Summertime Blues, News, and Views: For The Critical Mind

I am rather torn.

See, I love my family to death and everything else under the sun, but Gigantour is in Milwaukee on the same date as my family reunion.

Megadeth and Dream Theater vs. those who love me unconditionally.

I’m not sure what the verdict will be but something tells me that if anyone pops up and volunteers to pitch in some gas money, I’ll be waving out of the back window at Grandma and Grandpa.

Alice In Musicland

Once again there’s not really a lot of news. Drama, but not news. I’m not going to sit here and ruminate on the Video Music Award nominees because they’re too asinine to deserve any of my attention. I refuse to insult your intelligence that way.

But the AP will insult you!

AMMAN, Jordan – On his first visit to the Middle East, Ricky Martin declared he will try to change negative perceptions of Arab youth in the West.

“I promise I will become a spokesperson, if you allow me to, a spokesperson on your behalf. I will defend you and try to get rid of any stereotypes,” the 33-year-old singer told youngsters from 16 mainly Arab countries at a youth conference on Monday.

The children, ages 14 to 16, expressed concern about being labeled as “terrorists” by the West.

“I have been a victim of stereotypes. I come from Latin America and to some countries, we are considered ‘losers,’ drug traffickers, and that is not fair because that is generalizing,” said Martin, who was born in Puerto Rico.

“Those comments are made out of ignorance and we have to sometimes ignore the ignorant, but we also have to educate the ignorant. You have me here as a friend,” he said.

Aren’t we so glad to have a Ricky Martin? Aren’t Arabs everywhere SO VERY LUCKY to have a Ricky Martin? With him on their side, there will be no more racial stereotyping!

Ricky, shut up. Go buy a little dog and carry it around in a little bag like Paris Hilton does. That’s all you are good for in this world. Shake your butt on stage, brush your teeth so that they’re nice and shiny, and then shoo. You are not an ambassador. You are not Martin Luther King Jr. You are a former member of Menudo who dances and barely passably sings. Go on, scoot back into that niche you have dug for yourself. We don’t want you polluting the space taken by people who do a hell of a lot more to make this world a better place than to hold a press conference promising to heal the world. Out with you!

I think I’m changing the name of my column to “Summertime Angst, Angst, and Super Angst.” You haven’t even seen the worst of it yet:

From Blabbermouth.

KORN frontman Jonathan Davis has confirmed that the band have hired former OTEP guitarist Rob Patterson to play guitar for the band on their upcoming European tour. In a posting on his ButtSexCrips.com web site, Davis writes, “We hired Rob Patterson to play guitar for the European dates but he will not be on stage. We don’t want to use samples or tape, ’cause that would suck. We are not ready to have a new guy on stage with us. This is for the first Europe run only. We have some new exciting ideas on how we are gonna play live in the future and I am sure it will blow your mind.”

Now then.

I know it seems like I post a lot of news that gets me all riled up and I start to rant. But this one is unique in that while I’m sure a lot of folks read this and think, “wow, those Korn guys are kinda jerky for not letting the guy play on stage with them,” but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Most musicians are performers at heart. They don’t just want to play their instruments; they want to get up on stage and entertain. What Korn is doing to this guy is humiliating. He’s making their stage show what it is by contributing a key instrument, yet they refuse to allow him to bask in the glory of such. And he, of course, is doing it because it probably pays quite well. If you’re in a situation where the money is too good to refuse, you’ll sit back and dance like a monkey if it gets you from point A to point B regardless of the level of humiliation. But that doesn’t make it right.

The “right” things for Korn to do are either to let Patterson on stage or to play with a backing tape. It’s not fair for those able to bask in fan reaction to essentially take credit for some schmuck behind the curtain. And as fans, people should feel cheated that they can’t properly show this guy appreciation for his talents.

What this boils down to is something very, very sad. We have musicians who need to make a buck being abused by other musicians who are well-off. Can we please have the Korn of 1994 to appear and re-assess this situation? These were guys upset at being treated as outcasts while growing up, guys who sang about how wrong it was that the world saw them as different. And now they’re treating Patterson like an outcast himself. Way to go, guys. No, money and fame haven’t changed you one bit.

Of course, if Patterson puts up with that Otep bitch on a regular basis, this is probably his big vacation. I bet he’d do it for free, maybe even pay the band if it meant escaping.

This Week, On A Very Special Gloomchen

Because I don’t think enough people are paying attention. Condensed from the AP newswire:

ALBANY, N.Y. – One of the biggest music companies, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, agreed Monday to pay $10 million and to stop paying radio station employees to feature its artists to settle an investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The agreement resulted from Spitzer’s investigation of suspected “pay for play” practices in the music industry.

“Despite federal and state laws prohibiting unacknowledged payment by records labels to radio stations for airing of music, such direct and indirect forms of what has been described generically as “payola” for spins has continued to be an unfortunately prevalent aspect of radio promotion,” he said. “SONY BMG acknowledges that various employees pursued some radio promotion practices on behalf off the company that were wrong and improper, and apologizes for such conduct. SONY BMG looks forward to defining a new, higher standard in radio promotion.

“Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for air play based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees,” Spitzer said. “This agreement is a model for breaking the pervasive influence of bribes in the industry.”

Spitzer said his investigation showed Sony BMG paid for vacation packages and electronics for radio programmers, paid for contest giveaways for listeners, paid some operational expenses of radio stations and hired middlemen known as independent promoters to provide illegal payments to radio stations to get more airplay for its artists.

Spitzer also said e-mails among company executives showed top officials were aware of the payments.

Spitzer said Sony BMG employees sought to conceal some payments by using fictitious contest winners to document the transactions.

In one case, an employee of Sony’s Epic label was trying to promote the group Audioslave to a station and asked: “WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET AUDIOSLAVE ON WKSS THIS WEEK?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen.”

In another case, a promoter unhappy that Celine Dion’s “I Drove All Night” was being played overnight on some stations threatened to revoke a trip to a Dion show in Las Vegas unless the play times improved.

The $10 million will be distributed to not-for-profit entities and earmarked for music education programs, Spitzer said.

Spitzer “appears to have found a whole arsenal of smokin guns,” said Jonathan Adelstein, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, a Democrat. “We need to investigate each particular instance that Spitzer has uncovered to see if it is a violation of federal law. This is a potentially massive scandal.”

Record companies can’t offer financial incentives under a 1960 federal law that made it a crime punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to a year in prison to offer money or other inducements to give records airplay. The practice was called “payola,” a contraction of “pay” and “Victrola” record players.

The law was passed in response to the payola scandals of the 1950s and early 1960s that implicated some then-famous disc jockeys.

AND YOU WONDER WHY RADIO AND MTV SUCK.

Is this a shock to anyone who turns on the dial? Of course not. There is no one programming manager in his right mind who would play half the crap that gets played as often as it gets played. While listeners may certainly like this song or that song, nobody wants to hear them 15 times a day. Usually the reason people turn on the radio or MTV isn’t to see or hear the same stuff that they already know about; it’s to discover something new. For years, everything new has been spoon-fed to us not by those who determine what music is quality but instead by the labels who are looking to earn a buck.

And really, it’s been going on for a long time. The labels have just gotten sloppy with widespread use of PR firms that reach out with vicious aggression rather than the slick, under-the-table deals of days past. It’s fair to say that the 1970s were a decade dominated by what the public actually wanted to hear. I mean, there’s no reason why anyone would ever think a lot of that crap was money in the bank unless the public begged for it. The ’80s may not have been quite as corrupt yet, as it seemed more like the record companies could sell the glamour as talent and the public was willing to eat it up with a fork and spoon. However, grunge begat more copycat, lame soundalikes than any previous period in music history. Something had to be done to protect the investments that these labels made when they snatched up every male with a guitar and stringy hair. And let’s not even relate this to what has happened to music since the resurgence of boy bands and female teen idols. So many clones to sell!

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been disgusted with radio or MTV for at least the last ten years. One would think that a volume of folks like this who are angry could make some sort of impact with those in charge at stations across the country, correct? Well, of course, unless these people were making money elsewhere to the point where it didn’t matter how many ads they were selling or what their numbers looked like. It’s easy to blame a decrease in listeners/viewers on the Internet and satellite radio, right?

Conspiracy theories are fun but even moreso when they’re proven true. Yes, the media has been manipulated for years, and there is a conviction to prove it. You, listeners of radio and watchers of Music Television, have been bought and sold.

And it’s sad that nobody out there really seems to care.

All of this makes my job seem that much more valuable — and more risky. How many critics are bought and sold as well? How far does this reach? I guess I can reassure you that nobody is buying my love and that I do my best to maintain objectivity in any music review or criticism that I write, but it’s hard to know who you can trust out there when it seems the world of music is just as corrupt as anyone has ever imagined. Truly, all one can do is use their best judgment; listen to the music, find critics who seem to have similar tastes, and embrace them. After all, if their minds run alongside yours and you aren’t being paid to like what you like, odds are that this poor reviewer isn’t getting a dime for what they love and hate.

In the end, the part that disappoints me is that I’m saying the best way to credibly learn about quality new music is to read reviews. What we should be doing is listening to this music to discover what is good. Unfortunately, payola has taken away our choices to hear this music, instead being pulled by the whims of those with deep pockets. We have been cheated. And it is time to be upset and vocal.

Regardless of what type of music you like and regardless of whether you listen to the radio, call your local stations and request what you do like. Let them know that their listeners have opinions. If they give you any sort of reasons why they won’t or can’t play your selections, ask them if they’re being paid to entertain their listeners or if they’re being paid to please record companies. Speak with the programming director or station manager. Write letters; make waves. Just don’t sit back and let your tastes be dictated by others, and don’t allow the media to block your right to hear the quality music that you, the listener, wants to hear but they’re not playing.

If even one person actually does this, I’ll be the happiest girl in the entire universe.

Band vs. Band

Taking some time away from the ’80s and the darlings of the underground, it’s time to battle in Seattle. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the epic bout of Alice in Chains vs. Soundgarden.

It was a fine year in 1990 when the rumblings of the underground were looking to shake up the world of hair metal. Alice in Chains’ debut, Facelift, was a welcome change from the mainstream, although videos for “Man in the Box” and “We Die Young” were mixed seamlessly on Headbanger’s Ball with those of Slaughter, Skid Row, and countless other remnants of the day. As the following year rolled around and Nirvana blew up, along with Pearl Jam and other bands from AIC’s home area, “Man in the Box” blew up into mainstream MTV rotation.

With the release of “Would?” from the soundtrack to the movie Singles (chock full of the Seattle sound) and the subsequent album Dirt, AIC faced full-blown success. While still quite metal in sound, they were lumped in with other Seattle folks, which actually worked quite to their advantage even though they had many elements separate from their cohorts. Then again, songs like “Rooster,” while keeping them dark, moved them more into line with the popular consensus. The Jar of Flies EP was successful with the hit “I Stay Away,” but not long after that, things within Alice In Chains began to fall apart.

It’s no secret that vocalist Layne Staley was a tremendous heroin addict; their eponymous album was released in 1995, but the band didn’t tour, the songs weren’t all that memorable, and things just slowly drifted into oblivion. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell began working solo in 1998 in an effort to continue the creative process, but by this time Staley was long since gone into the depths of addiction. He would never come out of it.

And thus, Alice in Chains fizzled. In 2002, the nail was in the coffin quite literally when Staley was found dead of an overdose.

Meanwhile — or rather, actually before AIC came to be — there was a mighty little underground band called Soundgarden. Also in the metal vein but with a punk mentality, Soundgarden rose through the Seattle underground starting with their first EP in 1987. While many modern fans weren’t aware of it, Soundgarden was garnering Grammy nominations as early as 1989 for their Louder Than Love album; it was the group’s 1991 smash Badmotorfinger that actually exposed them to the entire world.

It was surely the year that helped them; as a metal band, they were out of place, but as a Seattle band, they were a splash. MTV heavily rotated “Outshined,” and other singles “Rusty Cage” and “Jesus Christ Pose” were staples of the Headbanger’s Ball set. But it wasn’t until 1994’s Superunknown that the band truly hit superstardom; “Black Hole Sun” was a mega-smash, and other singles from the album did quite well.

The band’s sound continued to mellow somewhat and stray from their metal core by the time they released 1996’s Down on the Upside; however, by that year, the alternative sound had pretty much worn out its welcome, and the lack of quirkiness virtually left the disc unrecognizable in a sea of imitators. The following year, the band announced they were dissolving. Vocalist Chris Cornell went solo for a bit before joining up with former Rage Against the Machine bandmembers to form Audioslave, who are still active today.

In terms of mainstream impact, Soundgarden had the clearly superior career. They made bucketloads more cash and sold bucketloads more albums. Alice in Chains certainly had their share of hits, but they seemed to be only circumstantial to the “grunge” movement as far as latching onto the scene was concerned. Soundgarden, on the other hand, morphed their sound drastically over the years from metal to the accepted radio-friendly norm.

And that may be the biggest difference between the two bands; both had roots in metal that were quite strong, but Soundgarden could easily be accused of “selling out” by the time Superunknown rolled around. AIC’s third album might not have been quite as fierce as its predecessors (and they did benefit from doing an MTV Unplugged performance, issued to CD) but their textures remained similar to that of their previous album. Soundgarden, on the other hand, is almost an entirely different band from one album to the next starting with Badmotorfinger.

The metal kiddie in me — and the artist in me who craves innovation, iconoclasm, and vitality — would love to drop-kick Soundgarden completely out of the running in this fight. However, one must take into consideration the “growth” of bands over the years and their desires to take their music into different directions, even if the direction isn’t particularly unique. The point is that Soundgarden sold a lot of albums and did make some great songs, particularly “Fell On Black Days” even after the “sellout” period. They’re going to be more remembered and more revered in history because they were a primary member of a huge music wave that swept the better part of a decade. Alice in Chains? As much as I adore them and find them clearly superior musically and artistically…

Screw it. Alice in Chains wins because they were better. And that is that.

Your Band Here

It’s just like the title of the section says: you contact me and your band goes here! With some review, of course. Hope your poor fragile egos can handle it.

Sweet Afton (also on MySpace):
Rock out of Ames, Iowa, home of the Cyclones! College towns always make for a decent band here and there. And Sweet Afton definitely sounds like the type of band you would find in a college town. They’re rock with that nice soft alternative touch, not too uncontrollably emo to make you want to punch them in the face, and with bits of punk, metal, and whatnot trickling in here and there. In other words, they sound like a lot of bands currently rocking the alt rock underground.
Highlight: Well, they’re not bad at all. They sound like a really good cover band who happened to write a bunch of songs that are just as good as what they would be covering. “Suspect” is actually really, really good.
Lowlight: I’m still in shock to find an Iowa band that’s this good, and I don’t even normally listen to this type of music. As I say about a lot of unsigned bands — they need something to set them apart from the pack.

Crayons (also on MySpace):
OMG, for once, this isn’t a regional act! Out of Florida, these crazy kids make some really goofy retro pop. Reminiscent of mid-’80s alt/indie bands (Talking Heads, Dead Milkmen, etc.), they likely have one hell of a kitsch following. They’re very quirky to say the least, but have a grasp on songwriting enough to keep it from being annoying as hell.
Highlight: Fun stuff. Really fun stuff. Check out “Cooler Than Me.”
Lowlight: Unlike the previous band I linked, these guys don’t need anything to set them apart. And amazingly, they aren’t so weird that they’re an ear-bomination, either. I guess the only real lowlight is that they could get seriously annoying to someone who didn’t appreciate them. You gotta either love ’em or hate ’em.

Avenpitch (also on MySpace):
Hey, these guys actually sent me a FULL CD! Neat! That doesn’t count as a bribe though. Anyway, much like other TC bands that have appeared in this column, we’re in the realm of electropunk. Do you want to hear synths gone completely insane? That’s Avenpitch; think of it as NES music that got scrambled into obnoxious, hyper-spastic madness that doesn’t quite feel as geeky as one would first imagine. There’s a pop-metal aesthetic that rears its ugly head every so often and trash everywhere.
Highlight: “Jack the Idiot Dance” from TC Electropunk Volume 2 is a MUST-HEAR. It’s the only way to really explain the jumble of words I tried to use above to describe this shit.
Lowlight: Oh, how the sound will wear on you like nails on a chalkboard if it’s not your thing. Also, for as eclectic as they are, they tend to fall into a predictable pattern at times. Odd, I know, but can be fixed with a bit more concerted effort in songwriting.

If nothing else, this section lately has been the happy optimistic part of my column. What can I say? Music makes happy; drama, corporate scumbags, and holier-than-thou celebrities do not.

My Opinion Matters

Here’s an odd little discussion for you: Good Charlotte.

Now, a couple of months back, I was hanging out with some friends at a late night dining establishment filled with drunks. A particular group of ruffians were eavesdropping on us and decided we were prime fodder for giving a hard time; they severely underestimated our wits and as they left, we had most of the place laughing at them. But the point here isn’t for me to gloat about this as much as to point out one insult hurled by said drunkards: “Go back to listening to Good Charlotte.”

Of course we took that as an insult, but why? I have never listened to the band; I just know they’re some nouveau-punk poppy emo thing and they sell a lot of merchandise through Hot Topic. In other words, without ever hearing their music, I’m already prejudiced against them because it’s a style of music that I find derivative and mockable, never mind that their t-shirts are marketed heavily through a chain that never fails to make me roll with laughter when strolling through the mall. So just from these things I know to be true, I have never once given the band a chance and have no desire to start.

How many other bands have I ascribed a similar distaste? Well, aside from other bands in the same copycat category, it’s fair to say that I never once gave a listen to Dashboard Confessional or Bright Eyes because I have heard so much “buzz” about them that I never want to hear them. In the metal category, Chimaira and God Forbid will never get a fair deal from me because their stage shows were utterly ridiculous. You won’t see me giving many country artists a shot in general because all I think of are dogs, pickup trucks, and tears in beers.

Is that fair of me? Not at all. As a critic, it’s completely against the entire idea of objectivism. It’s all opinion and it will tarnish any perspective I have.

This isn’t like 311, though. They genuinely suck.

But how many people out there have these distastes and readily admit them? How many album reviewers out there have secret harborings against band X or Y and let them play out in what is supposed to be pure journalism? You will never know. At the same time, you must know that it’s everywhere. We’re human and we are going to emotionally manipulate everything we touch.

Still, I have to wonder if my ruminations here are even worth the .0008 micrograms of guilt I have for hating Good Charlotte without ever hearing them. How about I just promise never to review them, and we’ll go on from there?

The Rad Ones

There’s a column by Shawn M. Smith! I refuse to say anything more than that because last time he completely freaked the f*ck out.

Fernandez, while not always posting the Saturday Swindle Sheet on actual Saturdays, still is top of the reading pile every week, dammit. And not just because I always get linked, or because everyone gets linked in amusing ways. He’s just That Damn Good.

Lots of my readers have told me they love Kyle David Paul‘s columns. You know, guys, you could just tell him yourself.

Lucard always gets linked because his columns rock, but also because he’s my matchmaker and I owe him. He also gets a bizillion hits and I’ll bet he has perfect nipples, too.

I’m going to link Haley as well because he once entertained me until 3 am and woke up my mom. True story. What?

Flea has been a regular writing machine again out of nowhere.

And I will link Brendan Campbell for being a dear darling helping me out with some evil political garbage. Thanks, hon.

Outro

I’m trying to get together a theme for the holidays this year. First off, I’m planning to move to Minnesota in January. YES, I AM GOING TO LEAVE IOWA. Can you believe it? I still can’t. I don’t need a lot of things that I don’t already have, but it would always be nice to get it all wrapped up before I leave. You know, silverware, dishes that didn’t come from a dollar store, a vacuum where only the attachments have suction, et cetera. So, my plan was to slap ’em all in my Amazon Wish List this year and let my friends and family buy me productive gifts.

My current list is full of books and DVDs. I love books. I also love DVDs. Entertainment is important for the soul.

However, there is a third thing I seek: new clothing. Long-time readers know that I have lost well over 100 pounds in years past and am half the size I once was. That being said, I’m still settling into the ability to actually have a look and style that I like, rather than just having to buy every clearance item I can find because I desperately needed clothes that fit regardless of taste. So, the last few months have been a lot of replacing my thrift finds with some serious bad-assness. However, I have to save a lot of money for this move, so it’s pretty slow going.

So while these three things are all quite important in my mind, the question is, what would people prefer to gift me? I know my mom would rather give me something fun than something functional; I think this is mostly due to her being bitter after getting a vacuum cleaner from my dad one year for their anniversary. However, my brother buys me things like Mag-Lites and fancy Zippos because they are helpful in your everyday life aside from being kind of neat-looking.

So entirely in theory, if you were a good friend of mine and wanted to get me a holiday gift that I would like as well as you would be proud to give to me, which would you choose?

CHOOOSE!

This poll is going to make me giggle until Thanksgiving, I swear.

I would end this with something musical, but I know I’ve derailed too many of you at this point.

Simple pleasures, falling feathers,

–gloomchen

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