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I’m not typically an angry person. Seriously, my instinct is to laugh at confrontation before I’m prone to act violently. The inclination has been rather helpful in interpersonal relationships. However, this is not to say I’m a person that operates without passion. Far from it, actually…
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, follow me on twitter, talk to me at the pub, or interact with me in any forum where my opinion is unshackled; It’s pretty obvious I’m a bit outspoken. I’m a Sociologist, so any time I see a system being abused, I tend to pounce. I could write a million essays about social injustice, but that’s not the goal of this blog post. Hi-Fi Lives is about inspiration, and very few artists have pushed me to act on that inspiration the same way as have Atari Teenage Riot.
I grew up in a hyper-conservative region of the U.S., so it wasn’t uncommon to have the feeling of a logical conclusion appear deviant to my community. Somewhere towards the end of high school, I discovered Atari Teenage Riot. I’m sure my friends were drawn to the rawkus electro-punk inertia of ATR’s sonic offering and, as a 17 year old at the time, I admit it was initially the aspect that drew me in. However, there was something else there on which I couldn’t quite put my finger. As I got older, I realized the “point”. The epiphany wasn’t like some mystic whisper of God. It was more akin to Alec Empire, the primary engine of ATR, grabbing me by the hair on my head and yelling full volume into my ear to tell the truth, put up my fists, and join my fellow man in reclaiming society for good of the people.
If you think I’m being hyperbolic about the strength of Atari Teenage Riot, or underselling the potential of group think, may I recommend this riot footage from Berlin in 1999:
Cut to the present; Atari Teenage Riot releases their first album in years, “Is This Hyperreal?” (Honestly, could a more poignant question be asked?) and it couldn’t have been timelier. Reading the myriad of internet feeds has made me grow more and more anxious by the day. It seemed like my hands were tied and my mouth was taped shut no matter how outspoken I may be, until someone who reaches many more people than I do said these simple words:
There’s a unified axis of government and corporate power
I needed Alec Empire to make me feel like I wasn’t the only one feeling the tension that’s being ignored. I wanted to act. I wanted to quit my job, take leave from academic study, and stand with the people. Not months after the release of “Is This Hyperreal?”, the Occupy Wall Street movement sprang, and ATR, aligning themselves with Anonymous ( as if a more perfect match could be imagined), used the video for Black Flags to illuminate the situation. I’m totally in.
Here is probably where I should discuss my social research about the declining aspect of social commentary in popular music, but I’ll save that discussion for another forum at a different time. Let’s just say that we should never underestimate the power of music. Ever. It can move us to love, hate, sing, dance, and in the case of ATR, to stand up to criminal injustice and make one’s voice be heard. Cheers…
“Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”
I was dismayed the other day when the TV ate my VHS copy of Donnie Darko. I’ll admit that I quoted the movie far more than was necessary in my college days. I even found the above quote in a magazine and included it in my profile collage for arts and cultures. I doubt, though, that I’d have made such a strong connection to the movie without its use of Gary Jules’s song “Mad World.”
“All around me are familiar faces, worn-out places, worn-out faces.
Bright and early for the daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere.
The tears are filling up their glasses, no expression, no expression.
Hide my head, I wanna drown my sorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow.”
The words evoke everyday-tragic images which fit neatly with the haunting melody. Everyday-tragic, you may ask? First, I’m an English teacher, so I’m allowed to make up words. Shakespeare did it. But also, what I mean is that these words are like the line from Black Guayaba’s “Ayer:” “Una lágrima suelto al suelo—un acto criminal” (a tear falls to the floor—a criminal act). Small, meaningful, sorrowful occurrences lead to haunting images that reflect the tragedy that can be found in everyday life. They’re smaller, more subtle tragic images . . . but they still resonate within you. Tears coursing over expressionless, worn-out faces to fill empty glasses. People racing about their daily routines, unaware that they accomplish very little.
In Donnie Darko, the montage of characters at night is an apt pairing for this tune. Then, this summer, I saw the tune paired with another montage of characters that seemed, if possible, even more perfect. The cast of The Glee Project turned “Mad World” into a music video for their week on vulnerability. Each of the aspiring stars had to walk through a mall with a signboard listing what made him or her most vulnerable—words like “fat,” “used,” “anorexic,” “numb,” and “gay.” Even though the video was only a few minutes long, I wept when I watched it because it felt so real.
“And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad.
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take.
When people run in circles, It’s a very, very mad world.”
I’ll admit to a certain fatalism when I listen to the line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” I’ll also admit to listening to this song when those fatalistic thoughts run rampant; somehow, expressing them (because of course I have to sing) makes those thoughts easier to bear.
“Went to school and I was very nervous.
No one knew me, no one knew me.
Hello, teacher, tell me, what’s my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me.”
For the most part, I was happy in school; even if I wasn’t super-popular, I had my group of friends. Still, I felt at times like I was completely invisible. To be honest, I still do. This song allows me to explore those feelings of alienation and everyday tragedy but still come out unscathed at the end.
So, yes, I know it is a mad world, but in a strange way, this song reminds me that maybe I’m not alone.
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.
- Remembering R.E.M. – Leave (wakingupto.wordpress.com)
- What’s The Frequency Kenneth? (929dave.radio.com)
- Remembering R.E.M. – Let Me In (wakingupto.wordpress.com)
- Rock icons R.E.M. split after 31 years (arts.nationalpost.com)
- R.E.M. Announce Post-Breakup Career Retrospective (beatcrave.com)
- Watch Coldplay Cover R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” (spin.com)
- RIP, R.E.M.: Shiny Happy Rockers Call It Quits (eonline.com)
- Finest Worksongs: The Best Moments of R.E.M. (jwm33.wordpress.com)
- In Defense of R.E.M.’s “Monster” (leadingusabsurd.com)
You were probably hoping for something sexier or more exciting, like Borderline Personality Disorder or Paranoid Schizophrenia. Sorry. I agree that mine aren’t terribly interesting, but they are enough to color my view of myself and, in a certain way, how I see the world. Oh, and most of the time they annoy the shit out of me.
That said, though, sometimes I kinda dig the fact that I can say that I’m crazy and my psychiatric file can back me up on it. Is that weird? I don’t know…I guess it might be. All I know is that when I’m feeling like *embracing my crazy*, the first song I turn to is “Ladder” by Joan Osborne.
You might remember Joan from her most recognized track “One of Us“. That’s a great song, but I don’t feel it the way I feel “Ladder”. I can still remember the internal dialogue my brain engaged in the first time I heard this song. It went something like this:
Today and everyday….
***Janna’s brain: Joan! I am liking that piano. Good times.
I’m standing here in your closet
Unbuttoning all your clothes
***Janna’s brain: Whoa. That’s not normal.
I sleep in your bed tonight
But I never find you home
***Janna’s brain: Hmmm…
You’re giving me crooked answers
I’m cracking your little code
I’m learning another language
So full it’s about to explode
***Janna’s brain: Aha! I think I see where you’re going with this, Joan, but let me hit the back button on my player so I can make sure I got all that.
So that’s what I did–and it made me so happy, because I was RIGHT!
If you listen to the rest of this song, you can tell it is about a woman who is still in love with a guy who is losing (or has already lost) interest in the relationship. However, she can’t shake her obsession and she’s totally fine with admitting that to herself.
You gave me a ladder, now
I surely believe I’ll climb
It don’t even matter, now
I’m willing to take my time
I’m gonna love you anyway
Today and everyday
Okay, I’m not saying it’s healthy. I’m not even saying it’s normal…but damn, I have a hard time not loving a song that provides me with an opportunity to honor my crazy. And I feel like that’s really the point here. For whatever reason, this guy’s still got her heart. I think she knows the relationship isn’t gonna go the way she wants, but she can’t help herself. And she doubts whether she’ll ever be able to. And that’s insane!
I don’t really relate to the obsessing over a man you can’t have facet of this story (at least not now), but I totally get being obsessed with something that you can’t change or fix. See, I’ve got my own ladder–it just leads me to a different (though equally nutty) place. I’m better off when I keep my feet firmly planted on the ground of sanity. Nevertheless, I occasionally climb it anyway. My ladder might not take me anywhere that’s positive or helpful but it’s part of who I am and sometimes that urge to climb up and see how freaked out I can get about something just wins. It.just.wins! And I think I have to be okay with that.
In all seriousness, I have a good handle on my anxiety most days…but those times when I just can’t help myself, I really appreciate this song being there for me and helping me embrace my crazy. So thanks, Joan! xoxoxo!
- Freedom Ride (firedoglake.com)
- Pencil This In: Lillith Lives, SXSW Comedy and Film Lecture (laist.com)
- KARA’s new single “Step” plagiarized? (allkpop.com)
- A Song I Know All the Words to (auroramorealist.wordpress.com)
- Twenty-two (sloppybuddhist.com)
- Clearwater benefit honoring George Wein (brooklynvegan.com)