Songs I Could Listen To Over and Over Again…The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”

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I’ve decided to make 2013 the year of musical transparency for me. As I alluded to in my last post, I have gotten to the point where I am downright embarrassed of my own musical tastes. Everybody else is just SO MUCH COOLER than me. How have I tricked so many editors into thinking I’m a worthy music reporter? Just last week at work I went from the UHF soundtrack to some MC5 selections and on to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. Don’t tell me sane people find that a perfectly normal range of music to work to.

But, nonetheless, music is my job. And the more I establish myself, the more people want to know what I “like.” It’s time for me to get over my stupid, stupid embarrassment about it. And there’s no better way to do that than to just lay it all out there. Thus, I give you what I hope will be a recurring column  in this little blog: Songs I Could (And Probably Will) Listen to Over and Over Again For The Rest Of My Life And Never Get Tired Of. SICAPWLTOAOAFTROMLANGTO for short.

I’m starting with a long-established favorite of mine: The Animals, “The House of the Rising Sun.” Just a few short years ago, as it played on the PA in a restaurant (Blue on Market in SF — which Google is now telling me CLOSED SIX MONTHS AGO. OMG RIOT), I decided to officially proclaim it a favorite song.

Well, a favorite song of the pop realm. I have other favorite songs, but they’re entirely different: “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin. It just doesn’t seem fair to call it a favorite in comparison to those, because they’re not equal.

Anyway, “House of the Rising Sun” has always been a song I am really drawn to. An old American hill song that’s been covered by freakin’ anyone and everyone, I’m pretty partial to the most famous version: The Animals’ 1964 recording; the one that’s all over classic-rock radio. I grew up on the British Invasion, so anything that sounds even remotely like it could have been produced across the pond between ’64 and ’68 I am sort of innately drawn to. But above all, it’s that damned creepy mood that I love about it. It’s a lot like what I love about “Feed the Birds,” actually. Six notes in and you get that little rumble in your gut, this innate sense of dread. And yet…you want to get closer to it.

Or maybe that’s just me.

(Also, OMG, accidental Google discovery: did you know there’s like a bunch of GIFs created for this song? Not that many, but still. Even four is a lot more than I ever expected.  Just seems like a really strange use of the GIF format to me.)

It’s also a song that I’ve been wanting to learn on the accordion. I’ve been trying: it’s actually not as hard as it looks. It will still take me a while to get as good as this guy, though:

(One of the) Best of 2012: Laura Jane Grace’s Santa Cruz Debut, September

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As a music writer, I get asked about favorites a lot. Mostly by people who don’t know me that well: my parents’ friends, for example, or dudes who are trying to hit on me. “Who’s your favorite band?” “What’s your favorite album?” “What kind of music do you like?”

I hate these questions. I’m not saying people shouldn’t ask me this — they’re just being nice, after all — but I am SO BAD at coming up with definite, final, irrevocable answers like that. I’m always afraid I’ll say something that I’ll change my mind on later, or worse, something that will make me look incredibly uncool. Also — and I’m sure other music geeks will back me up on this — favorite albums, bands, shows just don’t exist. I have more than a handful of artists, works and experiences that I love intensely, and all for very different reasons. I can’t say one is the best or even that one is better than the other. It’s not fair to me or the bands.

So when The Bay Bridged (oh hey, by the way, I write for The Bay Bridged now) asked us bloggers for our picks for best of the year, I panicked a little. I had plenty of great experiences working for them that year, but don’t make me choose! And please don’t make me reveal my own personal tastes! I’ve become very comfortable in my little fly-on-the-wall role as a writer these last few years; so much so that writing about myself as a person now makes me a little squeamish. But I wanted to contribute something, so I pitched them a piece about my friend and colleague Eric Fanali‘s Sixteenth Anniversary show back in August — one of the most exhilarating live experiences I’ve had this year.

I banged the piece out in about an hour. I’ll be honest: when I finished it, I didn’t love it. It felt a little indulgent, like it would really only appeal to me, Eric and other people that like to pretend they’re still sixteen, but hey, they can’t all be my best work. And if you’ll permit me to get a little braggy here, even my sub-par stuff is still better than a lot of the other garbage that’s out there in the blogosphere.

Anyway, it wasn’t until a few days later that I realized…

Laura Jane Grace.

As I’m sure it was for a lot of people, hearing about Tom Gabel’s transition to Laura Jane Grace earlier this year was a big surprise to me. My first thought was…well, OK, my VERY first and very selfish thought was, “What a damn shame, he’s so hot.” My second thought was, “I hope the band survives.”

Because you just never know with these things. I knew enough about Tom and Against Me! to know that they would likely keep going and the band itself wouldn’t implode, at least not immediately. But that’s a major, major change for any person in any relationship to go through. And who knew how the fans would react. Punk is known for being open and accepting, but it’s also known for being a pretty macho scene that might draw the line on the whole “open and accepting” thing at something like this.

To my astonishment, the fan reaction was overwhelmingly positive. For some odd and very encouraging reason, the Internet put its troll tendencies aside for her. When the news broke, I fully expected the reaction to be a melee of knee-jerk moral outrage and grade-school taunting. Instead they showered Grace with kind words and bountiful encouragement. A good sign indeed.

Near the end of the summer this year, I was logged into Facebook and saw an ad on my right margin that announced that Against Me! was coming to Santa Cruz, which is about 30 minutes away from me. This was my chance to find out for myself if the band was likely to survive or not. I messaged my cousin Megan and we made plans to check it out. (Let this also go down in history as the only time that a Facebook ad has ever worked so directly on me.)

We got there a little early so we could stuff our faces with Taqueria Vallarta before the show, watching hoodie-clad teenagers queue up at the venue, just across the street from the taqueria. I felt weird about it: I’m 26. Should I really be hanging out at shows that draw mostly 17-year-olds? But I had already bought the tickets and dragged Megan all the way down there, so whatever. We finished up and got in line.

It was apparent almost as soon as we walked in that yes, I should be hanging out here. I was lucky enough to catch Against Me! back in 2009 on their surprise tour stop in San Jose, a date that was subbed in at the last minute to replace a cancelled show at Gilman. Against Me! had always been a band that I liked fine and that I really respected, but they were never quite appealing enough to me, for whatever reason, for me to fully embrace them. Seeing them live changed that. They were raw and powerful and commanding and everything a live band should be. It was a beautiful, galvanizing experience, and it’s in that top tier of best — favorite, if you will — concert experiences for me.

This time around, as I had predicted, things were different — after all, Against Me! essentially had a new leader. But you know what? They were still fucking incredible and it was still one of the single best live shows I have ever seen. I went into it as objectively as possible – again, a byproduct of my line of work. I was really conscious of not letting my personal want to support her as a transgender person interfere with my opinion of them musically. And from a completely professional, unbiased standpoint, I would like to formally say that Against Me! still fucking rocks. I feel silly for every doubting them. They were still raw and powerful and commanding like I remembered, but instead of coming out spewing rage and condemnation (and I say that with love; rage and condemnation is an important component of a functioning democratic society), they played with…hope. It was weird: they were playing the exact same songs as last time, but it seemed to come from (and play to) a completely different part of the brain this time around. As soon as the lights dimmed after the third opener, they came almost bounding onto the stage. Grace herself was just beaming. Beaming. They’re a whole new band, but are still a fucking force.

(Also, on an unapologetically shallow note, can we talk about how SUPER-HOT she has been looking lately? Sheesh.)

So how can I wrap this? The only thing I can say is — and I hope I’m right about this — things are really changing out there. If I can hope for something myself, it’s that the instantaneous acceptance of Grace’s arrival is a very, very good sign for the world. Day by day, we’re inching closer and closer to the kind of world I would like to live in. Not that this one isn’t the kind of world I would like to live in, but there are still many things I’d like to see change. Let’s see how far we get in 2013.

I know you’ve said you don’t want to be treated as a hero, Laura Jane (is it Laura Jane or just Laura?) but I would still just like to say go you. I want to meet you some day. Maybe next time you’re in Santa Cruz, we can stuff our faces at Taqueria Vallarta before the show.

The Statistics of Suicide.

I actually wrote this about a year ago in my personal blog, about something that happened on my way home from my old job.

I guess if I had to pick a day to die in San Francisco, today would have been a pretty good one.

It started with helicopters, just as it always does at the Discovery Museum. Normally, the sound of passing aircraft doesn’t elicit a response from me, but this time the motors sounded close. I figured it was just a low-flying plane; not much cause for concern. Outside the doors of the Playhouse, I could see Brian and Matt standing in the middle of the plaza, talking into their radios and looking upward.

Liz came in moments later. “You hear that?” she said as the thud-thud-thud of the helicopters stagnated above us. “Come with me,” she said. I had been out the last time this happened. We have a big field next to the museum; the nearest open area to the bridge. If someone survives, the Coast Guard lands in the field until an ambulance can get there. Sometimes they wait there as a precaution.

“Yeah, I should mention that this happens sometimes,” she said to Zoe and Justine, two new-ish girls who hadn’t yet been present for a ‘situation on the bridge’. It happens with stunning regularity, and, due to our waterfront location, we almost always end up inadvertently affected by it when it does happen.

We went to the front gate to see what stage of crisis they were in. A small CHP helicopter was parked near the edge of the grass, with a handful of emergency personnel standing near the head of it; waiting. Making smalltalk until they were needed. It was 4:15 and nearing the end of my shift, so twenty minutes later I was in my car and headed for the bridge.

Traffic didn’t seem awful until the on-ramp. Cars for miles, just short of a standstill. But at least they were moving, and moving faster than the cars on the northbound side, which weren’t moving at all. It was a tough merge, but we were still more go than stop. It didn’t seem to indicate anything more traumatic than maybe a fender-bender.

I kept an eye out. Besides the traffic, and besides the fact that it was 72 and sunny, it looked like an average Saturday afternoon in San Francisco. Joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers ambled by. Everyone had their windows down; Top 40 songs wafted over the rumble of engines. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. On one side, the city on the edge of the world, and on the other, just the Pacific and the great, gaping horizon.

Just when I had assumed it was another mysterious traffic jam without rhyme or with very little reason, I caught the caution tape out of the corner of my left eye. It was surprising. It was pretty far down; near the toll booths — most people aim for the center.

I knew it was tacky of me and I knew it was going to hurt, but I looked anyway.

I made a quick glance and caught it all. The long-haired cop presiding over the scene, flanked by his colleagues in harnesses ready to make a quick dive if necessary. All of them an equal distance apart from one another, hands on hips, looking down. Their motorcycles leaning lazily against the railing just outside the tape.

And at their ankles, a dirty-looking man in a red windbreaker on the other side of the bars, looking down and clinging to the side of the bridge. A clear, sharp city skyline behind him.

“Oh my God,” I breathed without even really thinking about it. I got what I asked for, so I turned to face my windshield and drive away.

And just like that, the traffic was gone. In one quick motion all the rubberneckers in front of me were sliding through the toll booths and on their way home.

There was a flush of adrenaline, and my limbs went a little weak. I lifted my foot to the gas. It felt heavy.

And the whole way home, a statistic floated in front of me:

They always pick the San Francisco side.

Update: According to my stats, this entry is getting a lot of interest. For all who are interested, there is a fantastic New Yorker piece from a couple years back that gives some background to this little vignette: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2003/10/13/031013fa_fact

Q&A

Q: What’s the number-one search term leading traffic to this blog?

A:  “ashley lindley playboy”

Hey, as long as people are reading…

I will have something real next week.

Life and Death with Frank Turner

Hello. This is just another post to keep this blog on y’all’s radar. I have a feature for Metro coming up in about two weeks that is shaping up to be really, really good, though my editor seems to be MIA. Haven’t heard from him in about a week and a half. I hope he’s getting my e-mails. I don’t want this story to slip through the cracks.

I am very excited about going to see Frank Turner this week at the Rickshaw Stop. If you haven’t yet turned your attention toward Frank Turner, you probably should. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine a few months ago and I’ve been listening to the CD she burned me over and over and over and over (and over).

Turner has a fantastic command of language and a flair for storytelling, hovering over the mundane and everyday and also the unanswerable, like life and death and what we’re all doing here. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard in quite a while, and makes me feel a little guilty that I’m not adhering to the carpe diem lifestyle he preaches in stuff like “Photosynthesis” and “The Road“.

I’ve been trying to shop around a story on him to local blogs because I have tons of questions I am dying to ask him (and also I was hoping to get into the show for free), but no one’s picked it up. I want to talk about life, death, and women with Frank Turner. If you have nothing to do this Wednesday evening, come out to the Rickshaw Stop. It’s a cheap show. From what I understand, he’s pretty big in the UK and was signed to Epitaph last year. This might be the last time you get to see him for so little dough before all the literary hipsters get a hold of him.

One of these days, we will meet and I will ask him my thousands of questions. Listen up, Frank. I’m comin’ for ya.

I might want this song played at my funeral. I haven’t decided yet.

And if all you ever do with your life

Is just photosynthesize

Then you deserve every hour of your sleepless nights

That you waste wonderin’ when you’re gonna die…

checking in

Hello. Not much action for me lately. Had an arts feature a few weeks ago that I really liked, but I can’t find it online.

In the meantime, here is a video of my friends The Stone Foxes recording and being goofy. (Maybe ‘friends’ is jumping the gun a little. I know them, but we don’t hang out or anything. Just want to be clear on that. I don’t wanna sound all creepy or nothin’). I will be seeing them at the Independent this…Friday? Saturday? I should probably double-check that.

And here is a profile I wrote on them what seems like ages ago. My first story. I was so nervous that night.

And boys, if you are reading, I want one of your new T-shirts. The one with the sunglasses on it. And then, like all the other shirts I buy at merch tables on nothing but beer and impulse, I will end up wearing it only to bed and the gym.

guess who

Guess who lives in the South Bay?

Find out next week…