Supergroup Showcase: Paul McCartney & Nirvana

There’s nothing about any of this that should work. Paul McCartney playing with the surviving members of Nirvana (including touring guitarist, and Foo Fighter Pat Smear) and playing a full on rock and roll song? My brain tells me that should not be a thing that works and rocks. Oh, Sir Paul’s also playing a cigar box guitar (or is it a ukelele, I really have no idea)? Oh heavens no. And yet, when I first saw them perform “Cut Me Some Slack,” I was blown away.

I heard about this collaboration first for the 12/12/12 concert, but didn’t actually watch the clip until today, after seeing them blaze through the rollicking track on Saturday Night Live. i was so unbelievably pumped up after hearing this performance not only because McCartney’s singles output lately has been…not the best, but also because this felt like a viable supergroup. I don’t expect them to tour or anything — though that would be pretty incredible — but there’s potential there for a really cool record. I say let’s make it happen!

Music Musings: Nirvana

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!

Music Musings: Foo Fighters

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.

Music Musings: How I Got Into Music

Recently, my love of music has been rekindled. I’ve always had an affinity for the medium and have never really left it behind, but for the last year or so, I’ve been decidedly less focused on listening to music in favor of watching movies while I work or listening to podcasts. With my recent work changes, I’ve also changed how I work, which now involves playing the old iPod instead of zoning out with a movie I don’t really care about. I’m still gonna watch some TV and movies during the day, but I’m also going to utilize my time to catch up on the tons of CDs I picked up this summer at flea markets and also revisit some old faves. I’ve also been playing my guitar and bass a lot more often which has been a great stress reliever and a lot of fun. With that in mind, I figured it might be interesting to talk about how I got into listening to music.

I don’t remember much about music before around the 6th grade. I know my mom tended towards the classic, oldies radio stations when we’d drive around and my dad was more into classic rock, so I had a pretty broad base growing up, but it took me a while to go after music on my own aside from asking for MC Hammer tapes for my birthday. I don’t remember exactly when I got my first CD-playing boombox, but I think it was around 1992 because the first three CDs I got to go along with it were Kriss Kross’ Totally Krossed Out, the Aladdin soundtrack and a Disney disc called For Our Children with covers of children’s songs by artists like Little Richard, Bob Dylan and a slew of others. Pretty eclectic. Oddly enough, I don’t have any of those three discs in my collection anymore, having sold Kriss Kross in a garage sale and passed the two Disney discs along to my folks, though I might have to get them back for my kid to listen to. I would have been 9 around that time.

My second discman, Christmas 1998. Age 15, be nice.

My  musical evolution has a few distinct memories from those early days, but mostly a lot of fog. I’ve mentioned going to see KISS with my dad in 1997 and I have very distinct memories of sitting in the back of Mrs. White’s classroom in 7th grade during free time with my friend Jimmy listening to CDs on our Discmen and doodling. I did a lot of doodling back in the day and had great fun coming up with various lists of my favorite bands. During the last few summers of my grade school years, I remember watching MTV even though I wasn’t supposed to and probably did so when I was alone after school as well. I remember having a hard time mapping out the history of rock and roll in my brain because there was just so much going on (and I knew almost nothing about punk or funk, so it would only get bigger and more unwieldy as I got older). Wait, so the Beatles broke up BEFORE John Lennon was killed? How is it possible that Eric Clapton was in SO MANY bands?! Getting a subscription to Guitar World in high school really helped. That mag was like a history book for rock and roll.

The extent of my punk rock knowledge in 1999. So weird...

Jimmy was a pretty big influence on my listening habits. I got into bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice In Chains thanks to him. We also both dug 70s music because both our dads were into that kinda stuff. I would raid my dad’s CD collection and listen to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and the like. At some point I also got my own turntable and borrowed a bunch of my dad’s vinyl which had a lot of 50s/60s pop records and introduced me one of my favorite bands of all time: The Ventures. Eventually, I’d start hitting up the used CD stores like CD Warehouse to add to my collection. For Christmas one year, my parents bought me a CD player that could hold 51 CDs, like a juke box. You would slide the CD booklets into a book so you’d know which ones were where and could even hit the random button and just let them run wild. Eventually, the CD selector arm stopped working and iPods came into play, but that stereo served me well all the way through college.

First with the help of the boom box and later the stereo, I also started listening to some Toledo and Detroit rock stations. I was pretty anti-rap, pop and country at that point for whatever reason (close mindedness, lack of experience, whatever you want to call it), so it was mostly 104.7 which was classic rock, 106.5 Buzz FM (alternative and classic) and Detroit’s 89X which introduced me to a lot of 90s bands and also played more than just the regular singles. I discovered this in the last few years after giving the missus’ Our Lady Peace records a listen and realizing I knew more songs than I should have.

By the time I got to high school I had seen KISS and Aerosmith with my dad, I’d soon win tickets to see Black Sabbath from one of the aforementioned radio stations and would add a bunch of music enthusiasts to my group of friends who would bolster my fandom and exploration even further. Going to concerts was a fairly regular occurrence with us (I miss those days a lot) and we had a ton of fun. We’d also talk about music more than was probably healthy, but what else are you supposed to talk about at an all guy Catholic high school?My freshman year (1998 or so) a group of us attended our school’s Battle of the Bands and were so inspired that we decided to form a band. Since one friend had a guitar and one a drum set, it came down to me to learn bass. So I did. I rented a black Fender Squier and an amp for a little while, took lessons from a guy named Ed who thought my dad’s first name was mine and eventually bought my own bass at a store’s semi-annual going out of business sale. Eventually, I’d switch teachers and get a really good one named Jason who I would go to for the rest of my high school career. It took awhile and a lot of effort, but we finally put a band together Sophomore that had the friend who was going to play guitar on drums, a different singer, a new friend on guitar and the one who was going to play drums too busy to participate because he was doing musicals. We practiced a lot, went through two lead singers (the musical dude eventually became the singer) and played a few parties, but nothing too fancy. It was a ton of fun. Senior year, we got our shit together, played Battle of the Bands and won. One of these days, I’ll figure out how to convert the VHS tape into YouTube clips to really embarrass everyone.

Bennet band practice.

Between playing music and learning more about it, I had a great time in high school as far as music was concerned. My buddy Chad, who would become the guitar player in the band (it was called The Pen Is Mightier, first, then Bennet after the singer change in case you were wondering) helped me get even further into classic rock, by really introducing me to Pink Floyd and some other bands. The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I started working at Barry’s Bagel Place and would continue to on and off until I moved out to New York to work at Wizard. That was a whole other world of music to get exposed to thanks to all kinds of new people of all different ages with different tastes. That’s where I discovered the Buzzcocks! The bakers got to choose the music played in the back and they had a big effect on what I was listening to as did this dude Matt who I worked up front with. He was a big fan of classic rock. But, the biggest influence on my at that time was working down the strip mall from my beloved Boogie Records, an independent record store that sold new and used CDs, records, DVDs, patches, the whole shebang. I can’t tell you how many laps I did around those racks before the place closed down when I was in college, but I wound up buying all kinds of CDs from them. It wasn’t until well after Kurt Cobain died that I really got into Nirvana. I had picked Nevermind a while before, but at some point I got really into them and went back and bought all their CDs at Boogie and even got a rad interview disc called The Bark Not The Bite that I should give another listen to. My tastes tended towards rock, classic and alternative including the growing pop punk of the day, but not much into metal or the nu-metal that was popping up all around me. While some of my friends got into Korn, I never could. I guess I wasn’t angry enough. Plus. those dudes always seemed like posers to me anyway.

Not my actual hair style in college, the ladies had fun with me then I played pourly, but looked cool.

In college, I had much less money to spend on music, but I did expand my horizons, slowly getting into blues, hip hop, country and jazz thanks to a class I took my senior year. I started with old school hip hop, outlaw country and general blues but I was liking it all. I also dropped my outstanding dislike of pop music, deciding it’s more fun to have fun with crappy pop music than it is to outright hate everything. Sure, there’s bad–really bad–pop music out there, but what’s the point of letting it upset you? Shitty music has always been around, it takes effort to work past that to get to the good stuff. While in college, the whole digital thing started happening, but I was mostly oblivious to it, preferring my CDs and, yes, my mini disc player. It wasn’t until right before I moved to NY and got my Mac that I discovered the joys of ripping all your music to a computer and a year or say later when the glorious iPod entered my life (it’s almost full now, which is kind of sad). Sometime around the end of high school, I decided I wanted a guitar and got a Squier Telecaster start-up pack, which I took with me, along with a bass, to college. I only ever played two gigs/shows/recitals in college but I liked having my gear around to play with. Still do.

Now I find myself with more CDs than I care to count, a small collection of records and an iPod nearly full of music with more to put on. I don’t really spend a lot of money on new music, but usually try new things out that I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. I’m generally cheap, so the idea of being able to get a disc for a few bucks is very appealing and allows me to try a lot of new things (for what it’s worth, I’m against pirating music). I’ve found a TON of 90s hip hop CDs at garage sales. The thing that still blows me away about music is how broad of a topic it can be. I used to think I knew a lot about a lot, but that was mostly all popular music. I know dudes who can talk for hours about bands I’ve never heard of.

So, what’s the point of this post aside from rambling scattershot about my history with music? Well, first off, it’s a way of me telling you that I’m going to be writing more about music on the blog. Music Mondays will now be Music Musings because I’m not sure if posts will always go up on Mondays. I’m also planning on actually doing record reviews on a more regular basis and documenting my exploration of new-to-me music genres like 80s music (to a 90s alternakid, the 80s were one big joke, but there’s obviously a lot of good stuff in there). For a brief period of time I got paid to do this kind of stuff, which was a life long dream. I’m hoping that my newfound enthusiasm for music will combine with this crazy blogging addiction I seem to have and make for some interesting posts. If not, well, I’ll probably just quit doing them and post more music videos or something.

New Hampshire Haul

Last weekend the missus and I traveled to New Hampshire so she could go to a family bridal shower with her mom. It was nice to go someplace different, especially a much cooler place. Anyway, we hit up a deep discount place called Building 19 and also the Londonderry Flea Market…twice and I got all kinds of rad stuff. Continue reading New Hampshire Haul

Book Review: Sonic Boom by Peter Blecha

For the majority of my active music absorbing career, I’ve felt like I’ve been playing catch up. I guess that’s what happen when you’ve got 40 or so years of rock and roll (not to mention blues, jazz, folk and whatever else you might eventually get interested in) with dozens and dozens of sub genres with their big hitmakers, indie darlings and one hit wonders. It’s a lot to take in and as a result I had a problem understanding how so many bands fed off of each other in a fairly short period of time to create all kinds of classics bands.

Peter Blecha’s Sonic Boom which came out earlier this year, does an amazing job of cataloguing all of that albeit in the specific area of Northwest America. Thanks to the cover, which features a shot of Mudhoney, I kind of figured Sonic Boom would be mostly about the grunge scene, but I couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, my one complaint about the book is that Blecha didn’t give this highly influential era comparably few pages. The section focusing on the intricacies of the scene from the late 50s through the 80s takes up roughly 229 pages while the 70s-90s get the remaining 50 pages. The funny thing is that it doesn’t come off as though Blecha dislikes that music, he just kind of breezes through it, which feels rushed after reading about bands you’ve never heard of like The Fleetwoods.

But, like I said, this book really educated me on an era of rock and roll that I was mostly unfamiliar with and, better yet, and entire sub genre of music I didn’t know. I learned about bands like The Sonics, The Wailers, The Frantics, learned more about The Ventures (whose surf rock records blew me away when I stumbled upon my dad’s uncle’s discs when I first got my own record player for Christmas in high school) and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Plus there were just so many ins and outs to the scene that it played out like a soap opera more often than not. Plus, it’s fun to read about real life events that informed one of the all time best rock and roll movies That Thing You Do.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book was getting an understanding as to how different the record industry used to be. First off, records were sold regionally, so you might record a single on 45 and sell it in your area, but it might not do a anything anywhere else in the country. I’ve been saying for a while that it’s interesting to me that the music industry seems to be turning back to this single format that dominated the industry for so long. Now, we’re just buying them on iTunes instead of rolling down to the record store and picking up a record. Another aspect of the scene I found fascinating was the focus int he early to mid 60s of teen dances that would be held at school gyms or VFW halls put on by anyone who could rent the place out. I never experienced any dances like that in my day, but it sounds like local politics really got in the way.

It made me think how cool it would be to open some kind of club that would foster young/new bands. You could record the live shows and put them out as a podcast. Then, considering how easy it is to record with Garage Band, start a little recording studio in the back and then just release them through iTunes. That would work right? Who wants to open a club?

Anyway, I recommend Sonic Boom for any fans of rock who are looking for a detailed history before the Beatles came and changed everything (including focus on plenty of bands who influenced them and just about every other band that would come after). Like I said, it’s definitely light on the 90s grunge stuff, but if you’re in the mood, I highly recommend checking out a movie about that revolution called Hype. I haven’t seen it since high school (when I got into grunge, again, after the fact finishing my Nirvana CD collection, picking up Badmotorfinger to go along with Superunknown and giving TAD and Mudhoney a shot thanks to my beloved used record store Boogie).