Steve Albini is the Greg Popovich of music (or vice versa). This comparison goes beyond the obvious fact that they are both curmudgeons whose impenitent honesty has been known to ruffle feathers over the years. While both have been hugely successful, they both enjoy downplaying their impact. Albini has been known to insult the bands involved with some of his best work as a producer. He said the only reason he worked with Nirvana on “In Utero” was for the money, and he once called his work on “Surfer Rosa” with The Pixies “a patchwork pinch loaf from a band who at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock”). Popovich isn’t one to mince words either, victimizing the people who have helped seal his place in basketball history: the media, the league, and his players (he’s quoted as once saying of his best player “Tim Duncan doesn’t have to say much. I haven’t liked him for a long time”).
But what truly ties these men together is not their venomous assault on anything and everything – it’s their ability to take the one-dimensional and make it multi-faceted. Popovich has been successful at this for years, making defensive players offensive threats (Bruce Bowen), picking players late in the draft that others have ignored and helping them become all-stars (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker), or culling players from the depths of the D-League/CBA and making them productive cogs within his basketball machine (Jaren Jackson, Gary Neal). Albini has worked much in the same manner, helping bands refine their sound and then blow it up with distortion. Despite both entering the second half of their life, they continue dominating their field. Popovich’s Spurs are currently 3rd in the Western Conference with an aging Tim Duncan and a sidelined Manu Ginobili, and Steve Albini’s fingerprints are deeply pressed into every nook and cranny on his latest work with Cloud Nothings.
A few weeks ago, due to a series of mistakes by both Delta Airlines and myself, I found myself sitting in first class, sipping on a complementary vodka Red Bull, listening to The Walkmen’s “Lisbon” and stretching my lanky legs to their limit without fear of kicking or bumping a nearby passenger. For the first time ever, I was enjoying a cross-country flight. As I motioned the waitress for my 4th complementary drink, I thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to sit in coach again.”
Of course, I will; for the rest of my life as a matter of fact due to my lack of funds. But just like other facets in my life, the finer things have tainted my opinion of the commonplace. Why eat a Pink Lady when you can have a Honey Crisp? Why drink a Bud Light when you can have a Dale’s Pale Ale? Why feast on a corn-fed flank steak when you can have a grain-fed t-bone? I refuse to sit in the upper deck at Spurs games after my unforgettable experiences in the lower deck, including the time I sat behind the team’s bench and witnessed David Robinson’s final game (oh, and did I mention they won their second championship that night?). Not only do I prefer the up close and personal experience over viewing the game from 100 feet away, but the people down below seem more passionate, and dare I say, more knowledgeable of the game.
I’m the same way when it comes to live musical performances, although it’s actually much cheaper to see a band up close in an intimate venue rather than the sterile arena setting. On average, people pay much more to sit in uncomfortable plastic seats located far, far away from performers than they’d ever have to dish out at a local venue.
I hold this same sentiment toward outdoor music festivals. Last weekend the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival took place, and like every other year, people who know me as a lover of live music always ask me if I’m going. Back in 2004 I attended the festival, and I haven’t been back since. The experience wasn’t all bad; I did get so see artists like Cat Power, Broken Social Scene, and The Pixies, but I just can’t find enjoyment in the disconnect felt between the artist and the audience. The bands perform miles away on a double barricaded, bouncer infested monstrosity of a stage. Frank Black and the rest of The Pixies actually resembled pixies from my vantage point.
I'm pretty sure Kim Deal sat out and let Tinkerbell play the set.
The mixture of people milling around ACL didn’t make the experience much better – a mish-mash of hippies, yuppies, and families with babies in tow (it’s never too early to introduce your child to pot smoke and loud music!). I have friends who find ACL to be a yearly highlight, but it’s just not my thing. I’d rather see bands up close in venues with character, surrounded by like-minded patrons who are there for the music and not just an excuse to break out their tie-dye shirt. If a Sam’s Club style bulk performance weekend is the reason you enjoy festivals like ACL, the South By Southwest Music Festival offers more bands (over 2000 in fact) and the majority of the performances take place in the cozy bars that line 6th Street.
You can go to this:
Or go to this:
In the smaller venue, the “arena detachment syndrome” disappears, and memories are made: Man Man giving the audiences instruments during the set, Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington nuzzling both me and my friend’s beards mid-set, The Very Best inviting the entire crowd onto the stage, Death From Above 1979’s Sebastian Grainger jumping off his drum set and bull rushing the crowd with microphone in hand. This is what live performance is all about. While arena shows have their pre-planned skits, laser lights, movie screens, and choreography, the primal unpredictability of rock and roll still breathes in the smoky bars across this country.
If Lady GaGa really wants to be unpredictable she can take a cue from Tim Harrington and accost her "lil monsters" on stage.
The last real “arena” show I attended was Pearl Jam way back in 2003 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (just a hint: if you are seeing a show at a venue that is named after a corporate entity, the show will invariably stink). Sleater Kinney opened for Pearl Jam, and they sounded great from row 83. And that’s about all I can say: they sounded good. I wasn’t overtaken by the music, nor did I feel a connection with the ladies giving it their all on the enormous, barren stage. There was such a wide fissure between the band and I that mid-way through the set I got up to grab some nachos and take a pee. It’s not like I was missing much – I could always listen to their CD when I got home.
Fast forward two years: my friend PtheStudP and I were standing five feet away from the ladies of Sleater Kinney, doused in sweat and battling with the sea of lesbians that pogo-ed around us. Sleater Kinney were tearing it up, sending the audience into a frenzy, all yearning in unison for more and more of Carrie Brownstein’s devisive guitar angst and Corin Tucker’s haunting howl that reverberated throughout the legendary SoKol Underground in Omaha, Nebraska.
After six songs, my friend informed me that he had to go to the restroom, an issue I had been dealing with myself. Unlike my easy submission to nachos at the Pearl Jam show, I wouldn’t give in this time. We would tough it out. Two songs later, on the verge of peeing my pants, a decision had to be made. And here in lies the difference between an arena show and a small venue: at the Pearl Jam show I urinated in a urinal as the show went on; at the SoKol Underground my friend and I both pissed into beer bottles that soon after found themselves on the cement floor. I can guarantee you’ll never see that level of commitment at an arena show.
With the finale of “LOST” approaching us this Sunday, I decided I’d take a moment to look at the role music has played in the show. Not the orchestration, as fantastic as it is, rather the use of popular music through the past six seasons. I understand that many of the song choices are due to their thematic connection, but I’m going to ignore those links altogether and judge the characters’ music choices on face value with one question in mind: who on the island has the best taste in music. I’ve had this question in my mind since I began viewing the show back in January. That’s right: six seasons in five months. I’m not proud of this fact, but I’m glad I went all in on this ground-breaking show.
10. Desmond Hume
The song that everyone associates with Desmond is of course Mama Cass Elliot’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” This is due to the fact that when we first met him he was blaring this song in The Hatch. Now, I understand that Desmond’s music choices were limited to only the stack of records kept in his little bunker, but to play this corn-ball garbage in the morning while doing dishes and sit-ups is a bit suspect. Even when not stuck in the hatch his taste blows. While lying in bed in another life (brotha!) he is listening to Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery”. What a romantic hack! Desmond doesn’t make this list because he has the tenth best taste in music, rather his taste is the worst.
9. John Locke
John always meant well. No one can deny this. He was a romantic at heart and was foolish enough to think things happen for a reason. Hence, his music choice while eating breakfast with Helen is George Jone’s “I’ll Share My World With You”, when we all know that he won’t (unless it’s an alternate future of course). George Jones fits the classic country mold, although he seems a bit forced at times. John redeems himself in another episode with a song that seems more fitting for the perpetual loser. While driving in his old rusty truck, John listens to Muddy Water’s “I Feel Like Going Home”. Not only do the blues perfectly portray the turmoil that Locke must endure, but throughout the show he truly is looking to go home. Unfortunately, not even the island is John’s home sweet home. Poor fella.
8. Kate Austin
Kate is a one trick pony when it comes to her music choices, or I should say music choice. Patsy Cline, Patsy Cline, Patsy Cline: that’s all Kate is ever listening to in any flashback or flash-forward, regardless of what alternate future or past is taking place. We get the connection writers, you don’t need to shove it into our earholes. Yes, Kate often goes “Walking After Midnight” like a scavenger, and “She’s Got You”, whether that you is in reference to Jack or Sawyer. I never understood Kate’s attraction to Sawyer and his snake-skin salesman ways, but then again, this is the same girl who tried stealing a New Kids On the Block lunch box. Fortunately for Kate, I’ll forgive her bad choices in life due to her good ones. Jack Shepherd is the man, and I have to admit that I’ve got a soft spot for old Patsy and her heart-wrenching tales. I just wish the girl would give Mrs. Cline a break once in a while (even If that means a quick listen to “Hangin’ Tough”).
7. James “Sawyer” Ford
Sawyer is known for his wise-cracks and pop-culture references, and this of course means a few music based comments like calling Frank “Kenny Rogers” or mentioning Jimmy Buffet’s “Coconut Telegraph”. But none of his comments seem to delve deep into the music world like his allusions to old TV shows and movies. We didn’t get much of a sense of Sawyer’s music taste until this final season when we find him hiding in one of the old Dharma cabins listening to Iggy and the Stooge’s “Search and Destroy”. What better song to listen to when you’re seeking revenge for the death of your girlfriend? But then of course, ol’ Sawyer lost huge points, at least in my book. When the smoke monster first flies by the house Sawyer is listening to “Search and Dstroy” inside. Old Smokey continues on his way, talks with Richard for 10 minutes, and then finally decides to return to visit Sawyer. When he returns, the same song is playing. This would mean that James “Sawyer” Ford listened to the song, got up, moved the needle on the LP back to the same song, and listened to it several more times. Don’t get me wrong, “Search and Destroy” is a great pop-punk song, but the album it’s featured on, “Raw Power”, is even more incredible. I’ll give Sawyer credit for listening to The Stooges, but no one should ever start “Raw Power” and not listen to it straight through. It’s sacrilege. (I do have to point out that “Search and Destroy” is actually about the Smoke Monster/John Locke, both quintessentially being the “forgotten boy”).
This clip is in Spanish, but you get the point:
6. Charlie Pace
You would think the rock star on the island would be the shoe-in for best music taste. Not so fast my friend. Charlie’s Brit-band Drive Shaft was simply a one-hit-wonder, and “You All Everybody” is the type of musical fare you would hear at the beginning of a Peter Engel Saturday morning TV show like “Saved by the Bell” or “California Dreams”. Anytime Charlie’s meal-ticket began playing, I’d cringe. I would like to blame the utter shitt-iness of the song on his brother Liam, but Charlie was the “talent” of the band, writing all the songs. So why is Charlie ranked sixth if his songwriting was so lacking? He gave glimpses into his music taste on occasion, whether it be singing a Kinks song to pass the time on the island or his “Strawberry Fields Forever” tattoo. Sure, no one can forgive Charlie/Merry for playing Oasis on a street corner, but here at BDWPS we can’t hate on a guy who is also seen at one point wearing a Bob Dylan “Highway 61 Revisited” t-shirt. Bob Dylan Loves Drive Shaft. You heard it here first.
5. Mr. Ecko
I think this is just a sympathy pick. Mr. Ecko was easily my favorite addition to the show, yet the writers had to kill him off before we really got to explore the psyche of this profound character. In one scene you can hear Ecko listening to Femi Kuti’s “Eko Lagos”, a great choice simply due to the song title. Who is Femi Kuti? The son of the great Feli Kuti! Who’s Feli Kuti? Watch your mouth! Basically, Femi Kuti is Nigeria’s version of Sean Lennon if Sean Lennon had talent. Over the years, Femi has explored afro-beat music, pushing his father’s legacy into new directions. The fact that Ecko is listening to this song at a bar may make his placement at number five a bit suspect, but I’d like to believe Mr. Ecko sauntered over to the jukebox to pick this song prior to the start of the scene. Call me a dreamer.
4. Pierre Chang–
You would think of a scientist as being uptight and not having interest in pop music, but Pierre Chang proves that even a scientist can make a little time for Willie Nelson. On a beautiful morning in Dharma-ville, Dr. Chang wakes up and decides that the best way to start the day for his wife and son is to listen to Willie Nelson’s “Shotgun Willie”. This moment is the only glimpse we really get into the minor character Chang’s personal life, but it’s enough for me to deem him a lover of music. At the moment, I can’t think of a better way to start a day than to listen to Willie Nelson.
3. Juliet Burke
We actually only hear Juliet listening to one song, and if I based my decision on this choice alone she would rank near Desmond. While prepping for her book club, she has Petula Clark’s “Downtown” playing loudly on the stereo. She’s listening to the same song when driving with Rachel up to the guardhouse. This song isn’t necessarily horrible, but it isn’t great either. Personally, I can’t hear “Downtown” without thinking of the “Seinfeld” episode where George Constanza tries to unlock the secret of the song. The secret to Juliet’s great taste in music lies in her CD collection. Before putting “Downtown” in the CD player, she fumbles with the Son Volt CD “Okemah and the Melody of Riot”. Not only does Juliet like classic 90s alterna-country, but she then picks up a CD case for the Talking Head’s “Speaking In Tongues”. Son Volt and Talking Heads? Now that’s my kind of girl! The fact that she chose Petula Clark over these two incredible albums is beyond the point. Could they have possibly been Goodwin’s CDs? I won’t entertain the question, God rest his soul.
2. Jack Shephard
Once stuck back in his normal life, Jack realizes he made a huge mistake by leaving the island. He goes through a major depression and is often seen listening to essential early 90s grunge like Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice” and The Pixies “Gouge Away”. I can’t imagine my doctor listening to these raw, vicarious grunge tunes, but Jack’s not your average doctor. He’s a perfectionist, and when things don’t go as expected, he lets things fall to pieces, one gouge at a time. I love the fact that the eventual hero of the show (I’m calling it now) is deep down, a broken, emotional wreck.
1. Hugo “Hurley” Reyes
Hugo is the obvious pick here, as much as I tried convincing myself that Jack was the true music fanatic of the island. There are several details that I can’t deny. First off, Hugo is the only person who actually listens to a portable music device while on the island. The fact that a lottery winner is listening to a Disc-Man says a lot about Hugo’s hipster leanings. Instead of going the digital route with an MP3 player, Hugo still clings to his physical media. Heck, his first stop after winning the lottery is the record store! And while there, he asks the clerk to go to a Hold Steady show with him. Hurley’s taste in music runs the gamut, ranging from James Brown to Damien Rice. But the best insight into Hurley’s knowledge of music lies in his references. For example, when talking to Mrs. Trahn, his servent, he calls her “Lady Tron”, an obscure music reference to the Roxy Music song of the same title. This comment alone demonstrates a true grasp of music history (and music snobbery at that). Hugo may not have any Femi Kuti or Pixies in his record collection, but his consistent display of musical insight is unchallenged by any other castaway of Oceanic Flight 815. His ability to talk to dead people may come in useful after all; “Jimi, are you out there?”
A classic Hugo moment; his Disc-Man’s batteries finally die: