Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Went on a medium-sized celebrate-the-new-job shopping spree Wednesday night. Picked up the following:

Beck Bogert Appice, s/t
Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
The Bravery, s/t
Cream, Gold
Depeche Mode, Playing The Angel
Grateful Dead, Fillmore West 1969
Rammstein, Herzelied
Rush, The Spirit Of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974-1987
Stray Cats, Greatest Hits
The Muppet Show: Season One 4-DVD set
William Vollmann, Rising Up And Rising Down (single-volume abridged version)
Paul Johnson, The Papacy

New in the Village Voice - my review of Natalia y la Forquetina's Casa.

A fellow writer said my response to Slate’s death-of-the-boomers piece was “dumb and mechanical. Slate had a good idea for a piece, but that wasn't it. Your approval makes it seem like your anti-boomer bit is a ritual. You gave it a thumbs-up because it was anti-boomer, end of story. But I've been looking at your remarks about boomers for years and ... it's always seemed intellectually shallow. I was really excited when you were hot and steaming and wanted to denounce the Beatles. Bring it on! But the most concrete objection you offered (correct me if I'm wrong), is that, really, your parents and your parents' generation liked them to distraction. Sorry. It's not enough to just be giving the finger to the folks. You have to be denouncing what they stand for.

And that part remains unclear, to me.”

This is something of a fair point. I’ve been knee-jerk in my responses to my parents’ generation, and their stranglehold on pop culture, in the past. But I wasn't effusively praising the piece, mostly just pointing it out. I agree, it's largely dumb (hence the dumbness of my post-title), but what I did say is that I see an increased willingness on the part of elite media institutions (all largely run by boomers or, in a few cases, surviving pre-boomers) to acknowledge post-60s pop culture. Which is a good thing. Who knows, one day Rolling Stone may forgo their annual Beatles cover(s).

And w/r/t them, I said this to someone else recently, in another context:

To go with only the most obvious example, I really don't get the Beatles. I'm not being snarky; I genuinely don't. I can only think of three songs by them - "Helter Skelter," "A Day In The Life," "Get Back" - that I actually like, and one song - "Across The Universe" that I like Laibach's version of, but don't like the original. So I know it's probably challenging, but could someone please unpack the virtues of the Beatles without resorting to tautological hammering home of their cultural hugeness? Talk about 'em like they're some tiny indie band you're trying to sell a Martian on.

I got some reasonable answers to that request, but none that sold me on the records. Listened to simply as music, the Beatles don't trip my trigger. Elvis sure does, and the Stones do, and Dylan does, and shit, I've just discovered there's even a Grateful Dead product I like (or am currently liking - who knows what its staying power will be). But the Beatles' actual music leaves me unmoved. What they do, I don't need to hear. And more importantly, I've gotten far enough (as a writer, as a listener) that I no longer think I do need to hear them. With every passing day, I head deeper down the tunnel of my own tastes, and farther away from any kind of pop-cultural "public square" where even knowing about the Beatles carries any real weight. A literal truth: at this point in my professional life, it's more important that I know the ins and outs of the Darkthrone catalog than the Beatles catalog. For that reason, I'm not particularly interested in denouncing boomers anymore. Mostly because it's not a battle worth fighting. The crucial battle now is to defend my own patch of ground against younger writers and the young bands they're gonna make their names documenting. Forget the Beatles, I've gotta worry about the Dillinger Escape Plan and all the screamo/metalcore acts trailing in their wake, none of whom I much like but who seem to be selling shitloads of magazines lately. So if I wanna be a 35-year-old man getting paid to tell 15-year-old boys what’s cool (which is the job of a rock critic, when you strip it to the bone), I have to feign interest…or step out of the way and let someone genuinely enthused do my job for me, while I try and find an outlet for discussion of what actually does shift my ass in my chair.

I think what remains interesting about boomer culture is the idea of a pop monoculture, a common language. There isn't one anymore, and that's an obvious point but one that deserves reiteration from this angle - now is the age of the specialist, critically speaking. Time was, if you didn't like the Beatles, you'd be pretty much out in the cold, it seems to me, because the culture as a whole liked the Beatles. (Or Elvis, or whoever.) But now, there's no consensus candidate. Everyone has as many haters as devotees, and nobody's trying to reach across the barricades into the cult compound next door. Which is why I'm able to specialize in free jazz and death metal, and why I never have to listen to the radio if I don't want to. If I was a "pop critic," I'd have to listen to the radio so I would know the relative standing of the acts I was required to write about. But I'm not, so I don't. I live in my bubble. All my readers live in their bubbles. It's all good.

Fellow writer responds:

"[D]oesn't this suggest you're fighting a losing, even pointless, battle or at best preaching to the converted?"

Yes. Yes, it does. And a lot of the time, I feel an almost Beckettian sense of futility about writing. But I keep doing it because I enjoy doing it. I suspect sometimes that it's genetic, that I'm somehow hard-wired to be a critic, because when I'm listening to a record, even for the first time, it's very rare that I'll just listen to it for itself without attempting to figure out how I'm going to describe or contextualize or explain it to some reader, somewhere.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


So my new job as managing editor of Global Rhythm magazine is going pretty well. I'm being turned on to a surprising amount of great music. I was worried it was gonna be all reggae and Afropop, but while there's a fair amount of that (and that's not necessarily all bad - the new Burning Spear disc, Our Music, arrived yesterday, and it's plenty solid), there's also crazy stuff I almost certainly would never have encountered on my own. Like the music of Mariem Hassan.

This woman is from the Saharawi tribe, who don't actually have any land of their own - they've been living in tent cities in Algeria for three decades, since they rebelled against their colonial owners in Spain and, um, lost. The music they make features hand drumming and electric guitar, plus Hassan's vocals, which are in Arabic (or maybe Hassania, the native tongue of her people, I'm not sure). It kinda sounds like a cross between a muezzin's call to prayer and the Mississippi hill blues of Junior Kimbrough - and the guitarist fucking smokes. The album's called Deseos, and it's on Nubenegra Records out of Spain. Go look for it while I try and convince my superiors that True Norwegian Black Metal counts as "world music."

In freelance news this week, my first piece is appearing in the Baltimore City Paper, a review of three Van Der Graaf Generator reissues. Right around the time these albums were released in the UK, the descriptions made them sound like something I'd like a lot, so I waited until the cheaper U.S. versions (exactly the same disc, but available for domestic price through Astralwerks) emerged, and then I bought 'em from, a site I heartily endorse. (They're currently the only place with a decent price on the new Rammstein album, which doesn't have a U.S. street date yet.) Anyway, VDGG pretty much ate my brain on first listen. I just got the next batch of reissues - Godbluff, Still Life and a Peter Hammill solo album featuring guest spots from all the VDGG members plus Robert Fripp - and while those are all good, they're not as ass-rapingly great as the previous three. The three-year lag between batches of releases is probably what did it.

Oh, and the book for which this blog is named shipped from the printer to distributors and whatnot on Friday, 11/18. So within a couple of weeks, it should be available from Amazon, just in time for last-minute holiday shopping.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Look, somebody has to crack down on bad metalcore bands, or they'll just keep on putting out records and touring. The Esoteric and All That Remains, in the Cleveland Scene this week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


From Slate: how to tell when Boomers have lost their stranglehold on the culture. It's already happening to a surprising extent - the mere fact that the New York Times has been forced in the past year to run feature stories on screamo and metal-as-conceptual-art is all the evidence I need that blowing Paul McCartney in print just doesn't generate the page-views it once did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I like 'em. I think they're ill-served by the mass of music journalists. And I review their new album, Ten Thousand Fists, in the Village Voice this week. So if you don't already know, now you know.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Interesting article in today's New York Times about Henry Rollins, who's apparently done six USO tours in a year and a half. Check it out here.

An excerpt:

Rollins is an unusual relic of the punk era, one of the few celebrated stars who stayed clean enough to remember it. (He is also articulate enough to analyze it as cultural history, something he frequently does as a talking head in VH1 or IFC documentaries about the era.) Of course, as faces of the U.S.O. go, he's even more unusual, an antiestablishment rocker whose hero is Iggy Pop, not Bob Hope. Most of the soldiers greeting Rollins at the base that day probably knew him for his cameo appearances in two recent films that practically constitute required viewing for young men in the military - "Bad Boys II" (Rollins plays a narcotics cop who barks orders like "Rock 'n' roll, let's go!" to his men), and "Jackass" (that is Rollins screaming profanities and driving a bucking Humvee as someone else in the vehicle tries to tattoo the willing participant howling in agony next to him). A slightly smaller proportion of the soldiers knew Rollins from his frenzied, raging frontman performances with Black Flag. A hard-core group that played a caustic kind of punk, the band had a cult following of mostly angry young men. Rollins, who often performed bare-chested, got in so many brawls with audience members that eventually the band learned to keep playing until he could get back onstage and resume singing. Local police officers tended to follow the band, which took its name from the symbol for anarchy, whenever they rolled into town. Nick Cave, a fellow rocker, once complained to Rollins that his own performances left him bruised; Rollins responded by showing him a series of small round scars on his shins, where his audiences had a habit of stubbing out their cigarettes.

Black Flag eventually fell apart, but Rollins still tours with his own group, the Rollins Band, which continues to play to young men hooked on its adrenaline-pumping sound. A charismatic performer, he is also adept at giving what marketers call spoken-word performances, in Rollins's case, a cross between stand-up comedy, Spalding Gray-style storytelling and political commentary. The shows have been recorded for DVD and sell well. Rollins reserves a significant portion of each performance for his favorite material, the foibles of President George Bush, a subject he attacks with relish and no small amount of venom. The war, and what he perceives as Bush's doublespeak about it, fuels much of his rage toward the president. "So many Americans, when the president speaks, we hide under the table," he told a Montreal audience in March 2003. "What is his malfunction? He has a devastatingly dangerous unconnection to what we call the world."

A few months after that performance in Montreal, Rollins got his first call from a U.S.O. recruiter. She wanted to know if Rollins would consider visiting the troops on behalf of the organization. Rollins was immediately interested but also confused. Before he was willing to get any further involved, he wanted to be sure the recruiter had done her homework. He had to ask her one essential question: "Do you know who I am?"

I've been a Rollins fan since about 1988 or 1989, when I first heard Life Time. That album and its follow-up, Hard Volume, knocked me on my ass. Until then I hadn't really made the connection to Black Flag, who I'd listened to without worrying too much about who was singing (my favorite song of theirs was "TV Party" anyway, not the ultra-dark stuff like "Nothing Left Inside" or "Damaged II" - back then at least). I saw the old lineup of the Rollins Band three times. Once at CBGBs in 1990, right after Hard Volume came out, once at City Gardens in Trenton some time after that, and once on the first Lollapalooza festival. And I was at the video shoot for the "Tearing" clip, at the Ritz Theater in Elizabeth, NJ. Between takes of the song (which the band mimed to a playback), they played cover tunes through their plugged-in instruments. They did "Kashmir" and "Black Sabbath," and Rollins displayed a surprising (given his output) command of his voice's upper registers. I saw the second lineup once, too, at Irving Plaza. They were just as good, in a very different way.

I've also interviewed Rollins twice, and he's been incredibly cool and interesting to talk with both times. The first time, we did the standard 45 minutes on the band, the new album, the perfidies of the record industry, blah blah blah, but it was clear that I was a knowledgeable fan who shared some favorite artists with him, so after I shut off the tape recorder we spent another hour or so talking about jazz. The second time was shorter, and more tightly monitored by a label publicist, but it was still a fun and informative exchange. I'd talk to him anytime, and I'll still pick up his albums out of loyalty and feel somewhat rewarded by them. (The double live disc The Only Way To Know For Sure, from 2003 or 2004, is great and well worth hearing.)

Anyway, go check out the piece.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I are full-time employed again. Starting Monday, I will be the managing editor of Global Rhythm, a world music magazine.

Do I know a whole hell of a lot about world music, you ask? No, not really. I have seen Fela and King Sunny Ade in concert; I have at various times owned albums by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Ofra Haza, the aforementioned Fela and King Sunny Ade, a bunch of Latin alternative-rock artists (Aterciopelados [who I've also seen live], Maldita Vecindad, Cafe Tacuba [who I've also seen live], Natalia Lafourcade, Julieta Venegas, Caifanes, Jaguares and Bebe), and Paul Simon's Graceland. Oh, and a bunch of Japanese avant-rock types (Keiji Haino/Fushitsusha, Acid Mothers Temple, High Rise, Kousokuya, Kyoaku No Intention, Kaoru Abe/Masayuki Takayanagi, probably some others I'm forgetting). But my job is to manage and edit the magazine, not write it front-to-back. So it's as much managerial - getting CDs to reviewers, cleaning up their copy, making sure photos arrive from the label to illustrate features - as authorial. And it'll be fun/interesting to learn about world music, an area I've never investigated due to a lack of time and professional need. Now I've got professional need, in spades, so here we go, headfirst into the flames.

At night and on weekends, of course, I'll be writing my next book, pitching an idea to the folks at Continuum for their 33 1/3 series (bought Michaelangelo Matos' work-up on Prince's Sign O' The Times today to figure out how the books "work"), writing features for other rags, blah blah blah...

Friday, November 04, 2005


Enjoy this savage, and utterly deserved, takedown of the Suicide Girls from the LA Weekly.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


One of the best death metal bands on the planet (Decapitaed), and another death metal band that's had their fair share of transcendent moments (Vader), are on tour together. Read about it here, and wish you lived in NYC, where the three bands discussed in the piece are playing Monday, with Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Despised Icon, and Aborted added to the bill. Tell us, Conan, what is best in life? We all know the movie's answer, but I gotta say seven technical death metal bands in five hours comes a close second.