Naught Kidding!

On this day, at this time (roughly 1pm) ten years ago I was at my apartment (Allston, MA) preparing for New Years Eve at my friends John and Kris Cain’s house, over in Melrose, MA. That house holds some of my fondest memories of last decade, the 1990s. That year, however, was not one of my favorites. My indie label dream was ending and my life in the music business was over. I knew it was right, but I wasn’t happy about it. I had also been dumped in the summer and it left me reeling a little. Then – get this – my ex-girlfriend moved away and I, like a moron, moved into her vacated bedroom. A word to the wise, people: if you’re trying to get over a breakup, don’t move into your ex-girlfriends bedroom. Don’t do that. I also was very very sick that fall. Not sure if it was mono or something, but it was scary. One night I had such a hard time breathing that one of my roommates, bless her soul, gently knocked on my door at like 3am and asked if I needed an ambulance as I was wheezing and throwing up out my window. I probably did need an ambulance, but not for the physical sickness.

Luckily, by late-autumn of 1999 I was bouncing back. The sting was gone and the scab had started to fall off. I performed my first (and last) physical makeover. Chopped the hair off. Got new glasses. Worked out more. I got a job at an internet startup that was quite ridiculous, but it was “good enough for now.” Most importantly, I started stabbing the shovel into the near-frozen snowpile of debt I’d amassed from starting the record company. Turns out the roommate situation was really ok and the rent was INSANELY LOW for such a big house. I have great memories of our Sunday night Scrabble games and endless amounts of joking around. It helped. More than they ever knew. I do wish they could have seen more of the real me, but such is life.

So I headed over to my friend John’s house feeling a little dread, mostly because of the year I’d just had, but also because there would be three couples there – and me. Myself. Of course, after ten minutes being there, I didn’t care at all and of course, they never cared. They were my dear friends. We laughed all night, ate well, played cards and video games, got drunk and paused in great anticipation to see if the house would explode when the new century hit. Y2K. Then we laughed some more. Boy, did we laugh.

And that’s how I entered the Naughts. A little bruised, but optimistic. I didn’t know it at the time, but two weeks previous to that party, I had re-connected after many many years with the person who is now my wife. I moved to another internet start-up that was a better business idea, but much like other start-ups at the time, doomed to failure. The sun, however, was figuratively shining a heck of a lot more. By February and March, I was dating Stephanie and it was terrific. I can type all day and all night about what she means to me, but you’d just get bored. In short, it changed the whole game for me. We all have regrets. I have lived, learned and grown from previous relationships – that is, after all, what you’re supposed to do – take the lessons learned from failures of the past and apply them to the future to make yourself a better partner and person.

This decade has been the most transformative of my entire life and I owe a lot of it to her. I’m not saying I was a dick before that and gosh, I hope all you folks who knew me in the ’90s wouldn’t say that, but I can say that I became much more thoughtful, considerate and more importantly, aware and sympathetic of other people’s feelings. I’ve made myself learn a lot about the world – past and future. Some of that is my own interest in history and people’s stories, but a lot of it comes from her – that desire to understand and if possible, to help. Yeah, part of that comes with age anyway, I know. But her presence in my life, geez, I’m not sure where I’d be today if it wasn’t for her strength, solitude and selflessness. I can’t sit here today and tell you that I’m a charity machine or that my actions speak louder than these words. Yet. But I hope to soon.

On the music side, the naughts brought me back to the 1980s – just being a fan. Let me tell you, just being a fan of music – and only a fan – is much more fun than trying to make money (and a living) off of music. I met some awesome people in the music business and I can’t imagine I’ll have more pure, drunken, stupid fun than the fun I had during my tenure in it. But being a fan is better and I still have much of those friendships.

Professionally, my goodness. I would have never guessed I’d work at Ask for 90% of the decade. I don’t know that anyone is ever completely satisfied with what they do for an entire decade in a work environment. Personally, I think it might be impossible. But I don’t have much to complain about there. Some of the people at Ask will be my friends long after I (or they) are gone and that to me is the most important part. Connecting.

Of course,in addition to my marriage, part of this hugely transformative decade is the arrival of Nathan & Zachary, my now 2.5 year old twin sons. As all of you parents well know, the job is thankless, exhausting, humbling and at times, difficult. EVERYTHING changes. But for me, the joy can’t be matched. The smiles every day, the hugs, the butchering of the English language (at this stage), it all makes for a collection of memories that is outrageously worth it. I love them so much.

I always told my friends I’d be the last to marry. I always told them I’d probably never have kids. Honestly, I don’t know why I always said that, but I did think it to be true. But time – and people – change. I am not the person I was in 1999 and I won’t be the person I am today in 2019. All I can hope is that a) I’m still around and b) I have the same (and more) people in my life who have enriched it so much this decade. You know who you are.

Happy New Year!

Music of the Naughts: The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers. Heavyweight Champs.

When I think of positively infectious music, the first band that comes to my mind is The New Pornographers. This band is a buzzing beehive of electric tastiness. You know how when you were a kid there was always that one treat that you just couldn’t stop eating? Do you remember that feeling you got each time when you put it in your mouth, the sweet, swirling combination of freedom, sweetness and happiness? That is The New Pornographers. They are a seven piece band (be still my heart), hailing from Canada and featuring Neko Case, another kind of sweet altogether. Case has one of those voices from the heavens. When she sings with the band or on her solo albums, you literally can see angels and rainbows and it makes you want to start hugging everyone around you.

But that’s not all, because there’s another songwriting powerhouse in the band as well, in the form of Carl Newman, whose solo stuff is splendid in his own right. But as much as I like Case and Newman on their own, put them together and it’s obnoxiously awesome. I mean, totally insane awesome. As if those two weren’t enough, Dan Bejar is a third vocalist and total wild card. If you’ve seen them live, you know what I mean.  Anyway, if you are at all a fan of rock music, pop music, or ANY music, there is no way you can’t like this band. That’s a pretty heavy guarantee, I know, but it’s just so good. SO good.

That said, I need to include THREE songs here, one from each singer. Turn up and DEVOUR!

“Myriad Harbour” (from the 2007 album Challengers, Dan Bejar on vocals) —–>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“From Blown Speakers” (from the 2005 album Electric Version, Carl Newman on vocals) —–

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“Go Places” (from the 2007 album Challengers, Neko Case on vocals) —–>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Naughts Discography:

2000 – Mass Romantic (Mint)

2003 – Electric Version (Matador)

2005 – Twin Cinema (Matador)

2007 – Challengers (Matador)

Music of the Naughts: Midlake

None of these people are Stevie Nicks

As the train for this decade hurtles down the track and out of sight, there’s still a few more hugely influential bands to talk about that did it for me during this timespan. Midlake has got to be one of them. The Denton, Texas-based band formed in 1999 and started off as jazz nerds, but then discovered the beauty of indie rock (Bonanos, I know you’ll love the irony of that statement). Their first full-length, “Bamnan and Silvercork” had some gorgeous moments, but it wasn’t until 2006’s “The Trials of Van Occupanther” that Midlake really moved the needle. It is, without pause, one of my favorite albums of the decade.

Many people consider “Van Occupanther” to be strongly reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s golden 1970s era sweet pop. I really don’t. One of the stronger songs on the album, “Head Home” is probably the only song that really rings that bell and that’s mostly because of the multiple vocals cruising beautifully during the chorus of the song. It’s a hell of a song, for sure, but it doesn’t even come close to defining the band, because if you haven’t heard “Bandits,” the breathtaking “Branches,” or the sheer wonderment of “Roscoe,” well then, you should. Because these guys are for real. I mean it. They’re accessible enough for you mainstream radio listeners and hip enough for us music snobs. Check out “Head Home” and “Roscoe” below.

Head Home ——>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Roscoe ——->

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Naughts Discography:

Another Sad Goodbye

I Spent Two Weeks With Ray Neades In This
I Spent Two Weeks With Ray Neades In This

Sometime during the autumn of 1998, the Crankyville Trolley rattled and popped its way towards Chicago, Illinois. I remember falling asleep in the sunny daylight as we cruised through the western part of Ohio and I remember waking up in the dark to a rainy night in Indiana. It was a two week tour with Angry Johnny & The Killbillies. Traveling with these guys was always fun, but go ahead and spend two weeks in a van with anyone and you’re bound to have some, ahem, moments. I’ll leave some of those moments tucked away in my mental vaults for this post, but I have to share one today.

Some people can sleep while in transit. My dad, for example, appears to be able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. I am not one of those people. I inherited the sleep gene from my mother – neither of us can sleep at all while on planes or in cars. Anyway, the kind of sleep I get while traveling is that half-aware kind of sleep where I can hear stuff going on somewhere in the ether. So I’m never really totally asleep. This was the case in the good old Crankyville, the name Angry Johnny has given his roughly tricked out, bright orange van, pictured here.

So somewhere in the background, mixed between half-sleep and half-awareness, I heard the band’s guitar-player-of-the-moment, Ray Neades, pop a tape into the tape deck. What came on the stereo woke me up. It was this song:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Catchy guitar riff, hand claps and two minutes long?! There literally was no better way to introduce me to the band King Radio. Ray was good friends with singer/songwriter for King Radio, a guy named Frank Padellaro, who at the time was playing bass in the Scud Mountain Boys (not for long, as you’ll see later) and also working it out with his own band. Ray thought I would like King Radio, so he brought the tape along during the Angry Johnny tour.

Now, a word about Ray. I had never met him until I stepped into the van. He was a very, very nice person to me. I had heard that he had his problems – the details don’t matter – but I never had a single problem with the guy the whole time during the tour. I just remember the first time I saw him play with the band I thought that the guitar looked like a small child’s toy in his arms. Ray was a very big dude! But he could play! And we could talk about music forever, it seemed.

So when we got back to Western Mass, Ray introduced me to Frank one evening at The Bay State. That introduction led to our label (Tar Hut) signing and releasing King Radio’s Mr K Is Dead, Go Home. But more importantly to me, it led to a friendship with Frank that still exists today, despite our only seeing each other once in a blue moon. But it is always so great to hear from him and the guy is just a huge talent. It was Frank who implored me to dive deeper into the Kinks catalog. It was Frank who introduced me to Sloan and so many other great bands. And it was Frank whose big heart never hesitated to invite me over to his house for dinner, or hear all the impossibly cool stuff he was working on. It was always a pleasure dealing with him and it was even more of a pleasure knowing him and being his friend. And it all happened because Ray Neades popped that tape in the tape deck of the Crankyville Trolley and then introduced me to Frank. I don’t think Ray lasted that long in Angry Johnny’s band, but not many people did.

Ray Neades died a few days ago. Again, I’m not by any stretch a close friend of Ray and after that two week tour, I only saw him out at shows. We always chatted, said hello, laughed about those two weeks, went over what we were listening to and then moved onto our next conversation at the nightclub. But it was always a pleasure. That said, on one of those nights when our ships passed, Ray paid me what I believe to be one of the most warmest compliments I’ve ever received. I had been doing some freelance music writing and I was lucky enough to cover the Scud Mountain Boys last show at TT The Bear’s in Cambridge, MA. A month or two after the article ran in No Depression, I ran into Ray and he pulled me aside and told me that the article put into words what he couldn’t really say. I had nailed it for him. What a nice feeling to hear that from someone, in a business where making other people feel good isn’t terribly common.

Goodbye Ray. Thank you. You were a hell of a nice guy and you’ll undoubtedly be missed by many.

[UPDATE: see more in an article here,  a nice blog post here, and my friend Leo chimes in here. The Twitter-verse has it going on as well. Facebook, has, perhaps, the best tributes – and there are many]

Music of the Naughts: Spoon

They Turn Your Camera On
They Turn Your Camera On

As I continue summing up some of my favorite music of the decade, what can I say about Spoon that hasn’t been said already? There really isn’t anyone today that sounds like them. I really appreciate that. When you hear Spoon, you know it’s Spoon. Whether it’s Britt Daniel’s semi-robotic vocals and tat-tat-tat singing or Jim Eno’s enormous, rhythmic drumming, there’s just not another band that can mirror this Austin, TX-based foursome.

And the songs! The songs! Like a heavyweight fighter, Spoon will jab you senseless in the ribs with memorable lyrics. They’ll deliver quick tickles to your ears with catchy indie pop. And then they’ll knock your ass out with beats! I really do believe there isn’t another band like them and there’s so many good songs to choose from. Damn. What a band. I don’t remember how I got introduced, but I think it might have been my friend Brian Coleman. So props if it was you, BK. If it wasn’t, then props to whoever did it, because my love for Spoon spanned the decade. That’s hard to do!

I’ll offer these songs up as a couple of my favorites (FACEBOOK PEOPLE click here to listen):

The Fitted Shirt (from 2001’s “Girls Can Tell”) —–>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I Summon You (from 2005’s “Gimme Fiction”) —–>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Naught’s Discography:

Music Of The Naughts: Anders Parker

Anders Parker, Space Mountain Man
Anders Parker, Space Mountain Man

I don’t know what to call this decade, so in the spirit of complete herd mentality, I’m going with “the naughts.” Over the next couple of weeks, I will attempt to briefly lay out some of my favorite music artists of the decade. I don’t know how many there are and I don’t know how many I’ll get to put up as blog posts, because, if you haven’t been keeping track, my time available for blogging is dwindling. Oh, don’t worry, the blog will always be here and I’ll always write here, but the volume of posts won’t be as high as my pre-children life. By now you’ve gotten used to that though.

Anyway, the first person I thought of when I considered my favorite artists of the decade is Anders Parker. Does it mean he was my absolute favorite of the decade? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever know. But I know his body of work this decade is so completely breathtaking and vast, with a stylistic range that many other artists really oughta be jealous of. As I have repeated here over the years like a hammer monotonously bam-bam-bam-bam-bamming, a distinct voice always gets me, and Parker has one. It’s just one of many arrows in this guy’s musical quiver.

Parker’s musical hovercraft regularly visits a few genres. I think he’s a rocker at heart, but he also carries with him a deep spirit of 1970s golden AM radio, Neil Young’s ROCK side and beautiful, sometimes haunting folk songs. His new album (released in 2009) – a double, mind you – contains one album of spaced-out, armageddon-ish drum-machine pop and one album of quiet, acoustic folk. Yeah, just try to put a label on him. That’s why I love him – because you can’t! See my Item Five interview with Anders from 2005 here.

Here’s two song samples, in case you’re in the mood for some simply terrific songs from a huge, under-appreciated talent. (FACEBOOKERS: click here if you want to go straight to my site to hear the songs)

Come On Now (from 2005’s “Tell It To The Dust”) —>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Wounded Astronaut (from 2005’s “The Wounded Astronaut”) —>

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Go Be It

Growing up, our house never lacked sarcasm. We were not a  house full of stand-up comics by any stretch, but humor was always lurking. My mother’s parents, Irish folks, had a pretty unique sense of humor, right up until the end and my dad’s family had some characters as well. I sure do wish I had video of those times or of some of those parties we had.

I remember as far back as the mid-1970’s that my parents had a few records (vinyl!) from stand-up comics. The memories are a little fuzzy, but I know for sure we had records from Cheech & Chong, Redd Foxx and of course, Bill Cosby. My sister and I had the Bill Cosby records memorized and I bet even today we could still recite some of the bits. Those were our favorites. The Redd Foxx and Cheech & Chong stuff was probably a little over our heads at the time, but the Cosby records – right up our alley. We knew every word, every intonation and every perfect little pause in Cosby’s impeccable delivery of a story.

When I look back at some of my old report cards (and I have them all, in their glory and non-glory), I see comments going all the way back to 3rd grade about how I liked to try make the other kids laugh and how, sometimes, it interfered with my school work. In 5th grade, the teacher comments got a little more serious regarding how I was applying myself more to the art of being a goof than to schoolwork. It’s true. I’ve always been like that and while it did occasionally cause problems at school, I sure am glad humor and sarcasm have ridden sidecar with me for all of my life.

Anyway, over the weekend my dad sent me a text message that contained a photo. I never got it though, so the next day he called me and asked what I thought of it. I said I hadn’t seen any photo and he said “oh, ok, I’ll send it again, when you get it, call me back.” My mind started to race. Did my parents get another dog? Did my dad buy an old muscle car? Did they sell the house and buy another one?

No, no and no. The picture came through on my phone was of a large tattoo on someone’s arm. I wasn’t sure what was going on until I saw the accompanying text that said “my new tattoo.” Of course, given the humor and sarcasm in my family while growing up, I was sure it was a prank. I called my dad and he swore up and down that he indeed had been thinking of getting one for over a year and finally did it. Do I believe him? Yes. 99%. But there will be 1% disbelief until I finally get to see it in a few weeks.

So anyway, the tattoo is in Greek and it says “Life is Love of Family.” My dad is 63 years old and while I was initially shocked to hear about him getting a tattoo, I’m glad to see he’s still throwing curveballs. I love that. Every day, we craft our own biographies. We may not write them down in traditional book-like fashion, but living your life every day and keeping yourself alive is obviously the most important part. I don’t mean keeping yourself alive as in maintaining a heartbeat, I mean it like ALIVE. Eyes wide open. Some of us choose to be alive in different ways, that’s all. Some of us like to buy things. Some of us like to exercise. Some of us like to view a summit after a climb. And some of us get their first tattoo when they’re 63.