Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blegvad Rhymes With Eggbad

Peter Blegvad didn't write the book on eccentricity, but he surely read it many times. In fact he probably added a forward to one of the later printings.

If you have fifteen minutes and some change, check out this audio promo for his most excellent 1990 release King Strut & Other Stories. At some point i will be reviewing it here because it is definitely on the list of my 100 favorite albums.


Monday, March 19, 2007

My Mountain Drawing Test

drawing personality

What does your drawing say about YOU?

Mine said this:
You tend to pursue many different activities simultaneously. When misfortune does happen, it doesn't actually dishearten you all that much. You are a thoughtful and cautious person. You like to think about your method, seeking to pursue your goal in the most effective way. You like following the rules and being objective. You are precise and meticulous, and like to evaluate decisions before making them. You have a sunny, cheerful disposition.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Music Travesty (aka the Industry)

I must make clear my position concerning the Music Industry. Why? Well, because i just want to and that's what freakin blogs are for, eh?

I loathe the Music Industry.
Enough said.
No, it's actually not enough.
I could write pages and pages and still not say enough.
But i digress......maybe after a few paragraphs........

In my last post, the Skafish review, i pointed out that Mr. Skafish was a fringe artist, and hadn't had any commercial success after his two IRS Records releases. It was not meant as criticism. Actually, it's a fact i find admirable. Not the fact that he wasn't able to continue making lots of music, which i would have loved to continue buying and listening to, but the fact that he continued to be an artist despite the lack of commercial success. Check out the timeline on the Skafish website for a rundown of his career (http://www.skafish.com/timeline.htm).

Many artists have been in the same boat as Skafish, being given artistic ultimatums by Major Labels. Ultimately you have to make choices. Do you dilute your vision to stay signed, or hold to it and risk being dropped. By now most musical artists should know what to expect because so much has been documented about getting the shaft from the Industry. But back in the 70's and early 80's it wasn't just a fantasy that you could make your music and the labels would help you find your audience and everybody would make money and you could have a career making records and touring.

Many artists did, and do, obviously. But if you just don't happen to be commercial enough, selling only a mere 30,000 copies of your release or less, then you are booted out past the labels' bottom lines. And i might add, sent the bill for all of the expenses you incurred as their signed artist; expenses that they swore to you were necessary to make it.

The band Poster Children knew what was up when they refused tour support and continued touring in their own Econoline van, cutting costs to maximize what they would bring home from a tour, knowing full well that their album wasn't going to go multi-platinum. They knew their market, knew their fan base, and also knew how labels operated. They "enjoyed" (perhaps) making four albums and an EP for a major label before being shown the door. They continue to be DIY-ers and are (i can only surmise) much better off for it. Check them out at http://www.posterchildren.com/

Suddenly Tammy has another tragic story. They were a fairly commercial band on the surface (where commerciality counts). They had some really real hooky songs, Beth Sorrentino's voice was soft and musical, they were all top notch musicians, and they even had that piano-instead-of-guitar thing going on in the 90's that made Ben Folds Five such a smash for a while. Sure they were also a bit Artsy and perhaps didn't have the "stage presence" of Coldplay (sic), but still they made two really great CDs and toured with some high profile bands. They were, by all accounts, getting somewhere. Then they made a third record and Warner brothers shelved it and dropped them. They broke up and the fans were left wondering for a long time. It was just the bottom line. They didn't sell enough records for a Major Label to keep them.

I don't understand why labels don't just give these bands less advance money, advise them to record their CDs a little more cost-effectively, advise them to tour in an econoline van, and then still put their records out for them and keep nurturing the talent that they signed in the first place. In other words, they could just scale back their finances to match the amount of records that they can sell. Instead they destroy them, financially ruin them, send them a final bill. It's just short sighted corporate greed. Major Labels are just no places for artists. They're the places for money lusting, vacuous, fame seekers.

Some people, perhaps most people, confuse the Art of Music with the recording, producing, marketing, and selling of it. It's two different things. There are multi-thousands of musical artists creating music that isn't getting heard by very many people, if any. Just because it never goes through the machinery of the Music Industry to become a product with a barcode in no way invalidates it. And by the reverse principle there are lots of songs that get released and become huge hits that i would hesitate to Art. But the creators/performers involved are still referred to as musical artists, even though i'd sooner call them pawns. Of course that's an opinion.....eye of the beholder, et al. I certainly will never suggest that musical value judgements are objective.

For me it all comes down to sincerity. When i like an artist, it's usually because i hear sincerity in their work. Bland corporate drivel vomitted and regurgitated for profit doesn't appeal to me for some reason. Go figure.

I'm so glad the internet exists now, because even fringe artists (and i consider myself one) can find an audience (i'm still working on this) without having to deal with money-grubbing corporations who only look after their bottom line, and who don't care about Music, but rather exploit it in a most crass way. I think the internet has the potential to be the great equalizer for giving musicians the independence to be the artists they want to be, and to express themselves honestly and sincerely. Let's hope that can continue.

This has been Part One (of many).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Review of the self-titled debut album by Skafish

I was listening to my vinyl copy of Urgh! A Music War today. It features live versions of songs by The Police, XTC, Gary Numan, Devo, X, and many more punk/new wave bands circa 1980. The last track on the double record set is Sign of the Cross, an irreverent, hilarious bit of religious satire, passionately performed by Jim Skafish and his band. Easily the most compelling song on the record, it seems to have been saved for last for good reason.

Although Skafish never attained any more commercial success in his career after releasing two albums, he was still a multi-talented trailblazer of rock music. A child prodigy, he was far ahead of his time, to be sure, incorporating every musical style imaginable, costumes and choreographed skits in to his performances. And his physical appearance was deliberate and shocking.

"Skafish’s decision to initially present a non-flattering look—sometimes male or toddler boyish, sometimes female or old ladyish, sometimes androgynous—is revolutionary in its deliberate self-debasement, contrary to the glamorous image of many entertainers. But perhaps the most shocking aspect to Skafish is what is God-given: His 6 foot, 3 inches tall towering beefy presence, enormous hook nose, and pale white skin, all which seem to underscore the appearance of breasts." (from the Skafish website http://www.skafish.com/index.htm)

It seems that his controversiality was what kept him from a mainstream audience. He was doomed by his vision to be a fringe artist. The punk world initially supported him, but his music was actually beyond punk too. Although most of his songs had punk energy, some pieces were arranged and played with the preciseness and professionality of progressive rock. In many ways, he out-punked punk.

The lyrics and themes on his self-titled first album are sarcastic, searing, and at times hateful. On the opening track, Joan Fan Club, Skafish rages through like the sickest bully, with often frighteningly violent threats, and all the while accurately immature the way you remember bullies being. You know from this first track that he sings from what he knows. Reading the biography on his website, you'll not be surprised to learn of the many horrible experiences of his own childhood. Musically the song is like the punk rock equivalent of the infantile chant Nyah Nyah-Nyah-Nyah Nyah! with a 50's rock and roll structure complete with rolling piano trills (think Jerry Lee Lewis). It ends with a wind-up featuring Skafish calling Joan on the telephone and goading her. No wonder punk rockers liked him so much. Anarchy in the UK seems tame by comparison.

The next track, Maybe One Time, by contrast sounds like a Roxy Music pastiche. String Synth parts soar over modern rock chord changes and melodies, with Skafish sincerely singing about his longing to find that special someone with whom he can fall in love. Its sensitivity and confessional qualities could not be more polarized from the vitriol of the first track.

Obsessions of You is the first of the progressive-like arrangements i alluded to before. That aside, it's a catchy song with a killer refrain Obssessions, Obsessions they are of you. Possession possession i want your heart. Returning slightly to scarier themes, this one plays out in the pseudo-stalking scenario of someone who feels unworthy to love. It's erie how Skafish can musically mask these disturbing themes in very listenable, hooky music.

We'll See A Psychiatrist is punk/new wave with bizarre harmonized vocals, lots of solos (synths, guitar, piano), and again a tragic lyrical look back to Skafish's childhood past. Side one then ends with Romantic Lessons, a doo-wop song without the harmony vocals, at least until the final seconds. Like the second track, this one is a sincere longing-for-love song lyrically summed up by the last few lines. Everyday I watch one kiss, so wonderful to see, but not for me, it's out of reach, romantic lessons everyday.

Side two opens with Work Song, which begins with the question What's the average guy going to do? and then proceeds to answer it with the mind-numbing details of the life of a blue collar laborer. Musically it's a relentless and driving rock song with some interesting vocal counterpoint on the bridge sections. After being pummelled by this song, Guardian Angel mellows out, sounding stylistically not unlike the less frenetic material from Talking Heads '77. The chorus is sing-songy and the lyrics are the most straightforward of all the songs on the album.

Disgracing The Family Name is like a demented Bruce Springsteen song complete with ballpark organ and Max Middleton style drumming. But Bruce could never cull up this much sarcasm and dark humor. It also reminds me, oddly enough, of The Roches. This song is followed by No Liberation Here, which continues the theme of self-debasement. It's a bit of Heavy Metal pastiche as Skafish works through his sexually repressive issues, likening his situation to being incarcerated. Here prison does not need bars, Blood shed today, And we know it will not change, We live in shame, We don't have a right, No liberation here.

Take It Out On You is the perfect endpiece to Skafish's album-as-therapy. A biting, hateful, endicting lyric letter to his nemesis, most likely one of the bullies of his youth as evidenced in this section of lyric: You can slice a stray dog, You can beat a retarded kid, But you kicked me in the teeth, Gonna take it out on you. The song seems like a catharsis for him, dispelling his past abusers by answering their immature threats of violence with, instead, intelligent threats of violence. But you can see how he is working through the issues by writing the songs, because they are tempered by a self-awareness that his violent tendencies are bad. Understandable, but still bad. Thus the guilt and self-debasement. The last lines of the song sum it all up: I will live a short life, I won't resolve a thing, I will die suspended, but before i do, I jump on to your heart, Trampoline on you, All you guts will fly out, I cease the life inside of you, Jump on your heart, And just remember, All of this is because of you.

Skafish was, and is, a brilliant musician/songwriter who unfortunately didn't keep his record- making career going. He continued regionally around his East Chicago (Indiana) home in to the 80's and 90's but never had any serious commercial releases after his second LP for IRS Records. Check out his website at http://www.skafish.com/index.htm for more current information about his life and music, including a recent self-released CD which can be purchased from CDBaby.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

MySpace is LameSpace

Since it's still International Women's day i want to take a moment to point out how crappy it was that MySpace.com harassed Tacoma, Washington resident Melissa Rocks when she posted pictures of herself breastfeeding her son on her page. MySpace is quite well known as a place where teenagers can go to post sexy pictures and racy text for each other to look at and read. The moderators of the site don't seem overly concerned when porn sites use it to "network" with the MySpace users. I frequently got invitations (via messages at my page) to come and see young women on their sex-cams. I have a hard time believing that MySpace doesn't know it's going on too.

So why then are they giving this woman a hard time when she is using MySpace to network with a community of breastfeeding Moms? These Moms aren't asking anyone to come and see their pictures, except those who are interested. If someone doesn't want to see her page, then they shouldn't go there.

I saw the picture in question in an article about the scandal, and it is not very revealing. You can't really see anything that can be described as sexy. It's simply a picture of her boy breastfeeding with his hand on one side of her breast. She has her top on, and only a faint hint of her areola is showing near the boy's mouth.

Breastfeeding is a completely natural way for mothers to bond with their children while at the same time giving them sustenance. It is very healthy for young babies and recommended for at least the first year of a child's life. It is also very difficult at times for the mother, and so many moms like to have a community of like-minded moms to talk with and share ideas and support.

I still have a MySpace page for my band The Meat Joy because it is a very good way of networking with fans and other bands. But i shut down the personal page i had after hearing about this scandal. MySpace has become a much more lame-space. As others have said since this story broke, "Grow up MySpace.com!"

International Women's Day

All through my life i have had a deep respect and empathy for Women. So much so that in my teens i was filled with trepidation about dating and otherwise being involved with girls because i was afraid that i would fail and inadvertantly disrespect them, or (emotionally) hurt them in someway. I knew it wouldn't be a purposeful act, but since i had grown to rightly see that relationships are emotionally complicated, i had no confidence in my abilities to navigate the affairs, so to speak. I was extremely naive, but the last thing i wanted to do was to hurt a girl. Clearly i was a sensitive little guy.

I was quite sure, however, that i would never physically hurt a woman. As a child, I was witness to many abuses toward my Mother by her second husband. At an early age i decided that i would never become a man who could, or would, abuse a woman. It was an idea that i quite literally kept with me in all of my interactions with girls (and Women). And although it stunted my emotional growth a bit, making me a so-called late-bloomer, i would not change a thing if it meant turning out differently. Those early experiences informed my attitudes in positive ways, even if they were formed from negative ones.

As much as i have deep respect for Women, i have the opposite feeling for Men. I believe that Men are responsible for all of the ills and evil in our world. It all started when Men co-opted religion from Goddess worship and placed themselves in power. Since then, Women have not had power, and so they can't be said to have contributed to the many horrific decisions that have been made throughout history, and have shaped the battered, bruised and confused world in which we live.

This isn't meant to ignore that many men have made good, or even great, decisions in history, but in general Men have been led by greed and lust for power, and domination over the their world. This has created a world of disharmony, inequity, and of course the perpetuation of greed and lust. Look at the powerful churches today as an example of the still backward attitudes toward Women that have been perpetuated. There is sign of change, but there is also a long way to go toward real enlightenment.

Unenlightened people try to argue that Women can't handle political power because they are unable to make the "hard decisions". I think that if Women had been in control from the beginning, there would be many less hard decisions to make. If Goddess worship hadn't been wiped out by frightened little men, we might live in a better, more sorted out and equitable world altogether.

Of course, Women who may take office now would be inheriting a world already messed up for millennia by Men. But that is no reason not to vote Women into office. There is no sensible reason not to do so.