Showing posts with label opinion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label opinion. Show all posts

Apr 20, 2018

Just My .02 on Coachella

On Coachella Culture and the "Death of Rock n' Roll"

by Robert Dean

I keep seeing these op/ed’s that all reek of the same lingo: “Rock and Roll is Dead! Bury it next to the family dog and tell all of your friends to burn their acoustic guitars, because beats are the future.” 

Repeat this tired headline, and you’ve got what’s been commented on, shared countless times across social media. Well, almost as much as people endlessly blabbering over BeyoncĂ©’s dance-off with her sister. 

Here’s the deal about Coachella: no one who likes rock and roll in any of its various forms gives a shit about Coachella. Coachella is a festival dedicated to false idealism, ultra-PC bullshit that’s so extreme no one believes it. Look, I’m Liberal as Fuck, but what pops off at the fashion fest for people who don’t actually like music is not what the rest of the world would consider as normal – avocado toast and all.

Back in the day, the desert festival was a unique mixture of all styles of music. Now that that pop culture isn’t aligned with anything holding a guitar, all things exciting are some nerds singing over music that sounds like it was created in a Gap bathroom. Hey, that’s fine and well, but know what scene you’re trying to sell to. Someone in a flower crown typically doesn’t have their finger on the pulse of what Turnstile is up to. 

Rock and Roll needs to move back into the recesses of popular culture and rethink what it’s been doing for the last twenty years. Since Grunge, we’ve had some pretty terrible trends that spawned stuff like Creed, System of A Down, Incubus, and 21 Pilots. Nothing has guts, and all of it is wack. Given the political and social climate of the country, you’d think there has to be a few bands brewing that are capable of capturing the masses once again. It’s possible, but we have to let certain sub-sects of the genre weed themselves out. 

Besides, who wants rock music to be super popular anyhow? Do you remember when wearing a leather jacket meant you didn’t give a shit and would fight a nun over the last beer? Or when having a face tattoo meant 'stay far away?' Now your barista has a face tattoo. Rock and Roll needs to get dangerous, get mean again. Don’t worry if David Byrne or the Flaming Lips aren’t drawing what they used to. All that means is the herd is thinning, and the die-hards will get better spots at the bar. 

Riot Fest is thriving because it celebrates the diversity of the music, not relying on cheap trends. There are festivals all over the country that are as good, too. Don’t worry that Rock and Roll is ringing the death bell; it’s just going back underground where it belongs. As long as guys like JD McPherson, Dale Watson, The Shack Shakers, and Jack White are still kicking, I think we’re ok.

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.

Nov 10, 2017

The Classic Lineup of Sepultura Needs to Reunite Already

by Robert Dean

With no disrespect to Derrick Green who’s been holding it down as lead singer for the last twenty years, it’s time. For the members of Soulfly who’ve endured whatever it is that Max Cavalera puts them through, you know the deal. You know where this is going, everyone does.

As the original members of Sepultura get older – some of them creeping over fifty, when is it finally going to be a time when they can reunite? If The Misfits can play shows with Danzig in a festival capacity, any “never gonna happen” song and dance is moot. Dudes, it’s time to cash in.

As I watched Max and his family band shuffle through the classic Nailbomb record the other night, this notion of the classic-era lineup of Sepultura being in a weird “I’m not touching you” vortex is frankly stupid. These Nailbomb shows, which were clearly facilitated by his kids, were cool, but more of a novelty than a milestone of the past; granted, Nailbomb was a great concept and good record, but against the greater Cavalera canon, it’s middle of the pack.

What struck me about the event was that my city, Austin, Texas didn’t show up. Generally, we’re a bought in musical community. Most shows have a decent turnout and the crowd is typically 100% singing along and giving the band on stage everything. But, the Nailbomb show was different. The bars weren’t moving and the merch guys weren’t doing laps. Soulfly is a national act, this wasn’t an ill-managed local gig with a bad promoter. The venue, Come and Take It Live was ½ empty.  

You’ve gotta be deep with early Sepultura to know these songs and show up with $30 on a Sunday night to want to see it live. I guess Austin and to a greater degree, San Antonio weren’t feeling this tour stop. That’s fine, not every show can be a sell out. Granted, we did have a mass shooting down the road earlier in the afternoon, so that could have factored in with people’s desire to not be trapped in a room with hundreds of other bodies.

When I saw Max and Igor do the Roots record a year prior, the room was ¾ full. But, the venue holds 500 bodies. You do the math. For an elder statesman of metal, that sucks. I have no idea what Sepultura draws these days. I can’t imagine it’s much more. 

The fact remains that if the four original members of Sepultura reunited, they’d be selling out rooms triple the size and have a healthy demand for festivals that earn enough money in one appearance that equate a whole year’s worth of club shows. At what point does ego parlay actual reality? 

All we want are the tracks from Roots, Chaos A.D., Beneath The Remains and Arise. Everything else is whatever. In Sepultura and Soulfly’s current incarnations, these tracks make up for at least ½ of their respective sets. There are even a collection of videos on YouTube comparing the band’s renditions of classic songs when they’re booked on the same festivals. 

Dudes, you’ve been getting asked for over twenty years when you’ll reunite with Max and Igor. It’s time to set egos aside and cash in. You’re getting older and soon, that fire will diminish. Let the people who love those iconic four records hear those songs live. We’ve seen them played by this incarnation or that, why not move forward past your bullshit hangups? 

There’s a legacy and demand that people crave. There’s no one saying you can’t continue the club shows with the regular lineups. Honestly, we don’t want new records from the classic lineup. The ship has sailed. We want an hour of the hits in exchange for our cash. Everyone wins. 

It’s time. How many tours can you justify playing for mediocre crowds who want to hear the same songs? Let us buy you dinner. 

Oct 3, 2017

Editorial: How Gun Violence Corrupted the Church of Music

by Robert Dean

And here we are again. We can’t keep up with the news cycle, and our social media feeds are melting with comment wars and a whole lot of folks arguing about what it means to be an American. A lot of people are dead, and a lot more are wounded. A bullet now marks hundreds of people’s lives and yet we’ve been here before. We watch the news, we stare at our phones and we hold our breath as the stream of information flows inward, giving us the gruesome details, once again.

This is the new American Way. We turn on the talking heads, and just as the crow flies, someone is continually getting murdered by way of the gun. Every day, there are bodies stacking in Chicago or New Orleans. Every day, a child gets their hands on a pistol not secured properly, and every day, someone gets shot for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

The Twitter junkies and Facebook Keyboard Warriors will argue about that person’s right to that gun, about the second amendment. The body on the other end of that conversation will throw their hands in the air in disgust. The cycle is endless and ugly. And don’t believe for a second that your government will do a thing about it. The NRA owns the United States government, and more dead bodies mean more profits: consumerism is the child of fear. We learned that the hard way after Sandy Hook. These buffoons in ugly suits don’t care about you, they care about votes, they care about kickbacks, and they care about power. What makes you think for a second that they’ll put forth any kind of meaningful legislation when they can’t squash that pesky Obamacare they had eight years to solve?

I know people who should not have guns. When these people fly off the deep and turn an AutoZone into WarZone, I won’t flinch. We all know someone who has a gun that shouldn’t. The national conversation will devolve into “something, something mental health, yadda yadda” and they won’t pass a damn thing. It’ll get filed away with taxes, pork, or whatever convenient box once we shift focus to the next drama. Those crazies in our lives, they’ll still have those automatic rifles under their beds. Don’t worry.

I’m progressive liberal. I’m also from the south side of Chicago. I have lived in the south for the last decade. I have southern family and am married to a southern woman. I have shot automatic rifles. I have shot plenty of guns over the years, and I understand their appeal. But, what I don’t understand is the unwillingness to flinch when it comes to rights and freedom and all of that flag waving stuff that equates to nothing but more death.

But, despite the acumen of location or whatever, there’s one community that’s mine: the community of music. I go to as many shows as I can every year. I love live music. I love being able to say, “I saw that band back when.” That’s my passion. But, when my church, the church of glorious noise - a venue - is corrupted, that hits home. I have stood in countless crowds, both big and small.

I’ve been in rooms that broke every fire hazard code known to man, and I have stood in endless seas of bodies, waiting for our heroes to take the stage. To think that a show, the one place I truly feel connected with a world is compromised, makes me feel sick.

This world is gross, dirty and ugly. It’s got scars, and it has many issues. But, one thing that’s intrinsically yours is your music. And now, people are dead because they wanted that freedom and that moment to throw their hands in the air and shout along to their favorite anthems. Just like the Pulse nightclub last year, we’ve been compromised. People are victim to their passion of life: losing themselves in the beat of their favorite songs.

We lost Dimebag Darrell to gun violence, and there are a few folks in France who know unexpected suffering while attending an Eagles of Death Metal show, too. Same goes for the city of Manchester, England. But, those countries don’t have gun laws like we do. They have “isolated attacks” and we have “incidents at large”. They deal with larger scale terrorism coming from all sides, and we grow our psychos in our own backyards.

We never feel more connected and alive then when we share the experience of music with one another. We holler in the bar, or we beat our steering wheel like a bass drum in the car. We’ve now tainted that with liability to passion. We’ve poisoned the well of common sense with propaganda, that your rights dictate the will of the people around you. Congrats. You are no more free and you never will be.

We keep letting bad things happen because we can’t look ourselves in the mirror and say it’s time to stop this. Our egos are too big. We think everything is about us. And now, we cannot even hear our favorite songs. We’ve let those be taken away, too.

Those people didn’t deserve this. They deserved music and joy. 

I’ll be looking over my shoulder, as is my new habit when it’s my turn to sing along.

Sep 12, 2017

Rock n' Roll Ain't Dead, It Just Needs to Evolve

By Robert Dean

On the eve of the release of the new Queens of The Stone Age record, someone in the band mentioned that “guitars were going extinct”. Wait, what? 

Is the symbol of a mindset, culture, a musical movement going to be relegated to the history books? Are we doomed to endless supplies of shitty music made with computers? Existential questions abounded.

When Elvis Presley started drying humping a mic stand with his long, greasy hair, no one had seen something like that in mainstream culture. While yes, Presley’s theatrics were a milquetoast reflection of his black counterparts out on the Chitlin Circuit; Presley was the guy who put ass wiggling at the top of the news hour.

After Elvis, the floodgates opened up. You had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, etc. And those bands begat other generations of rock and rollers, along with subsets of music like punk, heavy metal, hard rock, and whatever Steely Dan played. However, the underpinning idea here was simple: because of that initial wave of bands, guitars and rock and roll was the predominant art form. 

Back in the day, you had few social choices: dig on music or play sports. Everything else was all sub-genre and had nowhere the social pull like strapping on a Les Paul or tossing a tight spiral. But no matter the scene, the music was the great equalizer. Despite different worlds, those jocks were listening to the same stuff as the long hairs. 

Because of the limited choices for popular music the same bands got gigantic. Radio was controlled with an iron fist. Record labels and station managers had mafia-like relationships, and only certain groups got the nod to move to stardom. Bands were so big they were playing venues meant to land aircraft carriers. Dudes in Led Zeppelin were renting whole hotels and banging chicks with fishes. 

Then technology started to evolve. Hip Hop came onto the scene, which challenged rock and roll as an art, not only in style but also in purity. Country music was moving away from a Willie Nelson driven tenor but more poppy and accessible. 

Throughout the 1980’s, bands were adopting machines, keyboards, and synthesizers. MTV appeared and soon, symbolism and identity were as much of the package than just the riffs. 

The medium of the video was a step toward today’s market. The 1990’s was the last pure decade for rock and roll. Maybe the early 2000’s, but this new thing, this new addition to the musical landscape, tainted that: computers. 

So while in the past, rock and roll or whatever one of its descendants had the larger stage, now it’s just a slice of the contemporary pie. We only had the radio. Then MTV opened that up. And then we got access to broadband. And then the computers themselves could make music. Everything had changed.

Every interest of every type has a meetup or a scene. You can be an adult man and into a children’s cartoon about ponies and you have a community you can cling to.  Whereas in the past, you had one of those two choices music or sports as a blanket community – today, you can find a crew into a Finnish flute music. 

But, those articles, they keep saying rock and roll is dead. That kids only listen to hip hop or electronic music. People speak to the rise of the rapper or the huge dj. For every Kendrick Lamar, there’s a bazillion wack rappers who’ll have one hit and fade RE: Chingy or Migos. The rap game might have a few legit superstars, but even their world some thirty years later almost mirrors that of rock and roll with the 2000’s acting as their 1980’s excess. 

The electronic music world stands on the merit of the experience: it’s people on drugs dancing around to predictable beats staring at flashing lights. How is anyone surprised this makes money? People love drugs. We’ve been getting high since the jump. There’s no substance to electronic music. 

In twenty years no one will listen to the Chainsmokers. You can bet kids will definitely want to learn about Kurt Cobain, though. 

Rock and Roll isn’t dead. The music just no longer has the iron grip in a world that’s textured and with so many options. It’s not that there’s a lesser place in society for this music, it’s simply that those arena's are not filled with really anyone except ultra pop mavens. Why? Because those pop acts aren’t dangerous, they’re brands that you can slap a cool outfit on and sell products to. There’s no rock radio anymore. Everything that’s moving across traditional airwaves is so out of touch, and we all know it. 

Because as its own ecosystem it doesn’t need to evolve musically – there’s no point.  But, what the music does need to do is embrace all of the technology and trends of today and realize this how it is. Before a record was released and it was gospel thanks to a handful of channels; today you can stream an album on Facebook with no warning. 

We, as listeners need to accept the fate of all kinds of music: there’s a ton out there and it’s our job to support acts we’re passionate about. The new bands need their shot, but it needs to happen on the backs of the people who are passionate about the art. 

Violent Soho, JD McPherson, Rival Sons, Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes - these acts and more are all out there writing killer tunes. Just do the homework. We need to look past those days of lore. They’ll never exist again. Socially, no one is gonna get banged with a fish without Instagramming it first. 

Aug 24, 2017

STFU - Musician Opinions Matter

by Robert Dean

There’s a new comment section phenomenon that baffles the mind: “Musicians should just stick to playing music and keep their opinions to themselves.” 

Have you ever actually read the lyrics to some of your favorite songs, Chad from Alabama? Apparently not. Musicians have been speaking about social and political causes since the jump. Billie Holiday sang about racism with "Strange Fruit," Woody Guthrie was a social justice warrior, Louis Armstrong wouldn’t play shows in the south where he couldn’t integrate his band, and John Lennon was almost kicked out of America for his political views. Bruce Springsteen, David Crosby, even the guy with one good song, Ted Nugent… they've all made a career out of their political opinions. The same goes for Neil Young or the Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine, and arbiters of truth, The Clash. Politics is central to many artists’ identities. 

When you comment about a musician speaking their piece, or complain about an artist speaking out against the current political scene, you’re doing nothing but showing your lack of actual musical or artistic knowledge. 

Sorry, everything can’t be a constant stream of pop-flavored milquetoast, Yes Man propaganda. Having a passionate viewpoint is kinda part of the gig as a creative person, and more so why artists aren’t exactly on board with a world full of insane shit popping off weekly. 

The Dixie Chicks took a beating from Country music fans when they spoke out against Bush’s pointless wars. It goes without saying that they took a risk. The average shit-kicker don’t like it none too well when some uppity pack of chicks goes and speaks out against the Red, White, and Blue. 

And because of their outspoken stance against Bush, they’ve endeared themselves to one group and been maligned by the other – still; almost 20 years later. However, it took some wherewithal to do so. 

When a musician, an actor, a painter, whomever speaks out against a situation, a political agenda, or a worldview – it’s part of the gig as an empath to the world; Artists create worlds, they think about emotions all day, they consider what goes into a point of view, and try to paint themselves in a lot of different brush strokes. 

Just as Roger Waters has been doing on his tour, or when Kerry King or Corey Taylor, or whomever says something, it’s not because of a need to be in front of a camera or a recorder, it’s because this is a part of the social contract they’ve signed as someone who creates things. We use their words and art as our muse to live a better life. If you’re not paying attention to the subtext, whose fault is that? 

This world is fucked up. People need to remain vigilant in their fights.

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.

Apr 18, 2017

Why S-Town Just Changed Everything We Know About What a Podcast Is

Why S-Town Just Changed Everything We Know
About What a Podcast Is
by Robert Dean


If there’s anything the S-Town podcast teaches us, it’s that we’ll never truly KNOW someone, ever. We may feel bonded by personal experience, stories, and communication with friends and loved ones, but all of the connections in the world only go so far. People will always remain a mystery.

Shit Town, as it’s called once you get past the milquetoast censoring for the Middle America set, is as disruptive to the head and heart as humanly possible. It’s a masterpiece inside the duality of lives we offer publicly and what we do behind closed doors. It aches with personality, but challenges the listener to accept that tragedy comes in many forms.

Shit Town is the latest audio masterpiece from the perennially fantastic crew behind This American Life and last year’s foray into deep journalistic podcasting, Serial. The only thing is, while both of those products are genre-defying monoliths that deserve every ounce of praise – they’re not Shit Town. Shit Town is different. It’s bigger – it’s something that breaks your fucking heart.

The life lived by John McLemore

As I’m sure you’ve heard from Twitter and Facebook, Shit Town starts with twisted genius John B. McLemore. John B, as everyone in Woodstock, his shit town outside Birmingham, Alabama knows him calls This American Life.

John B claims he knows of a murder covered up thanks to extensive wealth and small town politics. Shit Town producer Brian Reed bites. He and John B begin a series of hours-long phone conversations and eventually leading Reed to visit rural Alabama in the name of a second-hand murder story. Sounds clichĂ© enough, but that’s exactly where the normalcy of everyday crime ends, and the tragic narrative of John B. McLemore begins.

 Instead of leading us down a whodunit path that Serial had last year, Shit Town wipes the dirt off the underbelly of southern life that so many people are too scared to come near thanks to layers upon layers of unchecked hyper-masculinity percolating in the backwoods and on the main drag of small town America. John B is everything but. He’s a complicated loner with a mind that never stops ticking, as he’s a clock maker – one of the best in the world. He’s a closeted homosexual, a liberal, an ardent challenger of social rights and nuance, but he’s trapped in a locality that will never understand him.

John B lives in the woods with his mother, but not in some serial killer shack, but a house that’s been in his family for generations. He takes in strays, just as he does people – often finding himself in social relationships with a variety of folks down on their luck. He keeps a rose garden that’s built into an honest to god maze straight out of a Guillermo Del Toro flick. He doesn’t watch movies or television, but can quote passages from books, or do complex mathematical equations that would make a tenured physics professor blush. (The guy built an astrolabe in college.)

His level of mastery with clockwork is unchallenged, having people from all over the world seek him out to fix their broken timepieces.  John B. McLemore isn’t a regular dude from Alabama.

John B. McLemore
The markings of a mad genius

John B’s rapid-fire knowledge of chemicals, sciences, social issues, mathematics done on the fly is almost too much. The guy can break down, within a casual conversation about why a penny exists in the greater scheme of American currency, and further yet, explain the exact chemical breakdown of what said penny is made of – all of the top his head, at about 85mph. McLemore demonstrated such savant-like abilities in his filthy workshop out behind his house. Drunk, McLemore asks for a dime out of Brian Reed’s pocket. McLemore gold plated the dime using a bucket, some dangerous chemicals, and two electrical wires hooked up to a car battery.

How does a man, who’s staggeringly brilliant allow his mind to rot away in these backwoods? Shouldn’t he be standing in an auditorium somewhere, giving point by point breakdowns of carbon footprints or why we need to rely less on X infinitive?

Despite having every opportunity to leave, McLemore chooses to stay, to wallow in the murk of the town he loathes so much and is proclaims at every chance. John B. McLemore is an enigma who at one moment can talk about his closeted sexuality, but then drop “fag” in a demeaning way. To say the man is layered would be an extreme understatement. Escaping his hometown, the polar opposite of everything he loves just isn’t possible. Shit Town grounded him in ways no one could quite figure out. Genius runs with strange bedfellows and John B. McLemore is no different. He was just too smart for his own good.

And that’s when the show shifts into a past tense.

Shit Town isn’t driven by the murder. We find out pretty quick that the death talk of Woodstock is nothing more than just that: talk. No one died, just a little banged up, but that’s how life in small towns go: a small story turns into headline news over night.

John McLemore kills himself by episode three, and for the next four episodes, we travel down this rabbit hole what it’s like to be a genius stuck in a small town, but also what it’s like to be a small town who’s got an eccentric asshole who won’t stop prattling on about climate change. Like as in life, John B. McLemore never did anything easy. Instead of putting a pistol in his mouth and swallowing the night, he swallows cyanide.

The color of money 

There are rumors of John B being loaded, that he’d “unbanked” himself and has gold hidden on his property – but, one aspect of John’s life he neglected was leaving assets and a will. Despite being a meticulous bookkeeper and someone who notated almost every transaction in life, John couldn’t commit to keeping a detailed breakdown of what should happen should he die. Even weirder still is that John B talked openly about killing himself, which as everyone agreed, wasn’t an idle threat, it was a fact they’d all expected at some point.

Then, there’s Tyler. Tyler is John B’s de facto best friend. Tyler is a complicated dude himself, but he’s more or less just chasing ghosts and trying not to be his piece of shit father. As much as you want to be like, blah – Tyler. You can’t. The guy doesn’t affect you that way. Instead, you see the complicated love between Tyler and John B. Although it’s apparent in the subtext that John feels something deeper for Tyler, the friendship is natural and emotional, with both men learning from one another on a variety levels. When they leave one another, they always depart with an “I love you.” – something you’re not supposed to do in the south.

We meet a friend of John B’s who describes their relationship in such a clinical, old school southern way, it’s like a harken back to the Faulkner-era, except the guy is an open gay man who loves Broke Back Mountain, and tells a vivid recollection of wanting to kiss John’s nipples. But, John was a complicated man who, despite his outward sexuality in certain circles, could never be totally out in his environment due to the obvious. He was a man without a country. The inability to find another man to satiate that fast working, mechanical mind is honestly, sad. John was a lone wolf by a complicated life, not by his chaotic nature.

But, while he was a lone wolf, he was also the king of the black sheep, too. Because of his love of Tyler, John supported his friend in ways no one else could. He gave Tyler work around the house, constantly constructing things for him. He supported Tyler in his quest to tattoo, even allowing Tyler to tattoo countless portions of his body – despite having an open, visceral hatred of all things tattoo-related. He gave in and let his friend stay financially afloat at the cost of his own body.

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” – Franz Kafka

But, with John killing himself, that leads to a messy digression that has town clerks getting late night phone calls and a pair of cousins who claim to be doing right, but at times, you just can’t say what their intentions are. Just as everything appears to unravel at a car crash speed, it all moves right back into place, sort of. The house and the property gets sold to the family of the original murder in question, which feels disgusting.

The emotional knot Shit Town leaves you is too real: especially if you live in the south. There are so many misnomers about southern life, and thanks to the past election and its finger on the pulse of white, working class men, this examination into the mindset of middle and low-brow America shows as that, not all things are what they are perceived to be. Despite him being long dead, as a listener, you yearn to hear John B’s thoughts on a guy like Trump, or some of our social issues today. (The podcast was taped over the course of years, with McLemore killing himself in 2015.)

The cost of brilliance

But, what the podcast does is examine our true selves and what we perceive our world to be. What we atone to when the lights are out, and what we desire out of life. The movements of Shit Town move like a best-selling nonfiction book in the vein of The Devil In The White City, or hell at times, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – a text that moves at it’s own pace, but keeps you moving along, inch by inch.

The ultimate arbiter of why we’re so drawn to Shit Town is there are so many elements we see in ourselves, yes – but, we’re ultimately driven to love John B. McLemore. We want to experience his insanity live and in person, we imagine him going crazy on chat shows, offering up worldviews that are staggering, to be a voice amidst the insanity plaguing news cycles. John B. McLemore should be ours to enjoy, but instead, thanks to Brian Reed, millions now mourn a small town madman. He should have made it out of that place alive.

Editor's note: We know this isn't music related, but it's relevant to the discussion of southern culture, from which much of the music we enjoy was birthed. And Robert wanted to write it, so so be it.

Apr 10, 2017

Album "Review" Mastodon - Emperor of Sand

How I Really Feel About Mastodon’s The Emperor of Sand

by Robert Dean

You know when you’ve got mutual friends with someone, and your friends try to sell you on that other friend like, “Oh man, you gotta meet Phil. Phil fucking rules. We went to high school together. Great dude. Kills on guitar. Hilarious. Knows every word to every episode of Family Guy.” And then you meet Phil, and Phil sucks.

You have no idea why your friends love Phil. Maybe it was because you were late to the game and missed out when this dude peaked and owned shit with that wicked sense of humor. (While we’re on it, despite it being funny, people who over-quote Family Guy are annoying.)

You keep giving Phil chances when you see him out. You’re desperate to like Phil. You study up on Phil history. You actively learn about Phil if he’s going to be a satellite member of your crew. You revisit his old material. You ask to be told the stories so that you can search for the deeper meanings in the payoff. Still, you’re just like, meh – Phil. Because Phil is relevant to your community of friends, you deal with Phil and learn to tolerate Phil, not love him as they do.

You’re having a few beers, and next thing you now, he’s there telling boring work stories, but doing a bunch of weirdo cartoon voices. He’s also obsessed with Rick and Morty to an uncomfortable level that makes his constant show references hard to keep up with. It’s kind of draining. But, you endure the night.

Phil LOVES Iron Maiden. Like, a lot and thinks they’re the best band ever when most people like a handful of tunes. Phil gets all obsessional about the content of the lyrics and by word seven of this whack conversation, you’re already fucking bored with Phil. It’s just too much.

You start to wonder if you even wanna kick it with your friends anymore because maybe you’re just as annoying as Phil is. Considering this, it blows your mind. It makes you wonder about all kinds of mind-altering, existential dread shit. Just because Phil is a dork, who thinks bacon flavored everything is cool. He’s spoken at length to you about “nature’s candy” and essentially just ruined breakfast meats for you.

Finally, you just learn to ignore everyone when they drop some Phil knowledge or try to sell you hard on him and his corny jokes straight from the pages of Reddit. Sure, he has some moments where he does shine, and you’re like, fuck – “why can’t you do that all the time?!” And then Phil goes right back to bumming you out. He’s not a bad dude, either. He’s just not your people. It took a little while to get it, but it just is what it is.

Once you’ve gotten over that crucial hump of learning to accept indifference and gain the ability to filter out annoying shit in your life, you can hang with Phil. Never alone, though. That’d be too weird. Phil will never be that cool, and you will never like him like that. He’s a group hangout instance only. You’ve been dodging that Facebook friend request forever and you ain’t about to hit the yes button anytime soon, despite the fact that he’s been following you on Instagram for like a year.

What I’m trying to say is, Mastodon is Phil.


Emperor of Sand is available on Amazon and everywhere else, and the head honcho of this site thinks it's excellent.

Sep 28, 2012

The Inaugural Hatin' Rankings

I've wanted to come up with something like this for a while... a rankings list of crap, kind of the opposite of ESPN NFL Power Rankings. Which country artists or bands suck the most in FTM's book right now? Well, you're about to find out. I'll update this monthly or whenever a change is necessary.


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