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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Parent's "Two Minutes Hate" of Miley Cyrus!

The recent outrage du jour over Miley Cyrus' VMA performance got me to thinking about parenting.

Particularly, I was intrigued by the extreme umbrage over the performance by, and artistic decisions of, a 20 year old multi-millionaire, and the contempt brought not only against her, but the alleged defects of her parents as being somehow responsible for her alleged shortcomings.

We all have heard how ours is the era of "Helicopter Parenting". Parents involved in every aspect of their kid's lives. Doing their homework for them. Arguing with teachers over supposed unfair grades. I have even heard tales from corporate HR professionals of recent college grads having their parents trying to negotiate their starting salary for them!

The driver for all of this, I think, is the excessive anxiety of our over-Communication age, and the excessive need for control to allay this anxiety. And i think this  plays out in our outrage over celebrities like Ms. Cyrus.

Enter the "Two Minutes Hate" 

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four famously imagined a nightmare dystopian state that kept its citizens as virtual slaves via constant surveillance, control of language, and brutality. However, as a release of tension from this loss of individual control, Orwell's State developed a ritual called the "Two Minutes Hate". Here, citizens would gather and watch a government propaganda film of grotesque characatures of the regime's enemies and get whipped up into a frenzy, until they were calmed by swelling patrotic music and the image of "Big Brother". 

I think parents particularly are developing their own "Two Minutes Hate" ritual to release their anxiety. I'd like to suggest that our need for control is unrealistic.

Maybe I can help.

I don't claim to be an expert (As one wit said, "Everyone is an expert on how OTHER parents should raise their kids.") However, I've got two daughters of my own and fully believe that I am screwing them up in some manner. But I have a few principles I try to follow to minimize the damage:

1. If i am parenting the right way, I should become less and less central to my children's lives, and should be almost superfluous by the time they are adults.

2. When they challenge my authority, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. 

3. If my kids feel that home is a safe place where they know they are loved, i have covered about 90% of parenting.

4. My main job is not to shape and form them into some pre-determined mold, but to help them clear away some weeds and rocks, and provide food, water and sunshine, so they can grow into who they are supposed to be (which, if I may get a little mystical here, was probably mostly set down before they popped out of the oven)

5. While my kids do not have the right to do whatever they want, they have the absolute right to be angry with me, and to disagree with me, so long as it is done respectfully and without malice.

6. When my kids become dating age ( I say with total humility and awareness that when that day comes I may eat every word that follows) my job is to make sure they have the tools and information to limit the possible negative consequences of any decisions they make. As to who they keep company with, so long as that person treats them respectfully, and my kid enjoys spending time with them, i need to stay out of their relationships and let them work out the rest.

7. My kids need to figure out for themselves how to ask other people for help, or how to strike mutually beneficial relationships. I can provide advice, but i can't be the "broker" unless they ask for help.

8. Entertainers do what is called "performing". It is fun to watch people do things in a performance that would not be appropriate to do in real life (My older daughter performs in school plays and musicals, and so understands why the villian is always the most fun role to play) We watch this stuff together and talk about how fun it is to watch it, and talk about what life would be like if you acted that way all the time. 

9. I did alot of stuff at a young age that, if my kids did it, would sock me in the gut (and I was a bookwormy late bloomer, not a "wild child") and i need to remember how important it is to be allowed to find one's own way and not freak out.

So let's give Miley, her parents, and ultimately even ourselves a break. We feel out of control because, quite frankly, there is way less under our control to begin with. 

And lets stop with the "Two Minutes Hate".

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Laura Jane Grace, Bowery Ballroom 8.16.13

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Laura Jane Grace's story has been well documented.  Long story short, a few years back I was fortunate enough to see her band Against Me!.  Then, Ms Grace, was Tom Gabel, a tattooed, post-punk front man.  Last night, in front of an energetic, engaged and extremely supportive (and packed) Bowery Ballroom, she was Laura.  The tattoos were still evident.  The stage presence was still commanding.  And unlike her appearance, her voice has not changed a bit!  

For years I believed standing on stage, with nothing more than a guitar, microphone and a voice was the most dangerous thing in entertainment.  Standup comedy too, but that's a different column.  Now, imagine that vulnerability coupled with transitioning from one gender to another?  Grace's show last night was the last in a "mini" tour in advance of Against Me!'s upcoming LP, their 6th, Transgender Dysphoria Blues.  More specifically it was a celebration of Grace's rebirth and re-introduction to the alt rock community.

She is woman.  Hear her roar.

You cannot examine last night's show without acknowledging and appreciating the elephant in the room.  Gabel, with Against Me! from 1997-2010, was a shirtless rock star dripping machismo and adrenaline.  His songs were/are as alpha as the alt radio stations would get.  Had Bon Iver, Mark Foster, or Ben Gibbard changed sexes it might have been easier to comprehend.   Those guys represent the prevalent theme that define contemporary "alt"- soft and breezy.  Not so with Against Me!  They rock a little bit.  And judging by the post punk resurgence (Palma Violets, Savages, Parquet Courts to name a few) they clearly served as influences for today's vibe.

The amazing thing about last night was not , however, the music.  Don't take that the wrong way.  Grace's set was full of high points and, for an acoustic show, was a rocking good time.  She played many tracks from the upcoming record.  As the albums title suggests, this record is an obvious celebration and cathartic exercise of her "process."  Songs like "Fu*k My Life 666"", "Paralytic States of Dependency" as well as the title track, let you know what's been on her mind lately.  More specifically, what has been going on her mind forever.   Now she is able, and more than willing to get it off her chest.

We all served as witness.  

Young men cheered "You're Beautiful!"  

They pumped their fists and sang along like you might see at a Dropkicks Murphy show.

Everyone noticed the change.  Better than that, everyone ignored it.  You know why?  It really doesn't matter.  

It bodes well for the future and the social issues that seem to divide our country.

Should we be worrying about gay marriage when a city like Detroit goes bankrupt?

How is that drug war going?  Is it not better to legalize, tax and dig ourselves out of some economic messes than overcrowd our jails with petty criminals and waste our police forces resources fighting an impossible fight?

Have you looked at what is going on in Egypt?  That is some serious shi*t.  

Judging by last night, the millenials seem determined to change our priorities.  Race, Gender, sexuality...  it is inconsequential to the bigger picture.

Hating, or not accepting someone based on those criteria will not add jobs.  It will certainly not stop wars.  And it will never make the Facebook stock price rise.

There was a lot of love in Bowery Ballroom last night.  Strangers were united in accepting someone for who she is.  They trusted one another and left any pre-conceived ideas back in the 60, or 80s, or 'Oughts.

An artist continued her ascent and while simultaneously being born again.  Each time out, in each new city and venue, she will evolve more.  So too will her audience.  

Art, the great elixir.  

Quick Notes:

The first act was solo singer Allison Weiss.  She gained some notoriety not long ago for using Kickstarter to fund her first album.  She raised the money in 10 hours and was the focus of her own New York Times piece documenting the experience.   Nice stuff...  the songs and the story.

Mina Caputo was the middle act.  Caputo too has a huge backstory.  She was once Keith and led a heavy metal band called Life of Agony.  Now re-invented as a acoustic songstress her set was overlong and underwhelming.   Too much of the same slow, looping guitar riffs mixed with shrieking vocals.  She came to stage and warned her catalog was sad.  "I have a lot different set than Weiss" she said.  Too true!  It was about 45 minutes of melancholy.  Clearly the transition has been far more difficult for Caputo than Grace.  Toward the end of the set she lashed out at the crowd.  "It's always someone who just won't shut the fu*k up."  

It was true, the crowd was chatty during her set.  But there was never an effort to pick up the pace.  If your act is ALL slow and grief stricken what do you expect?  Weiss and Grace were bombastic and ebullient.  They celebrated the night, not mourn it.  Perhaps in a different context the set would have played better.  Seats would probably be a good idea.  And no booze.  

The crowd was up for anything.  Admonish if you will, but be prepared to deliver.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Killers, Prudential Center, 8.8.13

Killers, Prudential Center, 8.8.13
You should not waste your time trying to decipher what Killers lead singer Brandon Flowers is singing about.  "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus/But he talks like a gentleman/like you'd imagine when you were young"

Somebody Told Me/that you had boyfriend/that looks like a girlfriend/that I had in February of last year."

OK, some of it makes sense.  But don't bother looking for hidden meanings or layered nuance in the web Flowers, and his bandmates Dave Keurning (guitar), Ronnie Vanucci Jr (drums) and Mark Stoermer (bass), weave.  They are a "what you see is what you get" act.  When done correctly, as displayed last night,  that proves to be a winning formula.

Not long ago the spectacle that is arena rock seemed to be something in my past.  The boys from Clark County, Nevada served up a spirited reminder that rock, or at the very least hard pop, is alive and well.  Their two hour set entertained and energized an impressive, but far from sold out Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.

The "Pru" is a big freakin room so it should not be a disappointment that the top bowl was covered with curtains and not open for business.  Selling out this place is reserved for Jersey royalty like Bruce and Bon Jovi.  That said, the floor was packed and the lower level/mezzanine was madness.  When you have to wait 10 deep for a beer you are doing something right.  At those prices too!  

Side note:  more than the scale of an arena, the prices are the real culprit for keeping me away.  Parking near the arena (Newark mind you.) is at least $20.  Bottled water is $8 and you can't keep the bottle.  Beer and alcohol at the "Pru" are, as expected, absurdly priced.  For an "event" like this it makes sense to pay a little extra for the ticket.   How does a family of four do it though?  Tickets at, let's see low end $40 a piece.  Before you know it after a few drinks and snacks a nice night out is $500.  Devils games do the same thing to you.  Broadway shows are outrageous too.  Art is costly sure.  But do the hot dogs, Budweiser, and merch have to fleece you too?  Is it senseless to argue since people were waiting 10 deep for the overpriced beers?  Probably.  Supply and demand suggests I should shut back to the show.

It has been 10 years since The Killers released their debut album, Hot Fuss.  That record gave the World the radio staple "Mr. Brightside."  10 years with the same lineup.  10 years honing their craft.  10 years and 3 more LP's that continue to highlight their ability to write, record, and indeed perform their winning catalog.

Flowers, with full house lights on, calmly strolled to a piano center stage right around 9pm.  The crowd was slightly aware, but unsure what to make of it.  When he sung "We hope you enjoy your stay/Even if it's just for the day" from "Enterlude"  the audience arose.  Soon the entire band made their way to their instruments and erupted into the first verse of "When We Were Young."  When they hit the second verse the lights went down, the pyrotechnics lit up, and a rock show was born.

Flowers works both sides of the stage, stands on the stacks, commands, conducts, and runs the show.  He has a voice more than capable of carrying an arena.  Oh, and he's like 5'7" and 100 pounds.  Lots and lots of power from such a slight frame.  As he was quick to mention (although thankfully the banter between songs was kept to a minimum) folks from Vegas know how to put on a show.  The light show and speaker volume were jacked up real high too.   The effects were not gimmicky or cheesy though.  This is a well choreographed show start to finish.  

Were there some down times?  A little bit.  A cover of the Tommy James/Tiffany song "I Think We're Alone Now" was uninspired and weak.  They have been playing The Who's "Eminence Front" on this tour, and that would have been far more welcome.  There were also too many sing alongs.    Flowers, like many singers these days, urges his audience to belt out popular refrains.  It's kinda cool for one or two tracks, but maybe not 4 or 5.  We know we all can't sing.  That's why we paid to see you do it.

Overall this is a steady, accomplished band who have a confidence and stage demeanor unlike any arena act I have seen in recent memory.  Full disclosure, this blogger sees very little arena shows.

Late last year The Killers released Battle Born, their 4th LP.  It is where the single, and perhaps their crowning achievement "Runaways" first appeared.  Last night, during this song in particular, Flowers channeled Springsteen and Bon Jovi.  This is an arena anthem.  And, it turns out, this is an arena band.  

But don't take my word for it.  Ask the several families in attendance.  Ask the old guy next to me who danced ALL show.  The sold out general admission section, filled with awestruck teenage girls and their awkward adolescent dates, ate it up like a Twilight/Hunger Games double feature.

The Killers are the one thing from Vegas that, lucky for us,  did not stay in Vegas.  Viva!

Other highlights included, but are not limited to:

"For Reasons Unknown""Spaceman" and the Joy Division cover "Shadowplay"

Full setlist can be found here:  Killers setlist 8.8.13

Killers arrive with the stage lights on.  Great way to start the show.

Nice crowd on the "Pru's" floor

Lasers, Lasers and more Lasers

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Best of July, 2013

Regina Spektor has released a great song on an equally great television show

There seems to be a lot of contempt for the month of August.  I noticed several friends lamenting its arrival on social media earlier in the week.  Tis true, summer is indeed coming to an end.  That is far from a death sentence however.  For one thing you have another four weeks to create new memories.  Secondly, there is nothing quite like fall (especially in the Northeast.)  Kids will be back to school.  The air at night will be a little crisper.  And let's not forget the wonderful tree colors, Halloween and college football Saturdays.  Supposedly more people in the Country love the NFL.  Dig on that too if that is your thing.

Although, the NFL has had a disastrous offseason.  No less that 27 NFL players were arrested since the Super Bowl.  The most famous arrest, New England tight end Aaron Hernandez, is accused of murdering someone execution style.  He is also a suspect in a double murder from a few years back.  Um, not great.  There have been assaults on women, numerous DUI's and drug arrests, in addition to the Hernandez case.  This week a white Philadelphia Eagles receiver, Riley Cooper, was dismissed from the team for using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert.

One, if employers dismissed everyone who used a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert the unemployment rate would be far higher.  Two, within a few years Michael Vick has gone from heinous monster to sympathetic character.  Not only did he regain one of only 32 starting quarterback positions in the World, he is also receiving lucrative sponsorship deals.  And now he is the calm, rational spokesperson for the Eagles as they deal with another American race issue.

Sounds like the NFL.  Perhaps their new slogan should read "The NFL, where dog killers are our moral barometer."

No thanks, I prefer America's pastime.

Wait, what?  MLB plans to announce several lengthy suspensions Monday, including a possible lifetime ban for Alex Rodriguez.   This, after a years long and exhaustive investigation into the Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis.  Shocking!  These guys were cheating!

It's all very sad a predictable.  Trust no one and assume all the games are crooked.

Where can you get honesty these days?  It sure as hell isn't in government.  It isn't on the cable news networks.  How is your work place doing?  Any truths there?

I had the pleasure of joining my wife for her 20th year high school reunion.  It occurred to me that perhaps friends and family is the only way we find truth anymore.  And those truths can be hard to find and forever on shaky ground.

But that is not it.  Truth is in recording studios and stages all across this Country.  It is in movie studios and museums.  You see it in photographs and painting.  You hear it in songs and in instruments.

Art, is the great equalizer.  It can get you through the dog days, and far more.

It is what keeps this author going and is the continued motivation behind this blog.

Go get what is yours and smile doing it.

A friend of mine was recently injured attending a concert and is in for a long road to full recovery.  He will be 1000% soon I am quite convinced.  But his accident was telling for one important reason.

About an half hour before the show he texted me a photo that read "center stage, row ten, perfect weather, good music."

Two hours later his wife was calling me from the ER.

It is all too fragile.  It all moves far too quickly.  And before you know it...  it's gone.

With that overly depressing and unabashedly morbid opening I give you the Best of July, 2013.  This has been a wonderful year in music so far and these songs are sure to make any summer road trip a little more tolerable.  Please enjoy and download them and remember where you heard them.  They have also been added to my Spotify playlist which can be found here.

Enjoy the rest of the summer ya'll.  Enjoy the rest of the summer ya'll.

Dent May "Born Too Late"

May is a Jackson, MS singer/songwriter who studied at NYU film school.   That may (pun intended) or may not explain this synth and string laced disco dance track.  Somewhere in the middle he transitions into a joyous psychedelic bridge totally out of left field.  It is all very satisfying.  A better breezy summer pop song you will be hard pressed to find.

Divine Fits "Chained to Love/Ain't That The Way" live from Conan

The alt world calls Divine Fits a "supergroup."  That may be stretching it a bit.  But what IS known is Austin, TX singer/guitarist Britt Daniel is the man behind the band Spoon.  Singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner has headed up the bands Handsome Furs, Atlas Strategic and Wolf Parade.  Together with Sam Brown (drums) and Alex Fischel they are Divine Fits.  It is straightforward rock and roll and you should like it.  This two song medley showcases their talent, timing and overall sound.  "Chained to Love" reminds me of vintage Cars.

Jagwar Ma "Come Save Me"

The Australian trio, Jagwar Ma, released their debut LP, Howlin, earlier this year.  This track has a psych feel not unlike the vibe their enormously popular countrymen Tame Impala lays down.   60s Motown melodies mixes with Beatles-esque keyboard loops one minute.  The next it is Thomas Dolby meets Beck.  It's always interesting to hear a song that does not belong to a certain decade.  When it is done right, if can belong to all of time.

Regina Spektor "You've Got Time"

One of the true highlights of the truly entertaining Netflix original show, "Orange is the New Black," is Ms Spektor's title song.  This is a real departure for the New York raised, Russian born singer/songwriter.  Show creator Jenji Kohan commissioned Spektor to write, and write she did.  Gone is the melancholy tone and aching piano that usually accompanies Spektor.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  But it is a breathe of fresh air to hear her sing "Taking steps is easy/standing still is hard" over screaming guitars and thumping drums.   Watch the show.  Listen to the song.  Fall in love with both.  Seriously, a women's prison drama?  Does it get any better???  The only thing missing is Sybil Danning.

Twenty One Pilots "Holding On To You"

Columbus, OH duo Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are a high energy rock, rap and pop act.  It is unknown if I will ever like another one of their songs or bother to see them live.  What is known is this song is highly addictive and hugely entertaining.  So what if I feel like a 15 year old when I listen to it, loud.

Delta Spirit "Yamaha"

It was a pleasant surprise to a) enjoy the film Warm Bodies as much as I did and b) love the soundtrack.  Sometimes the lowest expectations can be helpful.  And although the Delta Spirit song was released last year, this 2013 movie used it so well it rightfully appears on this list.   The star of this angle is a big, ominous organ and singer Matthew Vasquez's cascading vocals.  If this is what we can expect to hear when the zombies come, and they will, I am perfectly fine with it.

Bastille "Pompeii"   added bonus please take a look at the acoustic version here.

While most of America lavishes praise on "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines" this summer this become my favorite sing-a-long.  These kids from London have a Snow Patrol sound and received praise from one of the Gallagher brothers.  It was either Liam or Noah.  Look it up if you don't believe me.  Or just click on the above links and judge for yourself.  It is easy to dismiss after your first listen.  Don't give up on it!  This is a very fun and engaging song and easily one of my favorite from a very solid 2013.

Grouplove "Ways to Go"

Hippie merrymakers Grouplove had an enormously successful debut record, Never Trust a Happy Song, in 2011.  Their sophomore record is due out September 17th and this is their first single.  It is safe to say there is reason for optimism.  The male and female lead singers still work well.  The melody is toe tapping fun.  It is more synth than guitar, like the first record.  It will be interesting to hear the entire record and see if they can keep building on an already impressive beginning.  It does beg the question, where have you gone Foster the People?  2011 seems like a long time ago and many bands are now lapping them with productivity.

The Ceremonies "Land of Gathering"

Yet another band of brothers, literally.  Matthew, Mark and Michael Cook are LA based Land of Ceremonies can be classified in the Local Natives, Grizzly Bear camp.  Their debut record is scheduled for release sometime in the fall.  There is good reason to be excited about it thanks to this single.

Washed Out "It All Feels Right"

Ernest Green is the man behind Washed Out.  Like Regina Spektor he may now be best known for his work with television theme songs, having written and performed Portlandia's "Feel it All Around".  His second LP, Paracosm, is out 8.13.13.  The first single further exhibits Green's deft keyboard work and ability to create mood and ambience with the stroke of a key.  It is a trippy meditation on the importance of doing enjoying everything and/or nothing.

For Dave C.  Get better real soon.  Looking forward to our next show!  And by the way, Go VOLS!!!