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Announcing “Sellouts And Posers”

Hi, friends –

Maybe you’re still following this blog on your RSS feed. Or maybe you keep coming back, day after day, and wondering “what the hell happened to that guy? You know, the Christmas special fella, who sometimes wrote about music or politics or whatever?”

Well, wonder no more, hypothetical non-person! The answer is: mostly, I’ve been busy with a lot of crazy life-related stuff. Oh, and I have a new project. A cool one. You’ll like it.

So, as ya might know, I was a DJ at WBCN in Boston for six years – from 2003 to 2009. Now that I’ve moved on to a super-serious grownup job in public broadcasting, I’ve been able to look at the “alternative rock” era with a little hindsight and clarity, a little spice and vinegar, a pinch of salt, and stir to taste (note to self: don’t write these entries before dinnertime.)

So, yeah. New blog. It’s my long-form, song-by-song chronological history of the “alternative rock” years, called (of course…) SELLOUTS AND POSERS.

And you can read it here. We’re starting in May of 1989 with The Cure and going straight on until 2001. Tomorrow you’ll get a post about Faith No More’s “Epic.” Later this week, we go all Nine Inch Nails-y. Sometimes, you’ll get little personal snippets from my own life that may, or may not, be terrible lies.

Share and enjoy!

~geek usa

 

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
Video

Nostalgia Critic – Tribute To Animaniacs

If you have an hour to kill, and you were a Child Of The Nineties (TM), you need to watch this. It’s the Nostalgla Critic, interviewing about five of the writers/voice artists for THE GREATEST CARTOON OF ALL TIME, Animaniacs. Complete with clips and nostalgic warm fuzzies.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
Video

the misremembered ’90s: Fuzzy, “Flashlight”

If you wanted to do an archeological study of a particular time and place, and that particular time and place was “1994” and “Boston, Massachusetts”, you could do worse than to watch this video.

I mean, besides the fact that it’s awesomely catchy and all, “Flashlight” – by former Boston popsters Fuzzy – features a video that was probably filmed in their back yard, with lots of black and white slow motion guitar chuggin’.  If you live around here, you recognize that back yard.  Heck, you might have even been to a party in that *exact* back yard.  It’s in back of a triple decker apartment building in… something makes me want to say Jamaica Plain, but it could just as easily be Allston or Somerville.

There’s an adorably “look at us, with our crazy tanning foil like our parents used to use before they invented skin cancer” cutesy retro-vibe here, although it’s undercut by the black and white, which makes the whole thing seem more threatening than it probably meant to.

Ok, the video itself isn’t great.  But I still love this damn song, to this day.  It’s one of those local tunes ‘FNX used to play in the OK Soda era and, if you were a kid in the ‘burbs, it made you think that Boston was the coolest place in the entire world and you’d never, ever leave.

I’m still laboring under that delusion.  Thanks, Fuzzy.

 

the misremembered ’90s: The Cure, “Wrong Number”

Oh, let’s just pretend it HASN’T been nine months since my last post.  I’m tired of excuses.  Actually, right now, I’m generally just tired.

So, here’s my favorite latter-day Cure tune:

The Cure’s musical record, post-Wish, is spotty.  Not “spotty” as in “a British kid with acne,” but “spotty” as in hit or miss.  Not “Hit Or Miss” as in New Found Glory’s first major label single, but “hit or miss” as in all over the place.  There’s some amazing stuff (about half of Bloodflowers, about 1/3 of Wild Mood Swings, “Wrong Number”, and “Underneath The Sky”) and some less thrilling stuff (everything else.)

But for sheer late ’90s pop joy, with chopper delayed synths that sound like guitars and over-compressed guitars that sound like synths, you can’t do much better – especially with our boy Robert flopping his nest of black hair about like so while he pips on about “lime green and tan-ger-ine.”

It’s a pity this song isn’t better known, because there’s some amazing parodies to be written – and, believe me, over Christmas Break of ’97, they bloody were.

For example…

“I had the best fried clams this side of Annapolis…”

or…

“I had moo goo gai pan the size of an elephant…”

And those are just the food related ones.   There’s one I half completed, based on the plot of Les Miserables…

Fantine… Fantine… and Eponine

Are two tragic waifs in old Par-ee

Fantine…oh poor Fantine

the sickly sweet singer of “I Dreamed A Little Dream…”

skip to the chorus…

VALJEAN’S THE BEST EX-CON THIS SIDE OF OL’ SAINT-MICHEL

STOLE A LOAF OF BREAD AND THEY LOCKED HIM IN A PRISON CELL

RED AND BLACK FLAG, DO YOU HEAR THEM SING..

(hear ’em SINGIN’… hear ’em SINGIN’…)
And so on.

 

the misremembered ’90s: catherine wheel, “judy staring at the sun”

 

Nothing to report… except…

Yes, I love this video because of its cheesy retro sci-fi “made in the basement” style.  I also love that thing it does… which seems unique to videos from ’90s no-hit wonders, somehow…. where you have lots of flashing pop-art doing that stop motion thing while random words pop up.  They did it at the end of Reality Bites in the Pizza Hut commercial.  They sort of did it with the whole OK Soda thing.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.  Like here’s a bunch of Day-Glo pop art and a monkey and random words like “memory” and “fantasy”, and it’s all moving really fast?

I’m not sure who did that thing first, but I really want to know, because it’s always fascinated me.  Nothing says “it’s 1994 and I’m in art school” like that kind of editing.

Yes, that’s Boston’s own Tanya Donelly, lead singer of legendary local band Belly, singing back-up vocals here with the Catherine Wheel.  My completely unfounded theory is that Julie Kramer, veteran mid-day DJ at WFNX, had something to do with this, as she loves Catherine Wheel more than life itself and, I’m pretty sure, she used to hang out with Tanya Donelly as the Boston Phoenix *always* had a thing for Belly and the Phoenix owns WFNX.  Then again, my other completely unfounded theory is that I was somehow indirectly responsible for Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer getting together.  Not in any direct way – it’s more of a butterfly effect kind of thing.  I’d explain it to you, but it would probably involve a Glenn Beck-ish chalkboard thing and you know what forget it.

This is such a good “it’s summer, let’s drive somewhere” song.   Go listen to it while you do that.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Misremembered ’90s: ManBREAK, “Ready Or Not”

When Kasabian’s first album came out in 2005, we all thought they were original and huge and powerful and important and all that stuff.

Well, if you ignore the douchebaggy “comeON, comeOn!” at the top of this track…. it’s basically proto-Kasabian.

There really was a time – from roughly 1997 through 2001 – when white dudes thought that every single piece of recorded music, needed a vaguely hip-hoppish “comeON, comeON!” somewhere in there.  Didn’t matter what you were doing.  Rap, rock, punk, folk, everything.  “comeON, comeON!”    Somehow, we thought this was acceptable.  There’s probably recordings of the Boston Pops out there where Keith Lockhart is heard jumping up and down, waggling his baton threateningly at the crowd on the Esplanade, going “comeON, comeON!”  And he’s probably wearing baggy khakhi shorts while he does it.

Moving past that, this isn’t a bad song.  I saw ManBREAK once –  it was 1997.  The writing was on the wall for “alternative music.”  Headlining the show was Live, in their waning Secret Samhadi days, at exactly the time they started taking themselves really bloody seriously.  At the same show, Luscious Jackson played a great set.  Originally, the first act on the bill was going to be Fun Loving Criminals ( you know, the “Scooby Snacks” people) but they had to back out of the show at the last minute because their record label imploded or something.  So, they were replaced by ManBREAK.

Here’s ManBREAK’s legacy in a nutshell….

1) They’re the band that opened for Live and Luscious Jackson instead of Fun Loving Criminals.  That’s pretty much all you ever need to know about ManBREAK, except

2) They were kind of a harbringer of things to come.

Listening to “Ready or Not” – it’s clearly not nu-metal doof rock – it’s catchy and cool and kind of Madchester by way of Scotland – but it’s a sign of things to come.  Meaning… let’s look at that original line-up.  Live, Luscious Jackson, Fun Loving Criminals.  Take all those bands.  Put them in a blender.  What do you get?  ManBREAK.  Now, take that blended stew of yours, and drain out all the melody and “meaning” of Live, the funky, jazzy, punk feminism of Luscious Jackson, and the quirky, cool sense of humor of Fun Loving Criminals.  But leave the loudness, the hip-hop influence, and the “comeON! comeON!” in.  Then add the unwashed jock straps of an entire high school football team , and stir.

What you’d get would probably sound a lot like Limp Bizkit.

And that’s not fair to ManBREAK, because they seem like nice fellows.  I mean, just look at their hats.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in music, nostalgia, songs you don't know

 

The Misremembered ’90s: For Squirrels, “Mighty K.C.”

Next up, “Mighty K.C.”  KC stands for Kurt Cobain.   He’s dead.  The song is by a band called For Squirrels.  They’re dead, too.

There’s no use walking on eggshells, folks – the story of For Squirrels is one of the most ridiculously depressing stories of one-hit wonderdom ever.  Not just within the ’90s alternative arena – ever.

It basically shakes out like this: a bunch of kids in Florida got together, like kids all over the country, to goof around and play guitar.  Most of their songs were kinda dumb and silly, and their big hit was an acoustic-folk version of the rap classic “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J.

They started playing local coffee houses and actually got the chance to open for a real band.  And they blew.   They didn’t have it, they weren’t serious, and everyone could tell.

So the band sat down and decided, look, let’s go big or go home.  Let’s shit or get off the pot.  Let’s be the biggest band in the world, or die trying.

And the truly terrible thing is, that’s precisely what happened to them.  They recorded a pretty good album called Baypath Road – lots of REM influence, which got them signed to Sony.  Sony ponied up the money for their major label debut Example.   And, holy Cobain, that’s a great record.  Start to finish, it’s 10 songs of pure jangly guitar bliss, with bursts of glorious punk aggression.   They’re starting to sound less like REM, too, by this point.  They’re starting to sound like For Squirrels.

Jack Vigliatura ‘s their lead singer, a stocky formidable guy with an undeniable ear for an amazing hook.  As someone who pretends to write songs in his spare time, I’ve learned more from his vocal and lyrical style than I’d care to admit.   He writes songs about disenchantment, megalomania, Florida, and death.  And Kurt Cobain.  Ostensibly.  It’s more of a tone poem.   But it’s obviously great – there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, including a nice contrast between the verse and the chorus that makes the tune feel way more like an anthem than it should.

Seriously, they almost made it.  There’s nothing that says that, in an alternate universe, this band isn’t as big, as fondly remembered, as any of those other bands in your collection.   And then, one horrible day in September of 1995, they’re driving back home from a show at CBGB’s in New York, when their van blows a tire, flips over on I-95, and kills Jack, bassist Bill White, and Tim Bender, their tour manager.

Let’s get overtly metaphorical here, because we can: their last show is at CBGB’s in New York – traditionally, the place where bands play just before they break big.   Their album is about to be released by Sony.  The band is driving home to Gainesville, Florida.  Their van flipped just south of Savannah, Georgia.

It takes seventeen hours to drive from New York, NY to Gainesvile, FL.   For Squirrels were about three hours from home when their van flipped.   They almost made it.

When you listen to Example now, you can’t help but notice that Jack sings a lot about death.  “By the grace of God go I, into the great unknown”, thus goes the chorus of “Mighty KC”.   “Stark Pretty”, which is probably the album’s best song, has “every single action/I am death defied… death defied.”   “Gone, and not forgotten/Gone, and not forgotten/Do I hear the sound of a plane crash/Do I hear the sound of a copter/is it real or am I dreaming?”  – that’s the second verse of “8.02”.

When the album was released – a month after the accident – Entertainment Weekly panned it for that exact reason, saying that it was creepy hearing a young man, gone before his time, singing so much about death.   Also, they said the band was generic.

Bullhockey.  For Squirrels will have their renaissance, mark my words.   The whole album is bloody amazing and you should pick it up the next time you find it in the $1 CD bin.   Me, I bought the record in November of 1995, just before Thanksgiving, junior year of High School.  I know this because I bought it the same day I got Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the epic 2 disc Smashing Pumpkins album that tried really, really hard to define a generation.

Being totally honest with myself – and you – between the two albums, I’ve listened to For Squirrels’ Example a lot more often.

If we gather, if we fall over the great unknown

things are gonna change in our favor.

So – the video.  It’s cut together with Super 8 footage shot by the band and their families, projected onto an actor who’s supposed to be Kurt (in the afterlife?) watching the story of a young band who deserved better.   And now you know what “For Jack, Bill, and Tim” means.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in music, nostalgia, songs you don't know