Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Last Sober Picture Taken of Me Was at My Bar Mitzvah

Middle School, oddly enough right before a first kiss during spin the bottle

My best friends in the world and the worst shirt I ever owned

Sometime around New Year’s Eve, I realized that I own no pictures. I mean, besides a few random photos lying around, mostly from formal events or graduations, I can count the photos I own on two hands: a collage of college/high schools friends circa 1996-2003, an odd photo series Jenny and Rebecca made of “the three sides of Mikey G” (innocently happy, happily intoxicated and, um, hungover) and this random picture Rebecca and I took in a movie theater photo booth in high school (probably the best picture ever taken of me, oddly enough). But, if someone were to ask me “what do your friends look like,” I’d probably have to use the internet to show them. Which made me realize two things: First, that the last time someone took a sober picture of me was at my Bar Mitzvah and, second, that pictures have taken on a different meaning in the increasingly accessible, internet/social networking–era. While people will always use pictures for decoration, and to document significant moments in their life, it is no longer necessary to collect pictures of your friends as if they were trading cards. If I want to say, “this is what my friends Rebecca or Jenny” look like, I can just go online and show them a picture. Which leads me to my second point: with the exception of formal portraits, I’ve come release that 90% of all people think that they “look bad” in any given photo, while everyone else who will see the same photo will tell them that “they look fine.” I guess that’s because, in some strange way, we’re never used to seeing ourselves.

In any event, after coming to this realization, I stole some photos off my friend’s various pages, and compiled a little photo album I’ve affectionately dubbed “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Be More Meaningful Than They Appear.” Much to my surprise, it’s been pretty cool to look back at the 30 or so nights I now have documented, to remember what life felt like in bad turtlenecks (before they were ironic) and when my world revolved around certain people or places I’ve long since forgotten (or at least consciously avoided thinking about). And, of course, to remember that the last time someone took a sober picture of me, I really was 13.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The 2007 Mikey Award

For a list style look at my thoughts on 2007, please check out my Village Voice Pazz and Jop ballot. The following entry appeared on last night:

Since I’m about as good at creating decisive ‘best of’ lists as I am at proofreading my articles, I started hosting my own little typo-plagued award ceremony a few years ago when I should have been learning the oh so tricky difference between ‘than’ and ‘then.” I hope you all enjoy this as much as I did procrastinating from those pesky grammar lessons.

Best Non-Jamband Album by a Former New Groove: American Babies, Self-titled
I never thought I’d say there’s a fine line between untz and Americana, but American Babies has proven once and for all that beneath every great jam lies an even greater song. With any luck, one day “Brooklyn Bridge” will be an anthem, but, for now, it’s just the soundtrack to my 2007.

Best Multi-Band Festival Disguised as a Civilian Vacation: Jam Cruise
Jam Cruise’s equation is simple: take the best musicians from the jam-world’s three most vibrant scenes (San Francisco, New York and New Orleans), add an all-you-can-eat buffet, subtract bad weather and divide by an infinite number of sit-ins and you get the only festival that makes even non-music lovers jealous. Just don’t tell them you’ve renamed the Shuffle Board court Shakedown.

Best Reason to Agree with Every Other Top Ten List Published Between Radiohead Releases: Arcade Fire, Neon Bible.
The inner-lot kid in me wants to hate the hype and the very principles that first ignited the Arcade Fire: the self-righteously dark lyrics, the baroque excess and especially the religious overtones, but, for some reason, I still listen to Arcade Fire every day. Perhaps I’m attracted to the grandeur or maybe I think I can see Anakin beneath Win Butler’s Dark Vader shell. Or maybe it’s just because Arcade Fire is the new Phish, only with less hemp and more hairgel!

Most Poignant Collection of Emo-Lyrics Published Anywhere Outside a High- School Yearbook Page: The Nation, Boxer
Besides having college to look forward to (probably paying better attention in English class), the only reason I still wish I was back in high school is so I could steal these lyrics from 2007’s best album for my yearbook page:

“Falling out of touch with all my/friends are somewhere getting wasted, hope they’re staying glued together/I have arms for them”

“You know I dreamed about you/for twenty-nine years before I saw you/
You know I dreamed about you/I missed you for/for twenty-nine years”

“They’re gonna send us to prison for jerks/ for having vague ideas of the way to turn each other on again/

“Your mind is racing like a pro, now/Oh my god it doesn’t mean a lot to you/
One time you were a glowing young ruffian/Oh my god it was a million years ago

I could go on and on, but my thesaurus is tired.

Also see for the above two: Best Reason to venture above (1)14th Street: Arcade Fire/the National at United Palace Theater, New York, 5/8

Best Reason to Ponder the Meaning of Life with a Member of the Opposite Sex You Last Saw Around the Release of Garden State: The Shins, Wincing the Night Away
I resisted embracing the indie-pop revolution until I saw Garden State and then the Shins changed my life. And, while no single moment can recapture that moment in time, Wincing the Night Away comes pretty close, offering a seamless mix of dark themes, light sounds and easily bouncible beats.

Best Reason to Turn on, Tune in and, Even, Chill Out: High Sierra
Being a neurotic, Northeast suburbanite I didn’t get High Sierra the first time I went and wanted to go home. But sometime between the Slip’s sunset show, the Disco Biscuits’ old-school meadow throw-down, ALO’s late-night sit-in fest and Page’s workshop (which somehow healed that “Velvet Sea” wound), this time I didn’t want to go home. And, in many ways, my Cold Turkey co-host never did (he’s currently writing a novel in San Fran).

Also see: ALO, Roses & Clover

Most Obvious Proof that the Grateful Dead are the Original Hipsters, Yo La Tengo, Port Washington, NY, 10/19
If Yo La Tengo covering “Ripple,” in Long Island, on a Friday during CMJ isn’t proof that the Grateful Dead were the original indie-rockers, then look no further than Jerry Garcia’s tight, black t-shirts or Bob Weir’s short-shorts.

Best Performance by a Group of Robots not Involving a Single Transformer: Daft Punk, Lollapalooza
Ever since my parents placed me in a Jolly Jumper when I was 2, people have judged how excited I am by how high I bounce. And let’s just say no robots make me jump higher than Daft Punk (except maybe Optimus Prime).

Best Reason to Trade in Your VW Bus for, Well, a Volkswagen: Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
Since the demise of Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy has used Wilco to define alt-country, defy indie-rock, revive avant-gardism in the mainstream and, now, even sell Volkswagens. But, then again, there is something to be said for aging with your fanbase.

Best Non-Musical Performance by My Favorite Living Musician: Trey Anastasio, 92nd St. Y, 2/7
Since high school, I’ve spent well over 100 nights watching Trey Anastasio perform onstage and far more time talking about that band he played in between Space Antelope and 70 Volt Parade. But, besides his set at the Tsunami Relief Benefit, this open conversation with Anthony DeCurtis was his most genuine performance since Coventry.

The First-Person Award: AGP, Mercury Lounge, 3/1
I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of amazing, but self-indulgent, musical memories from 2007 and even luckier to have a place ( to reveal enough personal information about those moments to ensure that my family never sleeps a full night again:

The show Barber and Brownie played “Little Betty Boop” for me when the Biscuits surpassed Phish as the band I’ve seen the most, the night I spent seguing between electronic shows throughout the city, seeing a band that played my college radio show headline MSG (Dispatch), having American Babies play my birthday party (or what I remember of it), the afternoon I spent outside during Green Apple (breadsticks), cake at Camp Bisco, the Sopranos photo shoot at the School of Rock Festival and pretty much every musical performance we managed to score on Cold Turkey (especially Apollo Sunshine with Brad Barr at Langerado!), but my most meaningful musical moment from the past year has to be my final AGP show at the Mercury Lounge. AGP was the soundtrack to my college years, first band I ever wrote about for and one of the reasons I scored my editor post at Relix. Their final show should have been an incredibly sad moment, but, at the end of the night, things didn’t really feel like they ended. They sort of just faded into the night, like so many things in life.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Beauty School Dropout

On Saturday the time came for my bi-monthly haircut. Since I’ve pretty much had the same haircut for as long as I’ve been able to grow hair---and will likely keep the same ‘due’ until I ultimately lose that precious ability---I’ve always felt that getting my hair cut is kind of like going into a fancy restaurant and ordering a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich (which I’ve also done on occasion). But since the mop top went out of fashion a few years before even my parents met in high school (henceforth known as the beginning of time), I’ve been forced to get my hair cut at least once every two months for the past 26 years, if only to remind myself that I do in fact have ears. Luckily for me, long ago salons and nail parlors replaced firehouses and Rotary Clubs as my quaint, Nuevo-rich hometown’s focal points, so I learned how to deal with high-stress scissor artists at a very young age.

From what I can remember of those blurry pre-Propecia years, every time I’d try a new barber shop, or “salon” as they are called in scenic Westchester, NY, the guy or girl operating on my hair would give me some sort of “slight makeover” and the next morning I’d wake up with the exact same bowl haircut. I tried using gel, growing out my latent Jew-fro, shaving off my sideburns and, even, during one particularly heady summer, cultivating a neo-bohemian beard (which my bartender said ”gave me age,” my girlfriend said “scratched her face” and my Grandma said “made me look like a terrorist”). In fact, I think a major reason I decided to pursue a career in music journalism is because the kid in Almost Famous had my haircut and managed to score a job at Rolling Stone (as well as Kate Hudson).

Yet, even without factoring in the obvious trauma of watching my last remaining hair cells float slowly to the ground like Edward Scissorhands operating on the American Beauty bag, I’ve always found getting my haircut an utterly awkward experience. First off, I’m never sure how to say “just a trim” without somehow insulting the artist working my scalp and, no matter how old I get, I still find it impossible to look in the mirror for 30 minutes without making some sort of 2nd grade silly face Worst off all, though I have absolutely no problem emotionally undressing myself online, I’m really, really bad at making small talk in person and, let’s face it, they don’t teach you about hippie chic in beauty school. Also, I’ve always feared that one day I’d find out that I shared a barber with one of my co-workers, which I feel is the only thing more awkward than bumping into your high school teacher at the mall.

But, since moving to the New York, I’ve found a decidedly not-hip, back ally hair cut place which falls somewhere between a turn of the century Barber Shop and the type of establishment Tony Soprano would probably hang around at before heading over the Bada Bing Club. In fact, as if they were pitching an HBO pilot, each employee seems to represent a different facet of the hair cutting community: the Italian guy who still speaks more Sicilian than English, the Russian guy whose answer to every question is usually “buzz cut,” the fair skinned guy who is either a homosexual or metro-sexual (or both if that’s possible) and the Jewish guy who, according to stereotype, only seems to handle the money. Interestingly enough, they are all named Sal.

Like entering any mafia organization, it took them a while to truly let me into the family, but, once I figured out how to tip without using my cell phone calculator, my shaves got softer, my waits got shorter and my reading material went from People to Playboy.
We’ve also managed to bond over some good old fashioned rock-and-roll, particularly, Elvis Presley, whose mug is plastered across the room like Phish posters in my college dorm (I like his music, they like his sideburns). Since I have a good six weeks before my own sideburns start to double as ear plus, I’m also toying with the idea of either compiling some highlights from to bring in as a loose script or creating some sort of completely fabricated story about myself that I can develop a visit at a time until I really start losing my hair. Or until the mop top is cool again.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Not So Famous

Ha, randomly found myself and Erica on someone else's blog (Nicky Digital)! Fun night in New York

Them Changes

Sometime around my junior year of college, someone told me about the “rock theory of twelve.” This theory hypothesized that, like the U.S.’s political climate, music trends swing on a pendulum, mostly between rock and pop, and that approximately every 12 years rock music hits its stride in the mainstream. Even in 2002 the theory made sense: the first wave of rock-and-roll music hit mainstream radio in 1955 thanks to Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Halley, the second wave of true “rock music” arguably peaked in 1967 during the psychedelic moment with Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Cream, Sgt. Pepper and the Summer of Love, and the third wave of raw rock music---punk---hit its artistic stride in 1979 thanks to The Clash’s London Calling and the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. More recently, in 1991 alternative nation truly materialized when Nirvana cracked into the mainstream, Pearl Jam released Ten and Perry Farrell organized a number of alt-nation’s biggest names under the traveling Lollapalooza banner.

And while one can argue that the “theory of twelve” should actually be “the theory of ten or eleven” (with Pet Sounds and Revolver hitting stores in 1966 or the Ramones truly ushering in the punk-era in 1976/77), there is no denying that rock-and-roll trends are inheritably cyclical and that, as I’ve said before, what was once cool will one day be cool again---or at least ironic.

Oddly enough, when I first heard about “the theory of twelve” and wrote about it for Greenhaus Effect’s Skidmore News precursor in 2002, I joked that the next big rock trend was probably being created “right now, down the hall in some smoke filled dorm room” (perhaps inspired by that age-old avant-garde desire to bang a coat hanger against a desk and call it art). Six years later that hypothesis has proven itself somewhat true. If you add 12 to 1991 you get 2003, the year indie-rock began to crack the mainstream, with Radiohead headlining its first U.S. arena tour, Spin dedicating 5 collectors covers to the Strokes, Interpol reestablishing postpunk as a current (one word) trend and, perhaps most importantly, Friendster popularizing online social networks as a viable way to spread music (which one can claim, along with the blog, is responsible for the rapid rise of indie-rock).

I also find it interesting that each and every one of those rock trends has unraveled because of the same three primary factors: the tragic/unexpected death of a major artist (Buddy Holly, Hendrix, Sid Vicious and Cobain, et all.), the deactivation of a major band or performer, and the assumption that a number of the scene’s major figures have “sold out” in some capacity. Slowly, each style losses momentum in the mainstream, the scene’s smaller bands begin to fade away and, inevitably, the super fans get older and begin to shed their youthful skin and focus on, say, investment banking or childbearing. Certain bands soldier-on and become institutions (let us here tip our hats to Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, David Byrne and Pearl Jam, who have all matured into cultural institutions, branded together on classic-rock radio stations across the country) and others aren’t truly appreciated until after the gold rush (we also tip our hats to you Richie Valens, Velvet Underground, Mission of Burma and Mudhoney).

Like the U.S. political pendulum that swings from liberal to conservative in decade-long intervals, each-and-every era of raw rock music has been followed by a period of bubblegum pop: Elvis gave way to the original 1960s Teen Idols, the psychedelic movement faded into a mash of polished soft-rock and disco, the punk movement laid the groundwork for ‘80s dance pop and the rise of stars like Madonna and Michael Jackson, and Cobain’s suicide opened the door for the boy band invasion and a wave of sensitive singer/songwriters (Where Art Thou? Sarah McLachlan)--along with a horde of rap-metal bands, which I am sure my friends on the other side of the office at Metal Edge will tell you are the Backstreet Boys of the metal scene.

I firmly believe that each era of rock-and-roll is inherently tied into a number of other political, cultural and communicational trends (from 1950s Baby Boomers to the 1970s gas crisis to the 1990s rise of file sharing networks) and those factors have all contributed to both the rise and demise rock-music. With all due respect to the Brooklyn Vegan, the editors of Pitchfork and the east side of my brain that likes to see hipster shows on the weekends, one day indie-rock will eventually crack and open the door to another teen pop revival, leaving the White Strikes, Arcade Fire and a few select other bands to wonder the arena-circuit for classic-rock eternity. And while the end is still many Coachella’s away, you can already see the red flags: Meg White and Amy Winehouses’ nervous breakdowns, the Strokes extended hiatus and the blog backlash against Modest Mouse and the Shins’ new brand of mall-ster indie-rock (as well as the fact that, like fallen pop king Michael Jackson, the only country that still seems to appreciate Friendster is Indonesia.).

Indie-rock will always be around in some form, whether it is called garage-rock, punk, postpunk, New Wave, grunge, post-grunge, pop-punk, third wave ska revival or alt-rock, just like jambands, will always be around…simply because every year some kid turns 14, learns to skateboard and wears a Ramones t-shirt, just like every year another kid turns 18, smokes spot for the first time and hears Dark Side of the Moon.

Speaking of the jam scene or the psychedelic-rock scene or the baby Dead scene or the neo-retro scene or, hey, the post-jam scene, I’ve consciously avoided bringing it up in this argument, because, like my investment banker father (whose distressed debt management company does better in times of recession than national prosperity), jambands generally thrive when mainstream America shifts its focus away from rock-and-roll. By and large, jambands have reached their largest audiences when pop-music rules the radio, most notably in the 1970s during the Keith-era, 1987 with the Dead and Gregg Allman’s MTV hits, 1994 with the success of Dave Matthews and 2002 when Bonnaroo cemented the world “jamband” as a Wikipedia-worthy entry. It is during these broad “rock-radio droughts” that young kids looking for new music begin to both look below the surface and figure-out new ways to spread their own grassroots music (whether it is through tape trading, file sharing or MySpace). In 2008, a 16 year old student in a small rural town doesn’t have to go to a Phish or Widespread Panic show to experience guitar-rock for the first time. He can turn on the radio and hear Feist or Death Cab for Cutie or read about Radiohead in the New York Times. All great bands, rooted in equally great music.

2006 and 2007 were not healthy years for jam-nation by any means: Michael Houser, Mark Vann, Bobby Sheehan and Allen Woody have all passed on, Phish, The Dead and String Cheese are inactive, and Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson and Matisyahu are branded mainstream institutions. But, at the same time, STS9, Yonder Mountain String Band, the Disco Biscuits and Umphrey’s McGee are bigger (or just as big) as ever, pulling in new fans, some of whom needed a night off from Wilco and Radiohead tour “to remember,” but many of whom just turned 18. Oddly enough, moe., the original jam-band underdog, has cemented its role as torch barrier and will begin 2008 by releasing their finest studio album to date, Sticks and Stones. And of the 9,000 fans who went to see STS9 or Yonder at Red Rocks last summer, one will most likely start a band and, one day, that band might be the next Grateful Dead or Phish or maybe, in 2015, the next Nirvana or Radiohead.

Until then, I’m still discovering great new music every day. And, for the first time since the 1990s, I’m also hearing it on the radio.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Roommate Advice

I tend to talk about myself a good deal here at and I sincerely hope that my commentary has helped at least one of you discover some new music and that my spelling mistakes have inspired many more of you to pay better attention in school. But, this week, I am going to shift my attention from my own advice on music and neurotic girls to that of my long-time roommate and good friend, Juan. For about seven years, Juan and I lived down the hall from each other, first as South Quad neighbors at Skidmore and later as roommates in southern Manhattan. Juan is a great guy and one of the best roommates I’ve ever had; he doesn’t pee in the closest when he’s wasted (unlike my freshman jock roommate), spends a good deal of his spare time at his mom’s in Queens or his Uncle’s in Brooklyn and has a habit of falling asleep on the sofa instead of in his bed (thereby allowing me to subsidize my income by renting out his room 1-3 nights a week!). He also has a good head on his shoulders and balances out my scatterbrained neuroses quite well. Juan recently moved to Albany to begin work at the State Senate, but came back to New York shortly before New Year’s Eve to help celebrate our friend Caitey’s birthday.

And while at dinner, Juan made a comment, which actually inspired me to think a bit more seriously about what, in retrospect, can be one of the most traumatic experiences in any swinging, young bachelor’s life: attending the birthday party of a girl you are causally courting. On the surface, attending the birthday party of a girl you are interested in seems like a choice opportunity; a chance buy drinks for your intended, simultaneously win the admiration of each-and-every one of her friends and be the all around “man- of- the- night.” But, what most guys don’t realize is that, unlike guys, girls have a tendency to invite every guy they are currently flirting with to the same birthday party, all of whom are vying for the elusive “man- of- the -night position.” In fact, invariably what happens is that the birthday girl ends up hooking up with the bar tender or some Irish guy who happens to be in town for “just one night,” while the 8-10 guys who put on their best dress shirts for the evening end up having slow, forced conversation with each other.

Of course, as Juan reminds me, it’s a Catch 22 because if you miss the birthday party, you automatically take yourself out of the running and/or preemptively brand yourself as the type of guy who will leave at six in the morning for an “early meeting,” or “last minute racquetball lesson.” I think the last time I had to make the difficult choice of whether or not to attend such a birthday party was my freshman year of “real life.” Luckily for me, one of my favorite bands decided to schedule a run of shows at Tonic and I was able to use the “my true love is music semi-excuse,” which somehow managed to give me some sort of hand in our relationship and was able to bring her back a concert souvenir, which also solves the second biggest relationship birthday problem---the present.

Like most guys, I like to keep the various girls I am interested in at any particularly time separated like Tori and Kelly in the final season of Saved By the Bell…especially at a birthday party or similar social function, which has a good chance of being tagged on my friend’s Facebook. But, then again, I know more about spelling than birthdays. That’s why I listen to my roommate Juan (who’d like you to vote for him in the 2012 State Senate Election.)