Category Archives: Music

wilco (the stream) happens

I just got this e-mail from Wilco HQ:

Well, we made it nearly a month with copies of Wilco (the album) floating around out there before it leaked. Pretty impressive restraint in this day and age. But the inevitable happened last night. Since we know you're curious and probably have better things to do than scour the internet for a download (though we do understand the attraction of the illicit), we've posted a stream of the full album at http://wilcoworld.net/records/thealbum/. Feel free to refer to it as "wilco (the stream)" if you must.

We also have our usual guilt abatement plan for downloaders. If you have downloaded the record, we suggest you make a donation to one of the band's favorite charities, the Inspiration Corporation — an organization we've supported in the past & who are doing great work in the city of Chicago. Information and donation button here: http://inspirationcorp.org/.

That's all. Enjoy the stream. Tickets for summer shows, etc. http://wilcoworld.net/tours/ Note that we'll be holding a free online midnight screening of the "Ashes of American Flags" film this Friday night (at both midnight US Central time and again at midnight Pacific). So get the popcorn or whatever together and be sure to log on and tune in on Friday.

Wilco HQ

This is so smart, and I hope Wilco gets some public recognition for doing this. Sure, they could play whack-a-mole and try to get it offline until it's officially released, but what's the point of that? It's impossible to win that fight; it just wastes a lot of their time, money, and energy.

Giving their fans a legitimate way to hear the album reduces the incentive someone would have to steal it, builds excitement and buzz for the official release, and acknowledges that Wilco's fans love their music so much, they (we) just can't wait. They even suggest a really great way for people who downloaded the album to get some kind of "I was sort of a dick" offset.

I really admire the way Wilco embraces their fans (and reality) when they do things like this. I'll be listening to Wilco (the stream) in about five minutes, and I'll be purchasing Wilco (the album) as soon as it's available.

On the off chance that anyone from the band sees this: Thanks for all of your music, guys. I love what you do, and it's really meant a lot to me.

Books I Love: A Saucerful of Secrets

I’m very busy working on a few different things, including the craziest idea yet, but it’s important to me to maintain momentum and keep posting in my blog, so it’s time for another series of Things I Love.

This week, I’m going to highlight some books that were important to me when I was becoming an adult in my late teens and early twenties. All of them will be instantly-recognizable to certain people, but I think it’s likely that they’ve flown beneath the radar for most of you, and are worth pointing out. All of them, though, were very influential on my young life, and played a significant part in shaping the person I am today.

First up is a wonderful biography of Pink Floyd.

A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey starts in the late 1960s when the band was formed by Syd Barrett, and continues all the way through A Momentary Lapse of Reason. It chronicles the band’s rise, the tension among them, and their eventual breakup.

I read this when it was published in 1992, at a time when Pink Floyd – especially The Wall and The Final Cut – spoke to me on a visceral level. I still enjoyed performing, but I was struggling with my distaste for the film and television industry. I was lurching from one shitty forgettable movie to the next, and wondering just what happened to my once-promising acting career. I felt like everything I’d spent my whole life working on was falling apart, and I wasn’t even sure if it’s what I really wanted to do with my life in the first place.

When I read this book, and followed the entire history of this band that meant so much to me, including all their creative struggles, it was comforting and inspiring, and I think it may have played an unconscious role in my decision to leave Hollywood (literally and figuratively) and go work for NewTek on the Video Toaster 4000.

Even if you’re not having a Seldon Crisis about your life, it’s still a great book. While a lot of the information contained in it can be found online in various places, it’s well-organized and enjoyable to read it in this format, and the hardback edition I have comes with a bunch of great art, as well.

next time: the ghost in the machine

From the Vault: the safety dance

Last night, Nolan went through my iTunes library so he could put some of my awesome music on his iPod. He’s been after me for months to give him Radiohead, The Beatles, Tool, Decemberists, and a lot of my 80s stuff.

While he looked, the following exchange occurred:

Nolan: Why do you have The Safety Dance in your iTunes library? Me: So I can dance, if I want to. Duh. Nolan: You are so weird.

He ended up taking a little over 5 GB of my music, and I enacted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy about Men Without Hats. Shortly after he went to bed, I was washing dishes, and remembered this old blog post from 2003:

Anne and I were listening to Fred while we were driving home from Burbank the other day. That stupid “Safety Dance” song came on, and I said to her, “This is the weirdest song, ever.”

“Yeah, who thought this was a good idea?” she said.

“I mean, think about all the steps that went into this: someone wrote down all these words, then composed music, then produced the whole thing . . . and at every step of the way, they believed that this was a song worth releasing.” I said.

“Hey, Neil,” she said, in a really bad British accent, “Let’s make a song about the Safety Dance!”

“Oh, that’s brilliant!” I said, in my own bad accent, “We’ll have them all hoppin’ and dancin’ and –”

I started to giggle, and was unable to continue.

“You can dance! You can dance! Everybody look at your hands!” I sang, involuntarily.

CLAP! CLAP! went Anne’s hands.

“You can dance! You can dance! Everybody’s taking the chaaaaa-HAAAAA-nnnncccceeeeee . . . ” I continued.

“With the SAFETY DANCE!” We shouted out in unison.

“We are such dorks,” Anne said.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We sang the remainder of the song with extreme gusto.

I should also point out that when we got home, Ryan told us that he wants to buy “Thriller.”

I think there’s something in the water here.

2003 seems like an eternity ago. I guess in some ways, it was, wasn’t it?

end user blog: the slacker media player (or, the good kind of nostalgia in the palm of your hand)

This month’s column for the End User Blog is now online for your enjoyment:

Kids, I want you to take off your jetpacks, and step out of your flying cars for a minute. Come sit down over here, and let Old Man Wheaton tell you a tale of a time when television didn’t have a pause button, renting videos meant actually going to a store – during hours that they set – and listening to the radio meant hearing the same 27 songs every two and-a-half hours, with ten to eighteen minutes of commercials every 60 minutes.

Now, I realize that some of you think I’m just making this up to scare you, but it’s true. We didn’t have any control over how we got our entertainment back then. We couldn’t skip songs we didn’t like, and we couldn’t tell the radio how frequently it should play certain songs. It was a different time, when nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them and the King of England would just show up at your house and expect you to make him a cup of tea.

Those of you who have grown up in a world where you have unprecedented control over your media (DRM, which is beyond the scope of this story, notwithstanding) may have a hard time believing that we who came before you would actually wait for a song we hated to go away, or sit through loud and obnoxious commercials and DJs because we knew a song we loved was coming up. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true; that’s just how the world worked back then, and we accepted it without question.

Then it gets weird. Well, not really, but I can’t think of a better segue. Anyway, give it a read if you want to know what I think about the Slacker portable media player.

Warning: it’s way longer than I thought it would be, probably because I spent so long fighting my brain to actually let me write it, and once I beat my brain into submission, I couldn’t turn it off.

this friday five kicks ass

My love for music is well-documented here, so I’ll spare the warm up and just get to the point: Every Friday, Amazon MP3 releases 5 albums for 5 bucks each, and the sale lasts through the weekend.

Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s crap, but today, it is awesome. They grabbed 5 albums from their list of 100 greatest debut albums of all time. I own all of these already, but in case you needed to fill some glaring holes in your collection, I present to you, for five dollars each:

Boy – U2

Birth of the Cool – Miles Davis

The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground

Led Zeppelin I – Led Zeppelin

Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division

I write a column for Amazon’s End User Blog, but Amazon is a giant company and I have no idea who picked these, from an already-impressive list. I wish I knew who did it, so I could give that person a high five.

Geek in Review: The Musical Future

My Geek in Review this month is all about how weird it is for me to have existed in the world before and after … well, here, let me just quote myself instead of trying to rephrase myself:

My kids have never seen a floppy disc, heard the sound of a modem connecting, blown into a NES cartridge in the futile hope of making it work, or looked up an address in a Thomas Guide. I have experienced all of these things, and though I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with them in any meaningful way now, unless I want to, it’s odd to me that, at just 36 years-old, I straddle this tremendous and significant technological rubicon, while my children can barely see it in on the distant horizon behind them, as they speed away on their jet packs and rocket bikes. I mean, they hardly remember cassettes, let alone cassingles, and occasionally I will consider this fact and quietly weep for them, alone, while they play Call of Duty against some stranger on the other side of the world in real time.

I am totally aware of living in the future, but I really feel it when I pick up my iPod, because music has been that important to me my whole life, and I have this crystal clear memory of standing at a MacWorld around 1992 with Paul Montgomery and Tim Jenison (who were my bosses when I worked for NewTek) and Tim had this little slab of RAM that was about the size of a credit card.

“One day,” he said, “you’ll be able to put a whole album on something this size.”

I saw a lot of cool stuff from the future when I worked for NewTek, but the way Tim presented this thing to us — not like it was something awesome that could happen but that it was something awesome that would happen — made quite an impression on me. It was at that moment that I became truly aware of how rapidly the world was changing, and how lucky I was to be living in it.

I wasn’t mature enough to consider it then, but I wonder if people have felt the way I did throughout history, just for different reasons: mechanical flight, telegraphs, telephones, atomic energy and weapons, home computers, stuff like that…

I’m looking at my iPod shuffle right now, and it’s about 1/5 the size of that thing, and holds dozens of albums. My regular iPod Classic, next to it on the desk, holds about 8000 songs, about that many pictures, and everything I’ve ever written plus about 40 eBooks. I can put both iPods in one hand and take them anywhere I want.

Think about that: I can put everything I kept in my room when I was 15 into the palm of my hand or into my pocket.

Well, except Cindy Crawford, but I hear that science is working on that.


(Please note that Geek in Review is hosted at Suicide Girls. There’s nothing NSFW on the news page, but the site will trip filters and get you a visit from your company’s IT guy, who wants to know why you’re looking at the same site he was. Don’t complain to me; you have been warned.)

Phoenix Comicon Rock Band Video Roundup

Crazy ideas that may or may not be crazy are taking up pretty much all of my free time this week, so my Phoenix Comicon trip report will have to wait until Monday, but since I promised to deliver a Rock Band roundup before the end of this week, here we go.

First up is Karen B., seriously rocking to You Oughta Know. Funny story about this: right before we started playing this song, I said to her, “You know, you have to sing ‘thinking of me when you fuck her,’ even though it’s going to say something like ‘think of me when you carebears’ on the lyrics.”

“I don’t know if I can do that,” she said, clearly uncertain about using the potty mouth.

“I will totally take all the wrath if anyone gives you shit for it,” I said. “Trust me, you have to do it.”

“Okay,” she said.

When the appropriate moment arrived in the song, she belted the FUCK out of that lyric, and I peed a little. Awesome.


Next, we have a little story that I told the kids after struggling through Give It Away, which is totally not a “1″ on the Drums, contrary to what the game claims:


THE BEAT, WE HAZ IT!:



Tararebeka shared this picture of me pretending to be cool at the end of the night:

And this picture of me not even trying to hide what a total dork I am just before I pretend to be cool:


Check out Joe’s awesome rock face and stance behind me! FTW, Joe. F.T.W.
You may want to check out Tararebeka’s Phoenix Comicon Rockband photoset, especially if you’re me and you had so much fun that you want to remember what it was like. If you were there, and want to tag yourself, that would be awesome.
Okay, next we have another angle on the now-legen…wait for it…dary Livin’ on a Prayer:


I find it moderately ironic and exceptionally funny that the song I really didn’t want to do ended up being the one that’s viewed the most times, and is actually my best performance of the night. Now I’m stuck with it. Damn you, Bon Jovi. (Not really. Call me. Mean it!)

Here’s a short clip that Ken from XCast put up. It gives you an idea of how much fun we were having, even when we weren’t getting the rock on:


Here were are nearing the end of the evening. If you ever wanted to: 1) Hear me make a Star Trek joke about an Offspring Song or 2) watch a bunch of guys dressed up as EM EFFING GHOSTBUSTERS play that same song, this is the clip you want to see:


And, finally, here is the finale. I can’t sing Steve Perry to save my life, and I wish the vocal track from my Mic was turned all the way off, but at this point, it’s not even about sounding good or even looking good; at this point it’s all about having fun and finishing an epic night with motherfucking JOURNEY, goddammit:



One last time, I want to thank Sean from Harmonix for supporting this event, Lee and Joe and everyone else at Phoenix Comicon for giving us the room and the time to make it happen, but most of all, everyone who came out to be part of the event. It was something really special to me, and though we’ll certainly do this at future cons, this is where it all began and you were part of it. Tell your kids and make them jealous.

did my time, took my chances, got my geek on

YouTube user ewingsquadron put together a really cool overview of our Rock Band party at Phoenix Comicon:


And here I am doing Eye of the Tiger:


And here’s We Got The Beat, which was crazy fun and much more tiring on drums than I was expecting. It does have a drum solo, though, which is pretty awesome. The lighting isn’t great, but I think you can get a sense of how much fun we were all having, which is all that matters:


If you have a video of your own, feel free to link it in the comments here, and I’ll do a link roundup at the end of the week.

we are all of us living in the shadow of manhattan

Um. Wow.



Even if you’re not counting down the minutes until Watchmen comes out, if you are of a certain age, this is pretty much a perfect recreation of the time it’s supposed to be, well, recreating. My nostalgia centers are currently well above the flood stage, and it’s not just because of the production quality. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe the dialog is taken almost directly from the book I loved and read over and over as a teenager, but I don’t have time to take mine out and fact check at the moment.

Still. Wow.