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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Postcard From Los Angeles
You're probably way ahead of me, but I heard this yesterday and rather enjoyed it. Possibly the fourth best track on Kid A.

Otherwise, it is hot. And the kids are listening to this. (Is there any better endorsement of youth music/culture than a member of law enforcement saying: "This is total disregard for human life, for law, for each other, for everything." Probably not.)

Later. Drove up to Santa Barbara today and guess who's performing here on Thursday night? Santa Barbara's own mid-90s, alt.lite legends Toad The Wet Sprocket? Apparently they've reunited (for at least the second time) and this will be the big homecoming show of their current tour. They're no Gin Blossoms or anything, but how can I not try and find a ticket...

Much later, possibly after too much time in the sun. Obviously it's generally more necessary to write books about "important" artists and scenes, but there is probably something great to be written about the immediate post-Cobain era of rock music which featured a rather remarkable run of one-hit wonders - Toad the Wet Sprocket, Gin Blossoms (Hey Jealousy), Better Than Ezra (Good), Dishwalla (Counting Blue Cars), the Rembrandts (I'll Be There For You), the Verve Pipe (The Freshmen), Dog's Eye View (Everything Falls Apart), Deep Blue Something (Breakfast at Tiffany's) and Canada's own Gandharvas (First Day of Spring) - all of whom succeeded both because of and in direct contradiction to Cobain. Of course, unlike Cobain, none of them really matter now. Then again, also unlike Cobain, many of them are still touring. Which actually almost evens the score.

Following the Most Important Rock Star of The Last 20 Years, these guys didn't have a chance and, at the same time, there's really no reasonable argument to be made for the relevance of Breakfast at Tiffany's. But in the summer of 1996 the average 16-year-old was agonizing over The Freshmen, not Cobain. And personally I can hum the chorus to more Better Than Ezra songs (1) than Alice in Chains songs (0).

This is not necessarily another plea on behalf of the irrelevant or low culture or whatever, but if you tracked down all these bands now and talked with them about the vagaries of life, you'd probably learn more about the world then another book about the Sex Pistols could ever teach you.

(All right, that's not necessarily an argument for low culture, but here's a question that could turn into such an argument: What is relatively more valuable to the ongoing success of rock music: one icon or nine slightly above average but only fleetingly successful bands?)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Alone With Oakenfold
I've got way too much to say about the Polaris Prize, most of it mean-spirited and involving the New Pornographers, but first I have to update my favourite annual honour - The Worst Record Of The Year According To Metacritic Prize.

Here's the current top ten with Metacritic scores.

1. A Lively Mind by Paul Oakenfold 35
2. Generation by Audio Bullys 40
3. Types Of Wood by Whirlwind Heat 45
4. Songs From Black Mountain by Live 47
5. Todd Smith by LL Cool J 48
6. Fast Man Raider Man by Frank Black 48
7. Keys To The World by Richard Ashcroft 50
8. We Don't Need To Whisper by Angels & Airwaves 50
9. It's Alive! by The New Cars 51
10. Daniel Powter by Daniel Powter 52

The lessons here are pretty obvious. First, if you're generally considered past your popular prime, just stay away - you can come back eventually but you have to wait long enough for everyone to forget that you were popular in the first place (see Lynn, Loretta). Second, if you rose to fame with a pop punk group, starting a new band and recording a sci-fi concept record is not quite the best idea. And, third, Daniel Powter is basically a slightly less-dickish version of the New Radicals guy.

Otherwise, to be honest, it sort of breaks my heart to see Richard Ashcroft on this list. Between opening for Coldplay, getting dissed by Wayne Coyne and drunkenly attempting to speak with school children, dude is having a pretty rough year. The worst part: when he got arrested trying to help the kids, he resorted to signing old songs in the back of a police cruiser in an attempt to confirm his identity because the cops had never heard of him. That seems somehow worse than death. Relatively speaking.

In fact, I was thinking about it and Ashcroft's sad fall from grace might be the closest I've come to experiencing the death of a beloved rock star. When Kurt Cobain died I was unfortunately a little too young and a little too well-adjusted to consider my life forever scarred. The rest of the Grunge Era deaths passed with little to no impact and by the time Elliott Smith stabbed himself I was too cynical and dead inside to get all that worked up about it. Unhelpfully, the rest of my adolescent rock star heroes - Darius Rucker, Sammy Hagar, Jim Cuddy, etc - refused to even choke on their own vomit, depriving me of the sort of formative experience every young man deserves. Jerks.

Had Noel Gallagher fallen asleep forever in a pile of cocaine shortly after releasing Be Here Now (at the time, a definite possibility), I might have been heartbroken. Or I would have at least tried to tell myself that this was big and important and I would try to remember where I was when the evening news in Detroit mentioned it in passing (by the way, apropos of nothing, the fourth story on the Windsor evening news the other night: Cat Stuck In Tree... I kid you not). When he and Liam inevitably kill each other, I'll probably have something to say. And when Pete Doherty finally dies, I'll probably try and post something poignant and wry. Same probably with Tom Petty and any members of Radiohead and/or Broken Social Scene. But otherwise I've probably missed my chance to properly meet rock star death with the necessary exaggerated mourning.

Which is, of course, tremendously sad. But this Richard Ashcroft business is possibly much worse. Or at least way more demoralizing.

It is a given that every rock star who lives to be older than 35 will eventually become something of a joke. There are almost no exceptions to this rule. Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen... even David Lee Roth... either now or at some point since they turned 35, they've seemed sort of goofy and/or lame. Richards (booze, drug) and Dylan (mumbling, general weirdness), for instance, are almost comedic standards on par with Bill Clinton Likes Boobs and OJ Simpson Kills People jokes. McCartney seems actually motivated to make an ass out of himself - now that George and John are gone, he wants to go after Ringo's market.

In other words, I suppose I should have known that this time would come for Richard Ashcroft (and, therefore, all the rock stars of my youth who have not yet died). But still, it's uncomfortable. Because now I have to choose between Mad Richard and the psychotic children's entertainer who fronts the Flaming Lips. Now, if I want to see Ashcroft perform live, I have to pay for a ticket to a Coldplay concert. And now, if I want to listen to any of Ashcroft's solo records (just because, you know, someone should... just to be polite), I have to imagine him slurring The Drugs Don't Work in the back of a police cruiser while two affable British constables look on confused.

I suppose this is preferable to no Richard Ashcroft at all. But surely not by much.

(By the way, say what you will about Richard Ashcroft, the man has perfected the Walking Around, Just Doing Stuff music video. See here, here and, of course, here.)

(If we could go back in time to 1994 and start a British pop songwriter fantasy league, I'm pretty sure Ashcroft is my first pick. Consider though that if we'd actually started such a fantasy league in 1994, a few years later I would have bet heavily on Fran Healy and Badly Drawn Boy. I imagine that some pub in deepest England now features a nightly set from a band featuring those two, Guigsy, Bonehead and Tony McCarroll.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Various Unremarkable Observations About A Major American City
So about two weeks ago I was in New York City for a little less than 24 hours. But I felt I got an authentic Big Apple experience because I managed to find a cabbie who, completely unprovoked, insisted on discussing prison rape, police surveillance and strippers (in that order) during a ride to the airport.

On the same note, my recently returned from week in Las Vegas didn't feel real until a cab driver asked me if I needed a hooker*. Pretty great moment in my personal travel history. Wish I had a slide of it to show the grandkids in 50 years.

Otherwise, my time in Sin City was intentionally uneventful. I'm sure it has been pointed out before, but the vast majority of people in casinos don't appear to be having any actual fun. Approximately 95% of those present look miserable and bored. It's entirely soul-crushing to watch.

In fact, is there any other form of entertainment that rivals casino gambling in this regard? Widely promoted as thrilling and enthusiastically pursued by millions, but actually only enjoyed by 17 people. I can't think of anything that compares. The Rolling Stones in concert maybe? Arena football?

Anyway. I was also seriously amazed at how much En Vogue gets played in casinos. This may or may not contribute to the general mood of unhappiness.

I eventually came to regard Vegas the same way I think of There's Something About Mary. I don't know if anyone remembers this, but when that movie came out a ridiculous amount of people decided that it was the funniest movie ever made. The sperm in Cameron Diaz's hair? Pure genius (apparently). The bit with the penis in the zipper? Brett Favre? Revolutionary.

Of course if you waited a few weeks, heard all of the talk and then went to see it... well you were somewhat disappointed. Funny? Sure. But not quite the Funniest Movie In The History Of American Cinema (this remains, indisputably, Slam Dunk Ernest).

Same with Vegas. Messed up, sure? But sorely lacking in, say, roving gangs of reverse-vampires. Or head-butting. Or monkey knife fights. All in all, not really that much more messed up than a New York cab ride.


*For the record, I did not take said cabbie up on his offer. In case you were wondering. To be perfectly honest, I have to think that if I was ever looking for a hooker, seeking assistance from a cabbie-slash-pimp would be perhaps the least advisable way to go about it. Just saying.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Theory Of A Deadman Screwed, Demand Recount
Here's your Polaris shortlist, in alphabetical order. Let the bitchy arguments commence.

Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
Cadence Weapon - Breaking Kayfabe
The Deadly Snakes - Porcella
Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds
Sarah Harmer - I’m A Mountain
K’naan - The Dusty Foot Philosopher
Malajube - Trompe L’oeil
Metric - Live It Out
The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary

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