Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bo Knows



Bo Knows
  1. Bo Diddley, "Bo Diddley"
  2. U2, "Desire"
  3. Buddy Holly, "Not Fade Away"
  4. Led Zeppelin, "Custard Pie"
  5. Dr. John, "Iko Iko"
  6. The Rolling Stones, "Please Go Home"
  7. George Michael, "Faith"
  8. Elvis Presley, "(Marie's the Name of) His Latest Flame"
  9. The Magnetic Fields, "I'm Sorry I Love You"
  10. Bruce Springsteen, "She's the One"
  11. Johnny Otis, "Willie and the Hand Jive"
  12. The Clash, "Rudie Can't Fail"
  13. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "American Girl"
  14. The Who, "Magic Bus"
  15. The Supremes, "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes"
  16. Jefferson Airplane, "She Has Funny Cars"
  17. The Stooges, "1969"
  18. Guns N' Roses, "Mr. Brownstone"
  19. Them, "Mystic Eyes"
  20. Ace Frehley, "New York Groove"
  21. Primal Scream, "Movin' on Up"
Happy Mother's Day, 2016. Guess the theme.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rodney Speed



Rodney was a janitor at the BB King Blues Club, whom I worked with in my short stint there. For my first few days there, I only knew him as the guy who listened to music on his headphones while he swept, working to the rhythm of whatever tune was quietly escaping into the outside world, and sometimes humming and mumbling along to it. One day, I made out the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B."

"Rodney, are you listening to Pet Sounds?" I asked.

He took off his headphones.

"Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys is out of the greatest albums of all time," he said. "For the 40th anniversary, they remastered it in mono and in stereo. And they added a DVD."

"That's great!"

We talked about music nearly every day after that. I found out he'd worked in venues all over New York City, including CBGB, and we mourned Hilly Kristal together. I'd always ask him about what he was listening to, and whether it was R&B or punk or classic rock or blues or jazz, he could tell you anything about it.

One day I walked in hurriedly and past Rodney, as always, on his headphones. "Hey Rodney."

Rodney took his headphones off. "I had a really bad day, so this morning I'm listening to Manowar, Warriors of the World, and now I feel like I'm bulletproof."

I stopped in my tracks. "Rodney, you listen to Manowar?"

"I love metal, anytime I have a bad day it makes me feel like Superman. I especially like stuff from Megaforce Records, like Manowar, Anthrax and Me-tal-lic-a. This kind of music makes me want to hit somebody. Figuratively! Just hit somebody figuratively."

"Me too." I smiled.

For Rodney Speed, 1962-2016.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Scott Weiland

In 1996, MTV was running a short making-of documentary on Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, the upcoming third album by Stone Temple Pilots. The show gave more or less equal time to all four members, but the standout was the lead singer. With bright orange hair that almost didn't look dyed, a stylish goatee and sunken but alert eyes, he effortlessly drew the camera to him even when soon-to-be-standard hard rock riffs performed by his bandmates next to him. He danced like no one I had ever seen. He had an ongoing history of drug abuse (he's troubled!) and being dismissed by mainstream media critics (he's misunderstood!). And for a generation of kids reaching the age where they understood why adults liked Han Solo more than Luke Skywalker, Scott Weiland looked like the coolest man in the world.



Timing had something to do with it, and Weiland wouldn't be getting the respects he's getting this week if the media weren't being taken over by people who reached adolescence in the '90s. But timing was also Weiland's curse. STP's debut arrived right on the coattails of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and critics were quick to bash them as copycats, even though they'd been playing grunge for years before Core in 1992. Yet they also arrived too soon, before anyone had any idea how bland and numerous the neo-grunge also-rans would get--it took countless Collective Souls and Seven Mary Threes for tastemakers to realize, whether or not they'd admit it, that maybe STP weren't so bad after all. Five years earlier or later, Stone Temple Pilots would have been hailed as rock saviors. Instead, they received the brunt of critics trying to prove how cool they were by pretending someone else wasn't.

A lot of the blame was thrown on Weiland, too handsome and ripped to portray the outsider he claimed to be. He sounded like a bully and a rapist in "Sex Type Thing", one of the most chilling portrayals of sexual assault in rock music. His baritone warble echoed Eddie Vedder's and Kurt Cobain's. Elitists turned up their noses for the same reasons they dismissed Led Zeppelin in the 70s--a bunch of cock-rock yahoos, ripping off better artists, with grudgingly infectious hooks. But the records kept selling, the hits stayed on the radio, and most amazingly, STP followed Weiland's lead into weirdness, getting trickier and lovelier with every step. The lush tones and arrangements of Tiny Music reflected the dream-pop of Weiland's lifelong hero, David Bowie, and the underrated No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da branched out into artsy cabaret and lounge-rock, amidst some of the band's heaviest songs. Weiland's solo 12 Bar Blues would be on Pitchfork best-of lists if it had Wayne Coyne's name and face on the cover. But of course, what he did best was rock, and did he ever do that--"Vasoline," "Wicked Garden," "Big Bang Baby", "Lady Picture Show," "Sour Girl", "Creep", "Big Empty", "Unglued", both versions of "Plush" and of course the perfect "Interstate Love Song" will dominate the airwaves for as long as there's radio and streaming. They deserve to.

Weiland was no genius. His lyrics were average, and his stint in Velvet Revolver underscored the differences between great rock stars and transcendent ones. But in that humanity lies much of his appeal. STP didn't need a superhuman, they needed a guy, and as far as rock frontmen go, Scott Weiland was one of the best.

Last weekend, I sang "Interstate Love Song" at karaoke, to a bar full of Gen Xers. It didn't surprise me that the song connected--anyone born between 1975 and 1985 knows all the words, and loves it enough to overlook the vocal limitations of whomever's delivering. But I remembered, as anyone who sings STP karaoke does, how much room Scott Weiland carved out with a few octaves. His vocals soar and roar in the melodies, but never get too far out of anyone's range. Scott Weiland looked great and sang better, but his real talent was making everyone who sang along feel, for at least three and a half minutes, that we too, could be Stone Temple Pilots.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Rationale for Young Adult Literature


           “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” opines Joan Didion in the overquoted and often misinterpreted opening to her essay “The White Album.” But that adage has struck a chord with countless readers in part because it artfully expresses why stories matter—they help us understand ourselves and each other. Susan L. Groenke and Lisa Scherff describe this in Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction as “Reader Response Theory,” more specifically, "interaction, or transaction--a 'two-way process', between the reader and the text through which meaning occurs."
Richard Beach elaborates in "A Teacher's Introduction to Reader Response Themes" that Reader Response Theory encompasses a variety of theories. The text can be read as a Rorshach Test for readers, given to the “New Critics” thought that gives finality to the text itself, or even studied through its relationship with the reader, outside of social and cultural context. But with each instance, the text and the reader have a vibrant relationship, conducted through some combination of the educator, the reader and the text itself, which
Often I find myself defending humanities studies, literature in particular, as something of value in the classroom. Isn’t fiction a luxury? Isn’t literature some escapist way to ignore reality? Why waste our time reading something someone made up when there is so much to be addressed in the “real world?” Stigmatized even more so are books classified as “Young Adult” or “YA” literature. Why would anyone teach adolescents, on the path to adulthood, with books targeted at children? Adults who read YA often justify their passion as “a guilty pleasure,” lest we judge them for reading at an intellectually inferior level to those of us who read Infinite Jest with two bookmarks. There may be no more damning dismissal of an acclaimed work of literature than to brush it off as a “children’s book,” the term Flannery O’Connor famously used to shoot down To Kill a Mockingbird.[1] Surely great writers like O’Connor would not approve of teaching anything classified as “YA” in a high school classroom, would they?
            If not, it would be their students’ loss. Latching on to the idea that only dense and academic language can heed profundity is the stodgy view that has impeded the progress of great writing, whether the simplicity of Hemingway’s sentences, Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness or the acceptance of the graphic novel as literature. English teachers who turn their noses up at the entire YA genre may have forgotten that several of today’s canon books—Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby among them—were written off as lowbrow writing upon their first printings. When Groenke and Scherff argue that YA as a genre deserves thorough critical analysis, they are not offering a radical position but grasping the shifting state of the canon.
            Groenke and Scherff go on to note that teaching literature, realistic fiction in particular, is a therapeutic source for students. Works as varied as Walter Dean Myers’ Monster, which focuses on the murder trial of a black teenager in New York City to Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in which an alienated teen confronts sexual abuse instances from his childhood, provide teens with various means of therapy, via relating to the characters’ turmoil and therefore understanding and confronting corresponding turmoil in their own lives. Often the characters’ choices can empower students with a sense of optimism they could not have learned from their own reality. In "Reading, Writing and Thinking About Multicultural Literacy in Culturally Diverse Classrooms," found in Claire Booth Olson’s The Reading/Writing Connection: Strategies for Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom, the author articulates the importance that multicultural texts can have in empowering multicultural students. And if we are to empower these students into being not just multiculturalists but antiracists, modern YA may be best suited for the curriculum. Groenke and Scherff explain that teaching classic multicultural texts, such as Things Fall Apart and Invisible Man, can often inadvertently mislead the students into to believing that racism is a thing of the past, having been solved since those books’ publication. There can be no such mistake with texts like Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or the aforementioned Monster.
            Elsewhere, by “normalizing” a character’s situation, YA can assure teens that something they might consider abnormal is nothing to stigmatize. In David Levithan’s charming Boy Meets Boy, two characters enjoy the most conventional elements of a high school relationship—yearning, anxiety and deliriousness among them—with the separating factor being that the lovers are gay. Less sensitive writers would have made the characters’ gayness a defining factor in the plot, but by normalizing it Levithan gives gay readers a sense of acceptance they might be missing elsewhere.
            “When I teach David Levithan's debut novel Boy Meets Boy, students find it humorous and interesting (in that voyeuristic 'that's kinda weird' way),” writes Willam P. Banks in "Literacy, Sexuality, and the Value(s) of Queer Young Adult Literatures." “Yet they are also quick to say, 'But this book is too unrealistic! That would never happen!' In presenting a "modern fairytale,' Levithan disrupts mythical constructions that continue to pervade American culture, particularly myths about gender, sexuality, and religion, and creates a space in a critical pedagogy for reenvisioning the options before us."
Theodore Roosevelt, who was known to read a book a day and enjoy the YA-equivalent texts of his time (Grahame, Kipling, Stevenson, Twain and Pyle among them), “Now and then I am asked as to ‘what books a statesman should read,’ and my answer is, poetry and novels – including short stories under the head of novels. I don’t mean that he should read only novels and modern poetry. If he cannot also enjoy the Hebrew prophets and the Greek dramatists, he should be sorry. He ought to read interesting books on history and government, and books of science and philosophy; and really good books on these subjects are as enthralling as any fiction ever written.”
The comparison here—that books on government and science can live up to the thrills provided by novels and poetry—perhaps best sums up why YA should be taught in classrooms. When we read fiction, with the open-mindedness of a YA reader, we learn to understand ourselves and our surroundings, and therefore empower ourselves to mold those surroundings with vigor and optimism, sometimes to the effect of a being as consequential as Roosevelt himself.






BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007. Print.

Banks, William P. "Literacy, Sexuality, and the Value(s) of Queer Young Adult Literatures." English Journal (2009): 33-36.

Beach, Richard. “A Teacher's Introduction to Reader-Response Theories. NCTE Teacher's Introduction Series. “National Council of Teachers of English, 1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL 61801-1096 (Stock No. 50187-0015, $9.95 members; $12.95 non-members)., 1993.

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012. Print

Didion, Joan. The White Album. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979. Print.

Eby, Margaret. South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015. Print.

Groenke, Susan L., and Lisa Scherff. Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction. Urbana, IL: NCTE, National Council of Teachers of English, 2010. Print.

Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2003. Print.
Olson, Carol Booth. The Reading/Writing Connection: Strategies for Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom. Allyn & Bacon, 2007. Print.




[1] The full quote, "It's interesting that all the folks that are buying it don't know they are reading a children's book," uncovers more insecurity than superiority in O’Connor’s insult—note her choice of the word buying. Even in O’Connor’s case, the interpretation should never be left up to the writer.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Dilettante's Guide to Riot Grrrl

A Dilettante's Guide to Riot Grrrl

 
  1. Bikini Kill, "Rebel Girl"
  2. L7, "Pretend We're Dead"
  3. Sleater-Kinney, "Dig Me Out"
  4. Bratmobile, "Gimme Brains"
  5. Excuse 17, "Witchmaker"
  6. Huggy Bear, "Her Jazz"
  7. Bratmobile, "Cool Schmool"
  8. Bikini Kill, "Suck My Left One"
  9. The Frumpies, "I Just Wanna Puke on the Stereo"
  10.  Heavens to Betsy, "Terrorist"
  11. L7, "Shitlist"
  12. Sleater-Kinney, "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone"
  13. Bikini Kill, "Double Dare Ya"
  14. The Frumpies, "We Don't Wanna Go Home"
  15. Bikini Kill, "Feels Blind"
  16. Heavens to Betsy, "Complicated"
  17. Sleater-Kinney, "One More Hour"
  18. Local H, "Grrrlfriend"
For RA. Local H counts, right?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Amon Amarth, "Father of the Wolf"



Amon Amarth have an awesome Best of live album in them. Their records are always good, often great (especially 2006's With Oden on Our Side), but they're best experienced in the flesh, with filler-free setlists and best of all, the most smashing Viking metal flair you'll ever see. "Father of the Wolf", my pick for Father's Day 2015, is a great example of their power--a cinematic, riff-heavy death metal fest with a singable chorus. Raise your index and pinky before your hand turns into a paw.