Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Must Play Loud: Put Dat in Ya Don't Know What I Said Book

I'm not here to add to the Jobsian postmortem orgy, but only a genius could invent a device, such as my iPod, with a function, Shuffle, that knows exactly when I am wondering, "What the hell am I doing here. What the hell am I. Doing here?" and then queue up some Public Enemy at the precise time I step off the elevator into the hallowed halls of academia-cum-corporate-spiderhole so that I can stroll down the corridor thinking I KICK DA FLYEST DOPE MANEUVER TECHNICALITY, and thereby make everything right here, right now, alright.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pink, pink, pink, pink

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Your Guilty Pleasure: Drop Your Glasses, Shake Your Asses

"I just do me."

Best four words in a song I needed to hear at the right place/right time. I'll explain in a minute.

Eve seems to always have just done herself. Philly-born, she came up as an MC out in Los Angeles through the Ruff Ryders posse, whom she joined after auditioning via a rap battle. Right now, I'm giving tracks off of her Ruff Ryders-produced/released first album Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders' First Lady a cursory listen; you can tell why the singles were singles. On the whole, not my cup of tea -- but that's not the point of this mini-essay or highly personal, unauthoratative-authoritative review, or navel-gazing nostalgia--or whatever it is.

Her first album shows Eve is a tough woman -- tough-on-the-inside, sure-of-herself tough. Toughness that was buffed to a fine sheen by the time she emerged from the ubiquitous chrysalis of the early 00s known as Dr. Dre, as--and I love this handle--Eve of Destruction. Yes. She lives up to that brash moniker --and this is why Dre nurtured her in the first place: she's an f-ing hot MC. Allegedly, she turned her first networked meeting with Dre into an audition. And nailed it. Not surprisingly, after her second album, Scorpion, plowed up the charts and out the radio in 2001, kicking up catchy, huge hits, "Who's That Girl" (nanana na-nanana-na-nanana) and today's Guilty Pleasure, "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," Eve quite tidily became a triple-threat (music-acting-fashion).

I totally forgot she had a sitcom, an eponymous one that ran for three years. Not that I ever saw it, except while skipping across channels. And every time I did see her onscreen, I thought about how the really good (and good-looking, but very sweet) trainer/instructor at 3-W gym (Women's Workout World), the one who'd actually push us instead of just watching us execute moves, who had us doing those planks with feet on a ball and then scrunch your legs in kind of ab work, had moved to Los Angeles to be Eve's trainer because he'd hooked the same gig in Chicago while she was in town filming Barbershop. My abs' loss was Eve's biceps' gain.

What's happened to Eve? Any recent recordings have gotten stuck in the ass-in-head revolving door at the top level of her record label, apparently. And she's been kind of supplanted by Ciara and, God, I hate to say it, the likes of Ke$ha--who is a reminder that we need more Eves in popular music. Stat.

But she's doing alright. She's guested twice on Glee apparently. And, since that's not like guesting on, uh, trying to think of a sinker TV show in a multi-billion channel world...um, whatever is on Fridays at 9:00 pm on CBS, she'll be fine.

Oh wait. She guested on that, too.

This was the sound of the summer of 2001, at least for me. I listened to the radio a lot; it was one of those times when you have to exile yourself from a lot of familiar music, due to memories, or the thoughts that can spring from the shape of a verse or the name of the track or just that it's part of the 20 frikin percent of your personal collection that you have to just put aside (okay, avoid) until you can reclaim it as your own once enough healing time has passed.

Frequently, my radio dial would land on 103.5 FM. This was a brief, strange period when that station's format was Top 40, and Top 40 during the summer of 2001 was weirdly tolerable--at least during, or because I was engaged in, a music embargo. Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson, Eve, Pink, Destiny's Child -- a rare surfeit of really rather good female singers/rappers making solid pop music, and, because Autotune was a production tool and not a requisite style, really singing it themselves. You couldn't get away with a lot back then. Only Britney did, really.

So this song was welcome in my earbuds. It felt like feeling the hard edges of  myself where I'd previously felt bled out, soft, weak. It made me feel, not think.

With each hesitation-BEAT, hesitation-BEAT, I felt stronger, somehow. My chin would rise and head nod during the sassy playground rhyme chorus.  

And if I had to give you more
It's only been a year
Now I got my foot through the door
And I aint goin nowhere
It took a while to get me in
And I'm gonna take my time
Don't fight that bull shit in your ear
Now let me blow ya mind

Taking in my surroundings. "Beware, cuz I crush anything I land on," she winds up at the end. I can pin this experience with this song very specifically to walking to the old Kozy's location in the South Loop to pick up my bike -- the same bike I have now. I rode away a lot of stuff on that bike that summer. I became tough. Like Eve.

How Can You Win Some?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Come Closer and See

It's a family secret --between my sister and I, actually -- that I love deep house music. Or chillout. Or nu jazz. Or--well, I don't really know what the hell to call it. But I know what  I like when I hear it. I like this:

A Forest from Ping Trace on Vimeo.

Deep house is my go-to background music. It's perfect for running and creating spreadsheet formulas or Powerpoint notes (or deploying any friggin Office product, really). As atmosphere rather than focus, the sounds flows through part of my mind not occupied with-making-feet-go or dropping in a text box. I learn about it by listening to the internet radio stations -- and not that Live365 crap. I take time to find commercial-free goodness. I support indie! (...thanks to corporate behemoth Apple and its iTunes radio capability.) These stations aren't hard to find; today, faced with a big cut-and-paste job at work, I located Chilltrax

Sometimes, a familiar strain will emerge from clicky beats and hushed vocals. That's what happened in this case. I heard her voice sing "I hear her voice...into the trees..." and realized what it was:

Not long ago, during a visit at my sister's, our dad got a listen to our chillout music. He was all, "Oh yeah, I was listening to this twenty years ago, when the instrumental station would play 'future music' on Sunday nights." Now I grew up in a house where, despite the Stevie and Isaac Hayes and Simon and Garfunkel and Miles Davis in Dad's record cabinet, we listened to "Beautiful Music" during dinnertime. There was an actual radio station that played what I guess is Muzak and it was called The Beautiful Music station. We're talking "Three Coins in the Fountain" and a mystifying instrumental version of "Take It to the Limit" while we ate pot roast and beans and squash from the garden. Gradually, as the format shifted from the soothing sounds of yesteryear to the splashy, new (but equally relaxing) Smooth Jazz format, dad's stereo with the big silver dial stayed on the same place on the radio dial.

Maybe Deep House is the Easy Listening (now Smooth Jazz) of today. Maybe I am taking to it in middle-ish age as my father in his middle years turned from the relentless sax squawks of real jazz and plaintive harmonies of 70s folk to the soothing swirls of Kenny G. Maybe that's why I don't really share with anyone (besides my sister) about how much I like it, and like it irony-free. Maybe I don't share my interest with anyone because, really, no one else I know likes Micatone and Kaskade and St. Germain. (Do they?)

Does it square with everything else I listen to? Not much. This music is occasional and functional, both for me and inherently. It is made to play over VIP martini-shaking at on the Vegas strip and for, I don't know, people to hear as they come down from whatever hallucinogenics they take in Ibiza these days. It lacks the sublime artistry and transportability of music that I am passionate about. It's not what I wear on my sleeve, yet it's not a guilty pleasure. It says something about who I am, the (ha) depth of who I am, but it's not me.

Deep House doesn't move me. It creates context.

I guess Dad is right in that it's shut-off-your-brain music. It doesn't require me to do anything besides like how it feels to be surrounded by it. Context.

Speaking of context: I discovered in writing this that everything discussed here can be an article in academic journal, complete with French Structuralist references (Lefebvre, for those keeping track).

This is germane if only for this reason: this random article (apparently up for a patent?) reinforces how culture today is ultra-fractured. If a guy can extract meaning from the intersection of Coen brothers films, and classic rock can be played by session instrumentalists, then Ping Trace can cover "A Forest," I can like Wild Flag and Ping Trace. Can't I?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

I Want to Ride It Where I Like

After reading this in the Sun-Times (and I never read the S-T anymore, so -- this is a Big Deal) yesterday, several simmering thoughts about bicycling in our city came to a boil. How many cyclists have you actually seen texting while biking? Talking, yes. Talking while 1. wearing no helmet; 2. in heels and a dress 3. on a rickety Schwinn with bald tires 4. on North Avenue (or Ashland) and biking, yes.Texting? Maybe messengers and those folks who commute all the way down Elston, but really, no.

Maybe the law and City Council can treat cyclists like operators of motorized vehicles on the roadway, but until those on Schwinns, fixies, and Gary Fishers start behaving like they are operating a vehible on the roadway as part of traffic, then we’re all f—ked. To wit, only in the last 72 hours I’ve witnessed some dumbassed and downright repugnant bike behavior. First it was the trendily shorn-headed (no helmet, of course), plaid-shirted girl blasting through a red light on North Avenue at Leavitt who bellowed at my very own mother the ugliest “HEY” (as in, HEY, ASSHOLE, GET OUT OF THE ROAD) I’ve heard since I saw that bleeding drunk guy fight off the poh-leece in front of Lincoln Hall during some surreal anger fit that did not originate in LH. This was WHILE SHE (not my mother) WAS RUNNING A RED LIGHT. I hollered a retort I can’t remember but the gist was, WHY ARE YOU IN THE F-ING INTERSECTION IN THE FIRST PLACE? (all-caps apologies; but it went down this way).

A month ago, I purchased a bell for my bike, after a decade of riding in Chicago and another six or so years during my days in Milwaukee. I appreciate the bell because it accomplishes in an immediate, even pleasant, way what a strangled screech like that of Lay-Rubber Lana of Logan Square who almost impaled my mother on her ten-speed does in a screechy, rude way. And I've done what L-B L did: I've had to shout at various human and mechanical obstacles that appear in my path, and yes, even at the pie-eyed and clueless when I was sailing against the light. Now, I don't holler, I give a clear, innocent "ching-CHING!" (And an angel gets its wings.)

And I don't coast through junctions anymore, either. Two years ago, I almost got mowed down by a green SUV (I remember what it looks like since the whole event happened in Matrixy slow motion) in an intersection that I was crossing without stopping, I now stop at intersections with stoplights. I even slow to the point of being able to safely brake at four-way stops on completely deserted streets. As I did the same this morning, I almost got mowed down by an a.m. Pannier Hero who clearly had not stopped his Tour-level commute since Lincoln dumped into Wells. Maybe even since Ravenswood or wherever the hell he suited up.

So don’t tell me, Ald. Margaret Laurino of the 39th (which seems made up primarily of the north end of Elston and four cemeteries), that it’s important to “level the playing field.” How about y'all start by enforcing the existing rules of the road that cyclists, as much as drivers, are supposed to follow?

Yeah, perhaps I’ve become a full-blown blowhard on this, a preachy prig. And maybe I'll start a series of Bad Bike Behavior posts on this blog to safely vent my spleen. Or I'll swallow the bile and breathe and just bike the way I like: safely.

But until the City Council bans biking while your head is up your ass, we’re all in danger -- unless you'd enjoy a delightful nude spin around Wimbledon Stadium.

What News Would You Bring?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Your Guilty Pleasure: Ain't No Doubt, We Are Here to Party

This is happening because this song, while I've enjoyed it as basic four-on-the-four schlock that I recall from the back of the Toyota Corolla as a kid, hides more under its sunny, multitracked surface. Too late to be trailblazing and too transparent to be influential, Heatwave emerged from London, that hotbed of disco excess, and landed squarely in Donna Summer's lap during the spring of 1977 with their first album, Too Hot To Handle (the heat theme continues with all of their albums--Central Heating, Hot Property--until they kinda gave up and just called their 1980 effort Candles). Johnnie Wilder was an American serviceman landed in the UK after discharge and hooked up with Englishman Rod Temperton via the usual "band looking for..." ad in Melody Maker. And if the name Rod Temperton sounds familiar to you just sit with it. ...Sit with it...sit with it... think back to the record you opened up time after time, gazing at the flawless skin and Saturday Night Fever suit and the baby tiger dangling (foreshadowing!) over his knee...sometimes you glanced at the credits, maybe watched them spin on the turntable, and the name turned there, "Thriller" (R. Temperton) (5:57)...yeah. He wrote "Thriller." And "Boogie Nights."

If you can endure the lion's mane polyester jumpsuits and male headscarves, you can pick out Rod, he's the white dude on keys with the visage, to borrow a phrase from The Simpsons that I always borrow, straight out of the Big Book of British Smiles. Rod wrote one of my all-time favorite songs of all time, "Rock With You," having been recruited by Quincy Jones, who was impressed with all of Rod's heat-related recordings, to collaborate on Off the Wall.

"Boogie Nights" has a real funk foundation. You can hear the infamous "the One" in it; I'll just let the man who learned it the hard way explain what that is. And I'd like to say extremely unauthoritatively that Rod and crew brought real funk cred to the erotic whispers and flimsy Giorgio Moroder beats that skittered across the dancefloor in '76 and '77.

And this song provided the title of one of my all-time favorite movies of all time -- the one with the amazing, one-shot opening sequence that uses the disco song that is another of my all-time favorite songs of all time. The one that does not include "Boogie Nights" (R. Templeton) (3:56).

If there is an unnecessary (and unrequested, I know) lesson here, it's that there's more to everything than your eye sees and transmits to your brain parts. Sometimes, you have to let your ass parts move to the four-on-the-floor and the One, give your brain parts a rest, and just enjoy.