I’m wrapping up this week looking back at 1988 with a few videos from that year that I have fond memories of. This was several years before I really got into music, but I was still of the world and hearing the pop hits of the day. I didn’t watch MTV back then, but I think there was a video show on Nickelodeon or maybe USA that catered to kid-friendly pop. I intended to write about an album from this year that I came to later in life like Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking or Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, but I’m not sure if I’ve absorbed either album enough to really write about them.
Back when I was 5, I didn’t know who George Harrison was. Heck, I probably didn’t even know who The Beatles were, but I knew that I liked “Got My Mind Set On You.” From doing the tiniest bit of research possible, I’ve discovered something else I didn’t know, this song was a cover. Harrison recorded in for his 1987 album Cloud Nine, but it wound up being the third most popular song on the Billboard Hot 100 the following year. I also had no idea that there were two versions of the video, the one above set in an arcade and the one below which finds everything coming alive in Harrison’s study like a far more lighthearted version of Evil Dead. It’s the latter I remember from being a kid.
The 45-year-old Harrison became an MTV star years after being in the biggest band the world has ever seen, which is pretty impressive. I specifically remember seeing this video while out visiting people with my Grandma in Cleveland. I’m sure I’d seen the video before or at least heard the song, but we were in a place that my memory tells me was like a huge log cabin house, but people lived there, people with teenaged children, so MTV was on. This was one of the videos playing…
And, as it happens, George Michael’s “Faith” was one of the others. That song was the number one most popular song that year, which makes sense ’cause it’s super catchy. The single helped Michael push Wham even further in the rear-view mirror and transformed him into the “bad boy” sex symbol he would be know as for a decade or so.
When it came to the late 80s pop war between Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, my allegiances firmly lied with the latter. “I Think We’re Alone Now” is just impossible to beat. But that jam came out in ’87 and Tiff’s big hit of this year was “Could’ve Been” which is okay, but not as fun as Debbie’s “Shake Your Love.” The Billboard charts don’t agree with me, though, as Tiffany’s track clocked in at the 8 spot for the year while Gibson’s was at 22. Unlike the other videos on the list, I don’t remember this one was well, but that song was EVERYWHERE.
Finally, you can’t talk about the late 80s without talking about Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” off of Appetite For Destruction from the previous year. I eventually picked this record up at a used CD store in the late 90s, but even a decade later it hadn’t lost it’s punch and power. I try not to play “What if?” too often, but I can’t help wondering what this band could have evolved into had they kept the wheels on the bus (and their sanity) to make a prolonged go at it.
I found myself in an interesting mood this morning. Feeling tired and sleepy, I decided to skip the usual morning podcast-listening session in favor of the recently purchased Mulligan Meets Monk record, a Thelonious Monk disc that found the master pianist teaming up with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.
The experience got me thinking about jazz and my relationship with that musical art form. Growing up, I didn’t hear much of it aside from pieces in commercials, TV shows and movies here and there. It wasn’t until high school that I had my first real exposure to one of the few, truly American art forms.
At the time I had a website — I was very intent on calling it a site and not a blog because I thought the word was silly (it is) — where I would trade bootleg recordings with people. Actually, it’s still up because apparently Angelfire is still a thing. Anyway, out of nowhere I got an email asking if I would be interested in putting a banner ad up on the bootleg trading page in exchange for some swag. I said sure, popped in some code and eventually got a package in the mail from this company I’d never heard of.
It was Blue Note, the biggest jazz label around. I had no idea. Anyway, this happened twice and I wound up getting some records that might not have made it into my regular rotation, but definitely primed the pump for my later love of the genre. I remember getting Soulive’s Doin’ Something, Karl Denson’s Dance Lesson #2 and Charlie Hunter’s Songs From An Analog Playground.
I still listen to these records and am glad that they were the first ones I came across because they opened me up to the idea of new jazz. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s a genre of music that is perceived to be mostly ruled by dead musicians. This is still a vast, evolving art form that new people are doing amazing things with.
I remember being blown away by the way Denson incorporated a DJ (DJ Logic to be specific) into his compositions, Soulive kept things fun and funky and Hunter brought in singers like Mos Def and a pre-fame Norah Jones to help bring his songs to life. There’s a vibrancy to those records that make them worth listening to and also built an interesting foundation for what jazz could be in my mind. This is not a stagnant form and it should not stay static. Art doesn’t work that way, museums do.
The first classic jazz record I ever picked up was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. That jazz/rock fusion album probably wasn’t the best place to dip my toe in for either the genre or Davis’ fantastic catalog, but one of my favorite magazines at the time Guitar World, did a huge feature on it and I was interested. Unfortunately, the acid washed improvisation wasn’t something I was quite ready for yet so I only listened to the full double album a few times before shelving it.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college at Ohio Wesleyan that I really continued my jazz journey. I’d pretty much nailed down all my required classes to graduate and decided to take it easy on myself both class and schedule wise. That translated into a very relaxed schedule that included Jazz 110 at the music building, a place I’d only been a handful of times in my college career (it was in a completely part of the campus).
The class seemed split between people like myself looking to get an easy credit and others who were legitimately into this kind of music. And, honestly, it was a pretty easy class. The hardest part came when we were played various instruments and had to write down what they were. That’s not my strong suit and I think I bombed that quiz pretty hard. But the rest of it was pretty basic stuff with a mix of history — tracing the music back to New Orleans — and memorization. For the final I remember listening to a long list of songs because we’d have to name them on the test after hearing a snippet. I’ve always been bad at remembering non-obvious song names, so that was tough too.
The songs themselves all came from the Ken Burns Jazz box set, which we had to buy for class. A lot of kids burned or downloaded it, but I got one (well, my parents got me one along with my other text books which I did feel a bit bad about because I was actually excited about the purchase. Still, I got a good deal on a used one). If you’re even remotely interested in jazz, that box is a great place to start because it takes a chronological look at the form going from old school New Orleans brass band stuff all the way up through Weather Report. In other words, it’s a great sampler.
One of the big things I learned from that class were the different subgeneres of jazz. You’ve got everything from New Orleans and bop to blue, swing, acid, fusion and even jazz-rap. There is a ridiculous amount of music out there that, but the nice thing about the Ken Burns set and the Jazz: The First 100 Years textbook we used is that I got an idea of the form’s spectrum. From there I was able to zero in on the elements and subgenres that interested me most. For instance, I remember reading about Cecil Taylor’s crazy piano playing and then gave him a listen on the box set and realized I wanted to listen to more of that. You can do a lot of this with various websites and YouTube these days, but that’s not where my musical journey took me.
From there, I started exploring the greats. I picked up a couple Benny Goodman records — including one that’s a two disc full concert — got more into the biggies like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly and Charles Mingus. I’ve also branched out into some of the odder stuff like Us3, a hip hop group that only sang over sampled jazz licks.
One aspect of jazz that I fell in love with pretty quickly was how dramatic and comic book-like the whole scene was for a while. When I got into comics, I just dove in and started learning all I could about these characters. Eventually I built up a pretty solid mental database of who did what and when various characters teamed up. There’s a lot of that in jazz too. All of these people had these big personalities and crazy backstories. They were part of a band (team) for a period of time and then either moved on to another one or started their own. There’s also all kinds of team-ups all over the place. There’s a drama to the whole thing that sparked my imagination and helped me get interested in not just the music, but the people as well. Projects like The Quintet or Duke Ellington recording with Louis Armstrong hold a lot of appeal for me.
Another aspect of the form — at least the stuff I seem to be drawn to — is that it can be listened to on various levels. I can put something like Monk’s Alone In San Francisco and flow in and out of it while I do work or get some writing done. But, I can also sit and really explore these records, noting how they twist, turn and play with the form. I’m not nearly musical enough to get too in depth with this stuff, but I like a record that you could potentially sit in a dark room with and just experience. A lot of the jazz records I’ve listened to can be that.
While I still check out the jazz section of any used record store I find myself at, the main source of recently purchased records comes from Amazon’s MP3 store. Every month they put 100 albums on sale for $5 each and there’s usually a jazz album or two in there. That’s where I got Mulligan Meets Monk and a few others like Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’, Cannonaball’s Bossa Nova, Miles Davis’ seminal Kind Of Blue and even the Willie Nelson, Winton Marsalis and Norah Jones Ray Charles tribute called Here We Go Again.
It’s kind of wild to think that I’ve only been into this form of music for 8 years or so. Sure there were those first few Blue Note records, but those could have easily turned into outliers in the statistical equation of my music collection, a funny story to tell from my online past. What’s even stranger to think about is how separated this kind of music tends to be in the world of pop culture. Jazz just isn’t out there in the pop world as much as other forms, so it’s possible to completely miss it if you’re not looking for something new and different. Now that I think about it, that’s another common theme between jazz and comic books. Anyway, I’m hoping to remedy that a bit with my kid and expose her to this stuff at an early age. I hope she digs that swing!
I was late to the Nirvana party, like morbidly late. I was 11 when Kurt Cobain died and not really into music yet. That would come a year or two later, so I missed out on most of the pop culture revolution that was Nirvana. I think I had an idea of the band and had maybe heard a few songs, but I did not realize that they had changed the face of popular music nor did I have any idea of the drama surrounding his death (I won’t call it a suicide because the documentary Kurt & Courtney raised way too many questions for me). Whatever you think of Nirvana you can’t argue against the fact that they drove a stake through 80 hair metal and even unseated the King of Pop from the number one spot. No matter how you look at it, that’s a huge deal. Like a lot of kids in my generation, the first Nirvana record I picked up was Nevermind. I picked it up at a used CD place in Toledo called CD Warehouse and was embarrassed because of the naked baby on the cover. I probably only paid a few bucks for it because much like Green Day’s Dookie, this record was everywhere. I remember my dad seeing that and joking around by saying “THIS is the kind of music you’re listening to now?”
I can’t pinpoint what my attraction to Nirvana stemmed from. I wasn’t a particularly angry or angsty kid, though my parents and friends might beg to differ. I also wasn’t a real punk rock kid. I was fine with some levels of conformity and didn’t have any real desire for anarchy though I liked drawing the symbol on my notebooks. I think I had a sense that I had missed out on something huge and I wanted to be a part of it even if it was too late to enjoy it in the moment. I also liked the hard hitting, head banging songs that also had some pretty amazing lyrics if you really took the time to translate them. I spent those early days, weeks and years of fandom picking up every legitimate Nirvana record I could find in the used section at my beloved Boogie Records. I don’t remember the exact order I purchased them in, but I soon had Bleach, Incesticide, In Utero, the amazing Unplugged disc and the live compilation From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah. I also stumbled upon a lengthy interview disc called The Bark, Not The Bite there and wound up trading for a few bootleg performances online. Years later I’d even pick up the greatest-hits-with-one-new-song Nirvana and the three-disc-with-a-DVD outtakes and live set With The Lights Out. Heck, last summer I even bought a quartet of VHS bootleg concert tapes at a flea market for a buck, one of which turned out to actually feature The Cure (bleh) and another which I’m watching right now and inspired me to write this post. I already mentioned watching Kurt & Courtney, but I also checked out Hype! because it featured Nirvana, I own Cobain’s Journals book and have checked out a ton of groups because they influenced Nirvnana (from Leadbelly to the Mudhoney) and I’m the proud owner of Bleach and one of the singles on vinyl. I even had a Nirvana T-shirt that I bought in Ireland and a patch on my longtme backpack. The only reason I don’t have more Nirvana stuff is because they only made a handful of albums. Needless to say, I dug Nirvana. I liked their sound and their attitude and I also liked the fact that they seemed like regular guys, like anyone could do this whole rock and roll thing. In high school, when I started playing bass and formed a band with my buddies, we instantly gravitated towards Nirvana songs. I know we did “Rape Me,” though weren’t allowed to play it at our high school’s battle of the bands and I think we did “Come As You Are” (or maybe I just learned that one on my own because it’s such a great bass line). I was pretty surprised to learn that a lot of the songs were simple power chords and sometimes just single notes played through a ton of distortion.
It’s easy to think of Nirvana songs as simple because they’re so distorted, they seemed like such normal guys and you can deeply feel the four-on-the-floor, three or four chord structure of most of their songs, but there’s also some real musicality there. Cobain was no slouch when it came to guitar solos, but he didn’t throw them around like the cock rock guitar gods he was seemingly railing against. Dave Grohl had a wild man savagery when it came to the drums and Krist Novoselic used some fairly complicated bass lines at times as I discovered when I started looking up tabs online as I learned to play. He wasn’t just hitting a note four times then moving on to the next note, some of his lines walked like blues songs. Below the howling, metal-meets-punk growl of the music, there’s a real rhythm that gets overlooked sometimes.For what it’s worth, the album that sticks out as my favorite is Incesticide. I know it’s basically a compilation disc, but there’s just so much goodness on there. I particularly like “Molly’s Lips” and “Been A Son.” I had no idea that some of these songs were covers, but it didn’t really matter. They had a knack for taking songs and really making them their own. The songs I dig are poppier than you might expect from Nirvana which might sound strange, but I also love the intense lo-fi aspects of Bleach as well as the mournful melodies of Unplugged. I probably listen to Nevermind the least but every time I do, I’m reminded of how damn good they could sound, even if overly polished. And man, In Utero‘s fantastic. When you get into the live and compilation stuff, they get a little shakier for me and I’ve only listened to that interview CD once or twice, but there’s no way I’d ever get rid of any of that stuff. In fact, writing this post just makes me want to listen to With The Lights Out one disc after the other. Nirvana not only introduced me to a whole new kind of music (a few genres, actually), but also holds a really special place in my heart. No matter how many other bands I get really into, Nirvana will always be the first one that captured my attention and my imagination. I like to imagine myself sitting around on a porch at 80 listening to the soothing sounds of In Utero. Good thing the records are so loud, cause I might need that extra volume boost!
One of the more influential movies from my childhood has to be Wayne’s World. I know how strange that sounds, but from the day I convinced my grandmother to take me to see it in the theaters back in 1992, that movie and those characters have been ingrained in my psyche. I got the movie on tape and can still recite good chunks of it to this day. I wasn’t the only one. I had friends in high school who dressed up as Wayne and Garth for Halloween and could quote the movie as well as I could. My all time favorite scenes from the movie is still the guys singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the car with even their drunk friend fill getting in on the action.
There’s the scene if you’re not familiar with it. Anyway, I’m sure I knew the song before seeing the movie–my dad has always been a big fan of rock music which he shared with me growing up–but it was this movie and it’s soundtrack which I still own that really hammered the lyrics and solos into my head. By the age of 9 or 10, I had the whole thing down, just like Wayne, Garth and their friends. Fast forward to about 1998 or 1999, I’m in high school, I’ve listened to a lot more music and still love “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I also have gotten into my high school’s yearly musical. I’m a sophomore and we’re doing Wizard Of Oz. I only tried out because I wanted to be a flying monkey and got the part (we rollerbladed instead of flew, but it was still pretty cool). At some point during the long process of practicing for the show, a few friends and I decided to start playing “Bohemian Rhapsody” to get ourselves psyched. I don’t remember if this started the week the show actually premiered or before that, but it wound up being a nightly thing in the guys’ dressing room. We’d put the Wayne’s World soundtrack in a little boom box, blast it and sing at the top of our lungs. Soon enough, some of the girls came in and it became even more of a thing. I stuck around and did the musicals my Junior and Senior year and we kept singing the song before each show. At one point the director–an intense fellow who seemed to think we were on Broadway at times instead of the St. Francis production of Oklahoma–told us to stop because we were going to kill our voices. I don’t remember if we skipped a night or just turned it down, but the show must go on in a lot of ways. I figured it was something that might continue on for a few more years with the younger kids, the ones who would be seniors in a few years and then die out. Then a year or two ago, I joined a Facebook group that I can’t seem to find now that consisted of SFS musical alums. There were a lot of people on there I didn’t know, but one of the kids who were still in school at the time told me they still sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” before shows. I got a kick out of that. Everyone wants to leave some kind of legacy and I definitely never thought mine would involve a song to get musical kids to get psyched before going on stage, but that’s pretty cool. And we all owe it to Wayne and Garth. I still get pretty pumped when I hear the song, remembering those days and also because it’s an asskicking song front to back.
I originally wanted to write this post the week leading up to this year’s Bonnaroo, but I got busy. As it turns out, though, I’m writing this on the 9 year anniversary of the first day of the very first Bonnaroo. Yeah, I went to there. It was the summer after my first year of college and earlier in the year, while I was home on break, my buddy Toth told me about this new festival in Tennessee. It was three days, tickets were $100 and that included camping spots. I wasn’t the biggest jam band fan in the world, but the line up seemed interested enough and I liked the idea of being able to tell people I went to the first of something I figured would wind up being a pretty big deal (I guess I was right on that point). To make matters better, Toth figured we could head down to Nashville for a few days and then drive the next hour to Manchester and watch the show. Seemed like a good plan to me.
Our days in Nashville were pretty fun, though would have been even better had we been 21. I have a very distinct memory of walking down the main street wherever we were and hearing all this different music coming out of the bars and clubs that we couldn’t get into. We did however find a Charlie Daniels museum (I love the Charlies Daniels Band), ate at a Hard Rock Cafe, went to a few record stores and also got some “rock star clothes” as Toth called them. I still have the redish pink 70s pants and bright green button down shirt I bought there. I also remember having a conversation about this new show called American Idol. Toth thought it was a big deal and I thought it was BS. Guess I was wrong about that one.
On the morning of June 21st, 2002 we packed our crap up, stocked up on food at a grocery store and then went to make the hour-or-so drive down to Bonnaroo. Seems pretty simple, right? Heh. No way. Instead of taking the hour that Mapquest told us it would, we wound up being stuck in traffic for 7 or 8 hours. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember the exact amount of time because it’s been so long and I was kind of losing it at the time. I don’t know if it was the wide open space, the insane gridlock or the fact that no one else seemed to think this was a big deal, but I was starting to have a serious panic attack as traffic all but stopped. I was very seriously doing the math in my head, trying to figure out how long it would take us to get home if I just turned around and started driving. How mad would Toth be? How would I pay him back? My better judgement won over and I wound up just sitting it out. To give you an idea of how slow the traffic was moving, people were getting out of their cars and tossing the frisbee around for 15-20 minutes spurts and only had to move a few feet to catch up to their car. It was insane.
Eventually we got in, though and went to our camp site. As you can see from the pic, they were basically as wide as a car and twice as long. Toth had a ton of camping equipment like the tent, chairs, a grill, the awning, the whole works, plus he knew how to cook on the camp stove, so we were pretty set. We had a pretty good set up across from some older biker-looking people from Chicago who I remember talking about quitting heroin,or “H” as they called it. That kind of freaked me out, but they seemed nice enough. Again, I’m relying on memories that are a decade old that were probably fuzzy to begin with thanks to poor sleep, a lack of showers and (I assume) some kind of contact high. While I didn’t partake in anything while there, there was plenty around being imbibed freely. I even saw a guy with two different colored eyes. I guess they could have been contacts, but he looked REALLY messed up.When we got to the actual gate, we were given a schedule and a map to help us find our way around. I don’t have it here in NY otherwise I would scan it. I believe the camping areas essentially surrounded the concert area which was split between four stages of increasing size. At least one–and I think two–were under huge tents while the larger two were just gigantic, open air venues. I remember having a general feeling of calm and ease while there even though it was beastly hot and really big. Everyone seemed cool and I saw all kinds of things I had never seen before, from the guy with the crazy eyes to some of the wildest frisbee catches I’ve ever seen. And that’s not even taking the music into account.
Thankfully, I wrote about my experiences at the show on my old website which is still around thanks to Angelfire (that’s also where I swiped all these pictures from). According to that, these are the bands I saw along with some modern day commentary.
Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade
Widespread Panic (the first set)
Keller Williams Incident (kinda)
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe (for a few minutes)
I couldn’t tell you thing one about Big Wu or Jim White. You’ll see me writing that a lot in the next few paragraphs, but I think it’s because I wasn’t familiar with most of the music going in, so there aren’t a lot of touchstones. However Umphrey’s McGee made a big impact on me. They really impressed me and I still remember their show as being my favorite. It was in one of the smaller venues and I think we got pretty close to the stage. We saw Frog Brigade from way back, but it was rad seeing Buckethead play. Gov’t Mule and Panic are mysteries, but I do remember sitting on the side of the tent for Keller’s show and peeking under to see what we could see. I actually really regret not sticking around for Karl Denson’s set. It was one of the late night ones and I actually had listened to one of his records, but I think I didn’t want to be on my own that late. Such a wuss…
Ben Harper (solo)
String Cheese Incident (I think)
Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains
moe (the first set)
Harper played the largest stage they had all by himself. I wasn’t really familiar with his music at the time, but that really impressed me. I don’t believe Jack Johnson was a big deal at the time I saw him, but I do remember him bringing out a 6 or 7 year old Australian girl named Scarlet to play drums at one point. I have no recollection of String Cheese Incident, but Jurassic 5 was awesome. That was my first and only hip hop live show experience. Maybe I was thinking of Bucket of Bernie Brains when it came to seeing Buckethead? moe was the late night show that night and it was pretty cool. Toth and I met some nice people while waiting for them to go on. I think the band was an hour or so late (which anal retentive me did not appreciate), but we all wound up talking bootlegs for a while which was cool. I think Toth stuck around for the second set, but I was exhausted and headed back to the camp site.
Bela Flech & Edgar Meyer
Phil & Friends with Bob Weir
Ween is another one I have zero memory of, though I know I was interested in checking them out because some dudes I worked with in high school were HUGE Ween fans. I remember being in the thick of things for Phil & Friends, but am not a Dead fan, so it was another “I have to say I was there” kind of a thing. I wandered away from all that craziness and hung out towards the back of the second biggest stage to check out the Superjam which I remember being really sick. The last show of the night was Phish’s Trey Anastasio playing with his then-new band. At the time, Phish had “broken up” and word around the festival was that Phish would be reuniting. That wasn’t the case, of course as Trey went on and played with his big band. I wasn’t all that interested in this particular show and really didn’t feel like wading through a literal sea of people, so I hung back at the camp site while Toth went and watched. I was able to get one of the camping chairs up on the roof of the van and wound up watching from there. It was actually a pretty awesome moment. I’d love to watch more concerts that way.
By Sunday, I was more than ready to get the hell out of Tennessee. I had had a good time, but that was a completely different kind of living than I was used to. I had spent the whole time in a uniform of cargo shorts (the same pair I believe) and white under shirts. The cargo shorts were important because I could put water bottles in the extra pockets. Man was it hot. Oh and showerless. There were a few rigged-up sinks that helped a little, but I had never been that sweaty and gross for so long.
We had decided–thanks to my prodding, I’m sure–to head home right after Trey’s set. My plan was to get out of there and drive for as long as I could before needing to get a hotel room and sleep.That’s not how it actually went down, though. It took Toth a while to get back because of all the people, but then it took three hours just to get out. My figuring was that that was still better than what it would have been like the next day. I only got an hour away from Manchester before needing to stop. The hotel we wound up stopping at must have made a killing that night because they charged us for a full night even though it was late and we had to be out by 10 or 11 the next morning and we were definitely not the only Bonnaroo attendees staying there. At the end of the day, though, we didn’t care because we got to sleep in an actual bed and even got to take showers. I’m fairly certain that was the best shower I’ve ever had. I also had the best chicken sandwich of my life the next morning at a nearby Cracker Barrel.
Looking back, I’m really glad I stuck with it and didn’t let my craziness get in the way of a really interesting and fun experience that left me with a lot of memories, even if most of them don’t have much to do with the music itself. Toth went back to Bonnaroo a few times after that, but I bowed out. I spent a ridiculous amount of money that summer between the Tennessee trip, visiting the future-missus in New Hampshire for a few weeks and buying a guitar (the last one I bought now that I think about it). Would I go back again? Yes. But only if I was taken in via helicopter or didn’t have to deal with all that traffic thanks to a parachute drop or some such.
I’m not what you’d call an early adopter. Of anything. That’s usually because I’m cheap and don’t want to spend my money on the latest, expensive gadget around. I’ve been around long enough to read about bugs in first round electronics and I’ve seen enough formats disappear (tapes, laser discs, minidiscs, VHS and HD DVD). I worry about buying the wrong thing and then getting stuck with it. So, I usually hang back in the cut. It was like that with the iPod. A lot of people had them when I was in college (2001-2005) though it took me a while to identify those now ubiquitous white cords protruding from hats and long hair actually were. They were new at the time and I didn’t really know about them or what they could do.
It wasn’t until I graduated and bought my first Apple computer that I realized the potential of iTunes and digital music. I know there’s a loss in quality when you rip a CD and compress the sound files down to an MP3, but I don’t think my ears are good enough to know the difference. Besides, the ability to have all my songs in one place in a kind of juke box was just so revelatory. I began the long process of ripping all my music which spilled out into my first real job where I spent all day at a computer and often had the disc drive whirring away as I worked. The problem, of course, was that I didn’t have any way to listen to this stuff when I wasn’t at my desk or in my room at home because I didn’t have an iPod. Sure I transferred files from work to home just to keep things complete, but it’s not really the same.
For my birthday that year (this would be early 2006 I think) my parents surprised me with a brand new, shiny 30 GB black iPod. That seemed like almost limitless space and I was finally able to have all of my music in one place! I transferred everything from my personal computer and my work computer to it and that little device’s potential really blew me away. With more space you could theoretically put whole band catalogs or even movies and TV on these things, though why would you want to watch something on such small screen?
But, as these things go and my music collection increased (I buy a lot of used CDs at flea markets, garage sales and even comic shows, plus those Amazon $5 digital album deals) and about a year ago, I realized my iPod was full. I went through and deleted some things I didn’t really listen to anymore and most of the free compilations I got from my now-closed local record store, but it wasn’t enough. It’s not too big of a deal because I’m almost always near my computer (now a MacBook laptop), which holds the music not on my iPod. So, if I’m working at the coffee shop and want to listen to something, I can because I’ve got my computer and iPod. But, that means I don’t have access to a lot of the music I’ve purchased in the last few years to listen to if I’m out and about or in my car. I had an FM transmitter that was always kind of crappy that finally junked out recently. That’s what I get for only paying $15 for it though.
So, I’d been thinking about getting a new iPod lately, one with over twice the memory as the one I’ve got. That should hold me for another few years right? Then I started hearing about the cloud and was intrigued. If all my music could live in the internet (or more accurately be copied there) I wouldn’t need to go with the clunkier 80 GB, I could even go for something sleek and sexy (and app-friendly) like an iPod Touch or possibly an iPhone now that they’re on Verizon. My complaint with both those pieces of equipment was how little memory they had, but if I can just download an app that takes up hardly any space and have access to all my music? That’s a brand new revelation. I don’t even mind paying a yearly fee just for that. I don’t care about pictures or files or any of the other cloud stuff. For me it’s all about the tunes.
Of course, then it comes down to access. There’s no problem when using a computer obviously because most of the places I go have WIFI. I’m nowhere near an expert on smart phones or the WIFI-enabled iPod Touch (our Verizon “smart phones” are close to stupid and failing as I type), but my concern would be their ability to stay in contact with the servers so I can listen to my music in the car or while hiking or what not. I don’t really hike, but it’s a good example, let’s say more realistically that I’m in some comic shop’s dingy basement looking through books. Phones seem to have this nailed for the most part, which might actually play into our upcoming phone plan decisions (Verizon’s getting expensive and taking away a lot of the perks they used to have). But I don’t know how it would work with an iPod Touch say, in the car. Something to think about.
Regardless, I’m excited. I still like to purchase physical CDs when possible, but have moved into the digital world a little more thanks to those can’t-be-beat $5 Amazon deals. I know some people decry the digital revolution, but the truth of the matter is that physical carriers of information and entertainment (CDs, DVDs, books, comics) are most likely on their way out to join laser and mini discs in the great media graveyard in the sky (and landfills). It’s sad for some, a non-issue for others and frankly it doesn’t matter unless the next generation decides to go old school and collect dusty old books and VHS tapes for some reason. For me, as long as the quality is maintained, I don’t generally care. If I can transfer all my DVDs to some cloud and not have to keep huge binders or shelves in my house, I think I’d be cool with that. I’d probably still keep them in storage just in case, and maybe visit them for old time’s sake, but they won’t be my main source of music or movie entertainment. Books are a different story, but that’s a whole separate post.
It’s funny, if you watch the below trailer for the recent Foo Fighters documentary called Back and Forth, Foo Fighters lead singer and guitar player Dave Grohl says something along the lines of there being a lot of people who resented him for carrying on with the Foo Fighters when Nirvana ended. I was definitely one of those people. As a teenager, I couldn’t get past the idea that he should have just been the Nirvana drummer forever, as if all of his own dreams and aspirations would just disappear when Kurt Cobain did. So, initially, I wasn’t a fan and did my best to avoid the Foo Fighters as a band. I would occasionally see videos of theirs for songs like “Big Me” and “My Hero” among others, but didn’t think too much of them because they were so goofy. Even after my shortsightedness wore off, I had trouble getting past the goofiness and just moved on, leaving the Foo Fighters behind and moving on to other bands. I wish I hadn’t been so close-minded because, I missed out on really experiencing the evolution of a true rock and roll band.
Towards the end of high school and into college, Grohl showed up on my radar all over the place and my respect for him grew. Within a pretty short period of time I heard that he played drums in bands like Tenacious D, Queens of the Stone Age, Tony Iommi’s solo record which featured a series of different singers, a metal supergroup-ish project called Probot and a lot more. He was all over the place and for whatever reason those projects sparked my interest more than anything he did with the Foo Fighters. In fact, I love the Tenacious D record, couldn’t get into QOTSA’s Songs For The Deaf (though “No One Knows” is an excellent song all around) and also that Iommi record called, of course, Iommi though I have no idea what happened to that disc.
Then, in 2002 they released their fourth record One By One which included songs like “All My Life” and “Times Like These.” These songs absolutely captured my imagination and wouldn’t allow me to ignore the Foo Fighters any longer. Around the same time, the self-titled Nirvana record that served as a greatest hits disc came out. I have very distinct memories of being in the shower in college with the radio blaring and hearing “All My Life” and then the unreleased-until-then Nirvana track “You Know You’re Right” within moments of each other. Hearing the tracks so close to each other made me realize that Grohl was carrying on the legacy of Nirvana really well. Also, by then, I wasn’t so pigheaded, which also helped. I should have picked that record up, but to be honest, I was a poor college student and not really looking to spend what little money I had on something I didn’t know if I would like.
In 2005, they put out their double record In Your Honor and once again I was excited. This time, I had a better plan for getting into the band though. The extended family on my dad’s side does a Secret Santa every year now where the names of everyone who will be at the Christmas Eve celebration gets their name put in a hat along with a few things you might want under a certain dollar amount. That year I put something very simple: Any Foo Fighters CD(s). Since I didn’t have any of them, it’s not like I would have gotten a double and figured this would be a good way to start off. And it did. My grandpa got me and picked up In Your Honor and their second record The Colour And The Shape. I really enjoyed both records, though didn’t get into the mellower second disc from In Your Honor until recently.
There’s a very simple reason why I’m drawn to Foo Fighters now: they rock. That sounds pretty simple and not very descriptive, but they seem like one of the few 90s rock bands to still be around kicking ass and making relevant music. My other favorites from around that time include Nirvana (done), Red Hot Chili Peppers (currently lacking a guitar player, I believe and nowhere near as funky as they used to be) and Green Day who actually keeps making records I like, but that’s a different kind of music.
A few weeks back the missus and I caught the second half of the Back And Forth documentary on VH1. I had a strange feeling while watching it, as if I was watching a movie about some kids I went to school with, but didn’t really know who had made good. I knew the basics of the story, but not the details and felt a weird sense of pride for people I never really knew. I think a big part of that is how accessible Grohl seems. He might look like a crazy metal caveman, but he’s just as likely to write an ass kicking rocker as he is a mellow track that rivals some of my favorite more laid back artists. Then you watch the documentary and you see him getting up early to get his daughter cereal and it brings a human elements to everything. I was also really taken by the idea of the Fighters recording their latest record, Wasting Light, in Grohl’s garage. Mind you, it’s a garage packed with cool gear and producer Butch Vig (who did Nirvana’s Nevermind among others), but the family aspects of the proceedings appeal to my increased age and soon-to-be-a-dad mentality. I also liked that guitarist Pat Smear was brought back into the fold (he had been in Foo Fighters and Nirvana at different times) and also the inclusion of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic on a track. It’s kind of like a tour down memory lane for grunge, but with a brand new tour guide taking a familiar but different route.
I recently purchased Wasting Light, but haven’t gotten all the way through it yet. I have loved what I heard and really like how the guys are playing with guitar lines and riffs and taking real advantage of Smear’s addition to the group. I will be keeping my eye out this flea market season for the Foo Fighters records I don’t have yet and also really want to see the first half of the doc because I’m most curious about the very early days of the band and what happened with the various personnel changes that I know almost nothing about. So, while I do regret not giving the band the time of day before the mid-2000s, I do find myself in the enviable position of having a good, but not overwhelming amount of material to track down as well as history to learn.