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andee's world: April 2006

andee's world

Hello and welcome to my blog. This space will be devoted to opinions, observations, lists, articles and whatever else I feel like posting. Subjects will include music, human nature, politics, life in NYC, etc. If I paste someone else's writing up here, it is because the author said something way better than I ever could. By the way, I don't claim to be a particularly smart guy; I'm just a musician with some opinions. If you disagree with me, that's cool -- but then, you're probably wrong.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Killers Suck and Coldplay Are Boring

Last night I checked out the second disc from the dvd of the original Woodstock concert (thank you for the loan, Randee Riot!). I'd seen alot of the performances before but not all of them. It was an eye-opener. Watching this footage in 2006, it occurred to me, rather depressingly, that the sheer intensity of the playing and the raw soul that burned incandescently off those musicians in 1969 is something that is all but extinct today.

The level of talent, vision, fearlessness and commitment exhibited by those bands was staggering. I mean, the bass player -- the BASS player -- from Alvin Lee's Ten Years After dug into "I'm Going Home" with more all-or-nothing fury than all of the members of Maroon 5, Matchbox 20, Sum 41 and Blink 182 combined. And nobody even knows that guy's name.

Jimi Hendrix's apocalyptic rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," without saying a single word, delivers a more poignant and affecting anti-war protest than the entire lyric sheet of Green Day's well-intentioned American Idiot album. I'm not knocking Green Day at all, either. It's just that watching Hendrix do what he does in that performance makes your blood run cold.

Hearing Janis Joplin tear her heart out onstage with a naked emotion and near-desperation that almost makes you embarrassed to be watching her makes you wonder how people like Beyonce and Alicia Keys can summon the nerve to call themselves "soul" singers. A thimbleful of Janis is more potent and intense than a year's worth of MTV. By today's standards, she's almost too much to bear.

I don't understand why anyone's showing up for today's top-selling artists. Is the produced-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life, minor key blandness of Evanescence as close as we're gonna get to "angst"? And how can anyone stay awake long enough to make it through one Coldplay song, let alone an album? These guys are selling out stadiums?!

Is the singer from nu-wave hacks The Killers supposed to be the epitome of bad boy rock star androgyny in the 00's? He looks like the Class President with a splash of eyeliner and a skinny tie. A very nice boy you can bring home to mother. Yawn.

I'm not saying there aren't great artists out there today. There are, of course. I'm just asking, why are we crowding around such a tepid lot? Fall Out Boy? Avril Levigne? How did we get duped this badly? Why are King's X still struggling to put food on the table? How come no one's heard of Nellie McKay? And why does Nickelback still have a job?

Most of today's mainstream rock music is like a bootlegged copy, seven or eight generations down, of something that was once good in its original form. It's like xeroxes of xeroxes of xeroxes; the colors are all faded, the nuances gone. You keep adding water to it every year and every year it tastes a little blander.

In the new millennium, the shortcomings of untalented singers are easily patched up by Auto-Tuner, the Hardest Working Software in Show Business. The incompetence of the rhythm section is neatly ironed out in the Pro-Tools quantizing. It gets easier and easier to be a rock star every day.

And what's the difference, anyway? It's only music; it's not worth anything anymore. You download a few songs onto your Ipod or have your friend burn you the disc, which you then add to your collection of generic CD-Rs, which stand in unmarked stacks around your apartment. You don't even know what the artwork is supposed to look like for most of these albums.

What did you say? You don't know what an album is? Well, an album is what musicians used to make back in the olden times when people still considered music to be valuable, and would pay good money to own it and to support artists they believed in. Back in the time when the songs you listened to were written by the same people who appeared on the album cover and the posters.

What? You don't know what a song is? Well, nowadays we just call them "ringtones."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Stand For Something or You'll Fall for Anything

I don't know if it's the unfortunate presence of Myspace in my life (yes, Myspace, the bizarre internet ecosystem where millions of meaningless "friendships" are forged every day between bored, opportunistic and/or desperate humans sitting at home behind their computers), but lately I've been thinking alot about Friendship -- yes, Friendship with a capital F, which is to say, meaningful relationships with high quality people that stand up to the rigorous Test of Time.

This may sound awful but most people just bore the hell out of me. Sometimes when I'm out amongst the animals it's all I can do to keep a game face on. I can't pretend to be interested in the living cliches, the militantly average, the pretenders, the attention-seekers, the hardcore conformists, the delusional ones who have no sense of themselves or anyone else, the careless, the easily-led, the disrespectful, the arrogant. The bored and the boring, those with nothing original to say because they can't or won't think for themselves.

There are too many sad souls out there who just want "friends" because they can't bear to be alone, because being alone might give them an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the howling void of themselves. I'd be scared, too, if I were them.

You know those people who always seem to have loads of "best friends"? If you watch them for long, you start noticing that their group of "friends" is an always-revolving lot of acquaintances which turns over quicker than the staff of your local Popeye's Chicken. Alot of people don't forge Friendships, so much as temporary flings with transient characters who must have seemed cool for some reason, at some point in time, before their True Colors came to the fore.

Friendships take time. Friendship is not some magical thing that springs to life fully formed after one night of tequila shots and misty-eyed bonding at the bar. Friendship is an investment and its worth cannot be properly ascertained before putting some considerable miles on it. If you're gullible enough to immediately latch onto new people over and over again, then you deserve to get burned as many times as you will get burned.

Alot of people aren't nearly selective enough when it comes to picking their comrades. There are plenty of nice folks out there, sure. But being "nice" isn't enough -- hell, it's not even a prerequisite, if you ask me. You may be fun and friendly and good for a laugh, but if you are flaky and unreliable, then you will probably create more disappointment and aggravation for me than you are worth, I don't care how "nice" you are. If your word isn't good for anything than you're probably not going to make a very good friend.

It's unfortunate, too, that "nice" doesn't necessarily mean "smart." Stupidity, what a turn-off -- what a mood killer! Sure, we all start out stupid in life; when we're kids and our minds are mush and we haven't seen the world yet, we do dumb stuff and say awful things but hopefully at some point we all Grow Up. By that I don't mean getting stodgy and boring and losing your imagination and sense of adventure, I mean getting over your idiotic prejudices and broadening your mind, at least enough to realize that you don't know everything.

I know some people who maintain really useless friendships with shitty people for reasons I can't understand. Alot of the friends you wind up with in your early years are, to paraphrase Bart Simpson, "a matter of geographical convenience." Which is to say, they live down your block or go to your school or church. They're your friends because there's no one better around. As you get older, you're bound to outgrow many of these people. And some friends simply should be outgrown.

People that refuse to get wise and evolve and expand themselves are boring and repulsive to me. If you can't let go of your ignorance, why should I make time for you in my life? I'd rather hang out with someone who might teach me something. I don't care how long I've known you -- if you insist on being small-minded then I will cut you loose. I've got better things to do than goof around with dumb-as-dirt troglodytes.

Plus, hanging around with morons doesn't say alot about you, does it? If your cronies are misogynistic, violent, racist, homophobic -- or any of that other good stuff -- and you're standing idly by, not doing anything about it, then you are aiding and abetting the proliferation of ignorance and intolerance, full stop. Indeed, your choice of associates speaks volumes about who you are; no matter how well-intentioned you may be, if you're letting your friends get away with shit that you know is wrong, then you are Part of the Problem.

A real friend is strong. It's not always easy to be a good person, because that requires strength. Even the seemingly benign and harmless are entirely capable of betraying you. Weakness poisons friendships. The naive and easily manipulated will most probably sell you out. Those not strong enough to stand up for their convictions (or, worse, don't have convictions) probably aren't capable of loyalty. Beware -- spineless people will most likely let you down.

I am lucky to have such an incredible array of friends -- I get to spend time with people as luminous, colorful, fearless, talented, intelligent and sturdy as anyone you can find anywhere. I say "lucky" because I feel fortunate to have run up against these people in my travels but it's not just luck that got me the friends I have; it's choices I've made. There's a certain amount of discrimination involved; it's quality control. I'm open to being friends with all kinds of folks, and I always give the benefit of the doubt. But if you disrespect me, chances are I won't give you the opportunity to do it again. Why should I?

It's easy to have alot of "friends;" flimsy, temporary characters who keep you amused, keep you company, keep you from being alone and facing yourself. If you're not too selective, you can have a posse around you all the time. But I'm only interested in Friends. I don't make room for anyone else. Thankfully, I can afford to be picky.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

R.I.P. Louie

I've been living in my apartment for a little over six years and, up until a couple of weeks ago, an old fellow named Louie lived two floors below me. I didn't know too much about him but he was always really cool to me; whenever I passed him in the foyer or the stairwell, he would bellow a gravelly "HEY, HOW'RE YA DOIN'!" as he huffed and puffed his way up the stairs to his apartment. On certain summer days he could be found sitting out on the sidewalk on a lawn chair, greeting passerby.

Louie was also well known for giving away half pints of milk to his neighbors; due to some kind of senior citizen's benefit, massive amounts of milk, in half-pint cartons, would periodically be delivered to Louie's apartment and it was way more than he needed. Many a time did I walk by Louie's joint and come away with my arms full, thanks to his dairy giveaways.

A couple of weeks ago on a Tuesday afternoon one of my guitar students came up to my apartment and asked what was going on downstairs. She said there were guys loading furniture out of Louie's apartment and putting it out on the sidewalk. When she passed his open door she saw men emptying bottles of whatever had been in his refrigerator into the sink.

I called the landlord's office and found out that indeed, Louie had passed away. The official cause of death appeared to be Old Age. I'm not sure how old he was but it had to be close to 90.

The guy had lived a long life and I can't say that his passing was exactly tragic but I did find it sad that, after putting in that many years on this planet, after beating the odds and surviving for that long, through World War and The Great Depression and disease, having witnessed countless major historical events -- Nazi Germany, Watergate, Civil Rights, assassinations, the Cold War, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, not to mention the Son of Sam, SARS, Killer Bees, Avian Flu, West Nile Virus, "Orange" terror alerts, blackouts, the Y2K Bug and of course Living In New York City -- after getting through all that and basically being a good person along the way, the whole journey ends with strange men dumping your stuff out onto the street.

I know this kind of thing happens all the time; old people die and their lives just kind of get swept under the rug, and most people don't even notice they're gone, their absence doesn't really change anything. The loss of a life barely registers on the radar of the world; it's hopelessly drowned out in the deafening roar of humanity speeding along in its crushing course. People live until they're used up, and their spent husks just blow away in the wind, while the human race marches on indifferently, hustling to the train, blowing stoplights to get to work on time, hurtling through their lives at warp speed.

Don't be in such a hurry, people. The end of this story isn't all that great. R.I.P. Louie.