Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: The Sound - From the Lion's Mouth

The Sound were one of the early pioneers of post-punk and Coldwave.  Essentially a vehicle for Adrian Borland, they were signed to Korova Records in 1979, a minor label that was part of Warner Brothers.  Their debut album, Jeopardy, received good reviews but The Sound were never destined to break into the mainstream.  Four more albums followed - each slightly different than the other – but always sharing a hard-edged guitar, atmospheric synth and biting lyrics.

By the time The Sound broke up in 1987, Adrian Borland was suffering from depression.  At that time the lyrics were becoming even darker and the music more schizophrenic.  The frustrations of his musical career could have easily contributed to his mental condition.  After a few solo albums, Adrian sadly committed suicide in 1999 by throwing himself in front of an express train at Wimbledon Station.

From the Lion’s Mouth is their second album that was released in 1981.  It has a similar sound to early Echo and the Bunnymen and The Chameleons.  Echo eventually swerved into pop music and the Chameleons into driving guitar, but The Sound was more chilling and cerebral.  All of their five albums – Jeopardy, From the Lion’s Mouth, All Fall Down, Heads & Hearts and Thunder Up - though hard to get, are worth the price of admission.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: John Phillips - The Wolf King of L.A.

When it comes to musicians, I certainly pick the tragic cases.  John Phillips was the leader of the famous The Mamas & The Papas.  After the breakup of that group, John went solo.  He only made a few albums (and film soundtracks) while spiraling into a world of drug use, failed marriages and medical problems.  After his death of a heart attack, Phillips was even accused of incest by his daughter Mackenzie.  I won’t delve into that allegation but will instead concentrate on his finest musical moment – John, The Wolf King of L.A.

His first solo album was released in 1970.  Featuring the talents of the legendary Wrecking Crew, the best studio musicians in the business, the album has a country-tinged flavor that never misses a note.  John’s voice, though not the strongest, is smooth and pleasant.  The backup vocalists, The Blossoms, manage to cover any John’s vocal weakness.  Personally, I find his voice perfect for the material.

The lyrics have a dark edge to them – the words of a man suffering from the burdens of the world.  But behind the melancholy lyrics, this album is a catchy slow-burner.  It would have been a perfect The Mamas and the Papas album, besting anything they ever made before.  Go ahead and check it out.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gas Prices - a Vicious Circle?

Note: I rarely comment on economic or political stories.  With that in mind, I'll keep the firebrand in me at bay.

See this AP story for more background information:
Consumer spending is important because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. The spike in gas prices has forced many consumers to cut back on discretionary purchases, such as furniture and vacations, which help boost growth.
Before the "Big Recession of 2008", gas prices were spiking upward, causing me to sell my old Caprice and Mercury Mountaineer.  In the world of $3 gasoline, I was spending way to much money on keeping these V8 beasts fueled.  But with the financial shock, oil demand dropped like a rock, pushing gas prices down.  During this brief spell, I got to enjoy a 5.7L LT1 Buick Roadmaster even though I knew this gasoline respite would be temporary.

As the economy sluggishly improved earlier this year, gas prices once again started to rise.   Oil is not only energy to produce, it is also plastic material and fertilizer.  Increased demand in goods will also increase transportation needs which in turns ramps up the need for diesel for trucking and trains.  This increase is also passed along to food and material prices.  When our personal fuel prices go too high, we stop spending our hard-earned dollars on goods since that money is instead spent on energy.  However, when we reduce our non-energy spending, gas prices will drop with decreased consumer demand, once again allowing us to have more free money to spend.

Without cheap energy, the economy may be stuck in a sort of "Energy Vicious Circle," never allowing consumer demand to gain traction until something breaks the cycle.  What will that take?  That's a topic for another day.


Friday, June 24, 2011

The Slow Death of the Music Industry

 For background, check out this article from Business Insider.

The music industry is down 64% from its peak.

The music industry is actually down 45% from where it was in 1973.

The CD peak was only 13% better than the vinyl peak, not over 250% better as the Bain chart implies.

10 years ago the average American spent almost 3 times as much on recorded music products as they do today.

26 years ago they spent almost twice as much as they do today.

The reasons for this decline in music sales are wide and varied.  I'll first touch on a few obvious ones before I get to the main point - the rise of video (VHS, Cable and DVD), the rise of computers and the Internet, and the rise of gaming platforms (Playstation, XBox) are all battling for consumer attention.  The decline of musical quality is another issue that I examined HERE.

Another reason that is often overlooked is the medium itself.  Back when I was a teenage, my friends and I used to swap cassette tapes.  In our spare time we would make mix tapes or record our favorite albums for each other.  This was a great way to get new music while saving a few dollars that could be better spent on other pursuits.  But even in those days, the copied music was deemed inferior to the original source.  And it was - cassettes often broke and even the best players showed just how bad the cassette format was.

The digital revolution changed all of that.  The CD was released to popular acclaim in the 1980s, but no consumer had the technology to actually copy them bit-by-bit.  We still relied on the primitive cassette to do that.  When Mindisc first came out, I leaped at the chance to buy into this second wave of digital recording (the first being the unsuccessful DAT format) because it was a great way to record my collection of rare 7" records.  But the rise of the computer brought the inexpensive CD-R to the masses, allowing CDs to finally be perfectly copied.

After that, the MP3 came to the fore.  File sharing (between P2P and friends) allowed the illegal distribution of music to an extent unimaginable in the past.  This sudden easy access to music is certainly part of the steep decline in music sales.  What consumer would buy an album or song when they could easily get it for free from someone else?

On a side note, the MP3 also seems to coarsen the appreciation of music.  It makes the listener more "hits" orientated, ignoring the other songs on the album.  This has a side-effect of declining the number of album sales since the modern listener prefers to just buy or share the "best" (or most popular) songs.

By coming out with the CD format, the music industry inadvertently created a path that is now leading to their own demise. They are struggling to stem the tide by the use of lawsuits and finally allowing legal downloads, but it may already be too late.  Perhaps they would have better off staying with the cassette and LP!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: Nick Lowe - Pure Pop for Now People (Jesus of Cool)

Starting with Brinsley Schwarz in 1969, Nick Lowe played a pivotal role in the 1970s pub rock and New Wave movement.  Not only did he make dozens of albums in his (still continuing) career, but he has also produced the likes of Graham Parker and Elvis Costello.  Lowe’s most famous song, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding, is a classic that was popularized by Costello in the U.S. edition of Armed Forces.

Lowe obviously goes for the hook and his strength as a songwriter came together for his 1978 solo debut Pure Pop for Now People (known as Jesus of Cool outside the U.S.).   This is pop music that crackles with unbounded energy and enthusiasm.  The lyrics have plenty of tongue-in-check humor too – for example, check out the catchy ode to the Bay City Rollers in the track Rollers Show.  The musicianship is also tight with members of Rockpile adding their talent to the production.  The most well-known track is So It Goes, but the other (few) ballads and 3-chord rockers are equally infectious. 

 If you haven’t checked out Nick Lowe yet, go ahead and give him a try.  For further listening, Labour of Lust, Nick the Knife and The Abominable Showman are also worth your time. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Snake Corps - Flesh on Flesh

From the ashes of Sad Lovers & Giants, Snake Corps was the brainchild of Tristan Garel-Funk and Nigel Pollard.  With the exit of Pollard, Marc Lewis was then recruited to do vocals.  Though infused with atmospheric and brooding Cold Wave, Snake Corp ended up having a harder-edged post-punk sound than others in the genre.

Flesh on Flesh was their first album which was released in 1985 on the now-defunct Midnight Music label.  After this album, keyboards were added along with a more rock-orientated sound.  Five years later saw the release of their next album Smother Earth.  A third album was slated to be released titled The 3rd Cup, but Snake Corps soon found themselves without a label since Midnight Music went into receivership.  This last album was eventually released in 1993 as a CD-only title on the Ophidian label.

Though popular in continental Europe, Snake Corps never found much of an audience in their home U.K. or in the United States.  That's a shame because Snake Corps is one of those rare groups that is remarkably consistent. The songs as a whole are catchy and wonderfully rhythmic with soaring, swirling guitars.  For starters, I would get the best-of compilation titled Spice which is available as a CD only release.  The LPs are harder (and expensive) to track down, but are worth the effort.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: Ronnie Lane - Anymore for Anymore

Let’s raise a glass in the memory of poor old Plonk.  Ronnie Lane was a founding member of the Small Faces – famous for the vocalist Steve Marriott – and the Faces – famous for the vocalist Rod Stewart.  Lane eventually left the Faces to go solo.  Instead of the rockers and dirty-booze ballads of before, Lane started concentrating on a mix of Folk, Country and Rock with his group called Slim Chance.  It was a new vision of gypsies, wanderers and life on the farm.  This odd departure worked, earning Ronnie two top 40 hits in Britain with the release of his 1974 album Anymore for Anymore.

After this success, Ronnie went on to start “The Passing Show” – a tour of the UK that featured tents, a ringmaster, carnival barkers and dancing girls.  He lived a life on the road until the tour dissolved from lack of money and problems with the various motor vehicles.  In 1977, Ronnie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that also affected his mother.  He eventually moved to Austin, Texas in 1984 where he started up a new Slim Chance.  He played until 1992 before moving to Colorado.  In 1997, Lane succumbed to pneumonia.

In my house, Plonk's music is much loved.  He had a life that was too short, but that still left a treasure of music behind. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: Badfinger - No Dice

Ah... Badfinger.  There isn’t a sadder story in the annals of rock n’ roll – a group anointed by the Beatles and with a seemingly bright future ahead of them.  But criminal management and poor record label handling eventually led to suicide of two of their members – Pete Ham and Tom Evans.  Almost from the start, Badfinger seemed cursed at every turn, living in near poverty when they should have been rock stars.

Behind this cloud of near-Shakespearean tragedy, Badfinger still managed to churn out several albums of shiny British pop.  Choosing my personal favorite Badfinger album is always difficult and my pick will probably change over the years.  However, No Dice is a strong contender since it has a number of standout tracks – No Matter What, Midnight Caller and Without You.

Other Badfinger albums worth checking out are Straight Up and Wish You Were Here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: The Icicle Works - The Small Price of a Bicycle

The Icicle Works were a one-hit wonder here in the United States.  Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) charted to the number 37 position in 1984 before the group disappeared from our eyes.  Part of that disappearance was caused by their 1985 sophomore album The Small Price of a Bicycle which was dismissed by their stateside label Arista as “punk rock demos.”  I’m not sure what the execs at Arista were smoking since I hear very little punk rock here.  Instead, the listener is treated with a big bombastic sound that is closer to classic Simple Minds, non-Eno Roxy Music, Echo and the Bunnymen or even U2.

There are two stand-out tracks here, Hollow Horse and Seven Horses, but the album as a whole is remarkably consistent.  Ian McNabb's songwriting is especially satisfying with meaningful lyrics (well, at least meaningful to me!).  The quality of the drumming underpins the entire album, subtly adding to the ebb and flow of this dramatic music.

When I first listened to this album, my jaw literally dropped.  I completely missed out on these guys back in the 1980s – at the time I was more interested in the Sex Pistols – and I felt as if a small fracture in my brain had been permanently fixed.  It’s a rare album that can elicit that kind of response from me.  Check out the YouTube video below and then go ahead and buy the album.  You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Next Book Update - Thoughts on Ruins and Decay

The work on my next book continues - though at a slower pace than expected.  Since summer in Michigan goes by too quickly, my weekend time has been consumed with beaches, parades, hiking, and all sorts of chicanery.  But still, I'm making progress and expect to release a sample chapter soon.

Since this book is set in a post-apocalyptic future, it has been interesting to determine how well our modern tools and machinery would hold out to the ravages of time.  Entropy always wins out in the end - how long will rubber last?  Or guns?  Or even ammunition?  Gasoline would become unusable unless properly stored and maintained.  Even larger objects - like buildings - are ravaged by time.  For example, roofs and foundations are destroyed by rain and vegetation.  Door and window seals would also rot, letting the elements inside.  Once that happens, only the strongest parts of the building would survive before the entire structure crumbled into the ground.

A good example of this is Detroit - a city that is slowly losing the buildings that are left unattended.

In my book it's been difficult capturing the right balance of decay and the opulence of the past.  I hope the results are worth the wait.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

The 'Grade B' Movie List

No movie or book is absolutely perfect.  But still, among the thousands of films out there only a few rise above the pack to become true classics.   I wrote about my favorite movies here.

However, there are still many, many movies worth watching.  Though they are flawed in certain ways, the story and characters are interesting enough to keep my attention.  Since these movies rarely make the "Best Of" lists, they are prone to slip into the cracks.   I call these movies “Grade Bs”.  So with that introduction out of the way, here is my list of the “Grade B” Movies:

300 (2007) - CGI aside, this is a movie about sacrifice for ideals - something that seems to be lacking these days.

Battleground (1949) - the 101st Airborne is trapped inside Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

Blow-Up (1966) - A London photographer accidentally photographs a murder - or has he?

The Cruel Sea (1953) - The harrowing journeys of a British Convoy escort ship during WWII.

Death Wish (1974) - Charles Bronson becomes a vigilante after his wife is brutally murdered.

Dirty Harry (1971) - Clint Eastwood tracks down a serial-killer in San Francisco.

Dodge City (1939) - Errol Flynn brings law and order to a wide-open cattle town, while trying to gain the love of  Olivia de Havilland.

Dog Soldiers (2002) - in the Scottish wilderness, a squad of soldiers fight for their lives against a pack of werewolves.

Double Indemnity (1944) - A murder and insurance fraud goes wrong.

The Driver (1978) - a professional wheel-man gets setup by a crooked police detective.

The Duellists (1977) - over their honor, two French officers duel several times during the Napoleonic age.

Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956) - as man starts to fly into space, aliens decide to invade.

Fantastic Voyage (1966) - in order to rescue an important diplomat, a team of rescuers are shrunk inside a submarine that is injected into the body.

Fiend Without a Face (1958)- a new form of life is created through nuclear and telekinetic powers.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) - Robert Mitchum stars in this gritty movie, playing an aging gangster who snitches in order to stay out of jail.

Gallipoli (1981) - an emotional WWI movie about the Australian detachement sent to Gallipoli.

The Getaway (1972) - Steve McQueen goes on the run after a bank heist goes bad.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) - a forty-old case dredges up more than expected in this Swedish thriller.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) - perfect rainy Sunday popcorn fare.

Great Expectations (1946) - Dickens classic - a humble orphan becomes a gentleman.

Green for Danger (1949) - a classic British murder-mystery set during WW2.

The Haunting (1963) - an evil mansion with a history of death is investigated.

Infernal Affairs (2004) - An undercover cop is inside the mob, while the mob has a cop working for them.  They are both have the same objective - to find the snitch.

The Iron Giant (1999) - an alien robot plummets to earth, befriending a small-town boy.

Jaws (1975) - a gigantic shark terrorizes a small coastal village.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) - a small band of adventurers reach the middle of the Earth.

The Killer (1989) - a professional killer is targeted by the mob, resulting in a cascade of bullets.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) - an elderly lady disappears from a moving train, leaving a rich playgirl to solve the mystery.

Lonely Are the Brave (1962) - Kirk Douglas plays a cowboy who gets himself locked in prison to rescue a friend. 

A Man for All Seasons (1966) - Thomas More refuses to break from the Catholic Church and take the side of the king.

Manhunter (1986) - a retired FBI agent is brought back in to track down the 'Tooth Fairy', a brutal serial-killer.
The Man Who Never Was (1956) - a corpse is used to fool the Germans into moving troops away from the invasion point.

My Bloody Valentine (1981) - a serial-killer stalks a small mining town.

Night of the Demon (1957) - black magic summons the power of the demons.

North Dallas Forty (1979) - a cynical comedy about the politics of football.

Out of the Past (1947) - Robert Mitchum plays a detective whose past catches up with him.

Pale Rider (1985) - Clint Eastwood plays a preacher who protects prospectors from an evil mining company.

Planet of the Apes (1968) - Charlton Heston is an astronaut who returns to Earth and finds it run by apes.

Point Blank (1967) - A left-for-dead gangster has his single-minded revenge.

Porco Rosso (1992) - Animated movie where a pig mercenary pilot discovers his true self again.

The Road (2009) - post-apocalyptic movie about a father's love for his son.

The Rutles (1978) - a snarky Eric Idle movie parodying the Beatles.

Saturday Night Fever (1977) - a frustrated young man finds solace through the power of disco.

The Seven-Ups (1973) - an elite undercover police unit tackles the mob and a group of kidnappers.

The Silent Partner (1978) - a battle of wits between a bank clerk and a robber.

Sink the Bismarck (1960) - the epic WWII tale of the sinking of Germany's greatest battleship.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) - another Sunday afternoon favorite.

Stalag 17 (1953) - a P.O.W. camp has a German snitch who is giving away secrets.

A Tale of Two Cities (1935) - "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.'"

Terminator (1984) - an unstoppable cyborg transports from the future, trying to kill the mother of the soon-to-be resistance leader.

Three Days of the Condor (1975) - a CIA researcher get entangled in a murderous plot.

Tremors (1990) - campy horror movie about giant underground creatures terrorizing a small desert community.

The War of the Worlds (1953) - H.G. Well's classic novel of alien invasion.

The Warriors (1979) - a street gang are framed for murder and must fight their way back to their turf.

When Worlds Collide (1951) - a planet will soon collide with the Earth, destroying everything.

Zeiram (1991) - an alien bounty-hunter comes to Earth to capture the ultimate fighting machine.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A List of my Favorite Horror Movies

I've written on horror movies before, but now I'm going to present a list of my favorite ones.  As you can tell, I'm not a huge fan of modern gore and I also like a little camp in my scary thrills.  Maybe I just don't like being too scared!

28 Days Later (2002) – an incurable virus spreads through the UK, causing zombies that only spread the contamination further.  Though I’m not a fan of “fast zombies”, behind the horror lies a good road-trip movie.

Alien (1979) – a science-fiction alien vehicle that is really a slasher-monster movie.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) – Two American tourists are attacked by a werewolf.  One dies while the other starts to have strange animal behavior.  There isn’t really that much of a plot here, but the FX are great as are the imaginary conversations that David, the main character has with his deceased friend.

Black Christmas (1974) – one of the original slasher movies, Black Christmas is the story of a mysterious killer who is slowly "removing" the members of a sorority house.  From this idea, many movies were sprung, but Black Christmas did it first.

Brides of Dracula (1960) – Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing who must battle Baron Meinster, a disciple of Dracula.

Captain Kronos (1974) – A soldier-of-fortune and his hunchback assistant battle the soul-sucking power of the vampire.

The Changeling (1980) – A historic mansion is being haunted by an ill-tempered ghost who is seeking revenge.  Perhaps one of the creepiest haunted-house movies ever made.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) – George Romero’s classic zombie is chocked full of action and 'biting' social commentary.

Dead Alive (1992) – A Sumatran rat-monkey causes an infection that turns people into zombies.  Part love-story, part gore - Dead Alive will keep you laughing and scrambling for the barf-bag.

Dead and Buried (1981) – mobs of villagers are committing murders against harmless tourists.  With a surprise ending too.

The Devil Rides Out (1968) – Black Magic, The Devil, and Christopher Lee make this movie a gem to watch.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) – Dracula tries his revenge against the man who has locked him out of his castle.

Evil Dead 2 (1987) - a very campy horror movie filled with slapstick comedy.

The Fly (1958) – though not scary in modern terms, the original “The Fly” has a certain creepy charm.

Fright Night (1985) – when the next-door neighbor turns out to be a vampire, what is a teenager supposed to do?

Halloween (1978) – the first unstoppable slasher gets points for originality.

Horror of Dracula (1958) – lush and dramatic Victorian sets with Christopher Lee playing Count Dracula.

The House that Dripped Blood (1971) – four mysterious stories that all involve the same unoccupied home.  Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee also make appearances.

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – this brooding and claustrophobic movie captures a subtle and horrific alien invasion perfectly.

Let the Right One In (2008) – a bullied 12-year old finds friendship with the next-door vampire, a little girl who feasts on blood.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – George Romero’s groundbreaking zombie film.

The Omen (1976) – so your son is the anti-Christ – what is a man to do?

The Plague of the Zombies (1966) – the local Lord and mine owner needs workers.  Zombies don’t have a very good union.

Re-Animator (1985) – dead tissue is re-animated with horrific results in this campy horror movie.

The Stepfather (1987) - imagine an after-school-special about a daughter who accept her new dad - except her father really does have a terrible secret.

Tales from the Crypt (1972) -  a group of tourists gets lost in an underground crypt where they come across a monk who foretells their horrific future.  With Joan Collins(!) and Peter Cushing.

Them! (1954) – the best of the gigantic creature genre, Them! is creepy and wonderfully campy too.

The Thing (1982) – a shape-shifting alien terrorizes a base in the Antarctic.  The SFX here are particularly impressive with enough gore to turn my stomach.

Are there any other horror movies that you consider a must-see?


Friday, June 3, 2011

Working Out: Back to Basics

I found this article at Men's Journal titled Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie to be quite the revelation.
Muscle withers away if you’re not constantly building it, and muscle withers faster as a man ages. Fading muscle mass gives way to fat gain, stiff joints, stumbling-old-man balance, and a serious drop-off in weekend fun, not to mention self-esteem. But if you fight back right, it can all go the other way. And this means getting strong. The bottom line is that not only can lifting weights do as much for your heart health as cardio workouts, but it also provides you with a lean-muscle coat of armor against life’s inevitable blows — the way it did for my own father, who broke his back in a climbing accident at age 69, spent months in bed, and recovered strong only because he’d been lifting for 35 years.
First a little background - I first got into weightlifting at the tender age of 29.  I know this is rather late in the game, but back then I was just interested in gaining strength and mass.  You see, I've always been a tall n' skinny sort a guy with very little strength.  Weightlifting started to change all of that.  After a year of working out, I went from 165pds to a solidly-built 200pds.  I was getting strong too and my confidence level soared.

Then I got married and we had a son.  My chance to workout became less and less with every passing month.  Soon my interest dropped all-together.  I gained weight, lost muscle and got generally unfit.  Sure, I made some half-hearted attempts at working out again, but I could never stick to it very long.  The results I was getting from my old workout routine didn't seem to be doing anything - sure I would get some strength and mass, but nothing like I was getting back in the old days.  When I turned 40, I knew that age was starting to catch up with me.  I'm no gym rat, but I didn't want to become weak and enfeebled by the passing years.

After excitedly reading Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie, I went out and bought the recommended book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.  Normally in the past, I would only use the Barbell for straight and inclined bench-pressing, preferring to use dumbbells to "isolate" my biceps and triceps.  Also, the squat was an exercise that I used to ignore, thinking the last thing I would want to do was increase my thigh and lower back strength.  Anyways, I wanted big arms!  So I foolishly ignored this ancient exercise. 

Starting Strength takes a different approach - by using a set of simple muscle-building exercises, you are trying to work your entire body as a whole instead of using isolation to target specific muscles.  This is definitely a more 'old-school' approach, but it works!

Now three times a week I do a simple routine consisting of three different exercises - back squat, bench-press, and the dead-lift.  Each exercise set is done five times, with the first two sets done 10x with lighter weights.  The final three sets are done 5x with heavier and heavier weights.  Total workout time is 35-45 minutes, depending how much time I dawdle with changing records on my stereo system.

In a short six weeks, I've already been able to squat 70 more pounds than I started at.  My bench-press has increased by 50 pounds too.  After I'm done, I feel exhausted in a way that I never felt with my old routine. However, I'm really feeling stronger than before.  My body is changing too with wider shoulders, stronger hips and thighs, and increased arm girth.  My back, normally a little sore from middle-age, is now free of pain.  The squats also have a side-effect of improving my balance - as a whole, I feel more 'grounded' when I walk.

Highly recommended!  I'll be following this plan from now on, with the idea of spicing it up in the future with some different types of exercises.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rock 'n' Roll is Dead! Long Live Rock 'n' Roll!

                So here we are in the heart of the year 2011.  Our future seems to be fraying around the edges, the economy is still not well, and our freedoms seem at risk more than ever before.  But instead of concentrating on those moribund topics, I’m going to discuss something closer to my heart – music.

                Though I’m ripening, er aging, at a steady but uncomfortable pace, my love for music still goes unabated.  I’m always searching for a group, genre or musical movement to satisfy my need for a new musical experience.  I’ve listened and collected “Classic Rock”, New Wave, Cold Wave, Synth, Country-rock, New Romantic, Punk Rock, Street Rock and even a smattering of Honky-Tonk.  However, after 25 years of collecting, I feel like I’m starting to hit the end of the road.  Is it my middle-age?  Is it boredom?  Or is it something else?

                The answer is – Rock is Dead and has been for a long time.  Now before I get a flood (ha!) of messages decrying me with mentions of group X and Y, let me clarify my statement.

                Rock ‘n’ Roll is historically thought have to been born in the 1950s – with the rise of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and many others.  I tend to disagree with this statement – early "rock" was actually closer to pop and vocal music – like the early Beatles – then true Rock ‘n’ Roll.  “Real” Rock music has expression via vocals and instrumentation that the early stuff lacks.  For example. think of the guitar prowess of Jimi Hendrix or the lyrics of Bob Dylan.

                The real heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll started in the mid-1960s.  Musicians were becoming more experimental with words and music, entering waters that have never been entered before.  There was an explosion of new sounds that lasted for a few years until the magic started to fade.  For example – think of the completely new ground broken by Bob Dylan - “Blonde on Blonde”, The Who - “Tommy”, The Kinks – “Arthur”, David Bowie – “Ziggy Stardust”, or a host of other artists from that era.

                This flash of creativity eventually created Psychedelia, Roots, and Prog Rock.  But like all things, it had to come to an end.  Rock music began to gentrify and become conservative.  Nothing new seemed to be created until the mid-70s when a new burst of creativity hit the music scene.  Punk Rock and New Wave music started with even more experimentation and aggression.  Rock got fused with reggae and even more synth- think of the Police and Elvis Costello.  A flood of groups hit and the number of genres eventually became mind-numbing - New Romantic, Cold Wave, No Wave, etc etc.

                Again, this burst of creativity began to falter.  By the mid to late 1980s, the number of new directions started to peter out.  A few interesting genres came to pass – like Shoegazer, but it was all pushed aside by the rise of Grunge music in the early 90s.  Nirvana and their like ilk actually seemed to head music in a more conservative direction since the sound of grunge was closer to “Classic Rock” and lacked the experimentation of the decades before.

                The new musical era – Radiohead, The Shins, Arcade Fire, etc etc – has been defined by the rise of the Internet.  Gone are the days where the big labels controlled the levers of the music machine.  Now there are literally thousands of groups out there – split among hundreds of different genres.  This freedom of music has been good – the Shout Out Louds, The Felice Brothers and Deerhunter immediately come to mind – since such groups would never have found commercial success back in the old days.  However, experimentation and creativity seems to come to a standstill.  Everything new is something old, just regurgitated and reused.  Every group is now “influenced by” _fill in the blank_ instead of making something truly unique.

Now of course I’m painting with some broad brushes here, but there is a point to all this mental masturbation.  For Rock music to continue, it needs new blood.  It needs new experimentation and new ideas.  Otherwise it will become like Jazz or Classical music – something old, shriveled and slowly dying on the vine.

                What is this new direction?  I think a revisit of Coldwave and New Wave might give some guidance, but that could be a dead end too.  Maybe there really is nothing new left to do.  Perhaps that is a sign that our civilization has also reached an end.

What do you think?

Note: for further background, please check out Only Solitaire’s classic essay on the direction of rock music.