Category Archives: Music

an incomplete guide to lounge music

This week’s contribution to the LA Daily is online. It’s so money and it doesn’t even know it:

I do this silly thing on Twitter where I make up conversations with iTunes. The way it’s turned out, iTunes and I have a slightly dysfunctional relationship, but since it’s all in my head anyway, I’m in complete control (iTunes: Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that. Me: Stop it! I’m writing my column!) so I can claim responsibility for whatever music iTunes is making me listen to.

Last week, it shuffled to Combustible Edison’s “The Millionaire’s Holiday” (from the 1995 album I, Swinger) and though I hadn’t made a conscious effort to listen to lounge music in months, it was suddenly all I wanted to hear. I had so much fun listening to it again, I thought I’d use my column this week to celebrate some of the records I love, and hopefully introduce new listeners to the glorious world of space age bachelor pad music.

It’s a deliberately incomplete guide, so as to not overwhelm the reader, but it was fun to put together and it’s not a bad place to start for the lounge-curious hepcat, if I do say so myself.

Comments are closed on this post, but I’d love to hear your thoughts at the Weekly.

everything counts

I mentioned earlier this morning that I couldn’t convince my brain to write what I thought I wanted to write for my column this week. Unless I do some kind of Depeche Mode retrospective at some point, which seems unlikely because I’m not a music reporter, I’m probably not going to use most of the stuff I wrote and abandoned, so I thought I’d share some of it here. It’s unpolished and very first-drafty.

I was 14, just starting high school, when I stumbled onto this radio station way over on the right side of the dial called KROQ. It was totally different than anything I’d heard before, and – more importantly – completely unlike the music I’d listened to my whole life, which served my coming teenage rebellion quite nicely. I had a musical awakening, that lead to the third significant event: The Concert for the Masses at the Rose Bowl on June 18, 1988.

It was the first (and only) stadium show I’ve ever attended, and it remains one of the greatest experiences of my life. I spent the whole day there, and watched the stadium fill up as Wired, then Thomas Dolby, then OMD played. By the time the sun went down and Depeche took the stage, I’d been there for at least six hours, but when Pimpf began and the crowd roared so furiously it seemed to shake the ground beneath our feet, I felt like I was at my generation’s Woodstock. (I know, I know, but I was 15 and I defy anyone reading this to honestly claim that they didn’t apply similarly disproportionate comparisons at the same age.)

* It rained, but only during Blasphemous Rumors; it was like god himself was watching the show and decided to get involved, if only for a moment … a sick sense of humour, indeed.

* I knew all the songs, and they played every single thing I wanted to hear, even Nothing, which was one of my favorite songs on Music for the Masses, and a point of constant disagreement with my Behind the Wheel-loving friends.

* I sang Everything Counts with 65,000 other people as the concert ended, and I felt like I was part of something unique and special, something that would never happen again. Over the years, I’ve run into other people who were at the same show, and even the ones who weren’t fifteen and given to over-romanticizing things tell me that they felt the same thing.

* When the show was over, I couldn’t find the car that was supposed to pick me up. It was a little frightening, and I felt like a kid who had been separated from his mom in a crowded department store. Before I could completely panic, though, I saw a familiar face in the mob: KROQ’s Richard Blade. I knew Richard because he was on the air from noon until Jed the Fish took over every day, and for several months, after going to school at Paramount in the morning, I’d stop at the KROQ studios in Burbank on my way home to hang out with him. I’m sure I overstayed my welcome, but nobody ever said, “Hey, kid, stop coming around here, you’re overstaying your welcome.” I wanted to be a KROQ DJ so badly in those days, and the jocks and interns at KROQ were all so fucking cool, I was a total groupie idiot. Richard was extremely kind and patient with me, though, and when he saw me wandering around the crowd after the concert, he offered to drive me home. So not only did I get to see the greatest concert of my life, I got to end it by getting a ride home with one of my favorite DJs and his girlfriend.

* I still get goosebumps when I listen to 101, and I’m afraid that if I watch the movie, I’ll fall into a nostalgic black hole and never return.

I didn’t go to another Depeche show until 1996, when I took my little sister to the Forum to see them play with The The. The crowd didn’t have much energy, and when they finished with Everything Counts, very few people sang, and the show ended with an anticlimactic fade out. We were close to the stage, and I swear I could see Dave Gahan’s shoulders slump as he walked through the curtain. Shortly after that show, he nearly died from an overdose; Grunge ruled the world at that time, and I always wondered if the lackluster audience response made him feel like the world had turned and left him and his music behind. It felt a little creepy to have been part of an audience that may have played a part in what I always thought was a suicide attempt.

It should be obvious why this all got cut out; it has little to do with the column I ended up writing, and if I’d left it in, it would have distracted from the point and made the whole thing too long. Hooray for personal blogs where I can tell people to shove it if they complain, right?
I mentioned once that, depending on your age, the seminal Depeche Mode album was probably Music for the Masses or Violator. I was smacked around by a lot of people for not offering Black Celebration as an option, but I just figured everyone who liked Depeche Mode loved that album and considered it a load-bearing pillar in the catalog; it’s like Unknown Pleasures or The Queen is Dead, right? Maybe I’m over thinking it.
The Concert for the Masses was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced, and it remains one of my most cherished memories, one I can only see it through the over-romanticizing eyes of a fifteen year-old who was on the cusp of figuring out who he was and where he was going.

it’s only rock and roll but i like it

For this week’s column at the LA Weekly, I planned to write about some significant moments in my musical education, including my discovery of KROQ around 1987 and attending the Concert for the Masses in 1988. I started at the beginning, and wrote about listening to music with my dad when I was a little kid in the 70s. My brain refused to let me write the column I thought I wanted to write, and instead created something very different. I fought it for a couple of days, until I finally just gave in and let my brain write what it wanted to write:

It’s Only Rock and Roll but I Like It: Music as a Soundtrack to Life

My dad loved classic rock, so when I look back on my childhood, The Beatles, Boston, Heart, The Doobie Brothers, and Fleetwood Mac provide the soundtrack. Twenty-nine years later, I can’t listen to “Second Hand News” without hearing the unique sound of his VW bus’s engine just underneath it in my memory. Most people who listen to “Black Water” hear Patrick Simmons on vocals, but not me. I hear my dad, modulating his voice to hit all the different parts of the harmonies during the chorus. When I hear anything off Boston’s eponymous debut, it’s accompanied by the steady sound of a hammer driving nails into cedar wood. Dad listened to that album a lot while I helped him build a gate for our side yard in the usual eight year-old manner: by wearing an oversized tool belt and handing him nails while I stayed out of the way. I’m sure it’s possible to listen to Dreamboat Annie without giant earphones and a 15-foot coiled black cord, but I don’t know why anyone would want to.

My editor, Erin, heard the call for an RSS feed, and got the webmonkeys at the Weekly to make one available. It isn’t the full content, but it’s enough to know if you want to exert the mighty effort of clicking the title and reading the rest of the post. You can subscribe to Wil Wheaton’s LA Weekly RSS feed here.

Comments are closed on this post, to encourage comments at the Weekly, which makes the people who let me put food on my family happy.

bolts from above hurt the people down below

Three things today:

1. I’m pretty sure I’m not a prima dona, but I’ve been prima dona-adjacent plenty of times in the course of my acting career. Because of my extensive experience with prima donas, I was able to advise John Scalzi on the matter yesterday, via an IM conversation that he’s reprinted on his blog:

Me: I just want to burnish my credentials as an insufferable prima donna, you know?

Wil: Dude. Come spend some time with me. Learn at the feet of a master.

Me: “Fix me pot pie!”

Wil: Good, but try: “Are you fucking kidding me? Where’s my pot pie?”

“I came all the way here, and you can’t even make a fucking pot pie?”

Then you sort of shake your head, like you’re really disappointed.

Yes, I’ll be at LosCon, but probably for only the one panel with John. If there’s a sudden and unexpected explosion of Awesome next weekend, that’s probably why.

2. While Propelling this morning, I came across one of the single greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life: The Genesis of Doctor Who, from the BBC Archives:

Explore the origins of a TV legend with this collection of documents and images. It’s now the number one family favourite, but ‘Doctor Who’ had a difficult birth, emerging from the imagination of some of BBC Drama’s top minds.

Here, we tell the story of the creation of ‘Doctor Who’ from the very beginning, starting with a report on the possibility of making science fiction for television and leading up to the moment a new drama series is announced in the pages of ‘Radio Times’.

Please prop this story at Propeller. I’d kind of like to keep my corporate overlords over there happy, for the usual reasons.

3. Since I first turned it on, iTunes Genius has been the opposite of the generally accepted definition of genius. Instead of it, I’ve relied on totally random shuffle to amuse myself when I’m not listening to one of my many carefully-designed playlists (all those years making mixtapes paid off, apparently.) I kept checking back, in the hopes that it would get a little closer to awesome, and recently, the Genius playlists have been considerably smarter and more useful (as I figured they would be, as they aggregated more user data). Today, Genius said, “Hey, you have this playlist with New Order, Sonic Youth, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Jam? You’ll totally like the soundtrack to Marie Antoinette.” I took a look, and iTunes Genius was totally right. As I said on Twitter, I’m late to the party, and I have no desire to see the movie, but you can do a lot worse than the soundtrack to Marie Antoinette.

That’s probably it for today. I’m racing against yet another deadline on yet another awesome project that I can’t wait to announce.

you’re not gonna get the final boss tamed

final_boss_coverart.jpgI’m a lousy friend, and I haven’t mentioned that MC Frontalot‘s new album Final Boss has been out for over a month. I think it’s his best album yet, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on it, dropping phat rhymes. You can download Wallflowers for free, and then you can purchase and download the whole album once your mind has been sufficiently blown. The whole album is fantastic, but I especially love Shame of the Otaku(teaser MP3) and Diseases of Yore(teaser MP3). I’m also intensely jealous that Front got Scott Campbell to do his cover art. Scott Campbell is awesome.

After you’ve heard the entire album, including my skit about vocations, you’ll have a new appreciation for this album cover, designed by Lore Sjöberg. Did I mention that it was awesome? It looks like I didn’t, so: it’s awesome.

Finally, MC Frontalot is going on tour, and he’s totally coming to your town … as long as you live in one of the towns on the tour schedule.

i don’t know what i’m to say, i’ll say it anyway

If you are of a certain age, there are probably three seminal music videos that blew your mind at one point in your life: Money for Nothing, You Might Think, and Take on Me .
(Sigh. Okay, fine, and the extended version of Thriller. At least I’ll admit it. Shut up.)
Anyway, my friend Jun (who is also of a certain age) sent me this literal version of Ah-Ha’s Take On Me yesterday. I was amused, and thought I’d share.

this post has everything to do with ambient music

After years of various things coming up and draining the funds we’ve squirreled away to work on the house, Anne and I are finally able to afford to have some much-needed work done on our house (thank you, everyone who bought Happiest Days!) We should start sometime in the next seven days, and somehow the preparations have ended up including some serious de-cluttering around stately Wheaton Manor.

De-cluttering is probably pretty easy for most people: you just take a bunch of old shit and throw it out, right? It’s not that easy for me. I attach sentimental value to just about everything.

A typical scene:

Anne: “What’s this?”

Me: “I can’t throw that away! That’s a a coaster that I made from a menu from a roadside diner I ate breakfast at with Dave in 1990! Look at the coffee ring!”

Anne: *Facepalm*

It’s a good thing I don’t own a snakeskin jacket. I’m getting better, though, and I’ve reached a point in my life where it feels better to jettison this stuff than it does to keep it. There are all sorts of philosophical reasons for this, I’m sure, but that’s not what this post is about, so fill in your own: “____________________.”

Ooohhh! That’s very insightful. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

So. I have a lot of music on CD, because the only thing I love as much as books is music. I have a huge and diverse collection, because I’ve liked just about every kind of music at one point or another in my life, and since it was never pop music crap that hasn’t had time to become ironic, yet, my CD collection is pretty fucking awesome. If I, uh, do say so myself.

It takes up a lot of space, though, so I’m going through it, ripping most of it to various hard drives, instantly backing them up on other hard drives – just to be sure – and moving the physical CDs to the garage, where I’m happy to give their care and feeding over to Top Men.

Over the weekend, I ripped about two dozen ambient CDs from the early nineties, (which I think was the golden age of ambient music) and listening to them on shuffle has found the nostalgia portion of my brain, and poked it with a sharp stick.

I seem to have these emotional growth spurts about every five or six years, and this music connects me to the one I had in my early twenties, when my friend Dave and I would stay up all night listening to records, talking about art and politics and philosophy. (I credit Dave with my love of electronic music, because he worked in the music industry at the time and kept a steady stream of interesting stuff flowing into my hands for several years. I never would have heard a single record from Silent if Dave hadn’t worked there, and 76:14 would just be a little over an hour and sixteen minutes.)

I was in drama school around this time, so I was surrounded with artists. I spent most of my time (free and otherwise) with writers, photographers, actors, and musicians, so this particular emotional growth spurt was entirely cultural. Ambient music was the soundtrack, because it provided a lush and layered backdrop to everything we did, taking and giving focus whenever necessary. (I suppose that’s why it’s called “ambient”, duh.) Perhaps not coincidentally, it was around this time that I completely rejected what I described as American fast food culture. I may have been a little bit of an insufferable intellectual artiste for a brief time, as well. Ahem. I look back on some of those days with embarrassment, and I know that I owe a lot of people apologies for . . . stuff I’d rather not talk about, lest we all be forced to confront the things we said and did when we were 20. Though I shudder to think about how even more insufferable I would have been if I’d read Ishmael then instead of years later when I was more mature, I still look back fondly on those years of growth and discovery, as they were eventually woven into some of the most beautiful parts of the tapestry of my life.

You know, people always ask me if I ever lived the rock and roll lifestyle (wink wink nudge nudge) when I was young and famous. The truth is that I didn’t, even on the three (yes, I can count them) occasions when some girl creature literally threw herself at me. (SCARY! AHH! WHAT DO I DO?!) When I was a teenager (and there were plenty of teenage stars fooling around with other teenage stars, oh the stories I could tell you but won’t) I was too nerdy and too into RPGs. When I was in my early 20s, I was too insecure and too into books and music and very deep things that really mattered. If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing, though. This may shock some of you, but I’m glad that I fed my mind instead of my libido.

Gross! Too much information.

Anyway, when I mentioned on Twitter that I was ripping all these CDs, and how weird it felt to confront the advances in technology that made it possible (all in 140 characters!) a few people wondered what, exactly, I had in my collection.

I’m always happy to share this type of music with people, and if I have an opportunity to turn people on to music that really opened my mind (without the assistance from any chemical or mind-altering substances, I always feel compelled to add) I always seize it.

I’ll point those of you who are interested to a portion of a post I made in 2005 (my god, how is it that it simultaneously feels so long ago and so recent to me?) about ambient music. The “it” I refer to is an ambient song I made in GarageBand called Lakeside Shadow:

If you like it, you’ll probably like some of the artists who influenced me over the years: Woob (especially 1194, and especially the track strange air) Dedicated (especially Global Communication, also called 76 14), and Solitaire (especially Ritual Ground). Also, Instinct Records (still alive) and Silent Records (sadly, tragically, defunct since 1996) released an amazing number of genre-defining ambient discs in the 90s. And now, just to prove how hardcore I am, I’m going to throw out Pete Namlook, and the FAX Label, but their stuff is far more experimental than the rest of my list, and isn’t what I’d use to introduce a new listener to Ambient music.

Finally, if you can find it, Silent Records put out an incredible record called Earth to Infinity (I think in 1994) which was pulled shortly after it was released, due to some sampling issues. I think it’s one of the greatest ambient recordings of all time, and don’t ask me for it because I’m not going to jail for you, Chachi.

I think I could have said “incredible” a few more times. Allow me to emphatically pulverize this dead horse deep into the ground: if you only get two ambient records in your whole life, they should be 1194 from Woob and Earth to Infinity (holy shit there are two available from Amazon). If you can only get three, add 76:14, and thank me before you touch the monolith and journey beyond the infinite.

Okay, as I said in 2005, most of my ambient CDs are from Silent, Instinct, and Caroline, and I have a metric assload of FAX recordings that I don’t listen to very much any more. If I were to expand on the artists and albums I mentioned three years ago into a list of essentials, I would add Pelican Daughters‘ breathtaking record Bliss, Consciousness III (or Lunar Phase) by Heavenly Music Corporation, and the 2295 compilation from em:t.

If you’re intrigued, and want to know what some of this stuff sounds like without waiting, please go directly to Magnatune, and fire up their ambient mix. They’ve got artists over there, like Robert Rich and Falling You, who make truly incredible music. (I really think I need to say incredible and really more. Really.) Soma FM has magnificent downtempo and ambient streams, as well. Groove Salad and Dronezone rarely disappoint.

The thing to understand about ambient, though, if you’ve never heard it before, is that it’s slow and deliberate. It takes its time. It doesn’t work in the car, and it doesn’t work if your brain is cranked up to eleven. It’s best enjoyed when you can relax, and let it fill the room around you as you slowly sink into it and out of yourself, like you’ve stepped into a giant gelatinous cube.

Hrm. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. Go ahead and fill in your own: “______________.”

Yes, that’s it. That’s it exactly.