Friday, March 28, 2008

Bittersweet Me

I’m not entirely sure when or where I first heard R.E.M., but in retrospect it probably had something to do with MTV. What I do remember is that alt-rock was red hot, even hotter than indie is now or jambands were eight years ago, and that R.E.M. was definitely my favorite band of the era. At a time when the radio was ruled by the big, loud guitar riffs of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden, R.E.M. stood out as softer, more intellectual and, most importantly, more emotional. After school, I’d scan the local pop-rock radio stations hoping to hear “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts” or, if I was really lucky, “The One I Love,” and each Hanukah I’d creep one step closer to completing my R.E.M. collection. I started with the blockbusters: the baroque Out of Time, the grungy Monster and the “modern classic” Automatic for the People, which at the time, at least, was hailed as R.E.M.’s defining moment. Then I worked backwards, exploring the I.R.S. collection and the Minus 5 before settling on “Driver 8” as my favorite song. The first time I ever heard the phrase “B-Sides Collection” was in reference to R.E.M.’s grossly underappreciated Dead Letter Office, and I distinctly remember looking up the meaning of the word “eponymous” after reading it on the cover of R.E.M.’s first greatest hits album. I liked Nirvana, still love Pearl Jam, but felt I could only truly relate to R.E.M., four dorky college friends who seemed to over think life just as much as I did.

But, as I grew up and alt-rock splintered beyond repair, R.E.M. and I slowly began to drift. Bill Berry left the band, I discovered the Grateful Dead ‘n Phish, and Michael Stipe started acting more like a celebrity than a rock-and-roll frontman. In high school, Jerry Garcia taught me that silence between songs is often golden, Trey Anastasio reminded me of the old David Byrne saying that “singing is a trick to get people to listen to music longer than they would” and the jam-scene in general shifted my musical interests from emotion to improvisation. 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi featured one of my five favorite R.E.M. moments, the moody, rough “Bittersweet Me,” but I don’t think I even bothered to buy its sequel, Up. Now and then I’d check in on the guys, usually via VH1 or an event like the Vote for Change Tour, but by and large, my interests drifted elsewhere. I think the last time that little band from Athens, GA crossed my mind was when I pulled out an old concert shirt I bought at SPAC my first day of college to attend my final show at CBGBs. I’m not sure if R.E.M. ever played there, but they still seemed to fade with that era.

But, like so many things in life, the musical current has changed once again and now, a decade later, the jangle-rock sound R.E.M. helped pioneer is back style and the trio is ready to reclaim their indie-rock crown. Last month alone they headlined Langerado, played a SXSW showcase at Sutbb’s and scored the cover of Spin for the first in 13 years. Even my most jaded music-loving friends think Accelerate is R.E.M.’s best, and certainly most rocking, album since Monster, but something still feels wrong. Perhaps its because the interweb has rendered MTV irrelevant or that the group’s “lost” celebrity years revealed the sad truth that, at heart, most musicians would rather hang at a trendy night club than CBGBs…or that those grungy Monster riffs I loved so much in ’95 feel as dated as the Rolling Stones’ stab at psychadelia, Her Majesty's Satanic Request.

In a way, its nice to know that R.E.M. is still around, trying their hardest to produce good music, like an old friend from middle school you rarely see, but still keep tabs on. But, as much as R.E.M.’s return to fame is a sign that, as I’ve said time and time again, styles come and go in cycles, something about R.E.M.’s sudden comeback still feels forced. And, its safe to say, R.E.M. has aged into one of my generation’s first real nostalgia acts. It’s a sad fate and one that’s not entirely their fault: If he had sold thousands, not millions, of records, Michel Stipe would be Morrissey and if R.E.M. had broken up after Green and reformed in 2004 they’d be the Pixies. But, instead, R.E.M soldiered on, combating alt-rock’s lean years face to face, and now Stipe is forced to use his emotions, or at least his sexual ambiguity, as equity to bait the media into paying attention. Like so many oldies acts before him.

At Langerado, I’d guestimate about 2,000 kids left R.E.M.’s set early to pre-game in their tents before the Disco Biscuits’ late night set and I can’t really blame them. It must be hard to watch a band tour behind its Behind the Music story if you weren’t around when those stories took place. But, for me, hearing those songs still feels bittersweet.

I move across, innocence lost
All flashing pulsar
I move across the earth in my new pattern shirt
I pass satellites

"You're so bitter," your complaint
I can't give you anything
I don't know who you're livin' for
I don't know who you are anymore

I'd sooner chew my leg off,
Than be trapped in this
How easy you think of all of this as bittersweet me

I couldn't taste it
I'm tired and naked
I don't know what I'm hungry for
I don't know what I want anymore

I move across, candy floss
I move like a tank
I move across the room
With a heart full of gloom,
Stronger than you think

Oh my peer,
Your veneer is wearing thin and cracking
The surface informs that underneath,
Underneath is lacking

You move across, innocence lost,
All static and desire,
You're blue in the face from navel gaze,
You set yourself on fire

You strip down and lay yourself out,
I know you can't fake it,
But are you tired and naked?
Are you tired and naked?

I couldn't taste it
I'm tired and naked
I don't know what I'm hungry for
I don't know what I want anymore

I move across, candy floss
I move like a tank
I move across the room
With a heart full of gloom,
Stronger than you think

-R.E.M., “Bittersweet Me”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Moment with My Morning Jacket

Above: Bouncing with MMJ...find me as if I was Waldo

I heard the new My Morning Jacket album from start to finish yesterday, before it was turned off, packed up and returned to the vault where it will remain until each-and-every writer/critic/blogger/scribe with an @ symbol attached to their name dissects it from start to finish, claiming every kernel of noise as their own (read: no, I don't have a copy handy, so I can't burn it for you, even if it would help you score with your girlfriend, boyfriend and/or that guy who used to sell you goo balls in the lot).

I honestly can't remember the last time I was so excited to hear a new album and definitely can’t remember the last time I tried to review a new disc in just one sitting. Yet, there is something refreshing about hearing a CD as a complete work and then letting it sit for a while, before its tracks begin to take on all sorts of other extraneous meanings.

I also find it somewhat fitting that at a time when every singer/songwriter sporting more than a 5 o’clock shadow has seemingly tailored their style to replicate the classic Jim James sound, My Morning Jacket has moved in the opposite direction, creating a dense, funky, psychedelic album that would fit more comfortably next to Flaming Lips or Prince than either At Dawn or It Still Moves. Like 2005’s Z, Evil Urges finds the Kentucky-bred quintet masking its raw muscle with glitchy studio wizardry rather than acoustic guitars and reverb drenched vocals; in fact, James has tweaked his voice to such an extent that he now employs two microphones onstage. But, from start to finish, those classic MMJ touches are still there, buried beneath a thick layer of conscious fuzz, where one gets the sense James always felt they belonged. “For thoughtless folks like me and J, who'd pay, but can't afford, the finer things in life,” he once mused, “So we heist them all...”

In many ways, Evil Urges is actually two very different albums, conceptually spit down the middle by, appropriately enough, the song “Two Haves.” For lack of a better term, the disc’s A-Side is the more experimental half, driven by studio gimmicks and longtime drummer Patrick Hallahan’s big, funky beats. The album’s B-Side is more traditional MMJ, filled with modern classic-rock moments and a few more gentle interludes. And while the album’s A-Side was clearly sequenced upfront for a reason, it’s the record’s B-Side that echoes through my head, especially the soft, haunting “Librarian,” a vintage MMJ moment that could fit on Harvest were it not for a somewhat obtuse reference to “the interweb.”

But as much as I want to call Evil Urges the post-jam-era’s answer to Pet Sounds or Revolver, initially under appreciated experimental concepts that blossomed into cornerstones of the classic-rock canon, more likely it will either be the album that propels MMJ out of their comfortable critic’s corner or alienates their original fans…or both. For even though Evil Urges is both a product of the studio and the group’s least accessible work since signing with ATO, it’s also tailored for the big, arena stages My Morning Jacket are finally ready to frequent, especially the album's 7-minute climax, "Touch Me I'm Gonna Scream (Part 2)."

I guess that’s all until I give Evil Urges a proper listen and, I’m sure, a proper review. Until then I’ll leave you all with my favorite line from my first sitting. Go ahead and add it to your yearbook page before all your friends:

“Do you live your life on the road, losing out on love, asking for nothing, running for something that isn't there…”

Indeed Jim, I sure do…

Monday, March 24, 2008

Langerado Leftovers

Benjy and I spent a few days down in sunny Florida in March at the 6th annual Langerado Music & Arts Festival, recording a variety of backstage interviews. As in years past, we also recruited a mix of performers to deliver exclusive acoustic performances for Cold Turkey. Beloware the first batch of performances and interviews in five different links. Press "play" above to stream each individual episode or click "save target as" to download an mp3.

Matt Pond PA

New Mastersounds

Dr. Dog

Matisyahu and 311


Also, please check in the coming days for another batch of Langerado-centric podcasts.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Homecoming Kings

In January, Aaron and Deanna crashed at my apartment for a few days during a two week setbreak from their current "world tour." Aaron and I worked together at Relix from 2003-2007, sharing a thin cubicle wall for a good chuck of that time, and, while living in such close corners occasionally led to the obligatory co-worker eye roll, the place hasn't felt the same since he left last summer to travel the world with his equally awesome girlfriend/now fiancé Deanna.

The happy couple, who are the subject of both a blog and a mock-blog of their own, came home shortly before New Year's and spent about a week in the city, catching up with friends, family and former co-workers before heading off to southeast Asia in mid-January. Since both Aaron and Deanna left their jobs on good terms, they also stopped by their old offices for quick victory lap, which brought me back to one of my favorite Rye Country Day School memories: My first trip back to high school after starting college.

As much as I hated my high school with the passion of a thousand suns (a phrase I never really understand, but seems to mean "a lot"), there was something strangely heroic about that first trip back, when those awkward adolescent scars hadn't quite healed, but the main hall still felt like home. In retrospect, I'd only been gone for about 4 months, yet it felt like I'd come home from a year at sea: older, wiser and suddenly able to grow facial hair. My younger friends looked up at me with wide eyes and, for the first and only time, my teachers treated me more like a peer than a peasant. By my next trip back a for my brother's graduation , all the underclassmen I knew had long since graduated and I'd become just another name in the alumni directory to most of my former teachers.

In a way, I guess fitting that my favorite high school memory took place after a graduated, not just because as Zach Morris liked to say, "I love high school, too bad classes get in the way," but because it's impossible to really see something when it’s right in front of you, even if what you happen to be looking at bares an uncanny resemblance to Lord of the Flies.

Hopefully Aaron and Deanna felt the same way about their short stay on my sofa, Lord of the Flies reference not withstanding. Safe travels guys and we'll continue to look at you with wide eyes until we're forced to share a cubicle wall once again!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jammys Season is Here Again

After a short hiatus, the Jammys will return to the Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 7. The Jammy Awards was of the first projects I got involved with at Relix, back before I started spending more time in my cubicle then my bedroom, and is always one of my favorite days of the year (expect that time I lost my cell phone in the snow while setting up, but once again I digress). I’m pretty confident this year is going to be the best Jammy Awards yet, not just because four-time Jammy Award Winner and seven-time Grammy Nominee Warren Haynes and our most recent New Groove Winner Grace Potter are going to co-host, but because Phish is taking home the Lifetime Achievement Award. And even though I look a lot better in button downs than bajas, I still like Phish. A lot. And, apparently, so do MGMT, The National, Earl Greyhound, 311, Vampire Weekend, Incubus, Maroon 5 and pretty much every other great rock band with a good ear that came of age in the era of flying hotdogs and “Harry Hood” chants. So I hope you all stop by the Theater at MSG on May 7 for what is sure to be a most blogable evening of live improvisational music. And if I happen to lose my cell phone again, let’s just meet Page side, OK?

and for fun, here is a shot of me and Magner stuffing programs at the 2005 Jammys. I look young, he looks younger….

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Winter Hat Hair

After being spoiled with unseasonably warm weather for the past four months, winter finally arrived in New York in late February. Though I'm pretty sure every jacketless January day is just another sign that the end of the world in already in pre-production, I’ve certainly enjoyed bouncing round the city without my winter clothes. But, as I’m reminded each morning, every dream must eventually come to an end and, for the first time in months, last week I dug out my winter hat and gloves for my daily walk across the Red Sea divide that is 14th St.

And after trudging to work in the snow and taking off my beloved knit wool hat, I was also reminded of one of life’s simpler problems: hat hair. Not just baseball cap-style hat hair, mind you, but knit wool cap hair which, if you have thin, silky hair like me, is impossible to tame without a shower. Now, over the past quarter century, I’ve invested a lot of time trying to figure out a way to prevent winter hat: I’ve tried drying my hair before putting on my cap, wetting it before work and, even, dunking my head in my office sink in-between sips of my morning coffee. But, in the end, I’ve come to the realization that the only way to avoid winter hat hair is to brave the cold without any sort of above-ear protection.

In all honesty, I’ve never minded the cold enough to wear a hat, even when I lived in frigid upstate New York or after my college girlfriend insisted on keeping our thermometer at 98 degrees all winter, thus raising my body temperature just enough to demote winter to my least favorite season (right behind summer, spring and the beauty that is fall). But, occasionally, I find myself succumbing to peer pressure and wearing a hat to work. And, yes, you did read that right: peer pressure. You see, for some reason, people, especially adults, love asking me if I’m “cold.” In certain ways, it’s a rhetorical question (of course I know if I’m cold or not) and in other ways it’s a strange sort of under the breath insult, much like calling a friend “big guy” or “boss” or telling someone their shoes are untied when they are obviously already aware (as if to say, my day may suck, but at leas my shoes are tied). Yet, every winter, I can usually only take people asking me if “I am cold or not” or “why I’m not wearing a hat” for so long, so inevitably I eventually cave and accept my winter hat hair until its warm enough for people to start commenting on my bad bowl cut again.

So, if you happen to work in the winter sports wear industry, a plea on behalf of all of us with thin, silky hair: please try to invent a knit cap with a little less static. I can’t promise that you’ll make as big s splash as Ned Flanders’s Left Handed store in The Simpsons, but I swear I’ll never tell you if your shoes are untied.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Third Wives Club

As some of you may have noticed, and my dear friend Jon Peck recently pointed out, this space has been relatively quiet recently. It’s not that I haven’t had plenty of things to blog about (SXSW, Langerado, mini-Steel Train tour, the occasional cock block et. all) it just happens that all of those assignments have pulled me a bit farther from my desk than my average Relix work week usual allows (yes, even the cock block). But, after a short hiatus from all things 9-5, I’m back in New York and ready to make sense of my increased tinnitus.

I’m also sad to report that since we last spoke I’ve had to lay my beloved iPod to rest. About two weeks ago a black mark appeared on her otherwise colorful screen and, over the past 14 days, that darkness has slowly consumed her facade to the point where she is no longer usable. It’s a sad day, though one I should have seen coming given her rough-and-tough lifestyle and occasional run-ins with my hardwood floor.

She wasn’t my first sonic love: I was with my first ipod from 2003-2005, but, just two days before her warranty expired, I traded her in for a newer model. And, like many second wives, her replacement was a bit slimmer, a bit more exotic and a bit all around sexier. Of course, like any first wife, my original iPod got everything in the divorce, including all my mp3s. But, over the past three years, I’ve started a new life with my second ipod and, I’m not embarrassed to say, have become rather attached to her (though I never really gave her a name). So it is with bittersweet joy that I introduce my third iPod to the world this evening (check out that ass!):

Learning from my past mistakes, I’m thinking of giving her a name, perhaps “Number 3” or Trey for short, but then again we’re still in the courting phase. For now, I’m still figuring out how to press her buttons and why she keeps speaking to me in Spanish. But I’m sure in time I’ll come to love her as much as her predecessors…though this time I’m proud to say I was smart enough to sign up for Tekserve’s prenuptial Apple Cares program before I signed any papers.

I hope you missed me more than my spell check did,

Mikey Greenhaus