Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nash The Slash Has Passed Away

Saddened to learn that Jeff Plewman, better known to the music world as Nash The Slash, passed away at the age of 66.  Truly one of the most original musicians - and one of the more bizarre characters - in the entire underground scene.

In his honor, I am reposting the New Wave For The New Week entry I wrote about Nash The Slash back in December of 2011.

R.I.P. Nash.

(originally posted 12/5/11:)

Canadian-born Jeff Plewman has been making fascinating music since 1975, although you have likely never heard of him.  An incredibly talented individual, Jeff seems capable of playing any instrument you hand him. He is best known, however, for his work with electric violin and mandolin, often processed further through assorted synthesizers and, as he refers to them, "devices."  He has toured with Gary Numan and Iggy Pop, among others, and he is still going strong in 2011, having just released a fine retrospective compilation of his career's work. But if you go to your favorite record store (or, as I guess we must say in 21st century, "music source") and ask for Jeff Plewman's latest release, you'll get little more than funny looks. Jeff doesn't record or perform under his given name.  Jeff records and performs with his head and face wrapped mummy-like in bandages, wearing tuxedo and top hat, and goes only by the name Nash The Slash.

It wasn't always thus.  Nash started out as a normal, unbandaged musician as part of a Canadian mid-70's progressive band called FM (think long hair and long, long songs).  After FM released their first album, Nash struck out on his own, beginning with 1978's Bedside Companion. At the time this four-song instrumental EP was released, as the cover art reveals, the top hat and jacket were already in place, but the bandages didn't appear until the following year.  During a 1979 tour, with the crisis at Three Mile Island having just occured, Nash wanted to make a statement about the dangers of a nuclear meltdown. He appeared onstage one night wrapped in bandages dipped in phosphorescent paint as a warning that "this may happen to you!" The bandages quickly became a trademark, and he has not appeared in public unwrapped ever since.

1979 also saw Nash's first full-length LP, Dreams And Nightmares. Following the debut EP stylistically but beginning to add vocals to the mix, Nash slashed out a sound not far removed from German electronic noodlers like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream. In 1997 both the EP and this first LP were combined onto one CD as Blind Windows.  Setting his sights on the pop music world next, Nash released a cover of Jan & Dean's "Dead Man's Curve" in 1980 to positive acclaim.  The follow-up album, Children Of The Night, included that single as well as a few other covers ("19th Nervous Breakdown," "Smoke On The Water") as well as the usual experimental instrumental pieces.  Covering well-known songs made Nash more accessible, but also threatened to paint him into a corner as a gimmick act - and the hidden-identity/bizarre cover songs gimmick was already taken by The Residents (with whom Nash was briefly associated).

Nash answered his critics with his most wonderful album, 1982's And You Thought You Were Normal, which split the difference with one side of fairly standard New Wave pop and one side of instrumental noodling, and no cover versions to be found in either basket.  Nash scored a club hit with the album's single, "Dance After Curfew;" other notable cuts include "Pretty Folks," "Vincent's Crows," and the utterly majestic "Citizen" ("I've got nothing to hide/I just can't decide/Am I just a citizen?").  Then, in the ultimate thumb-your-nose-at-your-detractors move, he followed that two years later with an album full of nothing but cover songs! American Bandages found Nash slashing up the theme from American Bandstand, "Born To Be Wild," "Psychotic Reaction," and "Hey Joe" among others, while also taking another stab at "Dead Man's Curve."  The song from which the titular pun was taken, Grand Funk Railroad's "(We're An) American Band," gets a slight rewrite given that Nash always performs completely solo; hence he sings, "I'm an American Band."  Brilliant.

Having made his point, Nash pulled a most unexpected move and returned to his old bandmates, rejoining FM, although he retained the now-standard Nash The Slash uniform.  While spending the next few years playing with FM, Nash also dabbled in film scores and other production work.  But it wasn't until 1991 that we got the next solo Nash The Slash album, his soundtrack to Highway 61. 1999's Thrash demonstrated handily that Nash had not missed a step in his instrumental work; 2008's In-A-Gadda-Da-Nash equally proved he still knew his way around a goofy cover version or two.  In between those two albums, Nash issued a stunning score he created for the silent horror classic Nosferatu. Is there anything this guy can't do?

Despite all his work and critical acclaim - both from the music press and his fellow musicians - Nash The Slash remains relatively obscure. This year's The Reckless Use Of Electricity, a handy compendium of Nash's finer moments, is a welcome introduction for those new to this fascinating musician's oddly mesmerizing world of sound.  Get it.

For this week's NW4NW, here is some early-80s vintage Nash The Slash. First, the clip for his breakthrough cover of "Dead Man's Curve," then his club hit, "Dance After Curfew."  Enjoy!








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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Devo "Freedom Of Choice" (1980)

Cover of "Freedom of Choice Deluxe Remast...
Cover via Amazon
"The beginning was the end..."  - Devo, "Gates Of Steel"

Guitarist and founding member of Devo, Bob Casale (a/k/a Bob #2), passed away on Tuesday at the far too young age of 61. In his memory, there's been a lot of the Spudboys' music being played around Ruttville this week.  If you can manage to sidestep 1984's misbegotten Shout and the contemporarily released non-LP single "Theme From Doctor Detroit," it's pretty tough to go wrong anywhere in the Devo catalog (and even Shout has its moments: the title track, "Here To Go" and the wacky re-imagining of Jimi Hendrix's "Are U Experienced?")  Of course, Devotees will tend to lean heavily on the first two albums, and it's tough to argue with the simply classic opening salvo of Devolutionism, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo or its lesser-known but every bit as wonderful follow-up Duty Now For The Future.  But for me, their third album, 1980's Freedom Of Choice, remains the go-to record when I need a good shot of Devo's unique lunacy.

Part of my affinity for this album lies in the fact that in a collection that now boasts close to 3500 titles, Freedom Of Choice was one of my earliest additions.  The record has been getting airplay in my home for over thirty years!  Beyond that, the album is just flat out excellent from start to finish.  Not a clinker to be found here.  And while it was not an obvious grab at commercial acceptance or mainstream radio airplay, it is Devo at their most "pop," their most accessible, and it does contain their most well-known song, "Whip It."

Jerky, robotic rhythms are still the rule on Freedom, but the sound is less antiseptic than on the first two albums.  The yellow radiation suits were abandoned in favor of the famous flowerpot hats, a more humanized visual to match the more accessible sound.  While traditional guitars are certainly background players here, Devo had not yet gone fully synthesized. (That would happen with the next album, New Traditionalists.) The result is a fuller, tougher sound than is heard on any other album bearing the Devo name.

"Whip It"  is only the centerpiece of the album because history painted it that way.  It's buried in the middle of side one, just another track on album full of hook-laden, energetic, synth-heavy tunes.  If "Whip It" scored so big, it remains a puzzle why similarly styled tracks like "Girl U Want," "Freedom Of Choice" or "Gates Of Steel" weren't every bit as big.  For those looking for the expected Devo goofiness, "Ton O' Luv" and "That's Pep!" fit the bill nicely; the surprisingly touching "Snowball" shows that the previously emotionless Spuds know heartbreak as well as any of us.  Even apparent throwaways "Cold War" and "Don't You Know" are good enough to be lead tracks on virtually any other New Wave bands' albums.  And the final one-two punch of "Mr. B's Ballroom" (with its hiccuppy "whoa-whoa-oh-oh" chorus) and "Planet Earth" (not the same song as the identically titled Duran Duran single) is simply excellent.

Unlike many other New Wave albums of its time, Freedom Of Choice really doesn't sound terribly dated today.  Well worth adding to your own collection if you don't already own it.

R.I.P., Bob #2.






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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Fleshtones "Hexbreaker!" (1983)

Yesterday, the mighty Fleshtones released their newest album, Wheel Of Talent, on Yep-Roc records. This is the 22nd album for the boys from Queens, and the first track from it to reach the light of day is a bit of a nostalgia/tribute in honor of another pretty damn good NY band:



Haven't picked up the new LP myself yet (soon...soon), but I have been giving some airtime to my favorite from their vast catalog, 1983's magnificent Hexbreaker! 

The Fleshtones' brand of garage rock has always been about the party.  They're having fun singing and playing and they want to make sure you're having fun, too.  You can't not smile while listening to the Fleshtones, and you better not try and sit still in the corner - this is get up and dance around like no one is watching music, and it never shang-a-langed so brightly as on this, their second full length album for I.R.S. Records (a debut album was recorded circa 1979 for Marty Thau's New York-based Red Star Records, but only the "Amercian Beat" single saw release before that label collapsed. I.R.S. snapped the band up; those original Red Star masters were later released as Blast Off!)

With echoes of sixties nuggets like The Blues Magoos, The Standells and The Animals (Peter Zaremba's voice at times does sound a bit like Eric Burdon's) yet still reflecting the sounds of contemporaries such as New York Dolls, Suicide and, yes, The Ramones, The Fleshtones carved out their own sound, dubbed "Super-Rock!" That sound is immeditaely defined by the jarring guitar crash leading up to Zaremba's shout of "CHA!" that kicks off the opening track, "Deep In My Heart." Launching into a reedy farfisa-driven rocker that shakes you awake and culminating in actual crashes of thunder, the opener seems tough to beat.  But there are plenty of party tricks up these guys' sleeves.

Care for some bubblegum? "What's So New (About You)?" is stick-to-your-teeth sugary.  A fuzz guitar, a clap-along melody and that ever-present farfisa will leave you wanting more of this gooey sugary confection, but instead you're being whisked downtown on an ambulance ride: "Screamin' Skull" is a mildly harrowing account of a drug trip gone bad, but damn if you can't sing along with it.  After a wailing-sax instrumental break ("Legend (Of A Wheelman)"), you're hit with the punk rave-up "New Scene" and then the absolutely excellent title track. In another, more perfect world, "Hexbreaker" could have been "Louie, Louie."  A basic, repetitive guitar line, a bit of a soulful strut, and a recording that sounds like it's taking place at an actual party - it's wonderful stuff, and by the end of side one, you'll wonder if they can top what they've done so far.

The answer is immediate, as side two opens with the incredible "Right Side Of A Good Thing," perhaps the most Fleshtones-sounding song The Fleshtones ever did (and that is saying something, my friends!)  With its hysterical falsetto chorus and bubbling bass, it's a nearly perfect distillation of everything The 'Shtones stand for: fun, positivity, and damn good music.  "Brainstorm"  and "New Scene" keeps the party going, while "This House Is Empty" slows things down about a half step between them.  The album ends with the only non-original, John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell," which is given the full Super-Rock! treatment and as a result is the perfect way to close out the album.

Few albums are as strong start to finish as this one, and while The Fleshtones can sometimes be guilty of retreading the same sounds, there's a reason why you stick with what works.  On Hexbreaker!, everything works.  Toss it on the turntable and you've got yourself an instant party - what more could you ask for?

(Hexbreaker! was issued on CD as a 2-for-1 with Speed Connection - Live In Paris '85 in 2010.)




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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sometimes You Can't Go Back

For three years, from my first grade through third grade years, my family lived in Shillington, PA, a suburb of Reading.  Governor Mifflin Apartments, the development where we lived during that stretch, looked every bit of the year we moved in, 1973: long brick buildings in the style of colonial mansions (set along cleverly named thruways with names like Colonial Drive and Mansion Drive...ahem), at each end of which were three floors of four apartments each. First-floor communal laundry rooms and halls of storage lockers tied the two ends together.

The central playground where we kids spent most of our time would terrify the safety-conscious parent of today, but in the 70s it was perfectly fine to have metal monkey bars, a metal swing set, a metal sliding board and a metal merry-go-round all baking in the summer sun on a canvas of macadam and surrounded by chicken wire fence.  We seared our skin, scraped knees and elbows regularly, lost teeth, got mildly impaled by bare ends of chicken wire, cracked skulls and more, but we all came out of it OK.  Builds character, right? There was even half a basketball court and a volleyball court in the back of the playground. Ever play volleyball on macadam surrounded by chicken wire fence?

Behind the playground was a small wooded area, with a path that led down to a little creek. It was a great place for us kids to build forts, climb trees, learn how to curse and how to smoke cigarettes and how to throw a punch. We were Tarzan swinging through the jungle; we'd make little ramps and jump our bikes over the creek in our best Evel Knievel impersonation; we'd make small fires and watch dead leaves burn.  If we were really lucky, some of the bigger kids would join us and tell us stories about how the world worked, but more often than not they'd just be there to chase us away so could use the woods for whatever the bigger kids did there (coming of age lessons I wouldn't be old enough to learn until after my family moved back to Lancaster).

There was, as there always is in each chapter of your life, a cast of characters, but 40 years on the names and faces grow hazy. Friends like Mike Magaro, who is one of the few whose last name I can remember because when we referred to him it was always as if his full name were one word: Mikemagaro.  There was an Indian girl, Shefali; a kid about year older also named Brian (I spell mine with a "y," but that wasn't the differentiator at that age - he was "Big Brian" and I was "Little Bryan"); Harry, who was always unfindable when we played hide-and-go-seek in the storage lockers; Adriene, the girl I walked home from school with each day and was my first grade "crush."  There was my first bully, Barry Winkler, who would chase us smaller kids around with rocks or his BB gun and relentlessly picked on me, sending me home in tears more times than I can count.  There was my first best friend, Steve Yoder.

Steve Yoder and I became friends in the second grade, and it was in my runnings around with Steve that I did many of the things already listed.  I taught myself how to ride a bike thanks to Steve letting me ride his before I actually had one of my own.  We'd spend hours playing air hockey at Steve's apartment, throw a football or baseball around on a weekend afternoon (or gather other kids and try to get a game of kickball going).  We had dinners with each other's families. Typical best-friend stuff.

After third grade, my family made the move back to Lancaster.  Soon, a new cast of characters replaced that Shillington crew, and as I got older memories of Shillington faded deeper into the background - never completely forgotten, but rarely thought of.  Not quite a year ago, I was digging through a box of some old school papers and other scribblings from my youth.  I had always written stories, back as far as kindergarten, and I was fortunate to have some teachers along the way - specifically, in Shillington, my first grade teacher, Miss Londeen, and third grade teacher, Mrs. Voigt, - who actively encouraged my writing and creativity.  Hidden in this box were stories I wrote back then, often using myself and my friends as the characters.

It made me a bit nostalgic, and I decided I was going to try to see if I could find any of the folks I would have known back in Shillington online.  I fired up Facebook, and the first name I thought to look for was my old friend Steve Yoder.  Well, in this area of the country, Yoders are as common as Smiths, and Steves are all over the place.  At least a hundred Steve Yoders popped up.  OK, let's see...what if I did a search for what would have been my graduating class had I stayed in Shillington? Sure enough, there is a group page for Governor Mifflin School District Class of 1985!  I figured this must be paydirt! Would I recognize any names?  If I joined the group, would anyone remember me from my three-year stint at the beginning of that class's journey through school?

I began to scroll through the page, and stopped about five posts in.  It was a link to Steve Yoder's obituary. Steve had been killed in an automobile accident in May of 2011.

I had not spoken with or even seen Steve Yoder in nearly 40 years; I had barely thought of Steve in that time either, save for brief bouts of nostalgia.  Yet, it was like being punched in the gut.  The first best friend I ever had in life had reached the end of his, more than a year before I had stumbled across this link to his obituary. There would be no "hey, remember me?"  No getting together for a beer after 40 years.  No finding an old friend.

That pretty much put the immediate brakes on my nostalgic search.  I didn't want to to know who else might be gone.  I tried to join the group's page, but it seems that group has been inactive for some time - no one appears to be moderating the page and my request to join is still languishing there.  Somehow appropriate.

That night, I sat quietly in my living room, with no TV or music, and raised a toast to my friend.  I don't know where we go when we're done here - the traditional concepts of Heaven and Hell seem far too cut and dried to me, yet I'd like to believe there is something more, some better place. Wherever that is, I hope that when my time to go there comes, I will finally get the chance to meet up once again with my old friend for some air hockey or to toss a baseball around.  Until then, I wish him peace. And, I have had reinforced in me that it is worth it to take the time to tell those you consider friends - good friends, best friends - how much you value their friendship. You never know when someone you'd least expect to be gone, will be.



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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Dead Boys "Young, Loud And Snotty" (1977)

Young Loud and Snotty
Young Loud and Snotty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you had to chose only one record to play for someone so that they understand what Punk Rock was all about, which do you choose?  The Pistols? Ramones? The Clash or The Damned? Dead Kennedys or Black Flag? All solid, head of the class picks for sure, but if it were my decision to make I wouldn't think twice.  I'd immediately reach for The Dead Boys' Young, Loud And Snotty.  And I'd crank the stereo up to eleven.

The title is pitch-perfect: five sneering, snarling, unkempt and uncompromising punks who landed in New York City via Cleveland bathed in the fallout from the explosion of protopunks Rocket From The Tombs, stripped of any of that band's artier pretensions (that piece became Pere Ubu) and dunked in the spilled beer and slosh of CBGB's.   They played sloppy rock-n-roll of the heavy, loud and fast variety, like an amphetamine-fueled hybrid of The Stooges and The New York Dolls jamming in a garage at 2:00 AM and pissing off the neighbors on purpose.  The frontal attack of Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero seethed and slashed, propelled by the driving power of Jeff Magnum's bass and Johnny Blitz's drumming.

The Dead Boys were swept up in Sire Records' campaign to pluck the best of the burgeoning scene (Ramones, Talking Heads and Richard Hell were other CBGB's regulars who also landed on Seymour Stein's suddenly-hip label), and in 1977 delivered their debut album. Stiv starts the album by spitting out the opening lyric, "I don't need anyone!," and closes it with a strangled scream of "Down in flames!" In between those moments is a little under a half an hour of frenetic, puerile, vulgar yet undeniably catchy and fun Punk Rawk. Young, Loud And Snotty is utterly without pretense.  There's no political agenda, no social commentary, no deep message here - and certainly no silly love songs (unless your idea of romantic crooning includes lines like "I don't really want to dance/I just want to get in your pants.")

The album opens with the band's finest track, the searing "Sonic Reducer," an aural stun-gun that leaps at you like a caged beast.  I daresay "Sonic Reducer" would be a strong contender for best punk rock song ever; it certainly sets the bar extremely high for the rest of the album.  While not every track reaches the dizzying heights of the opener, everything ranges from very good to excellent.  The album is definitely front-loaded however: side one also gives us the anthemic "All This And More," the straightforward rocker "What Love Is," and a perfect bored-youth celebration in "Ain't Nothin' To Do," all of which are five-star efforts.  Only the occasionally draggy gloominess of "Not Anymore" offers any reprieve from the head-thunking assault.

Side two pales slightly, suffering from some same-y sounding material and a decidedly immature and misogynistic streak (see "Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth" and "I Need Lunch," the latter supposedly written about/directed at Lydia Lunch), but by this point in the proceedings you know what you're in for.  You can either snicker along like a fourth-grader just discovering dirty jokes, or move along to the next track.  A cover of The Syndicate Of Sound's 1960s garage-band hit "Hey Little Girl" is a pleasant surprise, foreshadowing Stiv's later solo efforts in that genre, and the two songs that close the album, "High Tension Wire" and "Down In Flames," bring us full circle back to where we started, if considerably more exhausted than when we began.

Young, Loud And Snotty is everything a Punk Rock album should be: loud, fast, abrasive fun.  The Dead Boys would follow this with a second album before finally burning out, and many years later alternate takes of the debut's tracks would be issued as Younger, Louder And Snottier.  The second LP, We Have Come For Your Children, is worth seeking out; the cash-in on the debut is best left on the shelf.

Sonic Reducer by Dead Boys on Grooveshark


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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Violent Femmes (1982)

Violent Femmes (album)
Violent Femmes (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"I wrote this song about Stefanie Jackson at Rufus King High School. There. I said it." 
- Gordon Gano, explaining "Gone Daddy Gone" in the liner notes of the 20th anniversary reissue of Violent Femmes, 2002
Nearly a dozen more years have passed since Gano's revelation/confession, yet it remains the perfect explanation for one of the most unique and entrancing three minute (and three seconds) singles of the 1980s. With its shuffling drum-brush beat, adenoidal vocals, faux-ambivalence swagger, nagging xylophone (!) line and mid-song hat-tip to Howlin' Wolf, "Gone Daddy Gone" remains one of the finest descriptions of a high school crush rejection ever written.  We've all had our Stefanie Jacksons...

Thirty plus years on, though, many people forget - or never realized - that "Gone Daddy Gone" was the single from the Violent Femmes' self-titled debut album.  The assumption often is that "Blister In The Sun" must have been the single; it's the better-remembered and more often chosen cut to be spun by the "classic alternative" stations these days.  Even "Add It Up" seems a more likely candidate looking back, if only the lyrics hadn't crossed that line and guaranteed no early-80s radio airplay at all by bluntly asking the question on every teenage boy's mind since time began, "Why can't I get just one fuck?"

But that's what makes Violent Femmes such a remarkable debut: of the ten songs found in its grooves, at least eight could have been singles.  From the sha-la-la "what have I got to do?" sing-along on the chorus of "Prove My Love" to the obsessive enumeration of reasons for taking pills in "Kiss Off" ("I forget what eight was for...") to the pseudo-reggae despair of "Please Do Not Go" ("what can I do?/I fall down dead/she never see the tears I cry") and on, each song has its own character, its own personality, its own reasons for being memorable enough to stick in your head.  Taken as a whole, no album has better captured what life is like when you're a 16 - 20 year old male who doesn't feel like he fits in, and yet been hook-filled enough for the 16 - 20 year old females to dance to.

It's somewhat amazing to me that today Violent Femmes is looked back upon as one of the essential albums of its time.  When it was issued in late 1982, the reaction wasn't so kind.  While radio was playing Rush and Journey and Def Leppard and Quiet Riot, Violent Femmes just didn't fit.  The sparse, minimalist, acoustic sounds that occasionally veered off into angular shards of guitar ("To The Kill") or collapsed into chaotic crumbles ("Confessions") wasn't the kind of thing the stoner kids could absent-mindedly strum along with on out-of-tune guitars in their black-lighted bedrooms.  The angst-ridden lyrics might have been just a tad too hip for that room as well, not to mention the fact that the guy singing sounds like a nerd.  Those of us who "got it" also got laughed at for listening to it.  Yet nowadays those same folks who laughed then are often among the first to shout "Yes!" when the opening da-da-de-dum-dum of "Blister In The Sun" pours out of a speaker somewhere.  Go figure.

For those of us who were there from the beginning, the album is an old friend.  My original copies of both the "Gone Daddy Gone" single and the album itself were nearly worn smooth from constant play; I know every lyric and every note by heart.  They remain my all-time favorite song and album, respectively.  The Femmes went on to release several more albums over the years of varying quality, but even the best of their later output pales compared to the debut LP.  The post-album UK single "Ugly"/"Gimme The Car" probably comes closest.  (In fact, another common misconception is that those two tracks were on the album originally as well, as they have been appended to every CD issue of the LP.)

The album stands up well three decades later.  If you don't own it, there is a gaping hole in your music collection which needs to be repaired immediately!




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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Recommended Reading: Life Won't Wait

Mike Essington's new book, Life Won't Wait, was released a few months ago; I wish I had been in a better head space then and could have properly heralded its arrival.  I wasn't, I didn't, and now I'm catching up, but I sure as hell am not letting any more time slip by without taking the opportunity to say that if you don't pick this one up, you are seriously missing out on the work of a gifted storyteller.

I have been a fan of Mike's writing for awhile now, from his weekly Mike Check column over at the excellent Strange Reaction blog to his must-have debut effort, Last One To Die. He has the ability to relate his stories and reminiscences in a way that puts you right there.  You know these characters, you have experienced these same things, or know someone who has. He never shies from nor attempts to dress up the grittier language or seamier situations of some of his exploits, but that's part of the power of his writing.  It may be rough going at times for some, but it's never vulgar just for shock value.

Mike has shown that he can handle himself in the world of fiction as well (check out the recent chapbook done in collaboration with David Gurz, Under A Broken Street Lamp), but the short autobiographical vignettes that populate his column and made Last One To Die such a stunning read are his wheelhouse. Life Won't Wait certainly follows in its predecessor's footsteps stylistically, but that is no complaint.

Once again, Mike's character studies both entertain and provoke.  I found myself in turns cheering him on to beat the hell out of his half-sister's boyfriend, being surprised at how much empathy I felt for some of the folks he met while incarcerated, and chuckling out loud at his efforts to help Eddie Money buy a pair of Levis.  He shares more typically crazy exploits with his friends, talks about his early days of going to shows (Mike was fortunate to have grown up around L.A. and have access to an incredible early punk scene), and allows us along for the ambulance ride when he thought he might be dying. Each story opens yet another window through which we get to learn a little bit more about Mike himself: punk rock kid, angst-ridden young adult, caring father, regular guy just trying to figure out Life. He's seen and done a lot, believe me.

Mike again closes the book with a section collecting a few interviews he has done over the years: James Frey, Texas Terri Laird, and Steve Jones of The Stepmothers.  And just like the hidden track at the end of an album, make sure not to miss the Epilogue.  It's a brief poem that damn near brought tears to my eyes.

Life Won't Wait is available through Create Space or through Amazon.com, as are Last One To Die and Under A Broken Street Lamp.


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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Don't Call It A Comeback:
8 Quick Notes On My Return To The Blogosphere

Some of you may have noticed that it has been awhile since the last time I posted anything.  Three months, to be exact.  The holidays are always a hectic time in Ruttville, as we add both my brother's and my birthdays into the mix of Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years.   This year, I also went through a very rough patch in my constant battle with my demons (more about that in a moment), and continue to work hard at rebuilding my career and digging out of the hole that nearly five years of under/unemployment put me in.  Let's just say I didn't feel much like writing.

Now that we're on the 2014 side of the ledger, though, things are looking up! There are positives to celebrate and stories to share, plus so much good music, writing, and other assorted whatnot to tell you about.  So, here I am, posting again.  A good thing, I think.

Three months is a fair span of time, and things happened while I was away.  Here are some quick notes about my world since we last spoke:

1. I went back into therapy.
As I noted above, my demons really ganged up on me as 2013 drew to a close. The panic attacks started coming fast and furious, and a few friends and family members got to experience a full-out Bryan breakdown or two - never an enjoyable thing, for me or for anyone around me.  Decided to stop trying to fight alone and ask for help.  Actually found the same therapist I worked with over a decade ago, the one who originally diagnosed my OCD and Social Anxiety.  Getting back into regular sessions with Dr. Atkins has proven to be the right move.  She has already helped me so much, and I plan to keep working with her for the immediate future, anyway.

2. I began practicing meditation.
Ties in with my return to therapy.  Dr. Atkins also happens to run a two-part meditation workshop, which she recommended to me and I decided to go.  I am so glad I did.  I am learning how to be calmer, more mindful, and more accepting of the world around me.  I wasn't seeking any religious or spiritual guidance, and the workshop was not presented as such; rather she focused on the health and relaxation benefits of meditation.  I recommend it highly.


3. I grew a beard.  Then I shaved it off.
I'd never worn a beard before.  Well, OK, a goatee at one point for a short while, but it was the 1990s and I think it was required that everyone wear a goatee at one point.  Anyway, decided to take part in No Shave November.  Was kind of surprised to see how much grey came in with those whiskers.  I mean, I've been going bald for some time now, but never grey!  I kind of liked the look of the beard, and then I didn't.  Then it itched like all get out, and after a few more days it didn't. I liked it again at that point, and then later on I didn't like it.  I figured if I'm waffling that much, it's not meant to be kept.  I suppose I'll never be a mountain man.

4. This blog passed the five-year mark.
Yep. Half a decade.  December 13th was the anniversary, which passed unnoticed this year.  I'm proud this li'l ol' corner of the Internets is still around - five years is an eon in cyber years, you know.  With luck, it'll be here another five...

5. Briefly, I considered shutting the blog down altogether.
I wondered if, after five years, I wasn't writing because I had no more to say.  Had the blog run its course? Was it time to just say thank you and goodbye, everyone?  I came damn close to archiving everything and pulling the plug, but at the last minute decided to wait and see if the muse came back.  Glad I did!

6. Amadeus' nose changed colors.
I've written before about how my one cat, Edison, has had his coat change color as he has grown, from a snowy white Siamese kitten powder puff to a dark brown and golden tiger-stripe.  Not to be outdone, his brother has had his nose change color.  No, really.  Took the cats to the vet for their annual rabies and distemper vaccinations.  The distemper vaccine was given nasally, with an eyedropper.  Edison tolerated it well, but Amadeus developed a very severe reaction to it.  He would sneeze so hard his whole body convulsed, and he had rubbed his nose so raw it was bright red.  After he got better and his nose healed, it had gone from pink to black.  The vet says it's hyperpigmentation, much like when we get freckles or darker scars.  It may go back to pink over time, or it may not.  Either way, Amadeus is fine.  Oh, and he's not getting the nasal vaccine ever again.

7. I celebrated another lap around the sun.
47 as of January 6th.  How did I get so old?  Good celebrations with family and friends, and even had "Happy Birthday" sung to me by the CEO, President and Vice President of the company I work for.  So it was a pretty good birthday, I must say. (And I am still promised a sushi dinner or two!)

8. I'M BACK, BABY!
In the immortal words of George Costanza...

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Yet Another Cultural Snubbing Of The Adverb

I generally do not pay attention to television commercials.  I seldom watch anything when it is actually aired anyway - I live the DVR lifestyle, recording and watching programs when I want to and usually fast-forwarding through the commercials. On the occasions when I do have to sit through the ads, I am certainly not focused on them.  That is, until the other night when a commercial's tag line forced my attention, the way fingernails being dragged across a chalkboard might force your attention.  Only this was even more unpleasant to my ears.

Capital Blue Cross has a new ad campaign, and the slogan the are using is an example of one of my biggest grammatical pet peeves.  It is the type of lax grammar that underscores my belief that our culture is hurtling ever more quickly toward the world that Mike Judge envisioned in the movie Idiocracy; a world where "the English language [has] deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valley girl, inner city slang, and various grunts."

Capital Blue Cross' new slogan is: "Live Fearless."

"LY!" I shouted at my television, which had already moved on to the next brain-numbing commercial. "Live fearlessLY! Do you people not know what a freaking adverb is?!?"

This isn't the first time a company has completely ignored the basic grammatical construction of an adverb. Back in the '90s I was driven batty by Apple Computers and their "Think Different" campaign.  "Think different?" I'd say to anyone who would listen. "Apparently someone on Apple's advertising team didn't proofread careful!"  I wish more people would have gotten the joke than did, but that too is a comment on our language dying: if it gets said on TV, it must be right.

Yes, I know, English is notoriously one of the most difficult languages to master. It is infamous for setting up rules of grammar and then offering a never-ending string of bizarre exceptions to those rules.  Adverbs, though, are pretty simple. 99% of the time, they're going to end in -ly.

He didn't run quick; he ran quickLY. She didn't yell angry; she yelled angriLY.  You shouldn't live fearless; you should live fearlessLY.  Simple, no?

I guess I had an advantage, being of grade school age in the 1970s.  We had songs to teach us things.  We had Schoolhouse Rock and Sesame Street and The Electric Company all throwing musical lessons at us about everything.  I still can recite the entire Preamble to the Constitution after all these years by hearing the Schoolhouse Rock song in my head.  We learned to count, we learned how bills become law, and we sure learned grammar!  Anyone my age remembers "Conjunction Junction" or that it's "quite interesting, a noun's a person, place or thing." 


We had two great lessons on adverbs, both of which I still hear in my head today, and both of which strongly underscored the -ly suffix.  Schoolhouse Rock offered us "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly (Get Your Adverbs Here)," which is quite fondly remembered by my circle of friends, but to me the one that really nails it was offered up by The Electric Company, who enlisted the incomparable Tom Lehrer to write the brilliant "L-Y." Anyone who grew up with this one has no excuse for improper adverb usage (and it's quite a snappy little tune, too!):




I don't suppose the folks at Capital Blue Cross will be making any changes in their advertising campaign based on my objections.  Still, I needed to rant, lest my head explode.  I've said my piece and will say no more, except to ask that please, anyone out there who is in charge of coming up with the next big slogan for the next national ad campaign for the next big brand, please do one thing:

Proofread careful!



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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Back to Baltimore

Man, I did not realize how badly I needed a night like last night.

It's been a slow process, rebuilding my world over the past year or so both emotionally and financially, and I still have more hills to climb before I'm truly at ease again in either aspect of my life. Hey, it took a nearly five-year tumble to create the rubble I'm climbing out of, it's going to take some time to rebuild as well.

One of the things that has been sorely missing in my world is live music. Hadn't gone to stand in front of a band since seeing Freezepop and Lifestyle in Philly over a year ago, and I missed the live band experience. It's as if a part of my soul wasn't being properly nourished. I had the chance to go see one of my favorites, One-Eyed Doll, in Allentown a couple weeks back, but those plans fell through at the last minute. When I saw that Peelander-Z was going to be at The Ottobar in Baltimore, I knew I had to be there! Still, I almost backed out at the last minute, not sure if I could (or should) afford the evening. Only $15 to get in, sure, but figure grabbing dinner somewhere and having a few beers at the show, possibly a purchase from the merch table, and it starts to add up when you're on a tight budget. Bless my brother, he basically said "don't worry about it, we're going!"

Four bands played last night; two of them I was very psyched to see again: Peelander-Z, of course, I had been blown away by when I saw them in Washington DC in early 2012 with One-Eyed Doll - a show which ranks among the flat-out best top-to-bottom live shows I've ever seen (neither are bands you just stand in front of - both are big on audience interaction and participation). Also, a local Baltimore band, Plurals, was on the lineup. I have raved about them since seeing them open for Shonen Knife the last time I was in Baltimore. So, I went in figuring even if the other two bands weren't any good, the night would still be fun.

I've mentioned before that there is a really cool scene happening in Baltimore lately. That was underscored again last night when the first band, Natural Velvet, took the stage. Fronted by bassist/vocalist Corynne Ostermann, they are a moody four-piece post-punk outfit relying heavily on reverb and echoey, distant vocals. They are also fan-frickin'-tastic. Ostermann gives off a coy Hope Sandoval vibe while guitarists Spike Arreaga and Kim Te scratch and slash, creating an ethereal yet agitated wall of sound. They've got an EP up on Bandcamp - check it out. As first bands go, they are one of the better I've seen.

Plurals were simply outstanding. I am a big fan of their modern take on an old-school new-wave sound, from Rachel Warren and Elena Fox providing the faux B-52's harmonies to Michael Bowen's Mark Mothersbaugh-meets-Frank Black lead vocals, combined with angular guitars and plinka-plinka keyboards, they've got the sound circa 1980 down without making it feel dated. Played some favorites including "Manic Depressor," "Mental Illness/Sooner Or Later," and "Clap Clap" (all of which can be found on their excellent Laced With Boniva EP, another Bandcamp offering which you must hear!), along with some I hadn't heard before: about mid-set, Warren took over lead vocals for "Look At The Nerds," seeming to channel both Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi simultaneously. Simply put, Plurals are one of my current favorites - just wish there was more recorded stuff out there! (Hint, hint...)

I'm not exactly how best to word my reaction to Christopher Nobody & The Nothing. Don't get me wrong, they were quite good, but there was something just a bit off to my ears. My brother drew a comparison immediately to bands like Saccharine Trust which, while not exactly hitting the target, is pretty good jumping off point to describe them. Christopher Nobody shout/sings neurotic, hiccuppy songs while lurching about the stage, occasionally throwing himself bodily to the floor and occasionally stalking out into the crowd. The band was solid, loud and noisy - just the right accompaniment for songs like "I Love My Executioner" and "Sick Sick Sick." But I think somehow I liked the concept behind what they were doing better than the execution. Again, I liked their set and would gladly see them play again - maybe in a different context I'd be more in sync with their performance.

Speaking of not knowing how to describe a band - I've now seen the mighty Peelander-Z twice and am still not able to describe exactly what I've seen...or experienced. You do not simply stand and watch Peelander-Z. You can't. They refuse to let you. You become part of the show, whether you're one of those chosen to come up on stage to take over instruments for the band or don a foam rhino head and pound out a beat on a tom-tom or you're simply part of a crowd-wide limbo contest or circular conga line. Before the night was out, we had been part of a drum circle, watched a human bowling match, and pounded with sticks on pie tins. This old man tends to stay out of the mosh pits these days, content to stay on the edge and help rebound folks back into the fray, but when a Peelander-Z mosh pit breaks out, you can't not be a part of it - it engulfs everyone, and everyone is having a great time. They opened at breakneck speed with "So Many Mike," and tore through crowd faves like "Mad Tiger," "Taco Taco Taco," and "Ninja High School" before ending with the standard show-closing cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." If you've never experienced Peelander-Z before, do yourself a favor and go see them. They are much fun.

As I said, I really needed that night. It may be awhile again until the next live show I see, but if I only get to one this year, I do believe I chose the right one.

More pics from the show will be up on the That's What I Was Going To Say Facebook page later on tonight - please stop by and, if you haven't already, "like" the page so you don't miss out on any of the fun stuff coming up on the blog!



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