Showing posts from 2018

The Tragic and Fatal Art of Making a Mixtape

There is an age-old mixtape code that does not allow for much recopying. The tape you make for one person should not be given to another. This does not stop these tapes from being recopied if they are good, usually by the receiver of said tape without the knowledge of the author, carrying on the tradition of musical choices and adding more variety to one's musical taste. Tapes can throw a monkey wrench into the works and introduce an interesting theme that needs to be carried on, or a genre that has not been explored. One of these types of thematic tapes turned me on to power pop, and more recently music blogs have taken over some of the work of mixtapes, introducing me to older rock and country stuff that I would have missed. Mixtape etiquette also assumes that the tape will be a labor of love. Now mixed CDs or playlists do not have to be listened to as they are made. Those old mixtapes required that the creator would have to listen to each song as they recorded it, in effect be…

Track This: Sun Ra's "Nuclear War"

"If you're not mad at the world, you don't have what it takes. The world lacks for warriors. You have to prepare yourself accordingly." - Sun Ra

Sun Ra's 1982 song "Nuclear War" is an epic seven minute meditation on the state of violence in our world. I first heard Yo La Tengo's first version on WFMU's Beware of the Blog. It was an interesting choice for the New Jersey trio, even with their penchant for strange covers, in a particularly languid arrangement, but Sun Ra's original blew me away once I tracked it down and let it simmer for awhile. Sun Ra's bold anti-nuclear war sentiment coupled with swearing and funkiness that would do Funkadelic justice make this one of the strangest pleas for peace.

The track adds to the Sun Ra legend because apparently he thought it could be a successful single. In an Allmusic review of the Nuclear Waralbum, Al Campbell writes that Sun Ra was" so sure the funky dance track was a hit, he immediately …

Track This: SNFU's "Reality is a Ride on the Bus" and other Realities

When I first heard SNFU's "Reality is a Ride on the Bus" (1993) on Epitaph Record's first Punk-O-Rama compilation, it shook me a little bit. Mr. Chi-Pig chronicles a nightmarish scenario on a city bus that could be masquerading as social conscience or punk rock bravado. While dealing with a similar situation to Bad Religion's "Struck A Nerve" from the same year, which chronicles poor people on a bus and questions why their lives are so terrible, SNFU provides zero solutions. Instead, the narrator imagines the disfigured people that await him with little consideration for them. Does he feel sorry for those he will meet? No, he just hides behind a book. Part Ramones-Part D.O.A., this song blusters about social anxieties. 

"My face is buried inside a book
Everybody's wearing a haggard look
The sirens scream, a baby cries
Everyday on this bus I ride."

"Reality is a Ride on the Bus" - SNFU (1993)

Track This is a recurring feature of Snobbin…

Realities: Jean Shepherd and Randy's Only Defense

“The reality of what we really are is often times found in the small snips, way down at the bottom of things.” - Jean Shepherd

I watched Bob Clark's Christmas Story (1983)for the first time on TBS, years before TNT started broadcasting the film twenty four hours a day in 1997. I soon became an obsessive fan of the film, watching it over and over again every Christmas. Now I probably watch it once a year, but its lessons and humor have affected my life significantly, and I quote the film more than I should. I started reading Jean Shepherd's short stories and listening to his old WOR radio show. Many of these have been archived on the internet spanning a period from the early 50s to the late 70s. 
According to lore, Shep usually told his stories without a script, ad-libbing about certain characters and scenarios, and commentating on culture and society. 

I particularly identify with his stories of the Midwest because I grew up there fifty years later, but not that much changed when…

Track This: The Clash's "Something About England"

Sandinista! often gets short shrift in discussions of The Clash's output. Critics and fans discuss it in dismissive tones, often viewing it as a failed experiment that should have been released as a single LP, not a triple. To be fair, there are quite a few people that view it as an underrated masterpiece that shows how effective the band was at disparate musical styles and gives more credence to the growth of their songwriting. The conventional approach in the punk rock community these days is to entirely dismiss the Clash and treat them as a punchline, except for their first record, which will always remain the classic for punk fans because it includes straightforward angry, punk numbers. However, these are not often punk enough. London Calling remains their acclaimed classic rock masterpiece, while Combat Rock is their breakthrough. Fortuitously, the only radio track off London Calling is continuously played on classic rock radio alongside Combat Rock's "Rock the Casba…

Track This: Mr. T Experience's "The Girl Who Still Lives At Home"

Every time I listen to the Mr. T Experience, or MTX for short, I marvel at how Dr. Frank takes a clever turn of phrase and uses it to ever greater effect in each song. For a band that writes "Songs About Girls" with tongues planted firmly in their collective cheeks, the group has gone through many permutations, but Frank has been the one constant in their long career. The band has written many great songs in different periods, whether one is a fan of the more punk and rock 'n' roll period with Jon Von turning in the occasional raucous, garagey anthem like "Kill The Ramones" or "I'm In Love With Paula Pierce" or the power pop records in the early 90s with tracks such as "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend. Of course, the Joel Reader era produced pop punk classics like Love is Dead, which morphed into a brief indie rock period before the band's dissolution.

The other day I was listening to 1989's Making Things With Light, an album that r…

My Brief Career as a Bear Wrangler

Photo Credit:Chris Wyman
One summer after I graduated high school, I worked at a resort in Northern Wisconsin wrangling bears and mowing lawns, but truth be told I spent most of my time collecting garbage.

An older, German gentleman, Hans, and I drove around in a blue late 1980s F-150 truck, picking up garbage from assorted cabins around the property. He would play polka music on cassette tapes and tell me stories about his younger days. On the days that he was off work, I would drive without music and collect the beer cans that vacationers left in the cabins. If they left food or beer behind, it was fair game, so I had a seemingly endless supply of cheap beer that summer. I did not buy light beer like Keystone, Coors, Busch, Miller, and others, given that I was a Heineken and Newcastle man in my misspent youth. My friends were pleased when I always had extra beer that no one had to purchase.

The bear wrangling was less dangerous than it sounds because they were leery of us. When we r…

Bill Tells A Story: In-Progress Tales That Never Find a Home

As someone who writes both fiction and nonfiction everyday, I often discover snippets of writing in notebooks or in long forgotten files on my hard drive. Generally, I know what they are. At least, I have some idea of why I wrote them. If they are nonfiction, I sometimes revise them for blog posts. The fiction snippets are more difficult to use. I always tell myself that I will finish the story or find a place to use it in my ever-expanding novel that I secretly contend is narratively daring.

This snippet is amusing, if nothing else, so I am sharing it. Perhaps, I want to remind myself at some future date that I will eventually finish each of these brief pieces. Another thing, why did I think I could use goosebump as a verb? For this story, I wonder what was coming next: a scary ghost story, a humorous tale, a novel about Bill and his madcap crew of camp rangers, or the secret life of William Jefferson Clinton. One thing I do know is that I am now hungry for s'mores.

Take it away,…

120 Minutes: How I Wasted My Sunday Nights in the 1990s

Some of my fondest memories from high school include tuning into 120 Minutes every Sunday night on MTV. I discovered many bands, and in the process, developed my musical identity. I still have about fifty tapes of videos and interviews from the show, mostly from the 1990s. Watching them now is like a time capsule of how my musical taste changed. I wore those tapes out by watching my favorite episodes and videos over and over.

One of my favorite episodes featured Matt Pinfield interviewing Rancid, mostly because the videos they picked and bands they recommended were so varied, including oi taste makers like the Business, shoutouts to the Swingin' Utters, and discussions of Operation Ivy and reggae as rebel music. My taped copy of this show is unwatchable because it goes back and forth between speeds, so I am glad Eyesore Video Channel posted it on YouTube.

Another favorite episode was when Henry Rollins and Jerry Lee Lewis co-hosted the show. This odd juxtaposition was even strange…

"When I Write the Book": My Favorite Songs About School and Writing

Since school has begun, I compiled a list of songs about teaching and writing. There are far more about teaching and teachers than writers, but I want to highlight a few of my favorites without picking the most obvious. For example, you will not find Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" here. I think it is a tad overplayed and does not capture the feeling I am looking for in songs about teaching or attending school. Plus, you all know it. You also know The Ramones' "Rock 'n' Roll High School, but I cannot help myself in including that awesome track, especially paired with the MC5. I'm in search of more songs about writing, so if you have any suggestions let me know. I'm missing so many good ones. Any teaching/student songs would also be cool, especially if they extol the virtues of school. Many of these songwriters are fed up and frustrated with their school experience. That said, here are ten of my favorite in no particular order.

1. John K. Samson-&qu…

To List or Not: My Life as an Obsessive Lister

Those who know me are familiar with my obsessive list making. Every day I make lists that are long, unwieldy, and unlikely to be completed. It is part of my mania that I separate these lists into three categories: fun items, daily teaching/writing tasks, and ongoing writing projects. I listed the fun items first on purpose because these are the most likely to be completed. Sometimes I do actually finish the daily teaching/writing tasks. If not, they roll over to the next day. The ongoing writing projects are generally tasks that I have been working on since time immemorial, and I am not I will ever finish most of them. They too are moved from list to list obsessively until I finally remove them because I can no longer be so masochistic.

Andrei Codrescu, in a 1989 collection of his "All Things Considered" essays, Raised By Puppets, Only To Be Killed By Research, writes about lists in a tellingly accurate, yet humorous essay, "Today We List, Tomorrow We Fail." He ch…

Seasonal Shifts: Hot Spring Mountain Pictures

“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” 
― Edward AbbeyDesert Solitaire

My wife and I recently visited Hot Springs National Park and hiked up Hot Springs Mountain. Many of my pictures tend to deal with the juxtaposition of man-made objects and nature. I love to take pictures that show how nature attempts to reclaim its space.

Pool Sharkin' With The Stray Cats

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to play pool in my basement. We listened to music and imagined ourselves out of that tiny town, although I do not think any of us had the audacity to picture ourselves as pool sharks, hustling townies for their paychecks. More or less, we imagined ourselves fully grown and living a life that did not include lockers and gym class.
The Stray Cats' Built For Speed was one of my favorite albums at the time. I played it countless times during our pool sessions. I vividly remember Brian Setzer's cool vocals rising above the sound of breaks, miscues, and arguments over the kitchen and the granny stick.

When I hear the hits, "Rock This Town" and "Stray Cat Strut" on classic rock radio, I always picture that damp basement and group of guys; most of us still hang out from time to time, but I think I'm the only one that regularly spins the Stray Cats. However, my favorite tracks from that album, which were on CD r…

Life in the Stacks, or Why I Love Working at the Library.

I missed working at the library the last several years, so I plan on working here more this semester. I am still waiting to get my office on campus, so I am sequestered in the library, importing my classes into Canvas and revising my syllabi. Hopefully, I will be doing most of this in my office in the future because I am excited about doing research at the library again.
The library is always quiet, and I love hunkering down between books, and working. The musty smell of the books, old wooden tables, brick walls, are like home to me. I have been working in school libraries for years, and I never get sick of it. However, sometimes I get too comfortable and dose off between the stacks.

Slick Threads: Phantom, Rocker, and Slick.

While digging through my record collection, I found this gem, "Men Without Shame" b/w "Time is on Our Hands" -- a rock and roll record featuring Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats. Dig those threads.
This 45 is the first single from their self-titled first album recorded on hiatus from their more famous band. With the addition of co-founding guitarist, Earl Slick, the band created hard rocking music that exchanged the rockabilly of their former project for an 80s rock approach that include everything from ballads to mainstream rockers. While Brian Setzer was refashioning himself as a heartland rock inspired solo artist, Phantom and Slick opted for rocking out.
"Men Without Shame" is a 6 1/2 minute song that never outwears its welcome with Slick's impressive guitar chops front and center. The solo alone separates the song from the group's former projects. Slick's session work holds him in good stead as drummer Phantom and bassist …

Moving to Arkansas

"One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things." --Henry Miller. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (1957).

"I'll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore." -- Cheryl Strayed. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar (2012).
We just moved to Arkansas so I could start my new teaching job, loading our belongings into a car and a 26-foot truck, trying against all odds to get rid of junk to make the move easier. While I did get rid of books and other nonessential items, the truck was packed (to the gills as the expression goes). I know, first world problems, right? There was barely room for anything else, and when we arrived in Arkansas there were a few damaged items. I hop…