“writin’ on the wall” – boscoe (1973)

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Like many people around the country, I’ve been upset by the violent events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.  When white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the Alt-Right descended upon the city to preach their own brand of hatred and bigotry, violence erupted resulting in many being injured and the death of three people including Heather Heyer.

Before the wounds of Charlottesville have even begun to heal, the painful feeling was only exacerbated by the President Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn the violence perpetrated by his supporters.  A few days after reading a half-assed generic statement from a teleprompter, he showed his true colors yesterday when he coined the term “Alt-Left” and refused to condemn the violent white supremacists at Charlottesville.  He cited that both sides were to blame and that he demanded he have all the facts before making any kind of statement.

The incident at Charlottesville had occurred 72 hours before his press conference yesterday, but Trump still insisted on not issuing a formal statement until he felt satisfied that he had all the facts.  Beyond what he did say about the (non-existent) “Alt-Left” going to the protest armed and without a permit, it is also troubling to consider what was not said.  Trump, the man who is currently holding the highest office in the country, did not sincerely vocalize any condemnation of his supporters for the chaos and madness they caused.

Trump’s psyche has not been hard to understand.  In his world, there is no “right” and no “wrong.”  His assessment about your value to him is only determined by how well you like him.  If you praise and support his actions and words, you are “good” and deserving of his respect and attention.  If you are critical of him, or simply did not vote for him, you are “bad.”

He has exemplified this view countless times, but yesterday’s press conference was the worst.  Reporters and members of the press were asking simple questions about Trump’s feelings about the Charlottesville violence.  During this, Trump pointed aggressively at them calling them fake, questioning their integrity and honesty as reporters and journalists, and made statements aligned himself with the violent rhetoric and actions of his reporters in Charlottesville.  By saying that both sides were to blame, he made a clear statement comparing violent Neo-Nazis to people who wish not to be hurt by violent Neo-Nazis.

The Charlottesville violence and death of Heather Heyer hit me so hard.  Since then, within the last few days, I still haven’t really found my balance yet.  Like many people, I couldn’t stop looking at the news.  Videos of fights and photos of armed racists were all over my social media feeds.  It was inescapable.  As I watched video footage of unknown militias marching, men holding shields with white nationalist imagery chanting “fuck you faggots,” and Neo-Nazis proudly wearing the swastika.

As I watched this, I felt a fear I hadn’t felt since the 9/11 attacks.  Our country has gone through some difficult times over the last 16 years.  However, at no point did I ever fear for my safety, the well-being of my friends and family, and the security of this country.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to be optimistic about where we are going.  And that is because I have no idea where this country is going.  Since Donald Trump’s election win last November, our state of affairs have steadily declined.  The threat of political violence is always present to the point where this insane discourse is becoming normalized.

The fear and anger I have felt since Saturday has put me in a place I do not like to be.  Reading through all the commentary and posts on social media, I got caught in the mire of the sickening depravity that is the Alt-Right’s social media presence.  I started engaging with white supremacists online shaming them for advocating additional violence and murder.  I knew you couldn’t reason with these people, so my goal was to call them out for their asinine behavior and holding them accountable.

I quickly realized how naïve that was.  By engaging with this scum, I had opened myself to receiving targeted threats of violence, death threats, called names aimed at my masculinity, and other targeted attacks.

Frankly, it was strange and fascinating.  I took their comments about committing murder and laughing at the death of Heather Heyer seriously, but I could not take the people behind those words seriously.  All of these disgusting people had one thing in common beyond their hateful rhetoric: they are all cowards who hide behind monikers and Pepe avatars.  They are afraid to show themselves as they spew their garbage.  They hide behind their racist frog meme as they call you faggot and make statements about how afraid you are to meet them.  Real tough talk coming from someone hiding behind a cartoon.

It got to a point where I found the exchanges fascinating and comical.  I would call out someone’s racism and that they were too afraid to show their true selves.  And the only thing that would happen is that they would send me some meme implying committing violence or murder against me or others.  Or that they would send their supporters from multiple states to come find me.  No matter how you looked at it, they were just losers throwing cartoons at me.  One even used my picture as their profile picture thus making me the representative face of their vitriol because they are too frightened to use their own.

These disgusting social media fiends are actually afraid.  They hide behind their memes out of fear of being “doxxed” (term to describe when a person’s identity and contact information has been discovered and shared).  When doxxed, their hatred is shown to their family, schools, and places of employment who will then respond appropriately.  These racists don’t want to lose their jobs or be expelled, so they use anonymity as their only weapon.

As I engaged further, I learned so much.  In addition to the psychology of these pathetic losers, I also learned some of their tactics they use to further spread hate.  In the spirit that these people are truly frightened of being discovered, I noticed that most of the users I engaged with would change their identities every day or two.  This included changing their profile picture, profile name, and social media handle in order to make it harder to trace their hateful rhetoric.  To do so properly, you would have to track them with databases and a lot of screenshots.  But, who has the time to follow racists assholes (besides me for the few days that I did).

When I got bogged down with this over the weekend, I spent a few days treading through their shit.  I didn’t care about the threats of attacks.  I was on a search and destroy mission.  My goal was to engage these people, discover who they were, and make them pay.  Now, I don’t know how to dox someone properly.  I’m not a hacker.  That’s how this stuff gets done.  But, I was able to find out who one of the guys was and called his university’s police to report the violent threats he was making in relation to the Charlottesville.

I tried to tell myself that taking down one of the people was worth it.  However, I know that isn’t the case.  Engaging with anonymous assholes on social media is the not an effective way to deal with what is happening right now.  We are all still healing from this weekend and processing what is happening.  Between the violent white supremacist gathering and Trump’s statements (or lack thereof), it is easy to get emotional and lost in confusion.

Never in a million years would I be telling myself in 2017 that this country needs to stand together to take down literal Nazis.  Trump and his administration has emboldened a movement with a specific agenda. An agenda that says that racial purity is required to make this country better.  And many of them want to achieve this through violence.

The most frustrating aspect of their movement is their quickness to play victim when it is convenient.  They will gather, carry tiki torches symbolizing torches and pitchforks, claim their white heritage gives them dominance over this land, and vocalize that any non-white people, homosexuals, and women should submit to their will.  However, stand up to them and they cower by claiming the legality of their actions.

They remind me of those kids who want to get a reaction out of someone by hovering their hands over the other person and saying “I’m not touching you. I’m not touching you. You can’t get mad because I’m not touching you!”  And the moment that you smack away their hand for invading their personal space, they cry and play the victim as they condemn you for your reaction.   So when these white supremacists gather to saying awful, violent things about non-white people and they are met with resistance, they cry that they were only gathering peacefully and that the antifas broke the law.  They say the resistance didn’t have a permit or that they are violating their freedom of speech.  They deflect, pass blame, and change the narrative to make sure, in their minds, that they are legally protected.  Their goal is to antagonize someone so much that their reaction can be spun to reflect their narrative, embolden their supporters, and gather centrist support who are too stupid to see the difference.

There can be no room for centrists.  If you are someone of sound body and mind watching the violence unfolding on your television or phone and you cannot tell the difference between those who advocate violence and those who wish to live free from violence, then you are a complete fucking moron that is ruining this country.  Much like the actual Nazis in the Third Reich, the Nazis in Charlottesville are trying to appeal to centrists.  Their movement, which started out as a fringe before picking up mainstream support, relies on recruiting people on the fence.  Before, they were too weak to take on the mainstream.  So, to gain strength, they rely on the stupid who cannot pick a side. Slowly one by one until they are now a force that must be dealt with seriously.

In 1973, Boscoe released their only studio album.  Initially only pressing 500 copies, their eponymous studio debut became a lost record of the South Side of Chicago’s rich culture of black music.  Such a profound musical statemen remained obscure until being reissued by Numero Group in 2007.  That is when I bought my copy.  A decade later after my purchase and 44 years after recording the album, the message remains as relevant today as ever.

“Writin’ On the Wall,” running over eight minutes, is a powerful condemnation to those who cannot see for themselves what is happening.  While the context of the recording in 1973 was about the passing of Malcom X, the message of black America struggling for peace still carries on.  As white supremacists battled against Black Lives Matters protestors and chanting for their death, it is so difficult for me to understand how someone cannot see the truth when it is right in front of them.  And for our political leaders to carry a message that “both sides” are responsible for our current violent discourse, it only makes the situation worse.

We’re still healing from Charlotte and I don’t know what to do.  As ready as I am to fight, I am also afraid of what the next day will bring.  And I feel that way because things will only get worse before they get better.  I know where I stand and my enemy knows where they stand, but people who stand in the middle silently are the ones who will shift the direction this nation will go.  And if they can’t see the writing on the wall, then goddamn them.

“a kind of loving” – the police (1982)

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If I had to make a top ten list of my favorite bands, the Police would definitely be on that list.  They were such a great band that managed to apply innovative and inventive techniques to New Wave and popular music.  I have trouble thinking of any bands that sounded liked them that managed to come close to the level of success they achieved critically and commercially.  They are also one of the few bands that
I defend as having never released a bad album.

Being a fan of the Police, however, I also think they are a misunderstood band.  I’ve been listening to them off and on for over a decade.  And every time I do, I discover more and more about the band.  I understand more of the subtleties of their playing and songwriting that I never picked up before.  However, there is one quality of the band I picked up on very early that has only intensified over the years.  A quality that I feel many people often overlook.  And that is the Police is a very dark, manic band.

For casual listeners, this might not be so obvious.  Sure, some of their biggest songs feature unsavory situations and characters.  “Roxanne” is about one man’s obsession with a prostitute and “Every Breath You Take” is typically regarded as a stalker’s anthem.  While those two songs are the most popular from the band’s catalogue, they only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the band’s level of sinister songwriting when you explore further.

Even sticking with the other hits and singles, there are many songs that touch up on depravity, isolation, desperation, and fear.  One of their first singles from the band’s debut album Outlandos D’Amour, “Can’t Stop Losing You” is a song about a young man committing suicide because his girlfriend left him.  “Message in a Bottle,” from their sophomore release Reggatta De Blanc offers only a glimmer of hope as an isolated man realizes that everyone else is just as lonely.  “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” features a catchy hook that sounds jovial, but you tend to forget that the chorus references rape.  And, on their final studio album, “Synchronicity II” is a brilliant song that, referring to the Jungian theory of synchronicity, tells the story of an emasculated husband who lives a depressing and unfulfilling life.  And these are only examples of songs that were released as singles.  Imagine what was left on the albums.

The characters who experience these feelings of loneliness and anger are men who have been denied or removed from power.  Their stereotypical gender role has been dismantled and they are left confused and often violent.  The loss of authority, or even superiority, is too much to bear so they rely on more baser instincts to assert whatever dominance they feel they have.  Men in these songs represent a toxic masculinity and the extent that some will go to restore a gender balance.  The scenarios may be different, but the conflict is apparent as the narrative unfolds; unhinged and deranged men acting being violent or reactionary out of fear.  Here are a few examples:

  • “On Any Other Day” – a husband has a crisis and fights against a breakdown as his family disrespects his role such as his wife having an affair and his son coming out as gay
  • “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” – a man’s female partner has left him after committing a mistake, so he cries himself to sleep while humping his pillow
  • “Does Everyone Stare” – a man with no confidence tries to ask out a woman despite his crippling anxiety and poor self-image
  • “Voices Inside My Head” – a man haunted the words of an assumed former lover
  • “Shadows in the Rain” – a man losing his grip on reality
  • “Darkness” – a man stays inside his dark room wishing life would be easy and boring again
  • “Mother” – a man is angry that his mother won’t stop calling him and it is driving him insane
  • “Tea in the Sahara” – based on the novel The Sheltering Sky, three women are left to die in the desert after being told a prince would come save them
  • “Murder by Numbers” – a darkly comic look at the art of murder
  • “Once Upon a Daydream” – a young man murders his lovers father

With only five studio albums released within a six-year period, the Police’s discography is remarkably short considering their popularity and influence.  However, despite the small discography, they managed to put out a lot of haunting material.  However dark those songs are, none of them come close to the material they didn’t put on their albums.

When I was in college, I bought a four-disc box set of their recordings called Message in a Box.  Released in 1993, it boasted that the set contained every commercially released track by the Police up to the point (though later research would reveal that a few tracks were overlooked).  In addition to the studio albums, included were songs released as one-off singles, live cuts from Urgh! A Music War, and soundtrack contributions.  It is through that set that I heard the darkest and most violent song the Police ever recorded.

“A Kind of Loving” was one of three tracks the Police contributed to the 1982 film adaptation of Brimstone & Treacle.  Based on a stage play, the film is about a married couple caring for their daughter who was disabled after a hit-and-run.  One day, the father meets a young maned named Martin (portrayed by Sting).  Martin’s identity and background is a mystery, but he manages to convince the father to allow him to care for his daughter.  The father, though uneasy about the offer, agrees in order to get some time away from the daunting schedule of caring for a young daughter.  While under his care, Martin rapes the young girl.  It is later when Martin attempts to rape her a second time that the daughter screams and is cured of his disability.

In addition to Sting playing the villain in the film, he also contributed a lot of solo material to the film’s soundtrack.  Other bands contributed tracks including Squeeze and the Go-Go’s.  However, none of their songs come close to matching the horrifying listening experience that “A Kind of Loving” offers.

Just over two minutes, “A Kind of Loving” immediately starts with an explosion of noise and pain.  A heavy guitar track play throughout the entirety of the song and is paired with the sounds of a young woman screaming in pain.  At various parts in the song, Sting comes in and shouts obscenities at the women calling her horrible names and demanding that she shut up.  The young woman’s cries of pain ebb and flow in volume throughout the song, but the terror conveyed is constant and disturbing.  Relatively short for a song, that two minutes seems to go on forever.

I have yet to see Brimstone & Treacle or even read the play that the movie was based on.  Being an obscure and limited British release, the film is hard to find in the United States.  I do, however, own the soundtrack on vinyl because it is a solid album overall.  However, I’m not sure I really want to see the film.  I may at some point, but I’m in no rush.  The track “A Kind of Loving” is so jarring that I imagine there is little to nothing artistically I could gain from seeing whatever scene that song scores.  It isn’t even a song I seek out to enjoy as part of a listening experience.  It just comes on whenever I put on that particular Police disc and let it play out.

I love the Police and I go through phases where I listen to their music frequently.  And every time, I forget just how dark the band is.  Sting used to teach English classes and is an avid reader.  It is easy to understand how his love of literature would carry over into his songwriting.  I wonder every time where Sting draws his inspiration from and how he perceives the toxic men he writes about.  I would like to know where they come from and what they mean.  Often, these men face some cruel fate that can only be described as poetic justice.  However, I wonder if there is something deeper there.

“boys (summertime love)” – sabrina (1987)

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It is now August which means Chicago’s dog days of summer are in full swing.  This is when the city sees it’s hottest days and most epic thunderstorms.  These days are also the best time to go to the beach as Lake Michigan will have adequately warmed up enough to be comfortable.  Patio season for brunch reaches its peak and everyone crams in as much fun before school goes back into session and the temperatures start slowly falling into the crispness of fall.

I have stayed really busy during this summer.  For one, I’ve been playing in a softball league on behalf of the radio station I volunteer with and playing against other media outlets in the city.  I had never joined a league before and had a great time, so I am looking forward to more games next year.  I also go for longer walks and find the best places to read outside; neat park spots with lots of character that are otherwise miserable during the winter time.

There is just so much to do.  I am a busy individual between work, volunteering, errands, and everything else that a big city life demands.  I always look towards summer for things to slow down a bit.  However, the opposite happens.  I get even more busy.  And the reason why is that Chicago summers are way too short.  I feel like I must cram in as much as possible so I don’t feel like I’m taking the fleeting summer days for granted.

To get my going, I spend the late spring putting together an annual summer playlist for me to jam to.  This playlist should be a combination of songs that pump me up, motivate me, are great to dance to, and just breathe life into summer.  While the songs change from year to year, there are a few stalwarts that have made multiple appearance over the years as some of my favorite summer jams.

High up on the list of my favorite summer jam is a catchy Italo disco track by Sabrina Salerno called “Boys (Summertime Love)”.  Released in 1987, it has become Sabrina’s most famous song.  The fame behind the song owes a lot to its own video.  In the video, Sabrina splashes around an Italian hotel pool while her bikini top repeatedly falls down throughout the video.  Needless to say, much of the video’s popularity comes from this.  The video was created for a segment to be included in an Italian magazine show.  This explains why the video is more overtly sexual than typical music videos that would have aired on MTV at the time.

When talking about this song, you have to address the video.  It is all kinds of ridiculous and fun.  It is what contributed to the song’s success.  However, the song’s charm and true appeal shines through in the music.  This Hi-NRG track is highly energetic and impossible to not dance to.  The backing track rhythms are prominent and drives the song.  Sabrina’s vocals are also on point in the song.  Her cute accent is endearing.  You actually concentrate on the vocals because it takes a little extra effort to understand what she is saying through the song.  But doing so, you can hear Sabrina’s talent shine through by giving it the attention it deserves.

I do not remember how I came across this song.  It was around five years ago and probably the product of me going down a YouTube rabbit hole.  Usually, I’ll be amused by what I find during those rabbit hole journeys.  But, I’ll quickly forget about what I saw.  That hasn’t been the case with Sabrina’s iconic track.  It has stayed with me to be one of the finest summer anthems I know.  While the song reached number one in several countries, it didn’t make a splash in the United States.  So, I take every opportunity to celebrate and share this song with friends.  While Italo disco may sound quaint to some considering all the modern electronic dance music that sends vibrating shockwaves throughout your body, there is true appeal in the song for its energy and message; just dance, enjoy summer, and have a summer romance.  What is not to love about that?  Until Sabrina gets the respect she deserves from mainstream American listeners, she will always have a spot in my annual summer jam playlist.

“flaming pie” – paul mccartney (1997)

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Summer is a funny season when it comes to my schedule.  I always think I’m going to take it easy each summer, but I find myself much more active than any other time of the year.  This summer has been full of media league softball games, volunteering, festivals, and music classes.  All I want to do during the summer is to just enjoy the lovely weather at my leisure and not rush. However, that doesn’t happen.  Things are happening and I want to be involved.  I guess it is a subconscious need to not take opportunities for granted because it will all be over someday.

I started my week thinking it was going to business as usual.  I was thinking about my normal routine of commitments and extracurricular activities and trying to balance those with a healthy social life while trying not to neglect personal self-care time (try to at least).  A friend had invited me to a show at Millennium Park, but I declined because that conflicted with my class.

A few weeks ago, I enrolled in my first ensemble class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. My options were limited because I didn’t want to book a class on the weekend (I’ll usually do that during winter time).  Mondays were dedicated to softball, Tuesdays were volunteer nights, and the other nights of the week were where I try to fit errands, chores, and other mundane life stuff.  So, the only day I felt comfortable filling was Wednesday.

The only ensemble class available to me that was convenient was the Beatles ensemble.  According to the class description, we were going to work on Abbey Road.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I had been thinking of taking an ensemble class since it was recommended to me by my previous instructor.

When I went to my first class a few weeks ago, I was confused by what was going on.  Immediately, we just started playing through Let It Be in its entirety.  And not only that, but everyone knew the songs really well.  I had later learned that the ensemble class has been meeting for a long time and they had been working on Let It Be a lot so they could play some cuts at the Square Roots festival put on by the school.

While that is all well and good, I had to quickly adjust to this new class format.  Previously, in the core guitar classes, we would be given a song or two while the instructor goes over the strumming pattern, chords, and any applicable riffs.  We would work on small parts of the songs together focusing on repetition so we could get muscle memory down before playing through the song a few times.  That influenced my expectation about how this ensemble class would go.

While I am fairly decent at the guitar, I’m still at a lower skill level than many of my classmates.  So, this class for me was like being thrown into the deep end of a pool and learning to swim out of fear of drowning.  There was no breaking down the songs like my previous classes, so the method of learning was different.  While intimidating, there is still some value to this.  It teaches me to play with people and to keep up.  And all the while I’m thinking, thankfully no one can hear how bad I am playing right now because there are so many other skilled performers playing in unison.

That class has been going for a few weeks.  And, on Monday morning, I was fully expecting to go to class.  By the end of the day, things would change.

I was at the gym and got an email from a classmate.  I opened it up while on the Stairmaster and I almost fell off out of surprise.  This email was saying that the ensemble class was being invited to go to the Paul McCartney show at Tinley Park for free and that our visit would include access to the sound check.

How awesome is that?!  I immediately went to Google Maps to see how I could get to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre where Paul was playing.  To my dismay, it wasn’t accessible by the Metra.  I replied asking if anyone wanted to carpool.  I got an affirmative.  Great!  Next was to ask for the time off at work so I could make it to the sound check and rearranging my already packed schedule.  But, hey, moving scheduled errands around is a small price to pay to see Paul McCartney.

In my excitement, I went through some storage boxes to find my concert shirt from the last, and only, time I saw Paul McCartney.  That was July 26, 2010.  I had just recently graduated college and was about to temporarily relocate to Alaska to work on some projects.  Paul had scheduled a stop in Nashville on his cheekily named Up and Coming Tour.  This was significant because this would be Paul’s first time playing Nashville in any incarnation of his long and winding career.  I wasn’t going to miss this chance to see a Beatle.

The show was great.  I had nosebleed seats because I was a recent graduate who didn’t’ make that much money.  Still, it was a memorable experience.  I had a great time.  I was satisfied that I had seen a Beatle.  In the last seven years, Paul has toured a few times.  Even Ringo went out and played some shows.  However, as much as I love them and knew it would be a great show, I never had the urge to go back out to a show.  Big concerts can get expensive and I was satisfied with my one-time experience.  Though, that attitude changed for this show.  It was free and I had a ride.

Currently on his One on One tour, Paul was originally scheduled to play one show at Tinley Park.  Due to overwhelming demand, a second show was added and that was the show the ensemble class was invited to. I left work at noon and met a classmate at the Old Town School.  She had agreed to drive a couple of us to the show.  We had to get to the venue by 3:30. Along the way, we encountered a lot of heavy stop and go traffic on the interstate which extended our original 60-minute drive to a 90-minute drive.  We passed the time with stories, good conversation, and some Beatles music when the traffic let up.

We get to the venue and stand around for about an hour waiting for the sound check to start.  I mingled with classmates and met some people affiliated with the school who tagged along for this adventure.  Funny enough, I was the only one wearing a Beatles shirt in any form.  Mine was the tour shirt from the show I saw in 2010.  No one else was wearing any Paul or Beatles shirts which seemed funny to me.  That is the kind of thing you think about while you’re waiting around for a once in a lifetime experience such as seeing a Paul McCartney sound check.

After an hour, we get ushered in to take out seats.  A sound check coordinator was going over some details with us.  Standard stuff like don’t take videos (pictures were fine) and to dance around having a good time.  Paul doesn’t like people standing there looking at phones or with arms crossed which made sense.

Paul arrived via helicopter and took the stage a few minutes later.  After playfully addressing the hundred or so people in the sound check audience, the band started performing.  This was incredibly exciting.  It was like a personal concert.  Paul played for 45 minutes testing various guitars, pianos, and a ukulele.  He opened up jamming a rockabilly instrumental.  The rest of the set included various Wings, Beatles, and solo songs as well as covers like “Midnight Special.”  The variety was cool and I loved hearing “Only Mama Knows” from his underrated 2007 album Memory Almost Full.

After the sound check, we waited around for the show.  And, naturally, the show was stellar.  Paul played a 39-song set!  And what is great about a career like his is that almost every song is a classic.  He even pulled out deep cuts like the offbeat “Temporary Secretary” from his second solo album.  Paul would also connect with the audience by telling stories in between songs that showed off his humor and appreciation for being there.  Songs from the Beatles and Wings catalogue were featured quite extensively.  However, he also played cuts from his latest album New released in 2013 as well as the track “FourFiveSeconds” which he recorded with Rihanna and Kanye West.  He made a point to tell the audience that “FourFiveSeconds” was the most recent song he recorded (released in 2015) because, earlier in the set, he played “In Spite of All the Danger” which as the earliest tune he had ever recorded when he was a member of the pre-Beatles skiffle group the Quarrymen.

Paul has had such an amazing career.  So many great songs that will last generations.  To only pick one song from his discography was an absolute challenge.  There are songs from his solo career that I have loved since high school.  And since I have already covered the Beatles in this blog, I cannot go pick a song from their stellar catalogue.  Perhaps Wings?  Or maybe even a track from his side projects like the Firemen? Why not a solo song from the concert?

So many songs to consider, but I think I’ll stray off the path of mainstream (or as non-mainstream as I can get with a Beatle).  Flaming Pie was released in 1997 and recommended to me by a friend in college.  While it is not the most obscure entry in his career (did you know he has put out classical music compositions?), I appreciate the album for it’s sound and context.

Prior to its release, the Beatles Anthology project was being released.  This include the documentary plus three double-disc albums over two years.  Paul was working on tracks for Flaming Pie as early as 1992, but the studio executives asked him to not release any materials until the anthology project was concluded.  Paul, at first did not like that decision but came around to see that it made sense. Not only did it make sense from a marketing and sales perspective, it also gave Paul an opportunity to focus his complete attention on the anthology project and the history of his own band.  Paul described the experience “was a refresher course that set the framework for this album.”

“Calico Skies” was the first song written for the record.  And it is certainly my favorite song from the album.  However, the album-titled track is the one I listen to the most.  “Flaming Pie” is simply just a fun song and an overlooked entry in his vast catalogue.  It is utter nonsense with a jovial backing track.  It puts me in a good mood with its absurd imagery.  It is a track that perfectly represents Paul.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the chance to see Paul perform again.  I didn’t expect to after the 2010 concert.  However, life is full of surprises and opportunities.  The key is to know what to do when that happens.

“butter” – a tribe called quest (1991)

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Well, another Pitchfork Music Festival has come in gone.  This was my fourth time attending the fest and it has stayed consistently fun.  As always, the crowd wasn’t unmanageable and my enjoyment of the fest was helped with cooler weather and no rain.

I also got to see a lot of great performances.  Thurston Moore was loud, noisy, and amazing.  Angel Olsen was a real treat, but I think her backup singer was more excited to be there than she was.  George Clinton was a missed opportunity because I left after 15 minutes due to poor sound that was later corrected.  PJ Harvey’s performance, while good, seemed out of place at an outdoor music fest in the daytime.  The Feelies were furious with George Clinton for bleeding into their set time which affected their playing.  And I made happy memories watching LCD Soundsystem with Carolyn.  All in all, it was a great time.

Though, one performance stood above the rest.  If you had asked me prior to the fest who was the one act I absolutely had to see, the answer would come fast and easily: A Tribe Called Quest.

I had been a fan of the group since college.  While I had discovered a few of the other artists during the time, A Tribe Called Quest preceded all of them.  Plus, I have listened to them more than the others.  So, when they were announced as the headliner, I knew I had to make time to see them.

As I made my way to a spot left of the sound booth about 45 minutes before the show, a lot of questions were coming to mind.  This was the group’s first festival performance since the death of Phife Dawg last year.  They had performed on Saturday Night Live since his death, but that was in a more controlled setting.  This wasn’t television. This was a full-length concert performance in front of thousands of people.  And everyone, including me, was wondering “What about Phife Dawg?”

I was talking with my friends about the possibilities.  Perhaps the others were just going to rap Phife Dawg’s rhymes.  Or maybe they were going to bring out a guest or a slew of guests throughout the tour to substitute.  We even joked about bringing out a hologram like what happened with Tupac a few years prior.  W when the lights dimmed and the show commenced, we got our answer.

Q-yip, Jarobi, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were present and joined with guest MC Consequence.  However, while there were three MCs, there were four microphones on stage.  One of them (I cannot remember who) announced that they were going to leave the mic open for in memory of Phife Dawg.  This was a touching gesture to include a lost founding member who could never be replaced.  However, the inclusion of the microphone was more than just symbolic.

After a few songs into the set, the group gave Phife Dawg the mic.  When this happened, the group would step away and a single spotlight would shine on the empty mic as the studio vocals of Phife’s solos would play.  It was completely mesmerizing scene.  A voice thundered through the audience, but no one was behind the mic.  The experience was captivating and turned what could’ve been a standard tribute into someone more engaging and meaningful.

This scene happened a few times, but none were as impactful as when “Butter” played.  A cut from the group’s second studio album The Low End Theory, this performance of “Butter” represented one of the best tributes I had ever seen.  The other members stepped to the side of the stage.  Nearly all the lights came down except for the one spotlight illuminating the empty mic.  Muhammed then played an acapella version of Phife Dawg’s verse of “Butter” which had seen become a career-defining song for the group.  When the verse was over, the rest joined in as a picture of the group was projected on the background.  The entire performance was touching as Q-Tip turned away from the audience and stared into Phife’s eyes as he rapped.

What could have easily been a phoned-in performance turned into something much more.  And frankly, I wouldn’t expect any less of from A Tribe Called Quest.  They have, for nearly 30 years, been stellar performers and impeccable showmen.  The professionalism and empathy conveyed in Saturday’s headlining performance will be one for the music history books.

“drunk girls” – lcd soundsystem (2010)

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Festival season is in full swing in Chicago.  Every weekend in the summer, there are multiple food, music, and art festivals all over the city.  Each one is crafted and curated to be unique.  Whether it is being solely devoted to one type of food (Rib Fest, Burger Fest, Vegan Fest), a type of music (Square Roots Folk Festival), or just serving as a cultural neighborhood institution (Do Division Fest), there is something for everybody.

Frankly, I used to enjoy street festivals.  This is probably because, prior to Chicago, I didn’t live in areas with an overabundance of street festivals.  However, I don’t enjoy them so much now.  Over the years, I have found that they are all really the same.  If I’m with friends, I’ll go.  Never would I go by myself unless I’m there for a specific purpose.  For example, this past weekend, I was at Square Roots in Lincoln Square.  I enjoy it because it is in my neighborhood, relatively small, and the crowd is great because it isn’t filled with drunk jackasses.

I think my increasing disinterest in street festivals has grown from my dislike of music festivals.  Since college, I’ve never found myself interested in spending three or four days in a field surrounded by thousands of people barely watching a band the size of ants from my viewpoint.  While everyone made plans to go to Bonnaroo, I stayed behind and enjoyed the quiet.  Those kinds of things just aren’t my scene.  And since moving to Chicago, even the logistical differences haven’t changed my outlook on festivals.  Unlike Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza doesn’t require you to stay on their grounds the entire time.  You can leave at the end of the day and sleep in a bed.  Plus, you don’t have to sit in standstill traffic because an overcrowded train can take you to Lolla.

Despite my complaints about festivals, the only one that gets a pass from me is Pitchfork.  I actually really enjoy Pitchfork.  There’s a decent number of bands I actually know and would like to see, it isn’t overwhelmingly crowded, and there are other things that keep me interested in between bands.  It is by no means a small, local festival.  It is a large one that garners international attention and visitors.  It is a large festival, but still small enough to where I don’t feel smothered.

This year’s Pitchfork lineup is really great.  I’m eager to see George Clinton, the Feelies, A Tribe Called Quest, and PJ Harvey.  However, the one act that has everyone buzzing is LCD Soundsystem.

I discovered LCD Soundsystem for myself while volunteering for college radio.  Their 2010 studio release This Is Happening was put into rotation and I enjoyed the album thoroughly.  While that album isn’t as good or revered as 2007’s Sound of Silver, This Is Happening is my favorite because it was the album that got me into the group.  So, you can imagine my disappointment when, the next year, the band would breakup.  I was just getting into them and eager to see where they were going!

Since I got into LCD Soundsystem a little later, I never got a chance to see them live.  And I had heard they put on a great show.  The closest I ever got was when I went to the theater to see their concert documentary film Shut Up and Play the Hits.  Screened nationally for one night only on July 18, 2012, this was a look into the band’s final performance at Madison Square Garden.  Since then, I just had to deal with the fact that the band existed within a certain time and space.  After all, we all have shelf lives.

I’m always annoyed by bands were constantly break-up and the reunite.  Or the bands who make a big deal about going on their farewell tour, but come back together a few years later as part of their comeback.  It all just reeks of marketing cashing in.  I just have a tough time taking an artist or group seriously after so much fuss is made about ending just to have them resurface.  And I felt the same away about LCD Soundsystem.  When they got back together and it was announced they would be headlining Pitchfork, I wasn’t that excited.  All my friends were.  They had either seen them live before and knew how great they performed or, like me, didn’t have a chance to see them before and now this was the time.  However, I’m sitting on the sidelines being cynical.  I paid money to see Shut Up and Play the Hits and got emotionally invested in their departure.  And now they’ve come around and expect me to take them back into open arms?  This back and forth relationship can’t go on.  You have to stay or go.

Obviously, I’m having some fun at the band’s expense.  Of course, I’m excited to see them perform at Pitchfork.  I just had to get through a couple of eyerolls at this reuniting trend.  Considering that a lot of acts go through that cycle to generate buzz and ticket sales, it can be hard to take them seriously. Once out of my system, I’m just as excited as everyone.

In fact, it was recently reported in Rolling Stone that David Bowie convinced James Murphy to reunite LCD Soundsystem (even in death, Bowie still influences our lives).  In the article, Murphy talked about how uncomfortable it would be to get the band together and Bowie insisted that he should feel that way.  The right decisions aren’t always the easiest.  Murphy was going through an identity crisis and figuring out what he wanted to do.  I get that.  You should do what makes you happy.  So, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on the guy for reuniting his band.

The show is Friday and I know it will be an amazing show.  Despite my previous cynicism, I’m fully prepped and ready to have a great time seeing a great band with great friends.  Going through changes or cycles is all part of living.  My connection with them from a distance as a college radio DJ feels like ages ago.  Now, I’ll be close to the action sharing an intimate concert experience.  That’s worth something.

“Drunk Girls” was the song that introduced me to the band.  It is a short, stupid song.  However, it is fun and catchy.  Even Murphy thinks the song is dumb and states that he “like[s] short, dumb stuff.”  It serves its purpose by living in the moment and just having a good time.  And that is what I plan to do Friday at my first, and probably last, LCD Soundystem show.

“she’s gone away” – nine inch nails (2016)

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As fans are approaching the halfway point of Showtime’s limited series run of the latest iteration of Twin Peaks, everyone is left in the dark about what exactly is going on.  The two previous seasons that aired over 25 years ago dabbled in the supernatural and was strange and quirky even by today’s broadcast programming standards.  Since then, now on premium subscription cable and with an increasingly esoteric filmography under his belt, David Lynch has crafted something out of the ashes of an old project.

As weird as the original seasons of Twin Peaks were, the show was fairly innocuous.  While it wasn’t, and still isn’t, the most accessible show in attracting viewers, it had enough character to set itself apart from typical television at that time.  The world was clamoring to know who killed Laura Palmer.  When the killer was revealed halfway through season two and the show changed narrative to focus on a conflict between Special Agent Dale Cooper and a former partner, viewership dropped and increasingly poor ratings tanked the show before it could wrap up loose ends.

After the show was cancelled, Lynch attempted to get the world of Twin Peaks alive.  The theatrical release of the 1992 prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was the first of a planned series of films that expanded the story of Twin Peaks.  The film was a commercial failure and it tanked any future plans to continue the story.

It took to attempts to watch the entirety of the original series.  In 2011, I tried the first time.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first season, but I was losing interest as the second season continued.  I actually stopped watching after the Josie met her fate.  It just seemed so ridiculous to me that I wasn’t compelled to finish.  While I really enjoyed the earlier episodes, I didn’t see a point in finishing.  I knew the series ended prematurely and there would be no closure beyond finding out Laura Palmer’s killer.

Lynch had a couple of false starts in launching a revival.  However, when the most recent confirmation of a revival occurred and scenes were getting shot, I thought Well, I guess I have to get caught back up.  I started the series over again earlier this year, a full six years after the first attempt to finish, and made it all the way to the mysterious cliff hanger at the end of season two.  I also watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in preparation.  Pressure was on to get up to speed!

As part of catching up prior to the new episodes airing was reading the compendium The Secret History of Twin Peaks published by the show’s co-creator Mark Frost.  The book was a compiled dossier of memos, letters, newspaper clippings, and other source material tracking strange phenomenon in the area of Twin Peaks as far back as the Lewis and Clark expedition all the way through the disappearance of Special Agent Dale Cooper.  While the book offered some cool insight into the area’s connection to the supernatural, it also tied up some loose ends between the original series and the revival as the fate and development of key figures were discussed.

After 30 episodes, a feature-length film, and a book, I was ready.  I felt so prepared for what was coming and was excited to see what Lynch would do with this world after so long.  Eight episodes in, I don’t think anyone was prepared for what was coming.  And, for that, I feel thankful.  Nostalgia governs our culture now as intellectual properties are constantly rehashed and rebooted.  I expected, like many, that we would see all of our old friends and hear tongue-in-cheek references to great pie and damn fine coffee.  Instead, the revival reflected a more artistically mature Lynch who left the world of the original series behind and incorporated stylistic elements of his later works such as Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.  For that, I’m glad because nostalgia is the most tiring form of capitalism.

We’re only halfway through at this point.  No one really knows what’s going on and no one will really start connecting the dots until Lynch wants us to.  That could happen in the last episode, or not at all.  We’re just going along for the ride.  I even find humor in the set up as I cynically think that Lynch is just playing a practical joke on his viewers.  Obviously, that isn’t the case.  But, it helps me not think too hard about what’s going on and just observe.

Music has always been a key component of the original series.  Angelo Badalamenti’s beautiful score was featured throughout the first two series and added context to scenes and characters.  In the revival, his score isn’t driving scenes as prominently as it did before. In fact, most of the time, his score isn’t featured at all.  Badalamenti’s score was, in itself, a character of the original series.  However, things change.

While Badalamenti’s score is less prominent in the revival, music is still very important in these newer episodes.  In most of the episodes, a band is performing at the Roadhouse (or Bang Bang Bar) usually over the ending credits.  Julee Cruise performed at the very same bar sparingly in the originals series, but band performances weren’t central to the narrative until the revival.  In all but one episode, bands in the revival include Chromatics, the Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone, Trouble, Sharon Van Etten, and most recently, Nine Inch Nails.  Lynch is a fan of all these groups.  However, with the revival, things have changed and have also drastically distanced themselves from the tone of the original series.  Music was integral to the show before and it still is, but in a vastly different way.

In the most recent episode, one that has been dubbed as the strangest one to date, featured Nine Inch Nails.  Funnily enough, this was the only group featured thus far that got an introduction and was cleverly incorrectly billed as “The Nine Inch Nails.”  Also, this performance was in the middle of the episode as opposed to the end over the credits.

The band performed “She’s Gone Away” from their most recent EP released in December 2016 called Not the Actual Events.  The track is a hard-hitting industrial rock song that is dark and serves as the perfect segue to the explosive sequence of images and modern ensemble music that follows before ultimately settling into the quiet bucolic setting of the following dessert scenes.  Even the music choice is interesting because it does contract with the styles of the musicians that were featured previously.  It was Lynch setting us up for the show’s darkest turn to date.  This is a Lynch soundtrack choice that easily mirrors the musical direction of earlier works like Lost Highway.

On its own, “She’s Gone Away” is an excellent track. Nine Inch Nails has been one of those bands that has consistently released good material.  While some albums and songs are better than others, they have never released a bad song.

After eight episodes, so much yet so little has occurred in the Twin Peaks revival.  It is hard to imagine how everything is going to tie together over the proceeding ten episodes.  I personally have doubts about any closure at the end.  I did recently learn that a follow-up to Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks is being released in October.  Titled The Final Dossier, this book seems to be a compendium that provides clarification to events and sequences during the revival episodes, but perhaps after as well.  We shall see.  I am eager to see how things turn out and how Lynch crafts a story with a distinct flare that sheds all traces of nostalgia.  Either way, I know that there will still be damn fine music.

“sex on the beach” – t-spoon (1997)

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Twenty years ago, I was living in Puerto Rico on a naval base in Sabana Seca.  I was about 10 at the time, so my memories of my experiences there are fairly clear.  I remember trips to the beach, eating fried plantain chips from street vendors in San Juan, field trips to El Yunque rain forest, bussing from the navy base to go to my school at the nearest army base, and even a giant snake getting caught in our fence.  It was certainly the most unique period of my childhood when compared to the other places I grew up in like Alaska or Kentucky.

My life in Puerto Rico wasn’t really any different than any other child growing up elsewhere in the U.S.  Realistically, it was practically the same.  The only differences were minor cultural quirks.  Of course, you can have these anywhere in the states.  A child’s regional experience on in Portland, Oregon is going to differ from another’s regional experience in Portland, Maine.  This is a big country.  And when you get older and meet people from other parts of the country, you get more interested in these smaller regional differences because they are entertaining to hear.  While others were probably catching lobster or hiking the Rockies, I was experiencing a different environment.

I could go on and on about the geographic and environmental differences, but this is a blog about music after all.  So, let’s talk about music.

Looking back, I realized that I had a slightly different experience when it came to music.  I have friends in Chicago who tell me about all the concerts they went to growing up.  And these were shows with legendary bands like the Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana.  Acts like that didn’t come to Puerto Rico.  And on the rare chance that they did, it wasn’t something I participated in.  I didn’t even go to my first real concert until I was almost 20.  At that point in my life, radio was everything.

The bus I took to school carried us from Sabana Seca to Fort Buchanan, a nearby army fort near San Juan.  It was a standard school bus in appearance.  It had the same ugly brown seats that fit two kids to a seat, smelled bad, and contained a social hierarchy where cool kids got to sit where they pleased.  However, it had one unique characteristic.  Music.  For some reason, our school bus ride always had top 40 radio playing in it.  And this happened every day unless we acted up too much.  But, if we were good, the drivers always piped in the radio through the internal speakers on the ceiling.  Looking back, I must’ve taken it for granted because cruising around Puerto Rico on a bus with pop radio tunes sounds really awesome right now.

The radio always played top 40 radio.  And in 1997, we had all the big hits like Sugar Ray, Puff Daddy, and Backstreet Boys.  These were pop radio hits that you couldn’t escape no matter where in North America you were.  However, being in the Caribbean, we had access to a few different cultural things that gave our music listening experience a little unique flavor.

T-Spoon was a Dutch Eurodance group that formed in 1991.  However, in 1997, they released their biggest single called “Sex on the Beach.”  This song is just so incredibly happy and fun.  It is a warm, sunny dance track that just makes you want to move.  And being a kid, there also was the factor that the title was a little risqué.  At 10, you couldn’t say the word “sex” let alone talk about it.  At that age, you didn’t fully understand what sex was.  I remember singing this song with friends substituting the line “I wanna have sex on the beach” with “I wanna eat snacks at the beach” just so we couldn’t get in trouble and still got to hear the song.

This week is the 20th anniversary of the single’s release and it has stuck with me the entire time.  And the only reason why it has for this song is because this song represents and odd musical time capsule for me.  Leaving Puerto Rico for Kentucky in 1998, I was transitioning to a new environment where kids had their own regional culture and interests.  Suffice to say, there was no “Sex on the Beach.”

I have friends and peers who love the 1990s and are completely nostalgic for it.  However, going through middle school, high school, and college, I couldn’t find a single person who knew this song.  Sure, we knew a lot of the same music and I could understand their pop culture reference points.  However, this song was a complete anomaly for my friends outside of the ones I had in Puerto Rico.

It actually took 20 years to find someone in the states who knew this song.  It was a few months ago when I brought it up to a colleague.  And they had heard the song.  They vacationed in Jamaica in 1998 and said that the song was everywhere.  And it was!  It just seems so funny that the only way this person heard this song was because they were in the Caribbean when it was a hit.

I’m a little sad that the streak is broken.  Two decades is a long time talking about a song that no one else had heard of and them looking at you funny when you talk about how much you love this top 40 radio hit that no one knows exists.  I’m not big on nostalgia, but I appreciate the unique quirks from my formative years that sets me apart from anyone else.  Even if it is something as small or minute as pop radio music, it is still a piece of you that you want to share.  I love this song because it represents a specific point in my life and seems to have never left.  The other hit songs from that day seem to live on through karaoke, nostalgic meme videos on Facebook, and amongst chats with friends.  However, “Sex on the Beach” stays put where it is and doesn’t get to be timeless.  And perhaps that makes it more fun and special.  This silly pop song is special to me for its novelty of exclusivity.  And that’s fine by me.

“thirteen” – big star (1972)

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Since the fall of 2015, I’ve been taking classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  Previously, I had been involved with Old Town as a volunteer starting earlier that year and had attended various concerts over the last few years.  It has been a wonderful place that has fostered my musical development on various levels.  As a volunteer in their impressive music archive, I’m constantly finding new things to listen to.  As a concert patron, the intimacy of the main hall makes this the best place to see a concert in Chicago.  And taking lessons has given me a deeper understanding on producing music by putting my interest to practical use.

The classes are conducted once a week over a two-month session.  I had taken the last section off because of some travel plans.  However, I have been looking into the class offerings for the next session and thinking about where I want to go to next.

While I am not a particularly great guitar player, I’m not that bad.  I have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else.  I great at varying strumming patterns, but Barre chords on an acoustic give me trouble.  Plus, I’m a busy guy.  I work full-time, volunteer for two different non-profits, and lead an active social life.  I cannot expect to be as amazing as the people who practice for hours every day.  For me, I don’t have any grand ambitions.  It is just a private hobby.

As I think about next steps and the challenges that await, I know I want to do something different.  Until now, I had taken group guitar classes where everyone practices and plays together.  These classes were part of their core guitar program, so the focus was advancing our knowledge of chords and strum patterns.  While I need improvement in some areas, I have exhausted my lessons there.  So, what is next?  Learning a specific style such as blue or finger picking?  Perhaps play in a band as part of a class ensemble?  There’s just so many options.  Until I make that decision, I’m reflecting on my progress since starting my classes nearly two years ago.

I didn’t put a lot of thought into picking my instructor. Old Town’s staff consists of really talented people who specialize in different areas.  For someone who just wanted to start with the basics anywhere, I just focused on what was convenient for my schedule.  Jane Hanna was my instructor for the better part of a year while I was taking the entire progression of core guitar classes (almost) every Thursday for a year.  She also taught the glam rock ensemble as well as some other classes.  Her specialty was more rock and punk-oriented which suited my tastes quite well.

Throughout the various classes I took with her, there were certain artists we would revisit in almost every class.  David Bowie was her all-time favorite so, naturally, he always made an appearance.  However, there were other artists that would pop up more frequently than others.

One of those artists was Big Star.  Like many people, my exposure to Big Star was limited.  I think I vaguely knew that their song “In the Street” was covered as the opening theme for That ‘70s Show and I recall a documentary about the band was released a few years ago, but I never saw it.  And I find that my unfamiliarity is not uncommon.  They only released three studio albums before disbanding within three years of forming and none of those releases sold very well.

However, despite poor sales, the band’s musical output was highly influential.  A lot of musicians were inspired by Big Star and their power pop aesthetic, melodic harmonies, and relatable existential themes.  And over the years, the became darlings of the critics with some of their work appearing on lists commemorating the best albums and songs of all time.  Their cult following consisting of people who just wanted to listen and play good music has earned them the recognition of being a “musician’s band.”

The lead singer, Alex Chilton, started his career as the lead singer of the Box Tops who released the hit “The Letter.”  Chilton wrote and performed much of Big Star’s songs.  Despite the poor commercial success of his most influential band, he remains a beloved musical figure.  I was recently reminded of Big Star, and especially Chilton, when I attended a storytelling series last weekend.  One of the speakers, Freda Love Smith, was sharing a story about the only time she met Chilton and how she embarrassed herself in front of her idol.  She had bummed a cigarette and had trouble starting the lighter because of low fluid.  She saw Chilton having trouble with his lighter and asked if he was out of fluid.  It was the only thing she said to him and she groaned that she never had opportunity to share her undying admiration.  It was a touching story.

This month marks the 45th anniversary of their first studio album.  #1 Record, released June 1972, remains to be the most popular and beloved of their discography.  While 1974’s Radio City would later contain “September Gurls,” another beloved Big Star classic, #1 Record contains one of their best song ever recorded.

“Thirteen,” the fourth song on the album, was never released as a single though it has become their most legendary song.  Covered by many great artists such as Garbage, Wilco, and Elliott Smith, “Thirteen” proves to be their most influential for it’s gorgeous guitar, melancholy vocals, and how relatable the lyrics are.  It is a story of adolescent frustration and love.  There’s rebellion, music, and a lust to live life to the fullest with no apologies.  That yearning comes through so powerfully yet so intimately.  It is a touching and soulful track.

Over the last few years, Big Star’s following has increased.  I’ve become a fan and learning how to break down their songs and appreciate the elements that make up the music certainly helped me appreciate them as a musician’s band.  While taking classes with Jane, we had covered both “Thirteen” and “September Gurls.”  Both are amazing, but “Thirteen” stands out just ahead as their quintessential track.

“good beat” – deee-lite (1990)

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Previously in this blog, I have talked about the album discussion group I help organize (for the unfamiliar, imagine a boog club but about music albums).  Though we meet every other Sunday, it seems to be something I can never get enough of.  I’m always looking forward to the next meetup.

I just really enjoy talking about music with friends.  That is the most exciting aspect of the group, but there is more I get from the experience.  It gives me an opportunity to try new things and be more open-minded about approaching music.  And that was kept in mind when the group was formed.  By only picking albums from the book 1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and alternating decades with our albums selected at random based on attendee feedback, it guarantees that everyone has some say in what album is chosen.  This keeps things really fresh because everyone in the group has different levels of interest and experience with music.

That is why I was so surprised with our recent pick World Clique by Deee-Lite.  When that album was selected, I groaned a bit.  It was only because I was super skeptical.  I had only known two songs by them.  Of course, I knew “Groove Is in the Heart” which is catchy but a song I just never really enjoyed.  And the, within the last few years, I heard “Rubber Lover” from their second studio album after it was featured as a desert island pick on WBEZ’s Sound Opinions.  I had limited knowledge of this band and a bias based on that limited knowledge.

However, as key with this group, I had to give it a listen and keep an open mind.  I found the album on iTunes Music and pressed play.  Immediately, any preconceived notions about what I anticipated my listening experience to be faded away.

I was hooked with the opening “Deee-Lite Theme” for its sampling, cool beat, and funky saxophone.  The song originally wasn’t featured on the original LP release of the album, but was added as one of two bonus tracks for the CD.  Regardless, it perfectly set up the mood in such a perfect way.

As I listened through the album, I was surprised about the thematic content.  I didn’t realize how inclusive the album was.  The band itself is really inclusive from a gender and racial perspective, but the themes of the album present a message of love and acceptance that I just wasn’t anticipating.

One of my friends who joined the discussion talked about the impact this album had on her during her teenage years.  She picked up the album when it came out and, as a young girl, really identified with the feel-good energy of the group and the lead singer’s colorful clothes.

The group then discussed the origins of house music in Chicago.  I’m not from Chicago.  And prior to moving to Chicago, I was completely unaware of the city’s contributions to that music.  Someone in the group claimed that, along with jazz and the blues, house music was a true American musical invention.  And it came from the city we loved and shared.

House music just wasn’t on my radar.  I wasn’t old enough to understand it when it hit the mainstream by the end of the 1980s.  It was something that was already established by the time I would become aware of it.  Considering that, I also had no other emotional connection to it.  It was just a genre that I lumped together with electronic forms of music and miscategorized them all as “techno.”  I have since knowledgeable of house music’s key qualities and its impact on Chicago’s musical development and our culture at large.

When house music was invented, it was an underground movement.  Much like with Warhol’s Factory crowd or the early days of Grace Jones era disco, it was a subculture that celebrated life and love.  It was a venue where transgender, gay, lesbian, and mainstream social outcasts at that time could come together and be themselves, to not feel invisible, and to dance in a movement that celebrated love and the individual.  Inherent in that is a profound political inclination.  While house music typically doesn’t contain allusions to greater political themes such as war, the notion that people can live and love how they wish is a grand statement about acceptance and inclusion.

“Good Beat” was the LP’s original opener before the later addition of “Deee-Lite Theme.”  While I feel “Deee-Lite Theme” is a stronger opener with it’s funky instrumental and thematic declaration of “from the global village in an era of communication,” “Good Beat” is a solid track that propels the music and the message.

“Good Beat” is fun, but the lyrical content contains a surprising amount of a depth for a danceable house music tune.  The vocals challenge that depending on how you see a thing, your perception around you can change.  Your own outlook determines the openness of the world around you and what role you play in that world.  Whether it is dividing or closely binding, how you perceive things ultimately impacts your contributions.  And for those tired of the hatred, vitriol, and violence, they just wanna dance to a good beat.  And that is a powerful declaration.  To just let everything go and move to the rhythm with your fellow global citizens is something we should all strive for.