From Music

Two Amazing Things Ruled My Otherwise Insane Day, Today, and They’re 40 Years Apart

One is the Genesis song “Dance on a Volcano” from 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, one of those perfect albums pretentious muso nerds like me keep bringing up. Mid-period Genesis meant a lot to me when I was still on a path to becoming a musician. The technicality, the care in production, the aspiration, all was inspiring in exactly the opposite way that punk would later engender in me. [YouTube link for non-Spotify folks]

The second is this search for images on Tumblr for the hashtag “gregg rulz ok,” a reference from the gloriously affecting game Night in the Woods. My favorite character, he of the knives, crimes, and anarchy.

In the Late Stages of the Evening, All I Want to Do Is Listen to Meandering Computer Music and Look at Strange Art

News and social media can wear you down. There’s nothing for it but to step back a bit, or completely, if you can. Unless you’re a journalist, there’s not much point in staying up-to-the-minute on the relentless news cycle. You have things to do. This is good right here, a real slowdown for the mind: The Last Ambient Hero

I’ve also got a newfound appreciation for art that’s funny. CB Hoyo is worth checking out, too.

So Often We Want to Keep Special, Resonant Media to Ourselves, Even Though It Deserves a Wider Audience, and That’s So Unfortunate

Case in point, so many internet things that are amazing and have criminally few eyeballs and earholes attached to them. I understand the magic of discovering treasures that are meaningful to you. I’m sad that it’s such a widespread impulse to resist sharing those things with everyone else. It’s the Daffy Duck mentality, a throwback to post-infancy, when we desired everything for ourselves, before we learned empathy.

One of the reasons I’m continuing to work on this blog is to share those things, to resist the hoarding impulse. Because it’s in the sharing that we grow, it’s in the mutual delight of discovery that we support and enhance each other. This is a better way to live.

All that to say, watch the latest BJ Rubin show. It’s full of music that’s so far out on the fringe it’s fuzz floating away on the breeze. It’s weird, it’s unique, and the world needs so much more of that right now.

Sir Paul Still Charms the Pants Off Everyone

I finally got around to seeing the Carpool Karaoke featuring Paul McCartney, and it was typically wonderful. I really can’t get enough of Paul just being his alternately down-to-earth and godlike-famous selves—the latter of which he dubs “Him”—but this was a cut above. It must be terribly hard, sometimes, to reconcile being a person who just wants to walk around in the world as a normal human with a concept people want to worship and get a piece of, everywhere you go. I’m continually amazed by the grace he displays of such relentless recognition. I’m sure it’s hard.

So many of us think we want to be famous, and should think harder and longer about what it might mean. There’s little controlling it if it happens.

Old and New Amazing

I’ve listened to a couple pieces the last few days, separated by many years but near-perfect in their own ways. The first is George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. It’s a huge collection, filled up with songs rejected by John and Paul, as well as plenty that he’d written purely by being inspired. It flows well, it’s dynamic, and it’s powerful. It doesn’t drag at all, as you’d imagine a 23-track album would have to. Spotify link 

I’ve been a fan of Neko Case since I discovered The New Pornographers, after Mass Romantic made everyone’s best of indie lists in 2001. Case proved an even better songwriter in her solo career than she was a singer in TNP, and that’s saying a lot, because I’m in love with her voice. Her newest, Hell-On, runs a dizzying emotional and aural gamut, managing to be melancholy, funny, and hopeful all at once. Spotify link 

Simple, True, Connection

So, I used to love this band. I discovered them just before I entered high school, and near their commercial peak. They were Canadian, and I’d already started to love all things Great White North, though they were possibly my first “favorite” one of those. I was in band from 4th grade—Grade Four, for you Canucks—and I noticed they were a musician’s band, an entity prized by insiders and often dismissed by the general public. I’ll stop hinting and say now that Rush, the band in question, became my top musical thing almost instantly, and remained so until the mid-90s.

The lyrics were almost all written by drummer Neil Peart—take out the “P” and the “t” and you know how to pronounce his whole name properly when you put them back again—and although sometimes pretentious and sometimes less than wholly elegant, I loved them and they inspired and guided me. Neil was like a teacher out of school, someone who cared increasingly about writing about human things. He wrote about individualism, about forging an artistic path in the face of opposing forces, about working hard and staying true to one’s dreams. Then he started to write about more personal and everyday experience. He wrote about fear, about dreams, about inspiration. He wrote about relationships, about loss, about the little things that make life richer. This was the period I felt most connected, when I thought, “yes! This deep connection is what’s important.”

Then something changed. For a time, the lyrics he wrote seemed to me to have a sardonic tone. I found an attitude in them I wasn’t sure I liked. It wasn’t quite contempt, but they didn’t have the same love of humanity I’d noticed and identified with before. I’m not sure what happened, but I’ve seen something like it in artists who achieve a high level of material success. Perhaps it’s the isolation of fame. It might be simple weariness after years of exhaustive effort trying to maintain their success. Whatever the reason, I think it’s instructive.

We have a duty as artists to tell the truth, as we see it. But contempt is not an attractive quality. I’d say that humility, rather, is something to be cultivated and kept in mind while working on anything we make. Nobody does this work alone, we all need help, at times. What makes art universal is its basic humanity, the connection to common experience: our emotions, our fears, our triumphs. We should strive to respect and understand those traits, rather than downplay them.

I don’t believe in much. But as often as it can seem like the world is full of selfish assholes, I believe most of us want the best for others, most are willing to help, most have the capacity to love and to give. Those are things to celebrate and encourage, and they’re compelling and engaging. I refuse to believe everything is shit just because life is hard and sometimes we’re horrible to each other. We can be so brave and charitable, too.

There’s a coda: Peart changed again over time, and a new maturity—post terrible tragedy and grief—crept back into his work, culminating in some really tender and heartfelt songs, encouraging and affecting stuff I was and still am proud to enjoy. I can’t deny it—even if I have new favorite musicians, I do still love that band.

That DIY Itch

In some recent researching for my podcast, I went on a tangent into punk rock for an hour or two. It was fun when I was introduced to it in my teens (I never listened to rock music as a kid, and in some ways I’m still hungrily trying to recapture those lost listening years), and it’s still appealing to me now.

There were memories and discoveries aplenty from ThoughtCo’s list of most influential albums. But that one is all over the place in time, and a few of my personal favorites were missing—specifically, Bad Religion and X—so there’s also the L.A. Weekly’s excellent top 20 West-Coast-centric albums. (Although, how you gonna have a top 20 without Fear: The Record?)

What’s the big deal? Much of the punk aesthetic is a reaction to the pretentious studio practices of the 70s, as I mentioned yesterday, and the idea that anyone can—nay, should—make rock ‘n’ roll. And don’t get me wrong, I love Alan Parsons, Earth, Wind & Fire, Fleetwood Mac, and Steely Dan, too. There’s something deeply inspiring, though, about three or four musicians just quickly tearing it up with no flash, letting the power of the songs speak for themselves. So it is with visual art. Jackson Pollock creating something new using house paint on a plain, unstretched canvas on the floor. Basquiat doing the same with cheap oilsticks and spray paint over fencing.

Sometimes you just want to make things, and you don’t have time to be careful or make it polished and elaborate. Simple is compelling and evocative, too.

Getting Physical

Fig. 1: detail from a game concept sketch

A fair bit of the internet is being charmed by this video of two girls who are meeting for the first time in person. It’s true that real friendships are forged and nurtured on the ‘net (as the kids no longer say), and that some connections wouldn’t be possible at all without it. But the joyous intensity of emotion on these girls’ faces as they touch for the first time is a level above where they were just minutes before they saw each other.

A best friend of mine and I have daughters the same age. We introduced them via FaceTime 4 years ago. They’ve talked daily since and are best friends. They live 7+ hours away and our schedules never lined up to have them meet in person until this moment. Neither of them knew it was happening. from aww


We need each other, but we need each others’ physical presence, too. The idea so many of us had of staying home and reaching out to the world from safety and comfort isn’t what we need. It’s nice to do that and have interactions across world-spanning distances. But standing across from you and your body next to me is deeply and essentially part of what makes us human. I’m moved to tears and I’ve had not a single previous moment with either person above, ever. It’s deep and it’s touching. “Are you real?” is going to stick with me for some time.

I’m a fan of hers, but I didn’t think I’d want to listen to more than a snippet of Juliana Hatfield’s Olivia Newton-John covers album. But I did! It’s a lot of fun, and good to hear these songs interpreted by a musician I’ve long admired and respected.