Over Christmas, I met up with my friend SongsSuck for a few drinks, and our discussion got into books. He asked me to list my top 10 favorite books of all time. As I tried coming up with my list, one book kept popping into my head: This Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. At first, I resisted listing this title, trying to focus on the classics, but again and again the book kept creeping into my brain. I knew why. This one book had such a profound affect on me and my love for indie music, that I dare to say that this book could change your life. It did mine.
You can’t help but be changed by the stories of bands like Sonic Youth, Minor Threat, The Replacements, and Black Flag and how they were able create music that was original and honest without any money backing their efforts. To this day I reference moments from the book, whether it be the tumultuous relationship between Lou Barlow and J. Mascis or the untimely death of D. Boon. This book shows you music at its rawest form and gives you insight into the trials and tribulations these kids dealt with as they took their four-track garage rock and made it into something legendary. Our Band Could Be Your Life is the indie rock bible; no question about it.
Yesterday, to mark the ten-year anniversary of the book, a show was put on at the Bowery Room consisting of current indie bands covering bands from the book, just another testament to the staying power of the book. While I enjoyed the clips from the show I saw of Ted Leo, tUnE-yArDs, and Titus Andronicus, it was St. Vincent covering Big Black that blew me away. I’ve never gotten any St. Vincent and never had any desire. What I’ve heard has never really peaked my interest, but after seeing their take on Big Black, I’m all in.
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:
The harmonizing voices on this song perfectly capture the heartbreak of the narrator. Despite being near his lover, he still feels miles apart. A few weeks ago I was playing this song in my classroom during journal time, and one of my students commented that it sounded like something from “Juno”. I agreed, although I don’t remember Moldy Peaches ever sounding this damn beautiful.
“Best God in Show”
Despite releasing a couple lackluster albums in the past few years, NOFX still have a gift for catching you off-guard. On the surface, “Best God in Show” is a happy-hippy jam, but when you get past the joyful ska riff and cheery organ, NOFX is once again questioning religion in a way that is both humorous and thought-provoking.
48. M. Ward
“Never Had Nobody Like You”
Once you get past the use of a double negative in the title, you will find M. Ward has written another hum-able gem that would fit perfectly alongside other classics on “Transfiguration of Vincent”. It’s just too bad he had to let Budweiser throw it into a comercial about guys hi-fiving…who okays these things and deems them as funny?
“DOA (Death to Auto-Tune)
Jay-Z is the godfather of the rap world. When the Hova says auto-tune is dead, you better take notice. Like a modern-day Biz Markie, Jay-Z howls “Na, na, na, na! Hey, hey, hey! Goodbye!” off-key throughout the song, along with the use of live instrumentation, ranging from a squealing saxophone to a sultry guitar line. While most of the rap world has become a caricature of their former selves, Jay-Z continues to sing his own song, even if it is out of tune.
46. Bon Iver
Wait just one second Jay-Z…like a musical zombie, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon breathed new life into the auto-tuner with this captivating new approach to the played-out device. Somehow the old timey lyrics of “I’m building a still” work perfectly through the 21st century lens, sounding like a robotic barbershop quartet. And somehow, Vernon is still able to convey the loneliness and solitude of being alone in the woods.
In a year where we got a glimpse of the stock market’s dirty under-belly and the corruption of American big business, it’s nice to see Slayer take a break from wreaking havoc on Christianity and focusing on the sick fucks who have preyed upon the middle class of this country for too long. There is something poetic about such an “evil” band taking on the true evil of this “land of deceit”.
44. Ty Segall
Ty Segall is often banging away at his guitar from start to finish, but on “Lovely One” he takes a break from his distortion pedal, starting off with a calming little guitar strum, eventually leading into the infectious chorus that would fit perfectly alongside The Animals and The Loving Spoonful on a classic oldies station.
43. Lightning Dust
This song seems pressing despite the lack of a real drum track. The pulsing undertone continues from start to finish while the piano and organ truly take shape as percussion instruments, driving the two-minute romp through its existential path. How can something sound aged and cutting edge at the same time?
42. Pissed Jeans
Historically, hardcore punk songs are about several defined topics: criticizing the government, criticizing the use of drugs/alcohol, or conveying how horrible it is to be a teenager. Pissed Jeans like to take a different stance. On past albums they’ve lamented the difficulties of being a stalker, the shame felt when cumming, and the perils of scrapbooking. On their 2009 release “King of Jeans” they even present the misery felt during the process of losing your hair:
I still can’t believe this is happening. I’m not fifty years old. I consider myself a young adult and want others to see me this way. If my looks deteriorate, it’ll wreak havoc on my self-esteem. Is that what I have to look forward to?
Although humorous (and hitting a little close to home for a bald fella like myself) the song also conveys the anguish and frustration that is associated with growing old and losing your youth, one hair at a time.
I know what you’re thinking: “How could he put this song so low on his list?!” Yes, I will admit that when I first heard this song during the spring, I played it endlessly. It’s catchy as hell and is even capable of getting a white boy like myself on his feet dancing (after a few beers mind you). Unfortunately, my love has turned to loathing due to the Cadillac ads played in heavy rotation during the commercial break of every football game. Despite this hatred, I still can’t deny what a great song it is, or was (don’t worry, Phoenix gets more cred on this list…)
40. The Love Language
You’ve heard this song before, but in actuality you haven’t. Weird? That is the power of The Love Language my friends. Quit trying to remember where you heard it and just sit back and enjoy the tune you’ve never heard before but swear you have.
“Something’s Squeezing My Skull”
When Morrissey expresses that he is “doing fine”, you know he’s lying. Despite being an older gentleman, he still seems to be dealing with his demons, some of which take pleasure in squeezing his skull. Drugs? The perils of relationships? Insanity? Who cares really. At least musically Morrissey sounds better than ever, with a Gang of Four, angular riff and the closing chant of “Don’t give me anymore!” that you just can’t get enough of.
38. The Thermals
“Now We Can See”
The fact that you are hooked on this song within 10 seconds says it all.
37. Sonic Youth
“Thunderclaps for Pyn”
When I lived in Omaha I liked to go to the Old Country Buffet on barbeque night. I’d skip over the salad bar, the fried foods section, and even noodle salad row in search of one thing: BBQ ribs. I’d fill my plate with ribs, and ribs only. When all that remained was a plate with meat-less bones I’d go back for seconds, engulfing a pig’s entire rib cage by the end of my visit. Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal” is much like a buffet line, featuring a wide range of Sonic sounds from over the years, ranging from the art noise of early days to the sparser atmospheres of recent albums. But, like a plate of short ribs, this past year I often found myself skipping over the other tunes in search of a nice earful of “Thunderclaps for Pyn”. Yummy!
36. Lightning Bolt
How do you make a Lightning Bolt song more chaotic? Add bongos. But there is so much more going on in this song; there is actually a chorus! YES FOLKS! A CHORUS! And if you listen close enough, it almost sounds like a 1960s surfer tune. I can see the beach blanket gogo dancers now…
“The Boys are Leaving Town”
Sure, this song has sentimental value for me, reminding me of my road trip this past summer where Paul and I listened to this at the beginning of our trip and later saw the band perform in Boise, Idaho. But this song made its way on this list for more reasons than the memories associated with it. Simply put, it kicks ass. Being the anti-thesis to Cheap Trick’s “Boys are Back in Town”, Japandroids have taken the classic teenage angst of leaving town and given it a jolt with rolling, jumpy drum fills and passionate, lo-fi vocals.
34. Andrew Bird
“Fitz and the Dizzyspells”
Every interview/review I read about Andrew Bird’s 2009 release “Noble Beast” focused heavily on the album’s use of whistling. This is for good reason. Every song on the album features whistling at some point, an aspect that becomes annoying pretty quickly. Only on “Fitz and Dizzyspells” does Andrew find a happy medium between his violin and pierced lips, creating a joyful romp that begs you to put a smile on your face.
33. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O singing about leather? I’m sold.
32. Animal Collective
In the past few years the tribal sounds of bands like MIA and El Guincho have become more and more popular. How soon we forget that Animal Collective brought this sound to the forefront years ago. On “Merriwether Post Pavillion” the boys finish the album off with “Brother Sport”, a tropical rumpus that works perfectly as a final track due to its celebratory tone. It also serves as a reminder that the Collective can still make you shake your ass off if they really want to.
31. Lou Barlow
“The One I Call”
I know, I know. I hate love songs too. And I’ll admit, Lou Barlow’s “One I Call” would probably work great on a John Cusack chick flick. But you can’t resist its earnest lyrics nor can you deny the comfort of the combination of Lou’s voice and his guitar. If I saw Lou on the street, I’d probably yell to him, “Great song Lou!” to which he’d glare at me in disgust (inside joke).
30. Blank Dogs
Guided By Voices meets The Cure circa 1980s? Oh, what a sweet combination, like peanut butter and jelly.
“Dear Coach’s Corner”
Propagandhi usually rage against racism, government, and of course the fact that “Meat is murder”. But never before have I heard them write about such unique subjects as they do on “Supporting Caste”. The best has to be “Dear Coach’s Corner”, a vial criticism of the Canadian hockey show “Coach’s Corner” (I guess with Bush out of office, their song material got cut in half). The ranting tune basically states an annoyance with announcers conveying their own agendas when in the end, it’s just a game. Shut the fuck up:
Dear Ron McLane, I wouldn’t bother with these questions
if I didn’t sense some spiritual connection.
We may not be the same, but it’s not like we’re from different planets.
We both love this game so much we can hardly fucking stand it.
There is something admirable in Propagandhi’s approach; no one is free from being criticized. Who wouldn’t like to hear a song ripping into Bill Walton, Bob Davie, or Joe Buck?
28. Jay Reatard
Everything in this song has its function. The “lade-da-da” that starts the song leads into a sweet little acoustic guitar lick, jumping straight into Jay’s yelling anthem, and finally kicking into the fist pumping chorus. And then, when you think you’ve figured it all out, the song finishes off with a killer closer that would put “Hey Jude” to shame. Jay Reatard is a master songwriter; it’s about time we all accept his God-liness.
27. Matt and Kim
“Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare”
Matt and Kim songs are so simple. A plinking piano over a pounding drum beat and Matt’s nasally whine. Yet, with only these few elements they are able to write irresistable pop hits. While “Daylight” may be considered their breakout hit in 2009, “Good Ol Fashion Nightmare” is just as charming and replay-able.
“My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille”
When I heard Beirut was releasing a double CD (one disc of them performing with a mexican mariachi band and another of Zach Condon singing over electronic music), I expected the first CD to be the better of the two but was disappointed by his Mexican offering. Instead, I fell in love with the second disc of five dance songs, devoid of trumpets and accordians. While two of the songs are about hookers, “My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille” is the obvious stand-out of the album.