Songs of the Year—1994 Geek Rock Comes out

You say I only hear what I want to.
You say I talk so all the time so.
And I thought what I felt was simple,
and I thought that I don’t belong,
and now that I am leaving,
now I know that I did something wrong ’cause I missed you.
-Lisa Loeb

Songs of the Year: “Stay” Lisa Loeb; “I Should Be Allowed to Think,” They might Be Giants
Runners-up: “Better Man”, Pearl Jam; “Animal”, Nine Inch Nails
Honorable Mention: “21st Century Digital Boy”, Bad Religion; “All Apologies”, Nirvana

1994 was the year that, for however brief a moment, cardigan sweaters were cool. Thick-rimmed glasses were no longer tokens of an embarrassing limitation but rather a sign of honor from a glorious Geekdom. Green Day were geeky punks. Weezer sang a song about 12 sided die.

1994 saw the release of albums that surprised and stuck around. I still remember the furious onslaught of the The Lead Singer as he tried to persuade me to love Green Day’s Dookie by enumerating everyone he knew (who was cool) who liked it. He should have known that this was the wrong tack to take with me. Contrarian I was.

The list of great albums that came out in 1994 is long, but a few highlights include: Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral, Weezer’s Blue Album, Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys, Stranger than Fiction, Bad Religion, Definitely Maybe, Oasis, Ready to Die, Notorious B. I.G., Ruby Vroom, Soul Coughing. Tracks from these CDs would dominate the world for the next few years. But not me. Not yet.

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They (definitely are) Giants

“Don’t call me at work again no, no the boss still hates me / I’m just tired and I don’t love you anymore / And there’s a restaurant we should check out / where the other nightmare people like to go/ I mean nice people, baby wait, / I didn’t mean to say nightmare” from “They’ll Need A Crane”
Lincoln, 1988

One band’s music spans three decades of my life (and threatens to last even longer). They Might Be Giants, the geek rock originals, have a strange staying power. Few bands put out music that is so readily recognizable. Despite this, I don’t actively listen to the band frequently or play the part of a fan to any great extreme. Most playlists I make include one TMBG track, but weeks can go by without the two Johns passing my thoughts.

Not your typical rock stars

TMBG—Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell—are like friends who keep popping back into my life or relatives I genuinely like but never spend enough time with. Too much of my own musical awakening has their albums for soundtracks. So many of their songs call up strong memories—and always good ones. From simple memories like staying up late to catch their performances on Conan O’Brien to celebrating their success with the theme song for “Malcolm in the Middle” to the more specific moments below, I cannot deny them.

“She’s an Angel” (They Might be Giants, 1986)—I am in two places at once. In the auditorium at my high school where a friend has used this song as the backing track for the credits of his documentary (and I am floored by the contrast between verse and chorus). I am also in my room, listening to the song again and again as I moon over a girl (and I say ‘a’ because this scene could be (and was) recycled).

“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (Flood, 1990)—I am at “geek camp” where the counselors have perversely organized a dance for adolescents who are beyond awkward. We are cynical enough to mock “Jump, Jump” by Kris Kross, too self-conscious to approach the opposite gender, only to be suddenly liberated into a strange frenzy of joy running in circles when this song comes on. Soon after, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on. The scene suddenly and irrevocably changes.

TMBG function for many people (well, for a geeky set) as a gateway band from the safe rock of our parents, from show tunes, and from gag music. When I was young, my musical world was dominated by the narrow tastes of my parents and the church (with the exception of a brief flirtation with NKOTB). When my lack of coolness began to first dawn on me, I remember trying to fit in—by memorizing “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby”. It was Weird Al Yankovic cassettes copied from friends that I first wore out on my father’s Panasonic personal tape player (followed by, unsurprisingly, every Monty Python cassette). The first ‘rock’ album I wore out was Flood.

“Fingertips”—Apollo 18 (1992) I am at an after-party in a private school student basement after my band has played our first gig. I am talking to students, strangers,  from other schools. TMBG come up. Someone mentions how amusing “Fingertips” is (a track made up of samples or ideas of song ideas). One of us sings the first part of it; before I know it a group of 5-7 of us has sung through the entire song (all 20 segments). We start again.

Road Movie to Berlin” (Flood, 1992)—I am on a bus traversing Italy from Naples to Venice sitting next to an older girl who has been giving me seriously mixed signals during the entire tour. She is way too cool to like TMBG, I think, but something about the constant riding makes her think of this song. I sing it for her from beginning to end. We don’t kiss that day, but eventually we do. When we return to the states I learn to play the song on the guitar. I never end up singing it for her (the relationship ended quickly), but for a while, my band covered it.

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Zombie Killing Music

Last year around this time we got excited about the apocalypse and posted several things to mark the return of a certain apocalyptic narrative.  In honor of the opening of AMC’s The Walking Dead‘s fourth season, I am re-posting this piece:

So if you’re lonely
You know I’m here waiting for you
I’m just a crosshair
I’m just a shot away from you
And if you leave here
You leave me broken, shattered, I lie
I’m just a crosshair
I’m just a shot, then we can die
From “Take Me Out”, Franz Ferdinand

Several years ago I met up with an old college roommate (I’ll call him the Historian). As usual, we ended up rehashing the old days before sitting down to a game. In this instance, we were playing a clever board game called “Maul of America” which is, essentially, a game where you play people in a mall trying to escape a Zombie attack. (Get the word play, Maul? HA.)

Now, this was a nostalgic moment. The Historian introduced me to “Maul of America” long before zombies were cool, before “28 Days Later”, before World War Z, The Walking Dead, Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, and everyone talking about the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse. Before Zombies went high culture, the Historian resurrected them from the marginal and the low.

This was a time before Zombie modes in video games (when the N64 was a recent revolution) and before the global war on terror changed the way we fear. The Historian and I are old enough to recall fearing the USSR—we remember legitimately worrying about a nuclear apocalypse. We didn’t have to invent doomsday scenarios in our youth. (Although we did retreat to the woods for safety in fear of Y2K.)

The Historian is an uber-Geek. While I simply played a Bard in D&D to the 21st level, he had  disdain for that game—well into adulthood he dabbled in the esoteric, running games called Champions and Call of Cthulu (he was not, however, a LARPer). While I had traded my 12-sided dice in for guitar picks years earlier, the Historian was still mastering the art of the interactive narrative.

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Prime Cuts of Primus

Prime Cuts of Primus

I don t believe in Pinochle

And I don’t believe I’ll try

I do believe in Captain Crunch

For I am the Frizzle Fry”

Primus has been one of my favorite bands since I was a kid and I try to expose everyone I know to their music. The majority of people cannot handle it for more than a couple songs saying it’s too intense or busy or even just lying to me and saying they just want to hear something else.  I feel bad for these people as I think everyone could like them if they put in the time. Or not. Ultimately, I don’t care who likes them as they are one of the most unique bands to exist and we are all lucky to have them here on Earth. Their funky style of heavy rock draws from countless sources and sounds like nothing else out there. Their fans are diehard and some of them are scarily dedicated to a truly cult band. People love them or hate them. Primus sucks and this is why.

As a side note, many people yell “Primus Sucks” at shows because they very much do not suck. This is what I assume anyway but I read on the Primus blog recently that Les wants this to end so we will see how far that goes. It’s the thing to do, like yelling “Hot Fuckin Tuna” or “Freebird”. If this entry elicits any interest in the band, please take  some time getting to know the band as I am sure you will at least come to admire them. Also, I intend to give a synopsis of the band in four lines or less to fill in your own gaps. Primus has been around over twenty years and is headed by the mammoth bass player Les Claypool and  Larry Lalonde as the guitarist from the beginning. The drummers have changed continually with Jay Lane now in the line up. Their music is hard to identify genre wise but it’s all based around Claypool’s unreal bass playing and eclectic lyrics. Ok I lied, it was five lines.

My first memory of Primus is vague. My sister’s friend Carl, who actually was my brother’s friend first and who apparently wanted my sister but was significantly and creepily older than her, brought over a Primus VHS that started with “John the Fisherman”.  I think it wad that song anyway and there was a boat. I must have been 7 or so as I look at the dates and I remember instantly loving the bass heavy music. It was unlike anything I had ever heard and I remember bobbing my head along with the music. It didn’t have the typical guitar lines with a bass line that followed with root notes and the occasional flourish. The bass was out front and the drums were going apeshit while the guitar made various cool noises. I didn’t know any of this jargon at the time but as I look back, these are the things that draw me to the band. It must have been a collection of videos taped off TV because I just watched the video for the above mentioned song and that’s definitely what I saw. It’s still cool almost twenty years later and I see why I still love the band from that first vague glimmer.

I vividly remember hearing “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” on my sister’s boom box from the new “alternative” radio station from the city not too far from our rural home. This station was sick at the beginning: they didn’t play any commercials and it was music you would nohttps://thebrothersj.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=917&action=editt hear anywhere else at the time. This is way before iTunes and YouTube and I didn’t get to hear this song again until my sister bought the album, the one and only Primus album any of my siblings ever owned. Maybe that’s another reason I liked them so much, albeit subconsciously. I always took my brother’s cds and this was one I took from my sister when she realized she hated every other song on the disc. Her loss and my gain as this the song is one of all choice cuts. The high pitched noise reminds me now of pigs squealing and the guitar solos are clearly Jerryesque. Nothing I love more than some farm animals and Dead homage’s. That sounds a lot weird written out then it did in my head. As a final note, I am still not sure if this song is a euphemism for female genitalia or an actual reference to a beaver.

I didn’t get to really like Primus, like super fan style, until towards the end of high school. A good friend at that time, who later ended up spending some time in a federal penitentiary, had been going to Ozzfest since it’s inception. I went to ’03 with him and and still have the scars on my knees to prove it.  He had caught Primus in 1999 and been a diehard fan ever since . he would always play the Brown Album over and over in his piece of shit Oldsmobile that he always drove at the top speed it could handle without rattling apart.  Specifically, he dug on “Shake Hands with Beef” and would always yell the lyrics along with Les and pound his fist on the crumbling dashboard.The whole album is good, albeit different than other Primus albums in content and sound.  But every Primus album is different and that’s another reason I really like them. My friend is still in trouble with the law and I rarely see him but I hope he still likes Primus.

College was really when I became the super fan. Even more so than high school, I think college is really where you become who you are and discover your true tastes. I also met Adam sophomore year and he was a huge Primus fan. The fall we became friends, we drank a lot of beer and talked a lot about music. One weekend, we ended up going back to his apartment after a party and alienating all the people who we were with by putting on a DVD of the 2003 Tour De Fromage.  . Primus’s music can be very abrasive and dissonant, coupled with some downright scary lyrics like the tale of killing a man with an aluminum baseball bat for having bad breath in “My Name is Mud”.  It just isn’t for some people and I think this is one of the many reasons I like the band. It would become a regular thing throughout college to listen to Primus after drinking all night and once I found my girlfriend that I with for 75% of college, she also became a Primus fan. This only fueled my growing fandom of the band.  Adam has turned out to be one of my best friends and rarely does us hanging out not result in some Primus being played or at least discussed. More on him next paragraph.

So I didn’t get to see Primus until 2010 but I got to see them twice, once in Vermont and again in Boston. They are now in a permanent position in my top five favorite bands. I’ve seen Les Claypool five times and he has some various extremely talented musicians back him up on his solo material on instruments ranging from the cello to the vibraphones. Perhaps I’ll write about Les solo in the future, but now I want to focus on Primus. All the Les shows were precursors to the truly soul shaking experience of seeing Primus. Both shows were seen with Adam and we were like two little boys jumping up and down for two hours, completely ignoring the multiple friends who joined us in Vermont and full on converting the one friend in Boston. Les commands your attention without being obnoxious, literally making your chest and head pound with his funky and thunderous bass lines. Larry’s guitar playing, coupled with Jay’s frenetic drum beats, leaves a deep grove that you can’t kick post show. Some day I will write about my top five favorite live shows and I can assure you Primus will be near the top. Word is a new album is coming out and they are touring everywhere except the Northeast this summer, a total bummer, But I’ll see them again, that is for sure.

I like Primus for a variety of reason. First, not a single other band sounds like them. That means more than anything to me in this world of listening to top 40 hits and not knowing when the songs start or end. I look for truly unique music and love when I can find it. Their funky and heavy mix of sound appeals to me because it has a way of getting into you and making you move. I was literally jumping around my office area two minutes ago while listening to a live cut of “Tommy the Cat”. Second, not a lot of people like them. Is this one of those I like them because I want to separate myself from the popular pack? No, it’s because it takes time and can be difficult to listen to this band and other true fans have put in the same amount of time as I have. Whenever you meet a fan, it’s like you’re instantly friends and I find that to be a great honest feeling. Third, I love the bass and have been playing one for the past year pretty much so I can try and be like Les, some day anyway. I can play two Les riffs and counting. Fourth, I find Les ’s lyrics to be very funny and at times, very identifiable to me and my own life. I mean the fishing, redneck, and car references. I also mean the song about the Department of Motor Vehicles and the endless other idiosyncratic lyrics. A lot of people refer to them as nonsensical but I doubt they know enough to really make a viable comment on the matter. Lastly, their live show is amazing, absolutely riveting and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I probably seem like a semi obsessed freak at this point but I don’t care. Everyone has a band like this, just look at my brother and They Might Be Giants,a similar band and motive in why he likes them so much. I end this post with one of their trippier cuts that kills it live and the message that if you like a weird band, embrace them and spread the word.

Songs of the Year—1994 Geek Rock Comes out

You say I only hear what I want to.
You say I talk so all the time so.
And I thought what I felt was simple,
and I thought that I don’t belong,
and now that I am leaving,
now I know that I did something wrong ’cause I missed you.
-Lisa Loeb

Songs of the Year: “Stay” Lisa Loeb; “I Should Be Allowed to Think,” They might Be Giants
Runners-up: “Better Man”, Pearl Jam; “Animal”, Nine Inch Nails
Honorable Mention: “21st Century Digital Boy”, Bad Religion; “All Apologies”, Nirvana

1994 was the year that, for however brief a moment, cardigan sweaters were cool. Thick-rimmed glasses were no longer tokens of an embarrassing limitation but rather a sign of honor from a glorious Geekdom. Green Day were geeky punks. Weezer sang a song about 12 sided die.

1994 saw the release of albums that surprised and stuck around. I still remember the furious onslaught of the The Lead Singer as he tried to persuade me to love Green Day’s Dookie by enumerating everyone he knew (who was cool) who liked it. He should have known that this was the wrong tack to take with me. Contrarian I was.

The list of great albums that came out in 1994 is long, but a few highlights include: Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral, Weezer’s Blue Album, Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys, Stranger than Fiction, Bad Religion, Definitely Maybe, Oasis, Ready to Die, Notorious B. I.G., Ruby Vroom, Soul Coughing. Tracks from these CDs would dominate the world for the next few years. But not me. Not yet.

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Songs of the Year 1993

Songs of the Year—1993

Songs of the Year: 4 Non Blondes “Whats up?”, Blind Melon “No rain”, and Radiohead “Creep”
Honorable Mention” Meat Loaf “I would do anything for love (But I won’t do that)”

I started writing these songs of the year entries backwards from 1995 and found that this year is when my remembrances begin to wane (but I can jog them via Wikipedia). This is the year that Prince became a symbol which I remember coming on the nightly news. I had no idea who Prince was anyway at age 9 so I don’t remember being too bothered by it.

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Zombie Killing Music

In honor of the closing of AMC’s The Walking Dead‘s second season:

So if you’re lonely
You know I’m here waiting for you
I’m just a crosshair
I’m just a shot away from you
And if you leave here
You leave me broken, shattered, I lie
I’m just a crosshair
I’m just a shot, then we can die
From “Take Me Out”, Franz Ferdinand

Several years ago I met up with an old college roommate (I’ll call him the Historian). As usual, we ended up rehashing the old days before sitting down to a game. In this instance, we were playing a clever board game called “Maul of America” which is, essentially, a game where you play people in a mall trying to escape a Zombie attack. (Get the word play, Maul? HA.)

Now, this was a nostalgic moment. The Historian introduced me to “Maul of America” long before zombies were cool, before “28 Days Later”, before World War Z, The Walking Dead, Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, and everyone talking about the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse. Before Zombies went high culture, the Historian resurrected them from the marginal and the low.

This was a time before Zombie modes in video games (when the N64 was a recent revolution) and before the global war on terror changed the way we fear. The Historian and I are old enough to recall fearing the USSR—we remember legitimately worrying about a nuclear apocalypse. We didn’t have to invent doomsday scenarios in our youth. (Although we did retreat to the woods for safety in fear of Y2K.)

The Historian is an uber-Geek. While I simply played a Bard in D&D to the 21st level, he had  disdain for that game—well into adulthood he dabbled in the esoteric, running games called Champions and Call of Cthulu (he was not, however, a LARPer). While I had traded my 12-sided dice in for guitar picks years earlier, the Historian was still mastering the art of the interactive narrative.

Continue reading

They (definitely are) Giants

“Don’t call me at work again no, no the boss still hates me / I’m just tired and I don’t love you anymore / And there’s a restaurant we should check out / where the other nightmare people like to go/ I mean nice people, baby wait, / I didn’t mean to say nightmare” from “They’ll Need A Crane”
Lincoln, 1988

One band’s music spans three decades of my life (and threatens to last even longer). They Might Be Giants, the geek rock originals, have a strange staying power. Few bands put out music that is so readily recognizable. Despite this, I don’t actively listen to the band frequently or play the part of a fan to any great extreme. Most playlists I make include one TMBG track, but weeks can go by without the two Johns passing my thoughts.

Not your typical rock stars

TMBG—Johns Flansburgh and Linnell—are like friends who keep popping back into my life or relatives I genuinely like but never spend enough time with. Too much of my own musical awakening has their albums for soundtracks. So many of their songs call up strong memories—and always good ones. From simple memories like staying up late to catch their performances on Conan O’Brien to celebrating their success with the theme song for “Malcolm in the Middle” to the more specific moments below, I cannot deny them.

“She’s an Angel” (They Might be Giants, 1986)—I am in two places at once. In the auditorium at my high school where a friend has used this song as the backing track for the credits of his documentary (and I am floored by the contrast between verse and chorus). I am also in my room, listening to the song again and again as I moon over a girl (and I say ‘a’ because this scene could be (and was) recycled).

“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (Flood, 1990)—I am at “geek camp” where the counselors have perversely organized a dance for adolescents who are beyond awkward. We are cynical enough to mock “Jump, Jump” by Kris Kross, too self-conscious to approach the opposite gender, only to be suddenly liberated into a strange frenzy of joy running in circles when this song comes on. Soon after, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on. The scene suddenly and irrevocably changes.

TMBG function for many people (well, for a geeky set) as a gateway band from the safe rock of our parents, from show tunes, and from gag music. When I was young, my musical world was dominated by the narrow tastes of my parents and the church (with the exception of a brief flirtation with NKOTB). When my lack of coolness began to first dawn on me, I remember trying to fit in—by memorizing “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby”. It was Weird Al Yankovic cassettes copied from friends that I first wore out on my father’s Panasonic personal tape player (followed by, unsurprisingly, every Monty Python cassette). The first ‘rock’ album I wore out was Flood.

“Fingertips”—Apollo 18 (1992) I am at an after-party in a private school student basement after my band has played our first gig. I am talking to students, strangers,  from other schools. TMBG come up. Someone mentions how amusing “Fingertips” is (a track made up of samples or ideas of song ideas). One of us sings the first part of it; before I know it a group of 5-7 of us has sung through the entire song (all 20 segments). We start again.

Road Movie to Berlin” (Flood, 1992)—I am on a bus traversing Italy from Naples to Venice sitting next to an older girl who has been giving me seriously mixed signals during the entire tour. She is way too cool to like TMBG, I think, but something about the constant riding makes her think of this song. I sing it for her from beginning to end. We don’t kiss that day, but eventually we do. When we return to the states I learn to play the song on the guitar. I never end up singing it for her (the relationship ended quickly), but for a while, my band covered it.

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