The Dead Milkmen…….

"Once you wanted revolution.  Now you’re the institution.  How’s it feel to be the man?" -from The Ascent of Stan by Ben Folds


I have a soft spot for the abrasive smart-ass.  These wise acres are the only people with the guts to call b*llshit when everyone else is all too willing to go along and admire the emperor’s new clothes. 

You may not like what they have to say, but the smart-ass serves as an important safeguard in a democratic society. 

Frankly, who else today has the junk to call out the pompous abuse of power?  Anderson Cooper?  Forget about it.

So, if you have been cursed with the ability to think for yourself and aspire to be the class cut-up, I have a suggestion. 

Start your journey with The Dead Milkmen’s  Beelzebubba.

Here is some vintage Dead Milkmen to wet you appetite:

The man in the White House who just don’t care
He starves little kids and he dyes his hair
Now what could make him think that way?
What could make him act that way?

He’s just a right wing pigeon from outer space
Sent here to destroy the human race
He don’t give a damn about you or me
He just buys guns and watches TV

Taste the Secret…….

"Meatshake, when you are hungry and thirsty!" -from the song Abigail Silk

Taste the Secret

Last night, Super Size Me was on television.  The movie reminded me of the brilliant album, Taste the Secret by the Ugly Ducklings.

The Ugly Ducklings combine Beck’s clever word-play with a nerdcore worldview.  Taste the Secret is a concept album which follows the escalating conflict between the fast-food restaurant, MeatShake and their rival, Veggie Hut, which is positioned directly across the street.

The album pokes plenty of fun at both sides of the meat divide. 

All kidding aside, the group makes a great point: there is plenty of ridiculous behavior and room for improvement, both for the veggie loving crowd and the carnivores in our society.

To learn more, drop by your local Veggie Hut or Meatshake restaurant.

American Idiot…….

"Don’t want to be an American idiot.  One nation controlled by the media.  Information age of hysteria, calling out to Idiot America." -from American Idiot

There are two rock albums which perfectly capture the screwed-up madness which is this decade.  One is The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance and the other is Green Day’s American Idiot.  I’m sure it is no small coincidence that both of these albums were produced by Rob Cavallo.

However, since today is the mid-term boss battle to end all epic electoral struggles, I thought it was most fitting to talk about American Idiot.

Punk has always been the music of defiance.  When the fire of punk is combined with a smart and savvy political perspective, it has a particularly potent effect.

Does this seem unbelievable?  In 1896 the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) urged the police to raided the house of Jello Biafra, lead singer of the Dead Kennedy’s.  Biafra was charge and later after a mistrial, acquitted of distributing "harmful matter".

Well, Green Day has produced the much needed "harmful matter" for this decade.  This is punk-rock opera which makes you think, feel and then want to take action. Nothing is more rock and roll than that.

Here is track fifteen for the playlist: American Idiot  by  Green Day.

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy…….

"We’ve all gone crazy lately, my friend’s out there rolling around the basement floor." -from Someone Saved My Life Tonight

captain fantastic

There were two loves of my life in 1975.  One was the Portland Trail Blazers and the other was Elton John.  My devotion to the Trail Blazers was rewarded with the 1977 NBA Championship.  Elton gave me Captain Fantastic.

I finally threw out my scratched, ratty LP and replaced it with the digitally remastered CD.  It is interesting to listen to this album with a mature ear. 

The first thing to surprise me was how the music carries the distinct influence of the Beatles.  Obliviously in 1975, I was too young to appreciate how revolutionary the Beatles truly were.  By the time I discovered their music, the thought of a musical landscape without the Beatles would be considered ridiculous verging on blasphemous. 

The song Tower of Babel has especially good examples of Abbey Road like guitar progressions and melodies.  The track Bitter Fingers even features a little Wings era McCartney base playing.

Elton and Bernie Taupin have an almost perfectly balanced musical partnership.  Gifts which come together to create a powerful concept album.  Of course, Bernie Taupin explains it best with his lyrics from the title track,  "Hand in hand went music and the rhyme."

I love you Elton John.  Call me.

Here is track fourteen for the playlist: Someone Saved My Life Tonight  by  Elton John.

Concrete Blonde and Dangerous Angels…….

"Love is a ghost haunting your head.  Love is the killer you thought was your friend."-From the Beast, Concrete Blonde

concrete blonde

Back in 1989, there was an undercurrent of restlessness and impatience for change.  The President seemed distant and out of touch.  The same old polices created the predictable failures.  Nationally, AIDS was the second leading cause of death for men between the ages of 25 and 44.   The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.  In the prequel to the first Gulf War, the United States tested its imperialistic muscle and invaded Panama.

Pop culture had stagnated.  Bobby McFerrin won two Grammys with the moronic "Don’t Worry Be Happy."  Lucile Ball and Salvador Dali died.   Thirty-something was the adult drama everyone was supposed to be talking about and Phil Collins desperately needed to pass the mic to Chuck D or Posdnuos.  Generation X was caught in a Baby Boomer back draft.

Francesca Lia Block captures this desire for change in her Weetzie Bat Book series.  Part urban fairy-tale mixed with a dash of the gritty punk bohemia of  the L.A. underground music scene, the books document the coming of age story of Weetzie and her best friend Dirk– two people who have always felt different.  The books chronicle their quest to create a place where they feel accepted and belong.

Concrete Blonde was part of the late 80’s and early 90’s L.A. underground.  Their album Bloodletting is a snapshot of the feeling of loneliness and loss both Weetzie and Dirk and battling.  It is an accomplished goth record and Concrete Blonde’s masterwork.  Singer and songwriter Johnette Napolitano’s smokey voice conveys the world weary understanding that loneliness and loss are part of the human experience.  No one is immune to pain. 

If I close my eyes and imagine it is not hard to see Weetzie Bat, Duck and Dirk cruising down Hollywood Boulevard in Jerry listening to Concrete Blonde’s Bloodletting.

Here is track eleven for the playlist: Bohemian Like You by the Dandy Warhols

State Reports…….

Stars and Hank

In the mid-1980’s The Residents began their American Composer Series with the ambitious goal of paying homage to twenty American artists.  Conceived as a mash-up project in the days of the LP record, each side  was dedicate to a different artist.  For instance, in 1984 The Residents released  the first album titled George and James which paired George Gershwin and James Brown.  In 1986, The Residents honored Hank Williams and John Philip Sousa with Stars and Hank

These records were a bold attempt to reinterpret and freshen up artists which had become stale.  The work of these American composers was a revolutionary statement when first shared with the public but viewed as passe with the following generations.  This phenomenon also occurs with history.  When remarkable events happen people are stunned.  History making shifts are seldom linear much less anticipated as a forgone conclusion.  As time goes by and these same extraordinary events are commemorated in history books, the events are portrayed as inevitable and forced to fit a sequential model of history.  This is a shame.  Stripped away are the high risk behavior and the unanticipated actions of others which have a powerful role in shaping history.

Unfortunately, The Residents only completed two of the ten albums in the American Composer Series.  Hopefully, Sufjan Stevens will have more success with his lofty goal to write one CD about each state in the Union.  State history deserves a fresh look.  So far, Sufjan has completed two albums.  The first is Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State.   The second release is the critically acclaimed Illinois.   I got my copy of Illinois about a week ago and can’t stop listening to it.  Sufjan writes haunting melodies and sweet, thoughtful lyrics which remind me of Elliot Smith.  I hope Sufjan visits the Pacific Northwest soon.  I’m anxious to hear his tender odes to Washington and Oregon, two states close to my heart.

E is for Evergreen

If you prefer something more concrete check out the Discover America State By State Alphabet Series.  Each of the 26 letters is used to illustrate an important plant, animal, person, geographic feature or event which makes a state unique.   In E is for Evergreen the book about Washington State, H is for the Appaloosa horse,  a breed established by the Nez Perce living on the grassy  Palouse hills.  H is also for Hanford, site of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation where plutonium was produced for America’s race to build an atomic bomb.

Not only does history tend to repeat in its endless iterative ebb and flow, but it has become fashionable and politically expedient to some to twist historical facts to suite their lust for power.  History is a gift from the past to all members of civilization, not the chosen few.  Learn about your legacy or someone will decide to do it for you.  

Here is track nine for the playlist: History Repeating by Propellerheads