Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bluesday, August 9: Rx Bandits

I couldn't take the fucketry today. And then I saw a tour announcement poster for the 10 year anniversary of ...And the Battle Begun. It's my second favourite Rx Bandits album (behind The Resignation), which had a large hand in shaping my politics straight outta high school. I kinda can't believe it's been 10 years.  I remember seeing them at the old Bottom Lounge in Chicago when it was still off the Belmont Red Line station. I'd totally see them again, even without the horn section they used to have. They're remarkably good at painting continuity within the album, stroke by stroke, telling a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. We're transported into a different part of the world, the one we're taught to ignore: the place where we create fantasies, into Matt Embree's optimistic brain.

"At the end of the world we'll all have a big party from sea to sea and into the desert sands / we'll feel comfortable naked, won't need our prescriptions to say we're happy and admit we're all scared of growing old" - Epoxi-Lips

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bluesday, August 2: La Vie en Rose

At what point in your life do you stop believing in destiny? Does growing-into-this-world mean losing that certain charm, that more than just whimsical attraction, that kind of lustful hope of a bad romance, intensity spilling over the gut of what is supposed to make sense? I re-watched How I Met Your Mother to catch all of the things I didn't catch before, and I guess this time around, I understand human relationships a little bit more. How the aftershock can cause a lasting effect, or doesn't, but how it can leave a mark, or won't. Perhaps I can make a compromise with this world. Perhaps synchronicity is real, and that fate is not always buried beneath a pile of casualties, dead weight one carries along the way. But how to manage mania, especially the kind that toys with the figurines in this never-less-than-romantic head: that's the real growing-into-this-world, I think. Perhaps then... maybe then, you can stop believing in destiny, and actually start living it.

I'll always be a sucker for beautiful, soaring melodies, even when they aren't soaring.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bluesday, March 29: Bruce Springsteen

I woke up like this. What I thought were allergies is actually a fever. And I got the fever for this girl.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bluesday, February 16: Brandy

It rained on me today and I felt the earth's colours
As I cried down Marcus Garvey with a warm thermos and her picture balanced between the wheel and me
Driving away from the only place that feels like home: in her arms
It was harder today than any other day
It was starting a Bluesday with the one that paints me blue
And ending it in a house that was never mine, ever
And as mother nature sobbed for me
I swallowed the remains of her kisses, the ones I saved for moments like these
On Bluesday
When I am an empty cavity, missing a masterpiece of curves, a glove for my small hands
Because even though I know our love is as vast as the bluest oceans
And rises and falls and precipitates magnificence
I long for her bed, ferociously
Where it always sounds like it's raining
I'll never wear ear plugs in case I miss her breathing
I wouldn't have it any other way
Because she is the illustrator of my soul.

It was harder today than any other day, so far.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bluesday, February 9: James Cotton

Sometimes when life has you running around New England and you're balancing on the tightropes of instability and you haven't really eaten anything all day and you're worried about where you're gonna live and if you have enough resources to follow through with all your plans and you're tired from shoveling all the snow and your tub's backed up and the Man keeps tryin to bring you down and you wonder if you're working to live or living to work and some bitch who isn't even paying attention doesn't say "thank you" when you give her her god damn vegan gluten-free organic falafel sandwich and you want to hate her so bad...

Sometimes you have to take seven minutes to just stop. Close your eyes. Breathe. Listen to the slow blues. Listen to that blues harp, let it infiltrate those open sores of this material world, and let yourself escape, let yourself have those seven minutes of pure human emotion, remind yourself that this is what keeps you connected, what validates all your plans to begin with. Never end a sentence with a preposition, unless it's a continuation of James Cotton's voice, which he rarely uses because of cancer, and count your blessings, count them all, because in about four days you get to LIVE the melodic line that happens around the 2:30 mark. Slow down, and surrender yourself to the colour blue.

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


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


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.