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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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

REPOST: That Day...

(originally posted 9/11/10)

Images from 9/11

It still feels more recent than 9 years ago, doesn't it? I suppose it always will. The following is a repost of a piece I originally wrote two years ago and posted here last year in slightly updated form. I repost it because I don't think I could capture my thoughts and feelings about 9/11/01 any better than I did then:
I can tell you where I was when I watched Space Shuttle Challenger explode. I can tell you what I was doing when the news broke that President Reagan had been shot. I will never forget anything about the morning I awoke to the news that John Lennon had been killed. I remember the fear associated with Three Mile Island. Yet all of these events, terrible as they were, even taken as a combined whole do not approach that horrific day eight years ago.

Do you remember how crystal clear the sky was that morning? It was the kind of day when you secretly began formulating some sort of excuse to cut out of work early so that you might drink in some of the beauty, knowing that there would not be many more of these days left before the weather turned too cold.

I went to work that morning as any other, and had just gotten my morning coffee and sat down to read my emails when a coworker began calling everyone in the building to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Wow - that's kind of weird...how bad of a pilot do you have to be to not see the Twin Towers, especially on day like this? The image in my mind was that of a small private plane, and I thought that the damage to that plane would have to have been much greater than any damage to the building. I made a mental note to check the news when I got home that evening, and went about my morning routine.

Then the second plane hit.

It's funny how your sense of scope can sometimes be so very far off. I remember immediately thinking "terrorists," but, having no knowledge of what had happened other than being told that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, in my mind's eye I still saw only two small private planes, piloted by crazed terrorist kamikazes. How could anyone have imagined the breadth and depth of this attack, much less that it wasn't over yet?

By now, some coworkers had foregone their morning assignments to start following what was happening online. We had no TV in the building, but a few more radios were rustled up. Do you recall the misinformation that began to flow as everyone tried to make sense of what was going on? When the third plane crashed into the Pentagon, it was not originally reported as such, at least not on the broadcast I was listening to. Instead, it was reported that a bomb of some sort had gone off "near" the Pentagon. Now, panic was starting to rush in. What the hell was happening?

I remember one coworker who reported for her scheduled shift later that morning in tears. She was the first person I saw reacting emotionally to the attack. The only words she could muster were, "They're gone. The towers are gone." Footage of the collapses was showing up online, and panic turned to outright fear. Word came that Lancaster was closing our courthouse and other public buildings. We, too, closed for the day.

The real impact of it all did not hit me until I got home and turned on the television. It's at about this point in the day where that "where were you when" clarity of memory fades into a cloud of rushing images, sounds, and emotions for me. Watching the footage of the planes as it was being found and thrown on air, raw and unedited. Seeing the pictures of people standing almost zombie-like, caked with dust and tears and blood and fear, unable even to move much less understand what had happened to them. Realizing how many innocent people had lost their lives without ever knowing what happened; and then realizing how many more lost theirs with full knowledge of what was happening. And further - realizing how many voluntarily ran towards the disaster as everyone else was running away, knowing that they were likely to lose their lives but doing so to help others. As clichéd as it sounds, there is no better definition of "hero".

Then, the panic and fear I felt was joined by an emotion I did not expect: anger. Outright, unfettered anger. HOW DARE THEY?!? I've never been what you would call a war-monger. I'm not of the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" school of thought. I abhor violence as a means to resolve dispute or exact revenge. But, as the saying goes, in this case I made an exception. I was full of patriotic anger, and to this day I make no apology for it. I wanted us to find out who did this and blow the fuckers off the face of the Earth - period!

I started to write this wanting only to share my "where were you" story and ask others for theirs. Amazingly, all these years later, writing this is causing many of those same emotions I felt that day to well up in me again, just as they had resurfaced three years after the attacks, when I had the opportunity to see Ground Zero with my own eyes. To be there, where those towers once stood, where the attacks began, where so many lost their lives for no reason and so many more for the most heroic of reasons, brought it all rushing back in a way that again surprised and, frankly, frightened me.

Despite that surprise and fear, I do pray that there never comes the day that thinking about the events of 9/11 doesn't cause so strong an emotional response in me. Although I was not physically there that day, I am forever grateful to those men and women who gave the greatest sacrifice in the effort to save people whom they had never met, and will forever think of those who did not survive. May this day be one where your thoughts and, if you offer them, prayers go to those folks, and not a moment of your time be given to those who committed the atrocity that made this day so painful.
I encourage you to share your thoughts, stories, etc., as well.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Let's Go Surfing!

Those of you who are regular readers and who assiduously study the Blog Roll over in the left-hand column (scroll down, you'll find it) will notice a few new additions.  You know what that means! Time once again to help you break up the boredom with another collection of some of the niftiest stuff I've found out there in my travels across the big, wide Internets.  When you're not spending your time here, take a moment and drop by these sites.  In no particular order...

This Charming Charlie
I have noted before that I generally don't get Tumblr blogs, but I do know a damn brilliant concept when I see it, and This Charming Charlie is about as brilliant a concept as I've seen on the Internets.  Like most examples of genius, it's a simple proposition: mash together frames from old Peanuts cartoons with lyrics from The Smiths.  So basic, and yet each new creation has me gnashing my teeth saying "I wish I'd thought of this first!"  Whether it's Lucy sitting on a front stoop musing "Now I know how Joan of Arc felt," Snoopy and Woodstock thinking "That joke isn't funny anymore," or Charlie himself quoting "How Soon Is Now," the concept works so well because the lyrics are so perfectly matched to the personalities we know these characters to have.  Well played.

Arcane Radio Trivia
For a broadcasting history buff like me, Arcane Radio Trivia is a treasure trove of neat stuff.  You'll meet a collection of the most fascinating characters to ever take to the airwaves; you'll hear scratchy audio of early broadcasts rescued from chipped and deteriorating transcription discs; you'll learn about the technological advances that made broadcasting possible in the first place.  Recent posts have included a review of the spectrum of sounds that actually make up what you and I hear as static, a report on the finding of a stash of operating logs from Franklin & Marshall College's WFNM dating from 1976, and rescued audio of the final outs of  the second game of the 1947 World Series.  Bookmark this one!

"Genre Films," the flip side of the Art Film coin, are celebrated in both the blogosphere and the print world thanks to the utterly wonderful Paracinema.  The online presence both supplements the far-too-sporadically published magazine of the same name, and stands independently of it; together they gather some of the best independent writing critically assessing everything from Spaghetti Westerns to Sexploitation flicks to direct-to-video films of all stripes, and much more celluloid insanity.  If you're looking for an explanation as to why Phoebe Cates' pool scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High became such an iconic '80s moment or a history of how the non-existent Alan Smithee came to direct so many films, the folks at Paracinema are waiting for you to stop by. And at $7 an issue delivered, it's well worth supporting.

Or, As We Used To Call It: Talking To Yourself
So, a good friend I've known since eighth grade started up a blog a short while back.  Since he doesn't use his name on the blog, I won't give it away here.  I will just say you are missing out some excellent commentary on cultural current events and truly intriguing essays on assorted films (the Film Friday posts are not to be missed!) if you are not treading this one.  No frills here - no flashy images or fancy backgrounds, just damn good writing.

*stills is a fascinating commentary on our cultural history from the early-to-mid 20th century, done without words.  For many years, silent 8mm home movies were the way families documented the important events in their lives - more often than not, the annual family vacations.  Emma Hurst worked as a research intern under Rick Prelinger, scouring through thousands upon thousands of home movies as part of the creation of his 2012 film No More Road Trips?, and in this Tumblr blog she collects some of her favorite still frames from those movies.  Simultaneously nostalgic and telling, you see what was important to our parents and grandparents without having to sit through hours of clacking home projectors and bad splice jobs. Remember kids, one day this is how future generations will look at your Instagram shots...

Everything Is Terrible
Quickly becoming one of my favorite sites to visit each day, Everything Is Terrible proclaims itself to be "this world's only psychedelic found footage comedy website that tours the Earth with face-melting live shows that include puppets, Jerry Maguires stacked to the heavens, and adoring cloaked followers begging EIT! for more! And we make DVDs!" Imagine taking the contents of your local video rental shop circa 1984, pouring it all into a blender and pressing "puree." All kinds of neat things surface here, remixed and video-collaged into handy little chunks of head-shaking, jaw-dropping goofiness. An instructional tape for how to play (not necessarily how to win, but how to play) Las Vegas slot machines, a recruiting tape to try to sell you on running your own 1-900 phone line (remember those?), and Goldie Hawn and the Harlem Globetrotters singing "Short People" are just some examples of what you're in for here.  Mind-numbing fun!

Weird Universe
In a similar vein, Weird Universe is a repository for, well, damn weird stuff of all types.  Where Everything Is Terrible has a specific niche, Weird Universe casts as wide a net as possible, finding strange old advertising, unusual news items, rare clips from the early days of television, and more.  I have literally found myself spending hours digging through the site's archives. So much weirdness = so much good stuff.

Zombie Dead Blog
Blogging can be a chore.  Many, many folks start out with great intentions of creating their own little corner of the Internet where they can hold court on any number of topics.  Many, many folks find that they burn out after a short while.  A precious few continually struggle onward, sometimes going on brief hiatuses here and there, but never giving up.  And then there are those who never quite got out of the gate.  It is those bloggers whose candle burned out moments after coming up with a great blog name, or those whose debut post turned out also to be their swan song, who are celebrated at Zombie Dead Blog.  Think of it as a virtual tour of the abandoned houses and forgotten ghost towns of the blogosphere, or a brief glimpse of what could have been if so many muses hadn't gone silent.  Fascinating.

The History Of Phone Phreaking Blog
Many people think the rise of the Hacker is a relatively recent phenomenon, tied to the 21st century technology surge, computer viruses and online trolling.  In fact, hacking has been around since long before the Internets arrived in our homes, and many of today's hackers - from the amateur just curious to try to figure out how all this tech stuff works to the seasoned pro who can seem to find a way into any system and cause all sorts of havoc - can trace their lineage back to characters like Joe Engressia, the mysterious Captain Crunch, and a couple of fellas named Wozniak and Jobs who, in the 1960s and 1970s were exploring the labrynthian telephone systems of the world with a whistle and a blue box. Go, read, learn.

I'll Take Ten!
What's that? You say you need a cat hammock, a roll of glow-in-the-dark toilet paper, and some bacon lollipops, but you just don't know where to go to get them? You want to fry an egg in the shape of a handgun and open your mail with miniature samurai sword, but your stumped as to how to make that happen? Can't make it through another day without french fry lip balm and caffeinated soap?  All this and more can be yours at I'll Take Ten!  Me, I'm saving up for the $350K life-size moving triceratops...

OK, so there's my current list of neat items that I think are worth sharing with you.  If you've missed any of the previous times I've recommended blogs, books, podcasts, etc., click on the "Recommended" link at the top of the page.  Also, please check out the sites listed on my blogroll on the left-hand side of the page (keep scrolling, you'll find it).  I share these items with you because I think they are worth your time and attention - I'm not receiving any compensation from any of these folks for pointing you towards them.  Heck, most of them have no freaking clue who I am!  Still, if you find something you like, let me know in the comments below.  Similarly, if you have some recommendations to add, feel free to list them in the comments, or contact me through the blog's Facebook Page to talk about a guest post.  Let me hear from you!
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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reporting Live From The Eye Of The Storm

It's been awhile since I have had the need to blog about my battles with my internal demons, but here I sit on a Sunday evening finding myself in the midst of a storm inside my brain that rolled in so fast I did not have time to prepare.  Usually I can see these clouds forming and, while I can't always thwart the incoming attack, at least I am usually able to take the appropriate steps to shelter myself (and those around me) from the worst of the maelstrom.

Perhaps it's wrong to say I didn't see this one coming; a more correct assessment would be to say what I thought was a thunderstorm turned out to be hurricane.  It's been a long, tough, painful week at work.  What folks who do not suffer from the sort of anxieties and depressions many of us battle do not understand is that we also tend to guilt-sponges.  For as long as I can remember, whenever I sensed that people around me were upset or angry, my immediate assumption has always been that I must have done something wrong; that somehow this disturbance in the peace is my fault.  Now, sensible people would see that, if something were indeed their fault, they would be directly approached about it; if no one is telling them they are at fault, sensible folk deduce that they must not be at fault and move on with their lives.  Not so with me.  No, in my warped world, the very fact that I'm not being directly confronted about something only serves to make it clear that I am indeed the problem.  That Social Anxiety Demon who keeps me believing that I am forever at risk of being set up for embarrassment, humiliation, or ridicule, whispers in my ear that everyone must be talking about me behind my back.  Paranoid? Damn right you should be paranoid! They're out to get you! I hate that demon with every ounce of my soul.  That demon holds me back more than any other I battle.

That demon had me convinced this week that I was the cause of the issues that made it a difficult week, but the week seemed to end on a reasonably high enough note.  I was feeling better about things and headed into the weekend ready to begin anew.  Saturday went by uneventfully, as did this morning, but by mid-afternoon, my internal world was in shambles.

I can't tell you when it happened or even how it began.  I realized I was sitting on my sofa in the living room staring blankly out the window with neither the TV nor the stereo on (a rarity indeed!) in silence, wanting to scream, to cry, to beat my fists against the wall.  My head had begun to hurt, as if my skull were being pressurized from inside and likely to blow apart at any moment.  My stomach lurched and I felt physically weak.  Since about 2:00 this afternoon, this is how I have felt.  The physical discomfort is not constant, other than the headache, but the want to just cry and scream in some sort of primal release is very strong.  As I write this I am simultaneously holding back tears yet wanting them to flow.

And the worst part of it all?  I can't tell you why.  I don't know why.  I don't think there is a "why."

Sure, there are things that are wrong in my world, as there are in anyone's.  Yes, I am fighting to regain the sense of security I once had before the economy collapsed and I found myself back to living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to stay above water, but so are many people.  I have a plan for those things, a strategy to rebuild, and it is working, slowly but surely.

Sure, there are the life choices I wish I would have made differently, such as never learning to drive or never marrying and starting my own family, but those situations are what they are, and they are certainly not new issues that just arose in my mind this weekend.

So what is it? Why is it? Why do I feel like this, and why does it happen so often?  Especially when it hadn't happened for such a long stretch?

To be clear, this is not a panic attack I am experiencing.  I know those very well, unfortunately.  No, this is a depression attack, and I am smack dab in the middle of it.  Funny, though, that the "rational" part of my brain realizes this much, and is allowing me to communicate it through writing.  I just want it to stop - I want this episode to stop, and want this all to stop happening ever again.  I want to be a normal, regular person.  I just wish I were normal.

I will get through this. I always do.  Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger,  right?

Enough rambling.
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Six Word Sunday

Rain will be welcome this afternoon!

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Wave for the New Week #165

The classic era of New Wave, circa 1978 - 1981, left behind several eccentric curios - bizarre one-shot bands that rode the wave briefly and wiped out hard, never to be heard from again, or eclectic experimenters who thrived on trying something beyond the traditional radio-friendly three and half minute pop song.  One band fit both descriptions during the New Wave heyday, and then managed to extend their lifespan longer than anyone thought probable by completely redefining themselves, at least finding dance club success if not chart fame and radio airplay.

When they began in 1978, the band Fàshiön (originally fully named Fàshiön Music on their first few singles) sounded like no one who had come before them - or after, for that matter.  They created a trippy, out-of-phase, almost dreamlike drone from shards of Reggae, Psychedelia, and Punk.  With frontman Luke Sky's bizarre vocal swoops tugging the melodies along, their early records at times sounded akin to Brian Eno-era Roxy Music played at the wrong speed on warped vinyl, but they remain fascinating artifacts of the era. "Steady Eddie Steady" and "Citinite" are the best examples of these early oddities, which caught the ear of Miles Copeland who quickly snapped them up for his fledgling I.R.S. Records label.

It was for I.R.S. that Fàshiön recorded their debut EP, containing my pick as their finest vinyl moment, the raucous "Sodium Pentathol Negative," which was also chosen as the band's representative cut on the essential I.R.S.'s Greatest Hits Vols. II & III compilation.  That it wasn't included on their first proper LP, 1979's Product Perfect, only goes to show how much solid material the band was pumping out. Indeed, only "Citinite" made the cut from the first several singles.  It's a truly wonderful album, highlighted by the sprawling, somewhat unsettling "Bike Boys."  Well worth seeking out.

Shortly thereafter, Sky left the band, and Fàshiön might very well have disappeared into the mists of time. Remaining band members John Mulligan (bass and synths), Dik Davis (drums), and Al James (guitar) had other ideas, however.  They brought in a new vocalist, and in 1982 suddenly bobbed back up to the surface with a new album, Fabrique (reissued many years later on CD as The Height of Fashion).  Old fans had little to celebrate, sadly, as this record bears little to no resemblance to anything done under the Fàshiön name before.  This was slick, polished New Romantic/pseudo-soul pop music, an obvious attempt to latch onto the "sound of the moment." While they scored some club hits ("You Only Left Your Picture," "Streetplayer"), they didn't find the commercial success they had hoped for.  A further reshuffling and another change in vocalists occurred, and they tried one more time. 1984's Twilight Of Idols took unapologetic aim at the dance floors, and while it is certainly danceable, it's unfortunately also generic and forgettable. 

For this week's NW4NW entry, we go back to Fàshiön's early material and remember good band they were at the start, even if they turned out to be a chameleonic curio by the end. Two audio-only clips are presented: first up, their excellent debut, "Steady Eddie Steady," and then the fantastic "Sodium Pentathol Negative." Enjoy!

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Monday, July 8, 2013

New Wave for the New Week #164

Combining hook-laden high-energy jangling guitar pop with a Punk Rock sneer and a boatload of irresistibly catchy choruses, The Buzzcocks appeared on the scene in the wake of The Sex Pistols' initial assault on UK eardrums in 1976.  The band was originally the creation of schoolmates Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley who, with bassist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher, issued the 4-song 7-inch Spiral Scratch EP that year on their own New Hormones label, making them among the earliest of the  Punk crowd to take the independent release route.

Spiral Scratch's songs are sharp, abrasive, angular blurts that only begin to display what The Buzzcock's sound would evolve into; the highlight here is the leadoff track, "Boredom," which is everything a Punk Rock song should be: short, minimalist, snarky and intelligent ("Now I'm living in this ennui/But it doesn't suit me...").  The Devoto/Shelley pairing would not last long. Devoto was more interested in exploring electronic music, and shortly after this debut he left the band to form Magazine.

Pete Shelley took over the lead vocal duties, Steve Diggle moved from bass to guitar, and Steve Garvey joined on bass, and in short order the classic Buzzcocks lineup was in place.  Over the next three years The Buzzcocks would deliver three outstanding albums and a dozen or more ace singles for their new label, United Artists.  They differed from their contemporaries in Shelley's adenoidal yet melodic vocals and the use of Beatles-inspired harmonies.  Where the Punk crowd was going on about political and social injustices, The Buzzcocks were singing about paranoia, alienation and unrequited love - and scoring hit after hit in the UK while doing so.

Their first United Artists single, 1977's "Orgasm Addict," brought about controversy given its rather frank approach to its subject matter, but also sold very well despite just missing the UK Top 40.  The follow-up, "What Do I Get?," did make the Top 40, and The Buzzcocks were off on a great run. All three of their United Artists LPs (Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind Of Tension) have aged remarkably well and are strewn with classics like "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Should'nt've?)," "Sixteen Again," "Fast Cars," "You Say You Don't Love Me," and so on; the band also scored with a handful of non-album singles including "Love You More," "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," and "Harmony In My Head."   In 1979, UA helpfully compiled all of the A and B sides of their singles into one album, Singles Going Steady. Essential.

As the 1980's kicked off, The Buzzcocks began slowing down.  The delivered three more singles, which were later compiled into a 12-inch EP, but Shelley soon left to pursue a solo career, Diggle and Maher moved on to form Flag Of Convenience, and The Buzzcocks were apparently done.  A decade later, there was enough interest in the band to reissue everything except for the original four Spiral Scratch tracks in a boxed set called Product.  Sales were surprisingly strong, and Shelley and Diggle started toying with the idea of a reunion.

By 1993, a regrouped Buzzcocks had their first new recorded material in more than ten years. Trade Test Transmissions kicked off a run of five more albums, including All Set, Modern, Buzzcocks, and Flat-Pack Philosophy, which all showed the band hadn't lost a step despite the lengthy layoff.  Songs like the incredible "Soul On A Rock" (from Modern) can be proudly filed alongside The Buzzcock's classic material.

For this return to NW4NW, I am happy to present two of The Buzzcock's best from their classic era, "What Do I Get?" and the utterly wonderful "I Don't Mind," as well as the more recent vintage "Soul On A Rock."  Enjoy!

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Celebrating the Birth of a Nix-Nootz

When Amadeus became a permanent resident of Ruttville last summer, he had only been a resident of the planet for four weeks.  He was a bonus in the transaction that brought his "older brother" Edison to my home; the feline equivalent of the untested prospect tossed into fulfill the "player to be named later" provision in a baseball trade:  While in the process of adopting Edison, I mentioned that I wanted to find a second cat as well, so that they would keep each other company while I was at work.  The folks I was adopting Edison from mentioned having another kitten they needed to place, and soon sent me the picture to the right.  Who could say no to that face?

Though not as immediately apparent from his appearance as Edison, Amadeus is also part Siamese, on his mother's side. As he has grown, the most telling feature giving that away is his apple-shaped head. It was never fully clear what breed his father brought to the mix. There's some tiger tabby in there for sure, but it would not surprise me to learn that there is more than a little feral cat in Amadeus' heritage.  From nearly day one, he has been the wilder of the two.  Where Edison seems to carefully plan out his activities throughout the day and remains mostly calm and aloof, Amadeus tears willy-nilly around the house climbing shelves, knocking things over, occasionally misjudging jumps.  You can almost watch him get an idea in his head to do something and immediately race off to do it, without benefit of the filter Edison employs to at least briefly consider the ramifications of his actions.

Amadeus is the one of the pair who has actually drawn blood from me - twice! Neither time was on purpose; in both cases he was flying around the house at top speed.  The first time, he was chasing his brother around. I was sitting on the couch watching TV, and suddenly they were both charging directly towards me.   Edison made a last-minute course correction and dashed under the coffee table, but Amadeus couldn't stop himself.  Instead, he used my arm as a runaway truck ramp, and, in his attempt to slow down, gave me a nice little scratch to remember the occasion. The other time, he was sitting on my lap when my brother came by the house to visit.  My brother's arrival on the porch just outside the window by the sofa startled Amadeus, who tried to take off running just as I was trying to pick him up and set him on the floor.  One of his back claws caught my lower lip, and a mildly gory scene resulted.

These events gave Amadeus one of his many nicknames, Slasher.  His previous owners hadn't named him yet, but early on called him Hot Rod; my father bestowed the title of Ricochet Cat to him for his tendency to go top speed until he hit a wall or other dead end, then bounce off that to another apparently random direction.  But it was my mother who gave him the most fitting nickname: Nix-Nootz.  It's a Pennsylvania Dutch term for a mischievous child who is always getting himself into trouble, often despite himself.  Not a bad kid, but one who can't seem to help himself from having a little devious fun when the opportunity presents itself.  And that, in a nutshell, is Amadeus.

He climbs to the highest perches he can find, and then hollers because he cannot figure out how to get back down.  He starts fights with his brother and finds himself pinned to the ground and on the receiving end of warning nip or two.  He's a bit of a thief, known to jump up on the table and snatch a paper towel or napkin and take off running with it, only for me to find it later shredded into confetti in the upstairs hall. He makes people laugh out loud with his antics.

But for all his craziness, he is one of the most loving cats I've ever known.  He throws himself bodily against me and rolls over on his back to have his belly scratched, purring so loudly you can hear him across the room; he always returns the favor by licking my arm. He curls up on top of me or in the crook of my arm to go to sleep, and usually waits until I have fallen asleep myself to leave.  He usually comes running when his name is called, hoping for at least a chin scritch.  He will engage in conversation, mewing responses to whatever I am saying.

Amadeus and Edison have grown into two cats with very distinct personalities, but I am so glad to have them both in my world.  As I've mentioned before, I know the positive effect they have had on my life; friends and family have also commented that I seem much happier having them around.  And now they have each passed the 365-day mark.

Happy Birthday, little Nix-Nootz.  Here's to celebrating many more of them for both you and your brother!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Instant Karma: My Good Deed of the Day

Every now and then an opportunity will present itself wherein you have the choice of two courses of action.  How you choose to respond to these little "tests" that the Universe throws at you are, perhaps, the most honest appraisal of your character, especially when it is obvious that no one but you would ever have to know whether or not you passed the test. Well...no one but you and your conscience.  Also, I do believe the Universe keeps score.

This morning was the first Saturday in a long while that I decided to get up early and head downtown to Lancaster Central Market, the country's oldest continuously operating farmers market and a place used to frequent quite regularly on weekends.  There is a Thai stand there that serves up the most amazingly delicious fresh veggie spring rolls; S. Clyde Weaver's deli stand is the perfect place to stock up on sandwich fixin's for the week; there's always something delicious being offered at The Goodie Shop.  More fresh produce and fresh baked goods than you can shake a stick at overflow aisle after aisle of locally owned stands, and I am a big proponent of the buy fresh/buy local concept.  Market is also something of a community gathering place where friends meet for coffee or where you've got a better than even chance of running into someone you know and getting lost in conversation for awhile.  There's a reason it has lasted for over two centuries.  If you're ever in Lancaster, PA, you need to make it a stop on your itinerary!

As I said, it had been awhile since I had been at market.  Having been un-/under-employed for a stretch meant that some expenses had to be cut out.  Now that I'm getting back on my feet, I am happy to be able to add regular Market stops back to my routine.

Despite its heritage, Market makes some concessions to the modern world around it, among them the ATM machine in the southeast corner of the building.  It was there that I was tested this morning.  I needed some cash for shopping and to boost my pocket money for the week, so I decided to take $40 out of my account.  Annoyingly, the machine had a notice on it indicating it was out of receipt paper, and so would not be able to provide a receipt for the transaction, but I needed the money.  I swiped my card and punched in my $40 request, and after a moment of churning the machine instructed me to retrieve my cash.  To my surprise I found four $20 bills.

My first thought was that the machine had made mistake and taken twice the amount I wanted from my account.  Without a receipt, though, I had no way to see what the ATM thought I had asked for.  I replayed the screens I had just walked through in my head: "Did I hit $80 by mistake?"  No, I was certain I only asked for $40.  Then it occurred to me that this ATM  is different from most in that the cash dispenser is not just an open slot where the cash is slid out to you, but rather requires you to open a plastic door.  What if someone had tried to get money out before me and, not knowing to open the door, figured the transaction hadn't gone through - and wouldn't know until he checked his statement that he was out forty bucks?

Either way, something was amiss. I walked over to the nearest stand and explained the situation  to the standholder, who offered to call the Market Manager over for me to talk with.  I shared the story with her, as well as my thought that either I had be double-hit or the money belonged to someone else.  After apologizing for not being more alert to refilling the machine's receipt paper, she offered to bring me back to her office to use her computer to check my bank balance online and see how much was actually taken from my account.  If it turned out that my balance was correct, then she would hold onto the money for a period of time to see if anyone claimed it.  If not, either I could keep it or donate it to charity.

I had just about logged onto my account when another gentleman knocked on the Manager's office door.  He explained that he had tried to take $40 out of the ATM but didn't get his cash, and then had gone to another ATM elsewhere in town. When he took out his $40 there, his receipt showed his balance down $80.  As he told his story, I verified that my balance was correct; clearly the other $40 was his.  He was very happy to get it back, and thanked me profusely before going on his way.  The Market Manager also thanked me, and added, "You've got some good Karma coming your way!"

I walked out of Market feeling pretty damn good.  One person I shared the story with said, "They should have given you some type of reward."  No, no they shouldn't have.  First of all, no one should ever have to be rewarded for doing the right thing, and I believe in this case I did the right thing.  Second, I'd like to think that if I were the one missing the $40, someone would do exactly the same for me.  I've been at points in my life where a missing $40 would be a financial calamity; how do I know that wasn't the case for this person?

I'm not going to lie; there was a time in my life when I probably would have pocketed the cash and gone on with my day happy to have scored a windfall.  Found money, right?  But over the years I have learned that there is much truth to old adage that the Universe pays you back whatever energy you send out times three, so you want to send out positive energy whenever you can.  I also believe strongly in the snowball effect of paying things forward.

Which is why I share this with all of you.  I'm not seeking pats on the back or praises for being an honest person; that's who I am, and trust me, being so can be a double-edged sword at times.  No, I share this because I hope each of you will take the next opportunity that presents itself to you to "pay it forward," and do the right thing.  Then, share it with your friends, whether you have a blog or a Facebook page or just tell the story in person.  Think of it as your little part of making the world a little bit nicer of place to live in.

Now, I've got some delicious veggie spring rolls to dig into, so it's time to stop blogging and start eating!

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Friday, May 31, 2013

On the Completion of Edison's First Trip Around the Sun

Toward the end of last July, the two most awesome cats in the world came into my life.  I adopted two kittens, both of them Siamese/tiger mixes, from the parents of a good friend who needed to place them in a good home.  At only eight and four weeks old, respectively, when they arrived in Ruttville, Edison and Amadeus were so tiny the could share a standard-sized cat carrier with room to spare.

They earned their names immediately: Edison proved to be the thinker, the more inventive of the two, and remains so now.  It's fascinating to watch him as he observes, learns, and figures things out, from how to best position himself for sneak attacks upon his younger brother to how to pry open the cupboard door and find the packet of cat treats hidden within.  Amadeus was from the start the more vocal cat, mewing out melodies as he explored his new digs, and even now chirps and yowls and sings happily on a regular basis.

I call them brothers, even though they are not from the same litter.  In fact, Edison's first year on the planet began very roughly.  You can see in early pictures of him evidence of a nasty wound on the top of his head, which was part of the reason he needed a new home.  Edison was an orphan, and my friend's folks owned the cat who was Amadeus' mother.  Since she had just recently had the litter that included Amadeus, they took Edison in hoping the mother cat would adopt him as part of her new brood.  Unfortunately, in cat development, especially at such an early stage, four weeks of difference in age is apparently an unbridgeable gap.  Not only did the mother reject Edison, but she saw him as a threat to her kittens and attacked him.

I was finally ready for a new pet, having had to put down a wonderful Siamese named Napoleon a few years earlier due to kidney failure.  My friend posted Edison's picture on Facebook and I immediately shot her a message saying I'd be happy to give him a home.  When I spoke with her mother to make the arrangements for cat delivery, her mother asked if I'd be interested in a second kitten as well, and sent me Amadeus' picture.  I was immediately sold - but more on his tale in about four weeks...

Edison is mostly Siamese, but over the past year as he has grown, his coloring has darkened and clear tiger-stripe markings have become evident.  He still has the darker ears, nose, tail, and feet of a Siamese, but as you can see in his then and now pictures, there are times when he appears facially to have the markings of white Bengal tiger.  His Siamese side means his personality is somewhat aloof, but he is also the self-appointed guardian of the household and will immediately come over to greet - and inspect - anyone who comes through the door.  Early on, he taught himself to play fetch, either with a wadded up ball of paper or with a small stuffed mouse which he often carries around with him when it's not carefully hidden out of paw's reach under the sofa; at times I'll be sitting at the computer writing and will feel a paw at my ankle, and there will be Edison, having brought me that mouse or a paper ball he hid somewhere, and look at me as if to say, "OK, it's time to play. What are you waiting for? Throw it!" And lose himself in the joy of chasing and bringing back his prize for as much as an hour.

That tiny ball of fluff who could share a cat carrier with his brother is one year old today.  He's now grown to almost twelve pounds, and is quite the regal feline, but he can sure make me laugh when he momentarily forgets himself and lets the kitten still in him come to the surface.  Is it coincidence that I have not had nearly so many battles with my personal demons which I've discussed on this blog in the past since Edison and Amadeus have been in my world?  I think not.

So, for a kitten who, in his first 8 weeks on the planet had been orphaned, attacked, and had been moved to three different homes, Edison has turned out to be one cool cat.  Happy Birthday, my Friend.  I'm glad your third home turned out to be the charm!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Now Hear This!

Memorial Day weekend is drawing to a close, which means summer is all but upon us, though recent temperatures around these parts would have you believing otherwise.  Still, you're going to be needing some new tunes to be blaring out of your car stereo while cruising with the top down, or bopping to poolside with your friends, or whatever it is you kids do in the summer these days.

It's a big wide Internet out there, and it's full of tunes.  Some are good, some are bad; some you can acquire legitimately, some...well, not so much.  It's enough to make your head spin! Friend, I'm here to help.  I've done the hard part - I've separated the wheat from the chaff and come up with a list of 10 more excellent musical curios for your musical curio shelf...er, iPod.  These aural treats are not presented in any particular order, and I am receiving no compensation of any kind from the artists, other than the sheer enjoyment of listening to their creations. Almost all of these are very recent, but some are not. That's just the way it is. Let's dig in!

Nikki Corvette & the Romeos
New music from Nikki Corvette is always cause for celebration, and her first single with her current backing group ranks among her best ever!  Fresh off a European tour, Nikki and her Romeos deliver two killer sides. "He's Gone" is sixties girl group heaven, straight from the Ronnette's playbook; on the flip (which coulda been an A-side itself), Nikki introduces us to her band in her classic bubblegum punk style.  Physical copies of the single are limited to 300 and going fast - get yerself over to Bandcamp and at least get the tunes!

There is something very cool happening musically in Baltimore these days.  There has developed quite a collection of local bands creating some pretty incredible music.  In previous posts I've mentioned bands like The Fishnet Stalkers and Plurals.  Now let me mention Roomrunner, whose first full-length release, Ideal Cities, is out now and available on Bandcamp.  Roomrunner's nods towards the grunge forefathers, especially Nirvana, are evident immediately, but don't kid yourself: these guys can thrash as well as anyone.  The lead track, "Bait Car", comes careening at you like Big Black with a searing headache. You can either grab on and take the ride of your life or be swept up in the wake of the passing maelstrom.  Great stuff!

Ed Schrader's Music Beat
Did I mention there is something cool happening in the Baltimore music scene? Here's yet another example.  Ed Schrader pounds out the music beat on his stand-up floor tom while Devlin Rice plays bass. Together they make a lot of racket, but find all kinds of sonic layers and variety from those two instruments.  Every bit as intelligent as fellow duo They Might Be Giants, Ed and Devlin's songs lean sonically more towards Math The Band or Half Japanese.  Check out "Radio Eyes" for details:

Imelda May
Until recently, I had missed the boat on Ireland's incredible Imelda May.  A few weeks ago a friend sent me a clip of her performing her debut single "Johnny Got A Boom Boom," a wild rockabilly ride that caught my immediate attention, and another clip of her crooning "Cry Me A River" in a perfect torch-singer pout that blew me away.  I immediately sought out more, and found the wonderful "Psycho," in which Ms. May comes as close to being Wanda Jackson as anyone not named Wanda Jackson ever could.  Behold:

Yes Mistress
Out of Long Beach, Yes Mistress may be the best rawk-n-roll band with the worst band name going these days.  But oh, man are they awesome!  "Do You Think I'm Satan?" is the best of a handful of truly fantastic tunes these guys have recorded (check out their Soundcloud page for more, including the excellent "Gunna Get Arrested").  Turn it up loud enough and you'll actually hear your own head go ka-THUNK!

Yes Mistress - "Do You Think I'm Satan... by BlankTV

Hank Wood & The Hammerheads
Sleazy, scuzzy, lo-fi garage punk still has a place in this world, and Hank Wood & the Hammerheads had the market cornered for a brief moment last year with the release of their debut (and, apparently, swan song) LP, Go Home! "It's Hard On The Street" epitomizes their growling, grumbling, ear-scraping sound:

Sonic Scream
Grungy psychedelia from Hertfordshire, UK.  Sonically somewhere between Mudhoney and MX-80 Sound, with a six-song EP released this past August (Without A Sound), Sonic Scream offer fuzzy guitar riffs, chugga-chugga rhythms and stonerific lyrics, all of which would have been equally at home in 1968 as 2013.  "PowerfuzzeD" is my pick of their current litter, and not just because the D at the end is capitalized...

Gin Wigmore
The third in my current triumvirate of post-Amy Winehouse female singers who reinterpret the old and make it not only new, but entirely their own (Gemma Ray and the earlier-mentioned Imelda May being the other two), Gin Wigmore may be the most stunning of the lot.  With an incredibly sexy, bluesy snarl and a swagger beyond her 26 years, Gin has been collecting accolades for some time in her native New Zealand.  It's only recently that she's getting any attention here in the States, but with cuts like "Kill Of The Night," people should definitely take notice.

Persian Claws
Finally, Persian Claws have their self-titled debut album out - limited edition though it may be.  If you're quick enough, you can order it through their label, Musica Para Locos Records, by sending them a Facebook message. At least, that's how I got my copy (complete with autographed postcard of Dee Claw - awesomeness!), and it has basically dominated the turntable since arriving.  Spinning a sunshine-y surf-punk-a-go-go sound, Persian Claws have slowly amassed an album's worth of amazingly good music.  Was hard to pick just one sample track, but "Yours Sincerely" gives you a good idea of the fun you're in for:

TV Girl 
"She Smokes In Bed," the new single from TV Girl, is one of those songs that that wheedles it's way into your head and sticks there, insisting that you listen to it again and again.  With a chugging melody and an irresistible "ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-pa-da-da-da-da" chorus, the music washes over you in pleasant waves, vaguely reminiscent of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark at their best.  Definitely eager to hear more from this band!