Feb 23 2014

Five Albums That Changed My Life – Pork Soda

primus pork soda

And so continues a series of posts I started back in May, and while the first entry is probably more culturally significant, this addition still has a special place in my heart, if only for its musical impact. Most people know me as an avid appreciator of music of all kinds, but particularly indie and alternative styles. I keep that as general and vague as I can, because honestly that has been the only constant description dealing with my evolution into studying, criticizing, and even enjoying (!) pop culture and its music counterpart. There are bands and artists I’ve remained loyal to, regardless of output, kind of like a sports team fandom, really. Most of these come from my adolescence, and of course Les Claypool and Primus fit that bill. These are bands that are admittedly, just a bit before my time, but I nevertheless identify with what someone my age would deem “older brother” music. I was into the sounds of grunge, 90’s punk, stuff that was wearing off on the masses by the time I became cognizant of what year it was and what was popular. And this is primarily because of my cousin Joe.

Joe is now married and has a kid, which in my mind makes him much older than I am because I don’t have those things, even though he’s my senior by merely six years. So yeah, he essentially served as the older brother I didn’t have. But he was only around at Christmas, so that was when I got a taste of what it was like to be a teenager and like teenager stuff and watch PG-13 movies and hear his stories about going to concerts and kissing girls and seeing Tool like 7 times in Mesa and all that jazz. It was an exciting growth period for me. It probably had already begun to formulate, as I had discovered Z93, the local Top 40 station, the summer before, much to the chagrin of my mother, who always wanted me to like only country music (sorry, Mom). But it reached its apex during December 1996, and eventually progressed into listening to FM90, the college station, and sneaking views of MTV and South Park, and going to loud rock concerts on my own, and becoming the unjustified music snob I am today. It’s all Joe’s, and Les Claypool’s, fault.

Joe would sleep in my room on the top of my blue (or was it red?) bunk bed over the holidays, and one day while playing Super Nintendo I began listening to whatever Joe was blaring from the top bunk through his headphones utilizing a Sony Walkmen that was way more hi-tech than mine. It sounded….well, strange. Joe eagerly let me put the headphones on, started the track over, and this is what I heard.

And this was my first taste of alternative rock. Ever. Before that, I was all about Dwight Yoakam and Coolio. This opened a whole new dimension of music I only vaguely knew about, and I wanted more. Now, admittedly, Primus is a weird, weird band, so my first exposure to modern rock was probably outside the box (I remember watching an awards show a few months later and witnessing Live and Collective Soul win awards and wondering why they sounded so….safe). So Joe let me listen to Rage Against the Machine, and Weezer, and Tool, and the Deftones, and Toadies, and all these bands I still love today because they have a special place in my heart and were honestly bands that changed my life. And they’re all pretty different in their own way, but they all had something I had never experienced before. We spent hours in my bedroom that Christmas playing video games and listening to rock music, and it was glorious. And then I went out and bought Pork Soda, and Evil Empire, and Adrenaline, and Undertow, and Rubberneck, and the Blue Album, with my Christmas money. Within two years, I had every album from all those bands, and a whole lot more. By next Christmas, I was talking Primus trivia with Joe like I was a veteran who had seen them at Lollapalooza in ’94.

The albums I’ve named are mainly time capsules now, including Pork Soda; some have claimed their place in Important 90’s Albums lists, some are merely footnotes in a memorable rock band’s catalogue. But these albums, and this time period, are timeless to me. Nowadays, we see a sweeping abundance of love for the 90’s, everything adoring the decade I already knew was cool. Culture has a tendency to love things that turn twenty years old, but by the time they’re thirty, they might as well be forgotten. And some of these acts are going strong after hiatuses, some are doing one-off reunions, some are long gone, never to return. But I still love them all, whether inactive or a different incarnation or producing comparable mediocrity. Because of Christmas 1996 and my cousin Joe. Because that time was a huge musical transformation for me, which in my world means a huge transformation in general. And it all began sitting on a bunk bed in my childhood bedroom, wearing oversized headphones and hearing a bass guitar make sounds I’d never heard before from any contraption, musical or otherwise. And even today, when my taste has progressed, along with most people’s, into heavy electronics and hip-hop, this music from a decade I’m blissfully stuck in still sounds new.  Music I still adore, and blare just as loudly.

May 20 2013

Five Albums That Changed My Life – Please Please Me

beatles please please me

As graduation has come and gone, and the job search in a big city becomes the highest priority, I have been coming to grips with the fact that I am probably growing up, and I have mixed emotions about the whole thing. I figured by now I would have a lot of things figured out, mainly dealing with self-esteem and the like, but I suppose truly being an adult is realizing that things aren’t as idealistic as we imagine them to be when we leave high school, and that life is a jumbled, unorganized mess of experiences and lessons that gradually develop us into who we truly are, and also that these experiences and lessons never stop. They come at you every day, and at some point, the only one who can present change in your meaningless life is yourself, the one who knows you the best.

Wow. A paragraph in and I’m already rambling.

So I’ve been thinking of my life at a high level lately, as I am wont to do when a chapter of my life ends and a new one begins. That and I’m spending a LOT of time alone and at home, with no one to entertain but my cat, so these nostalgic, big-picture, “how did I get here” thoughts naturally creep up. And since I am dying to be productive in some capacity, I decided to utilize this thought process that has no definite answer into a series of blog posts related to music. Because ultimately, on my thought train, I relate EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE to music. Because music is, and will always be, the glue that holds me together, and the most important thing in my life. Sorry, future wife and children.

I begin this series, which will be presented in chronological order, with the greatest band in the history of recorded music, the Beatles, and their first album, Please Please Me, recorded in one day on February 11, 1963. It is most definitely one of the most important albums ever made, but almost no one, including myself, will say it’s the best Beatles album. That honor usually is debated amongst the group’s later work – The White Album, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour (the correct answer), Rubber Soul, and Revolver are generally the nominees. On occasion, Let It Be creeps in there as well.

Historians can tell you about the album on a track-by-track basis, which I believe is the one with the most amount of covers and the least amount of Lennon-McCartney compositions. Even then, though, the duo was already making a name for themselves with chart-topping originals like “Love Me Do” and the title track. And of course, you can read about the vocal-shredding one-take of Lennon’s “Twist and Shout,” which was the last song recorded for that very reason.

My dad introduced me to the Beatles, and Please Please Me is the first music I ever remember hearing. I was probably two or three years old. I will never forget that old stereo system, with those giant Hi-Fi speakers on both sides of our 80’s era entertainment system. Those big knobs on that oversized amplifier, that now-antiquated CD player, which my dad probably bought the first day it was sold. I would later spend so much time using that system, more than my dad, and when everyone was away, I would blare the Beatles to full volume, eventually blowing out the bottom right subwoofer. To this day, Dad doesn’t know that was me, but who else would it have been? I imagine when my dad brought home all those copies of remastered Beatles on CD (which were released in 1987) and plugged in Please Please Me and saw the look on my face, he knew his son would appreciate this medium more than he ever did. In short, he had done what would ultimately be inevitable; he had created a monster. His son was a music lover and all it took was a single CD.

Initially, as most fathers do, he was probably thrilled his young, impressionable son was in love with the music of his childhood. But by the time I graduated high school, it’s safe to say Dad probably would have been okay if he never heard a Beatles song again. I took that introduction and ran with it, eventually commandeering all those Beatles CDs when I got my own CD player and listening to them for hours and hours, obsessed with the band, their culture, their history, every single word, every single song. And my entire family had to put up with it. And so began what would be a lifelong passion that evolved with my own generation’s creations, and something I didn’t see until long after I left home – that my dad and I, like most fathers and sons, don’t completely understand each other, but we are extremely similar in many, many ways. If it wasn’t for my dad, I wouldn’t have discovered my favorite pastime, my reason for being, my life force. Music. I imagine my dad would say the exact same thing about his discovery of what he loved, and who showed it to him (his father), and how that person wasn’t really someone who completely understood him, but that ultimately that doesn’t matter, because you love him anyway.

I have always stood by the old adage that music brings people together in so many ways. When I started writing this post, I didn’t intend for it to be about my dad. I was going to write about my vivid memory of the first time I heard “I Saw Her Standing There,” how I would stand right by the speaker and pretend I was playing guitar (something I still do in the privacy of my apartment at age 26), how I would get in trouble for playing it too loud. In short, I was going to write about Please Please Me, which you can listen to in full here, and I encourage that you do. At the very least, you’ll hear a great album from a great band, and at most, you’ll get a sense of who I am.

But when I think of The Beatles, and in particular Please Please Me, I think of Dad. Because, even as I mature and watch him grow older and he watches me become who I’m supposed to be, the Beatles are still one of the very few things we have in common. There isn’t much else in terms of interests or beliefs or ideals. And when I was younger, I found that truth to be annoying. But as a whole, it’s quite the opposite. It’s just the way it is. The way it’s always been, the way it will be. And the discovery that love for your father has nothing to do with compatibility, or even understanding, really, is refreshing. It’s a blessing to realize after years and years, that these things aren’t important. It’s the experiences together. And my father and I have plenty of those. And we also have the Beatles.

And who could want anything else?