three new pieces

1)  Jungle Out There: An Interview with Jenn Malzone of Middle Class FashionRiverfront Times.

It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Middle Class Fashion is one of the best bands out of St. Louis at the moment.  I tend to discover things late, so I didn’t even hear a note of theirs until mid-2012, well after their Girl Talk CD came out.  The new one, Jungle, is a remarkable mix of Suddenly, Tammy! and the first three New Pornographers albums.  I’ve had it on repeat for the past couple of weeks, and not just because I was writing this piece.  They certainly transcend local-band status, and I’d recommend that everyone check them out.

2)  Interview with John Darnielle.  Salon.com.

It’s one thing to interview local bands, no matter how worthy.  They’re usually friendly and excited to have the publicity.  It’s quite another to prepare to interview someone whom you consider to be one of America’s modern songwriting giants, someone with a high profile who’s been interviewed many times before.  Such was my dilemma in preparing to interview John Darnielle.  Other than a stray early cassette or 7″, I have the entire Mountain Goats catalog, which equals hundreds of songs.  I’ve been seeing John play since 1995, and had some good conversations at YoYo-A-Go-Go 1997.  Still, the goal here was to try to cover, if not new ground, than at least not the most obvious subjects.  We spoke for about an hour, and I think it flowed well.  It’s nowhere near as nakedly revealing as Marc Maron‘s remarkable interview, and you can read where John started to get annoyed with me for continually asking what certain songs were “about.”  Still, I think it went as well it could have gone.  Hopefully there’ll be more Salon pieces in the future.

3)  25 of my favorite Maxwell’s shows, 1985-2012.  Eleven Magazine.

It was inevitable that I’d address the subject of Maxwell’s, right?  It didn’t seem right for the RFT, so I pitched it to Eleven editor Evan, whose band Sleepy Kitty is well worth hearing.  I basically sat down in a coffee shop, drowned myself in iced coffee and banged it out.  Not online yet as far as I can tell; will try to scan and upload it soon.  If you’re in St. Louis, though, Eleven‘s easy to find.

dj set, the school/vanilla beans/sleepy & the bedtimes, off broadway, 6/5/13

This was a lot of fun.  Off Broadway is my favorite place in St. Louis to see shows, and The School is an excellent band.  I’ve finally gotten a handle on the djay software, so very few technical SNAFUs.  djay lets you record your sets, so I’ve included links below for anyone who might be interested.

I’m not sure why I’ve become so bold in approaching clubs to DJ, but the setup seems to suit my approach well.  I’m not much of a floor-filler, but I love setting the mood for the night.  I also like being able to react to whatever’s happening onstage: for instance, responding to a Pete & Pete cover by playing one of the songs Pete & Pete used for background music.  I guess I’ll keep doing it as long as booking agents and club owners indulge me.

SET ONE
1) Clothilde: 102, 103

2) The Clientele: Since K Got Over Me
3) N.F. Porter: Keep On Keepin’ On
4) J.C. Penney Spirit of ’66: Rockin’ With The Mods
5) The Kinks: ‘Til the End of the Day
The idea here was to contrast the not-very-rocking “Rockin’ With The Mods” with something authentically Mod. I envisioned Pretty Things’ “Midnight to Six Man.”  Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to load it onto the iPod.
6) Orange Juice: Moscow
7) xex: Vietnam Vet
I got Dark Entries to send me a download link to xex:change, the just-issued collection of unreleased 1981 tracks. The last time I heard this song, it was 1985 and I was 18 years old.
8) Pete Shelley: Yesterday’s Not Here
9) Lee Dorsey: Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On)
10) Ramones: Don’t Go
Pleasant Dreams is great. That whole run of Ramones albums from End of the Century to Too Tough To Die represents one of the most overlooked hot streaks in music.
11) Undertones: You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It!).
12) Groovy Little Numbers: Windy
13) Lijadu Sisters: Cashing In
Mysterious African vocal group. That Ghostfunk mashup from 2011 used one of their songs.

Local band Sleepy and the Bedtimes plays. Their set includes a cover of Polaris’ “Hey Sandy,” best known as the theme from the 1990s Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete & Pete. I respond by opening the next set with a song that frequently figured into Pete & Pete as background music. I don’t think anyone made the connection – not even Matt Harnish. I knew I should’ve played the Embarrassment’s “Wellsville” instead.

SET TWO
14) Chug: Flowers

15) Cub: Everything’s Geometry
16) The Velvelettes: Needle In A Haystack
17/18) Adventures in Stereo: When We Go Back/Flipside
I’ve always loved how the loops were imperfect, and you could hear a little bit of blank space every four bars.
19) Teenage Fanclub: It’s All In My Mind
20) xex: Fast Food
Another newly unearthed recording.

Local band Vanilla Beans plays.  I think they’re from Webster College.  They have New Ordery songs and great self-deprecating stage banter.

SET THREE
21) Liechtenstein: Meantime
22) Young Marble Giants: Wurlitzer Jukebox!
23) The Gist: Public Girls
I’d envisioned a whole Welsh miniset in honor of The School, who are from Cardiff. It didn’t work, though, and I abandoned it after the previous two songs.
24) Monochrome Set: Eine Symphonie Des Graunes
The School played with the Monochrome Set in NYC the prior week.
25) Dolly Mixture: Everything and More
26) Beat Happening: I Spy
27) Toots & The Maytals: 54-46 That’s My Number

The School (that’s them above) plays a fantastic set in front of about 20 people, including the opening bands and the Off Broadway staff. The band didn’t seem too upset about it.

28) Jesse Garon & The Desperados: The Rain Fell Down

ten years after

This week marks the tenth anniversary of our move to St. Louis. In honor, here’s a post from the old blog dated June 30, 2003. That was no more than a month after our move.

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St. Louis has a lot of indigenous food. Local delicacies include frozen custard, toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, and Schlafly beer. (Sure, Anheuser-Busch is HQ’d here, but do Budweiser and Michelob really count as “local” brews?) Add to that list St. Louis-styled pizza. I’ve had it three or four times now, and am still not sure what to make of it.

The pizza they make in St. Louis is quite unlike its Chicago neighbor, which is known for being deep-dish thick. Nor does it resemble the doughy NYC/NJ variant on which I grew up. Instead, St. Louis pizza has the thinnest of thin crusts, with the sauce spread to the very edge. They use different cheeses here as well – whereas mozzarella is usually the standard topping, here they use provel cheese. This gives the pizza a subtly but noticably different flavor. It’s a little more tangy than usual. It’s tasty, but there’s something disorienting about it in a way I can’t quite explain.

The actual pie is cut into small squares rather than eight slices. You’d be advised to use a knife to properly separate the pieces, since the crust is thin and not terribly crispy. Be careful, though! Like White Castle sliders, those little pizza squares are deceptively filling. You can end up feeling queasy if you don’t pace yourself. (Take it from me; I’ve been there.)

Imo’s Pizza is probably the biggest local purveyor of St. Louis-style pizza. It’s pronounced “Emo’s,” and yes, I made the predictable music-related joke the first time I heard the name. But you can get it at restaurants throughout the area. In my neighborhood, Cicero’s serves good pizza. I’m sure there are lots of smaller local joints that I haven’t visited yet.

together now, very minor

As if this week couldn’t get any more gruesome, word is that Scott Miller (Game Theory/Loud Family) has passed away.  I said a bunch about it on Facebook. I also wrote a Tumblr post. My condolences to his friends and family.

Here’s a clip of Miller singing two Loud Family songs, “Idiot Son” and “Jimmy Still Comes Around,” in late 2011.  Probably one of his last live performances.

dj set: the firebird, stl, 4/12/13

Vivien Goldman – Launderette
Scritti Politti – Lions After Slumber
Silver Apples – Program
Four Jacks & A Jill – Master Jack
Modern Lovers – Old World
Fire – Father’s Name Was Dad
Grass Widow – Underneath the Atmosphere

(Indian Blanket plays – not too bad)

The Byrds – One Million Years From Now
Jr. And His Soulettes – Mama Love Tequila
The Unemployed – Funky Thing (Pt 1)
The Meters – Here Comes The Meter Man
ESG – My Love For You
Section 25 – Shack Up
The Zombies – Conversation Off Floral Street
Big Star – When My Baby’s Beside Me
Holly Beth Vincent – Honalu

(Dots Not Feathers plays.  Nice harmonies and an Omnichord.)

Here my dJay app went haywire and refused to cooperate. At the same time, the headset jack I was using for audio came loose, causing a huge sonic boom throughout the club. Sometimes I think technology hurts more than it helps. So I switched to just playing tracks from my playlists. According to my “Recently Played” listing, this included the following:

Velvet Underground – I Can’t Stand It
Au Revoir Simone – I Couldn’t Sleep
Instant Music – My Boy
Bo Diddley – Bring It To Jerome
The Kinks – ‘Til The End Of The Day

(Widowspeak plays. I wrote not one but two pieces about them this week.  Fine set by friendly people.  dJay magically reanimated itself by set’s end.)

My Bloody Valentine – New You
The Who – My Generation (instrumental)
Fall of Saigon – So Long

Not too bad of a set, but I’ve done better.  I was distracted by technical problems to the extent that I couldn’t really concentrate on my music selection.  Nothing tonight was as sublime as “Bo Diddley” into “Ghost Rider” last time.  But hopefully I’ll have another chance.

May post pix and/or audio clips later.  Right now, yardwork beckons.

got a clean slate coming my way

I couldn’t quite liken it to a religious experience, but I had a strange moment of clarity last month.  Appropriately enough, it was New Year’s Day.  I was going through boxes and boxes of fanzines I’ve collected over the last 20 years, trying to organize them, when a thought hit me:  Why am I keeping all of this stuff?  I contacted a few university zine libraries that very day, found one that was interested in my collection, and ended up donating about half of my zines.  Just got home from the UPS Store to send five boxes worth, in fact.  (If your zine was among those five boxes, don’t feel bad!  Obviously I must have liked it to keep it all these years.  And I strongly believe that they should be archived rather than binned.)

But that’s not all.  Since the beginning of the year, I’ve also sold off a bunch of musical equipment.  The Crestwood, MO Guitar Center got my Silvertone electric (with amp in case – man, I’m gonna miss that) and my Fender Princeton practice amp.  A correspondent in Brooklyn bought my Tascam four-track, which I originally bought from my brother in 1998 when he needed money.  Currently I’m selling my Suzuki Omnichord on eBay, and the bids are coming in quickly and furiously.  I’ll keep the acoustic guitar that my dad gave to me at age 14, but everything else is going or has gone.  And there are still more zines to cull, more records to trade in at Vintage Vinyl or Euclid.

This week, I also decided to stop updating my Young Marble Giants site.  I’ve emailed Stuart to see if he wants to take over the domain and, if he wants, the actual web pages and photos.  Not sure when that’s going to happen.

In short, I am getting rid of a lot of the things that I’ve been carrying around with me for 15 years.  As cool as the Silvertone was – and make no mistake, I loved that guitar – I had to face the facts.  Specifically, the facts that I hadn’t played it in years and didn’t intend to take it up again anytime soon.  As long as I have one guitar in the house, I’m happy.  But my seven-year attempt at being a songwriter failed, and I could use the money for other projects.

I wonder why I decided to do all this now.  I have no plans to kill myself, nor do I know of any terminal illnesses I might have.  I don’t think I’m having a midlife crisis, but if I am, better that it be a huge cleaning-out projects instead of the cliched sports car/Hooters waitress type of crisis.  It may be that I’m finally letting go of 1997 and adapting to now.  I was finally able to update to an iPod Touch 64gb with the proceeds, which is something I’ll not only use every day, but actually serves a business purpose for my writing.

But it feels good to do this.  It feels as if I’m simplifying my life and letting go of the dead weight.  It feels as if I’m updating my entire existence.  That can’t be bad.

logophobia and its victims

Once in awhile the Internet lets you know that you’re not alone in your strange obsessions.  With me, it was the brief logos and music cues that often appeared after TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s.  There was something vaguely faceless and sinister about them, as if “Devo Corporate Anthem” was a cover of a real song.  I remember being somewhat spooked by the PBS logo after Sesame Street, with the descending synth that suddenly burst out of the television.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say they scared me – not like, say, the Beatles’ “Revolution 9,” which we’ve discussed before – but I found them weird.

I didn’t realize that other people shared this sentiment until today.  I was listening to The Fogelnest Files podcast while racking up some overtime at work.  Today’s episode – number 20 – featured a whole segment dedicated to what they called “scary logos.”  They played this YouTube montage, and it’s a nightmarish parade of bold graphics, monolithic corporate logos that people have actually nicknamed (Viacom is “the V of doom;” Screen Gems is “the s from hell”), synthesized jingles, urgent drumbeats and trumpet flares.  It all makes sense when you see them one at a time.

It turns out that this is a full-fledged meme.  There are wiki sites dedicated to these odd, haunting pieces.  There is an actual movie, The S From Hell, making its way through the film festival circuit; its website comes complete with a detailed list of links.  I had no idea.  All these years I thought I was suffering alone!

Though it may be rubbing salt in open wounds, I’d like to suggest a few logos and identifiers that impacted me.  Here are five that come to mind.

1)  Television closeouts in general.  In the days before 24-hour cable and infomercials, television stations actually used to sign off the air at night.  This would usually consist of a short opinion piece, perhaps a prayer or spiritual message, and then a disembodied announcer’s voice reciting FCC-mandated legalese and wishing us good night.  Often this would be followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and then, suddenly, a test pattern.  At least with the Screen Gems logo you knew another program was coming; a station signing off could seem like a terrifying trip into oblivion.  Here’s WNBC-TV, 1980.  Here’s WNEW-TV, also 1980.  Morning sign-ons could also be scary, as evidenced by this clip of WOR-TV.

2)  The General Cinema movie theme.  There have been several versions of this, each becoming more jazzy and cartoonish as they progressed.  This early one, however, features a drumbeat with guitar parts edited in abruptly and randomly.  As this score plays out, an odd-looking projector, only vaguely resembling the General Cinema Corp.’s initials, spews out dots and words.  Finally the drums alone pound, and everything stops.

3)  The Golden Harvest movie theme.  Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studio was one of the top producers of kung fu films in the 1970s (along with Shaw Brothers, whose own theme was more campy than creepy).  Begins with four ominous drumbeats, then a horn fanfare, and then – completely unexpected – a couple of Mellotrons slowly sliding up an octave.  It reminds me of the scarier moments of the White Album, especially the ending of “Long Long Long.”

4)  The Associated Artists Productions (a.a.p.) logo.  For awhile, they distributed the Warner Bros. and Popeye cartoons for television.  Rather than the usual Warner Bros. shield, these shorts would begin with the a.a.p. logo on a plain blue background.  It would then fade back, and images of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and (on top) the apparently severed heads of Porky Pig and Daffy Duck.  Disconcerting enough, but at least they didn’t broadcast this truly terrifying atomic trailer for most of their properties.

5)  The beginning of Davey and Goliath.  NYC television used to broadcast this show super-early, around 6:30 or so, on weekend mornings.  We were a Jewish family – not that observant, but I did go to Hebrew school.  Now imagine waking up, turning on the television, and seeing four Claymation trumpeters in front of a huge, blood-red Christian cross shield.  Scary stuff if you’re a kid.  A production of Art Clokey, whose Gumby intro was almost as strange: beginning with an ominous harp, then switching to a cheerful song.