Category Archives: Music

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:


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.

i love everything about this

It's another one of those holy shit how am I going to get all this done? days, so please enjoy this video and song while I crush everything.

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.

just in case you missed the macy’s parade moment everyone is talking about

This is the best version I’ve seen. It came from MartiMcKenna on Twitter.

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.