Some Indie Music I’ve Been Listening to Lately

My music taste leans nearly 80% local, but here’s a quick list of non-local things I’ve been enjoying a lot lately.

First, there’s Gender Roles‘ first EP, Planet X-Ray. Gender Roles is far from a local band. They’re not even from this country. Their sound is described as “hazy indie-punk;” I may not be cool enough to know about that, but I dig the way their music meshes Britpop with what 90s Sub Pop used to be known for.

Then there’s Coolsay Too by Coolzey and Soce the Elemental Wizard. Lucky enough to see Coolzey a month or so back at the Milestone (on a fantastic bill — as usual –with D&D Sluggers, Thought Criminals, Luciopro, and Ceschi!), I was drawn to his bold take on a lounge/hip-hop blend. Very postmodern. Check out the song “Tough Guy” for a taste of what I mean.

I was surprised and excited to see that The Colour Thirteen released a full-length album just a couple days ago. I really didn’t think they were doing anything anymore. For all my friends who dig 80s new wave and synthpop, you really ought to give this a listen. The album’s sort of self-titled, TC13, and includes all the songs from their 2011 EP plus 5 more energetic, yet sufficiently moody, tracks.

Simply fun.

What I Don’t Know About Once in a Lifetime 

Friends of mine were making fun of music appreciation classes the other day. I’ve never taken one, but I did go through a period where I fell in love with classical music. Studying and exploring classical on my own really helped me learn how to listen. To music, especially, but also in general.

Another friend shared a really cool video of Kermit the Frog performing Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” She remembered I’m a Talking Heads fan, and she must also know I’m a good bit silly. I didn’t expect her to know how much I like the Muppets. The video clip is fantastic. Kermit (‘s muppeteer) does a terrific David Byrne impersonation. See for yourself:

I love how the video production nicely imitates the official video while paying tribute to the performance — and the suit — from Stop Making Sense.

Some folks see this and go, “ha,ha, that guy dances funny! Look at those weird, twitchy movements!” Some hear it and like the cool bass line; some go to the lyrical hooks. “Ha, ha! ‘This is not my beautiful wife!‘”

Me, I’ve always been interested in the lyrics and meanings of songs. Part of my character is always looking for deeper meaning in nearly everything. Music is particularly magical to me. The blend of meaning in the mix of rhythm, melody, harmony, AND words presents many layers to be interpreted.

And, yeah, I’m drawn to the weirdness.

Having been involved in collaboratively creating songs in a band, I am ever more in awe of the art in which each band member adds their viewpoint to the developing composition. All art being participatory, there’s the additional element of how the listener hears, feels, and interprets the song. It’s been said that communication depends not only on what is said but also, and more importantly, on what is heard. The listener’s point of view informs their understanding of what the musicians put out, and that informs their appreciation of it.

Considering that, when I hear “Once in a Lifetime” these days, I realize I maybe should have listened better long ago.

Go With the Flow

Not long before I first heard the song, when it came out in 1980, I read Alan Watts’ Tao: The Watercourse Way. It was one of Dad’s interesting books I found the book lying around the house. Being the impressionable kid I was, I adopted a lot of the philosophy in the book as great advice. Be like water, it says; when flowing water meets a rock, it goes around it. Eventually, as water gently washes against the rock, it wears it away. In short, go with the flow and you’ll avoid stress.

The Watercourse Way continues to be one of the most influential books I’ve read. And I did let it dramatically influence how I lived my life for decades. More on that in future posts.

As a  teen, the Taoist philosophy I’d picked up led me to incorrectly hear what Talking Heads were saying in “Once in a Lifetime.” The imagery, all the “water flowing” references; I thought they were also saying, “go with the flow.”

Most folks probably don’t actively choose to use pop music as a guide for living.

I’ve never really been exactly like most folks.

Older and Wiser?

The story of my 20s and 30s is mainly one of going with the flow. Not that my life was completely rudderless, but I did get involved in stuff and head in unexpected directions I — looking back — might have been better off avoiding. Now that I’m near (at? past?) midlife, I believe “Once in a Lifetime” may be a cautionary tale about exactly that.

Listening to it with the experience and earned perspective I have now, the “you may find yourself…” lines and “how did I get here?” hold a lot more relevance than they did when I was young. They’re a little less funny and a bit more whoa.

I hear the song now as being from the perspective of someone at the end of life, looking back. Similar, I guess, to that god awful Sinatra song, but with a much funkier groove and postmodern poetry.

Don’t pay attention, let life carry you around without you navigating your way, and before you know it, everything’s over. And you weren’t ready for it.

Not exactly the message you’d expect from a young(ish) group for a young(er?) audience. I, and perhaps others, didn’t get the importance of the lyrics because it was unexpected. Sort of the same reason we don’t really hear advice from older, wiser people when they tell us we need insurance, or to save for retirement. It just doesn’t align with our beliefs of how life is based on our experiences at that age.

But — WOW — isn’t THAT exactly illustrating the point ? “Same as it ever was.”

ONE Lifetime

Here’s something: even if you live a supremely directed life setting and going after goals, time still goes by. Everything you do, whether by choice or circumstance, occurs, in each moment, surrounded by the unique characteristics of that moment, once in a lifetime. You may drive the same route to work every day, but the weather, the other cars on the road, what you hear on the radio, all that stuff and more changes, so each drive is different. Singular. Unique.

The lesson I hear in “Once in a Lifetime” is a kind of old one, directed at the population who follow a plan, or at least a pattern of behavior, letting the days go by one 40 hour workweek after another. They might get the beautiful house and the beautiful wife, but don’t even know how they did. It isn’t purposefully choosing to go with the flow that makes one actually skip living; it’s staying busy with busy-ness, unconsciously going through the motions of work, societal expectations, and even leisure that keeps one so occupied that you don’t realize life is passing by.

I could totally be mishearing the song again. I’m fairly certain I’m overthinking it. Regardless, I believe it is extremely important to know we each have only the one life to live, and it’s a damn shame to waste it away punching timeclocks and watching sitcoms.

Mindful living, being present and fully aware in each moment, I truly believe, is the key. You can’t live every minute like it’s your last — you’ll never get laundry done if you act like you aren’t going to wear those clothes again — but you can choose to live each one like it’s the first and only one that will be exactly like it. What you decide to do with it can make the difference between looking back someday knowing how you got where you did rather than wondering how.

 

 

A Punk Rock Lesson for Extraordinary Customer Service

I’m working on a series of articles on things business people can learn from punk rock. This wasn’t the one I planned on publishing first, but something happened last night which illustrates the point too well to pass up.

As I was preparing to leave work, I saw a missed call and voicemail on my phone. Didn’t recognize the number, but checked the voicemail quickly in case it was something important. It kind of was. It was the fraud prevention department from my credit union with some questions about some check card charges.

I was in a hurry to get home because the Flash was crossing over on Supergirl. Oh, yeah, and to see my beautiful fiancee, who wasn’t feeling well. So I put off calling the credit union back until later.

I stopped by a favorite restaurant of ours to pick up dinner. I knew it would be quicker than cooking something up at home, plus Ashley was excited about getting a yummy dinner from there. I put in the order, tried to pay with my check card, and — yeppers — it was declined. I apologized to the cashier, mentioned I’d had a notice from my credit union about some fraudulent activity on my account, and told him I needed to make a quick call.

He was nice about it, said he’d suspend the order, and I stepped away to call my money’s keepers. Turned out my check card number had been used in a restaurant in Russia that afternoon while I was at work, for a very large purchase.

The credit union representative was helpful, explained the steps they’d take to make things right for me. I wasn’t worried about it. I know I’m in good hands with my credit union. But I didn’t have cash on me, at least not enough to pay for dinner. I apologized to the cashier, filled him in briefly about the unfortunate status of my bank account, and let him know I wouldn’t be able to pay for the order. He was understanding, and hoped the rest of my night would be good.

Just as I was starting up the car, considering the dinner options at home, a girl from the restaurant zipped out, excitedly telling me to wait. “We want to give you the food, ” she said with a smile.

“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” I said.

“But it’s already made. It would just go to waste anyway.” She encouraged me further to go back in and get the meal I’d ordered.

As I went in, the manager and cashier were bagging up everything. I told them again they didn’t have to do that, but they insisted. I promised I’d be back as soon as I could to pay for the food, and thanked them a few times for doing such a nice thing.

So here’s the lesson, from experiences like that AND from punk rock:

Don’t let rules get in the way of having a good time.

Historically, that’s what punk is all about, right? Screw the rules, we’ll do it our way! Rebellion is a rock & roll thing, but punk took it up a few notches, rebelling against rock & roll even.

You can’t write a song that matters with only three chords; you can’t have a band with two bass players and no guitar;  you have to learn how to play your instruments really well before anyone will take you seriously; you can’t name your band Dead Kennedys… punk rockers proved all that — and more — wrong.

Dead Kennedys

Rebellion With Purpose

Not that you can be a total ass. Not totally. Not and still get positive results.

It’s important to know that sometimes breaking the rules can be exactly what prevents a good time. Don’t follow basic standards, and you might not get booked to play. Show up late, or flake out on a gig, and you won’t get booked again. And, of course, it’s hard to play for an audience if you’re in jail for breaking a serious, criminal rule.

When it comes to being true to your ideals, though, striking a different path can be the best decision. Especially when it comes to setting yourself apart from boring, conformist competition.

Doing something totally different can create excitement. It can create a movement, even.

minor threat

When straight edge took a stand against the accepted rules of excess for rock and punk, promoting individuality and healthy choices instead of drugs, it spawned a lifestyle that spread across the world.

Thinking of business, Starbucks also spread across the world by going against accepted notions of how much people would pay for coffee, and breaking the traditional rules that hand-crafted beverages couldn’t be quick service, too.

Punks went DIY out of necessity. While the music industry perpetuated a belief that it took thousands of dollars to record, press, and distribute music, punk rockers broke the rules, created their own record labels, and got their stuff out quickly and cheaply. Their music and messages were just as worthy — more so, many would say — as what the public was getting from the corporations. They needed to be heard, so they broke the rules, bypassed the traditional way of doing things, and made it happen.

Breaking rules just to be seen as a badass might get you attention, but if that’s the only reason for acting outside the norm, you’re just a novelty act.

Have a good reason to bend the rules on occasion, though, and you can make legend.

Rules Versus Results

Let’s face it, rules are important. They help ensure consistency and fairness. Dogmatically sticking to a rule just because it’s a rule can hold back progress, though. These days, it can even cause you harm. If you can’t exercise some flexibility, especially when dealing with people, you limit possibilities for positive outcomes.

When small businesses are compared to larger corporations, attentive and personalized customer service is almost always considered a strength of the smaller operations. Why? Because the decision makers are more directly involved with their customers. They’re also closer to their profits and goals.

The best reason to step outside the rules is to maximize results. Why are you in business, anyway? To get results, right? Whether the results you’re working toward are sales, revenue, market share, or productivity, allowing options outside the given rules can help you better realize them.

When an opportunity arises for a deviation in normal procedures, a good question to consider is whether sticking to the rule, in that instance, will move you toward your results, or away from them?

It’s not always easy to know, of course. Using the example of my experience at the restaurant last night, I can’t say what the decision process actually was for the manager to do what he did. Certainly, giving away food seems contrary to the goal of making money. I do know the results, though: strengthened customer loyalty, ensured repeat business, and a reputation as a business which goes beyond expectations.

Of course I also went back and paid for the food once I got cash, so the product and revenue loss was corrected. They’ve also got me sharing the story repeatedly, and using them as an example of outstanding business practices, so free word of mouth marketing — the most powerful kind, experts say — too.

Punk rock is about many things. Sometimes it’s about being a spectacle, standing out from the crowd. Being bold enough to act in ways no one expects, whether you’re a punk or a business, can make you spectacular.

 

 

What I Don’t Know About Duckies and Distractions

Productivity is important to me. I think it’s because I know my time is limited, and I want to make some impact while I’m around. So I generally intend to make smart use of my time, get good things accomplished, move forward in one way or another.

I’ve been working to develop better habits to help with my focus, but, you know, sometimes things come up that interrupt my flow. Not that I’ve ever wanted to be all work and no play — far from it! — but I can’t help feeling some personal disappointment when I know I’ve wasted time.

It’s not always easy to be aware of distractions or just how much time they can take up. One nudge off course can lead to lots of twists and turns before you get back on the right path. So being cognizant of what you’ve spent time on is the first step to finding your way back.

For me, one of the worst distractions is social media. Facebook, specifically. I know I’m not alone. I’ll decide to check in, see what’s happening, find out if anyone’s tried to contact me, and if I’m not careful I’ll wind up scrolling and scrolling through my news feed mindlessly, letting precious minutes add up to precious hours. Now, I’m not a Facebook hater. If I was, there’d be no problem. I believe there are benefits to social media, not least of which is being in touch with good people. Most days I see or read something that improves my life in at least a small way. To get to those gold nuggets, though, I do find myself sifting through a lot of silt.

While I’m not always happy that I let myself get detoured so easily, I am happy to know what it is that distracts me. Because I know it’s something totally under my control. I allow things to distract me; I can choose not to let them as well.

I know people have lots of suggestions to solve my particular issue. Delete the Facebook app! Set a timer! Unfollow people and pages that clog up your feed! Just don’t use it at all! At one time or another I’ve either considered all these options or actually done them. What’s worked the best for me, though, is listening to Ernie.

When I was a young dad I was lucky to enjoy a good bit of children’s music. I think a lot of folks are familiar with the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. If you aren’t, it’s been around since 1970 (I just found out it was even nominated for a Grammy in 1971!) and is sung by Ernie to his favorite bathtub toy. In the late 80s a new song debuted on Sesame Street with a pretty good message:

“Put down the duckie” started popping up in my head when I caught myself wasting time on something a couple months ago. I’m not sure exactly what brought it to mind. It may have been because I got sets of rubber duckies for my co-managers for Christmas. What I found, though, is that it helped. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for me, having a mantra, if you will, silly as it is, that I actually said out loud, got me back on track with a smile.

Social media isn’t the only duckie I have to set aside for a while in order to get things done. With all the good new comic related TV shows, TV has become a real temptation these days. Sometimes I don’t realize something’s a duckie until it takes up a certain amount of time. It’s a challenge, since I’m also working on being more present and giving people more focused attention. Whatever distractions you find impeding your productivity, maybe Hoots the owl’s advice will work for you, too. You don’t have to totally eliminate entertainment or non-productive stuff from your life. Just put it down until you meet whatever goals you have set for yourself.

 

A Synthpop, Talk Singing, Industrial Night of Love and PBR Draft

Wednesday’s show at the Milestone was terrific! I’m not the best at concert reviews. I go to shows for edification and entertainment, not as a reporter. I like to stay present in the moment, to give as much attention I can to the performers, so I don’t do well keeping track of details. When I see something great, though, I want to let people know.

Crunk Witch were fantastic, as always. I think I’ve told everyone I know over and over already, but if you get the chance to see them live, DO  IT. Few groups come close to the all-out fun and genuine showmanship they continually bring. They are super nice and exceptionally charming and gracious, too.

During their set, frontman Brandon Miles started a monologue about telling the people in your life how you feel. He wound up passing the mic to David Kinsel in the crowd. David told everyone how he and his girlfriend were big Crunk Witch fans… and then he asked his girlfriend, Krys, to marry him. She said yes. Actually, she said, “fuck yeah.” It was a really sweet moment. 

Height Keech was a surprise. I wasn’t very familiar with him, but he totally won me over. He’s sort of a rapper, but more a “talk singer.” I found his set full of real emotion and inspiration. Songs like “Mind Moves the Mountain” and “Bring Your Soul to the Function” gives you an idea what he’s about.

 
Gavin Riley played percussion with Height, adding to the raw sound of their performance. Before that, he had his own set as Gavin Riley Smoke Machine. I was curious how he’d do a live show, as I’d checked him out online and watched a few videos from his somewhat trippy “interactive rap app” Space Needle Mystery, a “choose your own adventure” type musical game. Using a projector, he showed a video while rapping, then let the audience choose the course of action, leading to the next video. It was a decidedly different kind of act. Very engaging.

Human Pippi Armstrong is a favorite local performer of mine, a real spectacle. DJ Michael Price described him as kind of a cross between Wesley Willis and Devo. He’s not far off. Last time Ashley and I saw him, he had some equipment issues (and STILL put on a great show). Everything was working well this night.  

 
It heard it was IIOIOIOII’s first live show, but it wasn’t exactly evident. He might have appeared a little unsure of himself on stage — something he’ll likely overcome with more live experience — but the music was well produced and impressive. Nice lights, too. IIOIOIOII drew a good crowd of folks from Charlotte’s industrial scene.

  
The whole night was an extraordinary experience. Not unusual for a night at the Milestone. I’m amazed we can see acts like this — 5 on one bill! — for a low $7.00 cover. Add to that being in the company of some of the nicest, most positive people you could ever hope to be around, like sound man Dane Abernathy and Milestone owner Jonathan Hughes. It’s a lucky life I have, and Charlotte’s lucky to have places like the Milestone Club to bring such fine art and entertainment here. Get over and support them. 

What I Don’t Know About Unrequited Mongoloid Love

We enthusiastically got tickets for Moogfest two years ago primarily to see DEVO.  Then they cancelled.  We waited in line for 3 hours on Record Store Day to get the exclusive DEVO 1981 live LP, getting the very last copy only because of our good friends Jim

"He's got Mark Mothersbaugh eyes"

and Lisa.  We even suffered through the thoroughly awful Monster Man show last week just for a glimpse of DEVO. This morning, Ashley noticed a post to send in pics with the previously mentioned RSD Devo album in order to win a Holy Spud sticker.  We excitedly rushed upstairs to get the album, shot a quick picture, posted it… and were totally brushed off.  Fourth people to post a pic, and we get nothing.  Other fans, posting LONG after us, some not even with the requisite album, get recognition and stickers.  Us?  Nothing.  It’s like being hit with space junk, only less lucky.

Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  Moogfest turned out to be amazing, and although the whole band couldn’t be there (Bob M. had cut his hand pretty bad), Mark and Gerry did show up and perform a couple of Devo songs with the Octopus Project.  And the Record Store Day experience was still fun, especially since Jim and Lisa were able to secure the double LP for us.  Oh, and the live album is great, of course.  The only thing beyond salvation was the time spent enduring the Monster Man show.
We still love you, DEVO.  Ashley will continue posting video clips from the Square Pegs appearance, and I’ll keep wearing the cool T she got me.  I don’t even know what we would have done with a Holy Spud sticker anyway.

What I Don’t Know About Miles Davis

Back in the early 90’s I got involved in live poetry readings.  ‘Poetry Slams’ were trendy then, and I was at just the right age, with just the right influences and just the right artistic neediness to fall into that scene for a bit.  I wrote some terrible stuff as well as a couple of pieces I continue to be impressed with, but the actor in me especially liked the live delivery of emotionally loaded, supposedly clever mini-monologues.  Even then I recognized how self-indulgent the whole thing was (those were self-indulgent times), and now I can enjoy the memories as the pitifully funny experiences they were .

One of the most irritating things about listening to other self-indulgent would-be poets then (although I would bet good money the practice continues), was hearing nearly every one of them mention Miles Davis and/or Charlie Parker in at least one of their poems.  Ugh.  What did they think, that they were actually Beats?  Trying to buy some credibility by invoking the jazz heroes?  I’d roll my eyes, tune out, and pride myself in never resorting to that embarrassing tactic (although I had no trouble, apparently, squeezing Lou Reed and Dostoevsky in the same horrible piece.  Ouch.).

Unfortunately, those idiot poets actually made me less interested in jazz, and especially Miles Davis.  How stupid of me to be so judgmental.  Maybe I’ve finally learned to not be influenced negatively by losers (there’s room for a separate post on this topic), but now that I’ve actually listened to Miles, on my own terms… well… I get it.

Miles Davis was a genius.  Maybe not everyone who felt the need to record that they were listening to Miles in their amateur poetry was as incredibly gifted, but there is no denying that Miles Davis is one of a very small number of artists who actually changed the world of music.  Plenty of other people have written eloquently about the subject of his greatness.  From my perspective (it is my blog, after all), I will admit Miles does indeed inspire, in a way too few artists can.  Great art, to me, whether music, movies, literature, or any other form is art which immediately inspires me to be creative.  If it moves me, it (I hope) moves others, too, and leads to new methods for doing things, new ways to see and think about things.  And that’s what Miles Davis accomplished over and over during his lifetime.  It’s what he does to me now.

So I can understand now how Miles – and Charlie Parker, and some of the other namechecked jazz giants – really may have inspired poetry.  Even bad poetry.  While I still believe some of the folks who tortured me with their bad lines (in return for me treating them with my own) may not actually have connected with Miles Davis, or even ever listened to his work at all, I am willing to think that at least some others might truly have been moved to do something to express themselves by the inescapable provocation the creator of cool couldn’t help but give.