Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Genius That is...Pete Townshend


 
You all know that The Beatles are my all-time favorite band and Blur are right up there, too. Well, The Who are also right behind The Beatles for a variety of reasons (which I'll get into in a detailed post in the future), but one of the main reasons is the fact that they were led by the man who I consider to be the equal to Lennon and McCartney as the 20th century's greatest rock songwriters, not just from England, but worldwide: Pete Townshend. For both musical scope, ambition, emotional impact (so many Who songs can make you want to punch something and then cry like a baby within the span of a minute...listen to: Bargain, for example), and one of his most underrated talents, fantastic lyrics.  He's also one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived and one of my main influences, both when I was learning to play and write, and to this day.

I'll expound on both The Who and Pete in detailed (UPDATE 8/18/14: I've done just that, see links to the left for these posts), separate posts, but for now here's a home demo he made in 1971 for a song he wrote for The Who's classic 1971 LP Who's Next (it was originally intended, along with loads of other songs that were released on the record, as well as many that were held back, for the initial Lifehouse concept that morphed into the final '71 LP we all know and love) that was never released. There supposedly exists a full-band finished studio version of the song that was intended for the album but was never released...to hear it has been a dream of mine for decades. But from the first time I heard this demo on a bootleg cassette I got in the mail in 1996/97, I fell in love with it. Pete's one of the few writers who has demos so good you can enjoyably listen to them on their own apart from the finished product. I hope you enjoy the magic of this as much as I do.

Here's the great lost track, "Mary."


Saturday, December 22, 2012

My new book is now available on Amazon!

My new book about Blur is available HERE on Amazon.com and will be available on Amazon's worldwide sites very shortly. It's also available as a Kindle version.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Beatles





My favorite band of all time. Ever.

There, we've gotten that out of the way. Ever since I started this blog, I've been planning on writing posts expounding on my favorite bands and musicians, one by one. I've done some posts dedicated to some of them, but I have yet to begin writing the in-depth posts on each. This is the first, and I might as well start with the *ONE* band that occupies the highest point on my ranking of all-time bands...even the other timeless bands are just *this much* below The Beatles. It has to be that way...it just does.

I'm not going to bore you, my readers, with the history of the band; it's been chronicled endlessly over the last 50 years and will continue to be until the end of time. In a nutshell, they all grew up knowing each other in Liverpool, England. They properly founded the band in 1960, released their first single in 1962, and produced as nearly flawless an output as is possible until 1970.  To this day, they remain vital, timeless, and hugely popular, both with those old enough to have been listening while it was happening, as well as those too young to have experienced the magic firsthand.  They were the first band to be a self-contained unit, writing all of their own songs and playing their own instruments. In John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they had not just two extremely gifted songwriters and lyricists, but two gifted COMPOSERS. The music they wrote was, is, and always will be timeless. When you hear a Beatles song being played by an orchestra, a string quartet, or a simple acoustic guitar, even without words, you immediately know what song it is and the sound is not just that of a rock and roll song, but of a piece of music that can be appreciated by anyone, of any age, anywhere.  Everyone, EVERYWHERE, knows who The Beatles are and knows many, many of their songs. Even if you're not a fan, you know The Beatles.

They also pioneered the use and expansion of the recording studio in ways no one had done before. Prior to The Beatles, the studio was used to capture as live a sound as was possible. If you could play it onstage, you could get the same sound on tape. They were the first band to use the studio to create new sound textures and effects, which in turn expanded the mood and feel of their music. Now, music too complex for 4 guys to simply walk onstage and play could be created in the studio. The fact that they did what they did with primitive (by current standards) equipment makes it all the more mind-boggling, especially now. For instance, Sgt. Pepper was recorded entirely to 4-track tape. Mull on that for a while and try to wrap your head around it...amazing, no?

I'll get into some specific examples of the magic of their music, but first I'd like to explain my personal connection to the band. I grew up constantly listening to music...my parents always had music playing, and my mum always tells the story about how my dad had taught me the different bands so that when we'd go into a record store, I could name all of the bands on the posters as a toddler. Listening to my parents vinyl and cassettes, and to the radio, I grew up loving all sorts of great music, including The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, and many other personal favorites (who will be the subjects of future posts). But the band I always zeroed in on were The Beatles. Then, in 1987 when their albums were first released on CD, my uncle (himself a huge Beatles fan) made tape copies of all of the albums and gave them to me and my brother.  Up until then, I'd only ever heard the songs that were played on the radio. Now, I could listen to EVERY song The Beatles had ever recorded and released, and man, was I blown away. Apart from a (small) handful of songs that were only just okay, they were ALL GREAT.  I am and always have been a sucker for a great hook and vocal harmonies, and The Beatles had these in spades. From the melodies to the harmonies, the musicianship to the lyrics, and everything else, I was absolutely smitten.  In 1990, I decided I wanted to start playing an instrument, mainly due to The Beatles. I started originally on bass but moved on to guitar, and taught myself to play by playing along to Beatles records, as well as records by loads of other bands. Ditto for my lifelong love of singing...I spent countless hours singing and re-singing Beatles songs...I'd sing the main part, then I'd replay the song and sing each individual harmony part one after another. I still do that to this day, and it's a major reason why I know every word to every Beatles song!  I even grew my hair into a Beatles haircut as a teenager, which wasn't easy since I was cursed with thick curly Greek hair, but I sported that for a while in high school and was damn proud of it.

I've been an Anglophile, especially musically, my entire life (and that's going to be the subject of another post in the future...sensing a trend here?) and The Beatles are amongst the British bands that encapsulate why I love British rock music. It (British rock music) is the perfect (and honestly, only) amalgam of American jazz and blues, country, rock, R&B, Music Hall, classical, and folk (both American and British) that is able to synthesize it all into a sound unlike any other.  Instead of trying to go on and on about it, which has been done to death in countless books, I'll just let the music speak for itself with some of my favorite songs (notice I said *some*; there are FAR too many for me to include them all).


The first song on their first album and still an ass-kicking rock song

 
I still get super excited when I hear this one start!

           
The one that started them off huge in the USA...this is still a GREAT song.



From their 4th album, showing a maturing songwriting and story-telling talent




                 
Just a great song

                      
Another favorite, this time introducing Indian instrumentation into rock music



                      
The first acid-rock song. Killer bass and drums in this one. And it was a B-side!

                       
Universally acknowledged as their best song ever. The height of psychedelia.

                       
Hard to pick between this and Strawberry Fields Forever (they were a double-A-side single in early 1967)



                 
One of my favorite songs of theirs




One of my favorite songs, by anyone EVER...this has gotten me through so many tough times. It was John Lennon's favorite song that Paul ever wrote...that means a lot.



                          
One of my all-time favorites of theirs. Gorgeous all around.

                                          
Another classic. This one rocks...play it loud!

                                      
The beginning of the "Big Medley" on Abbey Road, and a great song weaving different sections together.

                          
Another kick-ass rocker, from the Rooftop Concert. Again, PLAY LOUD!


I honestly could have picked another 50 songs, these are just a handful of classics and favorites.  I really don't know what else to add...these guys were not just a mere rock band, they blazed just about every trail: the first self-contained band to play all of their own instruments live and in the studio, the first to write all of their own material, to co-produce themselves (along with the only person who can truly be called "the fifth Beatle," legendary producer George Martin), the first to play big headlining tours in huge indoor and outdoor venues, and the first to be mass-marketed with all of the merchandising. They also pioneered so many recording techniques, both specific to their songs as well as techniques that have now become commonplace in studios (ADT, flanging, phasing, tape loops, sampling, varispeeding, etc). They led the way in fashion with their hair, clothes, styles, as well as with their classic album art and packaging (they were the first band to have albums with no band name on the front [Rubber Soul], no title or any writing [Abbey Road, The Beatles], full bleed covers [Abbey Road], inserts [Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles, Let it Be, Magical Mystery Tour], printed lyrics [Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles], etc) not to mention the loads of iconic photos and album covers [ie the half-shadow cover for With the Beatles]. The list could go on and on...

...just like their music always will!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pulp's Common People...Still A Scathing Commentary on Liberalism's Romanticism with The Poor and "Slumming It"

The song may be 17 years old now, and obviously the British place a larger emphasis on class than we do here in America (although it does exist here and is getting worse as the years go by...thank you, class-warfaring politicans from the left), but its lyrics are still as scathing and relevant in 2012 as they were in 1995.

For some reason, the left (and almost always the rich liberal left) has always had this patronising romantic vision of the poor and the working classes, and often engage in the high-brow pastime of "slumming it," often adopting the language, speech patterns, pastimes, and behaviors of the lower classes "for fun." They have this strange notion of the "noble savage" and project some sort of glamor onto being truly poor or financially struggling.  The problem is, while engaging in this "class tourism," the rich never have to worry about the consequences or realities of these facets of life...as the song says "if you called your dad, he could stop it all." It's the rest of us who actually have to worry about day-to-day life that know it isn't as glamorous or "cool" or "authentic" as they seem to think. (I'm not poor by any stretch, but I certainly have to work, and work hard, for a living just to get by).

The money line from this song:

"Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they're laughing at you
And the stupid things that you do
Because you think that poor is cool."

And think about it: who were/are the hippies, the beat poets, the anarchists, the occupy Wall Street dopes, the activists, etc? They're either the rich or the children of the rich...who else can afford not to work or go to school and spend their time "protesting" without worrying about where their next meal is going to come from? And again, think about it: which side of the political spectrum do 99% of them come from? That's right, the left. Have you ever heard of a conservative hippie? A conservative anarchist or occupy protestor? That's not to say they don't exist, I'm sure they do, but the vast majority come from the other side of the political spectrum. That's a well documented fact going back to at least the 1950s and 1960s, if not before.

I leave you with the video for Common People...because not only is it still relevant today, it's still a great song.


Pulp - Common People (from the 1995 classic album "Different Class")

She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge
She studied sculpture at St Martin's college
That's where I....
Caught her eye

She told me that her Dad was loaded
I said "In that case I'll have rum and coca-cola."
She said "Fine,".....
And then in thirty seconds time she said

"I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do
I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people like you."

Oh what else could I do?
I said "I'll see what I can do."

I took her to a supermarket
I don't know why, but I had to start it somewhere
So it started .... there
I said "Pretend you've got no money."
But she just laughed an said "Oh you're so funny."
I said "Yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here

Are you sure you want to live like common people
You want to see whatever common people see
You want to sleep with common people
You want to sleep with common people like me?"

But she didn't ... understand
She just smiled and held my hand

Rent a flat above a shop
Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool
Pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right
`cos when you're laid in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the wall
If you called your dad he could stop it all yeah

You'll never live like common people
You'll never do what ever common people do
You'll never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And then dance, and drink, and screw
Because there's nothing else to do

Sing along with the common people
Sing along and it might just get you through
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they're laughing at you
And the stupid things that you do
Because you think that poor is cool.

Like a dog lying in a corner
They will bite you and never warn you
Look out.

They'll tear your insides out

`cos everybody hates a tourist
Especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh
Yeah and the chip stain and grease will come out in the bath

You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go
You are amazed that they exist
And they burn so bright whilst you can only wonder why.

Rent a flat above a shop
Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool
Pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right
`cos when you're laid in bed at night
Watching .... roaches climb the wall
If you called your Dad he could stop it all, Yeah.

Never live like common people
Never do what common people do
Never fail like common people
Never watch your life .... slide out of view

And then dance, and drink, .... and screw
Because there's nothing else to do

I want to live with common people like you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jimi Hendrix



(This is the first in what I hope/plan to be a series of personal posts on my favorite musicians/bands. Since music is a HUGE part of my life (and probably the most important force in my life apart from my family) and has been since I was born, it's seems an obvious thing to do)

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the death of one of my all-time favorite musicians, Jimi Hendrix. We all know how esteemed he is by musicians (particularly guitarists, one of which I am), as well as music fans around the world. This post will be more of a personal treatise on Hendrix' life, music, and what it's meant to me, quite literally throughout my whole life.

A brief synopsis for those who are not too familiar with the man: Jimi was born on November 27, 1942 and grew up in an unhappy and broken home in Seattle, WA. He was introduced to music at a young age and became obsessed with the guitar. He wasn't a particularly good student, so after school he enlisted in the Army and was a paratrooper stationed mainly in the southern US. He was dishonorably discharged and spent year playing guitar in the "Chitlin Circuit" with bands fronted by legends like Little Richard and King Curtis, to name a few. After making his way to New York City in 1966 (and feeding his growing Bob Dylan obsession), he was discovered playing at Cafe Wha? by Animals bass player Chas Chandler, who became his manager and brought him to London (which would become Jimi's adopted homebase). They set about recruiting a backing band and settled on Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Noel Redding (bass guitar), both of whom would prove to be every bit as talented and not just a mere backing band. Dubbed The Jimi Hendrix Experience, the trio began playing gigs (including Jimi joining Cream onstage at one of their own early gigs to jam on Killing Floor and beginning a deep friendship with fellow guitar god Eric Clapton) and recording material, mainly Hendrix originals. Over the course of his too-brief career (1966-1970), Jimi and his band released 3 classic studio albums (1966's Are You Experienced?, 1967's Axis: Bold as Love, and his crowning achievement, 1968's double Electric Ladyland), a legendary live album (1970's Band of Gypsys), and countless classic singles (Foxey Lady, Hey Joe, Purple Haze, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), All Along the Watchtower, etc). He gigged all over the world to the point of exhaustion, jammed with anyone and everyone who was willing (bootlegs of these jams include Johnny Winter, Jim Morrison, Steve Winwood, Stephen Stills, and others), and was a restless and relentless creative spirit. The music poured out of him and by the time of his death in 1970, he had amassed multiple album's worth of newly finished, nearly finished, and demoed songs. All the while, he financed and oversaw the construction of Electric Lady Studios in NYC, which finished shortly before his death and continues to be the site of many classic album's recordings.

As for his death, he flew from NYC to London in late August 1970 in order to play at the Isle of Wight festival (documented both on CD and DVD) as well as complete  a short tour of Europe. The shows were quite uneven, and one in Denmark had to be cancelled two songs in because Hendrix had OD'd on something and couldn't hold his guitar plectrum and was slurring his sleep. Those around him generally noticed he seemed exhausted, depressed, and was quite brooding. The presence of numerous hangers-on crawling out of the woodwork to grab a piece of him did not help. He played his final gig in Germany on September 6 and cancelled the rest of the tour. After spending some time in and around London, he died in the squalid basement flat of one of his psycho groupie hangers-on, Monika Dannemann, on September 18, 1970. While the accepted cause of death was asphyxiation on his own vomit after being sick in his sleep after consuming too many sleeping pills, there is a lot of mystery shrouding the time of death and whether he was alive when he got to the hospital.  My feeling, after spending years reading all of the evidence and accounts by all of those who were there, was that his death itself was a tragic accident, but that he was (barely) alive when he got to the hospital and died there. Delays in calling the ambulance (for whatever reasons) caused his death when he probably could've been saved had the paramedics gotten there sooner. There's extensive literature and many worthwhile books on the subject, and that's for another (longer) discussion. Ask me in the comments if you want directions on where to look further.  In any event, his death was a tragic waste as, musically, he was still on top of his game if you go by the countless recordings he left behind (and which have been posthumously released).

As for my own personal experience (pun intended) with Jimi, he was one of the musicians I can remember hearing literally from birth (well, ok, as far back as I can remember, really) being played by my dad (an original fan from the 1960s) around the house on vinyl and on cassette in the car. Along with The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and others, these were the songs I loved to listen to as a kid either at home or riding in the car with my parents and listening to the radio. When I was 10 years old, I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar and started to teach myself mainly by playing along with all of the aforementioned records. Of course, I knew then and even now after playing for 22 years (and counting) that I can never be as good as Jimi. But it's fun to try...the bands I was in when I was younger used to cover some of his songs and we did a pretty good job (Voodoo Child, Hey Joe, Purple Haze, Foxey Lady, Red House).

(As an aside, I remember being shocked when, years after listening to Jimi with my dad, I saw a picture of him and saw he was black! Not that it matters in any way in the least, but my child mind just assumed he was white, since all I had were the sounds up to that point. It's the same way as a kid that I thought Johnny Winter was black until I saw a picture and realized not only was he white, but that he was albino...you can't get whiter! I just thought that'd be funny to share)

One thing that always bothers me is how Jimi seems to be relegated to being simply a guitar pyrotechnician and wildman who took a ton of drugs and died young. Yes, the stage antics were cool and he did incredible things with the guitar, both from a technique standpoint as well as helping to pioneer the sound of rock music with amps, effects pedals, and feedback. However, digging deeper shows so much more of Hendrix. As odd as it may sound, probably the most overlooked aspect of his output was his songwriting itself. Far more than just riff based heavy rock, a listen to his studio recordings shows a guy who wrote some really incredible and complex stuff, especially as he was able to spend more time in the studio. The leap from Are You Experienced? to Axis is a large one, but it's a quantum leap from there to Electric Ladyland and the post-1968 studio stuff he was making right up until his death. He began experimenting with incorporating horns and keyboards into his sound and was planning on adding Traffic's Steve Winwood (who played organ on Voodoo Chile from Electric Ladyland) to his band when he died. 

The man was a phenomenal guitarist, whether he was heavily distorted or not...some of his finest playing leans more toward jazz or R&B playing, he was a master of the blues, and the few cuts of him playing acoustic guitar are simply stunning. He was a great lyricist and a guy with a childlike imagination (and I mean this as a compliment, as I feel I'm the same way...someone who constantly wonders about things and also enjoys daydreaming, etc). From the obviously drug influenced lyrics (Purple Haze, Manic Depression) to humor (Wait Until Tomorrow, Astro Man), to autobiography (Highway Chile, Spanish Castle Magic), to musings on life and spirituality (Castles Made of Sand, Straight Ahead) to current 1960s events and turmoil (Machine Gun, Freedom, Earth Blues), from love (Angel, Little Wing) to wicked women (Dolly Dagger, Stepping Stone) to plain old psychedelic rock (Voodoo Child, Are You Experienced?, Purple Haze). Throw in some fantastic blues originals (Red House, Hear My Train a Comin') and countless other classics and you get a real picture of the man as a musician, not just a guitarist.

And as for his singing, it was something he was incredibly self-conscious about in his early years, but he grew to be a very powerful and good singer, and on the later studio material he's as good as anyone. Plus, it was the perfect voice for his music...could you imagine anyone else singing his music?

For me, Hendrix was from another planet, a guy who took what all of the legends I looked to in my own playing (Clapton, Page, Townshend, etc) and blasted off in a completely different direction. I loved his music then and I love it now. I wish Jimi had lived longer, both so he could've enjoyed his life more, died on his own terms when God decided he was ready to, and so he could have continued to give us some truly amazing music. He would've been 70 years old this year and I've no doubt he still would be doing something magical with his music and his guitar.

Debraced!

A couple of weeks ago, on September 7, I had my braces removed. I had them on since April 2010, and during that time I had a palate expander (accompanied by SARPE surgery in September 2010 to allow my palate to be expanded), multiple adjustments and wires and elastics and gaps closed, teeth turned, etc. The end result now is a smile that looks fantastic (and certainly better than it looked before!) and a closed, proper bite that is even and touches all the way across my teeth...my prior bite was open and misalilgned. My crossbite has been corrected, and overall I am thrilled and not the least bit a little stunned that so much can be done with modern orthodontics in such a relatively short period of time (and, apart from the surgery, not too much discomfort at all!).

I'm now wearing my retainers 24/7 (apart from taking them out to eat and to clean them) and it was initially a very weird feeling but one that I got used to pretty quickly. Honestly, it was easier in many ways to have braces instead...I didn't have to take them out before eating and put them in after (which can be kind of embarrassing/self-conscious when you're eating with co-workers or people who don't know you too well) and worry about losing them or breaking them. BUT, brushing and especially flossing is so much easier and quicker without the braces.

Oddly enough, I was (and still am) a little sad that my braces are gone. I had had them for so long that I was really used to them, and they made me feel a little bit unique as it's not too common to see adults with braces (although there are loads more now than there ever were before). Also, it was nice in a way to be able to express myself (however slightly) through the different colors of ligature elastics each time I had an adjustment (usually, I let my kids choose the colors!). That being said, I'm certainly glad they're off, but I don't regret any bit of it.

The ironic and funny part is that my oldest daughter, who is nearly 8, will be getting her combination retainers/expander in a few weeks...the day I had my braces removed, she got fitted and X-rayed for her retainers. She has inherited my narrow palate and has some tooth crowding. Better to get started when she's young...it'll be easier and save a lot of time and prevent a lot of issues down the road. Better to start at her age than when I did at 30!

By the way, for anyone in the New Hampshire seacoast area, I went to Dr. Richard Miller II (offices in Dover and Exeter) and I highly recommend them! Wonderful guy, wonderful, helpful, and friendly staff...so much so that my daughter is now a new patient there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bracing for Debracing!

I've had my braces on for 2 1/2 years now and I've had it all. I had jaw surgery to expand my palate, I had a palate expander to widen it, then HUGE gaps in my top teeth which were closed by braces and powerchains for months, and now heavy wires and elastics to adjust my bite and fix my crossbite.  Tomorrow, I had my most recent adjustment and my orthodontist told me that in 4 weeks I need to come back for my next adjustment and to get new molds made because in September...I'm getting my braces off and getting my retainers!

I'm really excited. Even though braces have been fine and were not nearly as bad as I thought they'd be when I first began this journey, it is a bit of a hassle not being able to eat certain foods (*cough*), flossing and brushing is a chore (and must been done 3 times a day, a habit I'm going to keep even after I'm debraced), I can't really bite into anything (also a byproduct of my surgery), and the soreness and aching after each adjustment and wearing the heavy elastics...well, it's not that bad and I'm used to it, but I can't say I'll miss it!  I will, however, miss braces a bit. I'm so used to them and the way they feel and the way I look with them that it's going to be weird when they first come off. Also, they make me unique in a way...not a lot of adults have them (although I see more and more ever since I got mine on than I ever did before).

Still, overall, to be done with them will be really nice...I can't wait for September!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Are Physical Music Formats Dead?

                                                             
 (Image courtesy of The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk)

I know this is a topic that's been done to death everywhere (including twice on my blog: HERE and HERE), but I want to touch on it again since it was a year ago that I wrote those posts. My feelings have definitely changed about the key question: Is the physical format for music dead? Does anyone buy CDs anymore?

As I wrote in those previous posts, I have a HUGE CD collection from trying to get my hands on as much of the music as I love. I started when I was 13 in the early 1990s and by the time my wife and I moved to our current house 4 years ago, I had probably close to 1100 CDs. For anyone my age (32) or older, I'm sure you remember the drill: I had racks and rack and RACKS of my CDs set up in my house and a 50-CD Changer stereo system with big speakers for listening to my tunes on demand. I also had a 5-CD changer in my car and a box to keep dozens of discs in at a time in said car for when I was driving around.  Even though I got my first iPod in 2006 and loaded it up with music, I only really used that for running, airplane trips, or hotel stays. Otherwise, it was CDs all the way!

But eventually, I got pissed off having to cart around tons of CDs everywhere. My wife and I grew irritated with how much space all the CDs and their racks took up in our house. I purchased an inexpensive pair of really great sounding, really SMALL speakers (with a dock) that I could simply plug my iPod into anywhere in the house. They took up hardly any space, and they sounded just as good, IF NOT BETTER, than my big clunky stereo system.  Also, my wife and I began to buy the occasional song or albums from iTunes instead of on CD. I found this to be especially nice if there was only a handful of songs I wanted from a certain artists, or if there was an album I liked, but not enough to purchase the physical format.

I should add here that, even though I really like a LOT of different bands and artists, there are only a handful of bands that are in what I call my "Top Tier," meaning I am such a huge fan that I'll buy anything they release and need to have the physical copy of the album for the artwork and liner notes as well as the music. The short list of these artists: Blur, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Kinks, The Smiths, Dream Theater, Rush, Neal Morse, Spock's Beard, The Rolling Stones, and Mansun. I may have left out a few, but it's not that many more, believe me.  So for instance, Blur is releasing a massive 22-disc box set later this summer, which I must have, as they're my favorite band and I'm a bit more than obsessive about them. But for loads of other bands, many of who are *just outside* of this top tier, I feel no such need.

CDs take up too much space in the house: honestly, the last 3-4 years they've all been boxed up in the basement. I have everything on my 160 GB iPod, which I listen to at home (with those tiny, LOUD speakers), in my car, at work with earphones, etc. And when Spotify came to the USA and I got the $9.99/month subscription; well, let's just say that between Spotify and my iPod, I don't miss CDs at all. I have access to 15,000 songs from my personal collection on my iPod (with still more room, another ~30 GB, of storage left on the thing!), as well as MILLIONS of songs on Spotify. Spotify is even better because I can listen to nearly everything I have on my iPod, as well as loads of OTHER music I either used to own on CD/cassette/vinyl, or music I really like but not enough to buy the CD. It's also been great for discovering and re-discovering loads of new and "old-new" music.  It's also been great for rediscovering all of the jazz, blues, and classical music I've loved for years. Instead of having to buy thousands of dollars of CDs and compilations, I can access them all and it's included in my $9.99/month.  (As I right this post, I'm listening to Steely Dan on Spotify, after using my iPod both ways on my commute earlier today and listening to it and Spotify at work. Just to offer some perspective).

I honestly don't miss CDs in the least. In fact, I'm at the point now where I'm going to go through my collection and sell off all of the non-Top-Tier (I'll keep the bands that are just on the bubble, too) CDs to free up space and cash. I have everything backed up, and honestly there's a lot of stuff I used to like that just doesn't do it for me any more so not owning the CD makes little difference to me at this point.

What's been interesting to see is that this trend is not just for adults my age and younger, or for teenagers. My kids know CDs but really, the majority of their lives have been with music either from my iPod, my wife's iPod, or Spotify...hell, my two oldest daughters have their own playlists on Spotify and they're both under 10! It's been surprising to see my parent's generation embracing this (mostly). My uncle and aunt use Apple Airplay to stream all of their music from the server my uncle set up all over their house, and I recently extolled the virtues of Spotify to my uncle, so I bet he's going to check that out soon, if he hasn't already. I showed my mum all about Spotify (she has an iPod, too) and she seemed really interested and said that's next on her list of things to figure out. My dad is a bit of a hold-out...like me, he's drowning in CDs. *BUT*, he has a large-capacity iPod like I do and uses that exclusively for transporting his music in his car, at work, and oftentimes at home. While I don't think he'll ever go for a streaming service like Spotify (when I showed him, he didn't seem interested), I never thought he'd go as far with the iPod as he has. And who knows, maybe once he sees my mum using Spotify, he'll change his tune (no pun intended!).

I'm sure most of you reading this have gone digital with your music to some extent, whether you own an iPod, buy your music via iTunes, use a streaming service like Spotify, Last.FM (I love the audioscrobbler), Mog, Rdio, Pandora, etc, or some other method. 

I'd love to hear your opinion...what is your thought on physical music formats? Do you still buy CDs, and if so, as much as you used to? Why or why not?

Rock on!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blur21: To the End? (Or, I'm in Blur Heaven but also a bit sad...)



The Blur21 Deluxe 22-disc set

The big announcement from Blur yesterday was the release of Blur21, which is a massive 22-disc career retrospective box set containing remastered expanded editions of all of the albums, three DVDs containing live footage (Showtime, Singles Night, etc), discs of rarities and demos, a 45 of Superman, and a book detailing the band's history.  A vinyl box set containing all 7 albums on vinyl will also be released, as well as individual versions of the remastered albums.


 The Vinyl Box


I've personally already pre-ordered the deluxe 22-disc box set...while I have a lot of the rare stuff, the demos alone make it worth it to me, as well as the fact that I'd buy anything they released :-).  They can be pre-ordered at Amazon.co.uk, although I've noticed the price has TRIPLED in just the 24 hours since I ordered it...it's a limited edition so my advice is, if you're interested, pre-order ASAP!

This raises an interesting question, though. Many fans believe this is just a nice release and that we can still expect a new album and tour from Blur, but to me this screams "wrapping up the career." Bands don't typically release career retrospective sets where they empty out (just about) everything from the vaults. In addition, Damon has stated in numerous interviews since the Brits award in February that the Hyde Park Olympics gig will be the last show ever, Under the Westway will be "a nice little coda" for the band, and that he can still make music with Graham but not "the other two."  It all adds up, in my mind, to a nice and graceful farewell for Blur after this August's shows.

And honestly, I'm not only happy with that, but I actually hope it is the case. With as good as the vibe and the momentum was in 2009, if they couldn't make new music then, I just don't see how they will now. The overall mood within the band seems to be rather down, at least judging from recent interviews with them (individually, of course), and after the excitement of the Brits award performance and the promise of big announcements in terms of shows and releases, we got nothing until last night. Of course, the news of the Blur21 release is very welcome, but offering no *NEW* music, instead packaging up all of the old stuff...well, I see this as a nice exclamation point at the end of the Blur story as the curtain gracefully and classily (is that a word?) draws to a close and we all move on.

What say you?

Friday, February 17, 2012

How Running Saved My Life

Before I begin this post, I promise you it's not necessarily a fitness related one. It has more to do with personal experience and growth, and it just happens to involve running, that's all!

By the end of 2010, I was not at a good place in life. I felt stuck in the job I had at the time, I was very hard to get along with, which was driving my wife and kids crazy, and I was very moody and impulsive in both my demeanor and my behavior. I was also really overweight, out of shape, and starting to feel the effects of it, which made me even more moody and broody (is that even a word?).

By January 2011, I had begun successfully tackling the issues related to my behavior. I'd begun therapy and was diagnosed with ADHD, which is something I'd suspected I'd had for many years but never done anything about. I started taking meds and paying attention to my behavior and the change was almost immediate and very positive!

But I probably hit rock bottom around my birthday in February of 2011 when I went to my doctor's office for a checkup. When they took my weight, I was 360 lbs, which was the heaviest I'd ever been. I had constant knee and back aches, and I had high blood pressure. My blood work showed I was almost in the range of the onset of diabetes, my cholesterol was high, and I'd been having chest pains. They took an EKG and everything looked ok, but it opened my eyes and really hit me square in the face. I'd just turned 31 and had a wife and 4 kids, and was in such bad physical shape that I was on the path to where I might not be around past 45 yrs old to see them.

I was determined then and there to do something about it.

The first thing I needed to do was tackle my eating habits, which were not very good. I tended to not necessarily eat too many bad foods, but way too much of everything, and constantly throughout the day. I found a free app called LoseIt online and for my iPhone and started using it. What you do is enter your height and current weight and it tells you how many calories you should eat for the day. The goal is to stay under your alloted number, and any exercise you do can be entered in so you can "earn" some calories back. You also track your weight with the program, and as you lose weight, your daily calorie allotment will decrease slightly accordingly. But the best part is that it's not really a diet. You eat whatever you want, but tracking and staying under your daily goal number makes you think about what you're eating, how much you're eating, and how much exercise you'll have to do to compensate. In the end, it helps you develop better eating HABITS, which is by far the most important and beneficial part of it all, and why it ultimately works.

I started doing this and, while I was developing better habits, I found it hard to stick to every day and I was still not really losing any weight. Then, something happened that set a chain of events in motion that changed everything...

My oldest daughter was in kindergarten at the time and her school had an annual 5K race that she wanted to run in. The deal was that a parent had to run with the kid. My wife was interested, but she had just given birth to our 4th child and she had not yet been medically cleared to resume exercising yet. However, God bless her, she signed *ME* up to run with our daughter. At this point I had about 3 weeks to get ready for it.

Now, in my younger, more in-shape days, I had been a good distance runner...I ran cross-country track in high school and used to regularly run 3-10 miles/run as a teenager. However, I hadn't done that in YEARS! Even so, I figured I needed to get started right away so I could run the race with my daughter and actually make it all the way to the finish line.

At first, I was miserable...I could barely run a mile, although I'd walk another mile afterward to get a bit more exercise. One thing that I did differently from other aborted attempts was I stuck with it! It was tough, but I forced myself to keep going out every day for runs, and what I noticed was that not only did it start to feel better, but I could (very) slowly but surely notice slight improvements in my performance.

I managed to run that race with my daughter and I did it without having to stop. I also noticed that in the 3 weeks leading up to it, I'd lost about 10 lbs just tracking calories and running. I thought to myself, "hey, that wasn't so bad...what if I keep it up?"

I spent the rest of the summer and fall running, eating better, and entering some 5Ks. Along the way, as my weight went down, my running performance got better and better and I got smaller and smaller. I felt better, I looked better, and that only motivated me more. By October, I was down to 255 lbs and even had to buy ALL new clothes because I'd shrunk so much that all of my clothes were now much too big on me!

I'd gone from a 44 waist to a 37, a 56 chest to a 46, and a 20 neck to a 17 1/2. I continued running and also added in some weight lifting to my routine, and while my weight has plateaued a bit (I've been stuck at 255-260 lbs since October), my waist has gotten a little smaller and I've added some muscle to my shoulders, arms, and chest from all of the weight lifting.

The main point, however, is that it really did save my life in just about every way. Physically, I weigh less. My blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc are at perfectly ideal levels. I have no more back or knee pain. My heart and lungs are as healthy as can be. I don't get headaches anymore (I'm convinced my daily headaches when I was fat were due to my high blood pressure). I sleep much better, don't snore anymore, and just overall feel so much better than I used to.

Mentally, running is the ideal way to release stress, tension, anxiety, or excitement at the end of a long and/or stressful day. I find that after running, the combination of the adrenaline/endorphin rush and the energy release improves my mood and just puts me in a good place, body and mind. This in turn, along with my meds, has improved my life and my interactions with my family, friends, at my job, and just about everything else.

Currently, I am running 5-6 miles/run, and my times are averaging 8:30-8:45/mile (down from 14:00+/mile when I started). This winter I've been more or less in maintenance mode due to the weather, but once the Spring finally arrives and the weather is consistently better, I'm going to run as much as I did last spring and summer. My goal is to get my distance up to 8 miles/run by the end of the year, get my time to 8:00/mile (which was my fastest time in high school), and reach my target weight of 230.

The amazing part of it all is that, in 1 year, I was able to totally turn my life around, and all it took was a pair of running shoes, loads of support, understanding, and love from my wife, and a bit of motivation and self-discipline. In all honesty, it was so much easier to do than I ever thought it'd be...my biggest regret is that I wasted my 20s being in such awful shape and waited until I was 31 to get in shape. Better late than never, as they say!

I urge anyone else who wants to get in shape to do the same thing! It really works! You don't necessarily have to run, just find something that works for you, stick with it even though it might seem so tempting to give up (especially at the beginning), and keep track of your calories. It WILL work, I promise!

Friday, January 27, 2012

I'm Still Here!

No updates for a while, for the few people who actually read my blog!  My new job is going really well but is kicking my arse...VERY busy!  I have a lot of things written in draft form for here...I'm just trying to find the time to finish them up and post them!  I'll keep at it, so check back...eventually there'll be new stuff here worth reading :-)