Archives for October 2011

How Do You Top Doctor Octopus?

I love Halloween. Whatever weird compulsion it is to want to dress up in a costume, I had it in a big way for a long time. It was a beast that awakened once a year and took over my consciousness for weeks leading up to the big night. Looking back on my twenties, I have to begrudgingly admit that if I had put the same energy into following a career that I put into assembling my Halloween costumes I would be at least a few points of latitude North of writing a blog with a weekly circulation of about 45. (Thank you, Google analytics?)

I had a lot of good costumes over the years. As an adult (if someone in their 20s can really be called that) I always tended toward funny costumes as opposed to scary costumes. (I suppose one might say that there are two kinds of people.)  The one that really made me feel like I accomplished something was the Krusty the Klown kostume I made in 1998. I really committed to that one: I got the voice down pat, and the laugh, which was a little harder; I got green pants (size 42, to accommodate the fake potbelly I made duct-taping a throw pillow to a t-shirt), a short-sleeved pink shirt, and a blue bowtie from some thrift stores; I created the blue wig with male pattern baldness with a swatch of blue fur from a crafts store and a bald cap; and I got a big red pair of clown shoes, a clown nose, and some white gloves, from a Halloween store. I even smoked a pack of cigarettes that night. At the time, I had just started dating my wife, who started out amused by this effort but ended up creeped out, and begging me to take it all off. (I didn’t want to do that until we got home, because I felt the only thing creepier than Krusty would have been Krusty with the wig off.)

It’s been a few years since I did a Halloween costume. I think I knew it was really over for me when I repeated my Magnum, P.I. costume from a few years before for a costume party at a bar a couple of years ago. Sure, I won the costume contest at that party — tight white short-shorts are always a hit —  but the shame of repeating a Halloween costume drowned out the triumph.

The beast lay dormant for a couple of years, which (coincidentally?) were my first few years as a parent. Halloween means nothing to a kid the first couple of years, so we sat out Henry’s first one entirely and almost sat out the second until our good friends lent us one of their kids’ old costumes, so we went with them on our neighborhood trick-or-treat route.

In our Brooklyn neighborhood, they do Halloween a little different than we used to do it in the suburbs: NYPD closes four streets for three blocks in the historic district, creating a 12-block snaking route of brownstone rowhouses, probably 30 per side per block.  With no cars on the street, the kids — and you can’t believe how many kids there are, they come from other neighborhoods to get in on this — can zigzag all over the place and make out like bandits on the candy. Probably 3 out of 5 houses on the route are participating, and they’re all right next to each other, so the kids theoretically should be able to score and score big, but there are so many kids out there that they’re all in each other’s way so they slow each other down, like a soccer game with 800 kids on the field. Except the kids are in Halloween costumes! It is even more fun than it sounds. Read More

The Sad Death Of Jane’s Addiction

Don’t buy this record

Jane’s Addiction has a new album out! Had you heard? I’m guessing you hadn’t.

It wasn’t all that long ago that a new Jane’s Addiction album would have been a big, big deal, like cover-of-every-magazine, appearances-on-every-talk-show big. But in 2011, 21 years after their last decent product (1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual) the world greeted this week’s release of The Great Escape Artist with a universal halfhearted shrug.

It didn’t have to be this way. Jane’s Addiction was a great band — more than that, an important band. All through the ’90s, the last emotion I’d ever expect them to inspire was indifference. Anybody who was hip to Jane’s Addiction when they were Jane’s Addiction was into them like a religious cult — and I held on as a devoted disciple for as long as I could.

To begin with, they had probably the best band name anyone’s ever thought of (with the possible exception of Kathleen Turner Overdrive). Their first two studio albums — 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking and 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual — synthesized rock, metal, and poetry and created a totally new, almost alien sound when they were released. They sounded like Art and Religion and Sex all rolled into one awesome thing that sounded best LOUD.

Frontman Perry Farrell has always been the face of Jane’s (while guitarist Dave Navarro, who has not worn a shirt in public in about 15 years, serves as the body), thanks to his piercing, nasal singing style, coupled with genuinely interesting lyrics. A few samples:

Buy this one instead

T.V.’s got those images, T.V.’s got them all, it’s not shocking;
Showed me everybody naked and disfigured, nothing’s shocking

or:

Wish I was ocean size
They cannot move you and no one tries
No one pulls you up from your hole
Like a tooth aching a jawbone

or:

One must eat the other who runs free before him,
Put them right into his mouth
While fantasizing the beauty of his movements.
A sensation not unlike slapping yourself in the face…

I’m not saying this stuff is all Beaudelaire, but in the context of the late ’80s, the era of “Cherry Pie” and “You Give Love A Bad Name,” it stood out for at least making you think. This band made you (or at least, made me) feel like I could rock out and be intelligent at the same time.

Read More

Sympathy For The DJ, The Lowest Form Of Life

DJing in a bar seems like a great gig. To get to play your favorite music to a roomful of supportive friends and lubricated strangers, and get free drinks in the process — what’s not to like? But it’s not all jams and Jameson’s. There is some downside. Namely, the lubricated strangers.

Invariably, at some point during the evening the DJ will be approached by someone who needs to hear one specific song — what they really wish was that you had cued it up the second they came through the door like it was their personal “Hail To The Chief.”  But the DJ will almost never be able to accommodate them.

Some (most) people seem to have a hard time understanding how it’s possible that someone who is playing music in public would not have their favorite song at the ready, but think about it:  There are somewhere around nine hundred quadzillion songs in roughly eight hundred quadzillion genres in the history of recorded music, of which even the best DJ is likely to be missing at least six hundred fifty quadzillion. When you ask a DJ for one of them, the odds are really not in your favor.

But no matter how patiently a DJ explains that she does not have the song a bar patron is requesting, the bar patron will ask at least five more times. All of which is to say that as a species, a bar DJ must be possessed of infinite forbearance.

2011 Guns N’ Roses Is Worse Than You Think

Boy did I ever love Guns N’ Roses. I saw them twice, once with Soundgarden opening (pretty good) and once with Skid Row opening (not so good). G n’ R gave good show both times I saw them (if a few hours late), but both shows were part of the three-year tour that accompanied the separate-but-equally bloated Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, so the band was already starting to capsize under the weight of Axl Rose’s odd quest to bring us what he must have thought we wanted: a little more Elton John and a lot more Freddie Mercury in our stripped-down, unpredictable hard rock n’ roll.

I overlooked Axl’s excesses at the time, though they are so clearly cheesy in retrospect; I was a freshman in high school when Appetite For Destruction hit. I didn’t realize how sick I was of the era I was suffering through — an era when Bon Jovi was considered “heavy metal” — until G n’ R made it all sound instantly obsolete. They sounded raw like the Stooges, grooved like Aerosmith, and had a singer that chicks thought was hot and dudes would be extra careful not to start a fight with because he was obviously crazy.

Appetite was a huge album —I don’t remember the precise moment I caught on, but once I did I was fully on board, so much so that I gave Axl a pass when he turned grandiose between his first and second albums. (The first sign of rock grandiosity: a full-size grand piano that rises out of the stage.)  I overlooked having to pay twice as much for one album’s worth of decent songs and one album’s worth of filler. I overlooked the weird two-handled half mic stand he seems to have invented, and his sudden affinity for bicycle tights (as Freddie would surely have wanted) and Charles Manson t-shirts (poor taste, dangerous rebel or no), and the fact that he drove the band’s strongest songwriter (Izzy) and its coolest character (Izzy again) to quit what was about to be the most lucrative rock tour ever, AND the fact that he jumped off an aircraft carrier to swim with dolphins in a video. I overlooked all of that.

 

Read More

Paul McCartney Was MVP Of The Beatles

Paul McCartney is nobody’s favorite Beatle. Most people would go with John (the smart, acerbic one with the political consciousness); music literati and classic rock scholars tend to favor George (the Zen, antimaterialistic one, unfairly suppressed by the Lennon-McCartney junta); and people who sleep really late are prone to vote Ringo without really thinking about it.

But nobody wants to say Paul’s their guy. People like to root for the underdog, and the fact that, being the cutest, he probably enjoyed the most female comfort of the lads during Beatlemania makes him the exact opposite of that. Worse, he played bass, an instrument your casual music fan does not typically appreciate. And there’s no denying his affinity for cheese: almost every bad song in the Beatles catalog (not a long list, but there are a few) was bad because it was cheesy, and if it was cheesy, it was one of Paul’s. Unlike John and George, he did not stake out any political or humanitarian territory in his post-Beatles life to keep him hip — he just got the worst mullet ever, let his wife into his band, adopted the squarest public persona imaginable (for someone who had announced to a camera crew that he had tried LSD), and kept making records.

And of course anyone born in the 70s or later initially met him as the guy who appeared on the worst song on the Best Album Ever (“The Girl Is Mine,” Michael Jackson’s Thriller) and the first nail in Stevie Wonder’s creative coffin (“Ebony and Ivory”). And unlike his lifelong partner/rival/muse John Lennon, he has had the poor taste to continue getting older and both making more music that will unfavorably compare to the Beatles and getting ickier and ickier looking.

All those things are true, and technically correct. Paul is not the coolest Beatle, and he’s not my favorite either, but he is definitely, unequivocally the MVP of the consensus Greatest Band Ever.
Read More