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July 30, 2007

30 Best Loved Albums - American Idiot

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. With that on to #20 of the list...

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20. Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

What can be said about this album that hasn’t already been said? A punk rock “opera? that tells the story of Jesus of Suburbia/St. Jimmy as they navigate early 21st Century American society. The album is both a commentary of our battered culture and a stinging rebuke of the Bush administration. Coming out in late 2004 prior to the presidential election, the popularity of the album took off in 2005 right as Americans were coming to the realization that they had just signed up for four more years of W and his “everything is political? cronies.

The true measure of a rock opera or concept album is that the individual songs have to stand up on their own as well as fit into the “story? that makes up the album. That’s why Tommy works and The Wall doesn’t. Literally every song on Tommy could be considered a stand alone, popular song. The Wall only has Comfortably Numb. This is the reason that American Idiot works too. From the title track to Boulevard of Broken Dreams, to Holiday, to Wake Me Up When September Comes, American Idiot is stuffed full of individual songs that not only propel the story forward but are great individual songs. The fact that the songs listed above not only moved up the popular music charts but in Mpls-St. Paul could have been heard on radio stations as diverse as Cities 97, 93X, KDWB, and the Current speaks to the positive reception of this album.

From the album’s opening verse of “Don't want to be an American idiot/Don't want a nation under the new media/And can you hear the sound of hysteria?/The subliminal mind fuck America? the listener is keyed into the album’s political leanings. Two highlights of the album are the “suites:? two nine minute songs consisting of 4 or 5 sub songs. The first suite introduces the listener to the character Jesus of Suburbia while the second suite details the downfall of St. Jimmy. In the first suite check out the stolen guitar riff from Ring of Fire; the second suite is somewhat an homage to The Who’s A Quick One While He’s Away, the first such suite in rock history. In my opinion the strongest song on the who album is Holiday. I also think Holiday is the harshest political protest song to reach the pop music charts since the late 1960’s

I picked up this album in early 2005 as I was intrigued by the good buzz surrounding it. I listened to it a few times thought it was good, but not great. During this time my son was saying that the album was becoming popular at school and we tuned into the Grammys in early February to watch Green Day perform the song American Idiot. They absolutely rocked the house and Charlie went upstairs to bed with the CD in his hand. I don’t think I’ve seen it since. As with the rest of the country, repeated listenings led to greater appreciation and by the summer of 2005 the album was on heavy rotation on my I-pod.

September 2005 we saw Green Day at the X in an awesome arena rock show – a show that was attended by pre-teens with their parents, high school kids, and guys in their 20’s and 30’s. When Billy Joe introduced the song Holiday saying that this song was a big Fuck You to George W. Bush and the arena absolutely erupted, I knew right then and there that the political future of this country had changed for the better. Holiday was then played in such an aggressive manner that if Billy Joe told us to go right then and there and march the few blocks to the capitol and tear it down, I’m not sure that we would not have done it.

For producing such an audacious album that not only rocked but had a real message behind it, an album that both me a my son could listen to together, an album that spawned a bunch of popular songs that could be listened to individually or as part of a story, American Idiot deserves a hallowed place on my best love 30 albums.

What do you think of American Idiot?

Place on the Definitive 200: #61.

July 27, 2007

Friday Random Top 10

Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. This week's list:

1. Hillbilly Drummer Girl – Young Fresh Fellows
2. Lonesome Tears – Beck
3. Settled Down Like Rain – The Jayhawks
4. Because the Night – Patti Smith
5. Pieholden Suite – Wilco
6. Why – The Accents
7. Spirit – Mieka Pauley
8. I’ll Wait & Pray – John Coltrane
9. Love Comes and Goes – Stillwater
10. Home Front – Billy Bragg

What's your top 10?

July 24, 2007

As Featured on SBG...

First, if you're not getting your Twins fix from the blog Stick and Ball Guy, you need to get there. Good analysis of Twins, plus other fun stuff. If that's not enough to check it out, how about a feature on yours truly? Click here for the link.

If you are reading this after July 24th, you may have to click on the "know a citizen" link to see my feature.

Also look for my upcoming review of Bernard Malamud's book The Natural on SBG sometime in early August.

July 23, 2007

30 Best Loved Albums - Rage Against the Machine

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. With that on to #19 of the list...

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19. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

Although generally derided these days, the fusing of rock and rap was a novel concept in 1992 and Rage Against the Machine hit the music world like a bullet to the head. Zach de la Rocha’s scream-singing combined with Tom Morello’s ground shaking guitar worked and backed by a heavy/funky rhythm section made Rage Against the Machine one of the heaviest metal albums of the 1990’s – rivaling some of Zeppelin’s best 70’s releases.

Sometimes I wish I was 16 when this album came out because it is a muscular, aggresive album full of “don’t f--k with me attitude? and I am sure there have been millions of teenage (mostly) boys who have screamed the last 16 verses of Killing in the Name silently in their bedrooms (‘Fuck You! I won’t do what you tell me!?) as they railed against parents, girls, school, and general teenage angst. de la Rocha’s lyrics are full of rants against political enemies, modern day capitalism, and the general non-activism of the American public. Titles like Take the Power Back, Bullet in the Head, Know Your Enemy, Fistful of Steel, and Freedom leave little to the imagination about their subject matter. Even the album package is aggresive as the cover artwork features the famous photo of Thích Quảng ?ức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, burning himself to death in Saigon in 1963.

Besides de la Rocha’s throat shredding screaming, Tom Morello’s guitar work really shines along with the bass. This album combines the best of a funky bass line with heavy metal guitar work that really had been unheard of at the time. The album is also an audiophile’s dream as RATM worked the studio diligently in order to get an album that sonically was unmatched. Many stereo stores still use Killing in the Name (sans f-bombs) to demonstrate the audio quality of their high-end speakers. Other highlights include the sampled Kashmir riff on Wake-up and the screaming “bullet in your head? propelled by a driving guitar and drum beat. If ever an album existed to make you break stuff, this is it.

This album isn’t for everyone. The lyrics can be jarring at times and it’s not easy being sonically assaulted for 40 plus minutes. But when you’re in the mood of some heavy rock and roll, with lyrics that ring as truer today than they did 15 years ago, there’s nothing better than Rage Against the Machine. For that it deserves a place on my 30 best loved albums.

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the list.

July 20, 2007

Friday Random Top 10

Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. This week's list:

1. No Feelings - Sex Pistols
2. Crazy Rhythms - The Feelies
3. The Engine Driver - The Decemberists
4. Southern Rock Opera - The Drive By Truckers
5. All the Young Dudes - David Bowie
6. Infected - Bad Religion
7. Country Feedback - R.E.M.
8. Ultraviolet (Light My Way) - U2
9. I Still Miss Someone - Johnny Cash
10. Down by the River - Neil Young

What's your top 10?

July 19, 2007

It's Potter Time

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Unless you have been living under a rock these past few months you know that Friday at Midnight is hour zero for Harry Potter fans as the last(?) Harry Potter book comes out and after 10 years, seven books, and nearly 4,000 pages we learn what finally happens between Harry and Voldemort. In addition, the movie version of the 5th book – The Order of the Phoenix – is in the theaters entertaining Harry fans young and old alike.

Our family got the Harry Potter books early on and began by reading them to our kids. Actually my wife read them, although I filled in from time to time. I never fully read the books until the summer of 2005 when the penultimate book – The Half-Blood Prince – came out. I spent a large chunk of that summer reading books one through six in order, over 3,000 pages, to get caught up. Although not necessarily my favorite type of book, I have to admit Rowling can tell a good story and I whipped through them pretty quickly. I’d say Goblet of Fire was my favorite book.

I also went to all the movies and although not great art, have appreciated that they have stuck close to the books and have brought the movie public along for the ride pretty well. That blasé attitude changed with Order of the Phoenix which I think is by far the best Potter movie so far. The book’s new characters, Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge, were perfectly cast and the movie captures quite well the darkness of the story and Harry’s teenage angst. This is not a kiddie movie but a struggle between good and evil. The stakes are much higher here and you feel in it this movie.

As for the final book – The Deathly Hallows – we have a copy on reserve at Barnes and Noble and I am sure we will pick it up sometime on Saturday or Sunday. However I can’t wait and I took a look at the .pdf file that someone put on the web where they took a picture of each page in the book. I of course didn’t read every page but I checked in on a few characters. Don’t worry no spoilers here, although I am sure by Monday or Tuesday that everyone will know what happens. I will say that the book DOESN’T end with Harry, Ron, and Hermione at Hogsmeade, Hermione putting a coin in the jukebox and then you turn the page and its nothing but white. However if you don’t believe that I saw the ending of the book, I’ll give you this non-spoiler: The second to last word in the book is the word “was.?
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What are your Potter predictions?

UPDATE: nytimes.com has a review of Deathly Hallows. Slate.com has a nice book club discussion going on regarding the book.

July 18, 2007

OMG - Hootie is Sick!!

These were the top news story links on the the front page of Yahoo.com the morning of July 18th, 2007:

Plane crash in Brazil kills 200
Top leader in Iraqi al-Qaida arrested
Suspected militants kill 16 Pakistani soldiers
U.N. confirms shutdown of nuclear facilities in North Korea
Illness forces Hootie & the Blowfish to delay tour

What's next? Big Head Todd and the Monsters change drummers?

July 17, 2007

Ted Hartwell

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My brother-in-law, Ted Hartwell, died and was buried last week. As you can see from obituaries here, here, and here, Ted was a world-renowned curator of photography for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I could never do justice to his career and what it meant for professional photographers so I’ll let those links stand on their own.

I mostly knew Ted outside of his professional life as a husband and father. He was married to my wife’s sister and I spent many holidays and family get-togethers with Ted. One of the favorites was the annual 4th of July party at their house on a bluff overlooking Lake Pepin. They had recently purchased a boat and Ted was giving boat rides all afternoon. I was lucky enough to get a ride on the last trip and you could tell Ted was as happy as a little kid as we motored up and down the Pepin shoreline. It seems odd that a mere 18 hours later he would be stricken down by a heart attack.

Reading the obituaries and listening to the art luminaries at his funeral felt at times strange. They’re talking about Ted Hartwell? The guy who, like me, would steal a little nap after Thanksgiving dinner? The guy who was just fascinated by his kids and how fast they learned to talk? That Ted Hartwell? When I was growing up, I knew a kid who’s dad played for the Vikings (Rip Hawkins). We asked him what it was like to have a dad who was a professional football player. He said that he didn’t know. His dad seemed like everyone else’s: he cut the grass in the summer, yelled at his kids to clean up after themselves, sat in the living room drinking beer and watching sports. It seems that sometimes we forget that celebrities are people too; that really they are just like me and you only their work is better known.

So I’ll miss Ted, he was a kind soul. I will appreciate all he did for the art of photography but I will cherish all that he did for his friends and family.

July 16, 2007

30 Best Loved Albums - Siamese Dreams

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. With that on to #18 of the list...

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18. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dreams (1993)

Coming off their surprising 1991 indie release, Gish, the Smashing Pumpkins were one of the first of those “alternative? bands that got gobbled up by a major label. Interest was high on whether or not they could reach the level of Gish with its soaring guitars and art-rock vibe. After a long and tortuous recording process, where frontman Billy Corrigan was, in a word, dictatorial -- playing all guitars and bass on the final recording, Siamese Dreams was released 3 months late and $250,000 over budget. But out of that process came an impressive album of dreamy lyrics coupled with hard edged guitars in a musical landscape that covered 70’s arena rock, art-school prog-rock, and hard core punk. A stunning album that feels just as vital as it did nearly 15 years ago.

The first song, Cherub Rock, became an MTV staple with its dream-like video, foreshadowing future videos to come from the band. From it’s opening drum roll leading to its crushing first guitar notes, Cherub Rock set the stage for the rest of the album. (f.y.i. Cherub Rock is slated to be on the Guitar Hero III set for release later this fall). Guitars own this album and right from the opening notes it's the sound that makes the listener stand up and take notice. Billy Corrigan and Producer Butch Vig spent those countless hours at the studio layering the guitars one on top of each other, giving each song a full “wall of sound? feel. It would be the same guitar track, just copied over and over again, like an orchestra having 20 violins all playing the same part. This is the one album that listening on headphones doesn’t do justice, you need the sound to fill the room around you, it’s too big for just the space between your ears.

The album is extremely tight with not a bad song in the bunch. Nearly every song is a one word title and are similar to Led Zeppelin in that the title has little or nothing to do with the song itself. Not that you can decipher the lyrics. Billy Corrigan’s voice is pretty light and it’s the guitars, bass, and drums that are center stage here, not the lyrics. Other favorite songs include Today, Geek USA, and Spaceboy (lovingly written about Corrigan’s autistic brother). Many of the songs could be considered epic with soaring sound, long guitar solos, and bone crushing bass and drums. The last two minutes of Geek USA is a thing to behold and gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

Because sometimes you just need to hear an album that is musically ambitious yet personal, jarring while soothing, muscular and dreamy, without a note out of place, Siamese Dreams is one of my 30 best loved albums.

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the list.

July 13, 2007

Friday Random Top 10

Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. This week's list:

1. Rust Never Sleeps - Neil Young
2. London Calling - The Clash
3. Hit That - The Offspring
4. More Good Men Going Down - The Broadside Singers
5. You Make Me Feel So Young - Frank Sinatra
6. Space Invader - The Pretenders
7. Teenage Depression - Eddie and the Hotrodders
8. Big Black Smoke - The Kinks
9. Spider Monkey - Gear Daddies
10. Feeling Gravity's Pull - R.E.M.

What's your Top 10?

July 10, 2007

Following into the Dark - Take 2

Last August I did a post on the song I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie and as you can see from the comments, the post has really stuck a chord with people who have faced end of life issues with family members. I am actually quite humbled that people have sought out this site and commented in their time of sorrow and loss. Now my family is going through the painful process of saying goodbye to someone who is in a coma. What is especially difficult is that on the 4th of July we are all together having blast, talking about fireworks, boats, and kids. A few hours later a heart attack leaves my brother-in-law in what is described as a “permanent vegetative state.?

Modern medicine is amazing these days, as is our medical profession. The EMT’s found my brother-in-law without a pulse and were able to re-start his heart. Unfortunately the body needs oxygen and his body shut down all functions except for the bare minimum to survive: breathing and a beating heart.

When to end a life is an extremely painful decision. In one sense you want to hold out hope, but on the other, no brain activity is not really living. In the end it comes down to what you and your loved ones believe is quality of life. What makes it harder is that there are different levels of removing life support: Do you hydrate? How much pain medication should be administered? Given these questions, and the ultimate decision that must be made, it’s actually comforting to think that you would follow your loved one into the dark. The wish that you could tell them that very fact lies heavy in the room.

So talk to your loved one about end of life issues, get a will, write up a health directive. Tell them you if you could, you would follow them into the dark. Remember it will be difficult for your family members if they find themselves in the situation where they have to make end of life decisions, but it will be easier if they know that the decisions they have to make are ones that you have allowed them to make. In other words, allow your loved ones to follow you into the dark.

July 9, 2007

30 Best Loved Albums - Entertainment!

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List. With that on to #17 of the list...

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17. Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979)

Considered one of the greatest albums to come out of the British post-punk period (1979-1984), Entertainment! is an album of grim politics, alienation, and loathsome sexuality. However it is also an album that musically breaks out from the typical 12…1234 cadence of most punk albums. Ambitious in scope, leftist in its politics, jarring in its music, Entertainment! is one of my favorite albums from the 1970’s and one that sounds just as vital today as it did nearly 30 years ago.

One of the first thing one notices upon playing Entertainment! is that it is funky. The bass is deep and heavy throughout and the album is extremely danceable. In fact a popular Minneapolis band from the early 1980’s, The Phones, covered two songs from this album and would fill the dance floor singing Damaged Goods and I Found that Essence Rare (good thing we weren’t listening to the lyrics, as they are somewhat of a downer). Besides the bass, the guitar work also deserves mention. Always jarring, at times sounding like china busting up into shards in an all-tile bathroom, the guitars were played in a way that was never heard on a major label album and have been copied many times since. Vocally, the lyrics are sung in that deadpan, affected British accent that was made popular by other British bands like Wire and Joy Division.

Even if you don’t want to listen to the lyrics, the album is a great listen either alone or at a party. It really is the high water mark of those art-school educated British bands that came out in the late 1970’s and 80’s and as I said above, just as fresh today as it was in 1979. I’ve carried this album with me since 1981 and listen to it often whenever I need an uplift and want to listen to something that you don’t hear much anywhere else. For that reason, Entertainment! is one of my 30 best loved albums.

What do you think of Entertainment!?

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the list.

July 6, 2007

Friday Random Top 10

Here it is! In the tradition of American Idle, every Friday I will turn the I-Pod to shuffle and see what it spits out. This week's list:

1. Themselves - Minutemen
2. July, July! - The Decemberists
3. Hey Joe - Patti Smith
4. Crosseyed & Painless - The Talking Heads
5. I Believe in the Man in the Sky - Elvis Presley
6. Move it on Over - Hank Williams
7. My Back Pages - The Byrds
8. The End of the World - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
9. Another Girl, Another Planet - The Only Ones
10. Accidents will Happen - Elvis Costello

What's your Top 10?

July 2, 2007

30 Best Loved Albums - Land Speed Record

2007 will bring the 30th anniversary of my first rock concert (Kiss, December 2, 1977 – Metropolitan Sports Center). In honor of that momentous event I have decided to use this blog to review my 30 best loved albums. They will not be in any order or progression but I will try to review them musically and why they mean so much to me. I’ll also note if they made the Definitive 200 List.


Although I have stated that I’m not going to rank or place in order my favorite 30 albums, there is somewhat of a method to my madness. The first five albums were near and dear to me, some may not necessarily be an all-time favorite, but instead are albums about which that I had a lot to say. Albums 6-10 included artists with long and critically acclaimed careers with many, many different albums from which to choose. Albums 11-15 were more related to “roots? music: folk, country, americana, etc. Now that we’re halfway through, I thought we needed to look at my favorite punk and alternative albums. In the immortal words of Neil Young: “Let’s play some Rock and Roll!?

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16. Husker Du – Land Speed Record (1981)

This is the punk album to end all punk albums. The album careens from one blistering 90 second song to the next with 17 songs covering a 26-1/2 minute time span. Land Speed Record is actually a live album and it captures an early Husker Du at its furiously fast best. Although the name comes from the fact that the Huskers were digesting a serious amount of speed while the album was recorded, the title also easily describes the set list as most songs are one verse, no chorus played extremely fast punctuated only be a simple 1…2…1234 between each song.

The album cover is pure early 80’s punk: Black and white photo of flag-draped coffins stacked on top of each other either in a warehouse or large transport plane. While the songs at time are political the main point is that they are loud, fast, with no rules. The sound quality isn’t the greatest and the lyrics can be maddening at times but you’re not listening to this album for its production values. The purpose of this album is to feel the rush of an adrenaline-fueled musical assault where you don’t know whether or not the singer is going to have an aneurism or if the guitars are going to careen out of control.

One reason I love this album is it brings me back to the days of seeing the Huskers at the 7th Street Entry or First Avenue. The music was loud, the slam dancing was non-stop and many a morning after seeing them my ears would buzz from the volume, my head would throb from the beer, and the rest of my body would hurt from being slammed into by other 20-somethings for 90 minutes. Also I used this album to turn one of my friend's teenage son into punk. It was around 1995 and we were in my car waiting for his dad. We started talking about Nirvana and I asked him if he ever heard Husker Du. I put this tape on and he was mesmerized. He took the tape home with him and said that the album changed his life.

Although you don’t necessarily listen to this song for the lyrics, there are some pretty funny and/or serious lyrics here. One of my favorites is Gilligan’s Island:

Gilligan’s Island
Is where I wanna be
I wanna fuck Ginger
Underneath a big palm tree
I wanna make the professor
Make some good drugs for me
Oh Gilligan's Island
Is where I wanna be

But the lyrics can be political too, check this out from Guns at My School:

We've got guns at my school
You've got guns at your school
Guns and knives/taking lives
Fuck you!

Every time it's a different story
When they come to our territory
Is it fun or race relations?

Guns at my school
Think that's cool?
You like violence?
Think it makes sense?
(Fuck, no).

Even though I’m closing in on my mid-40’s, I still play this album when I need a rise. It’s fast, it’s fun, but most of all it’s exhilarating. And for that Land Speed Record deserves a spot on my most beloved 30 albums.

Place on the Definitive 200: Not on the list.