Odi et Amo: On the iPod

“….Never change, Never Change, Never change / This is why I fell in love…”
–“I Can Change” LCD Sound System
“Sweetheart, darling, bear in mind all the time
that a constant friend is hard to find
But when you find one that is good and kind
Never you change, never you change”
–“Never You Change” Toots and the Maytals

In an earlier post, I lamented the deleterious effect that the digitalization of music along with technology like the iPod has had on the way we produce, consume and categorize music. Indeed, it is fairly easy to come up with a list of evils perpetuated by the iPod. We listen to (and purchase) individual songs rather than albums; the sonic fidelity (depending on the compression rate) is actually quite poor; the Apple headphones aren’t nearly as high-quality (or durable) as they claim; the ease of carrying around so much music trivializes it even more; and, to join other doomsday criers, the personal music player makes it almost necessary that we will listen to music alone rather than with others.
I Hate My Machine Overlord

Now, there are answers to each of these complaints. The album, for instance, has probably always been an unstable art form; for another, digital recording has long been compressing sound and altering fidelity (but so few people can actually tell the difference that this is negligible). Despite all of these complaints (especially about those damn white shitty headphones) I don’t want to present a jeremiad against the iPod. I’d rather sing its praises.

See, the iPod changed my life. Really.

And here’s where I will come too close to sounding like some a corporate puppet or parrot. Let me, then, first preface my effusive praise with a disclaimer. I really f**king hate Apple as a company. I hate their oh-so-aesthetically pleasing designs. I hate their emphasis on form and function. I really hate the implicit elitism of the cost difference between Macs and PCs and the overt elitism of Apple in the 80’s and 90’s when only certain stores could sell them. (My wife has a Macbook; I burn through a PC laptop every other year. I will not change.)

I also really hate Apple advertising campaigns. When they aren’t winking at you about their own cleverness, they are self-assured and self-righteous to the point of distorting reality. I hate the entire history of iPod commercials for trying so damn hard to look and sound cool. I hate the fact that I find myself liking 99% of the songs they use in these commercials.

I hate the iPad (I have a Kindle). I hate the iPhone (I have an android). I hate Apps for the iPhone. I hate people who have iPhones. I hate people who constantly check iPhones when they are at a restaurant, a movie, a meeting, a class etc. I know that my cell phones (which I change too often due to clumsiness) aren’t as easy to use or as aesthetically pleasing, but I will not change! So much of this is envy, but a good deal is revulsion at having a company try so hard to appeal to me and succeed right up to the point that I can only reject its overtures because I am by nature (and nurture, I suppose) a contrarian.

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Acoustic Music on Youtube: Imagine Dragons and Three Years Later

It has been a full year since the first time I heard “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons. And although part of me wants to reject the band because of their popularity (and, yes, that is the less mature part of me, I think) I can’t stop liking the song or enjoying different renditions of it.  A great deal of this has to do with the new memories I have gained in conjunction with this song. And most of this has to do with whom the memories surround

My three-year old daughter keeps asking for this song. Even a year after she first heard it, she loves it–especially this acoustic version. And a few weeks ago, while listening to the lyrics and watching her and my son sing along, I was completely undone. Because, you know, its the undoing time of year.

I don’t want to be the guy who spends the same night (or series of nights) every year tipping back drinks in honor of what has been lost.  I don’t want the end of January to be a black hole on the calender. I want to fill the year with new memories, to graft skin over the scar tissue in some pathetic search for normalcy. But, the scar tissue is never truly gone, is it?

This isn’t going to be another maudlin entry about what it has been like to pass another year without our father.  I have accomplished that far too many times. The people we live with and then without are the ghosts who accompany us to our own graves. We see them in our faces in the mirror, in furniture and objects around the room, in the simple action of turning over the soil from winter for the new spring. The act of living needs death for its meaning(s). But, as my brother said today, it is through living well that we honor the dead.

Yes, another year has past since the untimely death of our infuriating, irascible, inimitable, and beloved father. This year I did my best to be somewhere different (Washington, DC) doing different things. But as the day and the week goes by, he’ll be in my thoughts. He is almost every time I look into his grandchildren’s faces.

And this is the way of things.

On the Radio (Flashback): Sixpence None the Richer

I was strolling around the mall in one of those department stores that is designed intentionally to make you get lost and distracted in the maze of perfume, jewelry and bright mirrors. I was trying to block out the usually bland and anesthetizing sound of whatever pop music was being pumped in through the distant ceiling speakers when the saccharine, drooling tones of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” came on.

I don’t really like department stores and I usually hate Mall music, so this moment was no exception to either rule. Yet, because I was waiting for my wife and pushing around a hefty double stroller I had no choice but to hear the lyrics and contemplate their sweet, simple vapidity. Just read them and enjoy (“?) the amateurish alliteration and repetition. I know that this song partly became a hit because of its nice, sliding bass-line and the gossamer quality of the vocals, but I was offended yet again–Ignatius C. Reilly style–by its emptiness, its stupidity.

Kiss me out of the bearded barley
Nightly, beside the green, green grass
Swing, swing, swing the spinning step
You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon’s sparkling
So kiss me

Kiss me down by the broken tree house
Swing me upon its hanging tire
Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat
We’ll take the trail marked on your father’s map

Yet, such unfounded feelings of superiority lasted a few moments only before I was pulled back into a reverie, to the moments I most attach to this song. And, to tell this story, I have to tell somebody else’s story. This time, my brother’s

Still Killing?

Still Killing?

See, when my brother was between grade school and high school, he had a best friend from whom he was virtually inseparable. The two of them did pretty much everything together; they were peas in a pod, Laurel and Hardy, the two guys on CHIPs. So much were they the closest of friends that we all just imagined them being college roommates, future poker buddies or any of the things that men do when they get older.

Except, one day, after years of being together almost every weekend, this best friend just stopped coming over. My brother just stopped calling him. And, no matter how much we pried, my brother never explained what happened. I surmise from context clues that some decisions were made about our family not presenting the right environment for this young man (and that may have been a sensible decision at the time). I fear some days that I was part of this.

When my brother was too young, he used to come to visit me in my dingy college apartment. We all drank and smoked and, inevitably, so did my brother and his friend (even if in the beginning they were sneaking it, by the end my roommates and I were complicit). At the time, we all thought it was hysterical. As a parent now and many years removed, I shudder to think of the example I offered and the possible damage I caused.

What does this have to do with Sixpence None the Richer? During one of their visits, my brother and his friend would simultaneously break into mocking renditions of this song. This was only natural–they hung around with us playing video games, going to band rehearsal and hitting on college girls. (They even made a cameo during one of my band’s performances, dressed in masks and rocking out to “Psycho Killer”). The times were fun, certainly. But they also weren’t right for thirteen year-olds.

So, when I hear “Kiss Me”, my hackles are raised by the song itself. But i am also disappointed when I hear it because it reminds me of a younger, less considerate version of myself. It reminds me that the brother I wanted to be was rarely the brother I was.

Ten to 2013: Rethinking Pearl Jam

Is something wrong, she said
Well of course there is
You’re still alive, she said
Oh, and do I deserve to be
Is that the question

Pearl Jam, “Alive”

Recently a friend of ours, the marvelous and magnificent Moe, wrote a review of Pearl Jam’s latest release Lightning Bolt. The review isn’t tepid—it praises the album but concedes it is not the band’s greatest work—but it does inspire tepid feelings in me. And this is not because of the review; it is because of the band. A band that even my brother just took the time to consider more carefully.

I can’t think of many other bands that have been so successful for so long without impressing me (well, the Eagles, R.E.M.).

I cannot tell a lie: I owned this t-shirt

I cannot tell a lie: I owned this t-shirt

I can think of some pretty terrible bands that people seem to like regardless of all taste and reason (Maroon 5, Foo Fighters) but it is hard for me really to figure out the place that Pearl Jam should occupy. The band was huge in the early 1990s. It consciously and intentionally bowed out of MTV and its world but continued to release albums. I never listened to them. Was I wrong?

I am not completely alone in being confused about the attraction: LA Weekly lists Pearl Jam as one of the worst bands of all time describing the sound as “Boring, tepid, rehashed classic rock with a thin veneer of alt” . Now, while this declaration is in part meant just to raise some hackles and eyebrows, I have to add that it is rare that my brother and I completely agree in ignoring something. Generally, what I don’t care for, he will defend. And, generally, if we both ignore something, well…

But the litmus test for a band that transcends general mediocrity and confounds even those who would like to hate it is whether or not a majority of people who know of the band can identify a song they actually like by it despite whatever reservations or misgivings they have. I can think of at least five songs (maybe more) that I really do like (“Even Flow”, “Daughter”, “Better Man”, “Nothingman”, and Yellow Ledbetter”). So, I guess I need to revisit this.

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Celebrate College Radio Day, October 1st

In the 1990 Christian Slater vehicle, Pump Up the Volume, a wise urban kid moves to a podunk town and sets up his own pirate radio with which he educates and terrorizes the town about music from the Beastie Boys and the Pixies to Leonard Cohen and Ice-T.  IN this suburban Phoenix no-town, no threat has been greater since Kevin Bacon stopped dancing than this: the youth’s access to the edgy, alt-music scene that has been eating away at the edifice of corporate cock-rock for several years.

Today is College Radio Day, a day to celebrate and recognize the achievements and contributions of College Radio. While the threat posed by Christian Slater doesn’t really mean that much any more (who’s going to worry about FM Radio when the internet can bring you child-porn and bomb-making instructions?), College Radio is still providing essential and rare service in an increasingly homogeneous and confused radio world. (If not for Public Radio and College Radio, Clear Channel might have ruined everything already).

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Another Year (without Our Father)

This picture will make sense.

This picture will make sense.

Last year, during this week, we launched a series of posts to honor the passing of our father. My sister, brother and I each talked about our memories of him and related them (sometimes weakly) to music. While the creation of this blog was planned before our father’s sudden death, that loss was a catalyst for us in different ways.

It made me want even more to decrease the distance between the man I am and the one I want to be; it made my brother get serious about playing music and writing; and, whether or not we want to admit it, it accelerated other plans too: my son was born 10 months after his grandfather’s passing; my niece joined the world 6 months later.

We’re not going to bring out another series of memories this year—last year’s posts wait to be read and re-experienced, if and when the need arises. Yet, we do not want to let another year’s rotation go by unnoticed. Our father’s life and death helped to make us who we are today.

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On the Radio (Flashbacks): Banditos

One unintended consequence of listening to the radio so much recently is that I still often hear songs that played on the radio when I was much younger. The popular format of many stations (modern rock) seems to allow for music at the roots of the modern era (as far back as New Wave, sometimes punk). As a result, listeners get to hear new music and the sounds of our youth (for those of us who are older).

(Just think, our parents had to listen to oldies stations)

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