Monday, May 31, 2010

Novel, Part #9

Our chief characters, Paul and rock star Rory, meet. To read the start of the novel, go here.

Chapter 5

“Hey kid, you from around here?” I heard a voice say from behind me.

Turning around, I said, “Yes, sir.”

The man looked to be in his early 20s, but I couldn’t completely tell because he looked so different from the kind of person we see around Papersville on a daily basis. He had long blond locks flowing past his denim vest that opened to another flowing area of blond hair on his chest, along with tight leather pants and black boots beneath. And even though I was cutting the grass on the shady side of the Universal factory that day, it was still a surprise to see what could only be a real rock star now standing virtually face-to-face with me. The factory was really just that – a factory. It was not a place ever frequented by the untouchable music legends who appeared in the grooves of what that factory produced.

“Thanks a lot for cleaning it up around here for me,” the man said.

“You’re welcome, sir.”

I’ve got this signing thing here starting in an hour or so.”

“I know. My boss told me to make this area look real nice.”

“Well, thanks again,” the rocker said. “So you’re from around here, you say. What street?”

“East Lake Drive.”

“Hey, I grew up on West Lake. Small world. We don’t have the house anymore. My dad died and my mom is in a nursing home over in Mayfair. I split my time between my penthouse in the city and my ranch house out in L.A.”

“Are you here to visit your mom?”

“Well, yeah. But I’ve got a lot of fans in these parts, so it seemed like a good idea to do a little something special for them. I’m going to sign autographs and then play some songs on the acoustic guitar right here.”

“I’d like to see that,” I said.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Pop Culture Lunch Box Goes For-Profit

The blog has done well enough that now seems like an appropriate time to take it into the big leagues. Hopefully the advertising you'll now see on this popalicious resource will be tasteful and even useful.

Please let me know your thoughts about advertising at PCLB. If you like it. If you love it. If you will never visit again. Mostly, you'll probably just realize it's the way the world operates. I am a bit of a publicity man myself, so I'm pretty happy to have advertisers and want to thank them ahead of time.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Will the Gulf Look Like When the Oil Stops?

Here's my weekly environment column for NetGreen News. You can see all my columns here.

The Washington Post has reported the latest estimates of animals dying from the oil volcano beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly 400 dead birds and dozens of dolphins and some of the world's most endangered sea turtles have all perished.

Experts claim this is really a smidgen of the total species kill that is unfolding in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Many of the animals will be so weakened by their coatings of toxic oil that the fierce carnivores of the region will have a feast.

Other than the fact that all these dead animals are terrible for biodiversity and BP's image, what would be the actual real-world results of a Gulf with little or no life?

For starters, the beaches that are slowly being contaminated by oil will become a low-priority destination for beach-going vacationers and their tourism dollars. For those who do venture onto the beaches, there won't be much wildlife to see. So birders and swimmers need not apply.

The Gulf used to be known as one of the most productive fish and shellfish catching grounds in the world, largely because fish dwell along its broad continental shelf. It would routinely pull in about 2 billion pounds each year. This amounted to a fifth of U.S. catches and a fourth of revenue generated from domestic catches. These numbers don't include the massive attraction to recreational fishing in the region, which will remain depleted for the foreseeable future.

The $300 million annual trove of oysters for Louisiana fishermen appears to be a lost cause. Although the oysters themselves may survive the oil toxins, they will not ever be edible. Same goes for the region's shrimp.

The already endangered Gulf whale population is likely to expend unusual amounts of energy to swim away from their polluted natural habitat. Experts are unsure how these migratory patterns for whales and other species will affect the area in the long-term.

In the end, the Gulf may be slightly ahead of the curve. A major global study published in the journal Science found that all the world's commercial fisheries would be gone by 2050 anyhow. That means our over-fishing of the past 50 years is creating the extinction of all fish - and fishing - within most of our lifetimes. One author of that study said that
"our wild seafood will be little more than sea squirt soup."

On the flip side, the now-notorious Minerals Management Service claims that offshore operations in the Gulf produce a quarter of the U.S. domestic natural gas and one-eighth of its oil. Not that we should believe this agency, but gas and oil exploration is certainly something energy experts, environmentalists, and politicians can't rule out.

Let's hope Congress takes this opportunity (unlike Obama) to begin debating the merits of fossil fuel use versus protection of a beautiful domestic resource like the Gulf of Mexico and its surrounding coastlines.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jason Bateman Adds Comedy Flavor to Extract

Director and animator Mike Judge would always be legendary even if his only creative work were Office Space. So Extract is really just icing on the cake.

Jason Bateman is legendary comedy gold for Arrested Development, arguably the greatest sitcom ever. So this movie is likewise icing for the former teen idol who made it big in the 1980s with roles in TV shows like Little House on the Prairie, Silver Spoons, and Valerie.

In Extract, Bateman continues his winsome streak as the founder and owner of a vanilla extract company. He sets out to fix all the horribly wrong things about his life, and one can't help but cheer for the guy.

Ben Affleck is hilarious as his bartender friend (in a Marriott sports bar) who is full of endlessly bad advice. Mila Kunis is her usual adorable self as the crook who sets out to bring his company down. SNL's wacky Kristen Wiig is perhaps a bit underused and a bit too lacking-in-wacky as Bateman's sweatpants-wearing wife, but she's still likable. And Gene Simmons of Kiss, Dustin Milligan (formerly Ethan on 90210), and David Koechner as boring neighbor Nathan each play perfectly dumb supporting roles.

This came in as a late contender in December as one of the best comedy movies of 2009.

**** out of ***** stars

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Good and Bad of Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are from 1963 is definitely in my top five children's books of all time. So I was excited about the movie that was released last year.

Author Maurice Sendak has one of the most wildly creative minds. If you don't believe it, just check out the video below of a dad doing a hilarious reading of his bizarro story In the Night Kitchen.

Sendak's strength is capturing children in all their unpredictable, boundary-less inner fantasy minds, and film creators Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze (with consulting from Sendak) do a great job of capturing the wild young insubordinate Max.

The scenery and cinematography in the land of the Wild Things is gorgeous. The music by Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs is perfectly off-kilter and often carries the movie in its many relatively slow stretches.

The sparse short story obviously needed major embellishments to fit into 90 minutes of screen time. It is clear the filmmakers struggled with this point.

But the theme of how hard it is to work to build a strong family is touching. And the film's emotional weight is quite heavy considering all the goofy monsters running around.

The decision to have muppet-like, sport-mascot Wild Things instead of computer-generated ones was perhaps the wisest decision of all. The monsters feel real and become captivating as the story unfolds. Max Records as Max is also really intriguing is his first major role, albeit more of his backstory would have fleshed this lovable movie out considerably.

*** out of ***** stars

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist Takes a Lazy View of Mormonism

Hard to believe, but there really haven't been that many portrayals of Mormonism in pop culture. The HBO series Big Love and the Jon Krakauer book Under the Banner of Heaven. So that's why it seemed the new novel by Brady Udall, The Lonely Polygamist, would be captivating.

Udall has an interesting resume. He was a faculty member at my alma mater Southern Illinois, is a member of the big Western Udall political clan, has a previously published book being optioned for film by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, and comes from a large Mormon family himself.

Unfortunately, after sludging through the first several chapters, I had to abandon this book. Golden Richards grows up in Louisiana as a shy, lonely boy with dysfunctional parents. Somehow he became "an apostle of God, the husband of four wives, and the father to 28 children."

His father left for months at a time to prospect for oil, and similarly, Golden leaves for long stretches to do construction work on the road out west. We know that home life is exhausting for him and that it will eventually lead to him having an extramarital affair.

His kids predictably have names like Fig Newton, Darling, Jame-o, and the Three Stooges, and one of his wives is named Rose-of-Sharon.

Reviews claim that this is slapstick and a light-hearted look at polygamist life. I found it a bore and a bit simple-minded. I chuckled a bit when Golden comes home to find his dog wearing underwear and some of his children not. But any novel that is 602 pages had better grab me a little more intensely if I'm going to devote a good chunk of my life to it. This one doesn't cut it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is Shrimp Less Tasty Than It Used To Be?

Here's my weekly column for the exciting media start-up NetGreen News. You can see all my columns here.

There are more important environmental issues to write about today, like three major new reports on climate change from the authoritative National Academies, but something else is on my mind.

I was getting my haircut the other day when my stylist Patrick mentioned that he loves shrimp but refuses to eat the tails. That reminded me how much I loved chomping mass amounts of peel-and-eat shrimp when I was a kid on vacations in Louisiana and North Carolina. But I don't really enjoy shrimp anymore. Why is that?

Do shrimp taste worse now than they did 20 or 30 years ago?

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not going to help the taste of the famously delicious Gulf shrimp. It will most certainly drive prices up as supplies become more scarce this summer.

That means disgusting eateries like Red Lobster will have even more incentive to get their shrimp from faraway fish farms, which produce cheap and endless supplies. Nearly all of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. originates from farming in Latin America and Asia. These farms are rarely inspected or certified and produce up to 18,000 pounds of shrimp per acre in three to six months -- extraordinary yields when you further consider that most shrimp farming is done in water pools that are typically no deeper than four feet. Yuck.

So farming practices are certainly one reason to at least be aware that we may be eating some suspicious crops. Add the ecological damages reaped from shrimp-boat trawling and removal of forests for shrimp aquaculture, and our collective conscious about eating these bottom-feeders can grow heavy.

I never did figure out why my hairstylist doesn't like shrimp tails. And although I haven't found overwhelming scientific evidence that shrimp is less tasty, it's pretty safe to assume that the domestic, wild-caught shrimp of my youth are becoming more of an expensive delicacy and are the only kind we can consume in good health.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blogwatch: Rock 'N' Roll Metro Map

Because there are so many great blogs out there like Pop Culture Lunch Box, this is a new regular feature that will give these unheralded journalism enterprises a little love.

I would actually remember whether I'm supposed to be going in the direction of Shady Grove or Glenmont on DC's Metro if this were the map.

Click here to super size it.

And while this person's Flickr account may not necessarily be considered a blog, theonlyone's photostream has some great art nonetheless.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mountain Biking Ends a Beautiful DC Weekend

It was a perfect weekend and I took advantage by BBQing with friends on Friday night, hanging out at Eastern Village's happy hour on the roof Saturday night, playing tennis with neighbor Steve, and mountain biking with neighbor Mark and other friends.

Just another example of how great it is to live in cohousing, where there's always someone nearby to share adventures. The mountain bike trails at Fairland State Park, just 10 minutes north of Silver Spring on Highway 29, offer enough rolling hills through the forest to have me physically exhausted this Sunday night.

New Song: Prison Walls Keep Smiling

I realized it's been a while since I posted a new song (or even wrote a new song, for that matter).

Not sure if this counts. I sort of cheated. I wrote one verse and added two cheesy covers in the middle. See if you can tell what songs they are.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

When You're Strange Is Fresh Look at The Doors

I'm not the biggest fan of The Doors in the world. I remember there was once this girl in my fifth-grade class who wore Doors shirts all the time, and we all just thought she was weird or potentially disturbed.

But looking back on her and her ratty shirts, I don't think we gave her enough credit. While some of the band's albums suffer from the monotonous tone of Jim Morrison's voice and the endlessly trippy wavering of the music, there is undeniably classic stuff sprinkled throughout. And, well, as for the basic legend of The Doors, I'm totally enamored.

I still think Oliver Stone's The Doors is one of the five greatest rock movies. And that would be hard to top, but the new When You're Strange comes pretty close. Originally narrated by filmmaker Tom DiCillo, his voice didn't cut it for festival audiences. So in stepped Mr. Movie Gold Johnny Depp (who was originally considered for the lead role in Stone's film before Val Kilmer got his role of a lifetime). His outlaw voice is the perfect fit, mainly because it's easy to forget it's Depp and think Morrison himself is giving us a tour of his life.

Pamela Courson, Jim's girlfriend, figures much less in this documentary than in Oliver Stone's classic. She is replaced with vivid footage of Morrison driving his muscle car through the desert, crawling around shirtless on rocks near a waterfall, and flopping around on stage in his black leather pants.

That much of this footage had never been seen before is nearly a crime. And it looks so fresh that some of it, especially the scenes of Morrison driving (culled from a film project he was working on), looks like reenactments. It's all real, and should be required viewing for anyone interested in pop culture.

***** out of ***** stars

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Usual Beltway Politics a Good Explanation for Offshore Drilling Plans

Here's my weekly column for the exciting media start-up NetGreen News. You can see all my columns here.

The Kerry-Lieberman bill, although given a slim chance of passing into law, was unveiled Wednesday and calls for a 17 percent cut in 2005 emission levels by 2020.

While those numbers can be argued about ad nauseum as to whether 17 percent is enough to keep us all from frying, the oil-drilling parts of the bill are something we can look at more clearly to determine a "yes" or "no" answer.

The bill allows states to veto drilling proposals that risk environmental degradation or that are within 75 miles of their shorelines. It would also allow incentives and revenue-sharing options for states to benefit from nearby drilling operations.

But let's take a step back. Other than the obvious calamity of what happened on Earth Day in the Gulf of Mexico, what's so bad about drilling in our own waters? The main logical and simplified arguments are that oil rigs make our oceans less beautiful on the surface and also contribute to the declining health of underwater ecosystems.

For an example of the latter, jellyfish are growing in alarming numbers because they require less oxygen than other climate-affected underwater life, thrive because of the overfishing of so many other species, enjoy clinging to hard surfaces in the water such as rigs, and are a growing pain for tourism and the many people increasingly being stung by the creatures.

If wind and solar alternatives are really possible, it makes a lot more sense for the U.S. to set a good example by not drilling everywhere it sees a fast buck and working with responsible countries to use the oil we still obviously require during a green transition. Further, almost all the non-industry-funded experts agree that gas prices for U.S. consumers will not decrease at all from offshore drilling in this country. There is also no solid evidence that opening the waters will create jobs.

President Obama said that his original plan to allow offshore drilling was "part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy." He didn't really give any other convincing reasons why this needs to be done. "Homegrown fuel?" Maybe this reduces our shipping costs, but it sure doesn't sound like something my gas tank is exactly thirsting after.

We live in a global economy where it makes sense to buy imports such as oil, which we keep saying we're trying to become less addicted to for greener alternatives. If Obama, Lieberman, and Kerry's plans to open U.S. coastlines to oil drilling is more than rotten Beltway politics, now is the right time to drill some benefits into the minds of a skeptical public.

Nirvana's Ferocious Post-Punk Blasts St. Louis and Redding, UK

The UK concert from 1992 captured in this video is often billed as Nirvana's high point. I would dispute that because I saw the grunge legends on my 21st birthday at the legendary St. Louis show the previous year, when leader Kurt Cobain called the entire crowd up on stage at Mississippi Nights.

That pandemonium-laced show occurred just days before Nevermind was released. I had attended just as much to see openers Urge Overkill as I had Nirvana. But they had me in their pocket after that from then on.

A lot of people have claimed Nirvana was overrated, but it's not really quantifiable. They were the perfect band for the time, and their three studio albums remain some of the top releases of the 1989 to 1993 era.

Nirvana: Live at Redding represents mastered footage of one of the most heavily bootlegged shows in rock history. Although this three-piece band may have been just as good at that 1991 St. Louis show, it would be disingenuous to short-change the pounding, ferocious post-punk blast of this concert. There isn't a less-than-great song in the 25-number set, which includes great covers of Mudhoney and Wipers tunes.

***** out of ***** stars

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson Is Latest Enjoyable Contribution to Teen Comedy Genre

The latest book I finished was Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan, who is well-known for writing Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. It falls into the same category as recent high-school classics I Love You, Beth Cooper and King Dork.

High-school kids simply make for great comedy characters, and there is no exception here. The title refers to the two protagonists (one gay and one straight) in this quick-read-of-a-novel. They have the same names and happen to meet up one night bizarrely and awkwardly in a porn shop in Chicago. They both find themselves drawn to a friendship with Tiny Cooper, an outrageously fat and gay tight end on the football team at straight Will's school. Tiny is producing "the gayest high-school musical ever" which also happens to be called "Tiny Dancer" and is his life history told through the lens of boyfriend breakups.

There is not a huge plot line, but the character development is excellent. By the end, there is a real sense of connection between the reader and the main players. And although the story doesn't necessarily flow effortlessly, there are plenty of humorous, enjoyable scenes throughout, including the one in which straight Will becomes the only member of the student-body Straight Gay Alliance and when he joins Tiny and friend/girlfriend/fellow-music-lover Jane to see Neutral Milk Hotel but gets kicked out of the club for having a fake ID that claims he's not old enough to get in.

And Maura is gay Will's friend until he finds out she has created his fake out-of-state boyfriend named Isaac in a lengthy online love affair. This incident results in the two Will Grayson's meeting.

Green and Levithan have come up with a creative work plan, in which one wrote the gay Will's chapters and the other handled the straight Will parts. In that light, the flow is surprisingly strong, and, in the end, the plot is not the really crucial element.

This is a good and funny read and well worth the time for mature teens and adults alike.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Monday, May 10, 2010

Novel, Part #8

We continue taking a glimpse into Paul's early life with his parents. You can read the entire beginning of my novel here.

I mostly listened to songs that were on a new radio program called American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. These songs were lighter than things like Led Zeppelin and Kiss and were tolerated by my mom and dad on Saturday mornings, although I frequently caught them looking at each other hesitantly like they were ashamed at kind of liking an occasional “long-distance dedication” track or something by Bread.

John and Anna Andrews, ironically, met and bonded over a rock song. It sounds cheesy now, but they were at the ice cream shop when one of the rowdier kids at Papersville High ventured to play a brand-new song in the jukebox called “It’s All Right (Mama)” by a still virtually unknown Elvis Presley. Nearly all of the kids in the store got up from their soda pops and started dancing. John quickly saw the pretty girl in the pink dress still sitting shyly at her booth and leaped over to ask her to dance. Turned out she was pretty fancy in her feet. He got her name and asked her to the senior dance. She accepted, even though it turned out that she was still a year away from being in high school. The same Elvis song got played again about halfway through the senior dance, which, although they’ve never admitted it to me, may have sealed the deal on their lifelong friendship and love for each other.

One time I got my mom to go as far as to say, “Elvis was pretty exciting to hear when I was 13.” Of which my dad quickly added, “Even if he was in the minor leagues compared to the top crooners.”

Anyway, I guess Elvis put enough jump in their juices to have me a few years later. But he didn’t put enough in to supply me with any brothers and sisters. My dad’s rationale always was, pretty astutely, that there just wouldn’t be enough of a life in Papersville for more than one Andrews’ offspring. At the time, in 1956, the town was thriving by the standards of most others in the region. But he must have seen even then that New York City and other big towns would lure future generations to megalopolises of opportunity rather than ones like ours with choices limited to papering, record pressing, bartending, or lawn mowing.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Music Reviews In 3 Words or Less: Volume 20

Spoon - A Series of Sneaks (1998)
Best Spoon album
Touchstones: Pavement meets The Beatles
***** out of ***** stars

Free Energy - Stuck on Nothing (2010)
Debut of the Year
Touchstones: Spoon meets Thin Lizzy
***** out of ***** stars

Pants Yell! - Received Pronunciation (2009)
Jangly emo indie
Touchstones: Beulah meets Beat Happening
***** out of ***** stars

Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)
Let's rock, boys!
Touchstones: Jimi Hendrix meets ZZ Top
****1/2 out of ***** stars

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor (2010)
Rollicking drunk crunch
Touchstones: Violent Femmes meet The Pogues
****1/2 out of ***** stars

Van Halen - 5150 (1986)
A high-school soundtrack
Touchstones: Montrose meets Def Leppard
****1/2 out of ***** stars

Steely Dan - Katy Lied (1975)
Intellectual jazz pop
Touchstones: Fleetwood Mac meets The Sea and Cake
****1/2 out of ***** stars

The Long Ryders - The Best Of (2004)
College roots punk
Touchstones: Gram Parsons meets Uncle Tupelo
**** out of ***** stars

Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue (2008)
Groovy pastoral prog
Touchstones: Tom Petty meets My Morning Jacket
**** out of ***** stars

She & Him - Volume 2 (2010)
Longish but lovely
Touchstones: The Supremes meet The Beach Boys
**** out of ***** stars

Sonny & Cher - Look at Us (1965)
Summer love bubblegum
Touchstones: Phil Spector meets The Brady Bunch
**1/2 out of ***** stars

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BP Public-Relations Blunders Could Choke Company

Here's my weekly column for the exciting media start-up NetGreen News. You can see all my columns here.

It was shocking to see BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, utter this quote in last weekend’s Financial Times: “It was not our accident, but it is our responsibility to clean it up.”

Hayward blames Transocean, the operator of the rig, for causing the release of an
estimated 1.6 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico since Earth Day nearly two weeks ago. (The 1989 Exxon Valdez accident spilled 11 million gallons off the coast of Alaska.)

And while it truly may have been a spill that was out of BP’s hands, the way it was communicated to the world was terrible. The company’s obvious lack of preparedness for such a spill is mind-boggling, because while the spill may eventually be contained at approximately $6 million per day, the reputational damage to a company that was once “Beyond Petroleum” very likely could be devastating.

British Petroleum’s rebranding nearly a decade ago has long been held as an exemplary study in transformative communications strategies, taking BP from a disrupter of natural resources to a protector of the environment. The Gulf oil spill could end any claim to “Beyond Petroleum,”especially after the 2005 safety violations and 15 employee deaths at its Texas City, Texas refinery explosion and the 2006 corroded and leaking pipelines that shut down its major Prudhoe Bay, Alaska oil field.

There may be time for BP to reclaim some control over the current situation, but it will need to stop issuing comments that deflect the blame. It will also need to do more than launch a Web site where people can voice concerns and post a few videos describing how hard the company is working on the ground.

Those are absolutely necessary and good steps. But Hayward has still missed many opportunities and he must get aggressive. He needs to issue a contingency plan to local residents and state officials who could soon inundate BP with lawsuits. The fact that BP offered $5,000 settlements to residents for waiving their rights to later sue for damages shows that the company was advised by lawyers but not public-relations experts.

There also needs to be a flood of pictures, videos, social media, and other storytelling devices being issued from BP to the media and the public. For now, photos of the destruction to nature and wildlife are telling the story throughout endless news cycles, and that is not working in BP’s favor. The public needs to see the clean-up efforts of everyday American workers.

Hayward is also allegedly keeping a tight grip on the journalist credentials being allowed to enter the clean-up zone or to get a view from within BP’s company operations. He could at least begin having regular hourly, or several times each day, press briefings and photo opportunities. Remember how Rudy Giuliani enhanced his image as a hero during the worst of times after the September 11 attacks?

The Obama administration is not exactly doing any favors for BP’s image either. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Shuttles told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show that “we’ll take help wherever we can get it,” which again showed that BP had lost control and really needed the federal government’s help. Meanwhile, Obama apparently thought the problem would go away on its own. His lack of public inattentiveness is eerily similar to George W. Bush’s early public-relations missteps during 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Obama clearly wants to keep the focus on BP’s slow response rather than his own. At least he has reversed his plan to allow for offshore drilling on several U.S. coastlines, and Congress has scheduled a hearing on the spill for May 12.

Sea Wolf Brings Its Chomps to Rock and Roll Hotel

It's one of those "small world" stories. Rachel and I went on honeymoon in Tanzania and ran into the same couple over and over again on the safari leg. Aaron and Jill from Los Angeles were also honeymooning. We got to talking about music and how we were both in indie-rock bands, and I had even heard of Aaron's band, Irving.

Great band, and they even stayed at our house a few years ago while touring in DC with Voxtrot. So it was nice that Irving's former bassist, Alex Brown Church, remembered me last night after his band Sea Wolf's excellent show at the Rock and Roll Hotel.

Sea Wolf's current lineup includes cello and keyboards, with lots of fun and pretty percussion, that adds a creative and original sound to their acoustic guitar, lead guitar, bass, and drums brand of singer-songwriting. With more of a country twang (think Matt Pond PA meets Wilco) than psych-poppers Irving, this is a band with a large sound that has outgrown what feels like a somewhat constricted space in the Rock N' Roll Hotel (although I love the upstairs funhouse bar, and sat mesmerized on a dirty couch for several minutes with my friend Peter discussing the artistry of a photo of Richard Nixon saluting the troops while boarding Air Force One, but with the head of Gene Simmons from Kiss implanted where Tricky Dick's head was supposed to be).

Sea Wolf has already had success, with it's 2007 debut hitting No. 24 on the Billboard chart, supplying a song for an audiobook by Augusten Burroughs, and contributing a song to popular teen movie New Moon.

The crowd started to thin out for The Album Leaf, a San Diego band with a Chicago jazzy post-rock sound, ala Tortoise and The Sea and Cake. It was an impressive show that I really enjoyed, although my one complaint (and what appears to be acceptance on the part of its young fanbase) is that many of the group's songs are ridiculously similar.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Alma Tropicalia Brings Brazil Scorchingly to DC9

It was great to see my buddy and old bandmate, Gordie Shaw, dust off my Fender bass (more like tear shreds into it) last Wednesday night with his new band at DC9.

Alma Tropicalia brings the great Brazilian psych-rock sounds of Os Mutantes, Tom Ze, Gilberto Gil, Joao Gilberto, and Caetano Veloso right here to our doorsteps in DC. Every city needs one of these bands.

Alma Tropicalia has perfected the sounds of sunny Rio, even has a mystical and enchanting lead singer named Bebel (just like the aforementioned Joao Gilberto's daughter Bebel Gilberto), and rounds out Gordie's precision and melodic bass with really talented and cohesive accompaniment from the drums, guitar, and keys.

Dancey, trancey, and poppy, this local band really has a little something for everyone. Don't miss the classic Os Mutantes' cover in the video above, "Ando Meio Desligado."

Novel, Part #7

We continue to take a look into our protagonist's life growing up in small-town Papersville, New York. You can read the entire beginning of my novel here.

Chapter 4

Even though my dad – and mom, as well, for that matter – were more than happy for me not to start working in the life-deadening paper mills, they were both pretty unhappy about the Universal “predicament.” Many characters that dominated music news in 1973 were unsavory to small-town folks like my parents.

My dad constantly asked me questions like these: “Led Zeppelin? Kiss? Lou Freed? They’re all drug addicts. Whatever happened to the classics like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin?”

“Dad, I think those guys had their share of addiction problems. And besides, I’m cutting grass at a record-making factory. I’m not on stage with makeup and I don’t even know how to play any instruments. So I don’t think you have much to worry about with me. I’m more worried about what I want to do with my life. I would love to start my own lawn business.”

My dad’s friend and our next-door neighbor, Ernie Snimes, always nearby and never failing to chime in, was still dwelling on the current music scene. “Even that Paul McCarterney seems to have gone to pot. Them Beatles seemed like they might be onter sumpin for a while there. But I don’t know now. Seems like juss a lotto noise mostly.”

I usually tended to agree with them, simply to end what could quickly deteriorate into an argument about even larger societal and generational issues. It was clear that Woodstock and everything that was quickly happening since then in the youth cultural scene completely jarred their senses and worldviews. It clearly wasn’t something they would easily succumb to, and I think it was this way for most people in small places like Papersville. I don’t know what the big-city transitions must have been like, but they couldn’t have been nearly as close-minded at the time.