Monday, July 27, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #20

The MembersThe Members via

Most people in the US who know of The Members know of one song, "Working Girl," which was a heavy-rotation clip in the earliest days of MTV. The scenes of a poolside party with band and guests being shoved fully-clothed into the water were used in numerous station promos, and the ultra-catchy chorus made it a minor hit.

It was also the last release for a band that had been around since 1976, when Nicky Tesco formed The Members with some of his buds in Cambridge, England, during the early days of the Punk Rock scene there. From the start, the band was fraught with internal dissent and external apathy. A churning lineup of musicians and a decent but not particularly individual sound saw the three albums they released during their six year lifespan sell much more poorly then hoped for, despite the fact that the band had delivered a couple of ace singles, including the aforementioned "Working Girl," the reggae-influenced "Offshore Banking Business," and this week's New Wave for the New Week Entry, 1978's "The Sound of the Suburbs".

"The Sound of the Suburbs"
flew up the UK singles chart, reaching #12, a success they would never again match in their homeland. It's a wonderful slice of early pre-hardcore, pre-Oi Punk, and sounds not just a little bit like early Clash.

Tesco quit the band in 1983, and that was it for The Members. Recently, the band reformed without Tesco, and have recorded a new single, a rewrite of "Offshore Banking Business" with lyrics dealing with the current state of the world economy, retitled "International Financial Crisis." Leaning more heavily on a dub-reggae sound and without Nicky Tesco's input, it falls a little bit flat to my ears. Apparently, a tour is in the works.

Here, then, is the performance clip for this week's NW4NW entry, "The Sound of the Suburbs" by The Members:

BONUS CLIP: Their best known song in America, 1982's "Working Girl"

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Post #100

Holy cow, I've reached the 100-post milestone!

I started doing this blog in December of 2008 (December 13th, to be precise). My initial purpose was to create for myself a reason to write more regularly. Throughout my life, family, friends and co-workers have always pushed me to write more, and even though I write quite a bit and enjoy it immensely, I can be very lazy about it, too.

I would love to be able to sustain myself completely as a writer, but in order to find someone willing to pay me, I need to actually write. The thing about those who hire writers is they like to see a portfolio. Why they won't just take my word for it that I can write pretty well, I don't know. I'm a trustworthy guy.

So, I began the blog, and over the past seven months I have been blessed by what seems (according to Google Analytics, anyway) to be a steadily growing readership. Thank you, each and every one of you. You drive me to want to write more and to want to improve.

If I would change one thing about you, my readership, it is that I would ask you for more feedback. My pride swells when I check the stats and see the number of hits each new post gets. I know you're there, reading; I know many of you come back and read more. Yet, seldom do any of you comment on what I've written. Perhaps that's my fault. Perhaps I don't write material that begs comment.

I do value your feedback though. By telling me what you like and don't like, what you find interesting and what you find dull about my posts, you would help me refine both this blog and my abilities as a writer, and for that I would be eternally grateful. So, on this, the 100th post, I will ask you directly for feedback.

Below is a six-question survey I would like to ask you to respond to, please. I'll also ask for feedback in the comments section: what would you like to see more of? Less of? What am I doing well and where do I need to improve?

Again, thank you for reading. I will do my best to continue to provide content that is enjoyable and, with your help, continually improving. And thank you for taking a moment to respond below. It means a lot to me.

My Ballot Box

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How do you get updated about this blog's posts?

What type of posts do you most enjoy here?

Do you like the hodge-podge approach, or would you rather see me split this blog into several subject-specific blogs?

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Monday, July 20, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #19

Back in 1997, the folks at Volkswagon put together a commercial that used a very simplistic plinking melody and a monotone nonsense vocal as its jingle. The first time I saw the commercial, I did a double-take: I couldn't believe what I was hearing being used to sell cars to mainstream America! I remember some friends of mine at the time, who did not share my tastes in music, laughing and saying "imagine if that was a real song!"

I invited those friends over one evening, went to the record wall, pulled out an EP by the German band Trio, and watched their jaws drop as I played "Da Da Da (I Don't Love You You Don't Love Me Aha Aha Aha)." It WAS a real song, and in fact was 15 years old by that point!

I didn't think, after that, that I could ever be as shocked by the song in a commercial again. Then, this past week, I saw the new commercial for the Palm Pre smartphone. Again, I did the double-take, this time for an intricate, ethereal, delicate melody that I hadn't heard outside of my own music collection in almost a quarter of a century.

Palm Pre is using Freur's 1983 single "Doot Doot" to sell smartphones!

Freur was a relatively obscure Welsh art-wave band that began life with a name that was an unpronounceable squiggle (years before Prince stole the idea). Of course, no record company is going to stand for that! After all, how can you sell records if the radio DJs can't say the band's name? So in the interest of commercialism, the band came up with the only slightly more pronounceable Freur, and saw their first single, "Doot Doot" receive enough airplay in the UK to reach the lower tier of the singles charts there; and enough airplay on college stations and even MTV in the USA to at least garner some attention.

Freur's original unpronounceable squiggle

It is a beautiful recording, soothing and melodious, soaring and majestic. Nothing else they ever recorded came close to this level of songwriting, and after two albums, they were gone, apparently banished to the forgotten dusty corners of the collective New Wave memory bank, until the folks at Palm Pre decided to revive it.

Kind of ironic, the band whose original name was so utterly uncommercial winds up being the focus of a commercial 26 years later. Still, it's great to think that a whole new generation is getting to hear this song.

So, if any of your friends mention the tune in the Palm Pre commercial and wonder what it would be like if it was a "real song", send them the link to this post, because here is this week's NW4NW entry, Freur's "Doot Doot". And, as a bonus video, an early recording of the song with the original Welsh lyrics. Sing along:

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The New Customer Service

A couple years back, my family and I stopped at a local Friendly's for ice cream. I decided on their most wondrous creation, the Reese's Pieces Sundae. It's huge, it's decadent, it's wonderful, and I hadn't had one since my high school days, so that's what I ordered. A few minutes later our waitress brought our sundaes to the table, and in front of me she sat a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae.

"Excuse me," I spoke up, "but this is not what I ordered."

"I know," she replied, and left offering no further explanation, nor making any effort to correct the situation.

I sat stunned as the rest of my family burst into laughter. When she came back again, I repeated that the sundae she had delivered was not what I ordered. "Do you mean you want me to have them make a whole new sundae?" she asked, her tone of voice making it clear that this would be a huge inconvenience. Yes, that's what I wanted, but rather than risk having a Reese's Pieces & Spit Sundae brought to me, I decided I would eat what I was given. Within another five minutes, our waitress reappeared once more, this time with a small paper cup filled with Reese's Pieces. "Here, you should at least have these," she smiled as she put them in front of me, and left again before I could even respond to the bizarre situation.

And that's where it ended. She made no real effort to replace the incorrect sundae with what I had actually ordered, and never once apologized for the error. She could not be bothered to either do her job correctly or remedy the situation once her error had been pointed out. The customer service here was non-existent.

Over the years, this has come to be a running a joke with my family: "Let's go to Friendly's and see if we can actually get what we order." The complete lack of customer service, coupled with the complete obliviousness to the inconvenience she created, was one of those once-in-a-lifetime situations, right?


I had an appointment with my doctor this afternoon. As per usual, after the visit was complete, the doctor sent me out to the front desk to have one of the office staff schedule my next visit and set up a schedule for some tests I must have done. I always make certain to get a receipt for each visit, so that when my insurance statements come in I can reconcile and make sure everything is as it should be.

I asked the girl at the desk for my receipt, and she began entering stuff into her computer. Suddenly, a confused look came over her face.

"Were you here today?" she asked.

"Yes," I slowly began to reply, a bit taken aback by the question. "I just finished with the doctor."

"Were you here twice today?"

What the hell kind of question is that? Of course I wasn't there twice, but all I could say in the moment was, "I don't even know how to respond to that question."

"Because I see today's date on here twice..." she trailed off, and then printed out a sheet of paper which she handed to me. "Now, this is your receipt, but it's not correct," she declared, indicating that, in her mind, our transaction was complete.

Instead of handing me a receipt for a doctor's visit, she handed me a receipt for a doctor's visit plus a urinalysis plus another procedure plus a VISA credit...a laundry list of things that did not occur during my visit.

"These charges aren't mine!" I stammered.

"Yes, I know," she smiled - same tone of voice, same "this is all I'm going to do for you" attitude as the Friendly's waitress years ago. But this time, I wasn't going to be cowed so easily!

"May have a correct receipt?" I asked, my voice underscoring my displeasure.

She looked stunned that I would ask for this. "OK, let me see if I can find the error," she sighed as she began combing through pile after pile of receipts - obviously the day's appointments.

Once through the stack. Twice through the stack. Third time through, I piped up again: "Maybe it would be easier to fix my receipt by taking off the charges that don't belong to me."

"But I can't remove charges," she stated matter-of-factly. "Only the accounts manager can do that." She resumed plowing through her stack of papers.

After almost twenty minutes, she triumphantly pulled out one paper. "Here it is!" There had been another patient that day also named Bryan (with a vastly different last name), and his charges had been inadvertently put on my account. Then she added, "But, I can't fix it, because I can't take charges off."

I measured my words so as not to scream at this lady for wasting nearly half an hour of my time. I very slowly and clearly said, "I would like a correct receipt for my appointment, please."

"But, I can't do that," she maintained.

"Then, please call whomever you need to call, or do whatever you need to do to have someone fix it. I understand that there was an error, but that's your concern. I would like to have a correct receipt."

"But I don't have her number!"

"Then you need to contact someone whose number you do have, who can fix this."

Another sigh. Then, she picks up the phone to call the office manager (she has the office manager's number, but not the accounts manager's?). I hear her leave a message.

"She's not home," she dutifully reported to me.

"So how do you intend to fix this?" I asked.

"Well, you can either wait here until she calls back, or you can come back tomorrow for a corrected receipt."

It was pulling teeth to get that far with her. In the end, I left without a corrected receipt; only with the promise that I will be called tomorrow morning to be told the corrections have been made and to make arrangements to have the corrected receipt delivered to me.

Again, there was no effort made towards customer service. She would have been perfectly content to send me off with an incorrect receipt containing someone else's charges, just as the waitress at Friendly's was perfectly content to present me with something other than what I ordered. No thought crossed either of their minds that the inconvenience to me, the customer, might not be best for business. No effort made of their own volition on either part to actually correct the situation; indeed, each saw the little they did do to be an imposition on their time rather than a service to the customer.

As I was writing this post, my phone rang. It was the lady from the doctor's office. She called to tell me that she had forgotten to indicate some of the blood tests the doctor wants done on my test order form, so she wanted to know where I was going to have that work done so that she could fax the additional test requests there as well. Her reason for forgetting to indicate those tests? "Well, you had me a little flustered earlier."

Oh. I see. It was MY fault. Could there have been a more perfect postscript to the story? Sigh...

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Monday, July 13, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #18

Cover of "Desperate"Cover of Desperate

Some bands are fated to toil away in obscurity making wonderful music, to have their only taste of mainstream success come in the form of a song so unbefitting it's almost comically sad. Such a fate was that of Australia's Divinyls.

To most people, if they even remember that band name at all, the one song that they know is the shock-hit "I Touch Myself," which was their only visit to the American record charts, climbing all the way to #4. It's an OK, if too-purposefully titillating, single - but for that to be all Divinyls would be remembered for is a disservice to a solid band with a number of very good records under their belt.

Based from the start around the duo of Christina Amphlett and Mark McEntee, Divinyls first made noise in their native land around 1980. Their first release, an EP of music created for the movie Monkey Grip, included two wonderful singles. "Boys in Town" and "Only Lonely" got the band noticed quickly, both charting in the top 20 in Australia. Both songs were included on their debut album, Desperate, the following year, along with their third single and this week's entry, "Science Fiction."

The band continued their Australian success with two more albums and a few more charting singles, including "Pleasure and Pain" (1985) and "Hey Little Boy" (a 1988 reworking of The Syndicate of Sound's 1966 garage stomper "Hey Little Girl").

Despite their growing reputation and a fair amount of play on MTV, their breakthrough seemed like it would never happen until that 1991 smash. Another record followed with little publicity, and Amphlett and McEntee went their separate ways.

This week, enjoy Divinyls as they should have been remembered with their entry in the NW4NW series, "Science Fiction," which was named one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time by APRA (Australian Performing Rights Association).

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Monday, July 6, 2009

22 - 1

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 13:  Shane Victorino...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Boy, this was nice to see!

The Phillies achieved the baseball equivalent of stomping a mud hole in their opponents and walking it dry this evening, defeating the Cincinnati Reds by 21 runs, 22-1! Bookending the attack with a 10-run first inning and a 6-run eighth, the Phils hit four homeruns, including a grand-slam from Jayson Werth. The team pounded out a season-high 21 hits, including a 3-for-4 night with two walks for the finally rejuvenated Jimmy Rollins.

On a night where the Phils were campaigning to have CF Shane Victorino voted into the All-Star Game next Tuesday alongside fellow Phillie All-Stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez (even the ball girls were dressed in Hawaiian shirts in support of Victorino!), Shane himself started the scoring with a two-run homerun in the first inning, following a lead-off walk to Rollins. Greg Dobbs added a two-run homerun, and Utley a three-run blast before the first inning was over. Starting pitcher Cole Hamels contributed a two-run double to the opening frame's festivites, marking the fourth time in club history the Phils have opened with a 10-spot.

For the Reds, it was not a good night at all. 5 hits and 1 run (on a Jonny Gomes homerun in the 2nd) were all they could muster, and by the end of the night backup shortstop Paul Janish was pitching. It was Janish who threw the grand slam ball to Werth; Janish gave up 6 earned runs in his single inning on the mound, giving the position player a lifetime ERA of 49.50!

The Phils had not scored this many runs in a single game since scoring 26 runs against the New York Mets on June 11, 1985.

It was especially nice to see this kind of offensive display happen at home this year, where the Phillies have not been playing well. My only hope is that this doesn't foretell another offensive drought - this team has been known to slug out a huge burst of offense like this and then fall dormant in hitting for a stretch. Last year they had a 20-run game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals and then did nothing for a considerable stretch; I'd hate to see that happen again.

Rather, I'm hoping that this game, coming on the heels of a sweep of Mets, is a sign of building momentum that they can carry through the All-Star break and into a successful second half. Regardless, it was an awfully fun game for a lifelong Phillies fan like me to watch!

Check out the box score here.

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New Wave for the New Week #17

Tuxedomoon - Naima Club, Forlì (FC)Image by zioWoody via Flickr

I recently finished my first read-through of Isabelle Corbisier's exhaustive and wonderful Music for Vagabonds: The Tuxedomoon Chronicles, as thorough a history of the ex-San Franciscan European art rock collective as has been written about any band. I say "first read-through" because this is a book that will take several readings to consume and digest properly. The detailed annotations and footnotes alone form almost a second book within the main work, and the very European writing style Ms. Corbisier employs demands close attention from a Yankee reader such as myself.

This is not merely a recitation of names, dates, places and events, however; this is a diary, compiled of band member reminiscences, comments from contemporary spectators, and real time concert and record reviews, woven seamlessly to tell the story of the evolution of Tuxedomoon from its beginnings in post-Haight San Francisco, to its relocation across the pond in the hopes of finding acceptance, through its collapse and eventual reconstruction. For fans of the band it is a must-read; for those unfamiliar with Tuxedomoon, it will be a fascinating doorway to an often misunderstood and sadly under-appreciated group of musicians and performers.

I discovered Tuxedomoon in high school via my fascination with The Residents, and by extension any band that released material on that band's own label, Ralph Records. The two-record set The Best of Ralph is a highly recommended label compilation from that early '80s era; on it you'll find Tuxedomoon's wonderful "What Use?" and somewhat sinister "Incubus (Blue Suit)." As good an introduction to the band as any, as this is Tuxedomoon at perhaps their most accessible.

The NW4NW entry this week is a recently created video for their first single, 1978's "No Tears." Easily one of my favorites from their catalog, the sound here indicates why they were quickly, and perhaps too hastily, lumped in with the Punk/New Wave scene. Plaintive vocals screamed/sung over a skittish melody create an almost other-worldly sound. This however is not meant as an overall illustration of the band's sound or style; no one song from their catalog could be chosen as a "stereotypically Tuxedomoon" song. Over 30+ years they have explored areas of the musical spectrum that many other musicians have assiduously avoided, but they have also fashioned some very likeable, melodic, almost pop music as well. They are a band well worth your time and effort to get to know.

To start with, though, here is this week's New Wave for the New Week, "No Tears" by Tuxedomoon:

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Sunday, July 5, 2009


Seldom anymore do I hear a band that blows me away from the get-go. Maybe it's the jadedness that comes from being past 40, beyond the age where everyone in the under-25 hipster crowd believes you should turn in your music-lover's club badge and resign yourself to your old dusty vinyl collection of "old fogey" music. (I actually overheard someone recently refer to the Sex Pistols that way: old fogey music. Why, back in my day, Johnny and Sid were taking us to hell in a handbasket and that's the way we liked it! Consarned kids today...) Today's bands are making music for today's kids, right? Just as my parents never fully understood the Violent Femmes or the Dead Kennedys, I'm not supposed to "get" the current stuff. Right? Only fitting, then, that when I do have the occasion to see a current band live, that my reaction rarely rises above a half-hearted "meh."

On Saturday I celebrated the 4th of July at a shindig here in downtown Lancaster, PA, called Freedom Fest. Hosted by radio station WXPN on the deck and the surrounding grounds of the Marion Court Room Restaurant, Freedom Fest boasted 7 hours of live music from 12 bands on 2 stages, along with several art exhibits, all for $10.

Freedom Fest flyer

I got there about two hours into the festivities, and met up with Ken Mueller, who does promotional work with WXPN, and who gave me the rundown on the bands coming up. I knew that I wasn't likely going to stay the whole night, but from the first Ken recommended I stick around to hear the band Perkasie. "They're easily the best band in Lancaster right now," he promised. They weren't going on until about 8:45, though, so I wasn't sure.

Listened to some decent music from a few regional bands, enjoyed some good food and drink, and made my around the crowd, running into friends here and there and spending a great deal of time just people-watching. At one point, the skies seemed to darken a bit, and since I don't drive and had about a 25-minute walk home ahead of me, I thought maybe it was time to get going.

"C'mon, dude, you gotta stick around for Perkasie," Mueller implored when I stopped by the WXPN table on my way towards the exit. "It isn't going to rain."

Ken isn't exactly always on the same musical track as I, but he knows his stuff. When I recently wrote about Nick Cave, he suggested I check out Wovenhand, and what a perfect recommendation that turned out to be. I asked for an idea of what Perkasie was going to sound like, and surprisingly, I seemed to have stumped him with that question. "Well, they're different..." he started, searching for a way to describe them. "They've got a washboard and a mandolin..." He trailed off again.

Well, now my interest was piqued, so rain or no, I was sticking around. Boy am I glad I did!

As noted on their MySpace page, Perkasie's sound has been described as "bubblegum baroque pop," and "more Puff The Magic Dragon meets Lynyrd Skynyrd meets O Brother Where Art Thou than Woody Guthrie meets Left Banke meets The 1910 Fruitgum Company." That should give you a rough idea of why Mueller was having such a hard time describing them. In my mind, I hear them as Squirrel Nut Zippers meets Poi Dog Pondering in a dusty saloon. Elements of diverse musical styles clash, crash and emulsify in the Perkasie blender, creating a musical version of one of those slushy bar-on-the-beach drinks which leave you far more buzzed than you ever expected they could. With each new song, another ingredient was added to the mix: here's some rollickin' rag-timey piano; here's some fairly traditional-sounding folk; let's add a little bit of swing to the mix; wait, that's almost a march; holy cow is that a tango?; I think I detect some bluegrass in here...and your head is spinning and you feel great. Bartender, pour me another!

Perkasie onstage at Freedom Fest

Onstage, the band is as entertaining to watch as they are to hear. Kate Foust is center stage for good reason - she is the focal point of attention. She demands it whether you want to pay attention to her or not. From the first note to the last, she is whirling around the stage, displaying seemingly boundless energy. There's a solitary drum next to her that she randomly pounds on, more as a way to release that energy than as an integral part of the song. Now she's over by the keyboard player, bashing away some random chords while he's trying to play. Now she's draped over the guitarist. Even the fellow playing washboard can't escape, and all the while she's winking at the audience as if including us in her mischievousness.

But Perkasie is by no means just the Kate Foust show. Keyboardist Alex Walsh shares lead vocal duties almost 50/50, grinning from behind his keyboard as if he's having the time of his life, and playing off Foust's careening with classic takes. Were they not musicians, they could have been a modern vaudeville act. The rest of the band chimes in regularly too, providing vocal harmonies and reaction shots to Kate's and Alex's antics.

Bottom line, this is a band that has fun. Whereas other bands throughout the day had to ask for audience participation ("C'mon people, clap your hands, you can dance, this is a party.."), Perkasie's enthusiasm just enveloped the crowd organically. THEY were having the party; we didn't want to miss out on the fun!

Perkasie has one CD out, self-titled. I wish I could tell you were to buy it. Plenty of places online where you can download it digitally: iTunes, Amazon, etc. But (and here's the old fogey in me, I guess), I want the actual CD. Really, I would love to have a vinyl LP, but I don't think they pressed any. Sadly, the band does not have their own website, nor any Facebook or Twitter pages that I could find. Their only online presence is on MySpace, but they have no links there to purchase the CD. (Hey guys - if you're reading this - get yourselves set up on Facebook and Twitter, and set up some CD purchase links - you're missing a huge market here!) I'm told you can purchase the CD from the band at their shows; I must have missed that opportunity on Saturday.

If you haven't heard Perkasie yet, here's a clip from YouTube that gives you a sense of the sound (or at least, one of the sounds) of the band. More can be heard on their MySpace page. But seriously, you must - MUST - see them live to get the full experience. I promise you'll leave with the best head-spinning, toe-tapping buzz you've ever had!

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