Top Track: "Roadhouse Blues"

I'm working on the novel tonight.

It all started with a memory. It's a memory I knew would be useful even as it happened. So I cast it in bronze and ran my fingers over it for years, waiting for it to tell me why. It's beautiful, not so much because of who was there, but because of who I was then. I won't tell you what it looks like, or it won't be new when you read it in its new fabricated context. But because I am there tonight, I will take you there, if you close your eyes and promise not to peek.

You'd feel the heat of mid-summer. You'd smell the musts and secret smells of a worn old building. You'd feel short carpet worn to felt beneath your fingers if you sat on the floor. If you hugged the same person I did that day, their hair against your cheek is damp from a recent shower, and smelling of a familiar drugstore shampoo. You'd have a smile on your face because nothing existed outside of this moment, past or future. You are heedless of anything sad or scary or uncomfortable that lurks only about half a month away. Right now, you feel like Henry David Thoreau, sucking the marrow of life.

And best of all, you're hearing this: The Doors: "Roadhouse Blues"

It might be the first time in your life you've ever heard The Doors and liked it. And you'll never forget it.

I think this song is off the chain. "Roadhouse Blues", that is. And in typical non-musical fangirl fashion, I cannot articulate why. It could be the piano, rolling along nonchalantly with an occasional high-five to the harmonica. It could be the way my head wants to nod with the jaunty rhythm. It could be that raspy screech so unlike anything else in the song: "SAVE MY CITY!" or it could be the quintessential bluesy structure of the lyrics, repeats and rhymes- so simple but somehow profound. More likely it's the sum of all these parts that makes this song into one of those songs that to me, is so satisfyingly classic rock 'n roll, I could listen to it on repeat a dozen times at least.

That's the kind of passion I'm trying to recreate in my own way. That's the kind of richness I want to share, the way I feel about music, almost as if it really COULD "save your mortal soul". It's hard, like catching the proverbial lightning in a bottle. But if I can do it, it will be worth it.

Incidentally, I still do not habitually listen to The Doors. My knowledge of them is quite cursory. My favorite time to hear them is under the summer sun, on my parents' boat, smelling like sunscreen, and sitting contentedly on damp towels while we eat lunch. But they are growing on me.

I had the day off yesterday and found this little jewel in my feed on Twitter. Enjoy.
Jim Morrison on Why Fat Is Beautiful

"Open Up My Eager Eyes": The Killers

My first apartment, the one I moved into in fall of 2009 (oh strange year), spent several months in bleak sparsity. I guess when your life is complicated you can't even unpack your heart in your own space. But eventually, and with a giant push from my amazing mom, it came to look, feel, and be livable. I couldn't paint them (though I know from creepy peering from the sidewalk as I pass by that tenants since me, did) but the walls did get a kiss of me as I resurfaced.

Of course there were the albums, one Flogging Molly and two Bowie, on the south wall of the living room, and I think it was Bowie too, in poster form, on the wall opposite ("It's 1986 David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth, Brett.") The east wall was mostly window, but the west wall, right next to the niche where my stereo sat, I put up The Killers

No, there is no significance to the fact that it was the west wall. I'm just giving you a little sense of perspective. :) I bought it at their show at Comerica Theater (FKA The Dodge) in Phoenix in October 2009, along with a gray (how original!) tour shirt that I still wear on the regular. A word about the show: the crowd sucked, the band was all swagger and effort, and I sang my heart out.

I once read a critic's highly memorable quip that The Killers are not nearly as important a band as they think they are, and that is what makes them so lovable.It's true, nobody does bombast like The Killers. Remember that boy-band smack-talk battle they had with The Bravery back in 2005? Barely one album out and they thought they were legitimate enough to have a Vs., like Rolling Stones Vs. Beatles or Judas Priest Vs. Iron Maiden or any other contemporaries with overzealous fanbases. The magazines laughed, and so did I... (incidentally, I think The Killers unquestionably came off conqueror). But I like the Killers, a lot. Even if they have a track that made last week's reflection on filler songs.

I passed on the solo project by Brandon Flowers, which was hailed as "Sam's Town Part II: This Time Without the Hits" by another critic- dang, they love to rag on these guys. Gotta be tough to be The Killers, that's for sure. And I didn't ever buy into 2007's Sawdust, a compilation of B-sides and off-cuts. But I do own, one way or another, all the remaining releases. High school would simply have not been the same without that debut album, Hot Fuss on everyone's minds. Sam's Town never grabbed me til later, but my most-played album of the bizarre winter of 2008 was easily Day & Age. And yes, even though it sounds like Killers-do-Springsteen-in-Las-Vegas, I enjoy Battle Born. In fact, it's how much I am enjoying listening to Battle Born the last few days that makes me post tonight on The Killers, when I have accolades for new Hall of Fame members RUSH, and a truly delightful "guest post" on Led Zeppelin. 

I don't think I know of any other bands that are so exquisitely fun to sing along to in the car, for one thing. Brandon Flowers' voice sometimes bawls and sometimes trembles, and yet it is a pretty voice, and I LOVE singing along. I surprise myself by knowing all the words to all the songs. Windows up or windows down, it's me and The Killers, live for one rush hour only. 

But I think in the end, I love them because we've gone through a lot together. We both take ourselves too seriously, both like to contemplate dark subjects (sometimes things outside of our own experiences), both love David Bowie and the Smiths and other New Wave pioneers. (And, at least in the case of Brandon Flowers, we're both Mormon! See Exhibit A.) Since their emergence I have in some respects carried them with me through everything I've done and seen. The "keep on going, you are awesome" sort of songs critics disdain as self-indulgence, I have always taken to heart as a pep-talk, from the Killers to me.

It's breaking my heart that I didn't realize they were going to be in Tucson so soon (May 4). I could have made arrangements for that, if I'd known even a month ago. Such tragedy! Well, I am hopeful that they will outlast their internal conflicts long enough to make one more lap of the US. I'll be there next time. 

And I do not know why I pay so much attention to what the press says about The Killers. Of course in the end it's your ears that form your opinion, no matter what critics have to say, and that is true on many fronts. I would like to submit, though, something that a cranky old blogger that I follow has been known to reiterate from time to time: when they heckle and criticize and talk... you know you've made it. Congratulations, guys. You made it. ^_^

This playlist is sort of unique. It is made of both favorites and significant songs. Not all of these selections are "the best" Killers tracks, but the ones that aren't are still the ones that call to me because they mean the most, for whatever reason. Here you go: My Eager Eyes: The Killers 

For Your Playlist: Side A
1. "Mr. Brightside" from Hot Fuss
2. "Sam's Town" from Sam's Town
3. "This Is Your Life" from Day & Age
4. "Miss Atomic Bomb" from Battle Born

For Your Playlist: Side B
1. "A Dustland Fairytale" from Day & Age
2. "Bones" from Sam's Town
3. "The Rising Tide" from Battle Born
4. "On Top" from Hot Fuss

Bonus tracks: "Tranquilize" (featuring Lou Reed) from Sawdust, & "Crossfire" from Flamingo by Brandon Flowers. In keeping with my penchant for songs that mention heaven, hell, devils, angels, etc., "Crossfire" filled me with joy the first time I heard it, which was on the way back from the gym late one night, after stopping on a bench to look for a fresh soundtrack for the walk home.

And if you have time for just a little more Killers, (which might make you a bona fide Victim) I suggest listening to this fabulous cover of an excellent Bright Eyes song, and watching the video that started it all:

Turn That Darned Thing Down, Part Two: Filler Tracks

Yes, this is a filler post. Another one. You can always tell the filler tracks. These are different from the excellent tracks that couldn't fly on the radio. These are the songs nobody plays live if there is enough material to go without them. Sometimes it means they're trying to keep you interested just long enough to get to something really great, and it can be better than nothing.

I'm flinging you filler because I'm working on something really great, when I'm writing and not writing blog posts. It's a story several years in the formation and I'm trying to make this year MY YEAR, the one in which I finally wrestle the sprawling story out and make it into something beautiful. Since starting writing here, it's been rather as though I think somehow that this, spitting out a few hundred words every week here in cyberspace, is going to get that story written. It won't. It helps. But the bottom line is that no amount of blogging is going to write my novel. Not this one, anyway.

So tonight, even though I owe you a post (or two?! time flies) I am going to have to insert a filler track while I tackle the bigger project. I'd like to mention that you can get a taste of said project by visiting the playlists I call The Book of John on my Spotify page. But that's all I will say about it right now.

If that isn't a great demonstration of what it's like to get a filler track when you're listening to an album that's otherwise pretty solid, here are a few more examples (and, as my sister and I determined years ago, they are debatable). I've called the list Polyfil after the coarse polyester mock cloud that I put in stuffed animals. It's cheap and hypoallergenic, like filler tracks.

For Your Playlist: Side C
1. "Andy, You're A Star" by the Killers
Yes, I love the Killers. And not everybody debates the merits of this song, as evidenced by the kind of cool bluegrass cover attached to the end of the playlist.

2. "Slow Down" by Ozzy Osbourne
Albums in the Eighties, especially by metal bands, are absolutely rife with filler. In fact, it may be argued, that in the Eighties, especially from some metal bands, you got entire albums made of filler. (Alice Cooper, I am looking at you. Lovingly.) Just goes to show you, it's important to try to stay relevant.

3. "Valle Mistico (Ruben Song)" by Conor Oberst
I'm sure Conor Oberst himself wouldn't consider this filler. I'm sure to him it has some higher purpose. All I hear is three inept horn blasts.

4. "Swollen Summer" by The Bravery
... I wouldn't underscore such lyrical brilliance as "Feels like a swollen summer, feel like I'm getting dumber" by making it the chorus of a song I was working hard on.

5. "Riding on the Wind" by Judas Priest
It's easy to pick on the Eighties metal. And I love Judas Priest, and Ozzy Osbourne, and Alice Cooper. But Screaming for Vengeance was such a sweet album and this is the track that struck a false note, to me. Formulaic, and hypermasculine. Le sigh.

6. Any song besides this one on the album it came from, which was 1987's Whenever You Need Somebody
See what I did there?

Until next time, turn it up to eleven. There IS some good stuff around the corner, so stay tuned.

Getting Lucky

Facebook already knows this, but last week my Prince Genuine, AKA Bryson, set his mind to it and got us tickets to the Mumford & Sons gig in June. That is to say, he called a radio station 26 times to become Caller Number 8 and thereby score a couple of tickets. What a stud! He told the DJ, "My wife will be so happy!"

I am so happy. We had just been talking the night before about how, as much as we would like to go, neither of us were comfortable spending so much on one evening's entertainment. I told him wistfully that I would rather have Mumford & Sons tickets than butterfly shoes. But I understood if it couldn't happen.

Well, he wasn't about to give up without a fight. We got lucky this time.

More than lucky, I feel blessed to have a man who takes time out of his day (especially these busy days with precious little time) to make me happy. Blessed to be married to a man to whom I am not just "enough", but "everything".

On the one hand, I went through a ton of frogs (and toads, and newts, for that matter) before I found my Prince Genuine. You might say that he is a reward for persevering. On the other, if you know me in person, you may know that I seemed to deliberately seek frogs and toads and newts, so any misery I experienced as a result was self-inflicted. Then you might say he's a reward for breaking the routine of looking for a mate in the swamp. Either way, he is a reward, and reward means BLESSING.

I hope I never forget, even for a day, or for a moment, that he is a great blessing to me, warts and all. :)

He hasn't been to that many concerts. Mumford & Sons will be our second together. I am pretty stoked about that. I hope it's as great a show as the one in 2011.

His birthday is coming up at the end of the month. What do you get the man who called from the parking garage at work to say "I won us the tickets to Mumford & Sons; I guess you get your butterfly shoes after all"?

If you are looking for a new original playlist tonight, you should go to my blog-friend Jen's page, where I am guest-posting (thanks for the opportunity!!) this evening while she is on "maternity leave." (Personally I suspect the baby is waiting to be born so I can finish the toy I am making for her- she's a few days overdue.) Or you can skip to the nursery-themed list Babycakes.

If, however, you want to hear the happiest thoughts I had in 2009, I have drafted a slightly-revised (track 1 & 7) version of an enduring mix I made on this day that year. It was a really hard year in many ways, but Stir-Fry and Cult Films (April 2009) was one of the easy days: laboring over a clumsy stir-fry supper, talking about music and midnight movies (most especially Harold & Maude) with a new friend. I still listen to this mix. it's one of the rare occasions when I think I got just the right balance and just the right mood, with only the positive memories framed in it. Enjoy!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

"Hallelujah, lock and load!": My Chemical Romance

"Bad news from the Zone, tumbleweeds."

News broke last week, I think it was, about the disbanding of My Chemical Romance. I did not cry, and it did not ruin my day, but it did give me a kind of saggy feeling in my heart, and I had to text a few people to spread the news.

Yes. This may discredit absolutely everything I have said so far but I am about to tell you the truth: I thought My Chemical Romance was pretty awesome.

There are a lot of elements I like about their music. But I think it's something about Gerard Way's vocals that especially engage me. In my private mental world, when I close my eyes and pretend I'm a rock star on a big stage, strutting and sneering and crowing, he is what I sound like. He's my secret alter-ego. Eyeliner, gothy rendition of a Sgt. Pepper uniform, and that sharp voice- like crossing Brian Molko's pipes with a cheese grater and a jet pack. (I know, this fantasy might sound weirdly anticlimactic. Kind of like if you found out that Rob Zombie wears footy pajamas. Of course, you might think that would be awesome. In which case, I will imagine you in the audience next time I imagine I am Gerard Way.)

It definitely happened slowly. I really rather liked "Helena" from Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, which was arguably their breakout song from their unarguably breakout album. I was crazy about the video. (It was that one and The Killers' "Mr. Brightside" that I ended up buying- when you love something, you'll pay for it even if you could get it for free on YouTube.) But even now I'm not sure I'd like, heartily recommend Three Cheers. It's very.... Oh, yes. Emo. That is the word. The ugly word that turns every thinking person off of a band. But honestly, what else could you call an album that has songs like "It's Not A Fashion Statement, It's A Deathwish" or "Thank You For the Venom"... which is our title track tonight, by the way, and also a decent tune. It's a good example of its kind, though, for what it's worth.

I think what clung to me about that album, besides the aforementioned video, was a track called "Ghost of You" that I really liked, without even knowing the artist. I remember waking up from a dream the morning after my eighteenth birthday with that song in my head. I asked my sister if she knew it and I hummed a few bars. She raised an eyebrow and said "That's MCR."


"My Chemical Romance."

Oh. Tres embarrassing. I wasn't an emo kid. I didn't like that stuff. I decided to tell no one.

But that kept happening. Every time I heard an MCR song I always found myself going "This ain't half bad" and then groaning when I found out the artist. So at last I caved and bought The Black Parade.

Which is a very different animal from Three Cheers.

The Black Parade is a cool little gem. It moved away from the melodrama on the previous album and moved more toward a concept album, lyrically. (I heard of a critic saying Roger Waters should sue for the story rights.) And it moved away from definitive "emo" and leaned toward glam rock, sonically. Don't get me wrong, it's still rough and punky but there's some extra swagger in there and it's great. Inexplicably great.

After I quietly came to the realization that I may in fact, LIKE My Chemical Romance, I confided this to my friend Alex, who has excellent and eclectic taste of his own. I knew he wouldn't judge me, see. In fact, he went out and listened to the album and came back as favorably impressed as I had. That made 2 of us, secret fans of the former emo band My Chemical Romance.

And then came Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Which, I think, was even better than Black Parade. The whole album I love unabashedly. But if you don't believe me, listen to "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W" which sounds a little like a nursery rhyme from the dystopian post-apocalyptic future... Which is the setting of the album, by the way. This album also contains the unexpectedly beautiful "Sing" which that abomination Glee took and made into a super hit. (It's ok, I guess. You gotta sell out sometime, huh, guys? "Gimme gimme some of that vampire money, c'mon!")

The handfuls of music they released last year lean toward the earlier stuff, which as I mentioned, leaves me kinda cold compared to the concept albums. For being a return to that form, I'd venture to say it's better than the older work- they've learned a few tricks in the last few years. But it's too late for me, I'm already their fan. I would have borne with whatever they flung me, and given it a fair chance to grow on me.

And now they are no more. Yes, it's over. And I am sad. Maybe most sad that I didn't run off impetuously to Los Angeles to see them the last time their tour brought them close to me, which was for Danger Days. Alex and I toyed with the idea but ultimately we didn't. And now, there is nothing else to do but step up and say yes, I liked that band. I liked them a lot. I genuinely hope that we have not heard the last of these guys.

"Keep your boots tight, keep your gun close, and die with your mask on if you's got to."

Their body of work is available to hear on Spotify, with the exception of what came before Three Cheers (an album called I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love).

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Next Day Revisited

David Bowie sat on the passenger's side and the two of us reveled in his latest album all the way home and then some. It finally arrived, you see. A solid three weeks of extra waiting was well worth it.

I think I waited because it would mean just a little more. If The Next Day ended up being his real final album, for some reason (and anything seems possible now), I would want it to be the one I bought fresh off the presses, as it were. (Which cliche led me to a quick YouTube education in how a vinyl record is made. It's pretty cool.) In that way, I feel like I have participated in my favorite artist's legacy just like his first fans, people who were teenagers before my own father was born, did. I went down to the record store the day it came out, with all my heart and all my change, and bought the big beautiful double vinyl with my name on it to mark it as a pre-order. David Sedaris mentions in his story "The Smoking Section" that if he'd had his way as a kid, his room would have smelled like a newly-unwrapped vinyl records: "that is to say, like anticipation." Bearing this in mind, when I got back to the car, I slit the plastic wrap and put my nose close and breathed deeply... yup, that's anticipation. That's Charlie Bucket using every other sensory organ to enjoy his yearly chocolate bar before giving it over to his taste buds.

It came with a CD version, which was pretty nice. And so it was that the big beautiful double vinyl with a large white square over Bowie's 1979 face, rode a contented shotgun to me as we wheeled around the neighborhood. The music on the record sang vicariously through the digital incarnation, louder than my gruff diesel engine. And this is how it went:

1. "The Next Day"
blasts fearlessly, charging, stomping. I love how the words you hear the most clearly at first are "Listen" and "Here I am". This is a great opening track. But it doesn't make sense as a single. (Basically none of them do.)

2. "Dirty Boys"
versed in burlesque horns, choruses with more melody. Couplet-rhymed verses. Parallel-structured chorus. Half sleazy and half hopeful. Another song that I'm increasingly loving with every listen.

3. "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"
makes sense now. Somehow, contextually, this song packs a fiercer punch. Sounds darker, more desperate, more cynical. Also I notice for the first time with a chill the line "but they know just what we do when we toss and turn at night". Ew. That's actually a really creepy thought.

4. "Love Is Lost"
smolders. This is the point where I turn it up a little to snuggle deeper into the music. The second verse mystifies me, but it's the rising finish that gets me. The repeated chorus: "What have you done? O what have you done?"

5. "Where Are We Now?"
has also found power it lacked before in context. After the intensity of the previous track, the softer vocals feel balmy. This is still not the strongest track of the bunch but it works so much better alongside its fellows.

6. "Valentine's Day"
sounds much better the second listen-through. One of the most obvious allusions to real life social events, this song chronicles a high school gunman. The guitar on this one sounds lush and conversational to me, somewhat incongruous with the dark lyrics.

7. "If You Can See Me"
was labeled by another reviewer as "interesting but un-listenable". I disagree. It is almost tuneless and the vocals skitter without range. But the lyrics are really fascinating. The result is a kind of discordant, urgent tangle not unlike some parts of Earthling's "Dead Man Walking", with what might be a slam poet's rant for lyrics. Honestly, I like it.

8. "I'd Rather Be High"
sounds as psychedelic as the title might imply, melodically. Initially I was not that stoked about it, but it's rapidly growing on me, and I love this: "I stumble to the graveyard and I lay down by parents, whisper 'Just remember, duckies, everybody gets got.'"

9. "Boss of Me"
swings, lazily but resolutely. It reminds me of "I've Been Waiting for You", the Neil Young cover on Heathen only more... Bowie. I dunno. I like this song more each time I hear it, too, but I'm still figuring it out.

10. "Dancing Out in Space"
has a beautiful melody. Yearning, but not sluggish. The rhythm of the vocals in the chorus contrasts sharply with that of the verses, rather like in "Dirty Boys" and I think it's a good effect in both cases. If I picked one word out as David Bowie's favorite, it's "star" or "stars" and this song with its astral setting and mood doesn't deviate.

11. "How Does the Grass Grow?"
remains sort of inaccessible to me. This is the only track I can say I like about as much as I did the first time, when everything was a happy wash and only a few things stood out in bolded caps. This isn't one of them.

12. "(You Will) Set the World on Fire"
... no words. Just a huge smile on my face and my heart skips a beat. This is what the kitschy song "New York's in Love" from Never Let Me Down meant to be. "I can hear the nation, I can hear the nation cry..." I'm adopting this as my secret theme song. (Don't judge me. You know you have one.)

13. "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die"
takes the mood abruptly very low. Might check the liner notes to make sure this wasn't penned by Morrissey. And yet, is that a little bit of snark I'm detecting? Can't quite tell if he's joking with me yet, with the melodramatic title and doo-wop ooohing and ahhhing. I confess, I can't spend much time on this song because the next one blows my mind.

14. "Heat"
closes the album with a slow, ominous heartbeat. At once I am reminded of Heathen and Outside and yet, it would be out of place on either one of these. Brooding. Haunting. Dark. But beautiful, especially when the violins start in as the pressure builds. The fact that there are bonus tracks is almost disappointing because I'd be glad to let the phrase "my father ran the prison" echo in my brain for a while.

Bonus tracks:
15. "So She" -charming and kind of cartoony. I can tell why this is an outtake or bonus. This isn't what we've just been hearing. A cousin, maybe, but not a first cousin.
16. "Plan"- instrumental echoing the mood of "Heat", which isn't a bad thing. Like other reviewers I felt this one suffered from being too short!
17. "I'll Take You There"- See, now this one sounds like a single to me. Politically-charged much? Yes. Unless my powers of interpretation are radically failing me, it's about illegal immigration, from the immigrant's perspective. But it's punchy and appealing. I'm not sure why this one didn't make the regular track cut. The smoky lyrical mood and fierce music fit with the rest, in my opinion.

So. Now it's been a few weeks and a few listens. The shock and thrill of a broken silence is abated (a little ^_^) and you know what I think? I think it's a great album. I think it's better, richer, than Reality and more realized than Heathen, both of which I love. It reminds me of my favorite album, Lodger, with its varied musical influences plain as genetics on a face. It reminds me of Scary Monsters because it has so much to say and it will take a long time to digest all of it. Most of all, I love it because it's classic Bowie. To explain further, I'd probably need to be able to play an instrument. But if, by chance, you are a Bowie fan too, then I wouldn't have to explain. We could just look at each other and go "I knooooowwww...."

You can listen to the album in full on Spotify, of course. I won't bother linking to it. You know where to find it. And you should find it. Tell me what you think, especially if you are predisposed to liking/loving Bowie.