A Plethora of Musical Riches

I’ve been feeling kinda “feh” about most newish musical things that have crossed my desk over the past few months (the last record that had really thrilled me was Worlds Apart, the latest from And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead), but that trend has ended with an awesome wallop over the past few days as three titanic records in a row have hit my trembling ear holes . . .

You’ll Rebel to Anything by Mindless Self Indulgence: I went on record in print several years ago citing these guys as the future of rock and roll, and I stand by that position to this day. (See my interview with MSI singer Little Jimmy Urine in the sidebar to the left, or check out my live review of them from the Metroland archives here for some additional back story and perspective).

MSI are custom-made to be an object around which teenage rebellion can swirl . . . their looks, sound and lyrics are pretty well guaranteed to make even the most liberal-minded parents cringe the first time they encounter the band. But the quality of the music MSI offers kids to rebel to is simply amazing, a high-speed blender of programmed beats, samples, a live power trio and Jimmy Urine’s octave-jumping vocal psycho-pyro-technics. If your kids are going to rebel (or, rather, when your kids rebel), they might as well do it something of quality, not some bland pre-chewed musical food.

On this latest disc, MSI move away from some of the poo-poo-pee-pee offensiveness of their earlier discs and direct their crank-styled lyrical hostility at the sorts of lemming-like kids who rush off cliffs whenever the hip travelling roadshow of the day pulls into town. Even if that hip travelling roadshow happens to be the one headed by MSI themselves. Which is subtle and sublime on some plane, as most rebellion-friendly bands create “us vs. them” worlds in which band and kids are the “us” and parents and other authority figures are “them”. Not so in the MSI universe: see their live album, Alienating Our Audience, for proof.

Of course, alienating or insulting your audience is nothing new, but it’s something not often done well or with much imagination. No worries on that front here, though, as the lyrics of You’ll Rebel to Anything are pointedly accurate, insightful and spot-on honest, and designed (I think) not really to make the kids feel stupid or bad about themselves, but just to make the kids think about whether what they’re doing is stupid or not, or original or not, or really even rebellious or not.

Here’s how it works, in all of its multi-layered subversiveness: if you’re a kid rebelling against your parents by going to an MSI concert, you’re going to spend ninety minutes listening to the band tell you that you’re a stupid automaton for rebelling in a room with hundreds of other kids who are rebelling just like you are, and in all the same reasonably unimaginative ways that you are as well . . . but, then, when the show’s all said and done, the band members will almost always be extremely accessible, considerate, kind and respectful of the fact that you’ve come out to spend your allowance with and on them.

You will leave that show feeling exhilirated and good, as you will feel after you listen to this record a few hundred times. You will feel special, like all the other special people who are busy feeling special with you. You will feel like a part of a community, even if it’s a community of people thinking that they’re actually being individualistic loners carving their own niches in life. And there’s something comforting in knowing that your rebellion is being overseen and orchestrated by such talented performers and astute cultural observers. And if you’re a parent, and you’re doing a good job of teaching your children right from wrong and good from bad, then you can take comfort in knowing that your MSI-devoted kids are being challenged to think, not simply being fed the unimaginative pablum of packaged rebellion.

Also, parents and other oldsters, the new MSI record packs a fun surprise for you: a deconstruction of that classic Rush chestnut, “Tom Sawyer.” On the surface, it seems like an odd choice for Urine and friends to tackle, but once you hear a fairly true-to-original arrangement of that song pumped out in just over two minutes, it’s kind of shocking how much is sounds like the rest of MSI’s songs, with all of their stop-start activity, tempo changes, multiple movements and parts and interesting synthetic sounds. If we played a vinyl copy of You’ll Rebel to Anything at 16 rpm, I think you and I both would be surprised how much it would sound like some classic prog rock. Just because you play fast, short songs doesn’t mean they can’t be knotty and complicated.

So, anyway, go buy this album now and start your own little rebellion, with all the rest of us happy lemmings of all shapes and ages.

The other two titanic musical presences that have arrived on my stereo this week are the six-disc box set The Complete Peel Sessions, 1978-2004 by The Fall, and Animal Lover by The Residents. I’d write more about them now, but I have to meet Marcia in ten minutes, and I ended up writing more about Mindless Self Indulgence than I thought I would. Later. Later. But go ahead and buy these two other records now anyway.

New Mexico

What a great vacation . . . usually at the end of a week away, I’m ready to get home, or at least ready to leave where I’m vacationing. Not this time. Santa Fe is positively sublime and heavenly. I can’t recommend it highly enough for a trip of your own, with kids, as a couple’s getaway, however you like it, Santa Fe will fit the bill.

We spent a lot of time in gallery’s and museums while out there, and are mulling an investment in an artwork we found out there (in Taos, actually, not in Santa Fe itself). It’s a big piece (six feet by three feet) with a big (for us) price tag, but it’s absolutely stunning, and will fit in the big white space where the scary dangerous mirror once hung. The gallery owner’s given us rights of first refusal and a week to ponder. I think we’re going to get it. Photos to follow when it’s shipped and hung.

We also took a couple of day trips, one to the west, where we visited Los Alamos National Laboratory (or at least the public parts of it), which was kind of interesting to us, since we’ve both worked on other highly secretive and sensitive Department of Energy National Laboratories. We also visited Bandelier National Monument, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited. It’s incredible to me that it’s not better known . . . I, for instance, had never heard of it until we drove out to it. From Bandelier, we drove up into the Jemez Mountains and then down across the Valles Caldera (one of the largest collapsed volcanic cones in the continental United States), then down through Jemez Springs and back up to Santa Fe.

On that road trip, we also stopped at San Ildefonso Pueblo, which was a serendipitous stop, as we found we liked their traditional pottery more than any of the other Pueblo People’s traditional styles. They use a special technique for firing that turns the red clay black. Very striking and unusual. We purchased a small pot with the image of the serpent (signifying water) on it.

The only other pueblo we visited on our vacation was Taos Pueblo, on our other long day trip. Taos is one of the best-preserved and largest pueblos in New Mexico. We walked among buildings that are estimated to be 1000 to 1500 years old, and which are still home to members of the community. Gives you an amazing perspective on the relative youth of our civilization.

During our trip to Taos, we took the so-called “High Road” and had one of our typical vacation adventures. After an hour or so of winding around some pretty amazingly sheer and high switchbacks and serpentine roadways, we came to a small town called Truchas. Unbeknownst to us, the High Road made a left turn at Truchas that we missed, so we drove straight through the town and left it on the wrong side on a different road.

Ten miles or so later, the pavement ended. At this point, most tourists would say “We must have made a mistake, this can’t possibly be the highway.” But we’re not like most tourists, because we’ve lived in Idaho, where State Highways often are dirt roads. As we jogged and bounced along the dirt path, Marcia and I regaled Katelin with stories of our road trips in Idaho, and how it was just a fact of Western living that sometimes highways weren’t paved.

The road got worse. Deep ruts started dragging at the bottom of our rental car. We began to wonder if our Idaho conditioning hadn’t been incorrect in this case. We finally decided that something wasn’t right when we rounded a curve and found the entire roadbed under a strongly flowing stream of water. After a gently executed U-turn in less-than-optimal conditions, we headed back for Truchas. Lo and behold, we had indeed missed the highway. Marcia noted that she was proud of my self-restraint, as there was a time when I would have tried to drive through the flooded road.

Our only other foray out of Santa Fe proper was to drive up to the nearby Ski Santa Fe resort. Skiing season was done, but the views from 12,400 feet were incredible and worth the drive up. We noticed that Katelin seemed to get excessively giggly at such high altitudes. I guess oxygen-starvation effects little people differently than it does big folks.

If they turn out, I’ll probably post some photos of the trip when I get them back from the processor. The weather was perfect all week, so hopefully I got some decent shots of some of things we saw and did, although I doubt that even the best photos will do justice to the majesty of the landscape and city as experienced up close and personal.

Couplet of the Day

Why are there so many Taco Bells in New Mexico?
For the same reason New Yorkers eat at Dominos.

(We’re having a great time. Drove up into the Jemez Mountains today, with numerous stops on the way up and back. I’m enjoying the moments too much to blog them. Sorry. I’m shooting real film this trip . . . when the pics are developed, and I’m looking to kill some time at work, I’ll fill in the details).

The Operative Word Was “Foo”

I might blog the vay-cay, or at least some parts of it, as the spirit moves me and the time becomes available. We’re all sorts of tired at this point, having gotten up at 4:30 AM EDT, and it being 6:00 PM MDT now. Marcia’s power-napping, Katelin’s watching television, and I’m ticky-typing on Marcia’s laptop.

The trip out here was on-time and uneventful, or as uneventful as flying ever is. The worst part about flying for me is being packed in a sardine can with people I didn’t pick. There was a group of teenagers on the first flight from Albany to Chicago. As one behind me prattled on at high volume, the following couplet composed itself in my brain:

She had nothing at all to say,
and yet, she talked on anyway.

For the second, longer flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, I sat in front of a very elderly woman who, I believe from the aroma, was having leakage issues with her adult incontinence products. The operative word was “foo!”

But, then when we hit the ground, it all becomes worth it. The drive up from Albuquerque to Santa Fe is spectacular, as the high desert meets to mountains, and we sort of randomly stopped at a local restaurant that turned out to be fantastic. The hotel we’re staying in is equally great. We walked up Canyon Road this afternoon, peaking into maybe 10% of the amazing art galleries up there, and poked around the plaza a bit as well. Tomorrow, we’ll explore more. Today . . . we rest. I’m ready for it.

Four Hours Until Vacation . . .

Saturday morning. One meeting. Directing the building maintenance crew through the weekend routine. Filing payroll. Changing my answering machine message . . . and then . . . . Sweet relief! Vacation is here! We’re heading to Santa Fe early Monday morning, will be there six nights. Mmmmm . . . mountains . . . far away . . . sand . . . sun. I am so, so, so, so ready.

And when I return, there are only two more weeks of classes at RPI, then exams, then we shift into summer mode here, which is a good deal more relaxed than the school year is. I do a lot of work still, mind you, but it tends to occur during the day hours from Monday to Friday. No Saturday mornings. Not many evenings. Shorts and t-shirts every day. Hooray!

Also on the “hooray” front: the Washington Wizards actually managed to clinch a playoff spot. After sitting nicely in the four seed for most of the season, they stumbled down the stretch, and I was having visions of them majestically folding their sails and missing the post-season altogether, as has happened so many years before. But, nope, they held on, and they’ll be playing into May for the first time since 1997. Hooray!

My beloved Kansas City Royals have already assumed their normal position as the team with the worst record in the American League, but I am officially adopting the Washington Nationals as my chosen National League team. The Mets have held that spot in the past, and I’ll still root for them, but . . . my sports template was stamped as a child in the Southeast and in the DC suburbs, so I always default back to Washington teams when they’ve got them. (I adopted the Royals when we lived in Kansas in the mid-’70s, after the second Senators franchise fled Washington for the sunny climes of Texas). And, surprise, surprise, the Nationals were in first place as of their home opener. Go Nats!

On the home front, roof replacement is done, new door is ordered, and we have a giant mountain of mulch in the driveway that I have to spread before heading out to New Mexico. We met with a contractor about the new sun room, and I think have decided that the cost/benefit analysis for said room is marginal . . . what we really want, at bottom line, is just a place to put a hot tub. We can do that cheaper without a full on home addition. As part of our home-improvement plans, we had a house appraisal done, and got nice results: it appraised for 45% more than we bought it for six years ago, and 88% more than the remaining balance on our mortgage. That’s comforting.

I think Marcia is planning to take her laptop with us on vacation, so I may blog a little while out there . . . but, then again, I may not, since computers are one thing that I’m vacationing from. We’ll see how I feel.

There But For

A midshipman at the Naval Academy was found dead yesterday, apparently having fallen from somewhere in Bancroft Hall, the huge (33 acre) dorm where the entire Brigade of Midshipmen lives. Investigations are underway. The report I got as secretary of my class noted that the student’s body was found at the base of fourth wing, which is where I lived. And where I used to go up to the roof in the springtime (often alone) and lay out in the sun on what we called “Green Beach,” atop the copper flashing that ran along the building’s edges, five stories up from Tecumseh Court, invisible from ground level. This is only speculation, but given the season, I have a sad feeling that this death might have been the accidental result of a Green Beach mis-step, if students still go up there the way we did. We never realized how dumb we were being at the time. I guess no one ever does, until something terrible like this happens. Poor kid. Poor kid’s family.