Some have called him the “Drum Killer.” Others have named him the “Rhythm Nazi.” In the recording business he’s simply known as Michael Beinhorn, best known for his work on Soundgarden’s Superunknown. With a resume featuring over 20 albums by big names like Ozzy Osbourne, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Herbie Hancock, it goes without saying that the man knows his way around a recording studio. I have no qualms about his talents as a producer; it’s his track record of firing drummers that irks me.
When you think about Austin (the live music capital of the world) and festivals, one of the first events to come to mind is probably the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Starting 11 years ago, the first two day festival didn’t draw huge names but instead brought in acts that fit within the TV show’s tradition of Americana and Alt-Country. Ticket prices were low, and the focus was solely on the music. In 2004 I attended the festival and caught a more indie line-up of acts like Cat Power, Modest Mouse, and The Pixies. But it seems with the recent release of the festival’s 2013 line-up and its avarice plans to have two separate three day weekends that ACL has lost its way. Only a week prior to the line-up release I attended Psych Fest in Austin, and as I basked in the warmth of the psychedelic sounds from the stage, I had a realization – ACL is no longer the best festival in Austin: in my opinion, it ranks 5th.
I hate Paul Ryan’s iPod. No, not Paul Ryan, although I don’t necessarily agree with his stance on women’s rights and gay rights, his association with the Tea Party, or his allegiance to Ayn Rand’s belief in rational egoism. My hatred lies solely with Ryan’s iPod. In some kind of misguided political talking point, Ryan and the Republican Party have made it a point that we all know that Mr. P90X owns an iPod (and somehow, this means he’s the young/hip counter balance to straight man Mitt Romney).
Lou Barlow hates my guts. This I know is true. I’ve seen him perform three times (solo, with Dinosaur Jr., and with Sebadoh) and on each occasion his hatred was made apparently clear. My recent behavior at a Sebadoh show proves I haven’t learned my lesson.
It all began back in 2005 when PtheStudP, Johnny Goodyear, and myself saw Lou Barlow perform a solo performance during SXSW at The Parish. As I remember it, he put on a fabulous, intimate set, highlighted by a performance of the song “Mary”, a song questioning the true origins of Christ.
Afterwards we went off to catch more shows and drink more beer. By the end of the night our merry crew of mischief-makers were stumbling up the sidewalk of 8th street in search of our parking garage when we saw Lou Barlow, in the flesh, up ahead, walking towards us. He was close enough that none of us dared to notify each other in case he’d hear us, yet far enough away that we had the awkward, silent walk ahead of us. As we neared the face to face walk by with Lou, I scrambled to think of what to say.
By the time we stood feet away, I only lowered my head and avoided eye contact with the Almighty Lou. He passed by us, and not a word was spoken by any of us. Within my head I awoke, realizing something had to be said: a thank you, a “we’re big fans”, or even a question like “Will there ever be another Folk Implosion album?” With each step forward, our opportunity to speak to the great one moved further and further away. I quickly turned around to see Lou’s back walking away and blurted out, “GREAT SHOW LOOOOOOOOOOOOU!”
Lou stopped in his tracks and turned his head back toward us. Upon his face sat an annoyed scowl, followed by a disappointed shake of his head. I had angered the Gods. He turned away and not another word was spoken.
Once we’d retreated from the scene of embarrassment, Johnny and P railed into me for mocking Lou. I had no intentions of making fun of Mr. Barlow, but PtheStudP’s retelling captured the complete obnoxiousness that was my shout of, “Great show LOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!” To this day I haven’t lived this moment down.
So when the opportunity to see Sebadoh at Emo’s in Austin arose a few months ago, I was tentative. Did I dare tempt fate?
Of course I ignored my uncertainties (it is Sebadoh after all), and went to the show, vowing to myself that even if the opportunity came up to talk to Lou that I wouldn’t take it. My friend Doon and I arrived in Austin early in the afternoon, so we decided to visit 6th street for a few pre-show drinks. Not a good idea, especially when you start at four in the afternoon. After burgers at Casino El Camino, we hit a few more bars, eventually watching the NBA Dunk Contest which only caused me to drink at an even faster rate (a pseudo-dunk over a Kia won? Really?!).
By the time we arrived at Emo’s, I was three sheets to the wind. As we strolled through the entrance, the first thing I saw was Lou “mother fucking” Barlow running the merch booth, all by himself. There were no patrons, just Lou, leaning on the counter, smiling at the passer-bys.
As I neared him I felt his eyes moving up toward my face and I realized I had to retreat. What if he remembered me as the “Great show Loooooou!” guy?! I made my way into the crowd, found a hiding place up by the stage, and spied the merch booth from a far. Part of me wanted to correct my wrongs, to prove to Lou that I wasn’t a gigantic douche, yet I restrained my drunken self.
The girl standing next to me must have noticed me watching Lou because she interrupted my stakeout asking, “You ever seen Sebadoh before?” I awoke from my haze and answered her question, feeling like a creeper. But then she one-upped me. “Yeah, we’ve seen them play the last three nights starting in Norman, then Dallas, and finally here.” I love Sebadoh, but following the band for three straight shows? She was either a Lou Barlow groupie or stalker – or both. “You ever talked to him?” she asked.
“Um…no,” I replied, hiding the shame of my one Lou Barlow interaction.
“Yeah, we talked to him last night. He’s so chill. Real nice guy.” Crap. The one time I interacted with the guy he was neither cool nor relaxed. Was I that big of a dick that I could melt Lou Barlow’s “chill” personality into burning anger?
Eventually Lou and crew took the stage for sound check, and as I stood stage side, Lou bent down in front of me to adjust his pedals. “Don’t say anything, don’t say anything, don’t say anything,” echoed in my brain. Somehow my inner-monologue squelched my urge to speak. The girl next to me didn’t have the same restraint. “Are you playing all of ‘Bubble and Scrape’ tonight?” she asked.
Lou looked up through his horn-rimmed glasses and grinned, “Yep, we’re playing stuff from everything. ‘Harmacy’, ‘Bubble and Scrape’, ‘Bakesale’, you name it.” He was so nice! So congenial! How had we started off on such a bad foot? Yet I remained stuck to my position as a “viewer”, no interaction necessary.
As with most sound checks, I checked out for a bit, staring blankly at the drum kit as thoughts of shitty dunk contests danced in my head. Lou bent down in front of me once again to tweak his pedals some more. The headstock of his guitar sat right in the line of my vision, and I noticed something strange: a 12-string guitar with only four strings. Without even thinking, the alcohol took over my brain and I said without any filter, “That 12-string only has four strings.” I don’t know who I was talking to, or why I was talking – I was simply talking for talking sake. Lou looked up to me and smiled. Crap! He’d heard me!
“That’s right,” he replied in a tone that implied I was a four year old. I’d broken my code, and now I didn’t know whether Lou was mocking me or if he regularly spoke like Ms. Lippy to his fans. I had to add a follow-up question; I’d already broken my code of silence, might as well try to redeem myself from sounding like a complete tard. “Um, what song do you play that guitar on?” I asked. In hindsight, this was a horrible question, but for some reason, in that moment I figured he was like Sonic Youth and had a guitar for each song.
My friend realized I was talking to Lou and captured this momentous occasion with his camera phone (I'm the bald dude staring at Lou's guitar).
Once again, his nurturing voice responded, “I play it on a lot of songs.” He gave me another friendly look that could have been read as either mocking or grateful. To this day I’m not sure if it was a “Wow, that guy’s a drunken fool” smile or if it was a legitimate “He’s a fan and I care about that guy” smile. I didn’t have time to mull over his response because only seconds later the first chord rang out of the speakers and all my inebriated thoughts were on the music.
He could have answered “Beauty of the Ride” with him playing his mystical 12-string here:
The band went on to play for two hours. TWO HOURS! Usually when a show goes this long I get bored, but I actually had no idea it had gone this long. I figured it was a 45-minute set until Doon informed me later how long they’d played. It was literally one classic after another. Like putting your i-Pod on shuffle through your Sebadoh folder (translation: fucking well time spent).
Only later did I realize that I’d made a fool of myself in front of Lou once again. First time I was an ass, second time a fool. Third time’s a charm, right? I guess I’ll just have to wait for the Folk Implosion reunion tour to make things right.
A clip I took only moments after being talked to like a child by Lou:
As Christina Aguilera stood at mid-field last weekend preparing for her Super Bowl flub of the national anthem, the announcer echoed in the background “Grammy award winning artist Christina Aguilera!” I giggled to myself finding this supposed “honor” to be a joke. The Grammys are about as respectable as Brett Favre’s dick pics. But this did make me wonder if the Grammys have always been so misguided. With another year of lackluster Super Bowl commercials, I soon after found myself researching the award’s history in the Album of the Year category (the only category that really matters), and what I found is that the Grammys were NEVER good. There is a pattern of ineptitude that reaches back all the way to the Grammy’s beginnings.
In the 1960s Frank Sinatra won album of the year three times, Barbara Streisand won in 1964 with the cleverly titled “Barbara Streisand Record”, and Bob Newhart won in 1961 (yes, a comedy album won album of the year). I have no problem with old blue eyes, but think of all the classic albums of the 60s not represented here. No “Pet Sounds”; no “Are You Experienced?”; no “Highway 61 Revisited”. Dylan wouldn’t win the award until 1998 – inexcusable. The Beatles were possibly the only deserving winner of the 60s with “Sergent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1969, but even our cherished Beatles struggled to gain love from the Grammys with this being the only album of the year award they ever won.
This out-of-touch voting continued through the 70s with the awards beginning to insult the art form that is the album by awarding a live album (“The Concert for Bangla Desh”) and a soundtrack (“Saturday Night Fever”). I’m sorry, but neither of these should even be considered albums of the year. I’m sure the Bangla Desh deal was a good cause, and yes, “Saturday Night Fever” had some toe-tappers for the times, but album of the year? How much thought goes into basically making a disco mix-tape? Stevie Wonder won the award three times in the decade, which is all fine and dandy, but you won’t find any Neil Young (he’s never won any AOTY Grammys for his solo work), no David Bowie (ditto), no Black Sabbath (do I even need to say it?), and no Velvet Underground (…you guessed it).
In the 80s, they got their heads on straight for a couple of years, giving the award to John Lennon in ‘82 for “Double Fantasy”, to Michael Jackson in ’84 for “Thriller”, and in ’87 when they gave it to Paul Simon for “Graceland”. But these classics are over-shadowed by probably the worst decade of Grammy winning mishaps that included George Michael, Toto, Lionel Richie, and Christopher Cross (although Mr. Cross did have stiff competition in 1981 with Barbara Streisand and Frank Sinatra – Grammy zombies!).
In the 90s they figured things out, right? Wrong. This was the decade of awarding “Unplugged” albums, two of them in fact (and no, it wasn’t Nirvana or Alice in Chains). How can the album of the year be a recording of old dudes (Tony Bennett and Eric Clapton) performing their greatest hits acoustically?! You will not find one “grunge” album in the award’s history during the 90s, which makes sense, right? Who needs Nirvana when you’ve got “The Bodyguard” soundtrack? Plus, weren’t the 90s truly defined by Natalie Cole, Bonnie Rait, and Celine Dion?
The 90s also brought in another horrible pattern: the guest appearance album. In the past 20 years, artists like Quincy Jones, Santana, Ray Charles, and Herbie Hancock have each won for “albums” comprised from buffet-style track lists, a series of songs featuring a wide array of guest singers. Once again, I’m not saying these albums are necessarily horrible, and I understand this is a starting line-up for the rock-and-roll hall-of-fame (another confused music entity), but do they really fit the definition of what makes a great album? Does the voting committee even know what a good album is?
I’ll say it again: they are out-of-touch. And last year showed the award reach an all-time low with a ballot that consisted of Dave Matthews Band, Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift (where’s Barbara Streisand when you need her?). Swift won the award because, really, what’s more thought-provoking than an album based on the trials and tribulations of a teenage girl. This year is not much better with Lady Gaga making a second appearance alongside Katie Perry, Lady Antebellum, and Eminem.
But there is one beacon of hope on this year’s ballot: Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs”. Some may disagree with me that it’s the best album of 2010, but I doubt anyone in their right mind would argue that it’s not the best in this line-up of hacks. Many writers believe Eminem will win which is hard to imagine considering “Recovery” isn’t even the best rap album of the year (Kanye West, The Roots, Big Boi). But then again, it wouldn’t be surprising if he won based off the voters past penchant for awarding artists who are over ten years past their prime.
You may ask why I even care. The Grammys have always be pointless; why would I even want Arcade Fire to win? Part of me doesn’t (it’s become almost an insult; a scarlet letter). Then again, the thought of an album off of Merge Records getting a Grammy? That would represent something big, an indie label winning the top award, a sign to the major labels that there end is near. Artists no longer need radio or MTV to succeed; thanks to YouTube, iTunes, Pandora, internet radio, and a plethora of other technological advances, people finally have the ability to decide what’s good on their own.
But I’m not filled with pure hate here for the Grammys. In fact, I’d like to see the Grammys become respected like the Academy Awards. When the Oscar’s list of the best films comes out, many rush out to see all the films before the awards. Can you imagine the same happening in response to the Grammys? The Academy Awards ability to build this excitement for their nominees is due to the fact that they don’t nominate films based on popularity; they nominate them simply on content. What a concept.
Lady Gaga is a pop star—why are we taking time to bitching about her? Is it necessary to use the internet to spread negative rants about global pop stars? Isn’t it a bit spiteful? Some writers at BDWPS are actually Lady Gaga fans. And we haven’t bitched about say, Britney, or Christina. Isn’t her music better than the average pop star? (Yes, and I happen to actually like some of it). So why the hate? Because of all the talk of her ‘revolutionizing pop music’—that’s why. A quote from her interview with TIME Magazine: “I don’t want to sound presumptuous [any time someone feels the need to say something like that they already are], but I’ve made it my goal to revolutionize pop music. The last revolution was launched by Madonna 25 years ago… I want so much for it to go beyond the music for my fans.” That lame self-proclamation led to everyone repeating it until the hype became a common fact. But what does Flavor Flav say? Lady Gaga: revolutionizing pop music? FAR from it my friends. Let us take a look at the (wo)man who lives in the Haus of Gaga.
Our journey begins with a woman named Stefani Germanotta. Take a moment to browse through these three clips.
Hopefully one can stand watching enough of these three videos to see what Lady Gaga started out as—a Vanessa Carlton/Norah Jones hybrid. Maybe throw in a bit of Tori Amos, but that is probably giving her a bit too much credit. It should be obvious she didn’t start off revolutionizing anything, but then again, we don’t hold that against her, as neither did David Bowie.
But how did Stefani Germanotta transform into Lady Gaga and get so popular? Well somewhere along the way Gaga manipulated herself into what she felt would make her a star—or more accurately, what her management team felt would make a star. Mainly I would say, she/they added controversy and a ‘freaky’ public image. Is she a hermaphrodite? Bisexual? To answer these questions, and whether or not she is now revolutionizing pop music, let us reflect on her music videos, live shows, public image and music.
First off, I will say that a few of her videos are amazing (although the video for “Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)” is absolutely horrible). Very visually captivating… but obviously they took like thousands of dollars to make. I’d just as soon watch this one from Dinsosaur Jr., which probably took 5 bucks to make. Check it out:
More on music videos later. Music is what we are worried about here at BDWPS, not flashy music videos. So let’s talk about her live shows.
Most of the Lady Gaga fans I know swear by her live show. And, yeah I get it, lots of props and costumes and money put into it. But EVERYTHING IS SCRIPTED. During this song she will wear this, she will go over there and shake her ass for 35 seconds then take off her hat and do some scripted dance moves then put on a different pair of stupid assed glasses and grab her crotch in a neo Michael Jackson move and then a black guy will come from over there and hump her leg. Then she will take pants off revealing a Hello Kitty covering your vagina. Where is the REAL FUCKEN DANGER in any of that?! Rock and roll shows shouldn’t be scripted. Revolution is dangerous and is not scripted. Sorry Gaga.
Watch this video of her playing “Speechless” live:
Watching her play the piano for a five minute song is almost excruciating. Without all the flash, props, pomp her live show amounts to almost nothing. Putting your leg up on the piano and showing your crotch doesn’t make it any more watchable or the song any better. Okay, maybe a little, but it also turns me off, because it should be beginning to become clear to one, with Gaga very little of it is about the music.
Let us take a moment and go through Lady Gaga’s latest album, The Fame Monster, track by track.
1. “Bad Romance” – An awesome song – the first time Gaga’s music surpassed the hype
2. “Alejandro” – Mostly I get fucken tired of her singing the word “Alejandro” over and over again (we used to play a game, counting how many times Creed sang the phrase, “what if” on that one shitty song. But it would be completely impossible to play that on this song, as I doubt any human can count that high). If it weren’t for that, I could dig this song.
3. “Monster” – sounds like Kylie Minogue song + Britney Spears
4. “Speechless” – a bad Queen song sung by the guy from Nickelback.
5. “Dancing in the dark” – Madonna + Britney
6. “Telephone” – Christina Aguleria with an autotuner
7. “So Happy I Could Die” – like every Eurotrashpop star ever + Shakira
8. “Teeth” – if you told me this was Christina Aguilera I would believe you.
An above average pop album (although if you gave almost anyone as big of a songwriting team as Gaga has, they could probably come up with some above average stuff as well), but the biggest problem with calling Lady Gaga revolutionary is that, really, it has all been done before. Proof (all one needs is 30 seconds worth, VERY IMPORTANT TO WATCH THIS ONE):
Can one watch that and not see Lady’s shit was done 30 years ago? I guarantee she is a Missing Persons fan, cos that is too similar to be coincidence. David Bowie did the androgyny thing 40 years ago (even Ellen Degeneres told Gaga this in an interview) and did it way better—cos the music was fucking fantastic! Grace Jones was much fiercer/scarier 30 years ago, Betty Davis did the whole badass “I wear the pants in this sexual relationship” way better 40 years ago, Madonna blazed these public image/controversy trails in the 80s and the rest of Lady Gaga’s schtick is a mixture of Marilyn Manson, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, Freddie Mercury, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Roxy Music, Roisin Murphy (especially with the avant-garde outfits and while I am on it, Roisin’s 2005 album Ruby Blue is way ahead in the pop arena while at the same time being more avant-garde than Lady Gaga) and Bjork.
Her lyrics are 10th grade suburban white girl, her choice of collaborators (like Beyonce and Flo Rida), are definitely not avant-garde, and her controversial/nihilistic public image is only interesting cos mainstream pop music has become so damn conservative the last five years. And come on, do you think I care about the Nazi/nihilistic imagery and if she is acting like she is fucking some dude in the ass (“Alejandro” video), or beating up some prison bitches (“Telephone” video)? I couldn’t care less—it’s all about the music (and really, does this shock anyone but 67 year olds?). But this brings out more beef I have with Lady Gaga. She is always talking about how she wants to “liberate” her fans. Is this cruelty fetish in her videos helping to liberate teenage girls? Teaching them you need to get your ass kicked and be cruel to other? Whatever—I could give a fuck less if she has three dicks and two ovaries (or if her music videos portray it)—it is all about the music. Justin Bieber fucking a baby in the mouth in one of his videos would be controversial as well, but that wouldn’t make his music any better. Controversy does not equal revolution or add up to liberating music.
I listened to at least five of her interviews for this article, and not ONE time did she say anything remotely interesting (how can someone who is revolutionizing ANYTHING have nothing thought provoking to say?). She is not the brains behind this hype machine. Maybe Joanna Newsom said it best: “Her approach to image is really interesting, but you listen to the music, and you just hear glow sticks.” So she is definitely not ‘revolutionizing’ pop music. Gaga is simply what pop music is today, for better or worse.