I did so recently when I was rewatching the 1995’s excellent Heat, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It has a lot of interesting firearms in it, and I wanted to learn about them.
What I found, however, was an interesting mistake, and one that I see over and over in movies about crimes and cops: a shot showing us a signature rifle muzzle device also happens to show us two police scanners. One of them, the top one, is a Radio Shack Pro-2030. The display on it reads 000.0000, meaning it was never programmed, or it was reset at some point and never reprogrammed. Either way, it isn’t working.
The lower scanner, a Radio Shack clone of a Uniden 500 UBC9000XLT (Probably the
Realistic Pro-2036.), displays 470.5375, which is the correct frequency for Los Angeles Countywide police dispatch.
I am a fan of several movies about the Vietnam War: Apocalypse Now and its companion piece Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, We Were Soldiers, and even The Post.
There are also some not-so-great movies about the Vietnam War: Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill, The Boys in Company C, The Green Berets, Casualties of War, and Good Morning Vietnam, to name a few.
But standing head and shoulders above all this fiction, good and bad, is The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
This ten-part series originally produced for PBS is a definitive work about the Vietnam War.
I first got a taste of this in 2017 on Netflix, where it was a limited run, but recently bought the DVD box set and rewatched it, and it is amazing. It is unflinchingly candid about the war from start to finish, and brutally honest about how horrible it was. Yet at the same time, it seems fair and unbiased, an even and difficult account of what might have been one of America’s darkest chapter.
Never mind that the main musical score is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Never mind that there is a full-screen view of my newspaper in Episode 4. Never mind that it took 10 years and $30 million to complete.
It hits so hard that despite wanting to, I couldn’t unhear some of the most difficult things human beings can utter, like, “My hatred for them was pure. Pure. I hated them so much. And I was so scared of them. Boy, I was terrified of them. And the scareder of them I got, the more I hated them.”
I’ll leave that last quote un-cited because it is so brilliant, true, and universal.
Part of the difficulty in watching a series like this is that it becomes tedious and difficult to watch through to the finish, especially since it is so densely packed. This is ironic, because everything about the war itself was tedious and difficult to watch. Are we so weak and shielded from human nature that we can’t watch depictions of what our fellow human beings actually did?
After a full watching the second time through, though, I have to say that The Vietnam War goes near the top of my recommendations list.
“I’ve been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met.”
The song Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand is an excellent example of one of the dirtiest tricks the record industry played on us music-hungry fans: find an artist with a quirky, catchy song, have him or her record it (with a record producer’s finesse), then fill the rest of the CD/Album with his real talent, no talent at all.
I loved this song when it came out, and that’s no small compliment in the midst of one of the most creative, liberating, and musical periods – the mid-1990s – in entertainment. I heard it on the radio, which, of course, is much less likely today in the age of streaming.
I remember riding somewhere with a fellow newspaper staff member. When this song came on, I told him I liked it, and he added, “This guy is that one-man band.”
This song is moody, has thought-provoking lyrics, and has some edgy elements added to it, especially the church bell (or whatever bell) in the background offbeat. The beat and the doot-doos invite you to bob your head slightly when it’s playing, and even play it again once its done.
So I own a CD for this song, filled elsewhere with filler, songs that bring to a sharp point why we have one-hit wonders: talent is chance, success is chance, commerce is chance.
Updated in December 2021 to include a review of Creep by Radiohead
Around the dinner table with my Norman, Oklahoma friends (a group known at the time by several names, such as The Thirty Something Group [despite the fact that they weren’t 30-something any more], The Breadmaker Group, and The Bohemian Continuum) in 2009, I revealed a not very secret secret that those closest to me, like my wife, already know: I look at women’s hands, kind of obsessively. I related a story about having these feelings in third grade, explaining to them that when Mrs. Dzialo was at the front of the room, I stared at her hands. They looked really sexy to me.
When I was done with this story, Thea said, “So, you’ve always been a creep?”
After the laughter died down, I said, “Yes. Yes I have.”
Thus, even those closest, and presumably most understanding, to me were inclined to label and judge me. And thus, when Dan Marsh challenged me to review the song Creep by Radiohead, a song I already loved, it seemed obvious.
When I was younger, I usually felt like an outcast, and this feeling was never more apparent and powerful than when I was a young teenager, without a clue how to act around girls my age, who, in my view, shunned and mocked me. This perception imprinted deep into me, creating the idea that I really was more awkward and less attractive than the girls were.
It was manipulation that, as an adult, I realize was far from accurate. I think about the girls that age who I meet and photograph all the time as a news photographer, and I realize that they are the ones who are awkward and mannered, not me. How do I know this? I am completely comfortable socially is all settings, unless I am talking to a teenager. There is friction, and it comes from them. I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their incomplete replies.
So the song Creep tends to strike a chord.
“I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul…”
Then the perfect, and most revealing lyric, is sung: “What the hell am I doing here?”
What, indeed, Creep? How dare you be an oddball, an outcast, a nerd?
Creep is layered densely. You can’t listen to this song without going deep.
And in the end, of course, the voice is NOT the creep, and doesn’t “belong here” because of the special someone who has us all psyched to imagine she’s perfect. She’s not perfect, and his desire is as honest as anything she has to offer.
I love this song, but I love High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees just as much. Radiohead rules!
“They’re the ones who’ll hate you
When you think you’ve got the world all sussed out
They’re the ones who’ll spit at you
You will be the one screaming out…” ~High and Dry
All that said, the only reason I know anything at all about Radiohead is due to Napster, and the Apple friendly app Macster. Yes, that’s right, I stole all the Radiohead I own.
Soundgarden has a bit more polish than it’s contemporaries. It is more densely layered than Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
In Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, I am reminded of Alice in Chains: driving, deep, super-masculine vocals, harmonic, dynamic instruments, and a song structure that narrates and navigates us through the story.
The lyrics are brilliant. If Nirvana wrote lyrics to fill the space between the music, Soundgarden writes and sings lyrics with a purpose unto themselves.
I was guardian of a teenager once who wanted nothing else than to play Black Hole Sun on the electric guitar we got him.
I would say if you are not familiar with Soundgarden, give it a try.
Never ever confuse Soundgarden with Savage Garden. I dated a young woman in 2000 whole loved Savage Garden with all her heart, and wow, it was so lame. Boy band lame. Should be labeled Toxic, Do Not Play, Impotent and Lame in All Respects!
At that time in music history, I was flying a lot, and I listened to a huge amount of Brahms and Grieg, usually preferring the more flowing composition that resembled my feelings about flying.
As I have noted in a couple of previous movie reviews, futurism – the fictional depiction of how the future might look for humanity – is notoriously inaccurate. But what about fiction that is set in the present, but accidentally depicts – with alarming accuracy – actual events that come to pass?
Contagion is just such a movie.
When the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 exploded into the world, many of us took the news sideways, reacting in half-steps with half-information. At first, we cowered in our cars, closed schools and restaurants, and bought up all the hand sanitizer. When it got much worse, we went back to school, we went back to sporting events, we stopped masking and social distancing. You get the idea.
Contagion has pretty much everything the real pandemic offered: a dangerous virus, panicky people, concerned scientists, a quack blogger, even the kidnapping of a WHO epidemiologist. It even shows the zoonosis from bats to domestic pigs to humans, similar to the 2019 zoonosis.
“Cover your mouth please,” results in, “fuck off!”
“We are only able to give 50 doses today,” results in a rush and riot at a pharmacy.
Some things this movie missed, at least to some degree…
The weird coprophelial toilet paper hordage in early 2020
The crushingly disappointing political scene in 2020
The silly, childish anti-vax, anti-mask scene masquerading as personal rights advocacy or patriotism
In most places, vaccine distribution is sensible (first to need, first to get), not by lottery as depicted in the movie
Society stayed mostly ordered, with the glaring exception of January 6
This movie was based on the 2002-2004 SARS epidemic, and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, after which Steven Soderbergh hopped into a time machine to today, made some notes, then went back to 2011 to start filming.
This film was gripping when it came out, but is over-the-top relevant today. I highly recommend it.
40 years ago, I was a freshman college student at the University of Oklahoma. I had yet to buy my first Nikon camera. I lived in Adams Center, the older of the “tower” dorms at OU. My roommate was Jeff, who had switched rooms, without being invited or even asking, with the kid I was assigned to live with at the beginning of the semester.
My friends and I had some distorted priorities. We were way too invested in audiophilia, the devotion to “hi-fi” stereo and all it entailed. We spend way too much money on cassette tapes – sidebar about that here (link). We stayed up way too late at night. We skipped way too many classes.
But today I am talking about Jeff’s raison d’etre, the band Utopia.
By start of 1982, he had a tinted banner at the top of the windshield of his beloved (more so than any human) Pontiac Trans Am that said “Utopian.”
His parents correctly called him out about this, but he, and we, were loathe to listen. We knew it all, we thought, and parents are just old people who just wanted us to be “normal.”
He and several other friends also had rebel flag front license plates (though I did not). In the 2020s, most of us recognize what this actually represents and how offensive it was, but to Jeff and his ilk, it represented freedom and rebellion, not racism.
I never enjoyed much of Utopia, formed by Todd Rundgren in 1973. Whole albums of theirs seemed unlistenable to me, though I was able to cull out a few songs I kind of liked: Love Is the Answer [immediately covered by England Dan and John Ford Coley], The Road to Utopia, Set Me Free, Overture: Mountain Top and Sunrise/Communion With The Sun, and Singring and the Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairy Tale).
Overall, however, Utopia suffered from what too many bands do: it wasn’t very musical. Most of their tunes scratch by semi-tunelessly, striking no pleasure centers in the brain or conjuring empathy.
And although Todd Rundgren couldn’t sing, I liked much of his solo work: Hello It’s Me, I Saw the Light (a song that, for me, is about Abby), Can We Still Be Friends, and practically all of his albums Healing and Hermit of Mink Hollow.
When Jeff and I were roommates in 1981, we quickly learned to hate each other’s musical tastes. His Utopia decidedly clashed with my Pink Floyd, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, Phil Keaggy, and so on.
The question for me, though, has always been: why was Jeff so mentally and emotionally obsessed with Utopia? Jeff owned close to 100 record albums when we were roommates, but I can’t seem to remember any other band he liked. It makes him seem shallow and single-minded, like Rush Guy (link).
By January 1982, Jeff flunked out of college and moved back to Lawton. He killed himself in May. You can read about that year and Jeff’s suicide in an entry I called That Dark Season Underground (link).
Dan most recently challenged me to review Rearviewmirror by Pearl Jam. Dan’s really getting into 1990s grunge/garage recently, and I approve of this message.
It took me a while to get down to listening, but I am now, and I like it. It’s got that “I don’t care what the record producers says, let’s jam” sound to it.
It also got me thinking about what music we like, and why, and how that changes from one decade, year, month, day, and hour to the next.
What music did I think was the absolute ultimate when I was in college, for example? If you had asked me in 1982, I probably would have said Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. I played the album into vinyl extinction, then played the CD over and over, usually in my headphones at fighter-jet loudness levels. These days, I have little desire to hear it.
If you’d asked me when I was a young journalist in the late 1980s, I might have said With Tomorrow by This Mortal Coil. By December of 1992, I know I would have said Wild Horses by The Sundays (a cover of the Rolling Stones song.)
How much if this is what we construct between our ears, and how much of it is how we are born and raised? My wife Abby, for example, can’t get enough Garth Brooks, but his sound just bounces off me.
My musical taste is fluid, however, and I wonder how much of that is because the global cadre of music is ever-enlarging. If you turned on the radio in 1940, for example, how many contemporary songs even existed at that point?
Then today I turned on the radio, the actual FM radio in the truck, and heard something – um, wow, millennials, this is music? I can’t even describe how artificial and monotonous it sounded. Kids these days.
Oh, and FM radio? You’re doing about as good a job reinventing yourself as newspapers are. “92.2, The Pump! Cranking out your favorites from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, 2010s, and today!”
In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Diane Keaton plays a neurotic New Yorker named Mary Wilke. On the night Mary and Woody’s character meet, she and her date discuss the “Academy of the Overrated,” an imaginary collection of musicians, intellectuals and entertainers whose work isn’t nearly as great as they are generally regarded.
Musician Sting, the former frontman for The Police, might be in the top ten of such a list I would author. Too polished, too packaged, too careful, too 80’s, then too 90’s.
A music-critic I once dated called him “Stinj,” because she thought the very name was lame (although she happily got on board with U2’s “The Edge.”)
My friend Dan Marsh asked me if I would review a Sting song, and I mistakenly said yes. I had forgotten that Sting’s superstardom didn’t agree with me, and that I don’t like his music.
For this review, I listened to the song, Moon Over Bourbon Street, and the two CDs we own of his music, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, and The Summoner’s Tale. Ick.
It is especially hard to review this song after heavy doses of Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots in the last few days.
I grew up watching b-grade war movies. My dad was a war movie fan, but never wanted to spend the money to take us to the cinema. He would sit up many nights watching “Five Star Treater” (on channel 5), and the station didn’t have the budget for top-tier films. Some of the titles we saw over and over were Battle of the Bulge, Anzio, To Hell and Back, Hell is for Heroes, The Big Red One, Merrill’s Marauders, The Guns of Navarone, and Sergeant York.
As a young adult, I was lukewarm about war films until I saw Platoon, Oliver Stone’s 1986 flawed but gritty, engaging movie about the Vietnam War.
By 1998, technology and budgets had improved and increased enough to bring us movies like The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan, both amazing and sobering fictionalized tellings of World War II events.
2001’s Band of Brothers makes a couple of awkward missteps, but is, overall, a better show to watch than 2010’s The Pacific.
It’s easy to say that The Pacific, the follow-on of Band of Brothers, paints a grimmer, more horrible picture of war and its inherent cruelty. The Japanese are shown as mindless, wild animals with absolutely no regard for humanity, military or civilian. They surrender, only to pull grenades to kill MPs and medics. They shoot or booby trap civilians. They poison all the drinking water they leave behind.
At one point we see an American Marine torturing a Japanese soldier with his bayonet, only to have another Marine throw him to the ground and execute the prisoner with a .45 shot to the head, “to put him out of our misery.”
In other scenes, a lot of them, actually, we see Joseph Mazzello’s character Eugene Sledge look back toward us with breathless disgust at the horrors he has either seen, prevented, or, in the end, perpetrated.
So in a way, while we mostly like and cheer for the Band of Brothers as they march across Europe, fighting “the good war,” we eventually hate everyone in The Pacific.
But then we see episode 9 of Band of Brothers, Why We Fight, in which the 101st Airborne liberates a concentration camp near Landsberg. The depiction of the horrors there is soul-blackening. When my wife watched it (only once), she cried out loud through whole scenes.
If you like war movies for their realistic depiction of combat, both are at the top of the list. But The Pacific shows us that it is non-stop, chaotic, filthy, and, much of the time, without purpose, whereas the battles in Band of Brothers mostly seem to at least in some way try to win battles and the war.
A big plus for Band of Brothers was that it was made at the end of the 20th century, when some of the actual soldiers were still alive, and each episode includes interviews with these men. The accounts are honest and moving: imagine the toughest human that training and character could create, reduced to tears by a 60-year-old memory.
Imagine it’s 1971. The Apollo Program is wrapping up its missions that the public has come to regard as commonplace and expensive. Star Trek‘s three short seasons are done, and it is in reruns. Television has moved into the era of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and All in the Family.
Futurism is a tough nut to crack. Would we have flying cars by 1982? Would we be in space by 1999 like in the show Space 1999?
As I rewatch the 1971 drama The Andromeda Strain, I think of these things.
Everything is clean. Even in actual NASA clean rooms, there is tape and clutter and more clutter. The real future remains untidy.
Everything is austere. Despite the nature of people and the necessity of work, futurism seems to think we have room for huge rooms containing almost nothing at all.
Everything is made of stainless steel.
Clothing is all the same, usually a one-piece outfit in a bland color, or made of foil.
Doors slide open and closed automatically.
There are many unlabeled, seemingly similar lights and switches.
Food is in pill form.
There is a huge amount of chatter about technical things. (Unfortunately for The Andromeda Strain, literally all the chatter is nonsense.)
All important information is shared by lazy, barefoot, overweight teenagers using small video monitors, and all that information is true to the viewer. (Oh, wait, that’s the actual future. Never mind.)
I actually like the original 1971 film The Andromeda Strain, and I have read, and like, the book.
For decades I have been hoping that a big Hollywood studio would remake a couple of my favorite, but achingly terrible, war movies, The Battle of the Bulge (1965) and Midway (1976).
In 2019, one big studio made one of my wishes come true: they remade Midway.
My first criticism is a big one: why does this film start long before the events it is depicting? Was it really necessary to bloat this picture with hash and rehash? Start at the beginning of … The Battle of Midway! The actual battle went on for three days, so why would you need to pad your runtime with other events?
The special effects work well in this piece, since all the effects in the 1976 version were practical effects, and not very effective, in many instances made using a technique known as back-projection, in which the performers and props are placed in a studio space with a film of the exterior projected onto a screen behind them. It was far cheaper than Star Wars’ inlaid matte paintings, and well before the time of motion capture and digital chroma key.
Midway’s showy special effects are fun and eye-pleasing, and even engage fans of war films, but remain an example of buying content rather than mastering it. $100,000,000 buys a lot of eye candy, but like all candy, it’s not very nourishing.
So how does Midway (2019) compare with Midway (1976) in terms of theatrical nourishment? I definitely prefer the new version, and though it isn’t brilliantly written, it tell its story.
The Heston version gets bogged down in a pointless sidebar story about Captain Garth’s son, a navy pilot, falling in love with a Japanese-American Hawaiian island resident, both so we can have some reason to care about him when he gets badly burned carrying out one of the attacks, but also to show us that Americans had outgrown anti-Japanese racism and resentment by the 1970s. “Don’t give me any of that racial bigot crap!” Heston growls.
Both films feature star-studded ensemble casts. Both films are too long.
The final insult from the 1976 version is the crass, obvious reuse of stunt crash scenes from 1970s far superior Tora! Tora! Tora!
So, finally, I am happy that big Hollywood remade Midway, and I have watched it several times. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and engaging. I recommend it.
A song like Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots summons nice memories of an era of music that was a lot freer than more recent genres. They were free to scratch along a warbly guitar, free to write lyrics that mixed sleaze with perfection, free to go from quiet introspective to bridge to chorus without following – or even knowing – the rules of music.
That era was grunge/garage, started in the 1990s in the crucibles of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and even Smashing Pumpkins. Music was finally willing to chuck the bone at big record producers and just play and sing what they wanted to play and sing.
It was one brief, shining moment in music history, lasting just long enough for some oily record executive to figure out how to make money from this creative firestorm.
Orbiting the barycenter of this giant moment in music was Stone Temple Pilots.
Big Empty is a very involving song, one I never turn down or turn off, and one I enjoyed playing again and again as I thought about this moment in music. No synth. No drum machines. No “millennial whoop.” They just jammed.
I was watching MTV in my rooming house in college in 1984. A U2 video, probably Sunday Bloody Sunday, came on. One of other roommates who happened to be in the room said, “They’re so concerned.”
U2 has done a pretty good job of reinventing themselves as the years have gone by. That’s pretty rare. Even rarer is when bandmates can stay together. Everyone from Pink Floyd to The Beatles parted ways with a fair amount of hostility. U2 seems to stay together with no hint of infighting or “creative differences,” and I wonder why?
But back to the review of Mofo. Or forward to the review. This is an odd song. I know it’s trying hard to be driving and edgy, but for one reason or another, every time I tried to listen to it all the way through, I found a distraction, usually another song in my library. I’m trying to like this song, I really am.
I hate to be one of those guys who thinks they know everything about music and what’s good and what’s bad, because hey, I’ve never sold a million copies of anything. But I give Mofo a thumbs down.
Shades by Iggy Pop (whose actual name is James Newell Osterberg Jr.) shares a lot with the 1980s sound: primitive gated reverb drum tracks, that ringing rhythm guitar, the obvious and predictable bass line (blum, bluh-blum), and the exactly-in-1986 lyrics. And do I hear a keytar in there somewhere?
I guess there were certainly worse songs produced and performed in the mid-1980s, but this song hits almost every 80s point, right down to being produced by David Bowie. Once you learn that Bowie produced it, you can’t unhear his hand in it.
I really like the lead-in and lead-out guitar and the “whoo-hoo”s.
I know there is a place in the music salon for tunes like this, but checking another “no thanks” box for me is how instantly and vividly it brings back that time for me. In 1986, I was 23, and dating a tomboy named Kathy. Kathy and I spent late nights watching videos on TBS and MTV. She was a huge U2 fan. It was a very intense relationship, one I can almost still smell on me, and it didn’t end at all well.
If I can set aside those criticisms, though, I found myself enjoying this song. It’s a catchy tune, dressed up with just enough synth and glitz to keep it complex and interesting to the ear.
Also, 80s? What’s with the chain link fence fetish?
I challenged my writer/blogger friend Dan Marsh to review a song, and he counter offered by suggesting an additional song for us both to review.
The song I suggested, Carnage Visors, is a 27 minute instrumental musical orgasm of darkness that was offered as a cassette-only b-side recording by The Cure in 1981.
The music is hypnotic and repetitive, but never boring, built not on lyrics, but on a grimly constructed bass line that keeps teasing us and tempting us to let go into an abyss.
It is entirely plausible to put this piece of music on an endless loop and play it in hell; not the seventh circle of hell, but the nicest parts of hell (Nine Inch Nails reference).
Carnage Visors is the opposite of the high school cheerleader, the opposite of the public relations spokesmodel, the opposite of the nuclear family. Carnage Visors elicits honest tears of loss, of fear, of humiliation, of regret.
If Carnage Visors is an orgy of blackened souls, Dan’s suggestion, Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana, instantly sounds like the chaos Jewish children created when asked to draw pictures of their homes after World War II.
Musically, Scentless Apprentice hits hard.
For as acidic and oddly tuneless as it is, and with all the screamed lyrics, you might think this song is trying to get you to stop listening, but as I fired it up to play for the second time, the third time, the tenth time, I couldn’t stop listening. I couldn’t even turn the volume down. It was injecting some kind of musical drug into my ears. I found myself bobbing my head and shoulders to the driving rhythm, and almost getting chills during the dirtiest of the screams.
Yes, Kurt Cobain’s dirty screams hit my ears with a desperation that can’t be faked. Were these the sounds of a dying drug addict? No, not at all. The dying and drug addiction followed the downward spiral (Nine Inch Nails reference) Cobain had been building since he could talk, and this song is following it as well.
Much of this song is aimed at expressing chaos; chaos in a tortured soul, chaos in an unfair world, chaos of intimacy gone wrong.
In an odd way, Scentless Apprentice invites me to reinvent my past, only as a dirt poor roadie fan crashing as many Nirvana concerts and appearances as I could. It invites me to be a photographer at the gates, held back by security men, trying to get the truth of this mess, but at the same time, filled with the desire to be a part of the band.
Unlike the often sophisticated lyrics of Nine Inch Nails, Cobain keeps his words relatively simple… “Hey, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away…”
The downside to songs like this is that they invite you to go to a similar dark place, a place we all have inside us, filled with rage and fear, a perfect place where it all seems simple. I learned this lesson decades ago when I listened to too much Nine Inch Nails, and let it take me down with it.
On the other hand, it definitely washes the Sarah McLaughlin from your mouth.
Much of the sanctimonious preaching I do on my teaching blog is meant to emphasize the idea that artistic substance, not shallow devotion to technology, is the right direction to lead our creative energies. I preach that you can’t buy mastery, you have to earn it.
I thought of this core concept as I began to assemble tonight’s entry, which itself is struggling to find substance in the midst of exploring what might be considered one of my shallowest enterprises: audiophilia.
Several commenters on the mix tape blog entry said they still possessed their mix tapes, but no longer had any devices on which to play them. Hopefully they migrated the music if not the mixes themselves to newer media and didn’t lose anything truly valuable. It did remind me, though, that I actually still own two very nice cassette tape decks, a Sony TC-KE500S, and a JVC TD-V531. In addition to having incredibly pretentious model numbers, these machines had several vague, probably meaningless, feature descriptions printed on their faces, like Closed Loop Dual Capstan Mechanism, Half Shell Stabilizer, Headroom Extension System, Ceramic Cassette Holder, and Two Motor Transport Mechanism. I assume these were displayed on these tape decks to give them showroom appeal, so you could be impressed by these features without having to talk to a salesman.
Who Were They? Stereo store salesmen, and they were almost always men, were, like auto parts clerks, only in the business because they were devoted to the mechanics of their craft, and were universally impatient snobs who just wanted to tell you how much more they knew about audiophilia than you did. It is doubtful I ever met anyone in a stereo store I liked or who knew anything about the soul of music.
I got into the stereo scene in my senior year in high school, when I started hanging out with kids who were heavily into both home and car stereo. When they talked about it, they always talked about equalization curves and bias settings, sometimes arguing about them, but never about well-written lyrics or amazing guitar licks. Their stereos were badges of validation, not vehicles for being moved by music.
I carried much of this devotion to the audio scene into my adult life, though as time went by I was less and less interested in the machines, and more into the music. As I write this, I am tapping my foot and bobbing my head to the newest (and last) Third Eye Blind album. I don’t care how it was recorded and on what machines using what microphones. I am listening to the music and its message.
In the present day I listen to music using the machinery of the current tech, without thinking about it much. I don’t particularly crave the latest Sennheiser headphones, or speakers with clean bass. In fact, I never play music over loudspeakers. At work I plug into my computer or my iPhone’s MP3 player. At home, Abby and I either watch movies or just talk, though when I am at work she likes to play country and western music on a boom box next to her recliner, since I don’t care for the genre.
Recently I have pondered getting something that would allow me to listen to music while I mow. Presently I use earplugs. I would entertain suggestions about that.
Abby is away this weekend, which is one reason I was able to spend time digging these tapes decks and tapes out of the attic and photographing them, which was very fun. It was also fun thinking about the nature of the way I listen to and enjoy music, more or less every single day of my life.
My first LP was Led Zeppelin IV. My first CD was Peter Gabriel’s So. I don’t know what my first download was because my first downloading experience was during the Napster era, and it was a little like looting a liquor store after an earthquake: we grabbed anything our bandwidth could carry.
In 1979, Michael, my girlfriend Tina, and I discovered Pink Floyd’s The Wall. We listened to it and got emotionally involved in it. It carried us places no music had before. That was at the core of my becoming a Pink Floyd fan. There are a lot of amazing songs on The Wall, but many of us liked to think that Pink Floyd wrote The Wall just for us, and the song for me (and a lot of kids like me) was Comfortably Numb. We stayed up late in our dorm rooms or crashing at some buddy’s place, or driving with the guy who had the best stereo, listening to Comfortably Numb and becoming comfortably numb, whatever it meant to each of us personally.
I spent late, late lonely nights, playing Comfortably Numb on my headset at rock concert volume levels, being moved to tears by the images it conjured inside me.
For years after that, if someone asked me, “What music do you like?” the first band on my list was Pink Floyd. I saw the movie The Wall and became a fan of it, although by then I had built so many stories in my head to go with the music of The Wall that the movie didn’t deliver my fantasies to me.
Last week Pink Floyd released The Endless River, a collection of mostly-instrumental music culled from the cutting-room floor of the last 20 years or so. It has been met with decidedly mixed reviews, and I can’t disagree with the critics.
Pitchfork wrote that The Endless River “is quintessentially and self-consciously Pink Floyd, for better or for worse … it proves to be one of the few Pink Floyd releases that sounds like a step backwards, with nothing new to say and no new frontiers to explore.” Mikael Wood of the LA Times gave the album 1 out of 4 stars and called it “so excruciatingly dull (even by Pink Floyd’s often-dull standards) that the band’s name on the cover feels like a straight-up bait-and-switch.”
But I also see a real value for me in nostalgia for Pink Floyd, and The Endless River works for me in this capacity.
In the years after Pink Floyd front men Roger Waters and David Gilmour parted ways, with Gilmour claiming Waters wasn’t part of the band and Waters claiming the band wasn’t Pink Floyd without him, it got harder to care about the band. The music lost its narrative, its genius, it brilliant messiness. I think this is because they were both wrong, and Pink Floyd wasn’t a group of members, it was a moment in music.
I always sensed that post-Waters Pink Floyd were always saying, “We’ve got to be the smartest, the most amazing, the most enigmatic, the deepest.” and that fact sometimes kept them from being themselves.
The Endless River is supposedly the last album from Pink Floyd, since keyboardist Rick Wright died in 2008. I am listening as I write this, and the music has some real strengths. But I’m no different than the rest of the fans who compare it to the music we grew up hearing; Meddle, Animals, Atom Heart Mother, Wish You Were Here.
Of course, I’ve already bought it on iTunes. I am, after all, a fan.
Years ago, circa 1987 as I recall, Robert shared an apartment with about five other guys in Tulsa. I went up there for a weekend to hang out, and while waiting for Robert to return from work one morning, I met one of his roommates. I don’t know his name, but I will never forget him, because the only thing between his ears was the rock band Rush.
I came into Robert’s kitchen for a bite of breakfast to find this guy sitting at the kitchen table with a boom box. It was covered with Rush stickers, and he was wearing a Rush concert tour dates “wife beater” t-shirt.
I sat down with some cereal and he launched into a 40-minute diatribe about Rush; how great they were, how no drummer could touch Neil Peart, how Geddy Lee’s voice was a vocal orgasm, how he’d gotten ahold of the super-rare Japanese import of a certain album, about how I had to hear this song (which he played), then that song, then another, and so on.
It was an oddly sobering experience about how the other half – the half whose existences are one-dimentional – lives.
I think about this guy sometimes when I see young people who have tattoos. What could I have possibly been into when I was 20 that I would want on my body now that I’m 50? Camaros? Foreigner? That girl I had a crush on? The Doobie Brothers? Mannheim Steamroller? My journal? Sheesh. Message to young people: if you have to mark yourself, get a piercing. At least you can change out the message.
Thoughts about this came about because I am currently working on a fun little playlist challenge.
This challenge came about because in addition to a USB port for an iPod car, there is a CD slot, which will play an audio CD or an MP3 CD.
The challenge, then, is to assemble an MP3 CD, which typically holds about 145 songs, with no more than one song per artist.
This is harder than you might imagine, particularly if you have a huge iTunes library and have, as I have, been collecting music for a lot of years. At the same time, I am having fun doing it.
The advantage to something like this is that it forces me to listen to some music (or at least access briefly before skipping) like (I cite as example because it is playing as I write this) Me and Bobby McGhee by Janis Joplin. I love this song, but seldom listen to it.
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Now that it’s finished, I will say that it was a fun playlist to create, but it wasn’t easy. It ended up being 144 songs. I challenge you to try something similar.