Posts Tagged ‘Screaming Trees’

“Ghostbusters”
Ray Parker, Jr.
1984

R&B hitmaker Ray Parker, Jr. once said that his biggest challenge in writing the theme song for this movie was the lack of words that rhyme with “ghostbusters.” PolitiFact rates this assertion as True. The only two rhymes I can think of are “feather dusters” and “workplace clusters,” neither of which work in the context of fighting off an invasion from the afterlife.

“Ghostbusters” is a rip-off of Huey Lewis & The Snooze’s “I Want a New Drug.” I don’t care which one came first. Both of them go on way too long (3:59 and 4:45, respectively) and anyway they’re both distant descendants of the “George of the Jungle” theme. In 1987, Michael Jackson reused this riff for “Bad” (at 4:06 it fits right in). The result of all this cross-pollination is that whenever I play Weird Al’s “I Want a New Duck” I hear this whole crowd singing.

Ghostbusters was a silly movie, but it gave us two lines that we’re still quoting here at the Bureau: “Zool, you nut” and “Here’s  your mucous, Egon.” Parker’s song gave us two more: “Who ya gonna call?” and “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”

It was Loyal Reader Tilda who demonstrated the versatility of that second phrase. Shortly after the movie was released, when the Orioles were scheduled to play the Mariners, she announced, “I ain’t afraid of no birds!” I’ve been customizing this line ever since, particularly whenever I find myself trapped in another workplace cluster.

In honor of Tilda and her sidekick Rickalope’s 23rd anniversary, everyone go listen to Ray Parker’s “You Can’t Change That.”

Random Pick of the Week
Mark Lanegan Band, Blues Funeral (2012)
Tilda strikes again – thanks for the tip, kid. Mark Lanegan was the singer in Screaming Trees and a man who, judging from that work and his solo albums, never fails to find the gray cloud around every silver lining. Blues Funeral is not what I’d call perky, but I love two tracks, the rocking “Riot in My House” and the almost-danceable, techno-influenced, unapologetically romantic “Ode to Sad Disco.” I’d have to love that one just for putting the word “disco” on a Mark Lanegan album.

Random Pan of the Week
Can, Monster Movie (1969)
Rhapsody says of Can’s first record, “The band fails to play a single note that is not ahead of its time.” Big talk for an app with more bugs than a Cape Cod cranberry bog during an August sunset. These German avant-gardesters make me want to holler, and not about anything good.

RIP, Ray Manzarek (1939-2013). This. Is. The. End.

Hot Trip to Heaven
Love and Rockets
1994

Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield
1973

Key Lime Pie
Camper Van Beethoven
1989

Today I will spare you a rant about the vanishing concept of the “album,” a group of songs that are thematically linked or that fix an artist in time. That concept didn’t even exist until The Beatles came along, and if the album is no longer needed in an era of music on demand, well, The Beatles aren’t around anymore either. Things change and I like change.

But I do want to recall for a moment one aspect of the album experience, and that is having to buy an entire album just to get one song.

You might remember Love and Rockets from their 1989 hit, “So Alive,” which sounds very 1970s to me, like a lazy lounge version of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong.” They also did a good job with their cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion.” Love and Rockets was a sort of goth/psychedelic act with an enthusiastic though small following. I wasn’t enthusiastic about them until I heard “Body and Soul” from Hot Trip to Heaven.

Like most people, I love a 3-minute record with a beat. But I also like a lengthy, mesmerizing song. I write better in a trancelike state (I also write better after I’ve had my shoes shined) and I find that playing lengthy, mesmerizing songs at work keeps people from bugging me. “Body and Soul” (which has nothing to do with Billie Holiday) is a 14-minute chunk of musical hypnosis, even at the 6:45 mark where the song abruptly picks up speed.

(The lyrics are another issue. The main theme in the first half of the song is “Body and soul,” which isn’t explained. In the second half it’s “Spin the wheel,” and I can’t shed any light on that one, either. Love and Rockets graduated from the same school of lyrical obfuscation as did Screaming Trees.)

The rest of the album I never listen to, though a couple of songs (“Trip and Glide” and “Be the Revolution”) are almost sort of catchy. But in 1994, if you wanted to own “Body and Soul” by Love and Rockets, you had no choice but to buy the entire album. That was about a $12 song. The cover art looks cool if you leave the CD sitting on your desk, but people listening to iTunes tend to snicker when they see any CD sitting on my desk so this is not the benefit it once was.

Another example from my experience is Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a snippet of which became the theme from The Exorcist. The actual title is “Tubular Bells, Pt. 1,” and it weighs in at a hefty 25:49. Don’t let that figure deter you – you don’t have to listen to the entire epic. Thanks to your computer, you can start precisely at 17:04 and immediately get to the meaty, mesmerizing part. It even has an announcer to introduce the dozens of instruments Oldfield played, as he played them. When I bought this album in the ’70s, I had to memorize where on the vinyl I wanted to go and hope I dropped the needle in the right place. (Side two, the cleverly named “Tubular Bells, Pt. 2,” is a mere 23:20. I probably played that side once. It’s way too short.)

Sometimes buying an album to get just one song resulted in a happy surprise. I wanted Key Lime Pie because of Camper Van Beethoven’s cover of the 1960s’ psychedelium masterpiece, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Camper Van was an early indie band with a violin and a sly sense of humor, as you can see in their legacy to contemporary music, “Take the Skinheads Bowling”:

Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes
Some people say that bowling alleys all look the same
There’s not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything

For years I took out this CD and skipped to track 13, “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” played that song a couple of times, then popped the disc out of the machine. Even though David Lowery of Camper Van went on to form Cracker, a band I like, it never occurred to me to listen to anything else on Key Lime Pie. But then one day at work I slipped the CD into my computer just as a co-worker came over to speak to me. Before I could punch in track 13 the music started and I found myself listening to the entire album. I loved about half of it! That’s a whole lotta love in my snobby world.

My experience with Key Lime Pie proves that you should always make time to talk to your co-workers. You should always be prepared for change, too. I don’t know what’s going to happen to albums, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Sweet Oblivion
Screaming Trees
1991

Unemployment has so many advantages that I hardly have time to list them all in. For example, I never got dressed today. I’ve been wearing my pajamas since last Monday. Or maybe the Monday before. For another example, I get to listen to as much music during the day as I want.

Yesterday I listened to Rhapsody’s Baroque channel for about four hours. The Baroque period ends with Bach’s death in 1750. I guess you can take it with you. The music of the Baroque era features clarinets, flutes, viols, lutes, and theorbos, and don’t tell me you don’t know what a theorbo is. Pete Townsend smashed one into his amplifier onstage at Leeds in 1966. I’ll bet Bach never did that.

When I decided I was about full up on theorbos, I switched over to what Rhapsody calls Essential Classical. The first artist was Beethoven. After four hours of Baroque serenity, Beethoven sounded like I was running for my life in a bowling alley. I still had writing to do and it was getting late. It was time for the Power-Thru.

Write like the big boys
The term “Power-Thru” was coined by Odd Todd, who literally wrote the book on unemployment: Hard Times, Soft Couch. Todd was referring to the common problem of how to finish a bag of chocolate fudge-striped cookies when you’re already full. I use Power-Thru to describe the process I undergo to kick-start whatever I’m writing.

In 1995 I went to work for a company that made computer games. Software deadlines were far more onerous than what I’d known in newspapers. I often had to lock myself away in my monk’s cell at midnight to get anything done, and when I did I came to rely on certain albums played very loud to ignite my creativity (which, in stubborn moments, felt as if I were thawing a glacier). One sure-fire fire-starter was Sweet Oblivion.

Describing Screaming Trees won’t make you want to listen to them. They popped up in Seattle during the grunge era. Critics said, “Screaming Trees are not grunge,” but if they’re not I sure can’t tell you what they are. Like most grunge outfits, their lyrics make no sense. I mean sometimes you get a song by Soundgarden or Alice in Chains and you can sort of tell what they’re on about, but you can dip into almost any Screaming Trees song and fall right through the looking glass, even on their one hit, “Nearly Lost You”:

I nearly lost you there
And it’s taken us somewhere
I nearly lost you there
Let’s try to sleep now

There’s a reason why Screaming Trees’ best-of collection is called Ocean of Confusion.

It won’t help to say that I can’t remember if I ever saw Screaming Trees on a stage. I remember a show I went to about 1990 where all four men in the band were wearing unbuttoned flannel shirts, but that could’ve been anybody. Two guys were rather large and one was kinda skinny; I couldn’t tell about the drummer. That fits their profile. The show was in Seattle. I want to say it was at the Gorilla Room, but that place had closed years before. So it could’ve been at Gorilla Gardens, except I’m pretty sure I never went there. This is starting to sound like one of their songs.

These caveats aside, let me state unequivocally how much I love this band and this record. The individual songs never attain greatness, but the overall effect of listening to Sweet Oblivion is like listening to Baroque all day and then getting hit in the face with Beethoven, except I know exactly what’s coming. Bowls me over every time. Gary Lee Connor’s guitar playing is not too little and not too much but just right. Mark Lanegan wields a baritone voice that, like Perry Como’s, never seems to work too hard but always makes itself known. (Lanegan has released several dark, spare solo albums. They remind me of Tom Waits without the laughs.)

Whenever I’m stuck on a project, I can go to half a dozen albums guaranteed to set me free. Sweet Oblivion leads the pack.

Cover of the week: The Slits, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
The three women in The Slits made up the weirdest rock act of 1979, and that’s saying something. For competition they had Gary Numan of Tubeway Army. Gary Numan pretended to be an android. He made David Bowie look like an investment banker.

Their first album, Cut, has two excellent tracks; one is their cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” A ton of artists have covered this one; Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Creedence Clearwater Revival had early hits with it, and of course there’s Marvin Gaye’s version, which is a landmark of Western music. The Slits’ interpretation is not just a whole lotta fun, it’s…how can I put this…singular. Of all the covers I know of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” nothing sounds like this one.

I would’ve remembered these women if I’d seen them in person.

More me in The Nervous Breakdown
In my push to totally dominate this online zine, I’ve posted my second humor column. This time I take on Thor and other superheroes, tools, and general musings on life. When I posted yesterday, my neighbor on the front page was a woman writing about bondage and discipline. I suspect she got more readers than I did with my stupid puns about Thor.*

The Nervous Breakdown now has a contributor who is 16. The competition out there is fierce. I hope you’ll stop by and run up my hit count!

* I couldn’t work this one into my column: For Halloween this year I’m going as Thorsten Howell III.

Grunge Lite
Sara DeBell
1993
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!