Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bluesday, February 2: Against Me!

Whenever I'm sad about feeling alone in a new city, I think about this quote by Laura Jane Grace in a Rolling Stone interview from 2012.

"The cliché is that you're a woman trapped in a man's body, but it's not that simple. It's a feeling of detachment from your body and from yourself. And it's shitty, man. It's really fucking shitty."

 

Though punk has its origins from across the pond in the mid 70's, there are definite similarities, structurally, to the blues; rock and roll's roots are the blues, Elvis became King because Chuck Berry was black, etc. etc. etc. Take any 12 bar blues, don't swing the eighth notes, speed it up, like quadruple time, play only power chords, add distortion to the guitar, a couple of snare hits on the offbeats, add lyrics about defying the system and doing whatever the fuck you wanna do, and voilĂ ! You've got The Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated."

Against Me! came out with Transgender Dysphoria Blues in 2014, three years after announcing a new album, two years after Laura Jane Grace came out as trans, and one year after the most fucked up year of my life. It's true punk rock; she says everything that needs to be said in ten songs under three and a half minutes, and the entire album itself is less than 29 minutes long. Yet its effects are everlasting- it's the most personal release Against Me! has ever had- as Laura sheds all armour protecting the burdens of her repressed spirit and, literally, body, behind that gritty, raspy, unabashed voice. While super-politicized previous releases like Searching for a Former Clarity and As the Eternal Cowboy dealt with the woes of being "different" and rising up in a capitalist political system, Laura Jane explicitly and courageously talks about her struggles of transitioning, no metaphor, of being a woman in both an aggressively male-dominated punk scene and in this transphobic country. This is her every day life.

"You want them to see you like they see any other girl / They just see a faggot / They hold their breath not to catch the sick"

I remember listening to this song in the front room of my dusty Pilsen apartment, buried in snow and freezing cold. Acidic tears ran down my cheeks after the title track played. While I think it's inappropriate to compare being gay with being trans, I related to the... desolate loneliness... of her struggle. Though I didn't have gender dysphoria, I had dysphoria of the soul, feeling completely dissatisfied of a situation I thought would never change. Feeling stuck in mud, but eventually making pillows out of quicksand. At least it seemed like someone was holding me, sucking me down six feet under the dirt. It's like someone threw a blanket over my head after my heart had already stopped beating from hypothermia. It's feeling detached from your body, being completely unaware of your self, going through the motions just to fill up space. It's the most lonely feeling in the world.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues received crazy good critical acclaim in 2014, and rightfully so. Musically, it might not be the best Against Me! album ever released. But Laura Jane Grace lifted her veil of insecurity, revealing her true beauty, explaining to us all what it actually MEANS to be transgender, and doing it flawlessly. This is her. Finally.

It's nice to see her giggle, too:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bluesday, January 26: Dustin Kensrue

When you think blues, you probably don't think "lead singer of screamo-post-hardcore-rock band Thrice." Nonetheless...



In terms of form, this is a perfect blues song. In terms of content.... this is a perfect blues song. If anything, it demonstrates the malleability of the origins of rock and roll. Dustin first released solo stuff on Myspace (lol) under the name Ursus Veritas around 2004. His first studio album, Please Come Home, produced by fellow bandmate Teppei, was released in 2007 and features eight songs, including this one. Someone once described Dustin's voice as a "drunk Chuck Ragan," whom he actually toured with when Please Come Home was released. I like that he sings entirely- no screams, no wails, no crazy electric guitar work, no experimentation- though arguably, not screaming is an experiment and departure from Thrice in itself. His voice has transformed throughout the years; this is a feeble reminder of his gritty rawness before he became a pastor and wrote a bunch of Christian rock songs.

How do you get back to where you were after you've been tainted with blood? Do you ever get back to where you were? Is the point to grow, whether or not it's for the better or worse? Can you surrender yourself to softness after you've been forced to grow reptile skin? These are all things I'm thinking about today, Bluesday, as I sip on (metaphorical) wine, wondering if its alcoholic content was ever fulfilling to begin with. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Whatever, I cure original sin.

Thrice is reuniting this year with a new album. Let's get real though- it was more of a hiatus than a breakup (four years?). I'm excited to see where Dustin's coming from, lyrically, with his band. After finding real love, getting married, having kids, growing up, living life, making realizations that can only be made with time... will he still be punx as fuck? We'll see, I guess.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Bluesday, January 5: Natalie Cole / Ahmad Jamal

I didn't grow up listening to jazz. I didn't grow up listening to the blues. I didn't grow up listening to old records. I discovered Miles Davis at a library in Virginia when I was in middle school. The first time I heard Buddy Guy was in undergrad, and mostly because I was in a big band and we were playing at his venue on Wabash (the original location, on 8th St). Nonetheless, I've always been fascinated with the blues, how a music's function can change over the course of history, how some stuff stays the same, how its melodic and harmonic and rhythmic structures are based on one thing: emotion. The interplay of rawness and finesse. The cutting yourself open on stage with only three chords. The begging, the longing, the synesthesia of it all. How a feeling can be bounced around various artistic mediums and still be one color.

The first time I heard "Orange Colored Sky" was at a high school pep rally. Some girl named Morgan sang it and I remember sitting at the top of the bleachers, alert for the first time, because fuck pep rallies. I could not get the bridge out of my head- what was she saying?- but was too timid to ask Morgan what the name of the song was. The internet was an already raging bull behind the bars, so I did an AOL search of "I was walking along, minding my business," and after fifteen minutes, found the song, downloaded in Napster, and tried to learn it. 

This is why I thought Natalie Cole wrote and sang "Orange Colored Sky." Fucking Napster. 

I've been on a Natalie Cole kick since her untimely death a few days ago. Something about her voice is nostalgic and warm, a counterpart to this freezing cold Boston weather. Listening to Stardust on shuffle, "Ahmad's Blues" came on the rotation and I shed a little tear. I always thought I was too urban for my suburban friends, too.

"Speakin' 'bout a bag of blues / mister, I'm payin' dues / listen I'm changin' shoes / I'm gonna make me some changes"





Which led me to ask, who exactly was Ahmad, and why does he have the blues? These kind of blues? I'm paying my dues kinda blues because of the life I chose kinda blues and I'm trying my best but god damn these food stamps don't renew until the 14th kinda blues and I don't know where my next buck is coming from but I'ma just cool it and listen to the music that understands me better than any room mate ever could kinda blues?

The answer led me to how I spent my Tuesday: listening to Ahmad Jamal.

The original:




Miles Davis listed Ahmad Jamal as one of his stylistic influences and actually featured a version of the song on Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet in 1956. The quintet turned into a trio sometimes to show off Miles' sick rhythm section (Philly Joe... Red Garland... Paul Chambers, who plays bass with a bow on this track!).

I love the space, the the rhythmic contour, and most of all, the twinkling piano in the right hand. How can something so light, so... disciplined, carry so much weight? It's freaky how the original track, with no lyrics, can give me the same EXACT feels as Natalie Cole's version. The minimalism despite his virtuosity is what gets me- the explosions become that much more explosive. It's apparent why some think the Ahmad Jamal Trio pioneered the way for cool jazz... I mean, this track is fucking cool. And the fact that Jamal is alive is pretty fucking cool, too. I'm gonna go ahead and say it's because he did Muslim prayers instead of heroin.

Happy Bluesday!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

i love evil

Morty.



I mean what is there to really say about Morton Feldman? A lot of things. American composer, BFF's with John Cage, changed the way people read and listen to music, thrived in obscurity, yeah, that Brooklyn boy that said FUCK Rachmaninov, I bet he did lines with Johnny while Webern's Symphony played in the background. How else can you stay awake for a six hour string quartet?

Still, something's to be said about this work, dedicated to Frank O'Hara in 1982 as a "thanks bro" for dedicating a poem to Morty himself called "Wind." Is this supposed to sound like wind? I mean, yeah, it sounds like wind, mainly because he only uses like two sentences of the original text. I like how he experiments with stereo sound. Where the audience is sitting matters- there exists a left right and center channel- you gotta be right in the middle of it to experience its full effect. His graphic score was organized into cells, where the performer is given specific approximations. The piece can last from between 45 minutes to almost two hours, depending on how fast the soprano decides to take it. When Joan la Barbara performed it first, it took almost 90 minutes. She practiced the fast spots to make the recording half the length. Here's what she thought of it.

I personally like the way that "snow falls" sounds like "narwhals" starting around 22:10.





There's a discussion about this piece tomorrow in Rogers Park moderated by the Morton Feldman Chamber Players founder and fellow Columbia alum, Andy Costello. I wanna go, but it's soooooo far.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

delicious

take all that heartbreak, put it in a food processor, add some salt and pepper to taste, maybe some serrano peppers and cumin, a little sugar, all the fixins, make it something you'd want to dip these chips into:

1. the way he says "flower" in the bridge of the second verse



2. the "conversation" in the beginning, and conversions of like-minded souls at bars on dearborn



3. when the beat kicks in



4. the candid non-seriousness that adds to the tiredness of this song



5. at 1:24, where you're left suspended in mid-air, gasping over the horizon, waiting and questioning the inevitable sweet release of everything beautiful about this whole world


sometimes you have to puke out your guts to stay hungry.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Favorite Bass Lines of 2013

I meant to post this before it became 2014. Oh well.
I listened to a lot of Arcade Fire last year.
I saw Atoms for Peace twice.
Nope, three times.
I saw Sigur Ros twice.
I solidified my flirtatious little lover's tryst with dance music. Not necessarily dance music. I'd say house music.
Matt Berninger wore my Blackhawks hat in Milwaukee.
And honestly didn't really write any music in 2013.
It reminds me of a conversation I once had with female extraordinare, Aviva Jaye. Words and music are two completely different things, and to marry them is a delicate art; for the precise musician, I mean, you just can't settle for okay.
I started performing my poetry in 2013, and subconsciously, it was the solution to this quicksand sorta problem.
Bass lines have nothing and everything to do with this. So, here are my favorite, or most accessible at this time of me being drunk, bass lines of 2013.


5. Cage the Elephant - Take it or Leave it

I don't know nothin about this band.



4. Cut Copy - In Memory Capsule

I gave Cut Copy a chance and it left me dancing. I just love the feel Daniel brings to a simple, beautiful track. So sad you can't see him in any of this video.



3. Arcade Fire - You Already Know

Reflector is my way of pretending James Murphy came out with an album last year. Some really, really great stuff. I love it all. The costumes, the walking bass line, the precision, the weirdness that isn't so weird, the living fantasy of an artist's nourished intentions, all of it.



2. Strawberry Girls - Agua Verde

This is mainly, like 72% because of my favorite narcissist of 2013, Zac Garren. Who knew Dance Gavin Dance's merch boy could whip up a gem like this?



1. Atoms for Peace - Before Your Very Eyes (live)

When Gina and I saw them at the Daily Show, Thom said he wanted to tour with Flea because he plays the bass like a melodic instrument.

THIS version. Shit gets real around 4:50. Flea pretty much stole the year. I had the most fun watching him beat the fuck out of the bass.




Next: New York City.

Friday, January 3, 2014

in retrospect...

yeah. i suck.

i will say, though, the muses filed out of my skin like little G.I. Joe characters digging through the mud onto a better, more non-realistic place and nuzzled itself into the always forgiving arms of spoken word. 2013 was all about the severe (and i mean severed) disfigurement of the notion that denotation destroys art's purity, in the sense of, well, my favorite one. hearing. hheeeeaaarrrrriiiiiinnnngggg. well.

it's that little corner where you have to climb onto (never end a sentence with a preposition but)

you know, it's kinda hard. at some point you just have to get used to your own little black rule books of what ideal means to blah blah blah



you hold your desires in your hand because fear outweighs all the bullshit ideals you'll ever think you never had in the first place.

Friday, September 13, 2013

riot fest day 1



this was probably the highlight of my night. tipsy, dancing in the crowd with missy and two random underage lesbians we joined forces with, snaking our way up to a relatively close spot. i kept repeating how bad ass joan jett was. it was true. she was fucking bad. ass. "hey, stop taking selfies and fucking dance." danzig blew my mind right after, in a different way. different energy. i felt so excited. it was like there wasn't a 10 year gap between me and the kids getting bloody in the pit. by the way, there was a 10 year gap between me and the kids getting bloody in the pit. when did that happen?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Composer Quotes

This is pretty wonderful. It makes me feel not alone.

Quotes by famous composers/musicians

The one that got me the most was good ol' Franz Liszt. Note: he's from Hungaria, not France.

"Mournful and yet grand is the destiny of an artist."

Imagine being in your late 20's hanging out with Chopin and Bizet and all the French writers, probably smoking and getting drunk and just absolutely slaying at everything you play, creating what would be the absolute idealist way of life, having these European women fighting over everything you touched and creamed themselves every time you got on stage. You will be considered one of the best pianists of all time, and you die alone. Yup. I mean he had kids and had lovers and his writing just got better and better with every breakup, but the motherfucker knew he was going to die in a fashion opposite of his legacy. He wrote the most introspective and amazing pieces knowing he was on his way out, but he was still alone.

"I carry a deep sadness of the heart which must now and then break out in sound."

I mean, is it worth it?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

the 18th variation

I think it's time to share my favorite piece of music ever written.



I was introduced to Rhapsody my junior year. Everyone in my class had to analyze a different variation, or part, of the piece. My professor Philip chose the 18th variation for me to analyze. I fell in love with it immediately.
Weird thing is, so did my Mom. It was used in one of her favorite movies, Somewhere in Time, scored by the great John Barry. She knew the piece before I even heard of Rachmaninov. I don't really think it was coincidence that this variation was chosen for me. I mean, maybe Philip saw my interest in Romanticism and thought I would do justice to its analyzation. I think I did. Perhaps it was art's way of connecting my mother in me, giving us something to share without even knowing it. Are people really connected like that?
Nonetheless, Somewhere in Time became one of my favorite movies too, you know, those love stories where there is no real happy ending; either he dies, or she dies, or they both die, or in this case, you have to save France, and you'll co-exist in the world but not together, knowing your greater purpose in life has outweighed the physical pleasures of actually being with the love of your life.

What the fuck kind of sacrifice is that?

Anyway, I wrote this paper in 2006. I wish you could see a score so you knew what the hell I was talking about. Still, reading it again has given me a slight motivation to finally. Finally. Finally get back into classical music.

Or in my case, music in general. Get back into life... and save France.