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In a Perfect World: Damages Would Be the Patron Show of Lost TV Actors

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 7, 2010

I was pretty late coming around to it, but aside from Breaking Bad, I don’t think there’s another show on TV right now that I enjoy watching as much as Damages. The main reason I was so hesitant to give it a chance early on is that I figured it was just another stodgy lawyer show–like any number of interchangeable TNT primetime dramas, but with better actors and a couple Emmy nods. Turns out it’s basically more like a serialized film noir–one set in the law profession, but almost only tangentially so at times–and a surprisingly suspenseful, weirdly sinister one as well. Even Glenn Close, who I figured would be irritatingly overbearing in her big TV crossover, is shockingly understated in her performance; not the ham-handed Acting I would have guessed but just solid, thoughtful acting. A good way to test for me about how much I enjoy a show is whether or not I watch the Coming Up Next Week credits–I know I shouldn’t do it, that it’ll just ruin some of the upcoming surprises, but if I’m engrossed enough in a show, I’ll watch it anyway, just because I need more. And I always need more Damages.

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Posted in In a Perfect World, TV O.D. | 1 Comment »

In a Perfect World: September 9th Would Be National “Talk About the Beatles” Day

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 9, 2009


As most of you probably know already, today was a pretty big day for the Fab Four. The band’s entire back catologue has finally gotten the remastered treatment that the band’s cult has been eternally crying for, and the boys became the first musical artist to get their very own entry in the Rock Band catalogue. I’m having friends over to play the game tonight, and I’m certainly pretty excited for it and may or may not post something about it later if I find that I have anything new or interesting to say. But more than the game, and certainly more than the reissues (I might notice the difference, but I really might not–I suck at audiophilia), there’s something else that’s really gotten me pumped today–the fact that just about everyone in the world who seriously cares about music is, for one reason or another, talking about The Beatles.

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Posted in In a Perfect World, Tradition | 4 Comments »

In a Perfect World: Every Band Would Have a Bob Nastanovich

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 13, 2008

I’ve got a message for you


Want to save rock and roll? The music industry? The economy? He might not look like it, but Bob Nastanovich is the key. As the odd man out in 90s indie rock stalwarts Pavement (or, if you’d like, The Fifth Pavement), Nastanovich and his group provided an example that all rock bands in their wake should have followed, though few actually chose to do so. But if the millions of groups tooling around in their garages and recording studios right now took the time and expense to find themselves an extra member to fill in all the little gaps missing in their sound, personality and performance, all would certainly increase their sales close to exponentially, while giving much-needed employment and time occupation to millions of directionless and largely talentless slackers. Rock/music industry/economic crisis solved.

Think of a band as an NBA team. (Hey, I said I’d be writing about sports less, I didn’t say anything about sports analogies). Having a good starting five (or four, as the case may warrant) is the most important thing, sure, but you need some sort of relief coming off the bench, right? Someone to spell your starters a little, someone to keep their cool under times of enormous pressure, someone to do all the little things right and keep your team in the game until it’s time for the starters to swoop back in and do their thing. Not the most naturally gifted guy on your team, sure, and not the guy who’s going to get the big endorsements or the magazine covers, but maybe the most composed, and certainly one of the most essential. Going by those standards, Bob Nastanovich was basically the James Posey of 90s North American indie rock.

You know your favorite Pavement song? Yeah, that one, the catchy one with the enigmatic lyrics and the out-of-tune guitar and weird outro. Well, it wouldn’t be half as good without Bob Nastanovich. “Rattled By the Rush”? Who do you think it is doing the monotone title chant at the end? “Silence Kit”? That classic rock cowbell certainly isn’t pounding itself. “Summer Babe”? Do I really need to talk about the three-note hi-hat punctuation mark at the end of each measure? Basically, whenever you hear a Pavement song and can’t immediately mark it as being performed by Malkmus, Kannenberg, Ibold or West(/Young), chances are it’s Nastanovich all over. What’s he doing the rest of the time? Who knows? Who fucking cares? Songs are barely even songs without those little fill-in parts, and how many bands can claim to have one guy behind nearly all of ’em? I even read a SPIN back-cover article a while back talking about how Nastanovich was the most important member of the band, which is probably true and almost certainly false.

And as much of the Pavements of the world need their Nastanoviches, the Nastanoviches of the world badly need their Pavements. Some people aren’t songwriters, aren’t virtuosos, aren’t even really musicians by any true measure. They’re just the guys who can hear an already completed song and say to themselves “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…?” In other words, they’re absolutely nothing on their own. They can’t even claim to be a core enough member to start or organize a band themselves–they need previously existing bands to ask them to join up. Now, in exchange for not really contributing to the songwriting or processes or expending their full energy on stage, they should also probably have to fill in other miscellaneous roles in the band, as Nastanovich did–peacekeeper, coin-flipper, lighter-carrier, to name a few–and that’s fair enough. But imagine if that creative-minded-but-not-specifically-creative cousin of yours got offered a role in a band in which he performed no specific function but was nonetheless a critical member of the group. It’d have to make his life, right?

It’s the right thing to do. You could even sign ’em like free agents if your band had a problem with their original. Hell, you could make a temp agency for ’em if you got enough applicants, which you certainly would. And name me a band that wouldn’t be improved by some additional backing vocals, cowbell and lighter-security?

Posted in In a Perfect World | 4 Comments »

In a Perfect World: “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” Would Be the Definitive Journey Power Ballad

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 28, 2008

Tearin’ me apart, every day

I saw Journey on a State Fair bill with Cheap Trick and Heart this past weekend. I had shit seats and Journey was on their third post-Perry vocalist (Arnel Pineda, who both sounds and looks almost exactly like him, except slightly more Mexican), but within seconds of launching into “Only the Young,” this mattered little. I still can’t figure out whether pop culture’s recent re-appropriation of Journey (and more specifically, flagship anthem “Don’t Stop Believin'”) is a good or bad thing for the band; surely they deserve it, but ironists should never be trusted in the canonization process for such matters, and the divide between those who still show up to Journey concerts wearing their shirts and those who continue to use DSB as their last-call karaoke standard is too great for Journey to simply be treated as a Great Band. Point is, Journey are a hell of a band, and even their new songs at the gig were practically indistinguishable from their barrage of classics, minus the fact that signficantly fewer people were singing along.

But there was still much fault to be found with the gig–namely, the omissions. It’s understandable that Journey would a) pimp as much of their new album as they felt they could without their audience inciting to riot and b) mostly stick to the crowd-pleaser power ballads and scorching rockers for the majority of their set, and they didn’t have as much time to work with as they probably needed for a three/four-decade catalogue. Still, it disturbed me a little how much they stayed away from any of their mid-tempo, ambiguously anthemic classics–not just unjustly forgotten second tier hits like “Walks Like a Lady” or “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” but legitimate chart-busters like “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Who’s Crying Now?” Those weird middle ground songs are a huge part of the reason I love Journey as much as I do, providing substantial evidence against them being the sole intellectual property of either arena rock meatheads or cheese-fixated retro fetishists. Still, their absence was understandable, even excusable.
Less, so, however, was the lack of the song I had waited for all night. I was sure they would play it at the end of their encore (after returning with a resounding “Any Way You Want It,” and when they even referenced its title, I geared for the high point of the evening. And then they just walked away.

Journey did not play “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”.

I was afraid I was going to be the only one devestated by this, but a quick check with a couple of the friends I saw the show with and the ladies on line for the port-a-potties afterwards confirmed that they were similarly busted up by it. “Send Her My Love” doesn’t really bring home the bacon in live settings, fine. But “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”?!?? That song begs for the live treatment. Amidst a catalogue of songs written practically with the express purpose of making them as stadium-chant-ready as possible,
“Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” reigns supreme as the song you’d most want to be singing along with the band and 50,000 of their closest friends to. And without it, the entire concert was practically ruined for me.

I wrote recently about another Southern Soul song written by quintessential white dudes. That’s all well and good, but compared to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’, Squeeze is about as soulful as Laurie Anderson. LTS is Steve Perry’s vocal masterwork, a song built on the escalating drama of his voice, constantly getting higher, more agressive and more passionate before exploding into the song’s finale, which, despite my recent re-appreciation of “Hey Jude,” gets my vote for the best multi-minute “na-na-na-na” outro in classic rock. I always pictured it as being in a Sam Cooke sort of mold–maybe slightly more bitter, but the title and concept (a tale of blissful schadenfraude about the satisfaction of watching your cheating ex-lover get stepped out on herself) are both very sort of classic soul, and I’m sure Sam would’ve had a blast with reaching for those high notes.

Really, to call it my favorite Journey song is almost a discredit to the band, since it stands out so awkwardly from the rest of their power ballad repertoire. Usually, the JPB falls into one of two categories: The street-level, heavily romantic fist-pumper (“Wheel in the Sky,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Stone in Love”) and the unguarded, tender weepfest (“When You Love a Woman,” “Open Amrs,” “Faithfully”), but the only one of these that has much in common with LTS is “Lights,” which I thought was a Bob Seger song for a number of years due to its soulfully deliberate pacing and nostalgic sentimentality (despite the geography being all wrong). Journey are still rockers in the classic sense at their core, and that’s probably for the best.

Take the moment, though, which marks my favorite part of the song. Perry has finished detailing how his ex will invariably see karma come back to her in the form of her new man’s abandonment, and now it’s time for him to rub it in a little. He lays down the final taunt–“Now it’s your turn girl to cry!“–and drummer Steve Smith quickly pounds the drums as the song briefly goes silent, right before Perry’s “na-na-na-na”s kick in and the song goes into overdrive. It’s just a moment, probably meant to mark the halfway point in the anthem (akin to Paul’s “better-better-BETTER-BETTER-WAHHHHH!!!!” moment in “Hey Jude”), but the punctuation it puts on the song’s first half (which somehow turned from gooey self-pity to vengeful boasting while you weren’t really listening) and the excitement it builds for an extremely satisfying musical coda is absolutley perfect. They might not have had much practice with this kind of power ballad, but it looks like they nailed it on the first trial run.

It probably won’t ever replace DSB as the go-to Journey song, and that’s probably not without reason–DSB is an inarguably great song to begin with (one of these days I’ll actually write why I think that is), and it has a certain cultural cachet (and a more visceral emotional reaction) that LTS probably never will. Still, I’d like to hope that they never shut it out from live gigs again–Journey might have fucked themselves by writing too many great power ballads, sure, but this was probably the best of the bunch, and setlists need be adjusted accordingly.

Posted in In a Perfect World | 2 Comments »

In a Perfect World: “Waffle House” Would Be Legit Musical Sub-Genre

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 18, 2008

Jukebox heroes, grits in their eyes

I’m not sure if I’m weirded out that the phenomenon of the Waffle House Jukebox exists, or if I’m shocked that it’s not more common a practice. It’s certainly not something I’m used to–sure, I’ve been in plenty of other restaurants that have their own jukebox (it’s one of the things that I miss most about the lack of retro diners in my regular restaurant rotation), but I don’t recall any of them having an entire column or two of songs with subject matter devoted entirely to their establishment. The songs, with titles like “Waffle Do Wop,” “Last Night I Saw Elvis at the Waffle House,” and “844,739 Ways to Eat a Hamburger” (some clips of which can be heard here) sound much like the other rock, country and pop selections to be found on the rest of the jukebox’s selections, but just happen to be generally breakfast (and specifically Waffle House) related. And at the price of six for a dollar, you can certainly afford to pepper a couple of these songs in with your regular musical selections.

How these songs happened to come into existence has never been properly explained (to me, anyway), but apparently many of the performers are part of or relations to the Waffle House family–Mary Welch Rogers, for instance, who appears most often in the WH section of the jukebox, was the wife of Joe Rogers, founder of the esteemed chain. But indeed, the culture of the connection between popular music and Waffle House would be a rich one even besides the jukebox, thanks to numerous references in hip-hop songs (including The Fixers and DJ Quik’s super-underrated “Can U Werk Widdat”) and two different rock albums entitled Scattered, Smothered & Covered (a popular slang-y way to order hash browns, as Unsane and Hootie & the Blowfish are no doubt both fond of), among others. Clearly, music and Waffle House are drawn together in a way more inextricable than say, IHOP or Denny’s (though if there’s no rapper that’s ever turned “Moons Over My Hammy” into some sort of sexual reference, that’d be truly shameful).

So my question is this: Why don’t more artists take advantage of this phenomenon? I mean, I don’t know what the demographics are, but I’d imagine a healthy percentage of diners on the low side of the Mason-Dixon (and even some above) eat at a Waffle House at least once every six months or so, and you gotta figure that even if all of them won’t make jukebox selections themselves, most will be in the establishment when others choose songs. If say, The Shins decided to record an EP’s worth of Waffle House-related material, they could either make some sort of deal to sell them to Waffle Houses across the country (who would no doubt be grateful for the new material), or they could release the EP commercially, recoup modest sales numbers for their efforts, and then license the songs to the Waffle House chain for free, where they will receive free publicity from now until virtually the end of time. Where’s the downside, exactly?

But hey, lets not even stop there. If the Waffle House is really an inspiration to musical creativity, why shouldn’t everyone, regardless of genre, get in on the action? Instead of doing a covers album, like everyone else in their genre is doing, why doesn’t Cinderella or Winger come back with an all-Waffle House LP? Now that Kanye has Graduated, can he spend an hour Killing Time at the Waffle House? When will we get to hear the sonorous tones of Brian Eno’s Ambient No. 5: Music for Waffle House? And let’s not even get started on how lax recent country stars have been lately in their lack of Waffle House acknowledgement–c’mon, people, show some pride in your culinary heritage!

Of course, I can’t say that this really has too much of an effect on me one way or the other–living in New York, I only pass Waffle Houses on road trips, and doubt I’ll ever go more than two or three times in a year. But next time I’m there, I want to see a little variety in the jukebox’s WH-related selections. Ludacris. Taylor Swift. Come on, The Flaming Lips!!! Let’s set a precedent here.

Posted in In a Perfect World | 3 Comments »

In a Perfect World: Van Hagar Would’ve Operated Under Its Own Name

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 27, 2008

Only time will tell if we stand the test of time

One of the many classic scenes in the super-underrated 1994 radio station hostage comedy Airheads involves The Lone Rangers (Adam Sandler, Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi) fending off attempts by the cops to infiltrate their stronghold with an undercover posing as a record exec. To test his music mettle, they ask him a series of loaded rock opinion questions, one of which is “Whose side do you take in the David Lee Roth / Van Halen split?” The exec, of course, answers “Van Halen,” at which point the trio instantly deduces that he’s bacon incarnate. “Hey, they sold a lot of records after Dave left!” he (approximately) defends.

This, in summation, is the consensus opinion about Van Halen, Mk. II–appreciated by clueless listeners who wouldn’t know real rock if they got stuck inside a Marshall amp, dispised by everyone else. Consensus opinion is even understating the case, since I’ve never met ANYONE brave enough to defend Van Hagar, at least not to the point where they say they were a phase of VH’s discography worthy of being equated with the Roth-era albums. That’s not to say that these people don’t exist–considering that VH were nearly as popular with LV #2, someone must’ve been buying all these records–but unless you’re tailgating classic rock concerts with 45-year-olds or drinking with tequila afficianados, I don’t imagine you’re likely to find too many of ’em these days.

And there is an exceedingly simple explanation for this–Van Halen were a much, much better band with David Lee Roth. They played with far more energy and far more instrumental bravado, which in this semi-rare case is an unequivocal positive, and were led by a frontman with far more charisma, originality, and physical agility. But really, things like technical skill and innovation don’t even need to come into it. “Hot for Teacher,” “I’m the One,” “Unchained,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Panama”–there are no Hagar-era songs to equal these, period. There’s no way these two bands should be held in the same distinction.

But then there’s the thing–these are two completely different bands. This isn’t Journey replacing Steve Perry with Steve Augeri (or replacing Steve Augeri with Jeff Soto, or Soto with Arnel Pineda…), a simple substitution meant to minimize as much as possible the cognitive dissonance the switch would cause with fans, this was a band completely re-inventing its identity. Aside from the occasional Eddie solo (which, of course, became far more occasional as Van Hagar progressed) there was almost nothing to identify that this band, now the creator of overdramatic love songs and overwrought message sogns, was the same “band” that created “Ice Cream Man” or “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”.

But then there’s the other thing–Van Hagar as a band didn’t suck nearly as much as everyone remembers. OK, they weren’t going to win any critical hosannas, or hold much in the way of metal or underground cred, but the hate they receive is only as extreme as it is because no one can ignore the fact that these people are supposedly the same guys who cranked out some of the most fun, invigorating and hilarious (three things no one could ever accuse Mk. 2 of being) songs in the classic rock canon. But if you stop comparing them to the peers that the original Van Halen would keep in company with (Hall of Fame Rock Gods like Kiss, AC/DC and Cheap Trick, or first-wave hair metallers like Def Leppard and Motley Crue) and start mentally grouping them with other super-popular but retroactively fetishized 80s cheese-rock standbys (like Loverboy, Survivor and The Outfield), they’ve got a pretty formidable catalogue.

Take “Feels So Good,” one of their less-remembered hits, but probably my personal favorite post-Diamond D single of theirs. An undulating keyboard hook (stolen from the same faux-organ sound used on Pete Tonwshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” presumably) anchors a chugging beat that complements one of Sammy’s least cringe-worthy love lyrics, with lots of gorgeous backing harmonies from Eddie and Michael. By the time the song finally gets to the titular chorus yelp–which, by the way, they brilliantly hold off until two and a half minutes in, making it all the more rewarding–I challenge you not to smile (or at least not to chime in with E&M’s “SO GOOD!” confirmation).

That’s the key to me–there’s almost always one part in each Hagar-led Van Halen hit that puts that big goofy smile on my face with its almost-unbearable earnestness, infectious overenthusiasm and total lack of self-consciousness. The “Higher and higher!” chants in “Dreams,” that introductory first synth squelch in “Why Can’t This Be Love?,” pretty much every motherfucking note of “Right Now”–they don’t provide any of the adrenaline rush of early VH, but they do end up triggering a lot of the same types of endorphins just the same. They’re not a band that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the original Van Halen, or any of the great 80s bands, but among the second-tiers, they could be considered top dog.

Which is why it’s so frustrating that they didn’t decide to change the band’s name when Sammy joined. If they had done that, sure, there’d still always be comparisons to the original lineup, and there’d still be a lot of assholes that held the split against Hagar for the band’s duration, but I don’t think it could be seen as nearly the level of travesty that most people attribute to Hagar’s replacing Roth. If they had been called something else, at the very least it wouldn’t seem like they were claiming to be just as worthy of the Van Halen name.

A good analogy to illustrate this point is the case of Guns n Roses & Velvet Revolver. It’s not exactly perfect, of course–a couple other, non-Axl members of GnR weren’t in VR, and actually Axl still held the GnR name for his own, meaning Slash, Duff & Co. couldn’t have used it even if they wanted it. But basically it’s the same deal–an enormously successful and well-loved band replaces their unreliable lead singer with an already established star, and goes on to formidable success themselves. But despite the fact that the transformation from what they used to be (going from one of the most pissed off, emotionally fucked up and overambitious frontmen in rock history to a guy content to sing basic-sounding metal songs about nothing much) was arguably just as drastic, VR don’t attract nearly the hate that Van Hagar do, because it seems like a totally separate entity from GnR. They’re not GnR, and they don’t claim to be. Consequently, not many hold the fact that they sound nothing like GnR against them. If VH had been smart and done the same thing, results could’ve been similar–not as much love, maybe, but not nearly as much hate. I think they deserved a little better.

Might be time for me to revisit the Gary Cherone years, too. “Without You” was pretty OK, right?

Posted in In a Perfect World | 7 Comments »

In a Perfect World: An Answer to the Unanswerable Question

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 11, 2008

There’s no use talking at all

(Note: Not The Good Dr.’s Actual Chart)

So as I’ve alluded to recently on this blog, I’ve started a three-month Music Programming internship with Sirius Satellite Radio. It’s oing pretty well so far–I still can’t believe that someone actually read the application I submitted online half on a whim, since I never really expected to hear back about it, but I’m certainly glad they did. It’s a combination of cool geek-out assignments (crafting elaborate song transitions!) and mindless grunt work (CD filing!), but it’s all music-related at the very least, and it’s all stuff I understand pretty well. Plus, the people are pretty cool–the closest thing I’ve had thusfar to a genuine work environment, and aside from a couple moments of regrettably inevitable frattiness (this is the home of Howard Stern, after all), I’ve got nothing but nice things to say.

But there’s one problem with the job, one which seems pretty much unavoidable and which I doubt I’ll ever actually solve to my satisfaction. Sirius is, of course, a house of music, and with each person I meet for the first time, the subject usually tends to come up as a discussion topic. And then comes the million dollar question:

So, what kind of music do you like?

No question strikes fear into my heart quite like this one. I’ve been actively listening to music for at least 11 years now, and I don’t think I’ve had a halfway decent answer to this question. If you’re a certain kind of music fan–the kind that doesn’t really belong to any specific music scene, and is never satisfied sticking with one radio station for too long–you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s a question that has so very, very many answers, and trying to cover all of them in one sentence is a virtual impossibility. And yet I’m almost certain to be judged point-blank by the questioner on the merits of my answer–and, to be fair, I probably do this to others as well, so I can’t really fault others for doing it to me.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that my taste in music is so complex and unique that I couldn’t possibly hope to pigeonhole myself. But let’s analyze some of the most viable answers to this question, OK?

“Rock, I guess, mostly.”

Advantages to This Answer: It’s probably true–if I broke down the music I listen to on a day by day basis by genre, the Rock umbrella would most likely cover the majority of my music listening. Plus, the majority of the people that have asked me this question over the course of my life have by and large been white, middle-upper class males, and demographically speaking, this is the odds-on answer least likely to alienate an MUCWM of any age–it’s specific enough that they know you’re probably not a raver, wanksta or country fanatic by nature, but vague enough to allow further communications with metalheads and jam band freaks alike.

Disadvantages to This Answer: It’s a very purposefully vague answer, and implies that either I don’t care enough about music to ally myself with a more specific subgenre, or simply don’t know enough to keep up with a more in-depth taxonomy. Hence, true rock fans would likely dismiss my taste outright if confronted with such an answer. Plus, if I was to talk to someone who was primarily a dance, hip-hop, country or whatever fan, I wouldn’t want them to think I only had token interest at best in their genre, a conclusion they’d almost have to reach if given this answer.

“Indie Rock, I guess, mostly.”

Advantages to This Answer: It’s probably true–if you wanted to break the rock music I listen to on a day by day basis down by subgenre, independent rock music would generally have the biggest chunk of the pie chart. Talk to anyone that knows a fair bit about rock music, and even if they won’t necessarily be the most knowledgeable about the subgenre, they’ll know you generally mean business with your music listening if you say you’re an indie fan. And if the person you’re talking to happens to be an indie fan as well, you’ve got an instant Brother in Arms, a fellow soldier in the war against the corporate homogenization of the soulless mainstream.

Disadvantages to This Answer: A big one–a large, large number of human beings on this earth have no idea what indie rock is. Either that, or they think it means bands like Something Corporate and Coheed & Cambria, which is arguably worse. Plus, say this to someone who’s a rock fan but decidedly not an indie fan, and they’ll be likely to dismiss you as a high-brow snob that’ll probably just look down at their pedestrian music taste. And even if you do make that connection with a fellow under the radar-er, you’ve set an anti-mainstream precedent that, for someone who listens to as much Top 40 music as I do, would ultimately be impossible to live up to.

“Alternative Rock, I guess, mostly.”

Advantages to This Answer: This answer might have the highest upside of any of the answers discussed in this article, simply because it sounds specific while actually being almost as vague as the blanket Rock answer. To me, Alternative Rock will always mean Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day–the music I grew up on, and the music that when you get down to it, is still closest to my heart–but to someone listening, alternative rock could mean just about whatever they want it to be. It’s not specific enough to discount the possibility that I might listen to punk, metal, emo, jam, or indie, but it does carry enough weight to imply that my rock interests might go beyond Linkin Park and Matchbox20.

Disadvantages to This Answer: Despite being definitely preferable to the Rock answer, it does come with several of the same issues. People that really know what they’re talking about will instantly judge you as being full of shit, and people that aren’t principally Rock fans will likely conclude that you don’t listen to any music not made by middle-class northern Honkies. Plus, you’re probably not gonna forge too many legitimate connections with an answer this vague–no one’s going to respond “You listen to alternative rock? Oh my God, I listen to alternative rock too!” That’d just be weird.

“Just about everything, I guess.”

Advantages to This Answer: This has generally been my go-to answer to this question as of late. And by it, I don’t mean to imply that I actually listen to every form of music available for mass consumption–the lack of klezmer, bhangra and 20th century classical in my mp3 collection sort of disqualifies me for this–but rather, I’m trying to imply with this answer that I would listen to ANYTHING. In other words, I don’t define myself so much by the genres that I listen to that I would preclude other types of music from my potential rotation–I don’t let my Pantera appreciation preclude me from listening to the Spice Girls, I can rock jams by Mobb Deep and Will Smith back to back, I can have both The White Stripes’ Elephant and an album made only on keyboards created after the 1960s on the same year-end list. That’s not to say that I don’t have genre biases–we all do–but I try to make my listening decisions based solely on musical grounds, not ideological. And hey, if you handed me a polka album and said it would change my life, I’d at least give it one listen. Probably.

Disadvantages to This Answer: People you give this response to won’t infer any of that nonsense. More likely, they’ll hear it, and think to themselves, “this person doesn’t even like music that much.” Because in addition to being the kind of answer that people like myself who think about music too much would give, it’s far more commonly the kind of answer that people who don’t tend to think about music at all would give–the kind of answer that implies not only might you not care about the difference between a top 40 station and a classic rock station, you might not even really know what the difference is. Sez Chuck Klosterman, “Do you know people who insist they like ‘all kinds of music’? That actually means they like no kinds of music.” If Chuck doesn’t even understand, what chance could I possibly have for comprehension in the real world?

“Well, if I had to break it down by absolute favorites, I guess I’d say, like…60s Garage Rock, 70s Soul, 80s Synth-Pop and 90s Alternative. Those are like my golden standards. And I’m not really sure what my favorite music from this decade is yet.”

Adavantages to This Answer: It’s the closest to the truth that I can come up with without writing an entire essay.

Disadvantages to This Answer: I know what you’re thinking–yeah, ha, joke answer for the final possibility, there’s no way I’d actually use this one in conversation. But last Thursday night, I got so frustrated with a week of giving people variations on these non-committal, boring answers, that I decided to actually go for the gold and answered the question in almost those exact words. The look on the guy’s face in response was one of being absolutely mortified–a look which basically said “Wow…you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life.” He managed to stammer some kind of “Yeah, uh…that’s cool” type response, and we actually carried on a fairly decent conversation afterwards, but it was clear that this was to be a one-time only experiment for me. The only thing worse than giving an answer that implies you’ve never really thought about the question before is one that makes it clear that you’ve spent countless hours agonizing over the perfect answer.

C’mon, I know some of you out there must be in the same boat as me on this one. How do you answer this question? I’m dying here.

Posted in In a Perfect World | 16 Comments »

In a Perfect World: TV Channels That Need to Exist

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 19, 2007

What if you woke up tomorrow and everything was perfect?

You know the feeling. You’re sitting at home late on a Wednesday night, hoping to catch something worthwhile and time-killing on TV before you’re ready to go to bed. You’re confident about your chances. After all, you get more TV channels than you ever thought you’d have at your disposal. You get more TV channels than only a decade earlier you would’ve believed were even possible. Yet as you flip through your dozens, even hundreds of options, you gradually come to the horrific, inevitable conclusion: There is nothing on TV.

More and more in life, I’m beginning to believe that getting more channels on TV barely upgrades your potential for finding quality programming. Verily, it seems to me that the amount of channels one gets on TV is totally independent from your odds of actually catching something good. I don’t know if it has to do with one’s TV standards expanding or contracting to meet the amount of channels one gets, or if TV is just diabolically programmed to be eternally frustrating, but whether you get 20 channels or 2000, there’ll always be a time when there’s just nothing on.

Until tonight. For tonight, I will be unveiling my blueprints for eight new, 24/7 channels which will forever erase the need for aimless channel flipping. See, the main problem with TV isn’t that there aren’t enough choices, but that the choices available don’t remain consistent enough within their own line-ups. When you turn on a channel like, say, USA, you’re entering a total crap shoot–you could be getting a new-ish episode of Monk, re-runs of Walker, Texas Ranger a showing of Along Came Polly, or some weird alternative sports coverage. The odds of catching something decent are relatively good, but completely unreliable.

What TV needs, more than anything right now (well, anything besides writers), are channels tailored to very, very specific purposes. Channels that have clearly defined concepts, and never deviate from them. Channels, essentially, that can always be relied upon. The eight channels I propose here might not always be the most exciting or revelatory of TV programming, but the combination of them should be enough to ensure that no matter when you watch, there’ll always be something worth watching on at least one of them.

  • HBO TV: This one I’m pretty surprised doesn’t already exist. Despite being practically unrivalled for brilliant, cutting edge original TV programming, 75% of HBO is still a crappy movie channel, a channel where you’re about five times more likely to catch another airing of The Island than a re-run of a classic Wire or even a decent Sex & the City episode. HBO TV cuts out all the cinematic pretensions to focus on re-running of the channel’s original material, from classic shows like Six Feet Under and The Sopranos to early groundbreakers like 1st & Ten and The Larry Sanders Show and even recent misfires like The Comeback and John From Cincinatti.
  • CCN (Classic Cartoon Network): This is partly inspired by a conversation I had recently with a classmate about how there’s nowhere to catch The Pink Panther (show, not movie) on TV these days, and how that’s probably a shame of some sort. A little less focused than some of my other proposed channels, this’d be closer to what Cartoon Network was like in its embryonic days, before becoming overrun with original programs–mostly filled with classics from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies eras, but filled in with enough (usually dated) miscellany to keep things fresh. And not a single Billy and Mandy episode to gum up the works.
  • All-SNL. Once again, sort of shocking this doesn’t already exist. Over three decades’ worth of back catalogue to work with, you could probably run this channel for at least a month or two straight before having to start repeating episodes. I don’t even like SNL much, but it’d be nice to be able to catch up on some of the more classic episodes, especially if I could do so without having to suffer the indignity of having to flip to E! to watch ’em.
  • TDN (Teen Drama Network): The mid-day block on SOAP network showing back to back eps of The O.C., Beverly Hills 90210 and One Tree Hill is a good start (even if I’ve yet to force myself to break bread with the latter), but I want an entire channel devoted to this much under-rerunned subgenre. It could mix critically acclaimed experience recreations like My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks with significantly less credible choices like Head of the Class and Saved By the Bell (obviously using an extremely liberal definition of “Drama” here, but TDN just looks better than TTVN or TDOCN), right up to modern-day soaps like Gossip Girl and The Hills. Some days I just need to spend watching recreations of youths significantly more exciting than mine was.
  • WSN (World Series Network): I’ve come to really enjoy watching (or at least occasionally flipping to) airings of classic World Series games recently–I generally know where they end up, but I often have little or no knowledge as to how they got there, so watching them unfold is like watching Sunset Boulevard or Carlito’s Way, where you know how the hero ends up at the outset but have no knowledge as to how or why. Even better, though, would be a channel where your odds of catching a complete dog of a WS game were as good as catching a classic Game 7–not only would it make catching one of the unforgettable games more of a real find, it’d shed new light on WS games that have been completely forgotten by time. I mean, catching the legendary video for R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” on VH1 Classic is all well and good, but really, I’d rather see the catastrophic video for the Monster flop “Tongue”–just ‘coz, well, when was the last time you thought about the video for fucking “Tongue”? Hell, expand it and show Division and League championships too, if you really want to get frisky.
  • MTV Classic: Speaking of VH1 Classic. At this point, though, rather than a 24-hour video channel that keeps getting watered down further and further until it’s barely even vid-related, I’d prefer a channel that just took to showing archival music video broadcasts from the channel’s earlier years. I want the old MTV channel IDs, the old MTV commercials, the old MTV VJs and of course, the old MTV videos. Watching that VH1 Classic re-airing of MTV’s first 24 hours was one of the more revelatory vid-related experiences I’ve had in recent years, this channel could be like that all the time.
  • FDN (Food Delivery Network): By far the most ambitious of my channel blueprints, since this would involve the creation of a nationwide business as well as a TV channel. But to me it seems like the logical conclusion of the Food Network–delicious meals getting prepared, with a phone number shown at the bottom of the screen where you can call up and order the products being prepared from your local FDN hub. Too much of the Food Network seems to me like masturbation without the payoff, so why not make the foodgasm actually possible?
  • SSS (The Triple S): One channel, three words: Seinfeld, Simpsons & Scrubs. Given the amount these shows are rerun throughout the course of your average TV day, I figure we’re already about 1/4 of the way to this channel already, why not just go the whole nine yards? All three have wide but easily accessible back catalogues of episodes, all three are almost impossible to switch away from once they get into a groove, and all three stand up to countless re-viewings of re-runs. Well, that’s a total lie, you can’t watch the same Scrubs episode more than twice without souring on the show completely, but who would watch a channel called The Double S?

Posted in In a Perfect World | 6 Comments »

In a Perfect World: The Music Industry Would Operate More Like Professional Sports

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 2, 2007

The Glory Days could last forever

I don’t follow sports. Not that I don’t like them–in fact, there was a time when sports was all I followed, and in my pre-adolescent days, I was as geeky about jersey numbers and box scores as I am about Billboard charts and TV ratings today (and yeah, I played little league in just about every sport I could at the time, though I don’t recall being particularly adept at anything but free-throw shooting). But then around 2nd or 3rd grade, my brother introduced me to Magic: The Gathering, and then in 4th grade I spent a day at my then-best friend Jason Hoffman’s house watching MTV, and that was it–every year I lost interest a little bit more, until I completely lost the basic knowledge necessary to follow sports at all (and of course, my friendship with Jason never recovered).

It’s too bad, though, because so much of what sports about still totally speaks my language. Not so much the rush of athletic competition, which I definitely recall feeling and loving once upon a time, but which I’ve become too physically incompetent to still experience, even vicariously. But the culture–everything about sports besides the actual sports, so to speak–is something I really wish I could still be a part of. Really, I don’t think sports fans realize how lucky they have it–sure, there’s a mainstream culture around music, but sometiems it feels much more marginalized to me and much less fun than that of sports. What was the last paper you read that had an entire section for music? Where was the last city you lived where the entire population, regardless of age, race or creed, seemed to be breathless in anticipation for a home artist’s newest album? When was the last time you turned on MTV and they were actually showing music-related programming?

Sports fans never seem to have these types of problems. Therefore, I have outlined a series of ways in which I would like the music industry to transform in order to make it as exciting as professional sports, so I can have all the fun of following sports in a culture I can currently relate to. Here’s what I suggest:

  • Trades. Contract signing doesn’t seem that different to me between major labels and pro-sports teams–both have multi-million deals for either multiple albums or multiple seasons, and both have their fair share of contract disputes and free agents and such. But the one thing that pro sports has that pop music doesn’t in this regard is the concept of trading. Let’s say Capitol was disappointed with the first week sales of Interpol’s Our Love to Admire–why shouldn’t they be able to just ship them off to Geffen in exchange for say, Angels and Airwaves, Sigur Ros, and an artist to be named later? It might be unfair to the artists, sure, but it probably wouldn’t be nearly as life-disturbing as actual trading in the majors, and athletes seem to be able to deal with it most of the time.
  • Gigs Aired on AM Radio, With Critics and Ex-Musicians as Commentators. One of the most common experiences of my youth: I’m driving home with my parents and brother from going out to dinner or to a movie or something, I want to turn on the classic rock station or at least the blues show my dad likes to listen to on public radio on Saturday nights, but my parents say “Hold on, we just want to hear how the Philly game ends,” and that would invariably be our radio etnertainment for most of the trip home. Fair enough–after all, classic rock radio is classick rock radio 24 hours a day, but these games begin and end at very specific times. However, if I could’ve said something like “Hold on, I want to hear the encore of the Built to Spill gig,” or “Hold on, I want to hear Andy Gill’s post-game wrap-up of the Rapture’s set,” I felt like I could’ve gotten my way at least every once in a while.
  • Trading Cards. I’m sure someone’s tried this before, and superfans of sensational groups like KISS, The Monkees or The Backstreet Boys almost certainly have had Ace, Davey or AJ cards in their possession at one point. But I’m talking about a full-scale effort here, with participation from all labels and artists, so that when you bought a pack of cards, you’d have no idea if you’d be getting ones for Ratatat or for Pretty Ricky (or both!) And of course, debut album cards and cards with misprinted lyrics or incorrect chart positions on the back would be worth up to hundreds of dollars. The possibilities are endless.
  • Fantasy Leagues. This is one of the main differences between the way music fans appreciate music and the way sports fans appreciate sports–music fans often don’t even care how well their favorite artists do, and most of them couldn’t care less how successful artists they don’t like are. Few, if any, music fans sit around wondering what artists are going to be the best-selling of that season, or predicting who is going to be the most well-received critically. It seems to me like doing this for music would be easy enough–say there was a fantasy league where there was a list of the major artists who were going to be releasing albums in the next fiscal year, and you had to pick ten for your team, based on either who would have the highest first-week sales or the highest aggregate score on MetaCritic. Tightness would almost assuredly ensue.
  • All-Star Games. C’mon, imagine how much fun a mid-80s gig battle would’ve been between, say, the heavy-hitters of SST and Twin/Tone, or Factory and Rough Trade, or some such? Or even better, if the Blur vs. Oasis feud had turned into an all-out Food vs. Creation brawl? And of course, there’d have to be Home Run Derby / Slam Dunk Competition-style battles for the individual musicians before hand–freestyle or DJ battles, solo-offs, karaokeing, etc.
  • Fines. Occasionally, musicians need to be kept in line, just like everybody else. Red Hot Chili Peppers decide to show up 90 minutes late to a gig and then note do an encore? $5000 fine. Radiohead decide they want to delay the release of their new album by yet another year? $2500 right there. Nickelback want to unleash a seventh single off of All the Right Reasons on the general public? Sure, it’ll just cost you an extra 15k. We don’t except this extravagance or irresponsibility from our athletes, why should we from our msuicians? And obviously, club owners, record labels and CD stores would be kept on a similarly tight leash. Before you know it, gigs would only take 15 minutes in between sets, rap LPs would be kept to a three-skit maximum, and no one would be calling anything less than four discs long a “box set”.

It’s gotta happen, guys. Either that or I’m gonna have to start watching a shitload of ESPN.

Posted in In a Perfect World | 5 Comments »

In a Perfect World: Next Would Be Based on TV Show

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 28, 2007

“Will Nicolas go for Julianne? / Or will he tell her he’d rather move to Sudan?”

Why are thrillers these days always about being able to predict the future? I mean c’mon, is shit really so desperate that now we have now have no choice to rely on clairvoyance to get ourselves out of the big messes? And why do they all have to be so fucking literally titled? First Deja Vu (as in, Denzel Washington has Deja Vu about a ship blowing up or something), then Premonition (as in, Sandra Bullock has a Premonition that her husband’s gonna die or something), and now, Next (as in Nicolas Cage better figure out what the fuck is gonna happen Next or else the world is gonna blow up or something). Jesus.

This wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if there weren’t a wealth of other film possibilities being unexplored here. And Next is probably the biggest wasted opportunity of them all. You’ve got Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Biel, directed by the dude behind the underrated Die Another Day and the super-underrated XXX2: State of the Union, and you’ve got the title “Next.” How the fuck are you going to not have it be based on the MTV show?

Now, I’m not saying it should be taken from the show directly. You couldn’t have the cutesy formatting, the stupid fucking rhymes, the canned dialogue, none of that stuff. This is the big screen we’re talking about now, and that shit don’t fly. As a matter of fact, I think the movie would be most effective if it was approached as a beginnings-of flick, showing how NEXT came to be. Here’s how I see it:

Nicolas Cage plays a down-on-his-luck lawyer who still hasn’t gotten over losing Julianne Moore ever since she left him because his job was taking up too much of his time. After months of sulking and lazing around, to the detriment of his work, father figure / boss Peter Falk (no shit, he’s actually in the real movie) encourages him to get back out on the scene, saying to him “You still got your whole life ahead of you…but before you figure that out, you have to find out what’s NEXT.”

This gives Cage an idea. His firm has a new big case, one that’s going to take up most of his time, so he decides to try to find his new love by doingf the only thing he has time for–a succession of truncated, accelerated dates. He puts an ad in the local paper and even gets a spot on the local news advertising for girls to try out and see if they’re “what’s NEXT for him,” and his heartbreaking story and nice-guy demeanor inspires dozens of ready and willing applicants.

He tries out the great majority of these dates in a hilarious montage set to “I’m Into Something Good,” but all are disasters, until he meets Biel, who despite her relative youth seems like the best match he’s likely to have. However, just before he’s about to offer Biel a second date, he notices that there’s just one participant left–Moore, who having noticed that Cage (whose lack of focus on the firm’s big case has gotten him demoted) has finally gotten his priorities straight, and wants him back. Ultimately, Cage cannot choose Biel, and offers Moore the second date. “So am I your NEXT?” she asks. “No,” he answers. “You were the right one all along.”

You could probably even get late-90s R&B pariahs Next to do the soundtrack. I can’t imagine they’ve got much else to do these days.

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