Monthly Archives: October 2014

My Life in 33 Songs: #22: “Sweet Jane” – The Velvet Underground (Or How I Traveled 4 Hours to See Lou Reed)

“I’m from Baltimore, he’s from DC. I think we’re okay.”

That was my explanation to the clerk at a 7-11 in Richmond Virginia, who seemed very concerned about the well-being of my friend and I. We had gone into the store asking if there was any place around that had some good Barbecue food. The clerk said there was one nearby, but it was in a “not so good neighborhood.”  Since both us resided in cities that had a reputation for bad neighborhoods, the worst parts of Richmond didn’t seem to faze us.

We eventually found our way to the restaurant, which was a glorified hole in the wall that wreaked of barbecue sauce, corn muffins and cigarette smoke. The other patrons stared us at for a second or two and continued on with their meals.  “You can’t get really good Barbecue above Northern Virginia,” My friend explained as he bit into a pulled pork sandwich. I nodded in agreement, secretly wishing that I had some hot sauce for mine; it was too sweet for me.

On this Saturday afternoon, the two of had traveled about four hours down to Richmond to see one of our rock and roll heroes: Lou Reed. Over the years of attending numerous concerts together, the two of us were slowly counting down the list of rock heroes we’d seen in concert. Lou Reed was at the top of the list, but neither of us thought it would actually happen.

A few months earlier, I had purchased the tickets as a surprise birthday gift for my him.  And now, despite being excited, we were both slightly nervous about what the show would actually be like since Reed was notoriously cantankerous.

At least we knew what we could potentially be getting into. It’s not like we were going to see Bruce Springsteen who goes out of his way to please the audience. Since the early days of the Velvet Underground, Reed loved to challenge his audience. You don’t make an entire album devised of feedback if you really give a shit what your audience truly thinks. There’s a certain irony in the fact that people loved him even more for it. That included us.

As we ate, we debated the finer points of The Velvet Underground and Reed’s career. “I have this theory,” My friend said, “that what kind of Velvet Underground songs you like define what kind of rock snob you are.” We were both unapologetic  rock snobs, so I was intrigued to see where he was going with this.

He then explained that if you liked the noisier, artery side of the band found in songs like “Sister Ray” or “Venus in Furs” you’re likely to appreciate Captain Beefheart, The Stooges and Joy Division.  The softer songs and traditional songs like”Pale Blues Eyes” and “Sweet Jane” probably meant you loved R.E.M., The Smiths and other alternative bands.

In fact it was through R.E.M., that I first learned about the Velvet Underground. The band included versions of “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Femme Fatale” and “There She Goes Again” on their 1987 B-side compilation Dead Letter Office. R.E.M. took a more conservative approach to Reed’s songs which gave me the impression the Velvet Underground would also sound like that.

If you’ve ever listened to The Velvet Underground & Nico or White Light/White Heat you know that’s not the case. Those two albums, especially the latter, are benchmarks in volume, noise and general boundary pushing. Few albums – even metal ones – pack a punch as hard as White Light/White Heat. There’s nothing conservative about those albums.

While I prefer the edgier songs in The Velvet Underground’s catalogue, my favorite song has always been “Sweet Jane”.  With its its memorable guitar riff and catchy chorus, it’s the closest that they ever came to a straight ahead rock and roll song. There’s no  feedback drenched guitar solo or viola freak-out. “Sweet Jane” is the one Velvet Underground song that non-fans could easily identify.

As I write this, it’s the first anniversary of Reed’s death. In recent years, I’ve seen a lot of my musical heroes die. But few have hit me as hard as Reed’s did. Rock and Roll seems a little tamer and safer without him. Geniuses like him don’t come around too often.

As we headed out of the BBQ joint, I took a look around at the surroundings. This particular neighborhood in Richmond didn’t seem nearly as bad as the clerk made it out to be. Not that I was surprised. I was more concerned about Reed’s potential attitude on stage.

Inside the venue, the crowd seemed equally apprehensive. I had never been to a show where the the feeling was mixed with equal parts excitement and nervousness. Outside, we could hear thunder rumbling loudly. From the side door, where all the smokers huddled outside, there was a loud whoosh when the rain let loose. All the smokers came rushing back in, soaked to the bone. Amidst the chaos, there was a loud announcement over the PA that the show would be delayed due to the storm.

Shouts of expletives filled the room, along with a few chuckles of laughter. I went to get a beer and chatted with a guy who had seen Reed in the mid-70’s. “It was fucking crazy man,” He said taking a large gulp from his whiskey. “There were lots of guys in black leather. I’m pretty sure I saw some one with a whip.”

Reed had written quite a few songs about S&M, but I had a feeling this guy was trying to impress me.  “Uh huh,” I nodded, playing along. I then asked him if he thought Reed would be pissed off. The guy almost choked as he took another drink.  “Dude, who gives a fuck?  He’s Lou Reed. He’s the man.”

He was right. I took another sip from my beer and reminded myself why I was there: to see a legend.

About 45 minutes later, when Reed did show up, he seemed genuinely happy to be there. In his trade-mark black t-shirt, he tore into many of his classic songs with an energy and vitality few his age have. His guitar was exactly what you wanted it to be – still noisy and instantly recognizable.

The absolute highlight was “Sweet Jane”. From the moment, he played the opening chords, the crowd cheered loudly in excitement. Even Reed seemed to enjoy the response it got.

On the way out, my friend and I talked about lucky we were to see Lou Reed in the flesh. This was in 2008. We had no idea how lucky we actually were.

New Music: “Sea Bitch” – Tallows



Indie rockers Tallows’ “Sea Bitch” starts off slowly with atmospheric keyboards that seem to conjure up the feeling of a chilly morning on the boardwalk. Thick production gives the song plenty of layered textures – booming without being overwhelming. Singer Josh Hogsett’s sings in a higher register that manages to be melodic and memorable. The horns that come in near the end are both uplifting with a slight tinge of melancholia.

The band is currently working on their next full-length due out sometime in 2015.

Check out “Sea Bitch” below.


For more info on Tallows, check out their web-site.


My Life in 33 Songs: #23 – “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts


I love rock n’ roll.
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby. 

It’s no secret that I love jukeboxes. My first memories of jukeboxes comes courtesy of Pizza Hut, when my family would take my grandmother (who absolutely loved Pizza Hut) out for dinner. My parents would give me a dollar for the jukebox as we waited for the pizza to arrive. Being too little to actually see the songs listed, I would have to pull myself up to take a look. It was daunting to see all these songs at my fingertips. I felt little bit of power as I pushed the buttons for my selection: everyone is going to hear my songs and there’s nothing they can do about it.

I can’t recall what I played, but I’m almost certain it was probably R.E.M. – a band who I loved and could easily listen to at home. Still, I felt a bit older. Kids don’t have much control over anything, but for those few minutes, I had control of Pizza Hut’s music.

That attitude continues to this day whenever I see a jukebox. I’m not usually a competitive, controlling or arrogant person, but I am when it comes to the jukebox. There’s something about them that compels me to take over. I still want to feel that rush that everyone around is hearing what I played. Maybe it’s because I can’t play an instrument; the jukebox is my own weird way of living out a rock and roll fantasy of playing to a crowd – if only for a few minutes. My ego wants a random hipster to come up to me and praise my selection.

I love rock n’ roll.
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby.

There are many songs that celebrate the glory of music, but few do it as well as Joan Jett’s version of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”.  It’s a trashy and campy ode to rock and roll, complete with a Jett’s signature attitude and sneer. With a chorus that’s destined to be sung loudly, it’s got everything you want in a rock song.

The way Jett sings “put another dime in the jukebox, baby” makes the song. In the song she wants the music to keep going so she can be with the guy who’s been eyeing her. Jett almost shouts it, as it to dare the audience to keep playing music, to keep their night going. The music helps makes the moment.

That’s the reason why it’s a perennial favorite at bars and sporting events. It’s an ode to having a good thing through the power of music. The music can control the way the evening goes. It’s not just background noise – it brings people together in a way other things can’t. Memories are conjured up; conversations can be started with the opening bars of a particular song.

That what makes jukeboxes important. They’re one of the last remaining relics of an era when people listened to music together socially. In the past decade or so, music can become more insular. It’s what you do when you want to block the rest of the world out. Music at its best helps bring people together.

So put another dime in the jukebox, baby.



My Life in 33 Songs: #24: “Chop Suey!” – System of a Down



System of a Down are a band you couldn’t make up if you tried: An Armenian-American metal with ever shifting time changes in their songs, radical politics, the most inane lyrics ever put on record who somehow against all odds has a hit single and record in the wake of 9/11. Really, you couldn’t make that shit up.

And yet that actually happened. Somehow, “Chop Suey!” in all its of weirdness, managed to not only get on the airwaves but become a hit at a time when Clear Channel was clamping down on songs and material they deemed inappropriate. Seriously, how did a song with lyrics about  a “self righteous suicide” and a bizarre time changes get played?

The first time I heard the song, I was hooked. With its extreme dynamics, start-stop verses and vocals that changed instantly from a whisper to a roar, I was hooked. It was intense, melodic and utterly unforgettable.

After  reading several rave reviews of Toxicity, I decided to give it a try. If the rest of the album was anything like “Chop Suey!”, it would be pretty awesome. If not, lesson learned: don’t always trust the critics. (That lesson wasn’t fully learned until I bought the Arctic Monkey’s debut album.)

In retrospect, I’d like to think I just convinced myself that Toxicity was really good. Most my regrettable music purchases and fandom occurred as a teenager. It’s easier to admit that I liked Live and Blues Traveler because I was a teenager when they were popular. But with System of a Down, I was in my early 20’s. At that point, I should have known better.

But I totally ate Toxicity up in all of its insane glory and played it non-stop. Something about System of a Down – maybe their politics, or sheer zaniness – grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. The odd thing about my fandom with them is that I don’t even particularly like metal all that much.

Knowing that I wanted to see System, one of my friends in college suggested I go to Ozzfest with him that summer since they were headlining. “Eh, I don’t know,” I told him. “That’s not really my thing.” They were the only act I wanted to see. I wasn’t even that interested in seeing Ozzy, despite the fact that I like some Black Sabbath stuff. An entire day of listening to metal while waiting to see one band? I wasn’t so sure. After a lot of prodding, he convinced me.

As we arrived into the parking lot of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pavilion, I began to have second thoughts. It looked like I had arrived at biker convention or some sort of gathering for angry teenage boys. Almost the entire crowd consisted of men whose testosterone levels seemed to be an all-time high.

The kids my age were mostly wearing Hatebreed and Down t-shirts all walking around with a scowl on their faces. They certainly acted and looked like their parents had forced them to go. The old metal-heads wore thick leather jackets which barely concealed their vintage Slayer and Metallica t-shirts. Those guys seemed to stare down the younger crowd with a bit of contempt.

“Dude, this is hilarious,” My friend said to me as we walked around. Naturally, he felt a lot more comfortable in this environment than I did. I kept an eye on the people around me as I was convinced that Altamont was about to break out at any point.

The acts on the bill were pretty much what I expected: lots of screaming, aggression and more screaming. I could barely tell one song from another. Hatebreed seemed to get a pretty good reaction from the crowd as did Phil Anselmo who was there with his post-Pantera band Down. From what I could tell, it looked like the dude hadn’t showered during the entire trek.

I kept looking at my watch and counting down the hours and minutes until System came on. It seemed like forever. Around 8:30, they finally managed to come on stage. Thank God.

Musically, I had thought they didn’t fit in with the rest of the bill, but their looks and actions cemented that. Serj Tankian wore a red velvet robe, while Daron Malakian had purple glitter all over his shirt-less body. In between songs, Tankian was overly sincere talking about the spirit within “your fucking heart” to which the crowd didn’t react fondly to.

Throughout their set, I tried to pretend that I was impressed. Maybe I had hyped them up too much during the day, but overall their show seemed lackluster and anti-climatic. Whatever sense of urgency or energy they had on record seemed to be lost.

After System’s underwhelming set, I wanted to leave and get back whatever part of the day was left. Instead, I had to sit through Ozzy as he milked his image for all its worth. “C’mon, you fuckers!” was about the only thing that seemed to audible from him when he spoke.  I’m not sure which was worse: seeing a band you liked blow it live or see a legend destroy his legacy before you very own eyes.

Oddly enough, a few years later when System of a Down headlined Ozzfest in 2006 Sharon Osbourne ripped them apart (though not by name) alluding to the fact that they didn’t fit in with the Ozzfest crowd or mentality. I should have contacted her in 2002 and saved us both some misery.

One Night With Blue Note: Jazz As Immortalized By Casinos


Jazz music, to this day, still has a sizeable following in the Western world. The sheer craftsmanship and intricacy of jazz makes it extremely compelling, to say the least. While the popularity of jazz peaked in the 40s, the genre is still very much alive in a lot of places all over the world, especially in some of the biggest casinos. This begs the question, “Why do casinos continue to uphold the legacy of jazz as if it’s the Roaring Twenties?”

Probably the first strongest tie between jazz and casinos was the Newport Jazz Festival, a summer jazz festival held in Newport, RI. In 1954, socialites Louis and Elaine Lorillard invited the biggest jazz acts such as Billie Holiday to perform at a two-day jazz festival at the Newport Casino. Despite jazz losing its beat during that time, the festival still managed to attract a total of more than 13,000 people in attendance and got the attention of major magazines and newspapers. While the festival was only held at the casino once, gaming establishments such as the Montreux Casino followed suit. Since then, jazz has become one of the mainstay genres in casinos, only to be followed by rock and pop music.

Because of the strong ties between jazz and casinos, even game manufacturers captured the spirit of jazz and immortalized them in games like slot machines. Cryptologic, a major provider of casino games and operator of gaming site Inter Casino, came up with a film-inspired interactive slot machine named Silent Screen, which gives the players the chance to travel back and enjoy the visuals of the Jazz Age in the 20s. Casino slot developer IGT is also a purveyor of jazz-inspired games, releasing titles such “Jackpot Jazz” and “Vegas, Baby!” that play sexy jazz music whenever people hit the jackpot. Duane Decker, a sound engineer of IGT, said that jazz is one his inspirations when composing music for casinos.

Maybe it’s the heart-stopping power of jazz that makes it a hit among casino operators and patrons. Or maybe it’s the illusion that jazz is a highbrow culture and only the elite—casino patrons included—can fathom the intricacy of each note. Regardless, jazz will live on forever, and casinos are helping it last in the hearts of many.

{Guest Post}

New Music: “Ordinary Girl Undone” (EP) – Kady Z


Pop-songstress Kady Z’s latest release is an acoustic EP entitled Ordinary Girl Undone.  The set strips down five of songs found on her 2013 full-length Ordinary Girl.

Since the original Ordinary Girl is more pop-oriented and accented with dance beats and synths, the acoustic versions offer a more detailed insight into the songs. “Crush Gone Wrong” comes off as more of a lament over a soft piano. “Save Me From Myself” begins with a piano melody that sounds more classical than pop. But the real highlight is Kady Z’s voice which is front and center. Without the extra sounds, she sounds alive and confident even in the darker and sad moments.

To purchase Ordinary Girl Undone, check it out on Itunes.

My Life in 33 Songs: #25: “Sail” – AWOLNation (Or The Simple Joys Of Being Married)



“Sail” has got to be one of the stranger songs to become a rock hit in the last few years with a mix of industrial rock, indie rock and synthesizers crunched together loudly. All the while there’s a melodic piano that anchors a song that has no real chorus except Aaron Bruno’s distorted cries of, “Sail!”

That cry is the heart of the song. It pulls you in.  It gives the song a  human feel amidst the electronic din. It’s a hook that’s easy to sing along with, even if you can’t sing. Its simplicity is what makes it so effective and memorable.

It’s interesting how your view of songs can evolve depending on when you listen to them or who you listen to them with. Lyrically, “Sail” is pretty bleak: “Maybe I should kill myself!,” Bruno screams at one point. Despite that, it’s never seemed bleak to me. My own experience of the song has turned it into something fun.

I first heard “Sail” at a bar while attending a friend’s birthday party. Most of the music that was playing consisted of stereo-typical late ’80s rock. Halfway through the night, something new and different came through the speakers. It seemed to come out of nowhere. The heavy synths, booming drums and Bruno’s muffled vocals cut right through all the other war-horses of a night out at a bar.

My wife turned to me, “Do you know who this is?” I shook my head. I had no clue, but I was immediately taken by it.  “Go find out!” shetold me. I hurried off to the jukebox and looked at the flashing screen which read: “Sail” – AWOLnation. I had heard of them before on Sirius XM’s Alt-Nation, but this song was completely new. When I came back to the table I had to promise to remember the name of the song.

The next morning as we were preparing for a trip to visit my parents, my wife asked me if I could download “Sail” for the car ride. On the hour drive we must have listened to “Sail” about a dozen times. Each time it seemed to get better and better.

As we went hiking down a trail on the cool fall afternoon, I could not get the song out of my head. It was stuck. I tried hard not to sing lest my parents think I was crazy.

For the next few weeks, “Sail” was on pretty regular rotation throughout the apartment. Random shouts of “Sail!” to each other  were pretty common. I’m not sure how or why it happened, but for whatever reason we just started doing it. I would be in one room on the computer writing something and I would hear her voice through the doorway of the other room yell, “Sail!”.  I’d naturally shout “Sail!” back with as much gutteral gravel as I could muster, and we’d both go about our business and finish whatever we were doing. Sometimes we’d look at each other and known it was totally ridiculous but revel in it all the same.

It still happens occasionally, those random shouts of “Sail” to one another, completely out of the blue, unexpected and for no reason at all.  No real reason except that at this point they mean as much as saying “I love you” and once you start saying it, it’s hard to stop.

My Life in 33 Songs: #26: “Buddy Holly” – Weezer (Or What Happens When You’re Stuck in an English Maternity Ward at 13)



I’ve always thought that the cover for Weezer (The Blue Album) was one of rock’s greatest album covers. It’s so simplistic with the four band members standing against a blue background. It’s an iconic shot that conjures up the feeling of the mid-90’s. I remember looking at the cover as a 13-year old, seeing Rivers Cuomo with his bowl cut and thinking he looked just like me. All the other rock stars at the time looked like…well rock stars. The cover of The Blue Album made Weezer seem approachable and relatable.

Songs like “The Sweater Song (“Undone)”, “Buddy Holly” and “Say It Ain’t So” were all over rock radio the fall of 94 and spring of 95. With their witty lyrics, massive hooks and crunchy guitars it’s easy to see why they became such a mainstay of the Alt-Rock scene.

But it was the video for “Buddy Holly” that captivated my attention. In contrast to all the other Alt-Rock videos, this one was bright and fun – much like the song itself. I didn’t get the “Happy Days” reference at first. My older brother had to explain it to me and stated, “Happy Days was the most American of all TV shows.” It was a direct arrow through the heart of angry young man pseudo-grunge. When Rivers Cuomo sang, “I don’t care what they say about us anyway, I don’t care about that,” a new admiration for him sunk in. To me, that line was more that just being in a relationship as the song suggests, but more of a personal manifesto: be yourself and don’t care what others think. And with his horned-rimmed glasses, the dude did kind of resemble Buddy Holly.

You could argue that the video for “Buddy Holly” and Weezer’s emergence on the rock-scene was a watershed moment for Geek Culture. They looked and acted nerdy, but somehow were able to be accepted by the mainstream. No one looked or acted like them at the time. It’s part of the reason why their first two albums are so beloved by their fans.

After seeing the video I begged my mother to let me buy the album but she quickly shot me down.  To be fair, she probably had other things on her mind. My mother and I were getting ready to travel to England to visit my sister who was living there at the time and about to give my parents their first grand-child. My mother, herself from England was no doubt excited to come home. I was too young to really appreciate or understand the significance of what was taking place.

I however, I was more concerned with what music I was going to bring on this trip. Six weeks is a long time to be gone, and I couldn’t bring just anything. As the date for our departure grew closer, Weezer was blowing up the airwaves. I had no idea if they were popular in England or not, but I had the feeling I was going to missing out if I didn’t have the album. My luck came through when a friend copied it onto a cassette for me the day before I was supposed to leave. I finally felt like I was ready for the trip across the Pond.

The morning after we arrived, my mother awoke me with a violet shake. “We have to go! Your sister has to go to the hospital.” Eh, what? I thought this wasn’t supposed to happen for another few weeks. I was going to be an Uncle! That thought truly hadn’t sunken in until that moment.

Since there was only one car, my mother and I had to go as well. When we arrived at the hospital, my mother went to be with my sister and her husband leaving me all alone in a darkened corridor of a maternity ward. I felt like I was in the inside of a 1950’s Insane Asylum and was half expecting to hear electric shock patient scream from the rooms nearby.

I reached for my Walkman and put on The Blue Album to pass the time. I must have rewound “Buddy Holly” a dozen times while I waited. Replaying the video in my head as the song blasted through my headphones made me miss the U.S. I had only been in England less than two days and I already missed home.

About two hours passed. Clearly, my mother wasn’t coming back any time soon. Wanting to conserve the batteries for my Walkman, I decided to take a walk around the hall. I noticed a dozen children’s drawings hanging on the wall. A sign said, “Tell us why ‘Breast is Best!'” Curious, I took a closer look and noticed that the grade-schooler’s drawings had drawn rudimentary pictures of stick-figure mothers breast-feeding their children. One caption read, “My brother likes breast milk because it tastes good!” When I drew pictures as a little kid, it certainly wasn’t of mothers breast-feeding their kids.

Somewhat confused and shocked, I walked back to the spot where I was earlier. A few moments later, my mom finally arrived. Thank God! I can finally get out of here! She gave an update and said it was going to be a lot longer and she had to go back in a few minutes.  She paused for a second and looked at my Walkman. Then came a bombshell: she asked if my sister could borrow my Walkman to help calm her down. I knew I had no choice and gave up my Walkman.

When she left, I was truly alone. The Walkman had been my one solace. And now I didn’t even have that. Even to this day, I have never been so fucking bored in my life. I attempted to sing the words to “Buddy Holly” but I botched them because I couldn’t remember all the words.

I looked around for something to read. Anything. I assumed there would be trashy magazines like the ones hospitals and dentist’s office provided back home. No such luck. The only thing available was a pile of pre-natal and birth books. Augh….

I tried to sleep but couldn’t. Finally, succumbing to sheer boredom, I flipped open What to Expect When You’re Expecting to save myself from what seemed like insanity. I didn’t care what I was reading at this point; I just needed to pass the time. Having only a basic knowledge of pregnancy at birth at this point (hey, I was 13), the details inside were a bit of shock: they were a lot more explicit than anything I had learned in my Sex-Ed books. Wait, what?…that actually happens? And that too? I was learning a lot more about pregnancy and birth than I wanted to know.

A nurse came by and seeing what book I was reading, looked at me rather bizarrely. Yes, I know it’s weird, but I’m fucking bored. But it wasn’t as weird as what came next: she asked how prepared I was to be a father at such a young age. My jaw dropped as I tried to find the words.  “Uhhhh…no. I’m just waiting on my sister.” Her face softened with a bit of relief. “Well, if you have any questions about anything please let us know. You’re American right? They really do have a backwards attitude towards breastfeeding.” How I wished for my Walkman so I could just tune her out.

After what seemed like hours, my mother finally arrived to rescue me. I must have flipped through almost the entire book by then. By this point, it was late into the evening. I had hoped she was going to tell me that my niece had arrived and we could finally leave. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We were leaving, but we’d have to come back the next morning since it looked like delivery was still a long way off.

That night as I tried to sleep, “Buddy Holly” was playing constantly in my head. I tried to erase all the stuff from What to Expect to Expecting from my teenage brain. But it was stuck. And it also latched onto “Buddy Holly” and has never let go: whenever I hear the song now, I’m brought back to the maternity ward.

When my niece finally arrived the next day, I felt relieved. And not just because I no longer had to wait. After all the reading I had done, I was relieved for my sister. As much as I tried to block all the stuff out of my head, I gained a whole new appreciation for what she had just gone through.

About a year ago when one of my best friends and his wife were expecting their first child, my friend’s wife mentioned some of the crazier aspects of pregnancy. I chimed in about a detail and everyone looked at me with curiosity. “Yeah, so let me tell you why I know this stuff…”


My Life in 33 Songs: #27 – “Shout at the Devil” – Motley Crue (Or When Drinking Might Make Any Song Sound Good)




I’ve never really been into Hair-Metal. It’s a genre that passed me by when I was little. And due to Grunge, it never really caught on afterwards. It’s a product of its time, perhaps even more so than Disco. Still, I’m slightly nostalgic for it, in all of it ridiculous glory. 

Even when I was college in the early 2000’s, it was passe. Yet the ghosts of Motley Crue, Van Halen, Kix and Poison among others still reared their ugly heads around every once in a while. One of my best friends in college deemed that “Mullet Rock” (as he called it) had to be contained in one place. Like The Trap in Ghostbusters, he created a 6-CD collection with the most well-known Hair-Metal songs. It was then divided into several categories (of which I can’t remember them all) but the most hilarious being the Power Ballad mix dubbed  “Lovin’ In an IRoc.” These mixes, he declared could only be taken out on specific occasions.

Specific occasions almost always meant when the party ended, and it was just six friends drunkenly burning the midnight oil when no one else was around. Usually when the clock hits 2:30 AM, I’m in the mood for something a little more mellow, but someone would inevitably break out one of the Mullet Rock CDs. It became a sort of ritual after a while to break those songs out.

For my friend, this was time to play  Rock Professor. Over beer and cigarettes, the rest of us were given lessons in the finer points of the genre. David Lee Roth was the Clown Prince. Eddie Van Halen was compared to Robert Johnson: both apparently sold their soul to play guitar. Kix were the Christian Band. Poison were the party-boys who also had a sensitive side.

Motley Crue were the Kings of Mullet Rock.  By their song titles alone, they could have easily made that claim: “Girls Girls Girls”, Looks that Kill”, “Dr. Feelgood” and most importantly, “Shout at the Devil”.

“Shout at the Devil” is the ultimate Hair Metal song. It’s got everything: high-pitched guitars, a simple sing-along chorus and over-the-top lyrics that seem controversial. It’s almost so bad that it could actually be awesome.

I would try and sing along to the song but my friend would always stop me. “No, Matt. You’re doing it wrong!  Your voice needs to be more screechy. Like this.” He then went into his best Vince Neil impression: “‘Shout at the deeeeeeevil!” And with that, he threw his arm into the air creating the devil sign while head banging simultaneously.

Sober, my friends and I had wildly different musical tastes. I pretended to have better taste in music than I actually did. One friend loved the Grateful Dead and all things Jam-Band related (much to my disdain.) Another friend was the most obsessed Red Hot Chili Peppers fan I’ve ever met. To anyone who says they like weird music, my then room-mate has you beat. He once played me a record where a guy clicked rocks together in various rhythms using a 4-track.

But the one thing we could agree on was “Mullet Rock”. Partly because it was so bad, and partly because it only came out when we were drunk. Come morning, “Mullet Rock” was out as we nursed our hang-overs. That is, until the next party.

My Life in 33 Songs: #28 – “Shit Towne” – Live (Or How I Viewed My Hometown As a Kid)



Many teenagers grow up thinking that their hometown is a shit-hole. It may or may not be true, but it’s certainly a rite of passage the same way that liking Led Zeppelin is.

My hometown of Frederick, Maryland isn’t the complete shit-hole as I remember it being. For a teenager though, there definitely wasn’t a whole lot to do except go see movies, hang out at the mall or go to a Pizza Hut. The downtown area was small while the strip mall sections seemed to go on endlessly for miles. Outside of the city, there were small developments but it was mostly just farm-land.

With both Baltimore and DC an hour’s drive away, Frederick seemed to exist on the edge of the Earth. Those places bristled with excitement and possibility. I desperately wanted to leave Frederick and never look back. I spent years trying to escape from it the way Springsteen characters do in Born to Run.

But Springsteen was a few years off.  The early teenage loathing of my hometown was best represented in Live’s “Shit Towne” found off their 1994 album, Throwing Copper. Live hailed from (relatively close by) York, Pennsylvania, which really wasn’t all that different from Frederick. It didn’t seem that far-fetched for me to really believe that they could be referring to Frederick as a “shit towne.”

“Shit Towne” was one of the many reasons that Live became my favorite band during those awkward years between 7th Grade and Freshmen Year of High School. Throwing Copper became the first album I was truly obsessed with. I listened to it day and night and would preach about it to anyone who would listen. Their mix of U2-style earnestness and hard-rock was perfectly suited to my pre-teen/teenage sensibilities. Ed Kowalczyk sang with such conviction that he made singles such as “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes” seem important.

I would study the black and green booklet looking for clues to figure out the meaning of songs such as “TBD” and “Pillar of Davidson”. When I discovered that “TBD” stood for the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I told anyone who would listen the song referred to the Tibetan Book of the Dead – as if I had any idea what the Tibetan Book of the Dead actually was. That hardly mattered; it sounded like something I should check out. (Really though, rock bands should never take lyrical ideas from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. When the Beatles used it for inspiration in “Tomorrow Never Knows” at least they broke musical ground.)

I was naive enough to believe that Live were going to be one of the great rock and roll bands. I had no idea that they were just riding the wave of grunge and that Throwing Copper was actually pretty clean and pristine in its production. Throwing Copper was the perfect musical companion for a kid caught between simply being a kid and being on the threshold of becoming a young adult. A kid who thought who that his hometown was the worst, when it was just like any other American suburb.

Listening to “Shit Towne” while writing this piece made me cringe. I It is without a doubt, a terrible song. The chorus (“Gotta live, gotta live, gotta live in shit towne”) which I once thought was perfectly suited to my own views and situations, comes off as completely idiotic. There’s no insight as to why Live viewed their hometown in such a way (or is it an attempt at social commentary?) other than that “the crack heads live down the street”.  As 20-somethings on the cusp or stardom if they hated it so much, why didn’t they just leave? (I didn’t have that exact same luxury.) One of life’s great questions, I suppose.

Ironically, since I moved from Frederick to Baltimore about 8 years ago, it’s become something of a hot-spot for fancy bars and restaurants. The entire downtown area has been revitalized and there’s a lot more to do there now than there ever was. Livability ranked it as Number 6 in a list of “Ten Best Downtowns” and CNN recently proclaimed it to be “America’s Best Small Town”.  Not bad for a town that I used to view with something of contempt. It’s still weird though, to find Baltimore residents who are jealous of the fact I grew up in Frederick.