Rock Taxonomy, pt. 1: Rhythm Guitar

Fender Telecaster

You check out Guitar George he knows all the chords
Mind he's strictly rhythm he doesn't want to make it cry or sing
And an old guitar is all he can afford
When he gets up under the lights to play his thing

Dire Straits, "Sultans of Swing"

The guitar is the "prestige" instrument of rock. When seen strapped on any manner of rock performer, it stands as a symbol of credibility--nearly anybody feels like they can sing (witness the popularity of karaoke and its bastard offspring, American Idol), but if you can play guitar, you're a musician, you're cool.

In rock music, guitarists fall into two categories: lead guitarists and rhythm guitarists. Following the idea of guitar being rock's prestige instrument, guitarists who play lead enjoy higher levels of prestige. Just as the violin virtuoso receives more acclaim and flinged roses than does the second chair violin, the rhythm guitarist toils in the shadow of the lead guitarist. In the most typical of rock ensembles, one can expect to hear a solo on every one of the group's songs. One posits that the guitarist who can solo is the more skilled, more gifted guitarist; both the rhythm guitarist and the lead guitarist can play chords in sequence, after all, but if the rhythm guitarist could master scales and modes as effortlessly as the lead, then he or she wouldn't be a rhythm guitarist, would they?

Not necessarily. Rhythm guitar playing is no less virtuosic than playing lead. The very name of attached to this type of guitar playing--rhythm--disproves such reasoning: the difficulty of creating and sustaining rhythm should be easily appreciated by those who have little or none.

Lennon acousticThe Beatles did many things to change popular music. Though the invention of rock music is often ascribed to Bill Haley and the Comets (incorrectly or not; one could go as far back as Robert Johnson to find the starting point of rock), it goes without saying that the Beatles permanently defined the rules of rock music. After the Beatles, the prototypical rock ensemble would consist of the following makeup: lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, bass guitarist, and drummer. Any of them could sing, and whoever sang lead was likely the guy who wrote the song. Therefore, as the Beatles are seen as the protypical rock band, John Lennon becomes the protypical rhythm guitarist, and sets many of the standards for rhythm guitar playing to this day. John Lennon never played a solo, but in some songs his rhythm took center stage, notably at the beginning of "I Feel Fine," which starts with popular music's first known instance of guitar feedback on a recording, and kicks off with John's driving rhythm, which nearly sounds like a hard-driving gospel organ. Lennon also establishes the rhythm guitarist as a vocalist. While none of the Beatles could be considered the group's "lead singer," Lennon sets the standard for the prototypical rhythm guitarist needing to, at the very least, serve as a harmonizing or backup singer.

Keith RichardsJust as the Beatles defined rock music, it could be said that the Rolling Stones refined the form. While John Lennon sets the initial standard for rhythm guitar playing, it must be said that Keith Richards set the standard by which all future rhythm guitarists would be judged. The reason for this could first be ascribed to the Stones' setting the standard for rock music itself by taking rock away from the polished sounds of white popular music and rooting it in the hard-edged rhythms of electric blues, which again points to blues legends such as Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker, and Bo Diddley as the true originators of rock music, and indeed, the unsung legends of rhythm guitar. As the inheritor of that legacy, Keith Richards should rightly be regarded as the greatest rhythm guitarist in the history of rock music. The proof is not only in his rhythmic prowess, but in the importance he forever bestowed on the cornerstone of rhythm guitar playing--the riff, or as the opening bars of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" are forever known, "The Riff." What's more, as the "coolest" member of one of the coolest bands in rock history, Keith Richards established standards of personal style for rhythm guitarists that still endure--silently stalking his side of the stage, idly puffing on a cigarette, piping in harmonizing vocals whenever they're needed, taking lead vocal duty once in a great while.

Lou Reed with Fender TelecasterIt seems downright essential that the rhythm guitarist of any band be able to contribute vocals in some fashion, be it as co-lead in a group of singers a la Lennon for the Beatles, backup vocalist and occasional lead a la Richards for the Stones, or as most often seen, lead singer of a group, such as Lou Reed, fronting the Velvet Underground or solo. With Reed, we must note the amount of seriousness he puts into his guitar playing, not letting his duty to the rhythm fall victim to his prowess as a vocalist. As with many things Lou Reed does, his insistence on contributing as a guitarist could be seen as pomposity, but in the context of rhythm guitar playing, it is essential. A lead singer can be a rhythm guitarist, but it is necessary for he or she to do more than contribute the occasional chord progression--rhythm guitar must in some way contribute to the song as a whole, and above all, must carry or contribute to the rhythm of a rock song.

Other noteworthy rhythm guitarists, in no particular order:

Harrison and Dylan
  • Bob Dylan
  • Black Francis, The Pixies
  • Izzy Stradlin, Guns 'n Roses
  • Malcolm Young, AC/DC
  • Al Jardine, The Beach Boys
  • David Bowie
  • Ian Hunter, Mott the Hoople
  • Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips
  • Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth
  • Tom Verlaine, Television
  • Matthew Sweet
  • Chrissie Hynde
  • Peter Buck, R.E.M.
  • Robyn Hitchcock, The Soft Boys
  • David Byrne, The Talking Heads
  • Nash Kato, Urge Overkill
  • Tobin Sprout, Guided By Voices
  • Ric Ocasek, The Cars
  • Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders
Did I miss your favorite rhythm guitarist? Leave a comment and post a tribute to them.

The Rock Taxonomy will continue with pt. 2: The Bass Player.


Announcing my spiffy new look, along w/ other useless info

The main reason I'm writing this is to announce the debut the pretty new look of my blog. (This information is especially useless if you happen to be reading this at my MySpace Branch, where nothing has changed; if you want to see what I'm talking about, go visit the Blogger Branch.) The main reason I decided to change the template is that I screwed up my old one. I was tinkering around with the junk on the sidebar, and went a little too far. Since I don't really know how to work CSS, I just kept dithering around with tags until it looked the way I wanted it, but this time I only served to make it look totally stupid. So, I found a new one, which thankfully was coded much simpler than the old one was, and tailored it to my liking. I hope you find it pleasing, my imaginary readers. If not, well, there's always the MySpace Branch.

I hate to think of you getting upset, to drop by only to encounter such an insignificant announcement. So to whet your appetite, I've decided to give you more insigificant information. This is a meme that anyone who's anyone has already done. I filched it from Sandra's blog Not That Desperate, which is a nifty blog, if you ask me.

Bold = books I've read.
Red = I have no intention of ever reading ever in my lifetime.
Green = I've never even heard of.
Blue = I have on my list and intend to read.
Orange = I might read some day.

1. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (Too bad intense, molten red isn't an option, to convey my intense distaste for this man and this book. I might read the book he stole his entire plot from, however: Holy Blood, Holy Grail)
2. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger (Somehow I've managed to miss this one, even though I did in fact live through an adolescence in the United States of America)
3. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams
4. The Great Gatsby - F.Scott Fitzgerald
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee.
6. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
7. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (Looks like it's right up my alley!)
8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling (I don't have anything against these books; I like the movies, and I have read a book after seeing its adaptation a number of times, but it seems these movies hew too closely to the books, making it rather uninteresting to read after seeing the movie)
9. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
10. Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell
11. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
12. The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien
13. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - Mark Haddon
14. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
15. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
16. 1984 - George Orwell
17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J. K. Rowling (I thought the movie was fantastic - the best so far; see #8)
18. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Oh, how I loved this book. It messed with my mind.)
19. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
20. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
21. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
22. Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
23. Angels and Demons - Dan Brown (This would be "never heard of", but seeing the author's name is all I need to know)
24. Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk (I'm afraid of this guy; like, I'm afraid he's going to assault my mind)
25. Neuromancer - William Gibson
26. Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
27. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
28. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
29. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
30. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
31. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis
32. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
33. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
34. The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
35. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
36. Good Omens - Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
37. Atonement - Ian McEwan
38. The Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
39. The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway (sort of the same way I managed to live an entire adolescence without reading Catcher in the Rye, I managed to get a Bachelor's degree in English while only reading one book by Hemingway, In Our Time. Dunno, it just happened that way.)
40. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
41. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
42. Dune - Frank Herbert (I just don't see myself making the commitment necessary to read this at any point in the near future, considering all the books I already own and haven't managed to read yet. It's sad, really.)


My Life on Records: A different kind of Moon Safari

10,000 Hz LegendAir - 10,000 Hz Legend
Astralwerks (2001)

When Air first arrived on the pop music scene, their sound was described earnestly by some as elevator music, and fit nicely in the niche of groups making so-called "space-age bachelor pad" music. That term was made most famous by Juan Garcia Esquivel, master of high-fidelity easy listening epics, who enjoyed a resurgence of interest in his work in the mid-nineties thanks to a Matt Groening-approved compilation and an appearance on the soundtrack to Four Rooms, which featured music from Esquivel acolytes Combustible Edison. Stereolab revived the phrase for their album The Groop Played "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music", Capitol Records cleaned their vaults with their staggering 18-volume Ultra Lounge series, and even the Beastie Boys got in on the act with their one-off fans-only disc The In Sound From Way Out.

Air's debut album Moon Safari coasted in smoothly on the ebb tide space-age bachelor pad music's popular revival. It floated on a plush cloud of vintage Moog synthesizers and Fender Rhodes, occasionally trimmed with french horn flourishes cribbed straight out of Burt Bacharach's wet dreams. The French duo that made up Air, Nicolas Godin and Jean-BenoƮt Dunckel added a touch of icy Euro-cool to their tunes with their gently cooing Gallic voices, often run through a vocoder. The lush, atmospheric sounds and moody instrumentals of Moon Safari sounded perfect for a film soundtrack, and appropriately, Air's next effort was the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's debut film The Virgin Suicides. The EP Premier Symptomes collected their early singles, showing how they first learned the formula for rocking a french horn and a Moog in the same song, making slow-burn bliss-outs like "Le Soleil est Pres de Moi" sound like an anthem of mellow joy.

Godin and Dunckel strayed sharply from the space-age course with their third full-length album, 10,000 Hz Legend. The cover of the record seemed to depict the two gazing from a literal space-age bachelor pad perched high above Monument Valley, but the songs within could hardly be described as easy listening. The opening track sets the tone: "Electronic Performers" features a voice vocoded so heavily that it sounds less like the mellow tune-bots of Moon Safari and more like a robot grown a little weary from tinkling the mellow ivories:

We need to use envelope filters
To say how we feel
Riding on magnetic waves
We search new programs for your pleasure
I want to patch my soul on your brain
BPM controls yoour heartbeats
We are the syncronizers
We are electronic performers
The next track, "How Does it Make You Feel," would not sound out of place on Moon Safari, what with its softly intoned Fender Rhodes chords, sweetly soaring chorus, and intimately romantic lyrics, that is, if those romantics lyrics did not sound as though they were sung by a robot with the voice of a frog:

I am feeling very warm right now
Please don't disappear
I am spacing out with you
You are the most beautiful entity that I've ever dreamed of

At night I will protect you in your dreams
I will be your angel
You worry so much about not having enough time together
It makes no difference to me
I would be happy with just one minute in your arms
Let's have an extended play together
You're telling me that we live to far to love each other
But your love can stretch further than you and I can see
So, how does it make you feel?
At the end of the track, a female robot voice provides the punchline and the answer: "Well, I really think you should quit smoking."

"Radio #1" is the next track and the only single from this record, sounding like a slightly-off ELO with the chorus "If you need some fun / Some good stereo gum / Radio #1 / Brand new ears at once / Eject musical trash / Radio #1." On the next track, none other than Beck Hansen drops by the bachelor pad, sounding elegantly wasted and moved by the signature moods evoked by Air:
Golden waves
In all directions
I could lose my soul right here
Colour lights
On the runway
Makes a stranger feel unchained
air"Radian," one of the two intrumentals on this record, is the only track on 10,000 Hz Legend that evokes the polish of Moon Safari. It does the space-age Moog music thing so well that it effectively answers those who wondered why this record couldn't be more like its predecessors. If Moon Safari and Virgin Suicides established Air as expert purveyors of instrumental space-age pop, then "Radian" was their capstone and ultimate acheivement in the form. It perfectly evokes a mood of quiet seduction, growing rapture, and the reflection and release that comes afterward.

The next three tracks serve to dispel the almost coital bliss evoked by "Radian," and return the record to its dominant themes: weariness, disillusion, and clausterphobia, all antithetical to the groovy vibe so often ascribed to space-age bachelor pad music. "Lucky and Unhappy" has our boys reeling from the antiseptic removal of feelings that is the byproduct of fame. "Sex Born Poison" seems to describe the perils of sex between consenting robots:
Meet my desire sensors
My atom juice of joy
You want to use my affective circuits
Run to the fire exit
Use your cooling system
You'll never reach the 7th sky today
In "People in the City," Air takes a second to step back and look at their surroundings, and they find themselves in a claustrophobic metropolis straight out of Blade Runner:
People in the city
People in the city

Moving, watching, working, sleeping, driving, walking, talking, smiling
Moving, watching, working, sleeping, driving, walking, talking, smiling

On the sidewalk (People in the city)
Near the street lamp (People in the city)
At the bus stop (People in the city)
Down the station (People in the city)
After all that paranoia and malaise, Godin and Dunckel once again gleefully subvert the smooth Euro-cool image they gained from their earlier recordings on "Wonder Milky Bitch", flaunting the same oddball humorous streak that "How Does it Make You Feel" revealed earlier, and replacing that song's romance with naughty innuendo:
This is the story of a country girl
Back in town from her country house
She came to me with her muddy boots
She destroyed all my carpet

You know how to do it
Wonder milky bitch
You never wear cosmetic
You don't like arithmetic

You know how to do it
Wonder milky bitch
Tasting, touching, swallowing me
Drinking me like bloody mary
Pairing a lurid jews harp with a dreamily strummed acoustic guitar, "Wonder Milky Bitch" provides an answer for anyone who ever wondered what it would sound like if Lee Hazlewood ever sang lead vocals for T.Rex.

10,000 Hz Legend goes out with a one-two punch. "Don't Be Light" could be interpreted as a statement of the album's ultimate objective, both by its title and its execution. It sounds as though Air is speeding away from the high-tech nightmare they had surrounded themselves with, alternating a rapid techno-derived synthesiser blips with raucous, overdriven guitar solos. They pause halfway through to observe the second cameo of Beck's Vagabond, returning from mellow cosmic voyage he set off for with Air's earlier help, now intoning an eerie epitaph:
Don't be light, don't be light, a-ha
Wild life
The grey surprises of our days
Singing in caves
Fabricating a new abandon
We don't see the master's hand
We bang on gold tamourines
In the cross hairs of some transient gun
Trading desires on the banquet line
La, la, la, la, la, laaaa....
"Carmel Prisoner" serves as the second instrumental and final salvo on the strange, synthetic voyage undertaken by our French duo. We don't know if they made it out, but the title and the relentless technological throb of the song makes us think they have ended up lost in some endlessly repeating pleasure circuit.

10,000 Hz Legend was greeted with confusion by critics and fans who were once wooed by the smooth electronics of Moon Safari. Rolling Stone called it a "deranged dim sum of sound: Some of it is tasty, most of it is weird and, ultimately, you will never know what your ears are eating." Describing "Radian," it complained, "There's a palpable sense of wistfulness to the track, a moody blues that repeatedly surfaces on 10,000 Hz. Legend then disappears again. But this vague angst is the only thread that runs through every song, and when Beck drops by and ruins "The Vagabond" with the same minstrel-show Prince impersonation he sported on Midnite Vultures, one begins to wonder if this isn't a compilation of electronic performers instead of an album by one band....It's nice that 10,000 Hz. Legend sounds very little like Air's masterworks Premier Symptomes and Moon Safari. Unfortunately, it also sounds like Air trying very hard not to be Air." England's NME, giving the record a 9 out of 10 but seemingly praising it with faint damnation, said "There's nothing like gratuitously trashing your public image. If Air's debut album...established them as a byword for casual style-mag chic, then its successor looks like a brazen attempt to destroy that image for good. 10,000 Hz Legend is nothing like Moon Safari, then again it doesn't really bear a resemblance to much. Instead, it's a glowing, highly ambitious, quasi-concept album that sees Air spiralling off on a wildly idiosyncratic and brilliantly insane tangent all of their own."

While being a huge fan of Moon Safari and Premier Symptomes, as well as their most recent album, the less difficult and more Moon Safari-like Talkie Walkie, I still consider 10,000 Hz Legend to be Air's best album. My reasoning revolves around the concept of evolution, at least as much as one can apply evolution to pop musicians. Popular music is riddled with excellent debut albums. When an album is delightful and effective, it leaves listeners wanting more. What makes a band really great, in my estimation, is when a group takes the expectation and promise that comes after the release of their first records, and does something unexpected: evolves, adapts, and gets better.

Witness the evolution of many great pop musicians from one touchstone album to another: The Beatles from Please Please Me to the White Album; The Beach Boys from Surfin' USA to Pet Sounds; Lou Reed from Transformer to Berlin; David Bowie from Hunky Dory to Low; Ween from God Ween Satan: The Oneness to Chocolate and Cheese; Beck from Mellow Gold to Odelay and Sea Change.Similarly, 10,000 Hz Legend sees Air making a move in the direction of evolution, re-evaluating the sounds, moods, and themes of their earlier work, and in the process making a record that's smarter, more literate, edgier, and ultimately more exciting than the ones they made before.

airThis is the kind of evolutionary process I want to experience happening to all the bands I enjoy. I want them to go from a great band to one that is truly outstanding. In my opinion, the great bands do this by taking what they do well, turning it around, and doing something totally unexpected with it. It is rare when this process works. On 10,000 Hz Legend, it works better than anyone who ever blissed out to the mellow sounds of Moon Safari could have expected.


Something 'bout books

I have been tagged by the Repressed Librarian, my comrade in the propagation of book learnin' and author of the frequently moving blog To Know as We Are Known, to take part in a book meme. Because she is my comrade, and because I've never been tagged for this kind of bloggy thing before, I will comply.


1. One book that changed your life?

I think the book that had the biggest effect on my personality was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It was a major influence on my sense of humor and my conception of life, the universe, and everything.

As far as serious changes go, reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in high school launched my love for literature.

2. One book you have read more than once?

I rarely read a book more than once. The only ones I can think of that I have read more than once are The Hobbit and Stephen King's The Stand.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

If I were on a desert island, I wouldn't want anything, because I can never decide what I would want on a desert island. I can never pick one thing as my favorite of anything. I prefer top-fives. If pressed, I guess I would pick Shelby Foote's three-volume Civil War series. Why? One, because I've never read it, two, because it would take a while to read, and three, because I really want to read it, and look at it often in bookstores, but chicken out all the time. Another choice along those lines would be The Decline and Fall of Roman Civilization. One book that follows the above criteria which I have read is Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Recently, it was Pastoralia, by George Saunders.

5. One book that made you cry?

I don't think that a book has ever made me cry. I have cried at a few movies, but never because of a book.

6. One book you wish had been written?

Any book that has my name on the spine as the author.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Dianetics, or anything by L. Ron Hubbard, for that matter.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Since I've started working, I have not read a single book this year. It's sad, because I am used to reading all the time, and usually go from book to book. Part of it is because of my schedule, but part of it is because I haven't found a book that was interesting enough for me to keep wanting to read it.

This crisis finally ended when I started reading The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. It's the kind of book that I don't want to put down and can't wait to pick up again.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

I have a huge pile of books I have managed to avoid reading for a long time now, but I think I'm going to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell next.

10. Now tag five people.

I'm not nearly as connected as my comrade RL, so if you are out there, and you just happen to read this blog, go ahead and consider yourself tagged.


The Records of My Lifetime

This is the first of what I hope will be a weekly feature. I'm planning, optimistically, to profile a different record approximately every Thursday. I think that the title of the feature, "The Records of My Lifetime," is totally pompous, reminding me of some kind of Sinatra-wannabe doing a Vegas revue, but it's all I can think of at the moment, and is likely to change if I think up something more clever. So without further ado, I bring you....


frank black frank blackFrank Black - Frank Black
4AD/Elektra (1993)

There are arguably more fans of the Pixies now than there were when they broke up in 1993. You can break that band's fanbase into two camps by asking a Pixies fan to name the man who served as lead singer, rhythm guitarist, head songwriter, and primary oddball for that highly influential group. The first camp, likely made up of those who were a fan of the Pixies before they broke up, will answer "Black Francis." The second camp, likely made up of those who became fans of the Pixies after they broke up, will answer "Frank Black." To be nauseatingly honest, the man's real name is Charles Thompson, but it's likely only his mother and his wife call him that. I am one of the second camp; whenever I refer to the Pixies, I automatically refer to the man who led them as Frank Black. The reason for this is, following my earlier stated reasoning, I had not heard a single song by the Pixies until a few years after they broke up. My first contact with the off-kilter pop songcraft of one Mr. Charles Thompson came by way of his first solo album, where he reversed his stage name and was known forever after as Frank Black. To reinforce the name change, the album's spine, in a subtle stroke of humor, diligently lists both the artist's name and the album's title in order: Frank Black - Frank Black.

"Ironic" is one of those overused words often thrown at Frank Black and his earlier band, and often used to describe the music that came out of the oft-mislabeled genre his work was herded into: indie rock, college rock, and the hoariest misnomer of all--alternative rock. How else to describe an album whose songs include an appreciation of a distinctive style of facial hair, a travelogue from a UFO convention, an instrumental version of a song that to anyone's knowledge does not have lyrics, and one song that crests on repeated shouts of the word "Jerk"? These songs would be ironic, were there any guile invovled, and if their subject matter were meant to stand in for something other than what they are ostensibly "about". In my mind, Frank Black's modus operandi is less about irony and more to do with his own unique sense of humor, along with an appreciation of the transcendant joy that comes from coupling a good pop hook with a wry turn of phrase.

frank black surfingThe album starts with "Los Angeles," but not the one in South California, he warns, "they got one in South Patagonia." This song shifts from a dreamy, acoustic guitar and xylophone-accompanied rememberance of a man, "...he was a good man/Sailing and shoring/He got a betatron, man," and then kicks into a superheavy metal-esque riff, where he again clarifies which Los Angeles he wants to live in, then back to the strummy part about the man, "dancing the beta can-can." It's a highly dramatic tonal shift, and it give the album a rousing start. Next comes "I Heard Ramona Sing," in which "Ramona" is the Ramones, and the song is an appreciation of one of Frank Black's favorite bands.

I had so many problems
And then I got me a walkman
I really liked it a lot and
They walked right in and they solved them
They walked right in and they solved them

I heard Ramona sing
And I heard everything
The speed they're traveling
They are the only thing

One of the most memorable tracks is "Fu Manchu," which manages to be both about the mythical crime lord as well as his moustache.

frank black fu manchuYou heard about
A criminal man of virtue
Is there any doubt
His minimal strands would suit you?

Is a hard earned way
Is a hard earned way
I'll never lose
My fu manchu
My fu manchu

Let them grow out
In time you'll feel so better
The vanishing pout
Now you're a real go-getter

Sound-wise, this song represents the production of the album well. Frank Black's vocals sound dreamy, almost effortless, and his acoustic guitar nicely mixes with the bouncy, surf-inspired bass line. Lurid counterpoint is provided by the synthetic, plastic-sounding horn section, which appear throughout the record and help give it a signature tone. Frank Black sounds slick and synthetic, less noisy and organic than the Pixies albums were. This serves to distinguish the record from his more celebrated work, for one, and second, it serves these songs well: the sound doesn't get in the way of the lyrics or the hooks, and while it draws obvious inspiration from a number of things--surf music, punk rock, the Beach Boys--it doesn't sound like any of them. This album effortlessly created a signature sound that groups like Weezer could never improve upon. In a way, the Pixies created "alternative rock" as it came to be known, and on Frank Black, the creator perfected his creation, making it sound as though it always existed.

frank black with crownFrank Black's next record, Teenager of the Year, is considered by some people to be the best work he had ever done, and I remember once that a book was published with its sole subject being that Teenager of the Year was best album ever recorded. I think its massive length makes it less effective than the more consise Frank Black, but the opening four tracks, "Whatever Happened To Pong?", "Thalassocracy", "(I Want To Live On An) Abstract Plain", and "Calistan", come on so fast and so furious that at the very least it qualifies as one of the best album sides ever put to wax. Additionally, "Headache" is a fantastic pop song that in a weirder world, one that was listening to better pop music than Ace of Base, Aerosmith, and Green Day, would have been a massive hit.

Needless to say, Frank Black led me to seek out the Pixies, and without question Doolittle and Surfer Rosa are albums that merit equal or greater contemplation than this one. But Frank Black is where I started, my first introduction to the weird world this man created under both of his altar egos, and more importantly, one of the records that helped show me that there was more to music than the Beatles, more than the hairy garbage being beat to death on classic rock radio, and more than the soulless "product" that continues to make people think of empty fluff when they hear someone refer to "pop music". Without Frank Black, there might not have been a Nirvana, a Pavement, a Ween, or even a Breeders, for me or for anyone else. Like the man said, "they walked right in and they solved them."


This wheel's on fire

Perhaps I have not been as forthcoming as you deserve me to be, my beloved imaginary readers. If you were to count up the sum of my interests from what I've posted here, and created some sort of doppelbedheaded, you might imagine me to be a peacenik, comic book nerd, classic-rock AM Gold head, liberal, francophile, wannabe writer guy. Well, most of it is true, but it doesn't give you the real me. The real me is much more banal and much less intelligent than this already banal and unintelligent blog would lead you to believe.

I've struggled with how much of the "real" Bedheaded I feel comfortable posting on this already insignificant outpost of the intergalactic garbage dump we call the internets. The problem with being a confessional blogger is that one must necessarily have some halfway significant confession to make in the first place. Well, my life's pretty boring, so there's not much. But there are a few things.

First of all, though my recent rash of peacenik pronouncements might make one think otherwise, I at heart am a solitary, distrustful person, and harbor an overwhelming distaste for human nature that compounds itself daily, even hourly. It seems to be all I can do to keep from devolving into a raving lunatic, spitting out bile at any soul unfortunate enough to cross my path.

It seems the more contact I have with people out of my immediate circle of family and friends, the more I become convinced that the world is populated by insane idiots. That's not to say that I think I'm more intelligent than anyone else, but more that a great majority of people are either really stupid, really crazy, or both really stupid and really crazy. And the more I encounter these people and these situations, the more I feel the urge to rally around those small things I have that remind me of what makes sense in the world: my family, my friends, my interests, and my beliefs, self-isolating as those beliefs may be.

Belief is a loaded word, too closely associated with religion, which leads to the next revelation: I am an atheist. I don't believe in gods, or in afterlifes, and I'm not really interested in debating anybody about it. It's my business, that's all. I chalk it up at its base to not being a spiritual person in general. I have my own sense of spirit, and my own soul, but at the most essential level, I find myself to be neither spiritual nor soulful.

whitesnakeSee, this is why I usually avoid this kind of confessional stuff--it does nothing to enlighten us, and likely causes you, my imaginary readers, to envision me as some really morose kind of dude. I'm not, really. In fact, I think the whole world could stand to be a little less morose. Thom Jurek at allmusic.com wrote a pretty good essay lamenting the dourness of rock music in the past decade or so, though I must say that any cultural commentary that concludes by suggesting that people should mellow out and go listen to some Whitesnake is kind of suspect. But who am I to judge.