Thursday, July 16, 2009

Compulsive Chronicles #7: Your Name in Lights

Compulsive Chronicles is an ongoing music column for SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine. Each month, I post supplementary material to the column’s topic on this page.

In this month’s column, I offered some guidelines to naming your band. Because I like to pretend I’m an authority on such matters.

5 Great Band Names (in no particular order):

1. Eagles of Death Metal
2. Reverend and The Makers
3. Blitzen Trapper
4. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
5. Gnarls Barkley

Honorable Mentions: Ezra Furman and The Harpoons, Foals, The Noisettes

And on the flipside...

5 Great Song Titles: Songs that made me say “I have to hear a song called that.”

1. For Those of Ya’ll That Wear Fanny Packs - Ben Folds Five
On their album of collected oddballs and live bits, Naked Baby Photos, Ben Folds Five describe this song as “just screwing around while waiting to do a show. Engineers tend to go out for coffee while we’re on these kicks and luckily they often leave the tape machines on.”

For those of ya’ll that wear fanny packs!
And ponytails!

Sometime in 2000, I picked up this album at a once-great shop in Billings, MT, called Ernie November. Though I’ve never been a giant Ben Folds Five fan, I was one of the many who owned Whatever and Ever Amen, and the completist in me couldn’t resist this one when it only cost six dollars.

The whole album is full of song titles that make one curious to hear what’s behind them — “Dick Holster,” “Jackson Cannery,” “Satan is My Master” — and “...Fanny Packs” is hilarious straight away. They spend the six minutes giving shout-outs to an imaginary crowd, playing over-the-top solos and saying “Goddamn” a lot.

I wanna borrow an Allan wrench!
I wanna borrow some duct tape!
I wanna borrow a mic cable!
Bass in your face!

It reminds me a lot of the ridiculous songs my friends and I made up in school. Whether we were musicians, friends of musicians or just massive music fans in general, we all had a serious silly streak when it came to little impromptu masterpieces. I only wish we had tape running more often.

2. Eyeball Tickler - Oasis
I spent $10 on the “Lyla” single, picked it over other singles available at 4000 Holes, mostly because I was dying to know what a song called “Eyeball Tickler” sounded like. Including the title track, there are only three songs on the disc. Not that I needed to provide any further evidence for my madness, but the cost felt entirely reasonable.

One of these days, the people who try to mock me for my unabashed love for this band are going to figure out that I’m too far gone to be embarrassed by it.

“Eyeball Tickler” is a big, loud number where Liam makes good use of the grit he’s cultivated in his voice over the years. Written by Gem, it feels like forty guitars in your face and has far more words than the sometimes chorus-heavy style of other Oasis songs. There’s a great scream near the end that, combined with everything else, would be quite the assault live. To my knowledge, they’ve never included this one in their set and that’s too bad.

And any song that begins with “Listen to the monkey” earns bonus points, but only because the word “monkey” makes me giggle.

I brought this single along when I saw the band play in Seattle last summer, on the off chance I might run into one of them. Not only is “Lyla” my daughter’s favorite song (I’m not kidding), but I wanted something that came from the current incarnation of the band. Well, save the drummer, though I probably wouldn’t recognize Chris Sharrock if I saw him out. Sorry, Chris. You’re great and all, but you’re not really the selling point, you know?

I had to settle for Neal Casal from The Cardinals for my random musician-meeting that trip, but it’s good to be prepared.

3. Hat Shaped Hat - Ani DiFranco
I like a long song at the end of an album. There’s something soothing about a good, lengthy album closer, like putting a coat of varnish over what I’ve just heard, sealing in the complete experience. The advent of selective mp3 downloading and the shift away from playing one album on its own has perhaps affected the practice. With all our music contained on one device, it’s often easier to hit ‘shuffle’ and see what we get. And what comes after that. And after that. There’s also something satisfying about moving through a sizeable chunk of our full playlists.

That’s not to say that no one listens to full albums anymore — and there are dinos like me who still happily buy CDs and vinyl — but musicians probably have less of an urge to create thirteen minute epic grooves. And the days of the secret track, hidden at the beginning or end of an album, are likely finished.

Ani’s got some great long ones though — if anyone might carry on the practice, it’d be her — and even just the title “Hat Shaped Hat” sounds like lots of fun.

In walked a man
in the shape of a man
holding a hat shaped hat
he held up two fingers and said, how many fingers?
And I said, peace man, that’s where it’s at

I listened to this album (Up Up Up Up Up Up) a lot on a trip across the country, shortly after it was released in 1999. With my headphones arranged on my ears in a way that would still be comfortable, the songs followed me into sleep, filling my head in those darkened hotels and relatives’ guest rooms.

‘Til the sun set sweetly
like it does in those paintings
the ones they hang in the hotel rooms
the ones they bolt to the wall
as though anyone would want to steal them at all

Up until that trip, I couldn’t connect to the songs in the same way I did with Little Plastic Castle. Something about the magic of late-night headphones and time to think let the music cement, and though I don’t put the album on as often, this song will always be one of my favorites.

4. It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry - Glasvegas
If Joe Strummer and the Edge had a baby, and if that baby was raised in Glasgow on a steady diet of Oasis and The Smiths, you might get something like Glasvegas. Never have such sad songs felt so good.

I’d been reading about Glasvegas in various UK music mags for several months, and they seemed like a band I’d enjoy. What I read almost inspired me to buy the album, songs unheard, but with less disposable income than I used to have, I waited. Then they popped up on Craig Ferguson’s late night show with “Geraldine,” and I knew that the sooner I could mainline their album, the better. Their songs are big, beautiful and heart-wrenching, and further endeared by referencing my favorite band:

Training ground notches, perfectly executed notches and near misses
It’s all about going out and getting pissed with eagle eyes and sincerity bottom on my list
What’s the story morning glory?
I feel so low and worthless

Singer and songwriter James Allan crams a lot of content into their melodies, and with his thick Glaswegian accent, having the liner notes helps to absorb it all. But even before I knew more than a handful of lines, it took not even thirty seconds into the album for me to say, “I am so glad I bought this.” Listen to the ache in his voice and the radiating, soaring guitars, and you can’t help but feel good. When I am filled with memory, fragments of my own fiction and the urge to sit down write more, I know the music is at work on such a greater level.

This is it, the end was always coming and now it’s here
So this is the grande finale
The crescendo of demise
This is the happy ending
Where the bad guy goes down and dies, this is the end
With me on my knees and wondering why?

I love it when music makes me want to be better at what I do.

The band name could be better. It reminds me too much of the stupid “Spovegas” nickname people use around here, (based on, what, the over-flashy sign at the airport? ) and it’s not too far removed from Death in Vegas. Also, I’m not a big fan of Las Vegas in general. It’s a good thing Q and MOJO had such good things to say about the band, otherwise I might have been too quick to dismiss them. New music so rarely impresses me on a grand scale anymore, and Glasvegas surprised me. I cannot wait to see what they do next.

5. Oh My God, Whatever, Etc. - Ryan Adams

And the light of the moon leads the way
towards the morning and the sun
The sun’s well on the way too soon to know
and oh my God, whatever, etc.

Through the night, I rode the train to Seattle, armed with a shuffled mix of Ryan and Oasis. Hours of music drifted between my ears and into a mind too excited for rest. When I opened my eyes from something not quite resembling sleep, we had stopped at one of the small towns along the way. The people took an unbearable amount of time to board, but on we went, through the trees and then into the city. We circled around the baseball and football stadiums, past the theater where I would be later that evening, before finally stopping at the station.

If I could I would fold myself away like a card table
a concertina or a murphy bed, I would
but I wasn’t made that way

To have a little over a day where I had no concerns, nothing planned other than being in the same room as my favorite musicians felt therapeutic. I had a chance to free up this mixed up head of mine and feel nothing but a level of good that defies vocabulary.

So you know instead
I’m open all night and the customers come to stay
and everybody tips but not enough to knock me over
and “I’m so tired” I just worked two shifts

Even with a title that sounds like a throwaway, even with lonely subject matter, this one sends a tremor straight from my chest and into my ribs. To hear it live, along with so many other songs, felt like a gift. I may get borderline evangelical about music, but to me, there is no greater way to feel of the world than to be in its presence, to stand with others who feel as you do and sing.

Honorable Mentions: The Disease of the Dancing Cats — Bush; Warm Leatherette — Chicks on Speed; Feral — Beth Orton

Fake Band Names From 1992/1993

Big Phantom
Black Thursday
Wedged in a Cubby
Argyle Experience