10 Albums That Influenced Me

robgordon

Rob Gordon’s autobiographical record collection

A friend on Facebook posted a challenge to list in no particular order 10 influential albums. Now I want to dig a little bit deeper to make that list not so random. There have been albums that influenced me for a short period of time like Michael Jackson’s Thriller (who wasn’t influenced by that in 1983) or even Dokken’s Tooth and Nail (“Straight to the tahhhhppp…”). But they were gone from my life in a few years and never had a lasting impression. Other records have stuck with me for whatever reason.

I don’t think there needs to be a good reason why these albums stuck around. Most did so because of drumming. The records that influenced my playing are ones I listed to over and over again to learn how to do all that crazy shit and stayed there. But for others it was more about the aggression or serenity I thought needed in my life. Most I will pop in and give a play still today while others set me off on a path. In organizing this little list, I am thinking about Rob Gordon (John Cusack) who in the film High Fidelity organizes his immense vinyl collection not alphabetically, nor chronologically, but autobiographically. Brilliant. So here they are with the song that hooked me on each.

Metallica – Ride the Lightning

My musical taste started with metal. The pounding intro to “Fight Fire with Fire” followed by that killer double bass groove is the real origin of my musical legacy. This was trash metal and I got hooked. With the exception of “Fade to Black” which everyone seemed to love, but I thought was full of melodramatic ennui, this is still a kick-ass album. Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth finished out the early phase of my junior high life.

Bad Brains – Bad Brains

If I found my deep-seated need for an aggressive outlet in my youth in metal, the political core of who I am started in hardcore. DC Hardcore was always loaded with aggression and an intelligent fed-up attitude with bourgeois, Reaganized, yuppie culture from Minor Threat and Government Issue and many others who would stick around only for a few months. I was a quiet and pretty sheltered kid so music was my one means to escape a sort of rage I had inside of me. I had a fire and Bad Brains spoke to it. This album still does. I play it regularly as the greatest achievement in hardcore music by the greatest hardcore band.

Rush – Signals

That double bass groove by Lars made me curious about drumming. But that drum intro to “Digital Man” and the wicked 7/8 business of “Subdivisions” baptized my hands and feet forever. Yes, most drummers will look at Moving Pictures as that album that made them drummers. But I must have played “Digital Man” 1000 times just to learn what a drumkit was. I played it horribly to start with nothing but a pair of wooden spoons from the kitchen and some boxes I set up like a New York busker in the Jay St. station. But I got better with practice. Through the blisters, this album made a drummer and prog-rock fan out of me for life.

Primus – Frizzle Fry

It starts with that 5/4 intro to Rush’s “YYZ” on the bell of the ride. Then the groove morphs into something utterly awesome. Tim “Herb” Alexander became a new kind of drumming model for me and “Defy the Laws of Tradition” became my warm up groove for all occasions. It’s to tight, intricate, and feels so good to lay down it hurts. That changed my approach to drumming which would follow its way into Sailing the Seas of Cheese and…

Fishbone – The Reality of My Surroundings

This shit got me the real funk. Fish’s grooves kill so much on this album they stank. I got blisters playing through “So Many Millions” and “Fight the Youth.” Every song cracks with a political lightning bolt that spoke to the problems in L.A., police brutality, and the awful living conditions of black folks living in ghettos constructed with the hands of white racist policies and the movement of segregation from the enforceable laws of the state to the shady practices of property developers, real estate agents, and a fucked-up welfare system designed to keep people poor, violent, and ruled by drug lords. I saw my whiteness through this album for the first time.

Pearl Jam – 10

I became a college student and this marks when I got drunk, I mean really drunk, for the first time. “I’m Still Alive” was something I screamed before I passed out a few times. I put that on a wash/rinse/repeat cycle for a while. I can almost feel hungover when I listen to “Black” even today. Shiver. Through the trajectory of my drinking career took a sharp nosedive when I found Jesus in the form of speaking in tongues and all other manner of strange, mind-bending, pseudo-cultic activities, a few years later, I returned to my home that I found in liquid courage. But this album is like a hanging chad in my existence.

Radiohead – OK Computer

In grad school I finally left the awful prison of Christian contemporary music when I first hear the line, “In the last world war…” What is this?! If there is a perfect album to be heard in existence this is it. I was deep into questioning every damn thing about reality and the technological structures with which we have surrounded ourselves and mediate our senses of self and purpose. In comes this album that transformed and fed my internal dialogue and research mission at the time. “Pull me out of the aircrash…” Who doesn’t resonate with that feeling of being crushed like a bug by forces we cannot control. This is an album about feeling the anxiety of those forces and feeling virtually powerless to do any damn thing about it. It is precisely how I felt at a time when I was comparing my finite existence to the infinite reality of the cosmos. I felt small but burdened with purpose to figure out a means for liberation. Damn, I really was a graduate student of theology in Princeton, wasn’t I. When I heard Fear Factory’s Obsolete, I resonated on the same intellectual frequency, but there was enough anger there to solve the philosophical conundrum. Now OK Computer is just a great album.

Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile

I owed taxes and had no money. I was just rejected from the PhD. program I was “called” to. I was angry. Before that rejection I had decided that I could not be a pastor of a church, the vocation for which I was in an M.Div. program, and I was now totally confused. All that existential muck rose to the top and then this album came out. When Reznor wrote it, he was not in a happy place either. It captured both my existential misery of not knowing what to do with my life and the aggression I wanted to get out of my system. It was something I could scream to in the privacy of my own car. Through Reznor’s “void” I felt a strange comfort as he spoke about it in his lyrics. On a strange level I indeed was “Too fucked up to care anymore…” But I was still young and overthinking everything. I eventually got a scholarship and a fellowship to continue with my studies. But at the same time I felt the first kick in the gut that God was not real and that my entire education in theology was a waste of time and money. I continued with it for another year and another degree getting a job in education shortly after. But this feeling of missed opportunities, misread tea leaves, and a miseducation haunted me.

Helmet – Meantime

This was an album I had for a long time, but never appreciated it until the same year The Fragile was released. I was finding my roots in metal again. But it was Stanier’s tight grooves, high-pitched snare, and that signature stop/start pattern of Page Hamilton’s that reinvigorated my taste and returned me to my musical home for good. I find peace in the heaviness. I bought Betty in 1999 after I returned to Helmet on the old tape I had all but forgotten about. Helmet captures the best of the hardcore growl and rage with the clean and aggressive structures of metal. It’s a controlled kind of crazy. I think that’s how I saw myself emerging at this point in my life. Controlled, but inside there was something crazy. It was a little too prescient perhaps. But since I put this in again at the twilight of the 20th century, I have never really looked back and continue to find my home in the heavy.

Slowdive – Souvlaki

At some point you have kids and things are so chaotic on a normal flow, some semblance of peace is necessary. This was an album and a genre of “shoegaze” I never paid attention to until kids entered the picture. None of their stuff had been in print for a while and I had to illegally download crappy copies of it from Napster for a while. Then legal digital music happened and I got my first iPod. I bought everything of Slowdive’s starting with this album and I have been a total shoegazer for the past 11 years. While the instrumental “Missing You” kind of mesmerized me, the epic sounding swell of “When the Sun Hits” nailed me. Now I want to go back to 1992 at Reading just to be at one of their shows. That wall of sound is something wash over me in all forms of music – including the REIGHNBEAU album I am listening to right now.

We could steal time, just for one day

ziggy-stardust-2

One of the first vinyl albums I bought was Let’s Dance. I bought it because of the crying guitar of Stevie Ray Vaughn on the title track and the pop catchiness of “Modern Love.” I also knew that the character in Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” was loosely related to Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

I completely lost track of Bowie until 1997 when he produced a collaboration with Trent Reznor on “I’m Afraid of Americans” which was a sort of sequel to 1975’s “plastic soul” of “Young Americans;” a tune like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” that should not be confused with any sort of pro-American sentiment. Great artists have a way of making criticism fun. Bowie made us want to dance as Rome burned around us.

He went in an electronic direction with 1997’s Earthling. It was a transformation that made sense as the late 90’s found itself sharpened by an industrialized edge when it seemed everything alternative was purchased by major labels after Lollapalooza’s financial windfall. He was the first to buck the system by pre-releasing 1999’s Hours… for complete download over the Internet before the official release two weeks later. Radiohead would be the next major act to do this several years later with In Rainbows and change the way we buy music from that day forward.  Napster was changing everything in the music business at the same moment in history and Bowie knew it. He embraced the change rather than resist it like his younger contemporaries and in doing so found a way to make it more real by closing the gap between the artist and the consumer. He used a hyperreality of his own invention in order to drive people to something more tangible and grounded.

I started to listen to everything he created before 1983 after Howard Stern dedicated almost an entire show to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in a completely random series of segments. He just played the music. It was the live version of “Moonage Daydream” that locked me in to Bowie for the next several years. I was blown away. His voice and style formed its own nexus that bent musical genres with the same skill as Prince who did the same thing from another angle. But Bowie got there first.

From the dystopian Diamond Dogs to the spaced-out romance with humanity of Ziggy, I totally vibed with his presentation of mixed and ambiguous personae. When he made a conscious decision to put his stamp on inhabiting different characters and merging his love of theatre and performance art with the uncanny ability to craft a solid hook, music changed. But no one was ever able to do the same thing. Alice Cooper did it in his way as did perhaps the New York Dolls or even KISS. Prince came the closest, but there was only one Bowie and his music was his own genre cut from the cloth of everything he loved. He called himself a “synthesist” and was the greatest musical bricoleur to whom we have had the pleasure of listening.

What he taught me is that being strange was cool. Doing what you love is the most important thing. Becoming who you choose to be is perhaps the greatest privilege of humanity. Don’t let systems crush your spirit. The one thing that we all have at the center of what it means to be human is the moment when we are free to choose an end for ourselves. I suppose that his cancer is something of an ironic demise.

In his final album I think Bowie might tell us want he wants us to do in his absence. Don’t stop because he did. Tap into the creative spirit he found to express what words alone failed to do. And then go and do it. Make your art and change the world, because it’s a messed up place. Let’s not make it any messier.

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a star’s star, I’m a blackstar)

Long Weekend Blahs

Today I woke up with the blahs.

Ok, it might be more significant that having the “blahs.” It was more weighty. Some morning I wake up with a certain gravity that pulls me down. I am heavy metal and the bed is my electro-magnet.

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, there was not a cloud in the sky, and the air was fresh with potential. I finally had enough escape velocity to get in the shower and get ready to go. I walked the dog, ate a banana, and was off to the office on my bike. This was on 7 hours of sleep. I even got paid!

I have a three-day weekend, fun stuff with the boys planned, and there is nothing that seems wrong.

I did everything correctly to feel good. But I did not feel right with the world then, and I have not since. I am productive at work today, but even that may not help the shadow over my head.

Sometimes I just wake up that way and stay that way until the next morning. I just have to move through the day as if nothing is wrong.

Maybe I should have known I would wake up in a funk when this song was the most awesome thing I heard yesterday.

Naw… That’s not it at all. That song just rocks!

Social Orgasms with Miley Cyrus, Pink, and Billy Idol

Elvis

Elvis’ Mississippi Delta

So the once “pure” child twerked, imitated masturbation, and played strap-on with a large finger all while in a hideous, white, latex undergarment.

We’ve been shocked before. It was controversial for Jim Morrison to use the word “higher” on the Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis was rarely seen below the hips because his gyrations were too sexual. Madonna humped the stage in a wedding dress. Michael Jackson humped more air than an unfixed dog on an unsuspecting leg. Why are we all freaking out about Hannah Montana getting busy with a giant bear and Dr. Jason Seaver’s real-life boy?

Miley is mimicking Pink who is mimicking Billy Idol. That annoying sneer is still annoying no matter what face it is on.

As absurd as Miley looked, she was also doing a pretty good parody of everything that is bad with music at the VMA’s. However, she was trying so hard to be a badass that she simply looked like a really frustrated teenager taking 20 selfies a second to splatter on her social media profiles. But c’mon. Dancing around sensually isn’t new. It is as old as dance itself. So what if it is through Viacom’s lens of highly produced, throwaway, script-free media?

But what about Lady GaGa?! There is nothing novel or even interesting about her off-beat but highly rehearsed and produced shows. Sure it’s entertainment, but it’s also derivative. I venture a guess that most VMA fans haven’t been too up on Kate Bush. The eyes have it.

Lady Gaga

Kate Bush

And that’s the point. Absolutely none of this is new stuff. The same act of giving our parents the finger happens over and over again and for some reason we all are aghast when it does.

Miley got exactly what she thought she would: attention. Just like Bieber, just like Spears, just like Lil’ Kim, just like Nicki Minaj.

In the end publicity stunts are like sociological orgasms. Every has the shock of one on the system. And then as soon as the moment arises, it disappears. The good old West will go on the hunt for its next sexual target.

Get out your little black books for next year. The next booty that is waiting for a call.

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Source: http://www.otrstreet.com/
Source: http://hitfix.com/
Source: http://thatgrapejuice.net/
Source: http://last.fm/
Source: http://buzzworthy.mtv.com
Source: http://eil.com/

Music and the Harmony of Living

Music, to me, has a certain harmonic tuning with the universe.

Each moment in life is like tugging on some string in the fabric of reality. Sometimes we pluck the right string and experience harmony. At other times we sense awful discord that is more like a bad case of tinnitus than improvisation.

Each of us is drawn to certain sounds that ground us or steal us away to a far off place of comfort and serenity. Other sounds match desires for company over a dinner, pushing our mental and physical limits, or gathering for a party. Each of our experiences sends vibrations and signals that cue others to engage the tuning of life itself. If we are lucky we find someone who harmonizes with us in the most consistent ways. Even in moments of dissonance there is an engaging beauty.

Music is a symbol of my current place in life. When I am affected by a sound it tells me about my inner self. In High Fidelity John Cusack’s character Rob Gordon organizes his music not chronologically or alphabetically, but autobiographically.

All three of us writers, we all experience music autobiographically.
I think a lot of people do.
So I’ll have certain songs that mark certain times in our life and I think we’re not rare that way.
Like I’ll use music as fuel, you know?
Not like as inspiration but as fuel like if I need to get into a certain mindset I know there’s certain songs that I can turn on that’ll just… that’s the gas and that’ll get me right where I need to go.
Or if I need to get out of a certain state put on this song or that song and it just propels you.

Exactly.

I can like dissonance in the right setting. That tension is a kind of fuel to change my thinking or to wallow in it. Most of the time, I resonate with minor keys and often find it boring when a song resolves. Life does not work that way in my mind and experience, and neither does it work in the music I listen to.

I have a running soundtrack. Artists give me that soundtrack and don’t know it. Art gives me the visuals and sounds I cannot create by myself, or even at all. The sound of wind, cicadas, cars, a distant party, a dog panting, kids laughing – all of these mesh in and out of the harmony I feel. It is tangible. Sound embodies my soul. Somehow I feel incarnated and more real.

I play but one string in the orchestra of life moving in a slow vibration that is beauty itself.