- Ted Rall
Once again, my application to Rock Critics School has been denied.
Two years ago, my first application was rejected for "failure to mention Uncle Tupelo while mentioning Wilco and/or Son Volt," and "too few Velvet Underground references." And I don't think it helped when they asked if I was "in the Beatles camp or the Stones camp," and I wrote "Hendrix camp."
Last year, they rejected me for "lack of Sheryl Crow appreciation," and when asked which Britpop group I'd slobber over incessantly, I wrote "Def Leppard."
This year? The reasons were because when asked what pet theory I had to espouse, I wrote "the theory that Def Leppard invented electronica," and when asked which electronica band I'd hype the most, I wrote "any American hip-hop artist you care to mention."
Sitting at the bar at Lee's checking out the Exotics (from Milwaukee and thankfully un-Seliglike: surf tunes, matching black suits, slicked-back hair, standup drummer, i.e. COOL) and this suburban blonde (hate to stereotype - not really but felt I should say it - but she didn't have the requisite urban look: platform shoes and/or straight hair and/or something black or brown on and she was drinking Bud Light and smiled too much in a non-chemical way) sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. As I'm rarely approached by women in bars (except when they ask for directions to the rest rooms), I was immediately suspicious, so glanced over at her hands. A ring, bingo, this was going nowhere... Further proof she's suburban or doesn't see bands much: she didn't yell in my ear when talking to me. Problem is, my left ear is slightly damaged.
The damage is only noticeable when in a loud bar and people are trying to talk to me: I don't pick everything up if the person yapping at me is on my left side. I think the damage (or at least the majority of it) happened during my Uptown Bar heyday as I almost always seemed to stand stage-right with my left ear angled towards that big stack of sound ... specifically I'm thinking of a Run Westy Run show in late '89 on a Saturday night; the next day I got up and was hanging out in the Hampshire House (my post-college-can't-give-up-living-with-multiple-males place in St. Louis Park) watching the Purple with my roommate and his girlfriend. My ears were ringing something fierce; and when Dale spoke, I understood every word. Yet when his girlfriend talked, her higher tones were obliterated by the ringing - they must have been at the same register. She, of course, thought I was rudely ignoring her and luckily I was able to convince her of how fucked my ears were.
Two other shows that didn't help: 1) Soul Asylum at the Cabooze, also in '89 - some guy there had a SA shirt on that said "Music Should Hurt." I dug that slogan and stood too close to the loudspeakers, checking my ear for blood every so often. 2) Iggy Pop at First Avenue, fall 1990. This was the cap of my infamous Eight Bands in Seven Nights blowout (though not really: I stopped at the Uptown after the Ig show and checked out band numero nine-o.) Iggy was loud and he mooned us. Perfect! Except I had to go to my stupid job the next day and couldn't hear a damn thing, especially on the phone, but I gleefully had my calls (work calls always suck) held all day long.
So where was I with this? Oh yeah, at Lee's not understanding that little blonde gal ... I kept saying "huh?", "what?", and "whadya say?" and she finally got miffed and walked away. I think she said something about it being her best friend's last night in town and she was pimping for her (the actual words were something more about how I should go talk to her friend - Blondie most have mistaken my quizzical, uncomprehending looks for being mysterious and dreamy), because every time I looked across the bar I saw a different guy groping her friend. Glad I wasn't part of that, as groping is almost always a result of alcohol abuse and that is one thing I don't do much of these days. Besides, I had to stay sober to drive home and blast some music on headphones.
The Semisonic shows this month reminded me of when I bought their latest, Feeling Strangely Fine. I scored an autographed copy because I smiled nicely at the record-store clerk. A couple of months later, another clerk at the counter winked and called me "babe." I always get crushes on indy-store gals, but the problem for me is that both of these were guys. The affection, of course, IS appreciated.
Because lately the commercial hard rock stations in town have abandoned all attempts at playing much new music and are now having a contest as to who can play the most Styx songs (and who exactly wins that one?), I finally broke down - two years after its release - and bought Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire. Yeah, Rage claims to be leftist revolutionaries and they record for bigtime Epic Records, which makes them phonies. The Clash also claimed to be leftist revolutionaries and they also recorded for Epic, which made them phonies too. And the MC5 claimed to be leftist revolutionaries, and they recorded for both bigtime Elektra and biggertime Atlantic, which means they invented the whole phony-leftist-revolutionary-high-energy-rock-band shtick.
Then again, easily my favorite part* of the utterly depressing ("we took a bunch of drugs and it was real violent") history-of-punk book, Please Kill Me, was when the MC5 got all their bigtime money and bought sports cars with it, thereby snubbing all the folks back at the commune. Boss!
The MC5's first album was refused to be carried by Hudson's Department Store in Michigan. And Hudson's is owned by Big Department Store, where I work temp three days a week. And I bought Evil Empire at a Big Discount Department Store, which is also owned by Big Department Store, which means all-in-all, I'm a phony leftist customer. Yes! I can only hope to present myself with as much style and passion as the MC5, Clash, and Rage - all of whom I love. I may be fake, but I do want to fight the good fight.
* Second-favorite part: the Dead Boys prove themselves to be true we're-Midwesterner-garage-band-punks by showing up at meetings with a record-label bigshot with multiple "big boy" cans of beer!
Glossary of Terms:
nightclub jitter - the drink you take before you hit the town.
two dollar limo - taking an MCTO bus to and from the show.
calling an audible - planning on going to club A to see band Z all week long, then just prior to heading out deciding to go to club B to see band X.
trifecta - going to the same bar three times in one week.
the price of stupidity* - First Avenue tickets are usually two bucks cheaper if you get them in advance. Showing up at a show that you know damn well you were going to attend without buying an advance ticket costs you this. Plus, you have to stand in line longer.
crossover act - many times when you visit First Avenue, they give out complimentary tickets to the various dance parties held in the mainroom. You use these comps to get into the mainroom, and then cross over to the Seventh Street Entry for a cover that is typically a buck or two less than if you were to enter through the Entry's door. (Note, however, if you don't have a mainroom comp and you plan on being in the Entry and going into the mainroom to bust some moves, you can cross over from the Entry into the mainroom for free!)
the price of acceleration - when you're planning on being a crossover act via your comp, but the line to get into the mainroom is way too long, so you pay the normal Entry cover to get in quicker.
home-and-home series - going out two nights in a row to two different bars.
weekend series sweep - pulling Friday and Saturday appearances at the same club in one weekend.
preemptive strike - usually happens sometime between 12:30 and 12:45, when you're not quite in the mood for a drink, but order one to avoid the last-call bum rush.
*this one has been endlessly riffed on since I coined it back in 1990. Paying the higher door price to get into a show that everyone else is going to is "the price of conformity"; if it's because the object of your unrequited affection might be in the club, you're paying "the price of infatuation". One night I paid door cover as I had just got transferred at my real job from downtown Minneapolis to a shitty suburban office and couldn't deal with the pain without some Leinenkugels and Warren Zevon (in that order) - so that night it was "the price of my life sucking." These variations go on and on, with no end in sight; someone once said "they're all basically the prices of survival."
New Smashing Pumpkins song: 1) Billy Corgan's I'm-so-scary voice isn't as good or as effective in being kinda scary as Dave Mustaine's. However, hardly anybody calls Mustaine a "voice of a generation." 2) The song sounds a lot like the new Page and Plant song - I prefer the Jimmy and Bob. 3) The Pumpkins use synth drums (hence St. Cloud's hard-rawkin station calling it "cutting edge"), no doubt because synth drums don't shoot smack in hotel rooms.
Warm weather is here, which means it's time to yell stuff out the window of your car when you're driving around. This is the sort of passive-aggressive behavior that I excel in, and it takes much more instinct and timing than passive-aggressive activities like doing yer own zine. My best interjections this year so far have been:
· "Hiya Stinky!" - to the guy walking down 35th Street. He invariably sits by me on the bus every couple of weeks and the ritual of the daily shower is apparently lost on him.
· "Get a room!" - you can guess when this one is used.
· "...then she disappears with the eyepatch guy!" - to the gal walking down Lyndale with an eyepatch-sporting dude.
· "Think about a salad!" - to the big lady with the big hair who took a left into my path on 35th Street, forcing me to brake hard, brake fast.
· "Have another!" - this is sort of a mantra for me; used whenever someone is doing something only a drunk would do - like the guy standing on Hennepin Avenue's yellow line, stranded between William's and the library bus stop, two lanes of traffic whizzing by him on each side.
Sitting in my new cubicle at Big Department Store (that's nine desks in nine months for those of you keeping score), and the gal across the cube wall from me and her manager are talking about academia versus the real world and other weighty subjects. She keeps referring to Corporate America, but not in the disdainful way that me and my posse do. To her, it's a place, not just a concept. It's a real country, with its own culture and ways of doing things. It's her home.
That's it, I think, that's it exactly. Some of these people seem to live in another country. Not the one imagined in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, but one in which the concepts of equality and fairness have been replaced by the concept of grabbing as much wealth as you can despite the consequences ("democracy," Steve Erickson wrote in his brilliant book American Nomad, "cannot be translated in terms of the material things it allows us to acquire,") and the Manifest Destiny of widening city freeways to facilitate the right to drive down them at 70 mph any time you please.
So it must be called Corporate America, because it is not simply the America that some of us still believe and live in. I shudder, partly out of the impact of it all; partly because of my insolence in thinking these things. Meanwhile, Pavement is on my AM radio singing the word "career" over and over...
Can't resist: Separated at Birth - filmmaker/king of his mind James Cameron and former Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven. Even better separated at birth - Soul Asylum guitarist Dan Murphy and Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy.
I love the blues and need to write you about your so-called taste in music. First of all, I recommend that you should listen to some Corey Stevens. Things have been tough since Stevie passed away, as many times it seems like the blues died with him, but check out Corey - he sounds alot like Stevie and anyone who works hard at that should be rewarded.
I read in the last issue that you listen to Chris Whitley. I know people who claim to love the blues and say Whitley's the real deal, yet this so-called bluesman doesn't hardly do any twelve-bar stuff (that's DA DAH DA DAH to you, Wyman, i.e. the REAL blues) and he doesn't have any cool guitar solos. When's the last time you heard him on the KQ Blues Break?
Also, please don't give me any more of that crap like you usually do about the early Stones being a great "blues" band. They sounded like Chuck Berry (not the blues) half the time and did a lot of R&B (not the blues) stuff and didn't take long guitar solos at all. You don't hear any Brian Jones licks on the KQ Blues Break - it's all Clapton (who by the way is God, and who as God did reggae a lot better than that one band you sent that tape over by - Foot and the Mayalls or whoever), Stevie, and Jonny Lang: just as it should be. So you and your weirdo friends can talk all you want about those freaky so-called blues bands like Muddy Waters (named after a coffee shop for chrissakes!) and PJ Harvey, I won't be listening!
Also, don't tell me about Bob Dylan's Time of my Mind being a "blues" album. He does a sixteen-minute song and it's all talking! No guitar solos! Take a listen to the Allmans at Fillmore if you want to hear a long blues song done right!
So Wyman, I don't know if you truly know one thing about the blues or not. I can safely say that when it comes to the blues you are not to be trusted, you seem so damn irreverant like everything's just a damn joke to you. I love the blues, and all your snide remarks can't stop me! Anyway, check out this band I just discovered: Howling Wolf. They have tons of albums out, they mostly cover Yardbirds, Stones, Zep, and Hendrix tunes - but they don't do too bad of a job. And plus they got an old black guy as lead singer, just like Ed Bradley's Blackwater Surprise! That's so cool!
Your blues-loving friend,
The Blues Fan
Those of you who read the last issue know all about how I'm trying to bust myself for liking Music That I'm Supposed to Like. Okay, I know I'm supposed to like John Hiatt; he's a Songwriter, after all. But he sounds old and for lack of a better term, his music is "for grownups." He's got that song about the silliness of smashing guitars, so anytime I hear Hiatt - no matter what song - I just want to give the finger to the old crank and hear some artists who did smash guitars and were PROUD of it: The Who, Hendrix, Yardbirds (who I've been told destroyed guitars in a rare appearance of the Beck-and-Page-both-playing-guitar-instead-of-Page-on-bass lineup in the movie Blow-Up; I watched about an hour of it on Bravo on a recent Sunday afternoon but missed the Yardbirds - damn), the Clash (cover of London Calling) and Nirvana. Come to think of it, I own many albums by all those smash 'em up artists, and none by Hiatt, and I'd put all of 'em above Hiatt even without the violence (although it helps!)
Green Day smashed their instruments at First Avenue last fall, and Hiatt didn't at his appearance. I missed both shows, but have been listening to a bunch of Green Day lately mostly because whether or not they're "real" or "fake" punk is way beyond my knowledge - they're just fun and fast.
So I remain on the side of the guitar trashers. While F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote (and it's one of my favorite quotes lately) that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function," I don't believe he was ever scolded for not being a John Hiatt fan.
This was almost the issue that didn't happen, dear readers. On May 26, 1998, at approximately 7:45 a.m., I was trekking from the bakery to the corner market and was crossing 36th Street and almost got plowed over by a little old lady in a white Pontiac taking a left turn from Bryant Avenue. Amazingly (at my age) still in possession of my cat-like reflexes, I sprinted the two steps needed for my safety. My almost-last word was an incredulous "Geez!" when I realized she had no clue I was in her way and was accelerating towards me. (And that was one of my all-time ingenuous remarks, right up there with the time I asked the waiter at Lord Fletcher's "ya got any Schmidt?" and the time I rode on an elevator with the Artist-Then-Known-As-Prince and asked "how's it goin'?")
Anyway, the rest of this story is anti-climatic. Mabel (I've anointed her with that name) braked at the last second, then sped off to get her social security check; no doubt thankful that I was still alive to contribute to the FICA fund. She gave no apology (not that I was waiting for one) and I yelled "drive much?" which was pretty lame, but the best I could come up with short of throwing my bagel at her car. I got a newspaper and walked home, thinking that maybe this near-death experience was a Sign of sorts; but it was too early in the morning for me to figure out any Signs, so I ate my bagel and read the paper instead.
I'm tryin' to come up with a term for Loring Bar frequenters for my "Glossary of Terms." Only true dorks - and no, wearing black while doing it doesn't make it hip - cross picket lines. Maybe they can be called "the beautiful union-busting people?" Or how about "scab-wage-supporting would-be trendies?" Any suggestions welcome...
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