Category Archives: music


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…”


“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…




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


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.


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


The Misremembered ’90s: Gregory Gray, “The Pope Does Not Smoke Dope”

New thing we’re doing here – “The Misremembered ’90s” – all our favorite “alternative” acts that got snapped up by the major labels during the post-Nirvana explody-thing.

Oh, the record labels… In the long tradition of hilariously ignorant decisions made by people who should totally know better (see: Gates, Bill, re: comment on 640k; Records, Decca, re: rejecting the Beatles because guitar music was on the way out; Union, Western, re: “the telephone is of no practical use”) they really really really really really should have gotten their collective act together sooner.  I know, I know, I’ve been saying this so long I’m beginning to sound like a broken record industry, but come on.  Someone should have called a meeting the second Real Player was invented, and the bullet points at that meeting should have looked like this:

  • This is a free computer program that plays music over the internet.
  • Explain concept of “internet”
  • Explain concept of “computer”
  • Explain that yes, while it’s even plain to complete technological illiterates like yourself that Real Player blows, you should still hear me out.
  • Presentation of computer from like 5 years ago that could barely display a grainy image file.
  • Presentation of brand new computer that can play a fricking video.  That I just downloaded.  For free.  Sure, it took me about 3 days, and it’s only 30 seconds long, but hear me out.
  • Explanation that this is because technology increases incrementally, and not because of magical elves.
  • Conclusion: one day, someone will invent a program that allows your customers to steal everything you make, and everyone will do it because it’s really easy and no one feels guilty about it because you’ve been overcharging for years. Perhaps you’d like to take certain steps to rectify that before some kid from bloody Northeastern of all places invents that program and destroys your business like a horde of termites ransacking a once grandiose and vainglorious slave plantation until it crumbles under the weight of its own obsolescence?  Maybe?

That meeting did not happen.

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, that’s where the record industry is now, but before then, it almost sank itself by snapping up every single band of 3 or more kids with flannel shirts and guitars they could find, thus leading to a glut of no-hit wonders that had one single that barely made it past the 2am on WFNX phase. And a lot of those bands released exactly one record, which didn’t get promoted because there were already a million other acts the label had to throw their weight behind, and then sank into obscurity, having tasted the big time for about twelve seconds.  Then the labels started folding.

Then nu-metal happened.  A lot of smart, creative, slightly geeky kids *loved* “alternative rock* when it first broke.  Not just loved – made it their lifestyle – because here was an entire genre of music created by, and for, ordinary, bright, socially awkward folks.  Maybe not book smart, but definitely not ignorant and certainly creative in their own ways.   After a while this fell out of fashion and you got bands like Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach, and smart alterna-kids stopped listening to the radio because all the new bands seemed to be fronted by the assholes who used to beat them up in middle school.

Then Napster.  Then the end.  And a lot of these baby bands got crushed between the wheels of inevitability.

The thing is – a lot of those baby bands had at least one or two really great songs… and that is why we’re here today.

So… song one:  “The Pope Does Not Smoke Dope” is a real obscure one and a real oddity.  I saw it on the legendary Rage TV on Boston’s TV 38 in about 1995 – it’s very similar to that Primitive Radio Gods tune, or maybe the mellower moments of Blur or London Beat.  Either way, it’s great stuff, and someone should find this dude and tell him.  He’s somewhere in Ireland right now, probably managing a hip club or a hip pub or a hip peat bog or some such thing.  It’s an enjoyable, chill tune and in the video, he’s either a ghost or a hologram, so I totally approve.

<— That’s the only picture of Gregory Gray out there.  On the whole internet.  Seriously.   He’s that evasive.

So cut the crap – get real sweetheart

The pope does not smoke dope – even if he should.

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Posted by on May 18, 2011 in music, nostalgia, songs you don't know


OK… let’s catch up on this 30 Day Song Challenge Thing…

day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event

Song: “I Want An Alien For Xmas”

Band: Fountains of Wayne

Event: Solstice party, my parents’ house, annual event/Christmas Eve, same

I first heard this song in college.  I don’t remember where – it was either something Matt and Jeremy played on U Maine campus radio station WMEB, 91.9 (“Redefining ALTERNATIVE!”) or it was on Napster.  Ah, Napster.  Anyway, it was around Christmas, end of Fall term, I was probably wearing a big long coat and driving to Dysarts.  I know that I definitely *did* come home for Christmas that year with a tape (yes, a tape) of alt-rock and folk Christmas songs that I taped off my computer, which we played while we trimmed the tree. And “I Want An Alien For Xmas” was one of them.

My parents do Christmas really well – they perform music at church and have a big caroling party every year, on Dec. 21 (the winter solstice.)  Everyone hangs out and plays music and drinks hot cider.  If the dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland, the dream of the ’60s is alive, for one night a year, in Westford.  One year – I don’t remember which – I played “I Want An Alien For Xmas.”  The kids loved it.  The grownups loved it.  Somehow, it became The Song I played every single year.   Well, that and “The Christians and the Pagans”, which has become another wonderful tradition.

But I hear “Alien For Xmas” by Fountains of Wayne and I think of my godfather’s kids, Rebecca and Maria and Sandra, jumping up and down and asking me to play it each year with joy and wide-eyed wonder in their eyes and hearts.  It should be noted that Rebecca now works for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Sandra has a MFA from the Yale School of Drama, and Maria is a college sophomore.  I kind of accidentally started a tradition.

I also think of my grandmother – I definitely played it for her for the first time in December of 2001.  She adored it, and every year, on her birthday, which happened to be December 24, she insisted I play it.

day 08 – a song that you know all the words to

song: “We Didn’t Start The Fire”

artist: Billy Joel

really?:  yep.

No real story here – I’m just bragging.

By the way – this song might sound like just a list of stuff, but it’s way better written than you think it is.  You know why Billy ends the first verse with “Satayana, goodbye!”?


OK, so,  Billy’s doing the typical baby boomer thing of thinking it’s all about him and his generation, so he’s listing all the historical and cultural events he can think of since the year of his birth, 1948.  By the end of the first verse, it’s 1952, Billy’s four years old, England’s got a new queen, Rocky Marciano’s the champ, Liberace’s a star, and Satayana’s dead.

Who the hell is Satayana?

George Satayana.  Spanish-American writer and philosopher.  Came up with that immortal phrase “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Which is the whole point of “We Didn’t Start The Fire.”   Billy’s intentionally dropping an obscure reference he hopes you’ll look up, and when you do, you’ll figure it out, man.  And he gets there at the end of the first verse! Pretty cool.

day 09 – a song that you can dance to

song: “Borneo”

artist: Firewater

can you dance to it?: Totally. And so can you.

day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep

song: “Neon Sky Rain”

artist: Vector Lovers

sleep in a good way?: Oh yes.  This is wonderfully calm, blippy, ambient electro.  Enjoy.

day 11 – a song from your favorite band

song: “Sing”

artist: The Dresden Dolls

First saw them in 2003,  the year they won the Rock and Roll Rumble.  Thought that, with Amanda’s songwriting and Brian’s drumming and the whole aesthetic, they had the potential to be cult heroes.  Saw them with an audience of about 50 people at the late, lamented SkyBar.  Saw them with an audience of about 30 people playing a radio show.  Saw them in the basement of the Middle East back when you could smoke in bars in Cambridge.  Saw their CD release party at the Paradise.   Saw them play bigger and bigger venues, like Avalon and The Roxy.  Two years later, saw them open for Nine Inch Nails at the Orpheum.  The year after that they were touring the world.  Amanda Palmer released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2008 on her own, became a social media icon/genius, and married Neil Gaiman.

There’s something really gratifying about being right.
day 12 – a song from a band you hate

song: “She Loves Me Not”

artist: Papa Roach

For some reason, I can’t access any of my original comments from Facebook past Day 20, but I think I said something like “the perfect song to listen to you while you lurk in a trailer park with a sock full of pennies because that b***h owes you money and tonight, she’s gonna pay, man.”  Which was icky and violent, but totally sums up how I feel about this band: they always seemed to me like they were about to go beat their wives.

day 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasure

song: “Part Of Your World”

artist: Skye Sweetnam

Oh, come on: this cover totally rocks.  Sure, it’s from Disney Mania 3 or some such evil thing, but holy crumbs it’s good.

(to be continued)

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Posted by on March 12, 2011 in music, self-aggrandization, youtube


30 Day Song Challenge: Day 6 – A Song That Reminds You Of Somewhere

Day 6

Theme: A Song That Reminds You Of Somewhere

Artist: Guster

Song: “Parachute”

Where: Exploration Summer Program, 1995 and 1996 (or Explo ’95/’96)

Already wrote about this song here.



30 Day Song Challenge: Day 5 – A Song That Reminds You Of Someone

Day 5

Theme: A Song That Reminds You Of Someone

Artist: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

Song: “Home”

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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in 30 day song challenge, music


30 Day Song Challenge: Day 4 – A Song That Makes You Feel Sad

Day 4

Theme: A Song That Makes You Feel Sad

Band: Bright Eyes

Song: “Lua”

My friend Adam likes to joke that my entire music collection is full of “sad British songs by sad British singers,” and he’s kind of right.  So, when it came to A Song That Makes You Feel Sad, I very specifically excluded the United Kingdom altogether from my selection.    So that means no “A New England” by Billy Bragg, or “Man Out Of Time” by Elvis Costello… no “Atmosphere” (Joy Division)  or “Without You I’m Nothing” (Placebo)  or “To Wish Impossible Things” (The Cure) or “Fake Plastic Trees” (Radiohead).  Sorry, Snow Patrol, we’ll light up, light up and “Run” for our lives some other time.  No “Dry Your Eyes” by The Streets, nor “Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want This Time” by The Smiths.   And no Belle and Sebastian, no matter how much “It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career.”

Anyway, Adam, those are my Top 10 sad British songs by sad British singers.  I’m sure you really wanted to know.

My top 5 non-British songs that make me all teary-eyed are, in no particular order…

“Cancer” – My Chemical Romance (written from the perspective of someone dying from cancer)

“Climbing Up To The Moon” – The Eels (written from the perspective of someone dying from cancer)

“Taxi Ride” – Tori Amos (written about someone dying from AIDS)

“Famous Blue Raincoat” – Leonard Cohen (about a love triangle, but Leonard sings it so well and so sadly, you feel like someone must dying of something)

… and then there’s “Lua.”  No one dies in “Lua.”   Not yet, that is.  It’s not clear that anyone’s life is in immediate danger.   It’s about a couple heading out for the evening, but it sounds as though they’re nearing the end of their relationship.   From the beginning, everything seems like a struggle – it’s freezing, the taxis aren’t stopping to pick us up, but we’re supposed to go to this stupid party, so let’s soldier on.  This is not a fun couple anymore.  You start to get the feeling that the narrator is just freaking done with all this, and the feeling has to be mutual, so why haven’t they just called it off?

And then there’s this part:

You’re looking skinny like a model
With your eyes all painted black
Keep going to the bathroom
Always say you’ll be right back
Well, it takes one to know one, kid
I think you’ve got it bad
But what’s so easy in the evening
By the morning’s such a drag

They’re together because they’re both addicts – that’s all.   Somehow, that kind of thing – that symbiotic, mutually-agreed upon, downward spiral – is infinitely more depressing than disease or deceit or living on a cold island where it rains all the time and you’re constantly dealing with race memories of a lost empire.  There’s a sense of inevitability about this song that makes the misery all the more real.

It sounds as if they’re nearing the end of their relationship – except they’re really not.

And, like all addictions – and, for that matter, all relationships – this one started because it seemed like a great idea at the time (“what’s so normal in the evening, by the morning seems insane.”) The way Conor Oberst plays the song on this track, too, on a simple ukelele, his voice barely above a whisper… even sounds like a hangover, as if raising his voice would just hurt too much.

And we don’t know what the addiction is, either.  It could be drugs or bulimia.  Both involve going to the bathroom a lot and being skinny.  Whatever it is, it’s not going away anytime soon.

Dying can be a relief.  Break-ups can be beneficial for both parties.   Rain is beautiful.  Sometimes, war is justified.  Acts of injustice can make people realize what justice means.  Even hearing about someone who died before their time can make us understand how important and fragile life really is.

But real sadness is when you think – no, know – that nothing is ever, ever going to get any better.  You’re stuck, and you’re pretty sure it’s all your fault.   Because what was simple in the moonlight, by the morning never is.

That’s why “Lua” makes me sad.

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Posted by on February 13, 2011 in 30 day song challenge, music


30 Day Song Challenge – Song #3: A Song That Makes You Happy

Day 3

Theme: A Song That Makes You Happy.

Artist: Chumbawumba

Song: “Tubthumping”

Shut up.  It does.

Looking at the official rules for the 30 Day Song Challenge, there are a couple of other places I could have put this tune.  “Your Favorite Guilty Pleasure” for one.  Or “A Song That You Want Played At Your Funeral.”   Or “A Song That Describes You.”

It’s a guilty pleasure because, on first listen, it’s a gloriously mindless one-hit wonder from the tail end of the ’90s version of the “alternative era.”  I want it played at my funeral because I think that would be hilarious.  And it describes me because, you know, I get knocked down, but I get up again.  Or something.   More to the point, I talk too much and I think I’m really interesting, especially when I’ve had a pint.  An’ all that.

But, no: this song by everyone’s favorite musical UK anarchist collective just makes me happy whenever I hear it.  It’s the only song I’ve ever heard that manages to be equally cynical and optimistic.  And if you’re cynical like me, then optimism can be a hard sell.

Chumbawumba’s always been more clever than you think they are, anyway.  If this song is about a guy holding court at a pub (which it is) then it makes perfect sense that first, he sings the songs that remind him of the good times, and then… as the night progresses… no, mate, I was f**king wrong.  Them were the BEST times, they was!  Which is why he keeps misquoting pop songs.  Don’t cry for me, next door neighbor indeed.

I can write all the  music-geek stuff you could ever want to hear, but the fact of the matter is “Tubthumping” just makes me jump around and sing whenever I hear it.  And that I can’t properly put into words.



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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in 30 day song challenge, music