Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The history of GBV’s Alien Lanes

Guided By Voices is my favorite contemporary rock band. They might have more songs than any artist ever, and by my count, at least 2/3 of them are worthy of my “favorites” folders in my Google Play library. Many hundreds (!) are classics and should be favorites of any fans of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. Why they aren’t could arguably be one of rock’s great mysteries.


Many people are indeed onboard with GBV and its ever-I creasing legacy. Website Uproxx recently had an excellent oral history of the making of the classic 1995 Alien Lanes release. The most interesting tidbits include:

  • Leader Robert Pollard never left Dayton, Ohio because he has so many friends and family there from growing up, playing sports, and teaching school there.
  • He doesn’t consider it “writing” songs, it’s more “making up” songs about stuff that’s going on around him.
  • A lot of the early GBV bass lines were played on a tuned-down guitar because they didn’t have a bass.
  • There was a garage sale going on upstairs while the band recorded weirdo classic “Hot Freaks,” which must have confounded several of the customers.
  • Matt Sweeney of Chavez gave everyone he knew, including Kurt Cobain, tapes of Propeller and Vampire on Titus, which are my favorite lo-fi albums of all time (especially when paired with their monumentally explosive live performances). 
  • Sonic Youth and Pavement were in the audience for GBV’s first-ever show in New York, at CBGB’s.
  • Alien Lanes is named after a bowling alley about 50 miles away from Dayton that Bob got the name wrong on; it was actually called Astro Lanes.
  • Awesome bassist Greg Demos played violin on some of the band’s best songs.
  • Pollard: “I wanted Alien Lanes to sound like a late-night radio show without a DJ. I wanted Bee Thousand to sound like a bootleg of Beatles outtakes.”
  • Pollard: “Abbey Road is my favorite album of all time. Also, the silliness of a lot of the songs is similar to the Abbey Road suite.”
  • Rolling Stone had a glowing review of Alien Lanes, and it remains the longest review ever in the magazine’s history.
  • The band got in a fight with Billy Corgan over a basketball game they were playing during Lollapalooza 1994.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Highlights from a beautiful little book about Prince

Prince’s The Beautiful Ones is a great, fast-read book written mostly by him and consisting of many photos, scratch paper with famous lyrics scribbled on them, an 11-page early treatment of the storyboard for Purple Rain the movie, and various other memorabilia.


Touching insights into Prince from the book:

  • He called Michael Jackson’s music all about magic, and Led Zeppelin’s all about law breaking. He called his own music all about healing.
  • He sat upright and was an “impeccable” turn signaler when driving.
  • He often rented out a local movie theater after hours to watch films like Kung Fu Panda 3.
  • He wanted his voice and that of the author’s to blend together, creating an unusual kind of memoir, in honor of building a community, a brotherhood, unlike what he felt like most rap artists, like Kanye West, were doing in being selfish and Ayn Rand-like greedy.
  • Prince was his given name.
  • As a toddler, Prince loved the outdoors and his little girlfriend and he performed a long tap dance and also had seizures.
  • He was diagnosed as a child as schizophrenic after his alcoholic mother killed his abusive father, a scene painfully re-enacted in the Purple Rain movie.
  • His real name was Prince Rogers Nelson.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

My new coronavirus TV schedule

As boredom continues to wend its way into all our socially distanced lives, I figure one of my hours each day should be devoted to catching up on all the peak-era TV I've missed over the years, especially in the last dozen since committing so much of my life to my kids.

After all, I'm still only halfway through The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. The tricky thing is that it may be tough to watch those shows when there is so much amazing new television being released at a raid-fire pace.

I started this week by adding to my RSS feed the awesome can't-miss TV list prepared at the start of each week by TVLine. This should help me from wavering on what I'm going to watch each time I turn on the TV and instead go right to what I've already decided upon. Then I'm trying to watch one or two things as they are released each night.

So far this week:

  • Monday - Ozark: The final episode of season 3 continues masterfully a show that is quickly leaping up to threaten Mad Men as my favorite drama of all time. And Jason Bateman reports that there will be a season 4, thankfully.
  • Also Monday - Stranger Things, Season 1 Episode 4: Even though I already watched Season 1 (but I haven't seen subsequent seasons yet) a while back, my son and I started it over so we can watch the whole E.T./Close Encounters/Spielberg thing of beauty again.
  • Tuesday - Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill: Of course this is hilarious, like having a new hour of his TV show's jokes firing at you, all focusing on the absurdities of the little, everyday things in life.
  • Also Tuesday - I watched the first half of HBO's new documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind because I'm fascinated by all things Robert Wagner, who played "self-made millionaire ... quite a guy" Jonathan Hart in another one of my all-time favorite dramas, Hart to Hart.

Coming up ... the rest of the Natalie Wood movie (it's gripping even if you don't have a Daddy Wagner crush like I do), Brockmire, the Dead to Me season 2 premiere, and episodes 4-6 of the Chicago Bulls documentary The Last Dance.

Speaking of Michael Jordan, maybe that's why I suddenly have all this time to catch up on peak TV. No sports.

What are you watching? Any good recommendations?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Best Magazine Reads: Morrison Hotel was the last and best hurrah for The Doors

Morrison Hotel is, by far, my favorite Doors album, and I’m not too sure how normal that is. It stands to reason that it would be a stinker, since Jim Morrison was in the throes of alcoholism before taking off for Paris and his eventual death Further, he is under the microscope of the law for exposing himself in a concert in Miami.

Other albums by The Doors may have had better songs, but the spectrum of psychedelic pop across sides A and B of Morrison Hotel are untouchable: Waiting for the Sun, Peace Frog, The Spy, Queen of the Highway, and Indian Summer, to name a few.

In an article in the under-rated British magazine Classic Rock, lots of great nuggets are revealed about the making of Morrison Hotel:

  • As early as 1967, the lead singer’s prima-donna tendencies were already surfacing. The Doors, according to their manager, did not appear at Woodstock because they were “only headliners.” 
  • The album was originally supposed to be called Hard Rock Cafe. 
  • They were quickly becoming blacklisted throughout the country so they went into the studio to “work out their demons.” 
  • The night before starting to record Morrison Hotel, the singer was arrested in Phoenix after being disorderly on a plane en route to see a Rolling Stones concert.
  • In one session, Morrison drank 36 beers. The group had an intervention and he admitted to his alcoholism but then suggested they go get a drink. He then came back with the Roadhouse Blues lyrics, “woke up this morning, got myself a beer.” 
  • The album’s cover photo was one of the rare instances in 1969 that Morrison was actually clean-shaven. 
  • The band’s final album hit #4 on the U.S. charts, but Morrison was rapidly approaching the bottom and, soon, death.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Intenet has made monsters of Millennials. How do we fix that?


Jia Tolentino's new collection of essays, Trick Mirror, detail what it means to
 live the Millennial life. The insights kick in fast
 in the book's opening essay, "The I in the 
Internet," which asks how the medium
 got so bad.


She notes Erving Goffman's 1959 theory 
of identity, making what could read like
 a master's thesis into a gripping tale
 of how we became eternal performers - 
how we are similar in job interviews to
how we constantly present what we think
  of as our best selves on the Net
.

Offline, at least, there are "forms 
of relief," in which the audience turns 
over and the you at your job interview
 is different from the you who meets up 
with friends for a drink afterward and
 is different again when you go home 
to read yourself to sleep.

The Internet was one thing, Tolentino 
argues, but social media is a whole other 
level. People scroll through reams of
 content, viewing "all new information 
as a sort of direct commentary on
 who they are." Further, there's a
 constant pressure to expand one's
 audience, unlike in real life
, when we don't seek more likes and more 
followers and more hearts. Friends
 don't go home from dinner parties
 on the Internet. "The online
 audience never has to leave."


And as Millennials lives have
 gotten busier and busier, there
 is less time to politically engage 
and, besides, the Internet provides
 a cheap substitute" for such actions.
 Having an opinion online is often
seen as the end, rather than the
 beginning, of something. The
 Internet allows us to "seem"
 politically engaged.

This means that opinions have needed to get
 wilder and wilder. Gawker, Deadspin, 
and Jezebel were outlets designed to
 drive conflict. Upbeat ones like 
BuzzFeed, Grantland, and Upworthy failed to take,.

The Internet "brings the I into
 everything" because it can "make it
 seem that supporting someone means
 literally sharing in their experience."


Tolentino concludes that the Internet
 will collapse at some point, but that
 first we need to somehow start caring
 less about our online identities, to
 be "deeply skeptical of our own
 unbearable opinions," to "be careful 
in thinking about when our opposition serves
 us," and to not always put
 ourselves first.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Joker is super creepy - and brilliant in pretty much every way

It's understandable that critics had mixed
 feelings about Todd Phillips' Joker.


We're living in different times than the
 1970s, which is the decade the movie
 feels like it's from. Movies from that decade like Dog Day Afternoon,
 and Taxi Driver were character studies of people
 who rebel against the rules and morals
 of society.


Joaquin Phoenix is the best version 
of Batman's Joker that will ever exist.
 He is brilliant and deserved his best
 actor Academy Award. But, like Travis
 Bixler and other 70s anti-heroes, he 
is beaten down both literally and
 figuratively by everyone around him.
 Joker is a man with a physical
 condition and a mental illness that causes 
others to bully and berate him. Viewers 
are taken along by his struggles and
begin to side with him, even as his
 acts become more and more heinous.


Some have argued that Joker is 
irresponsible in that it could inspire
 crime by gun-toting outcasts and
skinheads who feel victimized.  While I suppose that could happen,
 it seems more likely that this is a
statement of how bad the problems -
 of income inequality
, bullying, and and throwing our mentally-ill
 population onto the streets without any
 medical care - have gotten.


Joker: 5 out of 5 stars


Other Joker facts of note:


  • His campaign of terror has been
 going on as long as his nemis 
Batman has existed. He appeared 
in Batman comic #1 in 1940.

  • Joker is the highest-grossing R-rated
 movie ever, making more than
 $1 billion.

  • No wonder I liked the movie so
 much. Other than Phoenix's master
 class in acting, Phillips directed
personal faves The Hangover and
 Old School
.
  • In the comics, the Joker was, in 1988, appointed 
UN ambassador to Iraq by
Ayatollah Khomeini.

  • In 2011, he had his own face cut off,.
  • Perhaps another thing that makes the
 Joker so interesting is that he has
 numerous origin stories. He's an
 enigma, un-categorizable. He tells
 different stories about himself at
 every turn. In this movie, he was
 abused and tortured as a child,
 or at least that's the story that
 eventually surfaces inside his own
mind.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Debbie Downer interlude: What about the world without us?

This seems like a prescient time to go back 
and finish Alan Weisman's classic science
 exploration The World Without us.
 I didn't quite finish it when it was
 released in 2007. The chapter "Where Do
 We Go from Here" seemed like a good one to visit.


It begins noting when animals would
 miss us, perhaps especially timely as
we hear fake news reports of dolphins
 having returned to the boat-less canals
 of Venice. Turns out the answer is
 that not many would miss us, except
 for hair and body lice, and follicle mites, which are so tiny that hundreds
live on our eyelashes alone. The 200 
bacteria species inside of us would also 
miss us.

A CDC expert featured in the book
 says that threats like the SARS Coronavirus
 can take out a lot of people but have
 a tough time penetrating everybody, and
 just having access to soap and water
 can go a long way to preserving humans.
 Fruit bats are suspected to be the source
 of the worst viruses, which then spread
 through infected human body fluids.

Some experts interviewed thought new technologies or environmental destruction are likelier sources of our demise. They also say no virus could kill all the people on earth. Even a 99.99
 percent die-off would 
leave hundreds of thousands of survivors. One expert points out that the one virus
 that could be most successful would be
 one that would make our sperm impotent.
 Crisis-pregnancy centers would be the first
 to notice because nobody would be visiting.


In 21 years, there would be no more
 juvenile delinquency and, as resignation sets in,
 spiritual awakening would replace panic. The seas and land would replenish with animal
 life and forests and wetlands would come back 
because of less need for new housing. We 
probably wouldn't have resource conflicts and,
 thus, no wars. The planet would slowly return
 to the Garden of Eden.


Some silver lining to our current COVID-19 virus, eh?