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Strange Confessions: Follow the Leader

Strange Confessions: I have a story for every favorite genre of music or band that I like, of the origin for how I discovered them, except for one: rap.

I’m going to be one of those old men who drive their grandchildren crazy with stories of no great importance about the time I chose not to go waterskiing, or the dream I had in grade school about ruining my school uniform and the only back up clothes the nuns could provide was a washcloth, or how I loved playing with elaborate doll houses and that made me think for a time I could be an architect, or about the first time I ordered fajitas at Papacita’s in Houston, or how I had the longest birthday ever when our family flew to Hawaii.

Yup. I’ve led a pretty eventful life.

Then I’ll pull out my little, ancient ipod, plug it into the nursing home speaker system, and introduce them to all the songs from my yesteryear. All the other residents will either roll their eyes in exasperation or clap for the little bit of diversion in their day-to-day existence at the home, because Mr. Mayo has locked himself inside the control room with his grandchildren sharing with them what he thought was the best and most unappreciated music of his day. I’ll tell them about how I heard “The Statue Got Me High” on some radio station as I was driving myself to work one day, and that we didn’t have the internet back then to find out who it was, but I actually had to call the radio station to find out who it was. I’ll share with them my rebellious moments at Judge when we’d wander the halls blasting Judas Priest and Rainbow, and that “Long Live Rock ‘n Roll” was the first album I acquired through illegal means. I’ll speak of my old friend and how he owned a death metal record shop, and the day he suggested I might like some of this Apoptygma Berzerk.

“Hey Papa, tell us about how you discovered this band, Eric B & Rakim.” they’ll request of me.

“You know what kids,” I’ll say, “I have no dern-blasted idea how I got into Eric B & Rakim. There was a period of time from about 1988 to 1991 that I really got into rap. I had no friends who were into it, there was no rap stations in Utah at the time, I didn’t hang out in Hip-Hop clubs getting down to the rhythm. How in the world did I discover I liked rap? In fact, the only “rap” that was out at the time or was popular was those stupid Beastie Boys and that “Party” song made me gag.”

Hold up here for a second… I just got a flashback. College, Utah State, dorm room of… what’s his name… Mexican kid with thin mustache and dude who hung out at the fraternity who was from California, who told us about playing basketball and used the phrase, “Get that **** outa here nookie,” when blocking a poorly tossed shot. Also, that fat New York dude who told me to forget about finding a girl who was saving herself for marriage… Boy, that came flooding back in a hurry. I can still see him holding up that cassette of IceT’s “Rhyme Pays.” I went out and bought “Power” soon afterward. IceT was overtly violent, anti-authoritative and super-sexualized.

I wonder about my state of mind back then. I’ve written a couple of stories about being at Utah State and how depressed and needy and lazy I was. My life was ripe to be introduced to something that had so much definitive self-assurety overflowing, especially in terms of those guys I knew and the music they introduced me to. But it was later when I was gone away from all that, I bought Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” and “Fear of a Black Planet.” Those albums were angry and loud and racist. I was a loser white kid, in Salt Lake City, Utah, who just lost his grant at college and started working retail. How could I relate to all this?

And then I found Eric B & Rakim, my favorite. These guys were it man. The rhymes, the beat, the tempo, the lyrical mastery, and most of all: the lack of racism, sex, violence, and drugs. I, somehow, found this album, “Paid in Full” and found it fascinating. I had to have more. Then I got “Follow the Leader”: a Hip-Hop album masterpiece. I listened to this tape over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of it. For those few years, I was a rap fanatic, but not of the stuff that was coming out in the pop-culture. Those albums that had females in bikinis on the covers were not for me. And there was a lot coming out back then. Those few years were the age of transition for most music. The glam-metal scene was turning to grunge. The New Wave genre was fading and combining into other aspects of dance and rock. The hard metal music, much appreciated by me, was shooting off into differing categories or just plain getting old. Rap was gaining mainstream popularity, because those albums appealed to the suburbanite teen who wanted to buck the system and find a new place, a new rebellion, a new message. With rap, especially, you see the fruits of today what was planted in the past. When I hear a rap song now, all I think of is that horrible transition it went through back then, and I want no part of it. Eric B & Rakim were of a different, emerging sort that rapped about murdering and drugs, but from the standpoint of all that referring to… rapping. It has rhythm, it has hook, it is fun to listen to and to try to rap along to. Even years later I find myself rapping a line or two or three from twenty plus years or so ago. I still listened to Public Enemy, but less so then EB&R, and IceT? He was gone, I couldn’t stomach much of that for long.

One day, my best friend and I were in Raunch Records scoping out music. He was of the death metal scene, and I just went along with him because we were probably going out to eat or to the comic shop. Somehow or another I found out about a band called 3rd Base and bought it at Raunch. It was more than likely my only purchase there. That album signified the end of my rap phase of life. I don’t remember the music at all, I just remembered, I, was, done. The End.

But I do recall Eric B & Rakim fondly. In fact, I just purchased Follow the Leader off of itunes. I’m trying to get my kids to like it, but they are all, “Ugh, Can you turn this off?” I explain to them that if they meet someone in the future that is a true rap connoisseur/historian and they tell them they know of Eric B & Rakim, the person’s sock will be blown clean off… Whatever that means.


Strange Reviews: Lungs

I eased myself into the high passenger seat of a large white suburban. We were men on a mission to see a brick building of interest. The driver, whose quirky personality is difficult for me to figure out, starts up the engine. (I imagine others find it as difficult to see what lies beneath this skull of mine, but he is quicker to smile, laugh, and empathize and thus is seemingly more easy to be with.) Several notes come out of the stereo system, and another man in the back asks excitedly, “Is that the Avett Brothers?” Driver answers in the affirmative, that indeed it is the Avett Brothers. “I knew there was a reason I liked you,” back seat passenger conveys the message of an instant manly bond of music. I take note of band and catch some notes of note, then take some mental notes for later perusal of agreed upon bonding band.

Some days later my wife presents to me a late birthday gift of an itunes card worth, (drumroll please) twenty-five dollars! I haven’t had money for itunes since I wrote my last album review dated May 8th. I figure that an album review here to be forthcoming and begin the search for what to buy… what to buy. I instantly remember the band that brought about the bond that I so much like to experience, of which I semi-wrote about on that one site SIR page. I sent a message to back passenger asking them to remind me of band, then checked them out. Well, they were okay. Not necessarily my style, more on the easy country/rock. My country and/or country rock demands more of a hook and less of, hmmm… shall I say mainstreamism?

I flashed back to my appreciation of 80’s thrash metal, and found nothing that made me want to buy. It is very hard to buy an album when you rarely get the funds to go for it, after all there is so much to choose from and where do you go? Do you pick from your past? Do you go for the stuff you received some moderately impressed praise for having and finding some more of the stuff? Do you go for something new that itunes may recommend? Last time I asked for recommends, I got a lot of no responses or stuff that I wasn’t nearly interested in. Then I remember a song that I first experienced while browsing the net. It showed a kid and his response to a song and the lack  thereof. Very funny video, and the song got stuck in my head. The way the kid reacts is the way I am when it comes to music: if it makes me move, I like it.

I found the song and the album, then listened to the samples. It didn’t thrill me right away, but then I remembered how I use to have to work hard to like an album; listening to it over and over again, so it’d grow on me and it became part of me and I could sing it on a whim. Now wait a sec, you may think that I was forcing myself to like something just because others liked it and I could… bond with them? Nothing could be farther from the truth. It wasn’t that I didn’t hate it and forced myself, but that I knew it had potential to move me.  I love music, I just don’t connect immediately with the specific sound. Like when your friend posts a video of a guy doing the guitar rhythm to an old song that you liked way back when and says to check out the fret work, you suddenly realize that you never really heard the instruments separately, but always as a whole. You never fully realized the work and talent that went into such simple melodies, and how beautiful each part can be on its own. My goodness! How perspectives can change in an instance. Music is the stuff that shows us how beautiful a gift God gave us when it comes to hearing. Alas, like so many other good gifts given us, we make it ugly and spiteful. Yet I suppose that is a part of human existence too.

Back to the review at hand. Since this is a review of an album I don’t have much of a history with, I don’t know it totally in and out, but will give my initial reactions to each song.

Dog Days Are Over: This is the song that I referred to earlier. Great, haunting, lively intro. Her voice instantly takes me in. Love the deep tones and then ukulele(?). Clapping hands and tambourines and a harp builds up the crescendo to the chorus. With pauses in the middle and strong come backs. This is a great song to jump up and down to and sway in melody.

Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up): This one could be on the extreme, alternate, late-night, weekend playing Christian music station. It is a song about offering, sacrifice, change, gifts. Don’t misunderstand, it is not a Christian band as you will soon see, and this is not a Christian song, it just has a great spiritual presence and the beautiful melody will have you swaying.

I’m Not Calling You a Liar: The Machine seems to rely a lot upon the light instrument, harps, cymbals, tambourines. They have great harmony together, and this one showcases that. It is about love and how hard it is to give your heart, it is like dying.

Howl: This one, might be the first to delete. It is a good song, but the lyrics don’t impress me. I do lie more on the puritan side of things when it comes to the gift of relationship God gave man and woman, and this one is just to feral for my tastes.

Kiss With a Fist: Okay, this one is the first I’ll delete. All I here is violence and mutual domestic abuse. In fact it is already gone.

Girl With One Eye: Three songs in a row to delete? This isn’t going so well… but it does get better.

Drumming Song: Another song that I just love her voice. More crashing sounds in this one than usual. It does sound like she is a bit crazy as she tries religion and suicide(seemingly) to rid herself of the drumming. But it is just another one about love and how the emotions inside take over when you see the one you love, the passion is seemingly out of control.

Between Two Lungs: Words and their effect on you? Meh… just doesn’t roll out the barrel, if you know what I mean.

Cosmic Love: Another great one, gotta say her voice is just amazing, they don’t need all the heavy instruments. This one though, reminds me that it should come with a warning that Paul McCartney knew how to do. “You’d think that people would have Had enough of silly love song But I look around me and I see it isn’t so Some people wanna fill the world With silly love songs And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know ‘Cause here I go again.” Okay! I get it. You’re a woman with strong emotions. I guess this is your outlet. Many a great artist creates out of pain. Here is what I’m going to imagine it as: End of the world, deep in the darkness, with only one person… to face the end of the world.

My Boy Builds Coffins: This one is my favorite so far. Just check out these lyrics: “My boy builds coffins with hammers and nails He doesn’t build ships, he has no use for sails He doesn’t make tables, dressers or chairs He can’t carve a whistle cause he just doesn’t care
My boy builds coffins for the rich and the poor Kings and queens have all knocked on his door Beggars and liars, gypsies and thieves They all come to him ’cause he’s so eager to please My boy builds coffins he makes them all day But it’s not just for work and it isn’t for play He’s made one for himself One for me too One of these days he’ll make one for you For you For you For you.” Those are enough for the price of admission. Yes! A song about dying… Wait, what? All these have something about dying in them. This one is different though. Check it out.

Hurricane Drunk: Women have emotions on a level way beyond the average male, and this one is no exception. This time her emotions are carrying her away like a hurricane. Again, this sounds like something that could be on the alt, alt, alt Christian music station. Just sayin’.

Blinding: A more somber and dark one then the usual lighter ones. Heavy drumbeats mark its entry. She cries out, “No more dreaming like a girl.” Apparently dreaming about the love she has always sought, but then she awakens from the fantasy because she kills someone. Just kidding, she doesn’t kill anyone. But there is something deeper here, perhaps the way we now seek out love? Ugh, my manliness is starting to kick in the gag reflexes to upchuck all this emotion about love and stuff… Let’s look at the last one.

You’ve Got the Love: Wait, this one has “love” in the title. Okay, hold up again. I’m going to say that this one is truly about God. Forget about the fact that all these others are about the pain love brings, or the emotions that destroy from unrequited love or relationships that are just physical, or death and dying from poetic broken hearts. This one is about a love that will never let you down. A love that you really need, a love that picks you up. And listen to the harp this time, it sounds like an angel in heaven is playing it. In the end it all comes down to going back to God; He’ll never let you down. At least that is what I’m going with.

Hmm… Maybe this is why I rarely bond with people over music anymore.


Strange Confessions: My Most Moderated Mantra

Strange Confessions: Some of the music I have recently discovered is more execrable, lyrically wise, than the music I liked in high school and college, which was disparaged at the time as evil and disgusting. Worse yet, I was introduced to some of the current stuff by my bestest buddy, who is, supposedly, a Christian.

It seems that every fifteen to twenty years or so my tastes change in the type of music I mostly listen to. There have been some interludes of the classical (Beethoven), the grungy (Soundgarden), the jazzy (Spyro Gyra), the swing (Frank Sinatra), and the blues (Stevie Ray Vaughan). I’ve even found a band that got me liking my much detested Southern Rock genre, Drive-By Truckers. But your musical tastes are defined by the majority of what your listening ear leads to. Early in my life I found myself digging the comical musical stylings found by listening to Dr. Demento and the soft rock and disco popular at the time. Choosing the music I like started with heavy metal. Rainbow, Judas Priest and my favorite, Iron Maiden defined the era in high school. In College I was in a mostly transitional phase, but the major bands were R.E.M., U2, The Police and the Eurythmics. When I became a Christian, I found bands similar to what I liked at the time. Things really changed when a friend introduced me to Apoptygma Berzerk. I listened to a lot of Techno, Electronica, Synthpop, and EBM which culminated in the much appreciated Goa-Trance. Bands like Kraftwerk, Orbital, Covenant, Daft Punk, Infected Mushroom, Juno Reactor, Erasure, KMFDM, and much, much more, opened up a perpetual dancing heart within me. I liked to move, and this stuff was the majority of my listening pleasure for the last twenty years or so.

Recently I had found a band that really connected with me: Steam Powered Giraffe. But they seemed like a band that I would temporarily enjoy for a while, but they could never stand the test of time. To me it kind of seemed They Might Be Giants all over again. I really liked the hook and humor of TMBG, but I listen to them now and it seems dated… immature. I sensed a change coming in me… musically. It’s just starting to get a bit tiresome listening to the Techno/Electronic and strangely enough I’m not nearly as into Goa-Trance as I was. I use to be able to listen to that stuff for hours.

Then I heard Alt-J. I knew this was the stuff that could change the current era I was getting tired of. The melodies, harmonies, elegant and atmospheric drew me in instantly. I downloaded the album and listened to it constantly everyday. Some of the lyrics I couldn’t understand, because they distort or mumble or quietly chant their words, so I looked them up. They are a very poetic in their lyrics, and take some lyrics from some literary sources, in which some of the questionable lyrics come from. I find myself singing some of these lyrics that I don’t particularly want to find myself singing. I say that some of the books I’ve read have some sections that are disturbing, but as a whole they have a message, one that I can understand and ponder, maybe not agree with, but it is there nonetheless. If I read books that just had disturbing images one after the other, I probably wouldn’t read them. If there was a powerful enough image that was dark and disturbing I might write a song about the feelings that came forth from the reading. There is even a song he wrote about a time he was beaten badly by some soccer hooligans, and it sounds like a drug song. I see Alt-J as an extremely poetic band that needs second and third looks at what they are communicating, while their music is just plain righteous dude!

Which brings me to another band that I heard on the Alt-J station I just created on Pandora: I Monster. The first song I heard was apparently the most popular, Daydream In Blue. It had a mellow, sci-fi, retro, haunting early 60s, vibe with a bit of Electronica thrown in. I was instantly hooked. Then there was Hey Mrs. and Heaven and the crazily repetitive The Blue Wrath. I loved it all. It was undefinable, a bit scary, sci-fi, so retro, and did I mention undefinable? Check out this video, it’s the only original one I feel comfortable enough to post here.

A slight bit dark and a little disturbing, yes? I had to listen to some of the whole songs and came across other videos more disturbing than that though. Their lyrics sometimes seem innocent enough, but then you find out what some of the distorted stuff says, and wonder, “How did I get here?” Again, these guys a very poetic and perhaps a bit obsessed with male/female relationships. The one I particularly looked at seemed to be a play on romantic pursuits hiding true purposes and making fun of how we hide behind the masks of culture in our obsessions. Very good, very interesting, and again, dark and disturbing.

So I wonder if this stuff is healthy for me. When I started my Electronica phase I really liked a band called Rammstein. I constantly listened to it and repeated the harsh, hard, German lyrics that trilled on the tongue. At the time I worked with a Christian girl, and she asked me if I knew what they were singing about. I said no, and she told me that perhaps I should find out what I was singing. When I found out, I was shocked and horrified! It wasn’t just one or two songs, it wasn’t poetic, it wasn’t playful, it was really dark and obsessed with relationships (if you know what I mean). Even though this was a different language, I could no longer listen to it with a clean conscience.

This current music I like is different, isn’t it? I can listen to it myself, but should I recommend it? Would I make the weaker brother stumble? If I’m slightly disturbed by this music, I know there are some who would completely be offended by it all or fall into searching for other stuff that may excite senses that they have fought for a long time.

It seems that the world around us is getting darker. Some would say it always has been as dark as it is. In the immortal words of Billy Joel, “We didn’t start the fire.” I know I am to be the light, does this kind of stuff not make me not as bright? What about drinking alcohol? Is everything that could be abused or construed as evil be stayed away from? Should I disdain sugar and fat? Wow, that one hit below the belt, eh? We got to be careful within our own attitude and relationship, and not worry so much about what others may think about what we’re doing.

This has been what I had struggled with all year last year. What should I look like? But, really it was: What should others look like? I know God deals with me and my struggles and will lead me and guide me into what I would need to rid myself of or start doing. I am thankful for this perspective change.


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