The Week That Was

October 31, 2008

It’s appropriate that Popmatters chose to run my review of the eponymous debut of Brit rockers The Week That Was on a Friday. A side project of Peter Brewis of the excellent pop band Field Music, this is one of the best albums you won’t hear anything about this year. Fans of Eno, XTC and nervy 80s British pop, take note.


Kids don’t come with instruction manuals — until now.

October 31, 2008

I don’t have kids. It’s not that I don’t like them. I don’t get people who claim not to like kids. Kids aren’t something you can like or dislike, like lima beans or Bon Jovi. Lima beans will always be lima beans. But kids are only temporarily kids. If you don’t like them, it really means you don’t like people who won’t be quiet and leave you alone. Which is perfectly fine and understandable, but in that case the real truth is that you’re grouchy and irritable, and don’t like to be bothered.

Why no kids for me yet? I’ve been lucky, I guess. I didn’t always take the precautions necessary to guarantee I wouldn’t have them. I think I’m prepared for kids now, but I still don’t have any. There are some civil formalities my mating partner and I feel we should see through before actively pursuing our own brood. But we’re pretty sure that once we get that business hashed out, we’re going to try to produce at least one person of our own.

But then again, I waffle. I know people who have kids, and I see them struggle mightily (or, worse, not struggle at all) to make them behave as I see fit. Of course, as a non-parent, I’m not qualified to share my opinion on the dos and don’ts of child-rearing. But I have to admit that when in the presence of these families I often find myself thinking, “I could parent that kid way better than that.”

Of course, I’m probably wrong. That’s why, even though my partner in two-backed-beast-making and I have in the past year enthusiastically discussed how cool it would be to procreate, I’m still just not sold on the idea.

There might be hope, though. Tonight, while watching one of my favorite cable news shows, I saw a commercial for a program that promises to make parenting easy.

Does your kid talk back? This program will solve it, “no matter how nasty your child gets.” Is your child prone to public outbursts? The program promises a “surefire” way to fix that. Is arguing with the ‘rents your kid’s favorite pastime? This will nip that in the bud, “even if your teenage son is 6’2″  and you’re 5’4″.”

I’m taller than 5’4″, but not by a whole heck of a lot. It’s nice to know if I have a kid who gets big enough to beat me up in a fistfight, a program exists that will help me avoid that.

If you’ve seen the commercials, you know I’m talking about The Total Transformation Program. It was created by James Lehman, a formerly defiant, drug-abusing teenager himself. He knows what he’s talking about, because he’s been there.

A little web research on the program reveals almost exclusively glowing reviews by satisfied parents. Knowing that such a failsafe plan to whip my problem child (should I have one) into shape is pretty comforting. Now I guess I just need some bow-chicka-bow-booooow music to get this party started.

Sheena Easton and Judd Hirsch invade my brain.

October 29, 2008

Every so often, I’d say about three or four times a week, a relic from popular culture rises from the detritus of my mind and becomes, without warning, something I am thinking about. For example, the other day, while walking my dog, I found myself haunted by the melody of “Strut” by Sheena Easton. Then, a couple of days later, I woke up thinking of Judd Hirsch.

What type of neurological sequences lead to these events? I have no idea. Do I find it disturbing that my subconscious is a wasteland of trite pop culture leftovers? A little. But when you grow up on a steady diet of cable TV and pop radio, you can’t very well expect a few semesters of reading Shakespeare and Whitman in college to override years of  “Who’s The Boss” and “Charles In Charge” episodes. (What was with the trend of sitcoms about male housekeepers and/or babysitters in the ’80s anyway?  Was the reversal of gender roles really such a bizarre idea back then? )

The point is, I’m afraid I may find myself on my deathbed suddenly wondering who played Vinnie in “Doogie Howser MD.” But then again, by then, whatever wireless device we’ll be using to answer those kinds of questions will likely be hardwired into our circuitry. I may even be able to drift off to eternal sleep while watching the 24-minute pilot where Doogie kisses his first girl and loses his first patient — all in the same week.

On human maintenance.

October 24, 2008

Without the proper maintenance, one’s consuming machine will eventually become compromised. If not dealt with, such a situation may begin to inhibit one’s consuming ability. I had ignored this fact, even though it is as obvious and universally recognized as the existence of the sky, for an embarrassingly long time — so long, in fact, that by the time I finally arrived at the doctor’s office for a routine check-up, it was almost as if I was experiencing it for the first time. Luckily, the interior decorators responsible for outfitting such places haven’t made much progress in the past thirty years or so, which made it feel very much like I’d stepped into a time warp where the only things that had changed were the dates on the Times and Newsweeks on the end tables in the waiting room.

After enduring the incredibly uncomfortable ritual of being poked, prodded, probed and interrogated, I learned that my machinery is, you might say, wound a bit too tight. In biological terms, I have high blood pressure — much too high for someone of my age, weight and dietary habits. Therefore the doctor suggested I begin consuming something I have willfully avoided for more than fifteen years: prescription medicine.

The blood pressure is only one of my problems. I  really don’t find it seemly to volunteer ever dirty detail of one’s health information on the Internet, but suffice to say that, at age 34, my machine is showing signs of wear and tear that, if ignored, will certainly lead to a premature expiration. And while the thought of putting consumption behind me permanently doesn’t exactly fill my heart with woe, I must admit that I’ve grown quite fond of quite a several other consumption machines, and would miss their company greatly if a machinery malfunction led to my early exit from this odd event. From now on, as much as I loathe it, I’ll be maintaining my machine regularly, if for no other reason than to ensure that I can continue to enjoy the company of my favorite partners in consumption.

Live music: Fistful of Hollas

October 21, 2008

When I haven’t been busy grinding it out at my 9-5 or writing snappy little features for a regional magazine, I’ve spent a good bit of my free time lately paying money to watch some of my favorite bands play music. Here’s who I’ve seen:

Oct. 17: The Silver Jews

After catching them in Bloomington, Ind. shortly after they finally began touring a couple of years ago, I was convinced the Silver Jews would never be a good live band. Berman looked like Smokey Lonesome from “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and had the stage presence to match; his girlfriend, Cassie, just plain couldn’t sing; and his small band performed with all of the verve and charisma of a group of recovering head injury patients. So it was to my delight to see how the Silver Jews have fleshed out their sound and found their confidence. It would be hard to ask for a better set, which included “Dallas,” “Pretty Eyes,” “Sometimes a Pony,” “Smith and Jones” and “Suffering Jukebox.” Berman even deigned to play “New Orleans” during the encore in response to a fan request. But as good as the Silver Jews were, in terms of sheer entertainment, my money was best spent on opening act The Mattoid, a novelty singer-songwriter from Finland who lives in Nashville and performs stripped down absurdist garage/pop/metal about drugs, sex, arson and burglary. I would recommend buying one of his CDs, but the recorded versions of his songs pale in comparison to hearing them live. If you ever go to Nashville, or if the Mattoid ever comes to your town, go, go go.

Oct 13: The Mountain Goats and Kaki King

A number of factors conspired to make this show a minor disappointment to me: 1) Kaki King (who’s fine as far as freakishly good guitar players go, but kind of boring live) shared top billing with the Mountain Goats, cutting into their time, 2) A hard curfew cut the show short just after 10 p.m. 3) The set list included quite a few slow tracks, making it even easier for my lobotomized female neighbors to talk above the music, and 4) I only knew about three-fifths of the songs played, many of which were either really new tracks or obscure old ones from Darnielle’s cassette days. Highlights, though, included “San Bernandino,” “Have To Explode,” “So Desparate,” “Next Year,” and — as any hardcore MG fan would expect — a rousing sing-along of “No Children.”

Oct. 19: TV On The Radio and The Dirtbombs

Man, we’re lucky. As if it weren’t already absurdly fortuitous enough that one of the best bands in America was returning to the city’s best live venue for the second consecutive year, we got enjoy the added bonus of a stupendously good opening band, Detroit soul-garage vets The Dirtbombs. It’s not easy for me to muster the energy to get into show-going form on Sunday nights anymore. I arrived at the Vogue feeling like I did during first period in my senior year of high school: Sluggish, apathetic, irritable. The Dirtbombs were just the splash of cold water in the face I needed. I wish I would’ve been closer to the stage so I could have snagged a free beer from the bassist and guitar player (they gave away at least a case during their set). The Dirtbombs gave way to TVOTR, who were just transcendentally good. I haven’t yet gotten intimately acquainted with the new album, but it didn’t matter. TVOTR plays with so much enthusiasm and ardor that only the most stubborn non-fan could legitimately claim not to be moved by it. As someone else noted last night, their spirit is common-cold contagious, and when they went into “Wolf Like Me” midway through the show, the fact that it was a Sunday night in a quiet and uneventful Midwestern town was utterly irrelevent. Their peformance of the song in the below video made my heart swell with pride to just be of the same species as those responsible for it.

The New Year: “The New Year”

October 15, 2008

A review I wrote of the new self-titled album by The New Year recently ran at Although it hasn’t gotten my highest number rating since I resumed writing CD reviews for Popmatters, it’s my favorite among the ones I’ve reviewed so far. The New Year has never been anything close to famous, and I think that has allowed them to age gracefully. This, their third album in ten years, is also their best, in my opinion. Listen to one of my favorite songs, “MMV.”

I’m thinkin’ Terence Trent D’Arby’s

October 2, 2008

Terence Trent D’Arby was one of my favorite musical artists back in 1988. At the time, I was 13, about to turn 14, and I also liked Al B. Sure, Keith Sweat and George Michael. But TTD held a special place in my heart — much like that apostrophe holds a special place in his last name.

“Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby” was a revelation to me. It was a gateway album to more experimental music, mostly because of the song “As Yet Untitled.”

“As Yet Untitled” was the first song I’d ever heard on a pop album that shamelessly ignored its responsibility to appeal to a commercial audience.  TTD was the first “alternative” pop star in my life.

“As Yet Untitled” still gets me. The concrete imagery — ” the printers ink,” “the cool September blows the seeds away,” those haunting “whoo ooohh oooohhs” — it still weakens my knees now. And as strange as it sounds, I think it made me a better music fan.