Well, “Doom Town” sounds about right, doesn’t it? Imagine if Greg Sage was in his 20s writing songs during a pandemic. What kind of bleak, fucked-up music would Wipers be making? Well, it would probably sound exactly like the songs that appear on those first three records. I’m listening to Over the Edge because it fits the current mood of hopelessness, matched by the gray Pacific Northwest skies I’m currently staring at outside my window. Plus I just finished a piece on Wipers’ first record Is This Real? for Vortex Magazine that should run in their April issue. I interviewed original drummer Sam Henry as well as Toody Cole from Dead Moon, along with others who were running loose in Portland in the late-’70s and early-’80s. It was a different time fore sure…although, was it? Is this real?
Ominous, eh? Wait until you hear it. Actually, Bruce Haack, the man behind The Electric Lucifer, spent a good portion of his career making children’s records, and even appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to talk about his magick homemade synthesizers (something I touched on in my musical appreciation of Fred Rogers). Those synthesizers are the main attraction here…unless the half-baked Heaven-versus-Hell concept is more your thing. The Electric Lucifer is a pretty fantastical and fantastically weird record, ahead of its time for its use of electronics right out of Haack’s laboratory. It’s a perfect mix of robotic sizzle (“Song of the Death Machine”) and psychedelic tuneage (“Cherubic Hymn”). And you know what? It sounds exactly how I feel these days. Hail the Electric Lucifer!
I’m not gonna lie, I’d been working on sort of a sourpuss piece about the changes Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has implemented (and attempts to implement) for absolutely no other reason than to attract a few NFL and NBA fans to America’s Pastime. But a lot has changed over the past few weeks, so I’ll save the criticism for more important things. I am here to celebrate baseball or, more specifically, the emotions that are attached to baseball, and sports in general.
Today would have been Opening Day for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. Of course, there is no baseball. As it stands, the season is set to begin two weeks from now, as announced by MLB on March 12. This is extremely unlikely. Optimistically, if I were to make a wager, I’d say the season could start in July. But I think it’s very realistic to conclude that the season is in jeopardy–which makes me very sad.
I was inspired to write this because A) I truly do love the game of baseball, and B) I just finished watching Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, and I was once again an emotional wreck. It took a lot of strength to not completely lose it in front of my family for fear they’d think I was an absolute crazy person (remember, this game was nine years ago).
Why do sports–essentially the act of watching grown men and women play a game they love while getting paid a lot of money to do so–make us so goddamn emotional and insane? As someone who gets completely wrapped up in games (baseball only for me, thank Yadi), and screams at the television over a botched play, and howls like wolf in heat after a game-winning home run (to wit: After Albert Pujols hit a massive home run off Astros’ reliever Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS I took my pants off and ran down the street, waving them over my head), I still don’t understand it.
But baseball does make me emotional. Baseball does make me happy. Baseball does bring my friends and me together. And now, when some of us need this distraction the most, baseball is not here for us (for good reasons, of course, but it still sucks). I’m sure a few of you reading have retreated to the warm embrace of a classic game or match during this strange and trying time. If not, good for you–you are an emotionally stable person.
I look forward to again watching a live baseball broadcast some day. I guess for now my wallet and my blood pressure thank me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch this again and cry like a baby because I’m a big, stupid baby.
I love XTC. Adore them. They’re one of those bands that, sure, they’ve put out a couple weak-for-them records–but have they ever made a truly bad one? That’s a discussion for another time (the answer is no). XTC is one of those bands I am comfortably familiar with, but also continually discovering and rediscovering. Like, I just put on Black Sea for the first time in a maybe a year, and now I’m wondering if this is now my favorite XTC record (which I’ve always considered The Dukes’ records and the obvious Skylarking to be). It’s the perfect stop between the punkier White Music and more polished pop of English Settlement. Black Sea is spinning as I write this, and “Towers of London” just came on…and, yeah, this album just keeps on giving. So, yes. This is absolutely my favorite XTC record. For now.
My family and I continue to hunker down–like everyone is supposed to. Bartered beer for toilet paper with our friends/neighbors yesterday. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown finally announced a shelter in place order Monday, most likely as a response to the bozos that flooded small rural and beach towns over the weekend as their way of social distancing. We’re trying to do takeout once a week from local restaurants to help them weather this unprecedented storm. The fed and local governments better get those emergency stimulus packages passed before the natives get restless, and we have to deal with a whole new set of problems.
Mostly, I want to say thank you to my mom for approaching her boss yesterday about her concerns about continuing work at the grocery store she’s been with for years. They happily laid her off so she can collect unemployment, and sent her off with a small party and a bunch of beer and toilet paper. Thank you, mom, for taking this seriously. Happy retirement. I love you. I’ll listen to some Billy Squier and drink a beer in your honor today.
Terry Riley’s music still sounds as otherworldly as it did when it was released. Now wrap your head around the fact his best-known work In C came out in 1964–19-fucking-64! Some perspective: It was the dawn of the British Invasion, and teenyboppers were dancing (at safe and appropriate social distances) to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Baby Love.” By the time Riley released A Rainbow in Curved Air in 1969, music was growing more adventurous…and it was still light years ahead of its time. This record remains a perfect specimen of minimalist electronic ambient music, influenced as much by Indian classical music (most notably singer Pandit Pran Nath) as it was the psychedelics Riley was ingesting. “[Drugs] had a big impact on the way I conceived a musical form,” Riley told me last year (in what ended up being the final piece I wrote for the CN&R). “It took me into details of music that I hadn’t seen before. It blew things up, like a big magnifying glass.” You don’t have to do drugs in order to enjoy Riley’s music, but it’d be a lot cooler if you did.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a lover of all things Finn: I love Tim. I love Neil. I love Liam. I love Crowded House (ssshh…don’t tell anyone). And I love Split Enz. Frenzy was released in 1979, one year before the band broke through with True Colours and became fixtures on MTV with their always-fantastic videos. This one is kind of overlooked…even by me! But as I revisit Frenzy, I am absolutely loving it. While 1977’s Dizrythmia marked Split Enz’s transition out of weirdo circus art prog, Frenzy sees the band settling into the taut new wave pop that would colour the rest of their output. A 20-year-old Neil Finn also made his Enz debut on this record (with the excellent “Give It a Whirl,” “Holy Smoke” and “Carried Away”), but brother Tim takes the lead throughout most of Frenzy (bassist Nigel Griggs also deserves a nod for his knotty post-punk closer “Livin’ It Up”). “I See Red,” “Master Plan” and “Marooned” are all pop perfection, which is essentially all you get with Split Enz. I am 4FR a frenz of Enz.
“You can learn to cope with stress, and you can beat the IRS, and the incredible frog-boy is on the loose again.”–Al Yankovic
Was 1984 the greatest year in pop culture history? Definitely if you were 11 years old. Which I was. I mean, come on: Temple of Doom, Beverly Hills Cop, Gremlins, The A-Team, Family Ties, Hardcastle and McCormick, Purple Rain, Out of the Cellar,Like a Virgin…OK, an entire piece on 1984 ASAP. Oh, and “Weird Al” Yankovic–who’d previously only been known to nerds like me that listened to Dr. Demento–released his breakthrough album In 3-D, which caught fire thanks to a little song called “Eat It.” I still love Al. Who in their right mind doesn’t? I connected with his absurd humor 36 years ago, and you know what? That never changed. As Al explained to me in 2013: “I guess I was always twisted. I mean, I don’t know if my classmates thought I was funny, or just weird.” In 3-D might be his best album overall. It definitely includes some of his best original songs, including “Midnight Star” and “Nature Trail to Hell” (both of which I was lucky to see Al perform in 2018 during his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour). In 3-D was one of the first cassettes I ever owned, so listening to this record always takes me back to when life was simpler. Now things are just weird.
The hardest thing to hit me this week, as my gray matter continues to slosh between godlike faith in humanity and a hideous, flaming pit of despair, is when I found out the Chico News & Review was suspending publication after more than four decades.
This news came a week after The Portland Mercury and The Stranger in Seattle halted print publication and laid off most of its employees. This is a result of a massive drop in ad revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is steadily spreading and simultaneously crippling small businesses across the country. This is not good at all. First off, many of my friends and colleagues have quickly become jobless, but this also leaves massive holes in local coverage when we need it most. My biggest fear is that these publications won’t recover.
I mention these particular papers because I’ve been writing for the Mercury for a decade, and I’ve been an editor and writer for the CN&R since 2004. I know the grind of putting together a weekly paper. I also know journalists’ dedication to find the truth, and to get people’s stories out there (this may come as a shock, but we aren’t in it for the money). All of this probably sounds insane in this current reality where a reality TV president labels every news organization that doesn’t stroke his fragile ego “fake news,” but I still know many in the trenches who are doing the work, and doing it well.
Losing the Chico News & Review (along with its sister papers the Sacramento and Reno News & Review) stings especially bad. I’d been reading it probably since junior high school–sucked into the pithy columns, band profiles, and enthralled by the ads for the killer shows happening at cool, mysterious venues. I interned there while studying journalism at Chico State University. I was offered a job in February of 2004 when associate editor (and my mentor and forever friend) Devanie Angel went on maternity leave. Just a quick aside: The fact that Tom Gascoyne, Robert Speer and Devanie Angel trusted me to fill her shoes is something I will never fathom nor forget…and I’m weeping as I write this.
I also met one of my best friends, longtime arts editor Jason Cassidy, there. We played in bands. And Jason showed me that if you want make things happen, you just had to fucking do it. I took over as the arts editor in 2005 (the year The Days of Lore was born as a weekly column), and ran the section until September 2008, when I moved to Portland. Cassidy resumed his rightful spot as the voice of Chico’s art scene, and I’ve continued to write for him ever since. I played in a band with then news editor and agitator Josh Indar (along with Scott Derr from Turn! Turn! Turn!). To this day–15 years later–I still look up to Scott and Josh.
In early 2007 I lured another great friend, Melissa Daugherty, to leave her post as a righteous reporter at the daily paper and come work for the CN&R. We went to J-school together and before she came to the News & Review we both covered the happenings at the university, including a story that made national headlines about Matthew Carrington, who died from a freak hazing incident at a local fraternity in February 2005. Melissa became editor of the CN&R in 2013, the first woman to hold that position at the paper. During her time, she continued the CN&R‘s commitment to community journalism–ruffling the right feathers, while dealing with the usual sexism, stress and baggage that comes with the job. The paper continued to scoop up awards, most notably for its coverage of the Camp Fire, which all but wiped out the town of Paradise in 2018. She’s a fucking champion, and I love her (look for an interview with Melissa in the coming weeks).
I need to point out that for the CN&R‘s final issue, Daugherty wrote a moving and educational piece about her son Henry, who has Down Syndrome. It’s worth a read (keep tissues on hand). And it’s a prime example of what the town of Chico is going to be missing. Since its formation on the Chico State University campus in August 1977, the Chico News & Review has been the watchdog, not to mention opening eyes and ears to the art-makers of the town.
All of this may sound self-serving, but A), this is my fucking website, and B) the CN&R–and everyone I’ve worked with there–have helped shape me as a person and as a consumer of art. The Mercury, too. People like Robert Ham, Ned Lannamann and Aris Wales are not only friends, but writers and thinkers I respect immensely. I am a product of these institutions and these people.
The ripple-effects of this pandemic will likely be worse than we think, and will be felt for some time. The future of these publications is uncertain. That’s scary to me. And it’s startling that these local papers are in such dire straits in the year 2020 that they need to ask for donations. But you know what? They’re worth it. Even if you don’t always agree with what they say.
Donate to the Chico News & Reviewhere. And the Portland Mercuryhere.
Over the past few years I’ve been trying to scoop up as many hip-hop records as I can, mostly from the “Golden Age,” which roughly covers the mid-’80s through the mid-’90s. My love for this era centers a lot around the production and the use of samples. That said, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is a stone-cold classic, the perfect mix of Cube’s laid-back West Coast style and the sparse, East Coast production provided by The Bomb Squad, the team behind Public Enemy. The lyrics are still jarring three decades (!!!) later. That title track is straight venom. As is “Once Upon a Time In the Projects,” which includes a sample from Betty Davis’s “Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him.” Ear and mind candy for daze.