Category Archives: Musical Taste

“The Only Living Boy in New York” — Simon and Garfunkel

Editor’s note: Matt published this piece today on Leading Us Absurd in honor of Paul Simon’s 70th birthday. I appreciate his allowing us to feature it here on HFL. –HI-FI Janna


Today is Paul Simon’s 70th birthday, so I thought today would be a perfect time to write about one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs – “The Only Living Boy in New York”.  If I’m being totally honest…(read the entire post on Matt’s blog: Leading Us Absurd)

Find more artists like Simon and Garfunkel at Myspace Music.


“Stranger in Moscow” — Michael Jackson


Whether or not you’re big into MJ is kind of irrelevant.

Any self-respecting music fan can’t deny the talent, skill, and perfectionism of the man who changed music forever. Besides, there’s rarely anything that comes out of the music or entertainment industry these days that doesn’t make a nod toward Michael – so, chances are, if you like any music that has been created within the last thirty years, you have him to thank for it – at least in part. Because he changed everything.

His death affected me profoundly in a way that no artist’s or celebrity’s has or probably ever will again. When I listen to “Stranger In Moscow” – not a big hit of his, though I think it should’ve been – I get a vivid and emotional glimpse not only of his own life, but of his commonality with his fans, with everyone. Here was a man who was troubled, perhaps more than we’ll ever know, and unfortunately it’s that kind of life that often drives genius.

The music video is, in my opinion, a must-view with the song since Michael was, after all, deeply involved in every aspect of his work. Maybe you can’t relate to being a “Stranger In Moscow”, but you’ve been a stranger somewhere, “living lonely”. You can replace the “Kremlin’s shadow” and “Stalin’s tomb” with anything really. You can see yourself within any of the characters in the video – we’ve all been at that place in our lives, at one point or another, where you drop the umbrella and just walk into the rain. Maybe you’re hoping it washes away whatever you’re feeling. I think Michael wanted to wash away the entire world-the world that constantly loved and hated Michael, fiercely and incessantly, for his entire life. For Michael, “abandoned in my fame”, he hoped he could escape like all the other normal people, hoping they would just “take my name and just let me be”.

It’s a sad thing, no? But there’s an uplifting moment, I think, towards the end when everyone is standing out in the rain. The black and white washes over them and suddenly they find an escape, a moment where nothing really matters. Michael probably had precious few of those moments, certainly fewer than most of us have had. Despite the fame and fortune, I think he’s a prime example of the cliché “money can’t buy happiness”. He was one of us, he was a human being and he was the King of Pop, all at once. I think you’ve achieved true musical and artistic perfection when you achieve that balance, that place where people can see you for you, and you for your talent. I only hope his time with his kids and family and the love of his fans brought him some peace before we lost him.

Image courtesy of

Rest In peace, Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009).

Find more artists like Michael Jackson at Myspace Music.

How Neon Indian Disrupted and Grounded My Life

Okay, full disclosure; I’m supposed to be writing an article for Hi-Fi Lives about the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks record. Actually, I originally planned on finishing it about 4 weeks ago, but…something else came along and changed things.

I could go on for hours complaining about the myriad of academic stuff I should be spending my time knocking out. I’m also moving at the end of this week, so I should probably be filling and sealing the boxes creating a labyrinth of obstacles around my house. The backlog of podcasts that I normally would’ve listened to by now is starting to collect well beyond what I’ll be able to get to before their timeliness expires. My August consisted of 2 funerals and a wedding. There’re plenty of other things on which I could be spending my cognitive energy, right? Instead, I have to take the time to explain the nuances of a record, to which I absolutely cannot stop listening, to the internet. It has simultaneously disrupted my life and grounded me to a place where I can focus on the things that need to get done. Thanks a lot (meant both sarcastically and sincerely) Neon Indian

Calling back to previous articles I’ve written about the serendipitous nature that comes along with modern album releases, as well as my article about the affective nature of music in the fall: The new Neon Indian record, Era Extraña, hits both of these beats. I knew the record would be released at some point in the fall, but I’m not diligent enough to remember, or search for, release dates unless there’re multiple things happening on that day to give me an unrelated point of reference. In short, I’m terrible with dates. Discovering this album’s availability amongst the new releases of the day, when I wasn’t expecting it for another month or so, added an extra element of excitement to my already high level of anticipation.

About the autumn release thing; yes, I have a feeling that this will be remembered as a part of my soundtrack of this year, and it’s not the first time Neon Indian’s done this to me. I happened upon the initial release from Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, literally en route to my modest Tuesday night DJ gig back in October of ‘09. I was so moved by the tonal atmosphere of legitimate synth-pop which sounded like it was being played on a warped cassette that the patrons of the club that night were subjected to my own personal game of “How many songs can I get away with playing off of this record without it being obvious?”

I should elaborate on the aforementioned “warped cassette” aspect. I think there’s something particularly significant to the instant nostalgia that comes along with the batch of chillwave acts that have popped up in the past few years (e.g. Toro Y Moi, Small Black, Washed Out, etc). Those of us born in the late 70’s and early 80’s were more or less the first generation to grow up hearing synthesizers as a normal aspect of pop music. The use of analog synths and antiquated technology are the new low-fi standard, so these type of acts elicit a nostalgic response even though the songs are new. We’re also familiar with the phenomenon of leaving one’s tapes in the car or outside by the jam box in the heat long enough to alter the sound quality. To this day, when I listen to Radiohead’s The Bends, I still expect particular parts of “High and Dry” and “Black Star” to emit those same three-second backward and warbled bits that occurred where the magnetic tape in my copy somehow switched polarities (as they were on opposite sides of the cassette).

There’s another technical aspect of this record that evokes a feeling of neo-nostalgia. A great deal of the melodies on this record come from synthesizers that are looped and/or arpeggiated rather than played out manually. This is nothing new, of course, but it does a lot to negate the old argument that these technical tools take the emotional element out of music. I think I’m also in that first generation of music listeners that’s become so accustomed to automation that there’s an element of soul bleeding through the electricity.

Ironically, the tone of this record reminds me a lot of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was constructed–with great pride back in 1991–without the use of synthesizers. It’s easily one of my favorite records of all time. However, very similar emotional tones rhyme between Loveless and Era Extraña, in spite of their juxtaposed composition methods. The similarity is probably what’s made Era Extraña so compelling and has placed it in a state of constant repeat on my iPod. It’s something close to my heart, where music belongs–simultaneously new and familiar. I feel as if these types of records are an example of history proving wrong a popular opinion of the past.

Look, my life at the moment is completely in flux. The only consistent piece on which I’ve had to ground myself has been this record. As disruptive as it’s been to my listening habits, it’s comforting to have something that remains constant during the upheaval. I needed Era Extraña more than I realized. Sure; things are finally starting to settle a bit, I probably should finish some of the many projects on my plate, and the new DJ Shadow, Mayer Hawthorne, and J. Cole records are burning a hole in my iTunes. It’s probably time to move on…but maybe just another listen or two wouldn’t hurt…cheers…

Find more artists like Neon Indian at Myspace Music.

A Mosquito. I’m a Beatle. YEAH! (more words on Nirvana)


A lot of noise has been made about the fact that, round about 20 years ago, an album was released by some greasy kids representing a budding genre of rock music defined by distorted power chords, shouted lyrics, and anger.

I was nine, a newly-baptized Southern Baptist Jesushead–and I was oblivious to grunge.

Don’t misunderstand me — I was not sheltered from [what I then called] secular music. In the car, we had two radio stations — Sunny 100 (mom in the car) and Rock 103, neither of which were Jesus music stations. I’m not sure one even existed in the hooch valley back in the early 90s. If one did, we didn’t listen to it.

So basically, I grew up to a mix of oldies and pop from mom, and classic rock from dad. Though Rock 103 was not a classic rock station, my dad would only turn up the volume when he heard music made by bands that were in their prime when he was in his prime — late 60s to early 80s. Zeppelin, Jimi, Cream, The Who, Queen, Santana, CCR, Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Allman Brothers, Wet Willie, Grand Funk, Rush, Yes, Kansas (how prophetic…), Journey, and a host of others. These bands were the rock royalty against which I judged anything else I heard.

Nirvana wasn’t really even on my radar until much, much later in life. I’d left behind the Praise Jesus Bible thumpin’, but never the classic rock. Though the old gods remain strongest, I’ve found a few newer rock deities at whose altars I’d offer thanks, though my focus tends toward individual musicians rather than bands — Jack White, David Grohl, Flea, Vic Wooten, and Robert Randolph to name a few, and some leftovers from my dad’s era, like John Paul Jones, Eddie Van Halen, Dickey Betts, Carlos Santana, and Geddy Lee.

Nirvana, speaking primarily through power chords, was an affront to everything I knew to be worthy in rock. Complex melodies, impossibly fast and technical solos — those are supposed to be the hallmarks of a great guitar band. Seeing that Nirvana was a three-piece group, I understood why their music was simple — the lead singer was also the only guitar player. Instead of doing one thing and doing it incredibly well, he was trying to do two things at once while performing.

Thus, mediocrity.

I am no stranger to live music performance. Long before those fakemusic games came out, I was playing bass guitar with church bands and rock bands. Being only a mediocre player at best, I never tried to do more than play my four or five strings.

So Nirvana sort of offended me on a fundamental level. They seemed to be choosing to be half-ass.

Then along comes Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and music turned into a game that anyone could play. In Bloom featured the best bass riff on the album and there it was for me to play. I even dabbled in drums for the first time. Simple rock turned out to be a lot more fun to fakeplay than to listen to.


But I still cannot understand a word they’re saying.

HFL Celebrates 20 years of Nevermind

This week we asked, “What does Nirvana’s Nevermind mean to you?”

Here’s what was said.

From the HFL panel:

Nevermind, for me, was not too dissimilar to Star Wars. I wasn’t alive for the original Star Wars film, but Return of the Jedi was one of the first films I saw in a theater. I was 11 when Nevermind came out. I knew it was cool, different, and somehow important, but too young to understand exactly why it was so. In Utero was the first record I was old enough to really “get”, but I diligently went back for Nirvana’s earlier records and became a fan for life. To this day, if I am to go back and revisit Nirvana, I reach for In Utero or Incesticide the same way I would prefer watching Jedi or Empire. Both Nirvana and Star Wars are special to me, personally, but the importance of Nevermind to Nirvana’s legacy holds the same place as A New Hope does for the Star Wars faithful. Cheers…  –IronJ146

My favorite band when I was twelve was Poison, and for some reason I thought they were the toughest and coolest guys in the world, and somehow that I was cool by extension. Then I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time. These three grimy dweebs from Seattle scared the shit out of me and I didn’t know why, buy I knew I liked it. Looking back, I think Nirvana tapped into a part of me that was angst ridden and disillusioned, and at the time it was comforting to know that I was not alone in those feelings. Nirvana helped me through my teenage years and cured me of that shameful Poison phase.  –HI-FI Andrew

I can’t think about Nevermind without thinking of Kurt himself. As much as I love that music and as instrumental as I know it was (and is) to the direction that rock music has taken in the last twenty years, that album is as much a painful reminder of loss. I was 14 when he died. I had all the Nirvana albums. His blue eyes consumed me—as did the way he forced us all to look in the mirror and observe our own shallowness.

As sad as it makes me to think of Kurt’s suicide, when I go back and explore his music and social commentary, I can’t help but fall deeper in love with him. Um hello, a guitar player in ripped jeans and a cardigan? Who is also clearly enlightened and abhors the patriarchal system our society subscribes to? Are you kidding me? That’s hotness on a whole new level! *sigh*

In the end, I guess, his empathy for those who suffer overcame him. Or the drugs. Or both. That sucks and I do not believe that it is “better to burn out than fade away.” Besides, he could never have faded…not to me.

And, of course, he hasn’t. His influence remains because we can channel at least some of his spirit any time we hear Nevermind. For that, I’m grateful.  –HI-FI Janna

I had not yet turned 9 when Nevermind was released, and at that point in my life, my parents still made my music choices for me. My mother would never have bought an album with a baby penis on the cover, and I had no one in my life who would introduce me to such music. My exposure to rock was what my dad listened to, what we today call “classic” — anything made before the early 1980’s. As an adult, my appreciation for Nevermind is limited to how much fun it is to play any of the first five album cuts on Rockband or Guitar Hero.

Sorry to be a bummer, but it’s the truth.  –I Think Not

Nirvana… where do you start?

When I was in middle school we were known as the “alties” (altie = alternative). Every dance we would all huddle together in a corner of the gym and make fun of all of the poppy music. We would even talk to the DJs who happened to be in a punk band themselves. They would always play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the last song for us. We would have our own little mosh pit together. It was awesome. I still listen to that album to this day.   –BmoreVegan

I don’t really care about Nirvana’s Nevermind. I can’t understand half the words Cobain sings and I never owned any albums of his.  Yes, I’m a Nirvana party pooper.  I was too busy listening to the Shirelles and the Carpenters.

I also hate Bob Dylan, so there! I’ve said it!  –Starr

Nevermind is possibly the most important album of our generation. One could argue otherwise because it may lack the artistic punch of OK Computer, Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness or any number of beautiful albums from that time but if we are simply talking about iconic status, then it stands alone. Nevermind is credited for killing hair metal, which I think we can all agree were some dark days. It opened the door for what I think may be the best period of music.  – Just Tony

From HFL fans (via Facebook & Twitter):

To me, Nevermind is an escape from whatever else is happening around me. It applied to the adolescent social pressures I experienced, and continues to apply to my everyday stress (in both a nostalgic and a present manner). As in, “nevermind your troubles, here’s an answer”.  -Chad

When I think of Nevermind, the first thing that pops into my head is where I was when I bought it. It was the old record store in Columbus, Georgia’s Peachtree Mall down by Macys – where a shoe store is now located. I just started 11th grade and that was pretty much the record of my school year. Purchasing it was definitely a defining moment in my musical life as well. Even Timm, my younger brother, will tell you that he learned about them from me. It stands out because it was and still is great. -Erin

Seeing Nevermind is 20 years old makes me feel really old but also proud to have been a part of the grunge movement. In my opinion, it has been the best music scene in my lifetime that lasted for years. I am still mad at my Mom for not letting me go with my older brother to see Nirvana and The Breeders in concert – I was in 8th grade at the time. The mosh pit was on ice in the arena!! Also, I still have a good friend who makes fun of me for crying when Kurt killed himself. Growing up in Columbus, Georgia, you were either into grunge or rap. I am proud to have been on what I consider to have been the hippie side of things! -Casey

Nevermind means a lot because that album changed me. The lyrics are passionate. There’s a Nirvana song for any moment in my life. I love that record ❤ Nevermind is amazing!  @AnOldEnemy

Clearly an album that broke new musical ground and continues to do so 20 years later. My kids will listen to this.  @FakePlasticTune

Nevermind means being free from corruption.  @Naveed4am

Nevermind means everything to me. Absolutely genius- it’s the peak of good music. Kurt Cobain won’t be forgotten. @PennyroyalFee

So hard to answer in 140 characters… @OurVinyl

Just takes me back to my teen years. Lucky enough to see them live right before KC passed. Incredible show. @cyuskoff

Nevermind doesn’t do it for me but I appreciate that without the impact that album had, many artists might not have emerged. @myrandomjukebox

‘Drain you’ was always my favorite song off of Nevermind. Kurt’s too. Apparently I have good taste. @LeadingUsAbsurd

Nevermind means Kurt Cobain, the ’80s, REAL GRUNGE and the cult songs. @cobainismine

Nevermind to me is the culmination of over a decade of great NW music, to an audience looking for something authentic. @nwpassage1

Other Nevermind reflections:

Communication Breakdown:

Leading Us Absurd:

Physical Graffiti:

The Audio Perv:


Tim Freeman Journal:

The Byronic Man:

Musical Mashup:

A Century of Nerve:



The Daily Beast:


The Wall Street Journal:

And let us not forget Rolling Stone’s 1991 review of Nevermind:

Happy 20th, Nevermind!

Please feel free to share your experiences with this game-changing music in the comments. 

“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” — R.E.M.


As a kid, I grew up listening to R.E.M. They were my older siblings’ favorite band. I had no idea how important or different R.E.M. were from most other bands. I just knew their music from the records my siblings played. Before the age of 10, I knew all of the songs off of their 80s albums by heart. Even if I couldn’t understand the words, I knew all of the melodies – even the ones off of their B-sides collection, Dead Letter Office.

By the early 90s, my siblings had moved on and out of the house, yet I still listened to all of the R.E.M. albums. In the summer of 1994 when I was 12, it was announced that R.E.M. would release their long awaited “rock album” after two albums of folk-inspired music – 1991’s Out of Time and 1992’s Automatic for the People. While I adored those albums, I had waited anxiously for a return to the louder stuff that permeated through Green and Document.

The release of this new album, Monster, would be a pivotal moment in my musical upbringing. It’s the first album I remember being excited about before it was released. I was about to turn 13, and I looked forward to discovering new music on my own during my upcoming teenage years.

As the fall rolled around, my older brother told me that he had heard the new R.E.M. song on the radio. “What’s it called?” I demanded, wanting to know every single detail. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” he said and then went on to describe it as sounding a lot like “Turn You Inside Out”–one of the big “rockers” off of Green. This sounded simply amazing. I couldn’t wait to hear it. No, I had to hear it.

Every day when my mother picked me up from school, I would turn on the radio with hopes that the DJ would play “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” For weeks, I always seemed to miss it. They had either just played it, or were about to whenever my mother parked the car. “I’m sure you’ll hear it soon,” she told me, trying to comfort me.

At school, the other kids talked about how the song “sucked” compared to newer bands like Bush and Green Day. It always kind of bothered me that they knew nothing about how good this band actually was. Whatever. They had no taste.

About a week before the album came out, I was on a car trip with my parents when the radio announced they would play “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” momentarily. My heart leapt. Finally, I would be able to hear it. Then I would finally be able to tell those kids at school how awesome the song actually was. Then to my horror, as my dad drove up the mountain, the radio signal was lost. The only thing coming through the speakers was static. “This can’t be happening,” I thought. Five more minutes of radio hissing blared through the speakers. By the time we had passed through the mountain and the signal returned, the DJ announced that the song had just ended.

I had missed it yet again. If I could have said “fuck” out loud without getting in trouble, I probably would have.

When the album was finally released and my brother brought home his copy, I raced to the stereo to put it on. It was 9 o’clock, normally past my bedtime but my mother let me stay up to listen to the album. I didn’t even care about the other songs – I just wanted to hear “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

I turned the dial on the stereo and closed my eyes. Peter Buck‘s buzzing guitar snarled through the speakers. It was loud, noisy, and beautiful. I couldn’t understand a damn thing Michael Stipe was singing except the title of the song–but didn’t matter. Mike Mill’s background vocals took the song to a new level. By the time the song came to the bridge, Peter Buck busted out a squeaky and distorted solo – a total surprise since this guy never really played a solo. I loved every single second. As soon as the feedback ended, I hit repeat and listened to it again.

It was totally worth the wait. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was better than anything I had expected.

For more of Matt’s thoughts about music, visit his blog: Leading Us Absurd.

Find more artists like R.E.M. at Myspace Music.

“Flathead” – The Fratellis

This song is about a badass chick. She’ll kick you in the face, give you a bloody nose, and is kind of a slut… but in a good way.

I dare you to listen to this song and not get all head bobby.


Well, just because she feeds me well
And she made me talk dirty in a pink hotel
It doesn’t mean she’s got eyes for me
She might just want my bones, you see

Sounds like the reason my husband married me. (Ba-dum! Rim shot!)

And hey, flathead, don’t you get mean
She’s the second best killer that I ever have seen
They don’t come much more sick than you
I could go on if you want me to

It’s just so wrong, so very nice
And I told you once and you killed me twice
I saw you one time at the back of the club
Chewing on glass and a ticket stub

Said I heard you kicked the boy until he bled
Then you stood and said “oh my God” until she said

Bada ba ba da da da, Bada ba ba da da da da…

Warning: Music nerd moment approaching. Excuse me while I alienate anyone not familiar with time signatures.

I LOVE MIXED METERS. Yeah. Caps lock. It’s that serious. It’s like you’re jamming along and then you’re greeted with an unexpected yet pleasant stumble. I FREAKING LOVE IT.

My love of mixed meters started when I first heard the Beatles song “We Can Work It Out“. There was no going back. Who would stick with a lame 4/4 when you could throw in a 3/4?! Or even, wait for it… a 6/8!

And these guys… OMG they throw in a 7/8 in the chorus!! A 7/8 PEOPLE! *gasps with delight* 

It’s the little things, y’all. Enjoy them.

Well, everybody knows you’re the one to call
When the girls get ugly around the back of the wall
Josephine says you got a bleeding nose
She’s taking it with her wherever she goes

Hey, flathead, don’t check me in
Well hers is a tonic and mine is a gin
They don’t come much more slick than you
I’d drive your car if you ask me to

Said the boy’s not right in the head
And he stood and got a kicking instead until she said

Bada ba ba da da da, Bada ba ba da da da da…

On top of the mixed meter and lyrics, I have to say that I also love this video. A hot pin-up girl makes everything better… and this video has THREE hot pin-up girls. What more could you ask for!?

And she said the boy’s not right in the head
Then stood and said “oh my God” until she said

Bada ba ba da da da, Bada ba ba da da da da…

Remember that double-dog dare?  Yeah, I see you over there. I WIN. 😉

Find more artists like The Fratellis at Myspace Music.

“Goth Star” — HEALTH (Pictureplane cover)

Something quite magical typically happens around September. I’m old enough now to anticipate it happening, but I’ve yet to be able to accurately target from where the feeling will come. I’ll usually start pulling out my favorite autumn classic records (which I’m sure I’ll post about in the future) to let the mix of nostalgia and welcome weather change trigger the emotional blooming season. Normally, the new addition to my ever-growing collection of fall records doesn’t really manifest itself until around October and I’ll not realize its memorable impact until long after the fact. This year was an exception.

This past Monday, for the first time post summer heat and humidity oppression, I got to throw on a hat and hoodie to start my day. During my morning internet rounds, I found a free download (via of the band HEALTH’s cover of the Pictureplane tune “Goth Star”, and the feeling of fall came much sooner than I was expecting. It was perfect, and everything fell into place.

There a few aspects I find interesting about this piece. For starters, I’m not really someone who focuses so much on lyrics.  For me, the evocative aspects of music lie in the soundscapes. I think it’s why, as much as I love rock and roll, I’m just as much moved by a well produced hip-hop track or electronic piece. (Pick your sub-genre. I’m pretty open to all of them.) The original version of “Goth Star”, sans the R&B vocal sample that’s essentially unintelligible, had no lyrics. HEALTH’s version adds subtle lyrical vamps which add to the melancholy feel of the tune.

All we have is lost…

Beg for what you want…

I find it interesting that so many current bands cover the songs of their contemporaries. Another good example of this is Small Black’s cover of Best Coast’s “Sun Was High(And So Was I)”. Certainly this isn’t some new phenomenon, as it was more commonplace pre-MTV era. However, the prior practice was more about songs being sold by dedicated songwriters to performers, rather than the current model of bands writing their own music (mostly…at least as far as rock bands are concerned). Unlike this former “business model”, these covers feel more sincere and facilitate a sense of community amongst indie acts. It hearkens back to Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones covering Bob Dylan songs (“All Along The Watchtower” and “Like A Rolling Stone”, respectively). What makes this instance unique, to me, is the genre crossing. Pictureplane is primarily an electronic act, where as HEALTH is a traditional rock 4-piece (think Nine Inch Nails with more colorful clothing and less overt religious imagery). The de-stigmatization of using synths and samplers in rock and roll enables a lot of this cross-cultural tributing and allows for more accurate recreation of the original pieces.

Look, I live in the American Southeast and I know good and well this bit of cold snap is just a tease. It’ll be 90 degrees again, most likely within the week, and proper autumn weather won’t settle in ‘til most likely late October. However, with all of the other auxiliary aspects of fall kicking off (pun half intended) like football and a new school year/semester, it’s nice to have a soundtrack to welcome in my favorite part of the year. Lucky for me, it’s a cover of a song I like by a band I like. Cheers…

Find more artists like HEALTH at Myspace Music.

“It Was a Good Day” – Ice Cube

If rap music has power ballads, then this may be its finest.  I was 13 in the spring of 1993, the same time MTV began airing the music video for what would become Ice Cube’s most recognized anthem.  In 1993, MTV was one of the two ways I learned about new music (the other being my sister away at college and the mix tapes she would make me…bands with crazy names like Hootie and the Blowfish and Counting Crows).  The problem was my parents, who didn’t care for MTV any more than they cared for my burgeoning sense of fashion.  For that reason, most of my viewing took place when I had the house to myself.  It was then, as a 13-year-old suburban white boy, that I realized I loved rap music.

There was and is something altogether relaxing about “It Was a Good Day.”  Perhaps it’s the laid back sampling, the steady, if not monotonous melody that loops throughout the track and invited me into an average day in South Central Los Angeles.  Maybe it’s Ice Cube’s delivery, which is never rushed, making it all the easier for me to rap along with.

Just wakin’ up in the mornin’ gotta thank God

I don’t know but today seems kinda odd

No barkin’ from the dog, no smog

And mama cooked a breakfast with no hog.

Ice Cube likes pork products for breakfast?  This I could relate to.  Hooking up with girls and wondering if I’d live to see another day?  Not so much.  But sausage biscuits?  I feel that.  For real.  Of course the music video made the lyrics come alive.  Ice Cube looked like a total badass cruising the city streets in his classic candy apple green Chevy Impala, the hydraulics thrusting the car up and down to match the beat.  Of course I was unfamiliar with the entire vernacular. “Brew,” “chronic,” and certainly “punanny” were all foreign nouns as far as I was concerned.  My sheltered childhood had left me behind my public school contemporaries, but thanks to a largely descriptive music video, I was quickly putting two and two together.  It wasn’t just the depiction of casual sex and recreational drug use that seemed so authentic, or for that matter, so raw.  It was the flow of the words, not unlike poetry, that grabbed me.  It was unlike anything I had heard up until that point.  Granted, my only real exposure to rap had been M.C. Hammer and (please understand that it pains me to write this) DC Talk, which would be a little bit like only ever eating at the Olive Garden before moving to Italy.  There was no comparison.  I was hooked on the phrasing, the clever word play, the ability to weave a story into four minutes of rhymes.  Both Vanilla Ice and Snow had ruined everything for white rappers a few years before, and Eminem had yet to break through, so I doubted a career was in the cards for me.  That, however, didn’t stop me from rapping in the car, in the shower, and in my head.

And it still hasn’t.

Drunk as hell but no throwing up

Halfway home and my pager’s still blowing up

Today I didn’t even have to use my AK

I gotta say it was a good day.

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How Drum and Bass Ruined/Saved My Life


I walked into the dark, sweaty, smoky backroom in Loretta’s where Hazeus towered behind the decks bouncing a tangled mess of dreads to the roll of the ragga drums. It was love at first bass drop! (Insert every Hollywood movie cliché.) My heart skipped a beat, I had goose bumps, time froze…I was head over heels. Up until that moment I was very much into the rave scene but I loved the culture more than anything. House DJs were basically interchangeable to me and like most anything else to a 19-year-old boy, it was only a matter of time before I grew tired of it and moved on to the next “greatest thing ever.”

Drum and Bass was a completely different animal. While trance and house concentrated on simple, repetitive drums used to drive inspirational synth patterns and elevate the crowd into a sense of faux-euphoria, DnB took another approach to move the crowd.  It almost completely threw out all the pretty melodies, sped everything up nearly double time and turned its focus to… drums and bass. (duh!)  It was deep, moody, heavy and inspirational in its own way, and it was exactly what I needed in my life.

I felt empowered, important and privileged to be a part of this movement, as nearly every college kid feels about whatever it is that they are passionate about. Drum and bass quickly engulfed every aspect of my life. Nearly every CD in my car was a DJ mix, nearly every outfit in my closet was completely out-of-place anywhere but a nightclub, and every waking moment was spent thinking about the next party. Within a year the music was everything. “How can I go to class?  Tech Itch is playing tonight.” “Dom and Roland is playing Saturday. I never liked that job anyway.” “Family?  My family is at the party already.” Before I knew it I was a college dropout, unemployed and essentially homeless. I floated through life for half a decade like this and I had never been happier.

All great highs are followed by devastating lows and mine hit like a ton a bricks. I woke up one day to realize that somehow I had enlisted in the military, gotten married and become a father. What? When did I become so utterly normal? Wasn’t I special? I should’ve been someone by now. Why was I not a famous producer/DJ or at least running a record label? That was my path in life, right? I mean, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a rock star as far back as I could remember. While most boys were dreaming about being fighter pilots or firefighters, all I could picture was a stage in my future. But there I was in my mid 20s…aging early, overweight and nursing what had to be an undiagnosed case of clinical depression. I gave Drum and Bass my heart and she gave me nothing in return.

I look back now at that angry, ungrateful “man” with overwhelming embarrassment. If anything I am lucky to be alive, let alone a father to two beautiful children and a husband to a wonderful wife who stuck with me for better or WORSE. I can’t pinpoint the turning point when maturity knocked at my door. I’m just glad that it finally joined the party. It brought with it a peacefulness that I had never felt and a realization that I am anything but normal. I have seen half the world and I am nowhere near the end of my travels. I have never tucked a Hawaiian-style shirt into a pair of bermuda shorts. I have never owned sandals with Velcro straps and most importantly, I do not listen to Nickelback. I can’t be angry at DnB. In fact, I thank her for shaping me into who I am today. I really like this guy.

Drum and Bass, and more recently its offspring Dubstep, is still a huge part of who I am. I exercise to it, I dream to it, I drink to it. It is the soundtrack to a heaving handful of meaningful memories. It’s where I fell in love with the mother of my children and my partner in life. It’s playing as I write this. It will forever be a part of who I am. About a year ago I saw Dieselboy in San Diego and it was nothing short of amazing! After the show, out of nowhere, I actually shed a tear. The next morning it became clear to me that for the first time in a decade, I felt the magic again. I caught the dragon I had spent the last third of my life chasing. The music never left me out to dry and it certainly didn’t owe me anything. It has always been there — growing and evolving with me.

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