Posts Tagged ‘The Nervous Breakdown’

I concluded ’70s Week with a list of my favorite songs and ’80s Week with a survey of women in rock, but ’90s Week is just over, period. This is not because I don’t like the music of the 1990s, because I do. But the ’90s was the first decade where I realized that I didn’t understand the trends in popular music. I don’t have the emotional investment in this decade, which I guess should be no surprise given that I was 34 when the ’90s began. I was old enough to have other things to obsess about.

There are many topics worth writing about in the ’90s (three that immediately suggest themselves are Whitney Houston, *NSYNC, and what happened to Bruce Springsteen), but they’re going to have to wait. Why? Because if I’m ever going to build momentum on my novel, I’m going to have to give up something. Wife? No. Job? No. Hygiene? See Wife. Blogs? Oh yeah, those.

Starting today, Run-DMSteve and The Nervous Breakdown have gone fishin’. If I make substantial progress on my book I’ll be back in 2013. Thank you all for reading along and commenting and correcting me and inflating my sense of self-worth. This is my 74th post since November 2010, a breakneck pace of 2.34 posts per month. I couldn’t have done it without you, and I mean that. You’re my soul and my hheaart’ss inspiration.

As George Washington said in his “Farewell to the Troops”: Farewell, troops!

Random ’90s Pick of the Day
Los Lobos, The Neighborhood (1990)
Not their best record, but totally endearing. “Be Still” is a great whistling song for a Saturday morning. The swaggering final track, “The Neighborhood,” is actually a sweet benediction:

Thank you Lord for another day
Help my brother along his way
And please
bring peace
to the neighborhood 

Random ’90s Toss-up of the Day
The Psychedelic Furs, World Outside (1991)
After 20 years I can’t decide whether I like it or I’m just used to it, which is a neat trick given that some of these songs make me feel like I’m trapped in a plastic bag. Maybe it’s the relief when they’re over. Maybe they’re really good. Maybe it’s a tunnel to my youth. Just don’t come to this record expecting anything like the Furs’ breakout ’80s hit, “Pretty in Pink”!

Here’s an important safety tip: If you mention Donovan even once in a public forum, you’ll draw all the Donovoids out of the shadows. I had no idea I knew so many people who responsibly enjoy the music of Donovan. So here’s the last thing I’m going to write about this guy: He’s the male version of Melanie!

The parallels between the two are probably refutable. They were born a year and an ocean apart. Their mono names each have three syllables. They were earnest folk singers before they became bell-ringing hippies. Melanie played at Woodstock. Donovan played at the 2008 Woodstock Film Festival. Their hit songs are mostly silly. But they each produced one magnificent musical artifact of the 1960s: Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and Melanie’s “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).”

Melanie’s song runs to 7 minutes and 40 seconds, dwarfing Donovan’s pace of 4 minutes 50 seconds. But Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, and Stephen Stills stretched “Season of the Witch” past 11 minutes. This might mean something. No? OK.

Serious music criticism such as this leads me of course to Achtung! The U2 Studies Journal, which was looking for a copy editor late last year. I would’ve applied, but they are only paying in CDs and concert T-shirts. You can’t even get a date with The Edge. Here’s the ad they ran:

The editors of Achtung! The U2 Studies Journal are seeking volunteer staff members for its online publication debuting in May 2012. Ideal candidates are academics, journalists, professional writers, and independent scholars with a demonstrable record of research, presentation and/or publishing experience in the fine arts, humanities, social sciences, or a related field. It is assumed candidates have at least a general knowledge of U2’s extensive catalogue, history and cultural presence.

Applicants must document a history of collaborative decision making; multitasking; attention to detail; exceptional grammar, mechanics, punctuation, and spelling skills; working on a deadline; exceptional verbal and written communication skills; patience and a sense of humor.

At minimum, a resume is sufficient documentation of qualifications, but an applicant may further elaborate on his or her experience in a cover letter.

I’m working on two essays for Achtung!: “Sunday Bloody Sunday: The Troubled History of Red Sox Weekend Play” and “Where the Streets Have No Name: Honey, We’re Lost.” If they pay me in T-shirts, I hope they’re from the Zooropa tour. Thanks to Number 9 for taking a break from her groundbreaking work on Electrical Banana: The Donovan Studies Journal to share this ad with me. That was particularly generous given that I’m late with the story I promised her, “You’ve Got to Pick Up Every Stitch: Your Mother Doesn’t Live Here.”

Cover of the week
Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis’ cover of “Oh Happy Day,” a gospel cross-over hit for the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969. The following year, EHS backed Melanie on “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).” Lewis does some fun things with this number.

Birthdays of the week
Happy birthday to Number 9. Play nice or she’ll go home and take ethnomusicology with her. Also to Liz, Duchess of Duct Tape!

Run-DMSteve of the week
I’m back in The Nervous Breakdown. I don’t mention Donovan, either.



Sweet Oblivion
Screaming Trees

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.

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.