Middle Cyclone by Neko Case: A Review

neko-1

Ok, I know what you are going to say: George found himself another redhead to obsess over. And yes, Miss Case is gorgeous and a redhead. That aside, her latest album Middle Cyclone has completely blown me away.

Let me back up a bit.

About 4 years ago, my ex told me about this musician she loved named Neko Case. She prefaced that statement by saying, “You’ll love her. She’s a redhead.” Now for most people, that would seem like a harmless statement. A matter of fact statement describing the hair color of an individual, plain and simple. I knew better than that.

Whenever the subject of other women ever popped up in a conversation, even something as silly as discussing hair color, was a dangerous mine field of neurotic worries and complaints that inevitably led to a fight. One false move and BANG “I’m not good enough!” and BOOM “You want her!” A smile at a waitress and BANG “You must be sleeping with her!” Polite and chatty with the check out girl and BOOM “Is she your next date??”

And commenting on the beauty of a singer, any singer, no matter how ridiculously out of my league or sphere of influence meant that I simply MUST be actively trying to track them down so I could dump her and sleep with them.

Yup, she was a delightful little ball of Italian craziness. I know it’s weird, but I think her unpredictability was one of the reasons I loved her. It was entertaining to talk her down from her neurotic psycho episode and making up, well, that was always the best part. But living your life on a minefield, always unsure if the next thing you said would trigger a massive fight, that wore thin after awhile.

So when she mentioned that Neko Case was a redhead, I immediately shut down all interest in the conversation. I declined her offer to listen to her cd and even passed on a chance to see her live, all to avoid a massive blow out of a fight that I knew would come if I had shown interest in front of my ex. Secretly, on my own, I went and checked her out on my own online.

I’m not a country fan. Never have been.

Most modern country music annoys the hell out of me with it’s simplicity and jingoistic “America Fuck Yeah” attitude, and the incredibly depressing cry in your beer, sleep with your sister and go watch NASCAR reputation. But there are elements of the country sound that I love, elements that soar above the mundane and create something that can touch us all universally and not just the niche market of modern country music. The term “Alt-Country” has come into popularity in the last decade or so to categorize this sound.

Wilco, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo, Southern Culture On the Skids, Palace Brothers, Old 97s and even rockabilly and psychobilly bands fall into this category from time to time, although psychobilly definitely leans more towards it’s punk influences than it’s country inspired roots. My love for this know-it-when-I-hear-it genre of music has helped me appreciate artists like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline (early recordings) and even the subtle influences of artists like Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and especially the influence of Sun records on the defining sounds of country, blues, rockabilly and, of course, rock and roll.

When I was finally able to check out Neko Case, I fell in love. Her voice, sometimes grating, sometimes demanding, sometimes soaring and angelic, sometimes accusatory but always entertaining, captured my heart. Her lyrics, with their dark overtones, touch the perfect balance between bitterness and light, an ambiguous place that allows her voice to tell you the context, not just the words.

Middle Cyclone starts off with This Tornado Loves You, an appropriate begining. A song about love as a force of nature, strong and undeniable and yet, the subject of her affections is in denial, refusing to believe. And no matter how frenzied or powerful an emotion is, even if it has the power of a tornado, it can be deflated and defeated by a simple act of denial. This sets the tone for the album, a strong set from beginning to end. Songs of unrequited love, loss, frustration and hope, this album has the impression of an artist in a middle ground emotionally, lost and searching for something to hold on to, but the songs reveal that despite all of this, she is a confident and powerful creative force.

Her style on this album definitely still falls into the alt-country genre with some elements of indie pop, folk and even a little motown sound mixed in. I heard it, don’t mock me! 🙂

Her voice is at times heartbreakingly beautiful with an undercurrent of frustration and even hostility. The Next Time You Say Forever contains the memorable lyric “The next time you say forever, I’m going to punch you right in your face.” That one sentence tells a whole story by itself and thats what I love about her. On the title track, she laments “Someones made a fool of me ‘fore I could show them how it’s done.” The title is perhaps directly misleading, expecting a raucous song like Tornado, we get a soothing meditiation on unrequited love.

I could easily go track by track and mention every little aspect that spoke to me: a key lyric, a note, a reverb of a guitar, the sigh in her voice. There are few things to pick apart on this album. I will say that my only true complaint here is that some of the songs are too short, almost feeling incomplete, but it works within the themes and confines of the song. Like all good things, they must come to an end and some of these songs, you just want to go on and on. But I admire that about her writing: she gets the point out, never overstays her welcome and leaves you begging for more.

nekocase1

Yup, I’ve found a new redhead to obsess over, just wish I could have found her sooner….

Pictures of My Little Vacation

Relaxed.
That’s how I feel right now. In an hour or so, I have to return to work, but I wanted to come on here and share some of the sights from my little foray into western New York.I plan on writing a long blog about the silliness of the last few days. I want to thank 2LazyDogs for being the perfect tour guide and partner in crime.
dock

Docks on Lake Erie

ice

Ice on the lake.

swan

random swan

carphoto

Derelict Car

freezing

Freezing on Lake Chautauqua with my gracious host 2LD.

niagara11

Niagara

rainbow

Rainbow

more-beauty

still-life-with-rapids

frozen-hosts-2

drumsticks

Melanie playing with the Hard Rock Cafe drumsticks I gave her.

packed-in1

Sirsy packs everyone in.

jammed-together

It was a beautiful couple of days full of good food, great conversation, amazing sights and ended with a night of music and silliness. I’ll write more later, but hopefully this will do for now.

Saying Goodbye To A Song or How Industrial Music Came Into My Life

139

i still recall the taste of your tears
echoing your voice just like the ringing in my ears
my favorite dreams of you still wash ashore
scraping through my head 'till i don't want to sleep anymore

you make this all go away
you make this all go away
i'm down to just one thing
and i'm starting to scare myself
you make this all go away
you make this all go away
i just want something
i just want something i can never have

you always were the one to show me how
back then i couldn't do the things that i can do now
this thing is slowly taking me apart
grey would be the color if i had a heart
come on tell me

you make this all go away
you make this all go away
i'm down to just one thing
and i'm starting to scare myself
you make this all go away
you make this all go away
i just want something
i just want something i can never have

in this place it seems like such a shame
though it all looks different now,
i know it's still the same
everywhere i look you're all i see
just a fading fucking reminder of who i used to be
come on tell me

you make this all go away
you make this all go away
i'm down to just one thing
and i'm starting to scare myself
you make this all go away
you make it all go away
i just want something
i just want something i can never have
i just want something i can never have

“Something I Can Never Have” – Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine

I don’t usually include song lyrics in my writing. Personally, I like to have an original take on a well founded idea, expressing my own version or variation of the theme. The individualist in me, the snarky little punk rocker that won’t go away, the artist looking for his creative outlet doesn’t like being overwritten by someone elses words and reproducing them here causes a minor crisis of faith in myself and my abilities. Do I really have so little to say about something that I have to use someone elses thoughts to express my true feelings?
When I was a DJ at Keene State College radio, a friend of mine introduced me to industrial music. I was completely clueless on the subject up til then. My life at that point was a whirlwind of punk rock, celtic, ska and the Boston music scene. I had never heard of the concept of industrial music. What did that mean?
My life was quickly saturated with the heavy, noisy, angsty and downright dirty nasty beats of the industrial scene. Many bands flowed in and out of this genre, most prominently:
KMFDM, Front Line Assembly, Front 242, Ministry, Einsturzende Neaubauten, Laibach, Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy, The Revolting Cocks, Meat Beat Manifesto, Sister Machine Gun, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Pigface and of course, Nine Inch Nails. I fell in love with the intensity of the music, the noise, the distortion, challenging what really constituted a song. They introduced elements into music that were sometimes shocking but ultimately infectious and satisfying. Heavy use of looping, drum machines, samples, sound effects and simple things like a trash can being smashed across the stage entered into my little world of music. Next to techno and house music, this was far far from my safe roots of the simple 3 piece punk bands I had grown up with. The live stage presence of bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (8 members, sometimes more) compared to the pared down presence of alot of industrial bands was at first confusing to my punk rock sensibilities.
When I saw KMFDM for the first time, En Esch was prowling the front of the stage while Sascha stood surrounded by a bank of keyboards and samplers. That was when I got it. Industrial was the new disco!
Ok, all you haters out there, don’t kill me just yet. Let me explain.
Early industrial, before it’s inevitable foray into and co-opting by the metal scene, was all about style, a look and a ferocious dirty beat. At it’s core, it was exactly like disco. The music was there to move your ass! And where disco stopped at telling you to shake your money maker, industrial music took it to another level. They cranked up the volume, added in more beats, co-opted the s&m culture and created a whole world unto itself. A subculture was born that encapsulated this dark angry electronic music and gave a voice to the s&m scene, thrusting elements of that scene into the mainstream. I’m not much of a fan of the whole s&m thing, although I do own a pair of hand cuffs and have been known to wear a dog collar back in the day, but thats beside the point. 🙂 I fell deeply in love with this music.
I was still a punk rocker at heart but industrial music had laid claim to a portion of it. Within a year, I was the DJ for the industrial music show on the college station. The “Soundstorm” was born! Ok, I know it was a cheesy title, but what else would you expect from a self involved brooding artist college kid? As the official “industrial” dj, I had the opportunity to talk to labels and scored tickets to see and interview different bands. My first big show? Ministry!
I was awestruck by their amazing live show. Two drummers! Three People on guitars, one bass player and 3 on samples and keyboards. And next to them, a revolving door of vocalists from Al Jourgansen (the lead singer) to Chris Connelly and even my old punk rock hero Jello Biafra. It was an amazing experience. The opening to the song “Breathe” is basically Bill Rieflin and Martin Atkins doing their version of “Dualling Banjos” but on drum sets! The incredible noise of that Ministry show blew me away! I was a fan of metal bands to an extent ( saw Metallica 4 times during the Justice for All Tour) but never had I seen or heard a fusion of metal with the programmed nastiness of industrial music and boy did Ministry nail it. This show, this line up, this amazing piece of music was a simple taste of things to come. The merging of metal and industrial music seemed almost inevitable: the style and flash of both genres, the driving beats, the noise, the guitars, the pomp and circumstance…it was all there! Ministry perfected it! Then Trent came along and took it one step further….

Pretty Hate Machine entered my life at one of the worst and the most opportune times in my little life. I had just had my first ‘real’ breakup. It was a heart wrenching, unfair and downright cruel breakup. I was left totally depressed and angry. I wanted to lash out at everyone around me, but instead, I bottled it up. I kept it hidden. I couldn’t face how things had fallen apart.

Then, late one night, I was doing an overnight shift at WKNH. The General Manager made a request and went into the library and pulled out Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine. I played “Head Like A Hole” and immediately fell in love with the music. The next morning, I went out and bought my own copy and played it non stop for about a week or so. NIN soon became a regular staple of my first show and the song “Something I Can Never Have” became my official “woe is me, I done been dumped again” theme song. Reznor had created an album full of heartbreak and anger that was painfully human in it’s approach to industrial music. From the mechanized militant march of bands like KMFDM and the all out sensory assault of Ministry, NIN dug even deeper and attacked your heart and soul. He managed a feat that few other artists had ever managed up to then: his music made me cry.

Over the years, I come back to this album over and over again. Whenever I feel down. Whenever something went wrong in my life. Bad day at work? Pop in a little angry NIN and the day was that much darker and I wallowed in my own self pity. But most of all, I came back to this album after a bad break up. And for all the angry, pissed off posturing on this album the one song I cling to when my heart is broken is the simplest song of all. The caustic, accusatory lyrics of “Something I can Never Have” are the penultimate of self indulgence and self pity. It encapsulates a total mental breakdown and a damn you and fuck the world attitude that we all love to wallow in when our heart has been handed to us. I’ve always embraced this, no matter how old I get, when my heart gets ripped out of my chest, I fall back to that angry little punk rocker kid wrapped up in his black trench coat, headphones on, pumping the NIN, blocking out the world. These past two weeks, I revisited this attitude for a bit….

I found myself re-reading the lyrics to “Something” and it suddenly dawned on me: why am I listening to this? It was like something inside me snapped and slapped me in the face. “Why are you depressed and angry? NOTHING is worth this much sorrow!” My eyes were opened and I realized, for the first time in a long time, that I have an amazing life, full of wonderful family and friends and I have no right and no excuse to wallow in self pity. It is an insult to everyone I know, everyone I love, to sit here and feel sorry for myself when they have made my life so wonderful.

So I made a hard decision….It was time to retire this song.

I’m sure somewhere, there is an equally dissaffected youth looking for a soundtrack for their depression. And let me tell you, I can think of no better theme song than “Something”, but for me…I’m letting it go. I do not want something I can never have. I want to appreciate and love what I do have in my life, starting right now.

I’m a Rocky Horror Fan or Lets Do The Time Warp Again!

Last night, or rather, early this morning, it happened again. It has been almost 5 years since I have seen the film and over 10 since I saw the live production. Seacoast Repertory theater in Portsmouth NH was the place. The last time I had seen the live musical was at this very same theater during it’s very first run there. It wasn’t quite as racy back them. The elements of the play were still there, but it was played less as a baudy, campy sex romp musical and more as a straightforward broadway musical with sexual elemnts hinted at but not exactly explored. They repoduced it from the word to the stage almost verbatim, greatly resembling the movie.

From the opening number of “Science Fiction Double Feature” capped by the two actresses playing Magenta and Columbia stopping and briefly making out, I knew we were in for a different sort of ride this time.

Before I get into that though, let me explain something: I LOVE The Rocky Horror Picture Show!!!! In the late 80’s, during my time as a disaffected punk rocker hanging out in Boston, friends of mine had always talked about the wild crowds at this movie that played at midnite off Harvard Square at the Church Street theater (still plays there!!). They told me of the freakshow cast of characters who acted out the movie, the yelling at the screen (“callbacks”), tossing rice and toast and squirting people with water guns. I was intrigued.

So one night, after a show at the Rat featuring a bunch of no name bands, we went to Harvard Square looking for fun and excitement and ended up in line with about 200 people all dressed in varying forms of underwear and drag. I was a little hesitant at first to get in line with a row of drag queens but even before I went into the theater, I realized I could relate to these fans: this was their release, much the same way punk rock was for me. The fanatical cult like following around this film was identical to my interest in punk. I quickly realized I was going to enjoy myself.

Once inside the theater, a man dressed in a corset and boa grabbed a microphone and stood up in front of the screen. He surveyed the crowd for the moment, glaring at the everyone till the talking simmered down to a dull roar.

“How the FUCK is everyone tonite?????”, he screamed into the microphone. The crowd burst into applause, cat calls and whoops. “I’d like to give a warm and wet welcome to all you virgins out there! Stand up VIRGINS!!!!!”

I leaned over to one of my friends, “What does he mean by virgins?”

“It means if you have never been to the movie before, you have to stand up” my friend Eric whispered.

I nodded and promptly stood up.

Screams of “Virgin” went up all around me, a spotlight briefly pointed in my direction and I was showered with rice and squirts of water. Thoroughly soaked and covered in rice, the green dye I had used in my hair running down my face, I stood there laughing and before the spotlight left me, took a short bow and sat down.

“Who the fuck said you could sit down Virgin??? Stand the fuck back up!” the guy with the mic screamed.

I quickly took my place in the aisle again, trying not to laugh too hard.

The spotlight worked around the room and the humiliation was repeated over and over. At the end, the guy with the mic laughed maniacally.

“There, now you have all been fucked good and proper! Consider your cherries busted, Virgins!”

From that moment on, I was a fan!

Now, I know alot of people who decry the whole experience based on the film and its lack of a coherent story, nonsensical dialogue and overtly (for its time anyway) sexual themes. The “I’m too cool for the room” types who don’t go to “such things”, considering them to be crass or beneath them are the usual suspects who call the movie a waste of time. And I’m here to tell you: yes, the movie is awful! But in that awfulness, it somehow becomes awesome! The concept of “so bad it’s good” was made for just such an experience.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

The story is quite simple: boy proposes to girl at friends wedding. Girl accepts and they head off into the night to share the good news with their former teacher. Boy doesn’t understand how flat tires work and they become stranded outside a lonely castle. After getting soaked in the rain, they are invited into the castle and the shenanigans begin.

Cast of characters:

Frank N Furter – Diabolical mad scientist sweet transvestite from transexual transylvania. Looks good in drag, but very emotional and prone to temper tantrums and jealous rages that usually result in homicide. Is eventually murdered because his lifestyle was too extreme.

Riff Raff – House handyman. Has random incestuous elbow sex with his sister Magenta. He’s a little down because he thought you were the Candy Man. Huge inferiority complex that results in multiple homicides.

Magenta – A Domestic. Cackles alot. Has random incestuous elbow sex with her brother Riff Raff. Disapproves of Frank’s methods and wants nothing more than to return to their home planet.

Columbia – Fan of Frankie. Loves Eddie. Frankie kills Eddie. Sacrifices herself to try to save Frank. Who said love makes sense? Steals the show by being overbearingly cute.

Rocky – Frank’s creation with blond hair and a tan. He has the Charles Atlas Seal of Approval despite having half of Eddie’s brain and he’s good for Frankies “Tension”. Sleeps with Frankie and Janet before being murdered.

Eddie – Old lover of Frank’s and Columbia’s boyfriend. Has had half his brain removed to create Rocky but has enough energy to pop out of the meat locker for one song. Frank, who doesn’t like being upstaged, murders him. Later, what exactly did they have for dinner?? Dr. Scott is his Uncle.

Brad – ASSHOLE!! Mild mannered hero, engaged to Janet. Doesn’t plan ahead very well when it comes to road trips and doesn’t realize that castles don’t have phones! Seems very confused by the Transylvanian lifestyle but decides to play along good naturedly. Frankie fucks the shit out of him.

Janet – SLUT!! Naive and prone to fainting, she quickly adapts to the Tranylvanian lifestyle. Engaged to Brad. Is tricked into sex with Frank and realizes she wants to be dirty and sleeps with Rocky (despite her proclamations that she doesn’t like men with too many muscles) angering Frankie and confusing Brad further.

Dr Scott – Comes to the castle looking for his nephew Eddie. Rival scientist, working on similar undefined time warp space travel science that Frankie is working on. His science class is the whole reason Janet and Brad ever met. If it wasn’t for this wheelchair bound prick, this whole sorry excuse for a story would never have happened! Possibly a nazi.

Despite the incredibly muddled story and dubious character relationships and the campiness of the whole thing, dervitive of everything from Frankenstein films to red scare sci-fi of the 50’s and early 60’s, this movie and the broadway musical shines through it’s music and insane cast of characters. Classic tunes written by Richard O’Brien liven up the wooden and disjointed story to the point where the story is just a device to link you to the next song.

The best sequence in the whole film and musical is “Time Warp”. A raucous musical number involving almost the entire cast that tears the place apart and sets the stage for one of the best entrances ever in film. If you have never seen this, check below. When Tim Curry throws off the cape for the first time, for the uninitiated, this is a shocking reveal of the films true purpose and underlying storylines. From that point on, the movie becomes a tangled web of sex, murder, aliens and time travel.

What more could you possibly want?

 Action! Drama! Love! Sex! Music! Oral Sex! Dancing! More Sex! Aliens! Re-animated monsters!

So anyway, back to friday night. We had planned this for weeks and managed to gather a small army to go see the live production. The last time I went to see this particular production, there had been a few a few people who dressed up, but nothing too serious. In fact, for an RHPS crowd, they were quite tame (well, aside from the innate crudeness of the callbacks). The people who dressed up for this show seemed to have all gone shopping at  the same lingerie store. No one under 17 was admitted, according to the sign outfront which was a good thing since almost everyone who showed up were hanging out of their clothes.

Here are my friends from friday night:

On a side not, my friends Jared and James won the costume contest before the show started. Jared is in the lab coat and James is in the bowtie and jacket in the back, both doing their own versions of Brad Majors. The voting was by cheering, so we had planned to cheer as loud as possible, but when they hit the stage at the same time, the whole place stood up and screamed for them. I remember looking around thinking we couldn’t have planned that better if we tried. The place literally erupted and they were declared the winners.

And this was tame! Missing a couple people here, but you get the idea. The production of Rocky Horror was phenomenal! Their interpretation was heavily slanted towards the sexually explicit and for anyone in the crowd with even a light dash of homophobia, this would have been a very uncomfortable 2 hours of their life. The cast peppered their act with alot of groping (poor Janet alone  was manhandled by the entire cast), tongue kissing, crotch grabbing, face planting into crotches, etc. You get the idea. These shenanigans prompted lots of cat calls and and cheering from the crowd.

Magenta was re-interpreted as a sort of dominatrix, constantly cracking a riding crop on the floor or peoples asses. Columbia was amazingly cute as usual. Riff Raff was more of a horny zombie with his face painted with a Joker red smile prompting one person to callback “Hey Riff, Why So Serious????” And Frankie…ah, dear old Frank. What can I say about him? He seemed to be channeling Paul Lynde and somehow giving that character sex appeal. He was amazing and, as any good Frank should, completely ruled that show.

All in all, it was great time and re-invigorated my former addiction to this experience. Upon leaving for the night, I made a promise to myself. It was time to head back down to Cambridge. It was time to head back to Church St and see the movie again and relive a little bit of my youth. Talk about time warps….

This is a shortened version of the song from the production I saw and I swear to you, sounds so much better live!!

Music that is rockin my cd player (stolen from 2LD)

As the title implies, I stole this from 2LazyDogs. I have been a little sick for the past week and just been avoiding writing anything and I was happy as hell to see a MEME I could sink my teeth into. So here is the music that is rocking my socks right now! I’m not tagging anyone for this but feel free to steal , rinse, lather and repeat! 🙂

The Horrorpops

How can you not love this band? Psychobilly silliness, gorgeous singer and goth girl go-go dancers!

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Old school video from the old days of the Boston punk scene…ah, memories.

Dropkick Murphys

The dvd that this video comes from has yours truly toasting the camera during one of the songs, albeit from a distance….

 The Dresden Dolls

Been following these two for ages and absolutely love the quirkiness and the whole punk cabaret aesthetic.

SIRSY

Gotta give a shout out to my good friends from Albany. Not the best sound on this video but you may notice a dashing young man in black snapping photos from the crowd…..

Elizabeth and the Catapult

This video has nothing to do with the band. Funny juxtaposition with World Of Warcraft and this song…love it.  Yup, I’m a geek. First heard this band on NPR and been loving them ever since.

The White Stripes

I love the Stripes and damn this album is so loud and almost perfect from beginning to end!

The Raconteurs

More silliness from Mr White and his co-conspirators. This album is another testimony to his diversity and guitar skills.

Suicide City

Yup, I had to add a little screamo-silliness! Love the bass player and they put on a hell of a show!

Soul Coughing

Love this song and I can’t get it out of my head!!!

LOURDS

And finally, my friends from New York City. Not the best sound on this video but you can hear the violin and guitar clearly as well as Miss Lourds voice and again, you may notice a certain photographer in the audience…..

Horrorpops or Welcome Back The Rockabilly!

 

How could you not fall in love with this woman??

My musical vision and tastes have been a little narrow lately. I’ve been focusing on my own little local scene and the careers of my good friends. My devotion and friendship had blinded me to the music beyond my borders and my circle of friends. Then, I heard her.

Listening to NPR the other day, a story came on about about the resurgence of rockabilly and psychobilly around the world. And not just the music, but whole aesthetic that comes along with it : tattoos, Betty Page hairdos, flat tops, leather, etc. Think the movie The Outsiders, but with alot more attitude and ink. I had always been a fan of The Reverend Horton Heat, Ronnie Dawson and other bands that fell under the psychobilly umbrella during the early 90’s, but over time, well, I sorta lost interest in the uniqueness of the sound and the melding of old school rockabilly with punk rock. The scene didn’t notice my indifference, the scene carried on and grew stronger and stronger. The story from NPR was illustrating it’s growth and popularity in places like Denmark, the UK, Belgium, Amsterdam and even in Japan. One of the bands they mentioned was the Horrorpops.

I’m embarassed to admit that I am definitely coming late to this party. The Horrorpops have been around since 1996 and I’m only just now hearing them for the first time. With my encyclopedic knowledge of most things in the alternative rock arena, I had to admit, I had never heard of them. The NPR piece played a sample…and I completely fell in love. How could you not? This amazing woman with an incredible voice rocking out with a stand up bass??? Their recordings really allow you to hear every pluck of the strings as she plays her custom made stand up bass, built just for her by her husband (DAMMIT!!) Kim Nekroman, whose own band, the Nekromantix, produce their own brand of dark psychobilly. Nekroman is also in the Horrorpops playing guitar. I went straight from work to Bullmoose Music and bought their cds, after adding them on the crackspace as well. Now I just need to see them live and so do you!!! If you hear about them playing in your area, run, don’t walk, to that show!!! I’ll probably see you there…. 🙂

http://www.myspace.com/thehorrorpops

 

Music or Why I Wake Up In The Morning

 

 I’m a second generation punk rocker. I came in when new wave was wiping the slate clean by mixing in jamaican rhythms and rock steady beats. Punk was still alive and still strong, but it was taking a break from the mainstream. My very first concert was The Clash, who at the time, were fusing their sound with the new wave and creating some of the best music of our generation. As the concert film says when the Clash are being brought to the stage ; “The ONLY band that Matters!” I was 9 years old when I saw Joe Strummer and the boys on stage. I wish I could have been older so I could appreciate the moment better and fully drink in the experience of seeing these rock icons on stage.

It would be almost 10 years before I would get to see Joe Strummer on a stage again. In that time, my interest in music grew and grew. One of the great things about growing up in New Hampshire during the 80’s was that there wasn’t alot to do. I know, that doesn’t sound right and at the time, I know I was a bored kid but that boredom forced us to go out and discover things and make our own fun. I lived by the ocean (still do) and most of my fun involved going to the music store in the mall, buying the latest vinyl (later,tapes), heading down to the beach and listening to music. The two things became intertwined for me: music and the ocean. Each having their own rhythms, each supplying a soundtrack for my life. Many summer nights, we would sit on the rockwall, listening to everything from Michael Jackson (yes, just like everyone else, I owned the Thriller album) to the Dead Kennedys and of course, my beloved Clash.

For awhile, I had two record collections. One was the stack that I let my friends listen to all the time, full of the mainstream silliness (Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Motley Crue, etc) and then there was the other collection. The other collection was my little secret, only brought out on special occassions. Full of the Clash, the Jam, the Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, MC5, Blondie, Iggy and the Stooges, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen and not to mention countless local bands and Boston bands of the street punk era. This was the collection I kept hidden from the ‘preppie’ crowd because it was uncool to be a punk. Despite the treatment I received from the people in my school, I wanted desperately to fit in. I dressed conservatively, pretended not to really like the very thing that moved my soul. I was just as fake as the people I spent my days with. When I was outside the confines of my small town and hanging out with kids who, like me, held in this secret love for punk rock and all it stood for, only then did I feel like I was myself.

Finally, in my sophmore year of high school, I came out of the closet and revealed to everyone that indeed, I was a PUNK ROCK KID! I dyed my hair blue, bought some combat boots from a surplus store, a long black trenchcoat from Chess King that I proceeded to cover in patches and pins and even a metal chain that ran across the back of the shoulders. I had a dog collar necklace with a padlock in the front, just like Sid Vicious. My jeans were torn in the knees and patched with band patches. Literally overnight, in the eyes of my peers at school, I went from normal kid to punk rocker. As my friend Jeremy put it : “Wow, you must have had one hell of a weekend!”

The reason behind my boldness wasn’t just to live my life as I truly was but I was influenced by other people in school. I grew up down the street from Joe King, the lead singer for the Queers. No, they were not a gay punk rock band, the name was picked in the early 80’s and it stuck. One of his band mates was a guy in a grade below me named Chris Barnard (B-Face) who had the same kind of transformation: one day, he looked like any other metalhead kid in the school and the next, he showed up with orange spiked hair and was rocking the whole punk rock halloween costume. People were shocked, but accepting. I thought if he can do it, why can’t I?

My experience was vastly different. My assumption of acceptance was based on the experience of a kid who was already popular and in with the cliques at school. I was already the freaky outsider kid to begin with. Add the colored hair and combat boots and well, now I was the scary outsider kid. Fights and trying to avoid them became a daily occurrence. I tried out for football when my hair was cut in a mohawk and was beaten by most of the football team for the way I looked. The beach, never the most accepting place when it came to strangeness, became a dangerous place for me since other kids, looking for any reason to fight anyone, always seemed to make a beeline for me. Usually, I would hear “Nice hair faggot!!” and then be tackled to the gound and have to fight to get back up. Ah, good times.

But it wasn’t all bad. By now, I was old enough to drive and had friends who could drive and we would head down to Boston for shows together. We found TAAANG! Records, who used to have their headquarters in Cambridge MA, down the road from Harvard Square. This was my refuge, my home away from home. We would hang out in the square or in fron of their headquarters, meeting bands, talking with musicians, hanging out with other punks and all going en masse to local shows. I became part of a ‘scene’,  I belonged. I found a place where the freaks and punks all hung out together for the love of one thing: the music. Boston was wild back then: one wrong turn and you would end up in Roxbury which, if you grew up in New England in the 80’s, getting lost in Roxbury is one of those horror stories everyone understands…. The Boston scene was amazing! Every weekend, we would head down to Harvard Square, meet up with the rest of the crowd and head to shows. I loved it! I lived for it! I would make it through another miserable week at school and my part time job just so on the weekends, I could head into Boston and join my people. And on the rare occasion we could get away, we even snuck down to NYC to see a show at the classic CBGB’s. That was almost like a religious pilgrimmage when we set foot in that club. My first time was to see the Exploited, I’ll never forget walking in and seeing a wave of mohawks lined up in front of me.

The music brought us all together,  misfits finding camaraderie through punk rock. Some weekends, we even hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show (but thats a whole OTHER blog) but for the most part, we would hit shows at the Rat, Middle East, The Channel, old Lansdowne St, Cask and Flagon. I’m surprised I have any hearing at all these days… 🙂 

In 1989, I saw the Pogues for the very first time in Boston MA. This was an eye opening experience for me. At the time, I was so wrapped up in being punk, that other music had been left behind. And some of my old favorites, including the Clash, had been collecting dust at the back of my record collection while the more hardcore punk was getting some regular airplay. My friend Garrett played the Pogues for me while we were heading to Manchester NH for some party. I almost had to pull over, I was so overwhelmed by the sound. Traditional irish music mixed with punk aesthetics and rhythms. Amazing!! I was thoroughly taken with them and knew that the next time they played here in the states, I was going. For so long, my musical vision had been narrowed but the Pogues really opened my eyes and broadened my interest. Suddenly, I was listening to Sinead O’Connor, the Pogues, the Chieftains, etc. All music I would have scoffed at earlier, I found myself wrapped up in.

The Orpheum, Boston MA: I was right near the front row when the show started. Some forgettable opening bands had finally cleared the stage and the Pogues were ready to hit the stage. There was some delay (we would later find out that they had to revive Shane McGowan who was found in a drunken stupor in his dressing room) but finally the lights went down again and the unmistakable opening of “IF I SHould Fall From Grace With God” started up. Shane was shoved onstage, beer in hand and began belting out the song. I was entranced, like the first time I had ever heard punk rock, the music became a transformative experience. This was beyond a rock concert, it was a cultural awakening for me, reminding me of the joy and power of music.

And there, standing behind Shane, playing guitar and singing along, was Joe Strummer. Unannounced, unbilled and totally by surprise, there was my punk rock hero, singing with the Pogues. I was awe struck. My hero, the man whose music changed my life in many profound ways was here again, here at a moment where I was discovering this new sound. He looked as happy as ever. The Pogues gave him lead singing duties on a couple songs, but mostly, he was back up for Shane. They did a cover of the Clashs “London Calling” with Shane and Joe sharing vocal duties and I wanted to cry. That one song felt like my worlds were colliding: my old punk rock life and my new soon to be adult life. Joe had obviously mellowed over the 10 years since the first time I had ever seen him. Older, grayer, more mature but still able to be a rock star.

The following year was college and that same year, Perry Farrell put together the first Lollapalooza tour. Alternative music would burst onto mainstream radio, no longer condemned to the world of college radio. And our little club, the misfits, the rejected, the disaffected, the downright crazy kids that had kept punk and alternative music alive on the fringe, would be thrust into the spotlight and the outcasts became the mainstream. The scene changed quickly from a reclusive little club and shows in dingey bars and clubs to arena rock shows and record moguls. Gone were the intimate little shows we loved and cherished. For those of us who were there from the beginning, it was hard to adjust and grow with the music. I learned to change and evolve and grow beyond the halloween costume and punk postering to a genuine love for all music, but at heart, deep down in my soul, I’m still that teenager with the blue mohawk and the combat boots and I’m looking forwad to the next show.

Counting Breathes : For Pam (Fall 2006)

Counting Breathes

“What do you think her wishes are?”

“Are we doing the right thing?”

“How do we live with our decision?”

My sister Pam died friday afternoon at 1:20 pm. It wasn’t sudden. It wasn’t unexpected. We just weren’t ready.

Pam had a hard life. At the age of 12, she fell off of a bicycle my uncle had shown her how to ride. She fell head first over the front of the bike and fractured her skull. Although she would heal from this injury, it wouild lead to lifetime of seizures. Random moments that would erase her memory temporarily and required a day or so for her to be herself again. Another result of this condition was hydrocephalus, a problem that would come back to haunt her later in life.

I was born when Pam was in her late teens. My mother worked full time and as a result, Pam took over the responsibilities for me in my early childhood. My father, during my early youth, was in the final stages of his cancer. He died in 76 when I was 4 years old. Pam became like a second mother for me, helping raise me while mom worked.

All of my best childhood memories involved Pam. Even my first kiss was her fault: she left me alone in her car with a little girl called Randa. We were in kindergerten at the time and when she pulled into the Star Market parking lot to run inside and grab cigarrettes. We pretended to be asleep and when Randa put her head on my little shoulder, I stole my first kiss.

Pam stood all of 4 feet and maybe 9 or 10 inches. By 4th grade, I was taller than her. She had an old Plymouth Fury, a huge bomber of an old car that she drove by staring through the steering wheel. If you saw the car from a distance, you would swear there was no driver. Whenever I was taken clothes shopping as a kid, she would grudgingly come along because she bought most of her clothes in the kids section too. She had long straight black hair, a throwback to our Native American heritage. She was always proud of her waist length hair, something she had til her dying day.

Many times, my sister would take me on road trips. I had seen her use checks before and with no concrete understanding of how money worked, whenever she said she couldn’t buy me a donut or a soda, I would pipe up and say,”Just write a check for it!!” She thought that was hysterical and would tell that story over and over. We would take day trips to the white mountains, hang out with her biker friends and spend long days just driving. She had a little red portable 8 track player that she kept on the front seat between us. When we would get someplace where we couldn’t recieve her favorite stations, she would pop in an 8 track. I remember “Bat Out of Hell” getting alot of airplay one summer.

When I was 9, I went with her and a bunch of other people to my first concert. I remember several bands playing that day but the one that stood out was The Clash. I did not understand their importance then, but this one concert changed my whole view of what music was and what it did for me. I thank Pam every day for that, whether she meant to or not, she profoundly shaped my tastes in music.

In the mid 80’s, while my sister and her future husband were living out in Kittery Point, she had a car accident. The accident shattered the passenger window next to her face. Tiny shards of glass became embedded into her cheeks, pieces so fine that for years afterwards, a piece would occassionally surface over and over again. Her complexion changed from this experience. Due to the accident, her cheeks had the appearance like she had bad acne: she wasn’t disfigured, but in her mind, she no longer considered herself pretty. She would get upset whenever someone took her picture, doing her best to hide her face. This went on for years until her wedding day to Richard. I was in 8th grade and for the first time in years, she allowed me to take her picture. She was beaming and happy that day, something I had not seen years. I look at the photos now and remember that day like it was yesterday.

When I was the first person in the Parnell family to graduate from high school, she cheered the loudest. I remember being up on that stage and staring at the blank faces of my fellow students. They had all been cheering and applauding everyone before me but when I hit the stage, dead silence. My heart sank: people I spent 12 years with and even then, at the moment of our departure from that wretched experience we call high school, even then they had to play the popularity card and shun me as they had done for 12 years. For a moment, I wanted to grab the mic from Principal Zito’s hands and scream “GO FUCK YOURSELVES!!!!” at my classmates. Just then I heard a loud “WOOHOO!!!” coming from the bleachers, and there was Pam, jumping up and down with her arms in the air, waving to me. I smiled, took my diploma and never looked back.

College years and my 20’s are a bit of a blur for me. I started to build a life for myself and relied on my mom for updates about the family. Slowly, I started to realize all was not well with my sister. She hidit well from me.

Since the car accident, she had steady pain in her back and neck, pain that would periodically creep up on her. She saw many specialists over the years but none of them knew what was wrong. And then the seizures started increasing in frequency. Thats when we found out that, due to her hydrocephalus, there was an excessive amount of fluid in her skull and the pressure was beyond a tolerable threshold and they were forced to put a shunt into her skull that drained fluid into her stomach. She had many operations to do this because, due to her accident as a child, her brain had healed abnormally, clinging to the sides of her skull in places, leaving little room for the fluid and even less room for them to safely put in a shunt. During this time, she started to lose weight.

When the shunt was finely successfully implanted, the doctors found another problem. With the countless mri’s she had to endure, several showed damage to her spinal column in her neck. Another round of operations to try to correct her neck. More weight loss. The final operation was the worst: they removed tendons from the front of her neck. Without the tendons, she could no longer hold up her head on her own. She walked around with her head slumped over and to the side. She lost more weight.

Then 3 years ago, she had a stroke. We all thought we were going to lose her then. In the hospital room, she was surrounded by friends and family who loved her. She was mumbling to herself alot, like she in a conversation with someone. Nobody knew what to make of it. She was unconscious that first day but the second day was different.

I don’t know why, but as I was racing up to visit her in the hospital. I stopped off and got her favorite coffee: reg coffee, extra extra. No flavors for her. As she told me once “Hazelnut and french vanilla are for pussies!!!!”. She was never one to mince words. Armed with her coffee, I entered her room to what we all thought was her deathbed. I put the coffee down next to her and she opened her eyes.

“Boy that smells good!!” she said, much to everyones shock. We got her a straw and she happily sipped her coffee. She had no idea what day it was but she explained to us that she had spent what she thought were days arguing with Grandma. Grandma had come to visit her and told her it wasn’t her time and she needed to go back and no matter what Pam said to her, Grandma refused to listen and told her she was needed elsewhere and reluctantly, she had come back. At this point, I should add that Grandma had been dead 33 years. Whether this all happened in her mind or what, I would not begin to guess.

Her rehab was slow, painful and for every step forward, there were several steps back. She was confined to a wheelchair but was resolute about walking again, managing to get herself upright in a walker and around counters. Her body was wracked with pain 24 hours a day and as a result, she had an oxycontin pump installed. This cracked me up to no end because the thing was on a timer. She would be in midsentence telling you about something important when the drug would kick in and she would stop and just giggle for a minute and forget what she was talking about.

Due to the stroke, not only was her mobility limited but so was her short term memory. She would forget little details at first, which was no big deal, but as time went on, she couldn’t recognize names right away or voices. I always had to add “your brother” when I said my name to her. Then she would perk up and say “Hi Brother Dear!!” The memory loss also resulted in the police breaking down the front door of the house on three seperate occassions. She had an emergency alert button on her phone that immediately summoned the police to her house. She would forget what it was for and press it, reulting in the police showing up at their downstairs door and since she had no way of answering, the cops would just break in. Three times this happend and three times, poor Richard would have to install a brand new door.

She was a fighter. She was stubborn and refused to give up on herself. And her husband Richard was a saint and a half! He took care of her so well. A truly remarkable man who did what none of us could have done and when he couldn’t handle things, he had caregivers who would look after her while he was working or away on a training trip for work.

Tuesday morning. This week.

I wake up to my cell phone ringing. I grabbed it and ran outside in my bathrobe so I could have a signal. Richard never called me unless it was important. I flip open the phone and all I hear is hysterical crying. From Richard, the saint, the man who could handle anything. I knew it was bad. He said they were at the ICU at Frisbie hospital and the doctors told him to get family there as soon as possible.

She had been taken to the hospital because she was running a fever. In the ambulance ride over, she began to complain about her breathing. Suddenly she wasn’t breathing and she asked for them to insert the tubes into her lungs so she could breathe. That was the last thing anyone ever heard her say. Her fever spiked, her breathing now dependant on a machine, she slipped into a coma. When we got there, my tiny little sister was covered in tubes. Her breathing caused her body to heave up and to the left. Every breath looked labored and painful. Occassionally, she would grimace, but as those first few hours went on, all expression stopped.

My mom was ashen wehn we first entered the icu. I thought she was going to fall over so I led her to a chair next to the bed where she held my sisters hand. Richard was in the corner of the room. I had never seen him like this. I think he knew then. Pam was still fighting but her body was losing whatever war it was raging.

Wednsday

I had to work all day but kept my cell phone close by me. Richard called to let me know she had stabilized. The doctors also had a good idea what was causing this. In the past year, Pam had been permanently cathaterized since she could not control those functions. An infection from the cathater had spread to her bladder, to her kidneys. Her tiny body was fighting a massive infection.

Thursday

Things got worse. Just when she had been showing signs of some minor improvement (returned warmth to her extremities , lowered blood pressure) the infection spread throughout her entire body. Her kidneys were shutting down. Sitting in the icu, the doctor explained about DNR. I didn’t want to listen. I wanted some sign from Pam. I wanted her to open her eyes. I wanted her to see me, smile, hear her make fun of my weight, my hair, something. This mass of tubes that shifted with every single wracking breathe was not my sister. My sister was no longer there.

Friday

Richard calls us at 8am.

“Come up now.”

When my mother and I arrived, we knew that what we didn’t want to face was finally here. My sister could no ,longer breathe on her own at all and her heart was still beating due to a complex solution of drugs that I did not understand. I crashed into a chair. One of my sisters hands was sticking out from under the blanket, swollen, mottled, the tips turning purple. Looking at her face, her pallor had become a sort of yellowy waxen appearance. Every breathe still caused her body to heave to one side but there was less a sense that it was bothering her. I started to cry. The doctor came in.

“What were her wishes? Did she wish to have these extraordinary measures taken for her benefit?”

Richard looked at me and then to my mom then back to me.

“What do you think? Would Pam want this?” Richard asked me, the tears rolling down his face into his long beard.

I didn’t know what to say. How was this my decision? Why did my opinion matter? I said, “look, I’m not making this decision. Either we all make this decision together or none of us make it. I can’t be the one to do this alone.”

The doctor slowly explained our options to us. First of all, they could keep going with the current treatment until her heart gives out. Her body, in an attempt to fight this infection, had raised her core temperature to 103 degrees and her heart was racing at a pace that was causing other functions to shut down. To prolong this treatment would still leave her in a coma and when her heart failed (not if, but when…) the means they would have to resuscitate her would fruther damage her body and only end up weakening her further and she would more than likely never come out of the coma.

Our second option was surprisingly simple: stop treatment. Stop the drugs, stop the breathing machine, administer morphine and, as he put it, let nature take its course.

We chose simplicity.

First they stopped the drug treatments. We sat and watched. We watched and shared good stories, talking to Pam and each other. We kissed her forehead and thanked her for the happiness she brought us. Then several nurses came in to remove the breathing tubes, the tubes for draining fluid from her lungs, her stomach, her chest wall. Suddenly, as the nurses left the room, I could see my sisters face again. She looked peaceful finally. No pain, no tubes, just Pam asleep on the pillow. Her breathing without the machine became far less labored. I smiled through my tears.

We watched the monitor and Pam. The room became very quiet. The monitor slowly started to show the reduced heart rate, reduced oxygen saturation and reduced breathes per minute. We watched. I found myself counting her breathes, watching each rise and fall of her tiny chest.

1

2

3

They administered morphine. The rising of her chest became shallower.

4

5

6

Mom said goodbye through the tissues she had wrapped around her nose. Richard clutched her hand. I felt like I was going numb, my voice sounded distant to me like it came from down the hall, not part of me at all but some echoey hollow meaningless noise.

7

8

I think I said goodbye.

The nurses came in to shut off the machines. We sat with her for an hour, discussing everything from cremation to what kind of remembrance ceremony we should have. We all cried together and finally, after every nurse had paid their respects and expressed their condolences, we left.

In the parking lot, there were talks of phone calls and appointments. Promises to get in touch soon, exclamations of concern “If you need me for anything, just call me!” I told Richard. We parted ways. I took mom home, I cooked her dinner and fielded a few phone calls from well meaning relatives who wanted all the details. After the fifth phone call, I couldn’t take it anymore and my mom took over. I found myself going to Boston. I needed something to distract myself. Sirsy were playing at the Kinsale in Boston and I decided I had to go. I had no choice. I needed to be away.

Meeting up with Mel, Rich and Jessica and helping them set up a little was like therapy: keeping myself busy. H finally arrived. She had been a great help through all of this since she had been part of similar circumstances involving hard choices like mine. She ran up and gave me the biggest hug I have ever gotten from such a tiny person and I broke again. I started crying but this time it was good. Made me feel better than I had all day. I felt alive and the numbness that had taken over drained away. I enjoyed a wonderful nite of good music, good food and even better friends. I found myself with something I didn’t know I had: support. I was humbled by my lack of perception of the importance of these people in my life.

At the end of the evening, after many drinks (mostly ice water, right J?) I headed back home. Promises were made to hang out again soon. Hope was there that it would all work out. I smiled, genuinely happy for the first time that week,being with these people I have chosen to have in my life. Or did they choose me???

On the drive home, I thought of my sister Pam and how she would have enjoyed that show. She always loved live music and would dance up a storm back in the day. She had so much spirit and life, even when her body failed or betrayed her, you still felt her fire. I know she would have approved my going out last nite. I felt her with me, laughing at my friends jokes, in the car with me on the long ride. Think she was poking fun at my new diet and my lack of progress on my gut. She always teased me.

Finally, at home in bed, I found myself drifting off to sleep. My mind concentrated on my own breathing, counting off the moments until darkness finally took me. I can only hope that my sister drifted off as peacefully.

1

2

3

…..

Punk Sell Out

I would not have believed this if someone had told me about it. I had to hear it for myself.

We always worry about our heroes selling out. Nothing disturbs me more than seeing an aging former star, musician, etc, out hawking some god-awful product or service or whatever. For some reason, I feel a certain amount of empathy for these poor former stars who just want their name back in the spotlight, any spotlight.

But what I heard today completely caught me off guard.

I listen to WTKK occassionally, not because I’m into right wing doctrine, but because I like hearing what the other side has to say. It keeps me balanced to hear all sides. And to be honest, Jay Severin (spelling) actually makes me laugh. He is the right wing version of Henry Rollins in the way he speaks and it cracks me up. So on my break today, as I was racing to Loco’s for my burrito, an ad came on. At first, I wasn’t sure I understood what was being said. I knew I recognized the voice but I couldn’t connect to whom it belonged to.

Then the first half of the pitch ended and the voice over came over a little louder : “Hi, I’m Steve Jones calling you about Virgin Atlantic.”

I apologize now for anyone that was behind me as I slammed on my breaks in front of the Rusty Hammer and pulled over. I could not believe my ears. Steve Jones. STEVE F****** JONES!!! For those who don’t know, Steve Jones was one of the Sex Pistols. Now I know, Johnny Rotten is now a self promoting parody of himself and the image of Sid Vicious was bought and sold ages ago. But Steve Jones has always been a rock of no sell out punk rock attitude. The only thing I had ever seen him do a commercial for was an anti drug commercial in the 90’s about Sid dying and making a crack about the glamour of heroin.

Yet here he was, doing a promotional ad for Virgin Atlantic. I know the Sex Pistols as a group will do anything for money. Hell, their reunion tour a few years ago was all about the money. When asked why they agreed to get back together and do a tour, Johnny said, quite bluntly, “because of the money”.

And a few months ago, the whole band had given a collective middle finger to the entire music business by refusing to show up for their rock n roll hall of fame induction. (something, by the way, I think the Clash should have done too) I had laughed at that. Such a purile gesture but so punk rock. Gave me hope that they still remembered where they came from.

I couldn’t help but wonder who this ad was geared towards. I mean, this was afternoon drive time on a conservative talk radio station. Who listening besides me would even know who Steve Jones was? And by having an old punk rocker doing an ad on their station, what were they trying to say? Were they trying to equate conservative talk radio with the punk rock movement? Somehow, I doubt it was as deep as that. The only thing I can think is that maybe, just maybe, someone in the control pulled the wrong ad.

As I sat on the side of road in front of the Hammer, I could feel my stomach in knots. I know I should not be surprised seeing one of my heroes selling out. Happens all the time, to people far more famous than Steve Jones. But for some reason, this felt like a sucker punch. In my mind, I saw an old poster I used to have. I had it on my door at the first apartment I lived in at Keene State College : PUNK IS DEAD! It was meant as an ironic statement on the state of punk rock music in the late 80’s, right before its huge re-emergence in the 90’s. But for once, I saw that poster and I thought, maybe, punk is dead.

The real, old fashioned, f the establishment punk is gone, replaced by a slicker marketing campaign that makes all the tattoos and weird clothes and hair appear normal and venerable old grandfathers of the punk rock movement are wheeled out to give it some legitimacy.

So whats next? We have Steve Jones for Virgin Atlantic, how about we get Chrissie Hynde for shampoo commercials? Elvis Costello for contact lenses? Siouxsie Sioux for nair? Exene Cervenka for tylenol? Deborah Harry for Paxil?

I shudder to think about the possibilities……

Boston, Boiled Dinners and Sirsy, Part 3

 

So after the frozen desserts we enjoyed, we did our Rocky impersonation up the stairs to Government Center. For anyone who has never been to Govt center in Boston, there is a massive set of stairs leading from the Faneuil Hall area up to the large open public space that is Govt Center. Every time I hike up those stairs, you can’t help but hear the Rocky theme going in your brain, even though I’m usually out of breath at the top of the stairs and not able to jump around. Though I have been known to throw out a “Yo Adrian” from the top of the stairs….much to the worry of other passerbys.

We cross the street and finally, we were at the Kinsale. I sincerely love this place: it’s a small irish themed restaurant and bar, great food, good choice of beers, a little refuge amidst all the the offices along this road. The people there seem to be sincerely pleased to see anyone wander in and the door man acted almost embarassed to be asking us for money to come in. ($5 cover to see Sirsy) When we first parked, Dawn and I had run in just to use the bathrooms and so I could show her where it was before heading out to dinner, and as we were leaving, the doorman thanked us for stopping in. Dawn looked at me and said “did he just thank you for coming in and peeing?” I laughed.

We rounded the corner of the restaurant and there was Mel and the gang setting up. Grins and hellos were had, but I knew they were busy, so I quickly introduced Dawn to the band, then made a hasty retreat to the far end of the bar to sit and relax and enjoy a drink. I am always paranoid of being a pain in the ass and getting in the way when they are setting up their equipment. To be honest, I could probably help with all that since I used to do the sound whenever a band played at my college station or the folk music/open mic nites at the pub on campus. (Note to self: Apply for roadie job with Sirsy…heeehee) But Rather than offer my assistance, I leave them be and Dawn and I find two stools to hang out at. The waiter, a guy with long hair who, ACCORDING TO Dawn is a dead ringer for Mitch Hedberg, even though I don’t see it. Anyway, this waiter, the last time I was here, was good at picking the right beer for me. Whenever there are too many beers on tap, I like putting it on the waiter to pick something for me. This time, he picks an ESB and Dawn has a jack and coke. Mine arrives and I tell Dawn that I like this beer, very hoppy nutty and bittery flavor. She laughs and says she loves her jack and coke because its very jacky and cokey.

As the band gets ready, we survey the crowd. Because this is a business district, there were a lot of stuffed suits. The kind of people I work with, the sports and boobs crowd. As we are drinking our drinks and making fun of the people, Dawn notices that people keep looking at her then looking above her with concern on their faces. Getting more and more paranoid, she informs me that people are staring at her. I point up above her head….there was a tv with a basketball game on. Dawn then turned a lovely shade of red.

Finally Sirsy start their first set. We make a beeline for a table right in front of Sirsy. That familiar feeling of joy I get whenever I hear Sirsy is aparent when a big grin pops up on my face as I sing along. Dawn looks genuinely surprised at this transformation in me. She happily mocks my singing along with the band. But I notice she is rockin out too. After the second or third song, Heidi comes skulking around the corner…..She had told me she wasn’t sure if she was coming tonite due to her appointment with an old friend. But sure enough and true to form, H had brought her friend along for the Sirsy festivities. Surprised and happy, I gave h a big a hug and introduced her to Dawn, whom she had heard so much about during the Kate Chaos but had never had a chance to meet.

This was the high point of the evening for me. Two friends who had stood by me through all the chaos of the past few months in one place with a band we all loved. As a side note, I realize this is what I wanted all along but the ex would never allow: hanging out with ALL of my friends and having a good time, not just the ones that she approved of. The week before at the Parting Glass had the same feeling and putting Dawn into the mix just made it alll that much sweeter.

After giving up our table to some women who were ordering food and needed a place to sit, we hovered around Guario’s table o’stuff. The First set ended and we hung out with the band and H and Dawn chatted with each other as well as the band. Virgil and I got into a conversation about music involving Jon Zorn, Mr Bungle, Naked City and various artists and musical styles. He turns out to be a fan of experimental music and I was pleased to have someone to talk to about this stuff. When I used to do my radio show, I would play stuff by Praxis and the Boredoms, not to mention John Zorn,Naked City, Mr Bungle, etc and a lot of people get confused when they hear this glorious noise. The mixtures of styles and influences all melded usually into one song was baffling to some listeners, but I eat that stuff up…I love the musicianship of being able to do a full on punk rock noise song then stop on a dime and turn it into a jazz odyssey, then stop again and turn it into a blues song, then funk,then back to punk. I love that. And ultimately, I think that’s what I love about Sirsy: there is no definable style to their music, it’s a mixture of everything. Put simply: They sound like Sirsy. There are elements of jazz, funk, alternative rock, indie aesthetics, its all there. That’s why I have become such a fan. The mixture of styles and influences coming together for one coherent and original sound without coming across as derivitive or imitative. Music that moves you without sounding like anything else. I love it.

During this Break, Greg was working the crowd with the set list, asking for requests,. I told him I wanted to hear Fine. That song gives me chills every time I hear it. Greg asked if I was staying through the third set to which Dawn gave me a look and I responded “well, up to Fine, then we have to leave” Greg smirked and added it to the list.

The music started up for the second set and I fell in love with These Are Days all over again. Mel and the band have mastered and reworked this song to make it their own. I used to drool over Natalie Merchant when she would dance around on stage singing this song and I never thought anyone could make me love the song more.  As my friend Dawn said later in the car, Mel’s voice on that song is similar to Natalies, but she manages to do so much more with her range and vocals than I have ever heard Natalie attempt. As a side note, I have to agree with Heidi, I’m not sure people are listening to the lyrics of Lie To Me when they start slow dancing to it.

At some point during this set, Dawn and I were talking about something, probably her making fun of me for singing along again. When I talk, I do tend to be a little expressive and make hand gestures and it was during one particularly wild gesture that I backhanded a waitress. Right into her chest. Whoops. Now, this was not a bad backhand, wasn’t like I pulled a karate move and knocked her on her ass or something, just my hand connected with her boobs. I was embarassed, I never saw her coming up behind me as she was, so it was totally unintentional. I was expecting the waitress to be upset, but instead, she just laughed and without missing a beat said “That’s the most action I’ve had all night…” I smiled and said “Geez, I feel like I should tip you now” to which she just laughed and went about her merry way. I guess working in an environment where people intentionally grab your ass all nite, having someone unintentionally backhanding your boobs is a pleasant change of pace. I was still embarassed though.

The second set ended and Rich came over to me. Out of the blue, he suddenly asks me why my screen name is glassowater. I smiled. This was a well worn story that I have related over and over again since 1997 when I first used that as a login for yahoo. The first time I sat down in front of a computer at the now defunct Cybercafe in Portsmouth NH, I needed a login to start my internet adventures. So I tried all sorts of names. I wanted something original and provocative. Something that would make people think and smile and perhaps, a name that could change the world. However, no matter how many times I tried, they were all taken. All my usual logins were all taken: Riff Raff, Pugsley, FrankNFurter, all were taken. I tried for hours for something original and exciting, to no avail. They were all taken. Then, in the midst of my despair, I saw it. In the dim glow of the computer light, there, illuminated before me was….a glass o water. My heart stopped. Could that work? Would it be taken???

I went to the yahoo page and entered Glassowater….and yes, it was approved….The hallellujah chorus started up in my brain and from that day forward, on any system I log into, I’m always glassowater or a variant thereof.

Rich looked amused by this. I guess he liked the embellishments I made to a simple story of finding a login…Then Mel comes over and asks the same question and in the retelling, she giggled at my silliness. I informed her that I would have to leave during the third set, probably after Fine to which Mel gave me a big hug and thanked me for showing up.

The week before at the Parting Glass, Heidi had been very upset with me. After the gig, I didn’t go right home ( a four hour drive) but instead, I stuck around and chatted with the band and everyone else. This annoyed her because she was worried about me having an accident on the ride back, knowing that I would not get to sleep properly since I was going straight to work. The feeling of doom coming from her was palpable. This week at the Kinsale, she was happy and smiling. She told Dawn and I how she felt so much better about me driving around late at night with a co-pilot in the vehicle. And Heidi wonders why I call her Mom now…heehee. We let her know we were leaving during the third set and got big hugs from her and her friend. The set started up and I settled in for the final few songs I would get to hear.

About four songs in, a huge grin comes across Mels face and she looks at me and says “this is for glassowater”. And Fine started up. This song kills me everytime. I love the imagery (someone having a bit of a meltdown in a grocery store in the middle of the night), the musicianship is masterful, the antics are hysterical and it is the best example of Mel going through her entire range in one song. And the middle, I can’t tell you how many times she has gone into that and the entire room has completely stopped. People milling around at the bar, watching sports, suddenly turn wondering what was that? Every time I get goosebumps. This song is a great example of the power of this band that will never be translated onto cd. This song is my main reason to see them live. It’s overpowering and wonderful and you don’t want it to end.

I was happy now. I had heard the song, even had it dedicated to me (swoon) and my friend Dawn was now a fan. We gathered up our coats and made our way to the door. Smiles and nods from the band as we exited to Virgil singing Fire, I bowed to him as we exited the Kinsale out into the cold night.