American Rants

The sounds of our youth

This was a post that took me a long time write. It’s not an easy topic, but it’s a rather nice one: relationships through music. I’m nearing my second term of grad school and I’m forgetting where exactly how I got where I am. Having a few weeks off – despite having massive amounts of work to do – has given me a lot of time to sit and reminisce about home.

I really hated high school. John Hughes understood that excruciating pain best (that’s why Andie Walsh is my spirit animal). Somehow our minds tend to twist reality into thinking the past was really all rosey. Now that I’m five years removed from those days, I actually have incredibly fond memories of those days. I know the actuality was a small town of less than 3,000 in North East Wisconsin that was filled with awful kids who snowmobiled to school, had impossibly low IQs and enjoyed ridiculing everyone who was “different.”

Guess what group I was in.

Despite everything, I liked to think of myself as some sort of rebel. A punk. But I wore my dad’s dog tags, played piano and did Irish step-dance. It always made me feel really uncomfortable as a kid when I’d see “real” punks at the coffee shop downtown. They had studded jackets on and blue hair.  It’s safe to say that I was nothing like I had dreamnt myself to be. Not only is adolescence a difficult time, but I apparently enjoyed making it worse for myself by being stuck somewhere where I didn’t belong to anyone.

Enter Les Ryce.

Those treacherous years of high school were make a million times better by two ladies: Sarah and Sarah (or James and Haras, rather). We called ourselves Les Ryce, an imaginary band that played “Asian baroque punk.” In reality, Les Ryce the band practiced exactly once in our entire friendship.

One Sarah and I worked together in an Italian restaurant. Instead of going to homecoming, we cleaned the tables of teenagers more fortunate to be going out to a dinner paid by their parents. We mutter to each other under out breath and thus our first “single” was created, “Masochistic Fuckers.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t really know what masochistic meant at the time, but it still evokes a chuckle.

Even though our band was imaginary, the music wasn’t. Some of the most vivid memories I have are of Les Ryce put to music. Like parking garages. We didn’t hang out at the trendy parking garage (oh my god, where did I live), but instead we always picked the one by the library. There was the time we rolled Haras’ Lumina down almost the entire parking garage on our last day of summer before college. We listened to Songs to Learn & Sing. Once we got stopped by the police for dancing to “Jane Says.” Probably the most daring moment of all of our lives.

All those songs we listened to then still make me smile now. When I hear “Headmaster Ritual” I think of the last day of high school and how James and I pulled out of the parking lot blasting the Smiths screaming “I HATE YOU!” And whenever “More Than A Feeling” comes on the radio I remember the day the three of us drove down the country roads to get sparking juice.

They say that friends are often made by pure opportunity instead of choice. That’s why many relationships don’t last. Once we find something that we prefer, we move on. I’m amazed that after all this time they haven’t moved on from me.

And somehow, by a miracle of God, we all turned out okay. I ended up being best friends with two of the best humans anyone could ever meet. They’re beautiful, intelligent and extraordinarily talented.

The worst part about being 4,000 miles away from home is being 4,000 miles away from Les Ryce. I’d like to think everyone was as fortunate as we were to have found each other.

Chances are, most of you haven’t read this far. Reading about someone else’s memories isn’t always thrilling. It’s probably not a very great idea for my blog, but I’m listening to a playlist of all the songs we grew up listening to together. Nostalgia is probably more deadly than curiosity.

Just one last memory. Just one. Promise.

The last nights I had in Wisconsin, I found Les Ryce journals that we kept in high school. Each one of us would write an entry then pass it on. Reading them now, it’s pretty stunning how much teenagers whine and moan, but they’re also charming as fuck. The most important part is that you can see glimmers of the women we’d become. I’m glad we helped each other rise above the bullshit.

If it wasn’t for music. If it wasn’t for our best friends. Who would we be?

PS: If you believe in active communities and helping the elderly. Please check out the program my friend works for, Islands of Milwaukee. They are a group of care providers, older adults and researchers that work together. Always brings me to tears.

An ode to an old friend

I found out today that my parents had sold my car a few months ago. That was news I knew was coming, but it still really made me sad. Perhaps that sounds a little crazy, but that was my first and only car. I had that little thing in high school. It was all my own. Sentimental feelings can get in the way of rational reactions. That’s why I cried today at the loss of a friend.

Big Red was a 1990 Ford Probe SS. It was really ugly. All red with all red interior. But it had hidden headlights and that was pretty sick. Somehow this little car became synonymous with me. It little bit ugly, rough around the edges and probably not as nice as it should be. But we always, always played good music.

I relish those memories of driving around the Wisconsin countryside with the windows rolled down – Agent Orange’s Living in Darkness blaring. There was no working air conditioning for the first four years I owned Big Red, so the windows were always rolled down. The springs were out in the front of the car, so every time I turned the wheel there would be a loud CRACK. It bounced and squeaked as we drove through parking lots. You can’t say that we didn’t turn heads.

When I was in high school I listened to Rod Stewart’s “Maggie Mae” as I pulled into town. Something about being in that little hatch-back made me feel cozy and hidden from that world I hated to much. Stewart’s song in that car sounded mint. It helped me feel like I was going to get out of where I was stuck.

One Spring in college I didn’t listen to anything other than Jane’s Addiction. “City Song” would come on and the windows would be rolled down again – hand out in the cold air.

In the city there is something to see
In the city there is nothing to breathe
I’m goin’ ’bout my business
I’m wondering what I’m missing

It’s difficult to let go of the past. Especially when it was filled with so many good memories. That stupid actually car meant a lot. So I’ll miss you, Big Red. You ugly piece of crap. I hope the transmission finally went out because no one is allowed to drive you other than me.

Here’s my ode to the last remaining memory of a great car that got me to where I am. My theme song to my Probe, “Roadrunner.”

I think what scares me the most is that I just lost a piece of me that made me feel like I was still an American.

Higher and Higher

Unfortunately, it’s that time of the year where every student feels like their chest is going to collapse or the body is going to implode or they are genuinely considering lobotomies. Ah yes, finals week. Or as we like to call it in our MA Multi-media program: news week! Every ounce of my body has been dedicated to finding stories or trying to contact people and trying really hard not to accidentally start a twitter war.

Being a student is really hell some days. We’ll pretend that it’s okay. We are young after all. But that’s all the time and energy I have to update this blog as of late. Hopefully you’ll see me at the other end.

If not, here’s Jackie Wilson.

My top 50 best super albums of the year 2013!

God am I glad that it is December 4th because we all know what that means – the new year is here! Time to unleash…THE LISTS! Any album released after today does not count, so don’t even try. Because we don’t like you.

Oh, you’re still waiting for that list? I’m sorry. I think I’ve only listened to three albums that were released in the past twelve months. If this is the kind of crap you’re looking for probably you’re reading the wrong blog.

But for those of you maybe not as delusional or as out-of-touch as I am. There are some really good (and some kind-of-okay) journalists out there actually writing rather nice lists. Maybe I’ll actually listen to some of those albums one day instead of just reading about them. They are really nice reads for the tube:

Seriously, though, I never understood the importance of these lists. Do musicians feel some sort of pride by being voted the best by one publication and 9th by another? Do any of us actually care? Or is this just some ridiculous form of journalism that will never die?

When I was younger, I was always be furious that The Smiths never made a “top ten albums ever of all time.” Now that I’m older I understand that The Queen is Dead is probably not the best thing to put on toast. But STILL. We like to rank music so much. Music is not film. While film can (sometimes) be argued about what is good and bad, the same cannot always be said for music. These lists are fun to go through and bitch about so perhaps this is what their evolved purpose is now.

Some people really enjoy minimalism, others like Rush.

Maybe one day the way people appreciate music will evolve beyond listing, but it’s looking doubtful.

Why The Shangri-Las still matter – a lot

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’ll understand: it’s 2013, but you’ll never get over 60’s pop and 80’s synth. Hell, most of us weren’t even alive when our favourite bands were touring. But they still resonate with us because they often stand for something that never turns old.

The Shangri-Las were different than most girl groups in the ’60s. A lot edgier than, say, the Crystals. During their early revival, they even performed in 1977 at CBGB. Punks loved them. Not just in New York, but in London – The Damned’s “New Rose” and “The Leader of the Pack” both start off with the same question: “Is she really going out with him?”  The bad-ass, no-crap attitude is what is still so compelling.

To put it in simple terms: they’re the girl group you’d want to be. They looked like a gang from Queens and history has proved music loves gangs from Queens. Admittedly, some times there just isn’t enough girl love going on. Best to stand with your ladies than against them.

Unfortunately, the original line-up will never be seen on stage again (both the Gasner twins have since past away). That hasn’t stopped the group from experiencing a long-lasting impression beyond the days of girl groups of punk rockers. Last year their single “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” was exclusively released on single for Record Store Day. And they sold like hot cakes.

It’s not just because they had rebel boyfriends. That cliche would be over-simplifying good pop music. The girls were a group that you knew took care of themselves. For anyone listening in the 60’s to anyone listening now: it’s still an infectious message that makes sense. Some days if there’s just too many stares or harassment, just pretend you’re Mary Weiss and you’ll stand just a bit taller.

Style aside, The Shangri-Las were just an excellent group. Girl and otherwise. Sometimes that’s all that really matters.

An American in London celebrating Thanksgiving

In London it’s already Christmas. As soon as Halloween was over, I emerged the next morning in a Winter Wonderland. No – there is no snow in sight but plenty of lights and decorations. But I am an American no matter what and I’m still celebrating our holiday (oh and I guess the one we kind-of share with those Canadians too).

My boyfriend and I will be indulging ourselves in some fanastic Southern-inspired dishes tomorrow in Tower Hill. Probably not the typical Wisconsin home-cooking I’m so fond of, but I’m really looking forward to being surrounded by “my kind.” I’ve actually really missed Americans.

Since there really aren’t “Thanksgiving” songs – anyone who tries usually fails (just because “thank you”  or “grateful” is in the title doesn’t mean we should be putting together crap playlists). The best bet for the holiday tune is by my beloved Vince Guaraldi. Usually referred to as just “Thankgiving Theme” the track comes from the nostalgic TV-special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Below is a talent rendition of the tune by username Chnarles:

So if you’re alone, with loved ones or even too many of them, remember the true meaning of Thanksgiving and that’s just being thankful. We’re really quite lucky – even with shit gets tough. If all else fails – set all the shit on fire like you’re Wednesday Addams.

Down beneath those dandy clothes

Today is BBC Radio 6’s “Wear your old band t-shirt to work day.” Since I’m a university student and I get Fridays off I’m spending the day in bed, but that won’t stop me. And yes, I’m donning my Roxy Music top today (even though it’s not really that old. Then again, either am I).

Band t-shirts are great. That’s why it’s crackin’ that there’s a day for everyone to show off their goods – if you know what I mean. Like football tops, it’s addicting to collect and keep, and there’s always sentimental value involved.

Plenty of people ask me “why music shirts?” A lot of kids growing up find their solace in music. We wear band t-shirts in hopes of maybe finding someone that like the same shit as us. Because let’s face it: most of us don’t grow up cool. In days where we don’t know how to define ourselves we often let clothes do the talking.

Since all of my band t-shirts have been left behind in America other than my Roxy Music one, here’s a slideshow of my most painful moments as a girl growing up in merchandise. I know this is a rather egotistical post, but hey – music is personal.

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Wearing a band t-shirt today? Tweet BBC Radio 6 your photo with #tshirtday. Have fun!

A hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Something about the passing of Lou Reed really bums me out. I didn’t know him, and chances are if you’re reading this you didn’t either. But somehow the news left some of us breathless and at a loss for words.

Really, though, how much do the lives of musicians really matter to us? Most of us will never get the chance to meet them. We’ll never meet them, but somehow we can feel their loss. It’s like sitting at your friends funeral. They’ve died but somehow you start to question how well you really knew them. They’re gone, but how much will be notice? Do you feel sad enough? Too emotional?

Something about yesterday’s events really perplexes me. Generally I’m all about the loving and sharing of music, but suddenly I felt that everyone is an idiot that only carries on about Transformer. It really bothered me that people who seemingly know something about Reed where going on about him. But I suppose that’s because death is always personal. You can’t judge other’s reactions.

Musicians are our heros. They live lives that we mere mortals only dream of. At least that’s how we can feel. They do die. They leave us. Their music continues on, but at least we can keep living their dream. Lou Reed was the New York City cool: effortless and confident, difficult and trying. The struggle of being NY cool is dreamy.

The way I feel about Lou Reed (and probably how most of us feel) is just like the lyrics Velvet Underground song “Rock & Roll.”

Jenny said when she was just five years old
There was nothin’ happenin’ at all
Every time she puts on a radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all,
Not at all
Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station
You know, she don’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll

So fuck it. Spin your favorite record. Have a think about an amazing life that has been forever pressed into wax. We loved him. May he live on.

The more the merrier

I’ve been buying vinyl since I was 13. My parents dumped their old records on me. I was 13 when my mom took me to buy my first album (Beck remixes. No idea why – the idea of grabbing something strange on the shelf is still appealing to me). Earlier this month a report from Nielsen Soundscan said that record sales have gone up 30% (see a lovely graph here at Digital Music News). In a world where music purchases are going down and more people are turning to music streaming, it seems quite unusual.

More and more people are buying vinyl, and maybe you’re thinking about taking a dive. But there really is a strange art to shopping for records. Seasoned buyers have their own art, but there is

1. Don’t be intimidated. It sounds stupid, but it’s true. I’ve had issues before with this. Some big guy things because it’s 43, single and overweight he has better taste in must than you (because there’s such thing as “good” and “bad” taste). He can tell you’re eying the Jazz Fusion records he’s standing in front of, but he won’t fucking move. Intimidation means grabbing things you probably don’t want.

This might be because I’m a young, American girl in a big British city, but I find it easy to be intimidated. If you LOVE Prince, then don’t be afraid to purchase that copy of “Controversy.” Sure that fat man might be judging you, but you get to go home and you dance to “Sexuality.”

2. Buy used. Use you like Mumford & Sons, but your bank account won’t enjoy the £25 price tag. New records are unbelievably pricey. Take a chance on a used record shop instead. There are long-lost treasures hiding in basement shops. There is a shop in the States called Half-Price Books. Even though I came from a small town, there were always surprises tucked away. Big, shiny shops are easy to be lured into but they won’t offer good prices.

3. Do your research. Different shops will carry different types of record. There are your metal shops, indie shops, 60’s girl groups, dub. Make sure you find shops in your area that suit your taste. Chances are if a shop specialises in reggae and you like folk, maybe don’t take the time to visit. The shop owners will be more useful to you if they carry what you want. My best example is when I went to Exotica records in Notting Hill (it’s no longer there, but it was so nice). I had found a Beat Happening record that made me burst out of my skin with excitement. I told the man behind the counter how difficult it was to find records by them back in the States. He seemed genuinely pleased and went behind the counter to show me another Beat Happening album. I was in heaven.

4. Music is a shared experience. When you get home, be sure to spin records with your friends. Buying a record is only one step in the journey of music. There are some people buy records for the mere ability to brag or to own something “rare” or “expensive.” Oh you have an original pressing of “Blonde on Blonde” still in it’s plastic? Great. Take the record and fucking spin it. Don’t let your albums collect dust. We buy vinyl to have a connection with our music. What’s the point if we hide it from the world?

Fame: puts you there where things are hallow

It’s that time of year again where the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announce the nominees for next years inductees. Right yes. This is an event that somehow matters. Yesterday, The Guardian proposed that the whole thing is one popularity contest, and the writer was probably completely right.

There are several guidelines to being inducted. One of those main criteria is “the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” They artists must have also released an album from at least 25-years-ago. So unfortunately that means fucking “Bleach” came out in 1989. Nirvana is a shoo-in (even though Pearl Jam did it better – much better).

But that’s wrong.

Link Wray &The Wraymen was released in 1960. Somehow Link Wray has been completely ignored and is only a first-time nominee this year. “Rumble” alone should get him inducted. Both Iggy Pop and Jimmy Page claim him to be an early inspiration. Both the Stooges and Led Zeppelin have been inducted so why has it taken so long for Link Wray?

Some nominees have been up for ages. I have no idea how many times KISS have been nominated, but why the fuck have they not been inducted? That’s the very prime example. In retrospect, bands like KISS and Chic (who have also been nominated before) should have been inducted already. They are not trendy, yeah, or cool. But that shouldn’t matter. People still shake their asses to “Le Freak” and people have been buried in KISS Kaskets!

Rock music isn’t about being cool. Well, maybe it is if you’re Motley Crue in 1983 LA, but more importantly rock music is about feeling something and relating to musicians you will never be. Star kids and grunge rockers.

So fuck the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We know who really matters to us: they’re in our record collections and on our t-shirts. The rest doesn’t matter and the music doesn’t need anything else.

Read The Guardian’s article here.