Showing posts with label Editorials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Editorials. Show all posts

Jun 16, 2020

Austin Loses More Music Venues, What's Next?

By Robert Dean

Thanks to the pandemic, the Red River District has lost three more live music venues. Barracuda, or “Barry’s” to the faithful, closed its doors, same with DJ spot Plush, and the hip-hop room, Scratchhouse. Sidewinder sits vacant, so does the old Emo’s, as well as the former Headhunters. And Beerland, after a murky deed transfer, it’s anyone’s guess what the little room becomes.

Red River is a unifying theme of Austin. It’s got weirdos hanging on street corners, Elysium throbs with goth anthems, and Hoboken pizza slings pies for all of those with bleary eyes after having too good of a time at Better Days. Is this magical mixture of punk rock, country, hip-hop, and everything else going away? It’s one of the things that make this city hum – or twang.

The words, “the time has come for Barracuda Club to bid adieu,” it hit home. Barracuda was laid back, the staff was always down to help, and they booked good shows. Everyone knew the routine: pre-game at Sidebar, walk over to Barracuda for rock and roll city.

Every DJ in town knows that Plush is where you build a name. For twenty years, it held down its address next to Swan Dive at Red River and 7th, and now, another one bites the dust. According to a Facebook post back in May, it was a “combination of ever raising prices and new regulations,” which is an all-too-familiar story. Scratchhouse also cited rising rents as the reason for closing its doors. Plush plans on re-opening somewhere else, but who knows how long that will take in this market.

Where are our leaders who love to be martyrs for everything that sucks about Austin when we need them? The tourists might think of 6th as the musical heart, but we all know it’s Red River’s little five-block district.

In May, district leaders proposed getting the city to commit $35M to purchase venue properties to mitigate closures via the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Austin got $170.8 million; you’d think allocating some of that to the very thing that draws people into town would be a priority. Instead, Austin is complicit in letting culture die because all we need is more places for overpriced sushi or a quiet yoga center.

This begs the logical question to ask: who’s next? Could we lose Valhalla? Is Cheer up Charlie’s ok? Is Mohawk on the chopping block? There aren’t many venues left in our so-called “music district,” a massive piece of Austin, an area that defines the “Live Music Capital of The World” moniker, despite everything seeming to go in the complete opposite direction. The city loves to brag about the “cultural district” so much, it’s got a whole page on its official website. But where’s the support? Are we actually about supporting music, or does it just look good on a t-shirt at the airport?

The bosses on Red River pleaded. They need the cash – to the tune of $40K a month until the business can get back to normal. The city approved grants for working musicians, but without places to play, it’s a moot point, isn’t it? No matter where you look, live music hasn’t been considered as a means for support. What district reps wanted was the city to buy buildings to fight skyrocketing rents and yuppie redevelopment projects who complain about noise and bbq smoke. We’re pushing our venues out of downtown and off into the far-flung reaches. That’s problematic. If this city is going to hang its Stetson on live music is our lifeblood, then back it up. Our local businesses need support. And that proposal? It fell on deaf ears, like always. You lose the music, and we’re on our way to becoming Dallas.

Sep 26, 2018

What a Sad Story in the Rolling Stone Today

by Kevin Broughton

Life ain’t fair, especially when it comes to music. There certainly seems to be no cosmic justice. Duane Allman? Taken from us in a motorcycle wreck at the tender age of 24. Hendrix? Found dead in a bathtub – granted, likely by his own hand – at 27. Yet Michael Jackson used little boys as nighttime playthings, bought their parents’ silence and was allowed to draw breath till the age of 50. 

And this week brings yet another reminder. No-talent hacks like Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and…I forget his name, but that dude who held forth in Rolling Stone about the need for stricter gun laws? Who is he? Who cares; he’s a douchebag like everybody else in mainstream country, and millions of morons listen to him and all the rest of them, perpetuating the slow death march of a once-great genre. Those losers and their fans collectively wallow in all that brainless tripe, but we can’t have Charlie Robison anymore? 

Charlie’s not dead, but he’s through recording and touring, thanks to “complications from surgery.” Still around, and one hopes still writing. But it sure feels like a funeral. 

It’s as unfair as a rich woman wearing “ten years worth of work on her hand.”

Here’s Charlie at Antone’s, doing “Loving County.” I miss him already. 

Jun 12, 2018

Anthony Bourdain Was My Hero and Now He's Gone

by Robert Dean

I always thought I’d meet Anthony Bourdain. I was convinced that as my career evolved, we’d cross paths. I’d get to be one of those writers he loved, we 'd sit there, sucking down Lone Star longnecks in a roadside diner somewhere in west Texas or we’d be on an adventure down in Melbourne talking about why we loved the Ramones and The Stooges, too. About why books matter, why writing is a hard life, not dissimilar to the pirate mentality of a line cook. 

Being a writer and someone obsessed with the kitchen, I assumed this relationship was a natural fit - game recognizing game. He was my idol. A beacon of hope that a punk rock loser could get a win. I don’t have many heroes, but Bourdain was a guy who’d battled his demons. As someone who fights depression, I thought I knew him. 

We’d opine about Pam Grier flicks like Coffy or just how badass Michael Caine was in Get Carter.  We’d order a round of Jameson’s and extol our love of Jim Harrison’s Legends of The Fall. We clink our shot glasses and then go on a bender of epic proportions. He’d dub me an heir to his throne, and we’d exchange texts and samples of whatever we were writing. 

I’d see him one day in my travels and we’d bond about Tikka masala or Old Towne Inn in Chicago. He’d ask a few questions about The Rolling Stones best record and I reply, “fuckin’ Exile on Mainstreet, of course.” And we’d be off to the races.  

It was a good fantasy, and now, it’ll forever remain only that – make-believe. 

I know things because of him. I envied him because he’d shared meals with some of humanity’s most exceptional people when in reality, he was one of the finest too. Anthony Bourdain wasn’t just a host. He was the guy who snuck in the back door, leaving a crack open for the rest of us. 

When people die, it rakes us over the emotional coals, challenging our sense of being, and purpose. Death dares us to ask: what does it mean to live genuinely? Can we carry on someone’s legacy, or did the memory of that person affect us as profoundly as we like to say on Facebook? 

Losing Anthony Bourdain is a knife in the gut. This one hurts. Bad. How could someone who'd realized the dream, who seemingly had the (now)-perfect experience, burn it like a slip of paper into the ether? We’ll never know went on inside of his head. That was Tony’s choice, as he stared into oblivion, locked away inside his five-star French hotel room. 

Folks from all over the world will muse about his greatness, his likability, his genuine nature, that he was an A+ original. They won’t be wrong. Every note and letter spent adoring his name will be a statement in truth: our species is better off for getting to know him over these last two decades. 

Every walk of life watched A Cook’s Journey, No Reservations, and Parts Unknown. We voyeuristically imagined ourselves drinking a cold beer in the jungles of Brazil or wandering on the streets of Tokyo through his adventures. We learned new things about people on the other side of planet, just as they learned about us, over here in TrumpLand.

Anthony Bourdain taught us why food is important, why it binds across the lines of reality and what we’re willing to fight for. All cultures, all people center life around food, and whether seated on the floor or at a table, its an experience we all share as a people. If there’s a universal truth we all know, it’s that food makes us less assholes. 

Even if you hate one another’s opinions, points of view, and guts, there is always the commonality of the meal. We’re drawn to the scent of flesh cooked over fire. Blame it on our hard-coded hunter/gatherer DNA, but it moves us, and Anthony Bourdain tapped into that. 

We tend to be a lot less mean when a medium rare steak served with glistening plate of waffle fries is dropped in our laps. Anthony Bourdain dared us to sit at life’s table, no matter how awkward the conversation, to find a solution, in spite of the gravity of the world. 

Before Kitchen Confidential, chefs were seen as these guys with folded arms in starched white jackets and big funny hats. We were let in on the secrets of the service industry, that everything wasn’t gleaming and pristine. Bourdain pulled the curtain back. He showed us the teeth of the pig, the hair plucked from the hide of the animal, and did so with a bloody, drug-induced irreverence. 

That book changed our relationship to the food we eat. Everything was less about how a plate comes out to the table, but how we see the mechanisms of the environment, which it was centered.

Before him, the Food Network was just knives hitting the cutting board, not a real peek into the industry of service. The Food Network didn’t know what to do with Anthony Bourdain. Instead of embracing the weird, they laid their chips on safe programming. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to see how bad they wanted to make up for their error in later years. After just one season, A Cook’s Journey was pulled. To the Travel Channel went Bourdain and the beginnings of an empire were created. 

Despite food being the pulse of No Reservations and Parts Unknown, the people are what made the body of work shine. Viewers into the world of Bourdain learned how to appreciate the far corners of the world, how the people in the streets, the dinner table or against the brass at the local pub, all wanted the same thing: an enjoyable life. 

Parts Unknown stood as the last real bastion of counterculture America in the mainstream. Bourdain created cinema-inspired television on a network, a feat that changed the face of CNN from talking head machine into a place of experience and stories. Anthony  Bourdain let the squares inside his orgy of life. 

While Bourdain hit the nicest of the nice, he also slummed – it wasn’t about the luxury of the room or the number of Michelin stars dangling from the name, it was about the experience. He had drinks made from spit and cow’s blood, he devoured fresh caught snapper on the beach, pulled from a man’s cooler who couldn’t speak a lick of English. The narrative never changed: love the people, and learn their secrets.

Bourdain and his Zero Point Zero crew made television that wasn’t a bunch of fat white guys guffawing over a local beer and burger joint. That pedestrian shit was for the birds. Instead, they saw their chance to make high art, to challenge viewers and take them on the journey.

The Heart of Darkness, the movies of Federico Fellini, the car chases of Steve McQueen, a penchant for crime and darkness, books, and music all permeated the landscape of the show. While competing travel shows opt for canned guitar riff music you could find in an elevator, bands like Queens of The Stone Age, and The Black Keys wanted their songs featured. Margo Price, Ume, The Sword, the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop all got to experience the world of Bourdain, and the result remained centered around the love of art, no matter the medium. 

The look and feel of his shows were never a hatchet job. The narration, the vibe, everything was poured over. Every shot mattered. The writing on the show was brilliant, honest and true. While Bourdain’s books and essays are testaments to his writing prowess, it was the guttural rawness of his scripts that ached, that begged the viewer to travel, to eat, to experience life. 

The honesty of the subjects he took on is what made people adore Anthony Bourdain. He took us to Montana, to Madagascar, to Moscow. We saw the streets of New Orleans, the intensity of South by Southwest, and we got to know the tragedies of Iran and Myanmar. When Anthony Bourdain visited West Virginia, he handled the opioid crisis with care and humanity. He showed his character, it wasn’t devastation porn, but a portrait of a hidden America.  

He was a brilliant writer, a storied cook, a former addict, and the guy you wanted to talk to at the party. And now he’s gone. 

Brian Allen Carr summed up Anthony Bourdain earlier. I’ll end there because as a writer, it’s genuine, respectful and stabs like a dagger. Goddamnit, Tony, we’re going to miss you. 

“Anthony Bourdain was Hunter Thompson, Fernand Point, and Studs Terkel wrapped up in one. He's the reason America eats at food trucks. He's the reason we take pictures of all our food. If you've Yelped, it's because of him. He was the most significant writer in recent memory.

Feb 22, 2018

Opinion: Stop Presenting Mainstream Country Stars as Saints

by Trailer

Look, I prefer positivity and goodness in life. Despite the snarky, critical persona I take on as the proprietor of this site, family, love, faith, and understanding are high up on my list of things that don't suck. Happy relationships and strong families are of utmost importance in this world. Charity is wonderful and if you can give to the less fortunate, do so. Be nice, tell the truth, do right, and all that stuff. 

All that said, could one of the dudes from Old Dominion possibly get caught naked in a crackhouse with a one-legged prostitute? Can we maybe uncover a chop-shop on Brantley Gilbert's property? Are there incriminating photos of Kelsea Ballerini meeting with Russian informants? Did Thomas Rhett have a lost period of years as a drug mule?

An illegal firearm? Poaching? Jaywalking? Not even a misguided interview response? Nothing? Come on!

Almost to the person, country artists these days are either as plain as ecru painted walls or as sweet as cotton candy, and I'm over it. I miss the days when country artists were packing heat, snorting ski slopes of cocaine, and chasing tail from one coast to the other. 

Can you imagine the memes Farce the Music would have generated in the 70s and earlier? These folks were driving their pimped out Cadillacs with the horns to their mansions with guitar shaped pools and taking all the drugs and drinking all the whiskey. They were having public screaming fights with their significant others at a Shreveport hotel. Even the nice guys were outlaws back in the day - John Denver made Jason Aldean look like Mr. Rogers. In 2018, all the rowdy friends have settled down. 

The only thing safer than the lifestyles is the music. It all has an 80s elevator music quality to it. Every song's gotta fit the same sonic texture as everything else on country radio. It's not about getting the best music out to people; it's about keeping people zoned out and listening so they might pay attention to an ad about erectile dysfunction or mortgage refinancing every now and then. 

And the country music news cycle now… this guy played a charity show, this lady is just so grateful to be liked, this couple adopted an entire town in Niger. Again, all those things are wonderful! By all means, please do good, country stars. I'm not saying they shouldn't. It's just gotten so syrupy sweet and perfectly groomed and PR managed that my eyes glaze over every time a story that should make me smile pops up on the news feed. 

Look, I don't want anybody sinning and being unlawful just for the sake of edginess. All I'm asking for here is realness. Country music is about truth, and truthfully, nobody is as perfect as these people are made out to be. Somebody's cheating. Somebody's nursing a pill habit. Somebody else is an awful diva. 

While some of these truths are understandably a little too controversial for PR people to let get out (not to mention that stars are people and deserve some level of privacy), other glimpses into stars' imperfections would make them more endearing. People probably would've been into Johnny Cash no matter what, but the fact that we knew he was as flawed (or more so) than the rest of us made him that much more relatable and beloved.

Let us see behind the curtain a little. All this white picket fence idealism is not only getting dull, it's insulting. We know better.

Feb 2, 2018

Weird, I Guess I Like the Stones More Than the Beatles Now

by Robert Dean

I don’t know at what fork in the road I took, but apparently, I turned left somewhere around "Gimme Shelter." For the longest time, I’ve always packed the Beatles vs. Stones conversation away as a waste of time because both bands are amazing at what they do and to compare them is moot. Both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones changed the face of music. But, the older I get, that comparison, at least for me, starts to have a lot more dimensions than it had in the past.

I’ve always loved the Beatles. For most of my life, the standard, “who’s your favorite band” question was always met with The Beatles and….” Usually, the other band is Nirvana, but others have come and gone. My wife and I like the Beatles so much that our youngest son’s name is Lukas Lennon.

In the realm of pop, The Beatles are the greatest of all time. You cannot move the Rock of Gibraltar that is their catalog. The harmonies are bright and sumptuous. The innovation is unprecedented, and then there’s the sheer genius of the Lennon/McCartney competition of songwriting. But, I’ve heard these songs so many times, there’s no nuance anymore. They’ve been examined to death. For a band who was only around for less than ten years, we’ve microscopically obsessed about them to an infinite degree.

Somewhere though, the Rolling Stones crept up on the Beatles and stole my attention away. There’s something underlying there; there’s chaos to the music that the Beatles cannot compare to. As I get older, I want danger, sex, sacrifice, and mystery – "Penny Lane" doesn’t exactly have that, but "Street Fightin' Man" sure as hell does.

When I hear The Rolling Stones, I continually find a band who did not give a single shit about what was popular and did their own thing without consequence. The albums, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, etc. – there’s always an off-putting sleaze to them that still adds a sense of danger. But, what the Rolling Stones can anchor emotionally feels greater because of the stripped away bare bones realness vs. the layered studio effects of The Beatles grand orchestral orgasms.

Granted, we could be living in a world where Martin Scorsese movies have altered what a Rolling Stones track felt like and will continue to feel like. But, that’s the thing, The Rolling Stones don’t feel out of place in a dirty garage with bikers puffing on hog legs while wrenching on their Harleys. The White Album wouldn’t fit that scene; it’s too polished, too clean. The Beatles are the soundtrack to every day, the series of moments, while The Rolling Stones amplify scenes of excess and wonderment.

Getting older, I obsess about how my time is spent, about investing worth more than value because they ain’t the same. As the Beatles showcase the brightest and best of humanity with their neon harmonies, I’ve felt more Stones-like as the world has thrust its boot at my crotch more times than I care to count.

This world is hard, and nothing is easy, I guess it’s why sometimes we need a mile marker, something to stab a kitchen knife into and claim it as ours. The Beatles were that for me and, will forever be, but as I evolve as a person, the sense of danger is more valuable than a few ditties about love.

Nov 22, 2017

Stuff I Slept On, but Totally Shouldn't Have

by Robert Dean

It’s a slow news week. We don’t have a lot to make fun of. Well, that’s not fair. There’s always douches to make fun of.

Anyhow, in the quest for world domination via my laptop, I miss out on a lot of new releases. I’m always writing or reading, and because I have music ADD, I can’t write while listening to anything but hip-hop. Once I hear a guitar get down, I fall down the rabbit hole and next thing I know, I’ve bought everything on vinyl and now know who’s produced the last three Black Angels records.

Despite reviewing records or writing about new bands, tons of stuff falls through the cracks. So, to fix that, here are some things that I think you need in your life, or at least give a listen to the next time you fire up the ol’ Spotify.

1.  Luke Winslow-King – I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always
This one vexes me. Luke Winslow King is from New Orleans. I lived in New Orleans for seven years. I have mutual Facebook friends with him and yet, he slipped by me.

Either way, be sure to add this track to the playlist. It’s a slow blues roaster that oozes deep soul that honestly, I couldn’t believe came from the Crescent City. In my time living there, the godfather was and still is Little Freddie King. But, but this cat, he’s got chops for days. New Orleans has some good blues guys, but most of the tunes popping off from the clubs feature brass. This is a solid surprise.

I did some recon and checked out his catalog. A lot of it is along the lines of earlier Pokey LaFarge and CW Stoneking, which is super cool, but when Luke Winslow-King does the slippery blues riffs, I feel that all day.

2. Fit For An Autopsy – The Great Collapse
I’m from an older generation of hardcore. I grew up in the music. I’ve been going to hardcore and metal shows for over twenty-two years. I’m picky about metal, and I’m way harsh on hardcore bands. I don’t want to hear singing unless your Glassjaw or Alexisonfire or Every Time I Die. Everyone else, keep the vocals heavy and the riffs brutal.

When it comes to deathcore, I shy away from it because of its obsession with breakdowns. Like everyone else, I love a good breakdown, but I don’t want it to be the whole track. I need other flavors.  I’ve seen the Fit For An Autopsy name pop up here and there but dismissed it as just cheesy deathcore.
Shout out to Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal, because the track Iron Moon off of the new album Black Mammoth came on, and I was immediately in love. Since stumbling upon the band, I’ve devoured the new record. It’s heavy, super tight and the riffs are insane.

Plus, it doesn’t rely on deathcore trickery, which is wonderful. There’s a lot of outside the norm influence that’s not cliché. I hear bits of the east coast pummeling style ala Turmoil or Kiss It Goodbye. You can even hear some mathcore and sludge, too. Fit For An Autopsy is not a one trick pony, which these days, is critical for me.  If you’re craving metal give these guys a listen. I can’t stop.

3. Ian Noe
I saw a bit of his set before catching Colter Wall earlier this month. What I saw impressed me, so I checked him out. Damn, son. Y’all need to get this dude into your life. Ian Noe gives off a 60’s singer-songwriter vibe that doesn’t come off as hokey or forced. He sounds straight out of the Neil Young or Donovan songbook, which is awesome. The vocals are big and bright with that vocal style you just don’t hear contemporary guys do anymore; Ian Noe’s style just feels so authentically American. Many artists try to pull this sound off and fail miserably, but Ian Noe does it with precision. I can’t wait to catch him on a bill again. I’ll be sure to make it on time for his set.

Those are my hot takes. Watch the videos. There’s some good stuff there. 

Jul 31, 2017

It's OK to Love Lana Del Rey

by Robert Dean

Lana Del Rey catches a lot of shit. Like, acres of shit. People either adore her or hate her. There’s usually no gray area. Journalists love to hate her while trying their best to motherfuck her straight into the musical grave. Often it feels like one of the biggest issues with Lana Del Rey’s music is that she does whatever the hell she wants and that drives people who want to pigeonhole her insane.

From slow murder ballads to pop collaborations, Lana Del Rey has an enchanting sense of magical realism about her. She’s crafted her persona so well, that her career is much more of a pronounced art piece than anything Lady Gaga could dream up. Instead of living her life splashed across the pages of every music rag, Del Rey manages to keep us guessing on who she is and where the real her ends and begins. That’s the allure to her personality, it’s easy to fall in love with the sound of a soft piano and a sultry voice, letting you drift away into a dingy Hollywood nightclub where sleazeballs drink highballs, and the call girls lipstick never smears. That’s what Lana Del Rey creates with her music and frankly, it should be celebrated.

On her new record Lust for Life, Lana Del Rey taps into a swath of styles and personas but ultimately never stays from the darkness that trails her in whatever she does. Lana Del Rey isn’t a stadium act or someone who can bring the close-knit sense of foreboding into a theater with maximum impact. While David Bowie toured, he hated it, having preferred the walls of the studio where he could execute a sound that was perfect and true to his identity. Lana Del Rey is similar in that respect given that at even her most poppy moments, they still feel like they’re bred from the shadows.

What ingratiates listeners to Lana Del Rey is her dedication to lifting the veneer over honesty. Everything is listless and pure. Nothing is off limits, her mistakes, the world to which she exists, love, and sex. There’s a sentiment that Lust for Life her new record is her happiest, which is a falsehood if you dig into the record. Despite the happier beats on some of the songs, challenge yourself to listen to the words. Despite a more joyful sound, Lana Del Rey has pulled off the ultimate bait and switch: the songs might not feel as dark and brooding but what Lana sings is nothing short of a raw signature against the violence and despair married to her personality.

Lust for Life is a sordid collection of David Lynchian long, desolate roads toward the middle of nowhere in song form, but also sugary sweet moments that feel like the falling of the angels toward earth. Lana Del Rey is the thematic and kissing cousin of acts like Portishead or Massive Attack, just without the hipster hype. Get over the cultural backlash of her music and dig out her records. There’s a collection of songs that beg to capture the fragility of humanity, without pop accolades or with. 

Jul 24, 2017

Put Down the Beer and Turn Up Your Ears: Roger Waters is a Political Act 

by Robert Dean
[Disclaimer: we’re going political. If you get in a huff over opinion, keep on driving, Internet friend. - Robert ]

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, there have been reports of people getting mad at Roger Waters for his political opinions. Seriously. Roger Waters. Recently, Roger Waters swung his Is This The Life We Really Want? tour through southern states and a sizable chunk of attendees got mad at his portrayal of The Trumpmeister.

This begs the question, “Have you ever heard Roger Waters open his mouth?” The guy’s entire catalog is based on politics, around government being shadowy and sketchy. The entire Animals record builds on Animal Farm-like tactics, specifically the song Pigs. But, it’s fascinating to me that a bunch of folks who’ve had forty plus years to pay attention to the persona of Pink Floyd, or even just the content of the lyrics chose to swig on Budweisers and smoke joints, instead actually turning up their favorite classic rock station and pay attention.

By assuming Roger Waters wouldn’t have anything to say about Trump is pure stupidity on the part of the uninformed attendee. The guy’s new album is about Trump and the current state of the world. The Wall album is about 1984 concepts and what it creates as a cultural milestone. And people walked out and booed when someone who’s as on the nose as Roger Waters lays out his opinions.

This is the moment when you should realize popular culture has left you behind. If there’s anything as irksome to me as a creative person as the concept that musicians or artists or actors should “just shut up and do their jobs” I haven’t found it yet. The entire crux of the creative process depends on someone’s world inspiring them -good or bad to produce something for people to consume.

Cultural editorializing is what we do. It’s what Billie Holiday did when she sang Strange Fruit or Stanley Kubrick saw when filming Full Metal Jacket. You can’t be shocked at how someone portrays the world; it’s just your choice of consuming it or not. If you’re pro-Trump, then enjoy whatever artists have aligned their message to support his. If you’re anti-Cheeto, then you’ve got plenty of music to listen to. The reality of the situation is that you can’t tell someone just to shut up and “do their job” when their job is to talk about the world they’re apart of.

Art has always been subjective, and because of its nature, it’s consumed by shared idealism or just general enjoyment. Art bleeds into everyday life regularly, almost seamlessly because we value it so deeply. We praise our heroes for taking a stand, or just reward popular culture with celebrity. (See: the Kardashians, electing a reality show mogul to President, Justin Beiber having a career.)

But, still, comment sections are filled with vitriol spewing keyboard warriors exclaiming that artists need to keep their mouth shut. And sign about what exactly? Does every song need to be a caricature of "Click Click Boom" for it to hold water?

Woody Guthrie taught us to never bow down to our masters, and Joe Strummer taught us to throw a verbal Molotov cocktail. Rage Against The Machine built armies of free thinkers, while Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, and Big Momma Thornton taught us that a woman moves to her current.

Pay attention to the actual messages instead of assuming your agenda is the right one. Just because you vote one way or feel like something goes against moral fiber, it was your choice to stay blind in spite of the evidence.

Roger Waters isn’t the new guy. You just need to pay attention.

Jul 21, 2017

In Defense of Chester Bennington

 by Robert Dean

Today’s culture is weird. There’s this underlying, grim face of reality that people feel like they’ve got a license to be an unrelenting fucking asshole because they’ve got a keyboard.

I’ve done my fair share of shit talking, trolling, or arguing with strangers because I like provoking the idea that not all “snowflakes” need a safe space. But, for once this isn’t about politics. It’s about common decency.

Today, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park committed suicide. That’s sad. This isn’t a defense of Linkin Park’s music. It’s a defense that someone who is rich can be troubled, too. Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you’ve got all the answers. Because surely Chris Cornell, Marilyn Monroe, or Robin Williams, or Kurt Cobain didn’t have them, either or they’d still be alive. 

Suicide isn’t something to make jokes about, or talk about how bad Linkin Park sucked. I don’t like Linkin Park. I’ve always disliked their music. But this isn’t about my musical tastes or me: it’s about the need for proper mental health care and the stigma of depression to finally have a place in the public arena.

Chester Bennington left behind millions of dollars, a career that was still very active, and a family. Six kids and a wife now have to pick up the pieces of his death, and all some dork from Iowa who works at a 7/11 can do is think they’re witty by offering some inane perspective on bad music.

I hope some of you think better when cracking jokes. Not too long ago, it felt like a knife to the soul of rock and roll when Chris Cornell did the same thing. Now, it’s cheaper because the consensus of music-obsessed people doesn’t like the guy’s tunes? That’s a selfish way to process information.

Mental health needs to be addressed in this country. From school shootings to people hurting themselves because no matter how many people know their name, they feel alone. That’s not funny to joke about. Plenty of folks deal with things every day, and for a lot of those elitists who piss on this news, a lot of people you’re probably friends with got their start on Linkin Park. Why would you laugh about that? It’s cruel and not funny.

Being flat out mean is a pedestrian, asshole move. Millions of people found joy in Linkin Park’s music, no matter how irrelevant it may be to some of us. Robbing someone of those minutes of joy is sad because we all have our heroes who inspire us.  

Give Chester Bennington’s family time to grieve. And really, no one thinks your comments are funny. Chances are, Greg from Ohio, there’s plenty of shit wrong with you and just because your favorite obscure band is alive and kicking, doesn’t give you the thumbs up to be a cunt.

If Chris Cornell’s family respected this guy enough to let him sing at the memorial, that ought to lend him a little credibility. Even Stone Temple Pilots saw his abilities, despite public opinion.

Don’t wish ill on the dead. It’s not a good look, and no one thinks you’re cool.

Feb 20, 2017

Why I Can’t Let Go of Kurt Cobain and I Don’t Want To

by Robert Dean

One of the hardest things to quantify for me still is the loss of Kurt Cobain. At 35, I think about his music, his legacy, constantly. No single band has done more for me as a person or emotionally as Nirvana. Nirvana has been my favorite band since I was around 11 or 12, I can’t remember a life that’s pre-Nirvana. While I liked other bands and enjoyed all of the other stuff happening in metal, punk, and grunge, Nirvana’s chord struck the loudest. While we’ve had our ebbs and flows of how much I listen to their music, there’s never an argument about their impact on my life. On Kurt Cobain’s 50th birthday, it’s a springboard for a wealth of emotions when thinking about what we lost that spring of 1994.

Nirvana were proud to be outsiders, they did their own thing without remorse, and did so while wearing a coat of many colors. Nirvana’s music was inclusive for everyone who wanted to be a part of the party – whether that sat well with Kurt or not. That was the allure of their music, their presence, they might not have been the best, or the most talented, or whatever, it’s how they made you feel in a world full of bands like Poison or Guns N Roses.

They took punk idealism and made it mainstream. They took what so many bands felt, said and worked toward waving the flag of, and gave it to a generation. Through Nirvana’s social message of Incesticide’s liner notes, seeds were planted:

“At this point, I have a request for our fans. If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us - leave us the fuck alone! Don't come to our shows and don't buy our records.”

When I was a kid, I re-read and obsessed about every lyric, every thought. Reading this helped me see the world wasn’t my white neighborhood full of working class, Irish tough guys. For many of us, we needed that. We needed to know about sub-cultures, genres outside the mainstream. Nirvana broke that door wide open. Every song just wasn’t some garbage about fucking chicks. We were getting a message what it felt like to be an outsider, when we may have not realized our social status. That’s why the music still endures, because of its honesty in spite of the platform.

While some laud Kurt as nothing more than an over-hyped junkie, I saw him as a figurehead that mirrored my problems. While yes, they were my favorite band at the time of his death, was resonated more was my sense of personal loss. When Kurt Cobain committed suicide, my grandmother had passed away from cancer at 54 a month earlier. I’d lost one of the most important people in my life, arguably just as important as either of my parents and now, my hero was dead, too. I compounded both losses into one mutated ache. Nirvana’s music became more than enjoying angst. It became about loss and recovery. With the tired cliché of “your music got me through so much” as a footnote to life, it’s true for me – I leaned on the death of Kurt Cobain as another way to process the loss of someone I’d loved so much. When I sang those songs, they weren’t anthems of jaded youth, but trying to process a world I wasn’t close to understanding, and in a lot of ways, I still don’t.

All of this music hit me like a sledgehammer. It was a good time to be a kid in the 90’s. I got all of the rock and roll I could take, in all of its forms. Punk made me socially aware, Rage Against The Machine paved the way for my passion for politics. But, Nirvana’s music was raw, it was powerful, and hadn’t suffered from a slump. A lot of bands release crappy albums, but not Nirvana. Like the Beatles, the loss of Kurt encapsulated the music, so it’s one vision, forever. We’ll always be left asking what and why, and what could’ve been.

Looking back on Kurt Cobain’s legacy, we’ve got so much to consider. So many feelings to sift through. While yeah, to many he was just a guy who killed himself. For us watching MTV like it was CNN in 1994, we watch Kurt Loder break the news that it was over, he was gone.

It’s still so hard to fathom, to consider, or to place your finger on why it felt like a dagger in the heart. Rock stars are meant to feel bigger than life, but Kurt felt like he was as big as your living room. It was his aloof attitude of the fame, or maybe it was despite being a millionaire with oodles of power, they didn’t follow up Nevermind with a slick collection of hits; instead, it was In Utero, which DGC thought would ruin the band. It didn’t. It only made them more endearing to what they were, verse perceived to be. Who else would take a platform as big as theirs, as the biggest band in the world, and write songs like Rape Me or Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle? Who else would 'squander' their precious Unplugged taping and fill it with obscure cover songs, only for it to become a heart-wrenching classic, which defined the medium as a whole? That was their power and vision.

The world has changed considerably since Nirvana. But, we still adore their legacy, and new generations of kids still see Kurt Cobain as a mile marker to their growth. Those words, the moodiness of the music, it’s not dated, it only gets better with time. In a world of sell outs, they never did, and they’re not in soap commercials, or selling Nikes to assholes. Nirvana is still pure. We honor Kurt’s memory by remembering he was the one to tell us we weren’t alone, even when he was gone. A scared kid who’d just lost the woman who took him to buy In Utero for his birthday needed that.

That’s why we love Nirvana, and we love Kurt Cobain – he was many things, and now, he’s an icon, but he’s still managed to do something after death: remain yours, no matter how many times he’s been shared amongst friends.

Happy birthday, Kurt. We miss you so much.

Feb 14, 2017

Why Y’all Need to Get Off the High Horse and Give It Up for Lady Gaga

by Robert Dean

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re into music way deeper than the average bear. You’ve got a closet full of band shirts, and when someone is looking for new music, you practically wet your shorts. We dig through crates for vinyl, schedule vacations around shows, and more than once, we’ve asked for concert tickets as a Christmas gift.

Music nerds bond like glue over our obsession, but it also drives stakes between camps of people: like those who argue who the best Black Flag singer was, or should Dio-era Sabbath be called Sabbath or Heaven & Hell? (Ozzy is Black Sabbath, folks.)

When you go HAAM on music geekology, pop music is a sticky subject. It took everyone forever to realize it, but Justin Timberlake is one talented SOB. If you love music, it doesn’t take a genius to admit that dude is a once in a lifetime performer. I’d go as far and say JT is our generation’s answer to Frank Sinatra. He’s got the chops, can write (Sinatra never wrote songs), can play, and most importantly can back up this argument. But, this ain’t about Just Timberlake. It’s about Lady Gaga.

As a species of dork who loves to argue about the finer tenants of Patsy Cline’s career, or way Sarah Vaughn is a lesser known treasure, we need to embrace the fact that Lady Gaga is awesome.

Look, I know you’re about to throw the computer or phone in the trash over my inflammatory statement. This is one of those times when you have to set aside the “fuck pop music hat” just for a second. In a world of trite garbage that’s as morally infectious as whatever’s on the radio, you’ve gotta give it up to Gaga. 

She’s named after a Queen song, did a Bowie tribute, absolutely destroyed an Oscar performance of The Sound of Music and has recorded a duets record with Tony Bennett. What’s Britney Spears been up to lately? 

 Is Lady Gaga’s pop stuff good? It’s not my cup of tea, but what is admirable, is the lengths Lady Gaga goes to foster inclusivity, to push the boundaries of what’s allowed, vs. what’s accepted in popular culture. While some folks get caught up on a meat dress, there’s something to be said about a performer who’s donated, and worked in the trenches to help kids find homes when they’ve been kicked out for their life choices.

Lady Gaga hasn’t played by the rules that her peers do, she’s like a relic from the 1980’s in her style morphs into things, and assumes personalities, but always remaining her own. She’s not swinging around in a chair, trying to hawk things ala The Voice, but instead, she went on tour and played dive bars to get her chops back up after a lackluster album. Lady Gaga didn’t get discovered because she was in a halter top and some exec decided guys wanted to fuck her, and girls wanted to be her – instead, she slugged away at NYU, and then dropped out to front a Led Zeppelin cover band.

While she made a lot of statements about social causes and led by the example of what artists should to do lend their platform to others, it was Till it Happens to You  that put Lady Gaga on a different plain than the rest of her pop peers.  The depth of that song, exercising demons in such a powerful way, left a trail – one asking if we weren’t paying enough attention to an artist who was visibly taking risks against commercial success. You just don’t drop a song about date rape and expect nothing to come from it. That takes guts.

Gaga should be on your list of saints because let’s be honest – she saved Metallica’s ass on the Grammy’s. When Hetfield’s mic when MIA – Gaga stepped up, sexy stripper dancing and all. She knew the song. Not, like a half-assed version, either. She knew the words, the cadence. Her favorite band is Iron Maiden – it can’t be a far stretch that jumping on stage with Metallica wouldn’t be a lifetime moment for her, amongst her many success. 

That’s what makes this conversation fun – Lady Gaga has transcended the normal arguments of style vs. substance, ability vs. showmanship. She’s a legit performer who’s idealistic, and honest about her flaws. If you haven’t already found a special place for her in your heart, now’s the time. You ain’t gotta like her songs, but there’s absolutely no reason not to admit she’s exactly what the world needs out of a pop star: respectful to the past, writes and plays her own songs, and acts like she’s the boss.

Feb 3, 2017

The Pattern Doesn’t Match: Revisiting Son Volt’s Straightaways

By Kevin Broughton

In the spring of 1997 Son Volt released its second and most underrated album, three years removed from the breakup of alt country’s most important band, Uncle Tupelo. A discussion of this gem requires a few stipulations up front.

There are Wilco guys and Son Volt guys, with very little overlap. If you’re a Wilco guy we probably can’t be friends, since you took sides with the home-wrecking, slimy snake Jeff Tweedy.* While Uncle Tupelo was probably not built to go the distance due to stylistic differences between Tweedy and Jay Farrar, the proximate cause of the band’s breakup was the former’s hitting on the latter’s girlfriend (now wife). Besides, Wilco made one good album. It was called A.M. I think we’re done here.

If someone tells you he understands the meaning of Jay Farrar’s lyrics, he will lie to you again. Okay, maybe someone with a PhD in philosophy and literature grasps them, but probably not. There have been obvious signs – going back to Uncle Tupelo – he’s on a different intellectual plane from mere mortals. Who uses words like farcical, paradigm, caryatid and workaday masses? In songs, I mean. I’d say he’s on the same level as Rush’s Neil Peart, but if you’ve read enough Ayn Rand you can decode 2112.

Nobody has a voice like Jay’s.  That voice is what makes Son Volt sui generis – more than the writing, more than the punk-meets-country musical mash-ups. It seems as tough to describe as his lyrics are to decipher. Jay’s songs are one subset I never attempt to cover on the rare occasions I play in public.  I once called his ability to slide up and down the register without going off key as “dude can harmonize with himself.” A good friend – and a much better musician than I – did it one better: “He’s always about a quarter flat, but it works.”

All that being said, let’s move to the recollection proper.

For most if not all Son Volt fans, 1995’s Trace isn’t just the band’s best album, but one of very few records that are the benchmarks for all of alt country that came after. Viewed historically, they have a point that’s hard to argue. Farrar recruited Uncle Tupelo’s drummer Mike Heidorn and the Boquist brothers, Jim (bass, backing vocals) and Dave (fiddle, banjo, mandolin, lap steel) for the band’s first iteration. And thanks to VH-1, “Drown” became their one bona fide radio hit. That lineup would last for two more albums and tours, plus a one-off in 2001 for a benefit for Alejandro Escovedo. Wide Swing Tremolo signaled Jay’s entry into well, weirdness, and a couple of solo albums that were, frankly, borderline unlistenable.

But Straightaways was the perfect follow-up album. It’s Trace’s closest cousin, with its balanced mix of driving rockers and contemplative ballads. “Caryatid Easy” comes hard out of the gate with the same frenetic, stop-go pacing that made “Drown” such a hot hit. Heidorn’s drum strikes don’t drive the beat; they fill space in a song loaded with the tempo changes that were an Uncle Tupelo trademark.

And then, a calm, lilting, reassuring change of pace in “Back into Your World.” If we were living still in the age of 45s, would there be a more perfect flip side to “Tear Stained Eye” on Trace? Heck, no.  And as stated, decoding Farrar’s lyrics is best left to those invited to the annual MENSA picnic. Yet here is some rare, low-hanging fruit: “Leave this impasse, if you’re gonna leave anything. Just don’t leave here without speaking your mind.” Poetry, and set perfectly to a gently flowing acoustic guitar melody.

Then we’re jacked up again with the rat-a-tat staccatos of “Picking Up the Signal.” Two things in particular strike you about the up-tempo numbers on this album. The arrangements are unconventional, bordering on reckless. Riff-driven with a declaratory opening line or two, they flail through a path that leads to a climax – with no rhyme or reason as to placement of chorus or bridge or verse. And, it works because of the tight pocket formed by Heidorn’s drums and Jim Boquist’s big thumb. (And oh yeah: what sweet harmonies.)

There’s a perfect flow to the whole thing, too. “Last Minute Shakedown,” “No More Parades” (with its wonderfully placed and paced banjo) and “Creosote” are the ideal counterweights throughout, placed just so. And they’re actually light, compared to the balance of Farrar’s body of work. With a couple of exceptions, of course.

“Been Set Free,” is swampy and foreboding. Downbeat-laden and moody, its liberation seems to come with a high price, punctuated with heavy harp and warbling vocals: I’ve been loaded down…now I’ve been set free.

In November of 1996, Son Volt hit the big stage: Austin City Limits, in the middle of a tour supporting Trace. One song from a yet unnamed album would make that night’s set list.

In the intervening years, Farrar and the varying lineups of Son Volt would meander. The closest they’d come to Trace-esque sound would, in my estimation, be 2007’s The Search. And 2013 would see the homecoming of the band’s entire fan base, in a collective “Yes!” upon the release of Honky Tonk. Pure Bakersfield country, with man-sized helpings of double fiddle and pedal steel. Parenthetically, the last time I saw our intrepid publisher in person was at a Jackson, Miss. show on that tour. (And Jay signed my guitar, though only through an intermediary/roadie.) In less than two weeks, they’ll --heck, it’s just Jay and his band, who am I kidding? -- release Notes of Blue, and we hope to review it before then.

But back to the Austin City Limits gig from Armistice Day 1996. You want to see Son Volt at its peak? Here they are, doing the one song from the set not plucked from Trace. “Left A Slide” may be the most Son Volt song ever; and yes, from its best album, Straightaways. Behold, in all its haunting transcendence:

*You think I hold a grudge? Jay did a memoir (really a collection of short vignettes) in 2013. He refers to Tweedy as simply “the bass player.” Uncle Tupelo is “the touring band.” He should have whipped the bass player’s ass, then left.


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