Monthly Archives: July 2013

Can’t get much ‘Stranger’ than Heinlein

“He’s ignorant to six decimal places.” – Jubal Harshaw

“Faith! What a dirty Anglo-Saxon monosyllable – Jill, how does it happen that you didn’t mention that one when you were teaching me the words not to use in polite company?” – Michael Valentine Smith

Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange land was billed, on the cover of the 25th anniversary complete edition I borrowed at the library, as a classic of the Free Love era. It’s easy to see why.

The tale is an examination of the life of Michael Valentine Smith. Smith was the child conceived and born on the first space flight from Earth to Mars. Only this known to no one until, more than two decades later, Earth sends a second spacecraft to the red planet. There, the pilgrims find Michael, the only survivor of the first voyage, a human raised as a Martian with no Terran influences. The Martians send Michael back with part of the Earth crew, to see his “home planet.”

Michael goes from an Earthling who doesn’t understand bathtubs and has never seen a female to the leader of a powerful, controversial cult. His powers allow him to make matter – such as guns and the humans holding them – disappear. He can move items – briefly working as a carnival magician – and can speak telepathically with others. He uses these gifts to teach other humans how to attain them under the guise of a neo-religion, taking only the most advanced and open to the top of the “church’s” nine levels. It is a matter of both knowledge and being connected to the universe that will allow humans to manipulate the world as Michael does.

Plus, free love. Lots of it. Anywhere, anytime. To the discomfort of several characters, at least initially. And the key to enlightenment is openness at all levels, whether it is in the pursuit of expanding your intellect or your sex life is irrelevant.

Grok it? Stranger in a Strange Land is much broader, has greater depth than I’m making it sound like, but you can see the hippie overtones. Heinlein makes a compelling case for how Michael chooses to live his life, and how he spreads his gifts to others. He also takes square aim at government corruption, predicts the ridiculousness of cable news decades before its existence, mocks the frailty of religion while simultaneously admiring it, even taken a few shots at his own craft.

The only downside is it does get a bit talky, with a number of characters giving monologues, particularly Michael and his human mentor, doctor-novelist-lawyer-rebel Jubal Harshaw. Stranger in a Strange Land reminds me a lot of Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction in that regard. If you’re a fan and you’re into it, like I was in both cases, you gobble it down. But if you’re not a big reader or really into, I could see how that verbosity might drag the story down.

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‘Magna Carta’ pretty sweet, but leaves sour aftertaste

The most overrated rapper on the planet and Mr. Pro-Rape. Why, Hova, why?

The most overrated rapper on the planet and Mr. Pro-Rape. Why, Hova, why?

There’s a lot to like about Magna Carta … Holy Grail. Jay-Z is killing it on the mic – proving that there’s at least one rapper over 30 who can still get down – and the production is outstanding (maybe the best on any of Hova’s albums ever).

But there’s one problem: Why Rick Ross on fuckwithmeyouknowigotit? I’ve always thought Ross was overrated, someone who, if told he couldn’t use the words “crack” or “Maybach”, wouldn’t be able to finish a single let alone an entire album.

That aside, why would Jay-Z, the most accomplished rapper on the planet, a guy who spends a significant portion of his new album doting on his baby daughter, choose Mr. “Rape Is Good” as the only rapper to make a guest appearance on his new disc? I don’t understand.

I suppose an argument can be made that maybe Ross was already chosen before his “I Love Rape” song became controversial, and too many things were in motion (with regards to the production/distribution schedule). But you’re telling me Hova couldn’t have picked up his cell, closed his eyes, randomly scrolled through his contact list and picked ANY RAPPER ON THE PLANET (except Wale, of course, who just flat out sucks) who could have dropped a prime verse in about 10 minutes to fill Ross’s enormous void.

It’s disappointing. And someday, hopefully, Ivy Blue will make her dad explain why, on a disc where he celebrates her life so frequently, he chose to ignore the millions of women whose lives have been ruined by other Ross-like men who thought sexual assault was so incredibly awesome.

Tape that, Hova. Because that will be more interesting than any album you’ve ever released.

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That’s My Jam #1: Rob Zombie feat. Lionel Richie and Trina, ‘Brick House 2003’

I decided to kick this series off with an actual dance party jam. And yes, you are reading that correctly: The guy who sang Hello and is now enjoying a country radio resurgence once teamed up with the director of the uber-violent, uber-insane Devil’s Rejects and the self-proclaimed Baddest Bitch.

This cover from Zombie’s House of a 1,000 Corpses soundtrack should be a trainwreck akin to Pat Boone’s covers of heavy metal songs, maybe even the whole Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines debacle. Yet it’s not only not a mess, it boogies with a capital WOOGIE. Zombie doesn’t stray far from the original musically, just translating into to the grimier, heavier rock sound that we’ve come to expect from him. Lionel brings the chorus (despite no longer being a Commodore when the original was cut), and Trina brings first-hand knowledge of said brickness. Attitude propels this cut, and it’s undeniable funkiness ratchets up the fun level to 10.

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Music fans unite: It’s time to take back the phrase, ‘That’s my jam’

It’s the summer of Pitbull. Just let that marinate for a second. Pitbull’s Feel This Moment is going to be remembered as the jam of the summer of 2013. A single that sounds more like a commercial jingle for a cruise line or theme park, a ball of fluff so light and airy that all of the people who fist pumped to this in an overcrowded club somewhere won’t even remember the name of it next summer while they’re fist pumping to the next undeserving Pitbull single of the moment.

Does that piss you off? It should. That’s like winning an all-expenses paid trip, then finding out the trip is to Ames, Iowa. It’s karmically unfair, logically unfathomable. And it’s time for music fans to strike back.

Therefore, I am attempting to reclaim the phrase “That’s my jam” from the bubbleheaded, steroid-taking, ass crack-waxing, texting-while-driving, body spray-wearing morons who so frequently misuse it to declare their devotion for what is often nothing more sugary, shallow shite. Starting tomorrow, I’ll kick off the “That’s My Jam” series, where I will occasionally rant about songs and musicians somehow ignored by the mainstream in favor of the nothingness that is pop radio. These are my jams, and it’s time for the cream to rise to the top.

Will you join me?

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Happily exiled in Guyville

Spin has a great oral history of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. Now, the idea of a straightforward sonic narrative led by a brilliant, talented, beautiful woman seems fairly commonplace. In 1993, that seemed about as likely to happen as Flava Flav becoming the next president of the United States.

At the time, I was in college during my peak dating years. The boys and I would sit around over cards, bitching and moaning about how you could never get a straight answer from a woman, how we never seemed to be able to find out what they wanted or expected, let alone being able to do anything to competently and sensitively fill that void, and then being chastised and punished for lacking the ability to read those inscrutable feminine minds.

And then came Exile in Guyville. This was a chick around our age who liked to drink, fuck and expected our typical young guy bullshit, but was very upfront about her expectations and desires and how she in no way intended to put up with that stupid boy crap. Liz was sexy and girly, yet one of the boys. We all had hard-ons for her, but we could all see ourselves just hanging out with her for hours, slamming shots of Southern Comfort while sipping Keystone and talking bands, sex and whatever random topics floated into the discussion. Nirvana, the Pixies, Butthole Surfers, Soundgarden, Beck and bunch of the heavy rocking sausage fest that was standard in the early 1990s had their CDs set aside so that Liz could be our card-playing soundtrack.

Musically, it was something all of us heavy rock-loving boys were completely unprepared for, but instantly drawn to. This wasn’t the overrated punk rock of, say, 7 Year Bitch, the soft, unrelatable sounds of female artists our parents had grown up with (Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Carol King, etc.) or pop bullshit (TLC, SWV, Mariah Carey or Madonna, who’d pretty much jumped the shark at the point for anyone other than hardcore fans or her gay base). This album rocked in a way us XY’s could relate to, but in a way unique to the XX who created it.

And now, as an old guy, I look forward to the next couple of years, as my daughter approaches the age when she will be ready to listen to Exile in Guyville. My daughter’s already strong, smart, beautiful and refuses to put up with the boys’ stupid shenanigans. I just want her to listen to Liz and know she isn’t alone.

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Top tunes of 2013: The albums, so far

ALBUMS

The Terror, The Flaming Lips – I love bands that never lose who they are while simultaneously making albums that never repeat themselves. This darker Lips entry may not be for all of the fans that were on the inflatable ball party bus, but for guys like me who have been following them for 20+ years now, it’s aural nectar of the gods.

Love Has Come For You, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell – As funny as Steve Martin is, I wish he played even more bluegrass. I think this might be one of his best. Brickell brings wonderful balance vocally.

Grownass Man, The Shouting Matches – Kickass blues rock. ‘Nuff said.

Honeys, Pissed Jeans – Deranged rage noise. That’s a compliment, in case you wondering.

Mosquito, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Speaking of bands who never make albums that sound like the offerings that preceded it … I will follow the triple Yeahs wherever they may lead.

Wolf, Tyler the Creator – I’ve rambled about Wolf before here. I view this album as a kid going from interesting young punk to a serious player in the hip-hop game. I can’t wait to see what else he does.

From the Hills Below the City, Houndmouth – This and Grownass Man are vying for my favorite albums of the year. These Louisville roots players put it all together on this disc.

Worth mentioning: Empty Estate, Wild Nothing; Gravel & Wine, Gin Wigmore; … Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age; Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit; Random Access Memories, Daft Punk; Sound City – Real to Reel Sdtrck.

Totally confusing: Yeezus, Kanye West

Check out my fave songs of 2013 here.

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Top tunes of 2013: The songs so far

FAVE SONGS

Get Ready, Daft Punk ft. Pharrell – An organic pairing that results in a impossible-not-to-shake-ya-ass groove.

Leather Jacket II, Deerhunter – It’s as if the sound that is emitted when you scratch your nails on a chalkboard was a good thing.

Penitentiary, Houndmouth – This Louisville crew will be big soon. If they aren’t, it’s a crime.

The John Wayne, Little Green Cars – Nothing elaborate, just a good band riding a tasty rock groove.

Make Me Lovely, Laura Mvula – It’s a neo soul-big band era hybrid, using a minimalist, airy arrangement to put Mvula’s terrific voice and quality lyrics ( “I can’t make you love me/You can’t make me lovely”) front and center.

Sweet Water, The Postelles – At times, it reminds of a really good Cars track. But only at times. The Postelles avoid going the derivative route and end up with quite the pop rock gem.

Heaven Knows, The Shouting Matches – I love the verse, just distorted vocals and a beat, then the band kicks in and starts grinding those blues out.

Siamese Cat, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – Brickell’s strong, clear voice complements Martin’s sweet banjo picking.

Gimme a Knife, Wavves – Too many of the pop-punk groups forget the punk. Not Wavves.

Black Sheep, Gin Wigmore – Amy Winehouse had the throwback jazz/torch singer sound. Wigmore’s similar, but her niche is the blues.

On the bubble: Even When the Water’s Cold, !!!;  I Lie When I Drink, Dale Watson; IFHY, Tylor, the Creator; Flashbacks, Memories and Dreams, The Virgins; Quill, The Last Bison; Subway, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs; Whoa, Earl Sweatshirt; Your Wife is Calling, Dave Grohl and friends; Youth, Daughter

Worth a listen: Area 52, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs; Be Your Man, Ivan and Alyosha; The Body in Rainfall, Wild Nothing; Bound 2, Kanye West; Burn, Iggy & The Stooges; Cold, Blood Red Shoes; Keep Your Eyes Peeled, Queens of the Stone Age; Know Til Now, Jim James; The Ladder is Ours, The Joy Formidable; Loubs, Pissed Jeans; Love is Lost, David Bowie; Low Light Buddy of Mine, Iron & Wine; No Way As the Way, dead prez; Recovery, Frank Turner; Rid of Me, Seve Duo; Set It On Fire, Melvins feat. Mark Arm; Skeleton, The Front Bottoms; Sustenance Jar, Sterile Jets; Tamale, Tylor, the Creator; A Tooth for an Eye, The Knife; Turnt Up, Talib Kweli; Wakin on a Pretty Day, Kurt Vile

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