Monday, January 19, 2004


I am in Israel so writing will be infrequent.

No promises but who knows?

Friday, January 16, 2004


A personal mix CD with selected track from:
Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista) Kelis’ Tasty (Arista) and Bubba Sparxxx’s Deliverance (Interscope)

Hip-hop acts have always been hell on spell check. Outkast is spelled incorrectly…intentionally. Eminem is a made-up word. Chingy? I don’t even know what that is and to be honest, I don’t want to catch it, either.

But the defiance of all things spelled well is more indicative of rap’s philosophy and essence. It’s an imaginative genre with very little respect for the rules or the law (or Microsoft Word, for that matter). These scofflaws are constantly pushing the boundaries, while simultaneously infiltrating the mainstream and meeting the ever-growing demand for their music. All too often, nay-sayers and critics complain that rock music tends to look backwards on the previous generations for inspiration and sometimes, blatant thievery. They say that hip hop is a genre continuously progressing and looking for new forms of expression. It’s the sound of the future (I thought, up to a couple of years ago, that it was that annoying phone line modem noise).
They may be right but as far as I’m concerned, it seems that I can only handle partial samplings of the future at a time. I’ll explain.

Only three hip-hop releases in 2003 really appealed to me with their respective catchiness, their production (by Outkast, the Neptunes and Timbaland), and their original ideas (very little sampling; mostly live instruments). Outkast, Kelis, and Bubba Sparxxx individually paved the way for true creativity in music. Outkast with their sunshiny eclecticism, Kelis with her spicy dairy products, and Bubba Sparxxx as the real…well, not so slim Shady standing up. Granted I’m not the rap authority but their crossover appeal--the fact that I truly dug them despite my indie rock predilection--says a lot about their allure. In fact, "Hey Ya" from Outkast’s The Love Below is hands-down song of the year.

Here is a mix compilation I have made of selected tracks from the three CDs (because my personal shortcoming is that I see hip-hop as a group of singles, instead of one consistent album). This is how I enjoy music sometimes; by trimming the excess phat.

1. Jimmy Mathis – Bubba Sparxxx
2. Trick Me –Kelis
3. Keep It Down – Kelis
4. Ghetto Musick – Outkast
5. Deliverence – Bubba Sparxxx
6. Hey Ya – Outkast
7. Church – Outkast
8. Milkshake – Kelis
9. Back In The Mud – Bubba Sparxxx
10. The Rooster – Outkast
11. Comin’ Round – Bubba Sparxxx
12. The Way You Move – Outkast
13. Dracula’s Wedding – Outkast
14. Protect My Heart – Kelis
15. Rolling Through My Hood – Kelis

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Four Tet

There’s a scene in High Fidelity in which John Cusack is being harassed by Jack Black and Black in all his hilarity is wearing a Yanni "Live at the Acropolis" T-shirt; this is the perfect example of making an ironic statement for irony’s sake. While some vintage T-shirts could potentially have an air of sincerity about them, no true music aficionado was ever an authentic Yanni fan. Granted the naivete of youth brings us to some pretty strange places (can you say "the Yes boxed set"?) but they never took us to the longhaired conductor of dentist and elevator music unless, of course, we were in an elevator or a dentist office.

But what makes Yanni so bad, so horrendously offensive that I’m certain Satan has him on speed dial? Truthfully, I really don’t remember and I am not planning a refresher course any time soon because I lack the sadomasochistic quality of self-imposed torture. But if I recall his oeuvre at all, his intentions were actually noble and valiant (sure. You can read that sentence again if you’d like). See, as fermented as Yanni’s cheese could get, he never imposed his lyrics or his deep thoughts upon us. His instrumental albums were vehicles of escape, an audio vacation to a desert landscape, a tropical island or once again, a visit to the dentist office. There was no mention of heartache, heartbreak, girls, pain, or hey ya’s. His music was a mood catalyst, an opportunity to get lost in your own thoughts and pensiveness. Yanni basically said, here is the soundtrack to your mind. Now use it while I go curl my mustache.

That being said, there are those—besides middle aged housewives—who also need to escape the heaviness of imposing lyrics. The mind needs to formulate its own imagery without the confines of a tortured songwriter’s prose. When that occasion does arise, is the "Running On Empty" soundtrack your only option? Thankfully, no, because Four Tet is your Yanni (who’s yo’ Yanni? Four Tet’s yo’ Yanni!). Like our maned man, Kieran Hebden, the man behind Four Tet, creates music for the imagination. Unlike Yanni, though, Hebden succeeds and inspires the lifelight of your otherwise unused soul, without sounding like a stack of Muenster and it’s unavoidable expiration date. His ten electronic soundscapes are all sublime voyages and restful odysseys into destinations with diamond clouds, unicorn waiters and strawberry water. The sixth song, "Unspoken," sounds like apologies, pajamas, car headlights, the pitter-patter of the rain, the exhausted sighs of a loved one. The last song, "Slow Jam" conjures up images of a mobile hovering above a baby’s crib, the wind blowing on your neck, car keys jingling, leaves, a burning scented candle and so forth. Rounds is an hour’s long journey through free-form association. And to think; if there had been actual lyrics, then none of that would have been possible.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


For another thirteen minutes, it is still January 13th.

I have just gotten off the phone with my mother. The weather is so brisk and cold outside that it feels almost illegal. I can't help but think that today I am more susceptible to the chill, more vulnerable because of the looming eerieness of the day. Today is January 13th (for another twelve minutes), the day my father passed away.

It was exactly three hundred and sixty five days ago. I can't believe that the days have passed so quickly. I can't believe that they left me without my permission. Yet how nothing has changed.

My mother sounds tired. I feel guilty for not being there in person. She comforts me by telling me that my sister is sleeping over. How does that make me feel, I wonder. Do I feel bad for not being that person sleeping over? Or do I feel bad because it makes me look bad?

The wind howls outside like a cliche out of a mystery movie. I ask her if she is keeping warm.

I am, she says. But I consider for a moment how much warmer it could be in her house. Then I feel like the person who is in love and associates every song with the object of his or her affection. I am doing the same only except with statements. Each phrase, sentiment or word has a deeper significance. And the ones not said aloud, the sighs and pauses, have even more.

Six minutes left of January 13th.

Last night, I had a drink with a good friend, someone who I admire and respect. Someone who has been in a similar predicament, like mine. Suffering, tragedy, healing and finding strength. She said something yesterday that I have been thinking about a great deal.

"You're holding back," she said. "I don't read much of your writing about your dad because I just don't think it's everything you have to say. And that feels not real."

[I went to my mother's school today to surprise her with flowers. I felt it was the least I could do.]

"Whaddya' mean?" I asked this friend. Because I truly didn't understand what she meant.

"Well, you write out of urgency, right? I'm not sure if it feels urgent." (Forgive me for paraphrasing her)

I'm not sure if that's the case, I wish I had said back. Moreover, I should have responded by saying, I don't write necessarily as an outlet (while that is also the case) but I truly write as a connector. I feel like this is my way of remembering him, bringing him for a few fleeting minutes back into my life. Like a seance, or like a sculptor creating something beautiful but instead of using clay and dirt, from thoughts and words. This is me consciously thinking about Dad. I am making it an active process, as opposed to a fleeting thought.

"Can you believe it's a year later," my mother asks me. And truthfully, I can't. I can't grasp that reality. And now that I look at the clock on my night table, I see it's now more than a year. January 13th has come and gone. I am now in the second year. Another year without. Next to the clock is a picture of my father. Sometimes I look at it and sometimes, I'm certain, it looks at me.

"No, I can't believe it," I say back. I am conflicted. While I want her to discuss how she's feeling, I also want to discuss other things and avoid the depressing topic. "You know...that one way, it feels like yesterday but in another way, it feels like almost years ago." I can't think of anything more eloquent to say. But my mother gets it. When you share an experience of this nature, you understand ambiguous phrases like that.

We talk for a few more minutes. It is late. Both she and I are tired.

"How do you feel about today?" Another friend asked hours before.

"I don't know," I said back. "You know, for a lack of a better analogy, it's like a birthday. It's just another day. People tell you there is a significance to that specific day but it really feels just like the day before."

I tell my mother that I will be up for a while longer if she feels the need to call me before she goes to sleep. I tell her that whatever she needs...she should not hesitate.

She has not yet called. And I am assuming she won't.

Sunday, January 11, 2004


The Wrens
The Meadowlands
(Absolutely Kosher)

You’re sitting there in your office, staring at the computer monitor. Watching the clock on the wall with it’s incessantly ticking second arm reminding you that the day is so much longer than just mere minutes and hours. The fluorescent lights with their yellowish glowing hue irritate your eyes beyond a degree of frustration. You want nothing more than to be free, realizing all the hopes and dreams of your youth. Once you thought about being an artist, a photographer. You were sure you had the talent—everyone told you that you did--but were too bogged down by the practicality of your surroundings; rent, rent, some leftover money going to food and rent. So now you wake up and, yes, it’s true—you do have a decent bank account. You can say things like, no, I’ve got this round. But so what? An overflowing ATM machine can’t account for gratification. Being a musician would have been cooler. You know it. Getting up on stage, whether it’s a small crowd or large a one, would have been a thrill and a half. Ignoring the strobe lights, looking into the crowd with difficulty to see a random person way in the back mouthing the words along with you. Your words. The ones you wrote.

Every day you walk into work and you think those very same thoughts. Go through the very same experiences as if your employer was the Twilight Zone and you were its Employee of the Never-Ending Month.

Again, the next day, you push the button to your floor and painfully make small talk with that guy who sits a few cubicles away from you. It’s hard this early in the morning. You have not had your coffee yet and no, you haven’t really noticed the weather. You go to your desk again and wonder if it is indeed an ergonomic chair, then why did your back always hurt at the end of every day?

Then one day, you wake up and you call in sick. You’re feeling fine--you just don’t want to go in today. You peruse around the house in your pajamas, wasting time, looking at things you’ve never really paid much attention to. Eventually after moments of hesitation, you pick up your guitar. Strumming away, you hear a chord you really like, so you play it again. Words then flow into your head…about a girl…about frustration…something about living in New Jersey and how things don’t ever change. Frantically, you look for a pen and paper. You need to write this all down now before the moment is gone and you return to your life as a corporate lackey (instead of one with a creative idea). You find a Post-it note (good enough), make some frantic illegible scribbles, and you are holding the basis of a new song. This is an epiphany you haven’t experienced in quite some time—hell, it must have been at least three years since you tried to do this.

And at that very moment, you feel inspired and refreshed. You forget the outside world, the morning commute, that security guard in the lobby--his name is "Bobby?". Going to your cube, making painful small talk. The fluorescent lights and the computer monitor that is even sick of looking at you. Right now, you are so alive and so content that everything else goes away, fades into the subconscious distance. For this exact moment, you are becoming so much closer to the dreams of your youth. For this exact second, you imagine that person in the crowd—way in the back--mouthing the exact words that you have just written down.

This is what the Wrens’ Meadowlands sounds like.

*(Incidentally, the Wrens are all gentlemen in their 30’s with respective day jobs in sterile offices. They have gone through a great deal of drama to get their music out (read the New York Times article on them for the perfect summary) but nevertheless, they are recording music that critics everywhere hail as some of the most potent and vital stuff in the indie rock community. The fact that they are doing this all while staying firmly rooted in the “world of practicality” is inspirational to me and to all that know their story. This, and for the fact that it is a rocking, memorable album, is why the Meadowlands is my pick for best album of 2003

Saturday, January 10, 2004


1. Cat's Eyes.
2. Pet Semetary (no, "2" and "3" don't count because they weren't based on books)
3. The Green Mile
4. The Dead Zone (My personal King fav)
5. Dreamcatchers
6. The Shining
7. Misery
8. Christie
9. Carrie
10. Cujo
11. Shawshank Redeption (yup, Steven King)
12. Stand By Me (yup again)
13. It (TV Movies do indeed count!)
14. Tommyknockers (Yes, they do!)
15. The Langoliers (well, if it's my website I get to make up the rules!)
16. Needful Things
17. Thinner (the worst King movie ever)
18. Night Shift (no, actually, this is the worst one ever)
19. The Stand
20. Firestarter (Oh, Drew. You were so innocent once).
21. Monkey Shines
22. That other one with Kathy her third King movie (small cameo in "The Stand"), by the's called.....DOLORES CLAIBORNE! Whew. Nailed that one.
23. I can't remember the name of the one he wrote for TV about the snow storm but it was dumb as hell. And I wasn't having any.
24. Salem's Lot
25. The Silver Bullet
26. Hearts In Atlantis (one of the best naps I have ever taken)
27. Sleepwalkers
28. The Dark Half

Thursday, January 08, 2004


The Postal Service
Give Up
(Sub Pop)/
Death Cab For Cutie
(Barsuk Records)

Britney has ostensibly become a punchline. Christina is a scary alternative world version of herself. Fred Durst can’t even get himself arrested.

This was a year in which we saw the unraveling of the purported mainstream. Pop has, for a lack of a better term, popped like a balloon inflated beyond its capacity. The masses, now more needy and perhaps more intelligent, are looking for traces of substance because of a collective taste that is progressively becoming somewhat refined. This may be the reason behind the influx and rising popularity of expressive and emotional bands that have topped the charts grabbing the attention of adolescent America. Linkin Park and Evanessnce encapsulate the pain and anguish of being misunderstood. Blink 182’s newest album of sugarcoated angst has opened the door for newer bands like Brand New and Thursday. In fact, even the New York Times (not considered the purveyor of cutting edge music) addressed this phenomenon in a recent weekend article claiming that this newly-mainstream genre (misnamed "emo") has compelled teens to get in touch with their own feelings, creating an outlet for empathy, instead of rage. The kids want to feel. And feel they will.

But the fundamental problem with this genre is its alienation of the adult population and the adult disinterest in music so formulaic, too intentional, too mathematical (or perhaps, more appropriately, too Algebraic). It is angst-by-numbers. Drama was so high school. Now it’s time to party like it’s your birfday. Four years ago, I, admittedly, was into emo but that was when it was still somewhat underground. And despite my current propensity to grab an emo album every once in a while, I find it difficult to admit to anyone this guilty pleasure.

Ben Gibbard, lead singer of Death Cab For Cutie and the Postal Service is the for-runner of emo for adults. His expressiveness is sophisticated and mature, a voice of yearning and despondency without the messy side dish of anger and discord. His primary band, Death Cab For Cutie (yet again, an unfortunate name) has been the most notable collective to ripen into an indie-rock contender. With each release, the band puts forth a sublime calmness that effects the heart with subtlety and tenderness. Especially in this year of particular loss, Gibbard rises to the occasion of stepping into the tremendous shoes left vacant by the mindblowingly sparse songwriter, Elliott Smith. Gibbard's voice has never been this frail. Moreover, the production is so vivid and three-dimensional thanks to guitarist Chris Walla, who, in his own right, is becoming a studio-ingenue. Songs like "Title & Registration" ("there’s no blame for how our love did slowly fade/and now it’s gone like it wasn’t there at all/ and here I rest where disappointment and regret collide lying awake at night") and "A Lack of Color" ("…and all the girls in every girlie magazine can’t make me feel less alone/I’m reaching for the phone…") are little four minute trips into the cavities of your heart, bringing you through the proverbial organ and it’s flowing stream of dejection.

The other band, the Postal Service, is Gibbard’s side project, a collaboration between DJ, Jimmy Tamberello and himself. While the essence of this album is similar to Transatlanticism, in execution, it is a synth-pop album. I can’t remember an record since the mid-80’s that has successfully inspired me to dance sentimentally (which, in response to your question, looks nothing like the Marcarena). Technology and dance music combined with a celebratory sense of emotion is a startling strange dichotomy, one that Gibbard and Tamberello accomplish supremely well. The first single, the retro sounding song, "Such Great Heights" would have been the biggest hit had it still been 1986. The duet, "Nothing Better" with Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, is the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" of our day. Song after song, the album has the consistent sound of nostalgia and futurism, living in tight harmony. And mind you, the nostalgia is neither ironic nor winking, it's real like braces in elementary school. Like Members Only windbreakers, when you didn't think it was cool to wear them. And the futuristic aspect never overwhelms or challenges. It's a promising future, where everyone flies, food comes in a pill and your dog talks with a lisp; not like all the futures you saw in the Governor Schwarzenegger movies.

Oddly enough, the majority of our culture’s drama revolves around teens. When you turn on the TV, when you go shopping for records, when you peruse the movie section (I won’t even get into the small sizes of the clothes in the women’s section at Hollister!). What the makers of our entertainment are ignoring is that adults are confused, as well. We want an outlet for our angst, albeit a different sort of frustration with a boss, a parent, or a spouse. We have social anxiety, nervousness in new crowds and most importantly concerns about what to wear (and if it matches). And while the WB has forgotten this, cast our target market aside, Ben Gibbard has not and for this, we…sniff, sniff…thank him.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Sufjan Stevens
Greetings From Michigan
(Asthmatic Kitty Records)

Many artists have tried to capture the essence of a place or a locale, whether it’s a state, an island or a diner. Bon Jovi released "New Jersey" which was about Tina and her economic concerns, love and it’s accompanying bad name, and laying your hands on me or anyone else you may want to lay your hands on--but it never really grasped the "essence" of the Garden State. The album was too flashy, too fast-paced, too country (two cowboy-themed songs) for a place that is the proverbial butt of all state jokes. Billy Joel sang about his state of mind in New York but it was too melancholic, too serene to grasp the hustle and the anxiety of making it in the big city. The Beach Boys crooned about Kokomo but in the end, it came off sounding like a retirement village in Florida. Yes, they spoke of palm trees and the threateningly bright sun but the overall sentiment felt cheesy and artificial.

Sufjan Stevens is from Michigan. There is absolutely no doubt about that because on "Greetings from Michigan," his third album, he has convincingly transported me there. While listening to the instrumental track, "Redford," I understand what it is like to have been laid off from a job in the automotive industry. I look out of the window and see the falling snow with the grayish backdrop of a bleak American sky. I am full of worry and doubt about the future, my children, where my next paycheck will come in from. Like a Michael Moore film without the personal agenda, Sufjan captures the wondrous duplicity of raising a family in the Bush-era, the fear and simultaneous beauty of the unknown. The music itself is also the perfect match for his lyrics of sincerity and desperation. Sufjan excels as the Excellently Drawn Boy in a year when the original (Badly Drawn Boy, aka Damon Gough) failed us miserably with his shlocky "Have You Fed the Fish?" Each song is a gentle embrace on the ears accompanied with xylophones, oboes, glockenspiels, trombones and all other imaginative instruments. Moreover, his honey tea voice is so pleasant and poignant that despite the heavy context of "Michigan," it avoids being depressing and saddening. It makes this trip to the Great Lake State blissful and serene; considering this is the frat capitol of America, that’s no small feat.

Sufjan has ambitiously stated that he wants to make an album per state, creating mini-masterpieces for each of our 50 stars. And while I have never traveled cross-country, I can honestly say that I will gladly make the trip with him when he does, one glorious album at a time.

Friday, January 02, 2004

YEAR END RECAP: The Good, the Bad & the Everything In-Between

I. Me
A. Life Altering Events

1. My Father's Passing

I. Obviously nothing comes close to what happened on the night of January 13th, when I had just walked in from a date (a very good date, mind you) and my sister called telling me to come to the hospital quickly. Something was wrong with my father.
In my head, I had created a million different scenarios, to prepare myself mentally, to be ready for the worst. But no matter how far your mind goes, how deep it can journey to the most pessimistic reaches of your brain, the news--the verbal communication--of a death hits you like nothing else. When I was in the fifth grade, I fell while riding on my bike. The handle bar had dug significantly into my stomach and I was unable to breathe for almost more than a minute. While I was in the hospital, this is how I sort of felt but this time, I felt like I would actually never regain my breath.

Whenever I think of this particular night, it's a mental grenade. A small violent explosion goes off in my mind. It's a million flying pieces of glass scaring my very essence, my being. I think of my father every day. Sometimes it's a particular memory or sometimes it's a generic one, of him smiling or looking at me. Or the way his beard smelled when I kissed it--like no-frills after-shave. Or the way he would call my name ("Arrrrrrrrrr!") much like a pirate. His way with people and how much I admired him. The way I had never personally told him that I admired him.

The hardest part is that no matter how long someone is gone, you still don't completely believe it. I still expect my father to call or to walk down the stairs of my home. I still, eerily enough, expect a short terse email from him (he was not the most tech-saavy). I've discovered that the presence of something is always definitive proof but the absence of something, i.e., my father, is never certain. The mind is a cynical part of the body. It always possesses this weird uncertainty. I know that he passed away because I saw him, I was at his funeral, and I spoke at his funeral. But truthfully; do I know every waking minute that he is not alive?

B. The Job Market

Here's the problem, Greenspan. It's not the economy, it's the people who are in positions of authority.
But I digress; I left advertising officially. I write copy no more. It's a lame, artificial business. People in the industry have a lot of ego but very little pride and integrity (there are exceptions, obviously). I wanted none of it. Soulless, dishonest, backstabbing. It was enough to make you think that you were on Melrose Place.
So I've made a full transition into magazine writing. This is going slowly but surely. With the thanks of Dave Eggers, who I spoke with at a book signing, I got my first gig writing for Spin. Seeing your name in a magazine that you essentially grew up is a pretty big event, no?

C. Seeing My Name In A Magazine I Grew Up With

Where was I? Oh, the magazine writing. Well, here's the problem? Remember when I mentioned "ego" in reference to advertising. Now add the fact that your name appears in print to millions of people alongside an article which is probably a combination of snarky, ironic, and condescending--my friends, then you have EGO. The problem with EGO, the main problem, is that EGO prevents you from writing people back and being cooperative.

In my short life span, I have never been so repeatedly, albeit rudely, ignored by more people in a specific industry. It's actually criminal how certain people forget what it was like to be at the bottom of the totem pole. It baffles me how you could be so blase about other people. Where is the human kindness? Where is dignity? Or was that so 2002?

Yes, I know that people are busy and they get emails like mine regularly but that still doesn't excuse the fact that they are wrong. I will never be this way. No matter how rich, no matter how famous I get, I will remain grounded, communicative and out-reaching. I can promise this. I will be that person. I will be better. I do not want to be them.

I forge ahead in the industry. I am making headway. I am proud of what I am doing. It may take a long time but you know what they say about Rome? Yup, that Rome couldn't write so he stopped.

B. Superficial Changes

I. The Hair. My God, the Hair

1. While I watched Lord of the Rings, I saw Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) fight his way to destroying the ring and all I could think was "I finally have hair like that."

Most men, from the time they were little boys, had always wanted to look like a rock star. Anyone who doesn't admit this is probably in the process of losing his hair. I have not cut my dear tresses since April and I feel pretty cool about it (I am also in the process of sounding like such a girl). As superficial as this sounds, something as small (and I reiterate, as superficial) as the length of your locks could do a great deal for a healthy self-image.

All those stories about Samson and how he lost his strength when Delilah cut his hair...I kinda understand them now.

II. Vintage T Shirts

A. Favorite purchases: Ice Cube, circa The Predator. George Michael, circa Listen Without Prejuidice. Eddie Money, circa No Control. Extreme, circa Pornografitti. Peter Gabriel, circa Games Without Frontiers. Jesus Jones, cicra Doubt. Queensryche, circa Empire.

B. Drug addicts have heroin. I have eBay.

Ca. I have learned to sew. Quite proud of me self. If the T shirt is too large, I simply cut it up and re-size it. So if you see a nice one, pick it up. Don't worry about the restrictions of size. XL has nothing on me!

Cb. People accuse me of being ironic when I wear the above shirts. But if they only knew my emotional attachement to the aforementioned bands (and others)...I realized only recently that when we wear vintage clothing like a relevent T shirt, we are essentially trying to recapture our youth and the experiences that went along with them. When I wear my Jesus Jones T Shirt, I think about Doubt and Perverse and how those albums, to this day, make me feel a great deal more, emotionally, than most music I am listening to in recent years. It is not necessarily the tunes that I respect or relate to, it is the nostalgic attachement and the mental photograph that comes with them. Like for example, anytime I wear a Van Halen T shirt (circa Sammy Hagar), I remember that For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was the first "heavy metal" cassette that I bought with my own money. That shirt makes me feel like I am in Kmart again and that I am 14. It makes me feel like girls are scary and intimidating and I am dealing with pimples. Like I am only discovering how great the world is and how much there is out there that I don't know. That my parents don't understand me and that my sisters are probably always telling on me. That all I want in this world is to be understood and appreciated. Come to think of it, perhaps nothing has changed.

C. Social Life

I. (to be continued)