing to work out the kinks. I don’t hope a bunch of people die or anything but just from watching the nightly news it’s clear we need to make some serious changes in the way we treat each other. The word apocalypse, from the Greek, means revelation of something hidden. Perhaps we need to swim out past the breakers, watch the world die and find whatever it is inside of us to come alive. I look forward to re-posting this in December of this year and think we will be around quite a bit longer after that.

(if you think there’s more to say, my brother does too: he wrote his own damn list)

Well sure as planets come, I know that they end. 
And if I'm here when that happens, will you promise me this my friend? 
Please bury me with it! 
I just don't need none of that Mad Max bullshit.
-Modest Mouse

 

Recently, my brother listed his favorite songs about the apocalypse. For various reasons, I cannot let this post stand alone. (This says far more about me than about my brother or his post.)

Why are we obsessed with the apocalypse? I actually ask this of my students on a semesterly basis. I think that the answer, if there is one, is partly psychological and structural. First, we know that we begin and end individually—part of our death drive or obsession also nearly demands contemplation (and fantasy) about everything expiring just as we will.

In addition, there is a structural logic among the cultural offspring of the Abrahamic religions. We tell the story of the world being created. Logically, that which is created must eventually be destroyed.

(Oh, and science supports this. Oh, and we keep destroying things. And, by the way, our lifestyle and growth rates are unsustainable….)

So the Younger J confessed that during the premier of The Walking Dead we were texting song lists back and forth. My brother’s list is great and, I am sure, cooler than mine. His music taste and knowledge can be so much deeper. My corresponding ‘interests’ are random and aesthetically scatter-shot.

Oh, and I am also pissed that he stole my shtick and mentioned that apocalypse is Greek in origin.

So his list is good, but it isn’t mine. In ascending order of my subjective taste (from best to 8th best), here are my favorite songs about the apocalypse.

 

1. “(Nothing But) Flowers”, The Talking Heads

The happiest song about the end of the world—at least on the surface level. I have loved this song since my best friend in high school (a previously mentioned Lead Singer) played it for me when we were in 7th grade. I can still remember the road we were on, the caravan his parents were driving, and how hilarious we both found the song.

While I still see the humor in it, I think that Byrne’s lyrics are more satirical and cynical. His post-apocalyptic paradise is one where men cannot adjust—not because it is too terrible or tough, but because it is too wonderful.

This was a discount store,

Now it’s turned into a cornfield

you got it, you got it

Don’t leave me stranded here

I can’t get used to this lifestyle

2. “Bury Me With It”, Modest Mouse

What more is there to say about this great song? I love the frantic balance of the multi-syllabic verses with the almost-screamed chorus. The instrumentation supports the contrast beautifully. This is Modest Mouse at its most quintessentially schizophrenic.

When I ask my wife about post-apocalyptic scenarios (on the occasions she will entertain my hypotheticals), she insists that preparing for the occasion is a waste of time. She says she wouldn’t want to survive in a world undergoing whatever cataclysmic event could be called an apocalypse.

Besides loving the late alt-rock crunch of this song (and, in general, appreciating the even quality of Modest Mouse’s work), I love this song for this one line: “I don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit”. The command of the title and chorus (“please, bury me with it”) reflects my wife’s opinion just enough to demand the inclusion of this song.

 3. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, REM

I know my brother didn’t include this song because a lot of people despise REM. In fact, of the seminal early alt-rock bands REM get the least respect and probably garnered way too little attention when they called it quits. I think that this comes from a few things.

First, REM had too many styles and took risks (“Shiny Happy People”? Worst song by a great band). Then, when REM broke through it was with the wrong music. “Losing My Religion” was a fantastic song, but not grungy enough or angry enough. Who wants contemplative when you can be mad?

Second, “Everybody Hurts”. When I first listened to Automatic for the People (and “Drive” had just been released) I knew that “Everybody Hurts” was going to be a big hit. But like similar 1990s explosions (say, Hootie and the Blowfish and Forrest Gump) what seemed initially universally appealing, aged quite poorly. Now, “Everybody Hurts”sounds like a parody of itself.

But I don’t care about any of this. “It’s the end of the world…” is one of the few American made indie-rock songs from the 80s that (1) almost everyone knows, (2) many have imitated , and (3) sounds like nothing else. REM was one of the most important and influential bands on College Radio—they didn’t break through with a consistent style and image like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Green Day, but they took more risks.

There is something about the insouciance of this song that is reassuring. I also have fond memories of covering this (rather poorly) with one of my bands. It is successful because of the radical juxtaposition of the end of all we know with a feeling of not sorrow or elation but measured acceptance.

And, if you’re living through the apocalypse do you want to take risks and feel fine about it or what?

4. “Eve of Destruction”, Barry McGuire (P. F. Sloan)

This is a phenomenal protest song that I grew up hearing on the radio (since my parents only listened to Oldies stations). I love the gravel in the vocals and I love the melody and desperation in the song. Now, I know that this is not literally a song about the apocalypse, but rather one anticipating.

Nevertheless, I guarantee that if there were a cataclysmic event occurring, too many of us would be in denial about it and would ignore voices like McGuire’s as if they were panicked Chicken Littles. And, hey, it isn’t like Global Warming is a serious issue. Or that overpopulation will eventually outstrip developments in agriculture. Or that we’re playing with house money when it comes to the fact that we haven’t used atomic/nuclear weapons since WWII…

5. “Seconds”, U2

Speaking of nuclear weapons and bands that no longer get sufficient respect: U2 has almost become a dirty name to ‘real’ music lovers. Bono is a megalomaniacal self-mockery at this point and while many praised All You Can’t Leave Behind, the band should have been disbanded after Zooropa.

But, to be fair, how many bands have given the world so many great songs? This song is about nuclear holocaust. As the Historian and I used to discuss, people just a little younger than we are (say, the Younger Js age), fear terrorists and Global Warming (and Zombies, fake things). We were raised with the fiery fear of nuclear war. I remember attack drills. I remember the 80s arms race. Even in my 30s, I still mistrust Russians because I was born and bred to expect a war of total annihilation in my lifetime.

So, this song takes me back to when I first started listening to U2 and when we didn’t have to hear random and unexpected attacks or religious war or Y2K.

6. “California Love” 2Pac (Featuring Dr. Dre)

I know that this song isn’t really about the end of the world. Including it also made be feel bad that (1) I didn’t include Tool’s “Aenima” which is also a song about California (and the world ending). But, Tool gets a little too heavy for me and I love this song.

What makes it fit for this list, though, is the video. Dr. Dre and 2Pac in a Mad Max party? It might not be the safest place to imagine, but what the hell do you expect from the end of the world. Count me in.

7. “Come to Daddy”, Aphex Twin

All I have to say is this. If the end of the world is anything like this video, I don’t want to be there.  Also, if you’re short on reasons that mankind may not be worthy of survival, watch this video.

( That was only partly a joke)

8. “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”, The Dandy Warhols

So this song is only partly serious. A great rock song—and the song the Lead Singer mentioned above said was the only one ‘half-assed’ music fans would know. This was the song that put the band on the map and which also inspired a great parody from the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

It is also a reminder that, should the end times come, survival will be random and serendipitous. The best won’t survive. The most well-prepared will not prevail. It will be chaos. Chance will preserve few. Some of those will be survivalists. Some will be honest and virtuous. But many will also be criminals, drug addicts, and, most of all, the ruthlessly selfish and opportunistic.

And, with that thought in mind, maybe I will join my wife and Modest Mouse to ask for this: if the world starts to end, please, bury me with it.

 

Music, Marijuana and Misery: A Case for Casualization?

Ok. I may be blowing up the blog with this one. But here it goes.

Wiz Khalifa featuring Snoop Dogg, “Young, and Wild and Free”

A few weeks back, my brother wrote a great post about dealing with his students’ attitudes about life and, in passing, things like substance abuse. He talked about their difficult lives and the way that music influences their views about the world. He self-mockingly provides a PSA when he writes:

I love the vibe of this song  and dislike much of the content. My one major problem with Wiz is the constant reference to and glorification of marijuana. I personally don’t care what he does on his own time. However, he definitely influences young folks all around to think that smoking pot is not only ok, but actually a good thing that will make you have fun all the time

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Who is Molly?

A friend who plays fiddle with my band suggested David Lindley to me a while back and has a portrait of the man in his living room where I often occupy the couch while jamming late into the night. This song gave me a very real feeling of closeness to my Father because I know he would have loved it since he held an affinity for religious tunes. Also, it’s so much better than the music I am subjected to on a daily basis as will be seen.

I have talked recently about how I have a new job. I am the long term substitute for the head of an alternative education program in the 8th grade. Both of the two teachers in the program had to leave (the last quickly), so I was shoved to the top of the ladder and suddenly had my own program.

I don’t want to get into specifics, but it has been a hard transition for everyone, most importantly the students. Most of these kids come from broken homes and have never succeeded in the traditional classroom due to a myriad of social, mental, and chemical reasons that cause them to exhibit some non-traditional behaviors. They love this song and I am constantly shutting it off throughout a normal school day on their iPads, iPods, laptops and cell phones. What happened to the Sony Discman?

The kids think I don’t know this song is about drugs. I asked them one day, just to mess with them, “Who is this Molly girl?” Although I never took this drug, whenever Disco Biscuits or Sound Tribe Sector 9 or Phish came through town in Vermont, there’d be a lot of it around and all the dread locked white kids (wookies) would be spinning around the campus greens. I was always more of a beer guy. For those not in the know, “molly” is pure MDMA, which is the active ingredient in Ecstasy and I believe a few other designer drugs. 

Some of them allegedly do drugs, which is a shame at their age and for their already suffering thought processes. Of the 16 kids in my class, I bet at least half of them have smoked pot or currently do, with half of those claiming to also do other drugs. I continually am explaining why the consumption of any mind altering substance at their age, molly or otherwise, will help to stop the development of their brains because their young minds are still forming. They almost always answer that this is only the case with hard drugs like molly or acid or cocaine and that weed and alcohol are ok and, in fact, legitimate stress relievers. I hope they don’t learn this from their parents, but I am sure they learn a lot of  it from Lil’ Wayne.

I had to explain to my assistant principal what Kush was when they played this in the gym while we shot some hoops at our daily gym time right after lunch. This is one of the things I instituted when I came in because I feel one of the issues is the kids don’t get their energy out in a positive way. He quickly shut off the stereo when he realized what the song was about but as soon as he left, back on it went while I was across the gym working on my free throws. I play the turn down or shut off game while one of them reverses it all day long.

I have never liked Lil’ Wayne, always being more of a fan of old school gangster rap like Biggy and Tupac. So much of his vocals are auto tuned and I just find that noise to be incredibly annoying. Furthermore, I find most of his messages are be about getting messed up and treating women badly which none of my students need in their lives. Now, there are many many misogynistic lyrics in the rap I like too but I didn’t listen to it in 8th grade and I could surely separate reality from fiction at that point in my life. I suspect that my students can too, but when engaged in an argument with a student on him attending French class last week, I said he was acting like a baby for refusing to go. In response, he swore at me and said  “Do babies snort coke off of strippers asses?” I almost responded  with “No they don’t and you don’t either because you have no money and can’t even get into a strip club” but my good sense prevailed and I just walked him down to the principal’s office to cool out. There is one song they play that is from my generation, albeit still kind of stupid but at least having a good beat and funny lyrics.

This guy was huge in my home state around freshmen year of high school, but it was “Cause I got High” and “Colt .45” and I don’t think I ever got through the album enough to hear this little diddy. I obviously can’t allow them to listen to this, but of the songs they listen to, this has the best beat and the most amusing lyrics.

I shut this song off at least ten times a day while the kids dance around to it and yell the parts with profanity louder than any other lyrics just to show people they can yell swears and attract attention. One of my favorite/worst students is a kid whose mother is dying of cancer in their trailer park while the step father does very little to help and the father having died when my 8th grader was in the 6th grade. This kid basically only has control over anything while at school so he mostly spends his days disrupting other classes and driving me nuts and occasionally sitting down and talking with me about why he acts the way he does.  Yesterday, he ran into a classroom in the sixth grade and yelled “sugar tits” and then slammed the door, prompting an email sent to me within two minutes of the crime committed  Dealing with that took up the best part of third period,  but he ended up not getting suspended and driving my stress levels up the rest of the day.

I am trying to get  a job in this school district next year so I deal with these kids as best I can to various results. My bosses think I’m doing a good job and some days I do, but I worry about these kids succeeding in the high school and in life in general. It’s more social conditioning than anything else so I wish I could play them this one rap song which will roll at the end of this paragraph. If they learn nothing else from me this year, it’s that you can’t play obscene songs in public areas and you need to use your words calmly and not yell at people. In other words, express yourself!

I could actually use this, it’s got clean lyrics! Plus, Dre says something about a subject and a predicate right?

On my Wife’s iPod (Again)

So, a few months ago I confessed to misplacing my iPod and daring to run in the wee hours with my wife’s iPod instead (something I unfortunately compared to wearing someone else’s underwear—which would probably be much less comfortable than trying out an iPod, depending on the music). The follow-up confession I feel compelled to make is that even after I found my iPod, I kept using hers.

Yeah, them too,

Yeah, them too,

(So, I guess you could say I found out something new about myself, if we keep up with the transvestitism of the underwear analogy.)

Part of this decision, I swear, has only to do with the novelty of it. Even if you labor sedulously to perfect your playlists the element of surprise and wonder that makes a lot of music listening so thoroughly compelling is gone. When I dumped a thousand songs into my wife’s iPod (which sounds far more sexual than it should) I created something of a hybrid of her tastes and mine. A new, strange, musical offspring.

As I ran around the streets of our adoptive town, I found myself newly engaged both by the strange juxtaposition of some of my chosen tracks next to hers (Wilco as a prelude to Rihanna? Sinatra followed by Fugazi? Whiplash.) and by initial hearings of songs I didn’t know my wife was listening to. See, she and I have been together (if not as husband and wife, as the prequel) for fifteen years. I didn’t know she was keeping secrets from me.

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Nothing to F With: Singing Praises for the Wu Tang Clan

My brother, in keeping with his resolution to bring more concern for hip-hop in the new year, has recently sung the praises of Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers), the debut album from the unforgettable Wu Tang Clan. I don’t write today to disagree with him. Instead, I write to support and to strengthen his claims. To say that this album is influential and iconoclastic doesn’t quite make the point.wutangblinditem

This album was released in 1993 and established a new sound and aesthetic for mainstream hip-hop. But the fact is that I had no clue that any of this was going on because I (1) had turned off the radio and (2) wouldn’t listen to hip-hop seriously for another half-dozen years. When I finally came to love this album nearly a decade after it was released, what made me appreciate it might be different from why my brother liked it.

But, to digress for a moment, my brother does leave unanswered some important questions about the attraction of hip-hop where we grew up. Now, I for one think it is foolish to insist that a community will only appreciate art created by people like them, but a remarkable thing happened in the 1990s as rap went mainstream that I can best illustrate with a brief anecdote. During my freshman year of high school, the senior class made their ‘class song’ something by Metallica (I can’t remember which one). My class? They voted for the Dr. Dre produced “No Diggity” by Blackstreet.

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Songs of the Year—2000 How I learned to stop worrying and love Hip-Hop

Songs of the Year: “Yellow” Coldplay; “The Next Episode” Dr. Dre

Runners-Up: “Get Off”, The Dandy Warhols; “The Real Slim Shady” Eminem

Honorable Mentions: “Boyz N’ the Hood”, Dynamite Hack

The year with big releases by Radiohead and Greenday as well as by tertiary punk bands like Blink-182,  Sum 41 and Good Charlotte saw the charts dominated by acts from the 1980s (U2, Bon Jovi and Madonna) even as other bands released exciting albums ( Bright Eyes’ Fever and Mirrors, The White Stripes’ De Stijl, Coldplay’s Parachute, The Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving, WyClef’s mediocre Ecleftic, The Dandy Warhols’ Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia and Outkast’s Stankonia).

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