Living in Pittsburgh, I have achieved a sort of placid comfort normally reserved for retirement communities and making plans around post-season runs for Cleveland pro sports teams. I don’t mean that I’m hitting the early bird specials, only that when I make plans to do something, in Pittsburgh, I’m rarely inconvenienced. Movies sell out, but generally not the movies I want to see. Concerts sell out, but there’s never a rush to buy tickets to any of the bands about which I wax poetic. I don’t want the secret to get out, but Pittsburgh boasts many of the things that larger cities claim as their own… a stunning cityscape, a thriving arts community, a busy concert calendar (at least lately), three professional sports, a very good symphony with A-list conductors, etc. I don’t want to profess delusion; I daily long to live in Boston again, but for a town of only 400,000, Pittsburgh offers more than your average mid-level metro area for a relatively few number of people.
So imagine my surprise this past Wednesday when I was on my way to the Frankenstein double-feature, and when stopped a light, I tried to buy tickets in advance and the Fandango app told me the show was sold out. Sold out? Surely, Fandango was just full of shit. Of course there are m’f’ing tickets. Nevertheless, I was concerned. On one hand, when I went to see Ghostbusters last year at this same time, the theater still had plenty of seats remaining. On the other, Frankenstein was just one night,Ghostbusters played on at least two consecutive Wednesdays.
After parking the car in a pretty empty parking lot at the Settler’s Ridge Cinemark, I’d again convinced myself that there would still be tickets. I hurry in to the lobby, still with 20 minutes to spare. There’s Frankenstein Double Feature. 7:00. And there’s the flashy flashy SOLD OUT. Dismay. I’d planned my entire week around this event. I’d chosen Frankstenstein and Bride of Frankenstein over the Dinosaur, Jr. and Shearwater show. It was planned. This was my trip out for the week. I’d gleefully thrown the three-year old into my wife’s arms and run out the door with visions of a big ass popcorn bag, a tub of Coke and corpse reanimation.
I stood in the lobby of the theater staring at the movie times. There were plenty of movies I wanted to see but it didn’t matter what I chose, not really. It was all going to be something other than an angry mob hunting a walking hulk of mismatched appendages.
On one hand, I’m thrilled that people in Pittsburgh are supporting these special repertory screenings. (I wish more of them would support the films, not promoted by the TCM muscle, at the Hollywood Theater.) On the other hand, stop going to see my shit and leaving me, stunned, in the lobby while I decide whether to wait an extra 15 minutes to see Argo or go see The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Wallflowers
For those that care, at best maybe three of you. I saw Wallflower because there’s a kind of backwards pride associated with seeing our little town on the big screen — even though it is happening with increasing regularity. I found much to like about the movie, even if the final act seemed a little rushed. Seeing my primary commute through the Ft. Pitt tunnel become a repeated and primary plot point for the film felt a little out-of-body. And speaking of the The Hollywood Theater, the Dormont establishment (less than a mile or so from my house) even makes a brief appearance as the setting for a Rocky Horror Sing-a-long. The movie could have been terrible (it wasn’t, go see it) but I would have enjoyed it for one stupid reason alone. When the high school kids in the movie had nothing better to do, they went to Kings. Facepalm for truth.
Hey Emma. Welcome to Pittsburgh. Oh, and you’ll be spending all of your time in Kings.
I always consider Pittsburgh to be this void of cultural taste. Its possible that having spent so much time in Kings during my high school years has irrevocably tarnished my impression of this city. Honestly it’s like Waffle House, only less happy. My relationship with this town can be a little patronizing. I admit. It only grew more so in the decade we were apart. But maybe it’s time I gave the people here a little more credit. After all, those non-cultured bastards prevented me from seeing Frankenstein on the big screen for the first time.
Anyway, after Wallflower, I went home. Put on the Frankenstein DVD and promised myself the next time I rearrange my schedule to do something, I’ll actually buy the tickets in advance… because there are at least a few hundred people just like myself out there, and goddammit, they’re going to steal my ticket.
A writer is told by pretty much everybody that a writer is only a writer if that writer writes. And if you read those so-called “craft” books, a writer can only be a writer if that writer writes at least two hours per day. More is encouraged. Less is, well, fine, if you want to [audibly scoff] write fan fiction. Pick up any copy of Poets & Writers or Writer’s Digest and you’ll find advice like this. It might be cloaked in encouraging exclamation points but, in the end, every piece of writerly encouragement boils down to this: Just sit down and write.
The voice of the nagging compendium of writer’s advice looks at me like this when I’m not writing. She looks innocent, but she’s got angry opinions.
So, thusly, I am not a writer.
I cannot sit down to write 2 hours most days. I cannot, with certainly, count on anything beyond 30 minutes each day. And even then those 30 minutes are the foggy, dreary-eyed minutes after midnight when birthing words seems as impossible as birthing a baby through my eye’s lacrimal ducts. Some days I don’t even have time to register the guilt that comes along with being a writer that doesn’t write.
Imagine the pain.
At this point in my life I’ve typed many many volumes and hopefully have many meaningful volumes left. I’ve had some minor screenwriting success. I’ve written hundreds of movie and music reviews for various publications and been offered invaluable opportunities as a result. I’ve interviewed Tom Hanks and John Travolta. I was close enough to Paul Newman that I could smell his cologne. I’ve been through an MFA program. I’ve been published in literary magazines and tech magazines both online and off.
But apparently I’m not a writer. I’m just a guy typing a lot of disparate words.
I’ve spent 16 years of my life typing these words. Not all in fiction, though. Fiction has only been a more recent development. And it’s only been within the last couple of years that I could admit to anyone that I was a writer, even if I don’t wholeheartedly believe it — what with that burdensome guilt resulting from not writing all the time.
Sam Raimi beat me to it.
My “career” began with movie reviews and entertainment journalism before moving into screenplays and copywriting. Back then, I might have been more of a “writer” though. I hauled my 47 lb. Dell laptop/boat anchor to Caribou Coffee and sat for hours on end, just working and writing and drinking massive amounts of coffee. That right there was the sweet life. Unlimited time, unlimited potential… but only limited talent. It takes years to learn how to write and write well. And though my fledgling confidence soared, I was only a student with big dreams of writing a low-budget indie horror movie that spanned genres, gained some notoriety at film festivals before being picked up by a major studio and given a limited release… and ultimately selling big as a DVD.
I keep going back to this oft suggested 2-hour rule for writers. Quite honestly, it is a source of despair and envy and frustration. If I compiled a list of all the things I need to do each day I’m pretty sure I’d need a 48-hour day. Being a part-time stay-at-home father of two girls (one is 3 and the other is 6 months) more than half my day is already spoken for. I wake at 7:15am. I generally don’t get to sniff freedom until 8:00pm in the evening. By that time, I have two-hours of clear-minded time available for productivity. But that time is split fourteen different ways. Picking up the house (half-assedly), dishes, fleeting moments of face-time with the wife, working out, taking care of leftover tasks for my day job… yada yada yada… it’s 11:00pm and I didn’t even yada yada the best part. I haven’t even opened my laptop. Maybe I “wasted” twenty minutes during that time to relax — gawd forbid — play a video game or watch a sitcom on the DVR.
Meanwhile this nagging voice in the back of my head keeps whispering:…writers make time to write…
I have a response to this voice of collective holier-than-thou literary smugness.
“I can’t make time, cocksuckers. I can’t fabricate more time or patience out of thin air. I have to do the best with the 24 hours given to me each day.” And while I’m not always the most skinflint of time conservationists, I try. And often I fail. And those days are riddled with guilt. Sometimes I give up too easily. But when I give up on a day it’s often because I hear that voice, nagging, ever-present in the back of my mind….writers make time to write… …a writer writes… That voice does not often inspire me. It has been repeated and reinterpreted to the point of meaninglessness. I feel like a child that’s been spanked too much. I feel so much guilt from thinking these things while I struggle to find time to write that the guilt means nothing. It doesn’t inspire me. It often just leads to anxiety and sometimes, as it has in the past, depression. And ultimately more non-writing.
It is true beyond a reasonable doubt that writers must write. But like the end of Voltaire’s Candide, a writer (or really any slave to the creative drive), must also first tend to his garden, guilt-free, in order to create without baggage. When I am immune to the guilt, I am a writer. I scribble notes in my journals and on napkins and receipts in my wallet. My mind is always working and plotting ideas and fixes for broken stories. I’ll put all of those notes aside to tackle whenever it is I’ll next have 30 minutes or 2 hours of rare undivided, uninterrupted, unshackled writing time. But rest assured when I have the time, I’ll be a goddamn writer whether that voice approves of me or not.
This poster hangs in my basement “lair.” I refuse to use the term “man cave” because that term needed retiring before Tony Siragusa had his own home improvement show. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s less a bauble than a thing because a bauble, to me, must be something that collects dust. This is too vertical. I’d been on a Ghostbusters soundtrack kick lately because my daughter really enjoyed dancing to “Cleanin’ Up the Town” by the Bus Boys.
I’m pretty pumped that I bothered to check for the Bus Boys’ video. Man. If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, do yourself a favor and watch it. Just pure fun. They get to drive the Ecto-1. I’m jealous. Plus stop-motion drum kit assemblage.
But, as always, I digress.
As I was putting the record on the turntable one day, my daughter says, “You have that downstairs.” Of course, I’m like, silly three-year old, I have no record player downstairs and therefore you are mistaken. “No,” she repeats. “You have that,” she taps her finger on the sleeve, “downstairs.” It dawns on me she’s referring to the poster flanking my TV. The three-year old has called out her father for underestimating her keen powers of observation. They remember everything. Every minute of every hour of every day. They have nothing to do but remember. Even if they can’t verbalize exactly what they’re thinking, they know.
And this sets me to thinking about a life-fact that I’d considered after she was born. But it hits me harder now than it did when she was a newborn, when it was merely an observation, because she’s a walking, talking human being with opinions now. She likes the Cars and Foster the People and the Black Keys and the Ghostbusters soundtrack but she definitely, violently dislikes the Reverend Horton Heat.
My observation is this: Ghostbusters came out 25 years before she was born in 2009. I don’t remember a time before Ghostbusters. I remember vividly seeing it four times in the theater in 1984. I was not yet six and I covered my eyes each time Ray Stanz charged the librarian ghost in the library. Last Halloween, I documented my first time seeing it in the theater since 1984 with this post. Consider a movie that came out 25 years before you were born. What’s your first thought about that movie? Okay. First let’s do mine.
The Top 5 most memorable (a subjective determination) flicks that came out 25 years before 1978.
From Here to Eternity
Gentleman Prefer Blondes
House of Wax
And the first thing I think? My gawd. Those films seem really old. Next thought. My gawd. In my daughter’s frame of reference, Ghostbusters is going to seem as old to her as From Here to Eternity seems to me. Of course, this does not take into account that black and white movies have an extra aura of oldness. But then again, Ghostbusters, boasts rotoscope mattes and stop-motion animation — advanced special effects techniques for the 80’s, that probably look a little “hokey” to kids raised in a post-Terminator 2 world. By the way, if you care to read more about the Ghostbusters effects, this is a pretty interesting article I found on Spook Central (a Ghostbusters Companion site) that was published in 1984 in a magazine called Starlog.
Easy to take this effect for granted. A matte ghost effect turns the pages of a rotoscope book animation. The book needed to be a separate effect to make it look more real.
How does one necessarily assimilate this idea? I fall too often into the trap of considering my daughters an extension of my own frame of reference. It’s haunting to think how quickly the years pass, to think that my dad perhaps considered From Here to Eternity the same way I think of Ghostbusters now. I find myself thinking of my parents and wondering what they over-analyzed when they were my age. And what loves did they once hope to pass down to me before I spurned their attempts or misunderstood their intentions to offer me a piece of themselves? The more I observe my oldest daughter, the more I understand that, like myself, she too, will eventually come to dismiss these frivolous pieces of her father, her most-of-the-time stay-at-home-caregiver, in favor of the new and the now. Sure, eventually she might rediscover (or uncover for the first time) these things, but they won’t, like the Ghostbusters soundtrack now, be the impetus to run and dance and laugh with her dad. The music, movies and movie posters she recognizes now as an inextricable part of her early years will become something old, they will become other, as she, and eventually her five-month old sister, venture out into the world to find their own loves and revelations. They must find their own nostalgia.
In their ten-year-long effort to purge “the shrine” aka my old high school bedroom, my parents occasionally drop off boxes of my old “stuff.” So far I’ve received boxes of baseball cards (one of dozens), books, magazines, Super Nintendo and Genesis games, CDs, Transformers and now cassette tapes — a big ole shoebox full of cassette tapes, almost all of which are dubs. Plenty of the cassettes are completely free of label. So it might take me some time to go through them all. But I’ve found three labeled tapes, three labeled mixtapes, in the lot. I’ve created Spotify playlists for each. I’ve not “bettered” the mixes in any way. The awful tracks remain, blemishes on my taste (and lack thereof) as a teenager. What you see here is the track order as they were created from 1993-1996. Enjoy these time capsules (or not), these (ugh) plastic windows into my teenage schizophrenia.
The Mixtape Project: Volume 2, Stuff #1
Unless my mixtapes were thematic I always called them “Stuff” and then numbered them sequentially. I spent more creative juices coming up with titles for the thematic mixes (e.g. Caffeine) so I should get a bye for not wasting energy with these titles. Out of all ten or so “Stuff” tapes, only #1 survives. Or at least, it’s the only one that still has a label. I may find more as I go through all of the unlabeled tapes in this box. A handful were lost when someone stole my car in college. So it goes.
If I could have opened every mixtape with “Big Sky” I would have. Reverend’s Rockabilly burner brings all of my favorite mixtape-opener elements: 1) instrumental; 2) 3 minutes or less; 3) also opens a favorite album (1994’s Liquor in the Front).
“Another Day” – Dream Theater
After a burner, I always liked to drop the pace. So far I’m going paint-by-numbers with “Stuff #1.” Reverend. Check. Dream Theater. Check. Prog melodrama (featuring a killer sax solo/outro) may have been a jarring switchback after Reverend, but considering I listened to an EPIC CRAP-TON of Reverend and Dream Theater during these years, I’ll allow it.
“Pain Lies On the Riverside” – Live
Jackin’ the pace back up. If you’re a Live auto-hater and you auto-hate “Pain Lies On the Riverside,” FOR FLIPPING SHAME. Live might have eventually sucked donkey balls, but Mental Jewelry was a great rock album and this was a legitimate jam.
“Dela” – Johnny Clegg & Savuka
The first monkey wrench. Some people went through their Afro-pop phase with Paul Simon, but Johnny Clegg and I cruised that savannah with the top down and the Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World album on repeat. I recently learned that this song played a prominent role in the movie George of the Jungle. I have no comment. Don’t ask me again. I don’t know anything.
“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – Simple Minds
Staying in the 80’s, I maintained mid-tempo with a low-hanging Simple Minds track. At this point, I’d stumbled into the Simple Minds backwards through their underappreciated 1995 record Good News from the Next World and then Glittering Prize, their 1992 greatest hits collection. I’d retrospect this one into “Up on the Catwalk” or “All the Things She Said,” but, like I said, they were new to me at the time… and thus this song wasn’t yet burnt out.
“Pass the Hatchet” – Roger & the Gypsies
Does anyone still listen to the Desperado soundtrack? Man, what a record. And such a slice of my 1995 moment. I was smitten with the movie and Salma Hayek, the soundtrack and, well, Salma Hayek. (I was 17 when this movie came out.) I loved throwing these curveballs onto different “Stuff” records because songs like this introduced a style of music I’d not yet discovered. This song and the Get Shorty soundtrack opened a gateway to the Stax instrumental funk/soul sound of the 70’s.
“Sister Havana” – Urge Overkill
When I think over forgotten gems of the 90’s I think of “Pain Lies On the Riverside” and “Sister Havana.” Prior to Saturation, Urge Overkill released three relatively meh records and after Saturation, they released another couple of records to which nobody listened (they were actually pretty good, including 2011’s terribly named Rock & Roll Submarine). But for a fleeting moment in 1993-94, UO killed it, which is really better than not killing it at all. In the end, they’ll just be remembered for playing the Neil Diamond cover “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Is that fame? Fame by association perhaps. Maybe they could make a comeback by doing a “Cracklin’ Rosy” cover.
“Cancion del Mariachi” – Antonio Banderas & Los Lobos
Two points to mention here. 1.) See all that was said about obsessing over Desperado above. 2.) 2:00 filler. But, you know what? No apologies. It’s a damn fine song. Whatever it is.
“Jessica” – Allman Brothers Band
I think I said something earlier about opening mixtapes with instrumentals, no? I took it one step further. I opened Side B with a instrumental too. This must be the best mixtape ever. Now I own this record on vinyl and it still gets plenty of airplay. My daughter doesn’t quite know what to make of it though. Hell, I originally owned Brothers and Sisters on one of those pimped-out gold Original Master Recording CDs.
“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” – Buckshot LeFonque
This is Branford’s acid-jazz collective / collaboration with hip-hop producer extraordinaire DJ Premier. This self-titled record served as my gateway to Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, et al. I’m not sure the entire record aged as well as this track, for which Branford and co. built music around a recording of Maya Angelou reciting her poem of the same name. It’s a remarkable cut that works as an individual piece of jazz/fusion and as a aural worship of Maya Angelou. I, of course, cannot help myself and follow this with…
“Holler If Ya Hear Me” – 2Pac
I loved me some sonic mixtape whiplash. The best 2Pac song from the best 2Pac album. The albums released after this, including all of those released after his untimely death, catered to a broader audience and really lost track of the raw production and lyricism that populated his first two records. Don’t tell me you “just loooooove 2Pac” if you don’t looooooove Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
“Low Rider (En Espanol)” – War
I must have thought I was being innovative, tracking down a version of “Low Rider” en Espanol. 2012 me isn’t all that impressed with my musical fascination with “Low Rider” in any language. I am impressed with my ingenuity, however, since I don’t even know where I even found this track.
“Mama Take” – Chicago
So I liked Chicago quite a bit. Even all the later schmaltzy stuff that makes some people think of Air Supply. “Mama Take” comes from their twelfth studio album, 1979’s XIII, otherwise known as intersection of critical and commercial distaste. I will not admit to seeing them four times in concert. The disco-era had begun to seep into the band’s jazzy sound on this record. Thus, hate. It’s not that really that bad (IF you like Chicago). If there’s a moment, however, when “Stuff #1” leaves the reservation it’s the transition into Chicago from (Latin) War and then into…
“As I Lay Me Down” – Sophie B. Hawkins
I guess I needed one of those pop songs that you’ll always remember even if you forget the name of the artist that recorded it. Must have been my token female artist for the mixtape. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, this is still a good song. If you hate 90’s pop nostalgia, and/or fun, you’re going to rage on this choice. By the way if you want to witness the person most tired of this song, watch Sophie B. perform this song in 2011. The recording method doesn’t help, but damn. I bet she’d rather be doing a Neil Diamond cover too.
Well, I was workin’ on my farm ’bout 1982, Pullin’ up some corn and a little carrot, too When two low-flying aeroplanes, ’bout a hundred feet high Dropped a bunch o’ bales o’ somethin’, some hit me in the eye…
So I cut a bale open, an’ man was I surprised Bunch o’ large sized baggies, with big white rocks inside So I took a little sample to my crazy brother Joe He sniffed it up and kicked his heels, said, ‘Horton, that’s some blow!’
“Recipe for Love” – Harry Connick, Jr.
I dunno. Just… I dunno.
Bombay Vindaloo – Dream Theater
The Good: Dream Theater never recorded this track in the studio and it only appeared on the Live at the Marquee album. So it’s got some rare-track fan cred and serves as a great closing track to the mix. Slow build, another instrumental…
The Bad: 2nd Dream Theater track on the record. After the Harry Connick, Jr. song followed by a 2nd Dream Theater I clearly ran out of ideas and just started phoning this one in. I’d have rather dropped “Another Day” from Side A and left this one right where it is.
Unlike “Caffeine” this one at least makes a lot of mixtape sense… until the end. Without docking points for the Desperado rehash (filler clemency), it’s a damn good mix of the moment. September 1995. I can’t fault too many of the song choices. I’ve noted my beefs. The moment begins to wear thin by the time the mix hits “Low Rider.” Meh. But bonus points for being a curio, I suppose.
As a dynamic mixtape that borrowed the rules of mixtaping, the rise and fall is strong. I never held too closely to single style and quarantined the oddities to the B-Side, where they generally belong. Side B might be a little too retro with the Allman Brothers, War and Chicago… and I needed to refrain from doubles. It’s a stylistic concern that should have been addressed. No doubt. I would have thrown another hip-hop song on the Side A for balance and slotted in some more contemporary rock that wasn’t another Reverend double up. Dispense with the doubles. Pfft. Lazy teenager.
In their ten-year-long effort to move me out of my old high school bedroom, my parents have occasionally dropped off boxes of my old “stuff.” So far I’ve received boxes of baseball cards (one of dozens), books, magazines, Super Nintendo and Genesis games, CDs, Transformers and now cassette tapes — a big ole shoebox full of cassette tapes, almost all of which are dubs. Plenty of the cassettes are completely free of label. So it might take me some time to go through them all. But I’ve found three labeled tapes, three labeled mixtapes, in the lot. I’ve created Spotify playlists for each. I’ve not “bettered” the mixes in any way. The awful tracks remain, blemishes on my taste (and lack thereof) as a teenager. What you see here is the track order as they were created from 1993-1996. Enjoy these time capsules (or not), these (ugh) plastic windows into my teenage schizophrenia.
The Mixtape Project: Volume 1, CAFFEINE
I drank my dad’s cold coffee when I was five. It should come as no shock that by the time I reached high school I was naming mixtapes “Caffeine.”
I played AC/DC Live a lot. It was and still is the only AC/DC album I’ve ever owned. Any AC/DC album cut sounds odd to me. I can’t think of another band for which this is true.
“Judgment Night” – Onyx and Biohazard
Frankly I’m shocked this is the only song on this mix from the Judgment Night Soundtrack.
“Sabotage” – Beastie Boys
Check Your Head was my first real exposure to the Beastie Boys. Looking back I can’t remember a time before the Beastie Boys because this song opened the floodgates for obsession. An omnipresent MTV staple, friends called friends to tell them when the video was on.
“Bring the Noise” – Public Enemy and Anthrax
The Public Enemy only version of “Bring the Noise” is good, but without the Anthrax guitars, it’s not “Bring the Noise.” For a brief period, and likely due to Judgment Night, all of my favorite rap songs had heavy guitar.
“Batdance” – Prince
My parents were convinced the lyric “Get the funk up” was actually “Get the fuck off.” At the time I didn’t know what it was but I couldn’t convince them otherwise based on the lack of a parental advisory warning on the album. I continue to love this song shamelessly.
“Battery” – Metallica
I was listening to “Battery” between games at the Harmarville Hoops 3-on-3 tournament and waiting for the next game on a court. I had this song blasting in my headphones, but a dude broke his leg on the hoop base right in front of me. I heard the snap over everything else. That *snap* still haunts me. And I can’t hear “Battery” without thinking about it.
“Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J
I suspect that when I’m old and senile and every other detail has disappeared I will remember the lyrics to “Baby Got Back” and “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
“Great White Buffalo” – Ted Nugent
So my parents used to work for Ted Nugent, running a farm in Southwestern Michigan. Yes. I grew up on a farm. Moving along. I have a sneaking suspicion that my first concert was a Ted Nugent show. If all you know about Ted Nugent is “Cat Scratch Fever, you may be impressed with “Great White Buffalo,” a track originally written during the Amboy Dukes days. Or you’ll just consider it crappy 70’s guitar rock. And you’d probably be right either way. Footnote: I don’t care about anyone’s politics here. This is about Ted Nugent playing guitar.
“Scalped” – Dick Dale
Thanks to “Miserlou” appearing in Pulp Fiction I bought CDs from five or six different surf guitarists. Dick Dale’s essentially the beginning and end of this conversation for any0ne interested in the microgenre. Dale released this album in 1994 and it was just as righteous as his old stuff.
“Drum Trip” and “Ecstacy” – Rusted Root
For a period of two years here in Pittsburgh, Rusted Root might as well have been the Beatles. They were local celebrities and everyone recognized them. Hell, I sat across the aisle from them at a U2 Popmart show at Three Rivers Stadium. I was obsessed with the drums that opened the album When I Woke and segued into “Ecstacy.” Thus the two came as a pair to close out the first side of this mixtape.
“Another Day” and “Take the Time” – Dream Theater
That there are only two Dream Theater songs on a mixtape called “Caffeine” that I made sometime in 1995 is somewhat of a miracle. Including “Another Day” as the leader on Side B is just pure laziness because I liked the lead in to “Take the Time.” Have an original thought, 1995 self.
“Coma” – Guns ‘n Roses
That I’d blow ten minutes of quality mix time on this song is a mystery. Rule #6 of mixtape creation, don’t waste ten minutes on a song that’s not m’f’ing epic. I don’t remember ever really liking this song, but apparently for a fleeting moment in time, my G’nR fix came from this 10-minute burner off of Use Your Illusion I.
“Don’t Ever Tell Me That You Love Me” – Huey Lewis
I went all the way back to Huey Lewis’ debut record for this kinetic New Wave popper. It’s not shocking. As you may well know (faithful reader), I’m obsessed with Huey Lewis and he used up almost all of his energy on that debut, self-titled record.
“Slam” – Onyx
Man. Before DMX came along and made every rapper look like wussies, Onyx sounded hard. Their style was brand new in 1995 (and still never really duplicated). I’m disappointed in my extremely obvious choice of Onyx songs, but it’s hard to beat “Slam.” And don’t neglect their undersold, underappreciated second record.
“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
A great song. But out of left field much? Did I even listen to Stevie Wonder in 1995? I certainly don’t remember even having one of his albums. I must have gone raiding my parents’ stash. Hell I don’t even really listen to him now.
“The Girl Tried to Kill Me” – Ice T
I’ve always been on team Ice Cube in the battle of the Ices, but out of all the early Ice T tracks, this is the one. And the only one I would have ever picked for a mix. Also note the guitar. Kind of a running theme in these rap song selections.
“Scandalous” – Psycho Realm
From the soundtrack to Mi Vida Loca. The movie sucked. But the soundtrack deserved more press. The bands you knew phoned it in, but the groups you didn’t know and don’t remember provided some interesting tracks — Psycho Realm (before B-Real got his hands on them), Shootyz Groove and Funkdoobiest included. This was Psycho Realm’s first recorded track and reeks of a solid Cypress Hill tribute band.
“Gentleman. Let’s broaden our minds… Lawrence!” Another choice cut from the Batman soundtrack to conclude the tape. Another mixtape staple, “Partyman” showed up whenever I needed to wrap up a short remainder. You’d be surprised how many times you need a three-minute song for filler.
Rock, rap and Batman… and then there was Rusted Root, Huey Lewis and a moonlighting Stevie Wonder – who must have stumbled onto the tape looking for the (now lost) Soul Mixtape because he fit the required time stamp. Unfortunately this mix hit a short time before I discovered electronic music. What this mix desperately needs is some Prodigy and some Gravity Kills… but alas, both were yet undiscovered.
Side A starts strong. Four tracks I could legitimately put on a similar mix today. “Batdance” puts a kink in the method, but it could have survived had I followed Prince up with something less jarring than “Battery.” Three pairs of tracks from the same album = lazy. The Rusted Root pair works since they blend into each other. I shame my sixteen year old self for not venturing out into the depths of the CD library for a few more deep cuts, like Psycho Realm’s largely forgotten track on the B-side. Speaking of the B-side…
Side B’s a damn mess. A ten-minute track. A pair of unlinked songs from the same Dream Theater album. The Ice T song feels out of place. Stevie Wonder? Why not just throw some goddamn Bee Gees on there if I wanted to derail the tape entirely. If not for Psycho Realm and Onyx, I’d just rewind Side A over and over again.
Yeasayer’s second album, 2010’s Odd Blood, remains one of my favorite recent rock albums. Side A contained four songs that made the first cut for my 2010 Best Of list. Leading up to this show on Tuesday I had the record on repeat, all over again. And I found these songs just as fresh as I did upon release, the perfect balance between experimental electro-pop and indie-rock.
Their latest record, Fragrant World, comes out on August 21st. I’ve listened to a stream of the record and the band has taken the next step in fully embracing that electronic undercurrent that existed as only a twinkle on their debut. The album is more experimental, a little more elusive. A record like this takes time to digest, thus I’ve withheld judgment until I can get my hands on the record proper. The thing needs to simmer.
I had these thoughts about the new record in mind as I made the trek out to Millvale for the Yeasayer/Daedelus show. How much of the new stuff would Yeasayer play considering no one would know the material? A band will sprinkle a new track into a live set here and there, but being this near the release date, would Yeasayer treat the show as a Fragrant World tour?
I park myself in the boozers section at the back of the venue. This is where Mr. Smalls sequesters those with the liquor from those freewheelers without. Buying a Magic Hat #9 upon arrival has become my tradition. This is also where concert-goers can find a television in front of which to idle. The MLB trading deadline had come and gone that particular day so I found myself drawn to the television because I wanted to see how Travis Snider, the new Pirates’ recruit, would fare in his first game with the team. Beer, baseball, Android Twitter and shortly thereafter, Daedelus, an electronic artist in which I’d only been marginally interested when I was actually into electronic music. It was a veritable cornucopia of multi-tasking and attention deficit.
Hello, did you know I spell my name with an ‘e’ where an ‘a’ should be? The more you know…
If you’ve attended a minor electronic music show, you’ll know it’s like watching professional golf from the 7th tee . It’s just a guy standing behind a box. Daedelus is a talented guy but I was distracted by baseball… and that’s just how it goes sometimes. Travis Snider, by the way, hit an infield single with his first at bat before being plated by a Neil Walker grand slam. You were concerned, I’m sure. Long story short, I was more impressed with his paisley ascot and the magnitude of the dude’s chops than I was his ability to command the crowd. He dresses like a host for BBC’s Masterpiece Theater.
Round of applause. “Yeasayer’s coming up next.” More applause. Daedelus exited stage right, chilled at the swag table.
I went back to watching the baseball game and Tweeting nonsense. It’s the fourth inning by now and AJ Burnett hasn’t given up a hit against the Cubs. To be fair to the Cubs, they are the Cubs (a AAAA lineup), but good for AJ, nonetheless.
Obligatory nondescript shit on stage picture.
Yeasayer arrives on stage at the end of the 5th, all business, their entrance prefaced by a mix of someone saying “Pittsburgh” over and over again. Without any hesitation they launch into an electronic-heavy song I didn’t immediately recognize. A new song, of course. During shows I like to make notes about the setlist for my write-ups. After the third song, I put my phone and it’s notepad away. Three songs. All new. The crowd’s into it. There’s a nice beat, creative synth, etc. But the show’s growing flatter with each new song. I’d never seen a show start with a handful of songs plucked from an album that hasn’t yet been released. And not once did the band address the crowd. I know some people crave that band/crowd interaction because they want to experience a band’s personality, but I just don’t consider it necessary. If they’re cool with chatting the crowd up, then that’s a bonus. But we came to hear music and music they were going to play. Beirut, The Twilight Sad, all business, no problem.
If you see this guy, tap it.
I get my second beer, a Rogue Dead Guy. AJ’s still throwing that no-hitter in the 6th. Yeasayer finally plays their first “recognized” song. I’d tell you what it was but as I said, I gave up on the notes. If I’m tossing out names, I’ll say it was “I Remember” from Odd Blood and move on from there. The crowd jumps into full-on sing mode. Muscle dudes in tank-tops are bobbing, likewise, the PBR sippers. A lively reaction for a mid-tempo rocker from a crowd starved for familiarity.
After only a couple more familiars, Yeasayer continued with the new tracks. Still no introductions, chatter or whimsy. And I realize why it’s sometimes useful for a band to address the audience. People have more fun at shows when they know the music, there’s an intimate connection with a song you love and have listened to a few hundred times. Fans notice subtle differences, and the choices a band makes in its live set provide some nice watercooler conversation around the old blogosphere. The crowd’s being treated to some great music but when that familiarity’s not there, the song doesn’t register and therefore no connection. Even minimal interaction with the crowd could have created some grounded anticipation. Instead those new Yeasayer songs just washed over me without leaving any particular lasting impression. During a Swell Season show a few years ago, Glen Hansard prefaced each song with a one sentence synopsis like “So, I wrote this when I had my heart broken by a pretty girl from London,” which was pretty much his backstory for every song. Even this would have offered the evening some shape. Even now, one day later, as I try to remember details about their set, I’m grasping at air.
With “Ambling Alp,” sanity is restored and I can’t help but think that we’re being treated to a band at the height of it’s powers, bolstered by fan expectation for the third album, an album that, due to its more experimental nature, can never really succeed in the same way as Odd Blood. The more ambitious sound lends itself to close examination rather than immediate gratification. It is a stark contrast to what has come before it, e.g. “Ambling Alp” and the still unplayed “Madder Red.” And then as I’m thinking all of these self-proclaimed profundities about the liquid awesomeness of this band, they hop off-stage, concluding their set.
I check the baseball score. End of the 7th. Was that a short set? Or was that just me?
Why would I crave you again? Bah. I do. I want one.
The band returns a minute later, concludes their set by playing the remaining necessaries and then vacates, once again, all before the conclusion of the 8th inning. On one hand, I’m disappointed. The first album remained ignored. I felt like the entire act came and went faster than a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. During those Odd Blood Side A tracks, I saw a crowd ignited by music, wanting more more more from this band, and the band responded by dancing to the beat of their own drum, almost oblivious to the audience’s cravings (speaking of cravings, I could go for a Jr. Bacon right about now). The concert-going experience proved to be analogous to my early feelings about the new album. I’m excited for the prospect of growth. I desperately want to know what this band can do, but I’m conflicted; I really want to hear “Madder Red” and “O.N.E.” and “Ambling Alp,” but Yeasayer seems content to tell me that I’ll like the new stuff better. And while that might be true, I’m just not ready to open my heart to a new record.
On the other hand, the show ended early enough that a bunch of guys, myself included, sidled up near the televisions to watch AJ try for the no-hitter and talk Pirates baseball. Something that, quite frankly, has never happened in all of the years I’ve lived in Pittsburgh. Burnett lost the no-hitter with two outs in the 8th. Many Wrigley faithful, with very little to cheer about on the home side, stand and applaud. I throw the gathered gents a nod and wander out into the night, chewing reluctantly on my conflicted thoughts about the concert, the new Yeasayer tracks and a near no-hitter because I know that my Wendy’s has already closed.
The Cubs’ lineup card. That has to be a welcome sight for any opposing pitcher.
I’ve said it before. Why do guys in madras shorts constantly date girls well above their pay grade? I spotted at least another three, maybe four guys wearing madras shorts at this concert.
Why was Mr. Smalls showing the WGN feed of the Pirates’ game? This bothered me for hours. But do you really go up to either bartender to be the dick that says “Hey, you know the local feed for this game is on another channel.” No. You don’t. Because they get your beer and you don’t jeopardize that relationship.
Daedelus spells his name with that random ‘e’ and not the, you know, according to the Daedalus of Greek mythology that fathered Icarus. So my bad about all those misspelled Tweets, dude.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.