“just what I needed” – the cars (1978)


Music plays a big role in my life. With various aspect of my life, music is somehow involved. I’m an avid fan, always curious and exploring things that interest me or offer new perspectives. I play guitar for an ensemble at a folk music school.  At that very same school, I also volunteer in their library where I have access to thousands of records.  And, crossing over from the personal to professional realm, I volunteer for a community radio station, a bastion for new ideas and sounds.

Music also impacts my social life. I meet with friends and talk about music or even go see a concert. Over drinks after ensemble practice or a radio meeting, we talk about what we’ve been listening to, new and old. Music is a great force that connects people and allows us to open ourselves to others, discussing ideas, dreams, and philosophies.  Things that drive us and make us happy.

For over three years, I have been part of an ongoing album discussion group.  The core focus of the album group is a like a book club, but music albums are discussed instead of books. Using a book called 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die, we have a general guide that offers a broad appeal for people of all types to participate.  And we have that in the group.  After discussing over 80 albums so far over the last three years, our group has grown with members representing different gender, generation, taste, and interest background.  We come to the discussion with our thoughts, fueled by our experience.

One of the consistent themes that comes up, especially with an album with mixed reactions, involves the concept of enjoying the music for what it is. The idea being that the context with which the music is known, perhaps how pervasive or controversial it is, is irrelevant since the we’re ideally supposed to judge the music itself.

I sometimes find that topic difficult to accept.  Whenever this topic comes up, in the group or elsewhere, it is usually associated with the concept of “separating the art from the artist.”  And within that context, it is usually a discussion involving artists with toxic and controversial histories, personal or professional. However, within this group, this topic tends to come up as a generational issue. For the younger members of the group, millennials like me, sometimes music is tainted by its pervasiveness. Music that is heard in car commercials, in grocery stores, or featured as a set piece in a period piece film to establish a sense of time, the latter being a context that cements the song’s reputation.

Music is a very emotional experience and the music that is closest to us has the strongest emotional appeal.  In most cases, this is music you grew up with.  However, given my age, not all the beloved music of yesteryear has resulted in an emotional connection.  That is not to say that there is no old music that I have an extreme fondness for.  Most of the music I hold dear was released before I was born, sometimes by multiple decades. However, there are artists who are beloved that, to me, seem overplayed and have not appealed to me because I cannot separate the art from the commercials, stores, and movies that I associate the music with and that is regardless of how influential they are.

On Sunday, Ric Ocasek, the lead singer and guitarist for the Cars, passed away from heart disease at 75.  My social media feed filled with friends talking about the role the Cars’ music played in their lives.  For the older generation, it was the sound of their youth.  For my contemporaries, the Cars paved the way for the power pop bands of their formative years.  Multiple generations coming together because of an emotional connection to this band. One that I, however, do not share.

The Cars’ eponymous debut from 1978 was one of the albums discussed in our album group a while back.  And I remember talking about the pervasiveness of their music from the perspective of a millennial.  They are what I had referred to as “grocery store music;” stuff that sounded good that I could not say I disliked, but I also could not say I loved it either.

Since Ocasek’s death, I read the outpouring of admiration from friends and the tributes from musicians and celebrities that were impact by the singer’s passing.  Even if I did not share the same emotional connection, I really enjoyed reading their thoughts.  They were from a genuine place of love and respect for something that had a deeply personal impact.  I know I have artists that represent that for me that others do not share, but I have respect for that.

What I did gain from reading these tributes was some perspective on how the Cars never really became a part of my life.  For Generation X, the Cars signified a new, explosive change in music.  New wave was an escape from the monotony of popular radio at the time, the era of disco and arena rock.  A powerful cultural shift is certainly a great reason to develop a strong bond. I actually kinda envy those who were there at the beginning with the Cars’ music offering a glimpse in the strange new future of music.  These types of seismic disruptions occur less frequently now (within my lifetime, grunge was probably the last one).

And for my generational contemporaries, I never really got into the bands that were directly influenced by the Cars.  Bands like Weezer and Interpol. When my friends and classmates were discussing the brilliance of albums like Pinkerton, I was exploring a different direction and never cemented an appeal during my formative years.  I have come to deeply love musical forms that I have discovered for myself later in life, so perhaps there is still hope for me when it comes to power pop.

Part of my morning routine getting ready for work involves me listening to Apple Music’s new wave radio station.  Almost every morning, I hear the Cars.  I never skip tracks and their songs are always pleasant to listen to.  I can appreciate the band to some degree, but they are still the music I hear in commercials and at the store.  Or, more realistically, the soundtrack to me brushing my teeth.

The Cars’ first single “Just What I Needed” was released at the end of May in 1978, a week before the release of their debut album. I would have liked to have been around at that time to experience the thrill that Generation X friends felt when they first heard Ocasek’s voice and rhythm coming from the stereo, or more appropriately from a car radio.  Dismayed by a myopic cultural dystopia, I’m sure Ocasek delivered just what they needed.

“do you wanna hold me?” – bow wow wow (1983)


I’m an avid reader.  And I seek out a lot of different kinds of material to read.  Reading mostly non-fiction, I look for resources that can offer great recommendations or other motivating factors to pick up a book.  These include listening to author interviews on National Public Radio, chats with friends, or even book clubs.  I’ve been a member of several book clubs.  However, the latest one I’m in is facilitated by my community radio station and we read highly engaging critiques on cool music.

For the music book club, I’ve been reading Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds.  Published in 2006, Reynolds’ book is a thorough exploration of the music created after punk came and went.  A progressive form of rock music that distanced itself from nostalgia-driven punk musicality, postpunk drew from avant-garde ideas, world music, and a DIY aesthetic.  Only lasting a few years, postpunk would diverge and develop into other forms such as New Pop, New Wave, and New Romanticism.

Throughout the book, Reynolds spends entire chapters focusing on a particular band, region, and musical style.  Whether it is breaking down the Midwestern industrial motif of Pere Ubu, the bleak gothic stylings of Joy Division, or John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols anti-music of Public Image Ltd., Reynolds’ book is thorough and thoughtful.  He frames bands and their geographical upbringing from a historical perspective while also breaking down signature tracks in the poetic fashion only rock journalists know how to write.

While his analysis of songs and their compositional qualities are interesting, a lot of it is flowery descriptors that can be hard to decipher even if you know the song well.  Basically, semantics and objective at that.  While I enjoy critiques like that, I can only take so much before it becomes boring.  Fortunately, the book does provide a historical narrative when explaining musical context.

History provides a great framework for storytelling and I like a splash of narrative in non-fiction reads.  I enjoy postpunk and New Wave a lot.  They are among my favorite genres of music.  And this books has helped further my appreciation.  As I’m reading, naturally I enjoy the chapters covering bands that I am very fond of.  However, I’m enjoying the exploration of bands I either don’t know well beyond a single (or two) and those I had never heard before.  It motivates me to check out those bands or look deeper into their catalogue.

One chapter I found incredibly fascinating was the one about Bow Wow Wow.  Of course, I had grown up hearing their cover of “I Want Candy” throughout my entire life.  I had heard another song or two in recent years, but not much beyond that.  Before Reynolds’ book, I had regarded Bow Wow Wow as a one-hit wonder band and assumed that their history was bland and uninteresting as a result.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Malcolm McLaren is the impresario that managed the Sex Pistols.  Not only did he have a heavy hand in crafting their delinquent image, he sought ways to make them even more polarizing and repulsive to people.  I had been listening to the Sex Pistols since high school and I had always known Malcolm McLaren to be a provocateur which is a classier way of saying that he was a big wanker.  Until I read this book, I had no idea of far McLaren would go to be absolutely appalling.

I was amazed to learn that Bow Wow Wow was a McLaren creation much like the Sex Pistols.  The band was formed after McLaren encourage Adam and the Ants to ditch their front man and pursue his new music project.  Needing a charismatic and captivating lead singer, McLaren recruited the 14-year-old Annabella Lwin.

Initially, the band was put together to carry out McLaren’s vision that music was destined to be disposable background noise.  With the arrival of cassette technology, McLaren prophesized that role of music in the future would be removed of its purpose.  Before, people would gather in their homes or clubs to listen to music.  Now, with the introduction of the caseate and the rise of portable music, McLaren believed music would lose its importance and meaning.  To further this, Bow Wow Wow’s first album was initially a cassette only release that nearly tanked the band for having poor audio quality.

In addition to managing a band that would promote McLaren’s vision of music’s decline, he also sought a means to exploit rock’s baser instinct of tribalism and sex.  To achieve that, McLaren would coerce Lwin to be photographed nude or be subjected to sexual situations even going so far as encouraging one of the bandmates to deflower Lwin which McLaren believed was the reason why she was so resistant to his deranged and hypersexualized ideas.

McLaren’s fascination with exploiting child sexuality was exclusive to Lwin.  He had a whole grand vision to carry out his belief that pop music was pornography for children.  So, he set out to use pop music as a medium to use child pornography to titillate adults.  TO achieve this, the early Bow Wow Wow songs featured overtly sexual lyrics and Lwin was photographed nude for the band’s promo materials even appearing nude on their second album.

His provocative mindset extended beyond music and into other media.  McLaren wanted to create a children’s version of Playboy called Chicken which would be a publication featuring underage boys and girls engaging in pleasure technology.  While McLaren persisted that his Chicken publication was designed to be consumed by children interested in becoming adults that were different than their own parents, it is especially troubling considering “chicken” is a pedophile term for children.  Some even believed that Bow Wow Wow and Chicken were grand schemes by McLaren to implicate BBC and EMI as child smut peddlers.  While much of this material of Bow Wow Wow and the young Lwin were published, Chicken remains in the vaults.

You can imagine how surprised I was to learn about the history of Bow Wow Wow.  I had heard “I Want Candy” all my life.  It is a fun, catchy pop song.  However, knowing their background and especially McLaren’s manipulation of Lwin, the song carries a whole new subversive meaning that makes me a little ill.

Since reading that chapter, I’ve been exploring more of Bow Wow Wow’s short catalog.  Though they only released three studio albums, there is a lot of great material. For the last few years, I’ve really enjoyed “Do You Wanna Hold Me?”  The song is chaotic and absurd with allusions to California and a demonic Mickey Mouse being as big as a house.  It didn’t chart as well as “I Want Candy,” but it is one of their stronger tracks.  And given that it was recorded and released on their third and final studio album before breaking up, I would like to think that it was conceived on the tail end of whatever McLaren had planned for them.  I would like to be optimistic that, by this time, he was losing interest in the band and not interested in exploiting them as he had before.

“bitter heart” – seona dancing (1983)


There is an album discussion group I help organize and meet up with every few weeks.  Imagine a book club, but about music albums instead.  A couple friends and I listen to the album prior to the meeting and then come talk about it over beers.  In order to make our selections, we use a book called 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.  The book is helpful because it gives us a structure and encourage us to explore things that are new to each of the members.  I enjoy these meetings because it keeps me active in discovering new music that I otherwise might have not been motivated to listen to.

Yesterday, we met to discuss Sleater-Kinney’s 1997 album Dig Me Out.  This was my first time really listening to anything by that group.  After two listens, I decided the album was not my thing.  However, a lot was discussed about this record.  A couple of the group members were big fans having listened to Sleater-Kinney for almost a decade.  There were also some great discussion points regarding the album representing a feminist outlook.  For an album I didn’t care much for, I really enjoyed the discussion and decided I would give the band another shot at some point in the future.

However, this week’s blog post is not about Sleater-Kinney.  During the conversation, someone brought up how music changes with a person over time.  That, upon first listen, you might dislike an artist or album, but enjoy them at a later time.  In the same vein, we also talked about how music taste can be cyclical as in you may love an artist when you were younger, not enjoy them for a while, but then come to rediscovering and appreciating the work again.  The idea being that something you once loved will mean something different to you than it did when you were younger.

For the most part, members of the group agreed with that.  Sleater-Kinney was something they discovered in high school, didn’t immediately gravitate towards, but then truly appreciated later.  While all that made sense, I had a hard time accepting the cyclical appreciation of music.  For one, there’s no type of music that I once loved and then didn’t like for a while before finding motivation to enjoy them again.  Sure, I go through phases where I’m listening to one artist or style more frequently than others, but I never went as far to say I never liked artists I had loved before.  I guess I come from the perspective that if you liked them, you still liked them.  While they may have a new meaning for you at whatever point in life you’re at, but I find it hard to believe you can outright disown a beloved artist just because you’ve aged a few years.

I also think I rejected the idea because my musical upbringing was different.  I have friends in Chicago who grew up going to see amazing artists perform live or walked down the street to their nearest record store.  I didn’t walk into my first authentic record store until I was in college.  Plus, I was never in areas where I had the opportunity to see cool artists perform live.  Whether it was living in Alaska, on a military base, or in a rural farming community, the only music access I had was whatever was available on commercial radio and whatever Wal-Mart carried.

That’s why I’m so active in discovering music now and resistant to the idea of limiting my willingness to try new things.  I’m in community radio, I volunteer in a record archive, and I help organize this album group.  I’m constantly seeking opportunities to try new things.

During yesterday’s discussion, we talked about the music we seek as we get older.  When I started becoming conscious of great and important music, I was at the tail end of high school.  I was listening to serious and respected artists like The Clash and Bob Dylan.  Those kinds of artists were pivotal in my development and the way I think and approach things.  They challenged me to question my surroundings and by my own person.  In other words, it was the perfect music for an angsty, ambitious, and awkward teenager.

However, that seems like a lifetime ago.  And I love all those artists and still continue to listen to them.  But, I’m not in high school anymore.  Or even college for that matter.  I’m approaching 30 and sticking to the man in other ways.  Music was my rebellion as a kid.  Now, it is something else.  While I’m kicking ass and challenging the status quo in more organized, tangible, and nuanced ways, I no longer specifically need music to motivate me.

As I get older, I like to listen to obscure songs and one-off rarities.  From all genres, I like compilations that offer me a glimpse into the lives of people who never quite made it.  Soul music a good way to get this experience thanks to distribution groups like Numero Group, but synthpop and new wave is where I find some truly wonderful gems.

Obviously, nothing ever happened with these artists because they aren’t well known and only recorded a handful of independent singles.  Very rarely will a member of that group go on to do bigger things.  My favorite example of someone who did just that is Ricky Gervais.  Before he was a comedian and the creator of The Office, Gervais was the manager for the 1990s UK band Suede.  That’s pretty crazy, but get this!  Even before then, he was one half of a new wave romantic duo called Seona Dancing.

Seona Dancing’s history is so short.  They released two singles.  Their second single, “More to Lose,” became a huge hit in the Philippines.  Michael Sutton, critic for AllMusic, even credits the single as being “the theme song of angst-ridden New Wave youths in the Philippines” and “an ’80s anthem as ubiquitous as Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’, but with the eternal hipster cool of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart.”  That is a lofty claim.

While “More to Lose” garners such respect in Southeastern Asia, I’m more partial to their first single.  “Bitter Heart” is a synth heavy lost new wave masterpiece with Gervais sounding the part of a New Romantic lead so supremely.  Even the video is ripe with the melodrama and heightened emotion of a music video from the early 80s when artists were starting to understand and perfect the medium.  “Bitter Heart” is a classic in its own right and I wished was more recognized.

I really enjoy music for a variety of different reasons. It is a big part of me.  However, sometimes, I don’t want to think.  I just want something fun, poppy, and catchy.  And it is even better if it isn’t readily available on commercial radio or on the record charts.  I like where my musical direction is going.  I enjoy seeking out weird, obscure, and rare stuff that no one else or very few people have heard.  There’s something comforting in that exclusive club of off the wall listeners who enjoy things that hardly anyone can relate to.

Wherever your musical journey takes you, go with enthusiasm.  There is no right or wrong ways to enjoy music.  Just different ways.  If you’re someone who goes through the motions with a particular sound, then so be it.  Just pursue what you enjoy and do it with an open mind and bold curiosity.


“close to me” – the cure (1985)


My mother and stepdad flew to Chicago to visit me for the weekend.  I always enjoy their visits.  While they normally visit over Labor Day weekend, they decided to switch things up and come in June instead.  Why?  Because the legendary band the Cure were playing at UIC Pavilion!  My mother has been a fan of the Cure for over 35 years, really since their inception.  Yet she had never seen them perform live.  This was not only an excellent time to spend time with family, but also check off a band on her bucket list.  Win-win.

I saw the Cure for the first time at Riot Fest during the fall of 2014.  For those not savvy on music festivals or the big to dos of Chicago, Riot Fest is a punky alternative to other music festivals like Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza.  That year, the Cure were headlining.  I had been listening to them since I started high school, but had never seen them live.  This is primarily for two reasons; 1) I didn’t live in or near areas that regularly got large acts, and 2) the Cure didn’t tour often and when they did, it was to go to major metropolitan areas.

When it comes to outdoor music festivals, I’m not a fan.  The weather can be bad, the crowd can be unruly, and the prices can be unjustifiable considering I would typically only know a handful of bands.  However, more and more festivals are popping and up and they’re getting bigger every year.  Business models for bands have changed drastically in the last decade or so.  With many larger acts, they can actually make more money by only playing a handful of festivals as opposed to going out on a proper tour.  The Cure has been doing that for years and I figured that was the only way I could’ve seen them.  So, I sucked it up and paid approximately $70 for a single-day pass to Riot Fest just to see the Cure.

That day at Riot Fest was long and boring for the most part.  I’m a punctual person, so I arrived early anticipating long lines.  Upon arrival, the lines weren’t that long, but I waited in them for over an hour listening to the war stories of the previous few days including torrential downpours and awesome rock shows.  I spent some time reviewing the line-up for the day.  And really, there was no one I really cared about seeing until Patti Smith took the stage at around 5 PM.  When the gates opened, I walked around for a bit to get a layout of the vendors and stages and other happenings at the festival.

I checked out a few bands briefly, but they really weren’t my thing.  The whole experience for the first half of the day was boring.  I was alone, didn’t care about the bands that were playing, and dealing with some personal issues that had happened within the last two weeks; I had moved out of an ex-girlfriend’s place and lost of my job the same week.  Though, I could see how things could be fun.  However, it wasn’t clicking for me at the time.

Patti Smith was playing right before the Cure on the same stage.  I had seen her the previous year at the Vic.  And if I wanted a good spot, I would need to be in the area to see the band before her which was Tegan & Sara.  I wasn’t quite familiar with their songs, but I really dug them.  Most importantly, I got to get a spot that was good for that show and when it would be over, squeeze a little closer to the front for Patti Smith and then repeat for the Cure.

Patti put on an excellent and raucous rock and roll show, but I had to go to the bathroom really bad.  So, I left my amazing spot to go use the restroom.  I hurried back to the stage and settled in.  I would have to wait for over an hour for the show.  While my spot wasn’t as great as it was before, it wasn’t bad.  It was adequate.

I was so ready for the Cure to play because they were the only band I had to see and the only reason why I came to Riot Fest.  The closer is came to time for them the play, the crowd got bigger and more packed.  I was squished, hot, hungry, thirsty, a little lonely, but I didn’t care.  I was going to see an amazing band forget about my recent troubles for a few hours.

There were a group of guys standing behind me acting like jackasses before the show, but I did my best to ignore them.  One of them was complaining about having to pee.  The crowd was so huge and compact that movement was extremely limited.  You couldn’t move your arms let alone dance.  In a desperate move not to lose his place and awkwardly swim through the sea of sweaty bodies, he decided to pee into a water bottle.  Not a bad move.  I couldn’t blame him given the situation, though it still really annoyed me because some guy was peeing a foot behind me.  When he was done, he dropped the bottle onto the ground.  First of all, I hate litter bugs and I’ve had moments where I confront someone for their blatant disregard for the planet.  However, this situation was made even worse because he forgot to put the cap back on the bottle thus splashing piss on the back of my leg.  To say I went nuclear was an understatement.  I had spent all day dealing with festival bullshit only to see this one band and I wasn’t going to let this one jackass ruin it.  I turned around and angrily confronted him in a way only someone so tired, miserable, and heartbroken could do.  His friends didn’t even support him as he took a few steps back stuttering some excuse about how he didn’t pee in that bottle.  To see the fear and embarrassment in his eyes was extremely cathartic.

When the band took the stage, it was one of the best shows I had ever seen.  The melancholy lyrics and new wave instrumentals were exactly what I needed to salve my wounds. Robert Smith wasn’t very personable and didn’t address the audience.  It was strictly business.  One song after another without missing a beat. At the end of the day, it was worth it.

Fast forward two years later and I’m at UIC Pavilion sitting in a seat which was a comfortable change of pace from the last time I saw the band.  It was great seeing them in an actual venue because I didn’t think they would go on a proper tour outside of a festival.  Smith and the crew played a lot of hits, several deep cuts from Bloodflowers, and even played a new song that hasn’t been released. My mother was extremely excited and yelling when her favorite songs came on and screaming requests for others.  It made me happy to see her so excited to finally see one of her favorite bands.

Though not my favorite song of the Cure’s, I’ve always been partial to “Close to Me” from 1985’s The Head On the Door.  It has a playful melody and a cool bassline.  It stands out for me most of all for the music video.  It is one of my favorite music videos of all time.  In it, there is an armoire on the edge of a cliff.  The band is inside playing the music on found objects; the bass is being plucked on a comb.  Eventually, the armoire falls over into the sea.  The water is filling up inside and the band is struggling to not drown.  It is delightfully playful and visually interesting.

Things have greatly improved for me since the fall of 2014, but I’ll never forget that show for being an escape.  This show was fantastic as well, but for different reasons.  Sitting comfortably in a seat in a building has it’s advantages.  But I earned the show last time.  I was on a mission and had put up with so much to complete it.  Though, I still don’t like large music festivals.


Note:  the proper video isn’t on Youtube, so you’ll have to just settle with this one with a weird picture-in-picture effect


“down in the park” – tubeway army (1979)


Dystopias in art are really interesting to me. Especially when they are set in the near future with familiar elements that exist in the here and now. From video games set in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland to 1970s sci-fi films with teenage gangs wreaking havoc within a British police state, these stories dance on the line between frightening and alluring. They are cautionary tales that exaggerate the worst aspects of humanity to make a point about modern day society. Yet, they are strangely attractive almost as to suggest such a drastic change to our current way of life would be exciting. Though, I hardly believe if any of these scenarios became reality that they would be as romantic as our entertainment media can sometimes make them out to be.

Tubeway Army, led by Gary Numan, was a post-punk and new wave band formed during the 1970s. Originally rooted in punk music on their first studio release, the band would take a sharp turn towards electronica with the 1979 release of Replicants, their second and final studio album. A loose concept album, Replicants is about a world cohabited by men and machines; a transhumanist dystopian anti-reality seething with raw sexuality and perversion. The androids appear as androgynous beings that force their will on humans for entertainment.

I was aware of Numan at an early age. Around the turn of the millennium, VH1 featured a lot of nostalgia programming; various countdowns and decade retrospectives. One particular program counted down the best one-hit wonders of all time. Numan’s single “Cars” appeared on that list. I really like that song, but that was it. Knowing that Numan was a one-hit wonder, I didn’t think that he could have any other good songs. Being that I was 12 or 13 at the time and without blazing fast internet speeds combined with an elementary knowledge of pop music, I didn’t really have the motivation or interest to explore Numan’s synthetic world of electric nightmares.

I spent my high school years in a small rural farming community. There weren’t any convenient record shops nearby and commercial radio during the mid-2000s was excruciatingly dull. I consumed all of the TV shows and magazines that glorified artists of the past. Some of which I would never hear on commercial radio. That all would change when I got to college. Technology had progressed to bring people where they needed to go much faster and streaming media was in it’s infant stage. I was in college radio at the time and I wanted more music. My hunger was insatiable. Spending time with other music lovers, I tried to absorb as much as possible. And with the rise of social media, share as much as possible as well.

During my junior year of college, I purchased a boxset by the Police called Message in a Box during a Black Friday sale online. It was a 4-disc collection claiming it contained every commercially released recording (though I would find out later it is missing a few tracks), including studio albums and rarities. A couple of the rarities were live cuts from the concert film Urgh! A Music War. I did my research online and learned it was considered one of the best concert films of all time (always hard to take such claims seriously) and featured a wide array of post-punk and new wave music. I was really into soul music and spent a lot of time in that world for my college radio show, but I like the Police. And if the Police were good enough for this film, then the other artists had to be great.

I learned Urgh! A Music War was not an easy film to find. I had to acquire a bootleg copy online if I was going to watch it. When it finally finished downloading, I watched performance after performance featuring the likes of the Cramps, XTC, and the Go-Gos. While the film featured three dozen brilliant performances, a few stuck out in my head. One in particular was Numan performing “Down in the Park,” a single off of Tubeway Army’s Replicants album

The music was dark and brooding, but featured a lilting synth-pop rhythm that added a sardonic tone. During the performance, Numan was driving around the stage in a black motorized cart while he sang. It look liked something a paraplegic would drive in battle against a robot army. I was stunned by Numan’s presence as a live artist. He was a storyteller with a showman flair for the darkest fringe of society.

Released in 1979, “Down in the Park” is set during a futuristic dystopia where the interactions between humans and androids can be violent and deadly. In this world, machines attack and rape bystanders for entertainment. They state that they are not lovers and not romantics, but they are they are there to serve the will of their robotic friends and masters. Adding life to this story, the synth-pop backing track creates a dark and hypnotic presence that makes the listener engulfed in a deep feeling of paranoia as if they could be attacked next. The harmony is broken up by interludes of Moog synthesizers that heighten the sensation that any calm being felt is only temporary.

I cannot say that I am a big fan of Numan, but I do enjoy aspects of his work. A few years ago, I did see him perform live on JBTV in Chicago. Standing only a few feet away, he performed a five song set from his latest album to promote a show he was doing at the Metro. He had an incredible stage presence and moved very chaotically at his age. This was a far departure from the stoic and androgynous robotic figure I had seen in Urgh! A Music War. Numan is an underrated artist who can present a particular image and idea. And he is incredibly exciting for that. I just hope I’m never down in the park he sings about.

“six months in a leaky boat” – split enz (1982)


There are tempests we must all bear in order to get where we want to be. That is a part of the journey of life because anything worth having is worth the fight. We have all had those experiences where things seem hopeless and we feel so alone as a result. Many are currently going through that right now and we simply have no idea the struggles they are going through. While we feel isolated and alienated as a result of our own personal struggle, in essence, we are not truly alone. Recognizing that has influenced my interactions and experience with friends, family, and strangers. I truly believe that human existence is collective and part of one big soul. What affects the life of one affects the lives of other. Our evolution as a species proves we rely on a symbiosis if we are to survive. Through the support of others can we find the motivation to get through our problems. With that, there is hope. A light to drown the darkness.

“Six Months in a Leaky Boat” by Split Enz became a very personal song for me during the latter half of 2013. For two years already, I was working a job that I truly hated and, quite literally, was breaking me down to the point I was convinced it was killing me. I’ll spare the details, so you’ll have to trust me. For a big project starting June of that year, I was forced to start working nights. I was scheduled to only be there until midnight, but I would often stay there until 2 or 3 in the morning. I was the only person who this new schedule was forced upon and I had extremely off rules that only applied to me. For example, I could not leave the building under any circumstance such as to get lunch, even if other people were in the building. My boss felt it would be unfair to them if I stepped out for a few minutes. This could’ve been solved if I was given a key to the building like the other employees, but I was not allowed to have a key. I know all that sounds kind of trivial and petty, but trust me. This place was a nightmare and I know no other job I will ever have will come close to that hell.

I knew this abrupt change was going to make things difficult for me on several fronts. For one, the new rules were unfair and violated several human resource laws and, in addition, I would not be compensated for the late and extra hours. Secondly, my girlfriend at the time had a teacher’s schedule and this meant I would see her a lot less. I worked very hard to be optimistic that we would get through this, but that optimism was not mutual. As a result, it created several problems and tension in our relationship. So much so that I thought about breaking up, but I knew things would get better so I tried to be consistently strong for the both of us. And thirdly, I knew it would be months before I saw any friends. I was right about that. During the six months I worked on this project, I only spent two afternoons with a friend. That rest of the time was isolation. Alone at home. Alone at work. Alone everywhere I went.

I had one thing that kept me going through all of this. Working evenings meant my mornings were free to go to job interviews without any suspicion. I was convinced this work schedule change was a blessing in disguise. I had six months to dedicate to changing my situation and never looking back. And if I managed to get out even sooner, the better. I had never been more motivated and hard-working in my life than during these six months. I would leave for work at noon, get home at 3 AM, sleep, wake up at 8 AM and either go to a job interview or spend my mornings writing cover letters and emailing resumes. In the beginning, I was so energized because I felt like I had some semblance of power of this situation I did not choose.

Days would turn into weeks and then weeks turned into months. Summer was changing into fall. As time death marched forward, I became increasingly worried. Every day I didn’t get a new job offer was one more day lost. As time went on, I was worried that this gift of six months would go to waste. I was panicking. My boat was sinking and no matter how much water I tossed overboard, more would splash on.

To make a long story short, those six months did go by without a job offer. And during the last week of the project, I was fired. I worked a job I hated for nearly three years, compromised and sacrificed for six months, and ended up getting booted out the door two weeks before Christmas. This was the boss’ plan all along; get a big project done to meet her imaginary deadline and let me go without a second thought. My ship had sunk and I was drowning.

It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Would I have preferred getting out sooner? Of course. But, I didn’t realize it at the time that this was a good alternative.

During those six months, I listened to this song religiously. It was my motivator. My gospel. Performed by a group from New Zealand, the six months referred to the amount of time it took colonial Australians to sail to New Zealand. To me, it is a song about hope and bracing the storm. Even though the sky is filled with dark clouds and ear-splitting thunder, there are rays of sunshine just behind the horizon. Even if you cannot see them, they are there.

“class historian” – broncho (2014)


As I get older, the more I believe in the adage of “everything old is new again.” It is a concept that is often paired with nostalgia, though the two can exist separately. You see this everywhere you turn. Fashion, music, television.  They all have it. I sometimes find myself frustrated by the lack of innovation and experimentation.  Boredom sets in and your mind craves a challenge.

I went through this last summer. Rock, pop, soul, and everything else in front of me was boring me. Everything I was hearing was just becoming noise.  Static amongst the static.  I tried listening to other genres to cleanse my contemporary Western-influenced rock music palette.  I engaged in various native folk, acid jazz, and most of Phillip Glass’ discography.  I wondered what was going to save me from the monotony.  I’ve since regressed back and enjoy the standards again, but I still find myself occasionally bored with the musical landscape because of its repetitive nature. However, sometimes you can relish in the irony of a mood.

In the middle of this weird phase, I first heard “Class Historian” by BRONCHO. When I heard the song open with its signature repetitive “du, du, du” refrain, I was floored.  This song was exactly what I was rebelling against, but I could not help myself.  The simplicity of its throwback style was just too cool and has since stood out as one of my favorite songs of 2014.

Everything about the recording and presentation of “Class Historian” is an exercise in nostalgia.  BRONCHO is a modern Indie rock band but model themselves after the DIY punk and new wave bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s.   The music tracks feature an unpolished, driving guitar that sounds like it was recorded in a garage.  Additional guitars paint a sonic dreamscape that lie underneath the pulsing rhythm of the lead guitar.  Imagine early INXS with some ironic undertones.

The vocals are a treat as well.  The “du, du, du” refrain adds a playful humor and mysticism that accentuate the dreamy theme.  The words are slightly distorted with an echo that adds a hazy aura over the whole song.  Ryan Lindsey’s mumbling singing style features sharp increases in pitch that add to this as well.  Much of what he is singing is hard to understand and the pitch change creates a jarring effect as if you are trying to fight falling asleep.  It almost seems purposeful in order to surround the lyrics in mystery. The vocals and music combine to create a complete dream experience.

I am so happy I found this song when I did because it is truly phenomenal.  It serves as a clever throwback to older musical styles while establishing its own independence as contemporary rock.  Sure, our society and culture is fraught in stagnation.  However, there are consistent elements that seem to transcend time and space and influence all types of musical genres.  What is now a clever homage to a particular time has the potential to blossom into something new and exciting.  BRONCHO is a very new and very young band.  If they can continue their path of resurrecting styles while crafting their own niche, I see many good things in their future.