Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why I don't go out

This past weekend I had the brilliant idea that instead of staying in, I was going to go out. Thankfully for me, there were two local music shows of interest taking place on Friday night from which to choose. The first show promised to be a standard-fare indie rock show, headlined by the band So Many Dynamos that was featured on the cover of the local alt weekly not too long ago, and generally seem to be regarded in the community as the local saviors of indie rock because they have big bangs and have done some recording work with one of the dudes in the band Death Cab for Cutie (warning signs #1 & 2). This was a free show with free parking in a neighborhood I'm familiar with and, judging from their MySpace page, it was their last show in the city for some time.

My alternate show option was the CD release party for a hip-hop group called Earthworms, and they were apparently once voted the "#1 Hip-Hop Group in St. Louis" by the local alt weekly. This show promised to have live bands, DJs, tee-shirt printmaking, and other things to appeal to my thirst for pop culture paraphernilia. Although the venue's location was about equidistant from my house as the first place, it was in a neighborhood I have yet to explore, and their MySpace made it look like I had plenty of other chances to catch them live in the near future.

So I ended up going with show option #1. Besides, having just returned from a dinner at Applebee's, I was dressed and ready to go to an indie rock show. Here's a breakdown of how my night went:

8:35 - I park and begin wandering around the SLU campus. Not really sure where the venue is, I spot a small group of young folks with angular bangs and brightly colored scarves and retro sneakers. I follow them into the Billiken Club (located in the basement of the SLU student center).

8:40 - Inside the club, I step up to the bar. "I'll have a Bud, barkeep," I said (or something to that effect). He doesn't bother ID'ing me despite the prominent "We ID!!" sign because it's fairly obvious that, after the bartender, I'm the oldest guy in the place.

8:41 - "Hi!" says a perky young man suddenly sitting next me. "Do you see my friend over there?" He points to a young lady in a brown T-shirt. I nod uh-huh. "Well, she thinks you're super cute," he remarks. And then adds, after looking me up and down, "And I can certainly see why she thinks that." Oh brother. "Gosh, well, tell her 'thank you' for me." Seeing how he didn't have a crumpled up note requesting me to circle either "Yes" or "No" to the question of whether or not I found his friend cute in return, I turned my attention to the first sip of my local brew.

8:50 - A woman is talking to me. She's telling me her plan to build up good credit by buying one pair of socks every month on her credit card, and how if she could move anywhere besides St. Louis it would be Texas because the whole state's racist and that's really funny somehow. She's Asian. I'm Texan. I think I missed the punchline. She asks me if I know many people in the city since I just moved here. I answer "my wife." She decides to go to the stage to see if the first band is about ready to play.

9:00 - The first band starts to play.

9:35 - The first band is finishing up their set. Not bad, they definitely got better later on in their set - big choruses, a gawky trumpet player, and two female backing vocalists who looked as uncomfortable being on stage as I was standing in the crowd. They were called Say Panther (I know, indie, right?) and judging from local concert calendars they open for just about everyone just about every week.

9:50 - Band #2 starts. They're called Maps & Atlases (again, tres indie). The lead singer has a(n ironic?) mustache. They play jumpy, frenetic rhythms with wound-up vocals.

9:55 - I begin to notice that there are some really young people here. Like, really young. Are those people standing next to me in high school? Junior high? That one boy can't be any older than 11, 12 max.

10:00 - Overheard: "Have you ever heard the van Kellar?," asks one tall, skinny boy in tight black jeans with greased down bangs, a stud earring, and a black jacket with a fur hood. "The what?," replies a similar-looking tween metrosexual wearing mascara. "The band Hella (?)." "No." "Yeah, they sound just like this band [Maps & Atlases] except they don't have any vocals and the drummer is like three times better." "Oh, cool."

10:35 - The set feels like it goes on forever. I think it ends sometime around here.

10:45 - The headliners So Many Dynamos are setting up the stage for their performance. The 12 year old boy I saw earlier is now howling with anticipation. Actually, it's more like barking. In any case, it's frighteningly mannish for a boy of his age.

10:50 - The group of high school girls is now in a circle, doing some clapping and chanting thing that you probably saw kids do back on the playground in elementary school. I am definitely too old to be here.

11:00 - So Many Dynamos start playing. I mentally commend the venue and the sound guy for running such a tight ship.

11:01 - If I didn't know any better, I'd say this was emo. (I've heard them described as being akin to the Dismemberment Plan, and checking on allmusic... yup, sure enough, emo.) People seem to be into it, though.

11:10 - I coined a new term: emo headbanging. Whereas traditional heavy metal-inspired headbanging consists of moving one's head back-and-forth in a rapid "banging" motion; emo headbanging consists of moving one's head quickly from one side to the next, emulating the directional movement of one's bangs.

11:15 - Uhhh.....

11:20 - OK, so maybe it wasn't the most well thought out plan, coming out tonight. The show was still playing, but I was throwing in the towel. At least there was KDHX's Deep Krate Radio with hosts Fly D-Ex and DJ Iceman playing on the drive home to remind me that in the future perhaps I should opt for supporting local hip-hop over generic, albeit local, indie rock.

Paczki Day!

Today is Paczki Day and that can mean only one thing: later today I will be foregoing dinner and stuffing my face with a couple of the overstuffed, gelatinous pastry blobs you see above. Growing up in a WASP household in the largely Dutch, Christian Reform stronghold in western Michigan, I wasn't exposed to the wonders of Paczkis. I was, however, fortunate enough to have a Polish-American wife who grew up near certain Polish immigrant enclaves in Detroit where local bakeries carried on the time-honored tradition of pouring all their remaining lard, sugar, and fruit into these delectable confections as a way to celebrate Fat Tuesday before Lent. In fact, her great-grandfather on her mother's side used to work as a baker in Hamtramck where I'm sure they indulged in their annual Paczkis. So, to the residents of Hamtramck, you're welcome.

Now, I know you may be thinking, "But Todd, you don't observe Lent, why do you feel the need to partake in this historical religious and cultural observance?" Well, I may not observe the birth of a Jesus H. Christ either, but that doesn't stop me from exchanging gifts with my family once a year. It's one of the few benefits of being a 21st century secularist: selectively picking the traditions I feel like observing, and weeding out any possible boring or depressing side effects.

Speaking of Fat Tuesday, Saint Louis is also apparently home to the country's second largest Mardi Gras celebration. Seeing how I cringe at the thought of crowds and generally frown upon drunken buffoonery, I'll probably be sitting this one out.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yeah, intelligent input, darling

My review of Kate Nash's outstanding new album Made of Bricks is now posted on Playback:Stl. The video below is of the album's debut single, "Foundations." And she's British, in case you hadn't already gathered that much.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Free beer!

Wow, I can't believe anybody ever thought this plan would be problematic. Makes perfect marketing sense to me.

Distorted opinions

This week has been Stephin Merritt mania! First I wrote a fairly standard review of the new Magnetic Fields album Distortion for Playback:STL, which was published earlier in the week here. Then, deciding that wasn't enough, I wrote an entirely new essay (and I do mean essay) and more than doubled my word count for the Post-Rockist, including audio, in this new post. So don't think I haven't been writing lately; I have been. Just not here so much. Keep up!

The new album is a huge change, but it's caused me to go back and listen to their back catalogue all over again. Here's a brief selection of some favorites I found on video. The boys at Better Chatter have posted their own Stephin Merritt playlist worth checking out if you still have any money left on your iTunes gift cards leftover from Xmas.

"Born on a Train"

"With Whom to Dance"

"All the Umbrellas in London"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Writers: Keep On Strikin'

It may be heretical for me to say so, but to be perfectly honest I'm actually a little relieved that the Writer's Guild of America is on strike. And the reason is quite simple: I'm turning into a political junkie. Now I may enjoy watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother as much as the next guy, but I can't imagine anything providing me with as much sheer entertainment value as this 2008 presidential campaign. This is human drama at its finest. I may not be a sports fan, but I imagine this is how they feel tracking their favorite teams, watching the development of underdogs and budding star talent, witnessing old heroes crumble, predicting potential playoff scenarios, tallying mounds and mounds of useless statistics, and debating the relative merits of questionable wins and losses. When Obama gave his victory speech in Iowa last week I nearly cried, I was so moved. Hearing Tom Brokaw make fun of John McCain's uninspired victory speech in New Hampshire left me in stitches.

So no, I don't need Hollywood's writers to resume work and continue to distract my time with programming that more often than not is tasteless, boorish, and completely unmemorable (even though it's so often hard to resist). I've got enough media to consume these days. My 40-minue commute to and from work is mostly spent tuned in to 90.7 KWMU (St. Louis NPR and Public Radio International); I don't even remember the last time I brought a CD into my car. Throughout the day I'm reading stories from The Morning News, Google News, Daily Kos, and The New York Times. I'll listen to NPR's It's All Politics podcast with Ken Rudin and Ron Elving, even though I wish it was updated more than once a week. I've even been trying to keep up with local news, although St. Louis media doesn't make that an easy task -- the website for the Post-Dispatch is all but useless, and the alternative paper the Riverfront Times doesn't place much of an emphasis on politics at all. Thankfully there are some local blogs that pick up the slack, particularly Pub Def, although Urban Review STL and a few others are doing a good job too. And then to top it all off, MSNBC's caucus and primary coverage has been a real pleasure to watch, even if Chris Matthew's is increasingly becoming a caricature of himself; at least Matthews and Keith Olbermann have more interesting opinions than CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who, let's be honest, doesn't have the chutzpah to be the channel's main selling point.

Now, it may be wrong to consider politics a form of entertainment, but that's honestly what it's come to these days, and it's a far more respectable form of entertainment than the return of American Gladiators. So guilded writer's of America, keep on striking; I've got Ken Rudin and Keith Olbermann to keep me occupied for now.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Grad Programs Considered, Then Re-Considered

Do you know anyone who’s truly happy with their job? I sure don’t. It’s so strange because, as a kid, everyone asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as if there are some really great opportunities out there – just use your imagination and you can do it! But it's not so easy, is it. As Jarvis Cocker put it, “Oh we were brought up on the Space Race, and now they expect you to clean toilets.”

I started a new job recently, so I’ve been giving a lot of thought to jobs and careers, hats to wear and ladders to climb. I’ve spent most of my time the past few weeks cutting and pasting different things into different Word documents, occasionally typing a few letters and numbers here and there. It’s about as exciting as it sounds. But overall it’s an improvement over my last job, in that I’m getting paid more to do less work, which, after all, is one of my major goals in life (although perhaps I’m just starting to come to grips with how much my old job overworked and underpaid me).

Still, I’m dogged by delusions that there is a perfect job out there for me somewhere, a delusion made even more ungraspable by the fact that I’m a twenty-something stuck in the Midwest. So it’s no surprise that I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to grad school, the purest form of escapism. The following is a list of graduate programs I have at one point or another seriously considered, and then later decided against (in alphabetical order):

American Studies – What a perfect waste of time. This degree had to have been created by folks who realized that a general “Liberal Arts” degree was a criminally useless waste of money, but who wanted to remain in school even though they still couldn’t decide what they wanted to study, so they just took courses in everything ranging from political history to pop culture (books, movies, music) and called it a specialization as long as it all dealt somehow with America. I’m sure I would love taking courses in this sort of program, but I’m also sure I would be pretty upset when I realized I was deeply in debt after paying for an unmarketable “degree.”

Communication – What the hell is a Communication degree good for anyway, and why did I want to get one for so long? I’ve never met anyone who’s benefitted from having a Master’s in Communication, just folks a few years older and starting out in the same positions as me.

English Literature – Getting a graduate degree in English Lit was one of my primary ambitions as an undergrad, until I realized a few things: (1) Spending two years of my life in a Master’s program wouldn’t help me get any further along than just spending two years working in a career field I was interested in; if anything, it would set me back two years. And (2) I didn’t want to spend seven-plus years in a Ph.D. program that more than likely wouldn’t provide much financial support (shockingly, literature doesn’t fare as well against the sciences when it comes to university grants), and then spending most of my adult life waiting for old, cardigan-ed professors in prestigious universities to die while I wasted away pining for tenure at some podunk school in the middle of nowhere.

History/Archival Studies – Same as above. Plus, I didn’t major in History. I’d be better off reading Jeff Shaara on my lunch break.

Law – If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years since graduating from college, it’s this: Any ol’ chump can get into law school; they just have to be willing to pay. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been left speechless after learning that someone is a lawyer or law student. If that person can do it, I think incredulously, I know I could kick some major law school ass. But when I hear how most law school grads are unhappy, buried in mountains of debt, and tied to an 80 hour a week job that drains them of their soul, I tend to think twice of this as an option. Still, the fighter in me refuses to rule this out.

MBA – Stop laughing. I have honest-to-goodness thought about joining an MBA program. When you work in large international, multi-billion dollar companies like I do, you quickly realize that having advanced business training can put you ahead of the curve. While I tend to instinctively gag when I click on MBA program’s student profiles and see hundreds of similarly navy suit-clad drones smiling back at me, if my employer was willing to pay for me to go to a part-time MBA program (if they thought I was valuable enough) I would totally consider it a possibility.

MFA in Writing – Would be great, except that I don’t write.

Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis – Still a strong contender for this one.

Psychology (Clinical) – For some reason I am particularly choosy when it comes to Clinical Psych programs. I blame my heavily Freudian psych professor in college for biasing me against most traditional programs. Plus, as my good friend Josh once pointed out when I told him I was going to major in Psychology in college, “Why? You hate people.” The words stuck (and are true on most days).

Psychology (Industrial/Organizational) – I know, I’ll parlay my psych education with my business background! Brilliant! Oh wait, I/O Psych is basically an elaborate HR position. It’s like the worst of both worlds. Pass.

Psychology (School) – Refer to the notes on Clinical, and add to that the fact that I can’t stand to be around children.

Psychology (Social) – God, I’m just grasping at straws here, aren’t I?

While this is a cynical list, dreams die hard with the Well Respected Blogger and chances are good that I’ll be recycling the pros and cons of this list as 2008 progresses. In the meantime, it’s back to the working week for me. To paraphrase Elvis, I gotta do it till I’m through it so I better get to it.