Monday, January 31, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #109

Tubeway ArmyCover of Tubeway ArmyThink, for a moment, of what defined the stereotypical New Wave sound, circa 1979/1980:  Early, metallic-tinged synthesizer bloops.  Choppy, robotic rhythms.  Deadpan vocals.  Themes of alienation and separation.  Now think how that came to be the blueprint that most people think of when they think of New Wave.  It can be traced back, essentially, to one monster hit single - one of the most successful New Wave records ever released: Gary Numan's "Cars."

Gary Numan, both as a solo act and as part of his earlier band, Tubeway Army, was the personification of the New Wave to most of mainstream America.  Really, "Cars" had no business being a hit single.  It was totally unique when it was released in 1980.  Nothing else sounded like it.  Sure, you had Devo experimenting with electronics, but they were filtering actual melodies through those synths and keyboards. The B-52's were delivering on the herky-jerky rhythms, but they were clearly having a blast and inviting everyone to dance.

No, Numan was different.  Melody, such as it was, was stunted at best.  His vocals were mostly monotone; when there was palpable emotion it was brooding and morose.  It was as if he had arrived via time machine from some 1960's Italian sci-fi movie's vision of the year 2000, where machine had all but replaced man and everyone wore unisex Logan's Run jumpsuits.  His music was the soundtrack of our inevitable dystopian demise.  Yet, it was somehow insanely catchy.

Numan's earliest singles with the Tubeway Army were punkier affairs.  At the time going by the name "Valerian," Numan's strongest artistic influences - Bowie, Bolan, etc. - are more readily identifiable on guitar/bass/drum singles like "That's Too Bad," "O.D. Receiver," and "Bombers."  (These early singles were collected and re-issued as The Plan in 1983, later expanded with demos and unreleased recordings for CD release many years later.).  By the time Tubeway Army's self-titled debut album was released in 1978, however, he had rechristened himself as "Gary Numan," and begun to bring rudimentary synths into the mix.

That first album is simply stunning. Opening with "Listen To The Sirens," which pretty much laid out the ground rules for the rest of the decidedly cold LP ("We don't wish to be your friends/We won't ever call again") and burbling away with themes of unwanted solitude and alienation ("My Shadow In Vain," "Are You Real?," "Every Day I Die"), it would be the opening salvo in a three-year string of amazing records.

1979 brought about Replicas, another masterpiece, this time credited to Gary Numan + Tubeway Army.  Guitars of any sort had essentially disappeared, and Numan's lyrics were becoming more icily claustrophobic and removed.  Standouts like "It Must've Been Years," "You Are In My Vision" and the utterly magnificent "Me, I Disconnect From You" helped to refine Numan's alien approach.  In the UK, Numan enjoyed his first smash hit with the album's lead single, "Are 'Friends' Electric?"

The stage was set for Numan's mega-hit.  Later in that same year his next album, The Pleasure Principle, dropped the Tubeway Army name completely, and despite some often overlooked excellent supporting tracks ("Metal," "M.E.") this was a one-track pony.  "Cars," which is probably right now percolating away in your mind's ear, was as big as a single could get in those days.

Numan rang in 1980 with another of his finest singles, "I Die: You Die."  Originally intended to be a non-LP single, it was included on later pressings of that year's Telekon.  Although by no means a bad album, Telekon's songs showed a clearly tiring Numan, who had by now released four albums in three years and had been touring incessantly.  1981's Dance was a bleak affair with nothing much to recommend it, and by the time 1982's I, Assassin arrived, Numan was beginning to sound very forced...and very dated.

Throughout the second half of the 1980's, Numan released several albums on his own NUMA label, trying to recapture the early magic while simultaneously exploring more atmospheric, almost ambient sounds.  His experimental work with early samplers was interesting, but never caught the public ear, and Numan soon faded away.  An attempted comeback album in 1989 was not successful.

Today, the music of Gary Numan and Tubeway Army that was once labeled "futuristic" is now almost anachronistic, but for those of us who were there the preferred term would be "nostalgic."  So enjoy a couple of clips of what the future once sounded like.  Two of his best: First up, an audio-only clip of "It Must've Been Years" from the Tubeway Army days.  Second, the clip for his last great single, "I Die: You Die."  Enjoy!

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

You Really Oughta

Even though I had taken my leave of blogging for awhile, I did not forsake the blogosphere entirely.  My account at Google Reader positively overflows with nifty feeds, the niftiest of which I share with you on the blogroll over at the left (keep scrolling down, you'll get there).  I try to keep a fairly steady rotation of blogs and other websites in that list, adding newer ones that I find that really catch my attention, weeding out those that have fallen into radio silence, etc.  I recommend checking there at least once a month just to make sure you haven't missed anything wonderful.

Since I've been away, however, I thought it would be a good time to highlight some of the more recent additions to the blogroll in a post where more folks are likely to see them and, hopefully, go visit and check them out.  So here are 10 sites that I currently visit regularly, and suggest you do as well:

RCRD LBL - Simply one of the best free & legal sources for music on the Internet.  The folks at RCRD LBL offer both streaming and downloadable mp3s from artists both classic and cutting edge, representing a wide variety of genres and styles.  Their staff of writers do an excellent job on the editorial side, and you can spend hours surfing from one artist to the next.  Great place to find the next big thing, as well as rediscover some old favorites.

...tapewrecks... - You know that box of old cassette tapes collecting dust in the back of your closet or on a shelf somewhere? The box where most of them are missing inserts or cases, but you know one or two of them have you and your high school buds jamming on them?  Well, Tom Quinn is digitizing them and sharing them with the world.  Demo tapes, self released cassettes, reel-to-reel cacophonies, bands that never made it and for good reason - they're all here in glorious lo-fi, with explanatory notes and commentary.

The ModPopPunk Archives - Not a blog per se, but rather a sort of online museum of classic and current music in the mod, power-pop, punky vein.  Their mp3 of the Day (which does not change daily) usually features an obscure classic, while their Record of the Month (which hews much closer to its stated schedule) will point you in the direction of something new.  Recent RoM's have included Protex, The Mother's Children and The Van Buren Boys - all excellent and highly recommended.  Their mp3 archive is a treasure trove not to be missed!

The Ouro Bros. and the Never-Ending Tour - Jeremy Bentley (he draws) and Jeff Burkholder (he writes) have combined efforts on an outstanding webcomic following the exploits of Stan and Balthazar Ouro, sibling musicians on the road.  Bentley's own experiences as a drummer inform the situations our boys find themselves in, giving the story a ring of familiarity to anyone who has ever been on tour and an admittedly exaggerated peek behind the curtain for those who've always wondered.  Both artist and author add commentary to each episode describing process and inspiration - the online equivalent to director's commentary on a DVD.

Thinking Too Hard - When she isn't busy editor-in-chiefing over at, Becky Tsaros Dickson is writing some of the most powerful first-person prose currently online.  Deeply introspective and unflinchingly direct, her words are at turns nostalgic, despairing, furious and celebratory - often all four within just a few sentences.  The emotion in her work crackles off the screen and pulls you into the center of her electrical storm, leaving you exhausted but wanting more.  I also recommend picking up her first book, I Could Tell You Stories.

All Things Considered - Another of my favorite writers on the 'Net these days is Gina Collia-Suzuki.  The self-described "frightfully serious art historian and incredibly silly novelist" authors no less than five blogs, my favorite of which is All Things Considered - "All Things" in her world being books, art and the goofiness of daily life. (I'd add only music and baseball to make "all things" a complete list; I'll forgive her the baseball, she being British and all, but I think music a necessity!)  Her wonderfully dry sense of humor permeates even the most didactic of her works; her incredible ability to find herself in the oddest of situations (get to know the stories about her abhorrent neighbors) provides her with fertile foundation for her storytelling.  She has four books currently available on Amazon. Go! Purchase! Enjoy!

k-rina - Cristina Rad, a/k/a k-rina, a/k/a ZOMGitsCriss, is one of the more intriguing personae to be found online these days.  There is an old saying that you will never make friends talking about politics or religion. Well, friends be damned, politics and religion are what this Romanian wants to discuss, and she is rather opinionated at that.  But she doesn't just bluster; this is a bright, educated woman who will challenge you to examine your own opinions while defending hers.  Either that, or she'll just piss you off.  And then she'll turn around and post about making pancakes or cleaning house.  Her blog goes hand-in-hand with her YouTube channel.  Check 'em both out.

Dynamyk's Ridiculous Digital Scrapbook - Mike "Dynamyk" Miller has set up a wonderful Tumblr blog in which to show off his outstanding graphic work, as well as the occasional random thought or phrase.  Mostly, though, its images captured via camera or iPhone (he's been big on the Instagram app lately).  Gifted with a sharp eye and a sharp sense of humor, his pictures tell little mini-stories; taken as a whole, his blog is a pictorial diary - a chance to see the world through another's eyes. 

Random, Personified - My other favorite Tumblr blog of the moment belongs to Liz Money.  If you are into geeky gadgety tech-y stuff at all, you've no doubt encountered Liz Money online somewhere: she hosted The Money Shot for reviewing, well, gadgets; she currently co-hosts The BangItOut Show podcast for; she can be found livening up just about every social networking platform imaginable.  Here she collects and shares all sorts of goofy, fun things she finds from all around the Net.  Sure to put a smile on your face.

The Lancast - Speaking of podcasts, I would be remiss if I didn't insist you subscribe to the best damn podcast in Central Pennsylvania, The Lancast.  For over a year now, David Moulton and Daniel Klotz have been podcasting weekly about Lancaster and the people in and around it.  Their interviews with community leaders, local characters, and visiting personalities are always both insightful and entertaining.  They capture the flavor and personality of Lancaster very well, both by advertising community events and by sharing the stories of the people who make up our town.  Out-of-towners, I urge you to listen, too - you'll gain a greater understanding of the land that spawned my world view, and you just may be inspired to come visit!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Back In Flesh

Reports of this blog's death have been, as they say, greatly exaggerated.  It's been awhile, and I have to say the break was much-needed and more reinvigorating than I expected it would be, but the blog is back!

I very much appreciate your understanding of the need I had to put this away for a few weeks.  Been in one of those phases where I began to question myself as a writer.  I write, both for fun and for profit, but in the last few months of 2010 it felt really forced.  It wasn't fun anymore.  Every word I wrote felt less like an expression of self and more like an assignment.  The only thing that kept me going was doing the New Wave for the New Week entries here, and much as love to put those pieces together and I thrive on the feedback they generate, I must admit I had begun to burn out on them.  Perhaps, I thought, that series had run its course.  And, if NW4NW was done, was I done?  Could it be that, contrary to the cliched insistence of every self-professed writer that he or she has a book inside them just waiting to come out, I had fulfilled my potential through a series of snarky reviews of 30-year-old bands?  Had I said everything I wanted - needed - to say?

I joined a local writers group in hopes finding both support and inspiration; both were offered to me in greater quantities than I expected.  Yet I still lacked the fire - that feeling that I don't just want to write, but that I must write.  That drive had been gone for some time, and, in typical misguided fashion, I was seeking an external impetus to write.  I had forgotten the words of Bukowski:
So You Want to Be a Writer by Charles Bukowski
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife

or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,

don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,

and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.
And so my promised return date for the blog, January 10, arrived...and it wasn't yet "truly time." So, I apologize to you, my readers, not for not being ready on the 10th, but for setting a date in the first place.  I still hadn't learned that it cannot be forced when I capriciously declared a specific day for my return.  I was listening not to my own internal muse, but to external guides who, despite their best intentions, can never tell me, me individually, me internally, how to do this.

You can look around the Internet and you'll find a thousand and one so-called "blogging experts" and "writing coaches" who will tell you that everything I do in this blog is wrong: I do not have a singular focused subject matter; I tend to blurt and post rather than carefully write, edit, and rewrite; my posts are too long; I don't do enough lists; blah, blah, blah.  If you spend much time in the online writing community at all, you are inundated with their "rules" for "proper" writing, especially on the Internet.  Schedule your posts! Make yourself accountable! Focus your subject matter! Write to a specific audience or a specific person! Well, I was never one for following rules, but when I found myself uninspired, I also found myself lured to those experts' siren song.  Predictably, I crashed on the craggy shoreline.

When I decided to free myself of the externally-imposed shackles I had locked myself into, represented in my world by that looming January 10th deadline, something happened.  Suddenly, I felt freedom.  I no longer had an "assignment," and the blog, rather than being something that demanded my time and energy, slowly returned to being a potential outlet for sharing what I enjoy.  I found myself waking up in the middle of the night with blog post ideas, and returned to leaving tablets around the house so I always have somewhere to jot those ideas down when I get them.  I returned to writing in a daily journal that is meant only for myself - something I haven't done in years, but was always, for me, fertile ground for planting those early germinations of ideas that need some time to develop before they are ready to be harvested into actual pieces ready for public consumption.  I returned to wanting to write because I want to write, not because I really ought to be writing.  I returned to writing for me, not for anyone else.   I returned to having that inner drive that Bukowski describes so well.

And so now, it is "truly time." And I am back.  And the blog is back.  And, I hope, you'll be back to read what I write.  But even if some of you decide not to come back, I will write.  After all, I am a writer.

Fitting song, and source of this post's title:

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