They’re Soaking Up the Fauna, Doing Blotters…

They’re Soaking Up the Fauna, Doing Blotters…

  • I love all the hype around Cocaine Bear. It’s not going to slot anywhere in the pantheon of the top 10 movies ever made, but I do think it checks a post-pandemic box – a movie that is made to be consumed in a theatre with a bunch of strangers. Perhaps aside from Top Gun – Maverick, and maybe even more, this movie is made for theatres and I think we need more of those. That’s where I plan to see it. It’ll be funny, gory, campy, and super fun.
  • In the same breath as Cocaine Bear, I came across this New York Times article this morning about the growing number of animals making their way into places where there are more people and how that has increased the amount of weird food and other objects that animals are ingesting. I had to laugh at a few parts of the story where they cite a few real examples. A skunk in a panic because it couldn’t get a McFlurry cup off its head, or a bear who entered a house several times and *only* took vanilla ice cream. Raccoons, in particular, were the most amusing: dazed and zoned out on marijuana and benzos, one had a soda can stuck on its leg, and another had it’s head stuck in a container of peanut butter. Animals are funny. And dumb.
  • I listened intently to The First Person podcast on my way to and from work this week, featuring a high school senior named Logan Lane, who seems to be wise beyond her years. She recognized early in high school that, ick, smartphones, endless scrolling, and non-stop screentime made her feel like a non-functioning, brain-dead zombie of sorts. So she did something that 99.9999% of kids today would never do – she gave it up and started “The Luddite Club,” a group of kids who approach screens and phones the same way that Straight-Edge kids avoid drinking, smoking, and drugs. She spoke eloquently about how life’s beauty and the meaning of real interaction and connection with others in the group have proven far more satisfying to her. At a cost, of course. She lost some friends and was probably subject to some ridicule, but gained other meaningful connections. I’m toying with making my kids listen to it. Not because I want them to STOP all screens and join the Luddite Club, but because I’d like to see better balance, I guess.
  • I’ve already watched the Pavement appearance on Austin City Limits twice. It’s sooooo good. I sometimes really miss the anticipation of knowing a favorite band was releasing an album, that I would have to plan a trip to the record store, of getting it off the rack, buying it, getting it home and experiencing the art, reading the liner notes, experiencing the music. It was a more full-on experience than it is today. I’d love for Spotify or some other entity to somehow bring that experience back to me in some way. There must be some methods to make that happen. I don’t really even know the individual names of members in new bands anymore. I don’t like that. I used to know ALL the names of the players in the bands I like!

All Your Favorite Bands

All Your Favorite Bands

Several times a year, I am asked what my favorite bands are. Or I’m sucked in by some kind of Facebook post where people are talking about their favorite concerts ever. Or their top five songs. Then there’s always the “desert island disc” thing, where people ask if I was trapped on a desert island, what 10 albums would I bring with me. These are all fun exercises! I certainly don’t mind doing them, but there’s also a tiny bit of stress in them, especially for a person like me who enjoys so much different music. These are truly first-world problems. So my approach to these types of things is to enjoy them. I view them as a snapshot in time. Because for me, my top anything when it comes to music is different on an almost day-to-day basis. I also know that 12 years from now, nobody is going to remember or hold me to it.

I say all this because the other day I was driving and decided to put my ’70s Spotify playlist on shuffle. Yes, I am the person who has built Spotify playlists by decade. All my favorite songs, seperated by time period. I have playlists for the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s and an ongoing one for the ’20s. I also have playlists for my favorite bands – all my favorite songs from each of those bands. It’s like my own little greatest hits collection because surprise! – my greatest hits for a specific band are generally not the songs that were continuously pounded into our heads on the radio. And truth be told, most of my band-focused Spotify playlists are bands that were never “famous” or on the radio anyway.

I’m getting off-topic, sorry. Ah yes, the ’70s. It hit me to write this blog post because I heard two consecutive songs that I just love so much. And as I was driving, I was singing them out loud and thinking these two songs belong on a top list somewhere for me. Don’t know what that list is and now I don’t really care as it’s been a few days. It just prompted me to write this post. So I’m sharing them here. Have a listen. Or don’t!

Richard & Linda Thompson’s “Hokey Pokey” from 1975 always hits me in the right place. Thompson’s guitar playing is just incredible, as always, but the fiddle and Linda’s singing really just turn it into a masterpiece. And the lyrics, well, you can interpret them how you please, but it’s clear there’s a double entendre going on here. It’s a song about ice cream…or is it? Sing along with the lyrics.

The second one is more well-known. Elton John’s “Country Comfort” (1970) feels like wearing a pair of old jeans and a hoodie. Just warm and snug. The piano is crisp and I just love how the chorus is sung. It’s “homey.” I love a song that can really take you somewhere, and this song does.

Right Down the Line

Right Down the Line

In my observation and based on no data whatsoever, I’d say 75% of people don’t end up making a living doing what they originally envisioned as younger people. My major in college was Journalism & Mass Communications. I always wanted to either write or somehow be involved in television production (off camera). I did end up doing some freelance music writing in the ’90s for The Philadelphia Weekly, No Depression and a few other publications, but then my focus went more toward music itself. And here I am now, a VP-level E-commerce & Digital person. Makes total sense, right? Right.

But one job that I’ve always dreamt about through the years, regardless of what my profession was at the time, was that of a Music Supervisor. That’s a fancy title that basically means “the guy who picks music for large film or TV productions.”

Music normally plays a background role in films and TV and helps set a mood for the scene. A horror movie or a thriller will have a certain intensity, a deeper aura. A romantic comedy might have a lighter bed of music behind it. But I’m not really talking about background music (although a Music Supervisor does handle that). I’m talking about the use of popular songs in film, when it takes the lead to help tell the story. Used well, it can take what I’ve always thought of as a weak or overplayed song and turn it into a song I love, because it becomes tied to a memorable scene from a great movie. How? Because it stamps a visual into my head and I “see” and hear that song differently forever. Or maybe I’m just easily influenced.

And I’m not talking about the iconic ones – the “Layla” scene in GoodFellas, when The Doors “The End” plays during “Apocalypse Now” or “The Sound of Silence” for “The Graduate. Those are too easy. Let me give you a couple of examples of the ones I think about:

Lately, it seems Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” is the song that is getting some kind of re-awakening. While laid up with COVID this week, I watched the entirety of HBO’s excellent “Euphoria” and their use of this song was really well-executed. I’ve never been over-the-moon about the song, but now that I have this image burned into my brain, I’m suddenly really enjoying it more than I ever thought I would.

The 1999 movie “The Virgin Suicides” is a movie that has stuck with me since I saw it. It’s wonderfully shot, a little trippy, odd, and their use of Heart’s “Magic Man” when introducing the character of Trip Fontaine transformed the song for me. I never really liked it until I saw it tied to this scene in this movie. Now I have it on certain playlists and enjoy the song very much, movie or not.

Lots of people’s minds also go right to Quentin Tarantino, whose use of music in his films is pretty superb. Major hat tip to THAT Music Supervisor, whoever it is. The one everyone thinks of is Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” which is the song used for the memorable John Travolta/Uma Thurman dance scene. But the song I’ve come to love is The Statler’s Brothers “Flowers on the Wall” in this scene.

Anyway, there’s so many more to choose from, but these pop into my mind right now. The power of video and storytelling really does have a way of turning songs I’m indifferent to into songs I love. I’d love to hear about some songs that you’ve come to appreciate after you seen them in a film or tv show.

Black Day, Stormy Night

Black Day, Stormy Night

The timing was impeccable. Purple Rain, the movie. Summer of 1984.

I was 13 and freshly liberated from the 7th grade. Looking back now and having just turned 45, it was such an interesting age. The complexities of life were far, far away, waiting for me in what felt like another galaxy, but in some ways I didn’t realize, or perhaps wasn’t fully comprehending, some complexities of life happening right there in the house I slept in every night.

Regardless, I can’t profess to remembering exactly what my day-to-day thoughts were, but by the time Purple Rain hit theaters, the Prince train was locked on the tracks and reaching maximum speed, right smack at the same time I was blissfully ignorant, riding my bike all over the place, trying to remove myself from things at home, discovering girls, trying beer, attempting to act older……and probably desperate to be perceived as way cooler than I was (haha, that part probably still hasn’t changed).

I have my doubts that anyone at the age of 13 has their shit together. All I cared about was fitting in, being liked. Being cool.

Music was always my constant. Plenty of vinyl records around the house in the ’70s. I had gotten my fill of Meat Loaf, Queen, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, AC/DC and others. Most of my music discovery was from the albums my parents had, then MTV and Casey Kasum’s American Top 40. Every week.  I’d listen to the countdown and write down the Top 10 and pin it on my corkboard above the desk in my room. God, I wish I had some pictures of this.

I was 11 the first time I heard Prince. It was “Little Red Corvette” and you know what? I remember not being blown away. I leaned toward the harder rock, but I do remember also not hating that song.

“1999,” though, was another story. Here was a song that was pretty much impossible not to like, with it’s dreamy synth, three singers, lyrics about judgement day, bombs, parties and much more. To this day, I love songs with multiple singers and this one had three. “1999” is a timeless classic that I put on and blast several times a year in the car.

But the song that still gets me to this day is “Delirious.” That funky, catchy synth line and the groove. Infectious. The baby at the end is a deft touch.

princePurple Rain, though. Goodness. I wonder how well Purple Rain would have done without the movie? MTV was arguably at their peak in 1984. They still played music and nothing else. I can leave it to better writers to explain the impact that MTV had. For me, it was capital H huge.

Image was everything and here we have Prince who, instead of just doing a single music video for 2 or 3 songs, essentially makes a 90 minute music video for the whole damn album! And he’s all frilly, almost feminine in voice at times, short, quiet, weird and….purple.

Yet, there was no question about the hetero thing with Prince. Dude clearly liked girls. Unlike Michael Jackson, whose voice was just a shade higher. That automatically put Jackson in the bucket of “hmmmm…..” amongst my friends and many others. Remember, we’re going into 8th grade, ok? That one octave of voice made it totally NOT cool among the boys to like Michael. Did I like it at home? Yep.

But Prince. Prince was all man.  Groove, guitars and sex. Even if he didn’t look like it.
princeMichael Jackson needed to bring in Eddie Van Halen for rock songs. Prince PLAYED guitar. SLAYED guitar! Jackson did the Thriller video with a clean cut, cute girl. Prince made Apollonia strip down and purify herself in Lake Minnetonka. And only after that happened did he tell her that the lake she happened to be standing in wasn’t actually Lake Minnetonka. Bad ass!

Michael Jackson was Lancaster MA. Prince was Worcester. You locals reading this totally get that, right?

purplerain_3As a 7th grader, I connected with it all – the music, the movie, the girls, the images and the hetero-ness of it all. Puberty! In full force. Guitars, strife at home, great songs, Morris Day as the bad guy, Prince at his apartment with all those weird figurines, candles and instruments everywhere. And being able to HOOK UP there! I specifically remember thinking that THAT was how I wanted my apartment to look when I was older. Hah! So young, so impressionable.

The years, as we know now, absolutely fly by. Prince became hit-or-miss. “Raspberry Beret” was sweet. “Kiss” was an anthem. “U Got the Look” was unbeatable. But one of my favorite songs was a song that never really hit airwaves. Listen to “The Cross” from Sign O’ The Times. This was Prince as he transitioned to an overly religious phase.  The Indian-tinged song was an emotional, beautiful song. It remains one of my favorites today. The NPG stuff was rock and roll. “Cream,” “Seven” and “Sexy Motherfucker” were all keepers. But this, you need to watch this. What else can be said? Nothing.

And so, much like a lot of the other stratosphere superstars, he got weird. The symbol thing. The Artist Formerly Known As. “Slave” on his face. The almost total opposition to streaming and the internet, and policing YouTube. Prince was not an internet guy, sadly. I hope that changes, because I need to build a long Spotify playlist. But I have plenty of his music digitally ripped from my own CD collection. So I’m good.

The one thing that remained consistent, even through the uneven weird years – there was always a good song coming out. Even 2013’s “Screwdriver” was a freaking jam! Go listen to it and tell me he wasn’t relevant musically.

4692157My last point. I ruminate sometimes about the bands I loved who I never got to see. Bands like REM. I didn’t miss the boat with Prince. I saw him at TD Garden in 2004, center stage, in the round. I’m not saying this because he’s dead now, I promise – it was easily one of the Top 3 shows I’ve ever seen. Just unreal. The complete showman. 33 songs. Covers. New songs. Classics. The works. The set list is right here.

His death was a little surprising. That it appears to be drug-related might end up being good, in an odd way. Do we need something like this to really drive home the point about how bad this opoid thing is getting? Maybe we do.

It’s kind of touching to see how emotional so many people were – and remain – about this. Even the blowback on Bowie’s death wasn’t this epic, this large. I believe it speaks to the respect that so many had for his all-around talent.

I still have his music, like I’ve always had. I will still play it a lot. I didn’t know him, so it’s hard to miss him, you know what I mean? It just feels like another small piece of the cement that’s been my life so far has been chipped away. Another reminder that time passes. But boy, do we have a wealth of goodies to hold onto.

One of These Things IS Like the Other

I play hockey at 6:30am every Thursday and Friday. Other than being great exercise, I do it because the rink is literally 3 minutes away from home and I am now getting to the age where playing hockey at night until 12am doesn’t work with my schedule.

Man, I wish I could pull off this look.

Man, I wish I could pull off this look.

This morning I got into my car, flipped on the radio and heard that Scott Weiland had died. This, of course, should not come as a shock. If anything, I’m surprised he lasted to 48. Did you know that news organizations and newspapers prepare and write obituaries well in advance of certain people dying? Maybe it’s a little macabre, but it totally makes sense – why scramble and run around when you know the odds? Be proactive, not reactive, right?

Pre-writing obits is not as obvious for businesses as it is for human beings, though. I suppose if you comb through enough blogs you’ll get all the prognostications you’ll ever need (and some you don’t need), but these things are harder to predict.

Which brings me to Yahoo. Ouch. I’ve had their pre-obituary written for about 7 years now. This is a company whose market value is $33.7 billion dollars. BILLION! Their CEO is foundering, although who can really blame her – she took on the role when it was already a dead-man-walking. I don’t blame her for Yahoo’s troubles, I question her decision-making in taking the role in the first place. Bad move. But she has twins, so we have that in common.

Anyway, back to the $33 billion. That’s a lot of cake. But take out the 15% stake in Alibaba (China) and Yahoo’s overall cash position, the company is a smoldering wreck. Alibaba’s market value is $32 billion! You do the math. I’m not going to over analyze it, but I know one thing, whoever takes on the CEO position at Yahoo is another person with bad decision-making traits.

Scott Weiland and Yahoo. See what I did there? Two entities who certainly require an obit before the actual death. Weiland got there first, but Yahoo is probably more deserving. This isn’t 1999.

I’m Ready for the Laughing Gas

I recently got back from a family trip to Hawaii.

(Editors note: Back when I wrote on this page more regularly, my next sentence in this post would have been “but that’s a blog post for another time” or something like that. But let’s face it – at my current pace of roughly two posts per decade, there’s little chance you’ll get a Hawaii post out of me).

Anyway, while I was in Hawaii, I still tried to keep up with news back home on my IPad via my Boston Globe subscription. To give you an indication of a) just how much less attention I pay to music than before and b) how much U2 has fallen off my map in the last 5-7 years, I had NO idea that U2 booked four nights at the TD Garden, with all four performances occurring while I was gone. I am not entirely sure I would have gotten tickets, but I thought it a little strange that I hadn’t even heard of the shows.

By my best recollection, the last time I saw U2 would have been around 1992. It’s safe to say that back then, they were IT for me and many others. I think I may have seen them 4-5 times on the Achtung Baby tour alone and can clearly remember shows in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Foxborough and New York City. I love SetList.FM!

Anyway, it got me thinking about U2 again and while rock radio ruined them for me by pounding all their Top 10 songs all over the radio for years, there’s still so many very very good songs that the radio doesn’t play. So I had an idea to construct a Spotify playlist of all my favorite U2 songs that did NOT chart above #50 in the US Billboard Charts. What I found was that there are 17 songs that I can go back to again and again and probably never get sick of. These are songs that you will likely never hear on the radio, either. Bonus!

I can split the playlist into era’s for myself, because that is fun to do if you’re a music nerd. So I’m gonna do it. It won’t be that painful for you and if you know me well enough, your name might even be in here.

The Middle School Era (1982-1985):

As a middle school boy, I hadn’t really cemented myself as a deep music fan, but the foundation was there. I had a deep appreciation for Led Zeppelin – and not just the hits that everyone else knew. I also liked deep Def Leppard cuts, AC/DC and upon looking through my 6th grade notebook recently, discovered that I also liked The Firm and Journey quite a bit.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Like A Song – oh, the urgency and liberation of being young and untouchable.
  • Seconds – one of my favorite U2 songs ever, I think about nuclear weapons. Takes a second to say goodbye!
  • 40 – they got it from the Bible. Really. A mellow, lovely tune.
  • Surrender – another of my all time U2 faves. Vaguely referencing suicide, prostitution and attempting normalcy.
  • A Sort of Homecoming – a warmer vibe here, but that moment in the song when he sings “…and we live by the side of the road, on a side of a hill… the valley explodes!” — you just know that this band is a beast. Emotional, brilliant, beautiful. So much going on in this song.
  • The Unforgettable Fire – another rich, emotional beauty of a song. Listen closely for Larry Mullen’s “shit” near the beginning as he struggles to get in time. Love it.
  • Wire – could be my favorite U2 song of all time. I think it’s about drug use, but I can’t be sure. That’s how I interpret it, anyway. A frantic, dark, rock and roll song that stays with you. Ends with “I’m no dope, I give you hope, here’s the rope, here’s the rope, now…swing away…..” This is KILLER!

But I didn’t know ANY of these songs back then! All I really remember about U2 back then was “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” their first real radio breakthrough from the War album. I sure liked the song, but they were pretty new and I wasn’t going deep with them.  I also have a very specific memory of sitting in my room one day, being afraid of Hurricane Gloria in 1982 and listening to their song “Gloria” repeatedly. Why does that stick in my head?

The Unforgettable Fire came next, in 1984 and that was another step forward in terms of my exposure. Like many other people, I gained a huge amount of respect for them after Live Aid’s killer performances from that record. I still wasn’t ALL in on U2 then, but “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Bad” were two songs I really liked. It wouldn’t come to me until much later how strong this album was from front-to-back. Dear Lord, it’s a near-masterpiece. I didn’t really get it, though, until the early ’90s.

The High School Years (1985-1989)

OK, this is when U2 went totally bananas. Everyone LOVED them! My specific memories during high school are of three people who were always pushing me to listen more. Thank you Josh Harmon, Karen Skinner and my high school girlfriend Paula. Karen sat behind me, I think it was Spanish II class. She was a year ahead of me and I remember her really pushing me hard to listen to more than just the hits. Truth is I’ve never, ever liked “With or Without You” or “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But the rest of that album is on the money, honey. Big time. Karen was right. Josh was just a U2 fanatic and also had an influence.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Exit –  a man plunges into darkness. Maybe their most depressing song ever. But compelling as hell.
  • Running to Stand Still –  another story about the ravages of drug addiction, but beautiful nonetheless.
  • Red Hill Mining Town – likely my 2nd favorite U2 song ever. Crazy highs and low lows. They’ve never really performed this live because they discovered that Bono couldn’t hit those high notes quite enough. This makes me so sad, because if I saw it live it would probably make me cry. It’s about miners and the effect of their job on their families. The moment when Bono screams “Hanging on! You’re all that left to hold on to” is maybe my favorite moment in the bands whole catalog.
  • Van Dieman’s Land – So many people were turned off by Rattle & Hum, but there’s a lot to like here and this is one of them. A dark, simple song sung by The Edge. Always has stuck with me.
  • Hawkmoon 269 – Another one of those quiet tunes that hits some frantic highs.
  • God Part II – Most certainly not their strongest work, but I’m still a sucker for a memorable song with good rock guitar and lyrics that reference other famous musicians.

The College Years (1989-1993)

This is where it peaks for me. Achtung Baby came out and I about went berzerk for U2. Lots of people didn’t appreciate (or maybe understand) U2’s change in direction, but I LOVED it. I didn’t mind the serious U2 of the ’80s, but I LOVED the whole approach in the ’90s of the band spitting irony of the mass media and creating characters to mock it (the whole FLY thing). But that was just the sideshow. The MUSIC on Achtung Baby, to me, was their peak. Adventurous, a little more rocking, richer and a little less preachy……and catchy as hell. This is also the last album by them that I loved. Really, my admiration was over the top, probably.

A year or two later, they unleashed Zooropa and that had a few gems, but it was the beginning of the end of my adulation for U2. Ever since then, it’s been 10% hit and 90% miss. But that sweet spot from 1982-1992 is one I don’t think any band will ever accomplish again.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Zoo Station – if only for the distorted, rocking guitar intro. It was the opener on the Achtung Baby tour for all those shows I saw. And it’s awesome.
  • So Cruel – maybe one of their most beautiful songs to listen to.
  • Zooropa – the last song I really loved by this band. An atmospheric rock song that would have (and should have) fit perfectly on Achtung Baby and it’s a song that I have never gotten tired of, even after 20 years. Super cool chorus, awesome vocals, great mix and just a  beauty. If you haven’t given this song a chance in a while, you really should.
  • Wild Honey – From the “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” album. I liked this album. But it didn’t destroy me like Achtung Baby did. This song is a nice, acoustic-based rock song with a great hook.

So there you have it. When I post to the blog, I go big. I’d love to say it won’t take me three years to post again, but who knows. Playlist below. This is basically the set list I would hand them for a live show if it were up to me. Gosh, I would pay a LOT to see them do this set: