Friday, January 28, 2011

Music Blog #1 - Meet The Beatles, Already

I ignored the Beatles for 32 years of my life.

Okay, that's impossible.  I tried to ignore The Beatles for 32 years of my life.  You can't be a human being with a pulse and not be inundated with "Hey Jude" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" your entire life.  I even know a person who's convinced that the Beatles' music is part of a world-wide mind-control conspiracy full of subliminal messages and symbols.  It should also be noted that this person believes that seven-foot shape-shifting alien lizards drink the blood of babies so they can remain in human form and secretly rule the world.  So...cuckoo.  But that's another blog.

The reason I tried to ignore the Beatles for most of my life isn't because of any bullshit conspiracy theory.  It's just good old rebellion.  Everybody says they're the best band ever and that's that.  My parents' generation treated them like Jesus (John was right) and as a child of the 90's I wasn't having that. No, I was going to listen to bands that really mattered.  Bands from my generation that would last forever, like Screeching Weasel and Let's Go Bowling.  Translation:  I was stupid.  Truth be told, I still love those bands but I later came to realize that I was judging the Beatles by their fans and not their music.  It's not the Beatles' fault that my parents' generation held them up like idols and worshipped them as the infallible word of rock & roll.  They were just making music.  Timeless, genius music.

The other problem I had with the Beatles was their image.  In my mind, they were almost always portrayed as the shaggy, goofy Fab Four or the hippy-dippy "Give Peace A Chance" Gandhi wannabes.  Never mind that their image actually contained multiple eras that evolved in light speed each year or that "Give Peace a Chance" was actually a Plastic Ono Band record.  I was misinformed. 

Really, what turned it all around for me was when I realized that John Lennon was an asshole.  Not just a regular asshole either but a dark, brooding, deranged, monumentally humongous asshole.  If they made a Mt. Rushmore of assholes it would have Kanye West and three John Lennons.  Usually someone being a jerk turns people off.  Not me.  I was delighted!  I read an interview with Lennon where he talks smack about the Beatles, his fans, the world!  I couldn't believe that this golden boy, this "spokesmen" for the 60's flower-power generation was actually flawed and even confused and depressed.  It instantly humanized him for me.  Then I read further and found out that Paul McCartney was a narcissistic dandy and George was literally "holier than thou."  Ringo?  Well, Ringo was just happy to be there.  But I'm okay with him being that way.  They needed an anchor.  The grand slam home-run was when I read about the rejected album cover idea where they were holding headless baby dolls with raw meat strewn about.  Okay, these weren't my mother's Beatles after all.  They weren't superhuman gods from the musical Valhalla.  They weren't Paul Bunyon or Mother Theresa or even the Fab Four.  They were four dudes.  And now I was ready to give them a listen.

Like most people in the world, I knew all their hits. I didn't want to get a "best of" just to hear the songs I'd heard since I was a child.  One of my first memories is of hearing "Help!" on the radio and thinking that it was a song about being stuck in a tree.  "Help me get my feet back on the ground."  I was a very literal kid.  I also thought that Toto's song "Africa" was about turning into a monster like the Incredible Hulk.  "I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become."  And when Gloria Estefan came on I thought the rhythm was gonna get me.  Listen to that song, it growls!  It terrified little-kid Mike Brody!  RAWR!  Also, if you ever see me dance, you'll know that the rhythm never did get me.

So I started at the end and picked up "Abbey Road".  (Any true Beatles fan knows that "Let It Be" was released last but recorded second-to-last.)  Then I grabbed "The White Album", "Sgt. Pepper", "With The Beatles" and all the classic albums.  What I was immediately struck by was how much bands (of all decades) have aped the Beatles.  Suddenly, bands that I thought were ripping off the New York Dolls were actually ripping off the Beatles.  And after having this same experience with 10, 20, 30 songs, I quickly realized that I would be the hypocrite of all hypocrites if I still claimed to be neutral on this band.  Half (hell, maybe ALL) of the music I grew up on is a direct result of this band.  It's like saying I love airplanes, but those Wright Brothers sure were hacks!  (Ahem, I would appreciate it if you'd please disregard any claims from other people saying that they invented the flying machine first.  I'm working on an analogy here, people.  Work with me!)

I'm 33-years-old now.  It's been a year since my Beatles' quest began and they're now one of my favorite bands.  Does that make me feel a little bit lame and generic?  You bet your yellow submarine it does.  To me it's like saying that I love sunny days and pizza.  But guess what, Apple scruffs?  Goddamn sunny days and pizza rule.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"What's the deal with the Peanuts?"

Artwork by Tim O'Brien

Stand-up comedy is a widely misunderstood profession. People assume we're funny all the time and even worry that we'll be funny at inappropriate times. I've actually been warned not to crack jokes at a funeral before. I don't know what kind of whoopee-cushion jackass people think we are, but comedians do have souls you know. Well, not all of us.

The first time I realized that people had warped ideas of what comedians do and can do was back in the early 2000's. I was a brand-new, amateur comedian. I can't stress the word amateur enough. I was terrible. I thank my lucky stars every day that I started in Iowa. That way, none of my Minnesota contemporaries can look back and say "Remember that time you did your first show in your boxers?" or "Remember when you dressed up like Axl Rose and wore a long, blonde wig and a jock-strap with a potato in it and then threw it at the crowd?" Yes, both of those are true. Yes, I was drinking quite heavily at the time. Yes, I wake up every morning in shame. No, I will not do it again no matter how much you pay me.

I was living in Iowa City, IA, at the time and worked at a restaurant called "Carlos O'Kelly's" as a bartender. We had a regular named "Jimmy". He was a cool, old dude and a bit of a drunk (he was a regular, after all.) Every day Jimmy would barrage me with his hair-brained schemes of get-rich quick ideas. He wanted to invent an all-terrain electric wheelchair for elderly people so they could climb over rocks or travel through the desert. When I asked him what would happen if they flipped over climbing a boulder he said "That's what the roller-bars are for". He detailed all of this for me on the most elaborate and insane bar-napkin that ever existed.

One day Jimmy got wind that I had started doing stand-up comedy. Charles Schultz, creator of the iconic "Peanuts" comic strip had just passed away.

"I know what you should do!" Jimmy exclaimed after showing me his blue-print for a squirrel guillotine (squirrels were living in his rain gutter and he wanted to teach them a public lesson.) "Charles Schultz just died. You should write The Peanuts!"

Even as a brand new dumb comic I knew this was ridiculous. Sure Jimmy, I'll just bust into the Peanuts headquarters:

"Hey guys, your problems are solved! You know that guy who wrote the most popular comic strip of all time for 50 years and just passed away, shattering the hearts of fans across the globe? Well, I'm gonna do it now! Yeah, yeah, I've got some great ideas. Charlie Brown is gonna wear just his boxers and Lucy will dress up in a blonde wig and throw jock-strap potatoes at people! It's genius! Thank you, yes I will start today!"

I guess people just want to believe that every comic is Robin Williams and is constantly "on" and can do anything remotely humorous that is asked of them because they are a "comedian". That's fine. I can't really talk. I don't know what welders do all day, but I assume it's with a metal mask in their subterranean lair. Clearly I can't begrudge people their inaccuracies.

All I know is, ten years later I'm a much better stand-up comedian. And the Peanuts still haven't gotten back to me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back in '84 I Nearly Choked On A Unicorn

Hardcore punk is a pretty humorless type of music. Don't get me wrong, I've been listening to hardcore and it's mother genre punk rock for literally half of my 32 years and I love it like a dear friend. It's just that it's usually pretty damn serious. Topics of hardcore that have been covered on a regular to semi-regular basis include unity, fighting, not fighting, friends, being drug free, doing more drugs than you can possibly handle, whoas, animal rights, more whoas, anarchy, Hare Krishna and breaking down walls. It's a wide enough range of topics, but nothing you'd want to bring up on a first date. I think the Incredible Hulk would have been a good hardcore singer. "Don't make me wouldn't like me when I'm angry. Hulk SMASH!" (Cue swirling circle mosh pit.)

The point of all this is that I was listening to the 2010 LP "Rohnert Park" from the San Francisco Bay Area hardcore band "Ceremony". It's a pretty kickass record. It manages to be super tough sounding and yet creative, literate and progressive, which is even more impressive considering it's in a genre that is more than happy to stagnate and rehash. But still, like most hardcore, it's pretty damn serious. At least, until about ten seconds into their song "Back in '84" when this line pops up: "Back in '84 I nearly choked on a unicorn." *Needle scratches off the record*

Excuse me?

My first react was confusion, as the remaining words in the minute-long song held no explanation or further reference to unicorns. And then I felt delight. And finally, my mind raced with a million and one logistical questions about how you actually choke on a unicorn. So much so that I actually sat down and wrote a letter to the band, which I will now type in it's entirety:

"Dear Ceremony,

Hi, my name is Mike Brody. I think your band is awesome. I think you are the best hardcore band in 10 years. Couple questions: Did the singer of your band nearly choke on a unicorn? And if so, how big is his mouth? How do you nearly choke on a unicorn? You would think it was all or none. Was he trying to eat the unicorn? Or did it fly into his mouth like a moth? Are there bite-sized unicorns? How come I've never heard of this happening since? Was there a unicorn epidemic in 1984? Did Henry Rollins kill the last unicorn in 1984 and make a pair of Umbros out of it? How often does your singer tell this story? Did it take him years of courage-building to be able to share or do people around him sigh and go "Oh god, this guy again with his unicorn story!"? Did the drummer or anyone else in the band attempt CPR to dislodge the unicorn or did he have to use a chair on himself? How come the "Unicorn Spike" hairdo was never a thing with punk rockers? Does your singer avoid unicorns now or has he remained fearless, much like that one-armed surfer girl who still surfs after the shark bit her arm off? Was your singer in a to-the-death battle with a unicorn or was he caught in an embarrassing unicorn snuggle turned ugly? Are there support groups for mythological creature accident survivors. 'Hi, my name is Ross...and...*whimper* back in '84 I nearly choked on a unicorn. It almost ruined my life! *sobs*' Cue the one-upping homeless vet: 'You think that's bad, you pussy? Back in 'Nam I nearly snorted a bigfoot. I still have yeti hair up my nose. YETI HAIR!!!'

Thanks for your time. Keep up the great work, Ceremony!

Mike Brody"

I had this all ready to go. And then I googled the lyrics. Turns out he says "Back in '84 I nearly choked on the u-cord." I'll admit, I was disappointed. Not only was there no mention of unicorns, but I think "u-cord" is a bit of a stretch (no pun intended). I realize that "umbilical cord" is a tough one to fit into even the least musical sounding of genres. But damn, it sounds like J-Lo invented that term. Anyway, Ceremony, my questions still stand and I expect a detailed report on my desk by Monday. My hope is no one from the band ever chokes on a unicorn in real life because then I'd feel like a total jerk. Be safe, Ceremony!

And please, check out their new album "Rohnert Park". It's really the best hardcore album I've heard in ages.

Eh, Canada!

Recently my stand-up comedy travels took me to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Is that how you write that? I feel like that's too many names for one place. It's kind of cocky, like Jennifer Love Hewitt or Philip Seymour Hoffman. Come on, Canada, you're supposed to be the humble one. Actually, now that I think about it, there's some pretty decent hipster actor names to be had with Canadian cities. Can you imagine being on the red carpet and seeing the sexy starlet Winnipeg Manitoba Canada saunter up? And don't forget her boy-toy for the moment: Halifax Nova Scotia Canada. The problem with this idea is that every couple would have to be married or else they'd seem inappropriately related. Which could actually help pave the way for the Randy Quaid-esque Saskatoon Saskatchewan Canada.

Oh boy, did I sidebar before I even started? Anyway, maybe it's because I live in Minnesota (and maybe Canadians don't want to hear this), but Canada seems pretty much exactly like America. The accent is a little different, but other than that it's the same landscape, same kind of people, same mood. Except something is just slightly off. Like there's a glitch in the Matrix. It's like when Neo is walking up the stairs and the same cat walks by twice. "Whoa!" That's what Canada is. One minute you're walking through Bizarro America and then DOUBLE-TAKE, is that written in French?! Coincidentally, Canada just got the Matrix as well.

And their oatmeal's weird. That's the small kind of stuff that can make you feel scared and all alone on the road, when everything else seems normal and then suddenly you're looking at the tiniest little grains of oats in a flour bag instead of the normal, America-accepted big cardboard tube. I imagine it's what the first astronauts on the Moon felt. "I am far away from home."

Here is a short list of other small things that are different about Canada that you don't notice at first glance:

1) Tim Horton's - Don't fuck with Canadians and their Tim Horton's. It's like pissing on a bald eagle in America.

2) Money - They pay with an elaborate system of conch shells and marbles in Canada. Somehow, it's still worth more than the USD right now.

3) Beer - I don't drink anymore, but something tells me I owe my recent life to that. I don't know if I'd have survived Canada. They don't drink so much as they occasionally get sober. They drink rubbing alcohol to come down. They don't mess around.

4) Health-care - Not to get political, but I asked them. They don't hate it.

5) Health FOOD - This is not a craze that has reached Canada yet. I'm not claiming to be the best eater in the world, but I'm trying. But not while in Canada. Healthy to them means a little less gravy on their poutine. I ate a live pig while I was there. The pig was eating a funnel cake. The funnel cake was eating Sour Patch Kids. It's a miracle anybody makes it over 45 in Canada, but the cold seems to preserve them like a jar of formaldehyde. Ted Williams and Walt Disney got it wrong. Instead of cryogenically freezing themselves Han Solo style, they should have changed their name to Quebec City Quebec Canada and lived forever Yukon-style.