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Jul. 1 2010 — 7:21 am | 325 views | 2 recommendations | 10 comments

Oh, Canada! – A Celine-free Canada Day playlist

Happy Canada Day!

No, I’m not Canadian, but there were many times I wished I was. Being a hockey fan will do that to you. When your country doesn’t embrace your favorite sport the way you do, you look upon the country where that sport is its national pastime with envy and longing. Oh, to live in Canada,  in such exotic places as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan or Medicine Hat, Alberta. To spend your days eating poutine, watching hockey and…what? An average temperature of 18 degrees in the winter? Maybe I’ll move to Toronto instead.

While my hockey-romantic dreams of moving to Canada faded, my adoration of the country and its people did not. I ordained myself the Unofficial Defender Of All Things Canadian (with some exceptions). Maple syrup! Old time hockey! Free health care! The great outdoors! Apologetic people!  In all seriousness, I do love your country. I have been there several times, though only to Montreal and Toronto and I hear they don’t count as actually visiting Canada.

I thought we’d take some time today to listen to the music of Canada. No, no Bryan Adams or Celine Dion here. We’ll stick to the good stuff.

NoMeansNo – Heavy doses of funky jazz and funky doses of heavy metal with punk rock sensibilities. My favorite band to come out of Canada. My favorite thing to come out of Canada next to hockey.

Propagandhi – Arrogant punk rock with a political agenda. I like when they sing about Canadian things. I have no idea what they mean by “pine cone wealth and cedar fence bliss” but it makes me feel solidarity with Canadians when I sing it.

Rush – Listen, I’m not a big fan of Rush. But I have to concede some things here if I’m not including some of their other greater national treasures.

Triumph - One of the most underrated power bands of the 70s. What? I mean that. I don’t know anyone my age who hasn’t once held up a lighter while singing “I’m young, I’m wild, I’m free.” Canada, be proud of your power rock.

The DeFranco Family – Yes, I mean that. No, I’m not being ironic or funny. This song should be Canada’s national treasure. It’s such an amazing song that I have written an entire novel (well, almost written) in which this song is almost a character. Embrace it, Canadians.

Doug and the Slugs – I’m starting to think that my love of Canadian music isn’t exactly what actual Canadians love about their music.

Finger Eleven – The caveat here is that I’m only including the first Finger Eleven album, back when I thought they’d end up being an awesome band instead of the ridiculous parody of themselves they are now.

Trans-X - “Living on Video” is the only Trans-X song I know but it’s on every single 80s playlist I ever made, so that counts for a lot.

Skinny Puppy – I’d probably be skinned alive if I made a list of Canadian music and didn’t include them.

Strapping Young Lad - Really, anything Devin Townsend has ever done. He should be on Canadian money.

Hot Hot Heat – This is a seriously good band. Makeup the Breakdown is in constant rotation on my stereo. They’re what the Cure would sound like if Robert Smith took Prozac.

I know, I know. I forgot your favorite Canadian band. But the list can only be so long. As much as I love Canada and I have several times been bestowed an “Honorary Canadian”  I don’t think I’m allowed to take the day off from work to celebrate my inner Canadian. So I’ll just walk around work all day singing “Oh, Canada!” and saying things like “aboot” and “hoser” because stereotypes are always amusing.

Happy Canada Day! May your yaks always be large.

Jun. 30 2010 — 7:07 am | 335 views | 3 recommendations | 7 comments

Songs for vampires and werewolves

Normally I’d save something like this for Halloween, but who knows where we’ll all be by then? Life is short. You have to seize the opportunity to cash in on the popular keywords while you can. And being that another one of those Twilight movies made its debut last night, vampires and werewolves will be all the rage with teenage girls and repressed housewives for a while. It’s only fair that the vampires and werewolves get their musical due.  We’re talking real vampires here, though. Just like everyone knows real zombies don’t run, everyone knows real vampires don’t sparkle.  Vampires do a lot of things; they drink blood, they roam creepy villages in the dark of night, they eat chocolate cereal and are obsessed with counting things but they don’t sparkle. And I’m pretty certain they’re not vegetarians.

But I’m not here to make fun of a series of books and movies that give great pleasure to young women who mistake deranged stalking and obsession for love. I’m here for the music. Music for vampires and werewolves.

Bauhaus – Bela Lugos’s Dead
The calling card of the original goths. Nine minutes of gothic rock which sets a mood that can best be described as the opposite of sparkly.

Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London
By far the best song about werewolves ever written.  Werewolves should probably use this as their official song because it gives them a sense of humanity. I mean, perfect hair, pina coladas. I bet they like walks in the rain, too.

Toadies – Possum Kingdom
Though the meaning of this song is debatable, most people agree it’s about vampires. Sure, “Behind the boathouse, I’ll show you my dark secret” or similar words have been spoken by countless young boys over the years, I don’t think “dark secret” is a euphemism here.

Vampires Will Never Hurt You – My Chemical Romance
So modern-goth. So deep, dark and poetic. You’ll want to buy some black eyeliner and prowl the streets as a nightclub gets out hunting for vampire cliches.

The Cramps – I Was a Teenage Werewolf
“I was a teenage werewolf, braces on my fangs.”  If that won’t give you lifelong issues, I don’t know what will.

Duran Duran – Hungry Like the Wolf
One person’s song about stalking and sex is another person’s literal interpretation that makes it a song about werewolves.

Wesley Willis – Vampire Bat
A good rule of thumb is, any time you can include Wesley Willis in a playlist, do it. Bonus feature: The line “The lake of fire tore his ass up.”

Blue Oyster Cult – Nosferatu
It’s like a gothic Harlequin romance as played out by the most mediocre metal band that wanted to be Iron Maiden but couldn’t.

Misfits – Vampira
You can’t make a list like this without including a Misfits song.”Your pulmonary trembles in your outstretched arm”  comes off perfect instead of  laughable when sung by Danzig.

Six Feet Under – Lycanthropy
This wouldn’t be complete without a death metal presence and Six Feet Under does not disappoint.  Pounding guitars, the Cookie Monster voice, the over the top lyrics (“flesh chewed to the bone bleeding, eternal horror”) – it makes me think those Twilight movies would benefit from an all death metal soundtrack.

There are so many more songs to choose from.  It seems that vampires and werewolves are pretty popular with musicians.  While the lyrics of these songs run the gamut of different kinds of vampires from sexy to lonely to evil, I’m going to guarantee you that not one of them is about a vampire who sparkles.

If you’re still up in the air about joining Team Edward or Team Jacob, maybe this playlist can help you decide. Then again, if you’re into vegetarian vampires and lovelorn werewolves, this probably isn’t the music you’re looking for.

Jun. 24 2010 — 7:32 am | 393 views | 3 recommendations | 4 comments

Albums revisited: Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

Cover of "Pretty Hate Machine"

Cover of Pretty Hate Machine

Pretty Hate Machine is almost 21 years old.  It’s older than some people I work with. It’s the same age as my daughter. My, how time flies when you’re Trent Reznor.

The maturity of life does not go hand in hand with musical maturity. Everything else changes. You grow up. You get a real job. You get married, have a kid. Suddenly your life is about keeping the house clean and paying bills and changing diapers. You’ve grown up. Every year, every day brings changes to who and what you are. You’re a spouse, a parent, a cog in the big machine called work. The only thing that keeps us tied to everything we were in our youth, and all the stuff that came with it – the emotions and yearnings that are still inside us but held down by this innate need to mature – is music.

1989. I got a real career type job. I got married. I got pregnant. It was like, yesterday I was working in a record store, going to dingy night clubs to listen to some local punk rock band sing about the unfairness of it all, and today I’m rethinking my choice of dropping my career to be a housewife, my days spent watching some women on a daytime talk show talk about the unfairness of life. What happened?

Enter Trent Reznor and Pretty Hate Machine. This is the album that tied me to those days I left behind. It’s the album that made me yearn for those complex emotions of figuring out love and life. I’d listen to it and almost wish I was back in those night clubs, back in a time when making out in the back seat of a car was ok, back when I wrote poetry about love and loss, back when there was an inherent passion in everything, even heartbreak. Pretty Hate Machine was dark and sexy, bitter and furious. And it was a reminder of how quickly I went from embodying all that to embodying the very model of suburban housewife. I wanted it all. I wanted to feel like Trent Reznor, but live like Martha Stewart. Something I could never have, indeed.

Listening to this album made me feel guilty, like I wasn’t supposed to pine for my youth and miss all that passion that came with it. It made me feel like I had no transition period between then and now. I stopped listening to it so much.

When that marriage ended and a period of darkness and furious bitterness set it in, I listened to it again, in the way that I wanted to listen to it the first time but my illusion of happiness and conformity wouldn’t let me. Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be.

I was grown up. I was mature, right? I had kids. I had a job. I wasn’t supposed to be feeling like this. But at the same time Something I Can Never Have made me feel sad and wistful, the rest of the album made me feel alive. It helped me let my anger go, and it made me want to find the passion that was missing from my life. Maybe this wasn’t an album that a 34 year old should be listening to and feeling, but music is like that. It ties you to your past and makes you feel all those things you thought you forgot about it. And that’s a good thing.

And there’s something still so dirty and delicious about singing the devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car.

Jun. 23 2010 — 7:28 am | 134 views | 1 recommendations | 2 comments

Songs for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

ugliest trophy ever

It’s an exciting time if you’re a World Cup fan. Group play is almost done. Some teams have already gone marching home (bye bye, France!) and some teams have gained a spot in the round of 16, including my arch enemy, Argentina. You know it’s time to get serious when Maradona starts boasting and he’s already made a pledge to run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires if Argentina wins the cup. So let’s make that not happen.  If the USA team gets eliminated I’ll be sure to cheer for anyone but Maradona’s team because the world has enough environmental disasters without Mr. Hand of God running around in his birthday suit.

Today’s an exciting day. Both England and the USA are playing in games that will determine if they get out of the round or not. Unfortunately, I’ll be at work while those games are going on with no access to a television or a computer with internet. So I’ll be obsessively checking twitter for signs of GOOOOOAAAAAL tweets and living vicariously through those who are in a pub or at home where they can blow their vuvuzelas for the whole game. Did I mention I bough vuvuzelas? I did. They arrived last night. My neighbors hate me, my family wants to disown me and the geese that fly over my house think I want to make love to them.

So with all that in mind, I thought we’d make a playlist for the last few games of group play. For some, these games will let them feel the thrill of victory. For others, the agony of defeat. Surely I’m not the only around here old enough to know where that comes from, right?

This playlist is like a double sided album.  Side one is not just for all the winners out there – or the potential World Cup winner – but for all those who are traveling the hopeful road to victory. Side two is for those who want to wallow in their defeat. I dedicate that side to you, Maradona, with a dose of wishful thinking.

Side One: The Thrill of Victory

Queen – We Are the Champions
Todd Rundgren – Just One Victory
Abba – Winner Takes it All
Faith No More – A Small Victory
Kanye West – Champion
Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
Nelly – Heart of a Champion
NoMeansNo – Victory
Tina Turner – Simply the Best
Journey – Don’t Stop Believing

(Listen, I didn’t say they would all be good songs. Just be thankful I’m not putting up the video for Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best” from Karate Kid or Stan Bush’s “You Have the Touch” from the original, animated Transformers movie)

Side Two: The Agony of Defeat

Beck – Loser
Three Doors Down – Loser
The Beatles – I’m a Loser
Green Day – Nice Guys Finish Last
The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Kings of Convenience – Failure
James – Defeat
Descendents – I’m Not a Loser
Swans – Failure

I’m quite aware that I could very well be playing side two for my team by next week, but I’ll keep side one queued up until then.

Jun. 22 2010 — 7:10 am | 293 views | 1 recommendations | 8 comments

Record store dreams and nightmares

Every once in a while I think of ditching it all and opening a record store. You know, quit my job, sell my kids for cash and set up a nice little store somewhere selling old punk rock vinyl and being more smug than a Nick Hornby character.

And then I remember. I worked in a record store for a while. Why in the hell would I ever want to do that to myself again? Maybe it would be nice for a while, just sitting behind the counter chatting it up with the other people who are stuck in the past, reminiscing about the glory days of vinyl and punk rock while my bank account slowly bled out. But then Christmas would come along.  Surely, my little record store would be a major success by then and I’d have to deal with something I said I’d never deal with again: The holiday crowd in a record store.

1983 was my first holiday retail experience. It was a baptism by fire, as I landed a job at the busiest record store at the busiest mall on Long Island. On my first day – two days before Thanksgiving – I was handed the requisite blue vest, a name tag and a few whispered words of advice: don’t let them get to you. My co-workers were referring to the barrage of customers that were at the gated entrance to the store fifteen minutes before opening and still clinging to the cassette racks as we were trying to close. You have not seen a whirling dervish in action until you have seen someone hell bent on getting everything on their kid’s Christmas list.

I, however, was no wimp. I could handle any customer, any crowd, any cash register breakdown or old woman sobbing over the Julio Iglesias albums. I immediately volunteered to work the irons – the opening to closing shift – nearly every day. From Thanksgiving until Christmas, I would not have a day off, and most of the days would be the full shift.

In the beginning I had superhero powers. I never got tired from the long hours. I manned every spot in the store; the cash register, the cassette department, the imports. I spent time downstairs unpacking boxes upon boxes of shipments, sorting albums, slapping stickers on them and writing the title, artist and store number on the plastic sleeve of every record with a blue Sharpie.

By the second week in December I was spending more time on the floor helping customers find exactly what they were looking for. During the holiday season, this usually consisted of frazzled mothers trying to remember exactly what it was their son or daughter had asked for. This resulted in a lot of guesswork, humming and/or singing. It also involved many loud gasps of horror when the mother matched the title of the record with the album on the wall, where the albums were displayed in rows of pockets. So many dropped jaws and wide eyes as parents spied the cover to Quiet Riot’s Metal Health. “That’s what my child is listening to? Oh My God! He’s a devil worshiper! I knew it!!”  Or Suicidal Tendencies? OH MY GOD MY BABY IS GOING TO KILL HIMSELF!

Sometimes a parent would ask me suggest something for a kid I knew nothing about. A typical conversation went like this:
“I need an album for my nephew . He’s 15. What do 15 year old boys like?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. Not all 15 year old boys are the same.”
“He likes boy stuff. Cars, girls. Sports. What kind of music do boys like that listen to?”
“Well, he might….”
“Oh, what about those New Kids on the Block? I bet he’d like that!”
“Well, he might…”
“Or that Lionel Richie or Christopher Cross!”
“Did you want me to….”
“Oh, yea, please. Something wholesome.”

And then I’d be a complete asshole and hand them a copy of  “Crippled Children Suck” by the Meatmen.

The kids were just as bad. They would come in without a list, trying to buy music for their parents. Getting the title of a song out of them was like pulling teeth.

“You know, that song old people like. How about if I sing it?”
“Sure kid. Sing away.”

He’d hum something undecipherable.

“Any lyrics?  Just one or two will do.”
“Uhh. Love. And umm…heart.”
“Well that narrows it down.To about 3,000 songs!”
“What are you, stupid? How could you not know what I’m talking about?  You work in a record store!”

Eventually I would convince the kid that the song he was humming was actually Frank Stallone’s “Far From Over knowing full well that I would be going to hell for inflicting such pain on an innocent person.

The closer it got to Christmas, the more of a frenzy people were in. They fought over the last copy of Synchronicity. They mobbed us when we opened a new box of Madonna cassettes. Every once in a while, I would have to step over some fur-coated, blue-haired grandma who fainted when she saw the larger-than-life cardboard cut-out of Julio. And I started to feel the result of all work and no play. I was tired, I was cranky and then I lost my voice.

My co-workers made signs for me to hold up so I could still help customers. Two days before Christmas, the only sign I needed to use was “Sorry. We are out of that title right now.” I faced the wrath of customers who, through no fault of mine, had waited until the very last minute to pick up Pyromania. I’d try to tell them that Dio’s Holy Diver was a much better choice, anyhow. I was a little punch drunk.

I listened to the complaints that the register lines were too long and the store was a mess and the floor people were rude. We had to chase customers out of the store ten minutes after closing and even as I was vacuuming and closing up cases they would say “Oh, are you closing?”

I lost my patience and I lost my fixed greeting smile. No longer was it “Welcome to our record store, how may I help you,” but “What you really want to buy your kid is clothes. Go to The Gap and leave me alone.” By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I was was about one “Will buying Shout at the Devil for my kid turn him into a serial killer?” away from a workplace incident. The only thing that kept me from slicing someone’s neck open and watching them bleed out all over the Michael Jackson display was the happy hours at Houlihan’s. Dinner break meant a walk down to the other end of the mall for free crap food and as many dollar drinks as I could pound back in 45 minutes. Customers are so much nicer, smarter and better looking when seen through the haze of cheap alcohol. I was also more likely to point the blue haired women toward the Exploited or Iron Maiden, but I had to get my jollies somehow.

This was all played out to a soundtrack that was a little mini-war over the store stereo system where the Misfits’ Walk Among Us would get pulled off the turntable by the manager after one song, while she let the evil Huey Lewis’s Sports album play all the way through.

Had I known that the next year I would be doing the record store Christmas stint again and would be subjected to the non-stop playing of Do They Know It’s Christmas, I might have appreciated Huey a little more.

I tortured myself through Christmas of ’86 and decided that I was going to retire from retail after that. I could not handle another holiday season of bitchy parents and surly kids and girls screaming and drooling over New Kids on the Block albums. I had used my holiday bonuses and store discounts to accumulate a nice collection of imports and that almost – almost – offset whatever mental damage that job caused me.

Despite all that, I still refer to my term at the record store as the best damn job I ever had. Where else was I going to get reprimanded, yet lauded, for putting out a Dead Kennedys display on November 22?

I never did work retail again. And every time I revisit my dream of opening up a record store, I think back to those times as a way of slapping myself upside the head.

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    About Me

    Music is my true passion. Listening to it, talking about it, writing about it. Definitely not playing it.

    I live on Long Island. I have two kids (17 and 20) a dog (a miniature schnauzer) and a boyfriend (a transplanted Californian). We all aim to move to California one day. I take pictures, I write stories, I eat sushi and I play video games.

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