Posts Tagged ‘Nirvana’

Refusing to read

Yesterday I promised you a guest blogger, mystery novelist Deborah Donnelly. Due to circumstances beyond our control, Ms. Donnelly will not eventuate. Not on Day 4, anyway. She says hi.

New kids on the block
I’m speaking now to the new readers I’ve just detected, thanks to the stats dished out by WordPress. Are you lost? You’re not getting your money back! What you’ve stumbled on is a blog about popular music, but right now I’m engaged in a six-week write-a-thon that ends August 2. I don’t want to abandon music entirely, so I’m finishing each post with the musical picks and pans I wrote over the past few months. I’ve already run out of pans. And people say I hate everything!

The writing cartoons have aged for years in my lifelong collection. The cultural references may provoke laughs but the themes are timeless.

I’ve cleverly hidden indexes to the first two years of this blog (November 2010 to November 2012) in the left-hand column under Blogroll. You’re on your own for Year 3.

Not all who wander want to find their way back to the freeway
Day 4 for me was like urban in-fill in most U.S. cities: packing more people into already established neighborhoods. Yesterday I solved the challenge of the chapter that goes forever on by breaking it up. Chapter 5 became much more manageable after I evicted a third of it. That section became Chapter 6. A few stray paragraphs became the opening of Chapter 7.

My task today was to write a real ending for Chapter 5 and a real beginning for Chapter 6. I didn’t finish either but I know I’m headed in the right direction because I was surprised by some of what I wrote. “Where do I get my ideas? I don’t. They get me,” Lewis Carroll said.

The problem with writing a novel the way I’m writing a novel, with a set of ideas rather than a set of ideas and a roadmap, is that I plunge into chapters without knowing exactly where they’re going or what they’re trying to accomplish. Everything takes longer than it should, even though I’m enjoying every minute of it. Maybe I don’t want it to end?

I wouldn’t recommend my method to anyone. Maybe someday I’ll listen to me.

Box score
I’ve written for four days out of four
– 5.5 total hours

Random Pick of the Day
The Vines, Highly Evolved (2002)
These Aussies bow to Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots, but I suspect they would sell their souls to be a catchy little pop band. All the tempo changes and other experiments on Highly Evolved could’ve been Duran Duran reimagined as a grunge act circa 1992. This is especially true on my favorite tracks, “Outtathaway” and “Sunshinin.”

The real treat on this album is “Factory,” in which The Vines pretend to be Nirvana pretending to be The Beatles.

Random Rock ’n’ Roll Image of the Day
Aerosmith and J. Geils Band at Fenway Park, 14 August 2010: Steven Tyler in a Sox jersey at a white grand piano atop the Green Monster belting out “Dream On.”

Call me Scooter

Writing is dark and lonely work, and no one has to do it. No one will even care much if it doesn’t get done at all, so that choosing to do it and to try to do it well is enough of an existential errand, enough of a first step, and for whatever my money and counsel’s worth, enough of a last step, too. (Richard Ford)

No one has to do it. And because no one has to do it, because no one is standing over you with a whip and a chair, it’s very easy not to do it. I’ve written more words in my favorite coffee shop in Portland and on the fifth floor of the Vancouver Community Library than I have at home. That’s because both places have plenty of plugs for my wheezy laptop (the coffee shop also has raspberry coffee cake) and I can’t connect to the Internet in either. Well, I might be able to connect if I knew their wireless passwords, but I’ve never asked, and even if I knew them, my laptop would probably refuse to cooperate. It’s a real pal that way.

Today, after an interview for an editing job, some miscellaneous job-search stuff, and a walk in the fleeting sunshine, I got down to the business of fiction. But because I was working at home, I was immediately distracted by my email. I dealt with a couple of recruiters, answered messages I didn’t have to answer, and shut it down.

Then a question arose in what I was writing, and instead of scribbling it in my notebook to look up later, as I would if I were between bites of raspberry coffee cake, I succumbed to the Great God Google. Of course, I spent more time online than I needed.

I finally got in my hour and a half, but I would’ve been more efficient if I could learn to keep our instant-gratification culture at arm’s length. I probably could’ve hit two hours. If you blow 30 minutes online, you don’t get those 30 minutes back somewhere else.

Elizabeth Benedict said it best: “Write like a maniac. No one else will do it for you.”

Tomorrow’s challenge: How to end Chapter 5!

Random Pick of the Day
Paul Anka, Rock Swings (2005)
I respect Paul Anka for his creativity; he wrote for Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, and how many people can say that? But Anka is also responsible for three crimes against humanity: “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Puppy Love,” and the ultimate in offensiveness at the molecular level, “(You’re) Having My Baby.”
Havin’ my baby
What a lovely way of sayin’ what you’re thinkin’ of me
Havin’ my ba– [sound of Hulk smashing puny human]

But admit it, Run-DMSteve, the man can sing. Rock Swings, an album of covers of mainstream and alternative hits from the 1980s and ’90s, stomps Pat Boone’s I’m In a Metal Mood (1997) into the dirt. Boone doesn’t take his metal originals seriously, plus he wouldn’t know how to deliver a song if he worked for FedEx.

Rock Swings is not Richard Cheese and his deliberately cornball covers (Aperitif for Destruction, 2005). Anka rearranges his choice of songs to find their essence, then delivers them as if they were the American songbook. Not every song works, but frankly I was stunned by his interpretations of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Throw in Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and you’ve got a disc that just slips in as a Buy.

“I’m Too Sexy”
Right Said Fred

“I’m Too Sexy” was the last 45 rpm I ever bought. I don’t mean bought on eBay or at a yard sale, I mean the last 45 I ever bought that had just been released. This was at the Queen Anne Tower Records in Seattle. I returned a couple of weeks later and just like that, the 45s section had disappeared. Eventually even Tower Records disappeared.

(I know they have 7” vinyl records today, but they play at 33-1/3 and they’re called “sevens.” Disqualified.)

“I’m Too Sexy” was a global hit for the shaved-head body-building brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass, who also performed in the video. The video is a showcase of ’90s hairstyles and timeless male insecurities. A song about male models featuring two shaved-head body-building guys with their shirts off? What if the record-buying public thought the Fairbrasses were gay? No one would buy the record because then they would be gay! The record company had to figure out how to keep people from panicking. Their simple solution was to surround the two shaved-head body-building guys with women photographers dressed in bikinis (just like real photographers), because everyone knows that authentic male homosexuals would never appear in a video with women in bikinis. This is a bedrock principle of Western democracy.

While this logic may appear faulty, or even Republican, it obviously worked, because this thing sold like crazy. And while I can do without the video (the choreography is so inept, it’s adorable) (almost), I can’t do without this song. “I’m Too Sexy” is danceable, fun, too simple to forget, and there’s even a brief guitar homage to Jimi Hendrix just past the 1-minute mark. (Either it’s a homage or they couldn’t think up something on their own.)

“I’m Too Sexy” is a coed favorite at any dance, unlike ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” or Bananarama’s “Venus,” both of which have been coopted by women, or Men Without Ideas’ “Safety Dance,” which speaks only to nerds. “I’m too sexy for [fill in the blank]” is a useful catchphrase, particularly at the office. The readers of Rolling Stone voted “I’m Too Sexy” onto the list of the 10 Worst Songs of the ’90s (it finished 9th); this just adds to the song’s luster.

In the U.S. we think of Right Said Fred as a one-hit wonder. I was surprised to learn that they’d had other hits in their native England and on the Continent. It’s unfair to judge an artist in any discipline on one work – except in pop, where your judgment is most often right. Thanks to the miracle of downloadable music, I listened to all of Up, RSF’s debut album. “Don’t Talk Just Kiss” has a good title, but I have shirts that are sexier. I’m too sexy for the rest of these tracks, and I’ve already said so in My Little Turn on the Catwalk: The Journal of Right Said Fred Studies.

I don’t care what gender the Fairbrass brothers want to mate with. Thank you for writing that song before Tower pulled all of its singles. Whatever you boys are doing today, I’m confident that you’re still too sexy, whether you’re in Milan, New York, or Japan.

Random ’90s Pick of the Day: Foo Fighters, Foo Fighters (1995)
Dave Grohl was Nirvana’s drummer. Not only is he a great drummer, he also wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on the Foo Fighters’ debut. The Foo Fighters make big arena rock and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Random ’90s Pan of the Day: Foo Fighters, Foo Fighters (1995)
Sounds like all the other arena rock of the ’90s.

Tomorrow on ’90s Week: What I know about women won’t even fill a blog post!

Today’s vocabulary word is “leverage,” and I don’t mean the TV show about happy-go-lucky con artists who police the global economy but can’t figure out how to date. I have leveraged my blog into a regular slot at, and if you enjoy what I’m dishing out here I hope you’ll visit me there. My first post is up and it’s about my voyage to extreme manliness. My second post will probably be about how to turn blogging into cash money. Special D will be especially interested in that one.

What then is the future of Run-DMSteve? I’ll continue to write about music here, as I still have plenty of elitist opinions, judgments, and body slams to dispense. My goal is to post to each place once every two weeks, on alternating weeks. If that turns out to be overly ambitious I’m sure I’ll complain about it. If you’d like to be alerted, or warned, that I’ve published something, you can subscribe to my little corner of The Nervous Breakdown just as you can subscribe to me here.

The Clash sang, “Know your rights/all three of ’em.” I’d like to thank my readers, all three of ’em, for your continuing flow of encouragement, comments, and surplus food.

Cover me
It seems to me that there are four types of covers:

1)     You can transform the original and make it your own.
2)     You can fail to transform the original and make everyone laugh at you.
3)     You can transform the original but no one cares.
4)     You can hew close to the original but still rule by simply changing the vocal.

Transformation and total ownership: The Clash’s “I Fought the Law.” The original, by The Crickets, doesn’t measure up. (The Bobby Fuller 4 version doesn’t cut it, either.)

Failure to thrive: Hall & Oates going postal on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

A tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it: The Charlie Hunter Trio’s “Come As You Are.” This jazz version of the grunge anthem is fantastic, but Charlie Hunter is not going to make anyone forget Nirvana, not even on an album that includes the evocative “Fistful of Haggis.”

That leaves the miracle of a good voice. Here are two examples:

Chris Isaak, “I Want You to Want Me”: Musically, this one’s close to the Cheap Trick original, and it makes me realize the main reason I dislike Cheap Trick – the lack of a decent singer. Chris Isaak usually makes you cry but here he’s almost exultant.

Elizabeth Harper & The Matinee, “Pictures of You”: This Elizabeth Harper is not the 7-foot Amazon who married Dennis Kucinich. Her wistful voice is perfectly suited to this classic from The Cure:

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel

Compared to Elizabeth Harper, Robert Smith sang the original as if he and his emotions were spending the night in separate rooms. Harper and her band add a couple of strategic pauses, but otherwise it’s her voice that brings the song home.

“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”
A while back I wrote about a startling trend in naming songs: using four consecutive nouns. Here’s a statistical offshoot. If you haven’t spent some time singing “Na na na na, na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, good-bye,” you’ve at least heard other people doing it. And in either case I’m sure you’re sorry.

It took 40 years, but this “song” by “Steam,” a band that never existed, has spawned what I thought at first was a sequel: “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” by My Chemical Romance. A close examination of both works reveals that the only element they share is the doo-wop na na nas. While I give MCR credit for rhyming “From mall security” with “Get plastic surgery,” their paranoid drug rant is not going to become a staple at sporting events anytime soon. Hey hey hey, good-bye.

Grunge Lite
Sara DeBell
I was living in Seattle when our fair city unleashed a pair of unstoppable cultural forces: coffee and grunge. Everyone knows what coffee is: overpriced. What is grunge?

Figure 1. Let’s go grunge-spotting!
Here are some general characteristics to help you seek and spot grunge anywhere in the world:

  • Men who can’t sing.
  • Big fuzzy guitars – a moderately pleasing sound that conveniently camouflages a lack of technical skill.
  • Overflowing testosterone. Particularly ironic in that the best album from the grunge era is easily Hole’s Live Through This. Only Courtney Love’s husband came close when his band released Nevermind.
  • Bad male fashion – plaid shirts worn unbuttoned or tied at the waist, or two nondescript shirts worn one on top of the other. A man at my gym left one of his nondescript shirts on a hook in the locker room for two months before he realized it was his shirt and not an irregular pattern on the wall.

Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam played Matt Dillon’s band, Citizen Dick, in the movie Singles (1992). This movie might not have been the high point for grunge, but it was certainly the high point for Pearl Jam.

Targets don’t get much fatter than this
Sara DeBell’s Grunge Lite, which appeared while grunge was still happening, was billed as a “whole buttload of easy-listening favorites,” recorded entirely in her dining room. She took 11 grunge masterworks and muzaked them, including Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow,” Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” and Soundgarden’s “Hunger Strike.” (DeBell was particularly taken, or appalled, by Soundgarden, who appear three times in her carnival of carnage.) I only wish she had taken down my faves, Screaming Trees (“Nearly Lost You”). They could’ve used the publicity.

Grunge had it coming, but this is the kind of album you’ll play only when your house is full of people and they are full of your beer. Sure, the muzak versions of  these songs are clever…if you like muzak. Few people will be able to sit through the entire thing without losing intestinal containment. OK, I’ve done it. In the mid-’90s, though, when I played DeBell’s version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at parties at our house, everyone over 40 would gather adoringly around the stereo. I probably couldn’t get that reaction today, now that the real “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a standard in the Classic Rock repertoire and everyone I know is at least 100.

After releasing Grunge Lite, DeBell became the copy editor at The Stranger, one of Seattle’s weekly alternative papers. At that time I was finishing my sojourn as the copy editor at Seattle Weekly. If this was her idea of how to gain respectability, I could’ve told her it wasn’t going to work.

I don’t know where Sara DeBell is today, musically, but the one time I spoke with her, in 1996, she was really into The Everly Brothers!