I Wrote This: Against Me! review, Metro Silicon Valley

Last week, Against Me! came to town. My editor asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes.

It looked bleak at first. The opening bands were, uh, discouraging, to say the least. But Against Me! busted it out.

Big thanks to my friend Amy for being my plus-one. She was very polite to agree to chart these waters with me. Neither of us had any idea what to expect.

Anyway, here is the review as it appeared in this week’s Metro. If you’re in the South Bay, pick up a copy. I have a whole boatload of stuff in it this week.

http://www.metroactive.com/music-clubs/against-me-review.html

“IT’S BEEN seven years since Against Me! bubbled up from the Florida swamps with their debut, Reinventing Axl Rose. After some brushes with mainstream success when their last album, New Wave, found a home amid the Warped Tour masses, they’ve been laying pretty low.

That didn’t deter hordes of fans from turning out in San Jose this past weekend. Against Me! was set to play a Dec. 20 gig at 924 Gilman in Berkeley on their recent tour. When it was canceled suddenly and without much explanation by the venue, intrepid San Jose promoter Eric Fanali struck while the iron was hot. After an excruciating 40-minute set change, Against Me! played to a sea of black T-shirts (and a few bare chests) at WORKS/San José gallery on First Street in downtown San Jose.

Against Me! are at a very common crossroads: they could easily continue to play for fervent crowds, or, with a little elbow grease and some sacrifices, go pro. Having released their last album on Sire Records, the age-old “what’s punk, what’s not” debate looms over their heads everywhere they go. The boys in Against Me! seem committed to keeping one foot firmly on the ground. Their sound is outgrowing their choice in venues—to hear their last record, the band sounds like they’re shooting for stadiums instead of bars, ‘concerts’ instead of ‘shows.’ For their appearance at WORKS, their more polished tunes were converted into their earlier sound, the murky, militaristic stomp they originated in Gainesville. They still have the hardware for punk rock, it’s just a little more user-friendly these days.

The band opened with “White Crosses,” the title track of their incoming album, a cathartic, furious blast that illustrates why Tom Gabel’s songwriting prowess is a force to be reckoned with. Though he recently defected to release a solo record, Gabel is still the beating, snarling heart of Against Me!, and the fans love him for it. “Take care of each other out there,” he pleaded with the crowd after a wild pit broke open within the first few chords. “Fuckin’ A, man.” He didn’t say much else, leading the band in a barrage of their radio hits sandwiched between more obscure songs. The crowd knew the words to all of them, shouting the choruses back at the band and demanding an encore within seconds of them leaving the stage.

Though they’re probably too proud to do so, the folks over at Gilman should be kicking themselves.”

Also, just for fun, here is my calendar blurb for Ray J, who is making an appearance at some skanky club tomorrow night. So far the one person who has read it was surprised at how funny I can be. I just said, uh, dude, it’s Ray J. The jokes writes themselves.

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I need your opinion.

I’m pretty sure nobody is reading this (yet), but I’m going to throw this out there anyway.

I’m considering submitting one of my features from my last year of school to the SPJ Awards.  I think there is prize money involved.  At the very least, there is some sort of convention in Vegas where I will shake a lot of hands.

I have two features I think I did a pretty darn good job on, and that I think would give me a good shot at winning something.

The first is “Invasion of the Cadets”, from the May/June 2009 issue, and it can be read here.  ‘Cadets’ was a project that started in late January and is still going on.  I got the idea when I decided to swing by a Phenomenauts show at Slim’s a few days before school started, and a man in a helmet gave me a flyer about the upcoming Phenomenaut fan convention at Disneyland.  I had always known their fans were pretty gung-ho, but I didn’t know they were motivated enough to meet up for a day at a theme park nine hours away from the band’s home base in Oakland.  I got in contact with some people from their street team/fan club/whatever and the more people I talked to, the more complex the story became.  The version that ran in [X]Press barely scratched the surface.  There is a much bigger story here than just ‘here are some goofy people that like to dress up in costume and sing songs about space’.   There is so much psychology to the band and to the Cadet movement itself.  I am dying to write a longer version of it.  I still take notes every time I go see them.

Also, keep in mind that I will be sending in PDFs of the pages in the actual magazine, not links to our snoozer of a site.  The art on the ‘Cadets’ looks pretty cool.

My other option is “Return of the Bellows”.  This one is about the accordion beginning to surface in independent music.  It can be read here.

My gut reaction is to turn in ‘Bellows’.  I had a lot of fun writing ‘Cadets’, but often times I feel like the story is only interesting to me and people who already know about the band.  ‘Bellows’ has a broader appeal, and I feel like the writing is much better.  I know I’m never going to be able to write a better lede than ‘Aaron Seeman still smells like propane’.   However, I was also told by a lot of my sources that the story was kind of old news, and a whole bunch of journalists had come sniffin’ around lately to write about it.

I’ve never worked on a story as hard as I worked on ‘Cadets’. I’ve never done that much reporting.  In the same word count as ‘Bellows’, I was able to squeeze in six sources, whereas Bellows only had three; two and a half at best.  The writing in ‘Cadets’, for the sake of efficiency, is very newsy, but the story, I feel, is inherently more colorful.  The characters are much clearer, and the details are very telling.  For a contest called ‘Mark of Excellence’ awards, I want to make sure I show that not only can I write, I can report.

I’m too close to both of these stories, so I’m leaving it up to you. I’ll leave this up for a week or two and ask some human beings before I make my decision.

Also, feel free to leave comments! Talk to me. This blog is pretty lonely right now.

I Wrote This: The Man Behind The Music, [X]Press Magazine

My very last story for my student publication at San Francisco State University. Farewell, 3rd floor Humanities! It’s been a good run.

If you’re in the city, pick up the print version, or check out the digital edition at http://www.sopdigitaledition.com/xpressmag/. There are pictures and stuff.

http://xpress.sfsu.edu/archives/magazine/014251.html

  It is lit like a desk: a reading light skims the top of the console. Daily, David Hegarty punches in and sits down to work, staring fixedly at the documents in front of him, just a cog in a big, big machine. He has been doing this job for the last thirty-one years. And he would not have it any other way.

Patrons of the Castro Theatre in San Francisco have come to expect one thing with their classic movies – a musical introduction by David Hegarty. He comes and goes quietly before almost every evening show. A few minutes before the movie begins, he emerges from behind a black curtain and takes his seat at The Mighty Wurlitzer, the theatre’s in-house organ. He strikes a chord, and suddenly the entire building seems to turn on.

The Castro is closed today, so he is sitting in front of the organ in complete darkness. The only light is the one above the organ console, and the faint shadows of cars on Castro Street creeping through the open door at the back of the theatre. “I don’t have the key to turn the lights on in the house,” he says.

He is a small man – not tiny, but in comparison to the Wurlitzer, anyone can seem diminutive. He is quiet and humble. Everything he says is just barely above a whisper, almost as if he is afraid to disturb the sanctity of a silent, dark theatre.

“I find the organ works best with Broadway; show tunes,” he says, flipping a few switches and drifting into a song. The organ in front of him has four steep tiers of keys, surrounded by a circular panel filled with a dizzying array of buttons and toggle switches. After receiving a degree in Organ Performance and a Master’s in music, he knows his way around a theatre organ. Even when he is surrounded by pitch black that morning, he is snapping switches and pressing buttons like a NASA engineer.

The sound The Mighty Wurlitzer makes has a dreamy, ghostly quality to it, only made dreamier and ghostlier by the dark. The keyboards he plays are connected to a towering collection of pipes on either side of the theater by huge tubes that run under the stage. Hegarty is still captivated by the noise it produces after thirty-one years. Sometimes he will begin a song to demonstrate the settings on the machine, and disappear for minutes at a time.

There was a time when theatre organs were everywhere – before sound was introduced in the twenties, movie houses were built around them. Now, the Bay Area is the last organ outpost before hitting the Pacific. The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto and both
The Paramount and The Grand Lake in Oakland still have working theatre organs that get regular use. Hegarty has played them all.

Known primarily as the man behind the music at the Castro Theatre, Hegarty has been the head organist since 1978. From his work at the Castro, he has emerged as the go-to guy for the theatre organ in San Francisco. His only job is to play and teach the organ. “I mostly play in churches, and theatres like this one,” he says. “Sometimes I’m hired out for parties and whatnot.”

Hegarty migrated from the Midwest thirty years ago. He was working full-time as a composer in his native Michigan when he decided to leave for California. “I came out here in 1976. It was a nice excuse to get away from those Michigan winters,” he says, allowing himself to crack a smile. “Also, this is just such a colorful place to live.”
He also considers himself a ‘film music historian,’ something that propelled him into the theatre organ world. “I greatly admire the film composers of the early twentieth century,” he says. In Hollywood’s infancy, composers from Eastern Europe began fleeing to the United States to escape Nazi terror. “Many of them settled in Hollywood, and began contributing scores to films.”

Every night, Hegarty deals directly with the ghosts of these composers. It is his job to decide the pre-show playlist. “If it’s a movie that has famous music, there are certain songs I need to play,” he says. “I will rent the movie, listen to the music, and write it out.” Sometimes it’s not so clear. “Often times there are movies that have very little music, or music that isn’t recognizable to people,” he says. “I try to find a link between the movie and the music. If I can’t, there are always great standards that I know people enjoy – Cole Porter and such.”

As soon as he got to San Francisco, he began looking up “influential people” in the Bay Area organ community. Now, some say, he is one of them. He is the only organ instructor in Northern California. He currently teaches seven students, one of which comes all the way from Reno to work with him. “There are no real academic programs for the organ, you just listen to organists that you admire,” he says. “You never really stop learning. It’s a genre of its own – you learn it over time.”

Hegarty is a very lucky man. He has found a way to spend his entire adult life getting paid to do something he loves. Hegarty is a fixture at The Castro–he has been there so long that some people take him for granted. “They come to expect me. Sometimes I get a crowd that isn’t as appreciative, but when I get a good, lively audience, it’s really quite a thrill.”

I Wrote This: A Four Star Affair, Metro Silicon Valley

From this week’s Metro: http://www.sanjose.com/a-four-star-affair-e769791

“San Jose seems to have a surplus of broken-hearted boys ready to channel their angst into pop-punk. They were around when I was a high school kid making the all-ages scene, and they’re still cropping up with bands like A Four Star Affair. I’m pretty sure the South Bay’s emo boom is just a well-plotted scheme to get chicks. Cause you know there’s a certain kind of teenage girl that totally digs it. They wear band tees with terry cloth wristbands and low-top Chuck Taylors, they drive red Jettas, and I may or may not have been one about ten years ago. I think these guys are onto something.”