I am using Skype today for the first time (sadly for work rather than anything naughty). I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long, because in retrospect it would have been nice to use during the three years I was in the UP's Overlook Hotel. (All snow and no sun make Brando go something something.) I also feel rather silly because, while I am not necessarily a cutting-edge tech guy, I tend to adopt fairly early in the new tech progress. I jumped into e-mail back when I had to go to the computer lab at school to access it. Of course, I used this newfangled technology to e-mail D&D trivia questions to my old Dungeon Master and best friend, Tom. Yes, Al Gore built this system with his bare hands so I could send messages like “How many hit dice does a Mind Flayer have?” Seriously, how have we survived as a society?
Speaking of Tom, he is coming to visit this weekend. Our D&D days are decades behind us, but as I’ve mentioned before, we still play an old board game called Grav-Ball that is like hockey set in zero gravity with a heavy lead ball and a killer robot for a referee. We are intensely competitive about it and have saved all of our sheets listing the players on our teams from the ages of 14 to the present day. It is ungodly nerdly but we love playing it. In fact, should the two of us ever find ourselves spending the shower portion of our golden years in a nursing home, we would probably spend our days playing Grav-Ball and yelling out things like “assault!” and “strike with ball!” until the orderlies sedated us.
However, this does remind me that I’d best make any attempts to romance The Lovely Becky before my friend arrives, because there is a minimum two-week loss of attraction after she watches me play this game.
1) “Hurt,” Johnny Cash. Who’s ready to slash their wrists this weekend? Love the song but it’s harshing my impending nerdgasm.
2) “Mr. Tamborine Man,” The Byrds. It’s appropriate that this was released in 1965 because it really sounds merger of both ends of the Sixties. There’s the poppy British Invasion sound in the ringing 12-string guitar, but a flowers-in-your-hair vocal delivery that foreshadows said flowers in said hair.
3) “Game of Pricks,” Guided by Voices. The recorded version sounds like 90s lo-fi Byrds, although they tended to Who it up when they played it live. I was listening to a lot of GbV for the first time in a while yesterday, including the entire Live From Austin City Limits where they sounded completely drunk. Seriously, Robert Pollard is well on his eighth or ninth sheet near the end of the show. That’s the “aw, fuck it” attitude that made them so entertaining and also prevented them from being huge despite writing some of the catchiest rock songs since the British Invasion.
4) “Mystery,” Dio. Really, really, really not very good. I loves me some “Rainbow in the Dark” or “Last in Line,” but the last thing Dio ever needed to do was slow things down and reflect on the mysteries of life. It’s a good illustration about sticking with what you know, which in Dio’s case was dragons and demons.
5) “Back in the U.S.A.,” MC5. The things we learn from Wikipedia. Since iTunes showed this was released in 1970, I wondered if it was written in response to The Beatles “Back in the U.S.S.R.” So I consulted our truthiest online resource to find out, no, it’s a cover of a Chuck Berry tune and that The Beatles song was a bit of a parody of the Berry song. The more you know…. I also have to take this moment to admit (if I haven’t before) that I am a Wikipedia junkie. When I was a kid, I used to go to the library a lot and read encyclopedia entries (control yourselves, ladies). I’d be looking up something for school and then find myself looking up everything but what I needed to look up for school. That was especially true if the encyclopedia had anything about the occult, tanks, rock music, pro football, or female anatomy (not necessarily listed in order of interest). That would often spur a trip to the stacks to find out more about Aleister Crowley, the firepower of a Panzer versus a Sherman tank, or something called the G-spot. And now I can do all of that on one site right from my desk, with the addition of not being burdened by boring facts or the library’s fascist requirement to wear pants.
6) “Seether,” Veruca Salt. During the 90s, while I enjoyed a lot of the music coming out, I definitely looked back longingly on the 80s—the bubblegum of the pop, the politicalness of the punk, and the pomposity of the power metal. During the first decade of the Aughts, I found myself looking straight ahead as the Web opened up a cornucopia of indie rock that I might not have otherwise overlooked had a Wikipedia entry on Winston Churchill not mentioned that his favorite band was The New Pornographers. But now, with 2011 nearly in the rearview mirror, I am going through a bit of 90s nostalgia. I’ve been combing eMusic for 90s alternanuggests like this, fun blasts of distorted Nirvana-esque pop that were the popcorn shrimp of alternative radio. I just find it funny that my nostalgia skipped a decade.
7) “Come on Eileen,” Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I was about 12 when this song came out, in that mid-point where my interest in dragons still competed with my interest in girls. On top of that, I came from a conservative Catholic family and went to Catholic school, which meant I was well acquainted with the word “fuck” but not necessarily well educated on all that went into said word. I remember talking about this song with a pair of female classmates who were a little more world wise than I was. They kept making a comment about “come… on Eileen” and I kept saying, “Yeah, that’s the name of the song. What’s so funny?” They repeated it a few time and laughed at my inability to get the joke. Let me tell you, there are few things more emasculating at that age than being out-dirtied by a couple of girls, and the psychological fallout is probably that I go out of my way to know the slang for every possible organ, act, and occasional felony.
8) “Born Slippy (Nuxx),” Underworld. One of those songs that can only be listened to while dancing or driving, and even driving is a stretch. Like a lot of electronica back in the 90s, it’s stretched by endless percussive repetition, which is great if you’re drunk at a club, not so great if you have to, say, focus on something. Plus it makes me think of Trainspotting which makes me think of creepy babies and appalling toilets.
9) “Calgary,” Bon Iver. I never expected “snow-blown Wisconsin folk” and “Kanye” to go together, but the autotuned falsetto works really well on the new Bon Iver album. I even get a little bit of a Daft Punk vibe when the drums and synths show up. He managed the tough trick of still sounding like himself without repeating himself from the first album.
10) “Back of the Van,” Ladyhawke. Love, love, love. First, it manages to sound of the 80s without sounding like a pale imitation of much better songs. More than that, it really nails the nervous excitement I felt when I was a teenager and finally had left those dragons behind. The first time I ever kissed a girl (avert your eyes, TLB) was in the back of a friend’s van—and not just any van, but one of those conversion vans that could quickly be converted to a heavy petting zoo. My friend and his girlfriend were in front, while I and my date were in the back, riding to the beach at night. I had never done more than held hands with a girl, primarily because I had the romantic self confidence of a frightened ostrich. I was now poised for my first kiss, and I was so nervous, it’s a wonder I didn’t piss all over the futon cushion in the back (seriously, this van was a hotel on wheels, it’s a miracle that my friend’s parents let him drive it). But said kiss happened and every bit of nervousness and memory of previously missed opportunities and razzing from my friends melted away into just pure happiness. The funny thing is, while I was way more confident in myself by the time I met TLB the following year, my first date with her was full of the same nervousness, until we broke the ice and found a warm bliss center inside. This illustrates again why music kicks ass; as much as I love reading and movies and games, no other form of pop culture lets me personalize it as much as music.
11) “Walking to Do,” Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Great, great tune, one of my favorites by him, with a breakdown in the middle before he comes back with a louder version of the chorus. I listen to a lot of Ted Leo at the gym and I always think this sounds like the perfect concert closer, so it’s a fitting way to end the list today.
Have a great weekend and let your nerd flag fly!