Combat Rock

It’s difficult sitting here in 2018 Trumpworld, recalling how another hated politician spawned a musical revolution. But back in 1975, when Great Britain’s longest-serving post-WWII prime minister took office, the fury of the then-nascent punk scene hadn’t yet been funneled her way. Punks’ anger and rage found an able target in Margaret Thatcher just two years later.

Thatcher climbed atop her conservative perch, two years prior to the release of Never Mind the Bollocks, the Sex Pistols’ punk “shot heard round” the music world. Britain would never be the same, as Thatcher (much like Reagan in America), turned her attention to dismantling much of the country’s social infrastructure. And Trump seems hellbent on scrapping what remains of America’s.

While the Sex Pistols received the lion’s share of attention from the media for their outlandish “manners,” sneering frontman, Johnny Rotten, and McClaren-esque media savvy (not to mention their shot across the bow, “God Save the Queen”), it was a group of working class twenty-somethings from Brixton who embraced an incendiary ethic of rage, channeled through punk sensibilities and three-minute song structures, that would later evolve and incorporate reggae, rap, dub, and funk, demonstrating that punk could be more than three chords structures, played at breakneck speed. Continue reading

Fire, Then Fury

Michael Wolff has made a career of skewering powerful people, newsmakers like Rupert Murdoch. That is his journalistic M.O. You can look it up. To expect anything different from him re: President Trump, is mistake number one in your thinking.

A profile of Wolff was written back in 2004 for New Republic. The writer, Michelle Cottle, wrote that he “is the quintessential New York creation, fixated on culture, stye, buzz, and money, money, money.” Perhaps better, Wolff might be a quintessential American creation of sorts, mirroring America’s obsession with flash, trash, and cultural detritus. A writer “willing to dish the dirt.” Of course, it’s dangerous to hold the mirror up to others—especially if the mirror reveals their idol/president/emperor is a cartoon cutout. It pisses them off, too. Say what you will about Mr. Wolff: he’s been laughing all the way to the bank for a while.

Since Wolff’s pretty well-known in what he does, the fact that the current handlers of Mr. Trump, and Trump himself, must have known that Wolff was going to write what he saw and what he thought he saw. And yet, they feign indignation. Didn’t something tip you off when he was playing a fly-on-the-wall, talking to a gaggle of inner-circle cronies? He spoke to Trump, too, for God’s sake!

Michael Wolff on the Trump White House.

That’s why for me, it rings incredibly disingenuous when ideological Kool-Aid-drinkers get indignant about Wolff’s book. Kind of lame, in my way of thinking. Continue reading

Could You Be The One?

Back when life was simpler and a lot less sad, I went out to see bands because I thought music might save my life. Music as a life saver? Please do tell.

Lot’s been written about Mark by me and others. In death, there is a tendency to enlarge one’s life, or attribute qualities to people in the dead person’s life that may or may not have been present. In Mark’s case, he was the real deal. I did my best as a dad and things turned out pretty well until last January.

In 1986, I was simply a father and husband with a three-year-old son. We were living on a dead-end street in Chesterton, Indiana.

Mark had a tricycle and was making a few friends in the neighborhood. I worked at a prison and Mary had just started working breakfast at Wendy’s prior to me heading off to the med room at Westville Correctional Facility.

Mark and dad playing in the snow [1986]

Things were looking up for our little family, trying to scrape together enough money to return to Maine. I also had aspirations of being something more than an hourly wage slave. It would take me another 15 years to recognize that the writing muse was calling. Unable to recognize its beckoning however, caused considerable frustration and angst in my mid-20s. Continue reading

Finding the Bridge

Sleep and sleep patterns have always intrigued (and affected) me. As in, I don’t always sleep as soundly as some. Basically, I wake up in the middle of the night more often, than not. This has been especially true since Mark’s death.

Several years ago, new information about the history of sleep came across my desk and it helped me recognize that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep wasn’t necessarily the norm, at least until marketers seized upon another way to deepen their pockets—by pushing the idea, along with a host of sleep aids and other pharmaceuticals.

According to Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech, people slept in “shifts,” basically, or twice per night.

His research conducted over 16 years found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight-hour chunk, but instead, sleep came in two shorter periods, but over a longer range of night, with the range being about 12 hours long. He later wrote a book about it.

When I wake up and can’t fall back asleep, I get up, go downstairs and attend to some task for about an hour. Then, I get drowsy and often, go back to bed and sleep for 45 to 90 minutes. I generally wake up refreshed and ready for my day.

These nocturnal interludes between sleep shifts are when I discover interesting things, or do some quick research on something I’ve jotted down the previous day or prior week. Continue reading

Death Don’t Have No Mercy

Some friends have heard my Jorma Kaukonen story. It was years ago when I was much younger and less well-versed about the personal effects of one particular song he covered frequently (don’t remember if he played it that night, or not).

Kaukonen was an idol of mine, a member of a personal shortlist of musicians that I’ve never grown tired of listening to, reading about, or contemplating their body of work. And in Kaukonen’s case, I’ve had the privilege of hearing him live, too.

My story centers on Raoul’s Roadside Attraction, a small, intimate club on Forest Avenue, the kind of place that was a bit larger than your living room, but not so big that the music and performer got lost in the space. “Intimate” comes to mind as a descriptor. It was likely 1989. Continue reading

Throwing a (World) Party

In lieu of substantive blogging material, I’m planning to throw up random thoughts and ideas for awhile. That should suffice for fresh content until something big shows up at my doorstep. I’m actually fine with transitioning the JBE into a poor man’s Pitchfork if need be. I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinions on music (past and present).

Years ago, I read an article by some music journalist. He was speaking with Karl Wallinger (former member of the Waterboys) and at that time (in the 1990s), Wallinger fronted World Party. I don’t recall the publication. I do remember Wallinger being articulate about his music, however. He was talking about the Beatles, and their influence on his writing and song structure, as well as a host of other things that the British singer-songwriter was weighing-in on at that moment.

Like most things from my past, I boxed up Wallinger (and his music) and stuffed them back into the subconscious recesses of the soft tissue that is my brain’s roomy central archive.

Funny thing about music (at least for me), this material dating back half a century seeps out at unexpected times. With Wallinger and World Party, it was on Sunday, in the early afternoon. This followed my Sunday-morning-coming-down filled with trying to recall everything I’ve been studying from the NFHS Volleyball Rules Book. I had to pass their online exam in order to become certified, and become legit with the Maine Association of Volleyball Officials (MAVO). Continue reading

A Purple Friday

The obvious thing to write about today if I was following the herd, would be the death of Prince, the great purple one. Actually, I will follow the masses today, as I did want to touch briefly on the sudden end to his music career.

In terms of music coming out of Minneapolis (Prince’s hometown) in the 1980s, I was a fan of The Replacements and Hüsker Dü. I knew of Prince, but he was too commercial for my tastes at the time. In terms of popularity, he tended to curry favor with the mainstream music crowd that I looked upon with disparagement.

According to Wikipedia, Prince sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all-time. I knew he was popular, but didn’t know his sales were that substantial.

I always enjoy catching Purple Rain, whenever it runs in the loop of B-fare movies that show up across cable television. There’s something about him that obviously resonated with his followers. For me, his appeal was that of observing a prodigious musical talent, but from a distance. Prince’s death is similar for me in many ways to David Bowie’s—if you knew anything about music, you never were not aware of either Prince, or Bowie.

Prince is frozen in Purple Rain in my memory.

Prince is frozen in Purple Rain in my memory.

Continue reading

Bands That Suck

Indie rock is something I’ve blogged about before. The DIY mindset that permeated the period between say 1979 and 1995, pre-interwebs, was a unique one. If you happened to have tapped into it in some small way—simply as a fan, or perhaps a DJ, let alone as an actual band member—you know that it’s something we’ll never replicate again.

Jon Fine played in what he’d call one of the “weird bands” of that period, first with Bitch Magnet, then later with some bands even less well-known (like Coptic Light and Don Caballero). It’s not like Bitch Magnet’s a household name, but in the world that counts Black Flag and Sonic Youth as the best-known of a group of bands that were all a bit off-center, the period was worth recounting in some detail.

"Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)", by Jon Fine

“Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)”, by Jon Fine

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Grammy Who?

While I’ve never been a “dedicated follower of fashion,” as The Kinks sang, especially when it involved Top 40, mainstream pop, I somehow managed to cling to some sense of who the kinds of people were that garnered Grammys. Until this year.

The unbearable whiteness that is Taylor Swift. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today)

The unbearable whiteness that’s Taylor Swift. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today)

I guess that officially pushes me up and over the threshold of relevance, right? Actually, I do know who Taylor Swift is, so maybe I get a reprieve from getting shoved into the trash bin. Possibly that admission probably means that I need to check my white privilege.

My penchant has been for music that went against the grain, or wasn’t trying too hard to be fashionable. In high school it was The Dead Kennedys. I coped with my post-fundamentalist years stranded in Indiana, surrounded with a soundtrack that was weighted towards punk and industrial music; Black Flag and Ministry come to mind.  Hit singles never really captured my fancy. Continue reading

Fame is Overrated

Because I follow a few people via Medium, I now get a daily email and digest of content published on the platform. Most of it’s crap, but a handful of stories stand out and I’ll read them. Like this one, about a musician, Mike Posner.

I’d never heard of Posner, actually—at least not until I read his post.

Like a lot of young performers that ascend fame’s ladder, the ride to the top changed who he was, or at least magnified things about him that he found he didn’t like. Of course, the ride back down celebrity’s hill can be equally as dramatic (as well as ego-deflating). To his credit, Posner possessed some measure of self-awareness and took time to reflect and reconsider. Not every young man facing the crash-and-burn of his career would have had his presence of mind, and taken steps to right himself.

After he had a worldwide hit in 2010, with a song called “Cooler Than Me,” he ended up being dropped by his label. Five years later, he had to redefine and yes, reinvent.

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