Sunday, January 04, 2009

list five new bands

Last night my old roommate Steve said that legacy music is crowding out anything new, that new bands don’t stand a chance in our content-saturated world.

I didn’t know what to say. Silently I tried to list five new bands—bands that’d appeared on the scene in the last five years—and I couldn’t do it.

I felt so out of it.

Oh, I can conjure up a pop music princess or two—foxy little Miley Cyrus comes to mind—and rappers with clever names and sidearms. There’s 50 Cent and Eminem. Then there’s Amy Winehouse, who in spite of her obvious talent is best known for her tats and her ability to make a spectacle of herself. How about Gnarls Barkley—that’s two people, almost a band, although I wouldn’t be able to pick out a Gnarls Barkley tune from the shuffle on the average iPod Touch.

What I mean is, even if I can scrape together the names, I don’t actually spend much time listening to their music and probably won't be able to come up with a song. And I think Steve was referring to a rather more specific genre of music, one in which there’d be a bass player and a guitarist and perhaps a drummer or two.

You know: a band.

The four of us were sitting together at Steve and Kathy’s dining room table, me and my three old Mentor Street roommates. Steve, Kathy, Chris, and I. Here it was, the waning hours of 2008 and we were talking about music. Just like we did almost every evening those decades ago when we were roommates.

Music was the backbone of our lives back then.

I remember falling asleep in my room on a rainy Pasadena night long ago. Steve was playing his guitar in our dining room. He was singing too. He had a pleasant, reedy voice and he could play the guitar very well. The rain was pattering on the roof and on my windows, which were just two pieces of glass that slid in a wooden track. Every so often raindrops would sputter in where the panes of glass met.

It’s hard to feel any more secure or happier than that. I was 20 years old.

We’re quite a bit older now, graying even, but I had a suspicion that Steve—or Kathy or Chris—could name five new-ish bands if they wanted to, without even straining. Five bands Steve had discovered through MySpace, or had seen serendipitously at some club in San Francisco.

Even the newer bands that crossed my mind weren’t new enough. I knew Steve and Kathy had just seen the Mermen, a band I think I like too, but they don’t count as new. Haven’t they been around since the late 1980s?

It’s not just the bands. I can’t name very many local clubs, although there are at least a dozen within walking distance from our house.

Chris has an excuse. He books real acts for a well-known cultural venue in LA and has done so since we were roommates. He’s familiar with other genres. With classical music. With avant garde. With Celtic music. I recall, with no small amount of gratitude, the tickets he’d pull for me, tickets for great seats. Tickets for sold-out shows.

Wasn’t it because of Chris that over the course of three consecutive evenings in the early 1980s I’d seen Lou Reed, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen in concert? Didn’t we fly up to San Francisco together to go to a Hot Tuna show, killing time in the iconographic bar at LAX while we waited for our much-delayed flight, drinking pina coladas because Warren Zevon happened to use that drink as a prop in Werewolves of London?

Because the Chronicle’s Pink Section, the one with the entertainment listings, has three crossword puzzles, a cryptogram, a jumbo Sudoku, a jumble, and a number puzzle, I sometimes remember to check who is playing where and to read the reviews of a show or two. The problem is, I save the puzzles, so usually by the time I get around to paging through the Pink Section, the bands have played and moved on to the next city on their tour.

But even the Pink Section names don’t leap to the tip of my tongue. The occasional brush with a publicity flyer or a club ad isn’t enough to fix the names securely in my mind.

Yeah, I remember a few local acts, the ones that offer a mnemonic, the bands I’ve seen performing on floats at the Pride parade. Mandonna ("The All-Male, All-Live Tribute to the Queen of Pop") or The Cinnamon Girls (an all-bear Neil Young cover band that Yoram took me to see at The Eagle). Or Three Day Stubble, a bizarre geek band that’s been around for a quarter of a century.

Not new.

When I was a little kid, I was amazed that my parents didn’t seem to listen to music. In our undisturbed living room, they’d parked a big mid-century hi-fi in a Danish modern teak cabinet. The centerpiece of the hi-fi was a reel-to-reel tape deck, which even then wasn’t that common. There was probably a turntable involved with this setup too, because my folks owned five or six stereo albums. Nat King Cole. Tony Bennett. Mantovani. A tape of Lenny Bruce live at the Hungry i, which was the only thing I’d even tried to listen to.

My parents never listened to the records or the tapes. Nor did I, because I had my own record player upstairs, a Decca, that I played monaural Beatles records on, over and over, until they developed skips and pops that I associate with the Beatles to this day.

Hel—you can I’m feel—down and I do appreciate—round. Just like that.

Later, when I was in college, I helped my parents pick out some new stereo components for the den. A Pioneer turntable. A receiver. Some speakers. I even lent them some records, the Simon and Garfunkel albums that I’d bought in junior high, but had decided were pretentious and embarrassing by the time I got to high school. But they really needed something to play on the stereo. Something. Something was better than nothing.

I didn’t expect them to listen to the Ramones or develop a taste for the Jim Carroll Band.

Not only did I leave my Simon and Garfunkel at home; I also left the Mamas and Papas and Buffalo Springfield, all the recordings I thought they’d find palatable at their advanced age. Melodic things. Stuff I’d abandoned, but nothing unspeakably horrible. They could develop their musical sensibilities.

I came home to find my mom listening to KNX News Radio (“All news, all the time”) using the new receiver. I was appalled.

“You got this new stereo and you’re listening to AM radio?” I asked, incredulous. “AM RADIO?”

AM radio. Not music, just newsmen with smooth unaccented homogenous voices. Unimaginable.

I’m loath to admit to Steve, Kathy, and Chris that I’m that unimaginable person now with no musical taste.

I can keep up with the conversation about what Steve’s calling ‘legacy bands’. It’s not that I’ve listened to any of them recently; it’s just that I can remember some of the music.

“I never saw the Rolling Stones,” I offer, unsure of whether that’s good or bad.

In the hierarchy of musical experiences, there are some things that are unambiguously good: say, seeing Nirvana play in a small club in Seattle. Catching the New York Dolls at Max’s Kansas City. And there are other things that you just know you want to have expunged from your musical permanent record: anything to do with David Lee Roth. Bob Dylan in the late 1970s, when he was in his Jews for Jesus phase. And there are some things that I’m just not sure about.

“I’ve seen the Stones—“ Chris stops to count. “Four times. The last time wasn’t worth it. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were old and just a parody of themselves. But the first time was in 1975. They were just incredible.”

As long as we stick to the far distant past, I can dredge up some comparable experiences. But no-one wants to hear another joke about Keith Richards being the work of a particularly talented and ambitious embalmer. I’m tempted to talk about the time Rock Howard and I saw the Monkees at Disneyland: a show that’s so bad it’s good.

No-one says much about that sacred cow of bands, the Grateful Dead, even though they figured prominently in our lives at Mentor House. Deadheads would camp out in the living room when the Dead were in town, running up thousand dollar phone bills and leaving wafting clouds of patchouli hovering over our beanbag chair. One winter we decamped to San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Sacramento, following the band northward through the center of California and keeping a cold virus alive among us for the entire season. We thrilled to the knowledge that the band had the same rhinovirus we did.

“That liver transplant guy,” Chris says now, referring to Phil Lesh.

Like David Lee Roth, Phil Lesh falls into the unambiguously bad musical experiences. We all dutifully chime in something about Phil Lesh. That Phil’s side projects had always been lame. Someone remembers the name of an unlistenable song he recorded in 1974.

We still refer to him as Phil, as if he were someone’s older brother’s best friend whose dubious musical taste was some kind of inside joke. That somebody’d snort every time the name was mentioned.

Phil. Snort. Phil. Snort.

Have you ever noticed that most peoples’ musical taste is enmired in whatever they listened to in college? Whatever they blasted out their dorm windows on sunny afternoons when their classmates were basking on the lawn?

That’s what I’m afraid of.

You can find these people everywhere: the biker whose bell-bottoms date back to the 1970s listening to the Doobie Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd on the juke box. “Play Free Bird” they yell at the cover band playing at the neighborhood dive bar. “Play Free Bird!” And you almost expect them to hold up their lit cigarette lighters as if they had been transported in time and space back to the Inglewood Forum.

Oh, most people are more discreet than that, but if you catch the distant jangle of their cell phone ring tone, it’ll give them away every time.

“Isn’t that Smoke on the Water?” you ask a co-worker suspiciously.

Marcia’s phone plays Hey Jude. I can hear strains of Beatle coming from her purse.

I still have a sagging shelf of vinyl records: Allman Brothers, Clash, Dead Kennedys, Jimmy Cliff, the Doors, the Cramps. Utterly predictable. The bursar must’ve issued the darned things on registration day.

I never bothered to convert the vinyl to CDs, so my tiny CD collection is a testament to how little I’ve expanded my musical repertoire in recent years. Stereo Total and Shonen Knife. Beck. The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I might as well have been in a musical coma for the last decade or two.

How could that be? My MP3 player is my constant companion. Whenever I walk alone or drive alone, I’ve got those dorky ill-fitting ear buds jammed into my ears. The music files are, of course, invisible, since there’s no album covers or jewel cases on my shelves to represent them, just a couple of folders in my file system (and who besides me rummages through peoples’ file systems?).

Fooled you!

I’m not listening to music at all. Rather I’m one of those people who listen to a chaotic, ever-expanding collection of podcast subscriptions. Amateur natterers and small-time philosophizers. Chroniclers of the local bars and Chick-a-fils (or is that Chick-fil-As?). But they seldom play music. And when they do, I fast forward through it to get back to the words, because these podcasters seem to have execrable taste in music. One of them plays Barbara Streisand on purpose, for godssakes. I didn’t know anyone actually listened to Barbara Streisand. I thought she was like Stairway to Heaven—iconic and seriously dreadful.

You’d be better off with Lawrence Welk, his accordion and bubble machine, and his band full of “fine family men”.

When I admit to my friends that I don’t listen to music very often, Mark usually adds, “You can blame it on me. It’s because I can’t stand the music you listen to.”

It’s true that he can’t abide by my taste in music, as stuck in the past as it is. He gets cranky when I put X on the car CD player when we’re on road trips.

“It’s not your fault,” I tell him. “Don’t you think I could put it on my earPod? You wouldn’t have to listen to it then.”

I mean, I could even listen to the soundtrack from Bye Bye Birdie on my MP3 player, and no-one’d be the wiser.

For one term in college I lived across the hall from this guy named Ed Bielecki. Like my parents, he had a reel-to-reel tape deck. But unlike my parents, he used it, and used it often. He played theme songs, hit singles, and commercial jingles in heavy rotation—Gilligan’s Island, the Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction. He’d turn up the volume. And sometimes he’d leave, and leave the tape deck running. He locked his door and left.

Cause we gotta little ol' convoy,
rockin' through the night
Yeah we gotta little ol' convoy,
ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on an' join our convoy,
ain't nothin' gonna git in our way
We're gonna roll this truckin' convoy,
cross the USA
Convoy... Convoy...


It must’ve been a tape loop. It’d repeat for hours. I banged on his wall with a metal cookie sheet, but he couldn’t hear it. The music was just too loud.

The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.

I wonder if he still listens to the same music he listened to in college. Or has he moved on? There’ve been plenty of jingles and theme songs between then and now. Maybe he’s full of secret regrets.

It’s late now. Steve, Kathy, Chris, and I have been drinking from two bottles of single-malt scotch.

“I didn’t like Stairway to Heaven even back then,” Steve says.

“I didn’t either,” I say.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cathy

Everything has turned to crap.
The XP system died when the parallel port for the keyboard got plugged in while the computer was on while clean the cat hairs out. This only happens once in a blue moon when hot plugging, but there you go. The hard drive should still be good though.
Went out and bought a Vista system, well what do you know, my mail files are back on that motherboardless XP system.
Libby's IMAC, the one where people have pictures of the fans they added on at the back to cool the thing down, well it started running lousy, so she took it to the Mac people, they installed a new 10.5.6.D OS patch that now makes the Time Machine only work to the day they did it, and all her Iphoto files are just thumbnails now, and all my Imovie HD projects are just gone.
And did I mention my 401k plan went south?
I survived 2000 tech bubble because I had every single dollar in the Fidelity government money market fund. This time they dumped that option and replaced with the death star "stable" fund invested in commercial real estate mortgage backed securities, residential realestate mortgage backed securities, home equity loan securities with an average maturity of 5 years etc etc.
Well being no slouch, I said back in August of 2007, Hey this is crap! Started pulling money out of it. Looked at the options, picked the funds with LOWEST exposures to financials, ( that 40 percent of corporate profit generator also turning to crap ).
So oh so smart Matt pulls 100K out of that turkey and watches all the choices fall 48 percent in a year from Nov 2, 2007. Meanwhile the death star oxymoronic "stable" fund keeps paying a Madoff 5 percent a year!
The renter's oil furnace went out again. The repair people gave up and said go get a new oil line, or new oil tank. They just put a new pump in a year ago. That 100 year old farmhouse is a tear down.
Except real estate turned to crap, and no one wants to buy it much less tear it down. I keep putting money into these emotional dirges.
The Mazda MVP circa 2000 took 3 dumps this year. The Craigslist price is 3900. Well first took it in for the check engine light, and 3500 bucks later we have the cracked exhaust manifold fixed and some O2 sensor done. Then DEQ time and to fix that is an intake manifold actuator that the net says is only used when you are at 5000 RPM, and another O2 sensor.
Jiffy Lube tells me they want 3 bucks to put water in the radiator overflow. I tell em I'll do it. Then the wife and daughter drive the thing with the temperature gauge pegged, no audio clues in those idiot lights. As I predict the new shop says we did in the head gasket, 3500 dollars.
Well to keep the economy going locally, I say sure why not. They put the thing back together and hear a loud rattle when they turn it over. Broken valve stem, near the top of the valve. Shop guy says he will go halves of the 1500 to fix it.
Then we get 16 inches of snow and 2 out of 3 cars need new batteries cause they wont crank because it so cold, and the battery/tire store has lines of people 30 minutes long at closing just waiting for someone to talk to them about their tire chains or snow tires or studs. Now the 1991 accord's tranny is slipping, and the trusted honda only mechanic hasnt got back to me in two days.
And did I tell you I am supporting the Citibank bailout by paying them 8 percent a year on Parent Plus loans for the college expenses, while they get money from the Federal Reserve Board at like 0.25 percent interest. And I have been grossing too much to even get a tax deduction on the student tuition or loan costs.
If there was an offer on grandma's house, it would kick the normal income into the 35 per cent Federal bracket, ( Alternative minimum tax of 28 percdent plus the 25 cents on the dollar reduction in the AMT exclusion).
My three legged stool of job, real estate, and 401k plan now has no legs.
Everything is turning to crap.

Matt

8:59 AM  
Blogger Jaina Bee said...

I went into my neighborhood coffeehouse the other day and I didn't recognize anyone. A whole new slew of youthful trendsters in new wave sweatshirts with shaggy haircuts behind the counter. They were blasting "Stairway to Heaven." They were very stoic. Yoram said he'd never seen such a grim barista create such an elaborate foam leaf decoration. But when "Misty Mountain Hop" started, one of them cut the sound.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

I am lucky in that Bevy is much more on top of musical happenings than I am. Also her taste in music has been influenced over the years by my own and so that works out well. Case in point: I introduced her to the Meat Puppets circa "Up on the Sun" and we went and saw them a few times back in the day. Nowadays the Meat Puppets have reformed and have relocated to Austin while Beverly has become the biggest Meat Puppets fan in the known universe. In fact, since Bevy does genealogy, I know more about the Kirkwood family tree than my own mother's ancestors.

As for Phil (snort), it is true that his side projects way back when were mostly unlistenable, but more recently his "Phil and Friends" touring bands have been simply outstanding. I always felt that of his bandmates, Phil's musical appreciation for what was so cool about the Grateful Dead was closer to the true center of the typical DeadHead and "Phil and Friends" proves me right.

As for the Monkees at Disneyland, that was so wrong on so many levels that I take some delight in the fact that you twisted my arm on that one. The only other positive was that Disneyland didn't require me - or Peter Torkleson -- to get a haircut!

4:24 AM  
Anonymous J said...

Hi,

(a) Don't knock Bye Bye Birdie - one of my favorites (along with Song of Singapore)
(b) If there were still bands like the Jim Carroll Band, perhaps we could name five bands. Well, maybe not...

9:23 PM  

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